Ages of Muhammad's Wives at Marriage
Error creating thumbnail: Unable to save thumbnail to destination
This article or section is being renovated.
Even some non-Muslim historians have repeated this claim.
What this highlights is that terms like “middle-aged” and “elderly” are subjective. They do not give precise information about how old the women were. Rather than debate what the words “middle-aged” and “elderly” ought to mean, we will consult the early Muslim sources and calculate the age of each wife on the day she married Muhammad.
Calculating Comparative Dates
The Islamic year consists of twelve lunar cycles and hence it is 354 or 355 days long. This means it is quite difficult to calculate comparative dates. For example:
This calendar tool advises us that the date 12 Rabi-Awwal 1 AH is equivalent to the Gregorian date 27 September 622 AD. But this does not give the 53-year-old Muhammad a birthdate of 27 September 569. Because the lunar year is shorter, Muhammad’s age at the time of the Hijra was only about 51½ solar years. According to the calculator, his birthdate of 12 Rabi-Awwal 53 BH is equivalent to the Gregorian date 26 April 571.
The Gregorian calendar did not exist in Muhammad’s day, so reporting dates in Gregorian style is an anachronism. However, it will be convenient to compare Muhammad’s calendar with the Gregorian calendar, which is internationally the most widely accepted and used civil calendar.
When Muslim historians speak of “the Year of the Elephant,” they always mean the year when Muhammad was born, which fell between 15 February 571 and 3 February 572.
That Muhammad apparently arrived in Medina exactly on his birthday – 12 Rabi-Awwal which was also his death-date – suggests that his official birthday is a made-up date. In fact the early historians give numerous suggestions for birth-dates other than the 12th, which the calculator tells was in any case a Friday and not a Monday. However, since the variant birthdays for Muhammad are all in the month of Rabi-Awwal and the year “of the Elephant,” we shall assume here that Muhammad was born in April 571.
A further complication is that nobody is certain that the pre-Hijri year was exactly the same as the Muslim year that was standardised after the Hijra. However, Muhammad complained about the custom of adding an intercalary month, which was probably a Medinan practice introduced by the Jews. The fact that he abolished intercalary months suggests that no such practice had been known in Mecca and that the old Meccan year was much the same as the later Islamic year.
The discussion about Khadijah’s age does not arouse the type of defensiveness that surrounds the discussion of Aisha’s age. Nobody denies that Khadijah married Muhammad as a very willing adult. Nevertheless, the traditional view of her age is probably wrong.
The year “65 years before the tenth year of prophethood” ran between 27 July 556 and 15 July 557, which was 15 years before the Year of the Elephant, so this is internally consistent.
Hakim was Khadijah’s nephew. Since children generally know the ages of their playmates, it is assumed that Hakim would have known the age of an aunt who was only two years older than himself. That is why his statement that she married Muhammad when she was 40 is usually accepted as true. However, there are problems with Hakim’s assertion.
Hakim ibn Hizam
The first problem is that Hakim claimed his own age to be 120. This is intrinsically questionable. To bolster his story, Hakim claimed to remember the episode when Abdulmuttalib ibn Hashim vowed to sacrifice his son Abdullah to the god Hubal but was able to ransom him for 100 camels. He says this was about five years before Muhammad was born. But Hakim’s ability to recite details that were already common knowledge does not prove he was an eyewitness to the event: he might well have heard the story from his parents.
Hakim’s remarks about Khadijah’s age might have served a similar function of supporting his personal boasts rather than relaying accurate history. If he had long ago mentioned that Khadijah was two years older than himself, he might have needed to stick to his story about her relative age and readjust her chronological age in order to keep it consistent with his claims about his own age. There is something suspicious about his remark here.
The reporter is emphasising that Hakim was only using a figure of speech to indicate Khadijah’s age and did not literally mean that she followed Islamic prayer rituals before Muhammad was even born. However, this kind of anachronism is exactly what we would expect from a person who is not remembering an event but inventing it from his imagination.
It is not impossible for a human to live 120 years but it is an exception to the general rule. So it is surprising how many early Muslims claimed to have reached this great age. Yahya ibn Mandah even wrote a book entitled Those of the Companions who Lived 120 Years, in which he lists fourteen 120-year-old Muslims. Hakim ibn Hizam is one of them. Another is Huwaytib ibn Abduluzza.
Huwaytib died in the year 54 AH (673-674) so he should have converted to Islam in the year 7 BH (615–616). The problem is, he openly admits that he did not convert until the conquest of Mecca in 8 AH (January 630). He gives a long list of excuses for the delay in his conversion but he never checks his arithmetic. If he became a Muslim in 8 AH, this was only 46 years before his death and not 60. This makes his age at death no more than 106. Of course, even this age assumes that he really was as old as 60 at the time of his conversion, which we now have licence to doubt. Huwaytib ibn Abduluzza lived to be elderly, but he was probably not entitled to his chapter in Yahya ibn Mandah’s book.
Muhammad’s poet, Hassan ibn Thabit, also claimed to be 120 years old. He said he was 60 at the time of the Hijra and that he lived another 60 years afterwards. This means he should have been born in 60 BH (seven years before Muhammad) and should have died in 61 AH (680-681). Tabari vaguely states that he died “in the caliphate of Muawiya,” which was between 40 and 60 AH (February 661 - April 680). Modern historians usually give his death-date as 54 AH, which is seven years too early.
