Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the Age of Aisha Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We proceed with our response to Brown’s assertions.

Here is what Brown further wrote in an attempt to defend Muhammad’s marriage to a minor:

“The reason that no pre-modern critics paid attention to the Prophet’s marriage to a ten-year-old was because marrying girls considered underage today was commonplace in the pre-modern world. Under Roman law, the earliest permitted age for marriage WAS TWELVE. In the heyday of the Roman Empire (2nd century CE), BY FOURTEEN a girl was considered an adult whose primary purpose was marriage. In many pre-modern law codes, such as Hebrew biblical law and Salic Frankish law, marriage was not a question at all. It was assumed that when a girl REACHED PUBERTY and was able to bear children, she was ready for marriage. 

“As a result, we find that average marriage ages in the pre-modern world were remarkably young. Surviving evidence from several centuries of imperial Roman history suggests that as many as 8% of women married at ten or eleven. In Italy in the 1300s and 1400s, the average age for women was sixteen to seventeen. Even in an 1861 census in England, over 350 women married under the age of fifteen in just two countries that year. According to both Christian and Muslim teachings, the Virgin Mary was not the mature maternal figure seen in artwork about the Bible. She was at most in her MID-TEENS, having only just begun menstruating, and is reported to have been as young as ten years old.

“Muhammad’s decision to consummate his marriage to a ten-year-old would have been based ON THE SAME CRITERIA AS MOST PRE-MODERN SOCIETIES: AISHA’S SEXUAL MATURITY and readiness to bear a child. Consummation of the marriage would have occurred when she had menstruated AND STARTED PUBERTY. As the great Muslim historian al-Tabari (d. 923) reported, ‘At the time of her marriage contract Aisha was young and not capable of intercourse.’ Three or four years later, however, she was able. Aisha herself would later remark that a girl can menstruate as young as nine and thus, ‘become a woman’.” (Muhammad, pp. 77-78; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Unfortunately for Brown, the claims he makes here are going to backfire against him.

To begin with, al-Tabari did not say or even imply that Muhammad only had sex with Aisha when she reached puberty. That is a gross misreading of al-Tabari’s words. Here is what this renowned scholar and commentator actually wrote:

Abu Ja‘far [al-Tabari]: The Messenger of God did not marry another woman during the life of Khadijah until she passed away. When she died, the Messenger of God got married, but [opinions] differ as to whom he married first after Khadijah. Some say that it was ‘A’isha bt. Abi Bakr al-Siddiq, while others say that it was Sawdah bt. Zam‘ah b. Qays b. ‘Abd Shams b. ‘Abd Wudd b. Nasr. As for ‘A’ishah, when he married her she was very young and not yet ready for consummation, whereas Sawdah was already married before… (The History of al-Tabari: The Last Years of the Prophet, translated and annotated by Ismail K. Poonawala [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany, NY 1990] Volume IX (9), p. 128; bold and underline emphasis ours)

As the readers can see for themselves, al-Tabari says absolutely nothing about Aisha attaining puberty at the age of nine, or that this was the reason why her parents waited three years before allowing her marriage to be consummated. If anything, one can argue that she was physically too young for a grown man to penetrate and so she had to wait a few more years before she would be able to handle having sex with a 54 year old man.

Furthermore, as we stated in the first part of our rebuttal the hadiths provide ample evidence that Aisha had not reached puberty when Muhammad had sex with her, since they report that she continued playing with dolls long after Muhammad had taken her to his bed:

A'isha reported that Allah's Apostle married her when she was seven years old, and he 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)

And according to Muslim scholars such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, the reason why Aisha was allowed to continue playing with her dolls is because she hadn’t attained puberty yet:

Narrated 'Aisha: 
I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah's Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for 'Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, NOT YET REACHED THE AGE OF PUBERTY.) (Fateh-al-Bari page 143, Vol.13) (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 151)

In fact, the Muslim scholars were still debating whether Aisha had reached puberty at the age of 14!

Al-Haafiz goes on to say: [43: Fath al-Baaree 10/400, Baab (91), related to Hadeeth no.5954, 5955.]

Abu Daawood and An-Nasaa'ee have narrated with another chain (wajh aakhar) from 'Aa'isha that she said:" The Messenger of Allah returned from the battle of Tabook or Khaibar...".

