Child Marriage in Islamic Law

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Ghulan Haider, 11, married Faiz Mohammed, age 40. She hoped to become a teacher but was forced to quit her classes upon engagement. Image from the New York Times Magazine.

The major schools of Islamic jurisprudence were in agreement that a pre-pubescent child could be contracted in marriage by his or her father and without consent. They based this view variously on Muhammad's marriage to Aisha, the example of his companions, and the Quran (particularly Quran 65:4). The Maliki and Shafi'i schools even allowed a father to forcibly contract his daughter in marriage who had already reached puberty if she was still a virgin, despite hadith evidence indicating otherwise. The family were to hand over the betrothed wife for consummation of the marriage when they determined that the girl was now able to endure intercourse without physical harm rather than this being tied to any particular age (though Ibn Hanbal specified the age of nine due to the example of Aisha's marital consummation with Muhammad). Some Quranic commentators interpreted the Quran such that only females who had reached puberty can be contracted in marriage, though most thought that marriage of minors was permitted. The Byzantines around this time allowed girls to be married from the age of thirteen and the Persian Sassinids allowed marital consummation from the age of twelve.

Today, many modern Muslim countries have legislated to raise the minimum age of marriage, in many cases to the age of 16 or 18 for girls (though often with loopholes or with ineffective enforcement) and to prevent forced marriage, often in the face of opposition from Islamic scholars. Many Muslim campaign groups and charities have been involved in this process and continue to offer help to those at risk (see the article Forced Marriage which includes sources of help).[1] In collaboration with activists, in 2019 the deputy Grand Imam of al-Azhar University in Cairo issued a fatwa calling for marriage based on mutual consent with a minimum age set as 18.[2] Unicef say that the prevalence of child marriages are decreasing globally but are nevetheless common (including among non-Muslim populations in some regions of the world).

The UN regards child marriage as a human rights violation and aims to eradicate it by 2030. A girl is vulnerable to spousal abuse and childhood pregnancy which greatly jeopardizes her health and future. Organisations such as Unicef warn of medical risks to vaginal sexual intercourse with very young girls and young adolescents include their hips being too narrow to safely give birth, and the risk mentioned even by a few Muslim classical scholars of al-ifḍāʾ (fistula, tearing of the wall between the vagina and back passage).

In scripture

Child marriage in the Quran

Exegetes (Quranic commentors) and Jurists considered a number of Quranic verses when discussing the age of marriage. A significant verse was Quran 65:4, which concerns the Iddat (العدة‎) waiting period a woman must observe before she can remarry in order to avoid doubts about paternity in case she is pregnant (see Quran 2:228). The verse specifies the waiting period after divorce for females who for a range of reasons might not menstruate, for example the menopause. Among the scenarios mentioned in the verse are "those who have not menstruated". Jurists and exegetes (Quranic commentators) understood this as referring to those too young to have had their first periods. Another verse, Quran 33:49 explains that there is no waiting period if the former husband never consummated the marriage. On this basis, the verse was understood to permit pre-pubescent girls to be contracted in marriage.

And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women - if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated. And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth. And whoever fears Allah - He will make for him of his matter ease.

At the same time, exegetes and jurists also considered Quran 4:6, which discusses the property of orphans who "reach [the age of] marriage" (balaghū l-nikāḥa). Some Muslim reformists today interpret this as setting pubescence as a minimum age for the marriage contract, though this was not the traditional interpretation (see below).

And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgement, release their property to them. [...]

They also discussed a number of other verses giving commands about marrying women and slaves such as Quran 4:3 and Quran 24:32.

Tafsirs (Quranic Commentaries)

In her book, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, Carolyn Baugh describes the opinions of Quranic commentators regarding the age of maturity for purposes of financial and legal responsibilities. They were particularly interested in Quran 4:6 quoted above, which mentions testing orphans until they "reach [the age of] marriage" (balaghu al nikah) before releasing them their property. They also discussed what counts as the "sound judgement" (rushd) in the same verse.[3]

Baugh observes that many commentators such as al-Thalabi and al-Tabari before him (citing various companions) equated bulūgh l-nikāḥ (commonly translated "reaching [the age of] marriage", though nikāḥ more literally means consumation of marriage, or intercourse) in Quran 4:6 with bulūgh al-ḥulum ("reaching pubesence").[4] Kecia Ali similarly observes that this identification was made by legal jurists as the point at which a father can no longer compel his son or daughter into a marriage contract - see the section on Islamic Law below. While jurists saw no solid indicator indicator in the Quran for an age of marriage, Baugh nevertheless suggests there may be some unequivocal evidence of a Quranic position on the age at which people may be married. She notes al-Tabari's argument that Quran 2:236-237 refers only to women (nisa) and not minors (although these verses imply a significant time gap between the marriage contract and consummation of the marriage, which is common with child marriages). Al-Qurtubi similarly argues regarding Quran 4:3 that the term nisa is used after a woman has reached pubescence.[5] In fact the word nisa is used in the Quran for females in general in a number of other verses (see Child Marriage in the Qur'an).