Not included in Yahya ibn Mandah’s book is the poet Abu Afak, who was said to be 120 years old in 624 when he was assassinated for criticising Muhammad. Of course, no records have survived from pre-Islamic Medina; it was only hearsay that attributed this great age to Abu Afak. Yet even his enemies were willing to go along with the hearsay.
Is it really plausible that so many persons (all of them male) lived to be 120? Assuming it is not, is it even fair to accuse them of lying about their ages? More likely, there was some culturally understood convention attached to the number 120. People who boasted that, “I was already 60 before Event X and I have survived another 60 years since,” did not expect to be taken literally. They were simply saying, “I’m really, really old.”
If Hakim ibn Hizam was not literally 120, nor is it necessarily true that Khadijah (or any other person) was the age he claimed for her.
Abdullah ibn Abbas
The second problem with Khadijah’s age is that there is a strong alternative tradition, one that originates from no less a person than Abdullah ibn Abbas. Ibn Abbas was the cousin who lived at Muhammad’s side through the final years in Medina. He was a great source of ahadith and his word would normally be accepted without question. What is more, his mother was a close friend of Khadijah’s. The only reason why Abdullah has been largely ignored on the subject of Khadijah is that he never knew her personally while Hakim ibn Hizam did. Abdullah ibn Abbas says:
This tradition was strong enough to be accepted by Ibn Ishaq. It was not included in the recension of Ibn Hisham (who was not interested in the ages of women) or used as a source by Ibn Saad or Tabari (who followed Hakim ibn Hizam's tradition, presumably for the reasons given above). But it was included by Al-Hakim al-Naysaburi, who lived about a hundred years after Tabari. Although he was not an “early” historian, he was apparently still early enough to have direct access to the work of Ibn Ishaq.
An independent tradition is:
If she was 50 at death, she was 25 at marriage. However, this is not really a third tradition about Khadijah’s age, for the context suggests that the number 50 is only an approximation. So the tradition that Khadijah was married at “about 25” is actually independent support for the tradition that she was in fact 28.
The third problem with Khadijah’s age is the common-sense consideration that she bore Muhammad six children over a period of ten years. If she married him at 40, she was 50 by the time she gave birth to Fatima in 605. While this is not completely impossible, it is a sufficiently unusual achievement to cause us to pause and question the assertion.
Muhammad’s detractors in Mecca asked him why he did not perform any miracles. The only response available to him was, “The Qur’an is my miracle,” but it is clear that he was not happy about this response. He subsequently claimed to have split the moon and to have travelled to Jerusalem and back in one night. Later tales, omitted from the earliest histories, claimed that he had multiplied food like Jesus Christ, transfigured wood into iron, reminiscent of Elisha’s retrieval of the borrowed axe-head, or cursed his enemy’s camel to sink in the sand. Yet in the hostile atmosphere of Mecca, where a miracle was desperately desired to reinforce Muhammad’s credibility, he never pointed to his wife’s extraordinary fecundity. He never called it a blessing similar to Sarah’s gestation of Isaac or Elizabeth’s of John the Baptist. In fact nobody expressed even mild surprise that a woman of Khadijah’s age had produced so many children.
Perhaps that was because Khadijah’s fertility was a commonplace for a woman of her age. Perhaps she was still in her thirties when she bore Muhammad’s children. Perhaps, when her daughter Fatima was weaned in 607, Khadijah was still a few months short of forty – and that was why her childbearing ceased.
If Khadijah was only two to three years older than Muhammad, this makes sense of a great deal. It explains how her sex appeal as well as her money factored in to his attraction to her. It explains how she was able to produce six children in ten years and why she then stopped childbearing. It explains why Muhammad remained attracted to Khadijah for so long when, in later life, he was to reject older women. It explains why, after twenty years of marriage, he began thinking about younger women, for Khadijah would have been at that time menopausal and first losing her looks.
While this date, not found in the major hadith collections, might be an educated fabrication rather than literally historical, there are no rival suggestions for Muhammad and Khadijah’s wedding date. The year at least fits with all the generally accepted information about the ages of Muhammad and his children. 26 Elephant was 28 BH. A wedding date of 29 Safar that year would have fallen on 16 July 595.
If Khadijah was 28 at that time, she was born in the year between March 568 and March 569, some dozen years later than Hakim ibn Hizam claimed. Her age in solar years could have been anywhere between 26 years 4 months and 27 years 4 months. All we can do is take the median and accept it as an approximation.
- Khadijah’s Median Age = 26 years and 10 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 24 years and 3 months.
- Age Difference = (minus) 2 years and 7 months.
Far from being a “much older” woman, it appears that Khadijah was the only one of Muhammad’s wives who might fairly be deemed the same age as himself.
No contemporary historian gives Sawdah’s exact age, so we can only make an educated guess. The wedding date, however, is widely agreed.
Ramadan fell between 13 April and 12 May 620; but as Khadijah died on 10 Ramadan (22 April), Muhammad probably married Sawdah towards the end of the month. We can call the date “May 620” without being far wrong.
Because Sawdah is described as “older” than her co-wives, this has led to extreme guesses that she was a bride of 65 or even 80 However, while trying to establish Sawdah’s age, we can immediately rule out any estimates that ignore three established facts.
Sawdah’s Father was Still Alive
When Khawla bint Hakim brought Muhammad’s marriage proposal to Sawdah:
Sawdah Lived another 54 Years
This date is between 11 September and 9 October 674 – more than 54 years after the day when Sawdah married Muhammad. If she had lived to be 134, or even 114, someone would have commented. But if she was only about 40 on her wedding day, she must have survived to her mid-90s, which is impressive but plausible.
