“It is reported from Aisha that she said: The Prophet entered into marriage with me when I was a girl of six … and at the time [of joining his household] I was a girl of nine years of age.”
“Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed [alone] for two years or so. He married Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consummated that marriage when she was nine years old.”
Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234 and 236.
Perhaps the most insulting and damaging accusation that can be levelled at a man in this day and age is that he’s a paedophile. The sexual abuse of a child is probably the most grotesque and unfathomable act possible for anyone to commit. So unimaginably evil that 99.99% of the male population can safely take the moral high ground in condemning it. Any skeletons we may have in the closet pale into insignificance compared to paedophilia. Even murderers serving life sentences look down on child sex offenders despite their own transgressions and moral shortcomings. Quite simply they are society’s bottom feeders, the scum of the earth.
How Islamophobes must have thought they’d hit the jackpot with the revelation that the Prophet Muhammad was said to have married a 6-year-old girl, and consummated said marriage when she was 9. Not only this but Muhammad is used as the perfect example, and his life and sayings, the Sunnah and Hadith, are a source of guidance to every practicing Muslim. So naturally, paedophilia is permitted and encouraged in Islam. This is such a versatile insult as well. You can discredit a whole religion due to its founder being a sex offender. You can nod to any sex offence committed by a Muslim and state ‘he’s just being a good Muslim’, whilst claiming that anyone not committing such crimes aren’t true Muslims as they aren’t following Muhammad’s example. The EDL seem to be stretching it’s adaptability with the chants of ‘Allah is a paedo’ though. Whether they think Allah and Muhammad are one and the same, or just think it’s the most offensive thing they could possibly sing I don’t know. It’s probably safe to assume that they don’t know that Allah is simply Arabic for God, the same one Christians and Jews worship, not a separate deity. I wonder what they think Arabic Christians or Jews call their God? The irony of the fact that they are singing ‘God is a paedo’ with such glee seems to be completely lost on them.
Back to the issue at hand. The purpose of this series is to dispel the myths and expose the lies circulated by the anti-Muslim community. But as we can see from the extract quoted above it’s there in black and white, direct from the hadith. Surely there’s no way of wriggling out of this one? Think again. As with many of the other controversial verses and passages, left in isolation with no consideration of the wider picture or critical analysis, it’s pretty damning. Unfortunately, it’s also true that ancient pre-Islamic practices are justified in some quarters by doing just this. Sadly this only adds weight to the Islamophobe’s claims. But as I’ve noted in the other articles, what may be the cultural norm in places such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, isn’t necessarily sanctioned by the Quran, hadith or Sunnah, and shouldn’t be used as an indication of what is ‘normal’ for Muslims elsewhere.
I have no intention of indulging in cultural or moral relativism so this will not be an exercise in apologetics. Instead I will use evidence gathered from studies by eminent scholars and experts.
Bear in mind this assertion by Dr. David Liepert when considering the evidence:
There are really only three reasons to insist—as so many do —that Aisha was only 9 years old when Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) married her: Either you are such a crazy Islamophile that you are willing to go to your grave insisting Muhammad could do whatever he wanted. Or you are such a crazy Islamophobe that you want to insist he did. Or you are such a weirdly religious sex-crazed pervert that you hope accusing him makes it OK for you to do it too.
Liepert continues with the findings of thorough and detailed analysis of timelines and chronology within Islamic texts.
Aisha was married in 622 C.E., and although her exact birthday is unknown, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari recorded that it happened before Islam was revealed in 610. The earliest surviving biography of Muhammad, Abu Muhammad ‘Abd al-Malik bin Hisham’s recension of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah “The Life of the Messenger of God” records that Aisha accepted Islam shortly after it was revealed— 12 years before her marriage —and there is no way she could have done so as an infant or toddler. It is a matter of incontrovertible historical record that Aisha was involved in the Battles of Badr in 624 CE, and Uhud in 625, in neither of which was anyone under the age of 15 allowed. Finally Imam Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib; dead for over 700 years, recorded in the biographical section of Miskat al-Masabih that Asma, her elder sister of ten years, died at the age of 100, 72 years after Aisha’s wedding. This makes Aisha’s age at the time of her marriage at least 14, and at the time of her marriage’s consummation almost 20.
Tarek Fatah wrote an impassioned piece on this subject following a grossly offensive speech given by ‘former Muslim’ Wafa Sultan.
