Saudi Arabia's leading religious figure has said that marrying a girl under the age of 15 is "permissible."
Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al ash-Shaikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia made the comments in his capacity as head of the Senior Council of Scholars. In an interview with the local daily Al-Riyadh in response to a proposal to prohibit child marriage, he said, “There is currently no intention to discuss the issue."
The Grand Mufti was speaking in reference to a proposal made by the Justice Ministry to the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas two years ago requesting a fatwa to set a minimum age for marriage. Because of the lack of separation between religion and state in Saudi Arabia, the Senior Council of Scholars is the only authority permitted to issue fatwas, save for a few other leading clerics. This has been the case since a royal decree on the matter in 2010.
The justice ministry submitted a lengthy and detailed proposal alongside its request for a fatwa. It detailed the psychological and sociological reasons why a girl under the age of 15 should not be considered ready for marriage. The fatwa was sought as part of an attempt to introduce a ban on child marriage in Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Ministry's recommendations included ensuring that the bride was physically and emotionally ready if she was very young and ensuring that the marriage was not consummated if she was under 15.
The Grand Mufti is a descendent of Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the puritanical Islamic scholar who created the modern Saudi religious doctrine of Wahhabism. Due to a power-sharing arrangement made between al-Wahhab and the original al-Saud, the descendents of al-Saud rule Saudi Arabia as kings, while the descendents of al-Wahhab, known as ash-Shaikh, control religious affairs.