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Was Aisha married at 6? Part 2 | Blog


I was referred to this scholarly article by a brother, I read it and felt it should be shared immediately. The author taclkes the question of whether Aisha married at 6. Trouble is, it's a whopping 5651 words, way too long for straightforward reading. To solve that, this is the article paraphrased and summarized (yet still several parts) for easy consumption. The article was written by Dr. Ridhwan ibn Muhammad Saleem and can be read in full (with references) here.

Part 1 here

Evidence that Aisha was Between Fifteen and Nineteen Years of Age when the marriage was consummated

Commencement of prophecy was in year 609 CE, when the Prophet (upon him be peace) was in his fortieth year of age. The Hijrah, or emigration to Medina, took place thirteen years later in 622 CE, and the marriage to Aisha was consummated in 623 or 624 CE (in the second year after the hijrah).

The marriage of Sayyida Aisha was consummated after the Hijrah. Hadith specialist, al-Nawawi, places it definitively in the second year, after the Battle of Badr. This provides a good example of how memorable events, in this case, the Battle of Badr, were used as reference points for other events. Despite the ‘six-nine’ hadith mentioned in the introduction, most eminent early Muslim historians either state explicitly or imply that Aisha was born prior to prophecy, which commenced thirteen years before the Hijrah.

Fifteen years old

Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalláni states in al-Isábah, citing al-Wáqidi, on the authority of al-`Abbás (uncle of the Prophet ), that “Fatima was born while the Ka`ba was being built… and the Prophet was thirty-five years of age… and she [Fatima] was about five years older than Aisha.” We can assume that this statement of al-`Abbas is reliable as he remembers the birth of his nephew’s daughter taking place while the Ka’ba was being rebuilt. This was an event of major spiritual significance for Quraysh, and thus firmly etched in their memories. This report indicates that Aisha was born approximately when the Prophet was forty, ie at the commencement of prophecy. Therefore, she would have been at least fifteen when the marriage was consummated in the second year after Hijra.

Early Islam’s most renowned historian, al-Tabari, states: “In the Age of Ignorance [pre-Islamic period], Abu Bakr married Qutaila daughter of `Abd al-`Uzza…and she bore for him `Abdullah and Asmaa…he also married, in the Age of Ignorance, Umm Ruman daughter of `Amir…she bore for him `Abd al-Rahman and `Aisha. All four of these children were born in the pre-Islamic period.” This statement of al-Tabari, a scholar renowned for his accuracy and critical methodology, clearly asserts that Aisha was born before the beginning of prophecy. However, we know that al-Tabari is aware of the ‘six-nine’ hadith as he quotes it in the same book. This apparent contradiction can be understood when the methodology of the early hadith scholars is taken into account. Early works, like al-Tabari’s, were careful to differentiate between transmitted reports from earlier authorities and the compiler’s own opinion.

For example, in his famous tafsir work, Tabari’s format is to cite the opinions of earlier scholars (with the corresponding chain of narrators) before giving his own opinion on the quranic verse in question. Often he will agree with one of the transmitted reports and give his reasoning as to why he believes it is stronger than other opinions. This method constituted the scholarly responsibility to preserve faithfully the knowledge of preceding generations even if it contradicted one’s own opinion. We can assume that where Tabari states that she was born prior to prophecy, he is expressing his own opinion based upon all the evidence in his possession, having taken into account the ‘six-nine’ narration.

Late Teens

The earliest biographers of the Prophet, Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham, both state explicitly that Aisha was amongst the earliest people to embrace Islam. Ibn Ishaq, as quoted by Al-Nawawi in Tahdheeb al-Asmaa wal-Lughaat, states that Aisha “embraced Islam when she was young, after eighteen others had become Muslim.” Ibn Hisham lists the first converts to the new religion and includes Aisha as one of them, adding that she was young (sagheerah) at the time. Aisha embraced Islam, according to Ibn Hisham, at the same time as the likes of Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah, Saeed ibn Zaid, Khabbab, and al-Arqam. If the ‘six-nine’ reports were taken literally, Aisha would not even have been born at this time. Clearly, the opinions of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham indicate that Aisha must have already been of an age where she was able to understand and accept the new faith; therefore she would have been well into her late teens when the marriage was consummated.

