DID AYESHA MARRY MUHAMMAD (P.B.U.H), THE PROPHET OF ISLAM, AT THE AGE OF 6?
By Abdul H. Fauq
The Quran has not given names and other details of Prophet's wives but it has confirmed that all marriages of the Prophet (pbuh) were lawful (33:50). The age of Hadrat Ayisha(r), wife of the prophet, is disputed on the basis of a calligraphic error in history books. Narrated history, however sacred, is not above scrutiny, particularly where dignity and honour of the prophet is at stake. The following article is an attempt to dig out reality from the same history.
Rev. Jerry Vines while speaking to the Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention, St. Louis, Missouri on June 10, 2002, called the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh) a pedophile and demon-possessed. The Muslims all over the world were deeply offended by his remarks, as were many people of other faiths. While certainly both of these allegations about the person of the Prophet of Islam can be effectively rebutted, the author of this article proposes to present the Qur’anic concept of marriageable age as well as an in-depth analysis of the issue of Ayesha’s age at the time of her marriage with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). This critique is based on many historical reports as documented in the history books of Islam.
First, I would like to point out that according to the faith of Islam the vast majority of the Muslims professes, there are two sources of the Divine Guidance--the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Quran is the actual Word of Allah (God) revealed by the archangel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) over a period of 23 years during the period 610-632 A.D in the Arabian Peninsula. The Qur’an that was revealed as Guidance and Light (17:9) for all mankind was written and properly documented by some forty scirbes during the lifetime of the Prophet. There is historical as well as the Qur’anic internal evidence to that effect (80:11-16 and 25:5) as well as God’s personal guarantee against any possible corruption in the Scripture (15:9). Additionally, the Qur’an was not only written and documented but it was committed to memory in its entirety during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). This noble tradition of memorization of the Qur’an continues to this day. One can find hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world who know the entire Qur’an by heart. It is noteworthy that although there are several sects in Islam, the Qur’an remains perfectly preserved to the letter in its original Arabic language and recited, understood and referred to for explanations by all sects the same way. Thus, while the interpretations may vary, the original Arabic text has remained the same without sectarian bias.
The Qur’an enjoined Muhammad (and all believers) to strictly follow the Quran (6:106; 10:109; 33:2) and it stands witness to the fact that Muhammad and his followers did exactly that all their lives (7:203; 46:9; 6:50). In fact, Muhammad himself was warned in rather stern terms not to go against the Qur’anic teachings (17:39, 10:94-95, 69:40-48). Furthermore, the Qur’an declares Muhammad (pbuh) to be a man of highest moral standards (68:4; 33:21) and the best exemplar for humanity. The Qur’an enjoins the believers in scores of verses to follow Muhammad’s teachings and accept him as a final authority in all their affairs.
The Second generally accepted source of Islamic faith is the Sunnah. The Sunnah is the summation of Islamic teachings related to faith and code of conduct as personally practiced and perpetuated by Muhammad (pbuh) for all believers to implement and follow in their personal lives as well as in proper Islamic governance. The Sunnah protocols related to articles of Islamic faith and rituals are continuous from the day of the Prophet but a great many others are largely derived from a huge body of compilations of oral narrations referred to as Hadith. The Hadith, commonly known as traditions of the Prophet, consists of many books of compilations of reported accounts of Muhammad’s sayings, actions, and tacit approvals. There are six books of Hadith (Sihah Sita) that are considered authentic by the main stream Sunni Muslims. There is also a different set of four Hadith books for the Shia Muslim community. All these books were written 200-300 years after the death of Muhammad (pbuh). The documentation of these books proceeded based on collection of hundreds of thousands of stories from the then living people who transmitted accounts or stories about Muhammad or his companions as they heard from earlier generations. Thus, the process of oral transmission (word of mouth) made the basis of all these collections. This process commonly known as ‘Isnaad’ or ‘chain of narration’ comprised a chain of 4-6 or more narrators in time going back to the companions of Muhammad and to Muhammad himself over a period of 250-300 or more years. These accounts seek to portray the Muslim culture and history during the lifetime of the Prophet of Islam. Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that the only true surviving book, call it Islamic history or Divine Guidance, that was memorized by thousands of Companions of the Prophet and written in a completely and carefully documented form is none other than the Qur’an itself. The first non-Qur’anic history book, ‘Seerat Rasoolallah’ (Seerah), by Ibn Ishaq (d. 767 A.D) was written more than 90 years after the death of Muhammad. That book of history was also based on oral transmissions. Ibn Ishaq was severely criticized by some notable scholars of Islam such as Malik bin Anas, the originator of the Maliki School of though in Islamic jurisprudence mainly practiced in Africa.
