‘Aishah’s (r.a.) Age at the Time of Marriage

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is from a paper by Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi and Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Zaid Malik on Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) wife, ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) age at the time of marriage.  Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Ph.D. is the past-president of The Islamic Society of North America and the Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County Mosque in Garden Grove, California.  Dr. Hafez Muhammad Zaid Malik is the Director of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Muslims believe that Allah (s.w.t.) has Provided the same guidance to all of humanity, beginning with the first human being, Adam (a.s.), a prophet of Allah (s.w.t.), through the ages to prophets Noah (a.s.), Abraham (a.s.), Ishmael (a.s.), Isaac (a.s.), Jacob (a.s.), Joseph (a.s.), David (a.s.), Solomon (a.s.), Moses (a.s.), Jesus (a.s.) and Muhammad (s.a.w.).  That guidance is Islam or submission to the Will of Allah (s.w.t.).  Muslims believe, not only in The Ten Commandments, but also believe in the authentic teachings of all of the prophets.  They believe that Allah (s.w.t.) Gave the Torah to Prophet Moses (a.s.), the Zabur to Prophet David (a.s.) - parts of which are available today in the Psalms of David, the Injil or the Gospel to Prophet Jesus (a.s.), and the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  The Qur’an Refers to the Jews and the Christians as People of the Book because each of them is the recipient of Guidance from Allah (s.w.t.) in the form of a scripture.

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was born in the city of Makkah, currently in Saudi Arabia, in the year 571 CE.  His father passed away six months before his birth, and his mother passed away when he was six years old.  After his mother’s death, his grandfather took care of him, and upon his death, Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) uncle, Abu Thalib (r.a.) acted as his guardian.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) became a merchant and used to travel with caravans to Syria and to other places.  His people, the pagans of Makkah, gave him the nickname “al-Amin” or “The Trustworthy”.  At age 25, he married a businesswoman who was forty years old at the time.  They had two sons and four daughters.  Both of their sons died at a very early age.  In 610 CE, when Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was 40 years old, the archangel, Gabriel (a.s.) brought him the first Revelations of The Holy Qur’an, and gave him the news that Allah (s.w.t.) had Chosen him to be His Messenger and servant.  The first person to believe in Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) appointment as a prophet and the Revelation received by him was his wife, Khadijah (r.a.) and the second person was his cousin, ‘Ali (r.a.).

Abu Bakr (r.a.) was the 3rd person to accept Islam.  He was a very successful businessman at the time.  He had been friends with Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) since childhood, and had thus known each other all of their lives.  When Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) told Abu Bakr (r.a.) about Gabriel’s (a.s.) visit, Abu Bakr (r.a.) replied that Muhammad (s.a.w.) was the most honest person he knew, and thus had no reason to doubt his word.

In 610 CE, pagan tribes that believed in many gods inhabited Makkah.  It was one of the most corrupt societies of the time, where the rich exploited the poor, the women were treated as chattel, and upon the death of their husband, the eldest son inherited his father’s other wives.  It was a common practice of some of the tribes of Arabia to bury their infant daughters alive in sand to get rid of them.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) preached that there was only one God, Allah (s.w.t.), the same name used by the Christian Arabs of the time and of today to refer to Him, and that he was a Messenger and servant of Allah (s.w.t.).  He also preached that the rich should not exploit the poor, that there was life after death, that everyone will be held accountable for his or her deeds of this life, that women were to be treated with dignity and could not be inherited, that infant daughters ought not to be killed, that all were equal in the Sight of Allah (s.w.t.) regardless of their gender or colour, and that the best among them were those who practiced piety.  This was a message that threatened the entire fabric of the Makkan society of the time.  The leaders of Makkah tried their best to dissuade Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) from preaching Allah’s (s.w.t.) Message, but to no avail.  They persecuted him, his family, and his followers.  In order to stop him, they offered to give him any amount of money he desired, the most beautiful girl in the Arabian Peninsula to marry, and even offered to accept him as their king.  Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) reply to their offer was that if they placed the sun on his one hand and the moon on the other, he would not stop preaching the message of Islam.

In 618 CE, after eight years of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) spreading his message regardless of the persecution, the Makkan leaders decided to get rid of the Muslims, once and for all.  They destroyed all property and homes of the Muslims, and exiled them to the desert outside the city of Makkah.  The Makkans were ordered not to trade with Muslims or have any contact with them.  Muslims endured this hardship of living in the open hot Arabian Desert for three years, with little and at times no food.  It was during this period of exile that many Muslim men, women, and children perished.  The Prophet’s (s.a.w.) beloved wife for 25 years, his closest friend, confidant, and mother of his children, Khadijah (r.a.), passed away in 621 CE.

