I went for a walk a couple of days ago and I started to rethink a conversation that I had had with a pleasant young Muslim the day before. It struck me that something I had said during this discussion in another country could’ve ended with my death. The discussion I had entered was on the topic of polygamous marriage between this person and a few others. Muslim men are allegedly allowed up to four wives although they do not have to if they don’t want to. However, I noted that Muhammad unlike other Muslim men was given special dispensation through divine revelation to be allowed more than four wives (Surah 33:50). There seems to be some disagreement to how many wives he had, he had eleven or twelve but possibly only 9 at the same time.
I noted several problems with this revelation, however, what was not tolerated was the suggestion that rather than revelation, this divine command was in fact based upon the impure motives of a man who simply wanted to have sex with more women. I was swiftly rebuked for even alluding to this possibility with some venom. I didn’t make the point again out of fear of getting myself in trouble and the rest of the discussion was very cordial and respectful even if ultimately we disagreed. After our discussion I was worried that I’d been out of line or rude in someway although I was assured by those listening that I had been respectful, listened and put my view across clearly. Yet, one person did notice the aggressive rebuke I had received at the beginning regarding Muhammads ‘divine revelation’ on the number of wives he was allowed. My intention was not to offend but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intended to be a little polemical, after-all this is Britain, a place where free-speech reigns. Not so much.
As a Christian for the last ten years I have had to listen to and read about baseless popularist nonsense about Jesus and Christianity continuously (Jesus didn’t exist, he did exist but went to Cornwall, he existed but went to France…no India, oh no he didn’t exist, the Romans created Christianity blah blah blah ad nauseum). But it’s part of the deal, I don’t expect my worldview to be treated with anymore respect than any other, but Christianity is seen culturally as a pretty easy/weak target…which is unfortunate. Christianity is sort of the antithesis to Islam in the UK, Islam is growing, full of devout young men who are actively practicing Daawah (invite people to Islam), taken seriously, intriguing, exotic, but ultimately people are scared to offend Muslims whilst they couldn’t give a hoot about ridiculing Christians.
There are churches in the UK are growing but nothing on the scale of Islam, a fact I find both fascinating and scary. Fascinating because it’s the elephant in the room for theories of secularization, and scary because it’s dangerous to have a group of people for whom we are not allowed to intellectually challenge, ask uncomfortable questions about or even ridicule if we wish to (I don’t). This has nothing to do with Islamophobia, I don’t hate Muslims, I love my Muslim friends like any other friends and would never accord them any less respect. But just as people have the right to ask me, as a Christian tough questions, I should have the right to ask tough and uncomfortable questions to my Muslims friends, colleagues or acquaintances. If we don’t make this more culturally acceptable we risk creating a growing British community who are beyond reproach because of fear of offense.
There’s a saying, whatever you don’t use, you lose. I think we are in danger of doing the same thing with free-speech in regards to Islam, no one is beyond reproach and we aren’t helping Muslims or ourselves by treating them differently to any other group. If I had alluded to the motives behind the ‘revelation’ in several Muslim countries I likely would have been imprisoned or killed, not options I’m particularly fond of. I don’t think Islam is false because Muhammad was like many other men but I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial point to at least explore. especially when you explore the Islamic oral tradition found in the Hadith.
Muslim apologists usually give the following reasons to defend Muhammads multiple wives. 1. To create family bonds with his close companions. 2. To unite the Arab clans and help spread Islam. 3. To help out the widows of his fallen companions 4. More wives meant more people would be able to spread the news of what a good man Muhammad was in terms of his private acts of worship making his life hard to discredit.
Without going into details I think there are good reasons to discredit those four reasons as justification for his polygamy. They are all attempts to deflect away from any suggestion that having more wives was motivated by sexual desire. Here are some verses from Sahih Al-Bukhari that are rather interesting:
Volume 1, Book 6, Number 300: Narrated Maimuna:
When ever Allah’s Apostle wanted to fondle any of his wives during the periods (menses), he used to ask her to wear an Izar.
Anas bin Malik said, “The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” I asked Anas, “Had the Prophet the strength for it?” Anas replied, “We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).” And Sa’id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven).
I heard Sulaiman bin Yasar talking about the clothes soiled with semen. He said that ‘Aisha had said, “I used to wash it off the clothes of Allah’s Apostle and he would go for the prayers while water spots were still visible on them.
Nothing to do with sex though of course and thank goodness I live in the UK where I’m still allowed to suggest such a thing…