The following are research notes by Habib-ur-Rahman Kandhalwi as presented in his booklet, “Tehqiq-e-umar-e-Siddiqah-e-Ka’inat”, Anjuman Uswa-e-hasanah, Karachi, Pakistan. I have added footnotes at the end of this web page to provide additional references and to answer many objections that have been raised about Kandhalwi’s essay.
What was Ayesha’s (ra) Age at the Time of Her Marriage?
Research by Habib ur Rahman Kandhalwi
“It is normally believed that she was nine years old at the time of her marriage with Mohammad (sws) was consummated. I do think it was according to the traditions of the Arab culture, as otherwise people would have objected to this marriage. But unfortunately, the modern day man is not satisfied with an answer as simple as that.
“To begin with, I think it is the responsibility of all those who believe that marrying a girl as young as nine years old was an accepted norm of the Arab culture, to provide at least a few examples to substantiate their point of view. I have not yet been able to find a single dependable instance in the books of Arab history where a girl as young as nine years old was given away in marriage. Unless such examples are given, we do not have any reasonable grounds to believe that it really was an accepted norm.
“In my opinion, the age of Ayesha (ra) has been grossly misreported in the ahadith. Not only that, I think that the narratives reporting this event are not only highly unreliable but also that on the basis of other historical data, the event reported, is quite an unlikely happening. Let us look at the issue from an objective stand point. My reservations in accepting the narratives, on the basis of which, Ayeshas (ra) age at the time of her marriage with the Prophet (pbuh) is held to be nine years are:
“Most of these narratives 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 Medinah his 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 to Yaqub ibn Shaibah: ‘narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq’. It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected 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 hadith and history that no one under the age of 15 years was allowed totake 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 as Al-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.
“Tabari in his treatise on Islamic history, while mentioning Abu Bakr (ra) reports that Abu Bakr had four children and all four were born during the Jahiliyyah – the pre Islamic period. Obviously, if Ayesha (ra) was born in the period of jahiliyyah, she could not have been less than 14 years in 1 AH — the time she most likely got married.
“According to Ibn Hisham, the historian, Ayesha (ra) accepted Islam quite some time before Umar ibn Khattab (ra). This shows that Ayesha (ra) accepted Islam during the first year of Islam. While, if the narrative of Ayesha’s (ra) marriage at seven years of age is held to be true, Ayesha (ra) should not have been born during the first year of Islam. 
“Tabari has also reported that at the time Abu Bakr planned on migrating to Habshah (8 years before Hijrah), he went to Mut`am — with whose son Ayesha (ra) was engaged — and asked him to take Ayesha (ra) in his house as his son’s wife. Mut`am refused, because Abu Bakr had embraced Islam. Now, if Ayesha (ra) was only seven years old at the time of her marriage, she could not have been born at the time Abu Bakr decided on migrating to Habshah. On the basis of this report it seems only reasonable to assume that Ayesha (ra) had not only been born 8 years before hijrah, but was also a young lady, quite prepared for marriage.
“According to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after the death of Khadijah (ra), when Khaulah (ra) came to the Prophet (pbuh) advising him to marry again, the Prophet (pbuh) asked her regarding the choices she had in her mind. Khaulah said: “You can marry a virgin (bikr) or a woman who has already been married (thayyib)”. When the Prophet (pbuh) asked about who the virgin was, Khaulah proposed Ayesha’s (ra) 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, and obviously a nine year old is not a “lady”.
“According to Ibn Hajar, Fatimah (ra) was five years older than Ayesha (ra). Fatimah (ra) is reported to have been born when the Prophet (pbuh) was 35 years old. Thus, even if this information is taken to be correct, Ayesha (ra) could by no means be less than 14 years old at the time of hijrah, and 15 or 16 years old at the time of her marriage.
“These are some of the major points that go against accepting the commonly known narrative regarding Ayesha’s (ra) age at the time of her marriage.
“In my opinion, neither was it an Arab tradition to give away girls in marriage at an age as young as nine or ten years, nor did the Prophet (pbuh) marry Ayesha (ra) 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.”
Possible Reason Why Aisha’s Age May Have Been Misrepresented
On the authority of Aisha (RA), who said:
I used to play with dolls in the presence of the Prophet (SAW). And I had girl- friends (playmates) who played along with me. They would hide (feeling shy) from him (SAW) whenever he entered. But, he (SAW) would send for them to join me and they would play with me. (Sahih Bukhari & Muslim)
First of all, It is obvious to Arabs and Muslims that the term “hide” and feeling shy means that Muslim girls and women cover themselves with a veil or find cover behind a chador when a non-’maharm’ enters a room in private quarters. And according to Shaykh Muhammad Shams al-Haqq al-’Adheem Aabaadee, the words “When he (SAW) came in , they went out, ” meaning the young girls would go out because of shyness and awe [of the Messenger of Allah (SAW)].”
