Atheism, Aisha, and Answering a Critic


Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

I’ve commented a couple of times on Islamic blogger, and occidentalist Hakeem Muhammad’s obsession with presenting every critical comment of Islam, as a product of racism. I wrote here taking point by point Hakeem’s claim that Atheism itself, is a product of white supremacy. Indeed secularism – all belief treated equally under the law – he considers a white supremacist plot. What I’ve come to understand by Hakeem’s obsession with ensuring that every criticism has a racial element to it, is that he considers the criticism and the critic as a threat to an unearned, unjustifiable religious privilege that simple ‘belief’ has allowed believers to enjoy for so long. It is the only reason that his most recent attack on me (though I do like the picture he used, I scrub up well when I try), contained the word “white” 15 times. And every one of those times, to reiterate just how terrible critics of Islam are, if they happen to be white. “Racist white men”, “misogynistic white men”, “Patriarchal white men”, “white saviour complex”. It is quite insulting to be reduced to what colour my skin is, rather than the content of my argument.

Let’s begin at the start:

“Here is futiledemocracy’s basic argument: Ayesha, who lived over 1,400 years ago, was a victim of sexual assault, and I, as a white male, need to save her. ”

– No it isn’t. This has never been my ‘basic argument’. The article in question can be seen here. My argument was quite clear, allow me to reiterate what I said, and what Hakeem completely misrepresented:

“Therefore the Prophet – when it comes to his marriage to a young girl – cannot be judged entirely by today’s standards. He is anchored to the cultural context of the period in which he lived. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that had I lived back then, and in that region, I would have felt the same way as I do today. Of course I wouldn’t, because I am constrained by the context of the time. But Hakeem fails in his basic premise, when we flip the argument back around to face him. The Prophet Muhammad, to Hakeem, was in touch with the eternal. He was in touch with a being that transcends time. He is not restricted by the cultural context of 7th Century Arabia, and in fact for Muslims, the Prophet is there to change the context of the time period. He certainly isn’t restricted by it.”

– My argument was structured upon the concept of ‘objective’ morality as offered by the religious, and how that static concept hinders progress. In other words, how anchoring your sense of moral justice to a 7th Century text might cause some problems in the future. I never claim the Prophet is a paedophile in the modern sense, and don’t consider it right to do so. I also don’t believe he was a Prophet, nor heard the word of God, and therefore Muhammad is just another human being constrained by the social context of the time in which he lived. However, it is the enshrining of that one particular time period into a system that is claimed to be timeless and unchanging and taught as truth to young and impressionable minds, that I find repulsive and dangerous. I do not claim Muhammad, or Aisha’s father could at that time rationalise that promising a young girl in marriage at such a young age to an old man, locks her into a life without her considered consent and is in fact abuse. Of course they didn’t understand the effects of child abuse, 1400 years ago.

Similarly, those who wrote and later edited the Old Testament books were writing from the context of their time, and so the buying of selling of slaves as advocated in Leviticus 25:44-46 is completely redundant today, and called out for the horrifying “objective” moral cancer that it is. And whilst Christians continue to chirp the same “we have a book of objective morality” nonsense, they eerily discard those passages that no are no longer acceptable to modern life. And so, Muslims and Christians have in fact out grown and progressed beyond the “morality” of their own Gods.

I thought I would comment on Aisha’s age, because it has become a relatively new form of apologetics, mainly by Western Muslims, who feel a sense of shame that their Prophet might have consummated his marriage to a child. It is they who abuse the memory of the history of their religion by trying to twist it to fit a modern narrative. They tend to present that modern narrative, disregarding the historical consensus for the story of Muhammad and Aisha, to seem more presentable to a global audience that has come to understand child abuse for what it is; a cancer. So I will focus here on Hakeem’s highlighted point:

“Ayesha was an adult when the marriage was consummated”

– This is by no means an established Islamic truth (it certainly isn’t an established reality-based truth). In fact, according to muslim.org, the first person to suggest that Aisha may not have been 9 years old when the marriage was consummated, was Maulana Muhammad Ali, in the 1920s. For 1200+ years, this wasn’t even questioned. And from my reading, the new 20th Century interpretations are almost all based on very weak guessing games and conjecture, rather than the actual testimony of Aisha…. the testimony of whom Hakeem places great importance upon… until it doesn’t go his way. No evidence is progressed for why the testimony of Aisha is wrong. It’s just ignored, despite the fact that the well respected and authentic source sahih al-Bukhari is quite clear on the matter:

“Narrated Aisha:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became All right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234:

– And in fact, again, in sahih al-Bukhari:

“Narrated Hisham’s father:
Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married ‘Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.”
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 236.

