By : Ustadz Imam Nahe’i, MAg.

The Meaning of ‘Aqil Baligh

What do people imagine when they hear the word ‘Aqil baligh / maturity? What are the implications for a person who has and has not born that word? Generally, one imagines the word ‘aqil baligh as a sign that someone has to start doing religious obligation such as prayer, zakah, pilgrimage, jihad, get married and leave prohibitions of the religion like stealing, committing adultery, doing injustice, enslaving others, abandoning the weak, oppressing, humiliating humanitarian and other religious prohibitions. Before entering this study, it is better to define what the meaning of this word is. Because making mistake in understanding this word will cause wrong understanding on its derivative concept. 

Literally, the word ‘aqil means “someone who reason”, while baligh means “someone who has achieved”. Then the combination of these two words means “intelligent man who has arrived”, which is surely difficult to be understood. Indeed in the books of fiqh it is better known as “balighan ‘aqilan”, which means “the one who has achieved and reason”, in another word “a person who has reached the age of reasoning. Some books of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) even call as “baalighan- ‘aaqilan-rasyiidan” which means one who has arrived, reason, and mature. In the books of fiqh the word baalighan, ‘aaqilan, rasyiidan are generally used to describe the word “mukallaf”. Mukallaf literally means “accountable person”. While in terminology, mukallaf is a person who is obliged to carry out all legal provisions prescribed by Allah and His Messenger, means a person who has got the obligations and prohibitions of Sharia.

While terminologically or in another word mukallaf is a person who has  accepted the burdens of Shariah law those are obligatory (wajib), recommended (sunnah), permissible (mubah), forbidden (haram) and abominable (makruh), khilafu al-aula, makruh tanzih, makruh tahrim, shihhah (Shahih), buthlan (bathil) and others. But when does a person reach the age of mukallaf? The Ulama (Muslim Scholars) of fiqh answer that it is when a person has reached the age of mukalllaf (sinnu at-taklif) that is if he has been mature, adult and reason.

Those three words [1] baalighan, [2] ‘aaqilan and [3] rasyiidan are the characteristics which always adhere to a mukallaf. It means anyone can not be called as mukallaf if he/she has not been mature. A person who has been mature also will not be called as mukallaf if he/she does not reason. Also a person will not be called as mukallaf if he/she has been solely mature, reason but has not been adult. So mukallaf is a person who has those three characteristics; mature, reason and adult.  

This is the basic concept of what is called as mukallaf or sinnu at-taklief. Although in the realm of fiqh studies the concept of sinnu at-taklief is changed in meaning if it is applied in certain cases. Such as is it valid a pilgrimage performed by a child? The Ulama of fiqh generally regard it as valid, even though he has not reached the age of taklief. Another example, from religious perspective, is it valid a marriage conducted by a child? The Ulama of fiqh generally also answer as valid or legitimate, even though he has not reached the age of taklif, still some regard it as invalid.

 Sinnu at-taklief (the age of mukallaf) becomes a starting point for a humans’ journey to be a truly human being, in the sense that they have had the rights as human being and concurrently get a burden of obligations to do or prohibitions to leave the injunctions of the law of Sharia. Throughout the life, anyone will undergo five stages of life, those are, [1] embryonic stage, [2] childhood, [3] the stage of tamyiz (the phase of the ability to differentiate), [4] the stage of puberty, [5] the stage of ar-rusydu (adulthood). Embryonic stage starts from pregnancy until birth, the childhood starts from birth until the age of tamyiz which is approximately the age of 7 years old, the age of tamyiz starts from 7 years old until the age of maturity (baligh), and the last the age of ar-rushdu starts from maturity until adulthood, though the age of ar-rushdu may coincide with the age of maturity, even earlier in the age of tamyiz. 

The question is, when is someone believed to have reached the age of maturity, reason and adult? The Ulama of Fiqh agree that wet dream is the beginning of the age of maturity. But they differ when someone has not had menstruation yet or wet dream. In this case, at what age are they regarded as baligh? According to the book of fiqh, the age of maturity is associated with physical signs and someone’s age. According to Abu Hanifah, someone is declared as baligh when he has reached 18 years old for both male and female, although in another narration, Abu Hanifa differentiates between them, which is 19 years old for male and 17 years old for female. Madzhab Imam Malik has the same opinion with that of Imam Abu Hanifa, which is 18 years old for both male and female. But some narrations stated that Imam Malik specifies the age of maturity is 19 years old for both male and female. Meanwhile, the school of Shafi’i, one of the schools followed by the majority of Muslims id Indonesia, states that the age of maturity is when a person has reached the age of 15 years old, for both male and female. The latter opinion is the opinion of majority of Ulama.  

