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Was Aisha really only Nine? Pt. 2

Continuing from where previously left off (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/16/was-aisha-really-only-nine-pt-1/).

  1. Aïsha was converted before Umar.

Argument

Ibn Hisham says that Aïsha became a Muslim before Umar. He was a very early convert, so Aïsha must have converted in 610. If she had been old enough to think for herself at that date, this would place her in her late teens by the time of her marriage in 623.[42]

Answer

Describing Umar as an “early” convert is misleading. He was certainly not “late,” but his conversion can be precisely dated to August–September 616.[43] A person could have been converted at any date between September 610 and August 616 yet been “before Umar”.

Note that Ibn Hisham’s list of converts is not dated and is not necessarily in chronological order.[44] However, it is probable that most of the listed people were indeed converted before Umar. There is no mystery about how Aïsha made it to the list, for Muhammad taught that every baby is born a Muslim until his parents convert him to some other religion.[45] Since Aïsha was born to Muslim parents, she was never anything but a Muslim, so her “conversion” would have been assigned to the day she was born.

Since she was born early in 614, she would have been 2½ at Umar’s conversion. Most children of this age can speak sentences and parrot whatever they hear their parents saying. Aïsha was a very articulate child, so it is quite possible that she had recited the declaration of faith several months before she was 2½. She might not have understood what she was saying; but technically she “became a Muslim” before Umar did.

  1. Aïsha was old enough to attend the Battle of Uhud.

Argument

Children under 15 were not allowed to fight in battles.[46] But Aïsha was present at the Battle of Uhud in 625, so she must have been at least 15 then. This makes her at least 13 at her marriage 2 years earlier.[47]

Answer

The eyewitness who saw Aïsha at the Battle of Uhud was Anas.

Anas ibn Malik narrated. I saw Aïsha bint Abi Bakr and Umm Sulaym [my mother]. Both of them had tucked up their garments, so I could me the anklets on their feet. They were carrying water-skins on their backs and would pour water into the mouths of the people. They would then go back, would fill them again and would return to pour water into the mouths of the soldiers.[48]

If Anas could see the women’s anklets, he must have been standing close to them, so he was doing the same as they were (taking water to the soldiers). They were not fighting the battle but only serving as auxiliaries. Since Anas was only 13 years old himself,[49] this shows that the age-limit of 15 did not apply to auxiliaries.

If Aïsha was present at Uhud, this only proves that in 625 she was old enough to carry a water-jug.

  1. Aïsha was a bikr.

Argument

Aïsha was a virgin (bikr) when she was betrothed to Muhammad in 620.

All those who know the Arabic language, are aware that the word “bikr” in the Arabic language is not used for an immature nine year old girl. The correct word for a young playful girl, as stated earlier is “Jariyah”. “Bikr” on the other hand, is used for an unmarried lady, and obviously a nine year old is not a “lady”.[50]

According to this argument, Aïsha must have been at least 3 years past menarche when her marriage was consummated.[51]

Answer

This is just wrong. According to one native speaker:

This is ignorant nonsense, bikr means a virgin girl, a girl who has never been married even if her age is 0 and there is no unclarity here whatsoever.[52]

If a bikr is of no particular age, knowing that Aïsha was a bikr does not tell us her age.

  1. Aïsha seems to have been much older than 13 in 627.

Argument

Four years after their marriage was first consummated, whenever Muhammad was cold from guard duty, he would come to Aïsha’s tent, and she would “warm him in her embrace.”

This description certainly does not fit for a thirteen year old which would have been her age if we accepted the age of nine at consummation.[53]

The argument here seems to be that most 13-year-olds are not this sexually active, so Aïsha must have been older than 13.

Answer

The argument that certain behaviours are not “fitting” assumes that people never behave “unfittingly”. But they frequently do. If Aïsha’s first sexual experience occurred when she was 9, then no matter how “unfitting” this was, there is no problem with believing that she was still sexually active four years later. To prove that she would not have “warmed” her husband when she was 13, we would have to begin by proving that their marriage was not consummated when she was 9.

If we are to argue Aïsha’s age from her behaviour, we might as well argue that her behaviour on her wedding day “fits” a 9-year-old because she played with dolls and a swing. Does this “prove” that she was 9, or could it be a sign that she was a very immature 19? We don’t know until we introduce more objective evidence.

  1. Aïsha’s parents would not have abused her by doing something outside the social norms.

Argument

Abu Bakr and Umm Ruman would not have married off their daughter before she was old enough because:

all biographical reports indicate that they were loving and responsible parents who would have no reason to do anything contrary to their daughter’s best interests.[54]

Answer

While Umm Ruman seems to have been a superficially affectionate mother,[55] we don’t know enough about her to assert that she was also “responsible”. On the contrary, the best-attested fact about her parenting style is that she co-operated in handing over her 9-year-old daughter to a 52-year-old bridegroom.[56] This is one indicator that she was not a responsible mother. But even if she had objected to this inappropriate marriage, would it have made any difference? Abu Bakr was certainly able to overrule her.

