Friday, 10 June 2011

Qualities of Aisha and her role in Islam

(Note: The name spelt in this article as Aisha
is properly transliterated as ‘Á’ishah)

Qualities of Aisha and her role in Islam

In any discussion on the age of Aisha (ra: may Allah be pleased
with her) at the time of her marriage with the Holy Prophet Muhammad
(may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him), it is of the
greatest relevance to note the pivotal role she played as a teacher,
exponent and interpreter of the religion of Islam. Aisha was an
exceptionally intelligent and astute woman, a young prodigy, and
this was the main reason why she was got married to the Holy Prophet,
as is clearly proved by events after the Holy Prophet’s life.
She entered his household, shortly after his emigration to Madina,
just at the time when the teachings of Islam in all fields of life
for the Muslim community were starting to be revealed to the Holy
Prophet and demonstrated by him by his example and practice. An
intellectually gifted person was required who would have daily contact
with the Holy Prophet at the closest and most personal level, so
as to absorb the teachings that he was giving on all aspects of
life by his words and actions. Such a person would need to possess
the following qualities:

an excellent, precise memory to retain a vast amount of detail accurately,

the understanding to grasp the significance and the principles of
the teachings,

powers of reasoning, criticism and deduction to resolve problems
on the basis of those teachings,

the skills to convey knowledge to a wide range of audience,

and, finally, have the prospect of living for a considerable period
of time after the death of the Holy Prophet in order to spread his
message to distant generations.

That Aisha possessed all these qualities and carried out this mission
is an absolutely positive and undeniable, historical fact. After
the Holy Prophet’s death, she acted as a teacher and interpreter
of Islam, providing guidance to even the greatest of the male Companions
of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. They made a special point of going
to her to gain knowledge and seek her opinion. A vast number of
sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet are reported from her in
books of Hadith. She not only quoted his sayings and reported her
observations of events, but interpreted them to provide solutions
to questions. Whenever necessary, she corrected the views of the
greatest of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. She made rulings
and judgments on which Islamic law is based.

The following are two examples of what the Holy Prophet’s
male Companions said about her:

“Abu Musa said: Whenever there was any hadith that was difficult
[to understand] for us, the Companions of the Messenger of Allah,
and we asked Aisha we always found that she had knowledge about
that hadith.”

“Musa ibn Talha said: I never saw anyone more eloquent than
Aisha.” [1]

In the famous compilation of the lives of saints in Islam, Tadhkirat-ul-Auliya,
the author Farid-ud-Din Attar, who lived eight centuries ago, introduces
the life of the early female saint Rabia of Basra as follows:

“If anyone says, ‘Why have you included Rabia in the
rank of men?’, my answer is that the Prophet himself said,
‘God does not regard your outward forms’. … Moreover,
if it is proper to derive two-thirds of our religion from Aisha,
surely it is permissible to take religious instruction from a handmaid
of Aisha.” [2]

It is thus recognised, from the earliest times in Islam, that some
two-thirds of Islamic Sharia is based on reports and interpretations
that have come from Aisha.

In view of these exceptional qualities of Aisha and the towering
role played by her in the transmission of the teachings of Islam,
it is simply preposterous and outrageous to suggest that she was
the victim of some form of child and marital abuse. We ask in particular
the Christian and Jewish critics of Islam, who are reviling the
Holy Prophet Muhammad on the basis of his marriage with Aisha, whether
they can point out any example of a woman in their religions who
played a role like that of Aisha in learning the religion from its
founder and becoming the teacher and instructor of all his followers,
including men, after his death.

Age of Aisha at time of marriage with Holy Prophet Muhammad

It is believed on the authority of some Hadith reports that the
marriage ceremony (known as nikah, amounting to betrothal) of Aisha
with the Holy Prophet Muhammad took place when she was six years
of age, and that she joined the Holy Prophet as his wife three years
later at the age of nine. We quote below from two such reports in

“It is reported from Aisha that she said: The Prophet entered
into marriage with me when I was a girl of six … and at the
time [of joining his household] I was a girl of nine years of age.”

“Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to
Medina. He stayed [alone] for two years or so. He married Aisha
when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consummated that
marriage when she was nine years old.” [3]

As to the authenticity of these reports, it may be noted that the
compilers of the books of Hadith did not apply the same stringent
tests when accepting reports relating to historical matters as they
did before accepting reports relating to the practical teachings
and laws of Islam. The reason is that the former type of report
was regarded as merely of academic interest while the latter type
of report had a direct bearing on the practical duties of a Muslim
and on what was allowed to them and what was prohibited. Thus the
occurrence of reports such as the above about the marriage of Aisha
in books of Hadith, even in Bukhari, is not necessarily a proof
of their credibility.

