MARRIAGES OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD (PBUH)
The Catholic mentality that views sexuality as evil and finds it unbefitting for a pious person often criticizes the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on the basis of his marriages. However, almost every prophet in history got married and had kids, and some of them like Abraham and David (pbut) who are regarded as reverent prophets in Christianity did engage in polygamy. This is why it is hypocritical for a Christian to criticize the Prophet Muhammad with regards to his marriages.
Some people may find it strange that the Prophet Muhammad practiced polygamy despite Islam’s discouraging stance on polygamy. Firstly, it is important to point out that the Prophet did not marry purely out of his desire for pleasure. The Messenger of God was single until his 25 and he’d never approached fornication to the slightest degree. When he reached 25, he married a wife who was 15 years older than him and he remained monogamous until his wife passed away. It was only after his 50 that he married multiple wives. Considering the hormone levels of a man throughout his life span, it is not logical to claim that the Prophet put sexuality at the center of his life in his fifties, the ages during which men’s sexual desire dulls, although he had a quite modest sexual life up until his fifties. When the Messenger of God had a single wife in Mecca, his enemies had promised him as many women as he wanted in return for his recantation of prophethood. He rejected this promise by saying: “by God, if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left on condition that I abandon this cause, before God has made it victorious, or I perish therein, I would not abandon it.” In fact, those who have some knowledge about the life of the Prophet would know surely that his preoccupation had never been women, those who criticize him in this regard are usually the ignorant people with little and biased knowledge.
Some marriages of the Messenger of God were political; he wanted to strengthen his ties with particular tribes by marrying their eminent women. Some of his marriages were meant to protect the widowed women who had lost their husbands in wars or because of various causes. The wisdom behind his practicing polygamy was transmitting the message and rules of Islam to women by means of his wives. Since the Messenger of God was illiterate, he was dependent solely upon oral communication for delivering his messages. Being a male, he wasn’t able to come in and out of women’s gatherings due to his Islamic sensitivities, and often times he wasn’t able to preach to women and answer their questions directly. The Messenger of God resolved this communication problem by using his wives who were educated directly by himself as mediums to reach out to other women and to teach them the Islamic religion. Although there were hundreds of male companions who were educated by the Prophet in person, there was no such female companion. The best way to alleviate this imbalance and injustice was engaging in polygamy so that there could be many female companions (the Prophet's wives were companions too) who learned Islam by the Prophet himself and who demonstrated for people how a pious Muslim woman should be. One’s conduct at home reflects his genuine and pure character; therefore a man is known much more closely by his wife than by his friends. This is the reason why the wives of the Prophet are the most valuable and precious sources that narrate the Prophet’s morality, his actions in daily life and his commandments regarding daily life. Islam exalts the status of the Prophet’s wives and honors them with the title of “the mothers of the Believers”, and sets them as the role models for Muslim women. The Quran had prohibited the wives of the Prophet from marrying after the death of the Prophet, one of the purposes of this is not to let marriage engross these women instead of studying and transmitting the religion of Islam which should be their main focus.
Criticisms of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)'s Marriage with Aisha (ra)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s marriage with Aisha (ra) when she was nine years old according to one narration, and ten years old according to another narration, has been the most popular attack targeting the Prophet in this century. What is weird is that although this marriage had never been seen as a problem for 1300 years, and even the most adamant enemies of the Prophet had never criticized him on the grounds of his marriage with Aisha (ra), the dominance of Western moral standards in the last hundred years made this marriage the center of criticisms against him. It is manifest that the cultural and moral standards of the 7th century’s Arabia are strikingly different from those of the West in the 21st century; nevertheless, we have answers to the enemies of Islam who distort the perception of this marriage.
