SHORT ANSWER: What exactly is the issue that some have with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his marriage with Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her)? Quite simply, it is that she was allegedly a child when he consummated his marriage with her. But this assertion is wrong. She wasn’t a child. She was someone who was appropriately able to marry. This is the misunderstood point.
End of discussion. Next question.
“Wait, wait!” someone might say. “This isn’t a sufficient explanation!”
O.K. Let me elaborate:
الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله
All praise is due to ALLAH and peace and blessing upon His Messenger
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
1) Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was not a child – but she was a pubescent when she married.
Watching the video of Professor Jonathan A. C. Brown (video1, above) dealing with this topic, what is made clear is the following:
The fact is Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) and the Prophet (peace be upon them) consummated the marriage when she was apparently nine years old. This is based on the most authentic hadith in both Bukhari and Muslim.
She must have, therefore, been a pubescent, as it is forbidden to engage in sex with children in Islam as stipulated in the Qur’an. (See Qur’an 4:6 and http://www.answering-christianity.com/minimum_age_for_marriage.htm)
Traditionally (like in all pre-modern cultures) the life-span categories could be divided into ‘Child’ and ‘Adult’; puberty was seen as a stepping-stone into adulthood, so although the category of ‘Pubescence’ (adolescence?) existed, this would have been considered always on the side of adulthood; it had no fixed age, as it was known that people matured differently from person to person. As such this was a nuanced category.
Modernity, however, from the mid twentieth century invented the simplified notion of ‘the Teenager’, which could be loosely identified as the pubescent (or the adolescent) – except that modernity decided to fix a precise age to this human life-stage. Therein is the problem. We think of puberty and adolescence, now, to fall decidedly between thirteen to nineteen, but for many, puberty, in actual fact, begins much earlier (i.e. as early as nine. See LiveScience.com sourced in video2 at 0:02:46). Moreover, teens are seen to be a separate category, distinct from children and adults; the modern attitude considers teens to fall closer on the side of childhood rather than adulthood. This is the crux of the misunderstanding. Modern societies deal with teens like children and they respond accordingly. Traditional Muslim and Pre-modern societies dealt with the pubescent like adults.
(Please note, I use the term ‘pubescent’ idiosyncratically to be that fuzzy state that links puberty and adolescence to teenagers. But it is based on the differences between puberty and adolescence. For a brief background to Teenagers, read this.)
Indeed, in “Peasant Societies”, even today, rural community members often marry very young – especially the womenfolk (video1: 0:06:20).
The fact is: “‘The consummation should only take place when the woman is physically able to bear it’ … is the traditional Shariah rule.” (video1: 0:10:25)
One doesn’t need to be an expert in rocket-science to comprehend the significance of females’ menstruation as a sign that they – physically – are able to bear children. Fact. This is their body ‘talking’. (i.e. why would menstruating females have their eggs released to be fertilised, if the eggs were not potentially able to be fertilised? This functionality is its purpose.) Put away the ‘politics’ about whether you’re pro-modern or pro-Muslim and the answer is supplied via this empirical evidence in nature.
Oh. But is it conducive for females at this age to have children, sociologically or psychologically speaking? Good question. We will deal with this secondary (but important) issue from section 5 to 7, below.
2) Historically, no-one complained about Aisha’s age (may Allah be pleased with her) because marrying during pubescence was common…
But here is another fact: Critics of Islam from the advent of Islam till the 1900s CE, who were desperate to find nasty things to say about the Prophet (peace be upon him), did not mention the age of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) as a complaint whatsoever. Whatsoever! Why? Because the Muslim conception of marriage – that a pubescent could marry – was normative throughout the ages and across cultures (video1: 0:03:38).
Both videos, below, highlight this:
Video2 (above) identifies how extensive marrying at a young age was (0:00:44). And how a hotter climate can affect the starting age of puberty (0:02:53).
Note also how “If you’re living in a desert and you’re just tending goats all day…[and all you’ll ever do is tend goats, and you’re at an age where sex is biologically possible (i.e. pubescence) and it’s on your mind] why would you not get married?” (video1: 0:07:02)
Video3 (above) identifies how differing cultural contexts and differing times can alter our interpretation of this issue of marrying younger. For instance, in the past, the life-span was shorter (video3: 0:01:50). This is terribly important for people to understand. If people married at the modern standard then (i.e. marrying later) society would collapse. Do modern audiences want to propose their moral dictates, and project them backwards in order to destroy those societies? Because that would have been the result. As an aside, one wanders whether modern dictates in the present aren’t destroying societies right now. But that’s another post.
3) The marriage of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) is a relic of a pre-modern ethic? This maybe true if we admit we ‘worship the new (false) god’ that is the idol of modernity.
I guess a follow-up critique to the line of reasoning, made above, might be to accept the pre-modern ethic of the acceptability of the marriage of pubescents as sustainable but only if restricted to the past (pre-1900s, pre-modern world). That is to say that this ethic need not apply to the present! There is an answer to this, below.
Moreover, to suggest that we cannot judge the moral-worth of the past time-period and compare it to now because it is such a different context to our present that renders a comparison meaningless, begs the question: ‘What is the relevance of the Islamic ethic (drawn from an era in the past, originally) to the present with regard to marriage during pubescence, given Islam’s supposed universal morality, if we aren’t apparently able to judge it?’
Wrong. This is a misunderstanding. You can judge it. And you do judge it. But you ought to also critically judge the present morality, simultaneously. And as vociferously. But this is not done, earnestly. Indeed, Islamic morality is a constant because it is transcendent (unchanged for 1400 years). Whereas, present-day morality (i.e. secular humanist morality, synonymous in meaning as ‘modern morality’) – although it is assumed to be ‘a given’ – is actually so changeable in its very nature, and so short-lived that it is actually an unreliable ethic. This is because it invalidates itself: Modern morality is bound to change in the near future, which weakens it by undermining any of its present notions.
4) Where is modernity’s basis for universal truth? A modern ethic isn’t able to ground the ability to judge.
The fact is: “Our notions of what you’re supposed to do in life [is] based on our lifestyle.” (video1: 0:06:54) And ours is a modern lifestyle. We are prejudiced, therefore, and this colours our perception of what is right and wrong. But this is hardly a firm or legitimate basis for what is a universal truth. This is probably a philosophical point.
Modern educational systems like compulsory, mass schooling, and notions that everyone has to work towards a career, and concepts like considering ‘power dynamics in a relationship‘ if enforced whilst judging other societies and cultures are in fact arbitrary, anachronistic and manufactured impositions – because they are not intrinsic or natural reasons for evaluation. They are a set of inevitable outcomes as a result of industrialised, modern nation states driven by a European, post-Christian cultural milieu. Yes, schooling, work, relationships are important, but there is a lot of scope of how we might envision how they might better manifest. Have we even evaluated whether industrialised, modern nation states are intrinsically a good thing for humanity? Yes, there are good and bad elements within them. But there is a crisis of civilisations that we are witness to, which is the result of the extremes inherent in the global trajectory of Western-centric modernity. Are there more wholesome directions to which society could be directed to? What is our reference points to be able to judge? Judging things from the morality of the present (i.e. the modern ethic) is a flimsy ethical principle (which is at root, foundation-less) – but an unconsciously popular one for the unthinking masses.
Indeed, the specifically English culture of relatively-speaking ‘late marriages’ was THE anomaly across cultures (Video1: 0:08:18). This insistence for later marriages, presumably, spread around the world through colonialism was projected as a supposed norm of post-industrial nations. Who knows?
One may well argue that the urf (an Arabic term meaning, ‘custom’) of modern cultures (if we take this to mean Western and Westernising cultures) is for marriage to be conducted at a later age. Are we saying marrying later is essentially wrong? No.
However, marrying young is preferred in the culture of Islam, and delaying marriage is frowned upon for a variety of reasons (see section 5, below).
So how do we proceed in the mean-time? Good question.
In Islam we have a ‘way out’: “To you, your way. To us, ours.” (Qur’an 109:6). Let us ‘live and let be’. The problem is the current (Western-led) modern ethic seeks to coerce everyone into the straight jacket of its totalising global system that is the crisis of civilisations.
(See a pending post on ‘The Good, the Bad and the Modernity’.)
5) Secondary Issues 1: Is it unethical for older men to marry younger women?
An attitude put forward in modern times about it being ‘bad’ when older men marry younger women is nonsense if the older man, the younger woman and her parents are happy. What business is it of anyone else? None. That’s a pretty simple ‘problem’, solved.
‘What is the root of this concern?’ I wondered. I believe, the misunderstanding, once again, resides in a modern audience worrying that by marrying her, an older man has inevitably taken advantage of a younger woman and exploited her inexperience and youth. What might have been forgotten is that traditionally, marriage is a social decision as much as it is a private decision. So families would (should) have sought for a match they felt was suitable for the specific parties involved. They would (should) also ensure they were safe-guarding the interests of their loved ones. This assumption is entirely lost on a non-Muslim, modern (atomised individual’s) understanding – and might explain some non-Muslim concerns. This balanced practice of social-private-concern deteriorates when families aren’t knowledgeable about their religious tradition, and this regresses further with greater modernisation.
