Age of Consent in Classical Islamic Law


In the title of Allah , the Gracious, the Merciful

The age of consent to sexual relations will not be firmly established in classical Islamic regulation like it’s in lots of Muslim and non-Muslim international locations right now. The applicable age of sexual relations was set in conventional pre-modern societies by both particular person households or native customized, usually linked to indicators of bodily puberty like menarche and pubic hair.1  The lack of consistency on this space of regulation is as a result of societies all through time and place extensively range of their circumstances, sources, issues, and priorities.

There are many cases in historical past for which the age of consent and marriage is in obvious disagreement with trendy norms and legal guidelines. The twelfth century Decretum Gratiani, as an illustration, mandates consent at an undefined “age of discretion”2 and acknowledges that sexual relations and marriage may happen as early as seven years. 3 Some Christian sources state that Mary was to be given in marriage to the ninety year-old St. Joseph when she was solely twelve or fourteen.4 As late because the mid-Nineteenth century, the United Kingdom’s Offences towards the Person Act legally allowed sexual relations with twelve year-olds.5 Around the identical time within the United States, every state decided its personal legal regulation with age of consent starting from ten to 12 years of age. It is barely initially of the late Nineteenth century, spurred on by the Industrial Revolution’s speedy financial progress and technological growth, that attitudes shifted towards setting the age increased and better. 6

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Therefore, it shouldn’t be shocking that the event of classical Islamic regulation into centralized state methods adopted the same trajectory as different societies.

Why is that this situation necessary right now?

Sexual relations are religiously illegal in Islam within the absence of a contract of marriage or concubinage. Concubinage disappeared when the Muslim world martialed Islamic authorized arguments to abolish slavery, 7 so consent is now solely related to marriage. The query of consent to marriage is necessary to the fashionable context from not less than two views:

First, there’s an ongoing controversy regarding the follow of kid marriage in some locations within the Muslim world. 8 Classical Islamic jurists typically allowed a wedding to be contracted with a toddler, however not consummated by sexual activity till the kid gained puberty or was bodily prepared to take action. 9 While the classical regulation theoretically upheld the fitting of kids to consent to their marriage upon reaching maturity, exterior elements similar to cultural and familial stress can simply violate the spirit of those protections, if not the letter of the regulation itself. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) decreed that such a toddler should consent to the wedding earlier than it may be consummated. 10 Therefore, pressured marriages are out of the query altogether, however the query nonetheless stays of what norms associated to youthful marriages that Muslims are most applicable for them to undertake domestically on the state-level in every nation.

Second, the age of consent is introduced up in anti-Islam polemics to allegedly display the backwards and ‘evil’ nature of Islam. Modern norms, not less than within the West, have positioned a stigma on sexual relations between “adults” (often 18 years and above) and “adolescents” (often 17 years and beneath). Voluntary sexual activity with a post-pubescent minor who’s youthful than the authorized age of consent is legally punished as “statutory rape.” Such boundaries are applicable for extremely developed trendy societies, however the rule in many of the world all through time was based mostly on native customs for good purpose. As such, polemicists will cite the rulings of some classical Islamic jurists who allowed, or appeared to permit, sexual relations with ladies as younger as 9, which they declare is proof that Islam promotes little one abuse or ‘grooming gangs.’ Attacks of this nature permeate the web, anti-Islam literature, and a few political discourse, regardless of being based mostly totally on misinformed historic anachronisms.

No consensus age in Islamic regulation

There isn’t any consensus in Islamic regulation across the age of consent to marriage or sexual relations, for a similar causes there was no consensus within the West or elsewhere. The Hanafi jurist Zayn al-Dīn ibn Nujaym (d. 1563) writes:

[The scholars] differed as to the time when one might consummate with a younger woman. It is claimed that it’s not permissible to consummate together with her so long as she has not reached puberty, it’s mentioned he could consummate together with her when she reaches 9 years, and it’s mentioned he could consummate together with her if her physique is massive sufficient to deal with intercourse, in any other case he could not. 11

Islamic legal guidelines associated to human-human interplay (versus human-divine interplay) are typically ruled by social customized moderately than express statutes from divine revelation. 12Juristic and ethical reasoning on the idea of normal rules are sometimes the figuring out consider judging social customs to be proper or incorrect, applicable or inappropriate. This versatile authorized system was derived from the assertion of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) well-known companion ʿAbd Allāh ibn Masʿūd (d. 653), “Whatever the Muslims view as good is good to Allah , and whatever they view as evil is evil to Allah .” 13

That is, a society of Muslims has been delegated some authority to control their very own social customs. For this purpose, it’s a legitimate opinion in Islamic regulation for a set age of consent to be set, or for it to be set by pure indicators like puberty or bodily growth. Today, nearly all of Muslim international locations have opted to set the age of consent between fourteen and eighteen, though Bahrain is an outlier with a minimal age of twenty-one. 14

“Age Of Consent By Country 2021,” World Population Review. Accessed June 14, 2021.

Operative precept: no hurt or returning hurt

Regardless of 1’s opinion on the age of consent, all classical jurists accepted in precept the illegality of inflicting hurt to a different particular person and not using a official purpose.15 The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had issued a decree, “Do not cause harm or return harm.” 16 The jurists explicitly utilized this precept to sexual relationships. Yaḥyá ibn Sharaf al-Nawawī (d. 1277), representing the Shafi’i college, states this as a needed situation when discussing the rights of wives to dwelling and upkeep, “If it is possible to have intercourse with her without harming her, he may do that. If it is not possible for him to have intercourse with her except by harming her, he does not have permission to have intercourse with her.” 17 There isn’t any legitimate interpretation of Islamic regulation, in any college of thought, that permits kids to be abused in any manner, sexually or in any other case. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) mentioned, “He is not one of us who is not merciful to our young.” 18

Looking forward

Islam was revealed to be related to all peoples in each time and place. The twin authorized rules of allowing social customs basically, restricted by the crucial to not trigger hurt, enable some flexibility for Muslim societies to put applicable boundaries to sexual relations as they proceed to develop. It will not be a coherent Islamic authorized argument to assert that as a result of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) married his youngest spouse Aisha at age 9, that it’s permissible or useful for Muslims to take action whereas they reside in tremendously completely different social circumstances. There are different concerns within the divine regulation that can not be ignored. The situation of kid marriage resulting in abuse is of dire significance for Muslims to deal with and thru session obtain some secure authorized parameters applicable to every area’s context.

At the identical time, it’s ignorant or disingenuous for anti-Islam polemicists to quote historic info and classical juristic rulings out of context to vilify Islam and Muslims right now. Many of those polemicists try to attract a straight line between these info and the legal conduct of some Muslims right now, although no such direct connection exists in actuality. The gross stereotypes born of this misinformation contribute to the ‘othering’ of Islam and Muslims, in addition to unfair calls for for collective accountability and even hate crimes. 19 A wider contextual evaluation of classical texts, as tried on this article, in tandem with appreciating trendy realities ought to display that any proposed connection between classical Islam and up to date criminality is just tenuous at finest.

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