It is obvious from Hadith literature and other sources that Aisha’s (r.a) age was most likely misquoted because Muslim ulemaa (scholars) couldn’t explain the troubling contradiction that Aisha kept dolls at a time when there was a general prohibition on figurines. My theory, which I shall prove below, is that since Aisha (r.a.) didn’t have any children of her known, she was permitted by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) to keep dolls, as there was no danger of her worshipping these figurines. She probably also shared her toys with other children. One way that muhadithoon (schaolars of Hadith) have justified this is by portraying Aisha as a little girl. The Hadith above is just example of how this was achieved. Any evidence to the contrary, which Kandhalwi has so convincingly presented, was simply ignored.
The proof that Aisha (r.a.) kept dolls even when she had grown up can be found from this Hadith:
Book 41, Number 4914:
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin:
“When the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) arrived after the expedition to Tabuk or Khaybar (the narrator is doubtful), the draught raised an end of a curtain which was hung in front of her store-room, revealing some dolls which belonged to her. He asked: What is this? She replied: My dolls. Among them he saw a horse with wings made of rags, and asked: What is this I see among them? She replied: A horse. He asked: What is this that it has on it? She replied: Two wings. He asked: A horse with two wings? She replied: Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with wings? She said: Thereupon the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) laughed so heartily that I could see his molar teeth.”
[Abu Daawood, An-Nasaa'iee as-Sunan al-Kubraa, Albani (ra) says the chain of narrators of an-Nasaa'ee is authentic (Saheeh). As for the chain of narrators of Abu Daawood, Albani (ra) has also declared it to be authentic (saheeh)]
The expedition to Tabuk took place in 9.A.H and to Khabar at 7 A.H. If it is assumed that Aishah got married in 1 A.H at the age of nine, then even at age of 16 or 18 she must have still kept her dolls. Therefore, using dolls to establish her age doesn’t make any sense.
In Sahih Muslim, there are two Ahadith but it says that they are narrated from Hisham, See Book 31, #5982. And we have already discussed unreliability of this narration from Hisham. Muslim was a student of Bukhari and almost certainly, all these Ahadith are narrated through Hisham or through people of Iraq who knew him.
That the keeping of figurines and the hadith above have been a topic of discussion for Muslim scholars. And because of obvious contradictions, the ulemaa have either glossed over it or have tried to explain to by making Aisha (r.a.) seem like a little girl. The following are some examples of this flawed thinking:
- Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar said in Fath al-Baaree (Fath al-Baaree, no. 6130, Kitaab: al-Adab, Baab: al-Inbisaat ilaa an-Naas): This Hadith has been used as a proof for the permissibility of possessing (suwar - of) dolls and toys for the purpose of the little girls playing with them. This has been especially exempted from the general prohibition of possession of images (suwar).
- Al-Khattaabee said: From this hadith 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 Aisha (RA) is because she had not, at that time, reached the age of puberty.
- [al-Haafidh 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 Aisha (RA) 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 (all young girls). This, because to reconcile (make jam’) is better than to assume the ahaadith to be in contradiction (at-ta’aarud). [End of quotation from al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar]. (Fath al-Baree)
Any serious person reading this would come to the conclusion that Hadiths regarding Ayesha’s age were compromised in order to avoid a much greater controversy (Prophet’s own wife keeping figurines when other Muslims were forbidden from doing so): On one hand, Hadith compilers wanted Aisha (r.a.) to be at or below puberty when a Hadith mentions Aisha (r.a) having dolls, but at the same time, they were faced with a contradiction that she could not possibly have been less than 18 years old_ way beyond puberty_ when she had dolls.
If it is assumed that Aisha (r.a.) collected dolls, and that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) allowed her because she considered these figurines as toys and not as idols, the problem is resolved and there is no need to twist the truth or to defend something which was clearly an error.
Doesn’t This Make Hadith Literature Less Reliable?
Absolutely not. Because it is Hadith literature which is correcting itself. All the accounts relating to Aisha’s (r.a) age are so similar that they must have originated from one person other than Ayesha and the Hadith compilers were not always looking at the contradictions that we now find in different accounts.
 An objection is made that Tabari also mentions Aisha’s age as 9 at the time of her marriage and do not have Hisham in the chain. See Tabari (volume 7, page 7, and volume 9, page 129.
In Volume 7, the narration has a broken chain and in Volume 9 Tabari narrates a long story and it is not clear where the narration actually ends. Tabari lists Ayesha’s age at the end of a paragraph as if he is providing additional information for his readers. It is unlikely that such a long story would be remembered verbatim. However, in the same narration, Ayesha is called a “maiden” (bikr) not a child (jariyah), which would imply that she was a young woman. In the other narration that Tabari provides, it is reported through Hisham ibn urwah.” Tabari, who was born in 839 in Iran, was simply quoting what he heard from other sources without verifying them. The stories that have been quoted are so similar in account that they must have come from a single source, which then were repeated infinitum.
