Was Ayesha A Six-Year-Old Bride?
The Ancient Myth Exposed
by T.O. Shanavas
A Christian friend asked me once, “Will you marry
your seven year old daughter to a fifty year old man?” I kept my silence. He
continued, “If you would not, how can you approve the marriage of an innocent
seven year old, Ayesha, with your Prophet?” I told him, “I don’t have an answer
to your question at this time.” My friend smiled and left me with a thorn in the
heart of my faith. Most Muslims answer that such marriages were accepted in
those days. Otherwise, people would have objected to Prophet’s marriage with
However, such an explanation would be gullible only for those who are naive
enough to believe it. But unfortunately, I was not satisfied with the answer.
The Prophet was an exemplary man. All his actions were most virtuous so that we,
Muslims, can emulate them. However, most people in our Islamic Center of Toledo,
including me, would not think of betrothing our seven years daughter to a
fifty-two year-old man. If a parent agrees to such a wedding, most people, if
not all, would look down upon the father and the old husband.
In 1923, registrars of marriage in Egypt were instructed not to register and
issue official certificates of marriage for brides less than sixteen and grooms
less than eighteen years of age. Eight years later, the Law of the Organization
and Procedure of Sheriah courts of 1931 consolidated the above provision by not
hearing the marriage disputes involving brides less than sixteen and grooms less
than eighteen years old. (Women in Muslim Family Law, John Esposito, 1982). It
shows that even in the Muslim majority country of Egypt the child marriages are
So, I believed, without solid evidence other than my reverence to my Prophet,
that the stories of the marriage of seven-year-old Ayesha to 50-year-old Prophet
are only myths. However, my long pursuit in search of the truth on this matter
proved my intuition correct. My Prophet was a gentleman. And he did not marry an
innocent seven or nine year old girl. The age of Ayesha has been erroneously
reported in the hadith literature. Furthermore, I think that the narratives
reporting this event are highly unreliable. Some of the hadith (traditions of
the Prophet) regarding Ayesha’s age at the time of her wedding with prophet are
problematic. I present the following evidences against the acceptance of the
fictitious story by Hisham ibn ‘Urwah and to clear the name of my Prophet as an
irresponsible old man preying on an innocent little girl.
EVIDENCE #1: Reliability of Source
Most of the narratives printed in the books of hadith are reported only by
Hisham ibn `Urwah, who was reporting on the authority of his father. First of
all, more people than just one, two or three should logically have reported. It
is strange that no one from Medina, where Hisham ibn `Urwah lived the first 71
years of his life narrated the event, despite the fact that his Medinan pupils
included the well-respected Malik ibn Anas. The origins of the report of the
narratives of this event are people from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have
shifted after living in Medina for most of his life.
Tehzibu’l-Tehzib, one of the most well known books on the life and reliability
of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet, reports that according to
Yaqub ibn Shaibah: “He [Hisham] is highly reliable, his narratives are
acceptable, except what he narrated after moving over to Iraq” (Tehzi’bu’l-tehzi’b,
Ibn Hajar Al-`asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, 15th century. Vol 11, p.
It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected on those narratives of Hisham
which were reported through people in Iraq: “I have been told that Malik
objected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported through people of
Iraq” (Tehzi’b u’l-tehzi’b, Ibn Hajar Al-`asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami,
Vol.11, p. 50).
Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, another book on the life sketches of the narrators of the
traditions of the Prophet reports: “When he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered
quite badly” (Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, Al-Zahbi, Al-Maktabatu’l-athriyyah, Sheikhupura,
Pakistan, Vol. 4, p. 301).
CONCLUSION: Based on these references, Hisham’s memory was failing and his
narratives while in Iraq were unreliable. So, his narrative of Ayesha’s marriage
and age are unreliable.
CHRONOLOGY: It is vital also to keep in mind some of the pertinent dates in the
history of Islam:
pre-610 CE: Jahiliya (pre-Islamic age) before revelation
610 CE: First revelation
610 CE: AbuBakr accepts Islam
613 CE: Prophet Muhammad begins preaching publicly.
615 CE: Emigration to Abyssinia
616 CE: Umar bin al Khattab accepts Islam
620 CE: Generally accepted betrothal of Ayesha to the Prophet
622 CE: Hijrah (emigation to Yathrib, later renamed Medina)
623/624 CE: Generally accepted year of Ayesha living with the Prophet
EVIDENCE #2: The Betrothal
According to Tabari (also according to Hisham ibn ‘Urwah, Ibn Hunbal and Ibn
Sad), Ayesha was betrothed at seven years of age and began to cohabit with the
Prophet at the age of nine years.
