A'isha (ra) was a young adult, physically and psychologically mature, when the marriage with the Prophet (saw) was consummated. This is generally misunderstood by those who cite or criticise her age of nine.
Notions surrounding paedophilia are contemporary concepts based on secular liberal values that didn't exist for most historic civilisations including the prophet's time, culture and geography. Marriages to young girls for most civilisations were ordinary and uncontroversial activities, especially in that particular region. Applying notions of paedophilia using present-day secular liberal criteria to historic events is little more than anachronistic.
The age of puberty has always varied from place to place, time to time and individual to individual.
The research literature is quite clear in its biologic findings, girls can reach puberty between the ages 6-14 subject to some conditions.
In 2017, the international journal 'Nature' published a study of girls in America hitting puberty as early as 6 and 7 years of age.
"Marcia Herman-Giddens was a physician's associate in the 1980s … Many girls in her clinic at the paediatrics department of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, had breast buds by the age of 9 or 10 … The age of puberty, far from being a biological constant, has been changing for much of human history, and the clearest evidence is seen in women. ...
Menarche affected Palaeolithic girls between the ages of 7 and 13 (based on analysis of bone length, to indicate the amount of oestrogen exposure) … It typically begins at the age of 9 or 10, but sometimes as early as 6 or 7." (Jessa Gamble, "Puberty: Early Starters," Nature 4th October 2017)
Sandra Steingraber's book 'The Falling Age of Puberty in US Girls' carefully traced the complex and interlocking relationships between puberty and the consequences of the maturation process on young women:
"Many of us have heard the anecdotal evidence and may even know someone - a neighbour, a niece, a daughter: girls with breast buds and pubic hair at age 6 or 7 and first menstruation for 8-year-olds becoming the norm, not the exception … "Normal" puberty onset can range from ages 8-13 years of age and may take, on average, 1.5 to 6 years to complete.)(Kathleen O'Grady, Early puberty for girls: The new 'normal' and why we need to be concerned, Canadian Women's Health Network 2008, Volume 11, Number 1)
Jennifer Knudtson of the University of Texas in his book 'Puberty in Girls' also confirms the current age of puberty differs from that three centuries ago, and for girls, puberty begins around age 8 to 13 years.
In a leading book of Human Sexuality, John Bancroft (formerly director and currently senior research fellow The Kinsey Institute) in his book 'Human Sexuality and Its Problems' argue countries relatively close to the Equator (such as Arabia), tend to have an earlier age at puberty:
"The factors that determine onset of puberty … are not well understood. But there has been a well-documented difference across ethnic groups. In general, young people who come from Mediterranean countries, or countries relatively close to the Equator, tend to have earlier age at puberty than those from more Northern or Southern societies." (John Bancroft, Human Sexuality and Its Problems, p. 191.)
The same thing is mentioned in another leading book of clinical gynecologic endocrinology and infertility, adds black American girls begin puberty between ages 8 and 9 and white American girls by age 10 (similar age of A'isha (ra) when the marriage was consummated). (Speroff et al, Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 6th ed, p. 401)
Puberty and Adulthood
The endocrinologists Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson clarified the point between biological and psychosocial maturation as it's a relatively recent phenomenon and the onset of puberty does not decide the adulthood of a given person today, this same judgment does not apply to people of the past. (Gluckman and Hanson, "Evolution, Development and Timing of Puberty," Trends in Endocrinologyand Metabolism, 17:1 (2006), p. 10)
A similar approach is taken by two bioarchaeologists, Sian Halcrow and Nancy Tayles who consider the importance of alignment of social processes with biological maturation:
'Also, in contrast to modern Western society where socialage is closely linked to chronological age, in many "traditional" societies,stages of maturation are acknowledged in defining age.' (Siân Halcrow and Nancy Tayles, "The Bioarchaeological Investigation of Childhood and Social Age, p. 203.)
Contemporary females face different social and geographic factors that determine their physical and psychosocial fitness.
Professor Mary Lewis warned against anachronistic thinking regarding childhood and maturity in the past:
"No matter what period we are examining, childhood is more than abiological age, but a series of social and cultural events andexperiences that make up a child's life ... What is clear is that we cannot simply transpose our view ofchildhood directly onto the past. (Mary Lewis, The Bioarchaeology of Children, p. 4.)
To morally judge by contemporary values and rules those who faced different factors is little more than presumptuous if not patronising.
(I want to thank Prof. Muhammad Rihan for reviewing the scientific part.)
Previous generations and peoples have defined childhood, puberty, and marriage differently to contemporary societies. Our moral codes and values with much of what passes as contemporary morality are relative and subjective; assuming they are absolute and true when judging historic societies through them is a mistake in reasoning.
Part of the problem is engineering children to be dependent on their parents until 16, 17 or 18 or beyond, society treating them as children, depriving them of adult privileges of driving, voting, marriage, work and so on. Schooling, acculturation, the setting of expectations and development then follow the trajectory that has been set - treat them as children, they will behave like children, or quasi-adults requiring a new label - teenagers.
