The Age of Aisha (ra): Rejecting Historical Revisionism and Modernist Presumptions
For more on this topic, see More Than Just a Number: Perspectives on the Age of Aisha (RA)
Claims that ʿĀʾisha was married in her teens
- Hishām ibn ʿUrwa was the only one to narrate the ḥadīth,13 and he narrated it when he was in Iraq, a time when he was accused of having a bad memory.
- Asmaʾ, the older sister of ʿĀʾisha, was ten years older than ʿĀʾisha. Since Asmaʾ passed away in 73 AH/692 CE at the age of 100, this places ʿĀʾisha at eighteen years old when the marriage was consummated.
- Fāṭima was born at the time the Kaʿba was rebuilt, when the Prophet ﷺ was thirty-five years old, and she was five years older than ʿĀʾisha, making Āʾisha around twelve years old when she married the Prophet.
- ʿĀʾisha participated in the Battle of ʾUḥud. Ibn ʿUmar narrates that the Prophet did not permit him to participate in Uḥud because he was fourteen, but when he was fifteen the Prophet gave him permission to fight in the battle of the Trench (Khandaq). Thus, ʿĀʾisha must have been at least fifteen at the time of ʾUḥud, meaning she consummated the marriage at thirteen or fourteen years old.
- ʿĀʾisha narrated in Bukhārī: “This revelation [in Sūra al-Qamar]: ‘Nay, but the Hour is their appointed time (for their full recompense), and the Hour will be more grievous and most bitter’14 was revealed to Muḥammad in Makkah while I was a playful jāriya.”15
Hishām ibn ʿUrwa
Asmaʾ, the elder sister of ʿĀʾisha, was ten years older than ʿĀʾisha
Fāṭima’s age in comparison toʿĀʾisha
ʿĀʾisha’s participation in the Battle of ʾUḥud
ʿĀʾisha and Sūra al-Qamar
Child Marriage: Is there such a thing?
In an oral world there is not much of a concept of an adult and, therefore, even less of a child. And that is why, in all the sources, one finds that in the Middle Ages childhood ended at age seven. Why seven? Because that is the age at which children have command over speech. They can say and understand what adults can say and understand. They are able to know all the secrets of the tongue, which are the only secrets they need to know. And this helps us to explain why the Catholic Church designated age seven as the age at which one was assumed to know the difference between right and wrong, the age of reason. It also helps us to explain why, until the seventeenth century, the words used to denote young males could refer to men of thirty, forty, or fifty, for there was no word—in French, German, or English—for a young male between the ages of seven and sixteen. The word child expressed kinship, not an age. But most of all, the oralism of the Middle Ages helps us to explain why there were no primary schools. For where biology determines communication competence, there is no need for such schools…The medieval way of learning is the way of the oralist; it occurs essentially through apprenticeship and service—what we would call “on-the-job training.” Such schools as existed were characterized by a “lack of gradation in the curricula according to the difficulty of the subject matter, the simultaneity with which subjects were taught, the mixing of the ages, and the liberty of the pupils.” If a medieval child got to school, he would have begun as late as age ten, probably later. He would have lived on his own in lodgings in the town, far from his family. It would have been common for him to find in his class adults of all ages, and he would not have perceived himself as different from them. He certainly would not have found any correspondence between the ages of students and what they studied.43
1 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Nikāḥ, viii. 52 no. 5133.
2 Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, Nikāḥ, ii. 1038 no. 1422.
3 ʿĀʾisha Bint Abī Bakr, the third and favorite wife of the Prophet, was born in Mecca about 614 CE. Her mother, Umm Rūmān, came from the tribe of Qināna. Muḥammad gave ʿĀʾis̲h̲a the kunya Umm ʿAbd Allāh, after the name of her nephew ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Zubayr. See W. Montgomery Watt, Encyclopedia of Islam Edition 2nd edition: 12 vols. ed. by P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1960-2005), art. ‘ʿĀʾisha Bint Abī Bakr.’ [EI2]
4 Abū Dawūd, Sunan, Adab, iv. 284 no. 4933; Ibn Mājah, Sunan, Nikāḥ, iii. 75 no. 1876; Nasāʾī, Sunan, Nikāḥ, vi. 82 no. 3255.
5 Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī b. Aḥmad b. Saʿīd , born at Cordova in 384/994, died at Manta Līs̲h̲am in 456/1064, was an Andalusian poet, historian, jurist, philosopher and theologian, one of the greatest thinkers of Arabo-Muslim civilization, who codified the Ẓāhirī doctrine and applied its method to all the Qurʾānic sciences. See R. Arnaldez, EI2 art. ‘Ibn Ḥazm.’
6 Ibn Ḥazm, Ḥujjat-l-Widāʿ, 435.
7 ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar b. Kat̲h̲īr, born in Boṣrā circa 700/1300 and died in Damascus in S̲h̲aʿbān 774/February 1373, was one of the best-known historians and traditionalists of Syria under the Baḥrī Mamlūk dynasty. Educated at Damascus, where he went to live with his elder brother in 706/1306, after the death of their father, he had as his main teacher, in fiqh, the S̲h̲āfiʿī Burhān al-Dīn al-Fazārī (in 729), but next fell strongly, and very early, under the influence of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) and his school. See H. Laoust, EI2, art. ‘Ibn Kat̲h̲īr.
