Sunday, 28 March 2010


Khadija vs. Aicha : contrasting the Prophet's marriages

  • Sunday, 28 March 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • On her Facebook, Mona Eltahawy forwarded an Associated Press article on the debate on Yemen's proposed ban on child brides. The article, by AP correspondents Ahmed Al-Haj and Hadeel Al-Shalchi reported the opposition of top Yemeni clerics for the ban. For its opponents, supporters of a ban on child brides are apostates supporting the ban of a Prophetic tradition.

    What interested me the most however, wasn't the article itself. A debate around the upload developed and one comment came from Iz Babarot who quoted a Dervish to whom "the example of the Prophet's marriage to Khadija - where they were more or less equal partners - was not meant to be for another thousand years, was later adopted by the Western world whereas the Muslim world adopted the example of Muhammad's marriage to Aisha."

    I asked Iz Babarot who the Dervish was and what the statement said in full. Iz was gracious enough to respond referring me to a comment posted by a James Souttar in response to The Tailor blog article "Aisha’s marriage: a hyper-Salafi perspective". In his comment, James marks a difference between the Prophet's marriage to Khadija and that to Aicha.

    In his message, James writes:
    If one contrasts this marriage with the Prophet’s first marriage with Khadijah, something quite interesting emerges. The marriage with Khadijah is strikingly ‘modern’ in many respects: it was monogamous, she was older, she was independently wealthy and a businesswoman, it was a match between equals, as much based on a deep empathic friendship as on romantic love. They were ’soul mates’ – to use the New-agey phrase. And of course Khadijah was the mother of Fatima, who – like Mary to Christians – embodied and represents the sacred feminine in Islam.

    Yet in many ways the marriage with ‘Aisha – the child bride – exemplifies the typical pattern of Muslim marriage throughout the history of Islam. This is an arranged marriage in which a six year old child – who could have no real understanding of what it involved became a kind of property interest. There is a huge inequality of age, experience, status. ‘Aisha lives in purdah, having to share her husband with other wives: she has no occupation, no independent means, and – significantly – bears no children. She is jealous, vindictive and politics unwisely, and the Prophet has to defend her against scandal. “Beware the dogs of Haw’ab” is something he would never have had to say to Khadijah.

    It seems to me that many aspects of the sunna reflect the needs of humanity at different stages of evolution, and thus can’t be reconciled. His marriage with Khadijah modelled a form of relationship that wouldn’t really be possible to humanity for nearly a millennium and a half after his death. Whilst his marriage with ‘Aisha – the model of ‘Muslim marriage’ – represented a way of managing the huge imbalances that existed, and continued to exist, between men and women.

    One of the huge issues that I see contemporary Islam ‘in denial of’ is that the ‘marriage to ‘Aisha’ has passed its sell-by-date. ‘The West’ – onto which so much of the ’shadow’ of Islam is projected – has made ‘the marriage to Khadijah’ a reality (and the ‘marriage to ‘Aisha is now only a kind of throwback for ageing rock stars and creepy lotharios).

    It is clearly something very hard to accept that there are aspects of the sunna – and indeed of the shari’a – that were intended to be jetisoned once humanity passed a certain stage.

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