Aisha: child-marriage and Menarche – revisited.

Jon MC


Since writing the original article I have been made aware of another line of apologia. The basis of this was a series of comments made by “Dimnah” under the original article.
Since then I have taken the opportunity to research this further and find out more information.
Consequently, I am now in a position to offer a rebuttal.

 Apologetic argument#9.

The words translated as “consummate” or “sexual intercourse” didn’t mean that in 7th century Arabic, so Mohammed didn’t have sex with Aisha when she was nine.

On one hand this argument is entirely specious in that it focusses on a contentious point of language whilst totally ignoring the fact that Muslim men have, for about 1400 years, used these words to justify marriage to and sex with very young girls. As such it is really a case of argument by distraction i.e. a “red herring”.

This argument revolves around the precise meanings of two Arabic words in the 7th century versus their meaning from the 9th century onwards.

These words are “DakhaLa” (root DkhL – note “kh” is one consonant in Arabic) and “feBaNaYa” (root BNY) {1}.

The argument (that I’ve seen) is based on (part of) a hadith from the “Musannaf “of Abd al-Razzaq (died 826).

Here is the Arabic: أخبرنا عبد الرزاق قال أخبرنا بن جريج عن بن شهاب في رجل نكح امرأة فبنى بها ثم طلقها بعد يومين فسئلت المرأة فقالت لم يمسسني وسئل الرجل فقال مثل ذلك فقال إذا دخل بها وأرخى عليها الأستار فقد وجب الصداق وعليها العدة

Transliterated to Roman characters: akhebrena ‘ebed al-Razaq qal akhebrena ben Jurayj ‘en ben Shihab fey rejl nekh amerah febnaya bha thim telqha b’ed yewmeyn fes’elet alemrah feqalet lam yamssaney wes’el alerjel feqal methel delk feqal eda dakhala bha wa’rekha ‘eleyha alasetar feqd wejb alesdaq w’eleyha al’edha.

Here we see “Nikah” in it’s form of “nekh”. Febnaya is the bny word, generally translated as “cohabit” or “lived together”, “telqha” is a form of “talaq” i.e. divorce, “yamsasney” is the “mss” word which may be translated as “unchaste”. “lam yamsasney” is then “not unchaste”. Unfortunately, it may also be translated as “touched me” and thus “lam yamsasney” means “not touched me”! – see Koran 3:47 where (the virgin) Mary says (transliterated) “How is for me a boy and not touched me [lam yamsasney] any man?” Note it would also work with “not unchaste [with] any man”.

Dakhala is “entered” or “entered upon”, “al’edha” is “the Iddah”.

Partially transliterating into English: Told us, slave of Razaq (i.e. Abdul Razaq) said told ben Jurayj from ben Shahib: in man “nekh” woman, “febnaya” both them, “telqha” after two days. When asked woman said not “yamsasney” and asked man, said same. Said that if entered he upon her and ‘closed the curtains’, must be dowry and must the “edha “(i.e. must perform Iddah).

Putting it into “good” English: A man (took) a woman in marriage (and) they cohabited together. (He) divorced (her) after two days. When (the judge) asked, the woman said she was not unchaste (or: he had not touched her) – and when asked the man said the same. (The judge) said that if he (had) entered upon her “and closed the curtains” then (she was to) keep the dowry and (wait out) her Iddah.

It’s worth noting that the word for “marry” in Arabic is “Nikah” (here “nekh” in the hadith above) which means “sexual intercourse” when applied to people or “penetrate” more generally.

The BNY word (“febnaya”) may be translated as “cohabited”. Now whilst it is possible to cohabit without sex, for a man and wife this seems rather unlikely. Is the use of “cohabit” a euphemistic reference for sex or should it be taken literally?

