Muhammad has been accused of pedophilia in numerous writings, sermons, and conversations. We have seen that the earliest Muslim traditions offer support for this view. However, the evidence sustaining the charge of pedophilia is perhaps too limited to warrant such a harsh conclusion. We know that Muhammad had a sexual relationship with a young girl, and that this was reprehensible. Yet we must take cultural differences into consideration in formulating an accurate appraisal of a person’s character. In Muhammad’s society, sexual intercourse was acceptable when a girl reached menses, and Muhammad may have waited until Aisha had reached this age. (Note: There’s no good historical evidence that Muhammad waited for Aisha to reach menses. However, I think it’s important to be generous in our interpretations as much as possible, so I’m willing to grant, for the sake of argument, that Aisha had reached puberty.)
Similarly, we don’t have enough information to call Muhammad a "pervert." While Muhammad’s sexual acts may seem startling, we don’t know enough about the nature of these acts to condemn him as a sexual deviant or a predator.
Nevertheless, Muslims are too hasty in dismissing Muhammad’s relationship with Aisha. We can’t simply ignore a prophet’s marriage to a nine-year-old girl. Muslims view Muhammad as the highest example of a moral life, but his marriage to Aisha conflicts with that view. If they want to put Muhammad forward as the standard of morality, Muslims need to come to terms with the many questionable things Muhammad did, as well as the awful impact of these actions.
There is a simple, but highly explicit, way to evaluate the importance of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha. We must begin by trying to get a mental picture of a morally perfect man. For Muslims, this will include all the things they have been taught about Muhammad. According to their picture, he is kind, generous, patient, humble, and trustworthy. He protects orphans and widows, endures persecution, helps the needy, and promotes justice. He prays faithfully, fasts regularly, and obeys God in everything. He is loyal to his friends and patient with his enemies. He never gives in when tempted with evil. Now we must picture that same man in a room with an innocent little girl. He takes away her doll, climbs on top of her, and puts his penis inside her. She doesn’t know what is happening because she is too young to know much about sex. Frightened and confused, she cries because of the pain and bleeds on her bed, but she tries to remain quiet out of respect for her new husband, who, in return, endangers her life.
If a person is able to keep the same vision of moral perfection throughout that description, he may have the faith necessary to be a Muslim. But if his vision of the perfect man is at odds with what Muhammad did on numerous occasions, he will need to look elsewhere for an ideal human being.