As far as the issue of enacting laws specifying the minimum age of marriage, this issue is subject to debate among Muslim scholars. Some of them say that the ruler cannot enact such a law, while others say the ruler is entitled to issue such laws as long as the public interest of the society is maintained.
The prominent Muslim scholar Dr. Husam Al-Din Ibn Musa `Afana, professor of Fiqh and the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence at the University of Jerusalem, Palestine states: “There is much fuss about the issue of early marriage with many calls to delay the age of marriage. Here I wish to start with some texts that encourage Muslims to hasten marriage. Almighty Allah says: “And marry such of you as are solitary and the pious of your slaves and maid servants. If they be poor, Allah will enrich them of His bounty. Allah is of ample means, Aware.” (An-Nur: 32) Almighty Allah also says: “marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four” (An-Nisaa’: 3) The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said: “O young people! Who of you is able to marry, let him marry, for this will help him lower his gaze and preserve his chastity. As for him who is unable to marry, let him fast for this will help him stop the (evil) desires.” Also in a hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “…and I marry women. So, whoever abstains from following my example does not belong to me.”
From all these texts, it is clear that as far as Islam is concerned, there is no specific minimum age for marriage. Muslim scholars even said that a minor boy and girl who are under the age of puberty can get married.
Scientifically and medically speaking, the real meaning of early marriage for a girl is that marriage that takes place before a girl starts to menstruate. As for branding marriages that take place before the age of 18 as early marriages, this has no scientific or legal basis. The whole issue of marriage depends on reaching the age of menstruation. Once the girl has reached the age of menstruation, she is no longer out of the scope of marriage. According to a scientific study conducted by the Jordanian University, the age of the onset of menstruation world-wide is between 9 and 16 years of age, while in the Arab countries it is between 11 and 12 years. I’d like to say to those who oppose early marriages that the Personal Status Act that prevents the marriage of minors is based on the juristic point of view which prevents that marriage.
The Act stipulates that girls not marry before they reach the age of 15 and that boys not marry before they reach the age of 16. These are the average ages of the onset of puberty for girls and boys that render them legally responsible. Hence, the call to delay the age of marriage of young people until they are 18 or over presumes that they are not responsible for their actions and prevents them from exercising their right of freedom.
According to trustworthy scholars, authentic reports proved that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) married `A’ishah, Mother of the Faithful (may Allah be pleased with her) when she was nine years old. I have never come across a reference that contradicts that.
Based on the above mentioned, I conclude that it is not permitted to pass a law specifying the age of marriage to be 18 and above, for this causes great hardship.
Though I encourage young people to marry at an early age, yet I see also that they should wait until they are graduated. But this does not mean that I oppose marriages at an age earlier.”
On the same subject, the prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh `Atiyya Saqr, former Head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, adds: “In the first volume of my Muslim Family Encyclopedia, I noted that early laws showed no care to determine the age of marriage. Roman Emperor Justinian was the first one to set the age of marriage for females at 12 years and 14 for males. After the advent of Christianity in Europe, such a law was no longer followed. Mary Stewart married Henry VIII when she was only six. Early marriages were predominant in some Eastern countries and are still carried out in places like India.
Islam does not specify a certain minimal age for marriage; rather, it placed a certain age for shouldering religious obligations in general. This age is the age of puberty, either by natural sign (the ability to ejaculate semen for a boy and menstruation for a girl) or by reaching the age of 15 lunar years. However, reaching this age is not necessary for validating the marriage contract, for it is up to the guardians to conduct marriages before [the bride or groom or both] have reached this age.
In spite of the fact that there is no specific age for marriage in Islam, it is preferred to make it early so as to protect young people, both males and females, from deviation. However, this may lead in certain cases to placing some hardship on the shoulders of the parties involved due to the financial and other responsibilities entailed by marriage. Based on this understanding, I think that enacting some laws to specify the age of marriage, as done by some governments, is a good step. However, these governments should take into consideration all the circumstances relating to the subject and specific to the society. Obeying the ruler in following such laws is surely an obligation so long as they bring about benefit to the whole society. Almighty Allah says: “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger and those of you who are in authority; and if ye have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah and the Messenger if ye are (in truth) believers in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end.” (An-Nisaa’: 59)”
Based on the above fatwas, it can be said that the issue of enacting laws specifying the age of marriage is governed by the public interest of the Muslim society taking into consideration the Shari`ah-based objectives in this regard.”