How do people like Wafa Sultan or the Islamists claim to know for a fact that the age of Aisha was nine when her marriage to Muhammad was consummated? There are no birth records from the time and there is not a single piece of physical paper that can be traced back to seventh century Arabia that mentions the age of Aisha. In the absence of hard evidence, we have two choices:
1. We rely on medieval hearsay and gossip that has unfortunately seeped into Islamic literature, the Hadith and Sharia law, or;
2. We calculate the age of Aisha based on actual agreed upon indisputable chronology of events.
The historian al-Tabari informs us in his treatise on Islamic history that the father of Aisha, Abu Bakr had four children and all them were born before the year 610AD, the year of the advent of Islam. If, as is generally accepted, Aisha became Muhammad’s bride in the year 624AD, then she had to be at least 14 years of age, if not older on the day of her wedding.
Other calculations based on historical events place Aisha as old as 20 when she was became a bride. Ibn Hisham, the historian, reports that Aisha accepted Islam quite some time before Umar (the second caliph). This means she must have been at least a young girl in the year 610. Assuming she was five years old when Abu Bakr and his family converted to islam, the information puts the age of Aisha at 20 or more at the time of her marriage with Muhammad was consummated in 624AD.
Furthermore, most Islamic historians agree that Asma, the elder sister of Aisha, was ten years older than her. It is also reported that Asma died in 683AD at the ripe age of 100. If this is true, then Asma would have been 31 years old at the time of Aisha’s wedding with Muhammad in 624 and the bride would have been 21.
Zahid Aziz has compiled numerous sources into one comprehensive article on the matter.
It appears that Maulana Muhammad Ali was the first Islamic scholar directly to challenge the notion that Aisha was aged six and nine, respectively, at the time of her nikah and consummation of marriage.
Prophet of Islam – published in the 1920s and 1930s.
“A great misconception prevails as to the age at which Aisha was taken in marriage by the Prophet. Ibn Sa‘d has stated in the Tabaqat that when Abu Bakr [father of Aisha] was approached on behalf of the Holy Prophet, he replied that the girl had already been betrothed to Jubair, and that he would have to settle the matter first with him. This shows that Aisha must have been approaching majority at the time. Again, the Isaba, speaking of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, says that she was born five years before the Call and was about five years older than Aisha. This shows that Aisha must have been about ten years at the time of her betrothal to the Prophet, and not six years as she is generally supposed to be. This is further borne out by the fact that Aisha herself is reported to have stated that when the chapter [of the Holy Quran] entitled The Moon, the fifty-fourth chapter, was revealed, she was a girl playing about and remembered certain verses then revealed. Now the fifty-fourth chapter was undoubtedly revealed before the sixth year of the Call. All these considerations point to but one conclusion, viz., that Aisha could not have been less than ten years of age at the time of her nikah, which was virtually only a betrothal. And there is one report in the Tabaqat that Aisha was nine years of age at the time of nikah. Again it is a fact admitted on all hands that the nikah of Aisha took place in the tenth year of the Call in the month of Shawwal, while there is also preponderance of evidence as to the consummation of her marriage taking place in the second year of Hijra in the same month, which shows that full five years had elapsed between the nikah and the consummation. Hence there is not the least doubt that Aisha was at least nine or ten years of age at the time of betrothal, and fourteen or fifteen years at the time of marriage.”
Research subsequent to the time of Maulana Muhammad Ali has shown that she was older than this.
The compiler of the famous Hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih, Imam Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib, who died 700 years ago, has also written brief biographical notes on the narrators of Hadith reports. He writes under Asma, the older daughter of Abu Bakr:
“She was the sister of Aisha Siddiqa, wife of the Holy Prophet, and was ten years older than her. … In 73 A.H. … Asma died at the age of one hundred years.”
This would make Asma 28 years of age in 1 A.H., the year of the Hijra, thus making Aisha 18 years old in 1 A.H. So Aisha would be 19 years old at the time of the consummation of her marriage, and 14 or 15 years old at the time of her nikah.
The same statement is made by the famous classical commentator of the Holy Quran, Ibn Kathir, in his book Al-bidayya wal-nihaya:
“Asma died in 73 A.H. at the age of one hundred years. She was ten years older than her sister Aisha.”
A. Faizur Rahman:
Child marriage in Islam is justified on the basis of a hadith in Bukhari which says that the Prophet married Hazrath Aisha when she was just six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.
