Lesson 3: The Command to Test the Ability and Understanding of Minors
We learned in ayah 5 that minors should not be entrusted with properties until such time that their ability to discern and decide stands proved. In Ayah 6 we study the command to educate and test such children to determine their ability to follow.
Ayah 6 “and test the orphans until they reach marriageable age;” means that children, well before their puberty or marriageable age should be tested through small assignments of buying and selling in order to determine their ability to conduct transactions on their own. This process should continue right through the age of marriage. It should then be determined if they have become smart and self-reliant in their affairs. Once this is sensed as ‘dependable’, it is time to hand over their property to them.
Given the nature of children and the factors involved in the growth of reason and intelligence among them, they have been divided in three stages:
- One – minority (before puberty)
- Two – after puberty
- Three – after self-reliance, and discretion in conducting personal affairs.
During the first stage, the guardians of children have been instructed to educate and train them by providing for them hands-on experience; let them become smarter by conducting small dealings in buying and selling on their own. This is exactly what the expression “and test the orphans” means.
When children become mature and reach marriageable age, the guardian should check up their state of growth at that stage in terms of experience, intelligence and dealings, and once it becomes clear that they understand their profit and loss and handle their affairs and dealings in a satisfactory manner, their property should be handed over to them.
Lesson 4 : The Age of Maturity
The Qur’an also answers the questions as to the ‘age’ when a child would be considered mature. It says حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغُواْ النِّكَاحَ i.e. “until they reach marriageability”. Here, it has been indicated that maturity doesn’t depend on age, rather it depends on particular indicators and signs experienced by the child entering adulthood.
In terms of these indicators and signs, the person is regarded fit for marriage and is considered mature even if his age does not exceed thirteen or fourteen years.
Lesson 5: The Perception of Proper Understanding; How to Find it?
Qur’an says, “then, if you perceive in them proper understanding, hand over to them their property”. Now, what is the time of this ‘proper understanding’? The Qur’an has not elaborated on this final limit of time. Therefore, some Muslim jurists leaned towards favoring the view that the properties of children should not be handed over to them until it has been determined that they do have full and proper understanding. Instead, these will stay under the safe custody of the guardian as usual, even if this state of affairs continues for the rest of life.
It should be noted that the Qur’an has used the word rushdan in its indefinite form whereby it is suggesting that full understanding and perfect sense are not absolute conditions. A reasonable measure of understanding is also sufficient for this purpose on the basis of which their properties could be given to them. Therefore, even if perfect understanding has not been achieved despite the age, still their properties will be handed over to them.
As far as perfect understanding and wisdom is concerned, there are people who do not get to achieve these throughout their entire lives. They always remain simple, innocent and rather shy and slow in conducting their practical dealings. They will not be deprived of their properties because of this. However, should there be someone totally insane; he will be governed by a separate rule since such a person always remains in the category of immature children.
(Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)