Hadhrat ‘A’ishah Siddiqah(ra) holds a central position in the annals of Islam – most of the recorded history of Islam can be obtained through her accounts – thus the Holy Prophet(saw) declared that “one could learn half the faith” from her. The age of her marriage to the Prophet(saw) however, has been the subject of huge debate amongst scholars. This article addresses claims that she married the Holy Prophet(saw) at a premature age.
Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was the daughter of Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddiq(ra). She was born in Makkah, and according to some estimates, the time was around the 4th year of the advent of the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet(saw), around 614 AD (Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d). Other estimates suggest her birth occurred very early in Islam’s history. Some biographers have spoken of Hadhrat ‘A`ishah(ra) and Usama bin Zaid(ra) as the first babies born to the Muslims (Martin Ling: Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources p.71). No definite date however, is on record. The Islamic calendar was devised much later, during the Khilafat of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra), hence there are considerable differences in dates of events. Some scholars assign her birth to the time of the claim of Prophethood of Muhammad(saw), whilst others assign a Hijrah date, (Syed Salman Nadvi pp330-332).
Hadhrat ‘A’ishah’s mother was Umm Rumman bint Al-‘Amir. From her father’s side Hadhrat ‘A`ishah(ra) belonged to the same lineage as the Holy Prophet(saw), in the 7th or 8th generation, and on the mother’s side she descended from the Kannanite tribe of the same lineage, in the 11th or 12th generation.
The household Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) grew up in was the house of a highly honoured chief of Arabia. Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), her father, a wealthy business man, was the first man to have accepted Islam. He was the Holy Prophet’s closest friend and knew him intimately. After his conversion, Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) followed the example of the Holy Prophet(saw) so closely in everything that it was definitely the best Islamic environment for Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) to have grown up in.
Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddiq(ra) was considered an authority in ‘Ilm-ul-Ansab, knowledge of genealogy and poetry. It was popularly said that poets who presented their masterpieces at large festivals always sought prior corrections and advice from Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddiq(ra). This provided a great opportunity for young ‘A’ishah(ra) to acquire mastery of these subjects.
As reading and writing were rare accomplishments at the time, committing things to memory was a great art. Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) had memorised long poems and verses as a young girl. Later in life she could quote various long odes, ballads and other pieces of poetry, and could masterfully understand the profound ideas as well as express them eloquently, setting out various usages of the words by different poets in her discourses. She could recount the lineage of different tribes up to many generations in the past.
Later, in an assessment of her qualities, Hadhrat Musa bin Talhah(ra) declared, in a report quoted by Haakim:
“In all my life I never came across any person as crystal clear and eloquent in their speech, as ‘A’ishah.” (Das Barray Musalmaan byShaikh Muhammed Ismail Panipati, p.258)
From the point of view of Divine revelation, the years in which Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) grew up in were of great excitement. The profound and glorious Word of Allah the Almighty was being revealed manifestly. The zeal of the poor and weak who had joined Islam was overwhelming, but at the same time the animosity and jealousy aroused in the Quraish, the main tribe of Makkah, knew no bounds. They considered themselves the custodians of the Ka’bah (the House of Allah in Makkah) and thus the leaders of Arabia. As a result they tried to crush the new faith with whatever might they could muster. Every day that passed during these years was full of turmoil and conflict, but spiritually, the ‘sun of guidance’ was rising rapidly, and the thirsty souls were receiving rain (spiritually), bringing them to life and filling them with pure light and energy and shaping them into holy people the like of which the world had never seen before. The Holy Qur’an has spoken of the aforementioned phenomenon and the Promised Messiah(as) has stated it in his prose and poetry. In an Arabic verse addressing the Holy Prophet(saw), he says:
O, my holy master! You found them as lowly and as foul as dung,
And you transformed them into clear solid gold.