Moreover, a further objection is the problem perceived in marrying young. The complaint might be that the individual has not ‘found themselves’ yet. That they ought to first ‘find themselves’ before they commit to a marriage. And by marrying early, youngsters lose out on education. And this, because they discover they have to survive in the real world of providing for their family, especially as having offspring is often immediately the result. The assumption is that the education acquired might pave a way for the youngsters to earn a better salary in their quest for a career or gain an understanding that an early marriage is a bad idea in their quest for an identity. The problem with all these assumptions is the notion that the youngsters are not supported by loving (practicing) families, who will facilitate their quest for meaning, identity, education and career – if needs be. If Muslims were able to (endeavour to) guarantee the above, would that appease the concerns? The point being that marrying young is not intrinsically a problem. But if our purpose is to devote ourselves solely to our selves, our careers, our efforts at wealth-accumulation (as we may worship a god) which seems to be one of the manufactured projects of modernity, then I can see the reason for the tension.
In Islam, we marry to fulfil our sexual needs too, which begins at puberty. Muslims are advised to marry early for this reason. But the sexual urges ought to be harnessed in a healthy, responsible and mature way via marriage. And we are rewarded for it.
Fornication was a sin, is a sin and will always be a sin. The Prophets of old are unanimous about that. What is the gain if we ‘find ourselves’, later in life, but (without seeking forgiveness) via consistently sinning, we risk losing our souls in the process?
6) Secondary Issues 2: Muslim men should marry nine year olds?
So, if the Prophet (peace be upon him) married Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) at nine, does this mean men should do their best to rush around trying to marry nine year olds? This is an interesting question to be asked.
First, are we aware that the Prophet first married Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), who was in her forties when he was in his twenties? She was his sole wife for 25 years until her death in his famous ‘Year of Sorrow’. We could perhaps rush to follow this sunnah first?
Secondly, the Prophet’s other wives – all of them (apart from Aisha) – were either divorcees or widowers. Why didn’t he marry as many nine year olds as possible, if he was as despicable as some claim? In fact, when the pagan leaders of Quraysh tried to bribe the Prophet (peace be upon him) from spreading Islam, they offered him the most beautiful women of Arabia. He refused them. What does this say about him? (See this and go to 0:02:40.) This is conveniently forgotten by Islamophobes.
The above fact highlights that he was one who supported women – divorcees and widowers. Consider we are talking about a time where there was no welfare state, so Islam’s instructions were that the responsibility for the well-being (emotional, financial) of women was an obligation on the husband; the husband will be judged on the fulfillment of this duty on the Day of Judgement. (Even with the welfare state in modernity, this obligation still stands. A husband cannot shirk this arduous but meritorious duty.) We should follow this sunnah – of marrying divorcees and widowers – as eagerly as the want to marry a virgin. Consider too the ratio of the Prophet’s marriage to virgins against non-virgins.
Thirdly, as hinted in an earlier answer, a nine year old pubescent would not be like a nine year old of nowadays. With the advent of the concept of the ‘Teenager’ in modernity; and of mandatory mass education, that the modern state has constructed; the increase of leisure time; a lack of responsibility; and the illegality of children and younger teens from working – all this would have an impact on the nature of our modern-born nine year old as more dependent, less mature and less experienced for the real-world. Moreover, the hotter climate too of the Arabian climate unlike colder Western ones has an impact on physical maturation too, as noted earlier. For these reasons, a simple ‘the Prophet married a nine year old, so I will’ makes no sense. A nine year old of then would probably be more like a modern-day fourteen year old, emotionally, socially, psychologically. So, no! Given the current realities of modernity, one could make an easy argument that marrying such girls makes no sense and is not valid. If the context changes, then obviously, the answer changes too.
Fourthly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not marry Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) on a whim or as a result of his desires. He married her because he was instructed to from Allah, subhana wa ta’ala. This was an order, which makes a big difference. It is reasonable to suggest that only the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sanctioned to marry Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) at that age. (You definitely need to see video4, above: 0:01:00. And see also video2: 0:03:00.)
People might inquire – so what was the purpose of Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, instructing the Prophet (peace be upon him) to marry Aisha (may Allah reward her) at that age? There must be wisdom in it, that we may not be able to fathom in our time period. But the wisdom of it may be understood, later, in a different time.
For instance, might it be to show us that it is permissible to marry at the onset of puberty? And we have guidance of how the Prophet treated his wives with sensitivity and kindness. So, if our context alters in the future (in ways we didn’t intend) and we find ourselves living nomadically, frugally, like in ancient times – for whatever reason – and the survival of society is at stake, well, the precedent has been set already and the fair, loving treatment of the wife has been recorded in the Sunna and still stands, regardless.
In the end, only Allah Knows Best.
7) Who was Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her)?
Are we aware who Aisha even was (may Allah be pleased with her)? She was the daughter of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him’s) best friend and companion, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). Abu Bakr was a respectable aristocrat and renowned merchant.
