We received a message from a person whose “main problem with Islam is the issue of sexual depravity”. We reproduce the full text of the message followed by our answer below:
“The main problem I have with Islam is the issue of sexual depravity.
Whether it is part of the religion or not, it is common practice amongst many Muslims, especially in Muslim countries, to embrace paedophilia as a way of life.
This is difficult for many people to understand and has certainly had an impact on my opinion of Islam.
It seems cruel, for instance, that young girls in Muslim communities in countries like Afghanistan should be sold by their families to men far older than them for marriage.
Indeed the prophet Mohammad married a girl aged 6 and consummated the marriage when she was 9. This is just part of the abuse of women which goes largely ignored in Muslim communities. There are countless stories of rape by family members. Then there is the issue of female circumcision which is one of the most horrible practices imaginable. The amount of pain and suffering that goes on is simply too much.”
You raise the issues of:
Marrying of young women by older men at the times of the Prophet Mohammad (some 1400 years ago) was common all over the world (including Europe), and not just in the Arabian peninsular where he lived. And although in Europe, in comparatively recent times, the age at which women marry was substantially increased, in many Asian and African countries, this did not happen up to now. This is true not only of Muslim countries or communities, but of communities of any religions, including Eastern Christian communities.
At the start of the 20th century in Europe the most common marrying age for women was 16, and for men 25, and it was common for men to be at least 10 years older than women. If a girl reached 19 and was still unmarried, the parents would be worried that she would become an “old maid”. And, if she reached over 20 without getting married, she would be one, and her chances of getting married were very slim — she would have been lucky to marry a widower of over 50. Many girls were married at 12 or earlier, and the wealthy and noble often arranged marriages between their offspring when they were still small children to consolidate family fortunes. Such marriages were “consummated” when the spouses attained sufficient physical maturity.
The reason why men were expected to be older than women lies in the biological differences: (a) girls attain physical maturity earlier than boys, (b) women lose their reproductive faculties at much earlier age than men.
So marriages of older men to younger women were not considered as “paedophilia”, and, as marriages in general, were usually motivated by social and economic considerations, rather than “desire to have sex with children”, as in the case of “paedophilia”. Paedophiles do not marry young girls, they abuse children (of either sex), by using them for pornography and entertainment — all this is a “modern Western” behaviour pattern — under Islamic laws all such activities are crimes subject to very heavy punishments.
Marrying of younger women by older men has never been considered as “paedophilia”. It is only in the recent years that such confusion between paedophilia and early marriage has been used by some American evangelists to vilify the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
“Arranged marriages” (not to be confused with “forced marriages”, which are against the Islamic law) are not specifically “Islamic”, but are common in most traditional communities (including Orthodox Jews and Eastern Christians). And they were common in Europe of up to the start of the 20th century. Unarranged marriages (love marriages) were restricted to the “lower classes”, and in the upper classes were seen as “scandals” (like “an heiress eloping with a servant”). Arranged marriages were usually motivated by social and financial considerations, rather than “love” or “sex” and could be concluded at an early age. And they still can be found among the nearly extinct or degenerated European aristocracy and royalty.
This is forbidden in Islamic law, and by most other laws. But it happens in all countries including Modern Europe and America. But, when it happens in Europe and America, it is not used to promote the idea that this is a “Christian practice” or a “European practice”.
This is not an “Islamic” practice. But a practice restricted to some people in some parts of Eastern and Central Africa, who might or might not be Muslim. In most of the Islamic world this practice is unknown. The purpose of this practice is to prevent masturbation and lesbianism. But “the amount of pain and suffering” in such operations is not greater than in abortions or breast implant and other plastic surgery operations common in the “West”. But one does not hear the “outcry”, that “the amount of pain and suffering that goes on [in abortions and plastic surgery] is simply too much”. Nor does one hear much about the “pain and suffering” caused by depleted uranium and other weapons of mass extermination used by “Us‐the‐West” against people of Asia and Africa.
So, the issues you raise are not issues of Islam as religion, or of any religion, but of social customs of time and place.
You are seeking to apply “values and morals” of modern Europe to values and morals of Asia of 1400 years ago. And in many Asian and African countries, especially in rural areas, the “values and morals” have changed very little, if at all, for the past 2000 years. In Europe there has been a huge change in values and morals mostly in the last half of the 20th century. And much of it for the worse. Is it better for a young girl to be married to an older man with whom she might be happy? Or to catch AIDS at the age of 12, or become a “one parent family” at the age of 12, as it often happens in modern Europe?
There is a common tendency to confuse the philosophy of a religion with actions and way of life of people who practice a religion, or even just belong to ethnic groups associated with a religion, or even with actions of particular individuals.
So, for example, homosexuality among Catholic priests is comparatively common, but it is not part of Christianity as a religion, which considers this practice as a great sin. So it would be wrong to say that homosexuality is a “Christian practice”, just because some Christians indulge in it. But whenever anything believed to be “bad” is found to be done by Muslims (even if it is against the Islamic law), it is immediately labelled as an “Islamic practice”.
Today in Britain one in ten school girls have been raped — would you call it a “Christian practice”? Christianity as a religion sees such phenomena as a great sin. But Muslims happen to know more about Christianity than most modern European Christians, so they would not call rape a “Christian practice”. But most Europeans and Americans are ignorant about Islam. So they believe anything they are told, without bothering to investigate it. And this ignorance is used by politicians to justify wars.