Regarding Quran 65:4, Al-Tabari and al-Qurtubi include the opinion that "those who have not menstruated" means those too young to menstruate. Al-Tabari says, "The same applies to the ‘idaah for girls who do not menstruate because they are too young, if their husbands divorce them after consummating the marriage with them."[6][7] Baugh though notes that al-Tabari and al-Qurtubi also report opinions that the verse refers to women whose menstruation has become disrupted. She observes that Ibn al-'arabi on the other hand is definitive that Q 65:4 applies to prepubescent girls (al saghira) and takes it as proof that a man may contract his prepubescent daughter in marriage, as does Ibn Qudama. [8]

The well known classical tafsirs of Ibn Kathir and al-Jalalayn are available in English and are quoted below. Both say that "those who have not menstruated" in Q 65:4 refers to the prepubescent (l-saghira). The traditonal circumstance of revelation for this verse narrates that Muhammad was asked about the 'iddah for "Those who are too young, those who are too old and those who are pregnant".[9] Many other tafsirs make similar statements (See Child Marriage in the Qur'an). A large set of translated quotes attributed to various companions and successors and from various well known commentaries and jurist texts relating to this verse is also available online.[10]

The `Iddah of Those in Menopause and Those Who do not have Menses Allah the Exalted clarifies the waiting period of the woman in menopause. And that is the one whose menstruation has stopped due to her older age. Her `Iddah is three months instead of the three monthly cycles for those who menstruate, which is based upon the Ayah in (Surat) Al-Baqarah. [see 2:228] The same for the young, who have not reached the years of menstruation. Their `Iddah is three months like those in menopause. This is the meaning of His saying.
Exegesis on (Qur'an 65:4)
Tafsir Ibn Kathir
And [as for] those of your women who (read allā'ī or allā'i in both instances) no longer expect to menstruate, if you have any doubts, about their waiting period, their prescribed [waiting] period shall be three months, and [also for] those who have not yet menstruated, because of their young age, their period shall [also] be three months - both cases apply to other than those whose spouses have died; for these [latter] their period is prescribed in the verse: they shall wait by themselves for four months and ten [days] [Q. 2:234]. And those who are pregnant, their term, the conclusion of their prescribed [waiting] period if divorced or if their spouses be dead, shall be when they deliver. And whoever fears God, He will make matters ease for him, in this world and in the Hereafter.
Qur'an 65:4
Tafsir al-Jalalayn

Abul A'la Maududi (d. 1979), who founded the Jama'at-i Islami movement, even went so far as to say that the verse proves consummation of marriage is permitted with pre-pubescent girls:

Here, one should bear in mind the fact that according to the explanations given in the Qur'an the question of the waiting period arises in respect of the women with whom marriage may have been consummated, for there is no waiting-period in case divorce is pronounced before the consummation of marriage. (Al-Ahzab: 49). Therefore, making mention of the waiting-period for the girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl in marriage at this age but it is also permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Qur'an has held as permissible.
Tafsir of al-Maududi for Quran 65:4

Muhammad's marriage to Aisha

Aisha (‘Ā’ishah, c. 613/614 –c. 678)[11] or عائشة, (also transliterated as A'ishah, Aisyah, Ayesha, A'isha, Aishat, or Aishah) was married to Muhammad at the age of 6 or 7, and the marriage was consummated by Muhammad, then 53, at the age of 9 or 10 according to numerous sahih hadiths.[12][13][14][15][16] Due to concerns about child marriage this topic is of heavy interest in modern apologetic literature and public discourse. Aisha's early marriage to Muhammad also featured in the jurist Shafi'i's discussion of the right of a father to contract his virgin daughter in marriage. Her age of nine at consummation is alluded to in Ibn Hanbal's discussion of the same right and of the minimum age of marriage and consummation for orphans (see the section on consummation below as well as the article Forced Marriage). Later, even the other schools of jurisprudence joined them in using the Aisha hadith in discussions of compulsion.[17]

Marriage at a young age was not unheard of in Arabia at the time, and Aisha's marriage to Muhammad may have had a political connotation, as her father Abu Bakr was an influential man in the community.[18] Abu Bakr, on his part, may have sought to further the bond of kinship between Muhammad and himself by joining their families together in marriage via Aisha. Egyptian-American Islamic scholar, Leila Ahmed, notes that Aisha's betrothal and marriage to Muhammad are presented as ordinary in Islamic literature, and may indicate that it was not unusual for children to be married to their elders in that era.[19]

Revisionary disputations on her age

The age of Aisha was not disputed by earlier scholars but a surge of some modern Islamic scholars have made attempts to advance the idea that Aisha was older than nine lunar years at time of the consummation of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad. Sahih hadiths of Aisha's own testimonies are taken to be mistaken, and indirect sources and disputed dating techniques are used to calculate different ages. These diverse techniques have led to several conflicting ages to be proposed for Aisha at the time of consummation, including 12, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 21 years of age.