Sawdah had Not Reached Menopause
The texts do not say that Sawdah “was old” but that she “became old”, i.e. that she was only at the beginning of the “old age” period of her life. In the modern world, this would suggest that she was 65 or 70, which may explain why modern historians have assumed she was very elderly. But this is clearly impossible in the light of the fact that she lived another fifty years.
In the culture of the medieval Arabs, when a woman’s value to society depended on her capacity to bear children, a woman only had three life-stages: childhood (before she could bear children), adulthood (childbearing age) and old age (when she was past childbearing). So an “old” woman was simply one who was too old to have children – possibly a healthy, active, sharp-minded woman as young as 40. It is practically certain that the sentence “Sawdah became old” really only means “Sawdah reached menopause.”
When did Sawdah reach menopause? Obviously it was after Muhammad had consummated his marriage to Aisha in 623. So we already know that Sawdah was pre-menopausal in 620. But in fact it was even later than this, for the near-divorce episode is referred to in Quran 4:128. Ibn Kathir frankly admits:
The fourth surah of the Qur'an is long and was probably not written all at once. But it all belongs to the same general period. It covers many family issues, including inheritance rights. Quran 4:7-11 was written to answer the complaint of an Uhud widow, so it must date from after 22 March 625. This same incident confirmed the limitation of the number of wives to four, so it must have been written before Muhammad was given permission to take a fifth concurrent wife on 27 March 627. The surah is also full of invectives against the Jews and “hypocrites,” who were no longer a problem after April 627. So the episode in which Sawdah “became old” and pleaded with Muhammad to not divorce her occurred between mid-625 and early 627.
In fact, we strongly suspect that the date was towards the end of this period. Muhammad most likely considered divorcing Sawdah in December 626 or January 627 expressly because he wanted to marry a fifth woman but was trying to observe the limit of four wives. If Muhammad had not been contemplating marriage to a fifth woman, there would have been no point in divorcing Sawdah, for she was no trouble to him at home. It was only after he had decided to keep Sawdah that he needed the special dispensation to marry unlimited wives. However, the sources do not explicitly state this circumstance as the reason for the near-divorce. They only say that Sawdah “became old” and so Muhammad wanted to divorce her.
If Sawdah was menopausal in 626, or perhaps 625, this suggests she was then aged about 45, making her around 40 when she married Muhammad.
When Muhammad married Sawdah in May 620, he was 49. It is possible that Sawdah was also about that age and that she lived to be over 100. But it is unlikely. Allowing that she was not yet menopausal and that she had a father living, she was probably closer to 40.
- Sawdah’s Probable Age = about 40 years.
- Muhammad’s Age = 49 years and 1 month.
- Age Difference = 9 years, plus or minus a few.
The age difference between Muhammad and Sawdah was not inappropriate for a middle-aged couple; but she was almost certainly the younger spouse. And we will state here that Sawdah was the oldest bride whom Muhammad ever married.
Copious documentation on hundreds of Muhammad’s companions shows that most Arabs knew their age to the nearest year. Why should Aisha, with her extraordinary memory, her penchant for details and her talent for arithmetic, have been any exception? To suggest that, contrary to her clear statement, she miscalculated or fabricated her own age is not logical. The information about her death only confirms her consistency.
The year 66 years before 58 AH was once again nine years before the Hijra, making Aisha nine years old at her consummation in 1 AH. While it may well be true that most Arabs only knew their age to the year and not to the day, there is some evidence that Aisha’s family had noted at least the month in which she was born.
If they knew that she had been born at the “beginning” and not the “middle” or the “end” of the year, it is unlikely that they would have been wrong about the year itself. “The fourth year of prophethood” was indeed the ninth year before the Hijra (25 October 613 - 13 October 614). It was the year when Muhammad first preached Islam in public; Aisha’s parents would not have forgotten what was happening around the city at the time when their daughter was born. Abu Bakr’s accuracy is not really surprising, as he was a recognised expert on genealogy, so a person’s month of birth was exactly the kind of detail that he would remember.
These two narratives offer a variant for Aisha’s age when she was legally married, but this is an uncertainty about the date of the contract (two rather than three years before the consummation). It does not reflect any uncertainty about Aisha’s date of birth, since they confirm that the marriage was consummated when she was nine. The real discrepancy can be missed by a casual reader, but it is obvious to anyone familiar with the Islamic calendar.
Aisha was married in the first year AH (19 July 622 - 7 July 623) and widowed in the eleventh (1 April 632 - 20 March 633). Since she was married at nine, she should have been 19, not 18, when Muhammad died. This is possibly just careless counting by some person other than Aisha: “Nine and a bit plus nine and a bit is still only 18.” But it could also mean that on the day when Muhammad died, Aisha had not yet passed her birthday. Muhammad died on 12 Rabi-Awwal 11 AH (i.e., in the middle of the third month) (10 June 632). If Aisha knew that she had been born on some date later in the year than 12 Rabi-Awwal, then she was still only 18 and not 19 when she was widowed.
This gives us Aisha’s date of birth to within six weeks. It might have been as early as 13 Rabi-Awwal 9 BH (4 January 614). But it is unlikely that it was any later than 29 Rabi-Thani 9 BH (19 February 614), as any date later than the fourth month would not have been “early” in the year. So we can express Aisha’s birthday as 27 January 614, plus or minus three weeks.
Her marriage was consummated in the tenth month of the first year AH. This fell between 11 April and 9 May (median = 25 April 623). We can now take an informed estimate of her age at consummation.
