The Age of Ayesha at the Time of Her Marriage!
The age of the mother of believers, Ayesha bint Abu Bakr (RA), is a matter of great controversy among Muslims and non-Muslims for long. Both Muslims and non-Muslims rely on sources mentioned in books of ahadith such as al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, an-Nasai, Ibn Majah, and several history books to keep the controversy alive. There are reports in books such as Sahih Bukhari that claim that Ayesha (RA) got engaged with Prophet Muhammad when she was six, and the marriage lived with the Prophet when she was nine.
There is no reference to this event in the Quran, nor does there exist any statement of the Prophet (PBUH) that he married Ayesha (RA) when she was six. By and large, Muslim scholars have continued to propagate the accounts found in the books of Ahadith and history books of this wedding as accurate and sound. Some even trace its divine roots and explain that God wanted this to happen.
Not many scholars have questioned the authenticity of these accounts. Not many have looked at the alternative narrations present in our books of history and ahadith. Not many have tried to evaluate the reports based on the criterion of the Quran. Those narratives challenge the notion that the mother of believers got engaged or married with the Prophet at the age of 6six or nine, yet most scholars have preferred the counter reports.
They have elevated these books to the Quran's status, whose every word is accurate and whose accounts cannot Muslims do not question.
Interestingly, the author of Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad Ibn Ismail Ibn Ibrahim Ibn al-Mughirah Ibn Bardizbah al-Bukhari purged over 98 percent of ahadith he collected based on a methodology that he developed.
The methodology was not divine as the wahi or revelation comes to Prophets only. It was the outcome of his genius mixed with piety. Yet, when anyone asks to critically look at the accounts of such books on the Quranic message's criterion, they immediately categorize such people as Hadith's deniers.
They rarely ask, is this what the Quran asks people to believe in and practice? Was Prophet Muhammad sent to the world to set the example of marrying a six or nine-year-old child? They rarely ask, is this account in line with the divine message on the issue of marriage? They rarely ask is this the character of the Prophet? They spend their energy and resources to defend their accounts, even if it meant tarnishing the ProphetProphet's image or even Allah. Of course, this is not a conscious decision. It happens because most people often ignore the Quranic methodology to determine facts. The Quran continually reminds people: "Do not take a stand (regarding anything) where you have no personal knowledge. Mind it, the ear and the eye and the heart - all of them shall have to answer regarding the question whether a personal inquiry conducted about the concerned matter." (17:36)
The Majority Muslim scholars show a paradox in their approach to the issue. When non-Muslims accuse the Prophet of marrying a child, they get angry and describe the accusation a conspiracy to malign the Prophet, and if some Muslims respond to these accusations by pointing out alternative narratives, they denounce these efforts as heretical. While in non-Muslim circles, they argue that the facts about the marriage between Ayesha (RA) and the Prophet (PBUH) are not understood clearly, and Islam does not promote child marriages. In Muslim circles, they support child marriages based on this account, claiming that they are only promoting the Prophet's sunnah.
None of them would ever give their six or nine-year-old daughter to even a 25 or 30-year-old man. Probably, they might take someone else's daughter to live one more sunnah. They have contaminated their followers' minds to such an extent that any discussion on alternative narrative is unacceptable. The one who rejects their version of Islamic history is declared either an apostate, heretic, or a deviant who must renew his faith before claiming himself a Muslim again. In their views, they alone have the right to define and explain the facts. Anyone not in line with their thinking is either a culprit or a trouble maker.
Based on alternative narratives in our books of ahadith and history, here are some facts to look into before taking any position on this issue.
Ummar Ibn Khattab (RA), the second Caliph, introduced the hijra calendar even though the Prophet's migration took place in the month of Rabi ul Awwal, as is recorded in many books. The first year of the Muslim lunar calendar began with the month of Muharram. Among the tribes of Arabia, there was no elaborate system of recording death and birth. Often, the main events were the criteria to describe the year of birth and death of a person. If a person is born in the year when a particular event took place, the Arabs would remember it by that event. For instance, they remember Fatima (RA) birth, the Prophet's daughter, to rebuild the Kaaba event. According to this calculation, a person born in Muharram or Zil Hijja will have the same age. .
