Rejecting Dr. David Liepert's "Aisha Was Older" Apologetic Myth

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This article is an essay/op-ed by Islamo-Critic. Pen-icon2.png
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I have not yet watched the "Innocence of Muslims" clip, and doubt that I ever will. This is because I can think of better ways of spending a spare quarter-hour than staring at rubbish. The film includes references to the Prophet Muhammad's 9-year-old child bride, Aisha. I know this because people in the skeptics community are asking, how factual is this movie really? And some well-intentioned people are replying with claims that "not one thing in the movie is factual", that , "Most scholars for the last 1200 years suggest Aisha was 11-14", and one person even provided a link to an apologetic piece by a Muslim named Dr. David Liepert at the Huffington Post titled, "Rejecting the Myth of Sanctioned Child Marriage in Islam".

Apparently the arguments raised by Liepert and others have given many the false impression that Aisha's age is a long contested issue in Islam, and that it is a valid argument over interpretation that could eventually lead to reforms within mainstream Islam. The problem I have with this, is that it is certainly not an argument over interpretation. The text clearly say one thing and one thing only. For anyone with a little knowledge on the subject and who has actually read the source material, it is disingenuous to claim otherwise. For people like Liepert, simply lying about what sources say may be effective in apologetic pieces, but they are useless if the intentions behind them are to reform the religion.

To explain in a language my readers may understand better; there are valid theological or factual arguments/disagreements, and then there is absurd nonsense that is not worthy of being entertained. For example; there are lots of creationists who claim evolution is not factual because "monkeys still exist, so we haven't evolved from them!!!", and other such protests. Scientists schooled in evolution (in fact, anyone with an ounce of knowledge on the subject) will either laugh or feel pity for those gullible enough to fall for these arguments. The last thing they or anyone will do is claim evolution is in doubt because there are some non-peer reviewed arguments to the contrary posted by obscure individuals on the Internet....

Can you see where I'm going with this?

The claim that most scholars for the last 1200 years have suggested Aisha was 11-14 at the time of her marriage to Muhammad is blatantly in error. To the best of my knowledge, the first ever pro-Muhammad and provably faulty objection raised to Aisha's age was by Maulana Muhammad Ali who lived from 1874 to 1951. He is a nobody as far as mainstream Islam is concerned, since he belonged to the Ahmadiyya whose beliefs drastically differ from them (think of the difference between Judaism to Christianity, or Christianity to Islam, and you're on the right track). The Ahmadiyya and their writings put particular emphasis on missionary work, so there is little surprise that they would be the first to tackle the issue of Aisha's marriage. In fact, many western converts to Islam, being fooled by disingenuous Ahmadi missionaries like Dr. Faheem Younus into believing Islam is pacifistic, actually begin their religious lives as Ahmadis before moving on to the less tolerant mainstream Sunni Islam.

Then there is Habib Ur Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi who in his Urdu booklet, "Tehqiq e umar e Siddiqah e Ka'inat" (English trans. 1997), laments that he is "tired of defending this tradition" that is "laughed" at and "ridiculed" by English-educated individuals he meets in Karachi who claim it is against "sagacity and prudence" and "preferred English society to Islam over this", and he readily admits his "aim is to produce an answer to the enemies of Islam who spatter mud at the pious body of the Generous Prophet". Unsurprisingly, a posthumous fatwa was issued against him in November 2004, labeling him a "Munkir-e-Hadith" (hadith rejector) and a "Kafir" (infidel) on the basis of being a rejector of hadith.

More recently, we have Moiz Amjad (who refers to himself as "The Learner"). He readily admits to having lifted these faulty arguments from them, summarizing and presenting them in response to a Muslim asking him how he can respond to Christians who called Muhammad a pedophile (i.e. all of his arguments, like Ali's and Kandhalvi's before him, were apologetic in nature rather than scholarly). It was at this very recent point in history that the arguments originating from the Ahmadiyya in the 1920s and 1930s finally achieved some limited popularity among a few orthodox Muslims on the Internet. Clearly a knee-jerk reaction to the avalanche in criticism of Muhammad's life, as opposed to any real significant shift in beliefs.

