Muslims, and the critics of Islam as well, before the 20th century did not find any problem with the marriage of the Prophet (saw) with A'isha as it was historically and socially accepted. No Muslim throughout history doubted her age at marriage.
At the start of the 20th century, the British historian and orientalist David Samuel Margoliouth (d. 1940) was one of the first orientalists to criticise this issue in his book "Mohammed and the Rise of Islam" published in 1905.
Some Muslim reformists, such as the literary writer al-Aqad, followed by most contemporary Shiites that I have reviewed, began responding to his claim and by unpersuasively denying the Prophet (saw) married A'isha when she was nine, claiming instead she was twelve or fifteen years old. This was a clear case of appeasing criticism by distorting the available evidences and existing scholarship.
Shi'ite Historic Position
Contemporary Shi'ites believe there is no mention of the age of A'isha in their books and have begun repeating the arguments presented by the Sunni modernists and reformists.
The Lebanese Shiite scholar Jafar Murtada al-Amili for instance says on his website:
إن الشيعة ليس لهم قول خاص بهم بالنسبة لمقدار عمر عائشة
"Shiites have no special view (regarding narrations) for the age of A'isha." (al-Amili, 'Umr 'A'isha 'Umm al-Mu'mineen)
On the contrary to what contemporary Shi'ites claim, we find in Shiite books of jurisprudence concurring with the views of Sunni scholarship.
The sixth-century leading Shi'ite scholar Abi al-Fadl al-Tabrasi when he mentioned the wives of the Prophet (saw) stated:
الثالثة عائشه بنت ابي بكر تزوجها بمكه وهي بنت سبع سنين ولم يتزوج بكرا غيرها ودخـــــل بها وهي بنت تسع سنين.
"The third (wife) is A'isha bint Abi Bakr. The Prophet married her in Mecca when she was seven years old and he married no virgin except her. He consummated the marriage when she was nine years old." (Abi al-Fadl al-Tabrasi, I'lam al-Wara bi A'lam al-Huda, Vol. 1, p. 276)
The same statement was repeated in the famous book Bihar al-Anwar, authored by the famous tenth-century Shi'ite scholar Muhammad al-Baqir al-Majlisi (Vol. 22, p. 202).
عن اسماعيل بن جعفر ـ في حديث ـ " أن النبي صلى الله عليه واله دخل بعائشه وهي بنت عشر سنين وليس يدخل بالجارية حتى تكون امرأة". لكنه محمول على إكمالها التسع ودخولها في العاشرة.
"In a Hadith narrated on the authority of Isma'il ibn Ja'afar, 'the Prophet (saw) consummated the marriage with A'isha at the age of ten and he would have not consummated the marriage with a girl without reaching puberty.'
But this narration is understood as she completed nine years and began the tenth year." (at-Tastiri, an-Naj'aah fi Sharh al-Lam'ah, Vol. 4, p. 311)
He referred to a narration narrated in the classical books of Shi'a, for example:
Abu Ayub al-Khazaz (second-century), al-Kafi, Vol. 7, p. 388; and
Muhammad al-Baqir al-Majlisi, Mir'aat al-'Uqul, Vol. 20, p. 22.
The classical books of Shi'a cited narrations, similar to Sunni classical scholarship, that argue A'isha (ra) married the Prophet (saw) when she was seven and the marriage was consummated at the age of nine. Contemporary Shi'ite scholarship has changed position in response to orientalist critique.
Abi al-Fadl al-Tabrasi, I'lam al-Wara bi A'lam al-Huda;
Muhammad al-Baqir al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar;
Muhammad al-Baqir al-Majlisi, Mir'aat al-'Uqul
at-Tastiri, an-Naj'aah fi Sharh al-Lam'ah;
Abu Ayub al-Khazaz, al-Kafi
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