Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the Age of Aisha Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

In this rebuttal we are going to be addressing another shameful attempt to justify Muhammad’s marriage to a 9-year-old minor. The following comments and interaction are taken from the website of Muslim apologist and Georgetown professor Jonathan A. C. Brown:

bigdumbbear 7 points 6 months ago 

Dr. Brown if you do not mind, one more question!

The age of Aisha at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad.

Keep in mind that I (and many others on this board) became your biggest fan after your video response to this question. My question is as follows: The critics admit that the age of Aisha between 9 and 12 when she married the Prophet was not out of the norm at that time. However, they argue, that Prophet Muhammad is the role model of humanity and hence, him marrying Aisha at that age means that either Prophet Muhammad was not a role model in every way, but a product of his time and place and also that since marrying at 9 in this day and age is a crime in pretty much every country out there that would then mean that Prophet Muhammad's actions do not have meaning today. Sorry if this came out as a stream of consciousness. Would you address this issue with regards to Lady Aisha's age? Thank you kindly sir.

[–]DrJonathanBrown [S] 29 points 6 months ago 

Salam, the Prophet's marrying Aisha at the age of nine was not unusual at the time. We know this because there is no record of him being criticized for this, while the Quran does record criticisms of his marriage to Zainab, which was controversial and unusual at the time. The Prophet's actions are not all normative for us; we do not have to do everything he did, and in many cases, it would not be right to act as he did in our particular circumstances. We know that because according to a Hadith in the Sunan of Al-Nasai, the Prophet did not allow his daughter Fatima to marry Abu Bakr because of the age difference between the two. Finally, there are some elements of the Prophet's Sunnah that are actually prohibited for us, like continuous fasting and marrying more than four women. To say that "the Prophet being our role model" means that we have to do everything he did is to misunderstand the nature of the Sunnah's normative quality.

[–]bizzish 2 points 6 months ago 

Fatima (ra) married Abu Bakr?

Don't you mean Ali?

[–]tinkthank 3 points 6 months ago 

Re-read his comment.

the Prophet did not allow his daughter Fatima to marry Abu Bakr because of the age difference between the two.

Ali (ra) was married to Fatima

[–]Dirtydunn 1 point 6 months ago 

You misread. He saying that rasulallah didn't marry Fatima to abu bakr RA for the reason of age differences. Abu bakr is about two years younger than rasulallah and about 27 years older than Fatima.

You could come out with the understanding that when looking for a potential spouse for your child that you look at their fitrah (nature). Some children may have no problems with a large age gap while others may have problems. (Dr. Jonathan Brown, /r/Islam!; bold emphasis ours)

We’ll have more to say about Muhammad prohibiting Abu Bakr from marrying Fatima due to the age difference a little later.

Brown makes the same point in his book on Muhammad:

“There is nothing more controversial to the modern reader than Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, who is believed to have been between nine and ten years old when the marriage was consummated. (The MOST RELIABLE historical sources on this marriage are the Sahih Hadith collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim (see Chapter 3)). Interestingly, no critic of Muhammad, from his fiercest opponents in the Quraysh to medieval Christian clerics, objected to his marriage to so young a wife until the modern period. This is noteworthy, since there has certainly never been a shortage of detractors seeking chinks in the armour of Muhammad’s character to exploit. 

“It was his marriage to Zaynab, his adopted son’s former wife, which attracted criticism even during Muhammad’s own lifetime. The fact that Zayd is one of only two contemporaries of Muhammad ever mentioned in the Quran (the other is Abu Lahab), as well as the book’s sizeable passage on the Zaynab episode, testifies to the controversy surrounding Muhammad’s marriage to her. One of the earliest Christian polemicists against Islam, John of Damascus (d. 749), accused Muhammad of ‘tailoring’ the Quranic laws on marriage and adoption to legitimize his ‘desire’ for Zaynab. This accusation has been repeated endlessly throughout Christian writings on Islam. The 13th-century English historian Matthew Paris, for example, wrote in his great chronicle that Muhammad had pronounced polygamy permissible to cover up an affair with a servant’s (presumably Zayd’s) wife.” (Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction [Oxford University Press Inc., New York 2011], pp. 76-77; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Suffice it to say Brown’s claims are brimming with errors, as we are about to demonstrate.

To begin with, Brown is doing nothing more than to argue from silence, which is a gross logical fallacy. Just because we have no extant written record of people raising an objection to a 54-year-old Muhammad marrying a 9-year-old minor doesn’t mean that no one ever objected. The only thing this proves is that no one preserved a written record of any complaint. As such, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

This brings us to the next point. As Brown acknowledges, Muhammad objected to giving his young daughter in marriage to either Abu Bakr or Umar:

7) Chapter: A Woman Marrying Someone WHO IS SIMILAR IN AGE TO HER

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Buraidah: It was narrated from 'Abdullah bin Buraidah that his father said: "Abu Bakr and 'Umar proposed marriage to Fatimah but the Messenger of Allah said: 'SHE IS YOUNG.' Then 'Ali proposed marriage to her AND HE MARRIED HER TO HIM."