This hadith cannot be true for several reasons. First, the Prophet could not have gone against the Quran to marry a physically and intellectually immature child. Secondly, the age of Hazrat Aisha can be easily calculated from the age of her elder sister Hazrat Asma who was 10 years older than Hazrat Aisha. Waliuddin Muhammad Abdullah Al-Khateeb al Amri Tabrizi the famous author of Mishkath, in his biography of narrators (Asma ur Rijal), writes that Hazrat Asma died in the year 73 Hijri at the age of 100, ten or twelve days after the martyrdom of her son Abdullah Ibn Zubair. It is common knowledge that the Islamic calendar starts from the year of the Hijrah or the Prophet’s migration from Mecca to Medina. Therefore, by deducting 73, the year of Hazrat Asma’s death, from 100, her age at that time, we can easily conclude that she was 27-years old during Hijra. This puts the age of Hazrat Aisha at 17 during the same period. As all biographers of the Prophet agree that he consummated his marriage with Hazrat Aisha in the year 2 Hijri it can be conclusively said that she was 19 at that time and not 9 as alleged in the aforementioned hadith.
Islamophobes will argue that the hadiths are an integral part of Islam and an irrefutable record of the life of Muhammad. If Bukhari states the age of Aisha in the hadith, then arguing against it is blasphemy is it not?
Dr. David Liepert:
Imam Bukhari, compiler of the famous Hadith collection Sahih Bukhari included one recalling that Aisha said she was 6 when betrothed and 9 when she was wed. However, Bukhari included another recording that Aisha was a young girl and remembered when Surah Al-Qamar was revealed 9 years before her wedding as well. Obviously, both Hadiths can’t be true, and that’s the problem with relying too much on Hadiths, and too little on the Quran and common sense. Even if you believe, as I do, that the Quran is a divinely protected book, the same cannot be said about all Hadiths.
In fact, there is even an Ayah in the Quran that warns about the dangers of thinking otherwise. Luqman 31: 6 cautions:
But there are, among men, those who purchase idle Hadiths, without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a Humiliating Penalty.
The only thing you need to realize is that both the tales Bukhari included can’t both be true. That fact; put together with the Quran’s warning means that Hadiths can’t be as authoritative to Muslims as the Holy Quran and the Sunnah are.
Zahid Aziz shares his findings on the Hadiths:
As to the authenticity of these reports, it may be noted that the compilers of the books of Hadith did not apply the same stringent tests when accepting reports relating to historical matters as they did before accepting reports relating to the practical teachings and laws of Islam. The reason is that the former type of report was regarded as merely of academic interest while the latter type of report had a direct bearing on the practical duties of a Muslim and on what was allowed to them and what was prohibited. Thus the occurrence of reports such as the above about the marriage of Aisha in books of Hadith, even in Bukhari, is not necessarily a proof of their credibility.
There is further evidence that contradicts claims of Aisha’s immaturity. Historical reports don’t paint a picture of a pre-pubescent girl forced into marriage, sex and Islam against her will.
At the time of her marriage with the Holy Prophet Muhammad, it is of the greatest relevance to note the pivotal role she played as a teacher, exponent and interpreter of the religion of Islam. Aisha was an exceptionally intelligent and astute woman, a young prodigy, and this was the main reason why she was got married to the Holy Prophet, as is clearly proved by events after the Holy Prophet’s life. She entered his household, shortly after his emigration to Madina, just at the time when the teachings of Islam in all fields of life for the Muslim community were starting to be revealed to the Holy Prophet and demonstrated by him by his example and practice. An intellectually gifted person was required who would have daily contact with the Holy Prophet at the closest and most personal level, so as to absorb the teachings that he was giving on all aspects of life by his words and actions. Such a person would need to possess the following qualities:
- an excellent, precise memory to retain a vast amount of detail accurately,
- the understanding to grasp the significance and the principles of the teachings,
- powers of reasoning, criticism and deduction to resolve problems on the basis of those teachings,
- the skills to convey knowledge to a wide range of audience,
- and, finally, have the prospect of living for a considerable period of time after the death of the Holy Prophet in order to spread his message to distant generations.
That Aisha possessed all these qualities and carried out this mission is an absolutely positive and undeniable, historical fact. After the Holy Prophet’s death, she acted as a teacher and interpreter of Islam, providing guidance to even the greatest of the male Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. They made a special point of going to her to gain knowledge and seek her opinion. A vast number of sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet are reported from her in books of Hadith. She not only quoted his sayings and reported her observations of events, but interpreted them to provide solutions to questions. Whenever necessary, she corrected the views of the greatest of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. She made rulings and judgments on which Islamic law is based.
