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Charge of Paedophilia

INTRODUCTION

Some Sikhs have been audacious enough to level the hackneyed charge of paedophilia against Prophet Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) despite him having consummated his marriage to ‘A’ishah when she had reached adulthood at the age of nine. Other have accused him of marrying her out of lust and nothing more. The overall claim is that such actions are not befitting the qualities of a true Prophet of God.

In this paper, we will, God-willing, endeavour to thoroughly refute these charges while responding with counterarguments that will expose the moral underbelly of Sikhism’s proposed way of life. We will show that those who accuse our Prophet, actually do so without any divine backing whatsoever. Moreover, we will lay bear how their scripture is once again silent over such critical marital affairs, which, one would presume, God would provide clear moral guidance for.

AN EXAMINATION OF THE FACTS

Some claim that Prophet Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) married ‘A’ishah out of lust. However, if this were true, then:

  1. Why restrict himself to the daughter of his life-long bosom friend and ally Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq? Why did he never choose to take for himself the more mature, beautiful, and wealthy women?
  2. Why didn’t he take advantage of the norms of his society, which had adopted a wide range of marital practices including polygyny, and marry more than one woman? Why instead did he, during the prime of his sexual powers, choose to spend a good part of his youthful life, i.e. 25 years, with a single woman, i.e. Khadijah, and that too one who was far older than him at 40 when he got married at 25?

But firstly, let us answer the question of why he chose to marry the young daughter of his closest friend and compatriot, Abu Bakr, which requires that we take the socio-political circumstances of that time into account.

‘A’ishah was the daughter of Abu Bakr, one of the Prophet’s closest friends and devoted followers, and the first man to convert to Islam. Abu Bakr hoped to solidify the deep love that existed between himself and the Prophet by uniting their families in marriage. The betrothal of Abu Bakr’s daughter ‘A’ishah to Muhammad took place in the eleventh year of Muhammad’s Prophethood, which was about a year after he married Sawdah bint Zam’ah and before the great hijrah (migration) from Makkah to al-Madinah.

‘A’ishah and Hafsah were daughters of his two viziers, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, respectively. It was this relation of their fathers to Muhammad which caused the latter to cement his relationship with them by blood. That is why he married their two daughters; that is why he gave in marriage his two daughters to ‘Uthman and ‘Ali …. [1] There is then ample evidence that Muhammad did not marry either ‘A’ishah or Hafsah out of any love or desire but in order to consolidate the ties of mutual brotherhood within the new Islamic community, and especially between himself and his two viziers. [2] [3] (bold, underline ours)

The early group of small and subdued Muslims were continually subjected to psychological and physical persecution with much of their property being usurped by the Makkan powers that were. For instance, when Muhammad’s divine call towards certain tribes surrounding Makkah was rejected, the Muslims found themselves further isolated, alienated and persecuted. Hence, one of the reasons why the Prophet married ‘A’ishah at this critical juncture in time, and why Abu Bakr accepted the marriage, was because it served the best interests of the Muslims in raising morale and strengthening the bonds of brotherhood.

In Islam, however, there is a condition for giving a young daughter in marriage that the scholars of Islam have explicitly mentioned. The great scholar Imam an-Nawawi (d.676AH/ 1277 CE), for example, wrote in his famous explanation of hadith compilation, Sahih Muslim:

It is preferable for a guardian not to marry off his daughter when she is still young unless there is a valid reason for that.

It should be noted that ash-Shaffa’ee (d.205AH) and his companions said: It is preferable for fathers and grandfathers NOT to marry off a virgin until she reaches the age of puberty and they ask her permission, lest she end up in a marriage that she dislikes. What they said does not go against the hadith of ‘A’ishah, because what they meant is that they should not marry her off before she reaches puberty if there is no obvious interest to be served that they fear will be missed out on if they delay it, as in the hadith of ‘A’ishah. In that case it is preferable to go ahead with the marriage because the father is enjoined to take care of his child’s interests and not to forego a good opportunity. [4] (bold, capitalisation, underline ours)

It is also important to realise that from the point of view of early age marriages, ‘A’ishah’s betrothal to the Prophet was not objected to by any of the Muslims, pagans, Jews or Christians at that time and for centuries thereafter.

The reason behind this is simple and two-fold:

  1. During that time, the life span of people in Arabia was shorter than it is now, with an average duration ranging from between 40-60 years. Hence, it was only normal and natural for girls to be married by the age of around 9 or 10.
  2. This was ‘urfi – a custom of the people of that time, not only in Arabia, but many other parts of the world.

Even today in third world Muslim and non-Muslim countries, marriage is not uncommon among girls as young as 9 or 10. This fact will be examined in due course.

PROPHET MUHAMMAD’S MARRIED LIFE

Abu Bakr’s acceptance is a proof that he was looking out for the best interests of his daughter in that she would be marrying none other than the very Prophet of God. What greater blessing could there have been for a woman than to not only be elevated to the status in Islam as the ‘Mother of the believers’, but to also have the opportunity of learning and spending time under the tutelage of the “best of creation”.

