It is an unfortunate reality in the world today that many people simply accept what they are told about their religion, simply believing without ever really examining their beliefs to know if they are really true. That’s not the case with Muslim freethinker Hamza Basheer.
When you first meet Hamza, you can tell right away that he is a thinker. While sitting in his living room, I scan his bookshelf, and I am impressed with the sheer diversity of subjects his library covers, including books about illegal Western wars; books about the risks of capitalism; books about the myths in Christianity; biographies about famous families- I spot one about the Rothschild banking family. A man with such a wide range of reading interests is clearly a man who loves knowledge.
A self-described skeptic over all things, he experimented with several different religions before discovering that the religion that he was born into- Islam- was indeed the one true religion for all mankind. But even after committing himself to Islam, he continued to ask questions. Why?
“Islam is the only religion that encourages its followers to think,” says Hamza with a hint of a smile. “Allah (swt) does not want us to follow Islam blindly. He wants us to ask our toughest questions, because He knows that when you truly think, the only logical choice is Islam.”
Continues Hamza, “That’s why I ask questions about Islam that most Muslims think we are not supposed to ask.” And indeed, Hamza is stirring up all kinds of questions on his online blog “Islam is for Thinkers,” which has dozens of readers. The latest topic to come under his scrutiny? The age of Hazrat Aisha at the time of her marriage to Allah’s Messenger.
“Traditionally, many Muslims have blindly accepted that Hazrat Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was age 6 when she was married to the Prophet (saws), and 9 when she moved into his household. Like many people, they don’t question what they are told. They simply follow it.”
At first, I myself was confused by this. Is there not a Sahih Hadith that states:
Narrated ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).
I presented this to Hamza, sure that this would stump him. But he just smiled.
“See, that’s where blind followers get trapped. But Islam says, you have to think. That Hadith was compiled several years after Aisha’s death. You can’t just accept this one at face value. You have to look at the whole history.” I nod, as Hamza is making a little bit of sense, though I’m not sure yet quite how. But he continues:
“The evidence behind this narration is weak. It was reported by Ibn Hisham and Tabari, but their narrations on this issue were unreliable,” he says with so much confidence that I forget to ask why. “You only get the answer when you look at the age of her sister, Asma. Asma was 10 years older than Aisha, so if Asma was 29 when Aisha married the Prophet, that would make Aisha how old?”
“19,” I answer.
“That’s what most people say. But that’s wrong,” responds Hamza. And then he says something amazing.
“Aisha was 23. You have to add 4 years. Girls matured faster in those days, so she was actually 23. You’re thinking in terms of the solar calendar. Using the lunar calendar, she was 23.”
As I sit, pondering my good fortune at being in the presence of this great freethinking mind- so unwilling be lulled into lazy acceptance of half-truth, so unbound by conventional ways of thinking- he drives his point home even more emphatically.
“The whole idea that Aisha was as young as 6 when she was married is a complete myth. Cooked up by enemies of the Prophet. Or maybe it was simply used as a metaphorical age in order to emphasize Aisha’s virginity at the time of her marriage, to erase any sense of doubt. Or maybe it was an exaggeration that would justify her being alive later so more Hadith could be credited to her, during the time when many Hadiths were, unfortunately, fabricated.”
“Wait, which is it?” I ask.
“All of those,” he answers. “Any one of them you want.”
I had to admit, I was impressed. But I wasn’t going to let Hamza off that easy. It was time for me to ask him a few hard questions. I began:
“A lot the things you’ve said, while they’re convincing, they don’t exactly negate the evidence that she was 6 when she was married, even though they call her age into question. And you still have to contend with the fact that most scholars have had access to the same evidence that you have, and concluded that she was much younger than you say. Do you have any firm proof of what you’re saying, or is this just a theory?”
And Hamza responded amazingly: “Do you have any proof that she was not 23?”
He’s right, and he knows it. I have no proof. But I respond, “Well, the Hadith I mentioned-”
“I already refuted that,” he interrupts with gentle firmness. “You’re recycling your points now.”
I had to admit that I was. But I had to test his brilliant mind further. I give it all I have one last time:
“But some would say that you don’t really have any proof either. Some would say that you’re just taking some less established circumstantial evidence and using it to override more generally accepted circumstantial evidence. It doesn’t really prove-”
And that is when Hamza’s intellectual understanding of the deen became truly clear to me. He had heard this argument hundreds of times already, perhaps thousands, and he was ready with his answer:
“Brother,” he interrupted. “This is where we have to use our mind to think. Allah (swt) has given us a brain to think, has He not? Do you want to go on accepting things blindly? I have just shown you clear proof of what I am saying, yet you still don’t want to accept it?”
At this point, I had to stop and admit I was beaten.
I did not want this courageous, brilliant, and pious Muslim brother to think I was being stubborn. The only logical choice was for me to start believing that Aisha was 23 when she was married.
And I have to admit, it does make more sense.
The truth is, no matter what really happened in the life of the Prophet- even if Aisha was 6 at the time of marriage- of course I would accept it.
This is because my strongest belief is that the Prophet, may the most peace and blessings be upon him, is a living demonstration of what Allah has deemed to be moral, and so what he did defines morality for us, rather than sitting subject to my flawed judgment. Moreover, Allah (swt) in His wisdom, gave many exceptions to the Prophet so that he would be able to accomplish his mission.
So even if Hazrat Aisha was 6 at the time of marriage, so what? It does not matter either way. And that is why you know a freethinker like Hamza is truly being objective when he exposes it as a myth- not because the Prophet needs anybody to defend his actions, but because a Muslim must love truth.
But moreover, it is important because these days, Islamophobes use misconceptions about Islam- Hazrat Aisha being 6 at the time of marriage being one example- to drive people away from Islam. And of course, challenging this trend is exactly the endgame for a brilliant thinker like Hamza Basheer. He does not think simply to think. He thinks so he can advance the cause of Islam, so he can spread dawah, because in Islam, intelligence is only good if it is put to the right use.
And the best questions are the ones that produce answers that prove what we already know is true.