The Daily Telegraph and a “Fundamentalist” Iranian MP

News from Iran, via Robert Tait at the Daily Telegraph:

…A fundamentalist MP, Mohammad Ali Asfenani, has said Iran has a religious obligation to legally recognise the weddings of girls as young as nine.

“As some people may not comply with our current Islamic legal system, we must regard nine as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married,” Mr Asfenani, chairman of the parliamentary legal and judiciary committee, told Khabar Online. “To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law.”

Presumably, “fundamentalist” means “hardliner”, although the use of the term here is so opaque as to be pointless.

The quote attributed to Isfenani was noted even before the Telegraph article. However, an organisation called the  Women Living Under Muslim Laws Solidarity Network suggests reason for caution:

Dear all,

Recently, a petition generated by claiming that the “Iranian government is legalizing marriage for under 10-year olds” has been spreading widely. I would like to bring it to your attention that the petition is neither accurate nor credible. Our trusted Iranian colleagues have consulted Farsi media agencies and all their contacts and confirmed that the information is incorrect and misleading. Furthermore , it was confirmed that there is no such statement or anything similar in the Majlis. There is only a PANEL DISCUSSION on early marriage which was published by a News Agency Khabar Online,

The MP, Mohammad Ali Isfenani, who was quoted or rather misquoted in the petition as saying “We must regard nine as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married” has in fact said the contrary. MP Isfenani’s official stance is in fact against early marriage and he actually defends the law that prohibits early marriage in Iran.

The petition has already attracted over 50, 000 signatories. It is important that we bring this to the attention of our respective networkers. Such fabrications/propaganda can undermine the integrity of our work and discredit our fight in defending the rights of girls and women in Iran and beyond!

Thank you for your support!

The panel discussion itself can be seen here; unfortunately, Google Translate is of very limited value, but the discussants appear to agree that early marriage is undesirable. Input from anyone with knowledge of Farsi would be gratefully received.

Meanwhile, a recent post by Alex Shams, who is Co-Editor of Ajam Media Collective, suggests that Tait and the Telegraph have form when it comes to inaccurate reporting on Iran:

…On August 20, Robert Tait published a bizarrely contradictory article entitled “Anger as Iran bans women from universities” in The Telegraph that suggests that women in Iran will be hereto banned from universities because of the worries of “senior clerics.” The piece’s subtitle immediately contradicts the inflammatory title, reversing the claim that women have been banned “from universities” by explaining that “female students in Iran have been barred from more than 70 university degree courses in an officially-approved act of sex-discrimination.” Tait proceeds to contradict himself again in the first paragraph, where he further explains that 36 universities had decided of their own accord to ban entrance to women in 77 undergraduate-level courses.

This article is the most recent in a series of inaccurate, misleading, and irresponsible articles about Iranian women and the fight for women’s rights in Iran published by The Telegraph. This is the same paper that last spring completely fabricated a story about Iranian women training to be ninja assassins” to defend their country against invasion (they were actually just practitioners of the Japanese martial art in their local dojo, without murderous intent)…

Which senior clerics? where? …To say that “senior clerics in Iran think xyz” is about as precise as saying “politicians in America think xyz,” which is to say that it means about nothing.

I looked at the general issue of early marriage in the Islamic world recently here and here.