Last Updated on 27th June 2022
Asif M Basit, Ahmadiyya ARC
To accurately determine one’s age in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia was a next-to-impossible matter. Why so? We find the answer in a hadith:
إِنَّا أُمَّةٌ أُمِّيَّةٌ، لاَ نَكْتُبُ وَلاَ نَحْسُبُ الشَّهْرُ هَكَذَا وَهَكَذَا
“We are an illiterate nation. We are unable to read or maintain accounts. A month is either like this, or this.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Saum)
Narrators report that the first time the Holy Prophetsa said “like this”, he lifted fingers of both hands thrice; the second time, he lifted all fingers twice, and only nine the third time. (Fath al-Bari, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Dar al-Ma‘rifa, Vol. 4, p. 127)
The Islamic calendar
The Islamic calendar, based on the year of the Holy Prophet’ssa hijrah (migration), did not come into effect until the 18th year after hijrah. Abu Musa al-Ash‘arira, the then governor of Basra, wrote to the Caliph of the time, Hazrat Umarra ibn al-Khattab, that correspondence was received with non-corresponding dates and that too in varying formats. This, he said, resulted in confusion and hence suggested that a standardised calendar be put into practice. It was upon this that Hazrat Umarra set out the Islamic calendar, starting from the year of hijrah.
Recording events in pre- and early-Islamic Arabia
The calendars used in pre-Islamic Arabia were those partly borrowed from Egypt, Abyssinia, Iran and Syria. These too were not for the general public but the bureaucrats of various tribes who worked on engineering the months of every year in a way that certain festivals fell in certain desired seasons. The Hajj, for instance, was made to occur in autumn or around it – a time when trade caravans would pass through Hijaz – to fully benefit from the economic aspect of festivals. (For details: Al-Asaar al-Baqiya, by Abu Rehan al-Biruni)
Therefore, in an age when there was no calendar for the common people and the concept of numbers was as vague as was limited, recording dates or even years of birth was out of the question. To mark an event of personal biographical importance, it was tied to another event of greater historical importance: “A year before or after the Year of the Elephants (Aam al-Fil), so and so many months before or after the reconstruction of the Ka‘bah” etc.
The year of the Holy Prophet’ssa claim to prophethood came to be seen as the most important milestone of the believers’ lives and, hence, numerous events were tied to it. Hazrat Aisha’sra birth, too, is usually calculated thus.
The importance of Hazrat Aisha’sra year of birth
Where dates were not only near-impossible but also seen as not important enough to be recorded, Hazrat Aisha’sra birth record would have been no exception. A child was born to grow up, marry, have children, bring them up and then depart from this world. The timeframe of any event was, if at all, only important for the person in question or their family or tribe for the purposes of inheritance or testimony purposes.
The point where birth records of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa gained importance was about two centuries after his demise – the time when scholars commenced the work of collating and compiling traditions (ahadith). The soundness of any tradition depended on how sound the chain of transmission (asma al-rijal) for a certain tradition was, and this, in turn, depended on certain factors to do with the initial narrator – their age at the time of the reported narration being of key importance.
Hazrat Aishara has narrated the largest number of traditions, only second to Hazrat Abu Hurairahra, and her age must have been discussed at the same point in time as mentioned above. It was then that the following tradition of Sahih al-Bukhari was made the basis of determining her age:
أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم تَزَوَّجَهَا وَهِىَ بِنْتُ سِتِّ سِنِينَ، وَبَنَى بِهَا وَهِىَ بِنْتُ تِسْعِ
“[…] that when the Holy Prophetsa brought her in his nikah [Islamic wedlock], she was six years old, and nine when the marriage was consummated. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Nikah)
With utmost respect to this tradition attributed to Hazrat Aishara, one ought not to forget that she belonged to the time where age was merely a matter of estimation. Everyone knew that when someone told their age, they were giving a rough estimate and not the exact date, or even month or year for that matter. And as discussed earlier, this estimation of age was merely for the reasons of marriage, inheritance or testimony etc. Hazrat Aisha’sra age was definitely scrutinised for the same purposes as nowhere in history do we find even the bitterest of the Holy Prophet’ssa enemies accusing him of marrying a prepubescent girl.
Now that we have one estimate – the tradition from Sahih al-Bukhari – we turn to some other estimates.
