A’isha was the third wife of the Prophet, and the only virgin he married. His ﬁrst and only wife for twenty-four years was Khadija bint al-Khuwaylid, who was about nineteen years older than him. He married Khadija when she was 40 and he was 21 and stayed married only to her until her death. Just after Khadija’s death, when he was around 46 years old, the Prophet married his second wife, Sawda bint Abi Zam’a. It was after this second marriage that the Prophet became betrothed to A’isha. She was the daughter of Abu Bakr, one of the Prophet’s closest friends and devoted followers. Abu Bakr was one of the earliest converts to Islam and hoped to solidify the deep love that existed between himself and the Prophet by uniting their families in marriage. The betrothal of Abu Bakr’s daughter A’isha took place in the eleventh year of Muhammad’s Prophethood, which was about a year after he had married Sawda bint Zam’a and before he made his hijra (migration) to Medina. There are four ahadith in the Sahih of alBukhari and three ahadith in Sahih Muslim that clearly state that A’isha was ‘nine years old’ at the time that her marriage was consummated by the Prophet. These ahadith are very much the same and they read as follows: A’isha narrated that the Prophet was betrothed (zawaj) to her when she was six years old and he consummated (nikah) his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (Bukhari, Vol. 7, Bk 62, No. 64). Of the four ahadith in Bukhari, two were narrated by A’isha herself (7, 64 and 7, 65), one by Abu Hisham (5, 236) and one via ‘Ursa (7, 88). All three of the ahadith in Muslim have A’isha as a narrator. Additionally, all of the ahadith in both books agree that the marriage betrothal contract took place when A’isha was ‘six years old’, but was not consummated until she was ‘nine years old’. Additionally, a hadith with the same text (matn) is reported in Sunan Abu Dawud. This evidence is very strong from an Islamic point of view. So there is really no room for debate about A’isha’s age, although some have argued that in fact she was a lot older when she married. But until someone proves that in the Arabic language the words meaning ‘nine years old’ mean something other than ‘nine years old’, then we need to accept that she was ‘nine years old’. Nonetheless, some continue to argue that she was really a lot older when the marriage was consummated. From the accounts we have, the marriage with A’isha was consummated in Shawwal, seven months after the Prophet’s hijra from Mecca to Medina. At the time of his marriage to A’isha, the Prophet was over 50 years old. It should be noted that the Prophet’s marriage to A’isha was apparently a very happy one for both parties, as the hadith literature attests. A’isha was his favourite wife and the only virgin that he ever married. After migrating to Medina, Muhammad married numerous other wives, eventually totalling ﬁfteen in his lifetime. Each of these marriages was done either for political reasons, to strengthen the ties of kinship or to help a woman in need. Quite a few of the wives were widows, older women or had been abandoned and thus were in need of a home and protection. Additionally, it should be mentioned that the same collection of Muslim hadith literature that tells us that A’isha was only nine years old at the time of the marriage tells us that the marriage was divinely ordained: A’isha is reported to have said that “The Messenger of God said (to me): “You have been shown to me twice in (my) dreams. A man was carrying you in a silken cloth and said to me, “This is your wife.” I uncovered it; and behold, it was you.” He continued: “I said to myself, “If this dream is from God, He will cause it to come true.” (Reported by Bukhari, Vol. 7, Bk 62, No. 15).
The Prophet also told her, Jibril came to him and showed him a picture of her on a piece of green silk and said, ‘She is your wife in this world and in the next world.’ Just before her wedding, A’isha related that shortly before she was to leave her parents’ house, she slipped out into the courtyard to play with a friend. The stories that were produced by A’isha are worth repeating in that they give a good indication of the light and easy style of her prose, which must have played an important role in presenting a less serious side to Islam. ‘I was playing on a seesaw and my long streaming hair became dishevelled’, she said. ‘They came and took me from my play and made me ready.’ They dressed her in a wedding dress made from ﬁne, red striped cloth from Bahrain and then her mother took her to the newly built house where some women of the Ansar were waiting outside the door. They greeted her with the words, ‘For good and for happiness, may all be well.’ Then, in the presence of the smiling Prophet a bowl of milk was brought. The Prophet drank from it himself and then oﬀered it to A’isha. She modestly declined it, but he insisted she drink as well and then oﬀered the bowl to her sister Asma’ who was sitting beside her. The others who were present also drank from it, and that was all there was to the simple and solemn occasion of their wedding.
