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Was Muhammad a Pedophile?

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, is often labeled as a pedophile because of the age of his bride, Aisha. Critics allege that when Aisha was just six years old, she was promised as a bride to Muhammad, who was in his 50s. Later, when she was only nine, the marriage was consummated according to ahadith found in Al-Bukhari (Volume 5, book 58, number 234) and Muslim (book 8, number 3309).

In seventh-century Arabia, adulthood was considered to begin at the onset of puberty. Puberty in girls usually starts between the ages of 8 and 13 and ends by around 14. In the United States, the average age for girls to get their first period is around age 12. It seems that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six (when the marriage ceremony took place) and waited until she turned nine to consummate the marriage because he was waiting for her to begin menstrual cycles – thus becoming a woman.

In my unpublished manuscript, Muslim Mechanics, I look at the impact that child marriages have on Islam. Child marriages were common throughout history. Europe was a hotbed of child marriages as royal families, often with the Pope's help, tried to forge alliances with different kingdoms. Some examples:

  • 33-year-old King John of England married 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême (1200).

  • Agnes of France was 12 when she was married to Andronicus Comnenus, Byzantine Emperor (1182).

  • Isabella de Valois (France) was seven years old when she was married to Richard II of England (1396).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably between 12 and 14 years old when she gave birth to Jesus. Jewish maidens were considered marriageable at the age of twelve years and six months. (According to the proto gospel of James of early Christian Apocrypha; at twelve, Mary was given in marriage to Joseph, an elderly widower with grown children.)

Today, child marriage is still widespread, particularly in developing countries. Arguably, the worst area in the world to be a young girl is in South Asia's rural regions. The eight countries in that region of the world include Sri Lanka (predominantly Buddhist), Pakistan (Muslim), Afghanistan (Muslim), Bangladesh (Muslim), Nepal (Hindu), India (mainly Hindu), Bhutan (Buddhist), and the Maldives (Muslim). Notice that the larger countries are either Muslim or Hindu.

In developing countries worldwide, one out of nine girls will be married before their fifteenth birthday. Most of these girls live in poverty, are illiterate or poorly educated, and live in rural areas. Some parents genuinely believe that marriage will secure their daughters' future, while others see their daughters as burdens or commodities. Both Muslim and Hindu families believe blessings will come upon them if they marry off their girls before their first menstruation; thus, the perpetuation of child marriages is more cultural than religious impetus. In 52 countries, young girls under the age of 15 can marry with parental consent compared with only 23 nations where boys can do the same. This particular absence of gender equality in the law reinforces social norms that dictate it is somehow acceptable for girls to marry earlier than boys.

Most of the families concerned apply social or emotional pressure or encourage marriage mainly for economic reasons. Either they receive money for the child who is being married off, a dowry (under Muslim sharia, dowries are haram), or are not in a position to afford her upkeep. For example, in food-insecure Kenya, these girls are called "famine brides." In Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and India, young girls were married to "tsunami widowers" to obtain state subsidies to marry and start families. During conflicts in Liberia, Uganda, and Sudan, schoolgirls were abducted and given as "bush wives" to warlords or even in exchange for protection for their families.

It would appear that the root cause of child marriage is social dysfunction, not any religious obsession with pedophilia. The person receiving the child bride may indeed be a pedophile. Still, the recognition of pedophilia as the driving cause of child marriages will remain in the shadows if the transactions continue to have such strong economic incentives.

Aisha, Muhammad's favorite wife, is credited with creating over 2,400 ahadith herself and has become a strong female voice in an otherwise patriarchal society. None of her stories or tales have indicated that she was mistreated or had a miserable existence. If Muhammad can be called a pedophile, would Joseph be one also?


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