- Aisha’s Median Age at Consummation = 9 years and 3 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 52 years and 0 months.
- Age Difference = 42 years and 9 months.
The exact age or age difference down to the day or even to the year do not matter. The real points are that (1) Aisha was a prepubescent child, and (2) Muhammad was old enough to be her grandfather.
Aisha was the youngest bride whom Muhammad married. It does not follow that she was the youngest wife in the household. Towards the end of his life, Muhammad acquired a few women whose age in years was even younger than Aisha’s.
There is some discrepancy about Hafsah’s exact age but there is no doubt at all concerning her approximate age.
This was the year from 30 January 605 to 19 January 606, so the median birthdate for Hafsah is 26 July 605. Muhammad’s daughter Fatima was born in the same year.
This was the month between 20 October and 17 November 665, which is a contradiction. If Hafsah died at the age of 60 Islamic years, she would have been born in 607 (median = 4 July 607), two years later than Ibn Saad claims. However, the date “when the Quraysh were rebuilding the House” is precise, and so is the mention of Shabaan as the month of death. If both these details are correct, it is possible that “she was then 60” was only meant as an approximation.
So we will assume that Hafsah was born in 605; but we should bear in mind she might have been two years younger than this.
Shabaan 3 AH fell between 20 January and 17 February 625 (median = 3 February).
- Hafsah’s Median Age = 19 years and 7 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 53 years and 9 months.
- Age Difference = 34 years and 2 months.
It does not really matter whether Hafsah was 19 or 17. The important points are that (1) she was biologically a woman and not a child, but (2) she was a young woman, while Muhammad was biologically old enough to be her grandfather.
Zaynab bint Khuzayma's Age
Zaynab’s life is not well documented, which has led to guessing about her age.
However, there is no need for this kind of guessing, for her age is in fact recorded.
Zaynab was therefore married on or soon after 18 February 625. She died on or just before 11 October 625. If she was “about 30” in 4 AH, she was born in October 596, plus or minus a few years.
- Zaynab’s Median Age = 28 years and 4 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 53 years and 10 months.
- Age Difference = 25 years and 6 months.
Zaynab married five times. Her fifth choice, it seems, fell on a high-status and already-married man old enough to be her father.
The data about Hind (Umm Salama) is precise, and there are no variant traditions.
Eighty-four years before 59 AH brings us to the year between 26 April 597 and 15 April 598 and a median birthdate of 20 October 597.
- Hind’s Median Age = 28 years and 6 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 55 years and 0 months.
- Age Difference = 26 years and 6 months.
Zaynab bint Jahsh's Age
There is dispute about Muhammad's biological cousin's exact age, but there is no doubt about her approximate age.
Note that this narrator was the grandson of Zaynab’s own nephew. If Zaynab was 53 in 20 AH, she was born in 34 BH between 23 July 589 and 11 July 590 (median = 15 January 590).
The first of Dhu’l-Qada 5 AH was 27 March 627. However, there is a contradiction. The same nephew who said she died at age 53 also said:
Thirty-five years before 5 AH brings us to a birth-year of 31 BH (20 June 592 - 8 June 593), a discrepancy of three years. Probably Umar ibn Uthman was giving a round number when he said she was married at 35; to be conservative, we will assume the earlier birthdate. However, we must bear in mind that Zaynab might have been some three years younger than this.
- Zaynab’s Median Age = 37 years and 2 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 55 years and 11 months.
- Age Difference = 18 years and 9 months.
Therefore we have to discard modern commentaries claiming that Zaynab was “in late middle age.” While her contemporary community might not have considered her “a young woman,” this is relative. She was still young enough to have been Muhammad’s daughter.
Juwayriyah’s age is only mildly controversial.
If Juwayriyah was 65 in 50 AH, the year in which she was born would have been 16 BH, which fell between 9 January and 28 December 607. (Although there is a variant tradition that she did not die until 56 AH, this tradition does not state her age at death, so we shall ignore it.) The year in which she was 20 would have been 5 AH. There is indeed some evidence for a wedding date of 5 AH.
This supports a date of 5 AH, though earlier than the eleventh month of Dhu’l-Qada, for the marriage to Juwayriyah.
However, this cannot be right. For a start, Ibn Ishaq disagrees.
Further, it is certain that the raid at al-Muraysi and consequent marriage to Juwayriyah took place not before, but after, Muhammad’s marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh. As Aisha tells the story:
On the way home, Aisha was temporarily lost:
Muhammad had ordered his wives to be veiled at the time he married Zaynab, so the raid at al-Muraysi must have been after this. After Safwan brought Aisha back to Medina, they found themselves the focus of gossip.
This makes it very clear that Muhammad was already married to Zaynab during this controversy, which arose before the warriors had even arrived home from the al-Muraysi expedition. He married Zaynab in late 5 AH, so Ibn Ishaq’s date of 6 AH for the raid must be the correct one. It does seem odd that Aisha would give the wrong sequence for two such dramatic events as the raid at al-Muraysi and the Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab. However, it is more likely that, when asked for a date, she accidentally named the wrong expedition than that, recalling what could be considered 'the crisis of her life', she could not remember whether she had been veiled or who had been spreading gossip about her.
