Saturday, October 29, 2022

Did Muhammad Marry Ayesha When She Was A Child? New Research Casts Doubt About This Islamic Narration

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam 29 October 2022 Many Reformist Muslims Develop Cold Feet When They Are Asked To Evaluate Islamic Scriptures From A Source Critical Perspective Main Points 1. Hadis narrations say that Prophet Muhammad married Ayesha when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine 2. According to the findings of Joshua Little, an Oxford University researcher, this Hadis was fabricated in Iraq during the 8th century 3. The earliest Muslim sources do not mention the age of Ayesha at all 4. The reason for this fabricated Hadis was purely political and should be located within the sectarian fight between Shias and Sunnis at that time ------- According to many narrations within the corpus of Hadis, the Prophet Muhmmad is said to have married his wife Ayesha when she was of six years and consummated the marriage when she turned nine. There are other narrations, which give different years for the consummation but it must be said that there is orthodox consensus over the figures of six and nine years. For the detractors of Islam, this has become a weapon that they wield against the Islamic Prophet, and raise questions about his character and morality. This criticism is largely a-historical as the attempt is to project the current morality onto the cultural landscape of seventh century Arabia. Notions of age at marriage etc were very different back then and this was not specific to Arabia but such practices existed on many other parts of the world too. In any case, talking about the past is rarely to understand it; rather the attempt is to denigrate present day Muslims by invoking the personal life of the Prophet. We recently saw how it was deployed by the former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma and what happened subsequently. But the Muslims also haven’t helped the situation. The mainstream Islamic theology regards the life of Muhammad as an ideal; one which should be emulated by Muslims for all times to come. It is this idealistic construction of the Prophet and their refusal to contextualize the life and times in which he operated which has made them defenceless in the face of such an assault. After all, what Nupur Sharma said was not her imagination; it is all written down in our own collection of Hadis! And the Hadis within the Muslim theology is considered only second in importance to the Quran. In fact, in many cases it is the Hadis which sheds light on the Quran rather than vice versa. Although the Prophet, on his part, reminds followers that he is just a man, Muslims have exalted him to such a level that it has become a religious merit in following whatever he did. Since we do not get much knowledge about the character and personality of Muhammad from the Quran, the Hadis came into the picture wherein we get minute details of who the Prophet was and what he did. Idealizing the prophet therefore is basically contingent on the belief that the Hadis narrations are all true. Once you start doubting the authenticity of the Hadis, questions about who the Prophet really was and how we know about him, will emerge as a natural corollary. A new research by Joshua Little (Oxford University) shows how that the oft-cited Hadis regarding the age of marriage and consummation of Ayesha to the Prophet may not be true. Sifting through various reports, Little concludes that this Hadis was fabricated by a narrator called Hisham ibn Urwa. Little argues that this narrator-Ibn Urwa- was considered unreliable even according to traditionalist criterion. He was accused of ‘senility’ and of tadlis, which means that he deliberately did not mention a weak link in the transmission of the Hadis. Moreover, he lived in the 8th century which is almost 150 years after the death of the Prophet. What is more interesting is that he recalled this Hadis after he had relocated to Iraq from Medina. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: The Controversy around Hazrat Ayesha's Marriage with Prophet Mohammad: A Deep Study of Hadith Literature and Historical Accounts Suggests She Was 14 When Engaged and Almost 18 When She Got Married ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Little argues that the reason for such fabrication lies in the sectarian milieu of Iraq which was torn between Shia and Sunni epistemologies. Both these sects, according to him, were trying to show their authenticity by parading their proximity and closeness to the Prophet. For the Shia, it was Ali not simply because he was the cousin and son in law of the Prophet but also because he was in contact with the Prophet since childhood as he practically lived in the same house. The Sunnis, on the other hand traced this closeness through Abu Bakar, whom they constructed as one of the closest companions of the Prophet. By placing his daughter Ayesha, still a minor, within the household of the Prophet, they were simply trying to advertise the Sunni claim to be the true followers of Muhammad, and consequently, the true inheritors of the caliphal mantle. More importantly, Little shows that the earliest legal texts, composed in Medina, like Malik’s al- Muwatta, does not cite this Hadis, although the narrator Ibn Urwa is cited in other contexts. This does not mean that Imam Malik rejected the Hadis; but simply that it was not in circulation in Medina at that time. If it was in circulation, it must have been cited giving its legal importance and ramification for the early Muslim society. Even Ibn Ishaq, the first biographer of the Prophet does not mention the age of Ayesha. But this detail gets added later by Ibn Hisham, in the 9th century. This absence of age of Ayesha in the very early Islamic texts leads Little to conclude that this particular Hadis is clearly an 8th century fabrication; invented in the specific political context of Iraq and back projected onto the story of Muhammad. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: In Defence Of The Prophet's Marriage With Hazrat Ayesha Even If She Was A Minor, According To A Hadees Report Narrated By A Single Person, That Too A Senile Old Man ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Reformist Muslims have already been arguing that there must be some mistake in Hadis which puts the age of marriage of Ayesha at 6. More recently, the famous Alim Javed Ahmad Ghamdi, has also cast doubt about the authenticity of this Hadis. So, is this a vindication of what reformist Muslims have been arguing all through? It might look like that but then many reformist Muslims themselves develop cold feet when they are asked to evaluate Islamic scriptures from a source critical perspective. If the Hadis collections are scrutinized using the modern methods of inquiry, a majority of them would have to be discarded. Memory is a tricky ground. It is simply too much of a miracle that narrations could be traced to the Prophet and his companions after they were first recorded a century after this death. But more importantly, we need to think not just about the Prophet’s marriage to Ayesha but his entire personality and how we know about him. It is not the Quran which tells us about the Prophet; it is the Hadis. If we start considering it as unreliable, how do we even begin to appreciate the basics of Islam? ----- A regular contributor to, Arshad Alam is a writer and researcher on Islam and Muslims in South Asia. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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