The majority of Muslims considers two of the six Hadith books, those authored by Al-Bukhari (d. 870 A.D) and Al-Muslim (d. 875 A.D) most authentic after the Qur’an despite the fact that they were written 200-300 years after the advent of Islam. These scholars of Islam exercised great caution in selecting what they called correct traditions and proceeded with purest of intentions but one must not lose sight of the fact that they still collected ‘narrations’ from living people who were not primary or even secondary and tertiary sources of the accounts of the life and sayings of Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions. Some Islamic historians (and/or exegetes of the Qur’an) whose books about early Islamic history are considered of high importance and who derive their history of early Islam from Ibn Ishaq’s Seerah include Tabari (d. 923 ), Ibn Katheer, Ibn Hisham (d. 827 A.D) and Ibn Hajar Al-asqalani, to name a few.
The introduction given above of the two sources of Islam (the Qur’an and the Sunnah/Hadith) is necessary for the reader to understand the issue at hand---the age of Ayesha, the third wife of Prophet Muhammad at the time of her marriage.
How does the Qur’an define ‘marriageable age’?
There are several Hadith reports that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) married his third wife Ayesha when she was 6 year old and consummated her marriage when she was 9. If this is true, then it must be consistent with the Qur’an that tells us that Muhammad himself followed the Qur’an before he asked others to follow it. The Qur’an does not assign a definite number to the age at which a man or a woman becomes ‘adult’ or ready to marry. However, there is a clear definition of the marriageable age as per 4:6:
[an-Nisa' 4:6] Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment in them, release their property to them;
This verse is taking about two concepts here: First of all, the trustee of a property should first test the ability of the grown up orphan to see if he or she is capable of managing his or her own affairs well. Second, the Qur’an provides guidelines for the trustee as to the time at which the property of the orphans is to be handed over--it is the time when the orphan has attained adulthood or marriageable age and that he or she has attained a good degree of mental maturity. Thus, the Qur’an gives a clear definition of adulthood or marriageable age as the one when one has attained a good measure of mental maturity. This should raise the question: Does a 6- or 9-year old have that level of quality of sound judgment? The answer is a resounding NO. If Muhammad married a 6 year old girl (and consummated her marriage at age 9), one wonders if he actually followed the Qur’anic guidelines regarding this issue. Please recall that the Qur’an states that Muhammad is a model for all mankind and that he himself followed the Qur’an in its entirety while ordering the same for his devout followers.
The Qur’anic guidelines as described clearly in 4:6 tell us that Muhammad could not have married a young girl of age 6 or 9. There are other verses where the marriage bond has been described as “solemn covenant/solid contract---Meethaqan ghaleezan” (4:21). It is mighty revealing to me that in 4:21 for husband-wife relationship the same composition “meethaqan ghaleezan” has been used for the covenant that Allah took from all the prophets including our own prophet (33:7). Not only that, the same expression was also used when Allah took covenant from the Jews not to violate the Sabbath (4:154). Thus, according to the Qur'an 'tying the knot' is going for a "Meethaqan Ghaleezan" (a solemn covenant of mutual trust and faithfulness for each other). This a definition of marriage, which later, when developed and nourished, gives rise to love, tranquillity and mutual feelings of caring (30:21), as well as to our offspring as comfort of our eyes (25:74).
These verses, as far as the author of this article is concerned, should suffice and bury the issue of the age of Ayesha’s marriage with the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) for good. Ayesha could not have been 6 years of age because:
1. She could not have been an adult woman capable of making her own sound decisions, and,
2. She could not have entered into a ‘solemn covenant’ at the age of 6 with a 55-year old man. This defies all reasons for a productive and meaningful union.
3. The Prophet, according to the Qur’an, is a model for all humanity. The Qur’an tells us that he was at the highest of moral pedestal. Even if child marriages were common in his community, he could not have gone for it because it went against the Qur’anic injunctions of 4:6 and 4:21.
Nonetheless, since the charge of paedophilia by Rev. Vines rested solely on some Hadith reports and not on any of the Qur’anic verses, the attention is now turned to those Hadith accounts and many other observations related to Ayesha’s age, and their in-depth analysis.
Was Ayesha really 6 years old when she married Muhammad?
