The Young Marriage of 'Aa'ishah, Mother of the Believers may Almighty Allah be pleased with her
by Abu Iman 'Abd ar-Rahman Robert Squires
The marriage of the Prophet Muhammad [May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him] to 'Aa'ishah bint Abu Bakr when she was at quite a young age has been the focus of quite a bit of criticism in the West. Unfortunately, in this Neo-Colonialist Age of smart bombs, MTV, CNN and the Big Mac, some of those who profess to be Muslims have themselves become critics. Many Muslims, faced with the juggernaut of allegedly "universal" Western liberal values that have permeated almost everyone around them, sheepishly avoid discussion of such "embarrassing" Islamic issues. It is a keenly true observation that even though the European powers have pulled their colonial armies out of Muslim lands and granted them "independence", an even worse plague continues. This curse is "Colonialism of the Mind" and it is more dangerous since it is much more subtle. Insha'Allaah, this article will be a contribution to making both Muslims and non-Muslims aware of not only the objective facts regarding the Prophet's<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> marriage to 'Aa'ishah, but how to understand it in light of Islaam and life in the "modern" world.
Regrettably, for those of us trying to spread the truth of Islaam in the West, we often have to agree with the Orientalist W. Montgomery Watt when he wrote: "Of all the world's great men none has been so much maligned as Muhammad."1 But here, for a change, were are dealing with something that is an authentic part of Islamic history, not an apocryphal or fabricated event that Westerners have been duped into believing is authentic, such as the so-called "Satanic Verses" incident. That a man in his fifties would marry such a young girl—especially a man who is supposed to be a living example of piety—is not only difficult for many "modern" Westerners to come to terms with, but it has even gone so far as to stir up disgusting "sexual misconduct" charges amongst them. In the face of such criticism, Muslims have not always reacted well. In the past century, when so many Muslims were so "Westoxicated" and ready to monkey Europeans in almost anything, the usual reaction was to deny the sources that reported the alleged "embarrassing problem". To Muslim "modernists", who argued that ONLY a legal ruling found in the Qur'an was Islamically valid, brushing aside this aspect of the Prophet's life was rather easy. They simply denied that it had occurred and attacked the sources which reported it. Fortunately for Muslims, the apologetics of these "Uncle Toms of Islaam" has faded into the periphery to a large extent. However, there are still many Muslims out there who try to get around what they see as a problem by ignoring authentic Islamic sources while claiming to be followers of the Ahl as-Sunnah. (which basically means "orthodox Sunni" Muslims, for those unfamiliar Islamic terminology). Many other Muslims possibly wonder whether the story is authentic and how to understand it if it is.
THE ISLAMIC EVIDENCE OF 'AA'ISHAH'S AGE
Due to the apparent ignorance of many Muslims, possibly due to reading "modernist" apologetic literature like that mentioned above, a look at what the authentic sources of Islam say about the age at which 'Aa'ishah married the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>is in order. This way, before we move on to an analysis of the facts, we will first establish what the authentic Islaamic facts are. At this point, it should be mentioned that it is absolutely pointless from an Islaamic standpoint to say that the age of 'Aa'ishah is "not found in the Qur'an", since the textual sources of Islaam are made up of BOTH the Qur'an and the Sunnah - and the Qur'an tells us that. For those wanting (or needing) to learn more about the status of the Sunnah in Islaam, please read An Introduction to the Sunnah and/or The Sunnah and Its Position in Islaamic Law. Now in regards to what the authentic Islaamic sources actually say, it may come as a disappointment to some "modern" and "cultured" Muslims that there are four ahaadeeth in Saheeh al-Bukhari and three ahaadeeth in Saheeh Muslim which clearly state that 'Aa'ishah was "nine years old" at the time that her marriage was consummated with the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>. These ahaadeeth, with only slight variation, read as follows:
'Aa'ishah, may God be pleased with her, narrated that the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> was betrothed (zawaj) to her when she was six years old and he consummated (nikah) his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years. (Saheeh al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64)
Of the four ahaadeeth in Saheeh al-Bukhari, two were narrated from 'Aa'ishah (7:64 and 7:65), one from Abu Hishaam (5:236) and one via 'Ursa (7:88). All three of the ahaadeeth in Saheeh Muslim have 'Aa'ishah as a narrator. Additionally, all of the ahaadeeth in both books agree that the marriage betrothal contract took place when 'Aa'ishah was "six years old", but was not consummated until she was "nine years old". Additionally, a hadeeth with basically the same text (matn) is reported in Sunan Abu Dawood. Needless to say, this evidence is—Islamically speaking—overwhelmingly strong and Muslims who deny it do so only by sacrificing their intellectual honesty, pure faith or both.
