>> Tuesday, March 29, 2011
That said, many people have questions regarding one particular marriage of the Prophet- his marriage with Aisha. So how do we address this?
To start off, we have to remind people that whenever we look at a different culture or a different time period, we need to remove our own social prejudices. It’s not something easy to do, but it needs to be done. As Sheik Hamza Yusuf said, we need to try our best not to superimpose our own traditions and what’s acceptable in our cultures onto other cultures.
Now, let’s try to look at the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha. First of all, we know this happened a long time ago, right? Hmmm...let's go back to around 300 years ago, or even less than that...In 1770, that was around 250 years ago, the father of Chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier married his 13 year old bride, Marie Anne Paulze. In 1876, the then 49 year old British artist named George Frederic Watts married 16 year old Ellen Terry....These examples were just a few centuries ago. Now, let's go back to more than 1,400 years ago! Did you know that before the Prophet proposed to Aisha, she had already had another suitor and had been previously engaged? Clearly, then, she was considered old enough to get married. This is hardly surprising especially considering the fact the life span of people was much shorter than today- probably around 60 years if not much less (when you consider all of the wars and such). Childhood just did not last that long. Early on, children were given serious responsibilities. (This still happens today in pre-industrial societies). Thus, whereas, today, a nine year old girl would be considered a child, one thousand and four hundred years ago, she would not have been considered a child, especially if she had had her first menstrual cycle. She would have been considered a woman.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s look at how people 1,400 years ago viewed the union between Prophet Mohammed and Aisha. Nobody said anything about it. That in, itself, is very significant. The people of Mecca tried their best to smear the reputation of the Prophet, calling him a “liar”, accusing him of being possessed, and never letting an opportunity escape when they could ridicule him. Yet, not a single Arab ever said anything about the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha. No one felt that it was unordinary or strange. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t some sexual taboos- there were. A person wasn’t supposed to marry his adopted son’s ex-wife, for example. Clearly, then, if they thought his behavior was immoral, they would have spoken up. But they didn’t think there was anything unusual about it.
Maybe you don’t care about what Aisha’s society thought…or that she had been previously engaged. Maybe you think she was still forced into it and had no say…How about we look at Aisha, herself, more closely. Surely if she had felt physically exploited, there would have been something that indicated her anger/ fear/ repulsion…the reality, however, is that all she displayed was love. Even years later, after the Prophet died, she never said anything at all that indicated she felt she was a victim. On the contrary, she was very jealous of the other wives of the Prophet- does that seem like the attitude of a victim? Moreover, she used to ask the Prophet for reassurance about his love. See, the Prophet once described his love to her as a knot- meaning something that could never be broken. Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) would ask him “how is the knot?, essentially wanting reassurance the bond between was as strong as ever.
Maybe you think “Okay, she loved him, but she didn’t know any better…maybe she loved the idea of being a Prophet’s wife or she couldn’t even recognize she was being abused.” Let me make it clear that all of the wives of the Prophet lived very simply. Though the Prophet was the Head of State, they would go many days without food and when they had food, it was the most basic essentials. Thus, there was nothing glamorous about their lives. It was full of hard work and toil. Secondly, Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) was a very intelligent woman, strongly opinionated and capable of thinking for herself. This is very clear in the way she expressed herself. For example, when the Ifk incident happened (when she was accused of having committed adultery), Aisha stood up to her parents and said:
“By Allah, I know that you heard this story (i.e. of Ifk) so much so that it has been planted in your minds and you have believed it. So now, if I tell you that I am innocent, and Allah knows that I am innocent, you will not believe me; and if I confess something, and Allah knows that I am innocent of it, you will believe me…”
This is very articulate and shows a mature mind. The fact that she had very strong opinions is also evident when she stood up against Ali (May Allah be Pleased with both of them). She realized that he was correct, though, and changed her mind afterwards. Still, this proves that she was a strong woman.
Not only that, but it is a well known fact that the Companions used to look up to her and seek her advice and ask her questions on fiqh. Perhaps this was one of the reasons Allah chose her to marry the Prophet - because we needed someone who would live after the Prophet for many years and continue to spread the teachings of Islam.
Whatever the reason was, it should be obvious, then, that the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha was one based on love and mutual respect and that there wasn’t anything strange about her age. If the age difference seems odd, this is because we are taking our own conceptions of what is a normal age difference- this differs from society to society. And from person to person…the Prophet was able to meet the needs and desires of both a woman older than him (Khadijah, his first wife, was 15 years older than him and had already been married 2 times before him) and a woman younger than him (he would race with Aisha and joke with her). Again, we can’t judge a marriage 1,400 years ago with our own modern cultural ideas. Just look at Lady’s Mary’s marriage in the Bible.
The 1913 edition of the Catholic Encylopedia records that Mary, was between 12-14 years of age, when she married Joseph, who was 90 years old and had 6 children. (If you want to read from the Gospel of James about it, see below):
The Infancy Gospel of James, Chapter 8 verse 2 to Chapter 9 verse 11
“When she [Mary] turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, ‘Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?’ And they said to the high priest, ‘You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it.’ And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, ‘Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife.’ So the heralds went out to the whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.
Throwing down his axe, Joseph went out to meet them. And after they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high priest. After receiving everyone’s rod, the high priest went into the temple and prayed. When he was finished with the prayer, he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, but there was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. Suddenly, a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph’s head. And the high priest said, ‘Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping.’ And Joseph replied, saying, ‘I have sons and am old, while she is young. I will not be ridiculed among the children of Israel.’ And the high priest said, ‘Joseph, fear the Lord your God and remember what God did to Dathan and Abiron and Kore, how the earth split open and swallowed them because of their rebellion. Now fear God, Joseph, so that these things do not happen in your house.’ Fearing God, Joseph took her into his own possession.”
We’re not trying to be critical of this- we’re trying to point out that we can’t judge a society using our own cultural norms especially when Aisha was clearly happy with the Prophet.