The paedophile charge
Debunking ancient myths about Prophet Muhammad and his child bride
BY TO SHANAVAS
A Christian friend asked me once, "Will you marry your
seven-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old man?" I kept my silence. He
continued, "If you would not, how can you approve the marriage of an
innocent seven-year-old, Ayesha, with your prophet?" I told him, "I don’t
have an answer to your question at this time." My friend smiled and left
me with a thorn in the heart of my faith. Most Muslims answer that such
marriages were accepted in those days. Otherwise people would have
objected to the prophet’s marriage to Ayesha.
However, such an explanation is credible only to those who
are naive enough to believe it. Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with
The prophet was an exemplary man. All his actions were
most virtuous so that we Muslims can emulate them. However, most people at
our Islamic Center of Toledo, including me, would not think of betrothing
our seven-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old man. If a parent agrees to
such a wedding, most people, if not all, would look down on the father and
the old husband.
In 1923, registrars of marriage in Egypt were instructed
not to register and issue official certificates of marriage for brides
under 16 and grooms under 18 years of age. Eight years later, the Law of
the Organisation and Procedure of Shariah courts of 1931 consolidated the
above provision by not hearing marriage disputes involving brides under 16
and grooms less than 18 years old (Women in Muslim Family Law, John
Esposito, 1982). This shows that even in the Muslim majority country of
Egypt child marriages are unacceptable.
So I believed, without any solid evidence other than my
reverence to my prophet, that the stories of the marriage of
seven-year-old Ayesha to the 50-year-old prophet were only myths. My long
pursuit in search of the truth on this matter proved my intuition correct.
My prophet was a gentleman. And he did not marry an innocent seven or
nine-year-old girl. Ayesha’s age has been erroneously reported in Hadith
literature. Furthermore, I think that the narratives reporting this event
are highly unreliable. Some of the Hadith (traditions of the prophet)
regarding Ayesha’s age at the time of her wedding with the prophet are
problematic. I present the following evidences against acceptance of the
fictitious story by Hisham ibn ‘Urwah (prominent Hadith narrator) and to
clear my prophet’s name as an irresponsible old man preying on an innocent
Evidence 1: Reliability of source
Most of the narratives printed in the books of Hadith are
reported only by Hisham ibn ‘Urwah, who was reporting on the authority of
his father. First of all, more people than just one, two or three people
should logically have reported here. It is strange that no one from
Medina, where Hisham ibn ‘Urwah lived the first 71 years of his life,
narrated the event despite the fact that his Medinan pupils included the
well-respected Malik ibn Anas. The origins of the report of the narratives
of this event are people from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have moved
after living in Medina for most of his life.
Tehzibu’l-Tehzib, one of the most well known books on
the life and reliability of narrators of the Hadith, reports that
according to Yaqub ibn Shaibah: "He (Hisham) is highly reliable, his
narratives are acceptable except what he narrated after moving to Iraq" (Tehzibu’l-tehzi’b,
Ibn Hajar Al-Asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, 15th century, Vol.
11, p. 50).
It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected to those
narratives of Hisham which were reported through people in Iraq: "I have
been told that Malik objected (to) those narratives of Hisham which were
reported through people of Iraq" (Tehzi’b u’l-tehzi’b, Ibn Hajar
Al-`asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, Vol.11, p. 50).
Mizanu’l-ai‘tidal, another book containing life
sketches of the Hadith’s narrators, reports: "When he was old, Hisham’s
memory suffered quite badly" (Mizanu’l-ai‘tidal, Al-Zahbi, Al-Maktabatu’l-athriyyah,
Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Vol. 4, p. 301).
Conclusion: Based on these references, Hisham’s memory
was failing and his narratives while in Iraq were unreliable. So his
narrative of Ayesha’s marriage and age are unreliable.
Chronology: It is vital also to keep in mind some of
the pertinent dates in the history of Islam:
Ø pre-610 CE: Jahiliya (pre-Islamic age) before
Ø 610 CE: First revelation.
Ø 610 CE: Abu Bakr accepts Islam.
Ø 613 CE: Prophet Muhammad begins preaching publicly.
Ø 615 CE: Emigration to Abyssinia.
Ø 616 CE: Umar bin al Khattab accepts Islam.