A few comments about Muhammad’s marriages are in order. Muhammad married his first wife, Khadijah, several years before his announcement as a prophet of Islam. Khadijah was a reasonably well-to-do woman of Makkah and was 15 years his senior. Muhammad was 25 and Khadijah was 40 at the time of their marriage. This loving and caring monogamous relationship continued for 25 years until her death. Muhammad, now over 50 years of age, married a relatively aged woman by the name of Saudah. It is thus important to note here that Muhammad’s twenty five prime youth years were spent in purely monogamous relationship with a lady 15 years his senior. This speaks volumes about this man’s piety and loyalty in spousal matters as well as about the fact that his later marriages could not have been motivated by any human wild sexual desires. In 620-621 A.D, he and his devout companions migrated from Makkah to Medina. Then a couple of years later, he married Ayesha, a daughter of his closest companion, Abu Bakr, in the 3rd Hijrah (Islamic calendar--623-24 A.D). This information coming from diverse historical and Hadith sources is widely agreed upon and therefore can be, a priori, considered authentic. Based on this information, and a host of other related bits and pieces detailed below, it can be shown that Ayesha could have been at least 16-19 of age at the time of her marriage with Muhammad (pbuh). The following is the detail of the analysis of these historical and Hadith accounts.
1. Several books of Hadith (Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim, Abu Dawood, among others) and Islamic history (Tabari, among others) report that Ayesha was married to the Prophet at 6 but her marriage was not consummated until she was 9. Although, this information is widely quoted and found in many Hadith and history books, it must be noted that most of this information has come from a single person, Hisham bin Urwah, who is the last narrator of this Hadith Isnaad (chain of narration) on the authority of his father. Thus, this Hadith is primarily a single Hadith. Some other narratives mention the same Hadith but their narration has been found weak and unacceptable. In general, a Hadith has more credibility if it is narrated by more people independently from diverse chains of narrators. In this case, there is basically only one source.
2. Despite the abundance of information available during the 71 years that Hisham bin Urwah lived and taught in Medina, it is rather odd that that no one else—not even his famous pupil Malik ibn Anas---reported Ayesha’s age from Hisham in Medina. Furthermore, all the narrators of this Hadith were Iraqis. Hisham is reported to have moved to Iraq in his later years. An extensive list of biographical sketches of all narrators including these Iraqis is available in some books.
3. Yaqub ibn Shaibah is reported to have said, “narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq". Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), a student of Hisham in fact discredited all narratives of Hisham that were reported through people of Iraq.
(Tehzibu'l-tehzib, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Arabic, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, one of the most well known books on the life and reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh), vol 11, pg 48 - 51).
4. It is reported that Hisham bin Urwah’s memory suffered in his later years to the extent that some of the traditions reported from Hisham bin Urwah could not be trusted for authenticity.
(Mizanu'l-ai`tidal, by Al-Zahbi , Arabic, a book on the life sketches of the narrators of the Hadith, Al-Maktabatu'l-athriyyah, Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Vol 4, pg 301).
5. Even though Ayesha is reported to have been born about eight years before Hijrah (around 614 A.D.), one can find another narrative in Bukhari (kitabu'l-tafseer) whereby Ayesha is reported to have said that she was a ‘young girl’ at the time of revelation of the 54th chapter of the Qur'an which came 9 years before Hijrah (around 612 A.D). Thus, according to this tradition, Ayesha was a young girl (Jariyah—as she calls herself and not an infant in which case she would be sibyah). Additionally, this narrative stands in direct contrast to the one reported on Ayesha’s age by Hisham bin Urwah. This puts Ayesha’s age significantly higher than 9 as reported by Hisham bin Urwah—possibly 15 or even higher. Obviously, if this narrative is held to be true, it is in clear
contradiction with the narratives reported by Hisham
ibn Urwah. There is no compelling reason as to why this tradition should be considered less accurate vis-à-vis Hisham’s narrative).
(Sahih Bukhari, kitabu'l-tafsir, Arabic, Bab Qaulihi Bal al-sa`atu Maw`iduhum wa'l-sa`atu adha' wa amarr).
6. According to many narratives, Ayesha participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud. No one older than 15 was allowed to accompany the Prophet’s army in the battle of Uhud. This applied across the board to all participants, men and women alike. The battle of Uhud took place around the 2nd Hijrah, a time line close to her marriage with the Prophet. Obviously, she was at least older than 15 at that time.
7. A narrative regarding Ayesha's participation in the battle of `Uhud is given in Bukhari, (Kitabu'l-jihad wa'l-siyar, Arabic, Bab Ghazwi'l-nisa' wa qitalihinna ma`a'lrijal; that all boys under 15 were sent back is given in Bukhari, Kitabu'l-maghazi, Bab ghazwati'l-khandaq wa hiya'l-ahza'b, Arabic).
8. Most historians have consensus on the age of one of the oldest female companions of the Prophet, namely, Asma, the elder sister of Ayesha that was ten years older than Ayesha. It is also reported in Taqri'bu'l-tehzi'b as well as Al-bidayah wa'l-nihayah that Asma died in 73 Hijrah when she was 100 years old. Clearly, if Asma was 27 or 28 years old at the time of Hijrah, Ayesha was 17 at the time of Hijrah and 19 at the time of consummation of her marriage with Muhammad.
