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Does Islam teach child marriages?

October 29, 2010

According to the www.unfpa.org statistics on child marriages, thousands of girls are still getting married around the world. Some even ages 6 or 7. Muslims in particular have been criticized for the percentage of child marriages in their countries. And certainly, some of the Islamic clerics claim that there is religious backing for child marriages coming from the collections of Hadiths (believed to be secondary authority on Islamic religious affairs, the sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and details of his life). Specifically, they cite the age of Aisha, one of Prophet Muhammad’s wives, who is said to have been 6 when she married the Prophet. So does Islam demand child marriages? The Noble Qur’an (Islamic Holy Book) does not provide specific age but provides clear guidelines that discourage child marriages. While certain hadiths (sayings) cite Aisha as a child bride, other hadiths indicate that she must have been older than 12 at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad.

Prior to citing clear verses from the Qur’an and Hadiths, it is important to say that Hadith collections did not exist during the time of the Prophet. The only sources of Islam were the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad who was said to have been Walking Qur’an. Also, it is important to say that while some Muslims believe all of the Hadiths as 100% truth, and consider those Muslims who do not believe the same as blasphemers, one can securely say that the only Divine Revelation of Islam is the Qur’an. The Qur’an is believed by all Muslims to be 100% Word of God.

QUR’AN ABOUT CHILDREN, PUBERTY AND MARRIAGE:

Let’s take a look at what does Qur’an say about children. In Qur’an’s surah (chapter) 24, verse 58 it is said: “O you who believe! Let your legal slaves and slave-girls, and those among you who have not come to the age of puberty ask your permission (before they come to your presence) on three occasions; before Fajr (morning) prayer, and while you put off your clothes for the noonday (rest), and after the ‘Ishâ’ (late-night) prayer. (These) three times are of privacy for you, other than these times there is no sin on you or on them to move about, attending (helping) you each other. Thus Allâh makes clear the Ayât (the Verses of this Qur’ân, showing proofs for the legal aspects of permission for visits, etc.) to you. And Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” This is important because it shows that in Islam children are not allowed to be exposed to nudity (even semi-nudity as explained in the verse).

God in the Qur’an does not give specific puberty age, as He knows that age of maturity differs among different cultures, civilizations, races and even climate regions in the world. However, he gives clear guidelines about how the age of maturity is to be assessed. Those guidelines are:

  1. the clear mind to judge things
  2. and more important, the ability to handle one’s wealth/property.

The specifics of the age of puberty are found in the Qur’an’s verses dealing with orphans, among which are these verses:

Chapter 4, verse 6: “Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment in them…”

Chapter 6, verse 152 “And come not nigh to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he attain the age of full strength…”

Notice that the ‘orphans’ could be taken of either sex.

Now, what about marriage guidelines?  Qur’an Chapter 4, verse 19 states: “O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will,” and Qur’an Chapter 4, verse 3: “Marry women of your choice.”  This makes clear that a liking and consent between a man and a woman is essential before marriage. Further, Qur’an Chapter 4, verse 34 states: Good, righteous women are the devoted ones (to God) and observant (of their husbands’ rights), who guard the secrets (family honor and property, their chastity, and their husband’s rights, especially where there is none to see them, and in the absence of men,) as God guards and keeps undisclosed (what should be guarded and private).” As we have seen, for one to be able to guard something, especially property, he/she must be of a mature age.  

HADITHS

Certain Hadith verses cite Aisha to be 6 when she got married and 9 when the marriage to Prophet Muhammad was consummated. Those who believe Aisha to be 6 when she married are usually those Muslims who believe Hadith collections to be 100% true and part of the Divine Revelation (Qur’an), or rather the explanation of the Qur’an itself. Despite their claimed belief in the divine nature of the Hadiths, these same Muslims disregard those hadiths that indicate that Aisha was much older than 10 at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad.

The Islamic historian, Ibn Jarir Tabari, wrote in his ‘History’: “In the time before Islam, Abu Bakr married two women. The first was Fatila daughter of Abdul Uzza, from whom Abdullah and Asma were born. Then he married Umm Ruman, from whom Abdur Rahman and Aisha were born. These four were born before Islam.”

The compiler of the famous Hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih, Imam Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib (d. 700 years ago), had also written about Asma,  the older daughter of Abu Bakr: “She was the sister of Aisha Siddiqa, wife of the Holy Prophet, and was ten years older than her. … In 73 A.H. … Asma died at the age of one hundred years.” This would make Asma 28 years of age in 1 A.H. (after Hijra), the year of the Hijra (Muslim migration from Mecca to Medina 622 CE,), thus making Aisha 18 years old in 1 A.H. So Aisha would be 19 years old at the time of the consummation of her marriage, and 14 or 15 years old at the time of her nikah (marriage engagement). It would place her year of birth at four or five years before the Call (Revelation of Qur’an).