Ø 620 CE: Generally accepted betrothal of Ayesha to the
Ø 622 CE: Hijrah (emigration to Yathrib, later renamed
Ø 623/624 CE: Generally accepted year of Ayesha’s coming
to live with the prophet.
Evidence 2: The betrothal
According to Tabari (also according to Hisham ibn ‘Urwah,
Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Sad), Ayesha was betrothed at seven years of age and
began to cohabit with the prophet at the age of nine years.
However, in another work, Al-Tabari says: "All four of his
(Abu Bakr’s) children were born of his two wives during the pre-Islamic
period" (Tarikhu’l-umam wa’l-mamlu’k, Al-Tabari (d. 922), Vol. 4,
p. 50, Arabic, Dara’l-fikr, Beirut, 1979).
If Ayesha was betrothed in 620 CE (at the age of seven)
and started to live with the prophet in 624 CE (at the age of nine), that
would indicate that she was born in 613 CE and was nine when she began
living with the prophet. Therefore, based on one account of Al-Tabari, the
numbers show that Ayesha must have been born in 613 CE, three years after
the beginning of the revelation (610 CE). Tabari also states that Ayesha
was born in the pre-Islamic era (in Jahiliya). If she was born before 610
CE, she would have been at least 14 years old when she began living with
the prophet. Essentially, Tabari contradicts himself.
Conclusion: Al-Tabari is unreliable in the matter of
determining Ayesha’s age.
Evidence 3: Ayesha’s age in relation to Fatima’s age
According to Ibn Hajar, "Fatima was born at the time the
Ka`bah was rebuilt, when the prophet was 35 years old... she was five
years older than Ayesha" (Al-isabah fi tamyizi’l-sahabah, Ibn Hajar
Al-Asqalani, Vol. 4, p. 377, Maktabatu’l-Riyadh al-haditha, al-Riyadh,
If Ibn Hajar’s statement is factual, Ayesha was born when
the prophet was 40 years old. If Ayesha was married to the prophet when he
was 52 years old, Ayesha’s age at marriage would be 12 years.
Conclusion: Ibn Hajar, Tabari, Ibn Hisham and Ibn
Hanbal contradict each other. So the marriage of Ayesha at seven years of
age is a myth.
Evidence 4: Ayesha’s age in relation to Asma’s age
According to Abda’l-Rahman ibn Abi Zanna’d: "Asma was 10
years older than Ayesha" (Siyar A`la’ma’l-nubala’, Al-Zahabi, Vol.
2, p. 289, Arabic, Mu’assasatu’l-risalah, Beirut, 1992).
According to Ibn Kathir: "She (Asma) was elder to her
sister (Ayesha) by 10 years" (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir,
Vol. 8, p. 371, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933).
According to Ibn Kathir: "She (Asma) saw the killing of
her son during that year (73 AH), as we have already mentioned, and five
days later she herself died. According to other narratives, she died not
after five days but 10 or 20, or a few days over 20, or 100 days later.
The most well known narrative is that of 100 days later. At the time of
her death, she was 100 years old" (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn
Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 372, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933).
According to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani: "She (Asma) lived a
hundred years and died in 73 or 74 AH" (Taqribu’l-tehzib, Ibn Hajar
Al-Asqalani, p. 654, Arabic, Bab fi’l-nisa’, al-harfu’l-alif, Lucknow).
According to almost all the historians, Asma, Ayesha’s
older sister, was 10 years older than Ayesha. If Asma was 100 years old in
73 AH, she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of the Hijrah.
If Asma was 27 or 28 years old at the time of Hijrah,
Ayesha should have been 17 or 18 years old. Thus Ayesha, being 17 or 18
years of age at the time of Hijrah, started to cohabit with the prophet at
somewhere between 19 and 20 years of age.
Based on the narratives of Hajar, Ibn Kathir, and
Abda’l-Rahman ibn Abi Zanna’d, Ayesha’s age at the time she began living
with the prophet would be 19 or 20. In evidence 3, Ibn Hajar suggests that
Ayesha was 12 years old and in evidence 4 he contradicts himself with a 17
or 18-year-old Ayesha. What is her correct age, 12 or 18?
