Unfortunately, in today’s climate, there seems to be a significant focus among Christian missionaries and Islamophobes on discrediting Islam. This is especially true when discussing the marriage of Muhammad(P) to Aisha(R), a topic that seems to be under more criticism now than ever before. As a result, we are seeing a multitude of misinterpretations and distortions aimed at twisting both historical and linguistic facts. These criticisms range from mildly amusing to highly offensive and harmful.
One common and misleading argument from these circles centers around the early marriage of Aisha(R) to Muhammad(P). The insinuation, often veiled in less subtle language, suggests that Prophet Muhammad engaged in child exploitation. This argument stems from the historical record that Aisha was betrothed (zawaj) to Prophet Muhammad at the age of six, with the marriage being finalized (nikah) when she was nine years old and had entered puberty.
If it were not for the repeated propagation of these claims by some uninformed individuals, who often reiterate these statements without fully grasping the context, there would be no need for a response. Such an argument relies more on personal bias and subjective moral standards rather than solid factual evidence. This article, therefore, aims to address and refute this claim, insha’Allah.
- 1 Hadiths Reporting The Marriage of Aisha
- 2 Biological Transition to Adulthood: Puberty
- 3 Societal Norms: Early Marriage in Semitic Cultures
- 4 Modern Interpretation and Implications
- 5 Were There Any Objections to the Marriage of Aisha?
- 6 Marriage At Puberty Today
- 7 Islam And the Age of Puberty
- 8 What About Rebekah’s Marriage To Isaac?
- 9 Conclusions
- 10 Appendix: A Married Nine-Year-Old In Thailand Gives Birth
Hadiths Reporting The Marriage of Aisha
Jonathan AC Brown explained this beautifully:
- Narrated by Aisha: The Prophet ﷺ married me when I was six years old and consummated our marriage when I was nine years old. Then I remained with him for nine years (i.e., until his death).1
The lapse of time between the zawaj and nikah of Aisha(R) clearly shows that her parents were waiting for her to reach puberty before her marriage was consummated.
(to be updated)
Biological Transition to Adulthood: Puberty
It is understood in every human culture and civilization throughout history that women reach puberty at different ages ranging from 8-12 years old depending on genetics, race and environment. Puberty signals the biological transition from childhood to adulthood, signifying a person’s capability for sexual reproduction. This event is marked differently across cultures, often through various rites or celebrations. In many societies, puberty has historically been considered the threshold of adulthood, demonstrating biological readiness for marriage and childbearing.
Puberty has always been a symbol of adulthood throughout history.
- Puberty is defined as the age or period at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction, in other eras of history, a rite or celebration of this landmark event was a part of the culture.2
According to The Incredible Machine by the National Geographic Society, the first signs of puberty typically appear between the ages of 8 and 12 for girls, slightly earlier than boys3. Factors such as genetics, race, and the environment significantly influence the onset of puberty. In warmer climates, girls often reach puberty earlier compared to their counterparts in colder environments4.
Societal Norms: Early Marriage in Semitic Cultures
In historical Semitic cultures, including 7th-century Arabia, it was common for marriage to occur shortly after the onset of puberty. It’s important to contextualize this practice within the norms and expectations of the time. The idea of childhood as a protected time of innocence and growth is a largely modern, Western concept, and should not be retroactively applied to past cultures.
The Talmud, an essential text in Judaism, asserts in Sanhedrin 76b that a woman should ideally marry when she has her first menses. Furthermore, in Ketuvot 6a, it discusses rules concerning sexual intercourse with girls who have not yet menstruated.
This practice was also common among the Israelites, where girls were usually married within the larger family circle at the onset of puberty or around the age of 13, a practice designed to maintain the purity of the family line5.
Modern Interpretation and Implications
While historical norms can provide context, modern interpretations of such practices can be quite different. Contemporary norms, driven by human rights principles and the understanding of children’s developmental needs, advocate for the protection of children and discourage early marriage.
However, it is worth noting that even today, there are regions in North Africa, Arabia, and India where girls often marry between the ages of five and nine, and it is culturally expected that a female should be married soon after reaching puberty:
- Today, in many parts of North Africa, Arabia, and India, girls are wedded and bedded between the ages of five and nine; and no self-respecting female remains unmarried beyond the age of puberty. 6.
