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Prophet Muhammad’s Marriage with Nine-Year Old Aisha: A Review of Contentions

Waqar Akbar Cheema

Abstract

 This article reviews contentions around Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) marriage with ‘Aisha when she was nine years old. Highlighting pitfalls in the study of history and factors related to puberty in general the details of the marriage are explored. Moreover, reports showing the nature of relations between the Prophet and ‘Aisha are also brought into the picture as a reflection of ‘Aisha’s own impressions of the marriage. A history of orientalist approach to the issue besides reasons and facts of changes in perceptions driving it are also briefly covered.

Navigation Tabs

Considering Historical ChangesFacts on 7th Century ArabiaAisha and PubertyA Happy Marriage

 On Fath al-Bari QuoteHistory & Logic of CriticismA Blissful MarriageConclusion

1. Introduction

It is reported that:

Narrated ‘Aisha: that the Prophet (ﷺ) married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old.[1]

The issue of Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) marriage with nine-year old Aisha continues to be a primer in polemic talk on Islam. What makes it challenging to both explain and grasp its rationale is the number of sociological and demographic factors involved and the concomitant sensitivities that have undergone changes especially over the last century which is the only period this marriage has been a subject of polemics and apologetics.

2. Importance of understanding the change in demographics over time

Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) the foremost social and demographic historian highlighted dangerous consequence of studying history in oblivion to changes over time;

A hidden pitfall in historiography is disregard for the fact that conditions within the nations and races change with the change of periods and the passing of days … The condition of the world and of nations, their customs and sects, does not persist in the same form or in a constant manner. There are differences according to days and periods, and changes from one condition to another. This is the case with individuals, times, and cities, and, in the same manner, it happens in connection with regions and districts, periods and dynasties.

He further pointed out that;

Analogical reasoning and comparison are well known to human nature. They are not safe from error. Together with forgetfulness and negligence, they sway man from his pur­pose and divert him from his goal. Often, someone who has learned a good deal of past history remains unaware of the changes that conditions have undergone. Without a moment’s hesitation, he applies his knowledge (of the present) to the historical information and measures the historical information by the things he has observed with his own eyes, although the difference between the two is great. Consequently, he falls into an abyss of error.[2]

Accordingly, it is wrong to apply the contemporary notions around morality and gender interaction and that too borrowed from a civilization that experienced a series of social ruptures over the past half millennium to the study of a vastly different society one and a half millennium old.

3. Peculiar facts about Seventh Century Arabia

It is, therefore, important to take into account some of the essential demographic facts about seventh century Arabia with bearing on the subject at hand.

3.1 Age of puberty

Age of puberty varies from civilization to civilization for a host of factors ranging from geography and climatic conditions to cultural aspects such as staple food and gender roles. One study says;

It is well known that geographic, ethnic, and genetic factors interact with socioeconomic status, health, nutrition, and emotions to determine the precise age of onset of puberty for any single individual.[3]

In seventh century Arabia nine years was not considered precocious an age for puberty at least among girls.  This has been reported by ‘Aisha herself and is corroborated by information otherwise. Harb bin Isma’il Al-Kirmani (d. 280/893) states:

حدثنا إسحاق، قال: أنبا زكريا بن عدي، عن أبي المليح، عن حبيب بن أبي مرزوق، عن عائشة -رضي الله عنها-، قالت: إذا بلغت الجارية تسعا فهي امرأة

Ishaq [bin Rahawayh] narrated to us on the authority of Zakariyya bin ‘Adi from Abu Malih [Al-Raqiy] from Habib bin Abi Marzuq that ‘Aisha said: “When a girl reaches nine years of age she is a woman.”[4]

Explaining this narration al-Baihaqi (d. 458/1066) says:

تعني والله أعلم فحاضت فهي امرأة

It means, “[at nine] she menstruates and thus is a woman, and Allah knows better.”[5]

The same has been reported as a saying of the Prophet albeit with a weak isnad.[6]

3.2 Early Marriages

There is due record of marriages taking place at the outset of puberty. Mu‘awiya bin Abi Sufyan married his nine year old daughter Hind to ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amir bin Kuraiz.[7] Abu al-‘Asim al-Dhahak mentions that his mother was only twelve years older than him. He was born in the year 122/740 and his mother in 110/728-29.[8] Laith bin Sa‘d’s scribe Abu Salih (d. 223/837) reported that a person told him of his ten year old daughter who had conceived.[9] The same Abu Salih mentioned a girl in his neighborhood conceiving at the age of nine.[10] Al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) too mentioned that women in Tihama (Western Arabia) reached puberty as early as nine years of age. He also reported that in San‘a (Yemen) he saw a twenty-one year old grandmother. [11]  The same was reported from Al-Hasan bin Salih (d. 169/785-86).[12] Males too were at times married at a very young age; for instance ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-‘As was only twelve years younger to his father ‘Amr.[13]

3.3 Social make-up and gender roles

Unlike our day one and a half millennium years ago there was no concept of completing formal education at college or university and no pressures of taking up carrier in one or other field especially for women and that too in the tribal society of Makkah. In the absence of such ‘compelling’ causes of delay the natural stage of marriage was not essentially pushed for long after the onset of puberty and upon due physical growth  (cf. Nina Epton’s observation about 20th century Britain below).

4. ‘Aisha had attained puberty

A number of factors point that ‘Aisha had indeed attained puberty by the time marriage was consummated.

