Ask A Muslim: Can girls be married off?

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By Maimoona Harrington

Does Islam allow for girls of any age to be married off?

Islam has four major theological schools of thoughts and they all agree ‘puberty’ is a must for the consummation of the marriage. In Islam all the guidance is retrieved from Quran (Holy Book) and Sunnah (Prophet’s collected sayings and actions).

Thus for any marriage to be consummated ‘puberty/ majority’ is a prerequisite. A Muslim girl can be married before puberty however, the marriage cannot be consummated till the minor girl reaches puberty.

In Islam a female has a right to accept or reject any marriage proposal and her consent is a prerequisite for the marriage contract. This is verified through the Sunnah – collection of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) saying and actions.

Now, this is the requirement but what happens in practice and how different Muslim societies and cultures act on them is different and their personal actions should not be labeled as Islamic practices. The biggest thing I always try to make clear is the cultural practices vs. Islamic practices!

Islam is clear through the Sunnah that it is the age when a girl reaches puberty and her consent is a prerequisite. If the girl is married as a minor then at the time of marriage consummation, a Muslim woman has the right to annul the marriage if she wishes to, it’s called the ‘option of puberty.’

A minor child’s parents are considered their legal guardians till they reach adulthood as in most societies this age is 18 years or older.

One of the misunderstandings in marriage age for Muslim girls is the normative use of the example of Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Hazrat Aisha R.A. To clarify this she was 6 when the legal ceremony was performed, however, marriage was not consummated until she was 9 years of age.

The age of marriage for girls should not be misunderstood as in historical context; 1200 years earlier in Arab society what was considered normal and acceptable is not normative now but has a set standard now as mentioned above on the guidelines from Quran and Sunnah.

To support this I will use my own personal example. When I was married, according to Pakistani civil law, the legal marriage age was and is 18 years , however, my family wanted me to marry when I was only 16 years old.

To support this I will use my own personal example. I was 16 years old at the time of my marriage and it was not a forced marriage. It was, as we call it, an ‘arranged marriage’ in my country. According to Pakistani civil law the legal marriage age was, and is, 18 years and older. 

Thus my family had to take me out of the territory of Pakistan. So my legal ceremony (NIKAH) was held in my paternal aunt’s house in Mangla, Azad Kashmir, where the legal marriage age was/is 16 years old for the girl. Azad Kashmir is a self-governing state under Pakistani control. 

There are diverse reasons in some Muslim countries for the girls to be married off at a young age. Poverty, lack of education, normative use of old traditions and cultural practices, or the takeover of the mindset of a society where a younger bride is considered better. Most educated Muslim societies and states have civil laws in place. For example, in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Oman the marrying age for a Muslim girl is 18 years and these three countries are Muslim countries.

Please note, I am not a religious scholar. I tried to answer this question with the best of my knowledge and understanding of Islam as a Muslim.

About Maimoona Harrington

Maimoona Harrington was born and raised in Pakistan moved to the United States with her family in 2008. She is married and a mother of two sons. She has a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies and sociology from Pakistan and a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from United States. Along with her career as an interpreter, translator and monitor she is also an Islamic and Pakistani Culture Adviser.

As a practicing Muslim with the extensive world travel and living in the West, she has devoted herself to spread awareness of Islam as a goodwill gesture. In an effort to do this she started writing from her own personal experiences with religion, beliefs and life in a different culture. She also has special interest in all the religions and how and why they are all important to its followers. Her primary focus is on the co-existence and harmony between all human beings. Her message is to spread peace not division. She strongly believes that if you want to be closer to your creator then love His creation unconditionally and expect nothing in return for He loves us unconditionally and forgives us no matter how sinful we are!

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