السلام على من اتَّـبع الهذى
As-salaamu `ala man-itaba’a al-huda,
I begin this opening statement with all absolute praise be due to the One True God of Abraham and His Last Messenger, Muhammad ﷺ
الْحَمْدُ لله رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْنَ
Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalamin.
وَالصَّلاَةُ وَالسَّلاَمُ عَلَى أَشْرَفِ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ وَالْمُرْسَلِيْنَ، وَعَلَى أله وَأَصْحَابِهِ أَ جْمَعِين
Was-solaatu was-salaamu ‘ala ashraf-il anbiya’i wal-mursalin wa ala alihi wa sohbihi ajma’in.
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِى صَدْرِى، وَيَسِّرْ لِى أَمْرِى، وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِى، يَفْقَهُواْ قَوْلِي
Rabbishrahli sadri wa yas-sirli amri, wa-hlul uqdatan min al-lisaani yafqahu qauli.
The topic today is “Was Muhammad’s Marriage To Aisha Moral?”. This marriage has been used and abused by Christian polemicists, murtadds, Islamophobes and every group imaginable that has an axe to grind against Islam. This is hardly surprising, because Islam is currently the fastest-growing religion in the world and according to Pew Research, by 2050 Islam will surpass Christianity as the largest religion globally.
On the character and morals of the Prophet PBUH, the well-known Orientalist W. Montgomery Watt said:
“In his day and generation, Muhammad was a social reformer, indeed a reformer even in the sphere of morals. He created a new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. In this way, he adapted for settled communities all that was best in the morality of the nomad and established a religious and a social framework for the life of a sixth of the human race today. That is not the work of a traitor or a lecher.”
The historian Thomas Carlye said:
“Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Imposter, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to anyone. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only.”
The evidence for Aisha being betrothed at six years old and her marriage consummated at nine years old can be found in authentic hadith collections by Bukhari and I do not feel that there is any need to cite these hadiths or object to their historicity. Going back to the issue at hand, we must, first of all, understand that this marriage took place roughly 1400 years ago. As such, this marriage must be evaluated based on the standards of that time period, while keeping in mind that we should not commit the logical fallacy of presentism.
Presentism: thinking about history from an exclusively “presentist” point of view (i.e., from the perspective of our present-day understanding of events) fails to take into account that, at the time in which historical events occurred, those involved did not enjoy the benefit of hindsight that has informed our present perspective. Presentism invites us to dismiss the poor decisions made by previous generations as having been based on their failure to anticipate the long-term consequences of their deeds. Yet to fully understand a historical event, we must view it not only with the benefit of hindsight but also in the more limited context of its own times.
This can be easily determined by asking a series of questions which are as follows.
First question: Was Aisha’s marriage objected to by the Prophet’s contemporaries or by even her own parents?
The answer is no, it was not. Nobody objected to this marriage. None of the contemporary enemies of the Prophet ever used this issue as a slight against the Prophet, simply because it was a non-issue. This “problem” only came about in the 20th century and the first person to raise this issue as an objection to the character of the Prophet was Sir William Muir, a British Orientalist with Christian evangelical tendencies.
Second question: Did Aisha demonstrate any signs of abuse while she was in the household of the Prophet till the day he passed away?
Again, the answer is no. According to the hadith and sirah (biographical) material that we have, Aisha was a happy and outgoing woman. In fact, the records suggest that she spoke her mind and was unafraid to voice out her dissatisfaction even to the Prophet himself if she were unhappy about a certain issue which affects her. In the years after the passing of the Prophet pbuh, she became renowned as a teacher of Islam and decades later, she even led an army against the Caliph Ali RA. This certainly does not sound like an abused, manipulated person who was forcibly married off against her will when she was younger.
Third question: Was it a common practice at the time to marry at such a young age?
