‘Aisha R.A: A Child Bride?

Part 2

By Mahnoor Naveed

Approx. 9 min. read

This part mostly focuses on the specific situation of Hazrat ‘Aisha R.A.

link to part 1: https://lrs.lums.edu.pk/aisha-r-a-a-child-bride/

Arabia’s context: The controversial marriage of RasulAllah (S.A.W)

To demonstrate further the normality of Hazrat ‘Aisha’s marriage, we will return to 7th century Arabia. In that context, there were some strict cultural norms which made one marriage of RasulAllah (S.A.W) controversial. His marriage to Zainab binte Jahsh RA.

When RasulAllah (S.A.W) married Hazrat Khadija R.A, she gifted him a slave boy- Zaid bin Harith. RasulAllah (S.A.W) freed him and made him his adoptive son and such was the love between them that Hazrat Zaid R.A refused to go back to his father and tribe when given the chance. People even used to call him Zaid bin Muhammad. RasulAllah (S.A.W) arranged his marriage to his own cousin Zainab binte Jahsh RA. However, the marriage did not work out for numerous reasons and they divorced. The Prophet (S.A.W) was sent to this world to revolutionize it; to change erroneous customs and uphold what was right. Allah wanted to change the concept held among the Arabs that adoptive sons were the same as biological sons. The rulings for adoptive children are different in the Islamic Shariah and to forever change this cultural norm, Allah arranged RasulAllah’s (S.A.W) marriage to Hazrat Zaynab:

“… So when Zayd had no longer any need for her, We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them”. (Surah Ahzab 33:37)

It is mentioned in the same ayah that this made RasulAllah (S.A.W) very uneasy and Hazrat ‘Aisha and Hazrat Anas relate that if the Prophet (S.A.W) were to have concealed anything, he would have concealed this verse.[1] Note that after the revelation of the 5th verse of Surah al-Ahzab[2], Hazrat Zaid became known as Zaid bin Harithah. As expected, the enemies of the Prophet (S.A.W) jumped upon this in uproar, defaming him as someone who Naoudhubillah married his son’s wife.[3] The point is that the enemies of RasulAllah (S.A.W) jumped on every opportunity to criticize him and made up false accusations to defame him (such as calling him a magician and a liar after him being known as al-Sadiq and Al-Amin his entire life); if his marriage to Hazrat ‘Aisha had been even negligibly controversial on account of her age, they would have raised the issue. Yet they did not, not a single one of them. Dr. Jonathan Brown points out that later Western critics who criticize the marriage of Mother Zaynab, do not criticize the marriage of Mother ‘Aisha due to her age.[4] 

The controversy of Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age is new. It was not present before

The criticism of Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age is contingent on the historical era we inhabit, as is proven effectively by the absence of this criticism before the 20th century. This controversy is a new phenomenon as former famous critics of Islam, who were making up and looking for anything to insult RasulAllah (S.A.W) never mentioned Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age. Quoting Dr. Jonathan Brown, non-Muslims from the time of the Prophet (S.A.W) including his opponents in Makkah, to John of Damascus (d. 749) to Mathew of Paris (d. 1259) to Voltaire (d.1778) to Gibbon (d. 1794) and many more, possessed plenty of information on the Prophet (S.A.W) and targeted his personal life especially (including the issue of Hazrat Zaynab’s marriage). But they never mention Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age. Dr. Brown states that first instance he found was in 1905 when British historian David S. Margoliouth writes of the marriage in his book Muhammad and the rise of Islam as “an ill-assorted union (for as such we must characterize the marriage of a man of 53 to a child of 9..”.[5] The discussion is mostly about the financial difficulties faced by the Muslim after hijrah with no further mention of Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age. But why? Why doesn’t anyone mention this till the 20th century? As Dr. Brown states upfront, they were all marrying underage girls too.[6]

Context: Hazrat ‘Aisha was already engaged

RasulAllah (S.A.W) married ‘Aisha R.A. when she was considered mature enough to marry in general. This can be seen from the little-known fact that Hazrat ‘Aisha was already engaged before her marriage to the Prophet (S.A.W). Tariq Ramadan in his book In the footsteps of the Prophet states that Hazrat ‘Aisha, in keeping with Arabian customs, had already been promised to Mutim’s son and Hazrat Abu Bakr R.A had to negotiate with Mutim to break the engagement. “’Aisha then officially became Muhammad’s second wife, though the union would not be consummated for several years”.[7] This shows that ‘Aisha RA was not considered too young to be engaged or to be married.