Another hadith in Sahih al-Bukhári states: “On the day (of the battle) of Uhud when (some) people retreated and left the Prophet, I saw Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, and Umm Sulaim, with their robes tucked up so that the bangles around their ankles were visible, hurrying with (in another narration it is said, ‘carrying’) water skins on their backs. They would pour water in the mouths of people, and return to fill the water skins again, and came back again to pour water in the mouths of people.” As Uhud took place a year after the marriage was consummated, this would make Aisha only ten if we follow the ‘six-nine’ narration. The description however does not seem to be of a ten year old girl, and it is extremely unlikely that a girl of ten would have been allowed onto the scene of battle. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not even permit several boys to join the army, as they were too young. The description does fit for a young woman in her late teens or early twenties.

Nineteen years old

Al-Nawawi mentions in Tahdheeb al-Asmaa wal-Lughaat, quoting Ibn Abi Zinad, that “Asma was ten years older than `Aisha, and...was born twenty-seven years before the hijrah of the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)…” According to this, Aisha’s birth would have been four years before the commencement of prophecy, so she would have been nineteen years of age when the marriage was consummated.

This is further supported by Ibn Kathir who states that Asmá, the sister of Aisha, was ten years older than her and died in 73 A.H. at the age of one hundred years: “Of the notables who were killed with Ibn al-Zubayr in 73 [A.H]…was Asma daughter of Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq…she was older than her sister, Aisha, by 10 years…and she reached the age of 100 years, not having lost any of her teeth, and her mind still sharp, may God have mercy on her.” Simple mathematics shows that this also equates to nineteen years of age for Aisha in the second year of hajrah when the marriage was consummated.

Other clues as to Aisha’s real age can be found in reports of historical events in which Aisha participated, by examining the description that is given of her and seeing if it correlates to her expected age if the ‘six-nine’ hadiths are accurate. We can be sure that these descriptions of Aisha are accurate because they are anchored in the witness’s memory to the event in question. Al-Bukhari narrates that Aisha said, “I was a playful girl (jariyah) when the verses, ‘Nay, the Hour (of Judgment) is the time promised them…’ were revealed to Muhammad, peace and mercy of God be upon him”. According to the tafsir of Ibn Ashur, this surah was revealed five years before the hijrah.

The use of the term ‘girl’ (jariyah) in this hadith (rather than ‘child’ (saby) for example) is significant as ‘jariyah’ in classical Arabic means a young woman around adolescence or older. According to this, Aisha would already have been an adolescent seven years before the marriage was consummated. This also concords with the age of approximately nineteen at consummation of the marriage. If we took the ‘six-nine’ hadith literally, it would mean that she was only two years old when these verses were revealed. However, the term ‘jariyah’ is not appropriate for a two year old according to the authoritative lexicons, and secondly, the fact that Aisha remembers the verses being revealed is important as this is not possible for a two-year old. Psychological studies have shown that we are amnesic for our early childhood, and do not retain active memories of events occurring before the age of about four.

All of the early authorities quoted above concur that Aisha was born before the commencement of prophecy (ie at least thirteen years before hijrah), although they knew of the ‘six-nine’ reports. It seems likely that they were aware of the chronological imprecision inherent in such reports, and as historians, were basing their conclusions on a survey of all the evidence available to them. In summary, pre-modern people typically did not have accurate knowledge of their ages, especially those who had no formal calendar system. There is no reason to believe that Aisha was exceptional in this regard. The reports that relate Aisha’s age to major events, such as the building of the Ka`ba, commencement of prophecy, and the prophetic battles, are likely to be more reliable than Aisha’s own statements regarding her age.

Chronological Imprecision in the Prophetic Biography

Aisha was almost certainly no exception to the rule that the medieval Arabs did not keep track of their birth dates or the accurate passage of years. In fact, the chronology of many famous events in the life of the Prophet himself, peace be upon him, are the subject of difference of opinion. Even for something as important as the length of the Makkan period, we find that Ibn `Abbas states that “the Apostle of Allah... remained in Makkah for thirteen years…then migrated to Medina...” However, Rabia ibn Abi Abd al-Rahmán says, “He stayed ten years in Makkah receiving revelation, and stayed in Medina for ten years...”Both hadiths are recorded in Saheeh al-Bukhari. This demonstrates that even a hadith in Saheeh al-Bukhari need not be taken as precise with respect to chronological matters, despite its authentic transmission. In fact, few major events in prophetic biography have complete consensus as to their chronological occurrence.

