One of the most commonly-used arguments against Islam by those who are non-Muslims encompasses the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his young bride, Aishah. Most non-Muslim polemicists are quick to use this argument in an attempt to discredit the character of Muhammad, thus discrediting the legitimacy of his message, Islam.
The most common statements made by the non-Muslim, with regards to this subject, is that the Prophet was a pedophile, since he married and subsequently consummated the marriage with Aishah while she was a very young girl. They go on further to suggest that since Muhammad is a pedophile, his message of Islam, as given to him by Allah, cannot and should not be considered “God-inspired”. This is a convenient way for non-Muslims to discredit Islam because their argument directly attacks the credibility and reliability of the Prophet Muhammad’s character.
In essence, they categorically claim:
1. Muhammad married Aishah while she was a very young girl.
2. Since he was a grown man himself at the time, he is a pedophile for marrying Aishah.
3. Since he is a pedophile, we can conclude that he is mentally unstable.
4. Since he is mentally unstable, he can not be considered credible.
5. Since he is not credible, we should not accept his claim of prophethood.
6. Since we can not accept his claim of prophethood, his message cannot be from God.
Every anti-Islamic website I have ever visited issues articles discussing this topic or some variant of this subject.
For years, the Muslim world has tried to combat such accusations. Although these efforts are valiant, they fall short in the eyes of critics. The reasoning behind this is because when all is said and done, the Muslim cannot cover up the fact that Muhammad married Aishah when she was very young. In recent years, several Muslim scholars have studied this event in Muhammad’s life, with a little more detail. Many have come to the conclusion that the most accepted age of Aishah, which is usually between the ages of 6 to 9, at the time of her marriage to Muhammad was inaccurately recorded. This has led many scholars to the belief that Aishah could have been as old as 15 to 17 years of age when she married Muhammad. Although these scholars have come forward with these new findings; the critics of Islam still brand Muhammad a pedophile. They often accuse these scholars of trying to cover up an embarrassing chapter in the life of Muhammad by suggesting a more socially-acceptable age for Aishah when she married Muhammad.
I, myself have used these very works and references when talking to the critics of Islam about this subject. After reading this debate and others like it, it is easy to see a reoccurring pattern. Whenever the Muslim and non-Muslim debate this particular issue, there is no real resolve. In most cases, the debate deteriorates and becomes nothing more than a competition to see who can insult the other side the best. On rare occasions, the two sides part on good terms, but without any concrete resolution. What usually happens next is the Muslims claim victory for their speaker and the non-Muslims claim victory for their speaker. What usually ensues is “fact-finding” or “quote-finding” from the debate to support the claim of victory on both sides. Although this may prove flattering for those who were engaged in the debate, it still leaves the others who followed the debate, who remain neutral, scratching their heads because there was no definitive argument to prove or disprove the claim of pedophilia.
What I will attempt to do in this essay is to offer an argument against Muhammad being a pedophile. This argument will be concrete and definitive in nature. By the end of this argument, there should be no loose ends or room for alternative narratives or interpretations. So please, take the time to read this essay carefully and by all means, use this argument when debating the same issue with non-Muslims.
Before I dive right into the subject, I feel that it is important to stress that when examining the life of Muhammad from a historical standpoint, it becomes important to create and maintain a sense of separation. We must separate the historical aspects of Muhammad’s life from his religious life. In order to come to a consensus about the historical Muhammad being a pedophile or not, we must examine the circumstances, environment and mentality of the people living during the time of Muhammad. Whether or not his message, Islam, promotes pedophilia is another discussion in itself that deals with Muhammad, the religious figure.
As you may have noticed, the title of this essay is “The Fallacy Of Presentism”. In order to fully understand and utilize this argument, you must first know what is Presentism. Most people are unfamiliar with this term, and trying to find this word in online dictionaries is useless, as all of the online dictionary sources I have checked do not have a proper definition for this word in its context.
What is presentism, and how does it discredit the claims of pedophilia against the prophet Muhammad? In order to understand presentism, we must consult with historians and what they have to say about the subject.