Hisham ibn Urwah (RA), a companion of the Prophet is the primary source of the reporting on the issue. He said that he heard about it from his father that the marriage (event) took place when Ayesha bint Abu Bakr was six years old. If this event had occurred as described, then there must be many other people who might have witnessed it or heard about it. Even though Malik ibn Anas (RA) was present when Hisham was alive, yet he did not include this account in his book Muwatta, the earliest text of Hadith. Moreover, Hisham bin Urwa (RA) did not report about the event when he was a Medina resident for almost 71 years. He said it in Iraq at the age of 90.
Yaqub ibn Shaibah in his Tehzibu'l-Tehzib, reports: "He [Hisham] is highly reliable, his narratives are acceptable, except what he narrated after moving over to Iraq." (Tehz'bu'l-Tehzib, Ibn Hajar Al-'asqala'ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, 15th century. Vol 11, p. 50).
It was further reported: "I heard that Malik ibn Anas (RA) objected on those narratives of Hisham (RA) which were through people of Iraq." (REF: Tehzi'b u'l-tehzi'b, Ibn Hajar Al-'asqala'ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, Vol.11, p. 50)
In Mizanu'l-ai'tidal, a book on the narrators on the life of the Prophet: it is reported: "When he was old, Hisham's memory suffered quite badly" (Mizanu'l-ai'tidal, Al-Zahbi, Al-Maktabatu'l-athriyyah, Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Vol. 4, p. 301)
In his criticism of the methodology of collecting ahadith, Allama Shabbir Meeuthi rejects Hadith's interpretation that says that Ayesha (RA) married the Prophet when she was six and conjugal relations when she was nine. He argued that among Arabs was a common practice to shorten a sentence. So when Ayesha (RA) said she was six, she meant that she was 16. To prove this point, he cited an example from the Hadith itself. He quoted Bukhari's narration on the blessed night (night of power) as the Prophet said seek this night in 25, 27, 29 of Ramadhan's month.
Tabari and Hisham ibn Urwah (RA), Imam Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Sad say that Ayesha (RA) got engaged at the age of six and she began to live with the Prophet at the age of nine. But Tabari contradicts himself by writing at another place: "All four of his [Abu Bakr's] children were born of his two wives—the names of whom we have already mentioned—during the pre-Islamic period." (Tarikhu'l-umam wa'l-mamlu'k, Al-Tabari (died 922), Vol. 4, p. 50, Arabic, Dara'l-fikr, Beirut, 1979). If Ayesha (RA) were born before the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet, she would be about 14 years of age at her engagement. But the Prophet was not the first person her father had betrothed her. Ayesha (RA) accepted Islam quite sometime before Umar ibn Khattab (RA). It means that Ayesha (RA) accepted Islam during the first year of the Prophethood.
Tabari also reported that at the time Abu Bakr (RA) planned to migrate to Habshah (8 years before Hijrah), he went to Mut 'am—with whose son Ayesha (RA) was engaged—and asked him to take Ayesha (RA) in his house as his son's wife. Mut 'am refused because Abu Bakr (RA) had embraced Islam, and subsequently, his son divorced Ayesha (RA). Now, if Ayesha (RA) was only six years old at the time of her marriage, she could not have been born when Abu Bakr (RA) decided to migrate to Habshah. There is no account to suggest that she was born in Ethiopia.
Age of Fatima (RA)
Ibn Hajar reports: "Fatimah (RA) was born at the time of the rebuilding of the Kaaba when the Prophet (PBUH) was 35 years old... she (Fatimah) was five years older than Ayesha (RA)." (Al-isabah fi tamyizi'l-sahabah, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Vol. 4, P. 377, Maktabatu'l-Riyadh al-haditha, al-Riyadh, 1978). It means the age of Ayesha was 12 at the time of her engagement with the Prophet and not six.