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was 50 years old at the time of his wife Khadijah’s (r.a.) death, and had, until then, lived a monogamous life.  Sometime after Khadijah’s (r.a.) passing, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) married a relatively aged woman, named Sawdah bint Zam’ah (r.a.).  It was 622 CE, when Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and the Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madina, a city 275 miles North of Makkah.  This migration is referred to as al-Hijrah, and marks the beginning of the Islamic Calendar.  The Islamic Calendar is a lunar calendar, which is 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar.

Imam ath-Thabari (r.a.), a famous historian for the era, wrote in his treatise, Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk, “The History of Nations & Kings”, that Abu Bakr (r.a.), Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) childhood friend, the successful businessman, the 3rd person to accept Islam, and the one that had endured the hardships alongside Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), had four children.  ‘Aishah (r.a.) was the youngest.  All four of them had been born during the Pre-Islamic period, prior to 610 CE.  Imam ath-Thabari (r.a.) also wrote, that before the first migration in 613 CE, some of the Muslims were ordered by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) to go and live in Abyssinia, under the protection of a Christian ruler in order to avoid persecution by the pagans in Makkah.  Abu Bakr (r.a.) had planned to marry ‘Aishah (r.a.) to Jubayr ibn Muth’im (r.a.) to whom she was engaged.  But fearing persecution from Quraysh, the tribe in Makkah and fierce enemy of the Muslims, Muth’im ibn ‘Adi refused and his son Jubayr (r.a.) had to break his engagement with ‘Aishah (r.a.).  Obviously at that time, 613 CE, ‘Aishah (r.a.) was ready to take on the responsibilities as a wife, possibly at 9 to 10 years of age.  This would place ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) year of birth to be 603-604 CE.  This is from Habib ‘Abd ar-Rahman Kandhalwi (r.a.), Tehqiq e-Umar e-Siddiqah e-Kainat.  It may be interesting to note here that until 1889, marriage of a 10-year old girl could be registered anywhere in the United States, at which time the State of California raised the age to fourteen.  It was not until 1913 that this age was raised to eighteen.

Several other historians also place ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) year of birth to be between 602 to 604 CE.  There is a consensus among many historians about a narration by Asma’ (r.a.), an older sister of ‘Aishah (r.a.), that she was ten years older than ‘Aishah (r.a.).  It is reported that Asma’ (r.a.) passed away at age 100, in 73 AH, about 692 CE.  This places Asma’s (r.a.) year of birth to be 592 CE, and of ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) to be 10 year later, around 602 CE.  This is found in Imam adz-Dzahabi’s (r.a.) Siyar A‘alam an-Nubala’, “Biographies of Noble Personalities”; Hafizh ibn Katsir’s (r.a.) al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah, “The Beginning & the Ending” and Imam ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani’s (r.a.), Taqrib at-Tahdzib.

One of the most prominent scholars of Islam, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), founder of the Hanbali madzhab, reported in his Musnad, that after the death of Khadijah (r.a.), Khawlah (r.a.) came to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and suggested that he marry again.  She had two propositions for the Prophet (s.a.w.), a virgin, bikr; or a woman who had been married before, thayyib.  Khawlah (r.a.) named ‘Aishah (r.a.) as the virgin candidate.  It is common knowledge that the term “bikr” in the Arabic language refers to a well-groomed unmarried lady and not to a little girl.

According to many narratives, ‘Aishah (r.a.) participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud that took place during the second and the third year of Hijrah respectively.  These battles were fought outside the city of Madina, when Makkan pagans attacked the Muslims who had taken refuge in Madina.  No one younger than 15 years of age was allowed to accompany the Muslim army when they went out to the mountain site of Uhud, in order to stop the invading army from getting in to the city of Madina.  This applied across the board to all participants, men and women alike.  Had ‘Aishah (r.a.) been younger than 15 at the time, she would not have been allowed to accompany the Muslim army.  Since there were so few Muslims in those days, it was common for Muslim women to accompany the men to provide water and to take care of the wounded.  The battle of Uhud took place during the 3rd year after Hijrah, about 624 CE.  ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) marriage with Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) took place at the end of the 2nd year of Hijrah, 623 CE.

Based upon the historic evidence presented above, there can be no doubt that ‘Aishah (r.a.) was born between 602-604 CE, and was 19-21 years old at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad in about 623 CE.