Ibn Kathir, in his book Al-bidayya wal-nihaya states“Asma died in 73 A.H. at the age of one hundred years. She was ten years older than her sister Aisha.”
In Asad Al-Ghaba’s collection of traditions (volume 4, page 377) it is reported:

Fatima (RA) was about 5 years older than Ayesha (RA).

Hence, to find out Ayesha’s birth date we must find out Fatima’s. Another hadith states that Abbas went to Ali’s house, and Fatima was saying to Ali that she was older than him. So Abbas told Fatima that she was born in the year the Quraish were building the Kaaba and Ali was born a few years before that (Al-Ghaba, vol. 4, pg. 280).

Fatima was born in the year the Quraish were building the Kaaba and when the messenger of Allah was 35 years old (Al-Ghaba, vol. 4, pg. 377)

Fatima is the daughter of RasoolAllah. Khadija was her mother. Fatima was born in the year the Kaaba was being built, and that was 5 years before the nabuwwah (Prophethood) (Tabqaat ibn Saad, vol. 8, pg. 11).

Abbas went to Ali’s house, and he heard Fatima saying to Ali that she was older. So Abbas said to them that Fatima was born when the Quraish were building the Kaaba and Muhammad (SA) was 35 and Ali a few years before that (ibn Saad, vol. 8, pg. 17).

Regarding the age of Fatima at the time of her death, there are hadiths that state: Zubair bin Bakar narrated to Abdallah bin Al-Hasan that he was with Hisham bin Abdulmaalik and Kalbi. Hisham made an inquiry of Abdallah, “How old was Fatima bint RasoolAllah?” Abdallah replied, “30 years old.” After this he asked Kalbi the same question and Kalbi replied, “35 years old.” Upon hearing this Hisham said to Abdallah, “Listen to what Kalbi is saying,” and Hisham gave more importance to Kalbi’s testimony. Then Abdallah said, “Oh ameer al-momineen! Ask me about my mother and ask Kalbi about his.” (Istia’ab, vol. 6, pg. 752)

Fatima’s death was in 11 hijri. If she was 30 when she died, her birth date can be traced to about 5 years before the nabuwwah (prophethood). There are different hadiths about her age at death, for example, one says 24, and another says over 18. But 30 years is most accurate. From this it is clear that Ayesha was born when RasoolAllah (SA) was in his 40th year (approximately 5 years after Fatima’s birth) i.e., the year he received the nabuwwah.

If we accept the premise that Ayesha’s nikah was at age 6, then her date of birth would have to be in 4 nabawwi, i.e., when the Prophet (SA) was in his 44th year, because her date of nikah is given as 10 nabawwi (in which case Prophet’s age would be 50). This is incontrovertibly wrong. For example:

When the Prophet of Allah sent his message about Ayesha to Abu Bakr, he said, “Ya Rasool! I have already settled the matter with Mat’am bin A’di bin Naufal bin Abd Munaf’s son Jabir. Give me enough time to explain the matter to them.” (ibn Saad)

If Ayesha was 6 during her nikah with Prophet, then the engagement with Jabir would have had to occur when she was 4 or 5, and there is no indication or example in the old Arab tradition that they would settle the engagements of 4 to 5 year old little girls.

Ayesha said, “When the Prophet received this ayat (54:46) in Mecca, I was a child and used to run around and play.” (Bukhari, vol. 2, pg. 204)

Surah 54 (Al-Qamr) was revealed around 5th year of Prophethood. At this time Ayesha, at the very least, had to have been old enough to understand what a verse of Quran was, and to remember the incident. If we accept her date of birth to be 4 nabawwi (year of Prophethood), then she would be one year old in 5 nabawwi. For a one year old baby neither are running and playing possible, nor recognizing and remembering a verse of Quran. In contrast, if we accept her birth date as 1 nabawwi then during the time that Surah Al-Qamr was revealed she would be 5 to 6 years old. At this age she no doubt would be running and playing, and she would be able to recognize and recollect a verse of Quran.

The month given for the nikah is Shawal 10 nabawwi, when the messenger was 50 (ibn Saad, vol. 8, pg. 40). At this time Ayesha’s age, with certainty, was around 10 if the first year is not counted and 11 if it is counted. Because the real importance lies with the actual marriage, not the engagement, we will move on.

The marriage took place after Hijrah, so we should now find out when the Hijrah took place. How many years did RasoolAllah (SA) stay in Mecca after the revelation? There are differing ahadith (sing. hadith) dealing with this. One says that he received the first revelation at age 43 and stayed in Mecca for 10 years. Another says:

A person came to Ibn Abbas and said that for 10 years in Mecca and 10 years in Medina the messenger of Allah received revelation. Ibn Abbas said, “Who says that? In Mecca RasoolAllah received revelation for 15 years or more.”

But Ibn Abbas also reports that the time spent in Mecca was 13 years (ibn Saad, part 1, pg. 333; Tareekh Tabri, vol. 1, pg. 54, 135) and this is what is generally accepted. The reason for this contradiction is as follows: when the Hijrah occurred the messenger (SA) finished his 53rd year and was starting his 54th. When he was 40 the nabuwwah began. If the first year of the nabuwwah is not counted, then the time spent in Mecca was 13 years and Hijrah was in the 14th year nabawwi. If it is counted, then the time spent in Mecca is 14 years, and the Hijrah in the 15th year nabawwi.