The estimate of Hazrat Aisha’ssa age seen as most authentic in the Jamaat is the one calculated by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra and included in his magnum opus, Sirat Khatam al-Nabiyin. Before we look at his estimate, I quote a passage with which he opens this discussion:
“The fact of the matter is that early researchers were misled by taking Hazrat Aisha’sra estimation of nine years to be absolutely and certainly accurate and, thus, not paying attention to any other factor. Any sound-minded person can understand that the tradition being sound is one thing and the estimate therein being correct is another. Although the traditions where Hazrat Aisha’sra age at the consummation of marriage is said to be nine years may well be correct, Hazrat Aisha’sra estimate can be incorrect.” (Sirat Khatam al-Nabiyyin, by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, p. 424)
Although Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra does not agree with her being nine when the marriage was consummated, as suggested by Ibn Saad in his Tabaqat, but accepts the latter’s suggestion that she was born in the fourth year of prophethood. Similarly, for al-Waqidi’s presence in the chain of narrators, he has rejected Ibn Saad’s assertion that the marriage took place in the firstyear of hijrah and has suggested this to have happened in the second year AH (after hijrah). He thus calculates her age at the time of marriage to have been around 12 years.
After this discussion, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra states:
“Some modern researchers have argued, based on various reasons, that her age was 14 or even 16”. (Ibid)
Honouring this statement of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra, we will limit the discussion that follows to the works of generally acclaimed early historians.
Year of birth
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, in his work Al-Isaba fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba, refers to a narration by al-Waqidi, who reports on the authority of Hazrat Abbasra:
قال العبّاس ولدت فاطمة والكعبة تبنى، والنّبيّ صلّى اللّٰه عليه وآله وسلّم ابن خمس وثلاثين سنة، وبهذا جزم المدائنيّ
“Fatima was born at the time of the reconstruction of the Ka‘bah when the Holy Prophetsa was 35 years old.”
This tradition goes on to narrate that “Fatima was born five years before the birth of Aisha” and, thus, suggests that Hazrat Aishara was born when the Holy Prophetsa was 40 years of age. This would place her year of birth to be the same as the year of the start of his prophecy and would mean that she was 15-years-old at the time of her marriage – if consummation of marriage is to be placed in the year 2 AH.
Al-Tabari, in his Tarikh, mentioning the wives of Hazrat Abu Bakrra, states that he married two wives in the time of jahiliyyah (pre-Islam). The first of these wives bore him Hazrat Abdullahra and Hazrat Asmara, and the second bore him Hazrat Aishara and Hazrat Abdur Rahmanra. He goes on to state:
فكل هؤلاء الأربعة من أولاده، ولدوا من زوجتيه اللتين سميناهما في الجاهلية
“All four children are from the two wives of the jahiliyyah days”. (Tarikh al-Tabari, by Abu Jafar Tabari, Vol. 3)
This narration places Hazrat Aisha’sra birth a few years before the year of prophethood, and her age at 16 or 17 at the time in question.
Although steering away from al-Waqidi is not always essential, let us take a look at some other material.
Al-Nawawi, in his work titled Tahzib al-Asma wa al-Lughaat, attributes the following to Ibn Ishaq, the great biographer of the Holy Prophetsa:
عن ابن إسحاق، أن عائشة أسلمت صغيرة بعد ثمانية عشر إنسانا ممن أسلم
“She was a little girl when she embraced Islam, when 18 others had already done so.”
Ibn Hisham has titled one of the chapters in his sirah (biography of the Prophetsa):
ذِكْرُ مَنْ أَسْلَمَ مِن الصَّحَابَةِ بِدَعْوَةِ أَبِي بَكْرٍ رَضِيَ اللّٰهُ عَنْهُ
“Those who embraced Islam through the da‘wah [preaching] of Abu Bakrra.”
In this list is named Hazrat Aishara, along with the like of Hazrat Abu Ubaydara, al-Arqam, Ubaydara ibn al-Haritha, Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah and Hazrat Asmara (the elder sister of Hazrat Aishara). Hazrat Aishara is mentioned in the following words:
وَعَائِشَةُ بِنْتُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ، وَهِيَ يَوْمئِذٍ صَغِيرَةٌ
The term “yauma’idhin saghirah” points to her being a child. If the six and nine tradition was to be taken as accurate, Hazrat Aishara would not have been born at the time when, according to an authentic historian like Ibn Hisham, she is said to have embraced Islam.