All this leads to the assumption that development and capabilities have been consistent through history. Which is simply untrue.
At the time of the Prophet (saw), we find so-called "children" participated in battles, leading armies, marrying or ruling states.
The Prophet's early followers were very young, around 10 and 14, and they participated in building the Islamic state after only 13 years; two young men Mu'awidh ibn 'Afra' and Mu'adh ibn al-Jamuh (ra) who were 14 years old, fought against the biggest leader of Quraysh Abu Jahl in the battle of Badr and killed him; Usamah ibn Zayd was a teenager leading an army against the Roman Empire.
Even in the West, we find Shakespeare's Juliet was 13 years old when she married Romeo, reflecting social conventions where women in her circumstances would marry in their early teens if not sooner. In the dialogue with her mother, her mother scolds her:
"Well, think of marriage now; younger than you here in Verona ladies of esteem are made already mothers:
by my count, I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid." (Romeo and Juliet: Act 1, Scene 3)
This was never considered exceptional in any shape or form, rather marrying at 13 years of age and not being a mother by that age was exceptional if anything.
History Professor Margaret Wade Labarge notes historically this was accepted as normal and moral:
"It needs to be remembered that many Medieval widows were not old, important heiresses were often married between the ages of 5 and 10 and might find themselves widowed while still in their teens." (Margaret Wade Labarge, A Medieval Miscellany, p. 52.)
When the wife of the Prophet, Khadijah, passed away, a woman suggested to the Prophet (saw) that he remarry. She proposed either A'isha (ra) or Sawdah (ra). Her suggestion implied A'isha (ra) was eligible for marriage. A'isha had already been engaged previously to the son of Mutt'am ibn Adi.
A'isha herself and others narrated the story:
"When Khadijah (ra) passed away, Khawlah bint Hakeem … said, 'O Messenger of Allah, do you want to marry?' He replied, 'Whom?' … She said, 'the daughter of the most beloved creature of Allah, namely A'isha bint Abu Bakr.' … She (Khawlah) entered the house of Abu Bakr and said to (the wife of Abu Bakr) O Um Ruman … The Messenger of Allah sent me to engage A'isha to him. … Umm Ruman said, Mutt'am ibn 'Adi had engaged her to his son. (and after that the engagement was broken because the other party rejected Islam and A'isha was a Muslim)." (Ahmed 25241, Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah, Vol. 3, pp. 161-162)
After the primary contract of marriage, or betrothal, the Prophet (saw) waited for three years and then consummated the marriage.
One must, therefore, ask, why did he wait? The simplest answer would be, he waited because he, and her parents, knew had not hit puberty and to do otherwise would have caused her harm.
One may also ask, why three years? The simplest answer to this would suggest she would have reached the age of physical and psychological maturity that he was waiting.
We know Quraysh and the enemies of Islam were always noting the Prophet's (saw) actions, seeking any way to doubt his Prophethood. As an example, Arabs considered their adopted sons a legitimate son. Allah forbade this practice and asked them to attribute the adopted son to their actual fathers. He then ordered his Prophet - as an application of the rule - to marry the ex-wife of his own previously adopted a son; Quraysh criticised his action and accused him of being a false Prophet who is obscene enough to marry his son's ex-wife.
This finally begs the question, if the Prophet (saw) married her when she was still immature, why do critics of Islam not condemn this marriage throughout history, beginning only after 1905? Surely subjective Western values changed leading to what was previously acceptable now being unacceptable in their eyes?
History proves A'isha was a brilliant mature woman: she narrated the story of her marriage and the consummation of marriage; she knowledgeably narrated each event she saw in the life of the Prophet (saw), over two thousand hadiths; after the Prophet (saw) passed away (she was 18 years old), the companion scholars would come and ask her about difficult issues they faced; her life with the Prophet (saw) and these events show she was intellectually and psychologically mature. A'isha also narrated her mother used to feed her to ensure she was capable of marriage:
"My mother intended to make me gain weight for me to (consummate the marriage with the Prophet) and send me to the (house of) the Messenger of Allah (saw).