Hazrat Abu Bakr R.A

Looking at the specific context of Hazrat ‘Aisha’s marriage, while judging it, it should be kept in mind who was her father: Abu Bakr As-Sidiqque- the greatest man to have ever walked the earth after the prophets.[8] The first person to accept Islam outside the Prophet’s family, the closest companion of the Prophet, the first Caliph of Islam, and the successor to the Prophet (S.A.W). Through him, Allah made Islam a world force as he fought and won against the Persians and the Byzantines, successfully crushed the rebellions succeeding the Prophet’s death, and had the Quran compiled in book form and thus preserved. Could such a wise, noble, pious and gentle man ever have judged wrong for his beloved daughter? He was far from the vile fathers we hear of today who nearly ‘sell’ their daughters to abusive men in mismatched marriages for some money. He knew the match was excellent and consented happily. He was also close enough to the Prophet (S.A.W.) to voice out any reservations if he had any.

Her specific situation: Was ‘Aisha R.A. forced to grow up before her time?

One of the greatest criticisms against early marriages is the very pertinent and concerning issue that too much burden is put on too little shoulders. How can little, inexperienced girls be expected to take care of an entire household and family. But was that the case with Hazrat ‘Aisha? The answer is no.

RasulAllah (S.A.W) suffered immensely due to the loss of Hazrat Khadija R.A. who was his foremost confider and counsellor. Even his companions felt the profundity of his grief and so Khawlah, an early Muslim, decided to arrange his re-marriage. The Prophet (S.A.W.) allowed her to act on his behalf and she first approached Sawdah bint Zama’ah who agreed, was married and moved into the Prophet’s household immediately. Khawlah then went to the family of ‘Aisha to make the same proposal. RasulAllah (S.A.W) married Mother Sawdah first who was a middle-aged widow with children and one of the earliest reverts to Islam. “Having had children of her own and previously married she easily filled the mothering void in the Prophet’s household, assisting him in raising his four daughters”.[9] After this, when RasulAllah (S.A.W) married ‘Aisha R.A, Mother Sawdah loved her and attended to all her needs.[10] Afterwards, when RasulAllah divided his time equally among all his wives according to the command of justice enjoined by the Holy Quran, Sawdah R.A. voluntarily gave up her turn in favor of ‘Aisha. Aisha R.A said of her: “”I never saw a woman whose position I wished I could be in more than Saudah bint Zam’ah, a woman of strong character.”[11] It is thus clear that Hazrat ‘Aisha was not expected to take care of her step-children or had the entire responsibility of the household on her shoulders. On the contrary, she was taken care of due to her young age. Tariq Ramadan puts forth a very interesting point in his book. Nowadays, Islam is portrayed as the actual propagator of polygamy and our Prophet (S.A.W) is criticized for it. However, Ramadan points out that Polygamy was the norm in Arabia (predating Prophet Muhammad’s time) and RasulAllah’s case was the exception as he remained monogamous for 25 years.[12]

Islamic Jurisprudence: Contractual vs. Consummated marriages

Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is a sophisticated legal tradition which is very meticulous about marriage laws and age of marriage etc. It is best defined as a system with unchanging moral principles, but flexible application; as certain moral dilemmas are contingent on historical circumstance so the Creator of all existence would naturally formulate a moral code suitable to that reality.[13] Islamic Jurists have meticulously derived rulings relating to marriage from the Quran and Sunnah (particularly the Prophet’s (S.A.W) relationship with Mother ‘Aisha).

