Misconception: Prophet Muhammad married a 9 year old girl
Background: Some think, including many Muslims, that the prophet Muhammad (the messenger for The Quran) was engaged to a girl by the name of Aisha (sometimes spelt: Ayesha) when she was 6, and married her when she was 9 years old and he was about 50.
The marriage story in question is based on the reports by various companions of the prophet Muhammad, as recorded by others from later generations. In these reported sayings, there are discrepancies/contradictions regarding what her age was at the time of marriage, ranging from 9 to 20 years old.
There has been much discussion of this topic on the internet, in articles, television programmes and books etc. For those wishing to do further research, opposing articles will be referenced: two highlighting the discrepancies in the traditional sources for this story, and another which was written as a response to this. This is to show both sides, for and against, of the reported story. Please note, they require some background knowledge in order to understand them fully. If you prefer, you can skip these articles for discussion of what The Quran says about this subject below.
www.quranicteachings.co.uk/ayeshas-age.htm by Abdul Fauq
By Dr. T.O. Shanavas: Vice President of ‘Islamic Research Foundation International’
qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=7&ID=4604&CATE=1 (this is a response to the 2nd article above)
By Shaykh Gibril F Haddad: member of Sunni Path, The Online Islamic Academy
It should be clearly noted that even though these articles disagree on some points, they clearly acknowledge contradictions exist with regard to the age at the time of marriage. Discrepancies are a common occurrence in oral reports from different sources, especially when recorded generations after an event. Furthermore, based on the evidence for the time, what likely compounded the confusion is that celebrating birthdays was not a common practice, thus exact ages were unlikely to be known.
It should be noted that this story is nowhere to be found in The Quran.
What does The Quran say on the age of marriage?
The Quran does not state a specific legal age of marriage, however it does give a guideline and mentions situations and conditions that should be considered before marriage:
- Determining mutual attraction/compatibility [2:221, 2:235, 30:21, 33:52]
- Ascertaining whether the potential partner is of similar beliefs/faith [2:221, 60:10]
- Discussion of and agreeing to the level of dower and other terms (if any) [4:4, 4:24]
- Understanding and mutual acceptance of marriage as a solemn/strong oath/contract [4:21, 2:232, 2:237, 24:33]
- If male, capable of providing for the family/household [2:228, 2:233, 4:34, 65:6]
- To have physically matured / post-puberty [4:6, 24:31, 24:58-59]
If the marriage is unsuccessful, one should also be capable of undertaking divorce proceedings, e.g. separation period, arbitration, discussion of settlement etc [2:226-232, 2:241, 4:35, 4:128-130, 33:49, 65:1-6].
We will discuss in more detail the verse which specifically mentions the issue of age. The context is the rights of orphans and their wealth:
And do not give the imprudent/weak-minded your money which God has made for you a means of support, and spend on them from it and clothe them, and speak to them in goodness. [4:5]
And test the orphans until they have reached marriageable age*, then if you determine in them sound judgment**, then give them their wealth, and do not deliberately consume it wastefully or quickly before they grow up. And whoever is rich, then let him abstain (from the wealth), and if he is poor then let him utilise by what is recognised as good/appropriate. So when you paid to them their wealth, so call a witness on them, and be aware God is accounting. [4:6]
*The Arabic word is “nikah” (marriage) and has an implied meaning of sex, hence some translators interpret it as ‘reached sexual maturity’ in this verse.
**Arabic word is “rushd” and its meanings include: be well guided or directed, true direction, correct rule of action, straight forwardness, maturity of a child/intellect, capacity to manage one’s affairs.
Thus, the two conditions for giving the wealth to the orphans are:
1- The reaching of marriageable age / sexual maturity.
2- The proving of sound judgement / capability in managing one’s
Interestingly, this implies that one could reach marriageable age / sexual maturity but still not have sound judgement, which is universally true and gives a possible reason why a specific age for marriage is not stated in The Quran. Based on this and other verses regarding marriage, it can be deduced that these two conditions can also be used as a guideline for when to consider marriage. The reason being, if we suppose after having reached marriageable age / sexual maturity an orphan is allowed to get married but their wealth is not given to them, this means they have been determined not to have sound judgement, yet they are being allowed to get married, which is logically inconsistent with the guidance in The Quran.
Please note, in 4:6 it also warns those entrusted with the wealth not to consume or waste it before they grow up, further reinforcing the idea that the period being referred to is when grown up. To conclusively prove this however, we can also look at other verses which discuss giving orphans the wealth owed to them [6:152, 17:34]. The Arabic word used in these verses is when they are “shudud”, which means physical maturity / the period from adolescence to adulthood. Since the orphans can only receive their wealth once “shudud”, and from 4:6 we know they become eligible for it after having reached marriageable age, this can only mean marriageable age begins from adolescence onwards. There is no other possibility.
This conclusion can also be verified in the story of Jospeh, who when first found in the well was a boy (Arabic: ghulam, see 12:19), then taken into care, then when he reached “shudud” (i.e. became physically mature) the female of the household tried to seduce him [12:22-23].
In addition, the usage of this word “shudud” in The Quran suggests reasonable physical strength, i.e. at least several years into adolescence [18:82, 28:14] which also agrees with most Classical Arabic dictionaries which average about from the age of 17 for the word “shudud”, which also happens to coincide with when a significant number of orphans would meet the two conditions for receiving their wealth. Many countries begin to grant extra rights at the age of 16, and many give full rights at 18, so this seems fairly close to worldwide practice.
To conclude, it is proven beyond doubt by The Quran that one must be physically mature and be of sound judgement in order to get married.
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