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Puberty

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FiqhRulings of Shari'aManual of Islamic lawPubertyWajibHaramMustahabMubahMakruh

Puberty (Arabic: البلوغ, bulūgh; baligh: a person who has reached puberty), in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), means reaching the age that one is religiously duty-bound; i.e., one is obliged to obey religious laws.

Signs of religious puberty are semen discharge, the growth of coarse pubic hair, or reaching the specific age of puberty. By the appearance of any of these signs, one is regarded as baligh (adult) and mukallaf (duty-bound).

It is recommended in hadiths to encourage children to perform some religious duties before reaching the age of bulugh. Some cases, such as financial liability of a non-baligh, must be taken over either by the wali (guardian) before bulugh or by the non-baligh after reaching bulugh.

Terminology

Lexically, bulugh means: to reach something, to achieve a purpose, to arrive at or to approach a destination (either a place, time or anything else), to get ripe (fruit) and to reach adulthood and maturity. However, as a common terminology, it means the beginning of a natural stage in one's life, in which by appearance and development of sexual instinct and also the appearance of other physical and mental changes one becomes an adult.

Bulugh in fiqh means reaching an age or a stage in which the person is subject to all religious laws.

The importance of bulugh in Islamic jurisprudence and laws is because it is the starting point of being obliged to obey religious laws and perform its duties, thus the "age of Bulugh" is also called "age of Taklif."

In the Qur'an

There are three terms related to bulugh in the Holy Qur'an: bulugh al-nikah, bulugh al-hulum, bulugh al-ashudd.

Most exegetes of the Qur'an believe that "bulugh al-nikah" means reaching an age at which one gains the capability of getting married. On the other hand, some see that it means semen discharge. Moreover, according to all exegetes, "bulugh al-hulum" means reaching sexual maturity. Furthermore, most exegetes believe that "bulugh al-ashudd" is reaching the age of physical and mental maturity.

In some hadiths, all three aforementioned terms were interpreted as semen discharge.

Signs

Five key signs are mentioned in jurisprudential sources. By the appearance of any of these signs, one is regarded as baligh (adult). Three of the signs are common between males and females:

  • Ihtilam: Based on the Quranic verses and hadiths, all faqihs say that ihtilam (semen discharge), while asleep or awake, is a sign of bulugh.

Pubic Hair: Based on several hadiths, all Shi'a and Sunni faqihs – except for Hanafis – consider the growth of coarse pubic hair as another sign of bulugh.

Age: Another sign of bulugh, which is deduced from hadiths, is reaching a specific age. According to these hadiths, even if none of the other signs of bulugh appear until the age of bulugh, that age itself would be counted as a sign of bulugh. Consequently, a child who has reached this age must perform religious duties although the other signs did not appear yet.

Specific Sign for Females

Menstruation (hayd) and pregnancy are two special signs of bulugh for females. According to the majority of Shi'a faqihs and also some Sunni sects, such as Hanbalis, menstruation and pregnancy show that bulugh has occurred before. Apparently, because of this point, some faqihs did not mention pregnancy among the signs of bulugh.

Age

Male

According to the majority of Shi'a faqihs, males reach bulugh by completion of fifteen lunar years (about fourteen solar years and six months and six days); however, some believe that is it the beginning of the fifteenth lunar year and others see the beginning of the fourteenth. The disagreement originates in different understandings of faqihs from several hadiths regarding the topic. Moreover, in some hadiths and fatwas, ten or eight years are mentioned, which are considered by most faqihs as the age at which children are regarded qualified for carrying out some legal acts, such as making a will, not the age of bulugh.

Female

According to the majority of Shi'a faqihs, females reach bulugh by completion of nine lunar years (about eight solar years and eight months and twenty days).

Nevertheless, few faqihs have mentioned completion of ten or thirteen years as the age of bulugh for females. Considering the low probability of reaching physical and mental maturity at this age and the fact that a nine-year-old girl is weak in performing some religious duties, a few faqihs and contemporary authors have questioned the common fatwa about females' bulugh. In order to dissolve the contradictory hadiths in this regard, Fayd Kashani and others said that age of bulugh varies in different topics of fiqh, for instance, they believe that age of obligation of fasting is thirteen. However, most faqihs unanimously believe that the age of bulugh is the same in all jurisprudential topics, although there may be some disagreements among them about that age. Moreover, the likely inability of a nine-year-old girl for performing some religious duties can be resolved by jurisprudential rules (al-qawa'id al-fiqhiyya) such as rule of no harm (qa'idat la darar), so if the nine-year-old girl is not able to fast, she is not obliged to do so, instead, she has to compensate for the missed fasts when she can; likewise, the authentication of maturity for conducting some transactions can be resolved as well.

Child's Worship

According to the majority of Shi'a faqihs and also some Sunni sects, bulugh is not a condition of validity in most acts of worship. Hence, according to many hadiths, some acts of worship - such as: praying and fasting - from a discerning child are valid and deserve God's reward for the child or child's guardian. However, some faqihs believe that worships of a child are only training, and deserve no rewards.

According to the 6th verse of Quran 4 and some hadiths, for a recent baligh child to be qualified to conduct transactions, rushd (the mental capacity to understand and to carry out legal acts) is required.

Juridical-Legal Consequences

In addition to worships and transactions, for one to be eligible for many rights and legal, social, political, and criminal laws, one is required to be baligh. For instance, judge, complainant, witness (except for some cases), confessor of crimes that are punished by hadd, imam of congregational prayers and religious hakim (religious authority) must be baligh. Moreover, bulugh is a condition for receiving punishments such as hadd or qisas, although it is not necessary for ta'zir.

According to majority of Shi'a and Sunni faqihs, many declaratory rulings (al-hukm al-wad'i) are not only applied to baligh people; therefore, bulugh is not necessary for application of the rulings of irth (inheritance), diyat (atonements), diman (liability), itlaf (wasting), ghasb (usurping), shuf'a (pre-emption). This means a child has these rights or is liable for these rulings, although the guardian (wali) of the child must attend to these affairs until the child become baligh.

References

  • The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from بلوغ in Farsi wikishia.