Lady ‘Āʾishah’s Age

In the previous posts: History of the age of consentThe loyal partner & The Glaring Beacon, I spoke about the age of consent from the historical and cultural point of view, I gave a brief description of Prophet Muhammad’s marital life, and I explained the circumstances that led to his marriage with Lady ‘Āʾishah. In this post, I shall tackle what some contemporary scholars and researchers said about this issue. Some researchers made an argument that the traditions mentioning Lady ‘Āʾishah’s age upon marriage were weak and undependable. The majority of scholars were not convinced with this argument about her age, but for the sake of a complete honest study that can provide a complete understanding free from confusion, and for the sake of clarifying the whole truth, these scholars stated the following argument:

  1. The origin of all narrations in Bukhari that clearly state Lady ‘Āʾishah’s age upon moving into the prophet’s house, was the same famous follower named “Hisham Ibn ‘Urwah Ibn Al-Zubair”. He was the son of ‘Urwah Ibn Al-Zubair: Lady ‘Āʾishah’s nephew. Lady ‘Āʾishah died before he was born by about 4 years, and all of his narrations ascribed to her were as he himself stated, what he learned from his father. The dilemma here is that the narrations of Lady ‘Āʾishah’s age were all given by Hisham in the last 10 years of his life, when his age was beyond 71 years old and after he immigrated to Iraq. These traditions were all reported by his Iraqi students. Though he was a very well known scholar and narrator of prophetic traditions in Madinah where the prophet and Lady ‘Āʾishah lived, yet through the decades he lived and taught in Madinah, none of his students there ever reported such narrations about Lady ‘Āʾishah’s age. Many great renowned scholars have learned from him in Madinah like the famous jurist and traditionist Imam Mālek Ibn Anas, who is one of the most famous 4 jurists in the history of Islam, and the most famous jurist of Madinah. Imam Mālek never reported any narration from Hisham regarding lady ‘Āʾishah’s age, though he was the first scholar to collect the prophetic traditions, and the sayings mentioned by the followers in a book. He collected his book before Bukhari by more than 50 years.Not only Mālek in Madinah but also in Iraq itself, some of the most famous scholars didn’t report these traditions like Hammad Ibn Salamah and Hammad Ibn Zayd who were both among the 2nd century scholars and coevals of Hisham. Some famous scholars criticized Hisham’s narrations reported from Iraq like Abdul-Rahman Ibn Shaibah (died in 8th century A.D.) who said: “Hisham was a trusted source, no one ever denied any of his reports except after he moved to Iraq, as he started confusing his narrations, and ascribed to his father narrations he heard from others.” Also Abdul-Rahman Ibn Kharash (died 896 A.D.) said: “I was told that Mālek denied Hisham’s narrations to the people of Iraq and he didn’t approve on them.” He also said: “He visited Kufa (i.e. a famous city in Iraq) three times, in one he said: ‘I heard ‘Āʾishah’, in the second he said: “My father told me that he heard from ‘Āʾishah” And in the third visit he said: “My father heard from ‘Āʾishah.” And also scholar Abul-Hassan Al-Qattan said: “He (i.e. Hisham) changed before his death but we never noticed this on him earlier.”

    All of the previous should indicate that upon his old age, Hisham could have narrated incorrect traditions out of confusion and forgetfulness. It is also known that the greatest fabrications of all were made in Iraq. Bukhari himself recorded that Lady ‘Āʾishah said during her life: “O people of Iraq, the people of Sham are more faithful than you. Many of the prophet’s companions lived among them, and their students never reported to us what we don’t know. While to you, a small number of companions traveled, but yet, their students reported to us what we know and know not.” [Recorded by Bukhari]. Hence, some critics argued that Hisham’s reports from Iraq should be neglected all together.