– If these verses are considered to be entirely wrong by the apologists, why is everything else supposedly collected by Muhammad al-Bukhari not considered just as questionable? Indeed, Hakeem himself, in his article references al-Bukhari and tells us that only a “white misogynist” (why race has anything to do with misogyny, is beyond me) would disregard the testimony of Aisha, and then goes on to use her testimony in al-Bukhari to support his point. He then completely ignores her testimony when she gives her actual age (he must be a white supremacist). Not only that, but Muhammad al-Bukhari’s findings are confirmed by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, whose Hadith are considered second in authenticity only to al-Bukhari:

Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: “Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.”
Sahih Muslim 8:3310

– Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his wonderful Quranic commentary ‘Tafsir al-Tabari’ also appears fine with the age of Aisha at the point the marriage was consummated:

“I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old. Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me.”
Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 131

– The fact that Aisha was a young child is repeated through many more verses, including Abu Dawud 41:4915:

“Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: “The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) married me when I was seven or six. When we came to Medina, some women came. according to Bishr’s version: Umm Ruman came to me when I was swinging. They took me, made me prepared and decorated me. I was then brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), and he took up cohabitation with me when I was nine. She halted me at the door, and I burst into laughter.””

– And again, in Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1877:

“It was narrated that: Abdullah said: “The Prophet married Aishah when she was seven years old, and consummated the marriage with her when she was nine, and he passed away when she was eighteen.”

– Prize winning author Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri in his modern day biography of the Prophet ‘Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum’ writes:

“She was six years old when he married her. However, he did not consummate the marriage with her till Shawwal seven months after Al-Hijra, and that was in Madinah. She was nine then. She was the only virgin he married, and the most beloved creature to him. As a woman she was the most learnèd woman in jurisprudence.”

– It takes some incredibly creative number games (or the usual… the interpretation must be wrong!) to attempt to dismiss the obvious, in order to appeal to a modern narrative. Hakeem is one of those seemingly embarrassed by the age of Aisha when his Prophet married and consummated the marriage to his young bride. Hakeem’s article is a mess of inconcise arguments from “She wasn’t a child!” to “It was fine to marry children back then!” to “omg why aren’t you focusing on how great Aisha was?” Look:

“Ayesha was outspoken, powerful, and witty; certainly not the type of woman who people would see as a victim. This utter demolishing of such a fallacious trope demonstrated by Ayesha’s life leads to imperial feminists slandering, degrading, and misrepresenting her story.”

– So that’s “white supremacists”, “white misogynists”, “patriarchal white men”, and “imperial feminists”. Meaningless ad hom attacks. Hakeem the psychologist has now apparently decided he knows “the type of woman who people would see as a victim”, presumably the opposite of outspoken, powerful and witty.

It is absolutely right, when talking about a man considered the ideal human being, whose life must be replicated as best as possible, to thoroughly critique and understand that life. This cannot be escaped by glossing over it, focusing on something entirely different – like Aisha’s ability in war or her later political prowess – or attacking anyone who does bring up the uncomfortable narrative of the marriage and consummation, as “imperialists” or “white supremacists”. It isn’t good enough.

As it turns out, I do quite like Aisha. She seems to have been incredibly rebellious, supremely well educated and echoes suspicions we non-believers share with regard the questionable times the Prophet has ‘revelations’ coinciding with his own personal desire for women:

Narrated Aisha: I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, “Can a lady give herself (to a man)?” But when Allah revealed: “You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily).” I said (to the Prophet), “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”
Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311

– Sarcasm at its finest! And I completely agree with her. She was certainly impressive, outspoken, witty and suspicious, and rightfully so, given that Sura 66 of the Qur’an exists for no other reason than to threaten the Prophet’s wives with hellfire usually reserved for us terrible Atheists. Never one to miss an opportunity to speak degradingly and violently against those of us who don’t believe, the same Sura 66 insists that the Prophet should “deal sternly” with us because “Hell will be their home”. It then goes on to note specific women currently in hell, in order to ensure Aisha and Hafsa toe the line and allow their husband to continue his conquest of slave girls.

Whilst Aisha’s strength in suspicion and outspokenness, and her dedication to women’s education must be taken into account for discussions around Aisha as a person according to Islamic accounts and women in Islam today; her achievements and historical importance do not apply to a debate around the ‘objective moral anchor’ that Islam claims through the life of its Prophet especially when it concerns the vulnerable. It is a separate discussion, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when child marriage in Islamic states continue to this day.

