Her Age at the Time of Marriage
Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Ph.D.
Hafez Muhammad Zaid Malik
Recent attacks upon Islam and Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) by the leadership of a certain faith tradition has been most unfortunate. Belief in Islam by over 1.2 Billion Muslims, 1/5th of the total human population is a shiny example of the contributions of Islam and Prophet Muhammad. With the Grace of God, the number of Muslims and their reverence for Prophet Muhammad will continue to grow till The Last Day. It is doubtful that the attackers of Islam, and their contributions will be remembered even as a blip on the vast horizon of human history. Our time will be much better spent sharing the message of our own faith traditions, in an environment of mutual respect, rather than making erroneous and hate-filled remarks about others.
Background: Muslims believe that God Almighty has provided the same guidance to all of humanity, i.e. starting with the first human being Adam, a prophet of God, through the ages to prophets Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad – peace be upon them all. That guidance is Islam or submission to the Will of God. Muslims believe, not only in The Ten Commandments, but also believe in the authentic teachings of all of the prophets. They believe that God Almighty gave the ‘Torah’ to Prophet Moses, the ‘Zaboor’ to Prophet David (parts of which are available today in the ‘Psalms of David’), the ‘Injeel’ or the ‘Gospel’ to Prophet Jesus, and the ‘Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad. 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 God Almighty in the form of a scripture.
Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca, currently in Saudi Arabia, in the year 571 A.D. His father died six months before his birth, and his mother died when he was six years old. After his mother’s death, his grandfather took care of him, and upon his death, Prophet Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib acted as his guardian. Prophet Muhammad became a merchant and used to travel with caravans to Syria and to other places. His people, the Pagans of Mecca, gave him the nickname of Al-Amin or ‘The Trust Worthy’. 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 A.D., when Prophet Muhammad was 40 years old, Archangel Gabriel brought him the first message of The Holy Qur’an, and gave him the news that God Almighty had chosen him to be His Messenger and servant. The first person to believe in Prophet Muhammad’s appointment as a Prophet and the revelation received by him was his wife Khadija, and the second person was his cousin, Ali.
Abu Bakr was the 3rd person to accept Islam. He was a very successful businessman at the time. He and Prophet Muhammad had been friends since their childhood, and had thus known each other all of their lives. When Prophet Muhammad told Abu Bakr about Archangel Gabriel’s visit, Abu Bakr replied that he (Muhammad) was the most honest person he knew, and thus had no reason to doubt his word.
In 610 A.D., Pagan tribes that believed in many gods inhabited Mecca. 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 preached that there was only one God, Allah (Arabic word meaning The One God), the same name used by the Christian Arabs of the time and of today to refer to God Almighty, and that he (Muhammad) was a Messenger and servant of God. 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 God regardless of their gender or color, and that the best among them were those who practiced piety. This was a message that threatened the entire fabric of the Meccan society of the time. The leaders of Mecca tried their best to dissuade Prophet Muhammad from preaching God’s 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 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 A.D., after eight years of Prophet Muhammad spreading his message regardless of the persecution, the Meccan 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 Mecca. The Meccans 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 beloved wife for 25 years, his closest friend, confidant, and mother of his children, Khadija, died in 621 A.D.
Prophet Muhammad was 50 years old at the time of his wife Khadija’s death, and had till then lived a monogamous life. Sometime after Khadija’s passing, Prophet Muhammad married a relatively aged woman, named Saudah. It was 622 A.D., when Prophet Muhammad and Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina, a city 275 miles North of Mecca. This migration is referred to as Hijra, and marks the beginning of the Islamic Calendar. The Islamic Calendar is a lunar calendar, which is 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar.