According to the “Quranic Arabic Corpus”, in the Koran{2} “bny” words can mean the verb “build/construct”, noun for “canopy”,“builder”, “building”, “sons/daughter/children” and “wayfarer”. Thus it can be seen that very different word-meanings can be built from a common root word (this also points up the potential problem with looking at the root to define the meaning of a word-construct), thus this word is not in the Koran which is a pity, but let’s assume that it is meant literally rather than euphemistically since this strengthens the apologists hand.

According to the “Quranic Arabic Corpus{3} “mss” words in the Koran, whether nouns or verbs, all have meanings revolving around “touch”. Thus the word “tamassuhunna” literally “you (ta) touch (mass) them (uhunna)” is used as a euphemism for “you had sex with them” (e.g. K.2.236-237, 33:49). Thus there are euphemistic meanings relating to sex.

The argument made is that since “MSS” means “sexual intercourse” (this is false, it can be a euphemism for it), then neither “febnaya” nor “dakhala” can mean “sexual intercourse”, otherwise the hadith becomes a nonsense. As one writer puts it: “it is textually impossible for the roots BNY and DkhL to mean sexual intercourse here, because both can apparently be done without having sexual intercourse.” (Remember: the woman was “not touched”.)

However, one translation of the “MSS” word in this hadith is “unchaste”. Both the man and the woman are agreeing that the woman was “not unchaste” (i.e. she was “untouched”) before her marriage. This then requires that we determine what “unchaste/untouched” means.

Given the nature of Islamic society it probably means that she was a virgin before marriage, but it could also mean that she had not had sexual relations within her “Iddah”{4} from a previous marriage and had been chaste thereafter until remarriage{5}.

What of “DakhaLa”? According to the “Quranic Arabic Corpus”{6} words with the root “DkhL” occur 126 times in the Koran in six forms: verb dakhala (enter) x76; verb ud’khila (admit) x42; noun dakhal (deception) x2; active participle dakhilun (enter) x 2, passive participle mud’khal (entrance) x3 and passive participle muddakhal (place to enter) x 1.

Of these we will ignore the deception, entrance and place to enter words.

Of the 120 words remaining, with the exceptions of those verses that refer to “entering” Islam/faith or being “admitted” to Allah’s mercy which amount to about a dozen occurrences in total (~10%), the rest of the occurrences are literal usages of “enter” or “admit” – as in enter a town/gate or be admitted to paradise/gardens (which, whilst referring to events in the “after-life” of Muslims are considered to be entirely real and physical, thus the Muslim’s admission/entry to paradise will also be real and physical) etc.

Thus the primary meaning of DkhL words is a literal entry/admission into something.

DkhL words are used exactly three times in the Koran with direct reference to women:

K.4:23 Forbidden to you (for marriage) are…[those] step-daughters born of your wives to whom you “dakhaltum” have entered.” Here the verb clearly means “had sex with” “but there is no sin on you if you have not “dakhaltum” entered them (to marry their daughters).” What this is saying is that it is okay to marry a step-daughter provided you haven’t had sex with her mother.

In these two examples we can see that “dakhala-ing” a woman means to “enter” her in an entirely literal, sexual sense.

In the third case the context makes it clear that a sex-act isn’t involved: “Every time entered upon her Zechariah…” (the same construction as before) “…in the prayer chamber, he found with her food and drink. …” (K.3:37 – part of verse, transliterated) Thus the context shows that what Zachariah was “dakhala-ing” was the prayer chamber, not Mary. A less literal (but less ambiguous) translation is: “Every time Zachariah entered the prayer chamber to (visit) Mary…”.

Given that ~90% of DkhL words mean a literal form of entry/admission, and that both relevant references to women are about “entering her” in the sense of sexual intercourse, it is reasonable to assume that this is the meaning that “dakhala” normally carries when a man “dakhalas” a woman from the time of the Koran.

Thus, according to the Koran, the DkhL word, when applied directly to a woman and without further context/qualification, does mean sexual intercourse, hence the usage of DkhL for sex dates to the 7th century and not the 9th.

