Any attempt to pin down a single universal number as a minimum age for marriage is baseless. Therefore, we see the variance in the age of sexual consent even within countries situated next to each other. Within Europe, the age of consent is fourteen years old in Germany, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Estonia. This age number is illegal in some of their neighboring countries, based on their concept of morality.
The minimum age of marriage stipulated by Islam is based on nature. According to Islam, after a person reaches puberty and can be sexually active and healthy, without maternal complications associated with adolescent pregnancy, that is when they can get married and get divorced.
This is not new. It is based on universal nature, and Islam is the religion of nature.
The Holy Qur’an says,
“And follow the nature made by Allah — the nature in which He has created mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah. That is the right religion” (1).
This principle is so clearly based on common sense that anyone who defies it defies nature and common sense. Since there is no definitive number in nature as the age of marriage, hence there is no such definitive number in Islam.
This begs some simple questions for those who claim Islam advocates underage marriage: what number do you believe is underage, and why do you believe this? Do your vague feelings on morality not become more visibly baseless when they are used to try and define age differentiation?
For example, in the United States of America, some states consider teenagers to be mature enough to give sexual consent, but only if their partner is two years older than them. If their partner is three years older, it is rape. Other American states consider a four-year age difference acceptable, but at five years older, it is rape. Some places in the United States believe a fourteen-year-old is mature enough to be with someone only if they are up to four years older, whereas a fifteen-year-old is now mature enough to be with someone nine years older. And some places believe a seventeen-year-old can consent to physical relations with someone twenty-nine years older, but if they are with someone thirty years older, they are being raped (2).
At all these ages, society believes that a woman is mature enough to decide whether to abort her fetus or keep her baby. However, society does not believe that the same woman is mature enough to decide to be with someone in marriage who is older than her. These random moral judgments are all decided on an arbitrary, baseless concept of morality.
This does not mean that Islam allows defiance of the laws of one’s country. In fact, the Holy Qur’an repeatedly instructs Muslims to act according to “Ma’ruf,” which is any action commonly known as good by reason and by the law (3). For example, if a country deems it illegal to marry at a certain age or a certain age differentiation, the Muslims of that country are obliged to adhere to those laws. If the norms of a certain culture frown on early marriage, Muslims adhere to the norms of that culture.
Can the norms of a particular culture ever be a universal law on morality? The answer is no, they cannot. It is the religion of Islam alone that has provided universal teachings that can be applied consistently in every era and in every society. Islam is consistent because it is based on the laws of nature. In fact, the only morality that has any basis is a teaching based on nature and reality.
What is that reality? Human nature is that people will start to become sexually active whenever they are physically ready, and it is healthy for them to do so.
This is clear even in countries that are not influenced by the teachings of Islam. For example, 18.4% of women in Denmark have their first sexual intercourse at the age of fourteen or younger. 12.9% of women in Norway and 17.8% of women in Sweden have their first sexual intercourse at the age of fourteen or younger (4). In the United States, the number is 20% of women aged fourteen or younger (5). Five percent (5%) of sixth graders are having sexual relations, and some schools are giving them condoms (6).
The ground reality is that people become sexually active in their teenage years, with or without marriage. Islam has taught marriage, but as a direct result of premarital sex, women disproportionately suffer because they are naturally more vulnerable than men to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (7).
What is Islam’s solution? Islam addresses this reality with an institution of marriage where parents are involved in matchmaking. Islam has restricted men by only allowing sexual contact if they [the men]commit, through the woman’s consent, to the emotional and financial support of marriage. Women have every right to choose a mate and cannot be forced by anyone to consent (8). Islam has also protected women by giving them the right to divorce anytime and for any reason (9).
Islam is the universal religion. It has taught a simple principle that applies across cultures and across time. Nature and reality have not changed, and what is moral does not change based on a few people’s feelings. It bears reiterating that whenever nature determines that someone can be sexually active and healthy, without maternal complications associated with adolescent pregnancy, that is, for the most part, when they can choose to get married or, if the situation arises, to get divorced.
- Holy Qur’an (30:31)
- Statutory Rape Laws By State, https://www.cga.ct.gov/2003/olrdata/jud/rpt/2003-r-0376.htm
- Lane’s Lexicon, Root: عرف, Entry: عُرْفٌ، مَعْرُوفٌ
- Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, Volume 99, Issue 2, Pages 175-185, February 2020, https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/aogs.13732
- Guide to DHS Statistics DHS-7, 4:13, https://dhsprogram.com/data/Guide-to-DHS-Statistics/index.htm#t=Age_at_First_Sexual_Intercourse.htm
- The Facts About Sexual Activity in Middle School, https://patch.com/california/pleasanthill/facts-sexual-activity-middle-school
- Fact Sheet: 10 Ways STDs Impact Women Differently from Men, https://www.cdc.gov/std/health-disparities/stds-women-042011.pdf
- Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 89, Chapter 3
- Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 68, Chapter 12; Fiqh Ahmadiyya, vol. 2, p. 87
Last modified: October 2023