Grade: Sahih (Darussalam)           

Reference: Sunan an-Nasa'i 3221

In-book reference: Book 26, Hadith 26

English translation: Vol. 4, Book 26, Hadith 3223 (; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Some say that Fatima was born in the year 605 AD, while others say it was 615 AD. According to the Islamic sources, Fatima married Ali in the second year of the Hirah, which would be approximately 624 AD. This places her age at the time of her marriage at either 9 or 19. Keep in mind that Abu Bakr is believed to have been born around the year 573 AD, while Umar’s birth is placed at approximately 583 AD. This means that Abu Bakr was 51 years old, while Umar was 41 years old, when they had asked for Fatima’s hand in marriage. 

Either age raises problems for Muhammad’s marriage with Aisha. If Fatima was too young at 9 to marry either Abu Bakr or Umar then what does this say about Aisha's marriage seeing that she was the exact same age when a 54 year old Muhammad took her to bed? In fact, the hadiths say that Aisha was still playing with her dolls and on swings when Muhammad took her home to have sex with her:

'A'isha reported: Allah's Messenger married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house at the age of nine. She further said: We went to Medina and I had an attack of fever for a month, and my hair had come down to the earlobes. Umm Ruman (my mother) came to me and I was at that time on a swing along with my playmates. She called me loudly and I went to her and I did not know what she had wanted of me. She took hold of my hand and took me to the door, and I was saying: Ha, ha (as if I was gasping), until the agitation of my heart was over. She took me to a house, where had gathered the women of the Ansar. They all blessed me and wished me good luck and said: May you have share in good. She (my mother) entrusted me to them. They washed my head and embellished me and nothing frightened me. Allah's Messenger came there in the morning, and I was entrusted to him. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3309)

'A'isha reported that Allah's Apostle married her when she was seven years old, and she was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3311)

Aisha said: The Apostle of Allah married me when I was seven years old. The narrator Sulaiman said: Or six years. He had intercourse with me when I was nine years old. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2116)

Yunus b. Bukayr stated, from Hisham b. ‘Urwa, from his father who said, "The Messenger of God married ‘A’isha three years after (the death of) Khadija. At that time (of the contract) ‘A’isha had been a girl of six. When he married her she was nine. The Messenger of God died when ‘A’isha was a girl of eighteen.”

This tradition is considered gharib (unique in this line).

Al-Bukhari had related, from ‘Ubayd b. Isma‘il, from Abu Usama, from Hisham b. ‘Urwa, from his father, who said, "Khadija died three years before the emigration of the Prophet. He allowed a couple of years or so to pass after that, and then he contracted marriage with ‘A’isha when she was six, thereafter consummating marriage with her when she was nine years old."

What ‘Urwah stated here is mursal, incomplete, as we mentioned above, but in its content it must be judged as muttasil, uninterrupted.

His statement, "He contracted marriage with ‘A’isha when she was six, thereafter consummating marriage with her when she was nine" IS NOT DISPUTED BY ANYONE, and is well established in the sahih collections of traditions and elsewhere. (Ibn Kathir, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya), translated by professor Trevor Le Gassick, reviewed by Dr. Muneer Fareed [Garnet Publishing Limited, 8 Southern Court, south Street Reading RG1 4QS, UK; The Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, first paperback edition, 2000], Volume II, pp. 93-94; bold and capital emphasis ours)

If instead we go with the age of 19 then what does this say of a 9 year old minor marrying a man that was old enough to be her great great grandfather? After all, if a 19-year-old girl was too young to marry a 51 or a 41 year old man, then how much more a 9-year-old girl? How could it be right for a 54-year-old man to bed someone so young in age, especially when that man is supposed to be a prophet whom God sent to be an example for all humanity? More on this last point later. 

And if Fatima was too young for marriage then why did her father marry her off to his paternal first cousin Ali? After all, if she were too young for either Abu Bakr or Umar then this would also make her too young for Ali as well.

Or should we take this as another instance of Muhammad telling a boldfaced lie, especially to his two best friends, since it wasn’t that he believed she was too young, but that he didn’t want to give her in marriage to them since he intended to give her away to his first cousin? Muhammad, therefore, had to come up with some excuse for his unwillingness to wed his daughter to his two fathers-in-law.

