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What did classical Islamic scholarship believe regarding Aisha's age when marrying the prophet Muhammad (saw)?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
There is a consensus of scholars across all Islamic fields that the Prophet Muhammed (saw) married Aisha (ra) at the age of six or seven and consummated the marriage at the age of nine. She was not a child, rather she was a young adult, old and mature enough to carry the responsibility of marriage like her peers in her time.


Scholars' View

The classical Sunni scholars argue Aisha (ra), daughter of Abu Bakr (ra), married the Prophet (saw) at the age of six, but he consummated the marriage when she reached the age of nine.

Various sources record marriages routinely taking place around puberty during this era. Mu'awiya bin Abi Sufyan married his nine year old daughter Hind to Abdullah bin Amir bin Kuraiz. Abu al-Asim al-Dhahak mentions his mother was twelve years older than him. Shafi'i mentioned women in Tihama (Western Arabia) reached puberty as early as nine years of age whilst in San'a (Yemen) he saw a twenty-one year old grandmother Various sources record marriages routinely taking place around puberty. Mu'awiya bin Abi Sufyan married his nine year old daughter Hind to Abdullah bin Amir bin Kuraiz. Abu al-Asim al-Dhahak mentions his mother was twelve years older than him. Shafi'i mentioned women in Tihama (Western Arabia) reached puberty as early as nine years of age whilst in San'a (Yemen) he saw a twenty-one year old grandmother. Males often married at a young age, Abdullah bin Amr bin al-As was twelve years younger to his father Amr.

This by no means suggests A'isha was a child, rather that is determined by the social and biological facts of the time, which concur she was a young adult capable of dealing with the responsibility of marriage.

The third century Maliki scholar Imam Dawudi argued:

وَكَانَتْ قَدْ شَبَّتْ شَبَابَا حَسَنَا رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهَُا
"She was very well matured." (Nawawi, Sharh Muslim, Vol. 9, p. 206)

She was not the only woman who reached the age of puberty at this age. In the second century of al-Hijrah, Imam Shafi'i, the founder of the Shafi'i madhab, narrated he saw at his time girls reached puberty at the age of nine. He narrates:

رَأيْتُ بِاليَمَنِ بناتِ تِسْعٍ يَحِضْنَّ كَثِيرًا
"I have seen many girls in Yaman undergo menses (reach the age of puberty) at the age of nine." (Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam an-Nubala', Vol. 10, p. 91)

Bayhaqi narrated a similar statement regarding the girls of Tihamah in Arabia. (Bayhaqi 1588) He also narrated he saw a grandmother in Sanaa at the age of twenty-one who received menses at the age of nine and got pregnant at the age of ten and her daughter went through the same period; i.e. equals 9+1+1+9+1=21. (Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, Vol. 1, p. 319)

The outstanding mufassir of the late eight-century ibn Kathir narrated the Ijma' on Aisha's (ra) marriage age at nine:

تَزَوَّجَهَا وَهِيَ ابْنَةُ سِتِّ سِنِينَ، وَبَنَى بِهَا وَهِيَ ابْنَةُ تِسْعٍ مَا لَا خِلَافَ فِيهِ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ
"(The Prophet) married her when she was six-years-old and consummated the marriage at the age of nine. There is no dispute among people on this matter." (Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah, Vol. 2, p. 141, similar in Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol 3, p. 161)

The same Ijma' was narrated by the great historian Imam Ibn Abd al-Barr who said:

وَعَائِشَةٌ بِنْتُ ابي بِكَرِّ الصَّدِيقِ رَضَّى اللهُ عَنْهُمَا تَزَوُّجَهَا بِمَكَّةٍ قَبْلَ سُودَةٍ وَقِيلَ بَعْدَ سُودَةٍ وَاِجْمَعُوا عَلَى أَنَّه لَمْ يَبْنِ بِهَا إلّا فِي الْمَدِينَةِ ... وَهِي اِبْنَةُ تَسَعُ سِنَّيْنٍ وَكَانَتْ حِينَ عُقَدٍ عَلَيهَا بِنْتُ سِتٍّ سِنَّيْنٍ وَقِيلَ بِنْتُ سَبْعِ سِنَّيْنِ
"He (the Prophet) married Aisha the daughter of Abi Bakr (ra) in Mecca before Sawdah – or after her.
They (scholars) unanimously agreed he did not consummate the marriage except in Medina … when she was nine years old, while she was six or seven years old when he married her." (Ibn Abd al-Barr, al-Isti'ab, Vol. 1, p. 44)

In another place he added:

لَا أَعِلْمَهُمْ اِخْتَلَفُوا فِي ذَلِكَ
"I am not aware they disputed this." (Ibid, Vol. 4, p. 1881)

The same view was held by all the classical scholars across the centuries and there is no one in the history of Sunni classical scholarship who disputed the matter except some researchers starting in the early 20th century.

