Refutation of Modern Apologetics Against Aisha's Age
Some apologists have recently claimed that Aisha was actually older than nine lunar years at time of the consummation of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad. They have attempted to explain that Aisha was in fact not nine-years-old as the Sahih hadiths of her own testimony claim, but some other ages derived from misquotations, indirect sources, fuzzy dating techniques and slander. These dubious research techniques have led to several conflicting ages to be proposed for Aisha at the time of consummation, including 12, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 21 years. This article analyzes every single argument that has been put forward, and provides additional information on the origins and history of the "Aisha was older" apologetic arguments, and the only logical purpose behind making them.
The arguments raised by some apologists 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. This is certainly not the case. There is no argument over interpretation. The text clearly say one thing and one thing only. For those who have actually read the source material, it is disingenuous to claim otherwise. 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. There is not a single serious Muslim scholar, someone who is accepted in the Muslim world and by mainstream Muslims as being representative of their beliefs, who would repeat these claims. Thus, the only purpose they serve is to deflect valid criticism from a belief that continues to result in millions of young girls being forced into pedophilic child marriages by individuals, and even entire nations, all of whom explicitly use Aisha's relationship with Muhammad as justification.
The majority of Muslims today, including both scholars and the general Muslim population, agree that Aisha was 9 when her marriage to Prophet Muhammad was consummated. This has been the mainstream Muslim understanding throughout Islam's 1,400 year history.
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 neither a respected nor a notable figures as far as Islam is concerned, since he belonged to the Ahmadiyya whose beliefs drastically differ from mainstream Islam. The Ahmadiyya and their writings are also heavily focused on missionary work.
Adding to Ali's objections, there is Habib Ur Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi (1924-1991) 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". A posthumous fatwa was issued against him in November 2004, labelling him a "Munkir-e-Hadith" (hadith rejector) and a "Kafir" (infidel) on the basis of being a rejector of hadith.
More recently, there is 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 a little popularity among a few orthodox Muslims. However, this popularity seems to be strictly limited to articles or arguments on the Internet. Clearly a knee-jerk reaction to the avalanche in online criticism of Muhammad's life, as opposed to a tangible shift in beliefs.
In July 2005, Shaykh Dr. Gibril Fouad Haddad responded to Moiz Amjad's polemics with, "Our Mother A'isha's Age At The Time Of Her Marriage to The Prophet", published at SunniPath.com. Including many facts that are easily verifiable for those who have access to the hadith and sira literature, he dismantled the distortions being spread by apologists. For example, his analysis highlighted the fact that many of the arguments were based solely on faulty assumptions taken from hadiths completely unrelated to Aisha's age, or were misrepresenting the sources that were being cited (i.e. they actually supported the fact that Aisha was 9). To this day, his scholarly reply remains unanswered by Moiz Amjad. Haddad, who was listed amongst the inaugural "500 most influential Muslims in the world", is a Muslim scholar and muhaddith (hadith expert) who is taken very seriously by mainstream Muslims. He is also a vocal critic of Salafi fundamentalism.
Since the publication of Haddad's definitive response, Moiz Amjad's highly convoluted arguments, with all of their obvious faults intact, have continued to be rehashed by countless apologists on the Internet with the same missionary and apologetic focus. Other transmitters of these arguments include, but are not limited to; T.O Shavanas, “Imam” Chaudhry (word-for-word plagiarism of Amjad's work), Zahid Aziz, Nilofar Ahmed, and David Liepert.
The following series of arguments were presented by Moiz Amjad. We have chosen to analyze and respond to them specifically, due to his polemics encompassing every single claim made by other modern-day apologists who sometimes use a few, or even all of them as their own. They do this often without acknowledging Amjad as the true source of their claims.
First Argument: Number of Narrators
This is a classic Straw man. There is no requirement in Islam for multiple narrations. Even a single sahih hadith is sufficient to establish Islamic laws and practices.
Shaykh Gibril Haddad also refutes the claim that most of these narratives are reported only by Hisham ibn Urwah.
Shaykh Gibril F Haddad, SunniPath, Question ID: 4604, July 3, 2005, http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=7&ID=4604&CATE=1.
Second Argument: Locality
Another Straw man. There is no requirement for a hadith to be narrated in Medina for it to be considered sahih. Also, many events in the Prophet’s life were narrated by single narratives as well. Does that make them invalid? No. To demand multiple, independent narrations from Medinans is just setting up a standard that does not exist – i.e. a straw man.
Shaykh Haddad also refutes this argument by listing the people from Medina who reported this event.
