There was absolutely no spur to comment on the raging controversy of child marriage during the month of Ramadan basically because other issues relevant to the holy month and fasting remained inexhaustible. While preparing for the Eid yesterday, I recalled a number of people had sought my opinion and that of Islam on the issue, so, it became one of the issues staring at me on my table.
With what I have read in the newspapers, I pulled a call through to a few scholars in order to know their position. I was not dissappointed afterall because, the Quran and hadiths are clear and anyone who without prejudice wants to know the truth, will discern clearly that Islam is not only a religion but a perfect way of life that provides answers to every question in this so-called modern world. Without any anachronistic moral judgments, Islam does not support marriage to a minor.
First, the Quran indicates maturity and sound judgment as marriageable level. It does not specify certain age limit for marriage neither the hadiths, perhaps because Allah has created every human being with his or her own uniqueness. Some grow tall while some are short; some fair and some dark, some attain maturity earlier than the other. Physical characteristics vary depending upon our genes and the environment in which we grow.
Back in medieval age, even in Europe, girls were married when they are children. In Africa as well, early marriages were a common phenomena. Many grandmas married at early ages irrespective of religion. In fact, the issue of early marriage is not about religion but mainly about culture and the environment. Prior to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) in Arabia, it was a common knowledge that females were considered property, objects for sacrifice.
Those ignorant tribal and cultural prejudices and practices persist, but Islamic position must be noted. In Saudi Arabia, a few years back, despite Islam, an 8-year-old girl who had been married by her father to a 47 year-old “friend” to settle Dad’s debt of about $13,000 approached the court and annulled the wedding.
Islam as a religion provides guidelines on the stage, conditions and process of mariage. In Quran 4:6, it says: “And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age/puberty. (baligh) Then if you perceive in them sound judgement, (rushdah) release their property to them. And do not consume it excessively and quickly, [anticipating] that they will grow up. And whoever, [when acting as guardian], is self-sufficient should refrain [from taking a fee]; and whoever is poor – let him take according to what is acceptable. Then when you release their property to them, bring witnesses upon them. And sufficient is Allah as Accountant.”
Under this verse, the stage at which Islam recommends marriage is majority and sound judgement (baligh and rushdah). While majority could be said to mean attainment of menstrual period, development to full womanhood; sound judgement is attained with some level of education, whether formal or informal. Here, the ability to discern the implication of marriage, as well as to being able to carry out the responsibility of a wife and a mother is very important