Aisha (RA): The Big Debate (Part 1)
This is a continuation of a series of articles on women from Islamic history for #womenofislamwednesday.
Written by: Sofiyya
This article is the first in a compilation of 7 parts on Aisha bint Abu Bakr, the third wife of beloved Muhammad (s). We will be covering Aisha’s life (radiallahu ‘anha; may God be pleased with her) over the next few articles. Aisha’s marriage to the Rasool is the most commonly discussed relationship which he had with any of his wives. Naysayers of Islam use her age to criticize the Prophet Muhammad (s). I’m here to counter those allegations and put some things into context so that we all have more knowledge on this topic.
There is much debate surrounding Aisha’s age. 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. In whatever case, we can all agree that she was young and we can all agree that she did not move in with the Prophet and the marriage was not consummated until after she hit puberty.
The fact of the matter is that we cannot compare the cultural norms of a civilization from 1,400 years ago to that of today. Let’s look at the people around the Prophet (s) and their reaction to his marriage to her. When the Prophet married Zainab bint Jahsh (ra), which will be further discussed in a future article, there was a huge uproar from the community. But no one had any kind of reaction to the idea of him marrying Aisha (ra). It wasn’t strange or concerning to anyone that she was young.
For those who want to criticize this “Middle Eastern” or “Arab” practice, we can compare it to the norms of other ancient civilizations, where the legal age of marriage was also that of puberty. In Ancient Rome, the common and legal age for marriage was 12. In 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, marriages under the age of 12 were common. In fact, in some areas of the US, the age of consent for marriage was 6 up until 1886. 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 Aisha to get engaged at such a young age in the 7th century.
Now, you might say that those were times of ignorance. However, let’s go back and compare our time to the time of Aisha (ra). Nowadays, a girl should finish university, find a job, and form some kind of independence before she is ready for marriage. However, none of those things existed 1,400 years ago. The concept of a university was not even around 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 when they were very young. Their mindset and maturity levels were completely different from young girls today; they matured much more quickly.
The environment and circumstances of one’s life play a huge role in maturity and development. Can you say that a young girl who grew up in an average middle-class American home has the same mindset and maturity level as a girl who grew up in a warzone like Syria? 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?
So now you might say, that is all true, but can a person that young handle marriage? This question has to do with our cultural unease about the topic of marriage. In Western culture, 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 boy who impregnated her, people would reply that her life would be ruined, even if she gave birth to a child at age 12. There is a general feeling in the West that sex at the age of 12 and 13 can be swallowed but marriage at the same age cannot. The message is that marriage will ruin their lives at that age, but losing their sense of innocence or even bearing children will not.
So how did this marriage come about? After the death of the prophet’s first wife, Khadijah (ra), a woman named Khawla bint Hakeem went to Muhammad (s) and asked him when he would get married again. He cried and responded, “How can there ever be anyone after Khadijah?” He was advised to consider this as his children need a mother figure in their lives. We should take note on the importance of having 2 parents in a household, for the sake of children. Children need solid foundations and I’m sure any parent can attest that it’s a difficult job for one to handle on their own. The stress of life, compounded with parenthood, is not healthy for any one single person as this can cause distress for both the parent and the children.
Two women were suggested for him: the widow Sawdah bint Zamah, whom we covered in the previous article and Aisha bint Abi Bakr. After Khadijah (ra), every one of the Prophet’s marriages were for a specific reason. At the same time that he married Sawdah (ra), he became engaged to Aisha (ra).
When Khawla bint Hakeem went to Abu Bakr with the Prophet’s proposal, Abu Bakr told Khawla, “I cannot give you an answer at the moment.” Prior to this proposal someone else had already asked for Aisha’s (ra) hand and was given consent. This was a non-Muslim and the arrangement was made prior to Abu Bakr accepting Islam himself. When he went back to that brother, Zubair bin Muta bin Ali, he spoke against Islam and that promise was broken. This is such a huge factor in her story. She was already engaged to someone else. This goes to show us that at that time, marriage at that age was considered normal during their time; it wasn’t an aberration.
Now, let’s discuss why Aisha (ra) was chosen, and why at such a young age. Most importantly, it was God that told our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s) to marry Aisha (ra). The angel Gabriel came to Muhammad (s) 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 said.
The reason for Aisha being married to the Prophet (s) so young was that she could absorb information better than an adult. When it came to learning from the Prophet; she was a scholar in her own right. She relayed thousands of hadith, 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 at the time without that special relationship.
Aisha (ra) came from a noble family. Her father was Abu Bakr Al-Siddique, the closest friend of the Prophet Muhammad (s) who once said of Abu Bakr, “Indeed if I can take a friend from my nation, I would take Abu Bakr.” In regard to Aisha’s (ra) mother, the Prophet used to say, “If you want to look at a woman from Heaven, look at Um Ruman.” Her parents were strong and noble believers; the key to raising strong and noble children!
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.
WATCH THIS EPISODE ON THE STORYTIME WITH SOFIYYA YOUTUBE PAGE: RAMADAN: Women in the Life of the Rasool (8) – Aisha R.A.
d’Outremer, M., (2007). Medieval Marriage & Childbirth. [online] Womenofhistory.blogspot.com. Available at: http://womenofhistory.blogspot.com/2007/08/medieval-marriage-childbirth.html.
Ghadanfar, Mahmood Ahmad. Great Women of Islam. Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2001. Print.
Quṭb, Muḥammad ʻAlī. Women around the Messenger. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2007. Print.
Truth, D. (2013). Age of Consent in European & American History. [online] Discover The Truth. Available at: https://discover-the-truth.com/2013/09/09/age-of-consent-in-european-american-history/.
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