These revisionary perspectives can be broadly categorized into five categories, including those that: (1) discredit Hisham ibn Urwah and the Iraqi narrators, (2) use non-sahih information to overturn otherwise sahih hadiths, (3) use indirect evidences in preference of direct testimonies, or (4) use ‘loose' dating and aging in preference to specific dates and statements of age. These revisionary approaches are, however, generally not accepted by mainstream Islamic establishments.

Revisionary disputations on the word "consummate"

In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Aisha says that she was married to Muhammad at the age of six and that Muhammad consummated the marriage when she reached the age of nine. The implications of this and similar hadiths have recently been contested by some modern Islamic scholars who attempt to advance the idea that the verbiage used in this hadiths does not in fact refer to sexual consummation. While such a reading has no historical/linguistic or traditional precedent, it has nonetheless achieved some popularity. However, these re-readings, like those re-readings which attempt to advance a different age for Aisha, have generally not been accepted by mainstream Islamic establishments.

The terms used in the hadiths are udkhilath and bana biha, and these words do not permit any meaning other than "engaged in sexual intercourse with her" in the contexts where they are used. Crucial to the facilitation of asexual re-readings of these passages are tendentious English translations (particularly those of Dr. Muhsin Khan) as well as a general and perhaps understandable unwillingness to admit that Muhammad could have slept with or raped a nine year old.

Child Marriage and Muhammad's Companions

Due to the commonplace nature of child marriage in the 7th century (both inside and outside of Arabia), many of Muhammad's companions (sahabah) also engaged in child marriage. Most notable among these were Umar b. al-Khattab (the second "rightly guided caliph"), who married Umm Kulthum when she was between 10-12 (although some sources report she was just 5[20]), and Ali b. Abi Talib (Muhammad's cousin and the fourth "rightly guided caliph"), who married Fatima (Muhammad's daughter) at the age of 9. Even Muhammad's future wife Hafsah's first marriage had already happened by the age of 10, when she joined her first husband on the emigration from Mecca to Abyssinia.[21]

Baugh details a number of early stories of companions marrying and giving their minor daughters and sons in marriage that were frequently discussed by jurists (for example the marriage of Umar ibn al-Khattab to Umm Khaldum, the daughter of Ali and Fatima), though she says there is little indication that any of these marriages were more than unconsummated contractual unions.[22]

Marriage of Minors in Islamic Law

Two books by academic authors are particularly notable on this topic: Slavery and Marriage in Islam by Professor Kecia Ali,[23] and Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law by Professor Carolyn Baugh.[24] A large set of translated quotes from various well known exegetical and jurist texts relating to these matters is also available online.[25]

Kecia Ali gives the following overview on the areas of juristic agreement and disagreement regarding compulsion (more detail is given below):

For free females, both virginity and majority were of concern. Fathers could compel marriage of daughters who were both virgins and minors. On the flip side, those who were neither virgins nor minors could not be compelled but had to give their spoken assent to any proposed marriage. The intermediate categories - daughters who were either virgins or minors but not both - were the subject of disagreement.
Kecia Ali, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam, p. 32

Carolyn Baugh similarly explains that there were some situations in which according to different schools of jurisprudence, consent to be given in marriage might or might not be required: the virgin pubescent (al-bikr al-bāligha), and non-virgin prepubescent (al-thayyib al ṣaghīra). Baugh questions later statements of consensus relating to this topic given disagreements such as these, though like Kecia Ali she states that there was agreement that consent was not required for a father to give his daughter in marriage if she was virgin prepubescent (al-bikr al-ṣaghīra).[26]

The disagreement on the intermediate scenarios depended on whether the jurist believed that the legal rationale for compulsion was due to not having reached the age of majority, or because of virginity (regardless of age and development). For a more detailed discussion of the views of each school of jurisprudence regarding a father's right to compel his pre-pubescent and/or virgin daughter into a marriage contract as well as relevant hadiths, see the article Forced Marriage, which also explains how the hadith of Aisha's marriage was used. In addition, Baugh notes that Maliki and Shafi'i jurists said only the father (or grandfather) may marry off his pre-pubescent daughter, while Hanafis said that any guardian may do so in the case of orphans.[27]

In his book The Distinguished Jurist's Primer (which is available in English translation), Ibn Rushd (d. 1198 CE; known in Europe as Averroes) wrote a detailed description of the points of agreement and difference between the schools of jurisprudence regarding the right of marital consent for girls who have reached majority (bulugh) or are still minors, and for girls who are virgins or non-virgins. He states:

They arrived at the consensus that the father can force a non-bāligh virgin and that he cannot force a divorced bāligh woman, except for isolated instances of disagreement in this, as we have indicated.
The Distinguished Jurist's Primer: Volume II by Ibn Rashd (transl. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee) p. 5

According to Kecia Ali, Islamic jurists considered that the Quranic concept of "Bulugh, majority, was usually constituted by puberty, normally menarche for a girl and first nocturnal emission for a boy, though other signs of physical maturation could be taken into account." In the context of marriage, bulugh was when a son could contract his own marriage, as also the case with daughters according to the Hanafi school.[28]