‘Dung’ here refers to the depths of immorality that the Arabs at the time had succumbed to when the Holy Prophet(saw) appeared. He brought about a spiritual revolution amongst the Arabs, transforming their moral standards to such an extent that in their character they were ‘solid gold’.
Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) grew up fast during those years, not only physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Even while playing she would learn and gain understanding about religious ideas. We see a glimpse of this in an incident, when as a little girl she was playing with her dolls, and the Holy Prophet(saw) happened to pass by. Amused to see a horse with wings amongst the dolls, he asked her, “Why does your toy horse have wings?” Her response was, “Haven’t you heard that Prophet Solomon’s horse had wings?” Thus, even as a child, her thoughts were about the Prophets.
Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) has stated that the Holy Prophet(saw) used to visit Hadhrat Abu Bakr’s house (Bukhari, Bab-ul-Hijrah) daily and the family heard the Holy Qur’an’s revelations directly from the Holy Prophet(saw). An incident that records those times is the revelation of some of the verses of Surah Al-Qamar (Chapter 54 of the Holy Qur’an). Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) relates that she was a little girl at the time, playing about, when the verses were revealed; she understood their meaning and learnt the verses by heart. (Sahih Bukhari Kitab-ul-Tafseer: Surah Al-Qamar). In the same report she says:
“From the time that I recognised my parents I found them to be Muslims.” (Bukhari)
The photographic memory of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was displayed in her remembering the events of the migration in great detail. No other Companion retained the details of that journey to the extent she did, a point noted in Sahih al-Bukhari in Bab-ul-Hijrah.
The Arabs of the time had an extremely exaggerated sense of honour and they feared that they would be dragged into situations where it would be tremendously trying for them to uphold their honour. This was one reason why many of them preferred to bury their daughters either at birth, or at the first opportunity they could find. Born in times of such neglect and barbarity towards women, Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) found herself growing up in a household given to spiritual pursuits, where every effort was made towards learning the verses of the Holy Qur’an, understanding them and commenting on them; her family were fearless in safeguarding the religion of Islam in its infancy. All the energy of this household was focussed on supporting and upholding the principles set out by Islam and the Prophet(saw). Women had an equal opportunity to participate in religious rites, granting them equal spiritual rewards.
Looking at this period from the perspective of Hadhrat Abu Bakr’s family it is clear that they lived through hair-raising times. On one occasion Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) found a man had put a twisted sheet around the neck of the Holy Prophet(saw) and was strangling him. He ran and rescued the Holy Prophet(saw) from the clutches of the attacker. Walking through the streets of Makkah, Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) would find slaves being tortured mercilessly, and would negotiate a price and buy their freedom at the extortionate prices imposed by their masters.
It was the merciless beating Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) received at the hands of the Quraish, when they found him speaking publicly about the beautiful features of Islam, that turned the heart of his mother, Salmah bint Sakhr(ra). She decided to accompany him to the Holy Prophet(saw) and pledged her allegiance to Islam as well (Hadhrat Abu Bakr,Prof. Irshad-ul-Haq Quddusipp.6-7)
This is the context in which we have to study the development of the very bright daughter of Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) and Umm Rumman.
Hadhrat Abu Bakr’s older daughter, Asmaa(ra), from a previous marriage, had accepted Islam, but her mother refused to accept it, and she was divorced by Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra). Hadhrat Asmaa(ra) is famously mentioned at the time of migration: firstly, when the Holy Prophet(saw) came to the house of Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) in the fierce midday heat, and informed him that he had been granted Divine permission to emigrate. Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) reports that she and Asmaa(ra) helped pack the luggage (Related by ‘Urwah: Bukhari, S. Salman Nadvi: Seerat ‘A’ishah, p.356)
In the second incident, it is reported that Asmaa(ra) tore her waist belt into two lengths with which she tied up the mouths of the two vessels into which food and water were packed. On this account she became known as ‘she (the lady) of two belts’.