Al-Nawawi, under the entry of Hazrat Asmara, states she was 10 years older than Hazrat Aishara and 27 at the time of hijrah. This narration suggests that Hazrat Aishara was almost 17 at the time of Hijra, and 19 when the marriage was consummated.
Ibn Kathir, in Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, testifies the above where, mentioning the death of Hazrat Asmara, he states that she was 10 years older than Hazrat Aisha (Al-Badaya wa al-Nihaya, by Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, under the year 73 AH). This further testifies the estimate derived from the statement of Ibn Hisham.
Estimates derived from other historical events
The Battle of Uhud was fought in 3 AH. Describing the battlefield, Hazrat Anasra is reported to have said:
وَلَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ عَائِشَةَ بِنْتَ أَبِي بَكْرٍ، وَأُمَّ سُلَيْمٍ وَإِنَّهُمَا لَمُشَمِّرَتَانِ، أَرَى خَدَمَ سُوقِهِمَا تَنْقُزَانِ القِرَبَ، وَقَالَ غَيْرُهُ تَنْقُلاَنِ القِرَبَ عَلَى مُتُونِهِمَا، ثُمَّ تُفْرِغَانِهِ فِي أَفْوَاهِ القَوْمِ، ثُمَّ تَرْجِعَانِ فَتَمْلَآَنِهَا، ثُمَّ تَجِيئَانِ فَتُفْرِغَانِهَا فِي أَفْوَاهِ القَوْمِ
“I saw Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, and Umm Sulaim with their robes tucked up so that their anklets were visible. They hurriedly walked, carrying water skins on their backs, pouring water in the mouths of the wounded, would go back to fill the skins again and return to pour water in the mouths of people.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad wa al-Asir)
If the narration stating her age as nine at the time of marriage was to be followed, she would only have been 10 at the time of Uhud. In the case of other estimates suggesting her to be 12 at marriage, she would have not been older than 13 at Uhud. Where it is a known fact that the Holy Prophetsa strictly took not even male children along to the battleground, it seems highly implausible that he would allow a small girl to be facing the combat. However, Allah knows best.
Sahih al-Bukhari has it that Hazrat Aishara had clear memory of Surah al-Qamar being revealed to the Holy Prophetsa. The words of the tradition are:
لَقَدْ أُنْزِلَ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم بِمَكَّةَ، وَإِنِّيْ لَجَارِيَةٌ أَلْعَبُ بَلِ السَّاعَةُ مَوْعِدُهُمْ وَالسَّاعَةُ أَدْهَى وَأَمَرُّ
Meaning that “I was a girl of playing age” when this surah was revealed. (Ibid, Kitab al-Tafsir)
As Surah al-Qamar was revealed adjacent to the splitting-of-the-Moon incident (shaq al-qamar), historians generally agree that it happened in the eighth year of prophethood, i.e. five years before hijrah. Although some argue that it happened seven years prior to the hijrah, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and al-Alusi place it in the eighth year of prophethood to which we adhere for now.
For Hazrat Aishara to remember an incident, the type of which would not be of interest to a very young child, she must have been around 11- or 12-years old when Surah al-Qamar was revealed. Such is the age when a child indulges in play as well as takes interest in other events that are given unusual importance by their elders.
Taking this estimate into account, she would have been around 13/14 at the time of her nikah (if it is taken to have happened a year or two before the hijrah), and 18/19 when the marriage was consummated (in 2 AH).
It is important to remind our readers that all this estimation is based on acclaimed historians from early times and is not intended to prove her age to be what is seen as acceptable by the modern Western standard.
Numeracy in the pre- and early-Islamic Arabs
Where the Holy Prophetsa had to raise his fingers to demonstrate the numbers 29 and 30 to his audience, it is not hard to guess the numeracy skills of the people around him.
When Surah al-Mudathir was revealed, the Holy Prophet’ssa opponents ridiculed him at the number 19 being in the verse:
عَلَيْهَا تِسْعَةَ عَشَر
“Over it are nineteen”.
They are even said to have asked why it could not have been 20 – a rounded-off and easily graspable number for them.
