The Marriage of Umar ibn Khattab and Umm Kulthum

A Case Study

Sam Shamoun

We proceed with our analysis of the typical arguments used by Muslims in defense of Muhammad’s marriage with a young child. Here we want to resume our discussion on whether such marriages were culturally acceptable and normal by analyzing a few marriages which took place after Muhammad’s death.

According to Sunni Muslim sources, the third caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab married Umm Kulthum, the daughter of Ali ibn Abu Talib and Fatima bint Muhammad. This is a view which many Shiites deny.

The following Sunni Islamic source, in responding to the assertions made by the Shiites, provide a rough sketch as to how this marriage came about:

Umm Kulthum was the second daughter of ‘Ali and Fatimah, and the youngets [sic] of their four children. She was born in about the year 6 AH. She became of marriagable [sic] age during the khilafah of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, and the khalifah asked for her hand in marriage. This is recorded by Ibn Sa‘d in his work at-Tabaqat al-Kubra (vol. 8 p. 338, ed. Muhammad ‘Ab al-Qadir ‘Ata, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut 1990) as follows:

I was informed by Anas ibn ‘Iyad al-Laythi, who reports on the authority of Ja‘far ibn Muhammad [as-Sadiq], and he from his father [Muhammad al-Baqir]—

that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab asked ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib for the hand of Umm Kulthum in marriage. ‘Ali said, "I had kept my daughters for the sons of Ja‘far." ‘Umar said, "Marry her to me, O Abul Hasan, for by Allah, there is no man on the face of the earth who seeks to achieve through her good companionship that which I seek to achieve." ‘Ali said, "I have done so."

Then ‘Umar came to the Muhajirun between the grave [of Rasulullah r ] and the pulpit. They—‘Ali, ‘Uthman, Zubayr, Talhah and ‘Abd ar-Rahman—used to sit there, and whenever a matter used to arrive from the frontiers, ‘Umar used to come to them there and consult with them. He came to them and said, "Congratulate me." They congratulated him, and asked, "With whom are we congratulating you, O Amir al-Mu’minin?" He replied, "With the daughter of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib."

Then he related to them that the Nabi r said, "Every tie of kinship, and every association will be cut off on the Day of Qiyamah, except my kinship and my association." [‘Umar said,] "I have had the companionship of Rasulullah r ; I would like also to have this [kinship]."

(The Marriage of umm kulthum daughter of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib o ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab t, Misrepresentation of History, by Abu Muhammad al-Afriqi; source)

The above reference says Umm Kulthum was born to Ali and Fatimah in the year 6 A.H (628/629 A.D). Umar married Kulthum during his caliphate, which lasted from 13 to 23 A.H. (634-644 A.D.).

A Shiite website gives the approximate date of their marriage as given in Sunni books:

… two Sunni scholars, Yaseen Maussali in Al Madhahib, Page 98, and 'Umar Reza Kulalla, in Ulum Al Nisa, Page 256, both state that:

"Umar married her in 17 Hijri, and consumated [sic] the marriage a year later when she became baligh".
(Nikah of Lady Umme Kulthum[as]; source)

Another online site claims:

The exact date of the birth of Umar is not known. The concensus of opinion, however, is that Umar was born at Mecca around 580 A.D He was younger than the Holy Prophet of Islam by about ten years. (Pre-Islamic Period; source; bold emphasis ours)

This means that Umar was roughly 47 years old when Umm Kulthum was born.

In 639 A.D., Umar married Umm Kulsum the daughter of 'Ali and Fatima. Till his death in 644 A D., Umm Kulsum remained his favorite wife. (Testament and Assessment of Umar; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The foregoing implies that Umar was 58 years old when he married Umm Kulthum, who was roughly 11 years old at that time. Sunni Muslim writer GF Haddad observes:

The marriage of `Umar with Umm Kulthum al-Hashimiyya (6-49) the daughter of `Ali and Fatima took place on the year 17 of the Hijra. `Ali gave her away to `Umar upon his request although he was afraid at first that `Umar might not accept her due to her youth and because he wished her to marry one of her cousins among the sons of Ja`far ibn Abi Talib. But `Umar said, 'Marry her to me for I swear I have toward her more dedication to excellent companionship than any man on the face of the earth.'

