Salam (Peace) Jonny,
I need to thank you for your question and for coming to About Islam with it. But I think you have confused many different types of marriages: child marriage (girls 12-13 years old), forced marriage, pragmatic marriage without love (for money), and early marriage (14-17 years old). And you held Islam responsible for them all!
As for child marriage, as far as I know the Islamic law has not directed us towards it; I have never come across a rule which dictates the age of marriage. It is left to considerations of time, place, and social norms.
In India, for example, both Muslim and Hindu girls marry at the age of ten and below; in some Egyptian rural areas it is the custom of both Muslim and Orthodox Christian parents to marry their girls below fifteen, and the same applies to girls in desert areas such as the Arab Peninsula.
But in most urban places all over the Muslim world and among Muslim minorities in Western societies, the established norm for girls is to get married after higher education above the age of twenty. This is all dictated by customs of the region, not Islam.
Moreover, in some places, the marriage crisis that is hitting the whole world is heavily affecting the Islamic countries.
I, myself, as an active member of many women’s NGOs, have participated in a lot of seminars and workshops discussing how to get out of this crises. Both sociologists and psychologists are working hard to investigate the causes of the crisis, which has pushed the age of marriage up to over 28 in most Islamic societies.
Thus, it becomes clear that the child marriage has never been an Islamic proposition, and if there are a few cases of child marriages, it is not an Islamic regulation as much as a tradition of certain societies shared by both their Muslim and non-Muslim members. But apparently it is always Islam that is in focus.
As for forced marriage, there is an article in Islamic marriage law that the girl’s consent is a condition for the legality of the marriage contract, without which the contract is null and void.
In a story from the life of our Prophet—whose instructions are the second main source of law after the Noble Book of the Quran—it is reported that a young woman came to the Prophet (peace be upon him-PBUH) and complained that her father had given her in marriage to a man without her consent. Here, the Prophet annulled her marriage.
Till this day, the girl’s opinion should be heard by the official who registers the marriage contracts. Otherwise, he or she doesn’t register the contract.
You criticized the tendency of Muslim parents to overlook love for the glamour of money. Again, I assure you that individual cases do not establish rules, but rules come from the existing law of Islam directly taken from the Noble Book of the Quran and the instruction of the Prophet (PBUH).
In this context, I’m only going to mention that a man came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said:
‘Oh Prophet of Allah! I am the guardian of an orphan girl. Two men proposed to marry her. One is rich: the other is poor. We like the rich, while she likes the poor.’ The Prophet (PBUH) answered, ‘For those in love, we don’t see any better than marriage’. (Reported by Ibn Majah)
This consciousness of the value of love in the lives of people was brought about over 1,4oo years ago. And yet, you accuse Islam of breaking hearts because of some immature individual choices?
As for early marriage, before we discuss it, we have to define the term early. According to the UN Child Summit Declarations of 1990 and 2002 — the child is the one under 18. Thus, a young man and a young woman of 17 are considered children in the Western vision, and their marriage is “early”.
However, the latter Declaration of 2002 recognizes those children’s emotional and physical needs and allows them to hold premarital relations under the protection of the government, and if a pregnancy takes place it is called a teenage pregnancy.
Unlike the West, Islam (and all Judeo-Christian religions) defines the child as the one below the age of puberty. Once boys and girls reach puberty, they are children no more. Thus, a female of 16 or 17 is considered a woman with a free choice and her decision to get married is not considered early.
The physical and emotional needs of young men and women of this age should be respected if they need to express them. In Islam, premarital relations are not allowed under any circumstances.
Thus, the only way for adults (those who have reached puberty) to satisfy such needs is to get married, according to their own personal choice, with the blessing of the family and the whole society, and to have legitimate children.
Therefore, teenage sex is recognized in both Islam and the West, but the difference is that in Islam it is only allowed to take place within a marriage bond with responsibilities placed in appropriate places. Whereas, in the West, it is left open and for the pregnant teenager to suffer the brunt of the responsibility. In general, with the need for higher education, the phenomenon of early marriage has shrunk.
Also, divorce rates have skyrocketed all over the world. And in both Muslim and non-Muslim majority societies, women suffer from abuse at the hands of their husbands. This is a global crisis, and not one isolated in Muslim majority communities. However, Muslim scholars are doing their best to educate Muslim communities as to what an emotionally, physically, and spiritually loving marriage looks like and what rights both women and men have in the marriage bond.
I hope this answers your questions. Thank you again and please keep in touch.
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