This evidence having been established, there doesn't seem much room for debate about 'Aa'ishah's age amongst believing Muslims. Until someone proves that in the Arabic language "nine years old" means something other than "nine years old", then we should all be firm in our belief that she was "nine years old" (as if there's a reason or need to believe otherwise!?!). In spite of these facts, there are still some Muslim authors that have somehow (?) managed to push 'Aishah's age out to as far as "fourteen or fifteen years old" at the time of her marriage to the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>. It should come as no surprise, however, that none of them ever offer any proof, evidence or references for their opinions. This can be said with the utmost confidence, since certainly none of them can produce sources more authentic than the hadeeth collections of Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim! Based on the research that I've done, I feel that there is a common source for those who claim that 'Aishah's age was "fourteen or fifteen years old" at the time of the marriage. This source is "The Biographies of Prominent Muslims" which is published in book form, on CD-ROM and is posted in several places on the Internet. Just another example of why going to the sources is important . . .
THE PROPHET'S<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> MARRIAGES IN PERSPECTIVE
To put all of this in perspective—hopefully without undue apologetics—the first thing that one should be aware of is that 'Aishah was the third wife of the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>, not the first. Prior to this, the Prophet's<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> first and only wife for twenty-four years was Khadijah bint al-Khuwaylid, who was about nineteen years older than him. He married Khadijah when she was forty and he was twenty-one—which might be called the years of a male's "sexual prime"—and stayed married ONLY to her until her death. Just after Khadijah's death, when he was round forty-six years old, the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> married his second wife Sawdah bint Zam'ah. It was after this second marriage that the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> became betrothed to 'Aishah, may God be pleased with her. She was the daughter of Abu Bakr, one of the Prophet's closest friends and devoted followers. Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him, was one of the earliest converts to Islam and hoped to solidify the deep love that existed between himself and the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> by uniting their families in marriage. The betrothal of Abu Bakr's daughter 'Aishah to Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>, took place in the eleventh year of Muhammad's prophethood, which was about a year after he had married Sawdah bint Zam'ah and before he made his hijra (migration) to al-Madinah (Yathrib). As mentioned above, the marriage with 'Aishah bint Abu Bakr was consummated in Shawwal, which came seven months after the Prophet's hijra from Makkah to al-Medinah. At the time of his marriage to ''Aishah, the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> was over fifty years old.
It should be noted that the Prophet's<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> marriage to 'Aishah was an exceedingly happy one for both parties, as the hadeeth literature attests. 'Aishah, may God be please with her,was his favourite wife and the only virgin that he ever married. After emigrating to al-Madinah, Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> married numerous other wives, eventually totalling fifteen in his lifetime. Even though we do not have time to go into the details of each one of them here, each of these marriages was done either for political reasons, to strengthen the ties of kinship or to help a woman in need. Quite a few of the wives were widows, older women or had been abandoned and thus were in need of a home. Additionally, it should be mentioned that the same collection of Muslim hadeeth literature that tells us that 'Aishah was only nine years old at the time of the marriage tells us that the marriage was Divinely ordained: Narrated 'Aishah, may God be pleased with her: The Messenger of God<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> said (to me): "You have been shown to me twice in (my) dreams. A man was carrying you in a silken cloth and said to me, 'This is your wife.' I uncovered it; and behold, it was you. I said to myself, 'If this dream is from God, He will cause it to come true.'" (Saheeh Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 15) Thus like everything that the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> did, there was wisdom behind it and lessons to be learned from it. The wisdom behind such incidents provides us guidance on the basis of human morality, exposes the double standards of misguided hypocrites from other religions that criticize Islam and much more. But more on that subject below. . .