What evidence do we have that Abu Bakr was “loving and responsible”? He declared himself willing to kill his son Abdarrahman.[57] He pressured his daughter Asma to remain in an abusive but politically convenient marriage.[58] He punished his son Abdallah by forcing him into an unwanted divorce.[59] Aïsha remarked that Abu Bakr was always chiding and rebuking her for failing to meet his standards.[60] And there are numerous witnesses to his bad habit of slapping people. He struck out at his elderly father,[61] his young wife,[62] his married daughter (at least four times),[63] his careless slave[64] and a rabbi with whom he had a theological disagreement.[65]

The keynote of Abu Bakr’s closest relationships seems to have been his control, violence and self-interest rather than any real concern for anyone else. On this showing, it would have been entirely in-character if he had sacrificed Aïsha’s interests to the politics of the moment.

  1. Such a young marriage would have been against the Quraan.

Argument

Muhammad was Allah’s holy Prophet, so he would have never done anything against the Quraan.

Moreover, the Quran rejects the marriage of immature girls and boys.[66]

Answer 1

This is untrue. The Quraan specifically assumes that “immature girls” will sometimes be married and that there is nothing wrong with this.

When you divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed time, and calculate the number of the days prescribed … And those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, if you have a doubt, their prescribed time shall be three months, and of those too who have not had their courses …[67]

The Quraan assumes that girls who are too young to menstruate will not only be married but also divorced. If they are divorced, they must serve a three-month waiting period. Yet the Quraan also teaches that the waiting-period is not necessary if the marriage was not consummated.

O you who believe! when you marry the believing women, then divorce them before you touch them, you have in their case no term which you should reckon …[68]

So the Quraan was written on the assumption that girls might be married before puberty and such marriages would be consummated. Therefore it was not “against the Quraan” for Muhammad to consummate his marriage with the pre-pubescent Aïsha.

Answer 2

It should also be noted that very few people are completely consistent in their behaviour. Most people at times behave in ways that are against their usual values. The fact that the Quraan forbids certain behaviours cannot be taken as an indication that Muhammad never behaved that way.

The reality is that Muhammad’s behaviour was often different from a given verse of the Quraan. Many of the rules in the Quraan were later abrogated,[69] or were decreed to forbid what had previously been tolerated.[70] So Muhammad was not acting “against the Quraan” if he did something before it was forbidden or after it had been abrogated. In addition, there were some rules that applied to everyone except Muhammad. For example, the Quraan forbids a man to have more than four wives,[71] but Muhammad was a special exception to this rule.

So even if it could be shown that child-marriage was at some stage “un-Islamic,” this would not be evidence that Muhammad had never married a child. There might have been some special revelation that that rendered it permissible for Muhammad because of who he was or when he did it.

  1. In those days, nobody really knew their age.

Argument

It is said that the Arabs did not think of numbers in the way we do.

Arabs of the time, like many other pre-modern people, did not have a calendar system and chronological accuracy was simply not a feature of their culture. It is almost certain that Aisha did not know her precise age …[72]

In a society without a birth registry and where people did not celebrate birthdays, most people estimated their own age and that of others. Aisha would have been no different.[73]

Answer

It is true that some cultures have had little concept of time or numbers; but this is certainly not true of pre-Islamic Arabia. They were merchants who not only counted their cash but knew how to calculate usury on their loans.[74] They had a calendar,[75] from which they calculated the “sacred” months.[76] The great biographical dictionaries by Ibn Saad and Tabari list nearly everyone’s age at death, showing that most people knew their age at least to the nearest year. Even in the cases where the age is omitted or given as an approximation, it does not necessarily mean that the person did not know his age; it only means that the historian did not know it.

Abu Bakr was a recognised expert in genealogy[77] and he would certainly have noted the birth-years of his own children. In addition to having a good memory, Aïsha was also good at arithmetic, and she was often consulted on division problems.[78] If she could divide into thirds and sevenths, she could certainly count to ten. So there is no reason to doubt her word that she was born “early in the fourth year.”[79] If she knew the time of year, she was unlikely to have been wrong about the year itself.

In fact there is clear indication that Aïsha also knew the month and perhaps even the day of her birth. If she was married in 1 AH at the age of 9, then by 11 AH (when Muhammad died) she should have been 19. Yet she insisted that at Muhammad’s death she was still only 18.[80] This makes sense if Aïsha knew that her birthday fell after Muhammad’s death-date, i.e., later in the year than the 12th day of the 3rd month.