The American Historical Association defines presentism as being:
“the tendency to interpret the past in presentist terms”
In other words, presentism is using modern-day critiques of past events. These critiques may include social changes and “norms”, political or religious views, modern interpretations, etc. Professor SF Murphy, who is a published author and an expert in military history wrote an article titled “ Pondering the Fallacy of Presentism in History Classes and in American Science Fiction”. In this article he states the following about presentism:
“And herein lies the core problem, the fallacy of presentism. Presentism is when a student of history takes their present day values system and makes a historical interpretation through that filter or bias.”
In his article, SF Murphy talks about the decision made by the USA to use atomic bombs against the Japanese. He focuses in on a pivotal figure in the decision of the US to use atomic bombs; Perry, when discussing the relevant issues. Murphy points out, that most of his students are quick to use modern-day standards when judging America’s decision to use atomic bombs. He says:
“What is probably most likely is that the students in question feel that if Perry and Biddle had a respect for Japanese culture in a 21st Century American sense, then perhaps the war could have been avoided. And herein lies the core problem, the fallacy of presentism. Presentism is when a student of history takes their present day values system and makes a historical interpretation through that filter or bias.”
Murphy then goes on to illustrate the fallacies associated with making such connections. He says:
“If only Commodore Perry had been through a sensitivity session. If only he had our 21st Century values. Well, you can and probably should make a moral judgment on those grounds, but does it get at the historical truth of the matter? Do we gain a clear perspective of what Perry was thinking in the 1850s?”
Finally, Murphy delves deeper into the issue by stating:
“Or perhaps I should put it this way. To expect Commodore Perry to behave as a 21st Century US Naval Officer would be no different from expecting Socrates to hold forth on the Petrine Theory of Papal Supremacy. It’d be pretty difficult for Socrates, Plato or Aristotle to do any such thing as the Catholic Church didn’t exist yet. Or perhaps just as unlikely would be to expect Marcus Tullius Cicero to write extensive essays on the Enlightenment or Marxism.
Out of what time warp is Perry supposed to get these values? He isn’t a product of 21st Century America, he is a product of early 19th Century America. He simply wouldn’t see the problem of contact with Japan in the same manner as we do.”
At this point in time I would like to go back to the American Historical Association and their view of presentism. They do not hesitate in illustrating the fallacies of presentism. They make this perfectly clear when they state:
“Presentism, at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior; the Greeks had slavery, even David Hume was a racist, and European women endorsed imperial ventures. Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards. This is not to say that any of these findings are irrelevant or that we should endorse an entirely relativist point of view. It is to say that we must question the stance of temporal superiority that is implicit in the Western (and now probably worldwide) historical discipline.”
At this point in time, you may be asking what relevance this has with Muhammad and his wife Aishah. In order to answer this very important question, we have to look at the word pedophile. We have to examine its origins, as well as its inception. Once we expose these truths, you will see how the argument of Muhammad being a pedophile is baseless, without merit, and analytically incorrect, not only from a logical standpoint, but from a historical one as well:
The origin of the word pedophile derives itself from Greek word “paidofhilos”, meaning “loving children”. The actual word “pedophile” and its negative connotations were not introduced into modern society until the 1950’s.
Prior to the 1950s the word pedophile, with its understanding and scientific insight, was non-existent. The generations who lived prior to the invention and advent of the word did not see any problem with the concept of an older man taking a wife, whom by today’s standard would be considered a minor. It is no coincidence that we see laws restricting this type of relationship in the Western world cropping up at about the same time pedophilia was being introduced into western society.
In his article titled “The History of Marriage as an Institution”, Larry Peterson, Ph.D states the following about marital relationships in America, before the 1950s:
“Throughout most of the 19th century, the minimum age of consent for sexual intercourse in most American states was 10 years. In Delaware it was only 7 years. As late as 1930, twelve states allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to marry (with parental consent).”