Here he mentioned the Hadeeth about his tearing down the curtain which she attached to her door. She said:" Then the side of the curtain which was over the dolls of 'Aa'isha was uncovered. He said: What is this, O 'Aa'isha? She said: My dolls. She then said: then he saw amongst them a winged horse which was tied up. He said: What is this? I said: A horse. He said: A horse with two wings? I said: Didn't you hear that Sulaiman (Solomon) had horses with wings? Then he laughed" [44].

Al-Khattaabee said: From this Hadeeth it is understood that playing with dolls (al-banaat) is not like the amusement from other images (suwar) concerning which the threat (wa'eed) of punishment is mentioned. The only reason why permission in this was given to 'Aa'isha is because SHE HAD NOT, AT THAT TIME, REACHED THE AGE OF PUBERTY.

[al-Haafiz says:] I say: To say with certainty, [that she was not yet at the age of puberty] is questionable, though it might possibly be so. This, because 'Aa'isha was a fourteen year old girl at the time of the Battle of Khaibar - either exactly fourteen years old, or having just passed her fourteenth year [and entering into the fifteenth year], or approaching it (the fourteenth year).

As for her age at the time of the Battle of Tabook - she had by then definitely reached the age of puberty. Therefore, THE STRONGEST VIEW is that of those who said: "It was in Khaibar" [i.e. WHEN SHE WAS NOT YET AT THE AGE OF PUBERTY], and made reconciliation (jam') [between the apparent contradictory rulings, of permissibility of dolls, in particular, and the prohibition of images, in general] with what al-Khattaabee said (above).

[al-Khattabee said that images are prohibited, except in the case of dolls for young girls]. This, because to reconcile (make jam') is better than to assume the ahaadith to be in contradiction (at-ta'aarud). Here Shaykh Bin Baaz concludes his quotation from al-Haafiz, saying: The above is the essence of the words of al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar. (The Beneficial Response Concerning the Islamic Ruling of Pictures/Images, by Shaykh Abdul-Azeez Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baaz, rendered in English by Abu Muhammad Abdur-Ra'uf Shakir; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

Pay close to attention to the fact that, according to the above reference, the strongest Islamic position is that Aisha had still not attained puberty during Muhammad’s expedition to Khaybar, an event that took place when she was already 14 years old!

Hence, the foregoing Muslim scholars soundly refute and expose Brown’s deliberate misinterpretation of al-Tabari and his assertion that Aisha was already a pubescent girl when Muhammad had sex with her.

And here are some additional reports, which further confirm that Muhammad took Aisha to his bed when she was still too young:

Narrated Urwa bin Al-Musayyab, Alqama bin Waqqas and Ubaidullah bin Abdullah: About the story of 'Aisha and their narrations were similar attesting each other, when the liars said what they invented about 'Aisha, and the Divine Inspiration was delayed, Allah's Apostle sent for 'Ali and Usama to consult them in divorcing his wife (i.e. 'Aisha). Usama said, "Keep your wife, as we know nothing about her except good." Buraira said, "I cannot accuse her of any defect except that she is still A YOUNG GIRL who sleeps, neglecting her family's dough which the domestic goats come to eat (i.e. she was too simpleminded to deceive her husband)." Allah's Apostle said, "Who can help me to take revenge over the man who has harmed me by defaming the reputation of my family? By Allah, I have not known about my family anything except good, and they mentioned (i.e. accused) a man about whom I did not know anything except good." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 805)

“… Buraira said, 'No, by Allah Who has sent you with the Truth, I have never seen in her anything faulty except that she is a girl of IMMATURE AGE, who sometimes sleeps and leaves the dough for the goats to eat.'…” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 829)

“… 'A'isha said… The women in those days were light of weight and they did not wear much flesh, as they ate less food; so they did not perceive the weight of my haudaj as they placed it upon the camel as I was A YOUNG GIRL at that time… Barira said: By Him Who sent thee with the truth, I have seen nothing objectionable in her but only this much that she is A YOUNG GIRL and she goes to sleep while kneading the flour and the lamb eats that…” (Sahih Muslim, Book 037, Number 6673)

Notice how all these narrations continue to describe Aisha as a young and immature girl long after her marriage to Muhammad. Obviously, a girl who is portrayed this way is far from being ready for sexual intercourse with a grown man. Therefore, what business did a 54-year-old man have marrying a physically and emotionally immature minor?