The differences of opinion above, among others, due to their differences in understanding the Hadith of the Prophet as follows:

“The sin records are removed from these three groups, those are child until he/she has had wet dream, someone sleeping until he/she wakes up, and a madman until he/she recovers from his madness “. (narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i, at-Turmudzi, and Ibn Majah)

This Hadith informs that the sin of a person cannot be recorded because of his disobedience unless he has had ihtilam (wet dream) that by Ulama interpreted as seminal discharge when dreaming. It means the necessary to perform the obligations and to leave the prohibitions (sinnu at-taklief) associated with ihtilam (wet dream). The God’ pen has been already to record rewards and sins for everyone who has reached the age of ihtilam. Ihtilam in the sense of seminal discharge during sleeping is understood as the guidance of someone’s biological maturity that is the maturity on the ability to use the function of all parts of his body, including erection ability, seminal discharge and impregnate. According to Shafi’i, those abilities occur when a person has reached 15 years old, because by the age of 15 a person is able to utilize the functions of his parts of the body properly. The Shafi’s view is based on several Hadiths of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, that is the Prophet ever refused 17 companions to follow the war because they were under 15 years old. The following year they returned to the Prophet asking permission to follow the war and the prophet then gave permission because they have reached 15 years old. On the basis of this Hadith, Shafi’iyyah argue that biological maturity is obtained after 15 years old. While the view of Abu Hanifa which states that the age of maturity is 18 years old based on the view of the Tafsir of Ibn Abbas to this a piece verse “do not approach the property of orphans until they reach the age of maturity (asyuddah)”. The word asyuddah according to Ibn Abbas is 18 years old, because at that age he becomes mature. 

In general, the views of experts on fiqh regarding the age of baligh are commonly based on biological maturity that is the ability on seminal discharge, impregnate, menstruation and pregnancy. Except Abu Hanifah who measures the age of baligh is more based on psychological maturity, that is the age of syiddah, the age of hard, the age of mature. However, some different opinions concerning the age of baligh meet in a single point that is the ability and expertise to perform the obligations and the prohibitions of Shariah. But they have different opinions on what age a person is believed or suspected to have those abilities and skills. 

In the context of marriage, the Marriage Act, 1974, No I in Indonesia, it is determined that the age of marriage is 16 years old for female and 19 years old for male. The Compilation of Islamic Law (KHI), article 15 point 1, states: “For the benefit of the family and household, a marriage should only be carried out by the couple who have attained the age specified in Law of 1974, article 7, No. I that the bridegroom at least 19 years old and the bride at least 16 years old “. And article 15 point 2 states: “For the bridegroom who has not reached the age of 21 must obtain permission as regulated in the six clauses (2), (3), (4) and (5) of Law No. 1 year 1974 “

As for comparison, the states with Muslim majority also have different rules related to minimum age for marriage because of different interpretations on baligh. Several Muslim countries have regulated the age for marriage as following: 

  • Turkey, Turkish law sets the age for marriage, for male 18 years old and female 17 years old. But in certain cases the court may permit marriage at the age of 15 for male and of 14 for female based on the permission and blessing of parents or guardians.
  • Iran, Iran marriage act sets the age of marriage is 18 years old for male and 15 years old for female. For anyone who mates a male who is still under the minimum age of marriage could be jailed for six months to one year. And if a female is mated under the age of 13 years old, the one who mate her could be jailed for two to three years.
  • South Yemen, the marriage act of Yemen sets the age of marriage is 18 years old for male and 16 years old for female. However, this age limitation is not a requirement for the validity of marriage, only one of requirements should be concerned. The distance between the age of bridegroom and the bride should not be more than 20 years, except the bride has reached 35 years old. So for instance, a female by the age of 35 is allowed to marry 75 years old male. 
  • The Republic of Tunisia, Tunisia sets the age of marriage is 20 years old for both male and female, which changed the previous law that was article 5 of the 1956 Act which set the age of marriage is 20 years old for male and 17 years old for female.
  • Morocco, the family act of Morocco sets the age of marriage is 18 years old for male and 15 years old for female. But the marriage under the age of 21 years old requires guardian permission.
  • Algeria, Article (7) on Algerian Family act sets the age of marriage is 21 years old for male and 18 years old for female.
  • Afghanistan, the Civil Law of 1977 sets the age of marriage is 18 years old for male and 17 years old for female. Afghan Civil law also attempts to remove underage child marriage.
  • Somalia, they set a minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for male and 16 years old for female. But in certain circumstances, the court may give permission for marriage for male and female under the minimum age of marriage.