Asmaa(ra) was married to Hadhrat Zubair(ra), a famous Companion of Holy Prophet(saw). She had a son by the name of ‘Abdullah(ra), who was well known in Islamic history as ‘Abdullah bin Zubair(ra). Because of this very well loved nephew, the Holy Prophet(saw) gave the title (Kunniyyat) of Umm ‘Abdillah, ‘mother of Abdullah’, to Hadhrat ‘A`ishah(ra). Her other son, ‘Urwah bin Zubair(ra), is frequently mentioned in Islamic history as well.
Another mention of Asmaa(ra) is where ‘Urwah bin Zubair(ra) has reported that Hadhrat Asmaa(ra) related:
“In Madinah my mother came to visit me; I enquired from the Holy Prophet(saw): My non-Muslim mother has come to visit me, can I treat her kindly?
The Holy Prophet(saw) replied:
Yes, treat her like you would treat your close relatives.” (Bukhari, vol.3, Kitab-ul-Adab)
Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddiq(ra) lived in the area of Makkah called Manqallah and his house was called Dar Abu Bakr i.e. the house of Abu Bakr(ra). It was a large house with a domed roof, and a terrace where Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was born. (Hadhrat ‘A‘ishah by Razia Dard). He built a mosque within his house for performing the Prayers.
When Hadhrat Khadijah(ra) passed away around the 10th year of Prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) was extremely sad. The Holy Prophet(saw) and the small group of converts had just come out of extreme suffering and hardship; they had been turned out of Makkah and were forced to seek refuge in Shaib Abi Talib (a valley outside Makkah). By the end of that period of deprivation and starvation, Hadhrat Abu Talib(ra), the Prophet’s uncle who had brought him up, had also died. Commenting on the situation Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan(ra) writes:
‘The death of his faithful and devoted wife was a grievous loss for the Holy Prophet(saw). For five and twenty years she had been his counsellor and support, and now his heart and home were desolate.’(p.56)
‘The Holy Prophet(saw) on his return from Taif, was leading a lonely life. He supplicated to God Almighty that He should guide him in the matter of marriage, so that he may choose rightly and wisely. A short while later he saw the angel Gabriel in his dream who presented him with a green silk kerchief and said, ‘This is your wife in this world and the next.’ The Holy Prophet(saw) observed that the kerchief bore a likeness of ‘A’ishah(ra), daughter of Abu Bakr(ra).
Some time later, Khaulah bint Hakim(ra), the wife of a Companion, ‘Uthman bin Maz’un(ra) , came to the Holy Prophet(saw) and suggested that he [the Prophet(saw)] should get married again; at the suggestion the Holy Prophet(saw) asked: Who shall I marry? Hadhrat Khaulah(ra) replied ‘If you wish, you can marry a virgin, and if you prefer, you can marry a widow.’ He asked, ‘Who are they?’ Khaulah(ra) submitted, ‘The virgin is the daughter of your close friend, Abu Bakr(ra); and the widow is Saudah bint Zamaa(ra), the widow of Sakran bin Amr(ra).’ The Holy Prophet(saw) gave Hadhrat Khaulah the permission to make enquiries for both the proposals.