Interpreting this verse in his Tafsir al-Kabir, Imam Fakhruddin al-Razirh states that Hazrat Anasra was said to have read this as 10 times 9 – taking it to mean 90. (Tafsir al-Kabir, by Fakhruddin al-Razirh, under Surah al-Mudathir, verse 30)
This again shows the level of numeracy of the people around the Holy Prophetsa.
The way numbers are said in Arabic is that the units come first, while tens and hundreds and thousands follow respectively. While the number 29 is read as “twenty-nine” in English, it is read as “tis‘ah wa ashrun”, or “nine and two tens”.
Coming to the narration of Hazrat Aishara about her age in Sahih al-Bukhari, she has said the numbers six and nine while, presumably, omitting the 10 as an understood fact that she was in her teenage years. This is only a possibility as nothing can be said with absolute certainty. However, the discussion above does not reject the plausibility altogether, nor does the argument I intend to give below.
To indicate the timeframe of the advent of the Messiah and Mahdi of the Latter Days, words of the hadith state:
الْآيَاتُ بَعْدَ الْمِائَتَيْنِ
placing the event as a sign to become manifest “after two hundred years”. Explaining this, the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas states:
“This humble one has appeared at the time of advent of the Promised Messiah because the hadith ‘Al-ayat al-ba‘da al-mi’atayn’, meaning that the major signs would manifest after thirteen centuries, definitely and certainly proves that the Promised Messiah would be born in the thirteenth century. As a matter of fact, minor signs had started to appear in the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa. Therefore, ‘al-ayat’ points to major signs that could not have become manifest in the first two hundred years. Hence, scholars have agreed that ‘after two hundred years’ means the thirteenth-century.
“Shah Waliullah Muhadith Dehlvi is also of the same opinion, and so is Maulvi Siddiq Hasan Khan who has written in an epistle that most muhadithun have interpreted ‘Al-ayat al-ba‘da al-mi’atayn’ similarly…”. (Izala-e-Auham, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3, pp. 188-189)
Mullah Ali al-Qari also interprets “al” – the prefix of “ayat” in this hadith – as time-sensitive and interprets it as meaning two hundred years after the first millennium. (Mirqat al-Masabih, Part 8, p. 3446)
With such examples before us, it is not as implausible as it may sound that Hazrat Aishara took it as understood that she was married in her teenage years; however, felt the need to point out six and nine respectively.
In light of the Sunni-Shia conflict
The first mention of Hazrat Aishara is found in the Tabaqat of Ibn Saad who prepared this collection of biographical accounts 150 years after hijrah. By then, the Sunni-Shia conflict had not only manifested but was rife. Where, on the one hand, Hazrat Alira, Hazrat Fatimara and their progeny were presented as the closest and most beloved to the Messengersa of Islam, there were attempts on the other to prove Hazrat Abu Bakrra to be the rightful successor (khalifa).
In Tabaqat, the significance and supremacy of Hazrat Aishara has been recorded in her own words. These accounts, which are mentioned in two separate parts, are collated collectively below:
• Of all the wives of the Holy Prophetsa, I was the only one who was a virgin at the time of nikah.
• Except myself, the Holy Prophetsa married no other woman, both of whose parents were migrants (Muhajirin).
• Allah the Almighty Himself testified my innocence.
• Gabriel himself revealed my image to the Holy Prophetsa and urged him to marry me.
• The Holy Prophetsa and I would perform ghusl (bath) from one vessel.
• The Holy Prophetsa would perform acts of worship in my bed; he would not do this with any other wife.
• The Holy Prophetsa received revelation whilst in my bed; this did not happen with any other wife.
• The Holy Prophetsa passed away in my arms.
• The demise of the Holy Prophetsa happened on the day of my turn.
• The Holy Prophetsa was buried in my quarter.
When the Holy Prophetsa took me in his nikah, I was seven years old.
• The Holy Prophetsa consummated the marriage with me at the age of nine.
• Except myself, no other wife of the Holy Prophetsa had the honour of seeing Gabriel.
• I was the most beloved wife to the Holy Prophetsa, above all others.
• My father was the most beloved companion of the Holy Prophetsa.
• The Holy Prophetsa fell ill in my quarter, and I had the honour of nursing him.
• When the Holy Prophetsa passed away, nobody was present at the time other than angels and myself.
From these excellent characteristics of Hazrat Aishara, recorded in her own words, the following themes can be derived:
• Her noble lineage.