Now a Muslim may argue (as Brown himself does above) that the point of the hadith isn’t that Fatima was too young to get married. Rather, what Muhammad meant was that she was too young to marry someone as old as Abu Bakr or Umar. Yet even this explanation raises problems. After all, if a 51-year-old Abu Bakr and a 41-year-old Umar were too old to marry someone as young as Fatima then again what does this say about a 54-year-old Muhammad marrying a 9 year old minor still playing with her dolls?

Besides, what does this say about Muhammad’s consistency or lack thereof? Doesn’t this again perfectly illustrate that Muhammad failed to practice what he preached, and was therefore a hypocrite, since he imposed rules and restrictions upon others that he himself did not follow?

This isn’t the only case where a person was reprimanded for desiring to marry a young premature girl. When the Caliph Umar asked to marry Ali’s daughter, he was expressly told that she wasn’t mature enough for marriage:

The marriage of `Umar with Umm Kulthum al-Hashimiyya (6 - 49) the daughter of `Ali and Fatima took place on the year 17 of the Hijra. `Ali gave her away to `Umar upon his request although he was afraid at first that `Umar might not accept her due to her youth and because he wished her to marry one of her cousins among the sons of Ja`far ibn Abi Talib. But `Umar said, “Marry her to me for I swear I have toward her more dedication to excellent companionship than any man on the face of the earth.”…

Ibn Kathir's Tarikh states the year 16 for the marriage of `Umar with Umm Kulthum; so she was between 10 and 12 since her date of birth is mentioned by al-Dhahabi in Siyar A`lam al-Nubala' as around the 6th year after the Hijra. Allah knows best from where the claim that she "was 5 or 4" comes from…

The Sunnis do not claim that she was 4 or 5 in the year 17 but 11 or 12

What was the age for Omar at the time of the marriage?

Approximately forty-seven. Umm Kulthum was between 10 and 12.

When Omar died what was the age of Umm Kulthum?

Between 17 and 19. `Umar was fifty-four or five. (The Marriage of `Umar ibn al-Khattab with Umm Kulthum bint ‘Ali, by GF Haddad; bold and underline emphasis ours)


'Umar asked 'Ali for the hand of his daughter, Umm Kulthum in marriage. 'Ali replied that she has not yet attained the age (of maturity). 'Umar replied, 'By Allah, this is not true. You do not want her to marry me. If she is underage, send her to me'. Thus 'Ali gave his daughter Umm Kulthum a dress and asked her to go to 'Umar and tell him that her father wants to know what this dress is for. When she came to Umar and gave him the message, he grabbed her hand and forcibly pulled her towards him. 'Umm Kulthum asked him to leave her hand, which Umar did and said, 'You are a very mannered lady with great morals. Go and tell your father that you are very pretty and you are not what he said of you'. With that 'Ali married Umm Kulthum to 'Umar.

Tarikh Khamees, Volume 2, p. 384 ('Dhikr Umm Kalthum') and Zakhair Al-Aqba, p. 168 (WikiIslam; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Here is the final reference:

'Umar marries Umm Kulthum Daughter of 'Ali

MS. fo. 79a-b

This and some of the following traditions have nothing to do with the Sira proper and belong in time to the caliphate. After reporting that Zayd and an unnamed girl were born of the marriage, Ibn Ishaq reports a tradition from 'Asim ibn 'Umar ibn Qatada to the effect that when 'Umar asked 'Ali for Umm Kulthum's hand 'Ali made the excuse that she was too young. 'Umar replied that that was not the real reason for his hesitation: he wanted to refuse his consent. Let him send her to him that he might see for himself. So 'Ali gave her a robe and told her to go to the commander of the faithful and say, "My father says 'What do you think of this dress?'" She went and said these words and 'Umar took hold of her shift. She tried to get it from him saying "Let go!", and he let go exclaiming "A virtuous woman! Go and say to him 'It is fine and beautiful, not at all as you said it was'." (Alfred Guillaume, New Light on the Life of Muhammad [Manchester University Press], p. 50; bold and underline emphasis ours)

We are again confronted with a situation where a 10-12 year old girl is said to be too young to get married, especially to a 47-year-old man.

Once again, if a 10-12 year old girl is not mature enough to marry then what do we say of a 9-year-old minor who hadn’t reached puberty yet marrying a man old enough to be her great great grandfather? After all, if the age of 47 made Umar too old for Umm Kulthum, then what does this say of a 54 year-old Muhammad marrying a prepubescent child?  

More importantly, these examples of Muhammad and Ali complaining about the young age of Fatima and Umm Kulthum expose the boldfaced lie that no one at that time had a problem with grown men marrying and having sex with prepubescent minors.

This is just the beginning of Brown’s woes, as we shall see in the next part of our rebuttal.