If we examine the character of Muhammad, we can easily see the fallacy connected with branding him a pedophile. Muhammad lived during the 7th century, in Arabia. He lived well over a thousand years before the inception of the term pedophile. This fact alone renders any such labels attributed to Muhammad as analytically incorrect and without merit. No Historian would make such a claim against Muhammad because he/she is fully aware of the fallacy of presentism. To the contrary, Muhammad lived in a place and a time where his marriage to Aishah was socially acceptable. These types of marriages (older man to much younger woman) were freely being practiced in Arabia, Europe, Asia and the rest of the known world. In order for the claim of pedophilia to be historically and thus correctly attached to Muhammad, the critics of Islam must offer evidence showing that society, during the 7th century, viewed marriages between older men and much younger woman as being something negative, disgusting or socially unacceptable. If they are unable to do so, and believe me they will not find any such information, as it does not exist, then the critics of Islam should cease in labeling Muhammad a pedophile.
To borrow from Murphy, whom I quoted earlier (I made some word substitutions to drive home the point):
- “Out of what time warp is Muhammad supposed to get these values? He isn’t a product of 21st Century America, he is a product of 7th Century Arabia. He simply wouldn’t see the problem of marriage to Aishah in the same manner as we do.”
- “If only Muhammad had been through a sensitivity session. If only he had our 21st Century values.”
If we take into account the findings made by Larry Peterson, Ph.D, the American people or the “so-called” civilized western society of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s would have seen no problem with a 7th century man named Muhammad marrying a much younger woman named Aishah. If the American people who lived prior to the 1950’s read the hadiths that state Aishah was between 9 to 12 years of age when she got married; surely they would not see any problem with the marriage, since their laws, at the time, stated a woman could be married as early as 7 years of age. Surely, they would not have referred to Muhammad as being sick or mentally ill, as this type of marriage was deemed Godly and normal to them as well. To make such assertions would be contradictory or hypocritical, on their part, because their fellow countrymen had also done the same, with the permission and consent of the American Government.
If we examine history with a little more detail, as it pertains to marriage and customs, we see similarities between the marriage customs of 7th century Arabia, and 19th century America, with regards to older men having “child” brides.
The Byzantine Emperors of the 12th century would often take brides as young as 8 years of age. In their article titled “Agnes-Anna of France,wife of Alexius II and Andronicus I of the Comneni Dynasty”, Lynda Garland and Andrew Stone state the following historical facts:
- “Child brides, whether Byzantines or foreign princesses, were the norm rather than the exception, especially from the late twelfth century.”
- “Certainly it was unusual under normal circumstances for Byzantine girls to marry before the age of twelve.”
They go on to mention examples of such marriages in the Byzantium Empire:
1. They state that Agnes was 8 years old when she was to be married.
2. Alexius I Comnenus was 12 years old when she was married.
3. Margaret- Maria married Isaac Angelus when she was 9 years old.
Even Jewish or Israelite customs dictated that a man could take for himself a young bride. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible says about Jewish marriage customs in volume 2, page 1407, under “Marriage”:
“Subsequently, minimum ages (for marriage) of 13 for boys and 12 for girls were set.”
Jewish oral tradition also states that Rivka was 3 years old when Yitzchock (A man in his 40’s) married her.
Most historians agree that the life expectancy for men and women during ancient times was much lower than we have today. Some attribute this to our advancements in medicine and technology, while others point out the fact that infant mortality rates back in ancient times were much higher than what we have today. Other considerations like living conditions and demographics are also taken into consideration when speaking about life expectancy. This fact sheds light upon the reasoning behind women being married at such young ages in the ancient world. Shorter life expectancy meant that it was of the utmost importance for a man and woman to be wed as soon as possible, to ensure the survival of the race and the continuation of the family lineage. The longer a woman waited to be married, the less likely it would be for her to conceive a child. If we look at the ancient Romans, as an example, we can see that the average life expectancy would have been between 25 – 35 years of age. (Source)
Another aspect to pedophilia that I find relevant to this discussion is the basic character traits one would expect to see in a pedophile. Pedophiles come in all sizes, shapes, races, genders, economic backgrounds etc, so it becomes quite difficult to pin this title on any single type of person. Over the years, however, psychiatrists and those associated with the study of human behavior have developed a “profile” or descriptive analysis of a pedophile. This “profile” is based on countless surveys and/or case studies into pedophilia.