Third Argument: Reliability of Hisham
The actual statements, their translations and their complete references are given below:
Yaqub ibn Shaibah says: He [i.e. Hisham] is highly reliable, his narratives are acceptable, except what he narrated after shifting to Iraq. (Tehzeeb al-Tehzeeb, Ibn Hajar Al-`asqalaaniy, Arabic, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, Vol. 11, pg. 50)
I have been told that Malik [ibn Anas] objected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported through people of Iraq. (Tehzi'bu'l-tehzi'b, Ibn Hajar Al-`asqala'ni, Arabic, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, Vol. 11, pg. 50)
According to Shaykh Haddad, Amjad’s third argument is either misrepresentation or a lie. Apparently, the slander against Hisham ibn Urwah is unfounded and unsupported by closer reading of Amjad’s own reference.
As for Malik, he reports over 100 hadiths from Hisham as is evident in the two Sahihs and Sunan! to the point that al-Dhahabi questions the authenticity of his alleged criticism of Hisham.
Indeed, none among the hadith Masters endorsed these reservations since they were based solely on the fact that Hisham in his last period (he was 71 at the time of his last trip to Iraq), for the sake of brevity, would say, "My father, from `A'isha? (abi `an `A'isha)" and no longer pronounced, "narrated to me (haddathani)".
Al-Mizzi in Tahdhib al-Kamal (30:238) explained that it became a foregone conclusion for the Iraqis that Hisham did not narrate anything from his father except what he had heard directly from him.
Ibn Hajar also dismisses the objections against Hisham ibn `Urwa as negligible in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (11:45), saying: "It was clear enough to the Iraqis that he did not narrate from his father other than what he had heard directly from him".In fact, to say that "narratives reported by Hisham ibn `Urwa are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq" is major nonsense as that would eliminate all narrations of Ayyub al-Sakhtyani from him since Ayyub was a Basran Iraqi, and those of Abu `Umar al-Nakha`i who was from Kufa, and those of Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman from Kufa (the Shaykh of Abu Hanifa), and those of Hammad ibn Salama and Hammad ibn Zayd both from Basra, and those of Sufyan al-Thawri from Basra, and those of Shu`ba in Basra, all of whom narrated from Hisham!
Fourth Argument: Hisham's Memory
The actual statement, its translation and its complete references is given below:
This is another slander in which the accuser does not correlate Hisham’s memory loss with the ‘Aisha’s age’ hadiths. Hisham was born in 61 A.H. and died in 146 A.H. at Baghdad – meaning he was 85 years old when he died. He moved to Iraq when he was 71 years old. When did his memory fail him? The accuser provides no answer.
In fact, Shaykh Haddad accuses Moiz Amjad of outright lying.
Fifth Argument: Revelation Time of Surah al-Qamar
The actual statements referred to in the above paragraph, their translations and their complete references are given below:
The precise date of the revelation of Surah al-Qamar is unknown. Ibn Hajar, Maududi, and other traditionalists said it was revealed 5 years before Hijrah (muslimhope). Zahid Aziz said it was revealed before 6 BH. Khatib said it was revealed in 8 BH. Amjad does not name his source for his claim that the verse was revealed in 9 BH. The point is that the precise date of revelation of Surah al-Qamar is unknown, and using an imprecise date to calculate Aisha’s age is not only ridiculous but stupid. However, if an estimate must be used, then why not use Ibn Hajar’s estimate which is more authoritative and traditionally accepted than Amjad’s unnamed source?
Shaykh Haddad confirms this. He also proves that the traditional estimate of the revelation of Surah al-Qamar is consistent with Aisha’s age being nine years.
Thus it is confirmed that our Mother `Aisha was born between seven and eight years before the Hijra and the words that she was a jariya or little girl five years before the Hijra match the fact that her age at the time Surat al-Qamar was revealed was around 2 or 3.A two year old is not an infant. A two year old is able to run around, which is what jariya means. As for "the comments of the experts" they concur on 6 or 7 as the age of marriage and 9 as the age of cohabitation.
Thus, Amjad’s attempt to throw doubt on Aisha’s age by using a non-traditional (i.e. spurious) estimate for the date of revelation of Surah al-Qamar is easily debunked.
This is what Amjad later said, which totally debunks his own argument above.
