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Ayesha's® Age at the time of her marriage

Section 3

The logic that is usually presented to support the marriage of minors is that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) married Ayesha® when she was six years old, and that by the time she was nine, she was sent off with him. As this is a very important matter, we thought it proper that the research on this issue be included here. For the first time, it explains a very important and rather crucial fact.

There are a few matters that are unanimously agreed to in our society; that is nobody has any difference of opinion about them. One of these is that Ayesha® was six years old at the time of her Nikah, and that by the time she was nine, she was sent to live with her husband. This misconception is accepted as a fact, to the extent that nobody ever feels the need for any research in this respect. Its foundation is based on those accounts that are in the compilations of "Bokhari", "Tabri" and "Tabqat Ibne Saad" and others. However, one finds in these and other similar history books, such assertions that in fact contradict these accounts. On the contrary, they prove that Ayesha® was much older at the time of her marriage.

Before we analyze this matter in light of historical evidence, it is necessary to understand one or two vital pre-requisites. Firstly, the laws in The Quran concerning marriage and divorce were revealed long after the migration of Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) from Makkah to Madina. Ayesha's® Nikah or sending-off happened either before or during the years of Migration. Therefore it is obvious that it happened before the relevant Quranic laws were revealed. As would be discussed later it was customary among Arabs to negotiate or finalize a proposal before marriage. This was the same as what in our society is called as giving one's word or getting engaged. The Quran mentions Nikah only, it does not mention any promises or engagements. As such, when those historical accounts state that Ayesha's® Nikah was performed at the age of six and she was sent-off at the age of nine, they were according to Arab society, reporting on getting engaged or the proposal being fixed; and 'sending-off' meant marriage. However, the real crucial question as to how old she was at the time of marriage, still remains.

Secondly, Arabs did not have any calendar at that time, so they could not fix the date, day or month and the year of an occasion like we do today. The Hijra year was in fact first recognized in the time of Omer®. Till then they used to fixe the time of death or the birth of a person with reference to some special occasions or they referred to the birth of other children. Even in our society, elderly ladies fix or estimate or determine ages in this manner. For example, they will say that when Kangra was struck by an earthquake, Zaid was still a nursing baby and Umar was born three years after Zaid. Even our Messenger of God (PBUH) has been mentioned in history as having been born in Am Alfeel, the 'year of Elephants', which is the time when the governor of Yemen attacked Makkah with an army of elephants. It is obvious, when the time references to events are fixed in this manner, then it would not be surprising if ages varied, not by months, but by years. (Further examples would-be given in this section). Furthermore, if on the occasion of birth you do not mention the month, but just count the year, then when fixing somebody's age the difference of more or less of a year would be quite likely. For instance, if it is said that so and so was born in 1920; then if that person was born in January, the year 1920 should be counted while calculating the age; but if that person was born in December, then the age would be counted from 1921. Therefore for the purpose of estimating time in our history, this phenomenon should be kept in mind.

Thirdly as mentioned above, we started our calendar during the time of Omer® and on a regular basis it was promulgated from the time of Migration (Hijra). Although migration happened in the month of Rabiul Awal, the year of Hijra was counted from Muharram and the whole year was completed. Prior to the Migration, years were counted from the time when the Messenger of God (PBUH) started receiving the Revelation. He was forty years old when he was made the Messenger of God, (PBUH) and after that he stayed in Makkah for thirteen years. Then he migrated. That is, at the time of Migration he had completed fifty-three years of his age, and the fifty-fourth year had started. If the year of revelation is included, that is the fortieth year of his age, then the time of Migration would be the fifteenth year of the Revelation. On the other hand, if this first year is not included, then it would be the fourteenth year of Revelation. It is necessary to keep these points in mind because they affect the problem under consideration.

(1) "Asad Alghaba" (Vol. IV, p. 377) mentions:

Fatima® was approximately five years older than Ayesha®

Therefore to gauge the year of birth of Ayesha®, we will have to find Fatima's® year of birth.

(2) "Asad Alghaba" quotes again:

Abbas® went to Ali's® place, where he heard Fatima® saying to Ali®, "I am older than you". This prompted Abbas® to say that Fatima® was born when the Quraish were building Kaaba, and Ali® had been born a few years earlier (Vol. IV p. 280).

The same book mentions at another place on (p. 377):

Fatima® was born in the year when Kaaba was being built, and Messenger of God's (PBUH) age was then thirty-five years.

"Tabqat Ibne Saad" (a book) tells us (Vol. VIII, p. 11):

Fatima® is the daughter of Allah's Messenger (PBUH). Her mother is Khadija®, daughter of Khuwailad bin Asad bin Abdul Uza bin Qasa. Fatima® was born to Khadija® during those days when the Quraish (the tribe) were building the "House of God". And this happened five years before revelation.

At another place it says:

Once Abbas® visited Ali's® house. There, Fatima® was saying to Ali® that she was older than him in age. Abbas® informed her, "Look Fatima, you were born during that time when Quraish were building Kaaba and the Messenger of God (PBUH) was thirty-five year old. And listen, Ali® you were born a few years before that" (Vol. VIII, p. 17).

One finds this statement about Fatima's® death in "Isteeab" (a book):

How old was Fatima® at the time of her death? There is difference of opinion. Zubair bin Bakar quoted from Abdullah Bin Alhasan that he was with Hasham Bin Abdulmalik, and Kalbi was there, too. Hasham inquired from Abdullah bin Al-Hasan "O Abu Mohammed, how old was Fatima® daughter of Allah's Messenger (PBUH)?" Abdullah Bin Alhasan replied, "Thirty years". After this Hasham asked Kalbi, "How old was Fatima®?" Kalbi answered, "Thirty-five years". This made Hasham point out to Abdullah Ibne Alhasan, "O Abu Mohammed, listen to what Kalbi is saying" Hasham preferred Kalbi's statement more. This made Abdullah Ibne Alhasan remark, "O leader of the Momins, ask me about my mother, and ask Kalbi about his mother". (Vol. VI, p. 752).

Fatima® died in 11 A.H. If she was thirty years old at that time, then she must have been born five years before the Revelation to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). (The difference of months should be taken into account).

There is no doubt that, like other incidents, one finds many accounts about Fatima's® age at the time of her death. For example one quotes her age as twenty-four years; another estimates it at a little over eighteen years. But it appears that the correct estimate is that she was about thirty years old at the time of her death, and that she was born about five years before the Revelation.

This shows that Ayesha® was born when the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was forty years old, about five years after the birth of Fatima®, meaning the year when he was made the Nabi (PBUH) (Refer to historical account at the end).

(3) If we accept the account that Ayesha's® age was six years at the time of Nikah or engagement as correct, then it would mean that she was born in the fourth year of their calendar. This would be the fourth year after the Revelation or when Messenger of God (PBUH) was forty-four years old. Since the occasion of Nikah (or engagement) is also quoted as having happened in the tenth year of Revelation, this meaning that Messenger of God (PBUH) was fifty at that time. This statement has many reasons to be wrong. For example, Ibne Saad has quoted in "Tabqat" to have said that when the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) sent his proposal for Ayesha® to Abu Bakr®, he replied, "O Messenger of Allah (PBUH), I have already promised her to Mutam Bin Adi Bin Nofil Bin Abd Munaf for his son Jabeer. Therefore, give me enough time to get her back from them" So Abu Bakr® acted accordingly.
If Ayesha® was six year old at that time, then it would mean that she had been engaged to Jabeer at the age of four or five years. One never finds such examples among Arabs, that they would get their four or five year old girls engaged for marriage. Besides, "Bokhari" quotes in (Vol. 2, p. 204):

Ayesha® said, "When verse (54:46) of Surah Al-Qamar (The Moon) was revealed, I was a toddler playing about".

Surah Al-Qamar (The Moon) of the Quran was revealed in 5th year of Revelation Ayesha® must at least have been of such an age at that time, that she knew that these were Quranic verses, and also that she remembered this incident afterwards. If we can imagine the fourth year of Revelation as her year of birth, then in the fifth year she would be a year old. A baby of one year cannot walk or play about much, and neither is it possible for such a small child to remember Quranic verses. Contrary to this, if her year of birth is considered to be the first year of Revelation, then she would be about five or six year old at the time of Surah Al-Qamar's revelation. At that time she would have been about five or six years old; and capable of remembering something about Quranic verses. (In this respect, it is worth noting that account which has been written at the end).

All the accounts written above attempt to explain that Ayesha® was born when the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was in his fortieth year of age.

(4). The incident that is considered as Nikah or engagement, happened in Shawal (a lunar month) in the tenth year of Revelation, ("Tabqat Ibne Saad" Vol. 8, p. 40) when the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was fifty years old. As such, if the first year is not counted, this, makes Ayesha's® age approximately ten years at that time. If you count the first year then her age would be eleven. The issue of real importance is of actual marriage and not the engagement, so we should go further.

(5). As regards marriage, consensus of opinion agrees upon its taking place after the Hijra (The Migration). Therefore we should first examine the timing of Migration.
How many years did the Nabi (PBUH) stay in Makkah after the Revelation? There are varied accounts about this. One of these states that when the Revelation descended upon him, he was forty-three years old, and he stayed in Makkah for ten years after that.

Another account runs like this:

A person came to Ibne Abbas® and said that the Revelation descended upon the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) for ten years in Makkah, and for ten years in Madina. Ibne Abbas® said, "Who says this? The Revelation descended upon him in Makkah for fifteen years or more".

In an another account, however, Ibne Abbas® has also been quoted as saying that he stayed in Makkah for thirteen years. Thus it is generally accepted that the Nabi (PBUH) stayed for thirteen years, and after that he migrated. (Refer to "Tabqat Ibne-Saad" Vols. 1, pp. 333-334; "Tarikh Tabri" Vol. I, p. 54 and 135-36). Per chance, I have in front of me the Urdu translation of these Vols. that were published in Hyderabad Deccan, India. Both these references are from there. The reason for the contradiction that shows up between thirteen and fifteen years, may be because the Messenger of God (PBUH) was fifty-three years old and fifty-fourth had started when he migrated; and he was in his fortieth year when the Revelation commenced. Now if the fortieth year of this age is not counted then the stay of Makkah would be of thirteen years, and the Migration would have commenced by the beginning of the fourteenth year. If the fortieth year is counted then the stay in Makkah would be of fourteen years, and Migration would then happen in the fifteenth year. Most probably Ibne Abbas® was quoting the same in that account. Taking this into consideration, Ayesha® was either thirteen years old at the beginning of Migration; or she might have completed her thirteen years and would be in her fourteenth year; or she might have completed her fourteenth year, and would be in her fifteenth. (Again refer to the account quoted at the end).

(6). Now we have to see how long after the Migration, she got married? According to the general records, at the time of matrimony or engagement Ayesha's® age was six years and at the time of the send-off she was nine years old. Her wedding took place in the month of Shawwal (10th Lunar Month) at Madina. As she got engaged three years before Migration, according to this account she should have married in the first year of Migration, during the month of Shawwal. But this is not true for the following reasons:

a. In "Tabqat Ibne Saad", Ayesha® has told in detail that when the Nabi (PBUH) and Abu Bakr® migrated to Madina, the Nabi (PBUH) left his daughter and Abu Bakr® left his family behind in Makkah. After their resettlement they called them to Madina ("Tabqat", Vol. VIII, p.43).

b. In Bokhari's compilation, Ayesha® is quoted to have said, "When we came to Madina, I had fever and I lost all my hair on my head. Then when my hair started-growing again and become shoulder length we got married.
("Bokhari", Vol. II, p.204).

These assertions show:

(i) Ayesha® remained in Makkah for a while after the Migration. It should be remembered that the Migration occurred during the month of Rabiul Awal (3rd Lunar Month).

(ii) After coming to Madina she lost all her hair from her head, due to her illness.

(iii) After all her hair grew again and became shoulder length, did she get married.
If it is accepted that she was sent off in the first year of Migration in Shawwal, (10th Lunar Month) then it means that the above mentioned incidents happened within eight months. (From Rabiul Awal to Shawwal). If it is accepted that after the Migration, it must have taken her three or four months to come to Madina from Makkah, and she remained sick for a month, then this would leave only three or four months till marriage. It is clear that in this time, new hair cannot grow shoulder length under any circumstances. This is so obvious that even Ainee, "Bokhari's" narrator had stated that her wedding took place seven months after Migration. She was sent off, after the Battle of Badar in Shawwal, 2 A.H. (Ainee's Vol. VIII, p .96).

c. "Istiab", too, has supported this as follows:
The Messenger of God had engaged Ayesha® three years before Migration in Shawal, tenth year of Revelation, and he brought her home eighteen months after Migration in the month of Shawal. (Vol. II, p.744)

d. In "Asad Alghaba" it is stated:
Fatima®, daughter of the Nabi (PBUH) was married four months after Ayesha's® marriage". (Vol. IV, p. 377)
Fatima® got married in Muharram (1st month of Lunar year). Hence the question is in Muharram of which year of Migration? "Bokhari" (Vol. III, p. 8) gives a long narration of it as follows:

Ali® 'cousin of the Nabi (PBUH)' said that he had one (female) camel that he received as his share from the booty of the Battle of Badr, and one more (female) camel that the Messenger of God (PBUH) gave him out of his share. (This constitutes a gift from the bounty of the commander, which is one-fifth of the spoils of war as per Quranic injunctions). I thought I could bring Fatima®, daughter of the Nabi (PBUH) home in marriage. I talked to a goldsmith from the Banu Qainuqah tribe that he should come along with me to get some Azkhar grass. I intended to sell it to the goldsmith, and whatever money I would collect, I would use for the wedding party.

After that it has been described how Hamza®, the Nabi's (PBUH) uncle, ripped open these camel's stomachs, but as this is irrelevant to our purpose, it has not been copied here.

This makes it quite clear that till the Battle of Badr, Ali® had not been married. The Battle of Badr was fought in Ramadhan (9th Lunar month) 2 A.H. Therefore, the earliest his marriage could have taken place, would be in Muharram 3, A.H. ("Asad Alghaba" had erroneously written it as 2 A.H.).

Since Ayesha® got married four months earlier, her marriage could have happened in Shawwal in the second A.H. and not in the first A.H.

(7). The above details explain that Ayesha® was fifteen years old at the time of her marriage if her year of birth is not added; but if it is added then, she would be sixteen years old. This is two years older than she was at the time of Migration.

According to the account from Abbas® which has been quoted earlier, the Messenger of God (PBUH) remained in Makkah for fifteen years after the Revelation. There we tried to explain the discrepancy in the duration of the stay whether it was thirteen or fifteen years. But if the account that the Nabi (PBUH) stayed in Makkah for full fifteen years and migrated in the sixteenth year is taken as literally correct, then this makes Ayesha's® age as seventeen years at the time of marriage. Ibne Abbas® account is supported by "Tabri's" following statement.
"Ibne Abbas® and Ibne Khantalah related that Messenger of God (PBUH) died at the age of sixty-five. ("Tabri" translated in Urdu, Hyderabad, India Vol. I, part III, p. 599). In brief, he became a Nabi at the age of forty, remained in Makkah after that for fifteen years, and thereafter was in Madina for ten years; sixty-five years as a whole".

Besides this evidence, there is another stronger testimony that tells us that Ayesha® was seventeen years old at the time of Migration. As such she was nineteen years old at the time of her sending-off from her house. Asmaa®, daughter of Abu Bakr®, was Ayesha's® elder sister. Sheikh Wali-ud-Din Abi Abdullah Mohammed Bin Abdullah Khatib writes about her in his book (Akmal Fi Asma Ur-Rijal):

Here is Asmaa®, daughter of Abu Bakr Siddique®. She is famous as Zat Al-Nataqain, because the night the Nabi (PBUH) migrated, she tore her scarf into two pieces. She used one piece to tie her tiffin carrier, and the other was used either to fasten the leathered water carrier or as her head-scarf. She is the mother of Abdullah Bin Zubair®, embraced Islam in Makkah. It is stated that at that time only seventeen people had embraced Islam. She was ten years older than Ayesha®. After her son Abdullah Bin Zubair's® dead body, which had been hung on a wooden peg following his murder, was taken down and buried, she died about ten or twenty days later, at the ripe old age of hundred years. It was year seventy-three of Migration (A.H.). Many people have quoted her for the Nabi's (PBUH) customs and historical accounts. (Akmal has been published with Mishkat's Urdu translation. See p.472)

Asmaa® was one hundred years old at the time of her death in the year seventy-three of Migration (A.H.). This tells us that her age at the time of Migration, was twenty seven years. Since Ayesha® was ten years younger than Asmaa®, Ayesha® was approximately nineteen years old at the time of her marriage.

This also conforms what Kalbi said to Hisham Bin Abdul Malik (Ummayad Caliph), that Fatima's® age was thirty-five years. Thus it can be estimated that if Ayesha® was seventeen years old at the time of Migration, then Fatima® would be approximately twenty two years old and nearing thirty-three at the time of her death. If the year of birth and the year of death, too, are added then she would be thirty-five years old.

In any case, the above details explain the fact that Ayesha's® age at the time of her marriage was seventeen years according to some accounts, or nineteen years according to others. It was definitely not less than fifteen or sixteen years. Therefore, all these historical accounts show that she was nine years old at the time of her marriage; that she used to play on the swings with other children; that even after her marriage to the Nabi (PBUH) she used to play with her dolls, are not rational and are hence unacceptable. The Nabi (PBUH) got his own daughters married, and none of them was sent-off as a minor. Fatima® was married off last, and she was at least twenty one or twenty two at that time. This was the marriage age, although Ali®, to whom she was to be married, was present in the house all along.

Finally, it seems prudent that I should repeat once again that important fact about history that I have mentioned many times before. It is a fact we find many conflicting narrations about the same event. For example Tabri himself has all these statements about the age of the Nabi (PBUH) saying that he was sixty years old, sixty-three years old or also that he was sixty-five years old. ("Tabri" Vol. I, part II). Take, for instance, the accounts about Fatima's® death. It has been narrated that she remained alive only three days after the Nabi's (PBUH) death; or one month;
or two months; or three months and five days; or four months and some think she lived for six months after his death (The Nabi's (PBUH) biography by Shibli-Vol.1, p. 427). This difference is, nevertheless, of a few days or months, but in the case of Sodah's® (The Nabi's (PBUH) wife) death, Waqdi writes that it happened in 54 A.H.; but Bokhari writes in history that the death occurred during Omer's® period of caliphate, that is before 23 A.H. (The Nabi's (PBUH) biography by Shibli-Vol.1,
p. 404). Just see how glaring the difference is.

If these contradictions do not touch a Quranic principle or reflect adversely upon the Nabi's (PBUH) character, then either of the accounts could be acceptable without objection. For example, Sodah's® death whether it happened in 23 A.H.
or 54 A.H. does not affect The Quran or the character of the Nabi (PBUH). But for those accounts and matters that do reflect upon the Nabi (PBUH) or The Quran, utmost care should be taken about them. The principle in this respect should be
that anything that goes against The Quran or the character of the Nabi (PBUH) can never be true, no matter how authentic it is regarded by the standards of history. The narrations and statements on historical events cannot reach an absolute level of surety. The Quran in comparison, is a certain evidence, and it is definitely known fact that the Messenger of God (PBUH) never said or did anything that would go against The Quran, or against human honour! Therefore, we should always rate opinions below sterling facts. If we are careful enough about our history then this would save us from many entangling problems in respect of Islam. Importantly, this would also extricate us from unjustified criticism which daily the non-Muslims direct at us, on the basis of these historical narrations. A vital need of the day is that the history of Islam's early phase be reviewed according to the above standards, so that all the false and fabricated narrations that mar the character of Messenger of God (PBUH) and his companions be deleted from the history of Islam. Unfortunately until someone can do that, we should always assert that such accounts are of doubtful authenticity and that more research is needed to ascertain their status. Go to top