Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that defaming the Prophet Muhammad “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace”. This, according to the Turkish Anadolu Agency. The case arose as a response to an Austrian woman claiming “that Muhammad had pedophilic tendencies”.
Mohammed and his wife A’isha freeing the daughter of a tribal chief. From the “Siyer-i Nebi“. (14th century) In the Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul. Courtesy: http://zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_face_hidden/
Of course, the ECHR has now inserted a blasphemy clause into European culture just as Eric Idle’s “Always look on the bright side of life” becomes the most popular song at funerals in the U.K. One does not hear of many Christians nowadays, unlike Malcolm Muggeridge, complaining that the ditty goes beyond the limits of discussion: still, the votaries of Islam seem to think that it is special and its omnipotent god warrants protection against naughty schoolboy humour.
Even if the Austrian woman were wrong about Muhammad, surely she should have the right to say it and we could have a good barney about the sources in Islamic literature. One problem is she is actually right. I have written about Islam’s attitude to women here. So, it is not surprising to discover the catalogue of Muhammad’s relations with his 17 wives does not reflect well on the man.
Let us look at Muhammad’s wives, via wikiislam through Islamic sources, and whether they were “widows and divorced women who had no means to survive on their own” as Islamic apologetics often tells us. We see, first of all, 17, not 11, wives as the tradition normally has it. The list below omits the 2 most famous, Khadija and Aisha, and includes a concubine.
Sawdah bint Zamaa (married in 620) was a tanner and perfume-mixer. Hafsah bint Umar, who could write, could easily have earned a living. Or her father, one of the richest Qurayshi men, could have kept her. Zaynab bint Khuzayma had many male relatives who could and did look out for her in the 7 months between her widowhood and marriage to Muhammad. Hind bint Abi Umayya was a tanner and evidently reluctant to remarry: one can assume that she thought she could earn a living.
Zaynab bint Jahsh gave away all her profits from her leather-craft job in alms. Rayhanah bint Zayd was a poor widow, because Muhammad had killed her husband and appropriated her property. Juwayriyah bint Al-Harith also had her husband killed by Muhammad’s troops: yet, she was rich and Muhammad declined the ransom offered by her father. Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan shows no signs of being destitute: she came with a huge dowry of 400 dinars.
Safiyah bint Huyayy was a widow because Muhammad had killed her husband and expropriated her wealth. Maymunah bint Al-Harith was the guest of her brother-in-law, a banker, and one of the richest of his tribe: she was comfortably off. Mariyah bint Shamoon was an Egyptian slave whom Muhammad could have sent back to Egypt: instead he used her as a concubine, to the evident distress of his official wives. Mulaykah bint Kaab, whom Muhammad divorced after a few weeks, received a marriage offer from someone else. This indicates that she was not at destitution’s door.
Fatima bint Al-Dahhak, the daughter of a minor chief, had not been poor. Divorced quickly by Muhammad, she subsequently eked out a living as a vendor of camel-dung. Asma bint Al-Numan was a wealthy Yemeni princess. Amrah bint Yazid was divorced on the first day. Tukanah al-Quraziya was a Qurayza POW: her poverty was caused by Muhammad killing its men and confiscating their property. A’isha and Khadija were of course famously well-off.
Of note is that the vast majority of the claims derives from the earliest references to Muhammad’s life, albeit that they are about 150 years after his traditional death. Nevertheless, the hagiographic source tells us that the community from which it came approved of this behaviour.
The Austrian woman claimed that Muhammad showed paedophilic tendencies towards A’isha, to whom he was betrothed when she was six years old and the marriage consummated when she was nine. Sahih Bukhari, commonly called the most reliable hadith in Muslim circles, tells us that. Here it is:
that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).
This had barely been controversial in Islamic history until critics of Islam pointed it out and as usual with Muslim apologetics one can find whole websites devoted to denying the plain writing on the page. Perhaps this would not matter if ordinary Muslims did not habitually and vehemently repeat the denial in public conversations: now it seems that their upset trumps any claim, right or wrong, that one can make about Muhammad’s morals.
The ECHR’s ruling is a dreadful day for freedom of expression, and woefully ignorant of the facts. It has handed the censor’s veto to those with the morals of Tamerlane and the tech nous of Steve Jobs.