It is generally believed that 'Ā'ishah (rta), mother of the faithful, was six years old when she got married to the Prophet Muhammad (sws). The nikah took place in Makkah after the death of Khadijah (rta). The marriage was consummated three years later in Madinah. This is what books of Hadith and sirah report about her. The narratives which describe these details are found in Bukhari and Muslim and some other books of Hadith as well. There is no doubt that such marriages have taken place in the past keeping in view certain needs of tribal and rural societies. Examples can even be presented from our society. It is also true that the social attitudes that spring from basic morality can be different in different societies keeping in view their circumstances and experiences, and the moral status of one society cannot be determined by using another society as a standard. All these things can be accepted; however, the matter of 'Ā'ishah's (rta) marriage is different. The question which arises in every discerning mind relates to the need of this marriage: why did it take place when the need which was present at that time could not have been fulfilled even after many subsequent years? Such marriages do take place and one can accept them taking place without any hesitation; however, it is not easy to accept marriages which take place without any reason and to fulfil a current need many years later.
Had the suggestion to marry her come from the Prophet (sws), we could have said that this was done on divine bidding. The role she would play in the Prophet's life and the treasure of wisdom which would be transmitted to the ummah through her noble person was in the foreknowledge of God; thus it was decided that she be singled out for the Prophet (sws) since this early age. We can also say that the Prophet (sws) undertook this marriage for the betterment of his preaching mission. 'Ā'ishah's (rta) father was a very close companion of the Prophet (sws). In tribal life, relationships play a great role in cementing close ties. The Prophet (sws) deemed it appropriate that he engage in this association with his special companion so that ties of friendship and love were strengthened.
Had this suggestion to marry her come from Abu Bakr (rta), it could have been said that he was desirous of respect and honour for his daughter, for his own self and for his own family. He wanted to establish familial ties with the person whom he regarded to be a messenger of God; perhaps he did not get this idea at the time of the marriage of his other daughter Asma' (rta). After her, it was only through 'Ā'ishah (rta) that he could attain this honour. Thus he suggested for this marriage to take place. The Prophet (sws) accepted this suggestion to honour the wish of his dear friend.
However, we know that none of these suppositions are true. If because of a divinely inspired vision such a thought for 'Ā'ishah's (rta) existed in the heart of the Prophet (sws), he never expressed it. The whole corpus of Hadith and sirah literature is totally devoid of a mention of any such suggestion, indication or insinuation from him. The same is the case of Abu Bakr (rta). If he wanted the marriage of his daughter to take place with the Prophet (sws), why did he resolve to solemnize her marriage with the son of Mut'im ibn 'Adi? Narratives mention that he had already done this before this suggestion came to him. Not only this, it is also reported that when he heard this suggestion, he expressed his wonder since he thought that the Prophet (sws) was like a paternal uncle for his children; so how could the suggestion of such a marriage be presented. His words reported are: هل تصلح له انما هي ابنة اخيه (Is she allowed to him? She is the daughter of his brother!)
The narratives clearly state that it was Khawlah bint Hakim who suggested that the name of 'Ā'ishah (rta) for this marriage. It was she who directed the attention of the Prophet (sws) to the fact that after the death of Khadijah (rta), it was his need to marry again. She is reported to have said: يا رسول الله كأني أراك قد دخلتك خلة لفقد خديجة أفلا أخطبعليك (I see that you have secluded yourself after the loss of Khadijah; shall I find a match for you?).On inquiry by the Prophet (sws), she told him that both an unmarried and a divorced lady were available. When the Prophet (sws) asked who the unmarried lady she had in mind was, her reply was 'Ā'ishah bint Abi Bakr (rta).
A wife can be needed to satisfy one's sexual needs, for companionship and friendship and for looking after children and household affairs. If this suggestion was given with sanity prevailing, the question which arises is: which of these needs can be fulfilled by a six year old girl? Could sexual relations be established with her? Could the companionship of a wife be available through her? Could she have been able to look after kids? Could she have looked after household affairs? The issue just raised that a marriage is taking place to fulfil needs which cannot even be fulfilled after many years of marriage is not merely a possible option that should be considered in interpreting these narratives. It is the most fundamental question in this regard. Can it be logically accepted that to fulfil a need of today a suggestion be given as a result of which it is not even fulfilled after several years? Ibn Khaldun has rightly pointed out that in the matter of historical incidents, the real thing is their possibility of taking place. They cannot merely be accepted on the basis that their chain of narration contains such and such a person and that it has been narrated through several chains.
In current times, men of learning who are presenting their researches on this issue should first of all answer this question. They should explain how this internal contradiction of the narrative can be resolved. If this contradiction cannot be resolved, then why don't the requisites of knowledge and intellect entail that the narrative which depicts 'Ā'shah's age to be six years at the time of marriage should be reconsidered and the opinion of those scholarsshould also be reflected upon who say that the words to the effect بعد العشر (after ten) were understood to be present after the words بنت ستسنين (a girl of six) uttered by 'Ā'ishah (rta) and the narrators never made an effort to understand them? Whatever research is presented without answering this question will never be worthy of any attention for any person of learning.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)
. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, vol, 6, 210, (no. 25810).
. See: Ibn Sa'd, Al-Ṭabaqat al-kubra, vol. 8, 57.
. 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibnKhaldun, Muqaddimah, 5th ed. (Beirut: Dar al-qalam, 1984), 37.
. See, for example: Shabbir Ahmad Azhar Mayrathi, Ṣahih Bukhari ka mutala'ah, 1st ed. (Lahore: Dar al-tazkir, 2005), 252-255.