AYESHA’s AGE: THE MYTH OF A PROVERBIAL WEDDING EXPOSED

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AYESHA’s AGE: THE MYTH OF A PROVERBIAL WEDDING EXPOSED

A Christian friend asked me once, “Will you marry your seven year old daughter to a fifty year old man?” I kept my silence. He continued, “If you would not, how can you approve the marriage of an innocent seven year old, Ayesha, with your Prophet?” I told him, “I don’t have an answer to your question at this time.” My friend smiled and left me with a thorn in the heart of my faith. Most Muslims answer that such marriages were accepted in those days. Otherwise, people would have objected to Prophet’s marriage with Ayesha. However, such an explanation would be gullible only for those who are naïve enough to believe it. But unfortunately, I was not satisfied with the answer.

 

The Prophet (PBUH) was an exemplary man. All his actions were most virtuous so that we, Muslims, can emulate them. However, most people in our Islamic Center of Toledo, including me, would not think of betrothing our seven years daughter to a fifty-two year-old man. If a parent agrees to such a wedding, most people, if not all, would look down upon the father and the old husband.

 

In 1923, registrars of marriage in Egypt were instructed not to register and issue official certificates of marriage for brides less than sixteen and grooms less than eighteen years of age. Eight years later, the Law of the Organization and Procedure of Sheriah courts of 1931 consolidated the above provision by not hearing the marriage disputes involving brides less than sixteen and grooms less than eighteen years old. (REF: Women in Muslim Family Law, John Esposito, 1982). It shows that even in the Muslim majority country of Egypt the child marriages are unacceptable.

 

So, I believed, without solid evidence other than my reverence to my Prophet (pbuh), that the stories of the marriage of seven-year-old Ayesha (ra) to fifty-year-old Prophet are only myths. However, my long pursuit in search of the truth on this matter proved my intuition correct. My Prophet was a gentleman. And He did not marry an innocent seven or nine year old girl.

 

The age of Ayesha (ra) has been erroneously reported in the hadith literature. Furthermore, I think that the narratives reporting this event are highly unreliable. Some of the hadith regarding Ayesha’s age at the time of her wedding with prophet are problematic. I present the following evidences against the acceptance of the fictitious story by Hisham ibn `urwah and to clear the name of my Prophet (pbuh) as an irresponsible old man preying on an innocent little girl.

 

EVIDENCE # 1 Reliability of Source

Most of these narratives printed in the Hadith books are reported only by Hisham ibn `urwah reporting on the authority of his father. First of all, more people than just one, two or three should logically have reported. It is strange that no one from Medinah, where Hisham ibn `urwah lived the first seventy one years of his life has narrated the event, even though in Medinah his pupils included people as well known as Malik ibn Anas. The origins of the report of the narratives of this event are people from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have shifted after living in Medinah for seventy-one years.

 

Tehzibu’l-tehzib, one of the most well known books on the life and the reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) report that according to Yaqub ibn Shaibah:

” He [Hisham] is highly reliable, his narratives are acceptable, except what he narrated after moving over to Iraq.” (REF: Tehzi’bu’l-tehzi’b, Ibn Hajar Al-`asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, 15th century. Vol 11, p. 50).

 

It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported through people of Iraq:

“I have been told that Malik [ibn Anas] objected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported 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)

 

Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, another book on the life sketches of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) reports:

“When he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered quite badly” (REF: Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, Al-Zahbi, Al-Maktabatu’l-athriyyah, Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Vol. 4, p. 301)

 

CONCLUSION: Based on these references, Hisham’s memory was failing and his narratives while in Iraq were unreliable. So, his narrative of Ayesha’s marriage and age are unreliable.

Chronology

Now let me state some of the pertinent dates in the history of Islam:

 

Jahilliyya Before Revelation

First Revelation 610 CE

Abu Baker accepts Islam 610 CE

Public preaching 613 CE

Emigration to Abyssenia 615 CE

Umar bin al Khattab accept Islam 616 CE

Generally accepted betrothal of Ayesha 620 CE

Hijarah 622 CE

Generally accepted year of Ayesha living

with Prophet 623 or 624CE (1 or 2 AH)

EVIDENCE # 2 Betrothal

According to Tabari (also according to Hisham ibn ‘urwah, Ibn Hunbal and Ibn Sad), Ayesha was betrothed at seven years of age and began to cohabit with Prophet at the age of nine years. However, in another work, Al- Tabari says:

“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.”(REF: Tarikhu’l-umam wa’l-mamlu’k, Al-Tabari (died 922), Vol. 4, p. 50, Arabic, Dara’l-fikr, Beirut, 1979)

 

If Ayesha was betrothed in 620 CE (at the age of 7 years) and started to live with Prophet in 624 CE or 2 AH (at the age of nine years), she was born in 613 CE {(Year of living with Prophet MINUS Ayesha’a age at that time of living with Prophet EQUALS the date of birth of Ayesha (624CE – 9 yrs = 613 CE)}. So, based on one account of Al-Tabari the numbers show that Ayesha must have born (613 CE) three years after the beginning of revelation (610 CE). And yet another place Tabari says that Ayesha was born in Pre-Islamic time (in Jahilliyyah). If she were born in pre-Islamic time (before 610 CE), she would have be at least 14 years old. So, Tabari contradicts himself.