Accordingly Khaulah(ra) first approached Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) and his wife Umm Rumman(ra) and mentioned the matter to them. They were surprised and wondered whether the match was permissible as Abu Bakr(ra) looked upon the Holy Prophet(saw) as his brother [No mention of the age difference was made as it was not an issue in their minds]. When the matter was referred to the Holy Prophet(saw), he pointed out that a spiritual relationship was no bar to marriage. Being apprised of this, ‘A’ishah’s parents signified their assent with great pleasure. Thereafter Khaula(ra) went to Saudah bint Zamaa(ra) and mentioned the proposal to her, whereupon she and her relatives accepted it gladly. Thus the nikah of the Holy Prophet(saw) was performed both with Hadhrat Saudah(ra) and with ‘A’ishah(ra), in the month of Shawwal of the tenth year of Prophethood. The dower of the bride in each case was four hundred dirhams’. (Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Nikah, Muhammad: Seal of Prophets Zafrulla Khan, p.60)
Some books of history have mentioned that Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) had betrothed Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) to the son of Jubair bin Mata’m(ra). When Hadhrat Khaulah(ra) enquired about a proposal of marriage with the Holy Prophet(saw), Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) approached Jubair(ra) regarding his family’s thoughts about the marriage. Jubair(ra) said he would check with his wife, and in the event came back with the reply that his wife said: “We do not want this girl in our house as she will destroy our religion”. Upon receiving this reply Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) very happily proceeded with the Nikah (marriage) to the Holy Prophet(saw) (Musnad Ahmad vol.6, Al-Tabaqat-ul-Kubra vol.8, p.59, Seerat ‘A`ishah, Syed Salman Nadvi p.24, Das Barray Musalman: M. Ismail Panipati pp.187-188).
Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra) has not included this report in his book Seerat-e-Khatamun-Nabiyyeen. Our purpose here to note some of these references, is that no other proposal or engagement, besides this, has ever been mentioned in any books of Hadith or history. If some negative criticism has been made, it is totally unfounded.
In the Arab culture of the time, it was entirely normal to marry several women. The Holy Prophet(saw) however, remained a totally faithful and loyal husband to Hadhrat Khadijah(ra). Although if he had married or taken any slave girl for a relationship, it would not have caused a negative reaction, the Holy Prophet(saw) totally refrained from any such association. As a matter of fact, the Quraish had offered him their most beautiful girl to marry, if he would only refrain from preaching his new religion. But it was their observation that “Muhammad has fallen in love with his God!”
At the time of marriage, Hadhrat Saudah(ra) was of advanced age, and she moved into the household of the Holy Prophet(saw) immediately after the Nikah (Islamic religious ceremony performed in a Mosque, to officially declare a couple husband and wife). Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was around seven years of age, and according to some other reports, ten years of age at the time. However Hadhrat ‘A’ishah’s marriage (i.e. when she went to live with the Holy Prophet(saw) after the wedding ceremony) did not take place until nearly five years afterwards, and even at that point it was Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), who approached the Holy Prophet(saw) and enquired as to when would he like to arrange a wedding. (Tabrani on reference of Zarqani vo.3, p.231: also Seerat-e-Khatamun-Nabiyyeen by Mirza Bashir Ahmad p.423)
The marriage was conducted in a very simple manner. Hadhrat ‘A`ishah(ra) was residing with her mother in a place located in the suburbs of Madinah. Some Ansar ladies got Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) ready for the wedding. The Holy Prophet(saw) arrived at the house, sat down with the family, shared a bowl of milk with Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) and her friends who were present, and then departed, after which Hadhrat ‘A`ishah(ra) moved in to live with the Holy Prophet(saw). The dower was paid at the occasion. (Seerat-e-Khatamun-Nabiyyeen p.429-430, Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Sa‘d)
Age at Marriage
The age of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) at the time of her marriage has been the subject of much debate among scholars. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) (fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community) declared the aforementioned book, Seerat-e-Khatamun-Nabiyyeen, by Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra), son of the Promised Messiah(as), to be the most reliable account of the life of the Holy Prophet(saw). Therefore, we turn to that book for enlightenment. Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra) has undertaken a lengthy and exhaustive discussion on the subject. He has taken two ways to ascertain the age. These are set out below:
First Way of Assessment of Age
Ibn Sa‘d has quoted in Tabaqat a report which states:
‘Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was born in the early part of the 4th year of Nubuwwat (advent of Prophethood)’ (Vol.8, p.54)
Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra) says:
‘I have not come across any other reference quoting the date of the birth of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) in any book of historians of early Islam, neither in any book of Hadith, therefore we take this report to establish the date of birth.’
