S. Arshad, New Age Islam
22 March 2021
In all the societies, a lower age is fixed for people to be considered an adult. A person is an adult not in terms of age but also in terms of physical and mental capabilities. While every country has its own rules for declaring a person adult, the age bar differs from country to country. However, there is not a general age criterion for a person to be considered an adult in all fields or for all purposes. For example, in India, the minimum age for being able to vote in elections is 18 years, but the marriageable age for boys is 21 years and for girls 18 years. Again, to become eligible to contest in an assembly or Parliamentary election, the minimum age is 25 years but for contesting as a candidate for the post of President of India, the minimum age is 35 years.
Generally, in all the societies, a person is considered an adult when he reaches puberty. Since, the age of puberty differs from person to person, being as low as 10 years, the age of puberty is not made the legal age of adulthood in any country.
When we try to find an answer to the question as to who is an adult, we do not find a precise answer. The reason is the same. A person only reaching puberty does not become mentally and physically fit in every way to be considered an adult. Therefore, the Quran has kept the option open. The age of adulthood should be decided by the society according to the need of the society and the requirements of the position sought. The Quran has laid down some guiding principles as to who should be considered an adult.
"And do not approach the orphan's property except in a way that is best until he reaches maturity (mentally and physically).(Al An'am:152)
"And test the orphans (in their abilities) until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgments, release their property to them.(4:6)
In the first verse, the precondition for approaching an orphan's property (for sale or purchase?) is that the orphan should be physically and mentally adult and in the second verse the precondition for releasing an orphan's property is the marriageable age. Here the Quran also differentiates between adulthood and marriageable age. A child may reach puberty at 12 but the state may fix marriageable age at 21. The second verse also asks the custodian of the orphan's property to test the abilities of the orphan even after his attaining marriageable age to ascertain if he has acquired sound judgments before releasing his property to him so that he can maintain and protect his property on his own.
In Surah Nur, children coming of age are asked to enter the room of adults after seeking permission:
"But when children among you come of age let them ask for permission as do those senior to them"(24:59)
Here too the actual age of puberty is meant.
This makes the approach of the Quran clear on the issue of adulthood. It leaves the government of the time to decide the lower age for considering a person adult and eligible for a particular service or duty. Though the Quran indicates that generally a child will be considered an adult at the age of puberty, his physical and mental capabilities should be tested to declare him eligible for a particular right or duty or government position. In this regard, a hadith guides us towards the fixation of a minimum age for a person to be considered an adult.
"Ubaidullah bin Sayeed narrated to me, he heard it from Abu Usama, he heard it from Ubaidullah, he heard it from Nafey, he heard it from Abdullah bin Umar. He said he appeared before the Prophet pbuh on the day of (battle of) Uhud. At that time his age was 14. The Prophet pbuh did not allow him to join the army. He then appeared before him on the day of the Battle of Khandaq. At that time his age was 15. The Prophet pbuh allowed him. Nafey said he visited Umar bin Abdul Aziz when he was the caliph and narrated this hadith to him. He said "Now this should be consideted the age of adulthood and issued the order to all his deputies that any Muslim reaching the age of 15 years should be allowed to join the army."(Kitab al Shahadah Vol 1 No. 2485, Sahih Bukhari)
According to this hadith the minimum age for adulthood should be 15. However, the state may decide different age groups for different government services according to the requirements of the post or services. In India, under the new Juvenile Justice Act, a person above 16 will be tried for sexual crimes as an adult though his marriageable age is 21 years.
Therefore, Quran's approach on the issue of adulthood is very pragmatic and flexible and does not clash with the laws of the modern democratic states.
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