CRITICISM ADDRESSED AND ENTERTAINED
Myself and many other Muslims should no longer be surprised by the double standards that Christians display when they criticize the conduct of Prophet Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> , since we've heard it for so long. To have an atheist, agnostic—or anyone else who does not believe in a Divinely revealed basis for morality—criticize something that is "politically incorrect" by today's moral standards comes as no surprise. Such people will always find something to criticize, since they simply have a bone to pick with "religion" in general. All of this "absolute morality" talk gets in the way of them having a good time, so they want to mock it, discredit it and do away with it.The criticism of Christians, however, is another matter. While it is true that Christians speak out against the "moral relativity" which is spreading amongst the increasingly secular society today, they too are unconscious victims of it. The values of most Christians today come from the humanist values of Western Europe (or, at a minimum, are heavily influenced by them). Their values DO NOT come straight out of the Bible—in theory or in practice—regardless of what they may claim. That Christians today try to take credit for the so-called "Freedom", "Human Rights", "Democracy" and "Women's Rights" in Europe and America is nothing short of a joke. It may impress uneducated people in so-called Third World countries, but anyone who has studied history knows that these things came about in spite of the Church, not because of it. The way in which many Christians uncritically mix non-Christian values with (allegedly) Biblical values has always fascinated me. One interesting example of this is how nationalism and patriotism are supported amongst the majority of Evangelical Protestant (and even other) Christians in the United States. In America, good Christians are flag wavers. Few, if any, of these fiercely patriotic minds ever seem to realize that narrow-minded patriotism is, at its core, both selfish and non-universal. That patriotism and Christianity go hand-in-hand in the minds of many people is just an example of how we can be blindly sucked into "moral relativism" without even realizing it.
According to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, right and wrong are ordained by Almighty God. As such, morality does not change over time based on our whims, desires or cultural sensitivities. In cultures where there is no Divinely revealed ruling on an issue, what is right and what is wrong is determined by cultural norms. In such cases, a person would only be considered "immoral" if they violated the accepted norms of their society. As we will demonstrate, the Prophet Muhammad's<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> marriage to 'Aishah, viewed both in the light of Absolute Morality and the cultural norms of his time, was not an immoral act, but was an act containing valuable lessons for generations to come. Additionally, this marriage followed the norms for all Semitic peoples, including those of Biblical times. Based on this, and other information that we will provide below, it is grossly hypocritical for Christians to criticise the Prophet's <May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> marriage to 'Aishah at such a young age. In case Christian readers are under the false impression that their values today are timeless and somehow reflect those of Biblical times, please consider the following points which are directly related to the question of at what age a person is properly ready to be married:
•Keeping in mind the ideas of "political correctness" and "absolute morality", in Biblical times the age at which a girl could marry was puberty. However, during the Middle Ages it was usually twelve years old. Now in most "Christian" countries it is between fourteen and sixteen years old. I live in country where some states allow partners of the same sex to legally marry, but consider an eighteen year old boy who sleeps with a sixteen year old girl a "statutory rapist". So even though Christians might disagree with much of what is becoming all too prevalent in Western society today—whether it be drug abuse, gay marriages or abortion—they too have been swallowed up (possibly unknowingly) by the ugly monster of "moral relativism". Certainly, they might be giving in less quickly than people who do not believe in a Divine basis for morality, but they're giving in nonetheless.
