Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Muhammad's (PBUH) marriage to Aisha(ra): A Historical Perspective.

Due to the availability of Sahih(sound) hadiths, we are privy to the marital life of the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh)amongst other parts of his illustrious life. According to Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 88:
Narrated 'Ursa:

The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with 'Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).

This hadith shows that the wife of Muhammad(pbuh) was young when she was betrothed to him. We can also see from the hadiths that Aisha(ra) had reached puberty at the time she was still living with her parents ie. before she moved to the prophet's(pbuh) house, according to the following hadith.

Volume 1, Book 8, Number 465:
Narrated 'Aisha:

(the wife of the Prophet) I had seen my parents following Islam since I attained the age of puberty. Not a day passed but the Prophet visited us, both in the mornings and evenings. My father Abii Bakr thought of building a mosque in the courtyard of his house and he did so. He used to pray and recite the Qur'an in it. The pagan women and their children used to stand by him and look at him with surprise. Abu Bakr was a Softhearted person and could not help weeping while reciting the Quran. The chiefs of the Quraish pagans became afraid of that (i.e. that their children and women might be affected by the recitation of Quran)."

So, this gives us an idea that pubescence was at least one of the criteria for eligibility to get married, or consummate marriage.

Historically, this is not the first or the last time, or the only civilization that such marriages occurred. In ancient Rome, puberty was a preceding factor in consideration for marriage. Usually when someone reached puberty, marriage is expected soon after[1]. In some cases, for instance that of Octavia, the daughter of Clauduis, who was given in marriage at the age of one to L. Junius Silanius, puberty was not a prerequisite[2].

There are also such examples up to and beyond 12th century AD. One of the influential Christians at this time, and a proponent of the Canon Law, Gratian, argued that the age of consent should be puberty[3]. In 17th century Great Britain, there were records of brides as young as nine years of age, claiming the estates of their late husbands[4]. Up to a third of the estate is bequeathed to the wife.

A study of medieval records especially of the period between 1236 AD - 1384 AD shows that there were females married at the age of nine. These records show that some of the marriages of girls in their early teens were to much older men[5]. As late as the 19th century United States of America, the age of consent was as low as ten years old[6].

It is clear from the above that the practice of early marriage is abundant in history, and not a monopoly of the Arabs. Different cultures, and civilizations used puberty as a yardstick for the determining of maturity or the age of which an individual can consent to marriage.

1. Freidlander L. 1913 "Roman Life and Manners Under the Early Empire. London: Gough. pp. 228

2. Balsdon J.P.V.D 1962 "Roman Women: Their History and Habits" London: The Bodley Head pp. 177

3. Brundage, James. 1987. "Law Sex and Society in Christian Europe" Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

4. Furnivall, Frederick J. 1897. Child Marriages, Divorces, and Ratifications in the Diocese of Chester, AD 1561-6. London: Early English Text Society. pp xxxvi

5. Post, G.B. 1974 "Another Demographic Use of Inquisitions Post Mortem." Journal of the Society of Archivists. 5: 110 - 114

6. Posner, Richard A. and Katherine B. Silbaugh 1996. "A Guide to America's Sex Laws" Chicago: University of Chicago Press pp 44.