The classical scholars have narrated the consensus on the marriage of A'isha at the age of nine such that there is no scholar in the history of Sunni classical scholarship who disputed the matter. Some Egyptian writers Al-Aqad, Gamal al-Banna, Islam al-Buhiri and others starting differing in the early 20th century following the British Orientalist Historian David Samuel Margoliouth's criticisms of the marriage in 1905.
Evaluation of Critics' Arguments
The contemporary Muslim writers who adopt this view present a number of speculative, misquoted or confused historical arguments. Their arguments depend on questionable narrations ignoring narrations (shawahid) that explicitly clarify the meaning. The most common arguments are the following:
A'isha attended Battles
Some argue A'isha (ra) was married in 622 AD (9 years old) and she later attended the Battles of Badr in 624 and Uhud in 625 she would have been around 11-12 years old. However, in neither battle did the Prophet (saw) allow anyone under the age of 15.
The problem with this argument is the Prophet (saw) only allowed male warriors above the age of 15 as they would be involved in the battle itself. A'isha (ra) however did not attend to fight, but help the injured and warriors with their needs. Women generally were not required to fight regardless of their ages. A'isha (ra) and her peers were only expected to carry a bottle of water or tie a piece of cloth above the warriors' wounds.
The Prophet (saw) even accepted warriors under the specified age when he found them capable of fighting. For example, the Prophet (saw) allowed Mu'awidh ibn Afra' and Mu'adh ibn al-Jamuh (ra) who were 14 years old and killed the infamous Quraysh leader Abu Jahl in one battle.
Some claim given A'isha's sister Asma' (ra) was born 14 years before Islam and she migrated at the age of 27, she was older than A'isha by ten years so A'isha must have been around 17 years old when she married.
They rely on the narration on the authority of ibn al-Zinad who narrated Asma' (ra) was older than A'isha (ra) by around ten years:
كَانَتْ أَسْماءُ بِنْتٍ أَبِي بِكَرِّ أَكْبَرُ مِنْ عَائِشَةٍ بِعُشُرِ سِنَّيْنِ
"Asma' bint Abu Bakr was older than A'isha by ten years." (Ibn 'Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq, Vol. 10, p. 69)
So, if Asma' (ra) was 27 when migration happened and she was older than A'isha (ra) by 10 years, so A'isha was 17 when she migrated and the Prophet (saw) married her one year after migration; i.e. the marriage would have been at the age of 18.
Another narration supports this claim, Abu Na'im al-Asfahani narrated Asma' was born 10 years before the revelation:
قَبْلَ مَبْعَثِ النَبِي صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِعَشْرِ سِنِين
"She (Asma') was born ten years before the initiation of Message of the Prophet (saw)." (Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq, Vol. 10, p. 69)
According to the above narration, A'isha (ra) was born with the initiation of revelation, so she migrated at the age of 13, the period the Prophet (saw) stayed in Mecca and married her at the age of 14 or 15.
But these arguments' validity lies in the authenticity of the narrations cited in these historic books.
This authenticity, however, is seriously problematic. Scholars such as Imam Ahmed, Ibn al-Madini, Abu Hatim, Nisa'i, and others argue the narrator does not present accurate information so cannot be relied upon. (Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib at-Tahdhib, Vol. 6, p. 172) Furthermore, historically the Arabs did not date events accurately, rather provide us with approximate or estimated dates of a given event.
More problematically, similar narrations of the same event (shawahid) provide us with some important extra information that is not contained in the above narrations.
Imam Dhahabi narrates:
ٍوَكَانَتْ -أَيّ أَسَمَاءَ- أَسَنُ مِنْ عَائِشَةَ بِبِضْعِ عَشْرَةَ سَنَة
"Asma' was by bidd' ten years elder than A'isha." (Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam an-Nubala', Vol. 3, p. 522)
Asma' (ra) was older than A'isha with (بضع عشرة سنة) an approximate number between 3-9 which makes A'isha's (ra) age between 4 to 10 years when she migrated. If most or all of the sources say she was eight or seven when she migrated, it would lie in the approximate period, whilst the first narration would not.
