The Sunday Times (£) over the weekend carried a front page article on ‘Islamic child brides’ (also covered in the Mail on Sunday and the Sun). The story, based on an undercover investigation by reporter Mazher Mahmood, saw Mahmood posing as a father wanting to marry off his twelve year old daughter to a man in his twenties.
From the Sunday Times report:
“Muslim clerics in Britain are prepared to conduct sharia marriages involving child brides as young as twelve, an investigation by The Sunday Times has discovered.
“Two imams told an undercover reporter that they would be willing to officiate at the wedding of an underage girl to a man in his twenties, despite the possibility of the youngster then having sex with her husband.”
The two imams were Mohamed Kassamali of the Husaini Islamic Centre in Peterborough, who is reported to have resigned from his position, and Abdul Haque, a retired imam of a mosque in Shoreditch, East London who, according to the ST, “still officiates at weddings”.
Haque is said to have told the reporter, “Tell people it’s an engagement but it will be a marriage. In Islam, once the girl reaches puberty parents have the right.
“Nobody should know about this. If she talks in school, social workers will take her. You and I will be in trouble.”
The article continues that “it is not illegal for imams to perform Islamic marriages even when one or both of those marrying are under the age of 16. While some Muslims interpret Islamic law as allowing girls to marry as soon as they reach puberty, the practice is frowned upon by the majority.
“Farooq Murad, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “We are strongly opposed to it on the basis that it is illegal under the law of the land where we are living and even under sharia it is highly debateable”
When confronted by the newspaper following the undercover operation, “Kassamali insisted he would not have performed the marriage without the girl’s consent and that he would have first sought legal advice.
He said “he would want to meet the girl and her prospective husband to satisfy himself that they were both content to proceed”. The paper states that he also urged Mahmood, posing as the father, to encourage the newlyweds to delay sexual relations.
The article also includes a comment from Jim Fitzpatrick MP, who serves an east London constituency, saying that he would consider tabling an amendment to the impending legislation on forced marriages “to help prevent underage sharia marriages”.
Fitzpatrick’s conflation of ‘forced marriages’ and ‘sharia marriages’ is disturbing for its implication that all forced marriages in the UK are committed by Muslims. Significantly, on the back of the investigation, the Sunday Times published an extensive article on forced marriages in the UK.
Moreover, the opening sentence of the article states “Muslim clerics in Britain are prepared to conduct sharia marriages involving child brides as young as twelve” – is it fair to lead with ‘Muslim clerics’ when there were only two of them? The papers have pounced on the conduct of two imams to suggest widespread ‘rogue’ activity in the Muslim community. For example, the Sun’s headline: ‘Girls, 12, married off in UK’- conflicts with the facts contained in main report which found that two imams would agree to marry a twelve year old girl but not that such marriages were actually being conducted.
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