The Problem with Aisha

Among the most difficult questions a Muslim faces is that of Aisha.  It is a metaphor for the very problem with Islam today.

Narrated By 'Aisha : That the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. Hisham said: I have been informed that 'Aisha remained with the Prophet for nine years (i.e. till his death)."

Sahih Bukhari Book 62. Wedlock, Marriage (Nikah)  

Note also, that this is considered a strong Hadith.  Bukhari is considered to be perhaps the strongest book of Hadith as he took great pains to only include those Hadith with good sources.

Let us note again, that the Hadith are just historical records kept by people based on what they remembered or wrote down.  They form the basis of Islamic practice.

Now, the problem with this Hadith is self evident.  Mohamed married Aisha when he was 50+ and she was 6 years old.

Who of us would let a 50 year old man marry our 6 year daughter and have sex with her at 9?  The very idea puts most of us off.  It tears at the moral code written into our hearts.

Not only was she quite young, but there is also the issue of consent.
I often find the age of Aisha to be distracting as to the issue of consent.
She was married off when she was 6. What 6 year old can make a choice as to her future husband?
Much less the issue of consent when she actually consummated.

So what are the rational possibilities and what do they mean?
The possibilities listed here assume a tie in with Islam being correct.  It's not meant to be exhaustive, but I think it covers most of the general possibilities.
Of course if you're an Athiest or a non-believer, the easy answer is it didn't happen or Islam was a made up... in which case, this discussion is mute.

Things were different 'back then'

A common statement might be to say it was different back then.  We are talking about Arab society 1400 years ago.   So things that were common place back then (child marriages, slavery...) are not things that should be judged by today's standards.  Similar things were done in other cultures at the time. It was common for European kings to marry young girls as well.

What it means?

Taking this approach however, means you need view much of the Hadith in the context of its time.  Not just Aisha's age of course.  Yet, also things like violent punishments like cutting off the hands.  And most things can be updated to the modern day.

What of the things like beards, religious dress...? Surely if something as important as marriage to a child can be taken as 'it was different 'back then', then those items should also be viewed from the perspective of a different time.  It is often strange to see Muslim men who think we must grow a beard as 'that is how they lived back' then then explain away the marriage of Aisha by saying 'it was different back then'.  Ditto for Muslim women who wear the Hijab.

Another aspect I find troubling about this line of reasoning is that Muslims are supposed to view the prophet as an example... a more perfect man that we should try and emulate.  Why then explain his actions by saying 'he behaved like everyone around him'.  If he wanted to leave his example that men should marry women who have given their informed adult consent... then why marry such a young girl?

The Hadith is 'incorrect'

One might say the Hadith is incorrect.  Perhaps people remembered it incorrectly.  Perhaps someone lied for political purposes.  Perhaps it was recorded incorrectly.  Perhaps Aisha was really 12 or 18 when she consummated the marriage.

What it means?

Taking this approach however, means the entire Hadith need to be severely questioned.  This Hadith is composed by Bhukari, and supposedly only contains the strongest of the Hadith.  If something as simple as Aisha's age cannot even be recorded correctly, then how can you base your life on the Hadith?  It might be great to theoretically desire to follow the example of the prophet Mohamed (pbuh), but if you have no idea how he lived because the sources are so flawed, then what use is it?

We are so far from the time of the events, that we have no possibility of realistically checking who said what and when.

If one goes down this hole, then the door opens even further.  Most of the sources of Islam are premised on the idea of the great memory of the Arabs.  The idea that the Koran itself was recorded perfectly is premised on this very ideal that the Arabs memorized the Koran. 

It is a Valid Action

One might say the Hadith is correct and there is nothing wrong with it even today.

What it means?

Well, legally it means you would be a pedophile.  I wonder how many would subject themselves or their own daughter to such a thing.  This applies to many other acts that are in the Hadith.  Things like slavery or sex with captured women.  There are many such actions that we would find deplorable today.

It is a Valid Action, but it was special

One might say the Hadith is correct, but only Mohamed (pbuh) was 'good and pure' enough to take on such a task.  This is not unlike the Islamic perspective of polygamy.  Technically it is allowed, but men are required to treat them all equally and justly... and they are warned that few men can.

What it means?

It means, you'd have to view parts of the Hadith from this angle.  That only Mohamed was entitled/required to such actions in general.  It would take away from the general Sunni idea of following the example of the prophet in everything he did.  If there was a punishment dealt for example, perhaps only he was allowed the authority to deal out such a punishment.  We cannot do it today, as we are not as good as him.

It is correct, but Mohamed is not a perfect man

One might say the Hadith is correct, but at the end of the day Mohamed (pbuh) was just a man... capable of sin.  His main task was to reveal the Koran.  Beyond that he could and did sin.

What it means?

This generally takes you away from any notion of orthodox Islam.  You'd have to get rid of most of the Sunnah and just follow the Koran, which is vague and does not reveal the details of most things.


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