‘Quick-witted’, ‘tart tongued’, ‘daring’, ‘headstrong’ and ‘assertive’ are not five phrases I would immediately attribute to Aisha when I hear them. What springs to mind is rather ‘prepubescent child-bride’; the authority for this assertion consists of multiple Islamic sources rather than speculative, cringeworthy platitudes. This is the issue we face when dissecting one of the most popular videos from the Emir-Stein Center, ‘Who Is Aisha?’ , featuring Lesley Hazleton. In this edition of Emir-Stein’s video series whitewashing Islam, Hazleton attempts to distract the viewer with irrelevance, willfully neglecting to expand upon some of the most significant parts of Aisha’s story.
Aisha is frequently mentioned in Islamic sources, but Hazleton speculates this is because she is a daring young upstart, rather than just Muhammad’s favourite wife, which Hazleton also acknowledges. Hazleton even asserts that Aisha led an entire army, but this isn’t quite true.
When Hazleton moves to address Aisha’s age, the deflection begins. She seems unable to condemn Muhammad’s marriage, apparently to a nine-year-old girl, as wrong. She first suggests that Muhammad’s later marriages were political, which I would dispute, as Muhammad had clear attraction to these women; his marriages to them were not simply a forced, political move. Hazleton states: ‘Aisha would later claim she was only nine and while other accounts have her nine when she was betrothed and married at age twelve, few people cared to openly contradict Aisha. Besides, being married at nine would make her unique and she was proud of her uniqueness’.
There are three serious framing errors here. Not only does Hazleton insist that Aisha’s saying she was nine was simply a later claim, but she refutes herself when she says that many of the writings stating this were early. The second is that Hazleton contradicts herself again by claiming that later writers were afraid to contradict what Aisha had said. If that were true, Hazleton would have no sources for her claim that the betrothal took place when Aisha was nine and the marriage when she was twelve. The third framing error is the most disgraceful; attempting to paint a marriage between a fifty-three-year-old man and an apparently nine-year-old girl as positive in some way. Who else would defend such a marriage today by claiming the child wants to be unique?
When we look at the earliest and most trusted Islamic sources, they are unapologetically unanimous regarding the age of Aisha when she was married, as well as about the age of consummation and the details of the marriage. The fact that the consummation took place when Aisha was still so young also shows that the marriage was not solely political, but we do not need this fact to prove Muhammad’s intentions. If we look at Sahih al-Bukhari 268 and 5068, we read the following two accounts of Muhammad and his wives: ‘The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number. I asked Anas, “Had the Prophet the strength for it?” Anas replied, “We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).” And Sa`id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven)’. ‘The Prophet used to go round (have sexual relations with) all his wives in one night, and he had nine wives’.
Muhammad married Aisha at the age of six, not nine, in multiple Islamic sources. I could be picky here and detail how the people used a lunar calendar, so she would more likely be four at the time of the marriage and six at the time of the consummation, as opposed to six at the time of the marriage and nine at the time of consummation, but we will take the trusted sources at face-value. Sahih al-Bukhari 5133, Sahih al-Bukhari 5158, Sahih Muslim 3481, Sahih Muslim 3482 and Sunan Abu Dawud 2121 all unanimously repeat that Aisha was married to Muhammad at age six or seven and that the consummation of the marriage took place when she was nine years old.
The sources also show that Aisha was prepubescent. In Sahih Muslim 3481, when she was taken to consummate the marriage, we read; ‘A’isha reported that Allah’s Apostle 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 died she was eighteen years old’. Because she was playing with dolls, which is forbidden as they are images, it confirms her prepubescence: young children are not held to observance as strict as that to which older people are held. In Sahih al-Bukhari 6130, it is said: ‘I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Messenger used to enter they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for `Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.)’
Hazleton then asks, given Aisha’s insults to Khadija among other examples, ‘how ironic it is then for the outspoken Aisha to serve as the excuse, the rationale, for one of the most misogynistic interpretations of the Qur’an, one that would force women into silence’. This is a straw man. The misogyny that Hazleton objects to so strenuously can be found throughout the commands of the direct, perfect, uncheangable, eternal, perfectly preserved word of Allah, the Qur’an.
