Islamic FAQ

The Prophet's Marriage to Aishah

Q) According to my knowledge `A’ishah was nine when her marriage to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was consummated. Even though there is dispute about her exact age, let’s assume she was nine. Looking at this marriage with today’s societal perception, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would be stigmatized as child molester, pedophile, you name it! It may have made sense back in the time to do so, even though I wonder why he did marry her regardless of her very young age. No child in that age can comprehend the emotional and mental ramifications of a marriage.

A) Thank you very much for your question.

Society’s norms of sexual relationships and family life are in a state of continual change. Living in the 21st century, we find that these changes that used to be slow and gradual in the past are gaining more and more speed. We have already been into Future Shock and the Third Wave of dramatic and catastrophic changes in the way of thinking, in our attitudes and approaches to life and the world. (Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock [1970] and The Third Wave [1989] are path-breaking books that describe the effect of fast changes that overtake modern societies.)

In most of the so-called civilized countries, family values seem to have lost all worth for most people. In the post–World War II generation of the United States, 80 percent of children grew up in a family with both the parents. Now that number has dipped to 60 percent or more. Before declining slightly in recent years, divorce rates had soared more than 30 percent since 1970. Today nearly half of American marriages are projected to end in divorce or permanent separation. Nearly half of people between ages 25 and 40 at some point have lived with a member of the opposite sex outside of marriage.

Please notice that we take the American statistics for the following reasons: (1) Reliable statistics are available there; (2) Most countries and peoples of the world imitate the Americans and are facing the same results; (3) Most of the critics of Islam come from America and so they are expected to have first-hand experience of the situations described.

Ninety percent of women born between 1933 and 1942 were virgins when they married; now over half of all teenage girls in the United States have sexual intercourse with some man before age 17. More dramatically, the percentage of teen girls who said that having a child out of wedlock is a “worthwhile lifestyle” rose from 33 to 53 in the past two decades. And what about same-sex marriage? It is being accepted even by the conservatives and the clergymen as perfectly normal. Such findings lead many people to conclude that “the institution of marriage is in serious trouble.” (Michael A. Fletcher, “Study: Marriage Rate Is at Its Lowest Ever—Findings Are Proof of Changing Attitudes, Report’s Authors Say,” Washington Post; published Friday, July 2, 1999, in The San Jose Mercury News.)

To speak of the age of consent for women in the United States: A 20-year-old woman who marries in Nebraska breaks the law because there the age of consent is 21, while a woman in Alabama can legally marry at that age, as the age of consent there is only 18. A hundred years ago, under the common law in the United States, the age of consent was just 10 years. Ancient Jewish law permitted girls to be wives at a much younger age. In ancient India girls as young as five and six were married to much older men. Even now the practice continues among some Hindus.

The foregoing shows that the minimum age for girls to be married varies from culture to culture and from age to age. Against this background, there seems to be no point in holding a particular age as the right age of consent in the post-modern world. But people who want to impose one on a different culture or religion would make it a big issue. It is surprising how even the intellectuals show a tendency to judge others by their own culture-specific standards as though these should be accepted universally binding on the whole of mankind!

This is not to argue that today girls should be married off at nine or ten years, for no one can ignore that the times, the social conditions, and the cultural milieu have undergone immense changes. But the very same fact should help us to realize that in another age and in another cultural setting, marrying a girl at the age of nine was quite the norm and there could be nothing surprising about that.

The events of the Prophet’s life (as also is the case of the lives of other prophets of the past) should be interpreted in the light of the socio-historical conditions of the times. What people often miss is the absurdity of trying to assess an event of sixth century Arabia, as though it happened the other day in downtown Manhattan or Birmingham.

It is worth stating here that it was Abu Bakr, the father of `A'ishah, who gave her in marriage to Muhammad (peace be upon him), and that she remained a faithful and loving wife until death parted her from her husband. And of the wives of the Prophet, none was so mature and knowledgeable as `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her).

Stages of the Prophet's Married Life

First, let's remember that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) led a life supported only by the bare minimum of necessities. His wives were not idly wasting away the hours in a luxurious harem but led a life of labor and sacrifice, while he was mostly busy away from home overseeing his numerous duties as a Prophet. So, obviously, lust was not a factor, as he wasn't even at home most of the time. Further, most of his marriages occurred at an age when lust is not a major factor in any man's life:

1. He remained single until age 25.

2. From age 25 to 50 he was faithful to only one wife, Khadijah, who bore all his children except one. She was 15 years older than him, with children from two previous marriages. She was his greatest ally when he received the Call at age 40 until she died when he was 50 years old. He remained in love with her until he died and often talked of his life with her with great nostalgia.

3. Between ages 50 and 52 he remained unmarried and mourning his late beloved wife. He lived alone with his daughters.

4. Between ages 53 and 60 he married all his other wives for many noble reasons detailed below. It's unimaginable for a man to suddenly turn lustful at this age, especially as he was constantly traveling, with bloodthirsty enemies on his heels.