  1. If you were to read in Islamic history books you will find that people’s ages were never estimated precisely and have different estimates. 1400 years ago people didn’t keep records of birth-dates like we do today. Some scholars like Ibn-Qutaibah (213-276 AH), who was a coeval of Bukhari narrated in his book “Al-Ma’aref” that lady ‘Āʾishah died after the immigration by 58 years at the age of 70. This means that when the prophet married her she was above 13.
  2. Shams Al-Deen Al-dhahaby, the famous scholar, reported in his book “Seyar A’alam Al-Nubalaa” on the authority of Abdurrahman Ibn-Zenad (died 790 A.D.) who was among the students of Hisham Ibn-‘Urwah that: “Lady Asmaa’ was older than her sister lady ‘Āʾishah by 10 years.” It is mentioned in many traditions and history books that Lady Asmaa’ immigrated to Madinah after the prophet immediately and she was 27 at that time. This means that Lady ‘Āʾishah was over 18 when she moved in to the prophet’s house. This was further stressed by the knowledgeable historian Ibn-Kathir in his epic book “Al-Bedaya Wal-Nehaya” in Vol.8 where he stated that: “Lady Asmaa’ was older than her sister ‘Āʾishah by 10 years and she died in the year 73 after immigration at the age of 100,” which comes in parallel with Ibn-Zenad’s narration and means that Lady ‘Āʾishah was over 18 when she moved in to the prophet’s house.
  3. The prophet P.B.U.H. didn’t allow it for those under 15 to join the army on the battle field, as came in Bukhari’s narration on the authority of Al-Bara’ Ibn-Mālek that him and ‘Abdullah Ibn-‘Omar were not allowed to join the army of Badr for they were still underage. Al-Bara’ said: “We were deemed underage, me and Ibn-‘Omar on the day of Badr.” [Recorded by Bukhari]. Also Ibn-Hajar Al-Askalany, in his book “Al-Esabah Fi Tamyeez Al-Sahabah”, stated the following about ‘Abdullah Ibn-‘Omar: “It is an established fact that ‘Abdullah was 13 on the day of Badr. He embraced Islam with his father, and he was presented to the prophet on the day of Badr, but the prophet deemed him underage and sent him back home. On ‘Uhud’s battle the same thing happened, then on the battle of trench, the prophet allowed him to contribute, and he was above 15 by then.”
    So, if the prophet didn’t allow boys under 15 to follow the army to the battle field, then how come that he allowed his wife, Lady ‘Āʾishah to join the army as a nurse on ‘Uhud when she was still 10? (This report has already been mentioned in the previous post).
  4. Al-Tabari, the famous historian, in his book “Tarikh Al-Rusuli wal Muluk” or (The history of prophets and kings) said the following: “In the pre-Islamic era, Abu Bakr married two ladies, the first of whom was “Fatilah” and he had two children from her: ‘Abdullah and Asmaa’. He then married “Umm Ruman”, who gave birth to Abdurrahman and ‘Āʾishah. All these four were born before the advent of Islam,” [Vol.3]. From this we understand that Lady ‘Āʾishah was born before the advent of Islam. Assuming that she was born only a few days earlier, and knowing that immigration took place after prophethood by 13 years, and since that Lady ‘Āʾishah moved into the prophet’s house after immigration by one and a half years, then she must have been over 14 by that time.
  5. Bukhari recorded that Lady ‘Āʾishah said: “I didn’t start realizing the events occurring around me during my childhood except after my parents were both Muslims. Every day the prophet visited us twice, once in the morning and once before sunset. Later on, when the persecution of the Makkan pagans reached its peak, Abu-Bakr decided to immigrate to Abyssinia…..” Commentators agree that this narration was referring to the second immigration to Abyssinia that took place 8 years before immigration. Consequently, if Lady ‘Āʾishah was only 7 years old during that event, and as known she moved into the prophet’s house 1.5 years after immigration, therefore, her age was: 8+7+1.5 = 16.5 at least when she moved into the prophet’s house.

What I have stated was no more than a verification to the fact that there are some differences between the narrations indicating Lady ‘Āʾishah’s age upon moving into the prophet’s house. But many traditionists said that these reports were not strong enough to stand as an evidence on the non-authenticity of Bukharis narrations reported by Hisham Ibn ‘Urwah. Either way, all reported events from trusted sources including Bukhari himself prove that Lady ‘Āʾishah was an early developer able bodied maid. Finally, all reports and narrations by Lady ‘Āʾishah herself totally refute the accusations or the idea of being abused or mistreated in any way by the prophet. On the contrary they all prove in a manifest indisputable way that she loved him passionately, which – in my opinion – is what matters.

Finally, I would like to address all Muslims everywhere: The big difference in age between any married couple is neither a prophetic tradition nor a religious duty to defend or promote it. It’s not even mentioned anywhere in the Qur’an. You should realize that our time is different from the prophet’s time. More than 1400 years have elapsed, so please wake up. Nowadays, the closer the ages of the married couple, the easier they will be able to understand each other and succeed in conquering the problems they face in this mad life we’re living. So it’s okay to explain your faith and religion, but please don’t propagate wrong ideas in the process.

May Allah guide us all to the truth, Amen.

Written By: Ehab Shawky
IMME, ISBN:9789779027395


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