It is thus recognised, from the earliest times in Islam, that some two-thirds of Islamic Sharia is based on reports and interpretations that have come from Aisha.
In view of these exceptional qualities of Aisha and the towering role played by her in the transmission of the teachings of Islam, it is simply preposterous and outrageous to suggest that she was the victim of some form of child and marital abuse.
Dr. Liepert again:
Whether Aisha was still a child when her marriage was consummated has never been a question: all scholars agree that occurred after Aisha’s menarche. Islamophobes inevitably claim otherwise, but they do so based on a completely fictitious interpretation of events.
The condemnation of the Quran and Sunnah are very clear: The Quran states a woman’s consent is essential, and the Sunnah confirms that both Aisha’s betrothal and consummation occurred with Aisha’s enthusiastic agreement. In fact, some even imply she went against the initial wishes of her Dad! Those guides unequivocally confirm that men and woman have equal status before God, equal though different rights when wed, and that a woman cannot be given in marriage without her express approval. Absent that, the Sunnah also records that Muhammad dissolved marriages on the woman’s testimony alone.
As has already been mentioned, an over reliance on the Hadiths in preference to the Qur’an and the core principles of Islam has allowed elements of the Islamic and anti-Muslim communities to interpret a distorted view to suit their agendas. The Qur’an, the divine message from Allah as revealed by Muhammad himself states:
Marriage in Islam is a civil contract, meesaaq ( 4:21), and as such it can be finalized only between persons who are intellectually and physically mature enough to understand and fulfill the responsibilities of such a contract. This can be further understood from the verse; “And test the orphans until they reach the age of nikah (marriage), and if you find in them rushdh (maturity of intellect) release their property to them.”(4:6). It may be noted here that the Quran makes intellectual maturity (which always falls beyond the age of puberty) the basis to arrive at the age of marriage. This is also in conformity with the Quranic description of marriage as emotional bonding between two mutually compatible persons through which they seek “to dwell in tranquility” (see 7:189 and 30:21) in the companionship of each other which is not possible if either of the spouses is mentally undeveloped.
Also from the Hadiths:
“The widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until their order is obtained, and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained.”
In addition, Muhammad gave women the power to annul their marriages if it was found that they had been married against their consent.
“When a man gives his daughter in marriage and she dislikes it, the marriage shall be annulled.”
Once a virgin girl came to the Prophet and said that her father had married her to a man against her wishes. The Prophet gave her the right to repudiate the marriage.
For a valid marriage, the following conditions must be satisfied, this is in accordance with all schools of thought.
- There must be a clear proposal.
- There must be a clear acceptance.
- There must be at least two competent witnesses. This is necessary to exclude illicit sex and to safeguard legitimacy of progeny. It is recommended that marriage should be widely publicized.
- There must be a marriage gift, little or more, by the bridegroom to the bride.
Anyone bent on smearing and disrespecting Islam and Muslims will no doubt find fault in the material presented above. It will be labelled as apologetics or revisionism, or just ignored and dismissed. Others will point out that it doesn’t really matter what it says in the Qur’an as the reality is, child marriage does occur in some Islamic countries. They have a valid point, even if their stance is not entirely sympathetic or their criticism constructive. The issues of forced, arranged marriages and child marriages are a source of shame and embarrassment to the wider Muslim community and need to be addressed with sensitivity but assertively. The treatment of women as property is strictly prohibited according to the Qur’an not to mention UN law, but forced marriages and the use of girls as compensation to victims of crimes are all too common in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan despite also being illegal there. The problem isn’t Islam though.
Factors perpetuating early marriage include poverty, parental desire to ensure sexual relations within marriage, a lack of educational or employment opportunities for girls, the sense that girls’ main value is as wives and mothers, and dowry systems. Girls who become pregnant may face extreme pressure from families and communities to marry. (UNFPA)
Poverty plays a central role in perpetuating child marriage. Parents want to ensure their daughters’ financial security; however, daughters are considered an economic burden. Feeding, clothing, and educating girls is costly, and girls will eventually leave the household. A family’s only way to recover its investment in a daughter may be to have her married in exchange for a dowry. In some countries, the dowry decreases as the girl gets older, which may tempt parents to have their daughters married at younger ages. These are not necessarily heartless parents but, rather, parents who are surviving under heartless conditions. Additionally, child marriages form new alliances between tribes, clans, and villages; reinforce social ties; and stabilize vital social status. (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention)
The UNFPA report of 2005 stated:
It is no coincidence that the same countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that have high rates of child marriage are those with:
High poverty rates, birth rates and death rates.