The Nikah with Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was announced in the 10th year of his Prophethood and his migration took place in the 14th year of Prophethood. The actual marriage (when she went to live with the Holy Prophet(saw)) of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) took place in the second year after migration, which works out as the 16th year of Prophethood. So the time from the birth of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) in the 4th year of Prophethood, to her marriage (when she went to live with the Holy Prophet(saw)) in the 16th year of Prophethood, would make her 12 years of age.
Second Way of Assessment of Age
The following very famous and authentic collections of Hadith or history have quoted the age of announcement of Nikah to be seven years: Sahih Muslim, Nisai, Ibn Hisham, Ibn Sa‘d and Tabari.
The same books, except Seerat Ibn Hisham, have also mentioned the age to be six years. Imam Bukhari, Ibn Sa‘d and almost all other historians are agreed that the Nikah was announced in 10th year of Prophethood, making her age to be around six or seven. Migration took place in Rabi’-ul-Awwal, the 14th year of Prophethood; this would make Hadhrat ‘A’ishah’s age to be around ten years and some months at migration. The marriage (when she went to live with the Holy Prophet(saw)) took place nearly two years after migration, again the calculation points to around 12 years of age!
Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan(ra) in Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets has presented the following view:
‘Some historians have fallen into error with regard to her age at the time of the wedding. Thorough research has, however established that at the time of the ceremony of marriage (Nikah) in Makkah, ‘A`ishah was between ten and eleven years of age, and the wedding took place in Medina between four to five years after the ceremony of marriage. This puts beyond doubt, that at the time of the wedding, ‘A’ishah’s age was at least fifteen years.’ (Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets, p.129)
Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II(ra), has thus commented on the subject:
‘One of the Prophet’s holy consorts was the young A’isha. She was thirteen to fourteen years of age when she got married to the Prophet(saw).” (Introduction to the study of the Holy Qur’an,p.134)
In Seerat Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra), Syed Salman Nadvi has also undertaken a very long discussion on the subject. We can briefly conclude that after an exhaustive study he is convinced that the age at the time of Nikah was six years and at the age of marriage was 9 years (Seerat-e-‘A’ishah, pp.311-368).
Hadhrat ‘A’ishah’s own reports contained in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari speak of her age being nine years. In summing up the detailed discussion, Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Ahmad(ra) states:
‘If, for instance, we assume that the age [at marriage] was nine! Even then there is no objection because, in countries like Arabia, for a girl to reach puberty at 9 or 10 years of age is not a farfetched thought…average age of puberty of girls in India is 13 to 14 years but Arabia is comparatively even warmer and drier (in its climate), therefore many girls are found to reach puberty at 9 or 10 years of age…Hence for Hadhrat ‘A’ishah to have reached puberty at 9 or 10 and to have been physically ready to be married is nothing extraordinary. Sir William Muir has agreed to the rapid growth and development of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah in his biography Life of Muhammad pp.110 and 171.” (Seerat Khatamun-Nabiyyeen by Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra))
It was the second year after the migration when the marriage of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) took place. The accounts speak of her playing outside with her friends, when her mother called her in, as it was time for her marriage, which shows that she was a very active girl. The prowess of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) in poetry and history of Arabia was such that she could recall from memory the lineage of Arab tribes up to many generations, and knew by heart the compositions of the famous poets up to thousands of verses. This demonstrates that her activities also included pursuits whereby she had accumulated this kind of academic information.
Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra): holds a very special place in the history of Islam because it was through her accounts that much of the recorded history of Islam was obtained. Sir Zafrulla Khan(ra) sums up the educational prowess of Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra):
‘A’ishah’s mind and memory were extraordinary. Under the Holy Prophet’s supervision, instruction and training, her faculties developed very rapidly, and she observed the life of her illustrious husband very minutely and never forgot a single word that she heard from him, she performed a matchless service for the faith in the instruction and training of Muslim women in all aspects of the teaching of Islam…She was esteemed most highly by the leading Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) after his death, on account of her superior knowledge and understanding of the faith.’ (Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets,p.129)