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The Value of Early Marriage in Islam
Because of Islam's great love for marriage, it has strongly emphasized that people get married as soon as possible. This is more so for women, and the Prophet (s) and Imams (as) have strongly emphasized that it is the responsibility of a father to ensure that his daughters become married as soon as possible. This is in order so that the woman may not fall into fornication as a result of not being able to marry, and that this very important part of her life become dealt with as soon as possible. We see this reflected in the following ahadeeth:
It is a blessing for a man that his daughter does not menstruate in his home.1
The Prophet (s) said in a khutbah: "Jibra'il came to me from the Subtle and Aware one [Allah (swt)], and said: "Indeed, virgin girls are like fruit on a tree. When you take the fruit from a tree, then you do not have to fear that the sun will spoil it or that the wind will scatter it away. Similar is the case when a women is taken in the way that they are taken [meaning marriage]. There is no remedy for this problem except that they take a husband, and if they do not, then one will have to fear that they will become corrupted."
Beyond this, Islam also believes that women have a stronger sexual urge then men, and that this urge should be satisfied at an early age. There are many narrations, from both Sunni and Shi'a sources, that state that women have nine times as much sexual desire as men:
Imam Ali (as) said: "Allah the Mighty and Glorified has created desire in ten parts; nine of these parts are in women, and one part is in men. Had not Allah (swt) given more power to her modesty than over these parts of desire, then every man would find himself with nine women attached to him."
Imam as-Sadiq (as) said: "Indeed, Allah the Mighty and Glorious has given women the patience of ten men. If a woman is fighting with you, then it is because she has been given the desire of ten men."
Imam as-Sadiq (as) said: "Women have been blessed with ninety nine percent of desire, however Allah has placed modesty over them."2
As such, when a girl is young, this force will be even stronger in her, and so it is more important that she not fall into sin. If a father is to be considered the guardian of his daughter, then it is one of his duties to make sure that she does not fall into sin by using his age and experience to help find for her a proper husband at an early age. It is even said of slave-masters that they should either marry their slave girls or find husband for them, and that if they fornicate, the sin will be on himself.
However, Muslims have tended to forget this teaching of the Prophets (s) and Imams (as). The growth of a middle-class throughout the Muslim world has led families to become more concerned with their daughter's education and work then with their spiritual life, and fear that if they marry their daughter's at an early age, the girls will not be able to complete their education. Even if this were true, it would still be inexcusable to make it difficult for young girls to get married, for then one will be putting pressure on them to fornicate. The fact is that it is not true that girls will somehow fail in life if they marry at an early age. A woman can balance the demands of her marital life and her educational/professional life, and should be allowed and encouraged to do so.
It is important, as well, that as girls enter adolescence, that Islam is not being used as a barrier upon them enjoying their life and fulfilling themselves sexually. When Muslim families put pressure on their daughter's not to marry and seek to isolate them from this blessing of marriage, it is only natural that many young women will turn against practices like hijab and other aspects of Islam. Lack of satisfaction in the area of sex will lead to depression and frustration, which can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Parents should not only allow their daughter's freedom in this regard, but should actively encourage them. The fact is that young men and women will usually get together anyways, and a young woman may very well connect with a young man whose morals and character are less than satisfactory. By families openly involving themselves in this aspect of their daughter's life from an early age, they can not only help their daughters' to quickly find what they need in terms of their love life, but also help to guide their daughters' to a marriage that will be beneficial for her, both emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When the parents refuse to help, however, then they are leaving their daughter to her own devices in finding a path to dealing with her sexuality. She may restrain herself until her family allows her to marry, or she may not. But at that stage, the family will not play any role in that decision one way or the other.
It is also the obligation of the family to make it easy for a husband to marry his daughter, and not place the kind of absurd demands upon a prospective husband that are made now. Filled by love of dunya, many families will only marry their daughter to a rich man with a PhD or several degrees in engineering or what have you. This, even more than the restrictions they place on their own daughters, creates a terrible barrier on a young woman getting married, as it makes it impossible for her to find somebody similar in age. Enormous dowries are another source of fitna in this regard, and this practice has been condemned in the ahadeeth:
The Prophet (s) said: "The best of women...are those who ask for low dories."
Imam as-Sadiq (as) states: "The blessed of women are those who ask for small living expenses, and the evil of them are those who are demanding in terms of living expenses."3
The practice of large dowries is even more haram, however, because it is almost always done for the sake of show inside the community, which is a form of shirk that is most condemned in Islam. We see that, tragically, many families are willing to sacrifice the happiness of their daughter during her adolescence for the sake of their appearance in the community. It is interesting to note that most cases of huge dowry, the daughter had no interest in a large dowry. She would ask for something extremely small, or even want to wave it altogether. But then the family steps in and demands thousands upon thousands of dollars in dowry, and then forces the daughter to make a decision between her husband-to-be and her family. Usually she will choose the family, especially since the family will make all manner of threats about what will happen if she goes ahead with a marriage they don't approve of ("Your uncle in Pakistan will kill himself, your father will lose his job, etc., etc., etc.) Nothing could be more reprehensible than for families to blackmail their daughters in this way, and it is a terrible cause of fitna amongst the youth. We see that some 'ulama in Iran today, such as Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini, have been very strong in condemning this practice, for they have seen how harmful it is to the spiritual state of the youth.
Many famlies are under the deluded impression that if they make it impossible for their daughters to marry that the girls will simply sit tight until the permission and possibility of marriage comes. Certainly many do; but of course, as is human nature, many don't. It is entirely possible that the sin of fornication may fall upon the heads of the people who prevented the young from marrying, rather than the young themselves. There is a story that a man was brought to Imam Ali (as) to be punished for fornication. He asked the man if he had been able to marry, and the man said that nobody would allow him to marry, nor did he have the money to purchase a slave girl. Imam Ali (as) then let him go. The authenticity of this story is not verified, but the import remains: that a society that makes it impossible for the young to satisfy themselves sexually is responsible for the fornication that inevitably results.
If the young cannot receive the blessing and assistance of their parents in this regard, then it is their duty to rebel against these pressures. We have discussed, elsewhere, the fact that it is not obligatory for a mature girl to seek the permission of her parents to marry, but merely recommended. A system of culture and overly conservative jurisprudence has combined to place barriers on the young, and the only way to break through this is for the young to, quite simply, rebel, and take the matter of marriage into their own hands. It is the right of every mature and sound-minded person to marry, and marriage is one of the greatest blessings of Islam. If the older generation are not willing to accept this fact, than it is upon the younger generation to break the chains that have been set upon them.
1 The meaning being that a father should seek to find husbands for his daughters before they reach the age of menstruation.
2 Both of these ahadeeth are to be found in Wasa'il, vol. 20, p. 61-63.
3 Wasa'il, vol 20, p. 111-112.