Let me re-quote part of the hadith: The judge “said that if he entered [Dahkala] upon her and ‘closed the curtains’ then she was to keep her Mahr and must wait out her Idda.

Koran 2:237 says: “And if you divorce them before you touch them [tamassuhunna] (i.e. had sexual relations), and you have agreed with them the Mahr (bridal money given by the husbands to his wife at the time of marriage), then pay half of that (Mahr), unless they (the women) agree to forego it, or he (the husband), in whose hands is the marriage tie, agrees to forego and give her full appointed Mahr. And to forego and give (her the full Mahr) is nearer to At-Taqwa (piety, righteousness, etc.). And do not forget liberality between yourselves. Truly, Allah is All-Seer of what you do.

Thus in the case of divorce before consummation the woman is only entitled to half the Mahr.

Koran 33:49 says: “O you who believe! When you marry believing women, and then divorce them before [tamassahunna] you touch them – i.e. you have sexual intercourse with them , no Iddah have you to count in respect of them. So give them a present, and set them free i.e. divorce, in a handsome manner.

The key point here is an “untouched” woman has no Iddah to wait out.

In the Razzaq hadith the woman gets to keep all the Mahr and has to wait out her Iddah. If sexual intercourse had not taken place, then she would not be required to perform Idda and would probably only get half the Mahr, which works against using “lam yemsasney” to mean “(he) did not touch me”.

Thus the facts that she keeps all her Mahr and has to wait out her Iddah strongly imply that the marriage was consummated – unless we wish to posit that the judge was ruling against the Koran’s rulings and Shariah law.

Hence this part of the hadith might be rendered: “A man married a woman and so [they] cohabited then [he] divorced her after two days. When asked [by the Judge], the woman said she had not been unchaste [or: was previously untouched] (i.e. hadn’t committed illegal sexual intercourse or: had been a virgin) and the man agreed this was true. [The judge] said that since he had sexual intercourse and ‘closed the curtains’ [with her] then she was to keep her Mahr and must wait out her Idda.

This at least has the merit of being consistent with the usage of the words detailed above and it also accords with the Koran’s rulings and Shariah law.

A second part of this argument is that Razzaq pre-dates the Main Hadith collections and as such this hadith is more “original”. However, given that Razzaq lived 744-826 A.D., Bukhari lived 810-870 and Muslim 815-875, these three are only separated by a generation or two and in view of the ~ 150 to ~200 year gap between Mohammed and Razzaq and Bukhari/Muslim respectively, this is not a major point in favour of Razzaq especially when both Bukhari and Muslim are recognised as the most thorough scholars of hadith veracity. In other words, this single hadith of Razaq does not “over-rule” the multiple hadith of Bukhari and Muslim on this issue, especially when all three could well be dating from the 9th century.

Furthermore, it would be unlikely that a major shift in the meaning of language occurred in the fifty years between the times of these scholars – especially when the disputed usage can be tracked back to the Koran itself.

A third part of this argument is that the phrase “entered upon her ‘and closed the curtains’” is essentially legal and refers to the completion of the marriage in a legal sense, not it’s consummation. In response to this let me recap the following. To be legal under Sharia Law a marriage requires four (Koran) or five (Shariah) conditions: (1) consent by the woman, (2) that the woman’s guardian be present, (3) payment (or at least promise of) Mahr, (4) witnesses. The fifth condition (under some Sharia law) is that both parties be capable of sexual intercourse. As already noted, if the marriage is not consummated the woman is only entitled to half the Mahr and requires no Iddah period; it is only once sexual intercourse has taken place that she is entitled to the full Mahr and must wait out her Iddah if divorced. If the man proves to be impotent, the woman can get an annulment (not a divorce, note) because the full legal requirements of the marriage have not been met{7}, similarly for the man if the woman is incapable of intercourse. Thus the full legal requirements and regulations of Islamic marriage only come into force once the marriage has been consummated. Once the Nikah is complete the marriage is “legal” (in the sense that the man has ‘bought’ the woman’s vagina through payment/promise of Mahr, thus sex between them is lawful), but the marriage is only legally fully complete once intercourse has taken place since only then do all the conditions apply{8}.