(For Asma being 10 years older than Ayesha, see A`la'ma'l-nubala', Al-Zahabi, Vol 2, Pg 289, Arabic, Mu'assasatu'l-risalah, Beirut, 1992. Ibn Kathir confirms this fact, [Asma] was elder to her sister [Ayesha] by ten years" (Al-Bidayah wa'l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol 8, Pg 371, Arabic, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933). For Asma being 100 years old, see Al-Bidayah wa'l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol 8, Pg 372, Arabic, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933). Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani also has the same information: "She [Asma (ra)] lived a hundred years and died in 73 or 74 AH." Taqribu'l-tehzib, Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, Pg 654, Arabic, Bab fi'l-nisa', al-harfu'l-alif, Lucknow).
9. Tabari informs in his treatise on Islamic history that Abu Bakr had four children and all four were born during the pre Islamic period. The pre-Islamic period ended in 610 A.D, a fact that makes Ayesha to be at least 14 years of age at the time of her marriage around 613-624 A.D.
Tarikhu'l-umam wa'l-mamlu'k, Al-Tabari, Vol 4, Pg 50, Arabic, Dara'l-fikr, Beirut, 1979).
10. Ibn Hisham, the historian, reports that Ayesha (ra) accepted Islam quite some time before `Umar ibn al-Khattab which only means that Ayesha (ra) accepted Islam close to the time of first revelation (around 610 A.D). This means she must have been at least a young girl at that time. Assuming she was barely 6 or 7 at that time this information puts the age of Ayesha at 20 or more at the time of her marriage with Muhammad (623-624 A.D.), (Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, Ibn Hisham, vol 1, Pg 227 – 234 and 295, Arabic, Maktabah al-Riyadh al-hadithah, Al-Riyadh).
11. Tabari reports that before migrating to Habashah, Abu Bakr planned to hand over his daughter, Ayesha to Mut’am’s son to whom she was engaged. But fearing persecution by the Quraish, Mut’am refused and his son divorced Ayesha. The migration to Habashah happened 8 years before Hijra. Obviously, at the time she was ready to take on responsibilities as a wife (possibly 9 or 10 years of age). If she married Muhammad in the 2nd Hijrah (623-624 A.D), she could not be less than 19 years of age (a secondary reference for this argument is: Tehqiq e umar e Siddiqah e Ka'inat, Habib ur Rahman Kandhalwi, Urdu, Pg 38, Anjuman Uswa e hasanah, Karachi, Pakistan).
12. A famous Sunni imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, reports in His Musnad, that after the death of Khadijah, Khaulah came to the Prophet (pbuh) and advised him to marry again. She had two propositions for the Prophet: Either Muhammad could marry a virgin (bikr), or he could go for woman who had already been married (thayyib)". Khaulah named Ayesha for a virgin (bikr). It is common knowledge that the term bikr in the Arabic language refers to a well formed lady and not to a 9 year old, playful, immature lass. If she were nine, the word used by Khaulah would have been jariyah and not bikr.
(Musnad, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol 6, Pg 210, Arabic, Dar Ihya al-turath al-`arabi, Beirut).
13. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani has reported that Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter, was five years older than Ayesha and that Fatimah was born when the Prophet was 35 years old. Thus, Ayesha, according to Ibn Hajar, was born when Muhammad was 40 and consummated her marriage when he was 54 or 55. That makes Aysha at least 15-16 years of age.
(Al-isabah fi tamyizi'l-sahabah, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Vol 4, Pg 377, Arabic, Maktabatu'l-Riyadh al-haditha, al-Riyadh,1978)
Finally, it must be pointed out that Ayesha’s age at the time of her marriage has never been an issue. If it were, his enemies must have picked up on this issue as they did to him on some other issues. Also, the reader must note that none of these Hadith reports concerning Ayesha’s controversial age of marriage with the Prophet goes back to the Prophet himself. In other words, it is not the Prophet himself who said Ayesha was 6 or 9. These reports came from a single individual and the Iraqis reported from him when he grew old and his memory started failing.
In conclusion, this article is an attempt to prove that the books written 200-300 years after the death of Muhammad, while providing a good deal of historical information about him are not free from faulty, less than perfect and self-contradictory materials. These should not be taken as the final word for a Muslim. There is a Final Word for a Muslim and that is the Book of God, the Holy Qur’an—the book that defines the marriageable age for a man or woman when he or she attains soundness of judgment (Al-Qur’an 4:6). If Muhammad is a model for mankind, if he followed the Qur’an all his life, if Allah stands witness to his rock-solid character, there is no way that he could have taken a 6-9 year old, immature young, playful girl as a responsible wife.