THE APOLOGISTS’ ARGUMENTS
Apologists for the Islamic religion have created a set of arguments for a Western audience to try and deflect criticism of the marriage and its implications. In general it seems that there is no absolute consensus in the Islamic world about what age Aisha was when she “married” Mohammed, but if anything most Sunni Muslims in the world seem to take the statements in the 6 main hadiths literally when they are actually aware of them. Discovering what the Shia texts say is more difficult, but as I mentioned in the previous post, Islamic authorities in Iran have argued that current age of marriage restrictions are un-Islamic, so it seems the Shia take a similar view. To summarize here are some of the main arguments/claims that apologists usually resort to:
- Aisha wasn’t really 9 when Mohammed consummated the marriage with her. This argument ignores the rather obvious fact that of the 6 most important hadiths in Sunni Islam 3 of them state she was 9 (or 10) at the time in multiple places in those hadiths. None of these 6 hadiths contradict these statements. A religion is defined by its core religious texts, not what may or may not really happened. This argument is based on the claim that there is contradictory evidence in other texts (such as biographies) that proves that Aisha was a lot older than 6 when she married Mohammed. One problem with this argument is that there is also the evidence of what the texts regarded as the most authoritative by Muslims explicitly say in those multiple places. There will always therefore be room for doubt in the matter.
- The marriage was a happy one. However, since Mohammed’s behaviour is an example for Muslims generally there is a big problem – you cannot know when a girl is six how the marriage will turn out. By effectively condoning such marriages, Islam opens the door for very unhappy marriages and much worse – marital rape.
- The age of puberty varies over time, and perhaps Aisha had already reached puberty by the age of 9. The problem with this argument is that there is a long way from the first signs of puberty to the point where a woman becomes ready for childbirth. Although such variations no doubt exist it is a very long stretch to think that a girl of 9 was ready for childbirth. Worse there seems to be a suggestion in the Koran that a girl who hasn’t yet reached puberty may still be ready for marriage (Koran 65:4). Furthermore many Muslims in the Islamic world do not take such variations into account when deciding if child marriage is moral or not.
- The marriage was acceptable according to the norms of the 7th century society Mohammed belonged to. Once again, the problem with this argument is that Mohammed’s life is supposed to be an “excellent” or “beautiful” example for Muslims. There is no suggestion made that this “excellent” example only applied to people living in 7th century Arabia. If his example was only applicable in those times then what is the point of following the Sunnah now, in the 21st century?
- The medieval Kings and Queens argument – that European Kings and queens in the middle ages were just as bad because they also sometimes married children. The problem with this argument is that nobody in the modern West regards those Kings and Queens lives as “excellent” or “beautiful” examples to follow, quite the reverse in many cases.
- That there is a contradictory statement in the Koran that says that marriage should only occur “between two consenting adults”. In the examples I look at the apologists mysteriously fail to say which statement/verse they are referring to. I think this idea *may* be derived from Koran 4:6 and/or 4:19. 4:6 seems to specifically refer to Orphans (it may be directed mainly at male orphans) and it seems to be mostly about when to release their possessions to them more than marriage. 4:19 seems to be specifically about the wives of deceased relatives (see the Pickthall translation which refers to your deceased kinsmen) who would be unlikely to be particularly young in any case. It also, again, conveniently overlooks 65:4.
- That the hadiths are unreliable and only the Koran should be viewed as authoritative. This is really a branch of Islam called Quranism. This still leaves the problem of Koran 65:4. The exact number of people who follow this branch of Islam is not known but it is likely to be very small, so the impact of this approach is probably minimal in the Islamic world. Sunni Muslims by comparison make up about 80% of the world’s Muslims.
- That the Old Testament also condones similarly immoral marriages such as child marriages and forced marriages. This argument is ridiculous for one thing because if Christianity really was also as bad, then that would not make Islam any less bad. Also since Jesus’s message is really the most important message of Christianity it generally overrides the Old Testament barbarity and Jesus did not in any way condone such behaviour. Jesus did not himself marry any children (or anybody) according to the New Testament.