Ayesha, the Youngest Daughter of Abu Bakr: Al-Tabari, a famous historian for the era, writes in his treatise that Abu Bakr, Prophet Muhammad’s Childhood friend, the successful businessman, the 3rd person to accept Islam, and the one that had endured the hardships alongside Prophet Muhammad, had four children; Ayesha being the youngest, and all four of them had been born during the Pre-Islamic period, i.e. prior to 610 A.D.1 Al-Tabari also writes, that before the first migration in 613 A.D., when some of the Muslims were ordered by Prophet Muhammad to go and live in Abyssinia, under the protection of a Christian ruler in order to avoid persecution by the pagans in Mecca, Abu Bakr had planned to marry Ayesha to Jubayer bin Mut’im to whom she was engaged. But fearing persecution from Quraish, the strongest tribe in Mecca and the fiercest enemy ofthe Muslims, Mut’im refused and his son Jubayer had to break his engagement with Ayesha. Obviously at that time (613 A.D.), Ayesha was ready to take on the responsibilities as a wife, possibly at 9-10 years of age. This would place Ayesha’s year of birth to be 603-604 A.D.2 (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 Ayesha’s year of birth to be between 602- 604 A.D. There is a consensus among many historians about a narration by Asma, an older sister of Ayesha, that she was ten years older than Ayesha. It is reported that Asma died at age 100, in 73 Hijra (About 692 A.D.) This places Asma’s year of birth to be 592 A.D., and of Ayesha’s to be 10 year later, around 602 A.D.3, 4, 5
One of the most prominent scholars of Islam, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, (d. 855 A.D.), founder of the Hanbali School of Thought in Islam, reports that after the death of Khadijah, Khaulah came to Prophet Muhammad and suggested that he marry again. She had two propositions for the Prophet: a virgin (bikr), or a woman who had been married before (thayyib). Khaulah named Ayesha as the virgin (bikr) candidate.6 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, Ayesha participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud that took place during the second and the third year of Hijra respectively. These battles were fought outside the city of Medina, when Meccan pagans attacked the Muslims who had taken refuge in Medina. No one younger than 15 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 Medina. This applied across the board to all participants, men and women alike. Had Ayesha 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 Hijra (About 624 A.D.), and Ayesha’s marriage with Prophet Muhammad took place at the end of the 2nd year of Hijra (623 A.D.).
Based upon the historic evidence presented above, there can be no doubt that Ayesha was born between 602-604 A.D., and was 19-21 years old at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad in about 623 A.D.
Let us look at one final argument that is most compelling about the fact that Prophet Muhammad could not have married Ayesha had she not been of marrying age.
Ten years prior to Khadija’s death, Prophet Muhammad receives revelation from God, that he, Muhammad, 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 Mecca, 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 Talib, during this period of persecution in Mecca. Having endured all that, and after suffering personal injury and loss of his uncle, Hamza, in the battle of Uhud, while defending their new home city of Medina, it is inconceivable that he would marry an under-age girl in direct violation of the divine guidance in Verse 6 Chapter 4 of the Holy Qur’an. In this Verse, God Almighty 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.”
Let us look at it from Abu Bakr’s perspective. According to the Arab tradition as well as the newly implemented Islamic Law, 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, Ayesha’s marriage could not have taken place without her father’s permission and approval. Abu Bakr was no flaky guy either. He had been a wealthy businessman.
Around the year 623 A.D., during the 2nd year after Hijra, 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 Mecca 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 death in 11 Hijra (632 A.D.).
Two other facts of history may be of interest to the readers: (1) Ayesha lived for 48 years after prophet Muhammad, and was the greatest teacher of Islam besides the Prophet. After the Prophet’s death, Ayesha continued to teach Islam. She narrated two thousand two hundred and ten (2,210) Hadith (sayings) of the holy Prophet. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, one of the most prominent Muslims of the time says: “ We the companions of the holy Prophet used to ask Ayesha about those matters that were difficult for us to understand”.7 Ayesha died in 678 A.D. at age 74. (2) Prophet Muhammad did not designate his successor. After his death, the people chose Abu Bakr as their ruler (what a lesson in democracy in the year 632 A.D.), who ruled until his death in 13 Hijra (634 A.D.).
What remains to be answered is where did this story of Ayesha’s marriage at age 6 or 9 originate?
Muslims believe that the Holy Qur’an is the actual word of God as it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years. The Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad sometimes in the form of a single verse or at other times as several verses. Prophet Muhammad 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, 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 Verse 9 Chapter 15 of The Qur’an, God Almighty promises to guard The Qur’an from corruption. Consequently, Muslims have no doubt about the authenticity of what they find in the Qur’an.
The word ‘Hadith’or ‘Sunnah’ means ‘traditions’: sayings, actions, and all other things done in the presence of Prophet Muhammad to which he did not object (tacit approvals). In the early years of his prophethood, Prophet Muhammad stopped people from writing down his personal statements and his actions. The Prophet’s 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 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 Hadith (traditions) recorded during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad can be divided into the following three groups:
1. The Hadith dictated by the holy Prophet 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.
2. The Hadith that were recorded in the presence of Prophet Muhammad and with his permission, like the collection by Abdullah bin Amr, namely Sahifa as sadiqah (the Authentic Collection) and other collections by different companions. Abdullah writes in this collection, “I used to write each and every thing I heard from the holy Prophet, so much so that some of the elder companions said to me: the holy Prophet is but a human being, some times he is angry and some times in a good mood and you write every thing, so I stopped writing. The holy Prophet noticed that and asked me why I stopped it. I told him the reason and he said: “Write every thing, I swear by Him in Whose Hand my soul is that nothing comes out of this mouth except the Truth”.