4.1 Delayed consummation

Whereas nikah – the marriage contract – was made when ‘Aisha was six or seven, consummation was delayed for over two years till ‘Aisha turned nine. Tabari, an early authority thus observes;

فأما عائشة فكانت يوم تزوجها صغيرة لا تصلح للجماع

As for ‘A’ishah, when he married her she was very young and not yet ready for consummation.[14]

If the marriage was not consummated right away only because ‘Aisha was too young, the only logical implication is that she must have attained puberty and physical bearing by the time it was actually consummated.

4.2 ‘Aisha’s own statement

‘Aisha’s own statement quoted above regarding age of puberty suggests it was true for herself as well.

4.3 ‘Aisha’s parents asked for marriage to be consummated

Another significant proof of ‘Aisha’s puberty is in the fact that after nearly three years of marital contract the marriage was consummated at the behest of her parents. She reports;

عن عائشة قالت: تزوج بي النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وأنا بنت ست فاستحث النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أبواي بالبنا

The Prophet married me when I was six years old. He was then urged by my parents for consummating the marriage (three years later)[15]

And;

إنا قدمنا المدينة فنزل مع عيال أبي بكر ونزل آل رسول الله ورسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يومئذ يبني المسجد وأبياتا حول المسجد، فأنزل فيها أهله، ومكثنا أياما في منزل أبي بكر، ثم قال أبو بكر: يا رسول الله , ما يمنعك من أن تبني بأهلك؟ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «الصداق» . فأعطاه أبو بكر الصداق اثنتي عشرة أوقية ونشا، فبعث بها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إلينا، 

We then arrived at Medina, and I stayed with Abu Bakr’s children, and [Abu Bakr] went to the Prophet. The latter was then busy building the mosque and our homes around it, where he [later] housed his wives. We stayed in Abu Bakr’s house for a few days; then Abu Bakr asked [the Prophet] “O Messenger of God, what prevents you from consummating the marriage with your wife?” The Prophet said, “The bridal gift (sadaq).” Abu Bakr gave him the bridal gift, twelve and a half ounces [of gold], and the Prophet sent for us.[16]

Muhammad Asad saying it shows “Abu Bakr had to remind the Prophet that he take his bride,” further observes;

Incidentally, this reminder would imply that by then ‘A’ishah had reached puberty, and that Abu Bakr had become aware of it.[17]

Moreover, ‘Aisha has informed us that consummation actually happened in the house of Abu Bakr.

فقدمنا المدينة فنزلنا في بني الحارث من الخزرج في السنح، قالت: فجاء رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، فدخل بيتنا واجتمع إليه رجال من الأنصار، … فخرجوا وبنى بي رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في بيتنا

We moved to Medina and took up residence among the Bani al-Haith b. Khazraj in al-Sunh. The Messenger of Allah came into our house where he had a meeting with some of the men and women of the Ansar … The men and women then left. The Messenger of Allah consummated our marriage there in our house.[18]

 Al-Tabari thus states;

the Messenger of God consummated his marriage to her on a Wednesday in Shawwal in the house of (her father) Abu Bakr in al-Sunh.[19]

Along with the abovementioned narration this report effectively proves that ‘Aisha was not prepubescent at the time of her wedding. Karen Armstrong rightly observes, “Tabari says that she was so young that she stayed in her parents’ home and the marriage was consummated there later when she had reached puberty.[20]

4.4 ‘Aisha’s mother taking care of her physical growth

There is evidence that ‘Aisha’s mother took special interest in her physical growth apparently preparing her for marital life. ‘Aisha herself recalled:

أرادت أمي أن تسمنني لدخولي على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: فلم أقبل عليها بشيء مما تريد حتى أطعمتني القثاء بالرطب، فسمنت عليه كأحسن السمن

My mother intended to make me fat to send me to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). But nothing which she gave benefited me till she gave me cucumber with fresh dates to eat whereupon I gained weight in the best manner.[21]

Other versions say that not only her mother, others besides were also satisfied over her growth.[22] This also proves ‘Aisha’s mother had prepared her for conjugal life. It is only rational to suggest that no skepticism can override a mother’s conviction, at least not with regards to very private matters of a girl.

5. ‘Aisha as a happy wife

She was not just ready for the marriage, ‘Aisha actually lived a very happy married life. The Prophet (ﷺ) always showed love and affection to her. They would eat and drink together and the Prophet (ﷺ) would put his mouth on a piece of meat and the pot with water exactly where ‘Aisha had put her mouth, and that too while she would be in menses.[23] They would bath together taking water from one vessel.[24] The Prophet (ﷺ) would at times even race with ‘Aisha.[25] In fact, the Prophet’s (ﷺ) love for ‘Aisha was quite known to those around him.[26] He mentioned this to his daughter Fatima as well on which she also pronounced her love for ‘Aisha.[27] Accordingly, people would wait for day of ‘Aisha’s turn to send gifts to the Prophet (ﷺ) in a bid to seek his pleasure.[28] In fact, even after the death of the Prophet (ﷺ) people would refer to her as “Beloved of the Messenger of Allah” (habibat al-rasul Allah)[29] and his dearest wife.[30] ‘Aisha too loved the Prophet (ﷺ) and would wish to be sacrificed for him.[31]

Once ‘Aisha mentioned to the Prophet (ﷺ) a story from Arabian folklore in which eleven women including Umm Zar‘ describe the conduct and bearing of their husbands.[32] Whereas the rest of women describe their husbands in a negative way Umm Zar‘ spoke only good of her husband Abu Zar‘ and his household except that  Abu Zar‘ subsequently divorced her and she also married a chieftain who bestowed many gifts upon her. Towards the end of the story Umm Zar‘ remarked that all the gifts her chieftain husband had given her were worthless compared to the least of the gifts she had received from Abu Zar‘. Having listened to the story, the Prophet (ﷺ) said to ‘Aisha, “I am to you as Abu Zar‘ was to Umm Zar‘,[except that Abu Zar‘ divorced while I would not.]”[33] and ‘Aisha replied, “In fact, to me you have been better than Abu Zar‘[34]

