May 18, 2013

3.3. Why did Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) marry a child, Aisha? Is that not illegal?

According to widely accepted accounts, Prophet Muhammed , married Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), when she was six. The marriage was consummated three years later.


It is interesting to note however, that Ibn Ishaq, the most authoritative historian of the life of the Prophet Muhammed , mentioned the names of Aisha and, her sister, Asma amongst the earliest of people who accepted Islam. The Prophet’s (SAW) marriage with Aisha was consummated (i.e. she moved to his house) three years after the contract/engagement, and this took place in Madina. Since the Meccan period alone was 13 years, it is much more likely that the contract took place at the age of 16 and that the marriage was consummated at the age of 19. Whether or not this is true, it is an interesting point to note.


Acceptability in certain practices varies across culture and across time. Even in America there was a time when there were no laws restricting the age of marriage, and some were married at the age of 12 or 13. States, then, started to limit the age of marriage to 14 and, in some states, 16. All such practices and related law are tied to the socio-cultural practices of the time and place.


In terms of the marriage practices in Arabia during the time of the Prophet ,  there are some important points. First, you could negotiate the marriage of a minor child and have a contract for marriage, like an engagement, in those times, without the actual marriage taking place until the age of adolescence. There is evidence that this practice was accepted in Islam. The enemies of the Prophet  never raised any issue about his marriage to Aisha which, also, shows that it was a social norm in that culture at that time. Islam actually added some restriction to this practice. It allowed the engagement contract in childhood, but this becomes null and void if the two parties reach the age of adolescence and do not agree with what their guardians arranged. Secondly, Islam explicitly placed the minimum marriageable age at adolescence, rather than an arbitrary, chronological age. Adolescence can vary from one culture to another.


Islamic scholars are unanimous that the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha was a singular act of tremendous wisdom. Aisha, as the youngest wife of the Prophet, was in a position to observe many aspects of the Prophet’s life, and imbibe spiritual knowledge from a young age. She lived many years after his demise, and conveyed thousands of authentic traditions of the Prophet. Many Companions of the Prophet  looked up to her for guidance, and her scholarship has been a boon to Islam and the wider world.

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