Should you be allowed to say that the founder of one of the world’s largest religions was a paedophile? According to the European Court of Human Rights the answer is ‘no’. In a decision issued this week the Court in Strasbourg ruled that this statement is defamatory towards the prophet of Islam, ‘goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate’ and ‘could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.’ Details of the long-running case can be read here.
I will come to the civilisational problems with this in a moment. But first allow me to point out what a difficult position this puts my book collection in. For beside me as I write I have a huge four-volume collection of the hadith (sayings) of Mohammed picked up on my travels in North Africa some years ago. They are the Bukhari hadith – that is the collection of hadith that scholars of Islam recognise to be the most authentic and reputable collection of Mohammed’s sayings. Whenever I open them I find out many interesting things about the founder of Islam.
For example, in ‘The Book of Ablution’ I can read what Mohammed thought about urination and the stances one might adopt during that act. I can also find advice about what to do with faeces and traces of blood coming from those same regions of the body. Crucially I can also learn what the prophet of Islam thought you should do with traces of ejaculate. I read, for instance about what those close to the prophet used to do with traces of semen found on his clothes. Sulaiman Ibn Yasar recounts what Mohammed’s last wife, Aisha, told him regarding this delicate subject:
‘I used to wash the traces of semen from the clothes of The Prophet “Allah’s blessing and peace be upon him” and he used to go for prayers while water spots were still visible on it.’ 
It may still be legal where I am sitting in Europe to quote this passage. But the next volumes could now get me into real trouble.
For example, here is a portion of the hadith known as ‘The Merits of The Ansar’:
‘Hesham narrated from his father: Khadija died three years before The Prophet “Allah’s blessing and peace be upon him” emigrated to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married A’isha when she was a girl of six years. He consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.’ 
Tricky. Let me jump another volume forward in my collection of Hadith. This is from ‘The Book of Marriage’:
‘Urwa narrated: The Messenger of Allah “Allah’s blessing and peace be upon him” married A’isha when she was six years old, and consummated his marriage with her when she was nine. She remained with him nine years (till he died).’ 
Which I think we can all agree is very awkward. All religious traditions have oddities. Some Christians and Jews recently expressed aggravation when Joe Rogan and I laughed at a portion of a text from their religious tradition regarding blasphemy, bears and baldies. But what can you do? Pretend that the legend of Elisha and the two bears isn’t in the Bible? Isn’t odd or funny? Burn all copies of the text?
Unwittingly, perhaps, the ECHR has brought us to something of an impasse in this ruling. For the hadith are – next to the Qur’an – the most important foundational texts of Islam. And they state, repeatedly and without caveat, that the founder of Islam had sex with a girl of nine, who he had married when she was six. Mohammed was 53 at this time.
Continue reading Should it be illegal to call Mohammed a paedophile?