Despite the age difference there was exceptional frankness between ‘Aisha and the Prophet (ﷺ). Once ‘Aisha had an argument with the Prophet (ﷺ) in which she turned loud. Just then Abu Bakr came and expressed his anger over ‘Aisha for such behavior towards the Prophet (ﷺ) and sought to slap her. The Prophet (ﷺ), however, came between the two and when Abu Bakr left, he said to ‘Aisha, “You see how I rescued you from the man.”[35]

What further confirms this are ‘Aisha’s own statements showing not just love and affection for the Prophet (ﷺ) but also her jealousy for him. She said, “I did not feel jealous of any woman as much as I did of Khadija because Allah’s Messenger () used to mention her very often.”[36] In the same vein using an ingenuous simile she highlighted her being the only wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) not previously married.[37] She is also reported to have said to the Prophet (ﷺ), “Why would one like me not feel jealous for a husband like you?[38]

The Prophet (ﷺ) cared for his young wife’s interests in amusement as well. ‘Aisha played with dolls along with her friends who would slip away when the Prophet (ﷺ) came in, but ‘Aisha says, “the Prophet would call them to join and play with me.”[39] Similarly, he would let her watch the Abyssinians sport in the courtyard of the mosque and would waited as long as she desired. ‘Aisha reports:

By Allah, I remember the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) standing on the door of my apartment screening me with his mantle enabling me to see the sport of the Abyssinians as they played with their daggers in the mosque of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). He (the Holy Prophet) kept standing for my sake till I was satiated and then I went back; and thus you can well imagine how long a girl tender of age who is fond of sports (could have watched it).[40]

Thus it is established that her marriage at the age of nine did not bar her from the enjoyment craved for at that age which could not have been possible had the marriage not been happy and conducive to her.

It was for such relation with the Prophet (ﷺ) that when the Verse of Choice (Qur’an 33:28) was revealed and the Prophet’s (ﷺ) wives were asked to decide whether they wanted to stay with him or not, the Prophet (ﷺ) asked ‘Aisha to consult her parents and make no hurry in making a decision whereupon ‘Aisha replied, “Should I consult my parents concerning you, Messenger of Allah? Nay, I choose Allah and His Messenger…”[41]

These details leave nothing to be said regarding the kind of union ‘Aisha had with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Earlier we have seen ‘Aisha’s own statement on how her mother prepared her for marriage and how her father reminded the Prophet (ﷺ) to take his wife. Should one not then ask as why should anyone have a say when the person involved and her parents were all happy about the marriage?

6. Playing with dolls and puberty: the Fath al-Bari reference

We have seen the evidence that ‘Aisha had indeed reached puberty when the marriage was consummated and that the Prophet (ﷺ) in accommodation of her relatively younger age let her and her friends play with dolls and provided her with other opportunities of amusement. Her playing with dolls, however, has relevance to the Islamic law on imagery. Consequently, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) in his seminal commentary to Bukhari’s hadith collection takes up this discussion which Muhsin Khan, the translator of Sahih al-Bukhari, in turn chose to summarily mention along with his translation for the hadith about ‘Aisha’s playing with dolls. He writes:

(The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for `Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.) (Fath-ul-Bari page 143, Vol.13)[42]

Let us first see Ibn Hajar’s quote in full;

قال الخطابي في هذا الحديث أن اللعب بالبنات ليس كالتلهي بسائر الصور التي جاء فيها الوعيد وإنما أرخص لعائشة فيها لأنها إذ ذاك كانت غير بالغ قلت وفي الجزم به نظر لكنه محتمل لأن عائشة كانت في غزوة خيبر بنت أربع عشرة سنة إما أكملتها أو جاوزتها أو قاربتها وأما في غزوة تبوك فكانت قد بلغت قطعا فيترجح رواية من قال في خيبر ويجمع بما قال الخطابي لأن ذلك أولى من التعارض

Al-Khattabi said: “this hadith proves that the playing with dolls is not like use of other images which have been condemned. ‘Aisha was excused in this as she had not yet reached puberty (kanat ghaira baligh).” To me, however, positively stating that [she had not yet attained puberty] is questionable yet possible because by the event of Battle of Khaibar ‘Aisha was either exactly or just a little above or below fourteen. By the time of Battle of Tabuk however, she had definitely reached the age of puberty. The narration of those who say it happened at the time of Khaibar is, therefore, preferred and with this the reconciliation [between the apparent contradiction in ruling regarding prohibition of images and permission of playing with dolls] is made as stated by al-Khattabi for reconciliation is better than contradiction.[43]

A few points need to be considered; first, the focus here was not ‘Aisha; neither her age nor marriage, rather it was about an apparent contradiction between legal implications of the hadith on ‘Aisha playing with dolls in the presence of the Prophet (ﷺ) and those of other hadith reports prohibiting imagery of living beings. Whereas, Ibn Hajar did finally incline towards al-Khattabi’s (d. 388/988) view it was more for the ‘prudential’ reason of reconciliation rather than informed substantiation.