In another narration of Dhahabi:
ٍكَانَتْ أَسَنُ مِنْ عَائِشَةِ بِسَنَوَات
"She was older than A'isha with years." (Ibid, Vol. 3, p. 379)
He did not specify the exact period as well as other historians. See, for example:
Another narrator narrated the same statement of ibn Abi al-Zinad and added the word 'or so' after ten years to argue it is not exactly. Nasr ibn Ali quoted Asma'i (ra) who narrated ibn Abi al-Zinad told them:
كَانَتْ أَكْبَرُ مِنْ عَائِشَة بِعَشْرِ سِنِينٍ أَوْ نَحْوَهَا
"She (Asma') was ten years or so older than A'isha." (Ibn Abd al-Bar, Ma'rifat al-Ashab, Vol. 2, p. 616)
Nasr ibn Ali who narrated this narration is more trustworthy and reliable than Muhammad ibn Safwan who narrated the first narration from Asma'i. (Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib at-Tahdhib, Vol. 10, p. 431)
Abu Bakr's children were born before Islam
The adherents of this opinion argue the great historian Tabari of the third century narrated all the children of Abu Bakr were born before ba'thah (the initiation of revelation upon the Prophet) including A'isha.
This is a misquotation because Tabari is speaking about Abu Bakr's wives before Islam, not his children.
ِتَزَوَجَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ فِي الجَاهِلِيَةِ قُتَيْلَةَ ... فَوَلَدَتْ لَهُ عَبْدَاللهِ وأَسْمَاء، وتَزَوَجَ أَيْضًا فِي الجَاهِلِيَةِ أُمَ رُومَانٍ ... فَوَلَدَتْ لَهُ عَبْدَالرَحْمَنِ وعَائِشَةض، فَكُلُ هَؤُلاءِ الأَرْبَعَةِ مِن أَوْلَادِهِ وُلِدُوا مِنْ زَوْجَتِيْهِ اللّتَيْن سَمَيْنَاهُمَا فِي الجَاهِلِيَة.
"In the pre-Islamic period (al-jahiliyah), Abu Bakr married Qutaylah … she gave birth to Abdullah and Asma'. He also married in al-Jahiliyah Umm Ruman … she gave birth to Abd ar-Rahman and A'isha. These four of his children are born from his two wives whom we named in (the context of) al-Jahiliyah." (Tabari, Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk, Vol. 2, p. 351)
So the context "whom we named in (the context of) al-jahiliyah" does not discuss the issue of his children, rather his wives. The title of this part is:
ُذِكْرِ أَسْمَاء نِسَاء أَبِي بَكْرٍ الصِدِيقِ رَحِمَهُ الله
"The mention of Abu Bakr's wives' names." (Ibid)
On the contrary to what the adherents of this opinion say, it was widely narrated A'isha was born after revelation commenced.
For example, Imam Dhahabi narrated:
ِعَائِشَةُ مِمَّن وُلِدَ فِي الإِسْلَام
"A'isha was born in Islam (after ba'thah)." (Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam an-Nubala', Vol. 3, p. 429)
Fatima's (ra) Age
The adherents of this opinion quote a narration in Ibn Hajar's book al-Isabah narrating Fatima al-Zahra (the daughter of the Prophet) was born when the Prophet (saw) was 35 years old and she was five years older than A'isha. Thus A'isha was born at beginning of ba'thah and migrated at the age of 13 (the Meccan period) and the Prophet (saw) consummated the marriage after a year or two; i.e. when she was 14 or 15 years old when they consummated the marriage.
This is also incorrect because Ibn Hajar narrated two narrations, the above narration and another one that narrates Fatima (ra) was born when the Prophet (saw) was 41 years old, which means she was born after Ba'thah.
Ibn Hajar narrates:
َأَنَهَا وُلِدَتْ سَنَةَ إِحْدَى وَأَرْبَعِينَ مِنْ مَوْلِدِ النَّبِيّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وآَلِهِ وَسَلّْم.
"She was born at the 41st year of the age of the Prophet (saw)." (Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah fi Tameez as-Sahabah, Vol. 8, p. 263)
وَكَانَ مَوْلِدُهَا قَبْلَ البَعْثَةِ بِقَلِيلٍ نَحْوَ سَنَةٍ أَوْ أَكْثَر
"Her birth was shortly after ba'thah; around a year or more." (Ibid)
We should see the statement of Ibn Hajar in light of his commentary on Bukhari who narrated A'isha's testimony that she was nine-year-old when the marriage was consummated. Ibn Hajar is one of the most defenders of Bukhari's authenticity and he would not falsify his narrations.
Imam Dhahabi narrated her birth as shortly after ba'thah and he did not specify a certain period as Ibn Hajar did:
مَوْلِدُهَا قَبْلَ المَبْعَثِ بِقَلِيْلٍ
"Her birth was shortly after ba'thah." (Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam an-Nubala', Vol. 3و حز 415)
Dhahabi also narrated Fatima (ra) was eight years older than A'isha:
َعَائِشَةُ مِمَّن وُلِدَ فِي الإِسْلَام، وَهِيّ أَصْغَرُ مِنْ فَاطِمَة بِثَمَانِ سِنِين
"A'isha was born in Islam and she is eight years younger than Fatima." (Ibid, Vol. 3, p. 429)
In other narrations, Ali (ra) married Fatima (ra) five months after the Prophet (saw) and A'isha (ra) consummated the marriage. Then Ali consummated the marriage after seven months. Fatima was 15 years old or so at her marriage, which means she was born a year before the ba'thah.