Greater incidence of conflict and civil strife.
Lower levels of overall development, including schooling, employment, health care.
The East Asian “Miracles” like Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand that have successfully eradicated the harmful traditional practice of child marriage are characterized by:
Economic growth and opportunity.
Declines in birth and death rates.
Increase in educational and employment options for girls.
In Saudi Arabia the subject of child marriage rears its ugly head far too frequently. The most recent high-profile case was when a Saudi judge refused to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man, as the marriage contract was between the husband and the girl’s father who used his daughter to settle a debt with the man. Instead, the judge ruled that the marriage must not be consummated until she reaches puberty, when she will also be able to request a divorce.
Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher with Human Rights Watch, told CNN: “We’ve been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger, especially so when girls are traded off to older men.”
Zuhair al-Harithi, spokesman for the Saudi-government run Human Rights Commission, also said: “The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia. Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed.”
Under pressure the judge finally approved the divorce.
A. Faizur Rahman:
Unfortunately, Muslim jurists don’t seem to have understood these Quranic teachings. Recently the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, issued a fatwa legitimizing the marriage of girls as young as 10. Even in India Muslim institutions including the Deoband and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have not outlawed child marriage. Yet they congregated not once but twice to condemn terrorism. It is astonishing that those who claim an Islamic basis for their shariah disregard the primary source of Islamic law, the Quran, to the extent of overruling it through their exploitation of spurious traditions. For instance, child marriage in Islam is justified on the basis of a hadith in Bukhari which says that the Prophet married Hazrath Aisha when she was just six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.
The problem with the present day Islamic law is that most of it is not based on the spirit of the Quran. This is because of the belief of Muslim theologians (particularly the Salafi ideologues, commonly known as the Wahabis) that hadiths have an overriding effect on the Quran. One such preacher Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi’s has the temerity to write in his book “An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran” that the Sunnah of the prophet can abrogate the Quran. The truth is that the Quran being the locus classicus of Islam, no authority can supersede it. Even the Prophet was commanded to judge by it (4:105, 5:49, 6:50, and 7:203). Furthermore, as the Quran claims to be a guide for all periods, it supports the notion that any law formulated on the basis of its framework has to evolve from time to time. For this to happen the doors of ijthihad (independent interpretation) must be reopened, and the entire corpus of hadiths must be reevaluated to discredit such hadiths that are antithetical to the spirit of justice, equity and fairness embodied in Quranic universalism.
This isn’t confined to Saudi unfortunately as the case of Nujood Mohammed Ali attests. The 10-year-old Yemeni made history in 2008 when she was granted a divorce from her 30-year-old husband.
Nujood did something virtually unheard-of in Yemen: She went out by herself and took a bus and a taxi to Sana’a’s main court. All morning she waited, until a judge saw her sitting there. “I want a divorce,” Nujood told him. The story of Nujood’s audacity spread to Shada Nasser, a human rights lawyer. “I didn’t believe it,” she says. She asked why the girl needed a divorce. Nujood’s reply: “I hate the night.” Nasser agreed to take the case free of charge. “But you must smile,” she said, “and you must trust me.”
This proved to be something of a breakthrough. Legislation was passed in 2009 for a minimum age for marriage only to be scrapped due to petitions from objecting parliamentarians. But debate is continuing under pressure from various women’s groups. An indication of what reformers and campaigners are up against are the sentiments of Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al-Zindani, a Yemeni scholar who is also on the US AL-Qaeda wanted list.
“Do you want to please God or the infidels and western agendas? Do you want adultery or to protect your children in the safety of marriage?!”
Despite the ranting of hardliners, a public opinion poll implemented in late 2007 by the Yemen Polling Centre (YPC) revealed that around 66.5 percent of respondents consider the suitable marriage age for a girl is 18 years.
It would also be inaccurate not to mention that this phenomenon isn’t restricted to Muslim majority countries. A worrying percentage of marriages that occur in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and South East Asia involve teenage (or younger) girls. A 2009 UNICEF report found that 40% of the world’s child brides were married in India. Other countries where the percentage of girls married before their 18th birthday was over 40% include Nepal, Malawi, Zambia, Dominican Republicand Mozambique, none of which are Muslim majority. As another example, take Niger where 98.6% of the population are Muslim, and Turkey where the figure is 98%. The corresponding numbers for early marriage are 75% and 17% respectively. The life expectancy in Niger is 52 while in Turkey it’s 72. In Niger 65.9% are living on less than $1.25 a day (the 9th highest % globally) but only 2.6% of Turks. The literacy rate in Niger is 28.7% (the 3rd lowest in the world) whilst its Turkish equivalent is 88.7%. These are the statistics that dictate the situation not which religion they’re born into.