Age of Asma bin Abu Bakr (RA) Abda'l-Rahman ibn abi Zanna'd reports: "Asma (RA) was ten years older than Ayesha. (Siyar A'la' ma'l-nubala', Al-Zahabi, Vol. 2, p. 289, Arabic, Mu'assasatu'l-risalah, Beirut, 1992)
Ibn Kathir, a commentator of the Quran, also reports: "She [Asma] was elder to her sister [Ayesha] by ten years". (Al-Bidayah wa'l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 371, Dar al-fikr al-‘arabi, Al-jizah, 1933).
Ibn Kathir further reports: "She [Asma] saw the killing of her son during that year [i.e., 73 AH], as we have already mentioned, and five days later, she died. According to other narratives, she died not after five days but ten or twenty or a few days over twenty or a hundred days later. The most well-known narrative is that of hundred days later. At the time of her death, she was 100 years old." (Al-Bidayah wa'l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir (died 1333), Vol. 8, Pg. 372, Dar al-fikr al-‘arabi, Al-jizah, 1933)
Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani notes: "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)
If Asma (RA) died at the age of 100 years in 73 AH, she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the hijra. If she is ten years older than Ayesha (RA), then the age of Ayesha should have been 17 or 18 at the hijra.
Battle of Badr and Uhud
In Sahih Muslim, Kitabu'l-jihad wa'l-siyar, Bab karahiyati'l-isti'anah fi'l-ghazwi bikafir mentions the presence of Ayesha (RA) during the battle of Badr. In Sahih Bukhari, Kitabu'l-jihad wa'l-siyar, Bab Ghazwi'l-nisa' wa qitalihinna ma'a' lrijal records: "Anas reports that On the day of Uhud, people could not stand their ground around the Prophet (PBUH). [On that day,] I saw Ayesha (RA) and Umm-i-Sulaim (RA), they had pulled their dress up from their feet [to avoid any hindrance in their movement]."
Sahih Bukhari, in Kitabu'l-maghazi, Bab ghazwati'l-khandaq wa hiya'l-ahza'b: also records: "Ibn' Umar (RA) states that the Prophet (PBUH) did not permit me to participate in Uhud, as at that time, I was fourteen years old. But on the day of the Battle of Khandaq (Trench), when I was fifteen years old, the Prophet (PBUH) permitted my participation." If Ayesha (RA) participated in Badr and Uhud's battles, she must be at least 15 years old as youth under that age were not allowed to accompany the Prophet.
Sahih Bukhari in kitabu'l-tafseer reports that Ayesha (RA) was a young girl when Surah al-Qamar was revealed. "I was a young girl (jariyah)" when Surah Al-Qamar was revealed. (Sahih Bukhari, kitabu'l-tafsir, Bab Qaulihi Bal al-sa'atu Maw'iduhum wa'l-sa'atu adha' wa amarr)
Surah Qamar is the 54th surah of the Qur'an, and revealed eight years before Hijrah. Accordingly, she must be somewhere between 6-13 years at the time of revelation of Al-Qamar, and thereby she must have been 14-21 years at the time she married Prophet.
The Quran on Marriage
The Quran does not allow child marriages. It states: "And make not over your property (property of the orphan), which Allah had made a (means of) support for you, to the weak of understanding, and maintain them out of it, clothe them and give them good education. And test them until they reach the age of marriage. Then if you find them maturity of intellect, make over them their property……" (4:5-6).
What is a marriageable age? In Allah's words, it is an age when a person can decide on his or her own and consent to marriage. It is not a childhood age. It is almost young adult age. Prophet Muhammad and his father-in-law Abu Bakar Siddiqi (RA) were aware of these facts. To suggest that the Prophet married a six-year-old child is like accusing the Prophet and his most trustworthy companion and implying that they violated the divine commandment in this matter. It is unthinkable that they would disobey this Quranic command.
The above sources indicate that the age of Ayesha (RA) was not six at the time of her engagement to the Prophet. She was either 16 or 19 when she was engaged and 19 or 22 when she joined the Prophet (PBUH).
A critical examination of the Hadith gives us a balanced image of our Prophet and a blind following distorts it.