Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Controversies About the Age of Aisha

The majority of Muslims agree that Aisha was only 9 years old when the Prophet married her. This site makes no apology for her young age and accuses the modernists for humbugging the Westerns morality and denying the truth.

This other site also defends Muhammad for marrying Aisha at 9 claiming that girls reach puberty at that age and therefore are considered adult and having sex with them at such tender age is acceptable.

However there are some “modernist” Muslims who dispute this fact.

They argue: (taken from this site)

  • According to the generally accepted tradition, Aisha (ra) was born about eight years before Hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari (kitabu'l-tafseer) Aisha (ra) is reported to have said that at the time Surah Al-Qamar, the 54th chapter of the Qur'an, was revealed, "I was a young girl". The 54th surah of the Qur'an was revealed nine years before Hijrah. According to this tradition, Aisha (ra) had not only been born before the revelation of the referred surah, but was actually a young girl (jariyah), not an infant (sibyah) at that time. Obviously, if this narrative is held to be true, it is in clear contradiction with the narratives reported by Hisham ibn `urwah. I see absolutely no reason that after the comments of the experts on the narratives of Hisham ibn `urwah, why we should not accept this narrative to be more accurate.

Even if we assume this narrative to be accurate, we have no reason to give it more weight than those that are so detailed about Aisha ’s age, describing her playing with her dolls, talking about her girlfriends coming to play with her and hiding when Muhammad entered the room, her memories of playing on the swing when her mother called her and washed her face and took her to Muhammad, her ignorance of what was going on and her “surprise” when Muhammad got into action taking his role as the husband, etc. These events are more likely to be remembered by someone of her childhood than when a particular Surah was revealed. It is more probable that a person confuse one Surah with the other than confuse all those details of her own life.

  • According to a number of narratives, Aisha (ra) accompanied the Muslims in the battle of Badr and Uhud. Furthermore, it is also reported in books of hadith and history that no one under the age of 15 years was allowed to take part in the battle of Uhud. All the boys below 15 years of age were sent back. Aisha 's (ra) participation in the battle of Badr and Uhud clearly indicate that she was not nine or ten years old at that time. After all, women used to accompany men to the battle fields to help them, not to be a burden on them.

This is a weak excuse. When the Battle of Badr and Ohud occurred Aisha was 10 to 11 years old. She did not go to be a warier, like the boys. She went to keep Muhammad warm during the nights. Boys who were less than 15 were sent back, but this did not apply to her.

  • According to almost all the historians Asma (ra), the elder sister of Aisha (ra) was ten years older than Aisha (ra). It is reported in Taqri'bu'l-tehzi'b as well as Al-bidayah wa'l-nihayah that Asma (ra) died in 73 hijrah when she was 100 years old. Now, obviously if Asma (ra) was 100 years old in 73 hijrah she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah. If Asma (ra) was 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah, Aisha (ra) should have been 17 or 18 years old at that time. Thus, Aisha (ra), if she got married in 1 AH (after hijrah) or 2 AH, was between 18 to 20 years old at the time of her marriage.

When someone gets that old, people don’t care too much about her exact age. It is very easy to say she was 100 years old when in fact she was only 90. The difference is not noticeable to the younger folks and 100 is a round figure. Assuming the Hadith is authentic, it could be an honest mistake. Since in those days people did not carry birth certificates, it is very much likely that the person who reported her age to be 100 did not know that she was 10 years older than Aisha and did not sit to make the calculations and deductions. She was not an important person and it did not occur to anyone that 1300 years later it would become the subject of a controversy. This could be a genuine mistake by the narrator of the Hadith.

  • Tabari in his treatise on Islamic history, while mentioning Abu Bakr (ra) reports that Abu Bakr had four children and all four were born during the Jahiliyyah -- the pre Islamic period. Obviously, if Aisha (ra) was born in the period of jahiliyyah, she could not have been less than 14 years in 1 AH -- the time she most likely got married.

Tabari’s narratives do not have the distinction to be known Sahih. Even if we assumed that this narratives is not forged, there is no reason to discard all those strong, detailed and explicit hadithes that concord with each other and confirm the age of Aisha was 9 when she married the Prophet, to accept this narrative that, could very well be also an innocent slip on the part of the narrator. People remember important events better than those that are relatively insignificant. The date of the birth of the children of Abu Bakr was not an important subject for Muslims to record. But the details of the Prophet's marriages were more important. As you can read in the story of Safiyah's wedding even the kind of food served is recorded.

  • According to Ibn Hisham, the historian, Aisha (ra) accepted Islam quite some time before Umar ibn Khattab (ra). This shows that Aisha (ra) accepted Islam during the first year of Islam. While, if the narrative of Aisha 's (ra) marriage at seven years of age is held to be true, Aisha (ra) should not have been born during the first year of Islam.

