I think too much emphasis is put on Aisha’s age (ra) at the time of her marriage and/or consummation to Muhammad (saaws).
There are two issues at play here: The issues with the narrations that say Aisha (ra) was nine when her marriage with Nabi Muhammad (saaws) was consummated, and the issue with placing modern, “first world” values on illiterate societies.
The issues with the ahadith
First, let’s look at the issues with the hadiths saying Aisha (ra) was nine when her marriage was consummated. I am not going to reinvent the wheel in regards to this topic. Instead, here is an excerpt from someone else’s research:
- Most of these narratives [saying Aisha (ra) was married at 6 and her marriage was consummated at 9] are reported only by Hisham ibn `urwah reporting on the authority of his father. An event as well known as the one being reported, should logically have been reported by more people than just one, two or three.
- It is quite strange that no one from Medinah, where Hisham ibn `urwah lived the first seventy one years of his life has narrated the event, even though in Medinahhis pupils included people as well known as Malik ibn Anas. All the narratives of this event have been reported by narrators from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have had shifted after living in Medinah for seventy one years.
- Tehzibu’l-tehzib, one of the most well known books on the life and reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) reports that according toYaqub ibn Shaibah: “narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq”. It further states that Malik ibn Anasobjected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported through people of Iraq. (vol 11, pg 48 – 51)
- Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, another book on the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) reports that when he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered quite badly. (vol 4, pg 301 – 302)
- According to the generally accepted tradition, Ayesha (ra) was born about eight years before Hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari (kitabu’l-tafseer) Ayesha (ra) is reported to have said that at the time Surah Al-Qamar, the 54th chapter of the Qur’an, was revealed, “I was a young girl”. The 54th surah of the Qur’an was revealed nine years before Hijrah. According to this tradition, Ayesha (ra) had not only been born before the revelation of the referred surah, but was actually a young girl (jariyah), not an infant (sibyah) at that time. Obviously, if this narrative is held to be true, it is in clear contradiction with the narratives reported by Hisham ibn `urwah. I see absolutely no reason that after the comments of the experts on the narratives of Hisham ibn `urwah, why we should not accept this narrative to be more accurate.
- According to a number of narratives, Ayesha (ra) accompanied the Muslims in the battle of Badr and Uhud. Furthermore, it is also reported in books of hadithand history that no one under the age of 15 years was allowed to take part in the battle of Uhud. All the boys below 15 years of age were sent back. Ayesha’s (ra) participation in the battle of Badr and Uhud clearly indicate that she was not nine or ten years old at that time. After all, women used to accompany men to the battle fields to help them, not to be a burden on them.
- According to almost all the historians Asma (ra), the elder sister of Ayesha (ra) was ten years older than Ayesha (ra). It is reported in Taqri’bu’l-tehzi’b as well asAl-bidayah wa’l-nihayah that Asma (ra) died in 73 hijrah when she was 100 years old. Now, obviously if Asma (ra) was 100 years old in 73 hijrah she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah. If Asma (ra) was 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah, Ayesha (ra) should have been 17 or 18 years old at that time. Thus, Ayesha (ra), if she got married in 1 AH (after hijrah) or 2 AH, was between 18 to 20 years old at the time of her marriage.
Placing modern, “first world” values on illiterate societies
We need to understand that illiterate societies are different from literate societies when it comes to the age of maturity. To prove my point, let’s go to a quote about Europe in the throes of the Dark Ages (a largely illiterate period of time) and see what they thought of children, since Europe is the gold standard for Western beliefs:
In an oral [illiterate] world there is not much of a concept of an adult and, therefore, even less of a child. And that is why, in all the sources, one finds that in the Middle Ages childhood ended at seven. Why seven? Because that is the age at which children have command over speech. They can say and understand what adults can say and understand. They are able to know all the secrets of the tongue, which are the only secrets they need to know. And this helps us to explain why, until the seventeenth century, the words used to denote young males could refer to men of thirty, forty, or fifty, for there was no word – in French, German, or English – for a young male between the ages of seven and sixteen. The word child expressed kinship, not age. But most of all, the oralism [illiteracy] of the Middle Ages helps us to explain why there were no primary schools. For where biology determines communication competence, there is no need for such schools.
(Above quote from The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman.)
So you see, Aisha’s age (if we accept the hadiths with the younger ages) at the time of marriage and consummation only applies to illiterate societies. Once the determination for adulthood becomes command of the written word over the command of the spoken word, childhood appears. Concepts of pedophilia appear, because the age in which adults need to protect children from the secrets of the adult world extends much further, from seven to, say, seventeen.
Furthermore, to the Evangelical Atheists out there I ask: What part of the theory of evolution and modern primatology states that one must be 18 (or 16 or 21) in order to have children? What evolutionary advantage is there, over the millenia of human existence, in waiting for humans to reach an arbitrary solar year age-wise? The answer is there is no such understanding. Obviously waiting for a woman to reach a certain biological maturity is better for her (and for her child), but biological maturity does not equate with a solar (or lunar) year of age. Case in point – my cousin was menstruating at 8 and was very mature by the age of 14. I, however, did not start menstruating until I was 14 and I was not biologically mature until I was well into my 16th year.
In fact, does it disturb anyone else out there that it is acceptable for a girl of 15-17 years of age to experiment sexually and engage in consensual relationships with her peers, yet it is not acceptable in most states for her to get married? I don’t get this at all. If the individuals we define in American society as children are expected and urged into sexual relations and think about sexual orientation and identity, why is it wrong for them to also get married? Certainly, if they are physically and emotionally mature enough to have sex wouldn’t that make them also physically and emotionally mature enough to get married?
Beyond this debate and regardless of which hadith you accept in regards to Aisha’s (ra) age, that’s why most Muslims don’t marry off their daughters as soon as they have their first period (or encourage them into sexual experimentation)- because it doesn’t make sense in a literate society to do so! A child who is menstruating and has command over the spoken word is not a fully functioning part of literate society, but she is a fully functioning part of illiterate society. In fact, Islam’s revelation in and of itself actually started the liberation of women from the perils of illiterate society because its copious texts and requirements that women be educated changed the way Muslim societies viewed childhood and women themselves. The fact that Western “liberators” outright ignore the protection Islam gives women and instead focus on a marriage that was not even a scandal at the time merely shows that they are not interested in understanding, and without understanding there can be no liberation.