Under-age marriage, the Qur'an and the Prophet Mohammad

The Sunday Times today reveals the tragic prevalence of under-age marriages within the Muslim community in the UK. The fact that Muslim clerics are using religious authority to knowingly justify their breaking of the law to condemn girls as young as 10 to a life of being abused  is both disturbing but inevitable.

I shall not go over the well-worn ground of whether the Prophet married a 7 year-old and consummated the marriage when she was 9. The evidence is clear if you believe the ahadith, and the retired imam quoted by the Sunday Times makes it clear he certainly follows the actions of the Prophet described therein: "We have to follow the way of the Holy Prophet. We are his followers and that is what you have to explain to your daughter." 
Rather I shall look to the Qur'an to see if the supposed words of God make clear or clearer what Allah really wants or expects of us in this regard.

One of the most oft-quoted verses to defend the notion that the Qur'an actually explicitly requires girls to be mature before marriage  is this: 
4:6  And test the orphans [in your charge] until they reach a marriage­able age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind, hand over to them their possessions [...]

Note the very clear implication that the author doesn't necessarily equate marriageable age with sound mind. In any case, the verse is hardly a ringing endorsement of the necessity for maturity. The verse is dealing, after-all, with orphans. 

Let us then turn to an Islamic site to see if they can clarify matters. 

Misconceptions about Islam helpfully lists the verses in the Qur'an that give guidance on the age of marriage:

What does The Quran say on the age of marriage?The Quran does not state a specific legal age of marriage, however it does give a guideline and mentions situations and conditions that should be considered before marriage:
  • Determining mutual attraction/compatibility [2:221, 2:235, 30:21, 33:52]
  • Ascertaining whether the potential partner is of similar beliefs/faith [2:221, 60:10]
  • Discussion of and agreeing to the level of dower and other terms (if any) [4:4, 4:24]
  • Understanding and mutual acceptance of marriage as a solemn/strong oath/contract [4:21, 2:232, 2:237, 24:33]
  • If male, capable of providing for the family/household [2:228, 2:233, 4:34, 65:6]
  • To have physically matured / post-puberty [4:6, 24:31, 24:58-59]
Given the latest revelations in the Sunday times it seems prudent to focus on the last of these: those lines which apparently guide believers to take wives who have physically matured or who have past puberty.  I have quoted 4:6 above. Let's now look at the next verse chosen by the Islamic apologists: 24:31

24:31 (Picktall) And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.

Hmm...Am I being stupid or is there little here to reassure us that Mohammad/Allah intended his followers not to marry children? Let's ignore the awkward references to slaves and eunuchs (how we marvel at the  universality and timelessness of the advice contained in the Qur'an...) and the laughable (I'm sorry, but it is) injunction on stamping feet in case your boobs wobble, and focus on the message. Nothing about ensuring your putative wife is mature enough to know her own mind or physically capable of sex without harm. Not a hint. But let's be generous and assume that Misconceptions simply quoted the wrong verse.

So let's examine the next verse.

24:58 -9 (Picktall) O ye who believe! Let your slaves, and those of you who have not come to puberty, ask leave of you at three times (before they come into your presence): Before the prayer of dawn, and when ye lay aside your raiment for the heat of noon, and after the prayer of night. Three times of privacy for you. It is no sin for them or for you at other times, when some of you go round attendant upon others (if they come into your presence without leave). Thus Allah maketh clear the revelations for you. Allah is Knower, Wise.
And when the children among you come to puberty then let them ask leave even as those before them used to ask it. Thus Allah maketh clear His revelations for you. Allah is knower, Wise.

Well that's cleared that up once and for all, hasn't it. Allah maketh clear, my arse.

I'm going to be presumptuous here and risk Allah's wrath (but hey, with this blog I'm going to have the the mother of all saunas anyway, so what the hell...) and suggest an improvement on how He could have made this issue clearer and saved countless children the awful bloody fate of being hitched to old abusers without recourse to any help whatsoever during their miserable lives.

Women, you (hi - sorry I've ignored you for so long) will not marry until and unless you are both physically and mentally mature and you want to. No-one shall force you against your will.
Men, you shall listen to the wishes of those you desire to marry and to your daughters' wishes. Under no circumstances shall there be compulsion in marriage or in sex. Let me make that quite clear.
I don't think even the ridiculous brain-washed old imam quoted in the Sunday Times could have misunderstood that, do you?

Actually, don't answer that.