The deputy grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University has issued a fatwa (religious decree) banning early marriages, saying that “the minimum age of maturity” for Islamic girls to marry is 18 years old.
“Marriage in Islam is based on the consent of both parties, particularly the young woman. Such consent requires the young woman to have reached the age of maturity and reason, so that her consent is validly given,” the fatwa read, citing passages from the Qur’an and the Hadiths of the prophet Muhammad to support it.
The prestigious Al-Azhar university is Sunni Islam’s flagship academic institution and its decisions on matters of Islamic law carry particular weight in the Sunni world.
The imam’s ruling came at the end of the first African summit on female genital mutilation and early marriage held in Senegal this week. More than 500 members of NGOs, victims organizations, international institutions, and government officials from 25 countries, mostly Africans, participated in the summit held in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
The summit was organized by the governments of Senegal and Gambia in collaboration with the organization “Safe Hands For Girls,” founded six years ago by a young Gambian woman, Jaha Dukureh, to draw attention to both female genital mutilation and child marriages, hoping to put an end to both.
“We believe it is possible to eliminate female genital mutilation and child marriage by 2030,” Dukureh said. “It is very important that this campaign is conducted by young people and supported by religious leaders.”
Al-Azhar’s deputy imam issued his fatwa during his closing speech at the conference. His institution had already issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation in 2006, along with a statement that this custom has no religious basis and is “a crime against humanity.”
More than 200 million girls and young women around the world, especially in Africa, continue to undergo this mutilation, which involves the partial or total removal of the female external genital organs. Although the trend is declining in several countries, the practice persists in nations such as Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Mali.
Female genital mutilation, generally performed before the age of 7 years, “constitutes a danger and a violation of the physical integrity of women,” said the Senegalese imam Abdou Aziz Kane.
“Preachers must raise their voices to create awareness of this problem,” said Kane, a member of the National Association of Imams and Ulemas of Senegal.