To further consolidate this let’s look at the other Abrahamic faiths in comparison to Islam. What do the early texts of Christianity and Judaism say on these issues of forced and child marriage?
An extract from Zahid Aziz’ writings:
The most famous marriage in Christianity is no doubt that of Mary, Jesus’ mother, with Joseph. While the following details are not in the canonical Gospels in the Bible, it appears from other early Christian writings (known as apocryphal writings) that Mary was twelve years old when the temple elders decided to find a husband for her. They selected the husband by drawing lots, and Joseph whom they chose was an elderly man, being according to some accounts ninety years old. The husband was selected and Mary was handed over to him, and she played no part in his selection.
These accounts are summed up in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 edition, which is available online, as follows:
“It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph’s marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children … A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age, Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph …”
While the Western Christian churches may not accept these accounts as authentic, the Eastern churches in Europe do accept that Mary was 12 years old and Joseph a widower 90 years old when they married. Moreover, there is nothing in the Gospels of the New Testament to contradict these accounts, and the Gospel stories are not at all inconsistent with these ages for Mary and Joseph.
Tarek Fatah relays his findings:
The Jewish Encyclopedia had more details. According to it, rabbis reckon “the age of maturity from the time when the first signs of puberty appear, and estimated that these signs come, with women, about the beginning of the thirteenth year, and about the beginning of the fourteenth year with men. From this period one was regarded as an adult and as responsible for one’s actions to the laws of the community. In the case of females, the rabbinic law recognized several distinct stages: those of the “ḳeṭannah,” from the age of three to the age of twelve and one day; the “na’arah,” the six months following that period; and the “bogeret,” from the expiration of these six months.
A ketannah was completely subject to her father’s authority, and her father could arrange a marriage for her, whether she agreed to it or not; similarly her father could accept a divorce document (get) on her behalf. If however the father was dead, or missing, the brothers of the ketannah, collectively, had the right to arrange a marriage for her, as had her mother.
In mediaeval times, cultural pressure within Jewish communities lead to most girls being married while they were still children – before they had become a bogeret. Indeed, anyone unmarried after the age of twenty was said to have been cursed by God; rabbinical courts frequently tried to compel an individual to marry, if they had passed the age of twenty without marriage. Effectively, child marriage became nearly obsolete in Judaism; in modern times, it is an extremely rare event, as most areas with large Jewish communities have national laws against it.
Add to this the fact that the age of consent in England was lowered from 12 to 10 in the late 16th century, some 900 years after Aisha married Muhammad, and it becomes obvious how problematic it can be applying modern day values and standards to bygone eras. Hollywood screenwriter and television producer Kamran Pasha:
“In my novel, I have chosen to directly face the controversy over Aisha’s age by using the most contentious account, that she was nine at the time she consummated her wedding. The reason I have done this is to show that it is foolish to project modern values on another time and world. In a desert environment where life expectancy was extremely low, early marriage was not a social issue—it was a matter of survival.”
So even if we were to concede that Bukhari was correct, there is no evidence to suggest that this was disapproved of or unusual at the time, in any religion, as long as the criteria of Shariah was adhered to. In an age when life expectancy was low, girls reached physical and mental maturity at a younger age. Nature and the environment dictated this, otherwise the population would have been facing the threat of extinction within a few generations. But there is enough concrete evidence to render this Hadith unreliable at worst, and impossible in all probability.
So to summarise a rather lengthy analysis. Was Muhammad a paedophile? No. Are there genuine issues regarding forced marriages and child marriages in some Muslim countries? Yes. Is this as a result of Islam? No. Does the Qur’an and Sunnah permit forced marriages and paedophilia? No, of course not.
Is there anything we can do to raise awareness and improve the lives of girls in this situation? I have included links to some charities and organisations that deal specifically with women’s rights in Muslim countries and communities, There are also links to human rights organisations that operate in non-Muslim countries that are affected by these issues. The least we can do is read and learn. It might also help if we spent a fraction of the money we do on bombing these countries on humanitarian efforts instead. But that’s another issue.