However, in another work, Al-Tabari says: “All four of his [Abu Bakr’s] children
were born of his two wives during the pre-Islamic period” (Tarikhu’l-umam
wa’l-mamlu’k, Al-Tabari (died 922), Vol. 4, p. 50, Arabic, Dara’l-fikr, Beirut,
If Ayesha was betrothed in 620 CE (at the age of seven) and started to live with
the Prophet in 624 CE (at the age of nine), that would indicate that she was
born in 613 CE and was nine when she began living with the Prophet. Therefore,
based on one account of Al-Tabari, the numbers show that Ayesha must have born
in 613 CE, three years after the beginning of revelation (610 CE). Tabari also
states that Ayesha was born in the pre-Islamic era (in Jahiliya). If she was
born before 610 CE, she would have been at least 14 years old when she began
living with the Prophet. Essentially, Tabari contradicts himself.
CONCLUSION: Al-Tabari is unreliable in the matter of determining Ayesha’s age.
EVIDENCE # 3: The Age of Ayesha in Relation to the Age of Fatima
According to Ibn Hajar, “Fatima was born at the time the Ka`bah was rebuilt,
when the Prophet was 35 years old... she was five years older that Ayesha” (Al-isabah
fi tamyizi’l-sahabah, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Vol. 4, p. 377, Maktabatu’l-Riyadh
al-haditha, al-Riyadh, 1978).
If Ibn Hajar’s statement is factual, Ayesha was born when the Prophet was 40
years old. If Ayesha was married to the Prophet when he was 52 years old,
Ayesha’s age at marriage would be 12 years.
CONCLUSION: Ibn Hajar, Tabari an Ibn Hisham and Ibn Humbal contradict each
other. So, the marriage of Ayesha at seven years of age is a myth.
EVIDENCE #4: Ayesha’s Age in relation to Asma’s Age
According to Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d: “Asma was 10 years older than Ayesha
(Siyar A`la’ma’l-nubala’, Al-Zahabi, Vol. 2, p. 289, Arabic,
Mu’assasatu’l-risalah, Beirut, 1992).
According to Ibn Kathir: “She [Asma] was elder to her sister [Ayesha] by 10
years” (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 371, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi,
According to Ibn Kathir: “She [Asma] saw the killing of her son during that year
[73 AH], as we have already mentioned, and five days later she herself died.
According to other narratives, she died not after five days but 10 or 20, or a
few days over 20, or 100 days later. The most well known narrative is that of
100 days later. At the time of her death, she was 100 years old.” (Al-Bidayah
wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 372, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933)
According to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani: “She [Asma] lived a hundred years and died
in 73 or 74 AH.” (Taqribu’l-tehzib, Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, p. 654, Arabic, Bab
fi’l-nisa’, al-harfu’l-alif, Lucknow).
According to almost all the historians, Asma, the elder sister of Ayesha was 10
years older than Ayesha. If Asma was 100 years old in 73 AH, she should have
been 27 or 28 years old at the time of the hijrah.
If Asma was 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah, Ayesha should have been 17
or 18 years old. Thus, Ayesha, being 17 or 18 years of at the time of Hijra, she
started to cohabit with the Prophet between at either 19 to 20 years of age.
Based on Hajar, Ibn Katir, and Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d, Ayesha’s age at
the time she began living with the Prophet would be 19 or 20. In Evidence # 3,
Ibn Hajar suggests that Ayesha was 12 years old and in Evidence #4 he
contradicts himself with a 17 or 18-year-old Ayesha. What is the correct age,
twelve or eighteen?
CONCLUSION: Ibn Hajar is an unreliable source for Ayesha’s age.
EVIDENCE #5: The Battles of Badr and Uhud
A narrative regarding Ayesha’s participation in Badr is given in the hadith of
Muslim, (Kitabu’l-jihad wa’l-siyar, Bab karahiyati’l-isti`anah fi’l-ghazwi
bikafir). Ayesha, while narrating the journey to Badr and one of the important
events that took place in that journey, says: “when we reached Shajarah”.