Secondly, the report that Ibn Hajar used to date the hadith of ‘Aisha playing with dolls including a winged horse appears in the works of Abu Dawud,[44] al-Nasa’i,[45] Ibn Hibban,[46] and al-Baihaqi.[47] Whereas al-Nasa’i’s version mentions the Prophet (ﷺ) returned from ‘a campaign,’ Abu Dawud’s version involves doubt of a sub-narrator whether the Prophet (ﷺ) had returned from “Tabuk or Khaibar” and that of al-Baihaqi mentions only Tabuk. Ibn Hibban’s narration, on the other hand, makes no mention if the Prophet (ﷺ) had returned from a journey. Accordingly, there was no reason for Ibn Hajar to prefer Khaibar over Tabuk as the context of the hadith.

This confirms our apprehension that on this rare occasion Ibn Hajar went to hastily prefer the mention of Khaibar over Tabuk only to add a semblance of plausibility to the view of al-Khattabi he had quoted because ‘reconciliation,’ he said, ‘is better than contradiction.’ In his haste he did not seem to have considered details about ‘Aisha’s marriage and altogether missed the implication of al-Khattabi’s unconvincing attempt at reconciliation with regard to it.

Interestingly, while in the quote under consideration Ibn Hajar sided with the suggestion that ‘Aisha had not reached puberty around the time of Khaibar which happened in the year 7 AH,[48] elsewhere in Fath al-Bari he dated the event of ‘Aisha watching the Abyssinians sport in the mosque to the same year (i.e. 7 AH) and clearly stated that ‘Aisha had by then reached puberty. He wrote:

فالظاهر أن ذلك وقع بعد بلوغها وقد تقدم من رواية بن حبان أن ذلك وقع لما قدم وفد الحبشة وكان قدومهم سنة سبع فيكون عمرها حينئذ خمس عشرة سنة

Evidently, this happened after ‘Aisha had attained puberty (waq‘a ba‘d bulughiha) and it has already been mentioned that according to a report with Ibn Hibban it happened when the delegation from Abyssinia came. It is known that they came in the year 7 AH, therefore, ‘Aisha was then fifteen years in age.[49]

Ibn Hajar actually used this to question a suggestion that ‘Aisha might not have come of age by then, and he repeated this point at another instance.[50] Moreover, in his work known as al-Talkhis al-Habir while discussing a hadith mentioning curtains with image of a winged horse he stated;

ورد قولها: الخيل ذوات الأجنحة في: حديث آخر لعائشة أيضا: أنها كانت تلعب بذلك وهي شابة، لما دخل عليها رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – في قدومه من غزاة. أخرجه أبو داود والنسائي والبيهقي

‘Aisha words “horse with wings” appears in another hadith as well, [which has that] she as a youth (wa hiya shābbah) was playing with it when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) came to her upon return from a battle. That hadith was related by Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, and al-Baihaqi.[51]

It is, therefore, evident that both Al-Khattabi and Ibn Hajar erred in the quote under discussion. Surely, even the greatest genius slip at times.

It may be quickly added that with regard to the issue of prohibition of imagery of living beings and hadith of ‘Aisha playing with dolls, the scholars either take the view that prohibition was revealed later, or that the dolls etc. are actually exempted from the general prohibition; latter being the view of the majority.[52]

7. On history and logic of criticism on Prophet’s marriage with ‘Aisha

Earlier we discussed how in seventh century Arabia things were markedly different in terms of onset of puberty and conceptions on marriageable age. Things have not changed as drastically as one might assume. What has changed on the other hand are conceptions and perceptions. Industrialization and concomitant urbanization were the main reasons for changes in perceptions and attitudes towards marriage though even such powerful factors did take a lot of time to affect changes.

Until late nineteenth century in many of US states age of consent was as low as ten and actually seven in Delaware.[53] Accordingly to a study by UNESCO in India in 1950s over 40% of the rural population considered “age range 11-14 as proper time for girls to marry,” while over 11% of them were found “favouring 8-10 years of age rage for marriage of a girl” and almost half these ratios were observed among those who migrated from rural to urban areas.[54]

Even in so called developed societies whereas the age considered right for marriage might have been pushed that of puberty did not follow this pattern. Nina Epton (d. 2010) noted in her work, English and the Love (1960),

Shakespeare’s Juliet was fourteen. Today’s Juliets are about the same age, although it has taken parents, teachers, and social workers a long time to realize this fact and all that it entails. Girls, and boys, are maturing earlier physically – some doctors put the difference at two years as compared with the beginning of the century ….

The Juliet of today, however, cannot marry at fourteen. Moreover, the present trend is to keep her in pigtails – or ponytails – long after she has ceased to be an adolescent. The school-leaving age has been raised, there is talk of raising it still further. Juliet has ‘dates’ long before she leaves school.[55]

Moreover, referring to a report that one in fifty girls might except to conceive before seventeen she notes, “There have also been several cases of little girls of eleven and twelve giving birth to babies.”[56] She also quotes a headmaster’s remarks, “courtship appears to begin, at my school, at the age of five. You can begin, then, to notice those young women who are inviting,”[57] followed by his admission, “of promiscuous fornication among the adolescents “carryin’ on in the bracken.””[58]

As a reflection of understanding such factors we find that no Western writer raised the issue of ‘Aisha’s young marriage until early twentieth century. Writing towards the end of the seventeenth century Humphrey Prideaux (d. 1724) in his work titled, The True Nature of Imposture, Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet, infact tried to make sense of the marriage as he wrote:

Ayesha was then but six years old, and therefore he did not bed her till two years after, when she was full eight years old. For it is usual in those hot countries as it is all India over, which is in the same clime with Arabia, for women to be ripe for marriage at that age, and also to bear children the year following.[59]

