Let Sabah Muslim women marry at 15, says shariah lawyer

Hamid Ismail says shariah judges might decide in error if they rely on their common sense without written guidelines.

KOTA KINABALU: A shariah lawyer here has proposed a lower marriage age of 15 for Muslim girls in Sabah and that shariah courts be provided a written guideline which they must strictly follow.

The lawyer, Hamid Ismail, said he disagreed with recent proposals for the minimum age of marriage to be raised from 16 to 18.

“I am of the opinion that the minimum age should be fixed at 15 but permission from a shariah judge is still required,” he told FMT.

He said the current Sabah state law allows a female under the age of 16 to marry with permission from a shariah judge.

He said there must be strict guidance to be mandatorily followed by the shariah judge in assessing an application to marry an under-age girl. The written guideline was crucial to help shariah judges in making decisions on granting marriages involving young girls.

“Essentially, the guidelines would protect the girls from entering a marriage that they should not enter,” he said. He believed that there were no written guidelines at present. “Even the Islamic Family Law Enactment 2004 does not provide such guidelines,” Hamid said.

“It is thus entirely up to the discretion of the shariah judge”, he said, and he cautioned that judges may make mistakes if they relied too much on common sense. “And their common sense may be different to the common sense of others.”

Hamid said the guidelines must also make it compulsory for judges to legally assess the mental and physical aspects. “For example, whether that girl understands the effect and consequences of a marriage and responsibilities of a wife. The shariah judge can examine the girl, in the absence of her parents, about her willlingness and readiness to marry.”

Judges should also be empowered to examine the girl’s parents in order to know the reason for them allowing their daughter to be married, he added.

Proposals for raising the minimum age of marriage have been raised in the wake of news reports that an 11-year-old girl had been married in South Thailand to a Malaysian.

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