What was the age of Umm Al-Mo’mineen (the Mother of the Believers) `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) when she married to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)?
Some people believe that `A’ishah was nine years old at the time of her marriage with Prophet Muhammad was consummated.
The age of `A’ishah has been grossly misreported in the hadiths. Not only that, I think that the narratives reporting this event are not only highly unreliable but also that on the basis of other historical data, the event reported, is quite an unlikely happening.
Let us look at the issue from an objective standpoint. My reservations in accepting the narratives, on the basis of which, `A’ishah’s age at the time of her marriage with the Prophet is held to be nine years are:
1- Most of these narratives are reported only by Hisham ibn `Urwah reporting on the authority of his father. An event as well known as the one being reported should logically have been reported by more people than just one, two or three.
2- It is quite strange that no one from Madinah, where Hisham ibn `Urwah lived the first seventy one years of his life has narrated the event, even though in Madinah his pupils included people as well known as Malik ibn Anas. All the narratives of this event have been reported by narrators from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have had shifted after living in Madinah for seventy one years.
3- Tahzib At-Tahzib, one of the most well known books on the life and reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet reports that according to Ya`qub ibn Shaibah: ‘Narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq’. It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported through people of Iraq.
4- Mizan Al-I`tidal, another book on the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet reports that when he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered quite badly.
5- According to the generally accepted tradition, `A’ishah was born about eight years before Hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari kitab At-Tafseer `A’ishah is reported to have said that at the time Surat 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, `A’ishah had not only been born before the revelation of the referred surah, but was actually a young girl (jariyah), not an infant (sabiyah) 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.
6- According to a number of narratives, `A’ishah 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. `A’ishah’s 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.
7- According to almost all the historians Asma’ (the elder sister of `A’ishah, may God be pleased with them) was ten years older than `A’ishah. It is reported in Taqrib At-Tahzib as well as Al-Bidaya wa An-Nihaya that Asma’ died in 73 hijri when she was 100 years old. Now, obviously if Asma’ was 100 years old in 73 hijri she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of Hijrah. If Asma’ was 27 or 28 years old at the time of Hijrah, `A’ishah should have been 17 or 18 years old at that time. Thus, `A’ishah, 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.
8- Tabari in his treatise on Islamic history, while mentioning Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him) reports that Abu Bakr had four children and all four were born during the Jahiliyyah (the pre Islamic period). Obviously, if `A’ishah 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.
9- According to Ibn Hisham, the historian, `A’ishah accepted Islam quite some time before `Umar ibn Al-Khattab. This shows that `A’ishah accepted Islam during the first year of Islam. While, if the narrative of `A’ishah marriage at seven years of age is held to be true, `A’ishah should not have been born during the first year of Islam.
10- Tabari has also reported that at the time Abu Bakr planned on migrating to Habashah (8 years before Hijrah), he went to Mut`am- with whose son `A’ishah was engaged- and asked him to take `A’ishah in his house as his son’s wife. Mut`am refused, because Abu Bakr had embraced Islam, and subsequently his son divorced `A’ishah.
Now, if `A’ishah 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 Habashah. On the basis of this report it seems only reasonable to assume that `A’ishah had not only been born 8 years before Hijrah, but was also a young lady, quite prepared for marriage.
11- According to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after the death of Khadijah, when Khawlah came to the Prophet advising him to marry again, the Prophet asked her regarding the choices she had in her mind. Khawlah said: ‘You can marry bikr (a virgin) or thayyib (a woman who has already been married)’.
When the Prophet asked about who the virgin was, Khawlah proposed `A’ishah’s 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’.
12- According to Ibn Hajar, Fatimah was five years older than `A’ishah. Fatimah is reported to have been born when the Prophet was 35 years old. Thus, even if this information is taken to be correct, `A’ishah 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.
These are some of the major points that go against accepting the commonly known narrative regarding `A’ishah age at the time of her marriage.
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 marry `A’ishah 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.