As mentioned above, this word "bulugh al-nikah" as well as "rushd" (sound judgement) occurs in Quran 4:6 in the context of releasing property to orphans. Like exegetes, jurists were very interested in defining these concepts, particularly for purposes of granting financial responsibility and the applicability of hadd punishments. The jurist Imam Malik even considered that rushd was necessary for releasing the bride's marriage gift (mahr).[29] Baugh says that "Rushd, however, being ultimately highly subjective and intangible, was of significantly less legal value than bulūgh, a verbal noun denoting the attainment of sexual maturity".[30]

Unlike the other schools of jurisprudence, Hanafis allowed the guardian of orphans (who do not have their father) to contract them in marriage before pubescence. They interpreted this from Quran 4:3 and Quran 4:127 combined with their belief that only prepubescents are called orphans.[31]

The Encyclopedia of Unanimous Islamic Rulings says: “Scholars have unanimously agreed that it is permissible for a father to marry off his minor daughter without her consent.” It lists 14 classical scholars who reported the consensus about this, such as Ibn Abdul Barr (d.1071 AD) who said: “Scholars have unanimously agreed that a father can marry off his minor daughter without consulting with her”. The Encyclopedia explains the basis for this consensus:

مستند الإجماع:

1-قوله تعالى: {يَئِسْنَ مِنَ الْمَحِيضِ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ إِنِ ارْتَبْتُمْ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَاللَّائِي لَمْ يَحِضْنَ} [الطلاق: 4]. وجه الدلالة: جعل اللَّه سبحانه وتعالى عدة اللائي لم يحضن ثلاثة أشهر، ولا تكون العدة ثلاثة أشهر إلا من طلاق في نكاح أو فسخ، فدل ذلك على أنها تزوج وتطلق، ولا إذن لها فيعتبر، وأن نكاحها قبل البلوغ جائز .

2- عن عائشة -رضي اللَّه عنها- قالت: تزوجني رسول اللَّه -صلى اللَّه عليه وسلم- لِسِتِّ سنين، وبنى بي وأنا بنت تسع سنين .

3- تزوج قدامة بن مظعون -رضي اللَّه عنه- ابنة الزبير حين نَفِسَتْ، فقيل له، فقال: ابنة الزبير إن مت ورثتني، وإن عشت كانت امرأتي .

4- زوج علي -رضي اللَّه عنه- أم كلثوم ابنته وهي صغيرة عمر بن الخطاب -رضي اللَّه عنه- . وجه الدلالة من هذه الأحاديث: أن عائشة، وابنة الزبير، وأم كلثوم بنت علي كنَّ صغيرات، وعندئذٍ لم يكنَّ في حال يعتبر إذنهن فيه

موسوعة الإجماع في الفقه الإسلامي، الطبعة الأولى 2012، المجلد الثالث من إعداد الدكتور ظافر بن حسن العمري، (3/ 147-144)

1- Allah said: “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women - if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated.” Quran 65:4

This verse says that the Iddah for those who haven’t menstruated is three months. And since that the Iddah is only prescribed in the case of divorce, this proves that:

A-She can marry and can get divorced.

B- Marrying her off before puberty is allowed.

C- Her consent is neglected.  

2- Ayisha said: “Allah's Messenger married me when I was six years old, and consummated his marriage when I was nine”.

3- Muhammad’s companion Qudamah Bin Math’un married the daughter of Al-Zubayr when she was born. He said: “If I die then the daughter of Al-Zubayr will inherit me. If I live then she will be my wife”

4- Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and the fourth caliph, married off his minor daughter Um Kulthum to Umar the second caliph.

These reports show that Ayisha, Al-Zubayr’s daughter and Ali’s daughter were minors which means their consent was unviable.
Mawsu’at Al-Ijma’ Fil-Fiqh Al-Islami, Volume 3 by professor Zafir Al-Amri, first edition 2012, published by Dar Al-Fadhilah, Al-Maktabah Al-Shamilah, vol.3 p.144-147

Modernist scholars argue that there is a clear basis in hadith for consulting women before contracting them in marriage, regardless of age or virginity. See the article Forced Marriage for a more detailed discussion.

Consummation of such marriages in Islamic Law

Abu Hanifa

Reuben Levy, who was Professor of Persian at Cambridge University, writes, "No age limits have been fixed in Islam for marriage, and quite young children may be legally married, although a girl is not handed over to her husband until she is fit for marital congress. The Hanafite legal code lays down that a wife must not be taken into her husband's house until she reaches that condition. In case of dispute on the matter, between the husband and the bride's wali, who is her nearest male kinsmen and her guardian, the qadi is to be informed, and he is to appoint two matrons to examine the girl and report on her physical preparedness for marriage. If they decide she is too young, she must return to her father's house until she is declared fit."[32]

Jurists generally discussed the age of marital consummation in the context of maintenance payments from the husband to the wife, which were linked to her availability for intercourse.

