Aisha (ra): The Case for an Older Age in Sunni Hadith Scholarship
Published: October 3, 2018 • Updated: October 19, 2020
Author: Arnold Yasin Mol
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
For more on this topic, see More Than Just a Number: Perspectives on the Age of Aisha (RA)
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The Messenger of Allah ﷺ married me when I was six years old and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine years old.
Muslim discussions of the Prophet’s personal conduct in general, and his marriage to Aishah in particular, provide a lens through which to view changed attitudes toward sex and marriage, and unresolved concerns about the appropriateness of applying medieval standards in modern life. There are dangers in both historical anachronism and unchecked moral relativism, and in analyzing Muslim reflections on Muhammad’s marriage to Aishah, several questions emerge about both the accuracy and relevance of historical information.
Translation of al-Idlibī's essay37
The evidences for the first opinion
The evidences for the second opinion
Summary of the research
1 This is a different, but overlapping list of liberal concerns with modern Sharīʿa governance in Muslim majority countries: (i) Supremacy of sharīʿa, (ii) Legal status of women, (iii) Cruel corporal punishments, (iv) Violations of human rights. See: Jan Michiel Otto, Sharia Incorporated: A Comparative Overview Of The Legal Systems Of Twelve Muslim Countries In Past And Present (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2010), 29.
2 These two issues are frequent in both liberal public discourse and Islamophobic discourse. One of the better known Islamophobic lobbyists, Robert Spencer, also uses these two main subjects as proof that Islam is the opposite of liberal modernity: http://www.jihadwatch.org/2006/11/finding-out-the-truth-about-muhammad. For a discussion of the term Islamophobia, see: http://crg.berkeley.edu/content/islamophobia/defining-islamophobia.
3 On war, see for example: Ahmed al-Dawoody's The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001). On politics and law, see for example: Mashood A. Baderin, International Law And Islamic Law (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2008). M. H. Kamali, Citizenship And Accountability Of Government: An Islamic Perspective (United Kingdom: The Islamic Texts Society, 2011). Ahmed Akgündüz, Islamic Public Law (Documents On Practice From The Ottoman Archives)(Istanbul: IUR Press, 2011). Ahmad S. Moussalli, The Islamic Quest For Democracy, Pluralism, And Human Rights (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).
4 Verse 4:6 says marriageable age (balaghū al-nikāḥ) is determined by mental maturity (rushd) and verse 6:152 adds bodily maturity (shudd), most fiqh scholars accept these criteria as referring to a recommended age of 15 or 18 years, and some mention that founding imams as Imam Malik and Imam Abū Hanifa mentioned the ages of 21 and 25. See: Mullājiyūn al-Ḥanafī, Tafsīrāt al-Aḥmadiyya fī Bayān al-Ayāt al-Sharʿiyyah (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿilmiyyah, 2010), 211-212. al-Māturīdī, Tā’wīlāt Ahl al-Sunna (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿilmiyyah, 2005), 4:316. Qāḍī Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām al-Qur’ān (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1996), 1:418. Although their preferred ages are very similar to ours today, the majority didn't see these as minimal ages and thus didn't forbid child marriage as they viewed that arranged underage marriages could serve the well-being of the child (maṣlaḥa al-walad) as long as compatibility (kafa’) between the two prospective spouses was upheld. But their emphasis on both preferred ages and the match serving wellbeing does show an awareness of the possible problems surrounding underage marriage. Scholars also used verse 65:4 to scriptualize underage marriage whereby “divorced non-menstruating women” (lam yaḥiḍna) was understood as referring to women being too old (kabīr) or too young (ṣaghīr) for it. See Mullājiyūn, ibid, 700; al-Zuḥaylī, ibid, 7:184. Classically the scholars distinguished between contracting the marriage and consummating it; they focused on the former while the latter was mostly linked to when the female was deemed physically mature enough for it. al-Zuḥaylī emphasizes that there are no texts that forbid setting a legal minimum age for contracting the marriage; it is rather the opposite, the Qur'an links marriage to mental and physical maturity and the majority of scholars preferred a marriageable age of 15+, compatibility, and the attainment of well-being (maslaḥa), which in contemporary society incorporates an educational system which prefers a minimum age of 18 years. If anyone younger wants to marry, a judge can review the request as judges have inherited the guardianship of the fathers in this age. See Al-Zuḥaylī, ibid, 7:188-189.
5 These can be found in the ḥadīth collections of al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Aḥmad, and al-Nisā’ī. See: Muḥammad al-Shawkānī, Nayl al-Awṭār (Egypt: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1993), 6:224-225. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, 1379 AH), 7:224-225.