Let us look at one final argument that is most compelling about the fact that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) could not have married ‘Aishah (r.a.) had she not been of marrying age.  Ten years prior to Khadijah’s (r.a.) death, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) Received Revelation, that he, Muhammad (s.a.w.), is the Messenger of God, and that he is to reform humanity.  Had he been motivated by greed or human desires, he would have gladly accepted the most generous offers made by the leaders of Makkah, of money, women, and even kingship, instead of continuing to convey the message of Islam and be persecuted.  He suffered hunger, humiliation, and the death of two of his children, his beloved wife, and uncle, Abu Thalib (r.a.), during this period of persecution in Makkah.  Having endured all that, and after suffering personal injury and loss of his uncle, Hamzah (r.a.), in the battle of Uhud, while defending their new home city of Madina, it is inconceivable that he would marry an under-age girl in direct violation of the Divine Guidance in of the Holy Qur’an:

Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment in them, release their property to them … (Surah an-Nisa’:6)

In this verse, Allah (s.w.t.) Clearly Defines the age of marriage to be such that the parties, male as well as the female, have reached the “age of sound judgement in them.”

From Abu Bakr’s (r.a.) perspective, according to the Arab tradition as well as the newly implemented shari’ah, in order for a marriage to take place, besides an agreement between the parties, permission of the bride’s father or another guardian was required.  This safeguard is intended to make sure that no one takes advantage of a woman that may not be able to protect herself or her interest in a marriage.  Consequently, ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) marriage could not have taken place without her father’s permission and approval.  Abu Bakr (r.a.) was no flaky guy either.  He had been a wealthy businessman.

Around the year 623 CE, during the 2nd year after Hijrah, it is highly unlikely that these two old men in their fifties, who have been friends all their lives, in total violation of the society’s norm, and of the Divine Law that they had recently accepted, that in order for a marriage to take place, the parties have to be mature enough to have reached the “age of sound judgment” so as to take care of their interests under the marriage agreement, would decide that one of them is to let the other marry his youngest under-age daughter.  This would have been a sure way to destroy all of the achievements of the last 14 years, and become a laughing stock of the Arabian Peninsula, instead of continuing to build an Islamic society that could be a model for humanity for all times to come.  No such thing ever took place.  It was during the next 8 years that the Muslims took over Makkah without any fighting, forgave all of their enemies for their excesses, and built an empire that stretched from Yemen in the south to the border of Syria in the North by the time of Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) death in 11 Hijrah, 632 CE.

Two other facts of history are of interest.  ‘Aishah (r.a.) lived for 48 years after Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), and was the greatest teacher of Islam besides the Prophet (s.a.w.).  After the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) passing, ‘Aishah (r.a.) continued to teach Islam.  She narrated two thousand two hundred and ten ahadits of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.).  Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (r.a.), one of the most prominent Muslims of the time said, “We, the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), used to ask ‘Aishah about those matters that were difficult for us to understand.”  ’Aishah (r.a.) passed away in 678 CE at age 74.  This is recorded in Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.), Jami’ at-Tirmidzi.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) did not explicitly designate his successor.  However, he did indicate through various signs that Abu Bakr (r.a.) was the preferred one.  After his death, the people chose Abu Bakr (r.a.) as their ruler, who ruled until his death in 13th Hijrah.

What remains to be answered is where did this story of ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) marriage at age 6 or 9 originate?  Muslims believe that the Holy Qur’an is the actual Word of Allah (s.w.t.) as it was Revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) through Gabriel (a.s.) over a period of 23 years.  The Qur’an was Revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) sometimes in the form of a single verse or at other times as several verses.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) dictated these verses to several scribes who recorded them with the utmost care.  The Qur’an was Revealed in Arabic, the language spoken by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), and the people around him.  The Qur’an that is available today anywhere in the world is exactly the same Qur’an in its entirety in the original language.  It has been translated into many languages, and each of these translations is referred to as the “Translation of The Meanings of The Qur’an,” and not The Qur’an itself.  In the Qur’an, Allah (s.w.t.) Promises to Guard the Qur’an from corruption:

We have, without doubt, Sent Down the Message; and We will Assuredly Guard it (from corruption). (Surah al-Hijr:9)

Consequently, Muslims have no doubt about the authenticity of what they find in the Qur’an.

The word “hadits” or “sunnah” means “traditions”: sayings, actions, and all other things done in the presence of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) to which he did not object, tacit approvals.  In the early years of his prophethood, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) stopped people from writing down his personal statements and his actions.  The Prophet’s (s.a.w.) concern was that, with the passage of time, a recording of his personal statements and actions might get mixed with the verses of the Qur’an that were being Revealed to him and were being recorded.  However, when the Prophet (s.a.w.) was certain that enough steps had been taken to protect the integrity of the Qur’an, then he allowed the recording of his statements, his actions, and all such things done in his presence to which he did not object.

The hadits recorded during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) can be divided into the following three groups.  The first is the ahadits dictated by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) as his formal orders, like the orders and instructions sent by the Prophet to his governors in Yemen, Najran, Hadramaut, and Bahrain.  This group also includes his important sermons that he delivered at various occasions and the letters that he sent to the chiefs of Arabian tribes, and to the rulers of other states and empires of the time.