If Juwayriyah was 20 years old in 6 AH, she must have been born in 15 BH (between 29 December 607 and 17 December 608). That would make her only 64, not 65, at her death in 50 AH. This is not a serious discrepancy, but it does mean that one of these ages is only an approximation. On balance, the younger age is more likely to be correct. Young people are usually accurate about their ages (“When my husband was killed, I was definitely 20, not 19 or 21”) whereas the elderly are more likely to use round numbers (“I think this will be my final illness, for I’m already in my mid-60s”).
Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, we shall take a two-year range for Juwayriyah’s birthdate, between 9 January 607 and 17 December 608. The median is 28 December 607. She was married in Shabaan 6 AH, a median date of 2 January 628.
- Juwayriyah’s Median Age = 20 years and 0 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 56 years and 9 months.
- Age Difference = 36 years and 9 months.
So another one of Muhammad's wives, Juwayriyah, was young enough to be his granddaughter.
Safiyah gives us unusual precision, for it appears that she knew her age to the month.
She married Muhammad at the time when Khaybar fell. The exact date of this victory is not recorded, but the general period of the siege is clear.
The Muslims therefore began the march to Khaybar in late May or early June 628 and were back in Medina before the end of July. So Muhammad married Safiyah early in Rabi-Awwal 7 AH (mid-July 628). Safiyah apparently knew that she had been born in Rabi-Awwal 17 years earlier, though she did not know whether it had been late or early in the month and therefore did not know whether she had reached 17 full years on the particular night when she married Muhammad. The Rabi-Awwal of 17 years earlier fell between 14 January and 12 February 612, giving Safiyah a birthdate of 28 January 612, plus or minus a fortnight.
- Safiyah’s Age = 16 years and 6 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 57 years and 3 months.
- Age Difference = 40 years and 9 months.
Safiyah was yet another bride who was young enough to be Muhammad’s granddaughter.
It is said, citing Sunan Nasa’i vol. 1 book 1 #60 p. 127, that Ramlah (Umm Habiba) was 23 years younger than Muhammad. Since he was born in 53 BH, this would place her birth in 30 BH. If this citation is correct, it is in broad agreement with the other sources.
Ibn Kathir makes Muhammad 25 years older than Ramlah. This is not a serious contradiction. If Muhammad was 53 in 1 AH, then he was only 59 and not 60 in 7 AH; so calling Ramlah’s age 35 rather than 36 may also be an approximation, much like Tabari’s “thirty-odd”. Since Ibn Kathir is not a primary source, we shall be conservative and assume that “thirty-odd” means 36 and that Ramlah was born in 30 BH.
30 BH fell between 9 June 593 and 28 May 594, giving Ramlah a median birthdate of 2 December 593. Her marriage to Muhammad was consummated upon his return from Khaybar in July 628.
- Ramlah’s Median Age at Consummation = 34 years and 7 months.
- Muhammad’s Age = 57 years and 3 months.
- Age Difference = 22 years and 8 months.
Ramlah was young enough to be Muhammad’s daughter.
There are two traditions about Maymunah, neither of which makes very much sense.
This would place her death in the year between 4 October 680 and 22 September 681 and her birth in 21 or 20 BH between 4 March 602 and 10 February 604 (median = 21 February 603).
This was between 4 February and 4 March 629 (median = 18 February), indicating that her age at marriage was 26, plus or minus a year.
But in fact the death-date of 61 AH might have been a mistranscription. Other sources indicate that she could not have been the last survivor of Muhammad’s widows, for Aisha outlived her, and Hind, of course, outlived Aisha.
While it is possible that Aisha’s remarks on Maymunah’s death are apocryphal (the sources are not particularly early), the story lends strength to an alternative tradition that Maymunah died about a decade before 61 AH.
This is still not correct, as not one, but four or five, of Muhammad’s widows were still alive in 51 AH (Hind, Aisha, Sawdah, Safiyah and perhaps Juwayriyah). Ibn Kathir, writing 700 years after the event, was either trying to harmonise the conflict without considering all the facts or merely restate the words of someone else who likewise failed to consider the facts. If Ibn Kathir (or his source) guessed at which part of his original text was the error, he might also have been guessing at the year of Maymunah’s death. So we have no real confidence that the correct year was either 51 or 61 AH. The only consistency is that Maymunah lived to be about 80.
While we do not really know Maymunah’s death-date, and therefore her birth-date, we will accept Ibn Kathir’s more conservative tradition. According to this, she was born in 30 BH, i.e., between 9 June 593 and 28 May 594 (median = 2 December 593). This would make her about 35 when she married Muhammad in February 629, although we will bear in mind that she might have been many years younger.
- Maymunah's Median Age at Marriage = 35 years and 2 months.
- Muhammad’s Age at Marriage = 57 years and 10 months.
- Age Difference = 22 years and 8 months.
Sir William Muir’s unsourced comment that “Maymunah is said to have been at this time 51 years of age” is thus shown to be extremely doubtful.
Mulaykah’s exact age is not given, but there is a clue in this statement.
If they expected Mohammed to believe that “she is too young to think for herself,” they were suggesting that she was barely an adult – someone whose body had so recently reached puberty that her mind had not yet caught up.
This makes sense in the light of the fact that Mulaykah found a new fiancé within days of her divorce from Muhammad, before she had completed her three-month waiting-period. It looks as if this man had already been a suitor before it became politically necessary for Mulaykah to marry Muhammad. If she had been courted but not married, this also suggests that she was very young.
Since the mean age of menarche was 12½ years, this indicates that Mulaykah was about 13, plus or minus a couple of years. As for the date of the wedding:
The year 8 AH did not end until 22 April 630. But in fact Muhammad must have married Mulaykah earlier than this. Her tribe lived near Mecca; they had resisted him at Mecca on 14 January; and Muhammad left Mecca on 28 January to fight the Hawazinites and Thaqifites. It is practically certain that he married Mulaykah during his fortnight of residence in the city, i.e. in the second half of January 630.