For Hanafis, a prepubescent wife is not entitled to maintenance from her pubescent husband "until maturity (hatta tablugh) for the withholding [of sexual intercourse] is from her and not from him".[33]


For Malik, the age of intercourse is again significant due to it determining when a husband must start paying his young wife maintenance. For Malik, the male age of intercourse was the onset of nocturnal emission. For females, it is when she had come of age and could tolerate intercourse with men (tudrik wa tuṭīq al-rijāl).[34]


For Shafi'i, again consummation is discussed in the context of maintenance payments. A process is envisioned in which he is permitted to visit his wife, and eventually she reaches an age when she can visit him and intercourse normally occurs. Shafi'i further implies that intercourse is permitted before the wife has reached puberty, though the husband must from that time pay maintenance even if he chooses to wait longer:

If a man is contractually married to a woman upon the like of whom the sexual act can be performed, even if she is not pubescent, and she allows him to visit with her (khalat baynahu wa-bayna al-dukhūl ʿalayhā) or her family allows them to be together (if she is a virgin) (khallā ahluhā baynahu wa-bayna dhālik in kānat bikran), and she is not prevented from visiting him (lam tamtaniʿ min al-dukhūl ʿalayhi), he must pay her maintenance, just as it would be incumbent upon him if he had had sex with her (idhā dakhala bi-hā), for the withholding is from his side.
al-Umm 6:232 by Shafi'i, translated by Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 134

Ibn Mundhir (d. 930 CE), a prominent jurist of the Shafi'i school, criticised the Hanbali use of the Aisha hadith (see below) and then sets out the Shafi'i view:

[Ibn al-Mundhir said:] Our opinion is other than this: If she reaches [nine years of age] and does not possess the body and strength [that would allow her to] tolerate a man, her family may keep her away from him (li-ahlihā manʿuhā minhu). And if she is not yet nine, and she possesses the body and strength that would tolerate a man, they should not keep her away from him.
And al-Shāfiʿī said, “If the bride is husky (jasīma), and others of her type (mithluhā) tolerate sexual intercourse, it means they should be allowed to be together (khuliyya baynuhu wa baynuhā). If she cannot tolerate that, then her family should prevent her until she can tolerate sex.”
Al-Ishraf by Ibn al-Mundhir, translated in Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law p. 179

Baugh notes on the same page regarding the translated word "husky", "Although semantically jasīma indicates large or fat, the idea is clearly to depict a girl with a bigger, more sexually-developed body." Although, as Baugh points out, these Shafi'i scholars did not suggest Aisha had this physical state at age nine, it may be relevant to point out that isolated fatwas have occasionally linked this concept to a hadith which states that Aisha's mother fattened her up before she was handed over to Muhammad at the age of nine:

It was narrated that ‘Aishah said:“My mother was trying to fatten me up when she wanted to send me to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) (when she got married), but nothing worked until I ate cucumbers with dates; then I grew plump like the best kind of plump.”
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: My mother intended to make me gain weight to send me to the (house of) the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). But nothing which she desired benefited me till she gave me cucumber with fresh dates to eat. Then I gained as much weight (as she desired).

Ibn Hanbal

Ibn Hanbal alluded to Aisha's age of nine at her marital consummation as the age at which orphans may be married and consummated, and the age at which a father must seek his daughter's permission before contracting a marriage.[35] The later Hanbali scholar Ibn Qudama (d. 1223 CE) further cites Ibn Hanbal's opinion, which he says is based on the marriage of Aisha, that if a husband requests his minor spouse, she must be given to him if she has reached the age of nine: "[Her family] cannot keep her from him after the age of nine." Ibn Qudama is himself conscious of the risk of al-ifḍāʾ (fistula, tearing of the wall between the vagina and back passage) if the girl is still small. If she fears this, he says she may refuse intercourse and let her husband take pleasure from her in other ways.[36]

Ibn Qudama is commonly cited today by Saudi scholars for his views on minor marriage. He cites consensus on the father's right to compel his virgin daughter into a marriage contract. Like so many other earlier scholars, in his view, the 'iddah waiting period for "those who have not menstruated" in Quran 65:4 was proof that prepubescent females could be married and divorced without consideration of their wishes. He also cites the marriage of Aisha and some marriages of companions to minors. Regarding when a bride should be delivered and consummation takes place, Baugh says that Ibn Qudama appeals to culture and the family's judgement. Further, Baugh says that "He quotes the view of Abū Yaʿlā again, who points out that 'girls are different' (annahunna yakhtalifna), and 'the possibility of sex with a prepubescent female depends on her condition and what she can tolerate'".[37]

Later scholars

Ibn Taymīya (d. 1328 CE), who inspired the modern Salafi movement, is also clear that it is possible to compel a female minor to marry, though does not cite the Aisha hadith and denounces those who would compel a girl who has reached maturity into marriage.[38]

Another later scholar, Ibn Qayyim (d. 1350 CE) on the other hand disagreed and was reluctant to offer support for marriage of minors generally.[39] The early scholar Ibn Shubrumah (d. 761 CE) reportedly also held this view, considering Muhammad's marriage to Aisha to be an exception permitted only for him.[40]

