By Abdul H. Fauq
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 (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) a paedophile 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 refuted, 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 Sayyida Ayesha’s age at the time of her marriage with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). This critique is based on many historical reports as have reached us through the history books of Islam.
It is to be pointed at the very outset that a vast majority of the Muslims professes two sources of the Divine Guidance--the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Qur’an 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 scribes during the lifetime of the Prophet. There is historical, as well as internal evidence right from within the Qur’an to that effect (80:11-16 and 25:5). Of prime importance is the fact that one does not fail to find God’s Personal guarantee against any possible corruption in the Scripture (15:9). Furthermore, 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 double preservation, namely, memorization and writing of the Qur’an, continues to this day. For the last more than 1400 years, hundreds of thousands of individuals have always been around in the world who have known 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 pristine original Arabic language as it is recited, understood and referred to on a daily basis for explanations by all sects. Thus, while the interpretations of some verses may vary, the original Arabic text has remained the same without sectarian bias.
The Author of the Qur’an, Allah, the Most High, enjoined Prophet Muhammad (and all believers) to strictly follow the Quran (6:106; 10:109; 33:2) and it stands witness to the fact that Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers did exactly that all their lives (7:203; 46:9; 6:50). In fact, Muhammad (pbuh) 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 the Prophet (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 Prophet 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 Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Sunnah remains the second source of guidance in Islam for all believers in their personal as well as collective and communal lives. It also provides a framework of proper Islamic governance. Many Sunnah protocols are related to articles of Islamic faith and rituals that 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 transmitting reports of the sayings and actions of the Prophet collectively referred to as Hadith. The corpus of Hadith, also known as traditions of the Prophet, consists of narrations extracted from many compilations of reported accounts of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, actions, and tacit approvals. There are six books of Hadith (Sihah Sitta) that are generally considered authentic by the main stream Sunni Muslims. There is also an entirely different set of four Hadith books, devoutly followed by the Shia Muslim community, that were also recorded at about the same time or even later. Nevertheless, even though these chest-to-chest reports of the Prophet’s sayings and actions that were said to have undergone intense scrutiny for authenticity, a large body of narrations prevalent at the time was rejected by some notable original compilers of the Hadith as many of them failed one or more of the tests of ascertaining authenticity. Thus, these compilers of Hadith, who lived some 200-300 years after the passing away of the Prophet (pbuh), were believed to be able to finally separate wheat from chaff with the result that they committed to writing only those ahadith that fitted their criteria of authenticity. Thus, in essence, 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’ typically comprised a chain of 4-6 narrators (including, of course, many of them who had been long dead at the time of writing) going back 200-300 years in time to the companions and to Prophet Muhammad himself. These accounts also seek to portray a fair amount of Muslim history and culture during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. 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 many times over, is none other than the Qur’an itself. The most well-known earliest Islamic history books, ‘Seerat Rasool Allah’ (Seerah) by Ibn Ishaq (d. 767 A.D), and Tabaqaat by Ibn Sa’d (d 175 H) , was written more than 90 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Seerat Rasoolallah that gives the account of Prophet’s life and his involvement in defensive battles was also based on oral transmissions. Ibn Ishaq was severely criticized by some contemporary notable scholars of Islam such as Malik bin Anas, the originator of the
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 passing away of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). As mentioned earlier, 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 the primary or even secondary or 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 from the earliest works of Ibn Ishaq’s Seerah, or Ibn S’ad’s Tabaqaat include Ibn Hisham (d. 827 A.D), Tabari (d. 923 ), Ibn Katheer, and Ibn Hajar Al-asqalani, to name a few.
This introduction of the generally accepted two sources of Islam (the Qur’an and the Sunnah/Hadith), I believe, is necessary for the reader to understand the issue at hand---the age of Ayesha, the third wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) at the time of her marriage with him.