- Mulaykah’s Probable Age = about 13 years.
- Muhammad’s Age at Marriage = 58 years and 9 months.
- Age Difference = 45 years and 9 months.
While this is only a guess, we were also only guessing about Sawdah. By the time Muhammad married Mulaykah, Aisha had become 16. Although Mulaykah was an older bride, she was almost certainly younger in years than Aisha.
Asma’s age is unknown but her age-range is clearly implied.
Since Asma’s family had adopted Jewish cultural norms over a century earlier, it is safe to say that she had passed puberty at the time of her first marriage. Further, the text suggests that her first husband had been dead for some months or even years. When she arrived in Medina in the summer of 630, she must have been at least 14 years old and perhaps considerably older. She displayed a dignity and sense of duty that make her seem more mature than Mulaykah bint Kaab or Fatima bint Al-Dahhak. While this could tell us more about Asma’s education than her age (she was, after all, a princess), it is clear that she was no child-bride.
At the same time, Abdullah ibn Abbas suggests Asma’s upper age-limit.
This kind of accolade would be absurd for a woman who was older than 20. The sources do not describe Hafsah, Juwayriyah or Safiyah as “youthful,” and Asma’s naiveté certainly suggests youth.
In conclusion, Asma was probably in her late teens; but we do not really know. To be conservative, we will say that she was 20.
- Asma’s Maximum Age = 20 years and 0 months.
- Muhammad’s Age at Marriage = 59 years and 3 months.
- Age Difference = 39 years and 3 months.
Asma was once again young enough to be Muhammad’s granddaughter.
Amrah’s age is not stated anywhere. However, we do know the age of her first husband. He was Muhammad’s cousin, Al-Fadl ibn Abbas. Al-Fadl’s brother Abdullah recalled: “We reached Allah’s Apostle five years after he had made Hijra and were with the Quraysh when they marched during the year in which the Battle of Ahzab [Trench] was fought . I was with my brother Fadl … I was then eight years old while my brother was 13.”
If Al-Fadl was 13 in 627, he was born in late 613 or 614 – that is, he was exactly the same age as Aisha. His family emigrated to Medina three years later, and soon afterwards, Al-Fadl petitioned Muhammad to arrange a marriage for him. Muhammad found him a wife on the same day, but it was not Amrah bint Yazid. The girl whom Al-Fadl married in 630 was his cousin, Safiya bint Mahmiyah.
It is a little strange that such a young man would so soon afterwards take on a second wife, but it is safe to say that he did so willingly, for Amrah was of no political importance. There is no obvious reason for this marriage beyond the documented fact that Al-Fadl was susceptible to pretty girls. He was also the eldest son of a very wealthy man, so if he wanted a second wife, there was nothing to stop him taking one. It is therefore highly unlikely that Amrah was plain or that she was older than Al-Fadl. She would have been the same age as her bridegroom or a little younger.
However, Al-Fadl divorced Amrah within a matter of months, and she was afterwards married to Muhammad. While the date of this marriage is unknown, there would scarcely have been time for all these events to have occurred before January 631. Since Muhammad fell ill and then died in early June 632, the latest possible date for his marriage to Amrah would be May 632. So the median wedding date is September 631. We do not know how old Amrah was in 631, but Al-Fadl was 17, so it is reasonable to suggest that Amrah was about 15 – a couple of years younger than Aisha.
- Amrah’s Probable Age = about 15 years.
- Muhammad’s Age at Marriage = 60 years and 5 months.
- Age Difference = 45 years and 5 months.
Again, this is a guess, but it is an estimate based on real data about Amrah’s life. We can make no such guesses about the remaining women in Muhammad’s life.
Muhammad had some kind of marriage contract with several other women, but most of these unions were dissolved before consummation. The other women with whom he is known to have had a sexual relationship are the five listed below, four of whom were technically concubines (sex slaves) rather than legal wives. The ages of these five women are unknown.
Rayhanah bint Zayd ibn Amr
Rayhanah was a Jewish female from the Nadir tribe in Medina. She married a Qurazi, which means she must have been married before the Nadir tribe was banished from Medina in August 625. As a Jew, she would not have been living with her husband before she reached menarche or before the age of 12 years. So her latest possible birthdate is mid-613.
These details, a siege of 25 nights starting from some time in Shawwal 5 AH (26 February - 26 March 627), place the surrender of the Qurayza between 23 March and 20 April 627. Within a day or two of the surrender came the distribution of booty.
So Muhammad captured Rayhanah in spring 627, a date when her youngest possible age would have been 14. She might have been considerably older than this minimum. Although secondary historians have guessed that she was about 15, this is not stated in the early sources. Since her exact age is not known, we have omitted her from the calculation.
Mariyah bint Shamoon
Mariyah’s age is not stated anywhere. The only certain fact is that, since she bore Muhammad a son in 630, she must have been of childbearing age. Various guesses that she was 20 or 17 betray the assumptions of the secondary historians that if she attracted Muhammad, she must have been young. The truth is, they are probably right. But because we don’t know Mariyah’s age, we have omitted her from the calculation.
Fatima ("Al-Aliya") bint Al-Dahhak
The only objective clue to Fatima’s age is that she lived another 50 years after Muhammad divorced her. Subjectively, her behaviour seems immature and suited to a child aged 15 or 16. But because we do not know Fatima’s age, we have omitted her from the calculation.