Ibn Hajar in his commentary "Fath al-Baariy" has indeed mentioned that the incident of the splitting of the moon took place around 5 years before the Hijrah. Nevertheless, this statement does not qualify as an "agreement" of 'traditionalists and commentators'. Maududi's referred statement, in my opinion, is not adequately substantiated. A more accurate statement would have been that all the commentators and traditionalists agree on the point that the incident of the splitting of the moon took place while the Prophet (pbuh) was in Mekkah.As for the time of the revelation of Surah Al-Qamar, it can be estimated through the sequence of the revelation of the Surahs as given in Ibn Shihaab's "Tanzeel al-Qur'an", Suyutiy's "Al-Ittiqaan", and Al-Zarkashiy's "Al-Burhan fi Uloom al-Qur'an". According to each of these sources, the period of revelation of Surah Al-Qamar was the same as that of Al-Balad (90), Qaaf (50), Al-Humazah (104), Al-Tariq (86), Al-Jinn (72) and Saad (38 ). All of these Surahs are generally held to be revealed during the initial period of prophethood. Maududi, in his commentary, has acknowledged that each of these Surahs was revealed during the initial period of the Prophet's ministry.
So now we have Amjad backtracking on his claim that the date of revelation of Surah al-Qamar can be determined precisely. Initially he claimed it was in 9BH. Now he says it’s some undefined time in the Meccan period. Thus, it can be seen that Amjad himself has finally seen the absurdity of his own argument.
Sixth Argument: Battle of Badr and Uhud
A narrative regarding Ayesha's (ra) participation in Badr is given in Muslim, Kitaab al-jihaad wa al-siyar, Arabic, Bab karahiyah al-isti`anah fi al-ghazwi bikafir. Ayesha (ra) while narrating the journey to Badr and one of the important events that took place in that journey, says:
When we reached Shajarah.
It is quite obvious from these words that Ayesha (ra) was with the group traveling toward Badr.
A narrative regarding Ayesha's (ra) participation in the battle of `uhud is given in Bukhari, Kitaab al-jihaad wa al-siyar, Arabic, Baab Ghazwi al-nisaa wa qitalihinna ma`a al-rijaal.
Anas reports that On the day of Uhud, people could not stand their ground around the Prophet (pbuh). [On that day,] I saw Ayesha (ra) and Umm-e-Sulaim (ra), they had pulled their dress up from their feet [to save them from any hindrance in their movement]."
As far as the fact that children below 15 years were sent back and were not allowed to participate in the battle of `uhud, it is narrated in Bukhari, Kitaab al-maghaazi, Baab ghazwah al-khandaq wa hiya al-ahzaab, Arabic.
Women and young children went to the battlefields to perform other functions.
Therefore, it is clear that the fifteen-year age threshold applied only to boys, and Amjad’s line of argument is clearly false.
Shaykh Haddad also showed that Amjad had used false or incomplete information.
So, Aisha did not participate in Badr at all, despite Amjad’s assertion. It is also illuminating to know that Amjad had partially quoted the Uhud hadiths to falsely convey the impression that Aisha participated at Uhud when the hadiths are clear in that she was merely carrying water skins to the combatants. The last part of the hadith was omitted, either deliberately or inadvertently, an act some people may consider disingenuous.
Seventh Argument: Asma's Age
The relevant references required in this argument are provided below:
For the Difference of Ayesha's (ra) and Asma's (ra) Age:
According to Abd al-Rahman ibn abi zannaad:
Asma (ra) was ten years older than Ayesha. (Siyar A`la'ma'l-nubala', Al-Zahabi, Vol. 2, pg. 289, Arabic, Mu'assasatu'l-risala'h, Beirut, 1992)
According to Ibn Kathir:
She [i.e. Asma] was ten years elder to her sister [i.e. Ayesha]. (Al-Bidaayah wa al-Nihaayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, pg. 371, Arabic, Dar al-fikr al-`arabiy, Al-jizah, 1933)
For Asma's (ra) Age at Her Death in 73 AH
According to Ibn Kathir:
She [i.e. Asma] witnessed the killing of her son during that year [i.e. 73 AH], as we have already mentioned, five days later she herself died, according to other narratives her death was not five but ten or twenty or a few days over twenty or a hundred days later. The most well known narrative is that of hundred days later. At the time of her death, she was 100 years old. (Al-Bidaayah wa al-Nihaayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, pg. 372, Arabic, Dar al-fikr al-`arabiy, Al-jizah, 1933).
According to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalaaniy:
Amjad’s objection to Sina’s analysis is similar to that of the previous argument.
Apparently Amjad is not worried that his arguments all derive conflicting ages for Aisha, thus debunking each other.
Shaykh Haddad also challenges the accuracy of the information, thus casting doubt on Amjad’s source material.
Using inaccurate data, Amjad assumes Asma was older than Aisha by 10 years when a more reliable source says the age difference is up to 19 years. Taking this more reliable information calculates Aisha’s age at around nine years old, completely in accordance with the sahih hadiths where Aisha herself said she was nine years old.