Determination of the true age of Aisha

It appears that Maulana Muhammad Ali was the first Islamic scholar
directly to challenge the notion that Aisha was aged six and nine,
respectively, at the time of her nikah and consummation of marriage.
This he did in, at least, the following writings: his English booklet
Prophet of Islam, his larger English book Muhammad, the Prophet,
and in the footnotes in his voluminous Urdu translation and commentary
of Sahih Bukhari entitled Fadl-ul-Bari, these three writings being
published in the 1920s and 1930s. In the booklet Prophet of Islam,
which was later incorporated in 1948 as the first chapter of his
book Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad, he writes in a lengthy
footnote as follows:

“A great misconception prevails as to the age at which Aisha
was taken in marriage by the Prophet. Ibn Sa‘d has stated
in the Tabaqat that when Abu Bakr [father of Aisha] was approached
on behalf of the Holy Prophet, he replied that the girl had already
been betrothed to Jubair, and that he would have to settle the matter
first with him. This shows that Aisha must have been approaching
majority at the time. Again, the Isaba, speaking of the Prophet’s
daughter Fatima, says that she was born five years before the Call
and was about five years older than Aisha. This shows that Aisha
must have been about ten years at the time of her betrothal to the
Prophet, and not six years as she is generally supposed to be. This
is further borne out by the fact that Aisha herself is reported
to have stated that when the chapter [of the Holy Quran] entitled
The Moon, the fifty-fourth chapter, was revealed, she was a girl
playing about and remembered certain verses then revealed. Now the
fifty-fourth chapter was undoubtedly revealed before the sixth year
of the Call. All these considerations point to but one conclusion,
viz., that Aisha could not have been less than ten years of age
at the time of her nikah, which was virtually only a betrothal.
And there is one report in the Tabaqat that Aisha was nine years
of age at the time of nikah. Again it is a fact admitted on all
hands that the nikah of Aisha took place in the tenth year of the
Call in the month of Shawwal, while there is also preponderance
of evidence as to the consummation of her marriage taking place
in the second year of Hijra in the same month, which shows that
full five years had elapsed between the nikah and the consummation.
Hence there is not the least doubt that Aisha was at least nine
or ten years of age at the time of betrothal, and fourteen or fifteen
years at the time of marriage.” [4] (Bolding is mine.)

To facilitate understanding dates of these events, please note
that it was in the tenth year of the Call, i.e. the tenth year after
the Holy Prophet Muhammad received his calling from God to his mission
of prophethood, that his wife Khadija passed away, and the approach
was made to Abu Bakr for the hand of his daughter Aisha. The hijra
or emigration of the Holy Prophet to Madina took place three years
later, and Aisha came to the household of the Holy Prophet in the
second year after hijra. So if Aisha was born in the year of the
Call, she would be ten years old at the time of the nikah and fifteen
years old at the time of the consummation of the marriage.

Later research

Research subsequent to the time of Maulana Muhammad Ali has shown
that she was older than this. An excellent short work presenting
such evidence is the Urdu pamphlet Rukhsati kai waqt Sayyida Aisha
Siddiqa ki umar (‘The age of Lady Aisha at the time of the
start of her married life’) by Abu Tahir Irfani.[4a] Points
1 to 3 below have been brought to light in this pamphlet.

1. The famous classical historian of Islam, Ibn Jarir Tabari, wrote
in his ‘History’:

“In the time before Islam, Abu Bakr married two women. The
first was Fatila daughter of Abdul Uzza, from whom Abdullah and
Asma were born. Then he married Umm Ruman, from whom Abdur Rahman
and Aisha were born. These four were born before Islam.” [5]

Being born before Islam means being born before the Call.

2. The compiler of the famous Hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih,
Imam Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib, who died 700 years
ago, has also written brief biographical notes on the narrators
of Hadith reports. He writes under Asma, the older daughter of Abu

“She was the sister of Aisha Siddiqa, wife of the Holy Prophet,
and was ten years older than her. … In 73 A.H. … Asma
died at the age of one hundred years.” [6]

(Go here to see an image of the full entry in Urdu.)

This would make Asma 28 years of age in 1 A.H., the year of the
Hijra, thus making Aisha 18 years old in 1 A.H. So Aisha would be
19 years old at the time of the consummation of her marriage, and
14 or 15 years old at the time of her nikah. It would place her
year of birth at four or five years before the Call.