The answer is yes, it was a common practice of the era. This is determined by when the woman has attained puberty. And how do we know that a woman has reached puberty? By experiencing her first menstruation. Under Islamic law, a woman can only legally be married after she has attained puberty.
Neil Postman, a former professor at New York University, wrote the book The Disappearance of Childhood. In it, he argues that childhood was one of the great inventions of the Renaissance, just like any other social structure. Its development was closely correlated with the written tradition and the development of primary schools as opposed to the oral tradition in the Middle Ages.
“In an oral world there is not much of a concept of an adult and, therefore, even less of a child. And that is why, in all the sources, one finds that in the Middle Ages childhood ended at age seven. Why seven? Because that is the age at which children have command over speech. They can say and understand what adults can say and understand. They are able to know all the secrets of the tongue, which are the only secrets they need to know. And this helps us to explain why the Catholic Church designated age seven as the age at which one was assumed to know the difference between right and wrong, the age of reason. It also helps us to explain why, until the seventeenth century, the words used to denote young males could refer to men of thirty, forty, or fifty, for there was no word—in French, German, or English—for a young male between the ages of seven and sixteen. The word child expressed kinship, not age. But most of all, the oralism of the Middle Ages helps us to explain why there were no primary schools. For where biology determines communication competence, there is no need for such schools.”
In 1930, thousands of boys and girls married before the age of fourteen. It was reported that 1,311 girls in the East South Central area of the United States married below the age of fourteen.
This, therefore, brings us to our….
Fourth question: Are there examples of young marriages throughout history? What was the age of consent?
Let us look at the history of how marriage was practised in earlier times before the 20th century. We have a long list of ancient kings and queens and individuals from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East being married off at an age as young as seven years old!
Here are a few examples:
- According to the Bible, Rebekah was married off to Isaac the father of the Jews when she was three years old.
- Mary, the mother of Jesus in the New Testament was 12 when she got married to Joseph who was 90.
- Ankhesenamun (aged about 16) was married to her half-brother Tutankhamun (aged about 10) in about 1332 BCE.
- Judith of Flanders (aged about 12/13) was married to Æthelwulf, King of Wessex (aged about 61), in October 856.
- Eadgifu of Wessex (aged 16/17) was married to Charles the Simple, King of West Francia (aged about 40), in 919.
- Isabella of Jerusalem (aged 10/11) married Humphrey IV of Toron (aged about 17) in 1183. They had been betrothed when Isabella was 8 years old.
- Isabella of Valois (aged 6) married King Richard II of England (aged 29)
- Eleanor of England, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, married 15-year-old Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1170 when she was about 9 years old.
- Mrinalini Devi (aged between 9 and 11) married Rabindranath Tagore (aged 22) in 1883.
I think the point has been made, that young marriages were not considered to be problematic until very recently in the 20th century.
Fifth question: Could the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha, in any way, shape or form, be considered as “paedophilia”?
Let us first define who is a paedophile and what is pedophilia.
Taken from the “MSD Manual for the Consumer”:
A paedophile is defined as having had repeated, intense sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviours involving a child or children (usually aged 13 years or under). Pedophilia is also medically defined as a mental disorder. Many paedophiles have or develop a substance use disorder or dependence and depression. They often come from dysfunctional families, and marital conflict is common. Many were sexually abused as children.
Now, the question is, do the historical records suggest that the Prophet meet this definition above? The answer is no, he did not meet the criteria. The only marriage that he had with a virgin was with Aisha RA. His other wives were all widows and divorcees. This does not fit the definition of a paedophile or paedophilia in general.
In conclusion, we can therefore surmise that the marriage of Aisha RA to the Prophet PBUH was part of a practice totally congruent with his time period, and based on what I have already stated previously there is nothing to suggest that this marriage was “immoral” by this standard. Otherwise, if we were to judge him by the current practices of our times, that would be falling into the logical fallacy of presentism.
WITHOUT LIES ISLAM THRIVES
And with that, I end my opening statement. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this discourse.