Islam is the religion of peace and mercy, with Rasul Allah being an exemplary figure of this peaceful mission and representing it through his blessed life. But unfortunately, this messenger of peace and mercy is often misrepresented. Since the beginning of this century, in particular after 9/11, Muslims throughout the world have witnessed a sharp increase in the number of Islamophobic rants and attacks. There have been many attacks on Islamic faith, its teachings and its Sh?a’ir (symbols). The Islamophobes have even gone beyond it and from time to time have attacked the blessed personality and character of our beloved Rasul Allah. By spreading this hate rhetoric, they are trying to tarnish the image of Islam and at the same time, they are casting doubt in the minds of common Muslims as well.
One of the common attacks on His character is regarding His marriage to Umm al-Muminun ‘A’ishah, the woman who has narrated most a?adith (traditions of the Prophet) among women. These critics of Islam assert that ‘A’ishah was just six years old at the time of her betrothal and when her marriage was consummated she was only nine. This criticism does not shatter the faith of the Muslims in the Prophethood of Mu?ammad (SAW), as they believe this blessed marriage of Rasul Allah with ‘A’ishah was based on the divine command from Allah. Sayyidah ‘A’ishah herself narrates this ?adith in Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi as “Jibril came to Rasul Allah with her image upon a piece of green silk cloth and he said: This is your wife in the world and the hereafter.” For some non-Muslims, this might be disturbing why He married a girl when she was only nine. Before questioning this marriage, one has to look at the personality and mission of Rasul Allah from his childhood, through his youth and until his last moments in this world.
How can one forget the fact that Rasul Allah at the age of 25 married Sayyidah Khadijah who was 40 years old and twice widowed? This was the time when Rasul Allah was at the peak of his youth. Is there anyone among the youth who can repeat the same in this era? This is the character of Rasul Allah, the role model for all humanity in general and for Muslims in particular.
Secondly, before anyone question or criticises this blessed marriage of Rasul Allah and Umm al-Muminun ‘A’ishah, one should first investigate what were the conditions and customs regarding the institution of marriage during the lifetime of Rasul Allah. What was the social structure of the time and place? During that time (i.e., 7th century), adulthood was defined as the onset of puberty and not as coming of a certain age. Sayyidah ?A’ishah had already hit puberty before the consummation of her marriage. She narrates: “The Rasul Allah married me when I was six years old. Then we came to Al-Madinah and settled among Banu Harith bin Khazraj. I became ill and my hair fell out, then it grew back and became abundant. My mother Umm Ruman came to me while I was on an Urjuhah with some of my friends, and called for me. I went to her, and I did not know what she wanted. She took me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house, and I was panting. When I got my breath back, she took some water and wiped my face and head, and led me into the house. There were some women of the An?ar inside the house, and they said: ‘With blessings and good fortune (from Allah).’ (My mother) handed me over to them and they tidied me up. And suddenly I saw the Messenger of Allah in the morning. And she handed me over to him and I was at that time, nine years old.”
This ?adith indicates that Sayyidah ?A’ishah was going through some physical changes which clearly is the indication of her puberty. Many researches have also suggested that the social and environmental conditions also influence the level of maturity and the puberty in a person. One such research can be found on the Scientific American website.
It is also important to note that prior to the 1900’s, the ‘age of consent’ indeed used to be very young. Girls were allowed to get married at the age of 10 and sometimes as young as 7 years old. This is what professor of history Margaret Wade Labarge highlights: that medieval women often married between the ages of 5 and 10. Two professors, Richard Wortley and Stephen Smallbone, also state that prior to the 1900’s, the girls were married at a very young age and they married as young as seven years, although marriages were typically not consummated until the girl reached puberty. For instance, King Richard II of England in 1396 married a 6-year-old girl whose name was Isabella, daughter of the King Charles VI. Another such example is that according to the Napoleonic code of France 1805, the ‘age of consent’ was fixed at 11 years. Similarly, 7 was the legal age of consent in many American states up to the late 19th and early 20th century. So, the list goes on and we find history filled with such similar events. It should be noted here that by questioning this blessed marriage, the critics are openly exposing their hypocrisy, intolerance and bias towards the peaceful message of Islam.
Another important thing that should be highlighted here is, from the outset of the Prophethood of Mu?ammad (SAW), there have been thousands of people who tried to defame his personality by mocking and ridiculing him. They all tried to belittle him and his message from time to time. From the beginning of his lifetime, there were people who ridiculed him and called him with derogatory names like sorcerer, madman, liar, etc, to draw people away from his divine message of peace. It can be said that it remained a trend among his critics and haters in every century. They all disrespected and ridiculed him in one way or the other but until the beginning of the 20th century, not a single person among his critics raised a finger at his blessed marriage with Umm al-Muminun ‘A’ishah, as it was in conformity with the norm of the age until the 20th century. Had this type of marriage been controversial, his enemies would have scandalised and sensationalised this event much before.
One should also keep in mind that neither Umm al-Muminun ?A’ishah nor her parents showed any kind of displeasure to this marriage. As mentioned above, she herself narrates the ?adith in which her age of marriage is recorded as nine. Contrary to all the allegations made by the haters of Islam, Rasul Allah and Umm al-Muminun ‘A’ishah lived a harmonious life where both of them showered love and compassion on each other, which still serves as a model for blissful marital life for Muslims throughout the globe.
To conclude, these attacks on Islam in general and on the personality of Rasul Allah in particular are not something new. Throughout history we have seen a prejudiced representation of Islam and Rasul Allah in a number of works, mostly coming from the West. As one evaluates the arguments of the critics, a clear picture comes forward: that they are biased towards Islam and their understanding of Islamic history is poorly grounded.
The writers are research scholars at the Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir