Note: This was a follow-up to the first article on this topic, which generated more feedback than I could respond to. This was tweeted on September 22nd, and I did very little editing and only topical formatting, so excuse the mess.
In part 1 of this discussion I presented arguments that (while I spent significant time checking) were mostly not originally my own. However in this session I’m going to present 4-5 arguments that are (to the best of my knowledge) new.
This conversation makes many people uncomfortable, and I don’t expect it to die down anytime soon, although I have no interest in carrying it further. But let’s see what happens.
My position is that Aysha was born around 16 BH, and possibly before.
Reactions to Part 1
Let me reassure my Western and non-Muslim friends that the vast majority of Muslim replies were positive. In fact, the loudest protests so far were from Islamophobes who thought that this was a hard fact (it’s not; at the very least, it’s debatable).
There were also protests from some tradition-bound Muslims who sanctify traditions & narrations – a point that I’ll try to get to today. Of course I didn’t tweet this in Arabic yet (still debating that with myself) so that would be the real “test of intolerance”.
In fact, if you want to take just one thing away from this, it’s that Aysha’s age is a subject of debate and is not a hard fact. I prefer to start by presenting my new arguments and then getting to last session’s talking points – so here goes.
New argument: Is a 13 year old girl as tall as a full grown man?
An argument that was pulled last session concerns an incident where Aysha & the Prophet watched an Abyssinian dance in the mosque. Supporters of the later date cite the incident in support of their view when it actually invalidates their view, as I’ll explain.
Aysha said she wanted to watch the dance, and at the time the Prophet’s wives were not to be seen in public, so she stood behind the Prophet and watched, in her own words, “with my chin over his shoulder”. This incident happened in 7 AH when, according to the later date, Aysha must have been 13 years old.
Now I ask – how likely is it that a 13 year old girl was about the same height as a full grown man, to look over his shoulder? We know that the Prophet was not short, but was of average height compared to men around him. If we accept that Aysha was 23 at the time, then it’s far more likely she was tall enough to look over the Prophet’s shoulder.
Note: I could go into a lot more detail discussing this argument, but I do not intend to just yet. Suffice it to say that there’s no mention in the narration that the Prophet was “carrying” Aysha, or that she was standing on a stool or chair; these “explanations” are also quite implausible. If you’re interested in further details you could contact me directly.
New argument: How old was Aysha’s mother when she had her?
Aysha’s mother, Um Rouman, got married to her father, Abu Bakr, in 23 BH when Abu Bakr was 28 years old. At the time, Um Rouman had a previous marriage (she was widowed) and had a previous child. Details indicate Um Rouman’s son from the previous marriage was grown up (8-10 years) at the time she married Abu Bakr. Putting it all together, Um Rouman seems to have been 30-32 years old at the time of marriage, meaning she was born around 55 BH.
If we accept that Um Rouman had Aysha in 6 BH, that would mean she was 49 years old when she had her. Now I’m not saying it’s impossible for a 49 year old woman to have a child, but it’s just not as likely. However, if we accept that Aysha was born in 16 BH, that makes Um Rouman 39 at the time, which is rather more likely.
Fact: A 45 year old woman has 1% chance at conceiving today (in the 21st century) (Thanks @betwixt2greens). For a 49 year old woman to conceive and have a healthy child would have been considered at least noteworthy, and probably miraculous.
New argument: How old was Aysha in relation to her older brother, Abdulrahman?
Abu Bakr & Um Rouman had their first child in 22 BH, a boy called Abdulrahman, whose age is reasonably well established. If we accept that Aysha was born in 6 BH, that means there’s an 16 year age difference between her & her brother.
Now if a woman had a child, then had no children for 16 years, and then had another child, it’s something that people mention. I mean, even today such a huge age gap is noteworthy, and historians back then noted things far more mundane.
Point: No children for  years, followed by a child, would not only be noteworthy but would appear a miraculous & portentious birth; this was the case with John the Baptist. (Thanks @Kat_Missouri)
However I found no mention anywhere that Um Rouman had two children 16 years apart. Therefore I find it far more likely that she had her second child around 16 BH, four years (or less) after the first. This is also in line with Abdulrahman dying in 53 AH, five years before Aysha, of old age.
New argument: What was Aysha’s age as compared to Abu Saeed Al Khudri?
Aysha was a very famous and sought after scholar in the 40 years that she outlived the Prophet. In a particular instance, a companion called Abu Saeed Al Khudri gave a fatwa contradicting her own (which wasn’t uncommon). Hearing this, Aysha said, “What would Abu Saeed Al Khudri know about hadith? He was only a small child.”
Now Abu Saeed Al Khudri was born around 11 BH – accepting the later date makes him five years her senior. Would she call him a “small child” if he’s five years her elder? I very much doubt so. However if we accept that she was born before 16 BH, that would make her 5-6 years older than him.