• Her closeness with the Holy Prophetsa in his time of worship and revelation.
• Her closeness with the Holy Prophetsa during his final days and the time of his demise.
• Divine intervention in her marriage to the Holy Prophetsa.
• Her extraordinarily young age at the time of marriage.
In a hadith recorded in both Bukhari and Muslim, Amrra bin al-Aas is reported to have said that the Holy Prophetsa was once asked, “Who is the most beloved to you?” He replied “Aisha”. He was then asked, “Who from the men?”, to which he replied “Abu Bakr”. After this, he named Hazrat Umar and some other companions. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Manaqib al-Sahaba, 3462; Sahih Muslim, Kitab Manaqib al-Sahaba, 2384)
There is a narration of Hazrat Aishara in Sunan Abi Dawood that the reflection of the character and morals of the Holy Prophetsa that she saw in Hazrat Fatimara, she saw in none else. She also mentioned the unmatched love which they both had for each other, and the way they used to meet one another with such love and respect.
From various traditions, the love of the Holy Prophetsa for Hazrat Alira is also evident. For example:
من كنت مولاه فعلي مولاه
Meaning, “The one who considers me his master, Ali too is his master.” (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Kitab ul Manaqib, 3713)
Imams from the Sunni school of thought emphasised the superiority of Hazrat Abu Bakrra and Hazrat Aishara, whereas Shia Imams and scholars highlighted the traditions which made served to venerate and exalt of the stature of Hazrat Alira and Hazrat Fatimara.
Ibn Khaliqan, writing about Allama ibn Jawzi, mentions in his book Wafayat-ul-Ayaan that a group of Sunni and Shia people approached him and asked him to resolve their dispute. The contention was who was more superior, Hazrat Abu Bakrra or Hazrat Alira?
Allama Jawzi replied:
افضل صحابة الرسول الذي بنته في بيته
That is, superior was “he whose daughter married the other.”
Although this event, which highlighted the intelligence and sharp nature of Ibn Jawzi, is from the 12th or 13th century CE, it clearly shows the tension between the Sunnis and Shias regarding the status of the Companionsra.
It is recorded in Tarikh al-Tabari, and by Ibn Kathir in Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, that during the time of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil (in the third century AH), a man was given death penalty for using foul and obscene language against Hazrat Abu Bakrra and Hazrat Umarra, and their daughters Hazrat Aishara and Hazrat Hafsara – the two wives of the Holy Prophetsa.
Although it is established that both Hazrat Fatimara and Hazrat Aishara had a close relationship with the Holy Prophetsa, the two companions of the Holy Prophetsa to whom these women were linked are the cornerstone of the Sunni-Shia conflict. This resulted in Hazrat Aishara and Hazrat Fatimara being targeted in the inflammatory exchange between the two.
In the Sunni sect, Hazrat Aishara and Hazrat Fatimara both are greatly revered women; however, the attempts of the Shia sect to prove Hazrat Abu Bakrra to have usurped khilafat from Hazrat Alira, resulted in Hazrat Aisha’sra persona coming under attack. Sunni scholars upheld their respect and honour for Hazrat Fatimara and Hazrat Alira, and in proving the Khilafat of Hazrat Abu Bakrra to be the legitimate successor, the superiority of Hazrat Aishara was highlighted to an extraordinary scale.
The rise of religious disputes usually causes a steep decline in logic and reasoning, and ego tends to call all shots. This is exactly what happened in this case – the unnecessary comparison of both noble characters in this world, was dragged into the afterlife also. One such highlighted tradition has it that in the Hereafter, Hazrat Fatimara will be the leader of the women of Paradise, her mother Hazrat Khadijara owns a beautiful house, and her sons will be the leaders of the men (Musnad, by Imam Ahmadrh bin Hanbal). Hazrat Aishara, as she was in this life, will also be the wife of the Holy Prophetsa in the Hereafter. (Tabaqat, by Ibn Saad)
These prophecies regarding the afterlife were derived from traditions, so both parties differed with one another on the authenticity of the narrations themselves, and the credentials of narrators. This turned into an intellectual war. Due to the fact that the majority of the qualities of Hazrat Aishara were self-narrated, the opposing camp challenged and discredited them on every possible ground.