Just one of the things they have done is identifying two types of marriages: contractual and consummated marriages. Contractual marriages could be “entered at any point in a person’s life and later be revoked through their own volition, regardless of whether they had obtained legal maturity or not”.[14] However these marriages prohibited any intimate contact between the betrothed and would be comparable today to an engagement.[15] “The latter form of marriage (or ‘full marriage’), however, required both parties to be physically capable of sexual relations given the logical implication that such a union would lead to this outcome”.[16]

We know that Hazrat ‘Aisha’s marriage was contracted when she was 6, but it was consummated after the migration to Madinah when she was 9 and had matured. If Islam promoted the exploitation of children, the Prophet (S.A.W) would not have waited 3 years for Hazrat ‘Aisha to move into his house consent fully.

Islamic Jurisprudence is very meticulous about age of physical maturity (i.e. balaghat), age of majority and more things, which were important factors in marriage laws but which I have not explained; and over the course of Islamic history, Jurists have been very careful about defining marriageable ages. It should not be thought that this subject was taken lightly, and girls exploited. I cannot explain this further in this article or narrate the remarkable case-study I have come across of a man publicly punished and humiliated in 15th century Egypt for violating the contract of his marriage which prohibited him from consummating his marriage. This incident shows that Jurists and rulers/government officials of the Islamic Empire cared for the well-being of immature girls.[17] In conclusion, this should clear up the doubt some people entertain that Hazrat ‘Aisha’s marriage can be used to justify “child marriages”. Hazrat ‘Aisha had matured by 9 years of age and maturity is the determinant in Islamic marriage laws:

“..had the Prophet (S.A.W.) himself been perceived as promoting the exploitation of children, then said scholars would have simply considered the age of nine to be the only condition necessary for a young girl to be considered mature. However, the age of nine, has never been mentioned as one of the conditions by which to judge maturity in the Islamic tradition.”[18]

The case for an older age

It is imperative to mention in any discussion on Mother ‘Aisha’s age that there is another perspective held among scholars: that she was much older than her self-reported age. Scholars have contended this stance on several grounds such as the fact that at that time many did not calculate their age or know their exact birthday.

            The traditionalist Syrian scholar of hadith and apologetic writer Salah al Din Idlibi has argued that the content of the ‘Aisha-age hadith is discrepant (shadhdh) and defective (ma?lul) and claimed that Hazrat ‘Aisha was born four years prior to the start of the prophetic mission, betrothed to the Prophet (S.A.W.) at age fourteen, and married him one year after hijra at the age of almost eighteen. His arguments are based on determining Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age by determining things such as the age difference between Hazrat ’Aisha R.A. and her older sister Hazrat Asma R.A, the possibility of her experiencing and narrating events at a certain age, and more. Detailing this argument is beyond the scope of this paper; refer to the footnote for an article on this.[19]

            However, this stance itself receives a lot of critique mainly for being a reaction to our own insecurities rising from modern values than an unbiased approach to finding the truth.[20] Dr. Jonathan Brown has also pointed out that the most explicit narration on this topic are the two ahadith in Bukhari and Muslim reported by ‘Aisha R.A. herself while these other arguments are derived. This article of course, has been written accepting Mother ‘Aisha’s own self-reported ages of 6 and 9.

The actual person of Hazrat ‘Aisha R.A.

One of the tragic consequences of this debate on Hazrat ‘Aisha’s age is that they overshadow her person; her noble, illustrious, astounding person. Her role in the Prophet’s (S.A.W.) life and her achievements are far more important than the age at which she married; our Mother ‘Aisha is more than just a number. I can only begin to describe few things about her and her relationship with her husband RasulAllah (S.A.W) here but justice cannot be done.  