The observation was confirmed by E.W. Lane (d. 1876) who lived in Egypt during the first half of the nineteenth century,[60] and Muhammad Asad (d. 1992) recalled similar instances from his stay in early twentieth century Arabia.[61]

Thus we find that Washington Irving (d. 1859) and William Muir (d. 1905) who were by no means sympathetic to the Prophet (ﷺ) noted the fact that ‘Aisha was very young at the time of marriage but did not refer to it as a comdemnable affair. [62] John Davenport (d. 1877) who, on the other hand, made “an humble and earnest endeavour to free the history of Mohammed from false accusations and illiberal imputations” found no reason to discuss this marriage in terms of age of ‘Aisha. D. S. Margoliouth (d. 1940) was apparently the first one to make pejorative mention of this union and that too only in a parenthetic note intended more at highlighting Prophet’s (ﷺ) poverty in the backdrop of battle of Badr. He wrote:

How parsimonious the Prophet was compelled to be is shown by the fact that when, seven months after his arrival, he married Ayeshah, there was no wedding feast. Since her father, the faithful Abu Bakr, provided the bridegroom with the indispensable gift to the bride, perhaps this ill-assorted union (for as such we must characterise the marriage of a man of fifty-three to a child of nine, dragged from her swing and her toys) was accelerated by the desire to obtain some ready money.[63]

Though not all orientalists after Margoliouth raised this issue[64], it has now indeed become a staple for the critics of Islam.[65]

While this problem finding is not really impressive for any critical mind in view of facts earlier noted, the history of Christian West besides the recent developments, or ‘undevelopments,’ in the field of moral philosophy in the West only highlight the double standards of modern secular imperialist in nature world order under which alone the Prophet (ﷺ) has been attacked on account of this marriage.[66]

Not only that certain US states to this date do not have any minimum age limit for marriage, and ‘child marriage’ is actually practiced in many cases,[67] the stage is being set to make pedophilia appear normal.[68] With traditional marriage already irrelevant in modern West the writing on the wall is that exploitation of even the infants will soon be justified as natural sexual orientation. One can only wonder how ideals of a civilization with such history and ethics-mutation trajectory may be used as some kind of fixed objective criteria to judge actions in a context different to it in every way.

8. Blessings of ‘Aisha’s marriage for the Muslim Community

‘Aisha was exceptionally sharp minded. Coupled with her position with the Prophet (ﷺ), her inquisitive nature, ability to decipher things, and remarkable memory made her matchless of a scholar. Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari, a reputed companion of the Prophet (ﷺ), testified:

Never had we (the companions) any difficulty for the solution of which we approached Aisha and did not get some useful information from her.[69]

In fact it has been reported that even senior companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) turned to ‘Aisha on subjects as complex as inheritance shares.[70] Moreover, ‘Aisha corrected a number of companions regarding their transmission and understanding of the sayings of the Prophet (ﷺ). Al-Zarkashi lists seventy-four instances of the kind.[71] There are a number of hadith reports which were understood in a manner demeaning to womankind or putting undue legal burden on them but it took ‘Aisha to clarify their actual meanings; this includes the issue of implications of a woman passing in front of man in prayers, bad omen in women; and the issue of undoing the braids in taking a bath.

 This was because she knew more about the Prophet’s sayings than most companions. Mahmud b. Labid (d. 97/715) said: “Prophet’s wives remembered a large number of hadith reports with no one [remembering them] like ‘Aisha and Umm Salama. ‘Aisha used to give legal opinions in the time of ‘Umar and ‘Uthman and till her death; may Allah have mercy on her. After the Prophet (ﷺ) his senior companions ‘Umar and ‘Uthman would ask about the Prophetic role model on various issues.”[72] Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1063) says ‘Aisha’s hadith narrations number 2210.[73] Moreover, her inquisitive nature and frankness with the Prophet allowed her to seek clarifications like no one else.[74] These details tell us not of an oppressed little girl but of a confident honorable ‘Aisha taking the lead in propagating and purifying the universal message of Islam.

9. Summary & Conclusion

Aisha’s marriage was totally in line with the norms of her time that did not contradict reason or law. Her life and career is worth a lot more than debates on number of years she was or should have been. More than anything she made manifest how Islam through its final and abiding role model in the person of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) revolutionized a woman’s life; not only as a life partner but also in making possible for her to lay the foundations of a global civilization that has stood firm against all cultural and political challenges and onslaughts over the centuries. The significance of the person of ‘Aisha both in transmitting and expanding Islamic law and the concomitant rise of Islamic way of life is so great that one is hard-pushed to appreciate the fact that the marriage was carefully directed under manifest divine revelation as the Prophet (ﷺ) would later tell ‘Aisha:

You were shown to me twice in my dream. I saw you pictured on a piece of silk and some-one said (to me). ‘This is your wife.’ When I uncovered the picture, I saw that it was yours. I said, ‘If this is from Allah, it will be done.[75]

It is indeed worth attention that the two marriages picked up most passionately by the critics of the Prophet (ﷺ) were both directed through recorded revelation. While that with Zainab bt. Jahsh has been a subject to all kinds of talk since the very beginning that of ‘Aisha, as we have seen, has become a common subject only recently, making the fact of revelation in dream all the more significant.

Notes & References:

[1] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 1997) Hadith 5134 etc.; the report is of established authority related through a number of ‘Aisha’s students. Details in a forthcoming article assessing revisionist arguments on the issue.