Conclusion: Ibn Hajar is an unreliable source for
Evidence 5: The battles of Badr and Uhud
A narrative regarding Ayesha’s participation in Badr is
given in the Hadith of Muslim (Kitabu’l-jihad wa’l-siyar, Bab
karahiyati’l-isti‘anah fi’l-ghazwi bikafir). Ayesha, while narrating
the journey to Badr and one of the important events that took place on
that journey, says: "when we reached Shajarah". Obviously, Ayesha was with
the group travelling towards Badr. A narrative regarding Ayesha’s
participation in the Battle of Uhud is given in Bukhari (Kitabu’l-jihad
wa’l-siyar, Bab Ghazwi’l-nisa’ wa qitalihinna ma‘a’lrijal): "Anas
reports that on the day of Uhud, people could not stand their ground
around the prophet. (On that day,) I saw Ayesha and Umm-i-Sulaim, they had
pulled their dresses up from around their feet (to avoid any hindrance in
movement)." Again, this indicates that Ayesha was present in the battles
of Uhud and Badr.
It is narrated in Bukhari (Kitabu’l-maghazi, Bab
Ghazwati’l-khandaq wa hiya’l-ahza’b): "Ibn `Umar states that the
prophet did not permit me to participate in Uhud, as at that time I was 14
years old. But on the day of Khandaq, when I was 15 years old, the prophet
permitted my participation."
Based on the above narratives, (a) children below 15 years
of age were sent back and were not allowed to participate in the Battle of
Uhud, and (b) Ayesha participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud.
Conclusion: Ayesha’s participation in the battles of
Badr and Uhud clearly indicates that she was not nine years old but at
least 15 years old. After all, women used to accompany men to the
battlefields to help them, not to be a burden on them. This account is
another contradiction regarding Ayesha’s age.
Surah al-Qamar (The moon)
According to generally accepted tradition, Ayesha was born
about eight years before Hijrah. But according to another narrative in
Bukhari, Ayesha is reported to have said: "I was a young girl (jariyah
in Arabic)" when surah Al-Qamar was revealed (Sahih Bukhari,
Kitabu’l-tafsir, Bab Qaulihi Bal al-sa`atu Maw`iduhum wa’l-sa`atu
adha’ wa amarr).
Chapter 54 of the Koran was revealed eight years before
Hijrah (The Bounteous Koran, MM Khatib, 1985), indicating that it
was revealed in 614 CE. If Ayesha started living with the prophet at the
age of nine in 623 CE or 624 CE, she was a newborn infant (sibyah
in Arabic) at the time that surah al-Qamar (The Moon) was revealed.
According to the above tradition, Ayesha was actually a young girl, not an
infant, in the year of revelation of al-Qamar. Jariyah means young
playful girl (Lane’s Arabic English Lexicon). So Ayesha, being a
jariyah not a sibyah (infant), must have been somewhere between
six and 13 years old at the time al-Qamar was revealed and therefore must
have been between 14 and 21 years at the time she married the prophet.
Conclusion: This tradition also contradicts the story
of Ayesha’s marriage at the age of nine.
Evidence 7: Arabic terminology
According to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal,
after the death of the prophet’s first wife Khadijah, when Khaulah came to
the prophet advising him to marry again, the prophet asked her about the
choices she had in mind. Khaulah said: "You can marry a virgin (bikr)
or a woman who has already been married (thayyib)." When the
prophet asked about the identity of the bikr (virgin), Khaulah
mentioned Ayesha’s name.
All those who know the Arabic language are aware that the
word bikr in the Arabic language is not used for an immature
nine-year-old girl. The correct word for a young playful girl, as stated
earlier, is jariyah. Bikr, on the other hand, is used for an
unmarried lady without conjugal experience prior to marriage, as we
understand the word "virgin" in English. Therefore obviously a
nine-year-old girl is not a "lady" (bikr) (Musnad Ahmad ibn
Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. 210, Arabic, Dar Ihya al-turath al-`arabi, Beirut).
Conclusion: The literal meaning of the word, bikr
(virgin), in the above Hadith is "adult woman with no sexual experience
prior to marriage". Therefore Ayesha was an adult woman at the time of her
Evidence 8: The Koranic text
All Muslims agree that the Koran is the book of guidance.
So we need to seek guidance from the Koran to clear the smoke and
confusion created by the eminent men of the classical period of Islam in
the matter of Ayesha’s age at the time of her marriage. Does the Koran
allow or disallow marriage of an immature child of seven years of age?
There are no verses that explicitly allow such a marriage.