Obviously, Ayesha was with the group travelling towards Badr. A narrative
regarding Ayesha’s participation in the Battle of Uhud is given in Bukhari (Kitabu’l-jihad
wa’l-siyar, Bab Ghazwi’l-nisa’ wa qitalihinna ma`a’lrijal): “Anas reports that
on the day of Uhud, people could not stand their ground around the Prophet. [On
that day,] I saw Ayesha and Umm-i-Sulaim, they had pulled their dress up from
their feet [to avoid any hindrance in their movement].” Again, this indicates
that Ayesha was present in the Battles of Uhud and Badr.
It is narrated in Bukhari (Kitabu’l-maghazi, Bab Ghazwati’l-khandaq wa
hiya’l-ahza’b): “Ibn `Umar states that the Prophet did not permit me to
participate in Uhud, as at that time, I was 14 years old. But on the day of
Khandaq, when I was 15 years old, the Prophet permitted my participation.”
Based on the above narratives, (a) the children below 15 years were sent back
and were not allowed to participate in the Battle of Uhud, and (b) Ayesha
participated in the Battles of Badr and Uhud
CONCLUSION: Ayesha’s participation in the Battles of Badr and Uhud clearly
indicates that she was not nine years old but at least 15 years old. After all,
women used to accompany men to the battlefields to help them, not to be a burden
on them. This account is another contradiction regarding Ayesha’s age.
EVIDENCE #6: Surat al-Qamar (The Moon)
According to the generally accepted tradition, Ayesha was born about eight years
before hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari, Ayesha is reported
to have said: “I was a young girl (jariyah in Arabic)” when Surah Al-Qamar was
revealed (Sahih Bukhari, kitabu’l-tafsir, Bab Qaulihi Bal al-sa`atu Maw`iduhum
wa’l-sa`atu adha’ wa amarr).
Chapter 54 of the Quran was revealed eight years before hijrah (The Bounteous
Koran, M.M. Khatib, 1985), indicating that it was revealed in 614 CE. If Ayesha
started living with the Prophet at the age of nine in 623 CE or 624 CE, she was
a newborn infant (sibyah in Arabic) at the time that Surah Al-Qamar (The Moon)
was revealed. According to the above tradition, Ayesha was actually a young
girl, not an infant in the year of revelation of Al-Qamar. Jariyah means young
playful girl (Lane’s Arabic English Lexicon). So, Ayesha, being a jariyah not a
sibyah (infant), must be somewhere between 6-13 years old at the time of
revelation of Al-Qamar, and therefore must have been 14-21 years at the time she
married the Prophet.
CONCLUSION: This tradition also contradicts the marriage of Ayesha at the age of
EVIDENCE #7: Arabic Terminology
According to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after the death of the
Prophet’s first wife Khadijah, when Khaulah came to the Prophet advising him to
marry again, the Prophet asked her regarding the choices she had in mind.
Khaulah said: “You can marry a virgin (bikr) or a woman who has already been
married (thayyib)”. When the Prophet asked the identity of the bikr (virgin),
Khaulah mentioned Ayesha’s name.
All those who know the Arabic language are aware that the word bikr in the
Arabic language is not used for an immature nine-year-old girl. The correct word
for a young playful girl, as stated earlier, is jariyah. Bikr on the other hand,
is used for an unmarried lady without conjugal experience prior to marriage, as
we understand the word “virgin” in English. Therefore, obviously a nine-year-old
girl is not a “lady” (bikr) (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. .210, Arabic,
Dar Ihya al-turath al-`arabi, Beirut).
CONCLUSION: The literal meaning of the word, bikr (virgin), in the above hadith
is “adult woman with no sexual experience prior to marriage.” Therefore, Ayesha
was an adult woman at the time of her marriage.
EVIDENCE #8. The Qur’anic Text
All Muslims agree that the Quran is the book of guidance. So, we need to seek
the guidance from the Quran to clear the smoke and confusion created by the
eminent men of the classical period of Islam in the matter of Ayesha’s age at
her marriage. Does the Quran allow or disallow marriage of an immature child of
seven years of age?
