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Consideration of Mental States in Islamic Jurisprudence

In our time, along with the attention towards the physical well-being of humans, there has been a huge step in bringing to light the importance of mental and emotional health.

A system dealing with human-beings and aiming to administer their behaviour and guide their path in life, giving them internal and external order, cannot ignore their various dimensions. For this reason, a holistic approach cannot ignore vital elements of the human-beings makeup and being, for focusing on one and ignoring the other/s can be detrimental to the whole. Interdisciplinary studies are highlighting this truth in their every advancement.  In our time, along with the attention towards the physical well-being of humans, there has been a huge step in bringing to light the importance of mental and emotional health. Considering the different stages of the human psyche and the various psychological conditions that can impact humans, new research in these areas presents us with the possibilities of readjusting our understanding of previously held ideas.

With that being said, an area of particular interest to me is gauging the role of psychological or mental states in the field of Islam jurisprudence, exploring how they can and should be considered. For some time now I have entertained the idea of including psychological states under currently existing  ideas within jurisprudence, and giving them space among present or even new jurisprudential maxims. This area seems to be something which has caught the interest of some jurists already.

As an example, I wanted to share the view of a contemporary jurist about the age of puberty (bulugh) -as per jurisprudential standards- (the term will be used with this understanding here) for males and females. Traditionally, the understanding of Shia jurists has been that young males and females enter into puberty through any one of a number of signs. These can be found in the books of religious law. The age of puberty is important to the jurist because of the laws that are said to apply to children once they experience it along with some other necessary qualities. Most jurists have maintained that after a child enters puberty, they bare the same responsibilities as adults and are subject to the same laws. Puberty is taken as a sign that the child is now to be treated as a mature being, unless there is cause to dictate otherwise. I am sufficing with a general description, and am leaving out specific details for the sake of brevity.

Muhammad Sadiqi Tehrani, a contemporary Shi’i jurist, challenged this mainstream interpretation. He offered a new guideline for the stages of maturity and applicability of Islamic law for children. He claimed to take into consideration the mental and physical conditions and states of the young children who have just experienced puberty.

In doing so, he proposed six stages of maturity for individuals, each one making them subject to an additional set of Islamic laws.

I want to present the six stages below for the consideration of the readers:

  • Maturity for prayer: The average age for individuals to become obligated to perform the daily canonical prayers is 10 years, for both males and females. The criterion is the intellectual ability to consciously believe in God (through reason), [even at the most basic level].
  • Maturity for fasting: The criterion for being mature enough to fast is the physical ability to do so, and the average age for this maturity is 13 in males and females.
  • Matrimonial maturity: The criterion is being mature enough to be in a matrimonial relationship. Females usually mature sooner than males in this regard.
  • Financial maturity: [He does not mention a separate criteria here, but apart from the ones mentioned at the start – mental and physical – scholars generally believe this maturity comes when the individual is able to look after their own finances and are not easily tricked or very gullible in financial matters]. At this stage, the individual becomes subject to the laws that are related to the finances of people (religious tax/levy, Hajj etc.). Males generally mature sooner than girls in this regard [he mentions social reasons and the opportunities available to males as a reason, but it is clear that females can mature at the same age as males in this area].
  • Maturity to propagate Islam: The individual is mature enough to propagate Islam and be obligated to command the good and forbid the evil. This maturity is dependant on other conditions [such as religious knowledge].
  • Maturity to participate in war: This is obligatory for males who meet the conditions, but in cases can also be necessary for females.
    (Risaleh Noveen, Muhammad Sadiqi Tehrani, issue/s:25-32)


  1. The primary condition in all the above stages is the intellectual capacity and ability to take on the said roles and responsibilities. As mentioned above, mental/psychological and physical capacities must also be considered where relevant.
  2. The stages do not necessarily have to follow in the order that they are stated above. Some are linked to age, while others to ability.
  3. Sadiqi Tehrani argues that some of his categorisations (e.g. maturity for fasting) are actually in line with the narrations on the topic (while also arguing their is no [reliable] textual basis for the opposing opinion).

The entire section from Sadiqi Tehrani’s work has not been translated, nor all the arguments mentioned. The purpose of this piece was to present an instance where a scholar decided to implement their understanding of where mental and physical abilities or states should be considered in the process of law. We leave it to the readers to contemplate the possible consequences of such a framework, and more importantly, the general idea of considering mental and psychological states in our studies of Islam.

As a final point and closing reminder, I wanted to mention that while it may seem that criterion is too vague and subjective in some of the stages, this is not something to be alarmed about. The general standard is the intellectual, mental and physical ability of the individual. This may differ from person to person, particularly from one place and time to another, but it reflects how humans may develop differently based on their circumstances. This accommodation should not be rejected out of fear of change. Nonetheless, the importance of psychological states and the possible necessity of including them in jurisprudential considerations does not automatically make Tehrani’s conclusions correct. Each must correlate to substantiated research and evidence.

This post is for educational purposes only, and it is not intended for readers to act upon, nor is it an endorsement of the quoted individuals conclusions.

source: epistemess

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