While such practices do not align with modern international norms, understanding the historical and cultural context of these is essential. Puberty, marking the biological transition to adulthood, has been traditionally tied to marriage readiness in many cultures. In Semitic societies, such as 7th-century Arabia and ancient Israel, early marriage following puberty was a societal norm. Although these practices contrast with modern principles, understanding the cultural and historical contexts is crucial in providing a balanced perspective.In Semitic societies, such as 7th-century Arabia and ancient Israel, early marriage following puberty was a societal norm. Click To Tweet
Were There Any Objections to the Marriage of Aisha?
The answer to this is an emphatic no. There are absolutely no records from Muslim, secular, or any other historical sources which even implicitly display anything other than utter joy from all parties involved over this marriage.
Nabia Abbott describes the marriage of Aisha(R) to the Prophet(P) as follows:
In no version is there any comment made on the disparity of the ages between Mohammed and Aishah or on the tender age of the bride who, at the most, could not have been over ten years old and who was still much enamoured with her play.7
Even the well-known critical Orientalist, W. Montgomery Watt, said the following about the Prophet’s moral character:
From the standpoint of Muhammad’s time, then, the allegations of treachery and sensuality cannot be maintained. His contemporaries did not find him morally defective in any way. On the contrary, some of the acts criticized by the modern Westerner show that Muhammad’s standards were higher than those of his time.8
Aside from the fact that no one was displeased with him or his actions, he was a paramount example of moral character in his society and time. Therefore, to judge the Prophet’s morality based on the standards of our society and culture today is not only absurd but also unfair.
Marriage At Puberty Today
The Prophet’s contemporaries (both enemies and friends) clearly accepted the Prophet’s marriage to `Aishah(R) without any problem. We see the evidence for this by the lack of criticism against the marriage until modern times. However, a change in culture has caused a change in our times today.
Even today in the 21st century, the age of sexual consent is still quite low in many places. In Japan, people can legally have sex at age 13, and in Spain they can legally have sex at the age of 12 years old
In the U.S. during the last century, the age of consent was 10 years old. California was the first state to change the age of consent to 14, which it did in 1889. After California, other U.S. states joined in and raised the age of consent too
Islam And the Age of Puberty
Islam clearly teaches that adulthood starts when a person has attained puberty. From the collection of Bukhari9, we read the following tracts:
The boy attaining the age of puberty and the validity of their witness and the Statement of Allah
“And when the children among you attain the age of puberty, then let them also ask for permission (to enter).” (Qur’an, 24:59)
Al Mughira said, “I attained puberty at the age of twelve.” The attaining of puberty by women is with the start of menses, as is referred to by the Statement of Allah:
“Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them prescribed period if you have any doubts (about their periods) is three months…” [Qur’an, 65:4]
Thus, it is part of Islam to acknowledge the coming of puberty as the start of adulthood. It is the time when the person has already matured and is ready for the responsibilities of an adult. So on what basis do the missionaries criticize the marriage of `Aishah(R) since her marriage was consummated when she had reached puberty?
We also read from the same source:
…Al-Hasan bin Salih said, “I saw a neighbour of mine who became a grandmother at the age of twenty-one.”(1)
(1) The note for this reference says: “This woman attained puberty at the age of nine and married to give birth to a daughter at ten; the daughter had the same experience.”10
Thus, it is clear that if the charge of “child molestation” were to be advanced against the Prophet(P), we would also have to include all the Semitic people who accepted marriage at puberty as the norm.
What About Rebekah’s Marriage To Isaac?
Rabbi Tobiah Ben Eliezer (1050 – 1108 AD) also confirms that she was 3-years-old when she was married to Isaac:
“Isaac was thirty-seven-years old at his binding… When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah, at that very moment Sarah died, and Isaac was then thirty-seven; and at that very time Abraham was told of Rebekah’s birth; thus we find that Rebecca was three years old when she married Isaac.”11
Isaac waited three years until Rebecca was fit for marital relations, which would only make Rebecca three years old at the time of consummation. From this, it seems Jewish scholars derived an age of consummation which is then reflected in the Talmud:
In Sanhedrin 55:
R. Joseph said: Come and hear! A maiden aged three years and a day may be acquired in marriage by coition, and if her deceased husband’s brother cohabits with her, she becomes his.
This is reiterated again elsewhere in the Talmud:
R. Jeremiah of Difti said: We also learnt the following: A maiden aged three years and a day may be acquired in marriage by coition, and if her deceased husband’s brother cohabited with her, she becomes his.