•Historically, the age at which a girl was considered ready to be married has been puberty. This was the case in Biblical times, as we will discuss below, and is still used to determine the age of marriage in what the culturally arrogant West calls "primitive societies" throughout the world. As the ahadith about 'Aishah's age show, her betrothal took place at least three years before the consummation of the marriage. The reason for this was that they were waiting for her to come of age (i.e. to have her first menstrual period). Puberty is a biological sign which shows that a women is capable of bearing children. Can anyone logically deny this? Part of the wisdom behind the Prophet's Muhammad's<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> marriage to 'Aishah just after she reached puberty is to firmly establish this as a point of Islamic Law, even though it was already cultural norm in all Semitic societies (including the one Jesusgrew up in). The large majority of Islamic jurists say that the earliest time which a marriage can be consummated is at the onset of sexual maturity (bulugh), meaning puberty. Since this was the norm of all Semitic cultures and it still is the norm of many cultures today—it is certainly not something that Islam invented. However, widespread opposition to such a Divinely revealed and accepted historical norm is certainly something that is relatively new!
•The criticism of Muhammad's<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> marriage to 'Aishah is something relatively new in that it grew up out of the values of "Post Enlightenment" Europe. This was a Europe that had abandoned (or at least modified) its religious morality for a new set of humanist values where people used their own opinions to determine what was right and wrong. It is interesting to note that Christians from a very early time criticized (again hypocritically) the Prophet's practice<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> of polygamy, but not the marriage to 'Aishah. Certainly, those from a Middle Eastern Semitic background would not have found anything to criticize, since nothing abnormal or immoral took place. It was European Christians who began to criticize Muhammad on this point, not ones who were in touch with their Semitic roots.
•It is upon reaching the age of puberty that a person, man or woman, becomes legally responsible under Islamic Law. At this point, they are allowed to make their own decisions and are held accountable for their actions. It should also be mentioned that in Islam, it is unlawful to force someone to marry someone that they do not want to marry. The evidence shows that 'Aishah's marriage to the Prophet Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> was one which both parties and their families agreed upon. Based on the culture at that time, no one saw anything wrong with it. On the contrary, they were all happy about it.
•None of the Muslim sources report that anyone from the society at that time criticized this marriage due to 'Aishah's young age. On the contrary, the marriage of 'Aishah to the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> was encouraged by 'Aishah's father, Abu Bakr, and was welcomed by the community at large. It is reported that women who wanted to help the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>, such as Khawlah bint al-Hakeem, encouraged him to marry the young 'Aishah. Due to the Semitic culture in which they lived, they certainly saw nothing wrong with such a marriage.
•Society's ideas of love, family and marriage are much different in the so-called "modern" and "civilized" West of today than they were in Biblical or Qur'anic times. Unfortunately, many of us carry the baggage of "romantic love" and ideas about sex that have managed to poison our minds since the Europeans (and their ideas) came to dominate the globe. These ideas have not only penetrated into the minds of Muslims, but actually permeate many of them. The European colonial powers have pulled out of almost all Muslim lands, but the colonization of the minds continues! As we mentioned above, the sad part is that most people do not even realize that they are under such un-Godly influences. Just to reference the way things have changed, a statement in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica makes it clear that values regarding the proper age of marriage have been changing over the years: ". . . in the United States and parts of Europe the association of adult status with sexual maturity as expressed in the term puberty rites has been unwelcome".2
•The significance that sex and sexuality are thought to play in human psychology has its roots in Freudian thought. Even though many of Freud's ideas are being heavily challenged today, many of his ideas still play a role in the thinking of many people. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) taught that humans are basically "sexual beings" whose childhood sexual urges are the key to understanding their behaviour. He developed the methodology of psychoanalysis and his ideas on sex, repressed guilt and sexuality, the subconscious sex drive, the Oedipus complex and other ideas have come to almost haunt the Western view of sexuality (almost as much as the repressive views of the Roman Catholic Church). Needless to say, Freud's ideas have been criticized by believing Jews, Christians and Muslims since they basically deny human moral responsibility. In Freud's view of things, human beings are prisoners to the effects of unconscious forces and their sex drive. Such ideas are always welcomed by "liberals", "humanists" and others like them. The point of all this in regards to young marriage, however, might be less clear. What needs to be pointed out is the contradictory "modern" Western view of sexuality. They are taken aback by the thought of marriage at the age of puberty, even though it's an age old custom. However, they have junior high schools where sex education is taught and a society where sexually permiscuous "dating" is considered the norm. Sometime sex is simply a natural pleasure to be enjoyed, but at other times it is a psychological demon of far reaching consequences.In short, everything from their private lives to their court systems, have fallen victim to the moral relativity of the psychiatrists and psychologists. The attitude that any experience in life can be seen as some sort of "trauma" is very widespread. Many people go through life constantly obsessed about what sort of "complex" they may be suffering from due to experiences they've had in their relatively normal life. The morality which is produced by such attitudes all but does away with human responsibility. People who are guilty of serious crimes, instead of being held responsible for their actions, are themselves considered "victims", since they are only doing what their psychological makeup causes them to do.