Al-Nawawi (d.1277 AD) in his commentary on Sahih Muslim, laid out the view of all four major legal schools on the minimum age of consummation of marriage:

وَأَمَّا وَقْتُ ‌زِفَافِ ‌الصَّغِيرَةِ الْمُزَوَّجَةِ وَالدُّخُولُ بِهَا فَإِنِ اتَّفَقَ الزَّوْجُ وَالْوَلِيُّ عَلَى شَيْءٍ لَا ضَرَرَ فِيهِ عَلَى الصَّغِيرَةِ عُمِلَ بِهِ وَإِنِ اخْتَلَفَا فَقَالَ أَحْمَدُ وَأَبُو عُبَيْدٍ تُجْبَرُ عَلَى ذَلِكَ بِنْتُ تِسْعِ سِنِينَ دُونَ غَيْرِهَا وَقَالَ مَالِكٌ وَالشَّافِعِيُّ وَأَبُو حَنِيفَةَ حَدُّ ذَلِكَ أَنْ تُطِيقَ الْجِمَاعَ وَيَخْتَلِفُ ذَلِكَ بِاخْتِلَافِهِنَّ وَلَا يُضْبَطُ بِسِنٍّ وَهَذَا هُوَ الصَّحِيحُ

شرح النووي على مسلم، دار إحياء التراث العربي، المكتبة الشاملة، ج9 ص206

Regarding the timing of the wedding of a minor wife and consummation of her marriage, if the husband and the minor’s legal guardian both agreed on something that doesn’t harm the minor then it’s done. If they disagree, Ahmad (the Imam of one of the 4 major legal schools in Sunni Islam) said that she is forced to be wed at the age of 9. Malik, Al-Shafi’i and Abu Hanifa (the remaining 3 Imams of the 4 major legal schools) said the timing is when she’s capable of enduring sexual intercourse which differs from one person to another and can’t be determined by age. This is the correct view.

Mukhtasar Khalil is a major book in the Maliki legal school which is one of the four major legal schools. Al-Kharashi (d.1690) said in his commentary on this book:

وقوله وأمكن وطؤها أي بلا حد سن بل يختلف باختلاف الأشخاص ولا يشترط الاحتلام فيها كالرجل؛ لأن من أطاقت الوطء يحصل بها للرجل ‌كمال ‌اللذة

شرح الخرشي على مختصر خليل، المطبعة الكبرى الأميرية، المكتبة الشاملة، ج3 ص258

“It’s possible to have sex with her” meaning there’s no specific age. Every person is different. And it’s not required for her to reach puberty because a man can receive full pleasure if the female can endure sex.

Many scholars say that a husband is obliged to provide for his wife only if she lets him have sex with her. This notion caused a discussion amongst scholars on the issue of a wife who’s too young to endure sex, with some scholars saying the husband in this case isn’t obliged to provide for her because he can’t have sex with her. The following quote falls within this context: Kanz Al-Daqa’iq is a major book in the Hanafi legal school. Al-Zayla’i (d.743 AH) said in his commentary on this book:

قَالَ - رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ - (وَصَغِيرَةٌ لَا تُوطَأُ) يَعْنِي لَا تَجِبُ لَهَا النَّفَقَةُ سَوَاءٌ كَانَتْ فِي مَنْزِلِهِ أَوْ لَمْ تَكُنْ، وَقَالَ الشَّافِعِيُّ لَهَا نَفَقَةٌ لِأَنَّهَا عِوَضٌ عَنْ الْمِلْكِ عِنْدَهُ كَمَا فِي الْمَمْلُوكَةِ مِلْكَ الْيَمِينِ وَقِيلَ إنَّ الصَّغِيرَةَ إذَا كَانَتْ مُشْتَهَاةً وَيُمْكِنُ جِمَاعُهَا فِيمَا دُونَ الْفَرْجِ يَجِبُ لَهَا النَّفَقَةُ، وَلَوْ كَانَتْ الصَّغِيرَةُ تَصْلُحُ لِلْجِمَاعِ تَجِبُ نَفَقَتُهَا عَلَى الزَّوْجِ بِالْإِجْمَاعِ لِحُصُولِ الْمَقْصُودِ، وَاخْتَلَفُوا فِي حَدِّهِ فَقِيلَ بِنْتُ تِسْعِ سِنِينَ، وَالصَّحِيحُ أَنَّهُ ‌غَيْرُ ‌مُقَدَّرٍ ‌بِالسِّنِّ، وَإِنَّمَا الْعِبْرَةُ لِلِاحْتِمَالِ وَالْقُدْرَةِ عَلَى الْجِمَاعِ فَإِنَّ السَّمِينَةَ الضَّخْمَةَ تَحْتَمِلُ الْجِمَاعَ، وَإِنْ كَانَتْ صَغِيرَةَ السِّنِّ

تبيين الحقائق شرح كنز الدقائق للزيلعي، المطبعة الكبرى الأميرية، المكتبة الشاملة، ج3 ص52

“A minor who can’t endure sex” meaning the husband isn’t obliged to provide for her whether she’s living in his home or not. Al-Shafi’i said that “the husband is actually obliged to provide for her since that providing for her is the price for owning her. It’s like how a man is obliged to provide for his slave girl”….Some scholars say if the female minor is (old enough) to be sexually desirable and it’s possible to have sexual acts with her except for intercourse, then the husband is obliged to provide for her. But if the female minor can endure sex, scholars have unanimously agreed that the husband is obliged to provide for her. Scholars have disagreed on determining the age when a minor can endure sex, with some saying it’s nine. What’s is correct is that age doesn’t matter. What matters is the capability to endure sexual intercourse; a fat big female can endure intercourse even if she’s of a young age.