`Umar gave her a dowry of 40,000 dirhams in honor of her lineage to the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace...

Ibn Kathir's Tarikh states the year 16 for the marriage of `Umar with Umm Kulthum; so she was between 10 and 12 since her date of birth is mentioned by al-Dhahabi in Siyar A`lam al-Nubala' as around the 6th year after the Hijra. Allah knows best from where the claim that she "was 5 or 4" comes from…

What was the age for Omar at the time of the marriage?

Approximately forty-seven. Umm Kulthum was between 10 and 12.

When Omar died what was the age of Umm Kulthum?

Between 17 and 19. `Umar was fifty-four or five. (Umar's Marriage with Umm Kulthum bint Ali (Allah be well-pleased with them); source; bold emphasis ours)

Haddad suggests that Umar was actually 47 and that Umm Kulthum was between 10 and 12 when he married her. Still, other references imply that Umm Kulthum may have been much younger than that. Since Haddad does not give any reason or reference why he deviates from the usual assumption that Umar was born in 580 AD, we will stick to the common date for the further discussion.

The next set of quotes, starting from Ibn Sa’d, are taken and adapted from the same Shiite website which we cited earlier:

From Ibn Sa'd’s Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Volume 8, p. 463, Dhikr Umm Kulthum:

Umar asked Imam Ali for the hand of Bibi Umme Kulthum (as) in marriage, to which Ali replied, 'O Commander of the Faithful, SHE IS A MILK FED CHILD'. To which Umar replied, 'By Allah! That is not true. You are seeking to avoid me'. 'Ali therefore ordered that Umm Kulthum have a bath and then wear a shawl. 'Ali told her to go to the Khalifa, 'give him my regards and ask him if he likes the shawl, he can keep it, other wise, he should return it'. When she came to Umar, he said, 'May Allah bless you and your father, I like it'. Hence Umm Kulthum came back to her father and told her that Umar did not open the shawl but just looked at me. Ali married her to Umar and they had a child named Zayd. (Please go here to see the Arabic text.)

In Tarikh Khamees, Volume 2, p. 384 ('Dhikr Umm Kalthum') and Zakhair Al-Aqba, p. 168, state:

"'Umar asked 'Ali for the hand of his daughter, Umm Kulthum in marriage. 'Ali replied that SHE HAS NOT YET ATTAINED THE AGE (of maturity). 'Umar replied, 'By Allah, this is not true. You do not want her to marry me. If she is underage, send her to me'. Thus 'Ali gave his daughter Umm Kulthum a dress and asked her to go to 'Umar and tell him that her father wants to know what this dress is for. When she came to Umar and gave him the message, he grabbed her hand and forcibly pulled her towards him. 'Umm Kulthum asked him to leave her hand, which Umar did and said, 'You are a very mannered lady with great morals. Go and tell your father that you are very pretty and you are not what he said of you'. With that 'Ali married Umm Kulthum to 'Umar."

The final references come from Sawaiqh al Muhriqa, p. 280 and Asaaf al Ghaneen, p. 162:

"Umar asked for the hand of 'Ali's daughter. 'Ali replied THAT SHE IS TOO YOUNG. Umar eventually made 'Ali desperate, and he [Umar] climbed the pulpit declaring 'By Allah, I have made 'Ali desperate as I heard Rasulullah (s) say that on the Day of Judgment all family trees shall me severed save those of my family'. By the orders of 'Ali Umm Kulthum was then groomed and sent to Umar. When Umar saw her, he got up, took her in his lap, kissed her, and showered blessings on her. When she got up to leave, he grabbed her ankle and said, 'Tell your father that I am willing'. When she returned home and told. (Please go here to see the Arabic text.)