Since then, his arguments have been rehashed by countless apologists on the Internet with the same missionary and apologetic focus. Dr. David Liepert's copy of these arguments are clearly aimed at Christians and other "Islamophobes" (apparently, he cannot envision a fourth reason for disagreeing with his ignorance, e.g. for the reason of Intellectual honesty). The funny thing about these people is that they have evidently not read the source material, or are not knowledgeable on the subjects they discuss with such feigned authority, because, even though Liepert claims his "conclusions [are] little more than simple common sense", they lift these highly convoluted arguments based on assumptions from Moiz Amjad with all of their obvious lies and faults intact. Additionally, since these 'arguments' are so specific, their original source is obvious, but Liepert and others never choose to reveal this to their readers. Instead they play on their target audience's ignorance, choosing to peddle it as their own 'research' (only recently, I dealt with another apologist doing the very same thing. After I replied to him, he deleted his article within 2 hours).

What I'm saying is, there is not a single serious Muslim scholar (someone who is not considered a complete kook by mainstream Muslims or has less knowledge of the sources than a layman like myself) who would repeat these arguments. Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad, who was listed amongst the inaugural "500 most influential Muslims in the world" (p. 94), is a Muslim scholar who is taken very seriously by mainstream Muslims, and deserves my respect simply for taking a stand against Salafi fundamentalism without having to lower himself to the standards held by the likes of Dr. Liepert and others. He responded to Amjad's polemics more than 5 years ago and it has remained unanswered. There has never been a response to "Our Mother A'isha's Age At The Time Of Her Marriage to The Prophet". I've presented it to many apologists and they have never countered any of it, simply because they cant. Shaykh Haddad's response is quite literally the "be all and end all of the argument". Including many facts that are easily verifiable for those who have access to the hadith and sira literature, he annihilates the lies and distortions being spread by apologists.

Fact; Liepert is lying through his teeth when claiming there is only 1 chain of narration for Aisha's age. There are in fact multiple reliable narrations from many different chains of narrators (lifting their classification from sahih to mutawatir, the highest class of narrations). I've read at least 4 different narrations in Sahih Bukhari and 3 in Sahih Muslim that state she was 9. There are many others in Abu Dawud, Ibn Ishaq, Al Tabari's History, etc., that state the same thing. There is none to the contrary.

Fact; even though he claims "it is a matter of incontrovertible historical record", Liepert is lying through his teeth when claiming Aisha took part in the Battle of Badr and Uhud, and thus was fifteen years of age. Sahih hadith state the exact opposite, that she only bid farewell to the combatants of Badr and only carried water skins back and forth to the combatants of Uhud (the age restriction applied only to combatants. It applied neither to non-combatant boys nor to non-combatant girls).

Fact; Liepert is lying through his teeth when claiming Aisha accepted Islam shortly after it was revealed -- 12 years before her marriage. Nowhere does Ibn Hisham's recension of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah say this. Rather, Ibn Hisham lists Aisha among "those that accepted Islam because of Abu Bakr." Abu Bakr being Aisha's father, the first Rightly-Guided Caliph of Islam.

Liepert shamelessly spews lie after lie and distortion after distortion, but rather than me going through every single one of them, I suggest reading Shaykh Haddad's unanswered reply to Moiz Amjad and WikiIslam's article on the same subject.

Some of the things that are not covered in those replies include:

Liepert claims that "the Quran doesn't condone wife-beating either. In pre-Islamic Arabia, men did not need permission to beat their wives. And although the Arabic root Dzaraba does mean "beat" it also means "heal." Dzaraba denotes action for a higher purpose, such as "striking (or minting) a coin," or "striking out on a new path." Note that Liepert's deception is two-fold here. Not only is he playing on his target audiences ignorance of the Arabic language, he is also playing on their ignorance of Arabian History.