Today, states consider individuals who are under a specific age as children. In many states, this specific age is either 18 or 16. This is not the case in Islam; Islam considers anyone who has hit puberty as adults. The time when we begin to question life and our surroundings, when we develop our own sense of discretion, when we begin to feel attracted to the opposite gender and become ready for reproduction is the time of puberty. The age limit of 18, on the other hand, is completely imaginary and meaningless; there is no significant biological difference between a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old. For example, 16-year-old criminals in the West benefit from partial penalty remissions as they are considered children according to the law, but there is no provision in the Islamic law that remits the punishment of teenagers as they are considered adults in Islam. About 60% of preindustrial societies don’t even have a word for adolescence, because those we now refer to as adolescents were then considered adults too. Not regarding teenagers as adults and classifying them under a different category is a custom that has emerged in modern Western societies, in all civilizations prior to that people would be regarded as adults as soon as they hit puberty. The remission of penalty for people under the age of 18 creates the impression that their crimes are less important, and that committing a crime is more acceptable and legitimate for them. This false impression that downplays their crimes induces teenagers to commit crimes without feeling guilty. Not considering teenagers as adults and not admitting them to the company of adults leave them at the hands of companies which are free of old and mature individuals. These teenagers become friends with peers who are as ignorant and boisterous as them instead of adults who can mentor them. They adopt many harmful habits and get lots of wrong information from their ignorant companies. Also, since teenagers consider themselves as adults although their society doesn’t, they go after harmful things such as alcohol, cigarette, drugs, fornication, and violence in order to prove their adulthood and independence from their family. The fundamental incentive behind their harmful habits is demonstrating to society that they’ve grown up, and feeling like an independent individual.
In Islam, marriage is recommended as quickly as possible after the beginning of puberty for protection against fornication. Especially men experience their peak of sexual desire very early, between the ages of 12 and 20 (Women experience their peak in their thirties). Namely, it is very dangerous for teenagers to remain single. Today in the West, the general age for losing virginity has fallen to 12, the cases of unwanted pregnancies during youth are rife, and almost everybody changes several girlfriends/boyfriends in each year during their middle and high school education. Those who approach these disgraces with the utmost tolerance, for some reason strictly oppose the marriage of teenagers and their satisfaction of sexual desires in legitimate ways.
Girls hit puberty earlier than boys do, and it is a biological fact that the girls living in hot climates hit puberty earlier than the girls living in cold climates. When Aisha (ra) married the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), she’d hit puberty and was no longer a child. However, the huge age difference between them is still a problem for this marriage to be sensible. Islam promotes equivalence for the choice of spouses and it is clear that there is no equivalence between the Prophet (pbuh) and Aisha (ra) with respect to their ages and maturity levels. Also, it is inevitable that a man who is much older than his wife won’t be able to sexually satisfy her in the years to come. However, the Prophet (pbuh)’s situation is exceptional. We had explained above the reasons why polygamy was necessary for him although it is discouraged for other men in Islam. All these reasons actually merge in Aisha (ra). As most of the other wives of the Prophet were old, they didn’t live for long after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), and they didn’t have much time and opportunity to deliver what they’d learned from him. On the other hand, Aisha (ra) being the exceptional one among the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) in this regard, became one of the most prominent scholars of Islam and became one of the few people who narrated the most about the life and traditions of the Messenger of God (pbuh). The scholars of Islam have always emphasized that they’ve learned half of the religion from Aisha (ra). Frankly, we wouldn’t have learned much of the religion if it wasn’t for the traditions Aisha (ra) narrated from the Messenger of God (pbuh). Aisha (ra)’s contributions to Islam stem from her keen perception due to her young age while she was with the Prophet, her ability to learn and memorize what she’d learned from the Prophet with her fresh memory, along with the fact that she had a long time to narrate and teach every detail of the life of the Prophet after the Prophet’s death. Conversely, it was impossible for the old wives of the Prophet to learn and memorize a lot in the period of life when their perception wasn’t so acute, and even if they did they had not much time ahead to teach them to people, and this is exactly what happened in reality as well.