Hazrat ‘Aisha is literally one of the most intelligent women to have ever lived. She possessed a brilliant memory and has reported 2210 ahadith making her one of the topmost narrators of ahadith. The Companions especially used to go to her for ascertaining the authenticity of ahadith. Her scholarship is one of the most prominent facts about her and she was an authority of her time (and today) on legal and judicial matters. It is narrated that if Mother ‘Aisha ever heard of a matter she did not know, she would look into the matter till she was certain she knew it. [21]

Badr ad Din Zmakhshari composed a whole book on incidents where she corrected various companions and where she voiced a clear and unique opinion supported by evidence. She was involved as a scholar in fields of law and theology and spoke with confidence even when her voice was the only one for a certain matter. She spoke when her view was opposed by the majority, but she always spoke; to make sure that the truth was upheld.[22] She was also a wonderful poetess!

Urwah bin Az-Zubayr R.A. (‘Aisha’s nephew) said: “…I did not find anyone who has more knowledge of the verses (of the Qur’an) that were revealed; nor of the obligatory matters; nor of the Sunnah’ and of poetry. No one reported from him (i.e. the Prophet) more than her. No one had more knowledge of historical events of the Arabs, nor of genealogy, nor of such and such, nor of legal matters, nor of medicine than her…”[23]

As these narrations certify, ‘Aisha R.A. was very confident. Another common description of her was that she was feisty. These personality traits figure prominently in the delightful interactions between her and RasulAllah (S.A.W) who loved her quick wit. As for her modesty, she holds an honor unlike any other: verses of the Quran were revealed testifying to her chastity. Verses of Surah Nur [24] attest to her innocence in response to the slander aimed at her in an attempt to harm the Prophet (S.A.W) and his family by his enemies.[25]

Just studying the relationship between RasulAllah (S.A.W.) and her proves their healthy relationship as opposed to the picture of “child abuse” the enemies of Islam have conjured up. When asked who he loved the most, the Prophet replied “’Aishah”. This, in a society, who considered it degrading for a man to publicly declare love for his wife. And when the inquirer asked the same question with regards to men, instead of replying with the name of Abu Bakr, RasulAllah (S.A.W.) replied “Her father”.[26]

“‘Aisha narrated that if she sipped from a cup, the Prophet would place his lips on the very same spot that she sipped from as a sign of attentiveness and care. She also used to race with the Prophet and she beated him the first time and then later they raced again and he beated her the second time so he smiled at her saying “this one is for that one”. He meant that now they were both even. The Prophet was expressive of his love to his wife ‘Aisha and he said to her “your love in my heart is like a tight knot” and she was very pleased with his love and she would ask him often about the status of his love knot and he would reply “same as ever”’.[27] On one remarkable event, the Prophet was on a military expedition when Hazrat ‘Aisha lost her necklace. RasulAllah stopped the entire army and had everyone (Sahabah from Abu Bakr to Umar!) search for the necklace. Imagine, a military commander explicitly commanding his soldiers to search for the necklace of his beloved wife while being surrounded by the enemy; the Prophet did not consider this debasing as many men today would.[28]

The relationship between them clearly shows that ‘Aisha R.A.’s marriage was not a child marriage. Children in child marriages tend to be abused and helpless, being held under the suffocating power of the adult spouse; while ‘Aisha was anything but meek and oppressed, and loved her husband intensely. Hazrat ‘Aisha asked numerous questions, but why did this incredibly intelligent, brave woman never ask the Prophet that why did you marry me when I was so young? The criticism of the age of Mother ‘Aisha R.A. is also part of a greater narrative portraying Muslim women as oppressed and Muslim men as barbarians, stemming from Orientalism and the portrayal of the East and Islam as barbaric.[29]

The lack of agreement on marriageable age and age of consent in the West

The arbitrariness of the appropriate marriageable age does not only exhibit itself in the differences of judgement between past and present societies, it manifests itself in the fact that there is no agreed upon age even today. The case of the US will be taken as an example.

