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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

‘A’ishah and the issue of child bride in Islam ‏Part 2

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Shortly before the battle, the prophet inspected his troops. He saw a number of youths among them. He ordered everyone who was below the age of 15 to return to Medina. One or two were 14, but even then the prophet ordered them to go back. They participated with the Muslim army the following year when the allied forces of the unbelievers and the Jews tried to invade Medina in an effort to eradicate Islam.

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When the prophet went on a military expedition, a number of women travelled with the army. They provided auxiliary services, such as nursing the wounded and giving support. In the Battle of Uhud some of them actually fought with the Muslims. We have several reports about the heroics shown by Nasibbah Bint Ka’b as she took part in repelling the unbelievers’ determined attempt to kill the prophet. 

The Battle of Uhud took place in the month of Shawwal of the third year of the prophet’s settlement in Medina, that is, two years or less of the ‘A’ishah’s marriage. Consider the following hadith, which is related by al-Bukahari under several headings:

Anas reports: “When the Muslim army was in retreat during the Battle of Uhud and people moved away from the prophet, I saw ‘A’ishah and Umm Sulaym, having lifted their skirts and I could see the lower parts of their legs. They were carrying water-skins on their backs and almost running to give people to drink, before going back to refill their containers with water and come back to pour it in people’s mouths.” [related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.]  Had she been 9 at the time of her marriage, she would be 11, or even younger when that battle took place. Can we imagine that the prophet, who did not permit young men of 14 to stay with the army, would have allowed a girl of 11 to stay?

8. Another factor that indicates ‘A’ishah’s age is her knowledge. She was known for the breadth of her knowledge and her confident expression of her views. She never hesitated in stating her disagreement with some of the most learned companions of the prophet.

Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi devoted a book to explain all the points in which ‘A’ishah disputed the views or rulings other companions of the prophet expressed. He says in his introduction: “I have listed in this book the views of ‘A’ishah [may God be pleased with her] in which she stands alone in disagreement with all other scholars, whether based on personal opinion or relying on a proper practice by the prophet, or on sound knowledge unavailable to others, and cases where she disputed the views of her contemporary scholars, or where she cited evidence for her rulings, or for which she provided a weightier argument.” Al-Zarkashi then lists a total of 59 cases, explaining them all. In these she disagrees with no less than 23 of the most prominent scholars among the prophet’s companions, including ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas.

‘A’ishah had the basic education young girls in Mecca received at the time, but she benefited by the fact that she belonged to a broad-minded family and her father was the prophet’s closest friend. Then she learnt most of her knowledge from the prophet. Needless to say, her knowledge was mostly concerned with Islam and its teachings. Had she been only nine years of age when she married the prophet, she would have been 18 when he passed away. During such period, young scholars absorb whatever they are taught. Their critical views of what they have learnt develop later. It takes effort on the part of both teacher and student before such critical examination of one’s learning begins to take expression. A’ishah’s knowledge suggests that she was such a critical scholar, which means that she was several years older than what is generally assumed.

 

9. Can we determine the year when ‘A’ishah was born? We must say at the outset that this is not easy, considering what we said earlier about the Arabs having no fixed reference point by which they dated events and births. However, there are indications that give a good insight into that. The first is that al-Tabari, a highly respected historian of the third century of the Islamic era, mentions in his voluminous history that Abu Bakr, ‘A’ishah’s father, had four children, two by each of his two wives, and that all his children were born before Islam. ‘A’ishah’s marriage took place at least 14 years after the message of Islam started to be revealed. Secondly, it is confirmed that Asma’, ‘A’ishah’s sister who was 10 years of age, if not older, died in 73 AH and it is stated that she was 100 years of age if not older. We cannot say for certain that she was 100, or that the difference between the two was 10 years, but if these two pieces of information were correct, then ‘A’ishah was born four or five years before Islam and she was 18 or 19 at the time of her marriage.

Another clue to the time of ‘A’ishah’s birth is the report that Abu Bakr was 28, at the time when he married ‘A’ishah’s mother, Umm Rawman. Abu Bakr was two years younger than the prophet, which means that he was 38 at the time of the start of the Islamic message. In other words, he married his second wife ten years before Islam. We do not have any reports about his having any other children who might have died in infancy. It is reasonable to assume that his two children were born within the first five years of his marriage. This means that ‘A’ishah’s birth was at least five years before the start of Islam, making her 19 or 20 at the time of her marriage.

 

10.    With all this evidence in hand, how come that people always repeat that she was six at the time of her engagement to the prophet and nine when the marriage took place? The answer is that this information is mentioned in a hadith. I do not wish to discuss the subject of hadith acceptability, and the degree of authenticity that we can attach to each hadith. However, we may state that each hadith has two parts: a chain of transmission consisting of the reporters who transmitted it and the text attributed to the prophet or to one of his companions. Hadith scholars concentrated mainly on the chain of transmission, while scholars of Islamic jurisprudence, that is, fiqh, examine the text of each hadith. If a hadith text is free of a clear defect, they accept it as correct, provided that the chain transmission is acceptable. Scholars of hadith established a very sophisticated system for the acceptability of reporters so as to judge each chain of transmission and grade every hadith accordingly. The hadith that mentions ‘A’ishah’s age being nine at the time of her marriage includes Hisham ibn all-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam as the main reporter. Hisham is graded as reliable by scholars of hadith. However, they warn that during his stay in Iraq in his later life, he was generally lax in reporting what he heard from his father. This means that what he reported earlier when he was in Hijaz is accepted as authentic, while his later reporting left something to be desired. All the versions that we have from Hisham concerning ‘A’ishah’s age belong to this category. Hence, we can say that they are countered by much stronger evidence and we cannot accept this hadith as perfectly authentic.

 

Conclusion

 

When we take all this evidence into consideration, we are bound to reject the statement that ‘A’ishah was as young as nine at the time of her marriage to the Prophet. We say that most probably she was around 20; perhaps one or two years younger or older. While some of the evidence we cited is based on logical argument, some has a stronger basis, such as the way the marriage proposal came about, and her presence at Uhud.

Yet there will remain many people who will say that; “A’ishah was as young as nine at the time. Such people are of three types. The first type includes people who are hostile to Islam. They try to detract from the prophet’s character using whatever ammunition they can find. No doubt such report provides them with much ammunition. These we will not try to answer, because their hostility will always blind them to the truth. The other two types are Muslims, but one group will cling to what they learnt in childhood and will find anything that challenges old established information too difficult to accept. The other group includes traditional scholars who find it hard to reject a hadith when it is listed in one of the authentic anthologies. Both groups will try hard to justify themselves in believing that this marriage took place when ‘A’ishah was nine. They will come up with arguments like girls attaining puberty at a very early age in the hot climate of Arabia. Their efforts cannot yield any fruits. Such arguments will not prove anything other than the difficulty they find in examining long held views.

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