Delinking Child Marriage from Islam Is Key to Solving the Crisis

My mother-in-law was married at the age of 13. You might be tempted to think that she was probably the victim of the “Islamic law” she lived under. But if you were to think that, you would be totally wrong.

My mother-in-law was raised Christian in the American South. My husband is a convert to Islam and his mother was an American Christian child bride. She was not ready for marriage at 13. I personally believe that a lot of what my husband’s family faces in terms of dysfunction has come out of the injustice that was done to my mother-in-law.

The fact remains, the criminal practice of child marriage more often than not is linked to Islam. When in reality it is an injustice that happens to girls from all religions, cultures, and countries in the world.

68% of girls are married under the age of 18 in the Central African Republic, a majority Christian country. 48% of girls are married under the age of 18 in Mozambique, another majority Christian country. The point of bringing this up is not to point the finger at another faith tradition. It would not be a valid argument anyway, since the highest rate of child brides is in Niger, a majority Muslim country.

The point is that it is not only happening in places that claim to be Islamic. So, to say it is entirely or even mostly a Muslim issue does a disservice to the girls who are at risk in non-Muslim countries. If we really want to eradicate this heinous practice, we first have to recognize that it is a practice of Muslims and non-Muslims. Then we must de-link it from Islam in the minds of Muslims.

Legal age of marriage and education

In Islam, the age at which one can consent to marriage is when a person is fully grown and has reached full maturity and strength of adulthood, which varies from person to person, era to era, and society to society. (Qur’an 22:5, 40:67, 6:152, 17:34).

Note that this is a flexible age range because societies and eras have different standards for maturity. In the 9th c., when people didn’t expect to live very long, maturation was earlier than it is today. Our species would not have survived without marriage at what we would consider young ages back in the day.

But in the 21st century, that does not apply to us. We don’t mature as soon. In fact, a lot of us do not mature physically, mentally, or emotionally until well into our 20s. And because of the subjective nature of maturation, we establish ages for marriage around completion of formal education, and rightly so.

We have longer life spans, and have made huge strides in many parts of the world so that education can be widely available. And because of this great advancement, people are more dependent on education in order to function in society and to be able to raise a thriving new generation.

This whole education-as-important thing is not just a modern concept. In Islamic thought, education is paramount. God in the Quran directs the human being to explore, ponder, think and reflect. God reprimands the human being by saying- do you not think? do you not reason?

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “the seeking of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim”. (Tirmidhi) The Quran makes it clear that thinking about creation (i.e. studying science) is a very praiseworthy endeavor. I could go on …

So, to think in this day and age that a child who has not finished formal education, a minimum requirement to be successful in the modern world, should be married is un-Islamic on its own. But the fact of the matter is that it is unlawful in Islam for children who have not reached maturation to be married. It is also against Islamic law for one to be married without their uncoerced consent.


Imam Bukhari included an entire chapter heading within his hadith collection on marriage, entitled “If parents force their daughter to marry someone against her wish then the marriage will be void”.

Under this chapter, Imam Bukhari reports a hadith about Khansa Bint  Hizam Al Ansariyah. She states that her father married her off to someone forcefully whom she did not like. She took her case to the Prophet (PBUH) and upon listening to her, the Prophet rejected the marriage and declared it void. This is also narrated in Abu Dawood.

How can anyone claim that marrying off anyone without their consent is Islamic, much less a child who is not old enough to marry in the first place?

Basis of marriage

In Islam, marriage should be based on a need to fulfill the emotional and physical needs of both parties. This includes love, kindness, tenderness, companionship, and mercy.

{Among His signs is that He created for you spouses from yourselves so that you might find repose with them. And He has placed between you affection and mercy. In that there are certainly signs for people who reflect.} (Qur’an 30:21)

How can love, kindness, or mercy exist in marriage when it is forced and, more absurdly, when it is with a child who is being forced?

The global situation we are facing with young girls becoming brides is outrageous. It is utterly unjust. Even if it is done in the name of Islam, it is in name only because Islam does not give men or even parents the right to marry off children or to force girls into marriage.

Islam mandates that a person should reach maturity before marriage. Islam demands consent from both bride and groom. And Islam places an emphasis on education for all.

But the problem goes well beyond this as a Muslim issue. And if the world is going to ignore the fact that forcing children to marry is not exclusively a crime of ignorant Muslims, then the world cannot say it cares about the injustice of forced child marriages-they only care about it when it happens to Muslim girls.

Don’t all girls deserve a chance to enjoy childhood, to mature, to grow? I for one know they do no matter what their faith may be.

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.