Here is a summation of the evidence we have examined thus, which prove Aisha had not attained puberty when Muhammad had sex with her:

The hadiths claim that, at the time when Aisha went to live with Muhammad, she took her dolls with her and continued playing with them.

The Muslim scholars explain that, though the playing of dolls is forbidden in Islam, Aisha was permitted to do so because she hadn’t attained puberty yet.

These same scholars argue that Aisha did not reach puberty until the age of 14, some five years after marrying Muhammad.

We’re not done just yet since we have more proof that Aisha hadn’t attained puberty at the time of the consummation of her marriage.

Note what the following hadith states:

Chapter 13. Marriage OF MINOR GIRLS Arranged By Their Fathers.

1876. It was narrated that ‘Aishah said: "The Messenger of Allah married me when I was six years old. Then we came to Al-Madinah and settled among Banu Harith bin Khazraj. I became ill and my hair fell out, then it grew back and became abundant. My mother Umm Ruman came to me while I was on an Urjuhah with some of my friends, and called for me. When I got my breath back, she took some water and wiped my face and head, and led me into the house. There were some of women of the Ansar inside the house, and they said: ‘With the blessings and good fortune (from Allah).’ (My mother) handed me over to them and they tidied me up. And suddenly I saw the Messenger of Allah in the morning. And she handed me over to him, and I was at that time, nine years old." (Sahih)


a. The marriage bond of a girl who is not yet adult (HAS NOT REACHED THE AGE OF PUBERTY) IS PERFECTLY VALID IN ISLAM.

b. Urjuhah refers to both, a swing and a seesaw; it is a long piece of wood, its middle is placed at a high place and the children sit on both ends, when its one side goes down the other side goes up; it is called seesaw in English. (Sunan Ibn Majah - Compiled by Imam Muhammad Bin Yazeed Ibn Majah Al-Qazwini, From Hadith No. 1783 to 2718, Ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair 'Ali Za'i, translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Canada), final review by Abu Khaliyl (USA) [Darussalam Publications and Distributors, First Edition: June 2007], Volume 3, The Chapters on Marriage, pp. 76-77; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Here again is a Muslim source candidly acknowledging that Aisha wasn’t pubescent when Muhammad slept with her. And we are once again told that Aisha was still playing with her child friends on a swing/seesaw on the very same day that Muhammad came to consummate the marriage (i.e. have sex with her)!

What would possess someone (a professor to boot!) to try and justify a 54-year-old man sleeping with a 9 old minor who was still playing with dolls and riding on swings/seesaws?

This isn’t the only time that a Muslim and/or hadith scholar used Aisha as an example of a prepubescent child being given away in marriage:

XXXIX. A man giving his YOUNG CHILDREN in marriage

By the words of Allah, "that also applies to those who have not yet menstruated" (65:4) and He made the 'idda of a girl BEFORE PUBERTY three months.

4840. It is related from 'A'isha that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and consummated it when she was nine, and she was his wife for nine years. (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of Al-Bukhari, Chapter 70. Book of Marriage; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Here is another version of the above narration:

(39) CHAPTER. Giving one’s YOUNG CHILDREN in marriage (is permissible).

By virtue of the Statement of Allah: "…and for those who have no (monthly) courses (i.e. THEY ARE STILL IMMATURE) …" (v. 65:4)

And the ‘Idda for the girl BEFORE PUBERTY is three months (in the above Verse).

5133. Narrated ‘Aishah that the Prophet wrote the marriage contract with her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was none years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death). (The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, translated by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh – Saudi Arabia, July 1997], Volume 7, Ahadith 5063 to 5969, 67 – Book of An-Nikah (The Wedlock), p. 57; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Al-Bukhari employs the example of Aisha’s marriage to Muhammad at the age of 9 to illustrate the meaning of Q. 65:4, a verse which permits grown men to marry and have sex with young prepubescent girls. Now the Aisha’s example only works here if in fact Muhammad married her before she had reached maidenhood.

Thus, even though it may be true that some girls attain puberty at a younger age this is normally not the case, nor was it the case with Aisha as the preceding evidence conclusively proves. More importantly, just because a 9-year-old girl may have already reached puberty this doesn’t mean that she is physically and psychologically ready to sleep with a grown man, especially one who was 54 years old!