Surah 2:228 depicts Allah saying a man has to wait three monthly cycles before he can divorce his wife; in Surah 65:4, it gives exceptions to that rule: women who are too old, women who are too young, or women who are pregnant. This shows that child marriage was permissible. Additionally, the chapter heading of Sahih al-Bukhari 5133 is ‘Giving young children in marriage is permissible by virtue of Statement of Allah’. The chapter cites verses 65:4 as well as the words of Aisha, who repeats that Muhammad consummated their marriage when she was nine years old.
Women are property when married, as Surah 4:24 states: ‘And married women [are also forbidden], except all that your right hand possesses. This is the decree of Allah for you. And it is lawful to you, besides this, to seek out women with your money, chaste without fornication. So, whatever you enjoy by it (their sexual parts) from them, so give them their wages; it is an ordinance’. This is followed by Surah 4:34, where Allah says ‘Men are in charge of women’ and ‘of whom you fear rebellion, so preach to them and separate from them in the beds and scourge them’. Equality is not present in the sources. If a man wants to engage in an extra-marital sexual affair, it is legitimised in Sahih al-Bukhari 5075.
Surah 2:282 shows that a woman is half as intelligent as a man, as two women are required in the place of one man to judge: ‘if one of them should make an error, the other may cause her to remember’. In Sahih Muslim 7099, Muhammad says; ‘Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler’. This, yet again, does not fit in with Hazleton’s feminist Qur’an, and you cannot change the direct and perfect word of Allah, so reform in such passages is impossible.
Jannah would be a hellish place for Lesley Hazleton. Aside from disgusting sources such as page 351 of Al-Suyuti Al-Itqan fi Ulum Al-Qur’an and Sunan Ibn Majah, Zuhd 39, we find many references to Jannah in the Qur’an. Surah 78:31-34 involves ‘Surely to the fearing ones triumph, gardens and vineyards, and women of equal age with large breasts, and a cup dihāqan (filled, a non-Arabic word of Mesopotamian origin)’ while in Surah 55:56-57, Allah asks ‘In them those who restrain their eyes, whom neither human nor jinn has ever had sex with before them. So which of the bounties of your lord will you deny?’, before asking the same question in 55:70-73: ‘In them, good and beautiful maidens. So which of the bounties of your lord will you deny? Hūr confined in the khaima. So which of the bounties of your lord will you deny? No human nor jinn has ever had sex with.’ Hūr are defined as ‘the ever-virgins of the gardens with white skin, large dark eyes, and large breasts’. Khaima means tents, a word of Abyssinian origin. More details about Jannah can be seen in Surahs 41:51-55, 56:22-24 and 56:35-37.
Hazleton’s segment about Aisha’s adultery story is mostly irrelevant, aside from her last statement on it: ‘extremist scholars would twist this horrible, arguing that in the lack of four eye-witnesses, an impossibility, any woman that testified to having been raped was be default admitting to adultery and therefore to be punished accordingly. If Aisha could have foreseen this, she’d have been horrified, outraged and anything but silent’. This is all simply speculation, as the idea of four witnesses for an accusation was well established at the time of Muhammad (as well as in the Qur’an at 24:4 and 24:13). Muhammad was not an ‘extremist scholar’. If rape could not be proven, the woman would be admitting to intercourse with the man, which would be adultery. Aisha would have had ample time to stand up to this idea, but there are no recorded sources where she did so.
Lesley Hazleton ends her presentation with the following; ‘It seems to me like Aisha’s life is so full of irony precisely because she could not be pigeon-holed [or] cast in the stereotypically feminine role, so while I may not know if I’d have liked her, I do know that as a feminist I have to admire her, this fearless 7th century woman whom I suspect would be utterly at home in the 21st [Century].’ Reading these sentiments back into the sources is incredibly odd. Hazleton’s only evidence for the character of Aisha she wants to portray is the fact that she was ‘leading’ an army in a battle the Muslims comically lost and compiled many Islamic sources. These things do not make her ‘fearless.’
Women in Islam are horrifically abused, often accepting the abuse as it is morally righteous from Allah and Muhammad, and this must be remembered. In Sahih al-Bukhari 6971, we read Muhammad saying: ‘Her (a virgin girl) silence means her consent’. Add the requirement of the hijab from Surahs 24:31 and 33:59 and the result is a worrying picture of women in Islam, one that Hazleton would quickly want to erase. There are many additional Islamic sources that degrade woman to an unbelievable level, but I will conclude now with a quote from Aisha herself, the teenage girl who had to wash semen off the clothes of her elderly husband and witness her fellow Muslim women beaten until their skin turned green, from Sahih al-Bukhari 5825: ‘I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women.’