3. The same statement is made by the famous classical commentator
of the Holy Quran, Ibn Kathir, in his book Al-bidayya wal-nihaya:

“Asma died in 73 A.H. at the age of one hundred years. She
was ten years older than her sister Aisha.” [7]

Apart from these three evidences, which are presented in the Urdu
pamphlet referred to above, we also note that the birth of Aisha
being a little before the Call is consistent with the opening words
of a statement by her which is recorded four times in Bukhari. Those
words are as follows:

“Ever since I can remember (or understand things) my parents
were following the religion of Islam.” [8]

This is tantamount to saying that she was born sometime before
her parents accepted Islam but she can only remember them practising
Islam. No doubt she and her parents knew well whether she was born
before or after they accepted Islam, as their acceptance of Islam
was such a landmark event in their life which took place just after
the Holy Prophet received his mission from God. If she had been
born after they accepted Islam it would make no sense for her to
say that she always remembered them as following Islam. Only if
she was born before they accepted Islam, would it make sense for
her to say that she can only remember them being Muslims, as she
was too young to remember things before their conversion. This is
consistent with her being born before the Call, and being perhaps
four or five years old at the time of the Call, which was also almost
the time when her parents accepted Islam.

Two further evidences cited by Maulana Muhammad Ali

In the footnotes of his Urdu translation and commentary of Sahih
Bukhari, entitled Fadl-ul-Bari, Maulana Muhammad Ali had pointed
out reports of two events which show that Aisha could not have been
born later than the year of the Call. These are as follows.

1. The above mentioned statement by Aisha in Bukhari, about her
earliest memory of her parents being that they were followers of
Islam, begins with the following words in its version in Bukhari’s
Kitab-ul-Kafalat. We quote this from the English translation of
Bukhari by M. Muhsin Khan:

“Since I reached the age when I could remember things, I
have seen my parents worshipping according to the right faith of
Islam. Not a single day passed but Allah’s Apostle visited
us both in the morning and in the evening. When the Muslims were
persecuted, Abu Bakr set out for Ethiopia as an emigrant.”

Commenting on this report, Maulana Muhammad Ali writes:

“This report sheds some light on the question of the age
of Aisha. … The mention of the persecution of Muslims along
with the emigration to Ethiopia clearly shows that this refers to
the fifth or the sixth year of the Call. … At that time Aisha
was of an age to discern things, and so her birth could not have
been later than the first year of the Call.” [10]

Again, this would make her more than fourteen at the time of the
consummation of her marriage.

2. There is a report in Sahih Bukhari as follows:

“On the day (of the battle) of Uhud when (some) people retreated
and left the Prophet, I saw Aisha daughter of Abu Bakr and Umm Sulaim,
with their robes tucked up so that the bangles around their ankles
were visible hurrying with their water skins (in another narration
it is said, ‘carrying the water skins on their backs’).
Then they would pour the water in the mouths of the people, and
return to fill the water skins again and came back again to pour
water in the mouths of the people.” [11]

Maulana Muhammad Ali writes in a footnote under this report:

“It should also be noted that Aisha joined the Holy Prophet’s
household only one year before the battle of Uhud. According to
the common view she would be only ten years of age at this time,
which is certainly not a suitable age for the work she did on this
occasion. This also shows that she was not so young at this time.”

If, as shown in the previous section above, Aisha was nineteen
at the time of the consummation of her marriage, then she would
be twenty years old at the time of the battle of Uhud. It may be
added that on the earlier occasion of the battle of Badr when some
Muslim youths tried, out of eagerness, to go along with the Muslim
army to the field of battle, the Holy Prophet Muhammad sent them
back on account of their young age (allowing only one such youngster,
Umair ibn Abi Waqqas, to accompany his older brother the famous
Companion Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas). It seems, therefore, highly
unlikely that if Aisha was ten years old the Holy Prophet would
have allowed her to accompany the army to the field of battle.

We conclude from all the evidence cited above that Aisha (may Allah
be pleased with her) was nineteen years old when she joined the
Holy Prophet as his wife in the year 2 A.H., the nikah or betrothal
having taken place five years previously.


The Bible on marriage of young girls with much older men

As it is Christian evangelists and other believers in the Bible
who have been bitterly reviling the Holy Prophet Muhammad on account
of his marriage with Aisha, we put to them the practices of the
great patriarchs and prophets that are recorded in the Bible itself
in this connection. The main accusations regarding the marriage
of Aisha are that she was too young in age while the Holy Prophet
was a much older man, being fifty years of age, and that consent
to marriage was either not obtained from her or she was not capable
of giving it.


In the book of Genesis in the Bible it is recorded about Abraham:

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.
But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to
Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep
with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.’
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living
in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant
Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with
Hagar, and she conceived. … So Hagar bore Abram a son, and
Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 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.


The first book of Kings in the Bible begins as follows:

“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.’ Then they searched throughout Israel
for a beautiful girl and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought
her to the king. The girl was very beautiful; she took care of the
king and waited on him, but the king had no intimate relations with
her.” (1 Kings, chapter 1, verses 1–4, New International
Version. Bolding is mine.)

So there seems nothing wrong, according to the Bible, in procuring
a young virgin, again apparently without her consent, whose duties
include lying with the elderly king in bed. The intention was certainly
for sexual enjoyment, otherwise there was no necessity of looking
for a young, beautiful virgin. A much older woman, perhaps a widow,
could have performed all these duties, including lying with the
king to keep him warm.