- That Mohammed’s life was the most perfect example and therefore he could not have done anything as bad as marrying a six-year old girl. The point of religions is usually that they give moral guidance, but this argument seems to work backwards – making a moral judgement about a behaviour first and then deciding that a religion cannot possibly be condoning that behaviour because the behaviour is immoral.
SOME EXAMPLES OF APOLOGISTS IN ACTION
(Note for those not familiar with Mehdi Hasan he is a familiar face on UK political tv shows such as BBC Question Time, he is also a UK political editor for the Huffington Post which is a high profile political website although the UK branch is not so high profile.)
Mehdi Hasan condemns the practice of child marriage here:
Unfortunately he also says in this article that child marriage is not Islamic, quote:
Prophet Muhammad did not, as is often claimed, marry a child bride named Aisha.
Then he says:
Yes, I’ll concede that there is a saying in Sahih Bukhari, one of the six canonical Hadith collections of Sunni Islam, attributed to Aisha herself, which suggests she was six years old when she was married to Muhammad and nine when the marriage was consummated.
– overlooking the fact that it isn’t just stated in one hadith, but in multiple places in 3 of the most important Sunni hadiths. It also overlooks this:
Sahih Muslim hadith 8 3311
Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah’s Apostle (May peace be upon him) married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old.’
There are other references to Aisha playing with dolls, but in this reference there is a mention both of the dolls and of the marriage age at the same time. Some apologists have attempted to claim that references to dolls come from another time in her life but in this reference it is clear that she was still playing with dolls at the time of her marriage. It is not really normal for a girl of sound mind to be playing with dolls when they have reached an adult age. It is very clear from the mentions of Aisha in general throughout her life that she was of sound mind.
Then he says:
there are plenty of Muslim historians who dispute this particular (Bukhari) Hadith and argue Aisha was in reality aged somewhere between 15 and 21.
There are indeed Muslim historians who have argued this but their arguments undermine the veracity of the core hadiths that most Sunni Muslims believe to be the most authoritative. (Others have discussed the subject of other “historical” accounts at much greater length – I have included some references at the end of this post).
More importantly it also remains inescapable that Islamic authorities in a number of Muslim majority countries TODAY take the view that current marriage age laws are un-Islamic. Mehdi focuses on Saudi Arabia in his article as if this problem is restricted to that country, but the references I gave in the previous post show clearly that Islamic authorities in a number of Islamic countries including Pakistan and Iran also take the view that restrictions on child marriage are un-Islamic. This flies in the face of his claim that:
the vast majority of classical scholars throughout Muslim history agreed on a minimum marriage age of 18
He also claims:
The Quran does not contain a specific legal age of marriage, but it does make clear that men and women must be both physically mature and of sound judgement in order to get married.
Unfortunately he doesn’t give the specific references in the Koran he is referring to. This may be a reference to the two statements in the Koran that I mentioned above 4:6 and 4:19, but we can’t be sure. Again this claim ignores the problem of Koran 65:4, which he doesn’t mention at all.
A little credit is due to Mr. Hasan as he condemns child marriage himself directly, but unfortunately in his attempts to undermine valid criticism of his religion he is attempting to deflect attempts at a sensible debate of the subject. Islam condones child abuse through the “beautiful example” of Mohammed’s conduct, and through the Koran 65:4 verse. There is no escaping this fact. He is trapped in an immoral mental cage of his own making. It is time for Mehdi to renounce Islam. He already made the first realization. You don’t have to be a Muslim Mehdi, if you’re bothered by what it says about Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha in the Islamic texts you can just give it up.
This whole article was reprinted in the New Statesman:
Mehdi Hasan’s article criticized by another Muslim called Indigo Jo:
Indigo Jo dismisses Hasan’s claims as “da’waganda” which he describes as
material promoting Islam but giving false information about it to make it palatable to a (usually) western reader.
Unfortunately he then goes on to say:
Muslims in the UK have really nothing to answer for in regard to this
which is not what the figures from the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit suggest (see previous post – link at the end of this article).