His first claim was lifted from another American Muslim apologist named Laleh Bakhtiar. "Dzaraba" and its usage in Qur'an 4:34 linguistically does not leave room for any other meaning than to physically beat someone. His second claim is not original either. Muslim apologists love to exaggerate the so-called "Period of Ignorance" (Jahiliyah), painting all pre-Islamic Arabians as backward, cave-dwelling Neanderthals. This is a view that is contradicted by Islam's own text. In Sahih Bukhari 7:6:715, a Muslim woman complains to Muhammad about her husband beating her until her skin literally turned green. Muhammad refuses to condemn this behavior. Instead choosing to provide his tacit approval of wife-beating by siding with the husband. Ironically, it is the young Aisha who refutes Liepert's claim when she exclaims, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" This of course means Muslim women in Arabia were being treated worse than their pagan and Abrahamic Arabian counterparts.

Liepert claims that "the Sunnah confirms that both Aisha's betrothal and consummation occurred with Aisha's enthusiastic agreement. In fact, some even imply she went against the initial wishes of her Dad!". This is a blatant lie. In Islam, a bride's father or father's father may "compel their charge to marry... without her consent." In fact, Muslim scholars are "unanimously agreed that a father may marry off his young daughter without consulting her". This is all based on the unquestionable fact that Aisha did not give her consent to the marriage. It is true that the betrothal went against the initial wishes of Aisha's father. But it was not Aisha who pressured him for the union, it was Muhammad. Naturally, the child's father protested. As for Aisha's claimed enthusiasm to consummate the marriage, her own words paint a very different picture: "When the Prophet married me... nothing surprised me but the coming of Allah's Apostle to me in the forenoon."

Liepert also claims that Christians attack Islam for pedophilia, but Muslims never attack Christianity for it. This is, once again, a provable lie. Muslims often attack both Christians and Jews with the accusation that their faiths allow pedophilia. Most Christians apparently couldn't care less, but WikiIslam has several sections that destroy their very silly and desperate arguments (for example; see here, here and here). Not only do Muslim apologists erroneously accuse Judaism of permitting pedophilia, they actually go one step further than the Christian "Islamophobes" and accuse the Christian god himself of being a pedophile (how's that for some Muslim "Christophobia"?).

Liepert amazingly blames "Islamophobes", in addition to blaming Muslims (including imam Bukhari, who is considered to be one of the greatest Muslims to have ever lived), for perpetuating child marriages in the Muslim world. Well, I have news for him. The blame squarely falls on one individual. With an age difference of 45 years, this individual married a child 6 times younger than himself (Aisha was 9 and he was 54). Because of this individual's actions, millions of young girls today are forced into pedophilic child marriages by individuals, and even entire nations, who explicitly use Aisha's relationship with him as justification. Yes, this man is none other than Prophet Muhammad. Someone who more than a billion people believe is the greatest and most moral man to have ever walked this earth.

If anything today is helping to perpetuate the existence of pedophilic child marriages in the Muslim world, it is the lies peddled by these shameless individuals. Change and reform is a result of honest discussion and criticism, the same honest discussion that these people are trying to avoid through inventing false myths, and the same honest criticism that these people are trying to stifle by smearing everyone who raises them as "Islamophobic" bigots. Change and reform is also the result of human self-reflection, the same self-reflection that these shameless people are trying their damnedest to isolate and immunize the Muslim world from.

I can understand theocratic zombies repeating rubbish as facts without doing any fact-checking, but it is not something I expect to see from skeptics. There seems to exist a collective fear that the truth may be too "Islamophobic" for us to acknowledge, so people tend to accept any excuse, any lie, put forward in defense of Islam. If the truth is too Islamophobic, then maybe we should reconsider flinging such a word so frivolously at anyone who criticizes Islam. Maybe it is about time we all got ourselves educated on Islam, on what its texts actually say, and on the views the majority of the world's Muslims still hold today. For this, we certainly do not need to waste precious time on reading fanciful fairy-tales written by apologists or watching trash like "Innocence of Muslims".