To answer these vicious attacks, the Sunni sect also made it incumbent upon themselves to reply with the same vigour and vehemence. To do so, such traditions were magnified and emphasised, in which the extraordinary love which the Holy Prophetsa had for Hazrat Aishara was evident. For example, when the other wives, upon seeing this affectionate love, told Hazrat Fatimara to ask the Holy Prophetsa for equality, the answer of the Holy Prophetsa was, “Do you not love whom I love?” The tradition goes on to say that Hazrat Fatimara replied in the affirmative and left with a firm intention in her heart to never discuss this matter again.
On another occasion, Hazrat Zainabra bint Jahsh, made a similar complaint, to which Hazrat Aishara herself replied in a very firm manner. This tradition goes on to narrate that on this strikingly bold reply, the Holy Prophetsa proudly said, “She is the daughter of Abu Bakr”.
Such traditions help to bolster the noble status of not only Hazrat Aishara, but also that of Hazrat Abu Bakrra.
The immense love of the Holy Prophetsa for Hazrat Aishara and his sheer closeness to her meant that the traditions narrated by her were also naturally held in great esteem.
In his final illness, the desire of the Holy Prophetsa to stay in the quarter of Hazrat Aishara, her nursing him and his passing away in her arms not only worked to increase the status of Hazrat Aishara in Sunni Islam, but also continued to testify that her father, Hazrat Abu Bakrra, was the rightful and legitimate successor.
On the other hand, scholars from the Shia camp also had plenty of traditions to support their viewpoint – above all one where the Holy Prophetsa, at Ghadir Khumm, placed Hazrat Alira upon the same status as himself (this hadith has been mentioned earlier). Highly propagated was an allegation that after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Alira was not allowed to participate in the discussions regarding successorship. Keeping him from joining the assembly was somehow also shown as a deliberate act of Hazrat Aishara. (Kitab al-Irshad, by Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Mufeed, pp. 91-96)
During the Battle of Camel, Hazrat Aishara opposing Hazrat Alira was also emphasised by the Shias, and this case was presented as a form of rebellion.
The interest of both parties in the age of Hazrat Aishara
It has been mentioned above that one distinguishing feature of Hazrat Aishara, which she mentioned herself, was that she was six years of age when the Holy Prophetsa took her in his nikah, and nine when the marriage was consummated.
The Promised Messiahas, regarding this narration which is found in Sahih al-Bukhari, states:
“Firstly, the mention of nine years is not uttered by the Holy Prophetsa. Neither is it revealed, nor is it a mutawatir hadith that it is certainly nine years – narrated by only one narrator. Arabs, for being illiterate, did not keep birth records and, therefore, an inconsistency of two or three years was very common.” (Nur al-Quran, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 9, pp. 377-378)
We have seen that various traditions quite conveniently suggest the Hazrat Aishara could have been older at her time of marriage, but one is left to wonder why some insist on taking the Bukhari narration to be set in stone. While Sunni and Shias tend to disagree on almost every issue, why is Hazrat Aishara being a child at the time of her marriage so easily agreed by both. Both not only seem comfortable with this agreement, but insist on it to be taken as it is.
This strange and unusual unanimity calls for a detailed discourse, but we try and take only a brief view of this historically important issue.
The Sunni camp zealously sang praises of Hazrat Aisha’sra character by highlighting that she was the only virgin to have married the Holy Prophetsa and hence the only one to have never been with any other man. Her very young age at the time of marriage emphasised the point and was always brought up.
The Shia camp used the same to discredit any traditions that she had narrated.
The question of legitimacy had always hovered over the caliphate, or successorship, of the Holy Prophetsa. The first civil war in Islam was fought around this question of legitimacy. When the Umayyads were in power, their biggest rival, the Abbasids, ran a propaganda campaign that the former had drifted away from true Islamic ways and were, hence, illegitimate. To bolster their opposition to the Umayyads, the Abbasids joined hands with anyone who was ready to revolt against the Umayyads – even the Shias served as good allies.
When the Abbasids finally overthrew the Umayyads and took control of the Islamic Empire, the Shia question of legitimacy – which had always revolved around Hazrat Alira and rejected the first three Caliphs – was now turned against the Abbasids.