The second group is the ahadits that were recorded in the presence of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and with his permission, like the collection by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr (r.a.), namely as-Swahifah asw-Swadiqah, “The Authentic Collection” and other collections by different companions.  ‘Abdullah (r.a.) wrote, in this collection, “I used to write each and every thing I heard from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), so much so that some of the elder companions said to me, ‘The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) is but a human being, sometimes he is angry and sometimes in a good mood and you write everything,’ so I stopped writing.

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) noticed that and asked me why I stopped it. I told him the reason and he said, ‘Write everything.  I swear by Him in Whose Hand my soul is that nothing comes out of this mouth except the truth.’”

The category are ahadits that were recorded by Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) companions after the conclusion of their meetings with the Prophet (s.a.w.), like the collections of ahadits by Anas ibn Malik (r.a.), Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), Abu Bakr (r.a.), Rafi’ ibn Khadij (r.a.), and many others are the most authentic.

Until the end of the first century of the hijrah calendar, there was no problem about the authenticity of the ahadits literature as majority of the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) lived approximately 3/4 of that century.  The last companion of the Prophet died in the year 93 Hijrah, approximately 712 CE.  The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) once said, “My generation is the best generation, then is one that follows it and then is one that follows it, and after that people will start lying and taking false oaths.”  He also said, “There will be liars at the end of time and they will relate such ahadits to you that you and your forefathers would have never heard of.  So, beware of these people.”

It was shortly after the death of the last of the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) that some people started fabricating some ahadits and attributing them to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  It was during and following this period that Muslim scholars developed a methodology to validate the authenticity of ahadits.  Now each hadits has to be reliably supported by a chain of transmitters leading directly back to the Prophet (s.a.w.) himself.  The chain must be most stringently examined.  And if the chain is broken, or if any one of its links could be shown to be a weak link, the hadits must be rejected.  Hence a new science of asma’ ar-rijal, the science of the biographies of the transmitters of ahadits, came in to existence, and some 500,000 biographies were written.

The early Islamic scholars established the following criteria for swahih ahadits: the chain of the narrators must be unbroken; all of the narrators in the chain must be people of integrity and piety; all of the narrators in the chain must be either greatly or acceptably proficient narrators; the narration must not contradict stronger reports or narrations; there can be no hidden damaging defect in the chain or in the text of hadits, such as if it were discovered that a mistake was made by one of the narrators; those ahadits that could not meet the above criteria were called dha’if, weak, ahadits and were considered suspect.  And if it was proven that any of the narrators in any chain had ever told a lie, while narrating a hadits, all ahadits coming from that chain were rejected and called mawdhu’, fabricated, ahadits.

The narration that mentions ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) age, at the time of her marriage with Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), does not meet the standard of the fifth criteria listed above.  That narration had come from a single person, Shaykh Hisham ibn ‘Urwah (r.a.), narrating the story on the authority of his father, ‘Urwah (r.a.).  Despite the abundance of information available during the 71 years that Shaykh Hisham ibn ‘Urwah (r.a.) lived and taught in Madina, it is rather odd that no one else, not even his famous pupil, Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.) the founder of the Maliki madzhab in Islam, reported ‘Aishah’s (r.a.) age from Shaykh Hisham (r.a.) in Madina.  Furthermore, all the narrators of this hadits were Iraqis, since Shaykh Hisham (r.a.) is reported to have moved to Iraq in his later years.

Imam Ya’qub ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.), an early scholar of Islam wrote, “Narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq.”  Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.), a student of Shaykh Hisham (r.a.), in one of the most well-known books on the lives and reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (s.a.w.), discredited all narratives of Shaykh Hisham (r.a.) that were reported through the people of Iraq.  This is verified in Imam ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani’s (r.a.), Taqrib at-Tahdzib.

Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) wrote, in Mizan al-I’itidal, on the life sketches of the narrators of the ahadits, “It is reported that Hisham ibn ‘Urwah’s memory suffered in his later years to the extent that the traditions reported from him could not be trusted.”

In light of the above discussion, there can be absolutely no doubt that any narration stating that ‘Aishah (r.a.) was 6 to 9 years old at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), is inaccurate.  On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that suggests that ‘Aishah (r.a.) was between 19 to 21 years old at the time of her marriage.

The Qur’an Provides excellent guidance, for Muslims as well as non-Muslims, in regard to respect for each other, and inviting others to whatever one may happen to believe.  The Qur’an Says:

O mankind!  We Created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other).  Verily the most Honoured of you in the Sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.  And Allah has Full Knowledge and is Well Acquainted (with all things). (Surah al-Hujraat:13)

In the Qur’an, Allah (s.w.t.) Advises us:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord Knoweth, best who have strayed from His Path, and who Receive Guidance. (Surah an-Nahl:125)


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