• CHILD MARRIAGE FROM THE LEGAL AND SYARIAH POINTS OF VIEW

    CHILD MARRIAGE: FROM THE LEGAL AND SYARIAH POINTS OF VIEW

    INTRODUCTION: The marriage solemnisation of a 41 year old Kelantanese man to an 11 year old Thai girl (child marriage) sometime in June this year, has sparked outrage among the locals as well as human rights activists abroad, detesting a young child to become someone else’s bride. This much publicised news still remains a spotlight and attracted debates, whether to ban it altogether or to keep it within strict bounds. The question here is what is the position of child marriage in the Islamic context? Does Islam really permit a child to tie the knot?

     

    THE CONCEPT OF MARRIAGE IN ISLAM

    1. Before we delve further into the matter and explore the opinions of the Islamic scholars pertaining to it, it is best for us to firstly understand the concept of marriage in Islam. Marriage in Islam is considered as a sacred contract and is in fact encouraged by our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. if all the marriage requirements are duly met. A hadeeth reported by ‘Abdullah Bin Mas’ud in the Translation of Sahih Muslim, Book: 8 reads:

      0 young men, those among you who can support a wife should marry, for it restrains eyes (from casting evil glances) and preserves one from immorality; but he who cannot afford it should observe fast for it is a means of controlling the sexual desire.

    2. But what most of us fail to notice is that, with marriage comes responsibility. This issue of responsibility is what we need to concern most about when it comes to child marriage, as to whether a young child is capable to shoulder the responsibility of being a wife and a future mother. What we need to bear in mind is that marital commitments are not a one-man responsibility but a joint responsibility of both parties to the marriage contract.
    3. Looking at the requirements of marriage in Islam, we could see that there is no mention of a specific age for a bride or a groom to validly enter into a marriage solemnisation. Despite of the silence on the minimum age requirement for marriage in the Islamic faith, both parties to a marriage need to reach “comprehensive maturity” before an akad can be contracted. This is quoted in an article entitled; “An Islamic Human Rights Perspective on Early and Forced Marriages: Protecting the Sanctity of Marriage” published by Islamic Relief. A profound sense of maturity is therefore a necessity in marriage in order for the parties to fully understand the rights and responsibilities aroused out of marriage.

     

    THE DEFINITION OF CHILD IN ISLAM

    1. Next, the definition of “child” in Islam also requires contemplation. It is worth to be highlighted that, unlike the Western perspective on the definition of “child”, a “child” according to the shari’ah is not ultimately be defined according to a specified age. This is based on an article entitled “Child Marriage and Minimum Age of Marriage under Islamic Family Law” by Zanariah Noor. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereinafter referred to as “CRC) in its Article 1 defines a child to be a person under the age of eighteen (18) years unless if the laws of certain countries fixed a lower age. Malaysian laws also adopt the minimum age set by CRC, except for the Adoption Act 1952 which sets the age of under 21 years old for a person to be defined as a child.
    2. On the other hand, in Islam, the determinant is the state of puberty (bulugh). Based on the article entitled; “Child Marriage and Minimum Age of Marriage under Islamic Family Law” by Zanariah Noor, a state of puberty can be determined based on two ways:
      1. Physical change
      2. Age
    3. Referring to the above article, a female is said to have reached the age of puberty when she starts to discharge blood from the womb (haidh), whereas, a male attains the age of bulugh when there is an emission of seminal liquid (maniy). On the other hand, when there is no apparent physical change, the state of bulugh is determined by looking at the age of the person. If a person has attained the age of 15 years (Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi’i madhahib) or the age of 17 years (Maliki madhab), he/she is said to have attained the age of puberty.

     

    JURISTIC OPINIONS ON CHILD MARRIAGE

    1. On the issue of releasing a child for her to be wedded with someone, there are differences of opinions among the Islamic scholars. Based on an article entitled; “Bayan Linnas Siri ke-141: Perkahwinan Kanak-kanak Mengikut Perspektif Syariah”, which can easily be accessible via the official website of the Federal Territory Mufti, the scholars which totally prohibit child marriage are Ibn Syubrumah and Abu Bakr al-Asam. The justification of the prohibition is based on the verse from the Qur’an which reads:

      وَابْتَلُوا الْيَتَامَى حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغُوا النِّكَاحَ فَإِنْ آَنَسْتُمْ مِنْهُمْ رُشْدًا فَادْفَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ أَمْوَالَهُمْ

      And try orphans (as regards their intelligence) until they reach the age of marriage; if then you find sound judgement in them, release their property to them” (Surah An-Nisaa’: Verse)

    2. According to the above article, the wajh al-dilalah of the above verse is that the age of minority ends at the age of marriage. Thus, there would be no such thing as child marriage based on this interpretation.
    3. On the other hand, the views which assent to child marriage can be further divided into two. The first view opines that child marriage is permissible, depending on the age of bulugh. Thus, no matter how “young” a person is, if she has already attained the age of puberty, it would be valid for her to get married. In contrast, the second view allows child marriage, even though the child has not attained the age of puberty. Nevertheless, the marriage can only be solemnised by “a person who is closest to the child, takes responsibility upon the child the most, loves her the most, knows best the maslahah (interest) of the child”. The person refers to the wali of the girl, i.e. the girl’s father. This opinion is held based on various authentic authorities from the Qur’an and hadeeth. 
    4. The verse of the Qur’an to support this contention is from Surah At-Talaq, Verse 4 which states to the effect:

    وَاللَّائِي يَئِسْنَ مِنَ الْمَحِيضِ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ إِنِ ارْتَبْتُمْ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَاللَّائِي لَمْ يَحِضْنَ

    And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the ‘Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their ‘Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise, except in case of death].