6 Apologetics concern theological responses to criticism from within or outside the faith tradition.
7 Also known as ethical or moral subjectivism, on this see: Mark C. Murphy, God And Moral Law: On The Theistic Explanation Of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 100–132; Philip L. Quinn, Divine Commands And Moral Requirements (Oxford: Clarendon, 2003), 66–88; Mariam al-Attar, Islamic Ethics: Divine Command Theory In Arabo-Islamic Thought (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), 75.
8 For an overview of pre-modern opinions among the Sunni schools, see: Wahba al-Zuḥaylī, al-Fiqh al-islāmiyyu wa adillatuhu (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 2008), 7:62-65, 183-189. For examples of different voluntaristic discussions, see: http://islamqa.info/en/178318; http://www.askimam.org/public/question_detail/21031 .
9 Anver Emon labels this semi-moral realism soft natural law. See: Anver Emon, Islamic Natural Law Theories (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2010), 123–183; Al-Attar, ibid, 135–140; Mariam al-Attar, “Meta-Ethics: A Quest For An Epistemological Basis Of Morality In Classical Islamic Thought,” Journal Of Islamic Ethics 1, no. 1-2 (2017), 39–47; Ibn Isḥāq al-Shāṭibī, Al-Muwāfaqāt fī uṣūl al-sharīʿa (Mansoura: Dār al-Ghadd al-Jadīd, 2011), 1:63–65; Aḥmad al-Raysūnī, Imam Al-Shatibi's Theory Of The Higher Objectives And Intents Of Islamic Law (London: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2005), 232–250.
10 See an interesting discussion on this by Jonathan Brown: http://www.lamppostproductions.com/dr-johnathon-brown-on-the-age-of-aisha/, and: http://muslimmatters.org/2010/10/13/understanding-the-problematic-age-of-aisha/.
11 See Carolyn Baugh, “An Exploration of the Juristic Consensus (ijmā‘) on Compulsion in the Marriages of Minors,” Comparative Islamic Studies I, no. 1 (1999), 33-93.
12 That is, ethical objectivism, also known as natural law theory or moral realism; on this, see: Murphy, ibid, 69–99; Alessandro Passerin d'Entrèves, Natural Law: An Introduction To Legal Philosophy, (UK: Hutchinson & Co, 1972), 37–50; Emon, ibid, 7–11; Al-Attar, ibid, 12.
13 Anver Emon labels this type of ethical objectivism hard natural law. Cf. Emon, ibid, 45–89; A. Kevin Reinhart, Before Revelation: The Boundaries Of Muslim Moral Thought (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 43–56, 79–86; Wahba al-Zuḥaylī, Uṣūl al-fiqh al-islāmī (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 2013), 1:123–124, 127–134; Jasser Auda, Maqasid al-Shariah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach (2008, IIIT).
14 Nasr Abū Zayd (d. 2010) and Abdullah Saeed’s works are modern examples of such a dichotomy between historical-cultural and ahistorical-universal elements of the Qurʾān and Sunnah. See: Nasr Abū Zayd, Mafhum al-Naṣṣ: dirasah fī ‘ulūm al-Qur’ān (1994, al-Markaz al-Thaqafī al-‘Arabī). Abdullah Saeed, Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a Contemporary Approach (2005, Routledge).
15 Edip Yuksel's Qurʾān: A Reformist Translation (Brainbow Press, 2007) is a radical example of this as he has a Qurʾānist-structuralist approach to the text, whereby traditional interpretations are generally deemed to be false and barbaric. See especially his introduction where he provides a long list of classical interpretations which he views as problematic.
16 In general, modern human rights discourse is embraced, especially when it comes to human equality which revolves around gender equality and inclusivist or universalist approaches to non-Muslims, but on LGBT-identities a mostly conservative stance is taken.
17 The majority of Islamic modernist-reformist thought falls under this category and have a Soft or Hard Natural Law approach. To understand how this relates to interpretation and acceptance or rejection of sources, see: Arnold Yasin Mol, “The denial of supernatural sorcery in classical and modern Sunni tafsīr of Sūrah al-Falaq (113:4): A reflection on underlying constructions,” al-Bayan Journal of Qurʾān and Hadith Studies 11, no. 1 (June 2013), 15-32. For similar typological modernistic approaches, see: J. M. S. Baljon, Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation (1880-1960) (Leiden: Brill, 1968). Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought (Cambridge: 1999, Cambridge University Press). Taji-Farouki and Cornell, Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qurʾān (United Kingdom: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2004).
18 Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006), 136-137.
19 See a discussion on this in Jonathan A. C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy (London: Oneworld, 2014), 145-148. Early 20th century Orientalist writing caused some discussions on this among higher classes and some intellectuals in Egypt, but it is the post-1990 era when this discussion seemed to have returned in Arabic, in far more Arab countries among the larger population, and by scholars trained in Islamic sciences.
