According to Islam's most trusted sources, Muhammad had sex with a nine-year-old girl. This isn't simply some peculiar historical fact, however. Because the Qur'an affirms Muhammad as the pattern of conduct for Muslims (33:21), little girls around the world are being forced into marriage even in our time.
Clearly, some non-Muslims (myself included) want to address this issue, both as a criticism of Muhammad and as a call for reform. Muslims, of course, want to defend their prophet. But sometimes, in their zeal to deflect criticism of Muhammad, they end up attacking Islam.
Take, for instance, our Muslim friend Zena Khan. Earlier today, on Facebook, Zena tried to defend Muhammad with the following post:
If you're new to the world of Islamic apologetics, you may be wondering where Muslims are getting the claim that Joseph was 90 years old (since the Bible doesn't give the age of Joseph or Mary). The source is an extraordinarily late and absurdly contrived text called "The History of Joseph the Carpenter." But our Muslim friends don't know this, because they typically pass on a link without bothering to check the source. So we have to ask them for the source in order to get them to dig a little deeper.
Zena went on to try to explain the obvious, namely, that she is simply trying to deflect criticism of Muhammad:
Naturally, I had to point out that, even if her claim were correct, this wouldn't have much to do with Muhammad's relationship with Aisha:
On to more pressing matters, Zena finally looked up the ultimate source of her claim:
So Zena's source is a 6th or 7th century text. But Zena's got another problem.
After this, I tried to introduce Zena to the concept of consistency, but she ignored it:
So I went back to showing Zena her conundrum. She was defending a text that contradicts the Qur'an:
Interestingly, when I drew a distinction between first-century texts and texts from much, much later, Zena accused Christians of simply using whatever text is most convenient for us:
My response was lost on her:
But by now, Zena had already undermined her religion (both in terms of history and in terms of methodology):
To hammer the point home:
Let's sum up before the practical application.
(1) Muhammad's sexual relationship with a nine-year-old girl has led to criticism of Islam.
(2) Muslims try to deflect this criticism by arguing that Mary was only a few years older than Aisha when she married Joseph, who was 90 at the time.
(3) Those extra few years, of course, are when girls typically go through puberty, so it isn't clear how this response helps Islam.
(4) Nevertheless, since the Bible doesn't say how old Mary and Joseph were, Muslims go to a 6th or 7th century text to defend their claim about Mary and Joseph (which they desperately need, in order to deflect criticism of Muhammad).
(5) We point out the obvious problems with appealing to such a late text.
(6) This forces Muslims to defend the text as historically reliable.
(7) In defending the text as historically reliable, they undermine their own historical methodology (because they would never go with such a late text to learn about Muhammad, and they routinely reject their own sources as fabrications).
(8) Once they have put their foot down and declared the text reliable, we draw attention to the fact that the text thoroughly contradicts the Qur'an.
(9) Hence, our Muslim friends have refuted Islam for us!
The practical application is this. No Christian source prior to the time of Muhammad agrees with Muhammad's teachings about Jesus. But Muslims like to go to certain Christian texts (whether orthodox or heretical) without understanding the texts, in an effort to find details that can be used to support Islam. When we challenge the reliability of these texts, Muslims will defend their reliability, because that's the basis of their defense of Muhammad's claims. Once the defense is made, it's time to show them that the text undermines Islam.
The goal is to show our Muslim friends that history does not support Islam, and that Islam forces its adherents to adopt the most radically inconsistent and illogical methodology imaginable to defend their prophet.