Eighth Argument: Tabari's Account
The original statement in Tabari, its translation and reference follows:
Shaykh Gibril Haddad says that the evidence Amjad provided above is false.
There is also no need to make oblique calculations using Tabari when Tabari explicitly states Aisha’s age several times.
These are Tabari’s direct accounts. He reported it at least five times, making it clear that this was what he deemed authoritative.
Ninth Argument: Time of Umar's Conversion to Islam
Muslimhope shows that even if we were to believe that Aisha accepted Islam before Umar, it doesn’t mean this took place during the first year of Islam since Umar converted in 617AD, about 4 years after Aisha’s birth in 613AD. Thus, Amjad had made a miscalculation here.
3. ‘Umar became a Muslim just after the first migration to Ethiopia (617 A.D.) according to Ibn Ishaq p.155,156. So what Ibn Hisham counts as A’isha’s "conversion" could be between birth and three years old.
2. A’isha never converted to Islam, because she never remembered a time when Mohammed did not come by twice a day and her parents were not Muslims. This is prior to the first migration to Ethiopia (617 A.D.) (Bukhari 5:245 p.158).
Besides disputing the claim that Ibn Hisham reported that Aisha accepted Islam quite some time before `umar ibn al-Khattab, Shaykh Haddad also casts doubt on Amjad’s logic.
Tenth Argument: Abu Bakr's Migration to Habshah
Muslimhope shows that Amjad’s logic is wrong and not based on fact.
Shaykh Haddad also casts doubt as to the veracity of Amjad’s Tabari evidence, admittedly derived from a secondary reference that Amjad never checked.
Eleventh Argument: Meaning of Bikr
Sina has refuted this argument.
And Amjad has agreed:
Shaykh Gibril Haddad also adds:
Twelfth Argument: Fatima's Age Difference
Ibn Hajar's original statement, its translation and reference follows:
Using Fatima’s age difference with Aisha to refute the Aisha’s Age sahih hadiths is a logical fallacy because the biography of Fatima is conflicting. Nobody knows for sure when Fatima was born (when her father was a nobody), and though her death was well-recorded her age at death is not known for certain.
The traditional account is that she was born on Friday, 20th jumada ` th-thaaniyah in the fifth year after the declaration of the prophet - hood (615 AD), which means she was about the same age as Aisha.
It is reported on the authority of Jabir ibn Yazid that (the fifth Imam) al-Baqir was asked: "How long did Fatimah live after the Messenger of Allah?" He answered: "Four months; she died at the age of twenty-three." This view is close to that reported by the traditionists of the (Sunni) majority. They have asserted that she was born in the forty-first year of the. Messenger of Allah's life. This means that she was born one year after the Prophet was sent by Allah as a messenger. The scholar Abu Sa'id al-Hafiz relates in his book Sharafu' n-Nabiyy that all the children of the Messenger of Allah were born before Islam except Fatimah and Ibrahim, who were born in Islam.Reference: Abu Ali al-Fadl ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Fadl at-Tabrisi (c. 468/1076 - 548/1154)
Some say she was born ten years earlier than Aisha. Those who believe this also believe Fatima was aged 29 years when she died, not the 18 years traditionally believed.
Sina has refuted the accuracy of Amjad’s information:
Shaykh Gibril Haddad showed that Ibn Hajar was merely reporting what some narrators reported, not his own conclusion, and Amjad chose the wrong narration and also wrongly attributed that narration to Ibn Hajar, who was merely the reporter.
In conclusion, Fatima’s birth date is uncertain. Despite this, Amjad used a non-traditional estimate to cast doubt on Aisha’s age, when the traditional account exactly matches the established facts. Note that Amjad omitted the traditional account in his Ibn Hajar reference, choosing instead one that is clearly in error. Some might view this deliberate omission to be disingenuous.
Thirteenth Argument: Arab Tradition
Although we agree there is no evidence to support the claim (usually made by Muslims in defence of Muhammad's pedophilia) that it was an Arab tradition to give away pre-pubescent young girls in marriage to old men, no credence should be given to mere ‘opinion’ of Aisha's age of consummation when there are sahih hadiths that explicitly state that Aisha married and had sex with Muhammad when she was aged only nine.
Although an ad hominem, this neatly summarizes what an actual Muslim scholar thinks about Moiz Amjad’s scholarship.
Apologists have presented a series of arguments as to why the generally accepted understanding of Aisha’s age (i.e. nine-years-old) when she married and had sex with Muhammad, based on commonly known narratives, is erroneous and contradictory. However, on closer inspection, we find they have produced arguments that can be broadly categorized into these categories:
- A. Unjustified slanders against Hisham ibn Urwah and the Iraqi narrators.