A fatwa collection issued by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Kuwait, included the following fatwa, though like some other isolated fatwas of a similar nature, it does not seem consistent with earlier jurisprudence discussed above and in Baugh's book:

هل يصح عقد الزواج على الرضيعة ويجوز التمتع بها بالتقبيل وغيره -سوى الجماع- بما لا ‏يضرها؟

الجواب: إذا كان العقد مستوفيًا لشروطه الشرعية، فإنها تصبح به زوجته من كل الوجوه، ويحل له منها ‏النظر إليها ولمسها وتقبيلها، ولا يحل له جماعها حتى تطيقه من غير ضرر، فإذا أطاقته حل له منها ‏ذلك أيضًا.

مجموعة الفتاوى الشرعية، فتوى رقم 6058

Question: Is it allowed to marry a suckling baby and is it allowed to pleasure myself with her by kissing her and doing other unharmful acts excluding sex?

Answer: If the marriage contract fulfills the Islamic legal requirements then she’s considered to be his wife in all respects and he’s allowed to look at her, touch her and kiss her. He’s not allowed to have sex with her until she can endure sex without causing her any harm.

In the Wider Late Antique Milieu

Roman law, and, as early as the 8th century, Byzantine law both forbade marriage to girls below the age of puberty, which they fixed at twelve and thirteen years of age, respectively. The law was not entirely successful in eliminating such marriages. The penalty for seducing a girl below this age was that the man's nose was slit and she was given half his property. Jewish and Islamic law by contrast were far more permissive of men contracting and consumating marriage with pre-pubetal girls.[41]

In the Sasanian period, middle Persian law provided that a girl might marry at the age of nine years and that consummation of the union need be delayed only until she reached the age of twelve years (there was one Persian jurist who allowed the marriage to be consummated at the age of nine if the girl was physically mature). If a girl refused all marriage offers by the age of fifteen she had committed a capital sin.[42]

Child Marriage in the Muslim world today

In recent decades the legal age of marriage has been raised in most Muslim majority countries. Child marriage under the age of 18 and 15 is nevertheless still common in many Islamic countries, as well as in many predominantly Christian African countries, India, Latin America and the Caribbean.[43] A number of factors are associated with the practice, including poverty, family honor and religious and customary laws.[44] Child marriage is legal under Islamic law, and where the practice is prohibited by civil law, such marriages are sometimes carried out by independent Imams who allege to be loyal to the Sharia alone. In these countries, child marriages are especially common among rural populations where girls well below the age of puberty may be wed by their guardians to older men to various ends, including the preservation of the family and girls' 'honor'.

This practice has even been observed among the Muslim populations of non-Muslim countries, such as the United Kingdom[45] and the United States.[46]

In countries including Yemen, Bangladesh, Iran, and Northern Nigeria, attempts at reforming laws and banning child marriages have been opposed and stopped on the grounds that such a ban would be un-Islamic.[47][48][49][50][51] Malaysia has even passed new laws which explicitly allow for the practice of child marriages among Muslims on religious grounds.[52]

Relevant quotations


And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women - if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated. And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth. And whoever fears Allah - He will make for him of his matter ease.


Narrated Hisham's father: Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married 'Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.
Narrated 'Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

