British Muslims Should Stand Up and Say It: There Is Nothing Islamic about Child Marriage

By Hasan, Mehdi | New Statesman (1996), November 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

British Muslims Should Stand Up and Say It: There Is Nothing Islamic about Child Marriage


Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)


This is a column about Muslims and child marriage. I hesitated before writing it. When I pointed out the prevalence of anti-Semitism and homophobia within British Muslim communities earlier this year, I was accused by some of my co-religionists of "selling out", of "fuelling Islamophobia".

I understand their annoyance. Why give the racists and bigots of the Islamophobic far right yet another stick with which to beat us?

The problem is that this particular stick is already in their hands. Child, or underage, marriage is very much a part of British society. And the inconvenient truth is that it is Muslims-not Christians, Jews or Hindus-who are responsible for much of it. There is no point pretending otherwise. Nor is it morally tenable to stand idly by as young girls in the UK are forced into marriages before they are physically or psychologically ready, against their will and against the law.

First, a bit of background. The legal age for marriage in Britain is 16. Yet, back in October, I watched ITV's "Exposure" documentary, Forced To Marry, in which two undercover reporters, posing as the mother and brother of a 14-year-old Muslim girl, called 56 mosques across Britain to ask whether they would perform the girl's marriage. Shamefully, imams at 18 of those 56 mosques-or one in three-agreed to do so.

The imam of a mosque in Manchester was secretly recorded as saying that performing such a marriage would "not be a problem". An imam in Birmingham, despite being told that the girl didn't want to get married, could be heard saying: "She's 14. By sharia, grace of God, she's legal to get married. Obviously Islam has made it easy for us ... We're doing it because it's OK through Islam."

Let's be clear: two-thirds of the imams refused to perform such marriages, with many making it clear they "found the request abhorrent". But here's the issue: a third of them didn't. A third of those imams hid behind their-my!-religion: "We're doing it because it's OK through Islam." Frustratingly, many Muslim scholars and seminaries still cling to the view that adulthood, and the age of sexual consent, rests only on biological puberty: that is, 12 to 15 for boys and nine to 15 for girls.

It doesn't have to be this way. As is often the case, there is no single, immutable "Islamic" view. As Usama Hasan, a reform-minded British Muslim scholar and former imam, argues: "There was a rival view in Islamic jurisprudence, even in ancient and medieval times: that emotional and intellectual maturity was also required, and was reached between the ages of 15 and 21." The latter view, he tells me, "has been adopted by most civil codes of Muslim-majority countries for purposes of marriage".

The Quran does not contain a specific legal age of marriage, but it does make clear that men and women must be both physically mature and of sound judgement in order to get married. It is also worth clarifying that Prophet Muhammad did not, as is often claimed, marry a child bride named Aisha. …

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