20 For example: https://fountainmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1026:At-What-Age-Did-Aisha-Marry-the-Prophet&catid=70&Itemid=131; http://www.hasaan.com/2012/04/hazrat-aishas-real-age-at-marriage-time.html; http://www.dawn.com/news/696084/of-aishas-age-at-marriage; http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/17/muhammad-aisha-truth; http://www.discoveringislam.org/aisha_age.htm.
21 Kecia Ali, ibid, 138-143.
22 Ibid, 144.
26 Kecia Ali, ibid, 139-140. This argument has been refuted as insufficient as there are other traditions mentioning the same age for ʿĀisha in which Hishām ibn ʿUrwah was not part of the isnād; see: http://www.askimam.org/public/question_detail/21031. Also al-Idlibī's analysis states that this idea is incorrect; see the translation below.
27 Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Ibn Aḥmad al-Idlibī was born in 1948 in the Syrian city of Idlib. He is Shāfiʿī in lineage and obtained a PhD in Islamic sciences with a specialty in ḥadīth from the Dār al-Ḥadīth al-Ḥassīniyah in Morocco in 1980. He has taught ḥadīth sciences at several Arab universities, including the Kulliyah al-Darāssāt al-islāmiyah wa al-ʿArabiyah in Abū Dhabi and the Kulliyat al-Sharīʿah in the United Arab Emirates. His websites are:www.salahsafa.blogspot.com and http://idlbi.net.
28 Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Idlibī, Minhaj Naqd al-Matn ʿinda ʿulamā’ al-Ḥadīth al-Nabuwī (Beirut: Dār al-Afaq al-Jadīdah, 1983).
29 Wael B. Hallaq, "The Authenticity of Prophetic Ḥadîth: A Pseudo-Problem," Studia Islamica, No. 89 (1999), 75-90.
30 A mutawātir is a ḥadīth or saying (khabar) which is transmitted in every stage of the sanad by multiple transmitters (general agreed upon requirement is 10 transmitters), whereby it can rationally be concluded that these transmitters could not have agreed upon a fabrication (ikhtilāq). A mutawātir ḥadīth provides necessary knowledge (al-ʿilm al-Ḍarūriyya). Any ṣaḥīḥ tradition that doesn't conform to these criteria, but has an authentic isnād, is of the status of Aḥād (singular transmission), only provides conditional knowledge (al-ʿilm al-mutawaqqif), which needs further investigation. Maḥmūd al-Ṭaḥḥān, Taysīr Muṣṭalaḥ al-Ḥadīth (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Maʿārif li-Nushr wa al-Tawzīʿ, 1425 AH), 23-25, 27.
31 al-Idlibī, ibid, 33.
32 For the difference between usūlī and ’athārī methodology, see: Hallaq, ibid, 79-85. For a classical ’usūlī exposition, see: Abū Ishāq al-Shāṭibī, al-Muwāfiqāt fī uṣūl al-Sharī‘ah (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, n.d.), 4:3-21.
33 Jonathan A. C. Brown, Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009), 262.
34 Brown, ibid, 263. See the first two chapters in al-Ghazālī's The Sunna of the Prophet between the People of the Fiqh and the People of the Ḥadīth (al-Sunnah al-Nubuwiyyah bayna Ahl al-Fiqh wa Ahl al-Ḥadīth) (translated by Aisha Bewley, Istanbul: Dar al-Taqwa, 2009).
36 Refer to the online article al-Idlibī, ʿUmr al-Sayyidat ʿĀisha Yawm al-ʿAqd wa Yawm al-Zawaj, at: http://idlbi.net/marriageage/.
37 Original translation of the 2013 essay by the author with subsequent revisions and additional translation of the updated essay by Yaqeen Institute. I want to thank the team of Yaqeen Institute for their help in editing and updating this research paper. Al-Idlibī refers to several sources without precise references (i.e., he doesn't use footnotes in this essay), so I have tried to trace the majority of citations, especially the ones from lesser known or accessible works, and added them in the footnotes. I have also added dates of death of the mentioned historians to indicate the period they were working in (which was mostly centuries after the compilers of ḥadīth), and point out when a source has an ungraded isnād or lacks it.
