The allegation that the Prophet Muhammad married Aisha in the year 624AD when she was only a nine-year old girl, is not new. However, the fact that this controversy has surfaced on right-wing blogs, is something that has caught a lot of Muslims by surprise.
It is not just Islam-haters who have a stake in reaffirming the myth that Prophet Muhammad had a child bride. The fact is that throughout Islamic history, many a caliph and mulla has committed pedophilia and then justified the act by invoking the supposed tradition of Prophet Muhammad in consummating a marriage with a nine-year old girl. Even today in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Muslim girls have been given away by their fathers, brothers or uncles to middle-aged men with no sense of guilt or shame, since they are told their very own beloved Prophet had sanctioned child marriage.
As far as men and women who consider Islam the enemy of human civilization, the story of Prophet Muhammad and Aisha is one that can be trusted to generate intense hatred towards the Muslim community. It does not help that instead of denouncing child marriages, the fanatics and the orthodox clergy of Islam continue to defend the practise as Islamically permissible, legal and honourable. The fact that a four-year old girl walks into Yemeni court asking for a divorce from her aging husband does not awaken these supposedly holy men to the crime being committed in the name of Islam. These men undoubtedly commit statutory rape when they force themselves onto these children.
It is in the vested interest of both Islam-haters as well as Islamic fanatics to continue to uphold the myth that Prophet Muhammad married a nine-year old Aisha. To the former, it is the juiciest scandal with which to deride Islam and Muslims, while for the Mullahs, it is a license to sanction pedophilia and child rape for themselves and their patrons.
How to find the truth
How do people claim to know for a fact that the age of Aisha was nine when her marriage to Prophet Muhammad was consummated? There are no birth records from the time and there is not a single piece of physical paper that can be traced back to seventh century Arabia that mentions the age of Aisha. In the absence of hard evidence, we have two choices:
1. We rely on medieval hearsay and gossip that has unfortunately seeped into Islamic literature, the Hadith and Sharia law, or;
2. We calculate the age of Aisha based on actual agreed-upon indisputable chronology of events.
Most medieval Islamic history books were written 200-300 years after the advent of Islam and it is true that all of them state emphatically that Aisha was only nine when she became Prophet Muhammad’s bride. However, all of them rely on, and quote, one single individual as the source of this information. His name was Hishām ibn Urwah, a prominent narrator of sayings of the Prophet (the Hadith), who died in the year 756AD. He was Aisha’s great-grand nephew, who first suggested that his great-grand aunt was only nine-years old on the day of her wedding, 125 years after the said event. Prior to his utterance, a century after the fact, there is no mention or reference to the age of Aisha. Hisham bin Urwah lived and taught in Medina for 70 years, yet no one else—not even his famous pupil Malik ibn Anas—-reported Aisha’s age. It is no coincidence that the growth of harems of the Abbasid caliphs mushroomed to hundreds of wives and concubines—many young girls—at the time the sharia law based on bin Urwah’s report, legalized child marriage. Instead of relying on the words of bin Urwah as so many Islam-haters and radicals do, I suggest we look at a few facts that prove that Aisha’s age on the day of her wedding could not have been lower than 14 years of age.
The historian al-Tabari informs us in his treatise on Islamic history that the father of Aisha, Abu Bakr had four children and all of them were born before the year 610AD, the year of the advent of Islam. If, as is generally accepted, Aisha became Prophet Muhammad’s bride in the year 624AD, then she had to be at least 14 years of age, if not older on the day of her wedding.
Other calculations based on historical events place Aisha as old as 20 when she became a bride. Ibn Hisham, the historian, reports that Aisha accepted Islam quite some time before Umar (the second caliph). This means she must have been at least a young girl in the year 610. Assuming she was five years old when Abu Bakr and his family converted to Islam, the information puts the age of Aisha at 20 or more at the time of her marriage with Prophet Muhammad was consummated in 624AD.
Furthermore, most Islamic historians agree that Asma, the elder sister of Aisha, was ten years older than her. It is also reported that Asma died in 683AD at the ripe age of 100. If this is true, then Asma would have been 31 years old at the time of Aisha’s wedding with Prophet Muhammad in 624 and the bride would have been 21. Of course, these facts do not suit either the Islam-haters or the Mullahs who sanction child marriage. Had the medieval caliphs or their court appointed clerics in the 8th century accepted these timelines, it would have taken away their right to fill their harems with young girls of their choice.
My critics may argue that I am juggling the dates to validate my thesis, but where is the evidence that suggests my timeline of historical events is wrong? If the critics of Islam argue that there needs to be a reformation in Islam, then why would we not err on the side of an argument that could end child marriages in the Muslim world? In the absence of any documentary evidence that Aisha was nine years old when she became Prophet Muhammad’s bride, why cling on to the gossip of one man, ibn Urwah, who served the courts of the caliphs? These were the very people who trampled all over Islamic doctrine by governing as hereditary kings and building empires on the backs of slaves.
However, if one hates Islam and Muslims then it will be difficult for them to believe that the relationship between Prophet Muhammad and Aisha was one of love and adoration, not one between a rapist and his victim. There is little evidence to suggest that any rape victim has ever fallen in love with her rapist.
The Hollywood screenwriter and television producer Kamran Pasha (of Sleeper Cell fame) who has authored a brilliant fictional novel about the life of Aisha, Mother of the Believers, told me that in his research for the book, he had concluded that Aisha was at least in her early teens when she became Prophet Muhammad’s bride. However, he chose to confront the critics head on. In the author’s note to his fascinating novel, Pasha writes:
“In my novel, I have chosen to directly face the controversy over Aisha’s age by using the most contentious account, that she was nine at the time she consummated her wedding. The reason I have done this is to show that it is foolish to project modern values on another time and world. In a desert environment where life expectancy was extremely low, early marriage was not a social issue—it was a matter of survival.”
As Islam hater pummel the Muslim community with insults and mockery, our reaction feeds the hate. We burn books, threaten cartoonists or make a laughing spectacle of ourselves for the rest of the world. We simply refuse to indulge in retrospection and reflection. We refuse to discard the ossified books of the Hadith that justify so much that is wrong in the Islamic world and which contribute to so much shame and embarrassment.
Too much is at stake for the Islamic establishment to admit that Prophet Muhammad was not the husband of a child bride. They would rather see their leader mocked then to admit to the fallibility of the Hadith literature. Until that happens, Islam-haters will continue to have a field day. For the rest of us Muslims—moderate, liberal, secular or progressive, call it what you may—the challenge is simple: Retain the Hadith literature for historical value as texts from our common history, but no more than that. We need to detach ourselves from the man-made laws and traditions of the medieval world and step into the 21st century, like the rest of humanity, as believers in the strict separation of religion and state and universal human rights where all men and women are equal, irrespective of religion or race. If we don’t, then we better be prepared to be be mocked with derision as stragglers in the caravan who are slowing down the progress of all humanity.