The apologist fails to provide the references to the hadithes that he quotes. But obviously this is an error. To understand and accept a religion, one must he at least intelligent enough to make such decision. That is about 15 years old. But let us be generous and say that age is about 12. If Aisha accepted Islam during the first year of Islam, she must have been 26 years old when Muhammad married her. (12 + 14) First of all, in those days girls married at much younger age. No one stayed that long to get married. And it is very unlikely that a 26-year-old woman plays with her dolls. It shows that some of the Muslim apologists are embarrassed of what the Prophet did and are desperately looking for excuses to exonerate him of his improprieties.

  • Tabari has also reported that at the time Abu Bakr planned on migrating to Habshah (8 years before Hijrah), he went to Mut`am -- with whose son Aisha (ra) was engaged -- and asked him to take Aisha (ra) in his house as his son's wife. Mut`am refused, because Abu Bakr had embraced Islam, and subsequently his son divorced Aisha (ra). Now, if Aisha (ra) was only seven years old at the time of her marriage, she could not have been born at the time Abu Bakr decided on migrating to Habshah. On the basis of this report it seems only reasonable to assume that Aisha (ra) had not only been born 8 years before hijrah, but was also a young lady, quite prepared for marriage.

It was an Arab tradition to betroth a girl to a boy even when the girl was a newborn. This tradition is still carried on in many Islamic countries. This is no proof that Aisha was a grown up.

  • According 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 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 about who the virgin was, Khaulah proposed Aisha '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, and obviously a nine year old is not a "lady".

This explanation is absolutely incorrect. Bikr means virgin and, just as in English is not age specific. In fact Aisha was the second wife of Muhammad (after Khadijah) but Muhammad did not consummate his marriage with her for three years because she was too young. Instead he had to content himself with Umma Salamah, until Aisha matured a little bit more. It would not have made sense to marry a beautiful woman like Aisha and wait for three years to take her home.

  • According to Ibn Hajar, Fatimah (ra) was five years older than Aisha (ra). Fatimah (ra) is reported to have been born when the Prophet (pbuh) was 35 years old. Thus, even if this information is taken to be correct, Aisha (ra) could by no means be less than 14 years old at the time of hijrah, and 15 or 16 years old at the time of her marriage.

Of course this information cannot be taken as correct. If Aisha was five years older than Fatimah, and Fatimah was born when the Prophet was 35 years old, then Aisha was only 30 years younger than the Prophet. So at the time of her marriage when the Prophet was 54, Aisha must have been 24 yeas old. This is not certainly correct, for the reasons explained above and also it contradicts the Hadith that the apologist quoted about the age of Asma, Aisha ’s sister, who according to that Hadith was 10 years older that Aisha and died in 73 Hijra. So at the time of Hijra Asma must have been 100 –73 = 27 years old, but according to this Hadith she was 34 years old. The discrepancy between these two hadithes quoted by the same apologist, demonstrate their inaccuracy. It all goes to show that in those days numbers did not mean much. It is more likely that people forget the dates. But events are better remembered. The reports of the tender age of Aisha is consistent with the stories of her childhood, playing with her toys, her girlfriends hiding when Muhammad entered the room, the Prophet playing with her, her ignorance and “surprise” in the night of the nuptials, etc. All those hadithes confirm that she was a little girl. Those who deny the facts and try to prove otherwise, demonstrate their embarrassment of the acts of the Prophet. Perhaps they should be credited for having some scruples and realizing that what the Prophet did was wrong but we cannot praise them for their intellectual honesty or lack of it.Finally the apologist concludes:

  • “In my opinion, neither was it an Arab tradition to give away girls in marriage at an age as young as nine or ten years, nor did the Prophet (pbuh) marry Aisha (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.”

I respect his opinion, but disagree with him completely. Not only this WAS the tradition of the Arabs, it is still their tradition and it has become the tradition of other counties that converted to Islam. Even up to this day it is very common to find girls as young as 9-years given for matrimony. Of course the reason that no one objected to the marriage of Muhammad and a 9-year-old girl, is because it was a costume. The reason when it was reported in so many hadithes that neither the author nor the scholars objected is because it was nothing out of the ordinary.

Just a few weeks ago I read in the news that in Iran a 9-year-old girl filed for divorce from her 15-year-old husband just after 20 days of marriage because he would constantly beat her. When the young man was questioned he said: “She neglects her housework and plays with her dolls all the time”.

Read also:

Aisha the Child Wife of Muhammad

Moral Evaluations of the Marriage of the Prophet with Aisha

This rebuttal was contested by an author who claimed Aisha was older than 9 years when she married the prophet. His response can be found here and here. However since he provided no further information or reasoning to support his claim. I see no reason to refute him either.

Ali Sina is the editor of He is has contributed in 'Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside Islam'.  His latest book is Understanding Muhammad: The Psychobiography of Allah’s Prophet.

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