38 Translation of ṣallā Allah ʿalayhi wa salam; in the rest of the translation abbreviated as ﷺ.
39 The contracting of a marriage refers to the agreement between the guardians and/or prospective spouses on the wish to get married and on the amount of dowry. The root word ʿaqada literally means making a knot (thus the English expression on marriage as ‘tying the knot’ comes very close) and is used for contracts, agreements, etc. It can be used to refer to the contracting of the marriage and the existing marriage itself as a form of contract. In classical Sharīʿa constructs, betrothal (khiṭbah), contracting the marriage (ʿaqd) and consummating it are separate acts whereby the first is an unofficial agreement between parties, the second an official agreement between parties with dowry; the third generally occurs when the female is deemed physically ready. See: Al-Zuḥaylī, ibid, 7:23-26, 43-65. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, 143.
40 Translation of raḍī Allah ʿanhā; in the rest of the translation this is left out.
41 Throughout most of the essay, al-Idlibī uses only al-Baʿath, the mission, to refer to the advent of the prophetic mission. It is generally accepted that the Prophet ﷺ received his first revelation in 610 CE, thirteen years before the hijra.
42 Here al-Idlibī dismisses the attempts by some apologists to try to find a weakness in the chains of transmission of the ʿĀisha-age traditions to discredit them.
43Abū al-Qāsim b. al-ʿAsākir (d. 571 AH), Tārīkh madinat Dimashq (Dār al-Fikr al-Ṭabā‘h wa al-Nashr wa al-Tawziya, 1995), 69:8. The isnād is not graded, thus its authenticity compared to the ʿĀisha-age traditions is unknown.
44 Abū Nuʿaym al-Iṣbahānī (d. 430 AH), Maʿrifat aṣ-Ṣaḥābah (Riyadh: Dār al-Waṭan li-lNushr, 1998), 6:3253. See also Ibn al-ʿAsākir, ibid, 69:9. Again the isnād is not graded, thus its authenticity compared to the ʿĀisha-age traditions is unknown.
45 Al-Iṣbahānī, ibid, tradition 2843, 3:1134. Ungraded isnād.
46 Ibn Saʿd (d. 230 AH), Al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿilmiyyah, 1990), 3:291. Ungraded isnād.
47 ʿIzz al-Dīn b. al-Athīr (d. 630 AH), Usd al-Ghābah fī Maʿrifat aṣ-Ṣaḥābah (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿilmiyyah, 1994), tradition 6705, 7:7. Ungraded isnād.
48 Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463 AH), al-Istīʿāba fī Maʿrifah al-Ṣaḥābah (Beirut: Dār al-Jīl, 1992), tradition 6705, 7:7. Ungraded isnād. See also in al-ʿAsākir, ibid, 69:8.
49 Qur’ān 54:46. Sahih International translation.
50 Shams al-Dīn al-Qurṭubī, Jāmaʿa al-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyah, 1964), 17:146. Ungraded isnād. The battle of Badr occurred in 2 AH (624 CE).
51 Bin Sīdah al-Mursī, al-Muḥkam wa al-Muḥīṭ al-‘Aẓam (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 2000), 7:625-626 (under the heading al-Shīn wa al-Bā’, the root of al-Jāriyah is jarā).
52 Ibn Manẓūr al-’Anṣārī, Lisān al-‘Arab (Beirut: Dār Ṣādr, 1414 AH), 7:81.
53 The Arabic word for running is tajrī which comes from the same root letters as jāriyah.
54 Qur’ān 54:46.
55 Arabic name of Ethiopia.
56 Qur’ān 15:94. Sahih International Translation.
57 Ibn Kathīr al-Dimashqī (d. 774 AH), al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyah (min al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah li-ibn Kathīr) (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah li-l-Ṭabā‘h wa al-Nushr wa al-Tawzīʿ, 1976), 1:454. Ungraded isnād.
58 Abū al-Qāsim al-Ṭabarānī, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabīr (Cairo: Maktabah ibn Taymiyah, 1994), 23:23. Nu‘īm bin al-Ḥākim al-Naysābūrī, al-Mustadrak ‘alā al-Ṣaḥīḥayn (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘ilmiyah, 1999), tradition 2704, 2:181. Isnād graded ṣaḥīḥ.
59 Al-Ṭabarānī, ibid, 23:23. Al-Ḥākim al-Naysābūrī, ibid, tradition 2704, 2:181. Isnād graded ṣaḥīḥ.
60 What his criteria were for reasonableness, or rational acceptability, in this matter is unstated and has no precedence among classical commentaries on this tradition.
61 Wahm is a technical indication within the classical ḥadīth sciences: “When an error (wahm) is discovered through external indications (al-qarā’īn) and the gathered paths [of transmission], then it is defective (muʿallal),” al-ʿAsqalānī, Nukhbat al-Fikar fī Muṣṭalaḥ Ahl al-Athār (Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1997), 8.
62 Qur’ān 65:4. Sahih International translation.
63 Qur’ān 4:65. Sahih International translation.