The Age of Mukallaf in The Quranic Perspective 

How is the Quranic perspective regarding the age of baligh? Al-Quran at least uses three terms to refer to the age of baligh / maturity, those are balaghu an-nikah (Qs. An-Nisa ‘: 6), Balagha al-huluma (Qs. An-Nur: 58 and 59), and Balagha asyuddahu (Qs. Al An’am: 152, Qs. Yusuf: 22, Qs. al-Isra’ : 34, Qs. al-Qashash: 14). Besides, the Qur’an also uses the term rusydan  which is generally interpreted as adulthood. So what are the true meaning of an-nikah, asyuddah, al-huluma and ar-rushdu? The Ulama of tafsir have different interpretations, especially in understanding those three terms. The Qur’an itself actually does not specifically mention in what age a person reaches the age of baligh, even the Qur’an also does not recognize the age of baligh.  The Quran only mentions the age of an-nikah, the age of ar-rushdu, the age of al-hulum and the age of ashuddahu. If we observe the terms used by the Quran then we can conclude that the age of baligh is not merely baligh which literally means “reach”, thus baligh whereabouts? The Quran says that baligh (reach) the age of nikah, the age of rushd, the age of al-hulum, and the age of asyuddah. The further question, in what age is a person considered reaching at those ages?  Do the ages mentioned in the Quran have the same meaning or are they different? 

The word balaghu an-nikah which literally means “has reached (the age of) marriage” is contained in the following verse: 


“And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgement, release their property to them. And do not consume it excessively and quickly, [anticipating] that they will grow up. And whoever, [when acting as guardian], is self-sufficient should refrain [from taking a fee]; and whoever is poor – let him take according to what is acceptable. Then when you release their property to them, bring witnesses upon them. And sufficient is Allah as Accountant”. (QS. An Nisa’ : 6) 

According to At-Tabari what the meaning of “testing the orphans” is testing their reason, the goodness of their religion, and their feasibility in managing the property. According to this view, the age of marriage means the age at which a person has maturity of reason, good religious attitude, and ability to manage the property. Furthermore, at what age does a person has that maturity? According to At-Tabari, the age of maturity occurs when a person has been already mature biologically. This opinion is understood from commentary of At-Tabari regarding the word ‘an-nikah’. According to At-Tabari the meaning of “balaghu an-nikah” is “balaghu al-hulum”, that is until the age of wet dream. It means an At-Tabari interprets an-Nikah in QS. An-Nisa’: 6 with al-hulum in QS. an-Nur: 58-9, tafsir ayah bi al-ayah (verse by verse). This commentary is based on the narration of Mujahid, Ibn Abbas, Muhammad ibn Umar and others. According to this hadith to understand how old the age of marriage is (QS. An-Nisa ‘: 6) should refer to QS. an-Nur which explains the age of al-hulum

The word Balagha al-hulum which literally means “until the age of al-ihtilam” is mentioned in two verses Shurah an-Nur, 58 and 59. Allah says: 


  “O you who have believed, let those whom your right hands possess and those who have not [yet] reached puberty among you ask permission of you [before entering] at three times: before the dawn prayer and when you put aside your clothing [for rest] at noon and after the night prayer. [These are] three times of privacy for you. There is no blame upon you nor upon them beyond these [periods], for they continually circulate among you – some of you, among others. Thus does Allah make clear to you the verses; and Allah is Knowing and Wise. (58)  And when the children among you reach puberty, let them ask permission [at all times] as those before them have done. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses; and Allah is Knowing and Wise”. (59) 

Some Mufassir (the experts in the interpretation of hadith or commentary) agree that al-hulum in aforementioned verse means “al-ihtilam” that is dreaming with seminal discharge. Based on this verse Ulama conceive that the age of maturity is measured by whether a person has discharged semen or not. If the semen has been discharged, it is the sign that someone has reached maturity (baligh), in any age. The problem is based on his age, a person may be considered mature, but he has not discharged the semen yet. In this case, the Ulama have different opinions in what age a person is generally dream accompanied by seminal discharge and in what age a person is declared as baligh. The Qur’an does not mention how old a person experiences ihtilam. According to Shafi’i, it is generally by the age of 15. While according to other schools, some states by the age of 17, 18, 19 and so on. 