The age of consent (when a person is considered legally competent to consent to sexual acts) is 16 in thirty states, 17 in seven states, and 18 in thirteen states.[30] However, the minimum age at which people can get married without parental consent or judicial permission is 18 in 38 states and 19 and 21 in Nebraska and Mississippi respectively. Marriage under these ages are considered ‘child marriages’. Meaning, the US considers ‘children’ mature enough to consent to sexual relationships but not marriage. Sexual relations with someone under the Age of Consent are considered statutory rape however, most states also have ‘close in age exception’ which is a law allowing a young person under the age of consent to lawfully have sexual relations with an older partner provided he or she is within the state set age limit for the law.[31] However, most states allow under-age marriage with parental consent and/or judicial permission as young as 14 in Alaska and no minimum age at all in Massachusetts.[32]  The point is that even in the present day, what the appropriate age to get married at is not agreed upon in a single country. These ages vary from country to country too. So how can we condescendingly judge a society 1400 years old?

Secondly, these legally defined ages have changed considerably in much recent times too. In 1880, just 139 years ago, the age of consent in US was set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7.[33] The ages of consent were raised across the U.S. during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Hawaii just raised its age of consent from 14 to 16 in 2001. I am using the case studies of western nations because the criticism of Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W) marriage to Hazrat ‘Aisha RA comes from there. As Nuriddeen Knight points out, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) could have married Hazrat ‘Aisha RA-with the full support of her family- today in the US![34] The marriage took place with the consent of Mother ‘Aisha and her parents.

Thirdly, the duality is very striking. While the West thinks it is vital to protect their ‘minors’ (those under the legal age of majority) from the evils of early marriage, they do not see any problem with their ‘minors’ engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage. Young people are greatly exploited in such relations too after all. The point is that we are giving in to the criticism of societies who cannot judge for themselves.

Conclusion

The first article demonstrated that the perception of childhood and marriage changes considerably over time; and people mature differently in different circumstances. This means Hazrat ‘Aisha R.A. had reached puberty and was mature even at the chronological age of 9. Characterizing Hazrat ‘Aisha R.A. as a child is empirically wrong. She was not a child in her society. Neither was her case an anomaly of her time nor was her age considered a problem till the present times.

            Very importantly, this paper is not justifying child marriages. Child marriages today are empirically linked to abuse, limit the child’s educational opportunities, and traumatize the child for life. ‘Aisha R.A’s marriage was not a child marriage as her specific situation proves. Her marriage to RasulAllah (S.A.W) transformed her into the scholar she became; her confidence, healthy relationship with RasulAllah, and her love for him show she suffered no abuse.

            The goal of this paper is not to advocate marrying young. “Due to the complex conditions of the contemporary period, young people not only have the option of waiting before engaging in intimate relationships, but should do so for the sake of minimizing any potential harm to their lives.”[35] However, we need to realize that our notions of what we’re going to do in life depends on our lifestyle.[36] We are to a great extent, products of the institutions (chiefly the modern school) that shaped us and the time we inhabit, who have taught us that late marriages are good, and with life expectancy much higher than in the past, we’re not in a hurry to get married anyway. “Our moral judgements are as much a function of our environment as the judgements of our ancestors”. [37] People today hold varying opinions about the appropriate age to get married at.

So, with our specific experiences of this day and age, we begin to question our faith and the decision of our beloved Prophet (S.A.W) to marry Hazrat Aisha (R.A) hence entertaining doubts. It is our belief, as Muslims, that our Prophet (S.A.W.) is the perfect human being; why would he have married Hazrat ‘Aisha if he had perceived it to be wrong? More importantly, why would Allah, our Creator, have Ordained it to be so as their marriage was based on Divine Command? We need to have faith in our RasulAllah (S.A.W). Returning to the title of the article, was ‘Aisha R.A a child bride in her time? The answer is No.


