Muslim puberty and marriage

A 15-year-old Muslim girl is permitted by the high court to marry.

Forget the level of maturity of our grandmothers who did not make a choice, but managed. This news report throws up several questions, not so much about the judgment as the reactions to it. How are we supposed to respond? The obvious answer is anger, revulsion, and to bring out the old bogey of the Uniform Civil Code.

Here’s the judicial verdict:

“According to Mohammedan Law, a girl can marry without the consent of her parents once she attains the age of puberty and she has the right to reside with her husband even if she is below the age of 18....,” a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and S P Garg observed while accepting the minor’s plea to let her to stay in her matrimonial home.

The mother had filed a petition saying that her daughter was kidnapped. While accepting the girl’s statement that she was not and she had made the choice, the bench clearly added “she has the option of treating the marriage as voidable, at the time of her attaining the age of majority, i.e. 18 years”.

Can we take one judgment in isolation and assume that girls of this age in the Muslim community will get married?

Her choices are being protected on both counts. And on the basis of the law. This is being ignored to buffer a one-dimensional narrative. The judges used the existing Muslim Personal Law. And they have also empowered the girl to change her mind, which will nullify the marriage. This is a huge thing. I wish we got out of our safe zones and saw this in perspective.

It is particularly surprising that the noises will be mainly from the liberal activists. This is ironical, for it is this same segment of the educated elite that opposed the ‘Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill’, that said “no person below 18 years will have the legal capability to give consent for engaging in any kind of sexual activity”. They held forth on how young teenagers should be permitted to make their sexual decisions and not be demonised.

Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, had said:

“Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex? Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts? The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18, especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age. This is stupid and goes against the child.”

Yes. Such a statement was made. How many of them would approve if their children were sexually active outside marriage at that young an age?

If you can choose to have sex – and as I mentioned in my piece then it can mean subtle force, date rape, peer pressure – then you might be in a position to choose to live with a partner legitimately, is my devil’s advocate argument.

Instead, the modern Muslim is once again out in the open airing a ‘uniform code’ modernism that ignores the Personal Laws in other religions. Let us not forget that there will be opposition from other faiths equally, if not more, and they have their patriarchal constructs well in place where women’s property rights, right to inheritance, to matrimonial rights are questionable.

There is a lobby that keeps the ‘interpretation of Islam’ alive. It is to promote leaders from the clique. Who will interpret Islam in the right manner, and what is the right manner? Aren’t there several interpretations that work or try to within different societal frameworks? This is not even germane to the discussion, but it seems to be hugely important.

I wonder why when we seek uniformity where religious laws are concerned, we barely pay heed to the ‘secular’ criminal laws where no uniformity is applied. Check out statistics for Muslim prisoners.

The digression apart, it is not about being pro early marriage, but about not taking up for one aspect and negating the other without a thought. My position on the sexual consent age bill and this is not dichotomous. As I had written:

Much of India still believes that sexual activity is also about emotional intimacy. Young people are not automatons. That is the reason we have abolished child marriage, which these activists agree is important to get rid of. Did society not insist that the age of marriage be raised to 18, and rightly so?

I realise that not taking the tried-and-tested liberal Muslim path is rife with the usual labelling. I am not the person to decide, and neither are all of those expressing disgust, and we will not be affected legally or socially.

Regarding this case, it will be made into a hothouse plant to beautify the moderate Muslim landscape.

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You might like to read the other post in full: Young love on a leash?


  1. the most pertinent thing is marriage per se is not illegal even at 15 however most countries have legal age rule for marriage which again is different for different countries. 18 is the norm but it could be even less, however I do agree with the court when it comes to consent, which I don't think it is necessary for the girl to get from her parents. Liberals in India is annoyed and have attacked the personal law of the Muslims which is unfortunate but the personal should be written and respected. The Muslim personal law is an amazing piece of legislation where a country gives the minority to practice their culture without interference and I find it unique and amazing for a democratic country like India

  2. one can be "matured" enough for sex but not marriage. because for the first one physical maturity is enough, for the second one it is not.

    not that i will encourage or advice any teenager to have sex. i also think it is idiotic to make teenage sex illegal.

    i also like to understand if something is bad for , say non-muslim girls why should it be not bad for muslims. or is it bad for the muslims - but we don't care.

    i don't get your point on muslim prisoners either. there may be many reasons behind that - socio-economic condition , bias of the police (implementation). you can blame the society (muslim and general) or the government for that but are the criminal codes to be blamed? if so can you elaborate.

  3. The Age of consent varies across countries but is generally between 14 and 18 years. So there is nothing bizarre about this verdict. Most teenagers decide their career paths when they are between 14 and 18 so why should it be so shocking that some might be wise enough to choose their life partners ?

    An average Indian's lifestyle is heavily influenced by religion, tradition and culture. The structure of the Indian society is such that it makes a lot of sense to have civil laws that makes it easier for people to lead a life based on their belief systems.

    As long as the a particular faith system does not encourage criminal conduct or adversely affect the rights of other citizens, why should anyone have any problem with personal laws ?

    Here a court has decided that a Muslim girl can marry legally with her own freewill at the age of 15. If people of other faiths feel that they are being treated unfairly because they too would like their women to marry at 15 then it is up to them to bring about that social change in their community. And if they think 18 or 20 is the right age then this decision does not affect them unless they are all planning to convert to Islam.

  4. I was emphasising the skewed ways of seeing. Rizwan & Anon, you are right about different ages of consent, and maturity. I cannot agree with Carvaka about physical maturity being enough for sex. It assumes that such 'encounters' are meant solely for that.

    We have a number of cases where people commit suicide or become depressive.

    And marriage needs as much maturity as a work environment does. We don't think about it in child labour cases.

    I've pretty much said my piece in the piece.

    Thanks for the inputs.

  5. Its the time to introduce uniform civil code. Hell with the minority or majority personnel laws. Our so called liberals as well as the idiot conservatives are not that matured to live in a liberal society. Most of them keep their asses on the graveyards of the dark past. We shall expect that the time will bring the change.

  6. Anand:

    With such diversity of people, it is unlikely there will be consensus. And we are already fighting over reservations. So, that will further complicate the issue.


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