[2] Ibn Khaldun, al-Tarikh (Diwan al-Mubtada’ wa al-Khabr …), (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr, 1988) Vol.1, 37-39, translated in Franz Rosenthal, Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History, Abridged and edited by N. J. Dawood (New Jersey: Princeton, 2005) 24-26

[3] Nancy J. Hopwood, et al, “The Onset of Human Puberty: Biological and Environment Factors” in John Bancroft & June Machover Reinisch, Adolescence and Puberty, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) 40; see also Craig A. Hodges & Mark R. Palmert, “Genetic Regulation of the Variation in Pubertal Timing” in Ora H. Pescovitz & Emily C. Walvoord, When Puberty Is Precocious: Scientific and Clinical Aspects, (Totowa: Humana Press, 2007) 84

[4] Al-Kirmani, Harb bin Isma’il, Masa’il (Al-Taharah wa Al-Salah), Ed. Muhammad bin Abdullah Al-Sari‘ (Beirut: Al-Rayan Publishers, 2013) 587, No. 1289; see also al-Tirmidhi, al-Sunan/ al-Jami’ al-Kabir, (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Vol.2, 480 (under hadith 1109); al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr,  Sunan al-Kubra (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiya, 2003) Vol.1, 476, where it is mentioned without isnad (chain of narrators); Prominent Hanbali scholars have mentioned that Ahmad bin Hanbal reported this statement of ‘Aisha with isnad. See, Al-Maqdisi, Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Qahira, 1968) Vol.7, 42; Ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi, Shams al-Din, Tanqih al-Tahqiq fi Ahadith al-Ta’liq, (Riyadh: Adwa’ al-Salaf, 2007) Vol.4, 324. It is, however, not found in Musnad and other well-known works of Ahmad bin Hanbal. Al-Albani too was unable to trace an isnad for this, see his Irwa’ al-Ghalil fi Takhrij Ahadith al-Manar al-Sabil, (Beirut: Maktab al-Islami, 1985) Vol.6, 229; Al-Kirmani’s work which, as quoted here, includes an isnad for this report, though not through Ahmad b. Hanbal, was first published in 2013 and was inaccessible to al-Albani (d. 1999).

[5] Al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr,  Sunan al-Kubra, Vol.1, 476

[6] Al-Asbahani, Abu Nu‘aim, Akhbar Asbahan, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 1990) Vol.2, 243; Al-Albani, Nasir al-Din, Irwa’ al-Ghalil fi Takhrij Ahadith al-Manar al-Sabil, Vol.1, 199

[7] Ibn ‘Asakir, Abu al-Qasim, Tarikh al-Damishq, (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr, 1995) Vol.70, 188

[8] Al-Kalabadhi, Abu Nasr, al-Hidaya wa al-Irshad fi Ma’rifah Ahl al-Thiqa wa al-Sidad, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifa, 1407 AH) Vol.1, 370; Ibn ‘Asakir, Abu al-Qasim, Tarikh al-Damishq, Vol.24, 358, 361

[9] Ibn ‘Adi, Abu Ahmad, al-Kamil fi al-Du‘afa al-Rijal, Vol.5, 343

[10] ibid.,

[11] Al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr,  Sunan al-Kubra, Vol.1, 476

[12] al-Dainwari, Ibn Qutaiba, al-Ma‘arif, (Cairo: al-Ha’iyah al-Misriyya, 1992) 287; Al-Baihaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, Vol.1, 476

[13] Al-Kalabadhi, Abu Nasr, al-Hidaya wa al-Irshad fi Ma‘rifah Ahl al-Thiqa wa al-Sidad, Vol.1, 386; Ibn ‘Asakir, Abu al-Qasim, Tarikh al-Damishq, Vol.31, 244

[14] Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, (Beirut: Dar al-Turath, 1387) Vol.3, 161 translated in Poonawala, Ismail K., The History of al-Tabari: Volume IX – The Last Years of the Prophet, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) 128

[15] Al-Isbahani, Abu Nu‘aim, Al-Tibb al-Nabawi, Ed. Mustafa Khezr Dönmez (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2006) Vol.2, 732 No. 82; Abu Nu‘aim’s other work Akhbar Isbahan has the same report with the wording “فاستحث النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أبوي بالبناء” replacing أبواي with أبوي. See, Akhbar Isbahan, Ed. Seyyed Kasrawi Hassan (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiya, 1990) Vol.1, 233. This alters the meaning altogether and makes ‘Aisha say, “The Prophet then urged my parents for consummating the marriage.” It is, however, Al-Tibb al-Nabawi version which appears to be the correct firstly because its critical edition is based on six manuscripts and the editor mentions no variance across these manuscripts for the word under consideration whereas even Akhbar Isbahan’s recent edition is reprint of the Leiden edition which in turn was based on a single manuscript. See, Dedering, Sven, (ed.), Dhikr Akhbar Isbahan, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1934) Vol.2, x (Foreword). Secondly, Al-Tibb al-Nabawi version is corroborated by another report given below.

[16] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiyah, 1990) Vol.8, 50; Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, Vol.11, 601-602 translated in Tasseron-Landau, Ella, The History of al-Tabari: Volume XXXIX – Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998) 172-173; the narrations ends with statement of ‘Aisha, “He consummated our marriage in my house, the one where I live now and where he passed away” which contradicts an assertion below.

[17] Asad, Muhammad, Sahih al-Bukhari – The Early Years of Islam (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1981) 199

[18] Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publications, 2001) Hadith 25769; classified as hasan by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani and Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut. See also, Al-Halabi, Abu al-Faraj, Insan al-‘Uyun fi Sirat al-Amin al-Ma’mun, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiyah, 1427 AH) Vol.2, 167

[19] Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, Vol.2, 400 translated in McDonald, M.V., The History of al-Tabari, Volume VII – The Foundation of the Community, (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1987) 8.