See also


  1. For example Muslim Women's Network UK and Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
  2. Senior Islamic cleric issues fatwa against child marriage -
  3. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, Leiden: Brill, 2017, pp. 44-46
  4. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 44-47, including footnote 117
  5. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 47-48
  6. See al-Tabari's tafsir for Q. 65:4 translated by Is it acceptable to marry a girl who has not yet started her menses?
  7. See for the Arabic commentaries on Q. 65:4 by al-Qurtubi (who says it means prepubescent girls, al-saghirah), and al-Tabari (who says it refers to young girls, al-jawari, or virgins ʾabkār, or those who had not reached menstruation)
  8. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 47-8
  9. [Azbab al-Nazul by al-Wahidi for Quran 65:4] -
  10. Q65.4: The verse of child marriage
  11. Al-Nasa'i 1997, p. 108
  12. Narrated Hisham's father: Khadija died three years before the Prophet (ﷺ) departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married `Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old. Sahih Bukhari 5:58:236
  13. Narrated 'Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death). Sahih Bukhari 7:62:64
  14. 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old. Sahih Muslim 8:3310
  15. Aisha said, "The Apostle of Allah married me when I was seven years old." (The narrator Sulaiman said: "Or six years.") Sunan Abu Dawud 2116 (Ahmad Hasan Ref)
  16. Most sources suggest age at consummation as nine, and one that it may have been age 10; See: Denise Spellberg (1996), Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231079990, pp. 39–40;
  17. Baugh writes, "If at first the non-Shāfiʿīs held out against inserting the report of ʿĀʾisha into this discussion, they later gave way, and other proof texts such as the ayyim/bikr hadith would eventually be cast aside. By the time of the Ḥanbalī Ibn Qudāma, the only text given any real emphasis is the ʿĀʾisha report."
    Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 205
  18. Afsaruddin, Asma (2014). "ʿĀʾisha bt. Abī Bakr". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett. Encyclopaedia of Islam (3 ed.). Brill Online. Retrieved 2015-01-11
  19. Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. Yale University Press. p. 51-54. ISBN 978-0300055832.
  20. "'Umar asked 'Ali for the hand of his daughter, Umm Kulthum in marriage. 'Ali replied that '''she has not yet attained the age (of maturity)'''. 'Umar replied, 'By Allah, this is not true. You do not want her to marry me. If she is underage, send her to me'. Thus 'Ali gave his daughter Umm Kulthum a dress and asked her to go to 'Umar and tell him that her father wants to know what this dress is for. When she came to Umar and gave him the message, he grabbed her hand and forcibly pulled her towards him. 'Umm Kulthum asked him to leave her hand, which Umar did and said, 'You are a very mannered lady with great morals. Go and tell your father that you are very pretty and you are not what he said of you'. With that 'Ali married Umm Kulthum to 'Umar." Tarikh Khamees, Volume 2, p. 384 ('Dhikr Umm Kalthum') and Zakhair Al-Aqba, p. 168
  21. "Most accounts claim that the young Ḥafṣah was already a widow at the time of her marriage to the Prophet. Her previous husband was Khunays b. Ḥudhāfah al-Sahmī, one of the earliest Meccan converts to Islam. Fleeing persecution in Mecca, Ḥafṣah emigrated to Abyssinia with Khunays ca. 617, when she was ten years of age, and they returned to the Hijaz after Muḥammad’s hijrah to Medina in 622."
    Sean Anthony and Catherine Bronson Did Ḥafṣah bint ʿUmar Edit the Qurʾan? A Response with Notes on the Codices of the Prophet’s Wives, Journal of the International Qurʾanic Studies Association 1 (2016), p. 97
  22. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 38-42
  23. Kecia Ali, "Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam", Massachussets: Harvard University Press, 2010
  24. Carolyn Baugh,Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, Leiden: Brill, 2017
  25. Q65.4: The verse of child marriage
  26. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 21, 56
  27. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 49, 80
  28. Kecia Ali, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam, pp. 31-32
  29. Carolyn Baugh,Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 44-46
  30. Carolyn Baugh,Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 53
  31. Carolyn Baugh,Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 80
  32. Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 106-107
  33. Al-Shaybani's description of Abu Hanifa's position as quoted by Carolyn Baugh,Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 97
  34. Mudawwana, 2:255 translated by Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 116-117
  35. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 139 footnote 65
    "Witness Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal’s insistence that a nine year old girl must grant permission, and that orphan girls cannot be married at all prior to attaining age nine, a marker that is surely extrapolated from the ages put forward in the report of ʿĀʾisha. (Chapters on Marriage, 63–64) Aḥmad further avers that he believes husbands should not have intercourse with (orphan) wives below the age of nine."
  36. Ibn Qudāma, Al-Mughnī, 9:623 translated by Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 212-3 including footnote 21
  37. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 7-10, 213-4, see also 12, 17, 20 regarding his influence today
  38. Ibn Taymīya, Fatāwā, 32:39 cited by Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 212
  39. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, pp. 214
  40. Carolyn Baugh, Minor Marriage in Early Islamic Law, p. 226
  41. Sean Anthony, "Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The making of the Prophet of Islam", Oakland CA: University of California, 2020, p. 115
  42. CHILDREN iii. Legal Rights of Children in the Sasanian Period - Encyclopedia Iranica online
  43. Child marriage data - (accessed November 2022)
  44. Child marriage - (accessed November 2022)
  45. Ten-fold rise in forced marriages in just four years - The Daily Mail July 2, 2009
  46. Christine Vendel - Man charged with statutory rape in ‘marriage’ to 14-year-old girl - The Kansas City Star, November 8, 2009
  47. "Nigeria Child Brides-Broken Lives", Times Online, November 28, 2008 (archived), 
  48. "I Could Marry Off My Six Year Old Daughter If I So Wished, Senator Ahmed Yerima Replies Critics", The Nigeria Today, July 21, 2013 (archived), 
  49. Islamist leader threatens of waging Jihad - Weekly Blitz, April 20, 2011
  50. Yessir - Child Marriage - Death Of 13 Year Old Bride After Wedding - A BIG MESSAGE, April 10, 2010
  51. YEMEN: Deep divisions over child brides - IRIN, March 28, 2010
  52. Outcry over Malaysian child marriages - Sydney Morning Herald, August 4, 2010