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Noor Al Shadhili is a research and education initiative whose aim is to engage in theological and spiritual dialogue through an Islamic, philosophical and social science framework

Q & A(dvice): The Age of ‘Aisha

Controversy: Why did the prophet, peace to him, marry a child? from Noor Al Shadhili on Vimeo.

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Q: Why did the prophet, peace to him, marry a child? (Your interlocutor may put this question in a more violent way using the words “rape” or “molestation” instead of marriage, keep your cool and politely correct them.)

A: The information we get about ‘Aisha’s age comes from different sources, Arabs didn’t keep track of their age the same way we do now so it is important to know different ages are reported for ‘Aisha –as they are for his first wife’s age in marriage, the prophet age of death, etc. In Islam consummation is the beginning of marriage in that being with a contract but without consummating the marriage one can simply annul the marriage but after consummation one cannot. At the time of ‘Aisha’s marriage contract with the prophet, peace to him, she was six, at the time of the consummation of the marriage she was nine (presumably pubescent) –this is according to her own reports though some report her being as old as nineteen. Cultural references are important here. After the death of the prophet’s wife, may God be pleased with her, he was of course very saddened, he lost his wife and his supporter, friend and the mother of his six children. Seeing the prophet’s sadness a female friend suggested he remarry, she suggested two women: Saudah and ‘Aisha. Saudah she thought would be a good mother figure and ‘Aisha would bring youthful joy in to his life. He agreed to both –though he was previously monogamous polygamy was the norm in Arabian society and he entered in to this form of marriage after his wife’s death. Interestingly ‘Aisha had been engaged before her engagement to the prophet, there is no single reference of anyone being outraged, disappointed, shocked, etc. by this union.

‘Aisha was young of course but she was not considered a child in the modern sense. After she got married she still played with dolls with her friends and she was reported as “leaving the bread out too long” out of youthful forgetfulness. But being young was not simultaneous with the modern idea of being a child. ‘Aisha always spoke highly of the prophet, peace to him. He never hit or scolded her –which was commonplace in that culture, he always professed his love for her even to his male companions and he taught her a great deal making her a scholar among the women of her time. Her youth also benefitted her because she was able to memorize a great deal of the prophet’s speech and is in fact the most prolific hadith memorizer among women. It is understandable that our modern Western culture is offended by the age at which the prophet married ‘Aisha but your offence doesn’t make it wrong. It is not an obligation to marry young nor is it necessarily encouraged especially in a culture where it is unacceptable. The prophet himself didn’t marry women from the Ansar because he knew of their aversion to polygamy. Marrying in one’s youth is not an injunction on any Muslim and forced marriage is forbidden. The age of one at marriage is of little importance, the value lies in the marriage itself and if you believe ‘Aisha’s report about her age you should also believe that she was exceptionally happy and in love with the prophet, peace to him.

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