Imam Umar ibn Ali Ibn Mulaqqin al-Shafi'i mentions regarding Mutawatir in his Tadhkirah fī Úlūm al-Ĥadīth the narration regarding the nikah of A'isha being performed with the Messenger when she was aged 6 and consummation aged 9 is without doubt mutawatir:

“It is a report by a group which in itself warrants for its being truth.” It is a narration reported by group at every level, so well known, inconceivable they have conspired a lie.

See further for examples the discussions of leading and influential scholars such as:

  • Ibn al-Athir, Asad al-Ghabah,
  • Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah,
  • Dhahabi, Siyar 'A'lam an-Nubala' and others.


Evidences

The main evidence for this opinion is the testimony of Aisha herself, who said the Prophet (saw) married her at the age of six-seven and consummates the marriage at the age of nine. She is the only one to be more aware of such an issue. The aḥadith are at a very high level of authenticity and it was narrated through the best way of transmission, namely tawatur.

It was narrated Aisha (ra) said:

تَزَوَّجَنِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَأَنَا بِنْتُ سِتٍّ وَدَخَلَ عَلَىَّ وَأَنَا بِنْتُ تِسْعِ سِنِينَ
"The Messenger of Allah (saw) married me when I was six, and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine." (Sunan an-Nasa'i 3378)

In another narration in Bukhari and Muslim, she narrated the whole story of her marriage. She narrated:

تَزَوَّجَنِي النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَأَنَا بِنْتُ سِتِّ سِنِينَ، فَقَدِمْنَا الْمَدِينَةَ فَنَزَلْنَا فِي بَنِي الْحَارِثِ بْنِ خَزْرَجٍ… أَدْخَلَتْنِي الدَّارَ فَإِذَا نِسْوَةٌ مِنَ الأَنْصَارِ فِي الْبَيْتِ فَقُلْنَ عَلَى الْخَيْرِ وَالْبَرَكَةِ، وَعَلَى خَيْرِ طَائِرٍ‏.‏ فَأَسْلَمَتْنِي إِلَيْهِنَّ فَأَصْلَحْنَ مِنْ شَأْنِي، فَلَمْ يَرُعْنِي إِلاَّ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ضُحًى، فَأَسْلَمَتْنِي إِلَيْهِ، وَأَنَا يَوْمَئِذٍ بِنْتُ تِسْعِ سِنِينَ‏.‏
"The Prophet (saw) married me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. …
she (her mother) took me into the house. There in the house, I saw some Ansari women who said, "Best wishes and Allah's Blessing and good luck."
Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage).
Unexpectedly Allah's Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age." (Bukhari 3894)

Similar narrations are historically documented in almost all the books of Seera, Hadith, Fiqh and Islamic literature.

In addition to the narrations cited in the above works, see for example the testimonies of Aisha (ra) in:

  • Bukhari 3894-3896, 5133, 5134, 5158,
  • Muslim 1422,
  • Ahmed 24587,
  • Musnad Ibi Ya'li 4600,
  • Abu Dawud 4933, 4937,
  • Ibn Majah 1876,
  • Nasa'i 3379,
  • Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3. pp. 161-164,
  • Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 7, p. 281,
  • Suhili, ar-Rawq al-Aneef, Vol. 4, 427 and others.

It was narrated by numerous narrators of the companions and the students of Aisha (ra), contrary to what some contemporary writers argue that there is only one narrator who might have been misunderstood or fabricated the age.

For example, the narrations are narrated by Abi Salamah ibn Abd ar-Rahman, 'Urwah ibn az-Zubayr on the authority of his father Zubayr, al-Aswad ibn Yazeed, al-Qasim ibn Abd ar-Rahaman, al-Qasim ibn Muhammad, Umrah bint Abd ar-Rahman, Yahaya ibn Hattib, Hisham ibn 'Urwah, al-Aswad and others.

Conclusion

There is a consensus of scholars across all the Islamic fields the Prophet (saw) married Aisha (ra) at the age of six or seven and consummated the marriage at the age of nine. She was not a child, rather she was old and mature enough to carry the responsibility of marriage like her peers at her time.

References

Dhahabi, Siyar 'A'lam an-Nubala', Vol. 2, pp. 139-152

Ibn al-Athir, Asad al-Ghabah, Vol. 7, pp. 205-208

Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah, Vol. 8, p. 16

Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 7, p. 281

Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3. pp. 161-164

Suhili, ar-Rawq al-Aneef, Vol. 4, 427


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