What Is the Permissible Age for a Girl to Marry?

14 August, 2016
Q In Islam, what is the permissible age for a girl to marry? Specify the age please.

Answer

Salam Dear Zeineb,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

To give a fixed age of marriage that applies to every girl is an unrealistic generalization. If marriage were only a matter of biology, then the age of puberty would have fit for the purpose. Nevertheless, Islam declares that marriage means much more than biology.

{And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.} (Surah 30 Verse 21)

Therefore, tranquility, love and mercy are the expected ends of any marriage. To achieve such ends, any person who is getting married should reach a stage of psychological, emotional and physical maturity, to be up to the responsibilities of family and children.

Most important in this stage of maturity is ‘wisdom’. By wisdom I mean this aptitude to deal with problems and hardships that will occur in any marriage. Actually, family is an institution that needs – like any other institution – qualified management, even stress management!

In fact, it is really hard to generalize a fixed age for a girl to reach maturity, because many factors contribute to determine it. Among these factors are time, place, culture and the psychological readiness of the person.

In the past it was easy to find military commanders who invaded parts of the world while they were still only in their teenage years! As for now, when one of my university students (ranging from 17 to 21 years old) faces a simple difficulty, his mum and dad come along to see what’s wrong with their “kid”!

Thus, it is really simplistic and unfair to say that since early marriage used to work fine in the past, it will also work today. Also, the sense of maturity differs from urban to rural societies.

In rural communities, early marriage is less likely to fail due to women’s tendency to live in one house, along with the presence of the extended family system. This helps young mothers in their abilities to take on their married responsibilities and bringing up children.

Therefore it is harmless if a girl gets married early. This is as long as it will not deprive her from other important demands of life, such as a basic education, and as long as she is not so young that she would face reproductive health problems.

On the other hand, in an urban society people tend to be more independent. Women need to go to work, which causes the delay of marriage age.

Again, the psychological readiness of the young man or woman is also an important factor for taking such a decision. Two girls who may belong even to the same family could differ, when it comes to this point.

Some international organizations, such as the UNICEF and UNIFEM tried hard to get a treaty that would require governments all over the world to fix the age of marriage between 18 and 20 for girls.

This draft law was criticized by a lot of activists. They considered it a violation of the individual’s human rights and even an intervention in the characteristics of some cultures.

Such organizations forgot that late marriage, which is a norm in some societies, where pre-marital sex is common, may not be “recommended” in other conservative societies. With such a conservative nature, early marriage becomes a norm that is not easy to challenge!

The age of marriage is, then, an individual case. The only criterion here is that the couple should both be mature enough. Such maturity should help both of them recognize and respect their duties and responsibilities, in order to achieve the intended ends of marriage.

I hope this answers your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.