PUBERTY = MATURITY = MARRIAGE
The above points having been presented, some additional details on a few of them is worthwhile. An interesting article on the age at which people married in Biblical times is Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs, by Jim West, ThD—a Baptist minister. This article states that: "The wife was to be taken from within the larger family circle (usually at the outset of puberty or around the age of 13) in order to maintain the purity of the family line;" This is just one reference to the fact that the onset of puberty was considered the age at which young people could marry. That people in Biblical times married at an early age is widely endorsed. While discussing the meaning of the word 'almah, which is the Hebrew word for "young woman" or "adolescent female", Gerald Segal says:
"It should be noted, however, that in biblical times females married at an early age".3
In spite of its somewhat arrogant Western talk of "primitive cultures", An Overview of the World's Religions makes it clear that puberty is an age old symbol of adulthood: "Almost all primitive cultures pay attention to puberty and marriage rituals, although there is a general tendency to pay more attention to the puberty rites of males than of females. Because puberty and marriage symbolize the fact that children are acquiring adult roles, most primitive cultures consider the rituals surrounding these events very important. Puberty rituals are often accompanied with ceremonial circumcision or some other operation on the male genitals. Female circumcision is less common, although it occurs in several cultures. Female puberty rites are more often related to the commencement of the menstrual cycle in young girls." Some female authors agree: "Puberty is defined as the age or period at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction, in other eras of history, a rite or celebration of this landmark event was a part of the culture." (Rites of Passage: Puberty, by Sue Curewitz Arthen)
"Getting your period" marks a rite of passage for young girls entering womanhood (From the Women's Resource Center) Another contemporary reference relating marriage age to puberty is an article on Central Africa, which says: ". . . women marry soon after puberty"4. The previous quotations, and plenty of others which were not used, should prove to any intelligent person what anthropologists and historians already know: in centuries past, people were considered ready for marriage when they reached puberty.
It should be mentioned that from an Islamic point of view, many problems in society today can be traced back to the abandonment of early marriage. Due to the way that Almighty God has created man and woman, i.e. with strong sexual desires, people should marry young. In the past, this was even more true since life expectancy was very low (i.e. you were considered "old" if you made it to 40!). Not only does marriage provide a legal outlet for people with strong sexual desires, but it usually produces more children. One of the main purposes of marriage is to produce children—"be fruitful and multiply" as the Bible says (Genesis 8:17). This was especially important in the past, when people did not live for as long as they do now and the infant morality rate was much higher.