See Also[edit]

  • Aisha - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Aisha
  • Refutations - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Refutations

External Links[edit]

Accuracy of "Innocence of Muslims"

Responses to Dr. David Liepert

Additional Notes[edit]

  1. Since writing this response to Liepert, WikiIslam's article, "Refutation to Muslim Apologetics against Aisha's Age of Consummation", has been updated to include much of my information and commentary on the origins and history of the "Aisha was older" apologetic argument.
  2. From my tone in this piece, you've probably guessed I do not hold a positive view of this "Innocence of Muslims" clip. I personally have nothing against satire aimed at religious or political beliefs (for example, two videos that I'm particularly fond of can be viewed here and here), but even I have my standards.
  3. For examples of people claiming "monkeys still exist, so we haven't evolved from them!!!" , just Google: http://www.google.com/search?rls=en&q=monkeys+still+exist,+so+we+haven't+evolved+from+them
  4. Considering that Liepert is a "National Board member of the Canadian Islamic Chamber of Commerce" and is involved with many other Canadian-based Islamic initiatives, some may think my comparing him to "obscure individuals on the Internet" is unfair. But, in the grander scale of things, an "obscure individual" is in fact a very good description of what he actually is. According to a 2011 Pew Report, only "3% of the world’s Muslims live in more-developed regions, such as Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan." Only three percent. If we consider Canada on its own, that figure drops below single digits. Why is this statistic important to us? It is important because these provably false "modernist" claims are almost exclusively entertained by Muslims in these "more-developed" secular regions of the earth. Even within these secular regions, many, if not the majority of Muslims, still hold on to the mainstream Islamic views concerning Aisha's young age. Outside of this measly 3%, we have the other 97%, the 1.5 billion Muslims of the Middle-East, Africa, and Asia. Now, we evidently have these two opposing Muslim groups, but which of the two is more representative of mainstream Islam; the tiny percentage within an already tiny 3% or the 97+%? Make no mistake, the unorthodox views espoused by the likes of Liepert and other apologists are highly controversial, even among their Western co-religionists. For example, take the case of American Muslim apologist Laleh Bakhtiar whom I mentioned earlier. Liepert conveniently borrows her "Dzaraba" argument to deny that wife-beating is approved by the Qur'an. However, not so long ago, this very same argument landed Laleh Bakhtiar in hot water. In fact her claim was so controversial among the "moderate" Muslims of Canada, that the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) refused to sell her translation in their bookstores. So, when all things are considered, we can conclude that, certainly they, i.e. the Muslims that actually matter, overwhelmingly agree on Aisha's age and couldn't care less about what an obscure, white, convert in Canada has to say regarding their beliefs.
  5. Text from, "Age of Aisha (ra) at time of marriage", by Zahid Aziz that discuss Maulana M. Ali: "It appears that Maulana Muhammad Ali was the first Islamic scholar directly to challenge the notion that Aisha was aged six and nine, respectively, at the time of her nikah and consummation of marriage. This he did in, at least, the following writings: his English booklet Prophet of Islam, his larger English book Muhammad, the Prophet, and in the footnotes in his voluminous Urdu translation and commentary of Sahih Bukhari entitled Fadl-ul-Bari, these three writings being published in the 1920s and 1930s. In the booklet Prophet of Islam, which was later incorporated in 1948 as the first chapter of his book Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad..."
  6. On the major differences between mainstream Islam and the Ahmadiyya: the Ahmadiyya have an additional Prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and some additional religious texts (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's writings). So they are as different to mainstream Islam as Islam is to Christianity. After all, Islam is simply an additional Prophet (Muhammad) and some additional religious texts (Qur'an and Sunnah). Accordingly, Ahmadis are widely persecuted in Islamic countries because they are viewed as infidels by Muslims. In fact, they are often viewed as more heretical than the Christians and Jews who occupy the position of "dhimmis". Likewise, according to Ahmadi beliefs, only those who accept Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's prophethood are considered Muslims.
