Sex and Islamophobia, round two

In the medieval period, the emergence of Islam triggered an avalanche of criticism from the West, much of it centered on sex. The new religion was a rent in the fabric of Christianity and many churchmen considered it, at best, a perversion of their own doctrine; at worst, a dangerous heresy. Their prime target was the Prophet Muhammad, who comes across in medieval Christian accounts as a sexually-insatiable, cross-dressing adulterer.  Aside from outright fabrications, opponents took Islam’s own texts, and sliced, spiced and spun them in such a way as to bolster their own indictments of the rival faith. Stories about Prophet’s prodigious love life—servicing close to a dozen women in one night, according to some accounts, for example—stoked their ire.

Generations of medieval commentators were obsessed with what Muslims got up to in bed. Polygamy and concubinage, although regulated practices in Islam, were interpreted as unlicensed promiscuity; the requirement of a thrice-divorced woman to marry another man before remarrying her previous husband—called tahliil in Arabic—was viewed as legalised adultery. Bestiality, sodomy, incest, you name it, Muslims were seen as wallowing in sexual vice.

Such indictments echo in the views of some modern-day critics.  “Christianity was founded by the virgin-born Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had twelve wives, and his last one was a nine-year-old girl,” opined one American preacher in 2002, and others continue to play the sex card when taking Islam and its Prophet to task. Take, for example, The Innocence of the Muslims, a low-budget, no-brow home movie that incited riots across the Islamic world at its portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad: blood-thirsty, sex-crazed, self-indulgent—same old medieval diatribe, remixed for the YouTube generation.