    Based on the interpretation of this verse by al-Jassas as cited in the above-mentioned article, the part of the verse which goes وَاللَّائِي لَمْ يَحِضْنَ means a child who has not attained the age of maturity (bulugh). This means, if a child has to observe a period of ‘iddah, impliedly, a child can get married.

     

    THE STATEMENT OF MUFTI ON CHILD MARRIAGE

    1. The question now is: what is the stance of the Federal Territory Mufti with regards to the validity of child marriage? Construing the official written statement of the Federal Territory Mufti on this issue, the Mufti stated that the hukm of a child marriage depends on the laws in Malaysia. In Malaysia, the shari’ah law only permits a marriage to be contracted the earliest at the age of 18 (male) and 16 (female), and any marriage contracted below the specified minimum age, requires a prior written consent from the Hakim Syar’ie. This is laid out under Section 8 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territory) Act 1984.
    2. Nevertheless, he further stated that although the hukm of a child marriage is valid (sah) (provided that all the arkan of nikah are fulfilled), a child can only get married if he/she has attained the age where he/she is capable to discharge well the responsibilities that are tied together with a marriage contract and must understand the consequences of marriage such as pregnancy, the duty to provide maintenance, duty to provide conjugal relations, among others.
    3. Interestingly, the Official Website of the Federal Territory Mufti had just published a new article dated 7th August 2018, which refined the discussions on child marriage in the shari’ah perspective by narrowing down the discussion in the context of siyasah shar’iyyah. The article entitled; Bayan Linnas #145: Isu Perkahwinan Kanak-Kanak Menurut Perspektif Siyasah Syar’iyyah defined siyasah shar’iyyah as “a branch of study which studies about administerial affairs of an Islamic State in the context of the laws, policy and system, in accordance with the usul of Islam, despite the non-existence of a specific dalil (proof) in the nas syara’”.
    4. Thus, based on the concept of siyasah shar’iyyah, the Article stated that the Malaysian government has a right to curb child marriage through the implementation of laws and policies in order to ensure the interests of the children are protected, due to the fact that the nature of marriage entails marital responsibilities and obligations which might not be able to be carried out well by young children.
    5. Meanwhile, based on the Islamic principle of maslahah mursalah (simply translated as the consideration of public interest), the Article further stated that the Government has the right to enforce laws which limit the age of marriage involving children, if the laws are ordained in order to protect the interests and welfare of the children. This is as long as the laws are not in contradiction with nas qat’ie. 
    6. Next, based on the principle of sadd az-zari’ah (blocking the means of evil), the Article continued that the Government can hinder/disallow child marriage as a means to prevent from any occurrence of unwanted child exploitation, child abuse, and other detrimental effects arousing from a child marriage (if solemnised arbitrarily).  
    7. Lastly, based on the principle of istihsan (juristic preference), the Article indicated that, despite the existence of legal authorities (dalil) which permit child marriage (as pointed out above), by applying istihsan on the basis of maslahah (protecting the interests of the children), the interests of the children are prioritised and preferred over the contentions which authorise or legalise child marriage. 

     

    CONCLUSION

    1. In conclusion, the issue of child marriage should not be downplayed by any party, irrespective of race and creed. The interests and welfare of the children should be the paramount consideration before a Shari’ah Court Judge gives his written consent to permit the marriage solemnisation. Besides, the standard operating procedure (SOP) which has been outlined by the Syariah Judicial Department in cases of approving underage marriage applications should be supported, so as to avoid from any occurrence of marital abuse among innocent and vulnerable children.
    2. Despite the existence of juristic opinions which permit child marriage as discussed in the foregoing discussions, based on the principle of siyasah syar’iyyah that has been elaborated above and as what has been pointed out in the official written statement of the Federal Territory Mufti, the Government has the power/authority to limit the minimum age of marriage in order to uphold justice (protecting the interests of vulnerable children and preventing from any incidence of child exploitation or abuse). Following the call to raise the minimum age of marriage for Muslims, as what have been reported in several local news portals, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) had took the first leap before the other Islamic Religious Councils of the rest of the States in Malaysia, by proposing to amend the minimum age of marriage (by increasing the minimum age limit of marriage).
    3. Nevertheless, the proposal to increase the minimum age of marriage for Muslims in Malaysia should not be misunderstood as a means to illegalise what Allah permits (permitting child marriage in certain strict conditions and circumstances, in line with the Shari’ah, which would certainly not jeopardise children’s lives). Instead, as summed up by the Honourable Mufti of the Federal Territory, looking at the ‘urf in Malaysia, child marriage is best disallowed in accordance with law by following the Islamic principles of maslahah mursalah, sad al-zari’ah and istihsan. Whereas, exceptions would only be applicable in certain remote cases, after adhering to very strict conditions set by the Court. Wallahu a’lam.

    Article published for Peguam Syarie Faiz Adnan

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