Her marriage to the Prophet did not change A’isha’s playful ways, and her young friends continued to regularly come to visit her in her own room. ‘I would be playing with my dolls’, she once said, ‘with the girls who were my friends, and the Prophet would come in and they would slip out of the house and he would go out after them and bring them back, for he was pleased for my sake to have them there.’ Sometimes he would say, ‘Stay, where you are’, before they had time to leave, and would also join in their games. ‘One day’, A’isha said, ‘the Prophet came in when I was playing with my dolls and said, “A’isha, whatever game is this?” “It is Solomon’s horses,” I replied, and he laughed.’ On another occasion, during the days of the Eid al-Adha, two young girls were with A’isha in her room, singing a song about a famous battle and beating a tambourine. ‘The Messenger of Allah came in’, said, “A’isha,” ‘and lay down with his face turned away. Then Abu Bakr came, and scolded me, saying, “What is this musical instrument of Shaytan doing in the house of the Messenger of Allah?” The Messenger of Allah turned towards him and said, “Leave them alone, for these are the days of the Eid.”
This report was used subsequently as religious authority for music, albeit of a limited kind. After a while, A’isha asked the girls to leave, and the Prophet asked A’isha whether she would like to watch the Abyssinians who were giving a ﬁghting display with their weapons in the mosque and she said yes. ‘By Allah’, said A’isha, ‘I remember the Messenger of Allah standing at the door of my room, screening me with his cloak, so that I could see the sport of the Abyssinians as they played with their spears in the mosque of the Messenger of Allah. He kept standing for my sake until I had enough and then I went back in, so you can well imagine how a young girl enjoyed watching this display.’ A’isha seems to have been an intelligent and observant young girl with a very good memory. Her reports do a great deal to lighten the narratives describing the Prophet’s life, and her contribution to the image of the Prophet is signiﬁcant. A’isha spent the next nine years of her life with the Prophet and she is usually held to have remembered all that she saw and heard with considerable accuracy. Whereas Khadija was already a mature woman when she married the Prophet, A’isha was a lively young girl who still had much to learn, and she was very quick to do so; nor was she afraid to talk back in order to ﬁnd out the truth or make it known to others. Whenever she beat someone else in argument, it is said that the Prophet would smile and say, “She is the daughter of Abu Bakr!” Musa ibn Talha once said, ‘I have not seen anyone more eloquent than A’isha.’ A’isha became so profound in her comments that one of her contemporaries used to say that if the knowledge of A’isha were placed on one side of the scales and that of all other women on the other, A’isha’s side would outweigh the other.
Abu Musa once said, ‘Whenever a report appeared doubtful to us, the Companions of the Prophet, and we asked A’isha about it, we always learned something from her about it.’ When she ﬁrst came to live in the Prophet’s household as a young girl, we are told that a strong and lasting friendship grew up between her and the Prophet’s second wife Sawda, and Sawda took care of her along with the rest of the household. When A’isha grew up, Sawda, who was by then an old woman, gave up her share of the Prophet’s time in favour of A’isha and was content to manage his household and be umm al-mu’minin (The Mother of the Believers), a title of respect that was given to all of the wives of the Prophet. Their special status is reﬂected in that the Qur’an clearly states that no man could marry any of them after they had been married to the Prophet, for: “The Prophet is closer to the believers than their ownselves, and his wives are as their mothers.” (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:6).
Also, we read:
“O you wives of the Prophet, if any of you is openly indecent, the punishment for her will be doubled – and that is easy for Allah. And whoever of you submits to Allah and His Messenger and does right, We shall give her a reward twice over and We have prepared a generous provision for her. O you wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. If you are fearful of Allah, then do not be soft in your speech, lest someone whose heart is sick is attracted to you, but speak words that are wise. And stay quietly in your houses, do not make a dazzling display like that of the earlier time of ignorance, and establish prayer and give money to charity and obey Allah and His Messenger. Surely Allah wishes to remove impurity far from you, O People of the House, and to purify you completely.” (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:30–33)
It was because of the Prophet Muhammad’s unique station with God that his wives and his Companions were expected by Allah to behave with such respect towards the Prophet that his wives could not possibly marry anyone else after having been married to him: “When you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a screen. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. It is not for you to cause injury to the Messenger of Allah, or ever marry his wives after him. To do that would be something dreadful in the sight of Allah.” (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:53).
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