I am very excited to start the series on Aisha (RA). She is one of my favorites and the most one that we can emulate and learn from. However, before we start the actual story, I wanted to address the issue of Aisha’s age. This has never been an issue for me but I know that it is for many people and one that the critics of Islam continuously use to criticize the Prophet ﷺ. So today instead of a story, we will have a discussion. Remember, I am not a scholar- I am just a person with a passion for Islam and I am just like you. I invite you to join me through the comments to discuss this issue, but I only ask that you be respectful in your comments.
Some time after the death of Khadeja (RA), a woman named Khawla bint Hakeem went to the Prophet ﷺ and asked him when he will get married again. He cried and responded, “How can there ever be anyone after Khadeja (RA)?” She kindly told him that his household needs a woman to help him raise his daughters and tend to the everyday needs of the house. She suggested two women for him, a widow and a virgin. The widow was Sawdah bint Zamah and the virgin was Aisha bint Abi Bakr. We know that every one of the Prophet’s ﷺ marriages was for a specific reason. He did end up marrying Sawdah, and Inshallah we will be discussing her story at another time. At the same time, he got engaged to Aishah (RA).
When Khawla bint Hakeem came to Abu Bakr’s house to bring them the news of the Prophet Mohammed’s ﷺ proposal, the people in the house who received the news were Aisha (RA) and her mother Um Ruman (RA). Um Ruman said to wait for Abu Bakr to return in order to get his opinion. When Abu Bakr received the news, he told Khawla, “I cannot give you an answer at the moment.” A while back, someone else had already asked for Aishah’s (RA) hand and was given consent. This was a non-Muslim by the name of Zubair bin Muta bin Ali. Abu Bakr did not feel it was right to give his daughter’s hand to the Prophet ﷺ, even though he was his best friend, without talking to the family of Zubair and seeing if they are still interested. However, when Abu Bakr got to the house of Muta bin Ali, he was given harsh words against Islam and against Abu Bakr. They wanted to punish Abu Bakr for becoming a Muslim and in short, that engagement never happened. Abu Bakr went back and told Khawla to give Mohammed ﷺ his consent.
Now some people say that Aisha (RA) was 7 when she got engaged and 9 when she got married. Some people say that she was closer to 12 and 14 and some people even say she was 17. Either way, we can all agree that she was very young and we can all agree that she did not move in with the Prophet ﷺ and the marriage was not consummated until after she hit puberty. And yes, her age is one that would be frowned upon for marriage today. However, we cannot look at a civilization that existed 1400 years ago with the same lens in which we view our civilization today.
For starters, lets look at the people around the Prophet ﷺ and their reaction. Do you remember the story of Zainab bint Jahsh? When the Prophet ﷺ married her, there was such uproar from the community and the Prophet ﷺ himself felt a bit uncomfortable at first. Don’t forget that the Quran was coming down in bits and pieces so the people around the Prophet ﷺ were still learning and asking questions and their reactions to certain events are well documented. However, no one had any kind of reaction to the idea of Prophet ﷺ Mohammed marrying Aisha (RA). Also, she was already about to get engaged to someone else. This goes to show us that at that time, marriage at that age was considered normal.
Now you might have some comments against the Arabs, so lets move out of the Middle East for a minute. In most past civilizations, the legal age of marriage was that of puberty. In Ancient Rome, the common and legal age for marriage was 12. In the 13th century England, there are records of marriages of girls ages 12 and younger. In Medieval Europe, ages of marriage were as young as 7 even though the legal age was 12. In the early American colonies, the marriage age to be eligible for dower was 9 and marriages under the age of 12 were very common. In fact the late 19th century in America, the age of consent of marriage was 6 up until 1886. In 1887, the state of California moved the age of consent to 10 and then again to 14 in 1897. In some states today, the age of consent is at 15 and 16. There are still some countries around the world that have the age of marriage at 14 and 15 with legal consent. So looking at these facts, it is easy to understand why it would be normal for Aishah to get engaged at such a young age in the 7th century.