References

[1] Tafseer Ibn Katheer (6/424). https://islamqa.info/en/answers/96464/detailed-discussion-about-the-verse-but-you-did-hide-in-yourself-ie-what-allaah-has-already-made-known-to-you-that-he-will-give-her-to-you-in-marriage-that-which-allaah-will-make-manifest-al-ahzaab-3337

[2] “Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers” [al-Ahzaab 33:5]

[3] This event in the Prophet’s (S.A.W.) life is often greatly misunderstood and used by enemies of Islam. Please read this detailed explanation of the verse from this link so no doubt remains in your mind about this:

https://islamqa.info/en/96464

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsYk-tRp9jk

[5] Muhammad and the Rise of Islam. P.g. 234 https://books.google.com.pk/books?redir_esc=y&id=3hlFAAAAIAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=ill-assorted+union

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsYk-tRp9jk

[7] Tariq Ramadan. In the footsteps of the Prophet p.g 75

[8] “Never has the sun risen or set on a person, except a prophet, greater than Abu Bakr”, Hadis quoted in Islamiat for students: O-levels, by Farkhanda Noor Muhammad p.g 189.

[9] 40 Hadith of our mother ‘Aisha by Nureddin Knight (2018)

[10] Farkhanda Noor Muhammad. P.g. 99

[11] Saheeh Muslim- Vol 4, Hadeeth 3629

[12] Tariq Ramadan. In the Footsteps of the Prophet. P.g. 75

[13] Asadullah Ali. Understanding ‘Aisha’s age: and interdisciplinary approach. Yaqeen institute.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Lynn Welchman, Beyond the code: Muslim Family Law and the Shari’ Judiciary in the Palestinian West Bank. (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2000), pp. 108-9.

[16] Asadullah Ali.

[17] To read this case-study, read p.g. 25 of Asadullah Ali’s article. To read more about the ages of physical maturity and age of majority, read p.g. 21-22. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/asadullah/understanding-aishas-age-an-interdisciplinary-approach/

[18] Asadullah Ali. Understanding ‘Aisha’s age: and interdisciplinary approach. Yaqeen institute. P.g. 24.

[19] Arnold Yasin Mol. ‘Aisha (ra): The case for an older age in Sunni Hadith scholarship. Yaqeen institute. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/arnold-yasin-mol/aisha-ra-the-case-for-an-older-age-in-sunni-hadith-scholarship/

[20] Faraz Malik. The Age of Aisha (ra): Rejecting Historical Revisionism and Modernist Presumptions. Yaqeen Institute. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/faraz-malik/the-age-of-aisha-ra-rejecting-historical-revisionism-and-modernist-presumptions/#ftnt_ref15

[21] Tesneem Alkiek. Sayedaty Ep 1. Aisha bint Abi Bakr. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/tesneem-alkiek/sayedaty-ep-1-aisha-bint-abu-bakr/

[22] Ibid.

[23] Sa’ad Yusuf bin Abu Aziz. Men and Women around the Messenger (S.A.W).

[24] “Indeed, those who came with falsehood are a group among you. Do not think it bad for you; rather it is good for you. For every person among them is what [punishment] he has earned from the sin, and he who took upon himself the greater portion thereof – for him is a great punishment.” (24:11). And the following ayaat.

[25] This incident is narrated by Hazrat Aisha herself.

[26] Sa’ad Yusuf bin Abu Aziz. Men and Women around the Messenger (S.A.W).

[27] https://www.dar-alifta.org/Foreign/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=144

[28] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtJhjAVWGpA

[29] Google Orientalism and Edward Said. There was this widespread practice in the West of Orientalist paintings in which painters would portray the people of the ‘East’ in a skewed way. Women was presented as erotic and men as ‘barbarians’.

[30] Age of consent.com. https://www.ageofconsent.net/states

[31] Age of consent.com

[32] http://www.unchainedatlast.org/child-marriage-in-massachusetts/

[33] http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/230?section=primarysources&source=24

 Age of Consent Laws”, in Children and Youth in History, Item #230″. Stephen Robertson. Retrieved 4 October 2012.

[34] Nuriddeen Knight. The Woman behind the number: the irrevelance of the age of Aisha (ra). Yaqeen Institute. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/nuriddeen-knight/the-woman-behind-the-number-the-irrelevance-of-the-age-of-aisha-ra/

[35] Asadullah Ali.

[36] Dr. Jonathan Brown

[37] Asadullah Ali.

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