Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) marriage to young ‘Aa’ishah is regarded as a highly controversial issue. In truth the answers are simple and clear, if only we were to sincerely turn towards their respective biographies.
- Divinely Inspired
Muslims believe that this blessed marriage was not initiated by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself. Rather it was divinely initiated, as he himself professes, “You have been shown to me twice in my dreams. A man was carrying you in a silken cloth and said to me, ‘This is your wife.’ I uncovered it and behold it was you. I said to myself, ‘If this dream is from God, he will cause it to come true.’” (Saheeh al-Bukhari, volume 7, book 62, number 15) And for sure, the dream of the Prophet came to pass.
- An Accepted Norm
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) came with the message of Islaam, he faced much opposition from the Arabs who were at that time ardently clinging to the ways of their forefathers. Anyone who spoke against their idolatry and pagan customs was to be threatened, challenged, fought and, at worse, killed. It was amidst such an atmosphere that Muhammad arose with ideas which shook the very fabric of their belief and moral systems. In turn, the Arabs viciously plotted against him and levied every possible attack, both intellectual and physical, against him and his followers. In the face of all this there is no mention of any vilification of any sort being levied against the Noble Prophet’s marriage to young ‘Aa’ishah. Why? The answer is simple; such a marriage was considered a practiced norm of the society at that time.
- The Bible Mentions Young Marriages
The marriage of men to much younger girls was the practices of the great patriarchs and Prophets and this has been recorded in the Bible itself.
In the book of Genesis in the Bible it is recorded regarding Abraham,
“Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.” (Genesis, chapter 16, verses 1–4, and 15–16, New International Version. Bolding is mine.)
Firstly, it is evident that as Abraham (who then had the name Abram) was 86 years old, Hagar must have been some fifty years younger than him, and probably even younger, to bear a child. Secondly, the Bible speaks of Sarai giving her maidservant Hagar to Abraham. So Hagar’s consent was not obtained but rather she was commanded by Sarai to go and become Abraham’s wife.
Regarding David, the first book of Kings in the Bible mentions,
“When King David was old and well advanced in years, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. So his servants said to him, ‘Let us look for a young virgin to attend the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.’” (1 Kings, chapter 1, verses 1–4, New International Version. Bolding is mine.)
The most famous marriage in Christianity is no doubt that of Mary, Jesus’ mother, with Joseph. While the following details are not in the canonical Gospels in the Bible, it appears from other early Christian writings (known as apocryphal writings) that Mary was twelve years old when the temple elders decided to find a husband for her. They selected the husband by drawing lots, and Joseph whom they chose was an elderly man, being according to some accounts ninety years old. The husband was selected and Mary was handed over to him, and she played no part in his selection.
These accounts are summed up in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 edition, which is available online, as follows,
“It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph’s marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children … A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age, Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph…”
- Pubertal Change and Life Expectancy
Young marriages may have been an accepted norm because of the simple reason that the hot climate, hereditary, physical and social conditions all played a role in early pubertal change. Instead of sexual promiscuity such as ‘dating’, honourable families instead chose a more respectable option, marrying their children off at a young age.
In Arabia life expectancy was also then very low due to war-shed, tribal rivalry and infant mortality. Conditions were so rough that people would even bury their young daughters alive.
- The Only Virgin Among Many Widows
Those who assume that the impetus behind the Prophet’s marriage to ‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) was mere passion and sexual gratification fail to answer why she was the only virgin he married in his lifetime. In fact, his first wife Khadijah was twice his age when he was at the young and prime age of twenty-five. He married no other woman while she was alive and even after her death remembered her much and would send food and gifts to her family and friends. After her death he married other women, all of whom were widows other than his wife ‘Aa’ishah. By marrying these widows he not only helped them in the harsh environment of Arabia and took charge of their children, but also helped build bonds by calming tribal rivalry, bloodshed and animosity.
When the disbelievers of Makkah offered the Prophet Muhammad the most beautiful of Arab women, just so that he would give up his mission, he replied by saying,
“I swear by Allah, if they were to place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, and ask me to abandon this mission, I would not turn from it until Allah made me victorious or I perished therein.” (Ibn Hisham Vol. I. pp. 265?66)
- A Scholar With A Mind of Her Own
‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) wasn’t an ordinary woman who could not articulate herself. Rather, as her biography attests, she was a woman of high intellectual calibre, a poetess and a medical advisor. All of this was due to her sharp inquisitive mind. So much so that Prophetic narrations show how she would often openly and at times daringly question the Noble Messenger (peace be upon him).
She is one of the fore-ranking specialists in narrating from the Prophet (peace be upon him). She was also a commentator on the Qur’aan and knowledgeable in Islamic law. Much of this was due to her early marriage to the Prophet (peace be upon him), which made her an eye witness to the personal details of his life. She became a beacon of knowledge for the succeeding generations and a role model for women of all times.
Her impeccable personality is evidence of the fact that she wasn’t a child who lived through an oppressive and abusive relationship. She did not suffer from any of the traumas young girls face throughout their lives due to having been raped, sexually abused and/or mistreated by an older man. In fact, she was proud of the position and rank she held in the life of the final Messenger of Allah. And she was determined to spread his message even after his death.
- An Honour for Lady ‘Aa’ishah
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stands as an example for all husbands till the end of time. Lady ‘Aa’ishah herself narrates how he would perform house chores with his own noble hands. That is why it is not surprising to find that a woman even came and offered herself in marriage to him as he sat amidst his companions. This is because he was an ideal husband in many regards and a well-known role model who others aspired to emulate.
That is why we find that even when the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) were given the option of either leaving him or staying with him in strained circumstances, all decided to stay with him. In fact, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave ‘Aa’ishah the option of asking her parents and consulting them over this matter, she by her own will decided to stay with him and instead preferred to persevere with ‘the two black ones’, i.e. water and dates, instead of leaving his side. One wife Sowdaa even accepted to forsake her time with him, just so that she could still be his wife.
After the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had gained prominence and his message had spread far and wide he could have easily divorced ‘Aa’ishah and married many other women. But this wasn’t the case.
- Love Unparalleled
If one were to read the life of both Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Lady ‘Aa’ishah, one would find a unique relationship bonded with genuine and mutual love, respect and compatibility. For example, we find that they would compete in racing, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. So much so that he would drink from the same cup which she drank from, from the very same place that her lips touched the cup. We find that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) dearly loved the Prophet (peace be upon him) and actively participated in spreading his mission both during his life and after. After his demise she composed couplets in his praise.
Without a doubt, if she was oppressed and coerced to accept this marriage she would have, especially after his death, openly opposed and spoken out against him. But we find the opposite. For, he was her love, her guide and her beloved husband.
It was her very saliva on the miswaak by which he fragranced his noble mouth in his final moments in this world and it was on her chest that his soul was taken up towards his Lord.
The honour was surely ‘Aa’ishah’s indeed, may Allah be pleased with her.