THE AGE OF PUBERTY
Even though we have established that puberty has been the historical, cultural and religious norm for indicating readiness for marriage, some may wonder at which age puberty normally takes place. This is somewhat meaningless in regards to our specific discussion of Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> and 'Aishah, since the hadith literature makes it clear that she had reached puberty. However, in regards to puberty and at what age most girls have their first menstrual cycle, 'Abdul-Hamid Siddiqi says: Islam has laid down no age limit for puberty for it varies with countries and races due to the climate, hereditary, physical and social conditions. Those who live in cold regions attain puberty at a much later age as compared with those living in hot regions where both male and female attain it at a quite early age. "The average temperature of the country or province," say the well-known authors of the book Woman, "is considered the chief factor here, not only with regard to menstruation but as regards the whole of sexual development at puberty."5 Raciborski, Jaubert, Routh and many others have collected and collated statistics on the subject to which readers are referred. Marie Espino has summarised some of these data as follows: (a) The limit of age for the first appearance of menstruation is between nine and twenty-four in the temperate-zone; (b) The average age varies widely and it ay be accepted as established that the nearer the Equator, the earlier the average age for menstruation.6 Additionally, an article entitled Puberty in Girls by an Australian government Public Health organization, says: "The first sign of puberty is usually a surge of growth: you become taller; your breasts develop; hair begins to grow in the pubic area and under the arms. This may start from 10 years to 14 years - even earlier for some and later for others." An article Physical Changes in Girls During Puberty has this to say: "During puberty, a girl's body changes, inside and out, into the body of a woman. The changes don't come all at once, and they don't happen at the same time for everybody. Most girls start showing physical changes around age 11, but everyone has her own internal schedule for development. It's normal for changes to start as early as 8 or 9 years of age, or not until 13 or 14. Even if nothing looks or feels different yet, the changes may have already begun inside your body." Many will readily agree with the information above, but still may harbour reservations about whether a marriage to an older man could be happy for such a young girl. Putting aside the modern Western notions of "happiness" for a moment, the marriage of 'Aishah and the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> was a mutually happy and loving one as in expressed in numerous hadeeth and seerah books. That happy marriages occur between people with a fairly large difference in ages is known among psychologists: "When the differences (in ages) is great, e.g. exceeds fifteen to twenty years, the results may be happier. The marriage of an elderly (senescent) not, of course, an old (senile) man to a quite young girl, is often very successful and harmonious. The bride is immediately introduced and accustomed to moderate sexual intercourse" 7
MORE WISDOM BEHIND IT
In his comments on the ahadith in Sahih Muslim which mention 'Aishah's young marriage to the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>, 'Abdul-Hamid Siddiqi shows points three other reasons for this marriage:
• 'Aishah's marriage to the Prophet Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> at an early age allowed her to be an eye witness to the personal details of his life and carry them on the succeeding generations. By being both spiritually and physically near to the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> , the marriage prepared 'Aishah to be an example to all Muslims, especially women, for all times. She developed into a spiritual, teacher and scholar, since she was remarkably intelligent and wise. Her qualities helped support the Prophet's work and further the cause of Islam. 'Aishah, the Mother of the Believers, was not only a model for wives and mothers, but she was also a commentator on the Qur'an, an authority on hadeeth and knowledgeable in Islamic Law. She narrated at least 2,210 ahadith that give Muslims valuable insights into the Final Prophet's daily life and behaviour, thus preserving the Sunnah of Muhammad<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him>.
• At that time, this marriage refuted the notion that a man could not marry the daughter of a man who he had declared to be his "brother" (even in the religious sense). Since the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> and Abu Bakr had declared each other to be "brothers", this notion was done away with. This is demonstrated in the following hadeeth: Narrated 'Ursa: The Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> asked Abu Bakr for 'Aishah's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said, "But I am your brother." The Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> said, "You are my brother in God's religion and His Book, but she ('Aishah) is lawful for me to marry." (Saheeh al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 18)
• The marriage did away with the pagan Arab superstition that it was a bad omen to be married in the month of Shawwal. They thought that the month carried this omen since the word Shawwal was derived from Shaala, which itself was believed to carry a bad omen. The authentic ahadith indicate that the Prophet<May the Peace and Blessings of God be upon him> and 'Aishah were married in this lunar month.