CONCLUSION: Al-Tabari is unreliable in the matter of determining Ayesha’s age.

 

Contradicting Reports

EVIDENCE # 3 The Age of Ayesha in Relation to the Age of Fathima.

 

According to According to Ibn Hajar,

“ Fatimah (ra) was born at the time the Ka`bah was rebuilt, when the Prophet (pbuh) was 35 years old… she (Fatimah) was five years older that Ayesha (ra).” (REF: Al-isabah fi tamyizi’l-sahabah, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Vol. 4, P. 377, Maktabatu’l-Riyadh al-haditha, al-Riyadh, 1978)

 

So, based on Ibn Hajar, Fathima was born when Prophet was 35 years old and Ayesha was 5 years younger than Fathima. If Ibn Hajar’s statement is factual, Ayesha was born when Prophet was forty years old (Prophet’s age at the birth of Fathima PLUS 5 years = 40 years). If Ayesha was married to Prophet when he was 52 years old, Ayesha’ age at marriage would be 12 years {(Prophet’s age at the time of marriage MINUS Prophet’s age at Ayesha’s birth (52 yrs – 40 years = 12 yrs)}.

 

CONCLUSION: Ibn Hajar, Tabari an Ibn Hisham and Ibn Humbal contradict each other. So, the marriage of Ayesha at seven years of age is a myth.

 

EVIDENCE # 4 The Age of Ayesha in Relation to the Age of Asma

According to Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d:

“Asma (ra) was ten years older than Ayesha. (REF: Siyar A`la’ma’l-nubala’, Al-Zahabi, Vol. 2, p. 289, Arabic, Mu’assasatu’l-risalah, Beirut, 1992)

 

According to Ibn Kathir:

“She [Asma] was elder to her sister [Ayesha] by ten years”. (REF: Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 371, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933)

According to Ibn Kathir:

“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 herself 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.” (REF: Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir (died 1333), Vol. 8, Pg. 372, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933)

 

According to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani:

“She [Asma (ra)] lived a hundred years and died in 73 or 74 AH.” (REF: Taqribu’l-tehzib, Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, Pg 654, Arabic, Bab fi’l-nisa’, al-harfu’l-alif, Lucknow)

 

According to almost all the historians Asma (ra), the elder sister of Ayesha (ra) was ten years older than Ayesha (ra). If Asma was 100 years old in 73 AH, she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijra { Asma’s age MINUS 73 hijrah EQUALS the age of Asma at the time of Hijrah( 100 – 73 or 74 = 27 or 28)}.

 

If Asma (ra) was 27 or 28 years old at the time of Hijrah, Ayesha (ra), being younger by 10 years, should have been 17 or 18 years old {Asma’s age at the time of Hijarah MINUS the age difference between Asma and Ayesha EQUALS the age of Ayesha at the time of Hijarh (27 or 28 –10 = 17 or 18 yrs)}. Thus, Ayesha (ra), being 17 or 18 years of at the time of Hijra, she started to cohabit with Prophet between 19 to 20 years old (The Age of Ayesha at the time of Hijra + the year of Ayesha cohabiting with Prophet (19-20 + 1-2 Hijra) = The Age of Ayesha when she cohabit with Prophet (19 or 20 years).

 

Based on Hajar, Ibn Katir, and Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d, age of Ayesha at the time living with Prophet would be 19or 20 years. In evidence # 3, Ibn Hajar suggests that Ayesha is 12 years old and in evidence # 4 he contradicts himself with a seventeen or eighteen-year-old Ayesha (ra). What is the correct age, twelve or eighteen?

CONCLUSION: Ibn Hajar is an unreliable source for Ayesha’s age.

 

EVIDENCE # 5 Battles of Badr and Uhud

A narrative regarding Ayesha’s (ra) participation in Badr is given in Muslim, Kitabu’l-jihad wa’l-siyar, Bab karahiyati’l-isti`anah fi’l-ghazwi bikafir. Ayesha (ra) while narrating the journey to Badr and one of the important events that took place in that journey says: “when we reached Shajarah”. It is quite obvious from these words that Ayesha (ra) was with the group travelling towards Badr.

