Written by Theresa Corbin
I’ve written about it in the context of other issues a couple of times now, but I thought Aisha’s (Allah be pleased with her) age at marriage deserved a post all on its own. Because lots of people have this same question: Why did the Prophet (PBUH) marry Aisha when she was so young?
We don’t know Aisha’s age when she married the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The thing is they didn’t keep birth records back in those days. They also didn’t celebrate birthdays or really even keep track of age. We do have reports that Aisha was anywhere from 9-18 at the time of her marriage.
What is important for us to understand about Aisha’s marriage to the Prophet is that we cannot apply our standards in 2016 to people 1,400 plus years ago and vice versa. When people do put lives 1,400 years ago into 21st century context, it is as if they admit to not understanding historical context or ever having taken a history class in their lives. And that’s just sad.
Life in the 7th c.
We do not live in the same world at all. In the 7th century people were not guaranteed to see the ripe old age of 30. People matured early and were ready for marriage a heck of a lot earlier. Looking back even a few hundred years ago, the legal age of marriage was as young as anything from 10-14 years old.
Richard A. Posner, chief judge of the U.S. court of appeals writes, “The law governing the age of consent has changed dramatically in the United States during this century. Most states codified a statutory age of consent during the nineteenth century, and the usual age was ten years.” 
Marriage in the 7th c.
The practice of marrying early was not an aberration to the people during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her). Christians, Jews, and pagans all married very young. So if we are going to criticize Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, why don’t we have a problem with King John of England marrying 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême?
This was just the way things worked back then for everyone.
Education and marriage
One of many good reasons that we marry today (or are able to consent) after 18 is because of our education system. We go to school until the age of 18 in most cases, sometimes a lot more, sometimes a little less. But 18 is the time at which we in Western society will have enough education to potentially make it in society-get a job, know how stuff works, be informed about our gov.
But back in the day, and even as little as a century ago, education was very truncated. People knew all they were going to learn by a young age. Aisha was fully educated in the ways and means of living in her society by the time of her marriage. And on top of being fully educated in her context, she was marrying a man who would give her even more education. So her marriage was advantageous to her education and not a disruption to it.
Aisha became one of the greatest scholars of Islam because of her marriage. Much of what we know about Islam today has come from her scholarship.
Aisha’s marriage and consent
We also have to take into account consent. Tragically, most women back in Aisha’s time were not asked for consent in their marriages. She was. And she consented. Islam demands consent.
“O ye who believe! You are forbidden to inherit [in marriage] women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness […]” (Quran, 4:19) emphasis added.
She was also engaged to someone else even earlier in her life. For this engagement, her consent was not sought and the engagement was broken.
In addition to having completed her contemporary education, having given her consent, Aisha had also reached an age maturity. She matured early in a society that had to mature early because life was pretty rough and decidedly short. If marriage didn’t happen once maturity was attained, I am not sure we as a species would have survived.
Also, we know that Aisha was considered an adult in her context because In Islam, a child cannot even give consent to marriage or any legal contract like a wedding contract. The age at which one can consent to marriage is when a person is fully grown and has reached full maturity and strength of adulthood, which varies from person to person, era to era, and and society to society. (Qur’an 22:5, 40:67, 6:152, 17:34).
Use your context
We cannot judge people centuries and centuries ago by our standards. Saying Aisha’s marriage to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was some kind of crime is kind of like saying that the Prophet was harsh because he didn’t let any of his companions have a Twitter account. It’s absurd! We have to put things into their context.
Now, for those Muslims who think marriages at young ages are is still OK, they have lost their minds. The same points I make also work in reverse. We do not mature as quickly and are not ready for marriage as early as people were back in the day, and using Aisha’s marriage as an example is seriously flawed and a horrific misrepresentation of Islam because they do not take into account the extreme societal differences in our world now and then. It’s all about context.
1 – A Guide to America’s Sex Laws by Richard A. Posner & Katharine B. Silbaugh page 44
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