What is Puberty?
There is a recurring principle in Islamic law (Shari’ah) that emphasizes the inherent balance within Islam – the concept that rulings become obligatory on a person gradually and only when they are relevant to their life. For many rulings, the onset of puberty is an important milestone, as it represents the transition from childhood to adulthood, and more importantly, the obligation of adhering to the laws prescribed by Islam. It is from this point onward that a person is held accountable for their deeds. While this can be an exciting time, it can also be overwhelming. Preparing ahead by learning the basics of purification and prayer, or the laws of menstruation, can help mitigate the feelings of anxiety and worry.
The Fiqh of It
In the Shari’ah, coming of age is known as puberty (bulugh), and once a person reaches this age, they become legally mature (baligh). Typically, a girl becomes baligh between the ages of 9 and 15, with the onset of menstruation (hayd). However, if she reaches the age of 15, according to the Islamic calendar, and hasn’t menstruated, she will automatically be considered baligh. The Islamic age correlates to 14 ½ years in the solar calendar. (Sahih Muslim 1490/3, Mirqat al-Mafatih 2208/6, Al-Binaya 109/11)
Physically, becoming baligh indicates the maturation of the body. Equally important is the spiritual component of this rite of passage – once a girl reaches this point, her deeds are recorded and she becomes answerable for her actions, good and bad. She is obligated to fulfill the obligatory (fard) acts of worship, such as the daily prayers and fasting in Ramadan. She must observe the laws of covering (hijab) and modesty, and thus, she may find that her wardrobe needs an update. Her clothing should be loose and opaque, concealing the general shape of her body.
Parents and local teachers can introduce these ideas over time, so she is emotionally and physically prepared when the actual transition takes place. This will alleviate feelings of anxiety or confusion, which can be common.
Physical & Emotional Changes
Aside from hayd, other physical changes during puberty include:
It is also common for girls to experience strong emotions, including:
- Being argumentative
- Feeling confused and lonely
- Feeling frustrated
- Mood swings, where she fluctuates between feeling anxious, irritable, overly sensitive, etc.
It is important that we allow girls to give voice to these experiences and validate them as part of this process. Engaging in honest and open conversations can be crucial to helping them successfully navigate their way through this transition.