Islam does not stipulate a specific age of marriage. Literally, Islam permits marrying a young lady that can differentiate between right and wrong so far it is legally approved, but the husband must not approach her sexually until she becomes aged/matured (buloog). This starts from when she starts menstruating, growing pubertal hair, and developing breasts, etc.
There is a gulf of difference between the legitimacy of marriage and fitness for marriage. Can such a girl be fit for marriage? Can she achieve the Islamic goals of marriage?
There is need for proper understanding of Islam beyond what is read in Islamic texts. It is equally important for people, especially Muslims, to learn how to differentiate and apply the evidence read in Islamic books to contemporary reality.
Islam has laid out some qualities for the one who intends to marry. Some are mostly compulsory for males while most are for both sexes.
Financial fitness is a major condition a man must attain before moving into marriage, while mental, physical, spiritual and emotional fitness are to be achieved by both parties before talking of marriage. With our present situation, can a 17 year old lady acquire these abilities? She may, and she may not.
Early marriage means after they have acquired all necessary trainings and qualities they need, they should not delay marriage, but if they have not acquired same, marriage is not yet a compulsion on them.
Evidently, the features do not have anything to do with age. A lady could be 20 years and may have acquired all the features, while a lady of 28 may still be learning how to be humble to a man.
Many ladies of nowadays rush into marriage without examining themselves on all these qualities. Hence, they start misbehaving in their marriages. If such ladies luckily come across calm and humble husbands, Allah may use such men and marriages as teaching classes for them, else they end up as divorcees.
It is important that marriage counsellors and spiritual teachers should be consulted before taking the bold step of marriage. Marriage is not child’s play which you enter and come out of at your own pleasure. It goes beyond the mere thirst for sex. It requires huge responsibilities and sacrifices from both sexes.
Early marriage is therefore good for those who have attained all the features explained above, especially the ladies, but there is a clause in the 2003 Child Rights Act, which raises the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18.
The Child Rights Act, which criminalises marriage below the age of 18, has been adopted in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Yet, the act is still prevalent among Nigerians. According to UNICEF, 44% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 18% are married before the age of 15; making the country the third highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 3,538,000 – and the 11th highest prevalence rate of child marriage globally.
This notwithstanding did not stop Nigeria from partnering with different international human rights bodies in her quest to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with Target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is therefore important for Nigerian Muslims who want to get married not to go for under-18 girls, who are expected to be in schools, even though it is expected for them to get married early. Muslims are law abiding so far the law does not contradict any fundamentals of our religion.
It is Sunnah to abide by the laid down Ahkaam Wad’iyyah (laid down rulings) of the ruling government. If we also gain the power to rule, we can make a change of the laws to our taste, but so far this law does not contradict the goals of marriage in Islam and it encourages giving more time to acquire necessary qualities of marriage, we should obey same. Other countries may differ, but it is an obligation on all Nigerian Muslims to abide by this law.