Note: We can establish the age of Abu Saeed Al Khudri since he showed up at the Battle of Uhud (in 2 AH) but was turned back due to his age, but by 5 AH during the Battle of the Trench he was of fighting age and joined the men.
New argument: What was Aysha’s age as compared to Masrooq bin Al Ajda3?
Masrooq was a well known personality who never met the Prophet, but met his companions including Abu Bakr himself. Putting the details of his early life together, we can conclude that Masrooq was born at or before 4 BH.
Now in the later years, Aysha called Masrooq “her son”; even “one of my children, the most beloved among them”. In fact, a contemporary personality, Al Shu3bi, said that Aysha all but “adopted” Masrooq.
Now, if we accept that she was born in 6 BH, how can she call a man only 2 years younger than her “her child”? But if we accept that she was born in 16 BH, that makes her 12 years his senior, which makes far more sense.
Note: We can establish the age of Masrooq, since he met Abu Bakr and prayed behind him, was an adult by Umar’s time, and fought at the Battle of Qadisiya in 15 AH.
New argument: What was Aysha’s age at the “incident of the accusation”?
In 5 AH, a false rumor spread in Medina that Aysha had committed adultery, this is referred to as “the incident of accusation”. Now if we accept a later date of birth, that would mean she was just 11 years old at the time.
Her mother, Um Rouman, consoled her describing her as a “beautiful woman, which inspires jealousy and gossip”. Now, would Um Rouman refer to an 11 year old girl as a “beautiful woman”? I say it’s very unlikely, but far more likely if she was 21 years old at the time.
These are my five or six new arguments – I don’t know if any of them alone is solid, but put together they say something.
Answering the Apologists: “It was normal.”
Apologists argued that it was normal for a young girl to get married back then; not even the Prophet’s enemies criticized him. That much is true; the fact that not even the Prophet’s enemies criticized him for the marriage shows that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. This can either mean that child marriages were common at the time, or (more likely) that it never even happened.
I wish to challenge the view that child marriages were common at the time. If it was “normal” for a girl that young to get married, kindly produce 10-20 other historical cases (I couldn’t find even one). My position is, no, it wasn’t “normal”; and the reason no one criticized the Prophet is that it never happened.
Answering the Apologists: “Girls reached puberty earlier back then.”
Apologists also argued that girls “back then” reached puberty faster than nowadays. I challenge that, on purely scientific grounds. The age of puberty (menarche) has been reducing readily in modern times, due to better nutrition and health care.
In fact Aysha herself described women back then as “thin, because they barely had enough to eat”. Ask a doctor and he’ll tell you that girls who are under nourished tend to reach menarche later, rather than earlier.
Point: Research seems to suggest that 7 stone (45kg) is a trigger weight for a girl to hit puberty. Conversely, falling below 7 stone or 45kg is a trigger in grown women to develop amenorrhoea. (Thanks @der_bluthund)
Additionally, a girl is not fully “fertile” and fit to have children until several years after menarche; putting it together, my position is that “marriageable age” in pre-Islamic Arabia was closer to 15.
This is consistent with reports in our history books. For example, the Prophet’s mother married at around 16 and had him at around 17. Halima became his wet nurse when she was around 16. Thawbiya, the Prophet’s first wet nurse, was around 15. The Prophet’s daughter married at 20 and Safiyya wed the Prophet when she was 17 or 18.
General Reponse to #AyshasAge
In part 1, I predicted that opposition to what I present will mostly come from three sources: radical Islamophobes, radical Salafis, and radical Shias. So far, the loudest and most stubborn opposition has come from non-Muslims, which to me speaks volumes.
Some Muslims have wondered what all of this means about the authority & authenticity of the hadith vis-a-vis the Qur’an. By going through this exercise of textual criticism, are we “rejecting” the hadith? Short answer is, of course, a clear & loud no. The long answer will have to wait until I have more time for a tweet session on the topic.
I probably will never get the time to do a page-by-page, line-by-line referencing, but let me provide the general references for the earliest historical accounts of classical Islam.
The earliest historian was Ibn Isaac (d 151 AH) followed by Sayf bin Umar (d 180 AH) then Ibn Al Kalbi (d 204 AH). Next you have Al Waqidi (d 207 AH), Al Mada’ini (d 225 AH), Ibn Hisham (d 218 AH), Ibn Saad (d 230 AH).
The hadith books are a major references, especially Bukhari (d 256 AH) and Muslim (d 261 AH). Finally you have the very extensive historical work of Al Tabari (d 310 AH). Most of these books can be found online for free (in Arabic).
If you wish to know the specific reference for something I mentioned, contact me directly.
Read part 1 of this discussion here.