The Woman Behind the Number: The Irrelevance of the Age of ‘Aisha (ra)
For more on this topic, see More Than Just a Number: Perspectives on the Age of Aisha (RA)
Viewing ‘Aisha’s age at marriage through a Western lens
What is a child? Understanding our notions of childhood
What is the appropriate age to get married?
Understanding ‘Aisha’s context: She was already engaged
‘Aisha had already… been promised to Mutim’s son, and her father had to negotiate with Mutim in order to break the engagement. ‘Aisha then officially became Muhammad’s second wife, though the union would not be consummated for several years.8
I was shown you in a dream for three nights. I dreamt that an angel carried you on a piece of silk and said: Here is your wife, and when I removed [the cloth] from your face, I saw you. I said: If this is from Allah He will carry it out.
This is your wife in this world, and in the Hereafter.9
She went first to Sawdah who accepted the news with joy, then to her father who also responded positively and went to his daughter to confirm her acceptance, “It is a noble match. Do you want me to marry you to him?” He stated and she agreed. They married and she moved into the Prophet’s household immediately.
Sawdah was a middle-aged woman and a widow with children. She was also an early convert to Islam who had made the first migration with her husband to Ethiopia. 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. Sawdah was described as a tall and large black-skinned woman, with a jolly, kindly disposition…Khawlah then went to the family of ‘Aisha to make the same proposal.10
Is there a universally accepted age of marriage?
Youthful marriages and domestic violence
Nujood was married off to Faez Ali Thamer, a courier in his 30s, …her father, Ali Mohammed Ahdal… was… broke with 16 hungry children at home… one of Nujood’s sisters had… been raped and another was kidnapped… Faez promised the family not to touch Nujood until she reached puberty. But the promise was quickly broken as Nujood spent each night struggling, and failing, to escape his predatory advances... He gave her three dresses, two hairbrushes, perfume and two hijabs as wedding gifts, and also a US $20 wedding ring… Faez took back the wedding ring immediately after the wedding party and sold it to buy himself new clothes. She was also constantly abused by her in-laws, who told him to hit her even harder every time he beat her…14
So we are left as believers with a serious issue. We cannot despise “child marriages” because, by many accounts, ‘Aisha was a child when she married the prophet, peace to him. So what are we to make of cases like Nujood’s? I see Nujood as a brave hero and I greatly admire her but I don’t hate her parents for marrying her off nor do I see the primary issue in her case that she was young. If we changed Nujood’s age to 18 at the time of marriage is it of any better quality? Is she any happier? And would she not simply be 18 and divorced? If you put the same story forth and change the age to any number at all it is still a terrifying story that any woman would be horrified to be in. This man was a liar, an abuser and an oppressor.15
Letting the discourse die
1 Overexposed, Under-connected by Nuriddeen Knight (Unpublished).
2 The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman (1994).
3 Educating Girls, Ending Child Marriage, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2017/08/22/educating-girls-ending-child-marriage
4 Postman, p. 36.
5 Average Age of Marriage By State, https://www.dailydot.com/irl/average-age-marriage-by-state/
6 Barely Half of US Adults Are Married: A Record Low, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/12/14/barely-half-of-u-s-adults-are-married-a-record-low/#age-at-first-marriage
7 Age of Sexual Debut Among US Adolescents, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3064497/
8 In the Footsteps of the Prophet by Tariq Ramadan (2007).
9 Bukhari 3606.
10 40 Hadith of Our Mother ‘Aisha by Nuriddeen Knight (2018).
11 Detailed discussion about the verse “But you did hide in yourself (i.e., 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 33:37], https://islamqa.info/en/96464
13 Americans’ Ideal Family Size is Smaller Than it Used to be, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/08/ideal-size-of-the-american-family/
14 Divorced At Ten Years Old, https://www.aquila-style.com/focus-points/mightymuslimah/against-all-odds/1266/
15 Poverty Not Abandonment, Abuse Not Age, https://www.facebook.com/notes/nuriddeen-knight/poverty-not-abandonment-abuse-not-age/1472597646385389/