But we must also note that in late antiquity, child marriage was not confined to Islam. Child marriage was common across the World, in Europe too, and lasted until very recently. It is unfair for non-Muslims to focus on the Prophet Muhammad whilst ignoring the vast majority of the rest of the very Patriarchal planet for the past few thousand years. It was a planet (and still is) ruled by men, for men. It is no surprise that Holy Texts reflect that. But it isn’t the context of the time that is the debate here, it is the enshrining of the context of one time period, for all subsequent time periods, through the life and deeds of one man confined by that time period, and presenting it as universal “truth”. That simply cannot be justified.

Indeed, if you absolutely believe that a text that anchors ‘right and wrong’ to a single geographical location at a single point in time, is the unchangeable word of truth, requires the belief that everything in that text is infallible, that the God who spoke those words exists across the context of all time periods did not consider it important to let the Prophet know that marrying and having sex with children might be wrong. This is uncompromisable to believers, and that is when dogma becomes dangerous. Given that a perfect God must know in the 7th Century, that which we in the 21st Century now understand about the horrific psychological effects of child abuse, why would He insist on intervening with Sura 66 to sort out the Prophet’s love life…. but not intervene to let his followers know the damage caused by child abuse? From an Atheist point of view, Muhammad cannot be condemned through 21st Century specs. The concept of anchored morality to one specific point in time…. absolutely can be condemned.

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6 Responses to Atheism, Aisha, and Answering a Critic

  1. hitchens67 says:

    Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign and commented:
    almost EVERYTHING that differs from radical religious opinion is considered racist.

  2. Sarah AB says:

    Interesting, challenging post.

  3. […]  A response to  Atheism, Aisha, and Answering a Critic […]

  4. Patriarchy also functions at an epistemic level seeking to distort the lives of Muslim women. A variety of islamophobic literature can be found online that seeks to reduce one of the most revered figures in Islamic theology to a victim of abuse. In Orientalist discourse, the imagined version of Aisha mirrors contemporary tropes about Muslim women: she is portrayed as being politically voiceless, devoid of agency, and a victim of perpetual abuse. In contrast, the real Aisha in Islamic history was an eminent scholar, military commander, and outspoken political activist. Indeed, her genuine life story directly refutes every trope placed upon Muslims. Thus, the widespread polemics against Aisha must not be separated from this global scheme to couch the Muslims as victims in order to justify the “war on terror.”

    Aisha’s legacy has been distorted and maligned by numerous dubious and pseudo-historical sources which continue the Orientalist tradition of epistemic sexism that has tried to essentially create their own Aisha, which I have dubbed, “the Aisha of the Orientalist imagination.” This Aisha is stripped of her scholastic accomplishments, military prowess, and her advocacy for unjustly treated individuals; she is turned into a passive figure that mirrors the cotemporary tropes that western modernity has placed upon Muslim women such as traits of docility, passivity, and tragic story of victimhood.

    The Aisha of the orientalist imagination quickly collapses and is exposed with any rudimentary reading of the works and life of the actual Aishaeducating-muslim-women-the-west-african-legacy-of-nana-asma-u-1793-1864 of Islamic theology. Aisha’s activism is the entire reason Muslims know that Islam does not condone forced marriages. In one incident, Aisha was expressing indignation because she found a young woman whose father was attempting to force her into a marriage. Aisha brought this to the attention of the Prophet Muhammad, who spoke to the young woman’s father and mandated that women not be forced to marry against their will. However, the young girl then stated, “O Messenger of God, I do accept the marriage that my father arranged. By asking you to intervene, I was trying to show women that fathers did not have any right to force their daughters into marriage.” Thus, Aisha activism consisted of working to eradicate the patriarchal control that fathers had on the lives of women.

