Muhammad Asad on Aisha’s Marriage with the Prophet


Muhammad Asad

Following is the reproduction of Muhammad Asad’s (1900-1992), treatment of the subject. Though short in length it is very comprehensive and touches upon all the aspects to the issue.

Shortly after Khadijah’s death, about two and a half years before the Hijrah, the Prophet married ‘A’ishah, who was at the time between six and seven years old. On that occasion only the wedding ceremony was performed. The marriage was consummated in Madinah, about three years later; ‘A’ishah was at that time between nine and ten years old. There is some confusion concerning these dates, but the cumulative evidence of Traditions in all of as-Sihah as-Sittah, supported by a great number of reports in Ibn Sa’d (VIII, 39f), Tabari (II, 257) and Ibn Hisham (II, 417), should be sufficient to remove all doubts regarding the fact that ‘A’ishah was formally married at the age of six to seven, and that she came into the Prophet’s house when she was a little over nine years old. The most confusing factor in the calculation of these dates is the custom of the Arabs to count only full years without mentioning the months. Thus, a period often appears to have been shorter or longer than it was in reality. An example of this sort of calculation is apparent from the Tradition in which ‘A’ishah says that the Prophet married her when she was six, that the marriage was consummated when she was nine, and that she lived with him for nine years (cf. Bkh lv/39-40). Now, it is established that their marriage was consummated in the month of Shawwal, 1 A.H. (cf. Ibn Sa’d, loc. cit.). The Prophet died in Rabi’I, 11 A.H. Thus, ‘A’ishah lived with him in reality for nine years and five months – and not merely nine years, as she says.

It appears that the initiative in the matter of his marriage with ‘A’ishah did not proceed from the Prophet himself. After Khadijah’s death he was so depressed and dispirited that his Companions were afraid for his life (cf. Ibn Sa’d VIII, 41). Thereupon a Muslim woman, Khawlah bint Hakim, requested him to re-marry and suggested two women – the middle-aged Sawdah bint Zam’ah, widow of a Companion, and the young daughter of Abu Bakr. ‘A’ishah was still very young, she became only nominally the Prophet’s wife. As regards Sawdah, her marriage with the Prophet was contracted at about the same time, and was consummated in Mecca shortly before the Prophet’s emigration to Madinah (Ibn Sa’d VIII, 36; cf. also Fath al-Bari VII, 79). Thus, after Khadijah’s death the Prophet remained virtually without wife for about two years … The above-mentioned story of Khawlah bint Hakim shows that the Prophet himself was not particularly eager to marry ‘A’ishah or, for that matter, anybody else; this disposes of the ridiculous allegation made by some European orientalists, that he “succumbed to ‘A’ishah’s charms”. That this was not the case is proved not only by the circumstances narrated above, but also by a Tradition quoted by Ibn Sa’d (VIII, 43), which tells us that some three years later, when they were all established at Madinah, Abu Bakr had to remind the Prophet that he take his bride home – for till then ‘A’ishah had remained in her father’s house. Incidentally, this reminder would imply by then ‘A’ishah had reached puberty, and that Abu Bakr had become aware of it.

Modern Muslims, influenced by Western conceptions of marriage and sex-relations in general, are sometimes perplexed by the thought that the Prophet took for his wife a girl of about nine or ten years. For anyone, however, who knows something about the rapid physical development of Arabian women there is hardly anything astonishing in such marriages. During my long sojourn in Arabia I have come across one or two cases where a girl of twelve became mother; and I was told, on very good authority, that sometimes even younger mothers have given birth to living children. As regards ‘A’ishah, her mental precocity is fairly obvious from many Traditions; and it is very probable that her physical development went hand in hand with the mental. In any case, during the years of her married life she not only gave happiness to her husband, but also herself found, besides the honour of being allied to the Apostle of God, all the happiness and satisfaction which a woman could expect from marriage: and this, I believe, provides the strongest human justification of this alliance, and an answer to those who think that they must ignore historical evidence if it happens to clash with their own arbitrary, entirely subjective, notions as to what should or should not have occurred.

Sahih al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam, Translated & Explained by Muhammad Asad, (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1981) 198-199

About the author

Waqar Akbar Cheema

Add comment