[20] Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, (San Francisco: Harper, 1992) 157

[21] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, , (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2008) Hadith 3903; Ibn Majah, al-Sunan, (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Hadith 3324; classified as sahih by al-Albani

[22] Ibn Abi ‘Asim, al-Ahad wa al-Mathani, Hadith 3022; Al-Isbahani, Abu Nu‘aim, Al-Tibb al-Nabawi, No. 840

[23] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Hadith 300; compare this to the Biblical instructions in the Book of Leviticus (15:19-33) that term one touching an object a woman in menses has touched impure.

[24] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 250, 261; Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 321 (46)

[25] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Hadith 2578; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 26277; classified as sahih by al-Albani and Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut; the second race happened in Sha‘ban 4/January 626 at the eve of second campaign to Badr. See, al-Tahawi, Abu Ja‘far, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publishers, 1994) Hadith 1881; Ibn Hisham, ‘Abd al-Malik, Sirah al-Nabawiyya, Edited Mustafa Saqa, (Cairo: Mustafa Babi, 1955) Vol.2, 209;

[26] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3662 (Narrated by ‘Amr b. al-‘As)

[27] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 3442 (83)

[28] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 2574, 2581, 3775

[29] This is related from; (i) ‘Umar b. al-Khattab: Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol.8, 53, (ii) ‘Ammar b. Yasir: al-Tirmidhi, al-Sunan/ al-Jami’ al-Kabir, (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Hadith 3888; one version of the report adds that ‘Ali b. Abi Talib was present when ‘Ammar said this and he listened to him silently implying his approval, see Ahmad b. Hanbal, Fada’il al-Sahaba, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1983) Hadith 1625 (iii) Masruq: Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol.8, 53

[30] As stated by ‘Amir al-Sha‘bi, see al-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taimiya, 1994) Hadith 293; its narrators are those of al-Sahih [of al-Bukhari], see al-Haithami, Majm‘ al-Zawa’id, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Qudsi, 1994) Hadith 15322

[31] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4939; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 24519, 24596

[32] In some versions it is reported as if ‘Aisha related the story while in others it appears to have come all from the Prophet (ﷺ). Ibn Hajar gives a reasonable way to explain the attribution of the description of the whole story to the Prophet (ﷺ). See, al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1379 AH) Vol.9, 257;

[33] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 5189; Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 2448 (92); for the words; “except that Abu Zar‘ divorced while I would not.” See, al-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, Vol.23, Hadith 270; another version says, “I am to you as Abu Zar‘ was to Um Zar‘ in affection and fidelity and not in parting and breaking up.” See, al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.9, 275

[34] Ishaq b. Rahuwayh, al-Musnad, (Madina: Maktaba al-Iman, 1991) Hadith 744-745; al-Nasa’i, al-Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2001) Hadith 9092-9093

[35] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Hadith 4999; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 18394; classified as sahih by al-Albani and Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut

[36] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3816-18, 5229 et al.

[37] She said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Suppose you landed in a valley where there is a tree of which something has been eaten and then you found a tree of which nothing has been eaten, of which tree would you let your camel graze?,” see, Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 5077

[38] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 2815 (70)

[39] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 6130

[40] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 892 (18); also Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 5236

[41] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 1478 (29)

[42] Under Hadith 6130 of Sahih Bukhari ONLINE SOURCE; See, Khan, Muhsin, The Translation and Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar us Salam, 1997) Vol.8, 88-89

[43] al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.10, 527

[44] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Hadith 4932

[45] al-Nasa’i, al-Sunan al-Kubra, Hadith 8901

[46] Al-Busti, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 1988) Hadith 5864

[47] Al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr, al-Sunan al-Kubra, Edited by Dr. ‘Abdullah al-Turki (Cairo: Markaz Hijr, 2011) Hadith 21023

[48] al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.7, 464-465 (Ibn Hajar critically analyzes reports on dating of Khaibar), 192; Vol.6, 87, 193

[49] al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.2, 445; see also, See, Al-Busti, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, Hadith 5876; these people had come from Abyssinia alongwith Ja’far al-Tayyar who we know reached the Prophet (ﷺ) just at the time of Khaibar. See, Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3136 and, Ibn Hadida, Jamal al-Din, AlMisbah Al-Mudi fi Kitab Al-Nabi Al-Ummi wa Rusilihi ila Muluk Al-Ard min ‘Arabi wa ‘Ajami, (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kitab, n.d.) Vol.2, 43-44.

Whereas for Ibn Hajar ‘Aisha being fifteen years of age only goes with the fact that she had attained puberty, Muhsin Khan in his translation of Sahih al-Bukhari makes embarrassing mistakes on this point. To a Hadith (No. 5190) about ‘Aisha seeing the Abyssinians sport in the mosque he adds a footnote “‘Aisha was fifteen years old then”; and in translation of another hadith about the same event he adds in parenthesis a note describing ‘Aisha as a girl “who has not reached the age of puberty” (Hadith 5236); see, Khan, Muhsin, The Translation and Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol.7, 85, 109

[50] al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol.9, 336-337;