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 Prophet 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, 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. In this way, the Qur’an gives a clear definition of adulthood or marriageable age as one when a man or a woman has attained a good measure of mental maturity. This should raise the question: Does a 6- or 9-year old have that level or quality of sound judgment? The answer is a resounding NO. If the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) married a 6 year old girl (and consummated her marriage at age 9 as reported), one wonders if he actually followed the Qur’anic guidelines regarding this issue. Please recall that the Qur’an states that Muhammad (pbuh) is a model for all mankind and the Qur’an stand witness to the fact that he himself followed the Qur’an in its entirety while urging his devout companions to do the same.
The Qur’anic guidelines as described clearly in 4:6 tell us that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 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 the same phrase “meethaqan ghaleezan” has been used for husband-wife relationship as 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 relationship of marriage that, when developed and nourished in time, gives rise to true love, tranquility and mutual feelings of caring (30:21) between us, to the point that our offspring become soothing comfort of our eyes (25:74).
As far as the author of this article is concerned, these verses should suffice and bury the issue of the age of Sayyida Ayesha’s marriage with the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) for good. In sum, Ayesha (r.a) could not have been 6 years of age because:
Nonetheless, since the charge of pedophilia 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 as well as other observations related to Sayyida Ayesha’s age, and their in-depth analysis.
Was Ayesha (ra) really 6 years old when she married Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)?
A few comments about Prophet Muhammad’s marriages are in order. Muhammad married his first wife, Sayyida Khadijah (ra), several years before the Call. Khadijah was a reasonably well-to-do woman of Makkah and was reportedly15 years his senior. Prophet 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. Prophet 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 (pbuh)’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 basal sexual desires. In 622 A.D, he and his devout companions migrated from Makkah to
(1) Several books of Hadith (Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim, Abu Dawood, among others) and Islamic history (Tabari, among others) report that Sayyida 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 is considered more credible if it is narrated by more people independently, i.e., 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 (ra)’s age from Hisham in Medina. Furthermore, all the narrators of this Hadith were Iraqis. Hisham is reported to have moved to
(3) Yaqub ibn Shaibah is reported to have said, “narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of
(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 Sayyida 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, Sayyida Ayesha (ra) was a young yet grown-up 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 Sayyida 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
(6) According to many narratives, Ayesha participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud. No one younger than 15 was allowed to accompany the Prophet’s army in the battle of Uhud. This applied uniformly to all battle 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, Sayyida Asma (ra), the elder sister of Ayesha, who 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 had a very long life (she 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 could be obviously 17 at the time of Hijrah and 19 at the time of consummation of her marriage with the Prophet of Islam.
(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 Sayyida 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,
(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 took place 8 years or so 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 can be found in 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 (pbuh): Either Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) could marry a virgin (bikr), or he could go for some 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 Sayyida Fatimah (ra), Prophet 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 Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 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 Sayyida 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 (pbuh) 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 was on a downhill slide.
In conclusion, this article is an attempt to prove that the books written 200-300 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), though seeking to provide a good deal of historical information about him, are not free from 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 the exalted prophet of Islam is a model for all-time mankind, if he followed the Qur’an all his life, if Allah stands witness to his rock-solid moral character, there is no way that he could have taken a 6-9 year old, immature young, playful girl as a responsible wife.
May Allah, the most High, show us the Path that leads to the Truth—the Truth that is Divinely revealed, pristinely preserved forever for the guidance of mankind!
P.S. This article was posted by Mubashir Inayet (9/27/2008 10:55:50 PM) in the comments section of the NewAgeIslam.com article entitled “Saudi Islam, misuse of Seerat-e-Nabwi allowed: No protection to young girls, some awful news stories” which quoted Dr. Ahmad Al-Mub'i, a Saudi Marriage Officiant as saying: “It Is Allowed to Marry a Girl at the Age of One, If Sex Is Postponed. The Prophet Muhammad, Whose Model We Follow, Married 'Aisha When She Was Six and Had Sex with Her When She Was Nine”. Editor