  7. All Habib Ur Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi quotations are taken from the Preface of the 2007 English translation of his Urdu booklet, "Tehqiq e umar e Siddiqah e Ka'inat", translated by Nigar Erfaney and published by Al-Rahman Publishing Trust under the title, "Age of Aisha (The Truthful Women, May Allah Send His Blessings)"
  8. The fatwa in full, branding Habib Ur Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi's beliefs outside of Islam, thus making him a 'kafir', from "Fatwa's on hadith rejectors?": "QUESTION: A book by the name of 'Mazhabi Dastanain Aur Unn Ki Haqeeqat' comprising of four volumes. This book is authored by Habib ar-Rahman Siddiqui Khandhalvi. Is the afore-mentioned person a Munkir-e-Hadith (Hadith Rejector) or a Pervaizi or does he in reality hold any scholarly status? Please tell me briefly about him. In this book, many views that are contradictory to the Aqeedah of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah are written, for example denial of Imam Mahdi and denial of Hazrat Ali being the 4th Caliph etc. What is the ruling for such a person and those who agree with his views, follow or propogate them?
    ANSWER: Habib ar-Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi is a Pervaizi (Munkir-e-Hadith). And Pervaiz and his adherents (Parvezi's) - the Ulema have declared them as Kafirs, on the basis of being rejectors of hadith. Habib ar-Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi [deceased] is the son of a renowned scholar of Islam, Ashfaq ar-Rahman Khandhalvi. Ashfaq ar-Rahman Kandhalvi is famous for his book Hujjat-al-Hadith. Both of them are relatives of Sheikh-ul-Hind Muhammad Idrees Khandhalvi (Sheikh-ul-Hadith). We do not know anything about Habib ar-Rahman Kandhalvi's scholarly status [calibre, competence, qualification] and neither are we aware of any details in regards to his Shuhrat [recognition, popularity, reputation] and Allah Ta'ala Knows Best
    Answer is correct/approved: Mufti Hameedullah Jhaan, Darul Iftaa Jamia Ashrafia Lahore, Pakistan November 5th 2004
    ".
  9. For the apologetic article that really started it all, see: "What was Ayesha's (ra) Age at the Time of Her Marriage?", by Moiz Amjad. And for examples of Moiz Amjad's arguments being rehashed by countless apologists on the Internet with the same missionary and apologetic focus, see: "Ayesha’s Age: The Myth Of A Proverbial Wedding Exposed," by T.O Shanavas; "What Was The Age of Ummul Mo'mineen Ayesha (May Allah be pleased with her) When She Married To Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)?," by 'Imam' Chaudhry (word-for-word plagiarism of Amjad's work); and "Of Aisha’s age at marriage," by Nilofar Ahmed.
  10. The only 3 reasons behind disagreeing with apologetic lies and ignorance, according to Liepert are, "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." This is of course a false dichotomy, meant to smear anyone who speaks honestly about what Islam's sources say as either a bigot or pervert.
  11. All of the ages for Aisha provided by the major hadith collections and the sira literature agree on her age at consummation. However, a Wikipedia article claims Tabari states Aisha was ten at consummation. The reference given for the claim is Tabari, Volume 9, Page 131; Tabari, Volume 7, Page 7. I own all 40 volumes of Tabari's History. Opening up both pages, Volume 7, Page 7 says she was aged nine. Nowhere does it claim she was ten. Volume 9, Page 131 says three times that she was nine. Nowhere does it claim she was ten. Volume 39, Pages 171-173 also confirms the same thing.
  12. The sahih hadith concerning Aisha's betrothal and consummation in full (note that the first narration is clearly the inspiration behind Liepert's disingenuous claim of Aisha going "against the initial wishes of her Dad!"):
    "Narrated 'Ursa: The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for 'Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said "But I am your brother." The Prophet said, "You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry."" - Sahih Bukhari 7:62:18
    "Narrated Aisha: When the Prophet married me, my mother came to me and made me enter the house (of the Prophet) and nothing surprised me but the coming of Allah's Apostle to me in the forenoon." - Sahih Bukhari 7:62:90