It is so absurd what names the Islamophobes charge the Prophet with, that it actually boggles the mind! It also reveals how little they actually know. How would the parents of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) accept to give her hand in marriage to the Prophet (peace be upon him) if they suspected an iota of foul play? How could he hold his head from shame from all the people of his growing community if there was something as heinous that was done as they suggest? There was no shame, no crime – nothing – except a biased critique in the modern age, from people of a different culture making dubious speculations based on ignorance, as already indicated, above.
Moreover, if she was molested, as Islamophobes falsely claim, where do we see the psychological scars from such a trauma? Nowhere. She became one of the greatest transmitters of hadith in Muslim history, a scholar in her own right, strong-willed, intelligent and she revealed verbally, proudly, her deep love and respect for the prophet (peace be upon him).
See video4: 0:03:00 for a decent outline of this. And video2: o:03:04.
8) So. Who was the Prophet (peace be upon him)?
He was a man of morality (see video2: 0:03:27). Do your own unbiased research from multiple sources.
9) Addendum: Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was older when she got married?
Now, when considering the notion that there are different hadiths that contradict the age of Aisha indicating that she was older when she got married (video1: 0:01:52) Professor Brown mentions that he’s looked at such evidence, but he doesn’t find them convincing. For instance, he finds the reasoning of the facts that 1) she witnessed the battle of badr; 2) that Ibn Umar couldn’t go to that battle till he was 15; therefore 3) Aisha must have been aged 15 too – to be weak.
Moreover, the fact that she consummated the marriage when she was nine years old – is explicit data. All the others are “implicit… derived” [therefore historically, less valuable] via “tenuous assumptions” (0:02:50).
Historically, Muslims in the twentieth century began to deal with modern, Orientalist cultural-critiques of the appropriate marriageable age by trying to defend the notion that Aisha was, in fact, older. This was briefly discussed, above. But this was merely a defensive backlash.
Also see video3: 0:04:11, where it is cynically mentioned that if the custom of a future time calls for the marriageable age to increase again into the 20s, for instance, then it is possible to ‘miraculously’ discover that Aisha’s age will turn out to be 20 too!
At any rate, the moves to increase the appropriate marriageable age by law into Muslim lands in history, were importations of (relative) Western cultural and legal codes, respectively (dressed as universal) into Muslim law. But are they universal? (video1: 0:09:45)
When Adam Deen asked the question (video1: 0:20:21): “Could someone revisit the age of Aisha and for ‘ethical’ reasons [suggest that] maybe it’s not [morally] true?” Dr Brown answers thus: “You could do that. But my question would be: what motivates you? … What you’re admitting, what you’re saying is that the critics are correct. Where are you getting your values? Do you get them from your religion? Or do you get them from some other culture? (Which by the way… years ago, they didn’t care about this issue.)
In conclusion, comprehending the alleged moral dilemma of Aisha’s marriage (may Allah be pleased with her) without a modern misunderstanding is to understand the actual moral dilemma of modernity. How do we summarise our key findings? By paraphrasing our main points, as follows:
- Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was not a child – but she was a pubescent when she married.
- Historically, no-one complained about Aisha’s age (may Allah be pleased with her) because marrying during pubescence was common.
- The marriage of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) is not a relic of a pre-modern ethic. This is only true if we admit we worship the new (false) god that is the idol of modernity.
- Modernity’s own basis for universal truth is negligible? Because a modern ethic isn’t able to ground its ability to judge. In Islam we have a ‘way out’: “To you, your way. To us, ours.” (Qur’an 109:6).
- Secondary Issues 1: The notion that it is unethical for older men to marry younger women is nonsense if the older man, the younger woman and her parents are happy.
- Secondary Issues 2: Since the Prophet married a nine year old, may I?’ makes no sense. A nine year old of then would probably be more like a modern-day fourteen year old, emotionally, socially, psychologically. So, no! Alternatively, you ought to marry an older, woman, first – or widowers or divocees, first. Because the Prophet (peace be upon him) did. The instruction came from Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, in the first place, and may not apply to us, in any case. So ultimately, Allah Knows Best.
- Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was the daughter of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him’s) best friend and companion, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). She became one of the greatest transmitters of hadith in Muslim history, a scholar in her own right, strong-willed, intelligent and she revealed verbally, proudly, her deep love and respect for the prophet (peace be upon him).
- The Prophet (peace be upon him) was a man of morality.
- The notion that Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was older when she got married is not convincing, and is merely a defensive response.
- In conclusion, we ought to understand that the actual moral dilemma is modernity itself.
سبحان ربك رب العزة عما يصفون وسلام على المرسلين والحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله محمد وعلى اله وصحبه أجمعين
Exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Glory, above what they attribute to Him, and peace be upon the Messengers, and all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. And the peace and blessing upon prophet Mohammed and his relatives and all his companions.