A narrative regarding Ayesha’s (ra) participation in the battle of `uhud is given in Bukhari, Kitabu’l-jihad wa’l-siyar, Bab Ghazwi’l-nisa’ wa qitalihinna ma`a’lrijal:

“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].”

CONCLUSION: Ayesha (ra) was present in the battles of Uhud and Badr.

It is narrated in Bukhari, Kitabu’l-maghazi, Bab ghazwati’l-khandaq wa hiya’l-ahza’b:

“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 Khandaq, when I was fifteen years old, the Prophet (pbuh) permitted my participation.”

 

Summary: Based on the above narratives, (a) the children below 15 years were sent back and were not allowed to participate in the battle of `uhud, (b) Ayesha participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud

 

CONCLUSION: Ayesha’s (ra) participation in the battle of Badr and Uhud clearly indicates that she was not nine old but at least 15 years old or older. After all, women used to

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accompany men to the battlefields to help them, not to be a burden on them. This account is another contradiction about Ayesha’s age.

 

EVIDANCE # 6 Surat al Qamar

According to the generally accepted tradition, Ayesha (ra) was born about eight years before Hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari (kitabu’l-tafseer) Ayesha (ra) is reported to have said:

 

“I was a young girl (jariyah)” when Surah Al-Qamar was revealed. (REF: Sahih Bukhari, kitabu’l-tafsir, Bab Qaulihi Bal al-sa`atu Maw`iduhum wa’l-sa`atu adha’ wa amarr)

The 54th surah of the Qur’an was revealed eight years before Hijrah (REF: The Bounteous Koran, M.M. Khatib, 1985). So, it was revealed in 614 CE {Year of Hijrah MINUS year of revelation of Al Qamar (622 CE – 8 = 614 CE)}. If Ayesha started living with Prophet (pbuh) at the age of nine in 623 CE or 624 CE, she was a newborn infant (a sibyah) {Year of Ayesha living with Prophet MINUS age of Ayesha when she started to live with Prophet (623 CE or 624 CE– 9 years=614 0r 615) at the time the Surah Al-Qamar was revealed.

 

According to the above tradition, Ayesha (ra) was actually a young girl (jariyah), not an infant (sibyah) in the year of revelation of Al Qamar. “Jariyah” means young playful girl (Lane’s Arabic English Lexicon). So, Ayesha, being a Jariyah not a sibyah (infant), must be somewhere between 6-13 years at the time of revelation of Al-Qamar, and thereby she must have been 14-21 years (6-13 + 8= 14-21 years) at the time she married Prophet.

CONCLUSION: This tradition also contradicts the marriage of Ayesha at the age of nine.

 

EVIDANCE # 7. Arabic Term

According

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to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after the death of Khadijah (ra), when Khaulah (ra) came to the Prophet (pbuh) advising him to marry again, the Prophet (pbuh) asked her regarding the choices that she had in her mind. Khaulah said: “You can marry a virgin (bikr) or a woman who has already been married (thayyib)”. When the Prophet (pbuh) asked the identity of the bikr (virgin), Khaulah proposed Ayesha’s (ra) name.

 

All those who know the Arabic language, are aware that the word “Bikr” in the Arabic language is not used for an immature nine-year-old girl. The correct word for a young playful girl, as stated earlier is “Jariyah”. “Bikr” on the other hand, is used for an unmarried lady without conjugal experience prior to marriage, as we understand the word, virgin, in English. Therefore, obviously a nine-year-old girl is not a “lady” (Bikr). (REF: Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. .210, Arabic, Dar Ihya al-turath al-`arabi, Beirut.)

 

CONCLUSION: The literal meaning of the word, Bikr (virgin), in the above Hadith is adult women with no sexual experience prior to marriage. Therefore, Ayesha was an adult woman at the time of her marriage.

 

EVIDENCE # 8. The Qur’anic Text

All Muslims agree that the Qur’an is the book of guidance. So, we need seek the guidance from the Qur’an to clear the smoke and the confusion created by the eminent men of the classical period of Islam in the matter of the age of Ayesha at her marriage. Does the Qur’an allow or disallow marriage of an immature child of seven years of age?

 

There are no verses that explicitly allow such marriage. However, I found a verse that guides us in our duty to raise a child deprived with the death of one or both parents. I believe that guidance of the Qur’an on the topic of raising orphans is also valid in the case of our own children. The Verse 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……” (Qur’an 4:5-6).