We also need to keep in mind that the concept of marriage in Islam is starkly different from that of secular societies. In the West, marriage is an institution that is surrounded by burdensome traditions and that is appealed to at the age of thirties in order to organize and settle down one’s life after having relished every pleasure there is. In Islam however, marriage is so easy as to start with only two words and end with one, and it is an institution that one can have recourse to just for protection against sins in certain conditions. The huge age difference between the spouses is a serious problem from the perspective of the Western concept of marriage, but this is not a huge problem from the perspective of the Islamic concept of marriage.
There are huge differences among societies with regards to the age of maturing mentally. My friends who went to the US for studying university have told me on many occasions that their American age-mates are usually more petulant than them; therefore they become friends with older students in America. An average child that is living in poor countries begin working and taking care of his family at the age of nine, he/she gets to marry at the age of 12 and becomes a parent at the age of 13; whereas an average man in the USA never takes any serious responsibility until the age of 20. Is it possible for these two teenagers who have grown up in two different countries to have the same maturity level even if their ages happen to be the same? Ali (ra) had converted to Islam at the age of ten and had intellectually defended Islam at that age; Mary (ra) was only thirteen when she deserved the title of the purest woman and gave birth to Jesus (pbuh), Mary (ra) had married Joseph when she was only twelve and Joseph was then an old man according to Christian sources (See that the Western Christians never make mention of this marriage). In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, arguably the most popular love story of Western civilization, Romeo and Juliet are only thirteen years old during the course of all the events. All these examples point to the fact that people of old ages used to mentally mature earlier because of the hard conditions they were exposed to. Aisha (ra) was mentally and physically way maturer than her current age-mates when she married the Messenger of God (pbuh). It is important to keep in mind that life expectancy was much shorter in the past than it is today. Life expectancy was 30 years during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), namely, a 10-year old person would be assumed to have completed a third of his/her life. If we were to consider everyone below the age of 18 as children in the past, then we would reach the weird conclusion that most people are children. The only sensible argument that could be proposed against the marriage of young people would be the disruption of their continuous education. However, since there was no education system at the time of the Prophet like we now have, this argument doesn’t apply to Aisha (ra).
There is a difference between something being haram (Islamically impermissible) and it being reasonable, there might be logical impediments when there is no religious impediment. For example, it is not haram (Islamically impermissible) that I write this writing with my toes instead of my fingers, but it is unreasonable. There is no religious impediment for my marriage with a seventy-year-old woman, but there are certainly many logical impediments. Saying that something is halal (Islamically permissible) doesn’t mean that we approve of that thing and find it right, it just means that there is no religious obstacle to that. The marriage between the Prophet (pbuh) and Aisha (ra) is halal (Islamically permissible), there is no religious obstacle to it. One might claim that it is unreasonable, but we have mentioned above its wisdom and benefits, and have proven the reasonableness of this specific marriage. The fact that the advantages of this marriage exceed its disadvantages debunks the allegation that it is unreasonable. However, a marriage between two ordinary people with an age difference of forty years would have its disadvantages exceeding its advantages as the conditions of the Prophet’s marriage wouldn’t be in place, rendering their marriage unreasonable.
The enemies of Islam attempt to create the impression that Aisha (ra) was forced into this marriage and was a victim of it in order to distort the image of this marriage. Anybody who knows the slightest portion of Aisha (ra)’s life can see how ridiculous this attempt is. Aisha (ra) was extremely happy that she achieved the honor of marrying the greatest person to set foot on this planet. Aisha (ra) recounts the beauty of the Messenger of God as such: “The women of Egypt cut their fingers when they saw the beauty of Joseph. However, if they had seen my Muhammad then they would have cut open their hearts.” Also, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) described Aisa (ra) as the person most beloved to him in this World. Alleging any coercion or aggrievement in this marriage is definitely preposterous.
 (Schlegel & Barry, 1991)
 SHAMA’ILE TIRMIDHI by Imaam Tirmidhi