8 Ibn Kathīr, al-Sīrat al-Nabawiyya, ii. 141.
9 al-Namarī (al-Numayrī), appellative of a family of Cordovan scholars, the principal representative of which is Abū ʿUmar Yūsuf b. ʿAbd Allāh, born in 368/978. He studied in his native city under masters of repute, engaged in correspondence with scholars of the East and traveled all over Spain “in search of knowledge,” but never went to the East. Considered the best traditionalist of his time, he was equally distinguished in fiqh and in the science of genealogy. After displaying Ẓāhirī tendencies at first, in which he resembled his friend Ibn Ḥazm, he later followed the Malikī doctrine. See Ch. Pellat, EI2, art. ‘Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr.’
10 Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, iv. 1881.
11 See Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad.
12 Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣāba.; Bacharach, Middle East Handbook, 54; Mohiuddin, Revelation; Ghufaylī, al-Sanā al-Wahhāj; Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, viii., 304; Al-Dhahabī, Siyar; Ibn ʿĀshūr, al-Taḥrīr wa-l-Tanwīr, xvii., 168; Nawawī, Tahdhīb al-Asmaʾ wa-l-Lughāt; Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition.
13 Al-Bukhārī reports that Hishām [ibn ʿUrwa] narrates from his father that ʿĀʾisha, may God be pleased with her, [said]: “The Prophet ﷺ married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years.” Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Nikāḥ, viii. 52 no. 5133.
14 al-Qamar, 54:46.
15 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Tafsīr al-Qur‘ān, vii. 367 no. 4876.
16 Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, Nikāḥ, ii. 1039 no. 1422.
17 Nasāʾī, Sunan, Nikāḥ, vi. 131 no. 3379.
18 Ghufaylī, al-Sanā al-Wahhāj, 130.
19 Al-Dhahabī, Siyar, Hisham ibn ʿUrwa.
20 Al-Dhahabī, Siyar, Asmaʾ bint Abī Bakr.
21 Ghufaylī, al-Sanā al-Wahhāj, 188-189.
22 Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya, viii., 91.
23 Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya, iii., 131.
24 Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852/1448). al-Iṣāba fī Tamyīz al-Ṣaḥāba, ed. ʿĀdil ʾAḥmad ʿabd al-Mawjūd and ʿAlā Muḥammad Muʿawwaḍ, 8 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1415/).
25 Ibn Ḥajar. al-Iṣāba, viii. 263.
26 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Jihād wa Siyar, v. 83 no. 2880.
27 Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, Bayan Sinn al-Bulūgh, iii. 1490 no. 1868.
28 al-Qamar, 54:46.
29 Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Tafsīr al-Qur‘ān, vii. 367 no. 4876.
30 Ghufaylī, al-Sanā al-Wahhāj, 227-229.
33 Ghufaylī, al-Sanā al-Wahhāj, 228.
35 Brown, The Canonization of Al-Bukhārī and Muslim, 11. Jonathan Brown hints that it began with Simon Ockley (d. 1720), a Cambridge scholar, who says:
Ayesha was but seven years old, and therefore this marriage was not consummated till two years after, when she was nine years old, at which age, we are told, women in that country are ripe for marriage. An Arabian author cited by Maracci, says that Abubeker was very averse to the [sic] giving him his daughter so young, but that Mohammed pretended a divine command for it; whereupon he sent her to him with a basket of dates, and when the girl was alone with him, he stretched out his blessed hand (these are the author's words) [sic], and rudely took hold of her clothes, upon which she looked fiercely at him, and said: “People call you the faithful man, but your behaviour to me shows you are a perfidious one.”
Jonathan Brown responds after providing evidences:
Marracci is chiefly interested in depicting Muhammad as a lecher and a hypocrite, who gropes women who are not his wives and uses his claims of prophecy for carnal ends. His exaggeration of Abu Bakr’s hesitance merely provides dramatic effect, suggesting that he also wanted to keep his daughter out of lecherous hands. Ockley adopts this and adds his own layer of interpretation. Perhaps because he is skeptical about the claims that women mature so early in warmer climes, Abu Bakr’s original response turns into him being ‘very averse’ to marrying his daughter off at such a young age.
Brown posits that Ockley superimposes his worldview and prejudices upon early Arabian culture. According to Ockley, Abū Bakr’s hesitance in response to the Prophet’s request via Khawla was not because of a previous request by Mutʿim ibn ʿAdiyy or because of brotherhood, but rather because of the shame attributed to child marriages in the 18th century.
36 Brown, The Canonization of Al-Bukhārī and Muslim, 11.
37 Zuhaylī, al-Wajīz, 21.
38 Tirmidhī, Sunan, ii., 409.
39 al-Imām Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Idrīs b. al-ʿAbbās b. ʿUt̲h̲mān b. S̲h̲āfiʿ b. al-Sāʾib b. ʿUbayd b. ʿAbd Yazīd b. Hās̲h̲im b. al-Muṭṭalib b. ʿAbd Manāf b. Ḳuṣayy al-Ḳuras̲h̲ī, the eponym, rather than the founder, of the Shāfiʿī school (madhhab). See E. Chaumont, EI2, art. ‘al- Shāfiʿī’.
40 Dhahabī, Siyar, x., 91.
41 Bayhaqī, al-Sunan al-Kubrā, ii., 1513.
43 Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, 18-21.
44 Syrett, American Child Bride, 219.