There is a verse, however, that guides Muslims in their duty to raise an
orphaned child. The Koran’s guidance on the topic of raising orphans is
also valid in the case of our own children. The verse states: "And make
not over your property (property of the orphan), which Allah had made a
(means of) support for you, to the weak of understanding, and maintain
them out of it, clothe them and give them good education. And test them
until they reach the age of marriage. Then if you find in them maturity of
intellect, make over to them their property." (Koran, 4:5-6).
In the matter of children who have lost a parent, a Muslim
is ordered to (a) feed them (b) clothe them (c) educate them, and (d) test
them for maturity "until the age of marriage" before entrusting them with
management of finances.
Here the Koranic verse demands meticulous proof of their
intellectual and physical maturity by objective test results before the
age of marriage in order to entrust their property to them.
In light of the above verses, no responsible Muslim would
hand over financial management to a seven or nine-year-old immature girl.
If we cannot trust a seven-year-old to manage financial matters, she
cannot be intellectually or physically fit for marriage. Ibn Hanbal (Musnad
Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. 33 and 99) claims that nine-year-old
Ayesha was rather more interested in playing with toy horses than taking
up the responsible task of a wife. It is difficult to believe therefore
that Abu Bakr, a great believer among Muslims, would betroth his immature
seven-year-old daughter to the 50-year-old prophet. Equally difficult to
imagine is that the prophet would marry an immature seven-year-old girl.
Another important duty demanded from the guardian of a
child is to educate them. Let us ask the question, "How many of us believe
that we can educate our children satisfactorily before they reach the age
of seven or nine years?" The answer is none. Logically, it is an
impossible task to educate a child satisfactorily before the child attains
the age of seven. Then how can we believe that Ayesha was educated
satisfactorily at the claimed age of seven at the time of her marriage?
Abu Bakr was a more judicious man than all of us. So he
definitely would have judged that Ayesha was a child at heart and was not
satisfactorily educated as demanded by the Koran. He would not have
married her to anyone. If a proposal to marry the immature and yet to be
educated seven-year-old Ayesha came to the prophet he would have rejected
it outright because neither the prophet nor Abu Bakr would violate any
clause in the Koran.
Conclusion: The marriage of Ayesha at the age of seven
years would violate the maturity clause or requirement of the Koran.
Therefore the story of the marriage of the seven-year-old immature Ayesha
is a myth.
Evidence 9: Consent in marriage
A woman must be consulted and must agree in order to make
a marriage valid (Mishakat al Masabiah, translation by James
Robson, Vol. I, p. 665). Islamically, credible permission from women is a
prerequisite for a marriage to be valid.
The permission given by an immature seven-year-old girl
cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be valid authorisation for
It is inconceivable that Abu Bakr, an intelligent man,
would take seriously the permission of a seven-year-old girl to marry a
Similarly, the prophet would not have accepted the
permission given by a girl who, according to the Hadith of Muslim, took
her toys with her when she went to live with the prophet.
Conclusion: The prophet did not marry a seven-year-old
Ayesha because it would have violated the requirement of valid permission
clause of the Islamic marriage decree. Therefore the prophet married an
intellectually and physically mature lady, Ayesha.
It was neither an Arab tradition to give away girls in
marriage at an age as young as seven or nine years nor did the prophet
marry Ayesha at such a young age. The people of Arabia did not object to
this marriage because it never happened in the manner that has been
Obviously, the narrative of the marriage of nine-year-old
Ayesha by Hisham ibn ‘Urwah cannot hold true when it has been contradicted
by many other reported narratives. Moreover, there is absolutely no reason
to accept the narrative of Hisham ibn ‘Urwah as true when other scholars,
including Malik ibn Anas, view his narrative while in Iraq as unreliable.
The quotations from Tabari, Bukhari and Muslim show that they contradict
each other regarding Ayesha’s age. Furthermore, many of these scholars
contradict themselves in their own records. Thus the narrative of Ayesha’s
age at the time of the marriage is not reliable due to the clear
contradictions seen in the works of classical scholars of Islam.
Therefore there is absolutely no reason to believe that
the information on Ayesha’s age is true when there are adequate grounds to
reject it as myth. Moreover, the Koran rejects the marriage of immature
girls and boys as well as entrusting them with responsibilities. n
(TO Shanavas is a physician based in Michigan, USA. This
article first appeared in The Minaret
in March 1999.)