Is our Prophet a Sensualist who Surrounded himself with Young Women?
Prophet Prophet Mohammed's marriages have long provided another source of Western criticism of the moral character of the Prophet. A noted British author has observed:
"No great religious leader has been so maligned as Prophet Mohammed. Attacked in the past as a heretic, an impostor, or a sensualist, it is still possible to find him referred to as "the false prophet." A modern German writer accuses Prophet Mohammed of sensuality, surrounding himself with young women. This man was not married until he was twenty-five years of age, then he and his wife lived in happiness and fidelity for twenty-four years, until her death when he was fourty-nine. Only between the age of fifty and his death at sixty-two did Prophet Mohammed take other wives, only one of whom was a virgin, and most of them were taken for dynastic and political reasons. Certainly the Prophet's record was better than the head of the Church of England, Henry VIII."
Geoffrey Parrinder, Mysticism in the World's Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976, pg. 121)
In addressing the issue of Prophet Prophet Mohammed's polygynous marriages, it is important to remember several points.
First, Semitic culture in general and Arab practice in particular permitted polygyny. It was common practice in Arabian society, especially among nobles and leaders. Though less common, polygyny was also permitted in biblical and even in postbiblical Judaism. From Abraham, David and Solomon down to the reformation period, polygyny was practised by some Jews. While Jewish law changed after the middle Ages due to the influence of Christian rule, for Jews under Islamic rule, polygyny remained licit, though it was not extensively practised.
Second, during the prime of his life, Prophet Mohammed remained married to one woman, Khadija.
Third, it was only after her death that he took a number of wives.
Fourth, Prophet Mohammed's use of the special dispention from God to exceed the limit of four wives imposed by the Quran, occurred only after the death of Khadija. Morever, most of the eleven marriages had political and social motives. As was customary for Arab chiefs, many were political marriages to cement alliances. Others were marriages to the widows of his companions who had fallen in combat and were in need of protection. Remarriage was difficult in a society that emphasised the importance of virgin marriages.
Aisha was the only virgin that Prophet Prophet Mohammed married and the wife with whom he had the closest relationship.
Fifth, Prophet Prophet Mohammed's teachings and actions, as well as the Quranic message, improved the status of all women - wives, daughters, mothers, widows and orphans.
Talk of the political and social motives behind many of the Prophet's marriages should not obscure the fact that Prophet Mohammed was attracted to women and enjoyed being with his wives. To deny this would contradict the Islamic outlook on marriage and sexuality, found in both revelation and Prophetic traditions, which emphasises the importance of family and views sex as a gift from God to be enjoyed within the bonds of marriage. The many stories about Prophet Mohammed's concern and care for his wives reflect these values.
Ref: Rachel Biale, Women and Jewish Law (New York: Schocken Books, 1984, pg. 49-51)
This information was taken from "Islam: The Straight Path" by John L. Esposito who is Professor of Middle East Studies, College of the Holy Cross. He also served as President of the Middle East Studies Association.