Would the Prophet have married a woman so young under normal circumstances? The answer is most probably in the negative given that the rest of the women he married during the less turbulent period of his Prophethood were mostly of advanced age. However, during those early extreme circumstances, it was in the best interests of the small and vulnerable Muslim community that ties of friendship be strengthened through the ties of blood.

Let us also examine the type of women he married too. As we said above, if he were motivated exclusively on the basis of sexual pleasure or even the need to sire children, then it would make little sense for him to married women like Sawdah bint Zam’ah, or Umm Salamah. Regarding the former, then we know that she was “widow of Sakran ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Abd Shams. No one ever described Sawdah as a beautiful woman, and no one has ever reported that she possessed any wealth or social position which might have given a material reason for any one to marry her …. If Muhammad married her thereafter in order to provide for her and raise her position to that of a ‘Mother of the Believers (a title attributed to all wives of the Prophet),’ he certainly did a most worthy and appreciable deed”. [5]

As for the latter, then no one ever described Umm Salamah as beautiful or rich. Yet, the reason why the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) sought her hand was to set the noble example to his followers of not hesitating to personally take responsibility of helping the widows of those brothers-in-arms who had fallen in battle as martyrs.

Umm Salamah has been described as a heavy set woman nearing the time of menopause, who only lived for one or two years after her marriage to the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him). Further still, not only was she a very poor woman with many mouths to feed, but was also pregnant when her husband was martyred. In most societies, she would be considered a financial liability. And yet the best of examples – Prophet Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) – set a precedence by proposing marriage after she had given birth. Although she initially refused, citing the burden of so many mouths to feed as an excuse, she eventually accepted the repeated proposals of the Prophet.

The socio-natural environment in which the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) and the desert-dwelling Arabs resided in also needs to be taken into serious consideration if this subject is to be given any fair and objective consideration. The Arabian Peninsula is a hot and arid region which invariably affects the development of its inhabitants in a way different to those residing in cooler climes. As will be shown in what follows, adolescence tends to come earlier for women residing in hot countries resulting in them marrying and starting families at an earlier age. Until recently, this is how the people of Arabia lived like. Moreover, women also vary greatly in their development and their physical readiness for marriage.

In addition and as mentioned earlier, the only virgin the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) married was ‘A’ishah. If his motivation was one of physical desire and enjoyment of women, as some hostile sources have intimated, then he was certainly in a position to fulfil exactly that. Yet, the historical evidence emphatically quashes these tenuous and baseless speculations.

When all of the above is taken into account, it ought to be obvious to the critically minded individual that the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) married ‘A’ishah for something altogether more profound, virtuous and selfless.

From the many recorded statements of ‘A’ishah, she had nothing but praise for her husband. She died at the age of 57 during the Caliphate of Mu’awiyyah, 49 years after the death of the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him). During those 49 years, she described the Prophet’s character in great detail and not once did she ever speak ill of him.

REFUTING THE CHARGE OF PAEDOPHILIA

The question we pose for those who see this marriage as immoral is:

Who decides what is morally right or wrong?

Every Sikh will agree that it is God who decides morality and immorality, right and wrong, and good and evil. Based on this, the next question we ask is:

At what age is it deemed permissible and correct to consummate marriage?

The Shari’ah (divine Islamic legislation) holds that the consummation of marriage can only take place when a woman is physically mature enough so as to avoid any unnecessary harm. This physical maturity is known through the following characteristics:

  • When pubic hair grows around the private parts.
  • When vaginal lubrication (maniy) begins to be emitted.
  • When she starts to menstruation.

By this stage, the woman is, of course, ready to bear children, i.e. when she reaches puberty and starts her menstrual cycle. [6] These characteristics are clear creationary signs of Allah indicating the female’s physical and mental readiness for sex and for bearing children.

Depending on genetics, race and environment, women reach puberty at different ages, which can vary considerably:

There is little difference in the size of boys and girls until the age of ten, the growth spurt at puberty starts earlier in girls but lasts longer in boys. [7] (bold, underline ours)

Similarly:

The first signs of puberty occur around age 9 or 10 in girls but closer to 12 in boys. [8] (bold, underline ours)

Moreover, women in warmer environments reach puberty at a much earlier age than those in colder environments:

The average temperature of the country or province is considered the chief factor here, not only with regard to menstruation but as regards the whole of sexual development at puberty. [9]

As mentioned before, marriage at the early years of puberty was acceptable in seventh century Arabia since it was a social norm. The proof of this is that prior to the modern age, the average life expectancy was much shorter; thus, cultures all over the world and throughout history were taking puberty and the menstrual cycle as a natural indicator of a woman’s readiness for marriage and for siring children:

Puberty is defined as the age or period at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction, in other eras of history, a rite or celebration of this landmark event was a part of the culture. [10] (bold, underline ours)

An article on customs of central Africa, likewise, related the age of marriage to puberty stating:

[W]omen marry soon after puberty. [11] (bold ours)

Similarly, the Jewish tradition also implemented this normative practice:

The wife was to be taken from within the larger family circle (usually at the outset of puberty or around the age of 13) in order to maintain the purity of the family line. [12] (bold, underline ours)

It is important to remember that for Muslims, marital guidelines are determined by the Holy Islamic Law – the Shari’ah. The Shari’ah accommodates tradition and customary practices providing these do not violate it. Hence, the age of marriage can vary from culture to culture. During the time of the Prophet, the Arabs tended to marry off their children at an early age. Yet, in the “modern age”, society and culture has changed. With the advent of modern science improving the longevity of life, as well as the establishment of a systematic educational system, people are no longer inclined to marry as early as before. This is wholly acceptable in Islam as long as it is not taken to an extreme whereby delaying the marriage leads to the spread of illegal sexual practices and moral depravity.