Conceptualisation of Numbers in Undeveloped Societies

An overlooked aspect of this issue is how numbers were conceptualised by people in the past. Many people today grow up learning to use and manipulate numbers from an early age. Understanding numbers in an abstract way soon becomes second nature for us, and our minds are able to conceptualise a huge range of numbers. We can easily forget that our modern system of counting which utilises place-value notation to generate an abstract number sequence able to extend ever upwards to infinity, was only introduced to Europe at the turn of the sixteenth century.  

In undeveloped cultures, numbers were closely associated with the actual things counted. People in such cultures found difficulty in ‘abstracting’ numbers from real objects. For such people, the first ten digits were often of special significance as this is the number of fingers on the two hands. Numbers up to ten were easily ‘visualised’ and tangible; above ten were often inaccessible to the mathematically unsophisticated mind. The Roman poet, Ovid, wrote: “…ten…This number was of old held high in honour, for such is the number of fingers by which we count.”  

This object-based understanding of numbers is beautifully illustrated by the hadith in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to some Companions, “We are an unlettered people; we do not write or calculate. The number of days in the month is thus or thus.” Upon the first ‘thus’ he displayed his ten fingers twice, and nine fingers once (withdrawing his thumb), i.e. indicating twenty-nine days. And upon the second, he displayed his ten fingers three times, i.e. thirty days. Numbers such as twenty-nine and thirty may have been difficult for his audience to grasp, without a visualised ‘supplementary quantity’, in this case the Prophet’s fingers (peace be upon him).

Why did the ‘six-nine’ narrations gain such prominence?

One may ask why early Muslim scholars did not refute the ages mentioned in the “six-nine” narration in their commentaries. It is possible that they simply took for granted that particular figures in such reports were not necessarily regarded as chronological data, and did not feel the need to comment further as this was self-evident for people of that time. American professor, Denise Spellberg, theorises that political factors, in particular the Shi`a-Sunni split, may have been important in the prevalent notion of Aisha’s young age at marriage. Her young age, and therefore that she was not known to any man before the Prophet , was an important point for supporters of the Sunni Abbasid caliphate as it proved her status as a divinely-appointed wife, and thus a reliable source regarding the ‘thorny’ question of his succession. It may have been that Sunni scholars favoured the reports that placed Aisha at nine years of age as it helped raise her status as the only virgin bride of the Prophet. One may also add that the Shi`a cult around the figure of Sayyiduna Ali no doubt used the fact that he had been brought up in the prophetic household from his early childhood as a mark of his distinction above the other Companions, particularly Aisha. The Shi`a rejected the authority and status of Aisha, and it may have suited Sunni scholars to highlight those reports that showed Aisha to be very young when she entered the Prophet’s household.


Was Aisha married at 6? Although the ‘six-nine’ hadith may be authentic, it is based ultimately on the authority of Aisha. In view of prevailing norms of her time, it is very unlikely she knew her own age, and other reports and historical evidence indicate that she was, in fact, between fifteen and nineteen years of age when the marriage was consummated. As these other reports relate Aisha’s age to actual historical events that took place, they are likely to be a far more reliable indicator. History shows that the conceptualisation of numbers in medieval times was often primitive. Care must be exercised not to read historical reports with ‘modern’ eyes and a contemporary numerical mind-set. Commonly, when pre-modern man states his age, it is often ‘rounded’ up or down, or simply an approximation. Even though expressed as a precise figure, it is not meant to be understood as such. Finally, it should be remembered that the ‘six-nine’ narration is an ahad hadith (it contains less than 4 narrators at any given level in the chain of transmission) and therefore not considered to provide absolute certainty according to the Sunni epistemological system. And God knows best.

photo credit: Mastery of Maps via photopin cc


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