There are no verses that explicitly allow such marriage. There is a verse,
however, that guides Muslims in their duty to raise an orphaned child. The
Quran’s guidance on the topic of raising orphans is also valid in the case of
our own children. The verse states: “And make not over your property (property
of the orphan), which Allah had made a (means of) support for you, to the weak
of understanding, and maintain them out of it, clothe them and give them good
education. And test them until they reach the age of marriage. Then if you find
them maturity of intellect, make over them their property...” (Quran, 4:5-6).
In the matter of children who have lost a parent, a Muslim is ordered to (a)
feed them, (b) clothe them, (c) educate them, and (d) test them for maturity
“until the age of marriage” before entrusting them with management of finances.
Here the Quranic verse demands meticulous proof of their intellectual and
physical maturity by objective test results before the age of marriage in order
to entrust their property to them.
In light of the above verses, no responsible Muslim would hand over financial
management to a seven- or nine-year-old immature girl. If we cannot trust a
seven-year-old to manage financial matters, she cannot be intellectually or
physically fit for marriage. Ibn Hambal (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hambal, vol.6, p. 33
and 99) claims that nine-year-old Ayesha was rather more interested in playing
with toy-horses than taking up the responsible task of a wife. It is difficult
to believe, therefore, that AbuBakr, a great believer among Muslims, would
betroth his immature seven-year-old daughter to the 50-year-old Prophet. Equally
difficult to imagine is that the Prophet would marry an immature seven-year-old
Another important duty demanded from the guardian of a child is to educate them.
Let us ask the question, “How many of us believe that we can educate our
children satisfactorily before they reach the age of seven or nine years?” The
answer is none. Logically, it is an impossible task to educate a child
satisfactorily before the child attains the age of seven. Then, how can we
believe that Ayesha was educated satisfactorily at the claimed age of seven at
the time of her marriage?
AbuBakr was a more judicious man than all of us. So, he definitely would have
judged that Ayesha was a child at heart and was not satisfactorily educated as
demanded by the Quran. He would not have married her to anyone. If a proposal of
marrying the immature and yet to be educated seven-year-old Ayesha came to the
Prophet, he would have rejected it outright because neither the Prophet nor
AbuBakr would violate any clause in the Quran.
CONCLUSION: The marriage of Ayesha at the age of seven years would violate the
maturity clause or requirement of the Quran. Therefore, the story of the
marriage of the seven-year-old immature Ayesha is a myth.
EVIDENCE #9: Consent in Marriage
A women must be consulted and must agree in order to make a marriage valid (Mishakat
al Masabiah, translation by James Robson, Vol. I, p. 665). Islamically, credible
permission from women is a prerequisite for a marriage to be valid.
By any stretch of the imagination, the permission given by an immature
seven-year-old girl cannot be valid authorization for marriage.
It is inconceivable that AbuBakr, an intelligent man, would take seriously the
permission of a seven-year-old girl to marry a 50-year-old man.
Similarly, the Prophet would not have accepted the permission given by a girl
who, according to the hadith of Muslim, took her toys with her when she went
live with Prophet.
CONCLUSION: The Prophet did not marry a seven-year-old Ayesha because it would
have violated the requirement of the valid permission clause of the Islamic
Marriage Decree. Therefore, the Prophet married an intellectually and physically
mature lady Ayesha.
It was neither an Arab tradition to give away girls in marriage at an age as
young as seven or nine years, nor did the Prophet marry Ayesha at such a young
age. The people of Arabia did not object to this marriage because it never
happened in the manner it has been narrated.
Obviously, the narrative of the marriage of nine-year-old Ayesha by Hisham ibn `Urwah
cannot be held true when it is contradicted by many other reported narratives.
Moreover, there is absolutely no reason to accept the narrative of Hisham ibn `Urwah
as true when other scholars, including Malik ibn Anas, view his narrative while
in Iraq, as unreliable. The quotations from Tabari, Bukhari and Muslim show they
contradict each other regarding Ayesha’s age. Furthermore, many of these
scholars contradict themselves in their own records. Thus, the narrative of
Ayesha’s age at the time of the marriage is not reliable due to the clear
contradictions seen in the works of classical scholars of Islam.
Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the information on
Ayesha’s age is accepted as true when there are adequate grounds to reject it as
myth. Moreover, the Quran rejects the marriage of immature girls and boys as
well as entrusting them with responsibilities.
T.O. Shanavas is a physician based in Michigan. This article first appeared in
The Minaret in March 1999.
© 2001 Minaret
Extracted 09/06/02 from The Minaret