 

In the matter of children who has lost a parent, a Muslim is ordered to (a) feed them, (b) clothe them, (c) educate them, and (d) test them for maturity “until the age of marriage” before entrusting them with management of finances. Here the Qur’anic verse demands meticulous proof of their intellectual and physical maturity by objectivetest results before the age of marriage in order to entrust their property to them.

 

In the light of the above verses, no responsible Muslims would hand over financial management to a seven or nine year old immature girl. If we cannot trust a seven-year-old to manage the financial matters, she cannot be intellectually or physically fit for marriage also. Ibn Hambal (REF:Musnad Ahmad ibn Hambal, vol.6, p 33 and 99) claims that Ayesha at the age of nine was rather more interested to play with toy-horses than to take up the responsible task of a wife. Therefore, I would not believe that Abu Baker, a great Moimin, would betroth his immature seven-year-old daughter to fifty-year-old Prophet. Similarly, I would not believe that Prophet (pbuh) would marry a seven-year-old immature girl.

 

Another important duty demanded from the guardian of a child is “to educate them.” Let us ask the question, “How many of us in the Islamic Center believe that we can educate our children satisfactorily before they reach the age of seven or nine years?”

The answer is “none.” It is a logically impossible task to educate a child satisfactorily before the child attains the age of seven. Then, how can we believe that Ayesha was educated satisfactorily at the claimed age of seven at the time of her marriage? Abu Baker (ra) was a better judicious man than all of us. So, he definitely would have judged that Ayesha was a child at heart and was not satisfactorily educated as demanded by the Qur’an. He would not have married her to any one. If a proposal of marrying the immature and yet to be educated seven-year-old Ayesha came to Prophet (pbuh) he would have rejected it outright because neither Prophet (pbuh) nor Abu Baker (ra) would violate any clause in the Qur’an.

 

CONCLUSION: Marriage of Ayesha (ra) at the age of seven years would violate the maturity clause or requirement of the Qur’an. Therefore, the story of the marriage of the seven-year-old immature Ayesha is a myth.

EVIDENCE # 9. Consent in Marriage

A women must be consulted and get her permission to make the marriage valid (REF:Mishakat al Masabiah, translation by James Robson, Vol. I, p.665). So, in the Muslim marriage, a credible permission from women is a pre-requisite for the marriage to be valid. By any stretch of imagination, the permission by a seven-year-old immature girl cannot be a valid authorization for marriage. It is unconceivable to me that Abu Baker, an intelligent man, would take seriously the permission of a seven-year-old girl to marry a fifty-year-old man. Similarly, Prophet would not have accepted permission given by an immature girl who, according to Muslim, took her toys with her when she went live with Prophet (pbuh).

CONCLUSION: Prophet (pbuh) did not marry seven-year-old Ayesha because it would have violated the requirement of valid permission clause of Islamic Marriage Decree. Therefore, Prophet married intellectually and physically mature Lady Ayesha.

 

SUMMARY: It was neither an Arab tradition to give away girls in marriage at an age as young as seven or nine years, nor did the Prophet (pbuh) marry Ayesha (ra) at such a young age. The people of Arabia did not object to this marriage, because it never happened in the manner it has been narrated.

Obviously, the narrative of the marriage of nine year old Ayesha by Hisham ibn `urwah cannot be held true when it is contradicted by many other narratives reported above. Moreover, I see absolutely no reason to accept the narrative of Hisham ibn `urwah as true when other scholars including Malik ibn Anas view his narrative, while in Iraq, as unreliable.

 

The quotations from Tabari, Bukhari and Muslim show they contradict each other regarding Ayesha’s (ra) age. Furthermore, many of these scholars contradict themselves in their own records. Thus, the narrative of Ayesha’s (ra) age at the time of the marriage is not reliable due to the clear contradictions seen in the works of classical scholars of Islam. Therefore, I see absolutely no reason to believe that the information on Ayesha’s (ra) age is accepted as true when there are adequate grounds to reject it as myth. Moreover, the guidance from the Qur’an is against the marriage of immature girls and boys and also against entrusting them with responsibilities.

 

ANSWER TO MY CHRISTIAN FRIEND: We do not know the exact age at the time of her marriage due to lack of reliable records. Based on the evidences presented above, the marriage of fifty-two-year-old Prophet (pbuh) with Ayesha (ra) at nine year of age is only a proverbial myth. On the contrary, Ayesha (ra) was an intellectually and physically mature Bikr (virgin = adult unmarried woman with no sexual experience) when she married Prophet (pbuh).

T.O Shanavas MD
Vice President
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462
Website: http://www.irfi.org

http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_151_200/ayesha_age_the_myth_of__a_prover.htm

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