Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, provoked a storm of criticism from British Muslims yesterday for an article in which he championed the right to call the Prophet Mohamed a paedophile.
Mr Moore, who opposes new legislation banning incitement to religious hatred, chose the sensitive issue of the Prophet's marriage to a nine-year-old to illustrate his case. "It seems to me that people are perfectly entitled - rude and mistaken as they may be - to say that Mohamed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett gets his way, they may not be able to," he wrote in his weekly column.
Responding with a mixture of astonishment and fury, Muslims yesterday described the remarks as inflammatory and deliberately provocative. Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the main voice of British Islam, said he was astonished that "a journalist and former editor with such wide experience could stoop so low".
In what way exactly is it stooping low? Is it not true? Note that Sacranie doesn't say that, because he no doubt is well aware that the incident is well-attested in the Hadith collection considered most reliable by Muslims, Sahih Bukhari:
Narrated Hisham's father:
Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married 'Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old. (Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 236)
That "consumed" is a typo for "consummated."
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became Allright, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, "Best wishes and Allah's Blessing and a good luck." Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah's Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234)
If it is true, why is it "stooping low" to say it? After all, Moore says in the piece that Muhammad can't be judged by contemporary standards. He doesn't even mention the scandalously high rate of child marriages in the Islamic world, which are sanctified by the example of Muhammad.