5. At age 60, Allah revealed to him verse preventing him from marrying any more until he died, which was at age 63. The Qur'an says what means:

*{It is not lawful for you (to marry other) women after this, nor to change them for other wives.}* (Al-Ahzab 33:52)

Reasons for the Prophet's Marriages

We can categorize all his marriages under two aspects of his personality:
- Muhammad the man who needed a loving wife, children, and a stable home, so he married Khadijah and remained with only her for 20 years until she died.

- Muhammad the Prophet who married the other wives for reasons pertaining to his duty to deliver the Message to the world. Those particular women were carefully selected, not just haphazardly "acquired" for carnal reasons, as suggested. Here are some of the reasons for which Muhammad married:

1. To pass on Islam to the next generations as a practical legacy
Prophet Muhammad is the only prophet without any privacy, and with a meticulously preserved tradition in speech and actions in all minute details of his public and private life. Preserved in the sharp minds of his wives and his Companions, those narrations comprise the "daily life manual" for Muslims to follow until the end of time. The fact that Islam was spread on the shoulders of women and preserved in their hearts is a great honor to the females of this Ummah. The books of authentic Hadith attribute more than 3,000 narrations and Prophetic traditions to his wives alone.

2. To cement the relations of the budding nation
In a tribal society, it was customary to seal treaties through marrying into tribes. Muhammad's closest Companions later became the four caliphs who led Islam at the critical stage after his death. Two of them were the fathers of his wives `A'ishah (daughter of Abu Bakr) and Hafsa (daughter of `Umar); the other two married his daughters (`Uthman married Ruqayyah and Zainab in succession, and `Ali married Fatimah).

3. To teach Muslims compassion with women
He taught them to be compassionate not just to the young and beautiful maidens, but more so to the weak and destitute widows, divorcees, orphans, and elderly women. Islam teaches that women are to be respected, protected, and cared for by their men folk. They're not to be cast out to face a harsh life alone while able men around them just pity them and do nothing to help, or worse, use their weakness to take them as mistresses!

4. To offer a practical role model to Muslims until the end of time
Although many believing women often approached Muhammad offering him themselves in marriage, he politely turned down their offers. Most of his wives after the death of Khadijah were old, devoid of beauty, and previously married, except `A'ishah, who was the only young virgin. He married from other nations and religions; some were the daughters of his worst enemies, and his marriage to one woman won all her people into Islam. Regardless of his neutral feelings towards many of them, he was a model example of equal justice and kindness to them all, and he would never discriminate among them.

Who Were the Prophet's Wives?

Prophet Muhammad married 12 wives in his life. When he died he had 9 wives. They have a very special status in the hearts of Muslims as the "Mothers of the Believers," as the Qur'an instructs, and they are the source of a great amount of wisdom which they learned while living close to such a great man. Perhaps you'd like to research a bit to find their beautiful stories, so here are their names: Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Sawdah bint Zam'ah, `A'ishah bint Abi Bakr, Hafsah bint `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Zaynab bint Khuzaymah, Umm Salama, Zaynab bint Jahsh, Juwayriah bint Al-Harith, Umm Habibah, Safiyah bint Huyay ibn Akhtab, Maymunah bint Al-Harith, Maria the Copt.

Can We Consider His Marriage to `A'ishah a Case of Child Molestation?

To answer your speculation, let's continue our objective trip into the past. Obviously, when traveling back in time 1400 years to examine a lifestyle we never witnessed, it is unfair to apply our present day standards, so let's listen to the experts. Authentic historical records prove that the social traditions of the time and place—regardless of religion—considered Arab females as women as soon as their menstrual cycles began. The custom was to give daughters in marriage at that age. This was practiced by all dwellers in Arabia before Islam: pagans, disbelievers, Jews, and others. It's a fact that female menstruation in hot climates starts much earlier than in cold climates, so females in Arabia matured as early as 8 or 9; they also aged earlier than other women.

It's a neglected fact that before she was married to Muhammad, `A'ishah had been engaged to an infidel, Jubair ibn Mus'ab ibn Ady. Her fiancé broke the engagement on the basis of religious difference. So her father, Abu Bakr, agreed to give her hand in marriage to the Prophet.

The Great Wisdom in Selecting `A'ishah in Particular as a Young Wife

`A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) came from a house famous for learning and memorizing great quantities of knowledge; her father was a live encyclopedia of Arab tribal pedigrees and poetry. She inherited his ability, and in her young, intelligent, receptive mind, she preserved a precious portion of Islam she learned during seven years of marriage, for 47 years after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and she taught thousands of men worldwide their religion as she had learned it firsthand from the Prophet. To our present day, she is considered among the most prominent Islamic scholars, and she holds extremely high esteem in the hearts of all Muslims as such and as "the beloved of the Prophet," who often mentioned her as the human he loved the most on the face of this earth. With her, he built a model Muslim home for Muslims to strive to imitate forever.