    In another incident a woman came to Aisha stating,”My husband neither divorces me nor leaves me on my own, nor has martial relations with me.” The man was calling for a divorce but before the waiting period ended keep calling it off, claiming to have changed his mind; his real intent was not to work on their marriage, but to prevent her from remarrying. He wanted to continue to have control over her even though he no longer wanted her to be his wife. Upon hearing of this, Aisha indignantly told the Prophet Muhammad about it; eventually, the angel Gabriel revealed to him the following verse: “Divorce must be pronounced twice and then a woman must be retained in honor or released in kindness.” (Baqara 2:229) [9]

    In another instance, a man told Aisha, “There is bad luck in three things: women, mount, and house.” Aisha was infuriated by this remark and told the man, “I swear to the One who revealed the Qu’ran to Abu Qasim [Prophet Muhammad] that this matter is not like what Abu Hurarya said.” The Prophet Muhammad then stated, “During the Age of Ignorance, people used to say, ‘There is bad luck in three things: women, mount and house!’” The Age of Ignorance is referred to as the period before Islam, and in doing so, the Prophet Muhammad made it clear that derogatory remarks made about women had no place in Islamic Society. [11]

    In “Aisha: The Wife, the Companion, the Scholar,” Resit Haylamaz notes: “Aisha’s bravery was immense and she did not shy away from being i_love_prophet_muhammad_by_sinistersal-d5g1458on the front lines, even when others withdrew… She never hesitated, even in fierce battles. Aisha was beside the Messenger of God during significant turning points at Uhud, Handaq, Bani Qurayza, Bani Mustaliq, Hudaybiya, and the Mecca conquest.” [12]

    Aisha was an eminent scholar renowned for her knowledge in multiple disciplines. Ata Abu Rabah, said, “Aisha was the most intelligent, scholarly person, and the one who had the best thoughts and opinion among people.” Another elder of the society, Hasam Ibn Urwa, stated, “I did not see anyone more well-informed than Aisha in medical sciences, classical jurisprudence, or poetry.” Qasim Ibn Muhammad stated, “I did not meet anyone as eloquent as Aisha, or anyone who was cognizant of Islamic theology as her, among men or women, both before and after her.” [13] Thus, the real Aisha is the nightmare of the white male patriarchy: she was a staunch defender of women’s rights, an eminent scholar of multiple disciplines, and a military commander. While patriarchal regimes have sought to define Muslim women as docile, Aisha’s true legacy directly threatens this falsehood; thus, the patriarchy attempts to force her into a trope that would strip her of her independence and personal power, reducing her to a weak, defenseless being with no real influence on society.

    The internet is filled with sites about Aisha, none of which discuss her commitment to knowledge; rather, they focus on her betrothal age.The methodology of this epistemic sexism, with regards to women, consists of “excluding [ women] from inquiry,” “denying [women] epistemic authority,” “producing theories of women that represent [women] as inferior,” and “producing theories of social phenomena that render women invisible.” Thus the “Aisha of the orientalist imagination” her scholarship, teaching, political work, and activism is never discussed- erased from history. It is important to discuss the ideological underpinnings underpinning these attacks.

    A major antagonism with the Eurocentric patriarchal prescribed roles of women is that Aisha could be actively involved in political affairs, not as a puppet, but as a strong leader actively determining the future of her society. The expectation that women must be confined to their homes and engage in domestic duties, having no political voice, was shattered by the influential life that Aisha led. As a result, Western islamophobes have embarked on a campaign to fictionalize the life of Aisha in order to fit their expectations of women being docile, politically voiceless, and easily controlled by men. In addition to decrying her progress as a political leader, among her other roles, much of their literature does not even refer to Aisha by name, instead oddly enough referring to her as “the nine-year-old.”

    While secular regimes continue exploiting resources and wreaking havoc under the guise of spreading democracy via the military, society’s beliefs about what it means to be a man continue to be skewed. The Prophet Muhammad once said, “The strong man is not a good wrestler; the strong man is in fact the person who controls himself at the time of anger.” By stating this, he challenged the patriarchal ideal that men must be violent in order to be perceived as strong and masculine, which is at the heart of patriarchal foreign policy in secular society. This is further demonstrated by what one U.S. military expert argued: “To disarm is to get rid of all your stuff,” in which he equated emasculation with disarming to achieve peace.

    For in a world characterized by patriarchy leading to women being seen as sex objects, denied a political voice, subjected to violence —the real question is whether people will continue to believe the lies promoted by islamophobia? Will they continue to evoke Aisha bint Abu Bakr as a “victim”? Will they continue to get their source of information about her life from dubious websites? Will they continue to distort Aisha’s life and craft an artificial Aisha more amenable with how they believe women should be? Or will they actually begin to study her life and respect Aisha for the pioneering woman she was?

  5. srishti says:

    There are some Muslims keep claiming that Aisha was 18 or 20 contrary to all evidence to the contrary. The only silver lining in that is that at least they’re applying ‘modern’ standards of consent as their argument.

    And there is plenty of the impact of ‘Aisha’ today int the Muslim world in places like Yemen and KSA where very young girls are married off and where the ‘father’ is all-powerful.

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