The word ashuddah is mentioned five times in the Quran those are in the QS. al-An’am 152, QS. Yusuf 22, QS. al-Isra’ 34, QS. al-Qhashas 14 and QS. al-Ahqaf 15. Literally ashuddahu means hard or mature. Meanwhile in terminology, the Ulama interpret as al-hulum. So the age of marriage, and the age of ashuddah (Qs, al-An’am, 152 and QS. an-Nisa’ 6) are interpreted by the Mufassir with QS. an-Nur, 58-59. It means the age of marriage and the age of maturity which more emphasis on the psychological and social maturity by the majority of Mufassir are interpreted as biological maturity that is the age at which a person has experienced a wet dream. 

Mufassirin have different opinions on what age a person reaches the age of shiddah (maturity). According to Mujahid, the age of ashuddah is 33 years old, according to Ibn Abbas is between 33 to 37 years old, according to Ad-Dhohhak is 20 years old, according to Al-Hasan is 40 years old, according to Ikrimah is 25 years old, according to As-Sudai is 30 years old, according to Sa’id bin Jubair is 18 year old. If the age of asyuddahu is interpreted as the age of al-hulum, and al-hulum is interpreted as the age of marriage, then the age of marriage can be 18, 20, 25, 30, 33, 37, even 40 years old. This is the diversity of interpretations. The Qur’an itself never ever sets those ages. As if the Quran wants to assert that the age of al-hulum, the age of an-nikah and the age of ashuddah are entirely left to the assessment of experts in accordance with the development of the situation, socio-economic condition, culture and science. The factors of education, culture and the economy are crucial in determining the development of the age of maturity. The better of someone’s educational level, economic and culture will quickly help in achieving the age of maturity. The Quran as if want to say regarding biological maturity leave over the experts of anatomy of the body, psychological maturity leave over the psychologists and socio-economic maturity should be left over the experts in their field. 

It is interesting to observe at the context of the Quran in using the term an-nikah, al-hulum and ashuddahu. Al-Quran uses those terms in different context. The term al-hulum is used by the Quran in the context of the necessary to ask permission in three times where generally  the people take off their clothes those are before dawn (Subuh), at noon and after the evening prayers’ (Isha’). In these times the people is generally enjoying a time off and joking with their family without using clothes as in the public spaces. The children who have reached the age of hulum morally need to be taught to ask permission when entering anyone’s room in those times, because it is worried that they will see the ornament (aurat) of other person which is not proper and will cause the emergence of lust. And the emergence of lust is only possible if the children have reached the age of maturity biologically. That is why the context of ornament is associated with the age of biological maturity, because in this age the children are able to understand the functions of their anatomy. Thereby, why the children, males and females as expounded in the books of fiqh, should have been separated their bed when they have reached the age of tamyiz, that is about seven years old. 

Similarly, the term balaghu an-nikah is used in a different context from Balagha al-hulmu, that is in the sense of the ability to manage treasure, the maturity of mind and the ability of a good religiousness. It means those abilities are not solely associated with the age of biological maturity (which is marked by seminal discharge), but they are also associated with the intellectual maturity, economic, and religion. The use of the word an-nikah in that verse also gives a hint that the marriage should be carried out in those ages, not merely in the age of maturity. So the aforementioned verse actually necessitates a maturity in marriage and prohibits underage marriage. The Ulama of Fiqh have different opinions whether underage marriage should be continued or can be revoked in the future by the wife as she has been adult. Some Ulama of fiqh say that a guardian may mate his daughter who is shagirah. But if she has reached the age of maturity, his daughter has the right of khiyar (option) whether to revoke or continue her marriage. 

Meanwhile the term asyuddahu is used in the Quran in several contexts which essentially refers to the social-emotional maturity. In the Qur’an narrated that the Prophet Yusuf was given the knowledge and wisdom by Allah at the age of this social-emotional maturity, not in the age of marriage or in the age of hulum. As a result, the perspective of Qur’an necessitates Muslims to look back at the views of the classical fiqh which have become rooted belief that any kind of taklief is based on the age of hulum or biological maturity. In fact, al-Qur’an gives an interesting example that not all kind of law of taklief associated with biological maturity, rather associated with economic maturity, psychological and even social-emotional. Marriage is one kind of the law of taklief which does not merely necessitate biological maturity, but also economic maturity, psychological, emotional and social. Wallahu a’lam. {} 


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