The great historian ibn al-Athir narrated:
َتَزَوَجَهَا عَلِيٌّ بَعْدَ أَنْ ابْتَنَى رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِعَائِشَةِ بِأَرْبِعَةِ أَشْهُرٍ وَنِصْفٍ، وَابْتَنَى بِهَا بَعْدَ تَزْوِيجِهِ إِيِاهَا بِسَبْعَةِ أَشْهُرٍ ونِصْف، وَكَانَ سِنُهَا يَوْمَ تَزْوِجِهَا خَمْسَةَ عَشْرَةَ سَنَة وَخَمْسَة أَشْهُرٍ فِي قَوْل.
"Ali married her four months and a half after the Messenger of Allah (saw) consummated the marriage with A'isha (ra). He (Ali), consummated the marriage after seven months and a half. She was 15 years old or (15 years old) and a half, according to a narration." (Ibn al-Athir, Asad al-Ghabah, Vol. 7, p. 216)
If Fatima married at the age of 15 and Fatima is 5 or 8 years older than A'isha, A'isha must have married around the age of 8 or 10 (given the period between the two marriages and a half year of Fatima's age), which is very close to the age narrated by A'isha herself and adopted by classical scholarship.
Hisham ibn ʿUrwa is the narrator placing her at six and nine. Some argue that Hisham was the only one to narrate this, however, this is a fallacy since there are other narrators who narrate this such as al-Aswad ibn Yazid,Abi Salama ibn ʿAbd al-Rahman and others.
The second claim is his memory weakened and he began to mix up narrations while in Iraq as ibn al-Qattan alleges. Imam al-Dhahabi denies this saying, “he is considered as an absolute authority. There is nothing to the claim that al-Qattan makes. He was a preserver [of hadith]. It is possible that his [memory] changed as he aged, and that his mental sharpness decreased. Of course, he is not in his elder age as he was in his youth, and no one is infallible from forgetfulness. However, this change is not considered to be harmful nor to have led to mixing narrations. [Hisham] never mixed narrations. This hadith is taken as proof in the Muwatta, the Sahihayn, and the Sunan. So this statement by al-Qattan is to be rejected. [Hisham] was an imam from amongst the giants who was free from mistake.”
Hisham ibn ʿUrwa is a reliable narrator who Bukhari trusted enough to put in his collection and can be still referred to as a strong evidence.
Migration of Abu Bakr
Some argue A'isha (ra) reached the age when she could acknowledge things, as she narrates, she had not seen her parents as Muslims, then Abu Bakr wanted to migrate to Abyssinia but he came back with someone who provided him with protection. (Bukhari)
They argue, the migration to Abyssinia happened at year five or six, so A'isha must have been at least four or five years when this migration happened.
But this is a misquoted and confused picture. Abu Bakr's intention for migration was shortly before the migration to Medina. The event of migration to Abyssinia started after the 5th or the 6th year of revelation but continued until the migration to Medina.
It was narrated Abu Bakr (ra) was persecuted and prevented from worshipping Allah, so he prepared himself for migration to Abyssinia to accompany Muslims there. Whilst on his way, one of the tribal leaders asked him to stay and he will provide him with protection, Abu Bakr (ra) accepted and went back worshipping his Lord.
Abu Bakr (ra) then built a small mosque in the courtyard of his house, an action that led to the withdrawal of protection. After a few days, Abu Bakr (ra) and the Prophet (saw) migrated to Medina.
So the event was immediately before the migration to Medina in the 13th year of revelation, which causes no problem to A'isha's comprehension because she was supposed to be seven or eight years old.
There are a number of arguments claiming A'isha's age was higher than traditionally agreed upon based on mathematical approaches. These are based on comparing dates of events to try concluding her age. However, the arguments are at best arbitrary and spurious, relying on weak or fabricated evidences, failing to recognise multiple rigorously authentic narrations especially A'isha's own testimony of her marriage when she was nine years old.
Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq
Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah fi Tameez as-Sahabah
Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib at-Tahdhib
Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam an-Nubala'
Ibn al-Athir, Asad al-Ghabah
Asfahani, Ma'rifat as-Sahabah
Nawawi, Tahdhib al-Asma'
Ibn Abd al-Bar, Ma'rifat al-Ashab
Tabari, Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk
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