[51] Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, al-Tamyiz fi Talkhis Takhrij Ahadith Sharh al-Wajiz (=Talkhis al-Habir), (Riyadh: Dar ‘Adwa’ al-Salaf, 2007) Vol.5, 2400; Whereas Ibn Hajar completed the first draft of Talkhis al-Habir in Shawwal 813/February 1411 and started with the fuller and extant version of Fath al-Bari in the year 817/1414, he himself tells us that he completed a supplementation to al-Talkhis al-Habir in Jumda-II 820/Jul-Aug 1417. (Vol.6, 3295) For dates on Fath al-Bari see, al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Intiqad al-I‘tirad fi al-Radd  ‘ala al- ‘Ayni fi Sharh al-Bukhari (Riyadh: Maktaba al-Rushd, 1993) Vol.1, 7

There is evidence that he kept adding to al-Talkhis years later as well. At one point in al-Talkhis Ibn Hajar refers to his relevant discussion in Fath al-Bari (Vol.3, 1051), and at another point he provides a reference which he says he had come across in the year 840/1436-37 (Vol.2, 739). While there is no categorical evidence, mention of the quoted remark seems to be an addition made after the first draft was completed for it falls under a heading, ‘caution’ (tanbih) disrupting the flow of the text.

[52] Al-Yahsubi, Qadi ‘Iyad, Ikmal al-Mu‘lim bi Fawa’id al-Muslim, (Cairo: Dar al-Wafa’, 1998) Vol.7, 447-448

[53] Cocca, C.E., Jailbait: The Politics of Statutory Rape Laws in the United States (New York: State University of New York Press) 23-24

[54] Textor, Robert B., et al., The Social Implications of Industrialization and Urbanization: Five Studies of Urban Populations of Recent Rural Origin in Cities of Southern Asia, (Culcutta: Unesco. Research Centre on the Social Implications of Industrialization in Southern Asia, 1956) 92

[55] Epton, Nina, Love and the English, (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1964) 353

[56] Ibid., 354 (note 1)

[57] Ibid., 358-359

[58] Ibid., 359

[59] Prideaux, Humphrey, The True Nature of Imposture, Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet, 10th ed. (London: W. Baynes, 1808) 37

[60] Lane, Edward William, An Account of the Manners And Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Fifth ed. (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1908) 161; he wrote, “The Egyptian females arrive at puberty much earlier than the natives of colder climates. Many marry at the age of twelve or thirteen years; and some remarkably precocious girls are married at the age of ten: but such occurrences are not common. Few remain unmarried after sixteen years of age. An Egyptian girl at the age of thirteen, or even earlier, may be a mother.”

[61] Asad, Muhammad, Sahih al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam, (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1981) 199; he wrote, “For anyone, however, who knows something about the rapid physical development of Arabian women there is hardly anything astonishing in such marriages. During my long sojourn in Arabia I have come across one or two cases where a girl of twelve became mother; and I was told, on very good authority, that sometimes even younger mothers have given birth to living children.”

[62] Irving, Washington, The Life of Mahomet, (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850) 63; William Muir, The Life of Mohammad, (Edinburg: John Grant, 1923) 113

[63] Margoliouth, D. S., Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, (London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905) 234-235; this was highlighted by Dr. Jonathan Brown as well. See, Brown, Jonathan, Misquoting Muhammad, (London: OneWorld Publications, 2014) 144; Dr. Brown also discusses (p. 291-293) the account of the marriage given by Lodovico Maracci (d. 1700) and Simon Ockley (d. 1720).

[64] Some of them actually were able to make sense of it. See, McDonald, M.V.,  The History of al-Tabari, Volume VII – The Foundation of the Community, (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1987) xviii (Translator’s Foreword); he wrote, “According to the ideas of the times, the age nine was seemingly not too young for marriage.” also Turner, C., Islam: the Basics, (New York: Routledge, 2006) 34-35

[65] Perhaps what added fuel to fire was some Muslims’ own readiness to get into a revisionist mode by altogether denying that ‘Aisha was nine when the Prophet (ﷺ) married her. A critical review of such arguments will be presented in a forthcoming article.

[66] Describing the effects of hegemonic modernity affected in the Muslim world through the colonial project Wael B. Hallaq observes; “Together with changing notions of community and individualism came another transformation in the social values that define adulthood, a transformation that has largely been due to major shifts in economic structures and modes of production.” See, Hallaq, Wael B., Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (New Delhi, Cambridge University Press, 2009) 463

[67] Ferguson, Sarah, What You Need To Know About Child Marriage In The U.S. (October 29, 2018)

[68] Gilligan, Andrew, ‘Paedophilia is natural and normal for males’ – How some university academics make the case for paedophiles at summer conferences, (July 5, 2014)

[69] al-Tirmidhi, al-Sunan/ al-Jami’ al-Kabir, Hadith 3883; al-Tirmidhi graded it as hasan sahih, and al-Albani as sahih

[70] Ibn Abi Shaibah, al-Musannaf, Edited by Muhammad ‘Awwamah (Beirut: Dar Qurtaba, 2006) Hadith 31684; al-Darimi, Abu Muhammad, al-Musnad/ al-Sunan, (Riyadh: Dar al-Mughni, 2000) Hadith 2901

[71] Al-Zarkashi, Badr al-Din, Al-Ijāba li-Īrād mā Istadrakathu ‘Āisha ‘alā al-Sahaba, Ed. Sa‘id al-Afghani (Beirut: Maktab al-Islami, 1970)

[72] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol.2, 286

[73] Al-Andalusi, Ibn Hazm, Asma’ al-Sahaba  wa ma li-Kulli wahid minhum min al-‘Adad, Ed. Mus‘ad ‘Abdul Hamid al-Sa‘dani (Cairo: Maktabah al-Qur’an, n.d.) 32

[74] See for instance, al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4939 etc.

[75] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3895, 5078, 5125, 7011

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