CONCLUSION

A close examination of the Prophet’s life reveals beyond any doubt that he was a man of moderation; a man who who lived a balanced and humble life style; and a man who always shunned all forms of extremism. And in light of the evidence we have presented above, we ask those who accuse him of paedophilia or for marrying out of lust to seriously reconsider their conclusions.

As for those who remain obstinate, then they face the tricky problem of determining the correct age of adulthood if they disagree with puberty and menstruation as a natural indicator of this. It is a fact that prior to the post-modern era, puberty was understood by the vast majority of mankind as a clear sign of differentiation between child- and adulthood.

Furthermore, we ask these Sikhs to consider the following:

During the time of Guru Nanak, at what age were women in Hindustan and the Arabian Peninsula getting married? Was it upon the onset of puberty and menstruation or similar to today – at the ages of 20-30?

And we conclude with the following challenge as Allah informs us to in the Qur’an: “Produce your evidence if you speak the truth” (Qur’an 2:111):

Where in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the correct and incorrect age(s) for marriage established?

If any Sikh is unable to meet this challenge while still intransigently clutching at straws, then we would accuse such an arrogant person of being more knowledgeable than Waheguru because:

  1. There is not a single verse in SGGS that answers the above question. Hence, Sikhim’s silence in this regard must be seen as a silent acceptance of marriages that said Sikhs interpret as acts of lust and/ or paedophilia. If such marriages were so wrong, then surely at least one of these Gurus would enlighten mankind by exposing these perceived falsehoods?
  2. As for those Sikhs who contradict the silence of their Gurus, then not only would this mean that they have greater knowledge than their Gurus and, thus, know better, but would also imply that the Gurus were wrong for remaining silent! [13]
  3. Hence, these Sikhs are, in effect, not much different to the atheists. While the latter seek to formulate and invent edicts and laws based upon nothing but their limited and flawed intellects, the former do so while apparently acknowledging One who is all-knowledgeable and the source of all-Truth. In fact, the atheists come across as more true to their beliefs than said Sikhs since they openly and arrogantly declare things to be right and wrong relativistically. And yet, while these Sikhs claim to believe in an all-Wise Creator, they nevertheless have the temerity of seeking to play the role of the all-Wise by forwarding what they deem to be right and wrong, good and evil, etc. without any divine guidance or legislation.

Allah says:

Indeed they are a quarrelsome lot. (Qur’an 43:58)

[1] 3rd and 4th leaders of the Muslim nation after Prophet  Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) respectively.
[2] Abu Bakr and Umar, the 1st and 2nd leaders of the Muslim nation.
[3] M.H. Haykal (8th Edition), The Life of Muhammad, p. 291.
[4] Sharh Muslim, 9/206
[5] M.H. Haykal, op. cit.
[6] From the collection of Bukhari (Vol. 3, Book of Witnesses, Chap. 18, p. 513):

The boy attaining the age of puberty and the validity of their witness and the Statement of Allah:

And when the children among you attain the age of puberty, then let them also ask for permission (to enter). (Qur’an 24:59)

Al Mughira said, “I attained puberty at the age of twelve.” The attaining of puberty by women is with the start of menses, as is referred to by the Statement of Allah:

Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them prescribed period, if you have any doubts (about their periods), is three months. (Qur’an, 65:4)

[7] The Incredible Machine, National Geographic Society, p. 235.
[8] Ibid., p. 239.
[9] Herman H. Ploss, Max Bartels and Paul Bartels, “Woman”, Volume I (Lord & Bransby, 1988), p. 563.
[10] Sue Curewitz Arthen, Rites of Passage: Puberty.
[11] Central Africa”, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition (1987), Volume 15, page 646. See also “Aboriginal Australia”, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition (1987), Volume 14, page 425. For additional references to the marriage customs in Biblical times, see Israel: Its Life and Culture, by Johannes Pedersen, Volume 1, page 60ff.
[12] J. West, Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs, ThD.
[13] We as Muslims do not place ourselves above Allah and His Messenger since we are indeed Muslims (those who submit their will and intellect completely to the Will of Allah knowing He is all-Knowledgeable and Islam is irrefutable and true), as He has warned in the Qur’an:

O you who believe! Do not take precedence over Allah and His Messenger. Fear Allah! For truly Allah is all-Hearing, all-Seeing. (Qur’an 49:1)

Do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. For truly the hearing, sight and feelings of the heart will be inquired into (on the Day of Judgment). (Qur’an 17:36)

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