A female less than 3 years old, her intercourse is not considered as intercourse, and her virginity returns (Hagahot Yevamot). Even if the years were intercalated (e.g she had intercourse at 37 months old in a leap year) her virginity returns (words of the Rav, based on Yerushalmi Ketuboth chapter 1).
Source: https://www.sefaria.org/Shulchan_Arukh,_Even_HaEzer.20 (note that this text sanctions having intercourse with a child less than three years old)
(to be updated)
In the 7th-century Semitic society of Arabia, it was commonplace for marriages to occur at a pubescent age. No documented objections to Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha(R) were found, from neither allies nor adversaries. According to the numerous hadiths reported by Aisha herself, she did not express any dissatisfaction with her marriage to Muhammad. On the contrary, their union was depicted as serene and harmonious. Interestingly, such practices of marrying at a pubescent age still persist in certain contemporary cultures.
Adding a broader perspective to this discussion, the practice of young marriages wasn’t unique to Arabian society alone. A prominent example from the Bible is the marriage of Rebekah, a central figure in the book of Genesis. Rebekah was betrothed to Isaac, Abraham’s son, and interpretations suggest she could have been as young as three to ten or eleven at the time of her marriage. This instance underscores the prevalence of such practices across diverse societies and religious narratives, including seminal Judeo-Christian stories.
In spite of facing these well-known facts, the missionaries would still have the audacity to point a finger at the Prophet Muhammad(P) for immorality. Yet, it was he who had brought justice to the women of Arabia and raised them to a level they had not seen before in their society, something which ancient civilisations have never done to their women.
When Muhammad(P) first became the Prophet of Islam, the pagans of Arabia had inherited a disregard for women as had been passed down among their Jewish and Christian neighbours. So disgraceful was it considered among them to be blessed with a female child that they would go so far as to bury this baby alive in order to avoid the disgrace associated with female children.
“When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child) his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt or bury it in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on!”
Through the teachings of Islam, Muhammad(P) put a swift and resounding end to this evil practice. God tells us that on the Day of Judgment, the female child will be questioned for what crime she was killed.
- “When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned — for what crime she was killed.”12
Not only did Muhammad(P) severely discouraged and condemned this act, he also used to teach them to respect and cherish their daughters and mothers as partners and sources of salvation for the men of their family.
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri narrated that:
The Prophet(P) said: ‘If anyone cares for three daughters, disciplines them, marries them, and does good by them, he will enter Paradise.’13
Abdullah the son of Abbas narrated that:
The Prophet(P) said: ‘If anyone has a female child and does not bury her alive, or slight her, or prefer his male children over her, Allah will bring him into Paradise.’13
The Prophet(P) is also cited in Sahih Muslim as saying:
‘Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Day of Resurrection like this’; and he joined his fingers.
In other words, if one loves the Messenger of God and wishes to be with him on the day of resurrection in heaven, then they should do good by their daughters. This is certainly not the act of a “child molester”, as the missionaries would like us to believe.
Finally, we end this with a citation from Muhammad(P), who said: “I have come to defend the two oppressed peoples: women and orphans.”
Appendix: A Married Nine-Year-Old In Thailand Gives Birth
Below is a news article from the New Straits Times, Malaysia, dated 10th March 2001about a nine-year old girl living in northern Thailand giving birth to a baby girl. The fact that a nine-year-old girl is mature enough to give birth proves the point above about girls reaching puberty earlier than men.
The original news report can be read here. Should the husband of this young girl be accused of “child molestation”, as insinuated by the Christian missionaries?
- Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 67, #69
- Sue Curewitz Arthen, Rites of Passage: Puberty
- The Incredible Machine, National Geographic Society, p. 235, 239
- “The average temperature of the country or province is considered the chief factor here, not only with regard to menstruation but as regards the whole of sexual development at puberty.” — Herman H. Ploss, Max Bartels, & Paul Bartels, “Woman”, Volume I, p. 563
- West, J., Th.D., no date. Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs. Available at: http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm [Accessed 29th July 2023]
- Masters, R.E.L., and Edwards, Allan. The Cradle of Erotica. 1st ed., Julian Press, 1962.
- Nabia Abbott, Aishah, The Beloved of Mohammed, p. 7
- W. M. Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, (Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 229
- Al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book of Witnesses, Chapter 18, p. 513
- “Pesikta Zutrata (Lekah Tov), Gen. 24″ in Rabbi Tobiah Ben Eliezer, Midrashic Commentary on the Pentateuch
- Qur’an 81:9
- Narrated by Abu Dawood