To make matters worse, Muhammad’s marriage to a minor set precedence for other men to follow suit, and even became enshrined in the Quran for future generations:

And if you are in doubt as to the prescribed period for such of your women as have despaired of monthly courses, then know that the prescribed period for them is three months, and also for such AS DO NOT HAVE not have their monthly courses YET. And as for those who are with child, their period shall be until they are delivered of their burden. And whoso fears ALLAH, HE will provide facilities for him in his affair. S. 65:4 Sher Ali

The surrounding context deals with the issue of the waiting period for divorcing and remarrying. Essentially, the Quran is informing Muslims to wait for a certain period of time before making the divorce final or deciding to forego it. The Islamic scripture exhorts men to wait a period of three months in the case of women who either are no longer menstruating or haven’t even started their menstrual cycles. Thus, the Islamic scripture is allowing men to marry and have sex with young minors!

This is further brought out from the fact that according to Quran 33:49, there is no waiting period for a woman whose marriage hasn’t been consummated by sexual intercourse. Here, once again, is al-Bukhari:

Narrated Sahl bin Sad:
 While we were sitting in the company of the Prophet a woman came to him and presented herself (for marriage) to him. The Prophet looked at her, lowering his eyes and raising them, but did not give a reply. One of his companions said, “Marry her to me O Allah’s Apostle!” The Prophet asked (him), “Have you got anything?” He said, “I have got nothing.” The Prophet said, “Not even an iron ring?” He said, “Not even an iron ring, but I will tear my garment into two halves and give her one half and keep the other half.” The Prophet; said, “No. Do you know some of the Quran (by heart)?” He said, “Yes.” The Prophet said, “Go, I have agreed to marry her to you with what you know of the Qur’an (as her Mahr).” ‘And for those who have no courses (i.e. they are still immature). (65.4) AND THE ‘IDDAT FOR THE GIRL BEFORE PUBERTY IS THREE MONTHS (in the above Verse). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 63)

Therefore, Muhammad’s god is actually permitting men to marry and have sex with prepubescent girls, as well as giving them the right to divorce their child brides if they so desired!

Now let us see how some of Islam’s greatest scholars and expositors interpreted Q. 65:4, beginning with Ibn Kathir:

“… There is a third type of divorce, which is neither a Sunnah nor an innovation where one divorces A YOUNG WIFE WHO HAS NOT BEGUN TO HAVE MENSES, the wife who is beyond the age of having menses, and divorcing one’s wife before the marriage was consummated…” (Q. 65:1; bold, capital and italicized emphasis ours)


The `Iddah of Those in Menopause and Those Who do not have Menses

Allah the Exalted clarifies the waiting period of the woman in menopause. And that is the one whose menstruation has stopped due to her older age. Her `Iddah is three months instead of the three monthly cycles for those who menstruate, which is based upon the Ayah in (Surat) Al-Baqarah. [see 2:228] The same for THE YOUNG, WHO HAVE NOT REACHED THE YEARS OF MENSTRUATION… (Q. 65:4; capital and italicized emphasis ours)


“… Abu Ishaq al-Muqri’ informed us> Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Hamdun> Makki ibn ‘Abdan> Abu’l-Azhar> Asbat ibn Muhammad> Mutarrif> Abu ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Salim who said: “When the waiting period for divorced and widowed women was mentioned in Surah al-Baqarah, Ubayy ibn Ka‘b said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, some women of Medina are saying: there are other women who have not been mentioned!’ He asked him: ‘And who are they?’ He said: ‘THOSE WHO ARE TOO YOUNG [SUCH THAT THEY HAVE NOT STARTED MENSTRUATING YET], those who are too old [whose menstruation has stopped] and those who are pregnant’. And so this verse (And for such of your women as despair of menstruation…) was revealed’.” ('Ali ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi, Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi; bold, capital and italicized emphasis ours)

Keep in mind that Brown himself stated that nearly all the people before, during and after Muhammad’s time (e.g., the pre-modern world as Brown calls it) adopted puberty as the earliest possible age when a girl could get married. As such, Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha went against the standards set by all the different cultures of his own day in respect to what they deemed to be appropriate sexual relations.

Worse still, by permitting marriages with prepubescent girls the Quran fails to live up to the very criterion adopted by virtually everyone (as Brown himself admits), despite the fact that it’s supposed to be the uncreated speech of the Creator and Sustainer of all creation who supposedly knows what is best for mankind.   

We hate to break this to Brown but we are far from finished. Therefore, please proceed to the third part of our refutation.