A criticism levelled against Mohammed is that at the age of 50 he married a six year old child named Aisha.
First, lets ask ourselves this – Does this actually matter?
A rather obvious rebuttal is to ask why this might matter today. Mohammed lived back in the 7th Century, not in our modern age, so things such as this should not be a surprise because that was a time in which many abhorrent things were acceptable, for example slavery. In fact Mohammed himself was both a slave owner and also a slave trader. Should we really judge individuals from the 7th century by our modern standards?
This issue matters to us today because Mohammed is believed by some to be the perfect man, Allah’s chosen one, and hence his life is believed to be an example that should be followed. As a result we have a real problem, because we end up with numerous examples of young girls being married off to far older men, and this arrangement is approved by numerous strands of Islamic belief.
How do we actually know that Mohammed at age 50 married a 6 year old?
The sources for Mohammed’s marriage is not some modern slur, but rather comes from traditional Islamic sources.
Is it simply one obscure minor reference?
No, not at all, it is all over the place, there are in fact many many different references.
Sahih al-Bukhari (is one of the Kutub al-Sittah (six major hadith collections) of Sunni Islam, in some circles, this is considered the most authentic book after the Quran) – 5:58:234, 5:58:236, 7:62:64, 7:62:65, 7:62:88,
Looking at the very first – Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became Allright, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
Are these Hadith collections the only sources?
No, there are also other independent sources for this as well, for example al-Ṭabarī (a Persian scholar and historian), records a slightly different variation and notes that she was ten – Tabari, Volume 9, Page 131; Tabari, Volume 7, Page 7
Do Any strands of Islam Reject all of this?
Yes indeed, Muhammad Ali, an Ahmadiyya leader, challenged the notion that Aisha was as young as the traditional sources claim; arguing that according to the compiler of the hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih, Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib, Aisha would be nineteen years old around the time of her marriage.
Side Note: The Ahmadiyya are a fringe Islamic sect and are regarded by mainstream Islam as not true Islam (This is perhaps akin to Catholicism asserting that Pentecostals are not “true” Christians). Like most belief systems there is no “true” version, just many different variations that will all declare themselves to be the “true” variation – basically this is the “No true Scotsman” fallacy.
So what exactly is the Ahmadiyya argument presented to verify that that this is not true?
Their argument is presented here … and it is not a new argument but is instead a collection of most objections. Tempting as it might be to write my own rebuttal, I shall resist because others have already done a fine job … for example here is a complete point by point rebuttal.
I will however add a few additional observations …
Argument: There are no examples to verify that this an accepted norm of the Arab culture.
The issue is that it is recorded that Mohammed did do this – the fact that it was or was not the accepted norm is not relevant.
Argument: “In my opinion, the age of Ayesha (ra) has been grossly misreported in the narratives of the incident”
And the historical facts presented to verify this “opinion” do not withstand any analysis (see rebuttal).
Rejecting hadith collections as un-reliable is to essentially reject the foundation that vast swathes of modern Islamic thinking is built upon … and that’s fine, it is simply a different variation of Islamic belief that does this and perhaps also partially explains why most Muslims reject the Ahmadiyya and regard them as heretics.
So what is the real truth here?
I have several observations
- Regarding doubts concerning the source, it should be noted that hadith scholars of that time, such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal(855 CE/241 AH), Yahya ibn Ma’in (847 CE/233 AH), and Ali ibn al-Madini (848 CE/234 AH), accepted the authenticity of his book and did not raise concerns regarding it.
- It is not the only source – as previously indicated above, others made similar observations – distinctly different chains of narrators are reporting a similar account and that adds a lot of credibility. To refute the idea, you need to debunk them all, not just the most well-known and most popular
- Why such a young age? For early Muslims, Aisha’s youth demonstrated her virginity and therefore her suitability as a bride of Muhammad. This issue of her virginity was of great importance to those who supported Aisha’s position in the debate of the succession to Muhammad – as Muhammad’s only virgin wife, Aisha was in their eyes, divinely intended for him, and therefore the most credible regarding the succession debate, so this may explain a political need for such a claim.
- She is also regarded as his favourite wife and it is noted that he would often just sit and watch her and her friends play with dolls, which to be frank is even further evidence of a very young age, not too many 19 years olds tend to play with dolls.
So is it really true?
Given the multiple sources and no objections from the hadith scholars of the time, there is a strong probability that it is indeed true, and no historical sources at all … not one … reject the idea.
The Real Issue for us Today
The big issue, is not “Is this true or not?”. Instead we need to be concerned that it is believed to be true by millions who also happen to truly believe that this is a good example to follow.
The result is that today we see a lot of forced marriages of very young girls to far older men – and that is the true horror here.
Oh and least you doubt the reality of this, the picture at the top is not a historical recreation, but is instead a picture taken of Faiz Mohammed, 40, and his “wife” Ghulam Haider, age 11. It was taken in Ghowr Province, Afghanistan, only a couple of years ago.
- Marriage or Rape? 90 Year Old Saudi Man Marries 15 Year Old Girl, By REEM HANBAZAZAH,Al Arabiya News, January 7, 2013
- Syrian Refugee Girls Forced into ‘Pleasure Marriages’, by Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute , September 11, 2012
- Child Brides Escape Marriage, but Not Lashes New York Times 5/30/10 Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin: Plight of child brides in Afghanistan
- Child marriage is a violation of human rights: High Court (Dehli) Deccan Herald, 6/11/12
- National Geographic Live! : Too Young to Wed, excellent and insightful video