"Al-Jariya" and Tukanah
These two concubines were presumably selected for their looks and were presumably young. But presumption is not fact. We do not know their ages and so we have omitted them from the calculation.
We can now calculate the mean age of 14 of Muhammad’s wives at the time he married them.
- Khadijah’s Median Age = 26 years and 10 months.
- Sawdah’s Approximate Age = 40 years.
- Aisha’s Median Age = 9 years and 3 months.
- Hafsah’s Median Age = 19 years and 6 months.
- Zaynab bint Khuzayma’s Median Age = 28 years and 4 months.
- Hind’s Median Age = 28 years and 6 months.
- Zaynab bint Jahsh’s Median Age = 37 years and 2 months.
- Juwayriyah’s Median Age = 20 years and 0 months.
- Safiyah’s Age = 16 years and 6 months.
- Ramlah’s Median Age = 34 years and 7 months.
- Maymunah’s Median Age = 35 years and 2 months.
- Mulaykah’s Approximate Age = 13 years.
- Asma’s Maximum Age = 20 years.
- Amrah’s Approximate Age = 15 years.
- Total Years = 343 years and 10 months.
- Mean Age of Muhammad’s Brides = 24.56 years
The mean age of Muhammad’s brides was about 24½ years. Even by the historical Arabian standards, a woman of 24 was not quite “middle-aged”.
Muhammad as Bridegroom
We can also calculate Muhammad’s mean age as a bridegroom. Here is his age when he consummated each of these marriages.
- Khadijah = 24 years and 3 months.
- Sawdah = 49 years and 1 month.
- Aisha = 52 years and 0 months.
- Hafsah = 53 years and 9 months.
- Zaynab bint Khuzayma = 53 years and 10 months.
- Hind = 55 years and 0 months.
- Zaynab bint Jahsh = 55 years and 11 months.
- Juwayiriyah = 56 years and 9 months.
- Safiyah = 57 years and 3 months
- Ramlah = 57 years and 3 months.
- Maymunah = 57 years and 10 months.
- Mulaykah = 58 years and 9 months.
- Asma = 59 years and 3 months (not consummated, but legalities finalised).
- Amrah = 60 years and 5 months (not consummated, but legalities finalised).
- Total Years = 751 years and 4 months.
- Mean Age of Muhammad as Bridegroom = 53.66 years
Muhammad’s mean age at marriage was 53 years and 8 months. The mean age difference between Muhammad and all his wives was over 29 years.
Muhammad’s first marriage to Khadijah skews the statistics. She was the only wife whom Muhammad married as a young man. She was the only wife who was close to his own age, as opposed to being significantly younger. Some statisticians would exclude her as an outlier before they began the calculation.
A more serious skew of the statistics is caused by the fact that these 14 wives were not the only women whom Muhammad married. He also had four known concubines and at least one other full wife. While we do not know the ages of any of these women, we can infer a definite trend. They all seem to have been teenagers – significantly younger than the mean. If their ages could be added to the calculation, the mean age of Muhammad’s brides would be even lower, perhaps around 22 years.
Muhammad acquired these five women in the last five years of his life, so his mean age as bridegroom has to be raised. While we don’t know all of his wedding dates, the new figure would probably come to about 55 years – making the age difference between Muhammad and his “average wife” a grand mean of 33 years.
Therefore our calculation that Muhammad’s average wife was 29 years younger than himself and that she became his bride when she was 24½ has to be taken as conservative.
The widows whom Prophet Muhammad married after Khadijah’s death do indeed fall into two distinct age-groups. But to label these two groups as “the middle-aged” and “the elderly” gives atypical definitions to these terms. The “elderly” group would refer to those brides between 28 and 40 while the “middle-aged” group would mean the teenagers.
Muhammad loved Khadijah, who was the same age as himself, when they were both young. He rejected Sawdah, who was a little younger than himself, when they were both middle-aged. All his other wives were young enough to be his daughters and several were young enough to be his granddaughters. He divorced one woman before consummating the marriage and broke off another courtship solely because he decided that these women were “too old” for him, and he continued to pursue teenagers until the day he died. Nor does he seem to have been embarrassed by his own preference.
The inevitable conclusion is that Muhammad preferred younger women, and the widely repeated claim that almost all of his wives were elderly has no basis in historical fact.
- If you would like to use the calendar converter, bear in mind that it is programmed to assume that year-numbers are integers, i.e., that each date-system includes a year 0. Of course, none of them does. The year before 1 AH is 1 BH and the year before 1 AD is 1 BC. So if, for example, you want to calculate the year 53 BH, you need to call it -52 on this calculator.
- Introduction to Calendars. United States Naval Observatory. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
- Calendars by L. E. Doggett. Section 2.
- The international standard for the representation of dates and times, ISO 8601, uses the Gregorian calendar. Section 3.2.1.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 689
- See “Calendar, History of” in Funk & Wagnalls (1906). Jewish Encyclopaedia. New York: Author.
- Quran 9:36-37.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 160
- Sahih Muslim 10:3662; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 106.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 41, 106.
- Yahya ibn Mandah. Juz f̀ihi man 'asha miattan wa-'ishrina sanatan min al-Sahabah.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 40.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 43-46.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 72.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 72
- The Diwan of Hassan ibn Thabit.
- Ibn Saad, Tabaqat vol. 2 p. 31.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 95.