To prove their own legitimacy, the Abbasids had to prove the legitimacy of the whole chain that had preceded them, and this chain started at Hazrat Abu Bakrra. It was at this junction in history that Hazrat Abu Bakrra was highly venerated by the Abbasids and to achieve this, the veneration of Hazrat Aishara was not only inevitable, but the best tool. This is where the overzealous veneration of the two great characters of Islamic history – who deserve praise and admiration any way – was invested in the game of political games.
To raise the status of Hazrat Aishara, and her father, to tower above all other Companions, her unique status as a wife was brought under the spotlight – her virginity and very young age at the time of marriage.
The Shia camp emphasised on the title of Hazrat Fatimara – al-Batul – which means, according to Lisaan al-Arab, the chaste and pure woman whose love of God leaves her uninclined towards worldly matters, especially men.
Shia scholars also described “al-Batul” as a woman so pure who does not even menstruate. For instance, a tradition has it that the Holy Prophetsa was asked why Hazrat Fatimara was titled “al-Batul”. The Holy Prophetsa is said to have replied that this term denoted a woman who did not menstruate as it was not befitting for daughters of prophets to be touched by such impurity. (Yanabi‘ al-Mauwadda, by Suleiman al-Qandozi)
To some historians specialising in the Sunni-Shia conflict, the backdrop of emphasising on this title is quite bleak. The person who got the death penalty in the time of al-Mutawakil for hurling abuse at Hazrat Abu Bakrra, Hazrat Umarra and their daughters Hazrat Aishara and Hazrat Hafsara was also accused of “slander” against Hazrat Aishara. This slander was with reference to the allegation of adultery (the ifk episode) and thus shows why “al-Batul” was always highlighted against the claims of Hazrat Aisha’sra virginity at the time of marriage and having no man in her life except the Holy Prophetsa.
That Hazrat Aishara remained issueless also remained a favourite target and was used as the basis for narrowing down the household of the prophet (ahl al-bayt) to Hazrat Alira, Hazrat Fatimara and their two sons Hazrat Hasanra and Hazrat Husainra – the only ones to take the Holy Prophet’ssa progeny forward.
Now that the ahl al-bayt were only the members of Hazrat Ali’sra household, it was boastfully mentioned that he had been brought up in the household of the Holy Prophetsa and under his direct supervision – an unparalleled privilege that no other companion could claim. Thus, to prove that Hazrat Aishara too was a child when she moved into the Holy Prophet’ssa household was taken as a task that had to be fulfilled.
None that has been said above aims to prove that Hazrat Aishara was of “legal age” as the modern would like to term it. Neither does it aim to prove that the tradition suggesting her age at the time of marriage being nine to be implausible. Detached almost fifteen-hundred years from the events under discussion, all we have at hand are indicators that suggest various approximations. Only one of them has to be right, and we do not know which one; and while one of them could be correct, the possibility is very much that all could be wrong.
Hazrat Aishara was a beloved wife of the Holy Prophetsa and is thus a mother for all believers – umm al-mominin. What age she was married at does not change her exalted status; not even an iota. Just as the fact that our grandmothers or great-grandmothers could have been married at a very young age – one that the modern man could classify as “underage” – does not shake away their respect from our hearts, the case of Hazrat Aishara is much nobler and more sacred in all respects.
While we are on “the modern man”, who can claim with certainty that their great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers were not married while they were, what would now be seen as, underage?
While England got into the practice of keeping baptism records in the sixteenth-century, there was no law to ensure registry of birth, marriage and death until 1836; in America until the turn of the twentieth-century. So what ought not to be ignored is that in the case of Hazrat Aishara, we are talking of times where no birth records were maintained, or rather, could possibly not be maintained for the lack of numeracy skills. The criteria for marriage were puberty and physical readiness for marriage.
Let alone 1500-year-old Arabia, the same was practised in many societies and cultures until even the mid of the twentieth century – South Asian cultures being a prime example.
We conclude with the words of the Promised Messiahas, that he wrote in continuation of the above-quoted excerpt:
“Even if we were to assume that [the age of] nine years was accurate down to the day, no sensible person would object to it […]
“I will prove in this epistle that modern medical research has agreed that girls can become pubescent at the age of nine; even that girls of seven can give birth. Medical researchers have proven it and hundreds of people are eyewitness to eight- and nine-year-old girls having mothered children”. (Nur al-Quran,Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 9, p. 378)
MashaAllah excellent & comprehensive article.