Mary and Joseph

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 …” [13] (Bolding is mine.)

Although these apocryphal accounts are not now accepted by many
Christians, and the Catholic Encyclopedia says that they “are
void of authority”, yet it also speaks of their influence
as follows:

“they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity;
in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known
difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of the Lord’s
brothers; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all
probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works
of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the
time of marriage with the Mother of God.”

However, these accounts are accepted by the Eastern churches. The
website of the Ukrainian Orthodoxy has an article on this subject
entitled An Elderly Joseph which agrees with the presentation in
the apocryphal writings “of Joseph as an elderly man, a widower
with adult children”. It concludes:

“The Christian East’s picture of Joseph as a courageous,
faithful, God-centred elderly widower rings true.” [14]

We give below, as Appendix, a quotation from one of these apocryphal
books, The Infancy Gospel of James, describing how Mary’s
husband was selected.

While the Western Christian churches may not accept these accounts
as authentic, the Eastern churches in Europe do accept that Mary
was 12 years old and Joseph a widower 90 years old when they married.
Moreover, there is nothing in the Gospels of the New Testament to
contradict these accounts, and the Gospel stories are not at all
inconsistent with these ages for Mary and Joseph.



[1]. Tirmidhi, Abwab-ul-Manaqib, i.e. Chapters on Excellences,
under ‘Virtues of Aisha’.

[2]. Muslim Saints and Mystics, abridged English translation of
Tadhkirat-ul-Auliya, by A.J. Arberry, p. 40.

[3]. Bukhari, Book of Qualities of the Ansar, chapter: ‘The
Holy Prophet’s marriage with Aisha, and his coming to Madina
and the consummation of marriage with her’. For Muhsin Khan’s
translation, see this link and go down to reports listed as Volume
5, Book 58, Number 234 and 236.

[4]. Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad, 1992 U.S.A. edition,
p. 30, note 40.

[4a]. This Urdu pamphlet was published by the Ahmadiyya Anjuman
Isha‘at Islam, Bombay, India. A partial English translation
is available at this Lahore Ahmadiyya website.

[5]. Tarikh Tabari, vol. 4, p. 50.

[6]. Mishkat al-Masabih, Edition with Urdu translation published
in Lahore, 1986, vol. 3, p. 300–301. (Go here to see an image
of the full entry in Urdu.)

[7]. Vol. 8, p. 346.

[8]. Those four places in Sahih Bukhari are the following: Kitab-us-Salat,
ch. ‘A mosque which is in the way but does not inconvenience
people’; Kitab-ul-Kafalat, ch. ‘Abu Bakr under the protection
of a non-Muslim in the time of the Holy Prophet and his pact with
him’; Kitab Manaqib-ul-Ansar, ch. ‘Emigration of the
Holy Prophet and his Companions to Madina’; and Kitab-ul-Adab,
ch. ‘Should a person visit everyday, or morning and evening’.

[9]. Muhsin Khan’s English translation of Bukhari, Volume
3, Book 37, Number 494. See this link.

[10]. Fadl-ul-Bari, vol. 1, p. 501, footnote 1.

[11]. Sahih Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Jihad wal-Siyar, Chapter: ‘Women
in war and their fighting alongside men’. See this link in
Muhsin Khan’s translation and go down to report listed as
Volume 4, Book 52, Number 131.

[12]. Fadl-ul-Bari, vol. 1, p. 651.

[13]. In article St. Joseph, under letter J. Here is a link to
this article in the online Catholic Encyclopedia.

[14]. Here is a link to this article An Elderly Joseph.


Appendix: The Infancy Gospel of James, Chapter 8 verse 2 to Chapter
9 verse 11

“When she [Mary] turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel
together, saying, ‘Look, Mary has been in the temple of the
Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she
does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?’ And they
said to the high priest, ‘You have stood at the altar of the
Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything
to you, we will do it.’ And the priest went in taking the
vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about
her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, ‘Zachariah,
Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people
and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord God points
out with a sign, she will be his wife.’ So the heralds went
out to the whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the
Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.

Throwing down his axe, Joseph went out to meet them. And after
they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high
priest. After receiving everyone’s rod, the high priest went
into the temple and prayed. When he was finished with the prayer,
he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, but there
was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. Suddenly,
a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph’s head. And
the high priest said, ‘Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen
by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping.’ And Joseph
replied, saying, ‘I have sons and am old, while she is young.
I will not be ridiculed among the children of Israel.’ And
the high priest said, ‘Joseph, fear the Lord your God and
remember what God did to Dathan and Abiron and Kore, how the earth
split open and swallowed them because of their rebellion. Now fear
God, Joseph, so that these things do not happen in your house.’
Fearing God, Joseph took her into his own possession.”


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