But nothing which she desired benefited me till she gave me cucumber with fresh dates to eat. Then I gained like the best kind of plump." (Sunan Abi Dawud 3903, Ibn Majah Hadith 3324)
So she was preparing herself for physical maturity. She also narrated, when a girl reaches nine years old (especially in her historical, social and environmental context), she has become a woman:
"When the girl becomes 9 years old, she has become a woman." (Tirmidhi 1109)
Such signs of capable of sexual reproduction are acceptable, for example, the 20th-century female writer Sue Curewitz Arthen says:
Puberty is defined as the age or period at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction, in other eras of history, a rite or celebration of this landmark event was a part of the culture. (Sue Curewitz, Rites of Passage: Puberty ©1989)
Aisha even reached the medical signs of puberty and 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:
"I have seen many girls in Yeman 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 third century Maliki scholar Imam Dawudi thereby concludes:
وكَانَتْ قَدْ شَبَّتْ شَبَابَا حَسَنًا رَضْيَّ اللهُ عَنْهًا
"She was very well matured." (Nawawi, Sharh Muslim, Vol. 9, p. 206)
There are many orientalists who acknowledged the fact that A'isha was mature when she married the Prophet and it is something not to be condemned historically not morally. for example, Nabia Abbott, an American female orientalist and has written much anti-Islam literature, argued about the marriage:
In no version is there any comment made on the disparity of the ages between Mohammed and Aishah or on the tender age of the bride who, at the most, could not have been over ten years old and who was still much enamoured with her play. (Abbott, Aishah-The Beloved of Mohammed, Al-Saqi Books, p. 7)
The contemporary female orientalist specialised in the life of Prophet Muhammad (saw) the Karen Armstrong
Tabari says that she was so young that she stayed in her parents' home and the marriage was consummated there later when she had reached puberty. (Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, 1992, page 157)
Regardless of the above two female orientalists mistakes in presenting Islam and its sources, but their objective feminism did not find any problem with the clear fact presented in the issue.
In addition, the historical and social background of the event must be taken into consideration. Historical circumstances and contexts are important when dealing with historical moral events. Adopting a different set of values over time as contexts change, which are then privileged over theirs, is illogical, presumptuous and ill-conceived. Unless we can demonstrate our values to be correct and theirs to be false, we are introducing prejudice and discrimination. There are often circumstances that make sense for marrying earlier or later.
The Islamic perspective on puberty means age is not etched in stone for marriage as puberty varies from time to time, place to place and individual to individual. Marriage is rather consummated when both parties are psychologically and biologically capable of bearing such responsibility.
Montgomery Watt, a Scottish historian and orientalist clarified the western criticism of the Prophet's actions and argued the historical context must be taken into consideration and Muhammad's standards were higher than those of his time:
When the sources are closely scrutinized, it is clear that those of Muhammad's actions which are disapproved by the modern West were not the object of the moral criticism of his contemporaries. ... From the standpoint of Muhammad's time, then, the allegations of treachery and sensuality cannot be maintained. His contemporaries did not find him morally defective in any way. On the contrary, some of the acts criticized by the modern Westerner show that Muhammad's standards were higher than those of his time. (W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press, 1961, page 229.)
It is not unusual historically for women living in varying geographical regions to reach maturity earlier than those in many Western societies. This still happens in many parts of the world even in the USA.
From a historical and traditional perspective, A'isha (ra) was mature enough and the Prophet (saw) did not consummate the marriage except after she reached maturity.
Jessa Gamble, "Puberty: Early Starters," Nature
Kathleen O'Grady, Early puberty for girls: The new 'normal' and why we need to be concerned, Canadian Women's Health Network 2008, Volume 11, Number 1
John Bancroft, Human Sexuality and Its Problems
Speroff, Glass and Kase, Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility
Siân Halcrow and Nancy Tayles, "The Bioarchaeological Investigation of Childhood and Social Age
Mary Lewis, The Bioarchaeology of Children
Romeo and Juliet: Act 1, Scene 3
Margaret Wade Labarge, A Medieval Miscellany
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah
Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam an-Nubala
Nawawi, Sharh Muslim
Nabia Abbott, Aishah-The Beloved of Mohammed
Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet
W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman
Since the issue of Aisha (ra) being aged 9 is still a source for discomfort for some, I will refute those who claim she was 18 years of age when she married. An age that coincides with the minimum age of marriage in the secular western world.
People often assume 'teenagers' are innocent babies, that they should be protected.
Watch these street interviews of high school pupils when asked, 'At what age did you loose your virginity?'
Some give answers of 13 years of age!
If a 13 year old Muslim wants to have sex, what is the solution?
1) masturbate (haram)
2) commit zina (haram)
3) marriage (not allowed)
Marriage is the only halal option.
Now someone might say, fine they can get married, but not to a 50 year old guy.
Is the act of sex by a 50 year old somehow harming a 11 year old? Obviously not.
Believe it or not, there have been women in their 20s who are having sex with high-school males. See the link below
Some of these women are imprisoned for just having sex with a student. Real justice for these women would be to fire them, and if a female teacher and male student(no matter how old he is) wants to get married, then let them.
You dondon't think this is possible? See the link below.
Sharia provides the best solution for mankind, and secular liberal ethics is against the fitrah of the human being. The difference between the Sharia and Secular ethics is that as soon as a person reaches puberty, they are treated like adults in the eyes of the Sharia, whereas in Secular countries they are treated like children until they reach the magical arbitrary age of 18.
Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.
Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.
Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come