the Aisha problem

(content warning: CSA, child abuse)

It’s the story I heard first, brought up sort of nonchalantly, and the story that most Muslims seem to reluctantly accept: In the early ages of Islam the prophet Muhammad(pbuh), the man who gave us the Qur’an and changed the course of the world forever, married a six year old girl, and three years later he consecrated the marriage by having sex with a then-nine year old Hazrat Aisha.

It’s the story that Muslims reluctantly accept with equivocation and assertions of historical context. It’s the story that anti-Islam propagandists love the most.

It’s also verifiably untrue.

aisha's age graphic

Here’s a link to an article better-written and better-researched to explain the finer points of this argument, but the gist of it is this: the single hadith which narrates Aisha was a child when she married the Prophet came from a notoriously unreliable narrator and lies in direct contradiction with historical evidence, as well as being in direct contradiction of other ahadith and Qur’anic passages. Using first-hand accounts correlated with historical events, Aisha’s marriage to Muhammad(pbuh) is understood to have taken place when she was in her late teens.

So why is the narrative of Aisha, the Prophet’s child bride so ubiquitous? Who benefits from this abject inaccuracy? What agenda could the propagation of this story possibly serve?

The people who benefit from this narrative fall in to two categories: people trying to discredit Islam, and people invested in justifying the rape and abuse of young girls.

FOR THE PEOPLE TRYING TO DISCREDIT ISLAM, this story is an incredible one. It fulfills every need for a good savage-arab-pedophilic-death-cult hit piece. No piece of anti-Islamic propaganda probably has the sting, or the reach, than the story of the Blessed Prophet’s Child Bride. No need to inspect the text, or the history, or the jurisprudence of early Islam. No need to engage on contemporary Muslim practice. No need to engage at all on the realities of life and faith under Islam. You’re a Moozlum? Your messenger is a pedophile, how could you believe him? End of conversation.

FOR THE PEOPLE TRYING TO JUSTIFY UNFORGIVABLE CHILD ABUSE, this is also a pretty excellent narrative to latch on to. The only way to look at this story today, and with a straight face genuinely attest that the messenger of the greatest truth in the world also married and had intimate relations with a child, is to attest that child abuse is acceptable under Islam. The sunnah of child marriage provides legal and historical precedent deigning the rape and exploitation of underage girls as perfectly acceptable under Islam. It’s an opportunity for depraved men to justify their unforgivable actions, all because one unreliable narrator fifteen hundred years ago mixed up his numbers.


So why do so many of us buy in to this historical inaccuracy, when the only people who benefit from it are propagandists and abusers? It boggles my mind that when presented with the information that the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) married a child, instead of researching the claim and refuting it based on solid historical evidence, Muslims begin to bend over backwards defending a child marriage that more realistically never happened.

I think it speaks to the overt misogyny in our communities, but it also speaks to our discomfort at questioning the powerful men in society who prey upon women. We give child rapists like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski a pass because of their artistic contributions to film. We make every effort to discredit the near-countless numbers of women speaking out against serial rapist Bill Cosby, and willingly ignore the heaps of evidence highlighting R. Kelly’s abuses against young women. It’s a depressingly common case today where a man’s contributions to society are deemed more important than the atrocities he’s committed against women. Though the way the prophet Muhammad(swt) plays into this tendency is a curious one – while these modern cases show how we assert our Great Men’s innocence, with our prophet we instead accept the transgression and do the utmost to assuage culpability or guilt. We don’t even question the source.

We’ve come to accept violence against girls so readily that we’re more likely to accept that our infallible Prophet enacted child abuse, than we are likely to accept that a confused old man got his numbers mixed up when he was telling a story hundreds of years after his death.

I think Aisha’s story says a lot about how we treat women in our society. When presented with a story that makes us uncomfortable, instead of questioning the source and coming to the truth we bend over backwards to defend rape and child abuse.

Who benefits from this falsehood?

Who benefits from sharing the truth?

Which story are you going to tell?

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