In Volume XI of Tabari (published by SUNY), the translator points out the apparent contradiction. The footnote says, ” This statement [that the four children of Abu Bakr's were born in the period of Jahilia] appears to contradict the alleged age of Aishah of nine years at the time of the consummation of her marriage to the Prophet in Shawaal 9April-May 623]…Even if she was born at the end of Jahiliyyah period, in 609 C.E. she would have been at least thirteen solar years old by the year 1/622-23.”
 Another objection is made that Maududi disagrees with the statement that this sura was revealed nine years before the Hijrah: The incident of the shaqq-al-Qamar (splitting of the moon) that has been mentioned in it, determines its period of revelation precisely. The traditionists and commentators are agreed that this incident took place at Mina in Makkah about five years before the Holy Prophet’s Hijra to Madinah. However, According to M.M. Khatib, another scholar and author of “The Bounteous Koran” authorized by al-Azhar University, the 54th chapter of the Quran was revealed eight years before Hijrah. Even if it is accepted that Surah al-Qamar was revealed five years before Hijrah, Ayesha would have to be three years old_ basically a child (sibyah)_ and not a young girl (jariyah).
 Some non-Muslims have made the objection that since Aisha had reached puberty and was considered an adult, she was able to accompany the soldiers to the battlefield. Also, the women were not combatants. They fetched water, and gave aid to the wounded, but did not participate in the actual fighting. However it seems unlikely that a a nine year old girl could be helping the war wounded but a boy 13 years of age couldn’t.
 Additional References for Asma’s age:
Ibn Khatir: “she [Asma] was elder to her sister [Ayesha] by ten years”. (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol 8, Pg 371, Arabic, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933).
Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d:Asma (ra) was ten years older than Ayesha. (Siyar A`la’ma’l-nubala’, Al-Zahabi, Vol 2, Pg 289, Arabic, Mu’assasatu’l-risalah, Beirut, 1992)
Ibn Khatir: “She [Asma] saw the killing of her son during that year [i.e. 73 AH], as we have already mentioned, five days later she herself died, according to other narratives her death was not five but ten or twenty or a few days over twenty or a hundred days later. The most well known narrative is that of hundred days later. At the time of her death, she was 100 years old.” (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah, Ibn Kathir, Vol 8, Pg 372, Arabic, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933)
Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani: “She [Asma (ra)] lived a hundred years and died in 73 or 74 AH.” (Taqribu’l-tehzib, Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, Pg 654, Arabic, Bab fi’l-nisa’, al-harfu’l-alif, Lucknow).
 According to the story in Ibn Ishaq’s Seerah, when Umar, still a non-Muslim, came to kill the Prophet and that that time the migration to Abbysinnia had already taken place_ we don’t know for how many years. Ibn Ishaq writes, ” …Umar came out, girt with his sword, making for the apostle, and a number of his companions, who he had been informed had gathered in a house at al-Safa, in all about forty, including women. With the apostle was his uncle Hamza, and Abu Bakr, and Ali, from among the Muslims who stayed with the apostle and had not gone out with those who went to Abbysinia.” That means that Aisha who was Abu Bakr’s daughter must have accepted Islam before Umar (r.a) . Umar (r.a) accepted Islam in 616 CE. If Aishah was born in 612 CE, then she had to have accepted Islam as soon as she was born.! This also contradicts Tabari’s statement that all four children of Abu Bakr were born in Jahiliyah (before 610 CE.).
According to Ibn Hisham, Ayesha (ra) was the 20th or the 21st person to enter into the folds of Islam (Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, Ibn Hisham, Vol 1, Pg 227 – 234, Arabic, Maktabah al-Riyadh al-hadithah, Al-Riyadh) While `umar ibn al-khattab was preceded by forty individuals (Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, Ibn Hisham, Vol 1, Pg 295, Arabic, Maktabah al-Riyadh al-hadithah, Al-Riyadh).
 In Tabari, Volume 9, page 29, there is a note that it was Khawlah bint Hakim who originally proposed that the Prophet either marry Aisha, who is called a “maiden” (bikr) or marry Sawdah. If the marriage was controversial or socially unacceptable in any way, why would Khawlah even propose such a thing? It doesn’t seem that Khawlah would be talking about a child. As I have stated above, Tabari contradicts himself on this issue and therefore the narrations that he has quoted are all suspect.
 According to Ibn Hajar, ” Fatimah was born at the time the Ka’bah was rebuilt, when the Prophet (pbuh) was 35 years old… she (Fatimah) was five years older than Ayeshah.” (See al-Isabah fi tamyizi l-sahabah, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Vol. 4, p. 377, Maktabutu’l-Riyadh al-haditha, al-Riyadh, 1978).