- B. The use of non-sahih information to refute otherwise sahih hadiths.
- C. The use of secondary, indirect sources in preference of direct testimonies.
- D. The use of ‘imprecise’ dating in preference to specific dates and statements of age.
- E. The use of misquoted references and erroneous information.
- F. The use of incorrect logic.
- G. Personal opinion.
When one examines their claims, one sees that their arguments contradict and debunk each other. Argument No. 5 says she was 14 to 21 years old. However, argument No. 6 says she was 15+, argument No. 7 says she was 17 or 18, argument No. 8 says Aisha was 14+, argument No. 9 says she was 12+, and argument No. 12 says she was 12. In other words, each and every one of the evidences contradicts and debunks all the others. Which of these so-called arguments is correct? They cannot all be correct. Clearly the apologists do not have a clue.
They have used doubtful data and assumptions for their calculations. In reality, all the arguments are false. Instead of using sahih hadiths, they use non-sahih source material. Instead of using specific and clear age testimony, they use events that cannot possibly be dated with any degree of accuracy. Instead of using traditions of acknowledged authenticity, they prefer to believe unsubstantiated slander and misquotations. Hardly a solid foundation for establishing facts. No wonder they cannot provide a consistent answer to the question of Aisha’s age.
Their argument appears to be that because they themselves, using spurious information, derive multiple conflicting ages for the one specific event in Aisha’s life, then we must throw out what we know about her age at this event. In effect, they are saying that just because they are using rubbish data, we have to throw out the sahih hadiths. However, this is not the logical outcome. A reasonable person would note that whilst their arguments debunk each other, all of the sahih hadith in regards to Aisha's age of consummation are in perfect harmony. Thus, rather than discarding the good with the bad, we will merely throw out the bad; in this case, the weak apologetic attempt to obfuscate our understanding that Aisha was aged nine when she married and had sex with Muhammad.
- Shaykh Gibril Haddad - Biography of Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad at SunniPath, The online Islamic Academy
- Evidence Muhammad was a pedophile - FFI forum thread which deals with further apologetics
- Really, really wishing Aisha weren't nine - Robert Spencer debates a typical non-Muslim apologist for Islam
- Responses to "The Learner" (Moiz Amjad) and others - Collection of Answering Islam articles
This article is greatly indebted to the following:
- Dr Ali Sina, founder of Faith Freedom International and author of Understanding Muhammad, for Controversies about the age of Aisha
- Dr. Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, scholar and muhaddith (hadith expert), for Our Mother A'isha's Age At The Time Of Her Marriage to The Prophet
- The Muslimhope website, for A’isha: Mohammed’s Nine-Year Old Wife
- Zahid Aziz - Age of Aisha (ra) at time of marriage - Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha`at Islam Lahore Inc. U.S.A. (for a refutation to the issues raised by Aziz's tu-quoque defence, titled "Mary and Joseph", click here)
- 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)"
- The original fatwa and the English translation branding Habib Ur Rahman Siddiqui Kandhalvi's beliefs outside of Islam, thus making him a 'kafir', can be viewed here: Fatwa's on hadith rejectors?
- See: "What was Ayesha's (ra) Age at the Time of Her Marriage?", by Moiz Amjad.
- Shaykh Gibril F Haddad - Our Mother A'isha's Age At The Time Of Her Marriage to The Prophet - Sunni Path, Question ID:4604, July 3, 2005
- Edited by Prof. John Esposito and Prof. Ibrahim Kalin - The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World (P. 94) - The royal islamic strategic studies centre, 2009
- Stephen Schwartz - Wahhabis in America - Islam Daily, February 26, 2005
- T.O Shanavas - AYESHA’s AGE: THE MYTH OF A PROVERBIAL WEDDING EXPOSED - Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
- Imam Chaudhry - 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)? - Islamic Supreme Council of Canada
- Nilofar Ahmed - Of Aisha’s age at marriage - Dawn, February 17, 2012
- Dr. David Liepert - Rejecting the Myth of Sanctioned Child Marriage in Islam - The Huffington Post, January 29, 2011 (for direct responses to David Liepert, see: Rejecting Dr. David Liepert's "Aisha Was Older" Apologetic Myth & Muhammad, Child brides, and David Liepert)
- Fatimah az-Zahra - (A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles, p. 47-53)
- A Brief Biography of Fatima (A.S) the daughter of the Last Messenger and the Mother of Imams - Ummah.net