In their article titled “Psychopathology and Personality Traits of Pedophiles”; Lisa J. Cohen, PhD and Igor Galynker, MD, PhD state the following facts about pedophiles:
“Classified in DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR as a paraphilia, pedophilia is characterized by persistent sexual attraction to prepubescent children”
The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders says:
“Pedophilia is a paraphilia that involves an abnormal interest in children. A paraphilia is a disorder that is characterized by recurrent intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies.”
If you noticed, in the definition of what it is to be a pedophile, both reputable sources I have quoted state that a pedophile typically has a persistent and recurrent intense sexual attraction or urges to prepubescent children. This factor becomes important because when studying case files of pedophilia, doctors and even law enforcement have come to the conclusion that a pedophile is a repeat offender, who will continue to satisfy their sexual urges towards children, until stopped.
The National Alert Registry sheds light on this topic. They state that:
“Most pedophiles are multiple offenders and are involved with a number of kids.”
Upon examination of Muhammad and his relationships with his wives, one can easily see that he does not fit the “profile”, as outlined above. In total, Muhammad had eleven wives. They were:
1. Khadijah: Married Muhammad when she was 40 years old
2. Saudah: Married Muhammad when she was 50 years old
3. Aishah: Disputes over her age. Let’s assume she was between 9-12
4. Hafsah: Married Muhammad when she was 21 years old
5. Zaynab: Married Muhammad when she was 50 years old
6. Ummu Salma: Married Muhammad when she was 29 years old
7. Zainab: Married Muhammad when she was 38 years old
8. Juwayriah: Married Muhammad when she was 20 years old
9. Ramla Ume-Habibah: Married Muhammad when she was 36 years old
10. Safiyyah: Married Muhammad when she was 17 years old
11. Maymunah: Married Muhammad when she was 27 years old
Aishah is the only wife of Muhammad who was very young at the time of her marriage. This becomes an important fact in itself because if one was going to make the argument for pedophilia, one would expect to see a list of wives whom, for the majority, were very young when they married Muhammad. The fact that Muhammad had only one such wife proves that he did not suffer from the persistent and recurrent intense sexual attraction or urges to prepubescent children, that is commonly associated with pedophilia. It also proves that Muhammad was not a “repeat offender”, as such a person would have had more than one young wife.
Common sense would dictate that if Muhammad were indeed a pedophile, he would have had a long line of young girls as brides at his disposal. This is not a far-fetched idea because what we must remember is that Muhammad was a ruler. He had the total devotion of his followers and influence in Arabia (in Madina when he made the Hijra and later when he peacefully conquered Makkah and Arabia). The Muslims at that time never doubted Muhammad and his decisions because of their love and respect for him. They truly believed he was a prophet from God and the bearer of God’s final revelation to mankind. If Muhammad was an evil or vile pedophile as described by the anti-Islamic movement, he would have taken advantage of his position and power. He would have had a literal “buffet” line of young girls to quench his recurrent, intense sexual attraction or urges towards prepubescent children. This would have been easy, especially after conquering Makkah because Muhammad had final say in all affairs, both religious and political.
In closing, I would like to state that those who freely, and without proper analysis of history, label Muhammad as being a pedophile are indeed in error. The system they use to prove their case is analytically flawed and incorrect because it applies 21st century understandings to 7th century customs and traditions. If all reputable historians agree that this type of cutting and pasting of past events with present understanding is flawed, shouldn’t those who ignorantly label Muhammad a pedophile concur with historical analysis, as presented by historians?
I would like to quote the American Historical Association:
“Presentism admits of no ready solution; it turns out to be very difficult to exit from modernity or our modern Western historical consciousness. But it is possible to remind ourselves of the virtues of maintaining a fruitful tension between present concerns and respect for the past. Both are essential ingredients in good history. The emergence of new concerns in the present invariably reveals aspects of historical experience that have been occluded or forgotten. Respect for the past, with its concomitant humility, curiosity, and even wonder (as Caroline Bynum reminded us in a memorable presidential address), enables us to see beyond our present-day concerns backward and forward at the same time. We are all caught up in the ripples of time, and we have no idea of where they are headed.”