Now we must find out how long after Hijrah the marriage took place. Commonly held traditions state that Ayesha’s nikah (engagement) was at age 6 and the marriage was at age 9 in Medina, during the month of Shawal. Because the engagement took place 3 years before the Hijrah, in accordance to these ahadith, the marriage should have been in Shawal 1 hijri. But this is also wrong. In Tabqaat ibn Saad Ayesha reports with detail:

When RasoolAllah (SA) and Abu Bakr Siddiq went to Medina they left RasoolAllah’s daughter and Abu Bakr’s family behind in Mecca so that afterwards they could bring them safely and carefully (vol. 4, pg. 43).

Ayesha reports: “When I went to Medina I developed a fever and all of my hair fell out. After I became well they grew back to my shoulders, then I got married.” (Bukhari, part 2, pg. 204)

From this it is obvious that:

Ayesha stayed back in Mecca for some time after the Hijrah (keep in mind the Hijrah was in Rabi al-Awal)
After she reached Medina she became sick and lost all of her hair
Her hair grew back down to her shoulders and her marriage took place after that.
If we should accept that the marriage took place in Shawal 1 hijri, then all the above events would have had to occur within 8 months (from Rabi al-Awal to Shawal). If she stayed in Mecca for at least 3-4 months, then for one month was sick, this would leave only 3-4 months before the marriage. It is obvious that in no way whatsoever can hair grow to the shoulders in such a short time.

Istia’ab also writes:

RasoolAllah did the nikah with Ayesha 3 years before Hijrah in Shawal 10 nabawwi and 18 months after Hijrah in Medina she entered his house (vol. 4, pg. 377).

Fatima’s marriage was 4 months after Ayesha’s (Al-Ghaba, vol. 4, pg. 377).

Fatima’s marriage was in Muharram, now the question is which year hijri was it. There is a long hadith in Bukhari in which is mentioned:

Narrated Ali: I got a she camel in my share of the war booty on the day of Badr, and the Prophet (SA) had given me a she camel from the khumus. When I intended to marry Fatima, the daughter of Allah’s messenger, I had an appointment with a goldsmith from the tribe of Bani Qainuqa to go with me to bring Idhkhir (grass of pleasant smell) and sell it to the goldsmith and spend its price on my wedding reception. I was collecting for my camels equipment of saddles, sacks and ropes while my two camels were kneeling beside the room of an Ansari man. I returned after collecting whatever I had collected to see the humps of my camels cut off and their flanks cut open and some portion of their livers taken out. (vol. 4, pg. 206. After this the hadith goes on to tell who killed the camels. Because that part is not relevant to this discussion we will stop here.)

From this it is obvious that Ali was not married before the Battle of Badr, which took place in Ramadan 2 hijri; meaning that the earliest he and Fatima could have married was the Muharram of 3 hijri. Since Ayesha’s marriage was 4 months before this, it had to have been in Shawal 2 hijri, not 1 hijri.

The above paragraphs elucidate the truth that has come forth; that at the time of her marriage Ayesha was 15. If the year of birth is counted then she was 16 years old, or in other words, 2 years older than her age at Hijrah.

Abbas reported that RasoolAllah (SA) stayed in Mecca for 15 years. An attempt has been made to account for the difference between 13 and 15 years, but if this narration is considered sound (that RasoolAllah stayed in Mecca for 15 years and the Hijrah was in the 16th year), then Ayesha’s age at marriage would be 17. The support of Abbas comes from Tabri as well:

Ibn Abbas and Ibn Khadla related that RasoolAllah died at age 65 (trans. Haydar Abad, vol. 1, pg. 599).

Meaning that if the nabuwwah started at age 40, then 15 years were spent in Mecca and 10 in Medina.

CONCLUSION:

Islam emphasizes the need for one to posses ability to make sound judgement and to run his/her personal affairs as signs of maturity. Hadiths contradict themselves in the accounts narrated about Aisha’s age at the time of her marriage to Prophet Muhammad. The fact that Qur’an does not state that adults can marry children, and that some of the hadiths show that Aisha in fact was not a child-bride, demonstrate that Islam is anti-child marriage religion. It is important to emphasize that not all Muslims practice child-marriages. Statistics show that the child marriages have decreased in recent century, although some areas in the world still have high incidences of child marriages. Some countries with very small or non-existant population of Muslims still practice child marriages for whatever reasons, such as: Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Dominican Republic, Malawi, Nepal, India, Nicaragua, Zambia, etc. Certainly, poverty, cultural customs and norms play a big role. Either way, people of all religions must work together to stop child marriages as it is child abuse.

The information about Aisha, her marriage and age in relation to many important Islamic figures (i.e. Fatima, daughter of Muhammad) and events are taken from these websites:

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