- See Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 54-57, 95 for brief accolades. For a modern assessment of his contribution, see Siddiqi, M. Z. (2006). Hadith Literature: its origin, development, special features and criticism, pp. 33-34. Kuala Lumpar: Islamic Book Trust.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 201; Bewley/Saad 8:193.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, 55; Bewley/Saad 8:12; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 161.
- Hanbali, cited in Al-Irbali, Kashf al-Ghumma. Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar vol. 16 p. 12.
- Robson, J. (2013). "Al-Ḥakim al-Naysaburi" in Bearman, P., Bianquis, T., Bosworth, C. E., van Donzel, E., & Heinrichs, W. P. (1960). Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd Ed. Leiden: Brill.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 83. Bewley/Saad 8:10.
- Bewley/Saad 8:13.
- Quran 2:118. Quran 2:145. Quran 6:37. Quran 6:109. Quran 10:20. Quran 13:7. Quran 17:59. Guillaume/Ishaq 133ff. Sahih Bukhari 9:92:379.
- Quran 24:1. Quran 98:1-4.
- 42.35/ Ibn Saad, Tabaqat 1:42:35-36; Matthew 14:13-21.
- 42.38/ Ibn Saad, Tabaqat 1:42:38; II Kings 6:5-7.
- 42.40/ Ibn Saad, Tabaqat 1:42:40.
- Genesis 17:15-21, 21:1-7.
- Luke 1:5-25, 57-80.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, 166; see Quran 2:233 and Guillaume/Ishaq 71 for two years as the customary duration of nursing.
- See Bewley/Saad 8:40, 111, 113; Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, pp. 139, 140.
- Muir (1861) 2:141-144. See also Sell, E. (1923). The Historical Development of the Qur'an, 4th Ed, pp. 25-26. London: People International.
- Bewley/Saad 8:152. See also Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 4, 161.
- Prophet’s Wives (Ummul Momineen).
- Al Ghoudairy, F. Why Did Prophet Muhammed Marry Aisha; the Young Girl, p. 24. Dare to read.
- Personal communication with native speakers of Arabic. See also this image of an “elderly” lady (kahla) from Afghanistan.
- Sunan Abu Dawud 18:2885; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir on Q4:7; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir on Q4:11.
- Quran 4:3.
- Quran 33:50.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 8, pp. 1-4; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 182; Bewley/Saad 8:72-73, 81.
- Quran 4:46-59; Quran 4:150-175.
- Quran 4:60-68; Quran 4:136-149.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 466.
- Quran 4:3.
- Bewley/Saad 8:40.
- Ahmed, S. “Prophet Muhammad and Aisha Siddiqa.”
- For a modern assessment of Aisha’s contribution to the hadith literature, see Siddiqi, M. Z. (2006). Hadith Literature: its origin, development, special features and criticism, pp. 33-34. Kuala Lumpar: Islamic Book Trust.
- Bewley/Saad 8:47.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 117.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 115.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 689
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 166.
- Ibn Hisham note 918; Bewley/Saad 8:82; Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 138; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 163-614.
- Bewley/Saad 8:63-66.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 147.
- Bewley/Saad 8:72; Al-Tabari, Vol. 8, p. 4; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 180; cf Guillaume/Ishaq 3; Maududi (1967), Tafhimul Quran, Chapter Al Ahzab
- Akhter, J. (2001). “The Prophet's Marriages and Wives” in The Seven Phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life. Chicago: ISPI.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 184; Bewley/Saad 8:85.
- Sahih Bukhari 7:62:95; Bewley/Saad 8:126-127.
- “Why Did Mohammed Get So Many Wives?” See also “Hadrat Umm-e-Habiba (r.a)” in Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Guidance for Soul Satisfaction.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 526, 529-530.
- Muir, W. (1861). The Life of Mahomet vol. 4 p. 89. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Bewley/Saad 8:106; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 165.
- Finley, H. (2003). “Average age at menarche in various cultures.”
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, pp. 2-3.
- Lecker, M. (1995). Judaism among Kinda and the Ridda of Kinda. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 115, 635-650.
- Ezekiel 16:7-8. “Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children” in Judaism 101.
- Bewley/Saad 8:103.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 189-190.
- Ibn Ishaq, cited in Guillaume, A. (1960). New Light on the Life of Muhammad, p. 55. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Tabrani/Haythami vol. 6 p. 64 reported on the chain of narrators for this hadith. Cited in Khandhlawi, M. M. Y. (1959). Hayatus Sahaba. Translated by Elias, A. H. (2008). The Lives of the Sahabah, vol. 1, p. 373. Farid Book Depot (Pvt.) Ltd.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 202.
- Sahih Muslim 5:2347.
- See Sahih Bukhari 74:247:1.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 113, 114, 309-310.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 689
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 164-165.
- Guillaume/Ishaq 437-438, 445.
- Ezekiel 16:7-8.
- “Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children” in Judaism 101.
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, pp. 39, 137.
- Thomson, H. A. (1993). “Maymunah bint Al-Harith” in The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd.
- Ahmed, S. “Prophet Muhammad and Aisha Siddiqa.”
- Bewley/Saad 8:100
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 187-188; Bewley/Saad 8:101.
- Bewley/Saad 8:111
- Bewley/Saad 8:113
- Bewley/Saad 8:105
- "Nothing was dearer to the Prophet of Allah than a horse. Then he said: “O Allah! Excuse me, no! The women!” (i.e., not dearer than women)." - 90.6/ Ibn Saad, Tabaqat Vol. 1 Chapter 90:6.