There is further evidence for this in one of the stipulations of divorce. If a man fully divorces a woman she becomes “unlawful” to him (i.e. he can’t have legal sex with her){9} until and unless she has (1) married another man, (2) had sex with him{10} and (3) been divorced by him also. Were all the legal conditions of an Islamic marriage fulfilled prior to consummation then condition (2) would not be required. The requirement for the second ‘marriage’ to be consummated is clearly set out in the ahadith{11}.

A fourth part of this argument is that the “Aisha hadiths” on her marriage to Mohammed never use the “mss” word(s). I would suggest that this means nothing, since (most of) these “Aisha hadiths” start with Aisha herself, all this could mean is that Aisha chose not to use the euphemistic expression “he touched me”, but instead the more direct “he entered me” etc.


The Koran provides evidence that DkhL as well as MSS words mean “had sex”, therefore the argument that DkhL can’t mean “sexual intercourse” in 7th century Arabic is false. There is, therefore, no disconnect between the meanings in 7th and 9th century Arabic.

Neither does the Razzaq hadith necessarily support this contention, though I accept that it is ambiguous to say the least.

Again, this apologia actually calls into questions the validity of Allah as “all-knowing” (al-Aleem) and also the validity of Mohammed’s prophet-hood as the “man made perfect”. If this usage (DkhL = sex) and understanding is a “mistake”, the Koran and Mohammed should have made this clear. Neither do and thus neither meet their claims.

It is also a “red-herring” argument in that history shows that Mussalmen have been using these words to legitimise sex with nine-year old girl-children for about 1400 years.

Footnotes and references.

  1. Please note that vowalisation is an inexact science and thus the vowels used in different transliterations made well be different.

  2. See

  3. See

  4. The “iddah” is the waiting period for a female divorcee before she may re-marry. The precise stipulations vary, but most commonly it is a period of three menstrual cycles or three calendar months for a non-menstrous woman. The purpose of the Iddah is twofold: it ensures that the woman is not pregnant by her former husband when she re-marries, or if she is pregnant it clearly identifies the father (her former husband).

  5. Given the punishments meted out for “illegal sexual intercourse” under Shariah, I can’t imagine any Muslim woman actually admitting to committing this sin, which in my opinion, makes it more likely that she is being asked (in effect though not in so many words) “And were you a virgin?” To which she replies equally elliptically “I was not unchaste” or “I was not touched” and her husband affirms this.

  6. See

  7. See, for example “reliance of the traveller” (Umdat as Salik) m7.0. The woman is not entitled to any Mahr in this case, unless impotence occurred after the couple had sex, in which case she gets the full Mahr.

  8. For instance: in the cases of Asma daughter of Neman and Ghazieh daughter of Jaber, Muslim historians and writers are divided as to whether or not to count them as “wives of Mohammed” precisely because he divorced them before consummation.

  9. In Islam a divorce is a three-step process: at it’s simplest the man must say “I divorce you” three times before the wife is fully and legally divorced and becomes “unlawful” for the man.

  10. See for example for example “reliance of the traveller” (Umdat as Salik) n7.7. And James M. Arlandson’s “Divorce and remarriage in early islam”.

  11. See for example Bukhari Vol.7 Bk.63 No.186, 187, 190.

Sources and Bibliography, where relevant, are as before.

Jon MC

Jon MC is a retired Chemist, Physicist and teacher (not necessarily in that order) who still has professional commitments. His interest in Islam was kindled when he met some "radical Muslims up close and personal" and he has studied the foundational texts of Islam ever since. He writes under a nomme de plume in order to keep his professional life and views separate.

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