So now you might say, well those people were abusing these girls’ rights. You might say that those were times of ignorance. However, lets go back and compare our time to the time of Aisha (RA). In our time, a young girl will be going to elementary school, then middle school, then high school, then she has to go to college and grow and experience life and form her personality. Then she gets a job and forms some kind of independence before she is ready for marriage. However, all of those things didn’t exist 1400 years ago. The concept of university was not even setup then and people were educated informally in their houses. Girls of Aisha’s (RA) age helped take care of the household and were given responsibility. Their mindset and maturely level were completely different from young girls today. If this concept is hard to grasp, lets look again at our time. Can you say that a young girl who grew up in a middle class home in America has the same mindset and maturity level as a girl who grew up in a warzone like Palestine or other countries? Have you ever watched a video of a 5 year old in Palestine speaking passionately and wonder how someone can have such wisdom at such a young age? Have you ever seen documentaries on children in African countries, who at ages 10 and 12 have lost their parents and are caring for their younger siblings and tending to the needs of their household? I don’t think we can deny that the environment and circumstances of one’s life play a huge role in maturity and development. Also remember that King Tutankhamun took the throne age 9 and there are other accounts throughout history of young kings.
So now you might say, that is all true, but can a person that young handle marriage? This question has to do with the Western unease about the topic of marriage. In America, you can find girls as young as 12 and 13 who are having sex and getting pregnant. However, if someone were to suggest that she marry the man who impregnated her, people will reply that you will ruin her life and restrict her, never mind that she already has a child at age 12. You have feminists that imply that the very establishment of marriage is a hit at women’s rights. There is a general feeling in the West that sex at the age of 12 and 13 can be swallowed but marriage at that age cannot. There is an implication that marriage will ruin their lives at that age but having to take care of an infant and losing their sense of innocence will not. It is with those illogical implications that some critics of Islam use to attack the age at which Aisha (RA) got married.
Now lets discuss why Aisha (RA) was chosen and why at such a young age. Aisha (RA) came from a noble family. Her father was Abu Bakr Al-Siddique, the closest friend of the Prophet ﷺ, who once said of Abu Bakr, “Indeed if I can take a friend from my nation, I would take Abu Bakr.” In regards to Aisha’s (RA) mother, the Prophet ﷺ used to say, “If you want to look at a woman from Paradise, look at Um Ruman.” So as a foundation, Aisha (RA) was raised by noble and good parents who were of the first to become Muslims. Aisha (RA) was born five years after the Prophet ﷺ received his message so her first consciousness was of her parents practicing Islam. Remember on Monday when we talked about how Asma, Aisha’s (RA), sister who was 100 years old and still had perfect memory? Aisha (RA) was the same way. The reason for her being married to the Prophet ﷺ so young was that she could absorb information better than an adult. You ever hear people saying that if you want to learn a language, learn it when you are young because it will be much harder when you get older. It is the same with Aisha (RA). She was a sponge when it comes to learning from the Prophet ﷺ and she related so many Hadith from him, especially those than concern women’s issues, marriage, and social issues. Also, the reason that he married her instead of just teaching her was that she could be close enough to him to ask him intimate questions that could not be asked without that special relationship.
Most importantly, it was Allah that told Mohammed ﷺ to marry Aisha (RA). Angel Gabriel came to Mohammed ﷺ for three nights in his sleep and he would show him a piece of silk. On it would be a picture of Aisha (RA). “She is your wife in this life and the hereafter, “ Gabriel would say.
Aisha (RA) had such a great impact on Islamic history and related so many vital Hadith. She was also such a great role model for young women, which I hope you will see as we move forward with her story.
Now lets open this for discussion. What are your thoughts?
Read the rest of the series:
Part 2: The Ideal Marriage
Part 3: The Ideal Marriage cont..
Part 4: The Incidence of Slander
Part 5: The Incidence of Slander cont..
Part 6: The end is only the beginning
Part 7: An Example for Muslim women
Quṭb, Muḥammad ʻAlī. Women around the Messenger. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2007. Print.
“King Tut.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Feb. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_tut>.
“Marriageable Age.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Feb. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriageable_age>.
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13 Jul 2012