The well known Muslim convert writes at the Guardian:
She begins her article in attack mode, referring to:
the Islamophobic film Innocence of Muslims, which has sparked riots from Yemen to Libya.
Muslims will often use this kind of tactic – an appeal to the conscience of the reader with the use of emotive words such as “Islamophobe” and suggestions that Muslims are the victims of bigotry which provokes them to riot violently. Of course these riots are not even slightly relevant to a discussion of Aisha’s age of marriage as stated in Islamic texts, and of course they didn’t have to riot violently in any case. They could have simply argued calmly and rationally against the suggestions made in the film, if they really had good arguments to make that is.
She first attempts to use the “consenting adults” argument:
Qur’an states that marriage is void unless entered into by consenting adults, Aisha must have entered puberty early.
as usual not quoting the verses where this is supposedly stated.
She then attempts to use the “Medieval Kings and Queens” argument which is one of the weakest arguments of the lot. We don’t regard medieval kings and queens as paragons of virtue. Never have, never will.
She then attempts to use the “consenting adults” argument again, still not quoting the verses she is referring to:
What we do know is what the Qur’an says about marriage: that it is valid only between consenting adults, and that a woman has the right to choose her own spouse.
Note particularly the phrase – “the right to choose her spouse”, which is particularly laughable considering such verses in the Koran as 33:50 which states:
surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war
Really – “Allah has given to you as prisoners of war”? This is what you think qualifies as the “right to choose her spouse” Myriam? Perhaps as “good” Muslims are supposed to you now think that non-Muslims are not really human beings, that we are the “vilest of animals” (Koran 8:55)? I feel sorry for you that you should now despise your former self so completely.
She then attempts to attack “Islamophobia” again with this statement:
The gulf between her true legacy and her depiction in Islamophobic materials is not merely historically inaccurate, it is an insult to the memory of a pioneering woman.
I have never read anything anywhere that insulted Aisha in any way in connection to this matter or any other. If Aisha was really married to Mohammed at the age of 6 then she clearly didn’t have any choice in the matter, it does not “insult her memory” to talk about this. This is simply another attempt at deflecting criticism of Islam.
DR. DAVID LIEPERT
Another attempt from the Huffington Post (note that Myriam Cerrah-Francois has also written at the Huffington Post):
Again we have an apologist in attack mode here with this little rant:
There are really only three reasons to insist — as so many do — that Aisha was only 9 years old when Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) married her: Either you are such a crazy Islamophile that you are willing to go to your grave insisting Muhammad could do whatever he wanted, or you are such a crazy Islamophobe that you want to insist he did, or you are such a weirdly religious sex-crazed pervert that you hope accusing him makes it OK for you to do it too.
There is absolutely no other reason to either make or repeat that disgusting claim.
That would be “absolutely no other reason” except for the fact that Bukhari and 2 other of the most respected Islamic hadiths SAY SO.
I won’t go into this one any further, it is already expertly debunked here:
(Note particularly the answer to the comment about the phrase “Lam Yahidna” in the 65:4 verse and how Liepert’s argument about this phrase is contradicted by every single one of the commonly regarded translations.)
SOME OTHER APOLOGISTS
This includes a misquote of Koran 4:19 which is only about women of deceased relatives:
It also makes a lot of the fact that 65:4 doesn’t include the word “yet”, but “those who have not menstruated” could easily mean those who have not menstruated yet. As usual where there are two possible interpretations the apologists seize on the one that suits their view. The fact that there is vagueness leading to confusion is a problem in its own right. However I also found a translation where this is spelled out very clearly:
MUHSIN KHAN TRANSLATION
And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the ‘Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their ‘Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise, except in case of death]. And for those who are pregnant (whether they are divorced or their husbands are dead), their ‘Iddah (prescribed period) is until they deliver (their burdens), and whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make his matter easy for him.
This next article from Australia seems to rely on the debunked Dr. Liepert’s arguments as its source: