Unfamiliarity with the life of the Prophet of Islām صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ, his character and teachings and his native culture and the social conditions prevalent during his life can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. A common area of misunderstanding is the subject of the Prophet’s صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ marriages, especially his marriage to ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها.
At the time of her marriage, ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها was six, and at the age of nine, she started living with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Unfamiliarity with this course of events can be resolved to some degree by the study- ing the relevant aspects of the lives of the Prophet’s and ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها, and by learning a bit about cultural norms of the time.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. ﬁrst married at the age of 25. At that time he married Khadījah bint Khuwaylid رضي الله عنها, who had been married twice previously (both husbands had passed away) and who was a mother of three children. Khadījah رضي الله عنها was the lone wife of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. for 25 years until her demise. At that time the Prophet’s صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ age was approximately 50 years. From this, we can see that in his youth the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. did not opt for a young wife, but instead chose a middle-aged honourable wife who was twice widowed and had three children. Furthermore, after her demise the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. married Sawda Bint Zam‘ah رضي الله عنها who was also a widow and had one son.
After the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. had openly announced his prophethood and invited the leaders of Makkah to accept Islām, they tried in many ways to stop people being inclined towards him. After failing in their attempts, they tried bribing the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.. ‘Utbah ibn Rabī‘ah was made a representative of the leaders of Makkah, and he tried to bribe the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. with many things. One of the offers he made was “…If you wish to marry, we will arrange for you to be married to whichever and however many women you wish.” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم., being a person of honour, refused their offers. This makes it quite clear that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. was not (we seek refuge with Allāh S from such assertions) a man of lust and desire, and his decisions were not based on his own whims and fancies, but rather for the sake of propagating Islām and its teachings.
‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها
With regards to ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنه, a few things should be noted. Firstly, at the age of six, she was physically in a position to be married, this is why before marrying the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم., she was already engaged to the son of Jubayr ibn Mut‘im. However, because of Abū Bakr رضي الله عنهم and his family accepting Islām, Jubayr and his wife disliked ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها coming into their house and therefore cancelled the arrangement. Secondly, ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها herself explains that after her marriage (before she actually went to live with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.) her mother would take great care of her health. Thereafter, when she reached the age of nine and had become well built, her mother called her one day and got her ready and sent her to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم., accompanied by some girls of the Ansār.
From this incident, we learn that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. did not himself request or demand that ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها be sent to stay with him. On the contrary, it was her mother who herself thought it appropriate that she begins to stay with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
When the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. married ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها an objection arose amongst the people of Makkah. This shows that it was common in the Arab culture of the time to raise objections were necessary. However, the question posed was not that ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها was too young, nor was it that there was too large an age gap between husband and wife; the question posed was how Muhammad s could marry the daughter of his brother. Abū Bakr رضي الله عنهم was a very close friend of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. and the Arabs considered that to be equivalent to being a brother, and thus they would regard his daughter as being the Prophet’s s niece. Their silence regarding the age of either of the partners shows that it was acceptable in that society.
Similarly, there are many other examples found among the Arabs of the time that show that they were accustomed to girls marrying young and that girls attained puberty and psychological maturity at an early age, and were thus well suited to married life. Imām Daraqutnī rahmatullahi-alayhi narrates that there was a woman who became a grandmother at the age of eighteen: she gave birth to her daughter at the age of nine, and likewise, her daughter became a mother at the same age. ‘Alī رضي الله عنهم and the wife of Abdullāh Ibn Mas‘ūd رضي الله عنهم got their daughters married at an early age. This was not only the custom among young girls but also among boys. ‘Abdullāh, the son of ‘Amr ibn-ul-‘Ās رضي الله عنهم was born when ‘Amr رضي الله عنهم was only 12 years of age.
It is also of interest to note the habits and customs that existed in Europe during and after the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. regarding the age at which marriage was considered appropriate. Without intending to draw any parallels between the motives and driving factors behind the marriage practices of Arabia or Europe, it is simply worth noting that marrying at a young age was not something conﬁned to one country or even one continent. For many noble-born or royal women of Europe, marriage could and often did take place at a young age. There are many instances of very young girls being betrothed and married: Baldwin III, king of Jerusalem (1143-1162), at the age of 28 married Theodora, who was only 13. The marriage of Agnes of France to Alexius, son of Manuel, Emperor of Constantinople took place when she was eight years old and he was thirteen.
Why ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها?
A question may still arise as to the rationale and wisdom behind the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. marrying ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها in those particular circumstances. One obvious answer is related to the propagation and preservation of the Prophet’s s teachings.
If we look to the Islamic sources we ﬁnd that even though a great amount of information regarding the Prophet’s s early years as a prophet is recorded, in comparison to the latter years it is minimal. For the propagation and preservation of the Prophet’s s teachings, Allāh سبحانه وتعالى destined for a number of young companions to carry out the great task. Abū Hurayrah, Anas ibn Mālik, ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar, Jābir ibn ‘Abdullāh and ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr Radiallahu Ta’aala Anhum Ajmaeen were some of the young companions who have narrated the most ahādīth from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. and who have conveyed many of his teachings to the generation that followed them. These young men preserved as much as they could from staying in the company of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم., but matters related to the Prophet’s s private, marital and domestic life could only be known by a wife. Allāh S chose ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها for this important role. Young and highly intelligent, she is amongst those companions who have narrated the most ahādīth from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Her contribution is so signiﬁcant that if her narrations were to be taken out from the books of hadīth there would be great difﬁculty in understanding some matters.
We can conclude from this brief discussion that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. was not a person led by his desires, that ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها was mentally and physically developed enough for marriage, that it was the custom among the Arabs for girls to marry at a young age and ﬁnally that the Prophet’s s marriage to ‘Ā‘ishah رضي الله عنها was motivated by religious duty only.