3. The Hadith that were recorded by Prophet Muhammad’s companions after the conclusion of their meetings with the Prophet, like the collections of Hadith by: Anas bin Malik, Abu Hurairah, Abu Bakr, Rafi bin Khadij, and many others.
Until the end of the first century of Hijra calendar, there was no problem about the authenticity of the Hadith literature as majority of the companions of the Prophet lived approximately 3/4th of that century. The last companion of the Prophet died in the year 93 Hijra (712 A.D. Approx.). The Prophet Muhammad once said, “My century is the best century, 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 Hadith 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 that some people started fabricating some Hadith and attributing them to Prophet Muhammad. It was during and following this period that Muslim scholars developed a methodology to validate the authenticity of a Hadith. Now each Hadith has to be reliably supported by a chain of transmitters leading directly back to the Prophet 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 Hadith must be rejected. Hence a new science of Asma-ur-Rijaal (Science of the biographies of the transmitters of Hadith) came in to existence, and some 500,000 biographies were written.
The early Islamic scholars established the following criteria for Sahih (authentic) Hadith:
1. The chain of the narrators must be unbroken.
2. All of the narrators in the chain must be people of integrity and piety.
3. All of the narrators in the chain must be either greatly or acceptably proficient narrators.
4. The narration must not contradict stronger reports or narrations.
5. There can be no hidden damaging defect in the chain and/or in the text of Hadith, e.g. if it were discovered that a mistake was made by one of the narrators.
Those Hadith that could not meet the above criteria were called Da’eef (weak) Hadith 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 Hadith, all Hadith coming from that chain were rejected and called Mau’doo (fabricated) Hadith.
The narration that mentions Ayesha’s age, at the time of her marriage with Prophet Muhammad, does not meet standard # 5 listed above. That narration had come from a single person, Hisham bin Urwah, narrating the story on the authority of his father, Urwah. Despite the abundance of information available during the 71 years that Hisham bin Urwah lived and taught in Medina, it is rather odd that no one else—not even his famous pupil Malik bin Anas (d.795 A.D), the founder of the Maliki School of Thought in Islam, reported Ayesha’s age from Hisham in Medina. Furthermore, all the narrators of this Hadith were Iraqis, since Hisham is reported to have moved to Iraq in his later years.
Yaqub ibn Shaibah, an early scholar of Islam wrote: “Narratives reported byHisham are reliable 8
Al-Dhahabi writes in a book on the life sketches of the narrators of the Hadeeth: “It is reported that Hisham bin Urwah’s memory suffered in his later years to the extent that the traditions reported from him could not be trusted.” 9
CONCLUSION: In light of the above discussion, there can be absolutely no doubt that any narration stating that Ayesha was 6-9 years old at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad, is inaccurate. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that suggests that Ayesha was 19-21 years old at the time of her marriage.
REMARKS: 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. Translation of Verse 13 Chapter 49 of The Qur’an reads, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and
tribes that you may know and honor each other (not that you may despise each other). Indeed the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” And then in Verse 125 Chapter 16 of The Qur’an, God Almighty 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.”
1. Al-Tabari, (Beirut: Dar-al-Kutub al_’Ilmiah, 1987,Vol 2, P351.
2. Habib-ur-Rahman Kandhalwi, (Karachi: Anjuman Uswa-e-hasanah) Urdu, p.38
3. Al-Dhahabi, , (Beirut: Mu’assasatu’l-risalah, 1992) Arabic, Vol. 2, p.289
4. Ibn Kathir, Maktabah al-Ma’arif, no date, Vol 8, P 346.
5. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, (Lucknow: Bab fi’l-nisa’ harfu’l-alif) Arabic, p. 654
6. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, , (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-turath al-`arabi) Arabic, Vol 6, p.210
7. Muhammad ibn ‘Isa al-Tirmidhi, Jami al- Tirmidhi, (A great collection of Hadith literature. See chapter on: Virtues of Ayesha), Nashr al-Sunnah, no date, Pakistan.
8. Ibn Hajar Al-‘asqala’ni, , (Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami) Arabic, Vol. 11, p. 48-51
9. Al-Dhahabi, , (Sheikhupura: Al-Maktabatu’l-athariyyah) Arabic, Vol 4, p. 301