An Alternative Perspective

People who read the sources honestly know very well that Aïsha was only nine. Nevertheless, some apologists try to argue that this is not a problem. Their arguments are completely different from the ones above. Instead of arguing Aïsha’s age from the texts, they appeal to norms of culture and common sense to explain why this child-marriage was morally justified.

  1. Aïsha had reached puberty.

Argument

Aïsha had reached puberty, so she was ready for marriage.

Even if she was in fact 9 years old, this marriage is still justified for the following reasons … (a) She reached the age of puberty.[81]

She must have been an early developer for whom

it is most likely her puberty started at 8, and continued till she was 9, and once she was going through puberty and her menses, this made her a lady and not a girl anymore.[82]

Answer 1

This is untrue. Aïsha had still not reached menarche in July 628,[83] fully five years after the consummation of her marriage.

The episode in which Aïsha was accused of adultery was in January 628, when her age was just short of fourteen.[84] In her long and detailed account of this event, Aïsha described herself as a jariya.[85] This Arabic word can only be used for a little girl or a female slave. It is never used for a free woman who has passed puberty.

In this context, she also mentioned her light weight, which she attributed to eating so little meat.[86] This “lightness” may explain why Aïsha reached puberty slightly later than average. Puberty begins when a girl has reached a certain weight; hence it would be expected that Aïsha, who was somewhat under-nourished, would be late.

Aïsha also refers to herself as a jariya in a different incident, when the Abyssinian spearmen were displaying in the mosque courtyard. She reminded her audience how “a girl of tender age is fond of watching sport.”[87] This incident was after her marriage – but how long after it?

Since Muhammad had to screen Aïsha while she watched the display, it must have occurred after the Order of the Veil, which was certainly no earlier than 5 May 627. We know this because Aïsha was still unveiled during the Battle of the Ditch and Siege of the Qurayza.[88] This war ended when Muhammad supervised the extinguishing of the Qurayza tribe on 4 May “far into the night.”[89] After this he hosted Zaynab’s wedding banquet, where he declared the Order of the Veil.[90] In theory the banquet could have been the next day, 5 May, but this does not leave much time to sleep off the exhaustion of the battle and prepare the feast. So it is more likely that the banquet was a few days later than this.

Aïsha says that the Abyssinian display occurred during the Mina days,[91] which in 627 fell on 6–8 May. Therefore they coincided with or predated Zaynab’s wedding banquet. So while 7 or 8 May 627, when Aïsha was thirteen, is a possible date for the Abyssinian display, it would demand a very tight timeline.

It is more likely that the incident occurred the following year, on 25–27April 628. This was just after the Armistice of Hudaybiya,[92] when Aïsha was fourteen and had been restored to favour after the Necklace Affair.[93] Her mother died in the same month, although it is not known whether this was before or after the Mina Days.[94]

It is even possible that the spearmen’s display occurred a year later still (14–16 April 629), when Aïsha was fifteen. Muhammad went to Mecca for the Minor Pilgrimage in March 629 and returned to Medina “in Zu’l-Hijja” (the month that began on 4 April 629).[95] The exact date of his return is not stated, but the Quraysh wanted him out of Mecca before Zu’l-Hijja (the pilgrimage month) began.[96] Since the journey only took about a week, it is safe to say that he arrived in Medina well before the 14 April and that he had time to arrange some festive Mina celebrations. If so, Aïsha was still a prepubescent “little girl” even at the age of fifteen[97]

A third incident occurred in July 628,[98] when Muhammad returned from Khaybar and discovered that Aïsha, then fourteen and a half, still played with her dolls. He did not mind; he laughed over it.[99]

In fact playing with “dolls and similar images” was absolutely forbidden to adults because it was so close to idolatry. Only prepubescent children were allowed to keep dolls.[100] Muhammad was very strict about not allowing his wives to keep images in their houses,[101] so he would certainly have destroyed Aïsha’s dolls if he had caught her playing with them after she was too old. The fact that he just laughed over them shows that she was still young enough to keep them, i.e., that she had not reached menarche.

While the exact date of Aïsha’s menarche is not known, an exact date is not required here. The point is that it was well over five years, and perhaps more than six years, after the consummation of her marriage. Although this could not have been predicted on her wedding day, Aïsha actually belonged to the 10% of girls who are latest in reaching puberty.[102] At nine she would have been flat-chested and only three-quarters of her future height; nobody could have mistaken her for an adult. The nine-year-old Aïsha was, in every sense of the term, a “child-bride”.

Answer 2

Although a few girls do reach menarche as young as age nine, it does not follow that those girls are ready for marriage. No nine-year-old has reached her full height, and a girl whose bones are still growing is definitely not ready for pregnancy.

Continue to part 2 https://answeringallah.com/was-aisha-really-only-nine-pt-2/

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