These Shiites go on to produce citations proving that Umar married Umm Kulthum before she attained puberty:

In Sawaiqh, Page 94, Ibn Hajr al Makki sought to justify the incident as follows:

"'Umar's actions of embracing and kissing Umme Kalthum are not haraam as she was underage and such actions are permissible as is not the case with an adolescent woman"

What? Then how could he have married her if she was underage. He also touched up her calf? Is that acceptable with even little girls?…

According to Afrki's assessment that would make her 11 years of age when the alleged marriage took place (17 Hijri) so she was NOT as young as Ibn Hajar would have us believe! Yet Ibn Hajr insists that she was a very small girl of the age that is sat in a lap, though providing no evidence for this! Whichever option the supporters of Mu'awiya choose, both rather destroy the character of 'Umar. We would like to ask Ibn Hajr the following:

If this is indeed Umme Kathum binte Fatima (as) then she was 11 / 12 years of age at the time (as Afriki had rightly calculated) then why is it that the writers of Ahl'ul Sunnah have referred to her as Sagheera (Child) and some as Sabeeya (milk fed)?'.

These terms cannot be used for a girl that has attained puberty, and in the Arabic - English Dictionary by Hans Wehr, page 517, Sagheer is defined as:

"a minor under age".

If this was indeed the 11 / 12 year old Umme Kalthum that Afriki claims, then how could Imam 'Ali (as) as a responsible father send his adolescent daughter to 'Umar, who then takes the opportunity to place the girl on his knee, kiss her and fondle her? This type of action is all the more obscene when one takes into account that, according to Sahih Al Bukhari, Ayesha was deemed to be mature enough to have sexual intercourse when she was nine years of age (Sahih al Bukhari, Bab ul Nikah Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64) - Umme Kalthum binte Fatima (as) was older than even Ayesha was, allegedly, according to the Sunnis.

If, as Ibn Hajr claims, Umm Kalthum (as) was underage, then we would like to ask 'Is it permissible under Shari'a for a man to marry a girl that is underage?' If it is, could our opponents cite some proof. If it is not, then it in fact suggests paedophilia on the part of 'Umar who married / consummated marriage with an underage girl. Some of the traditions refer to Umme Kalthum (as) as Sabeeya - a term referring to a child that is still being suckled. The risk of infectious diseases at that time meant that mothers would have breast fed their children into their early years (4 / 5 years) of age. Ibn Hajr's attempts to defend 'Umar were also based around the fact that Umme Kalthum (as) was of a very young age. If we, for the sake of argument, accept Ibn Hajr's account of the placing of the girl in his lap by 'Umar as being because she was very young, this would certainly indicate she was very young indeed - still being breastfed and nowhere near puberty. (Source)

In fact, Haddad himself cites a reference where Umar spoke out against those who would ridicule him for marrying a girl so young:

He came to the Muhajirun among the Companions as they sat between the Grave and the Pulpit ? their usual place for meeting `Umar to discuss news: "Felicitate this newlywed!" Then he told them he had married `Ali's daughter Umm Kulthum and said: "I heard the Messenger of Allah say, upon him blessings and peace: 'Every lineage and means will be severed on the Day of Judgment except my lineage and my means.' I have kept company with him and wished to add this also." Later he again said, on the pulpit: "DO NOT DISPARAGE ME [FOR MARRYING A YOUNG GIRL], for I heard the Prophet say may upon him blessings and peace: 'On the Judgment Day every means will be cut off and every lineage severed except my lineage.'" (Source; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The sharp reader should be able to see why the foregoing data poses problems for the claim that such marriages were culturally acceptable at that time. If marrying nine-year-old girls were permissible during that time then why did Ali and the other Muslims vehemently oppose and object to Umar’s marriage proposal to Ali regarding his daughter? If Umm Kulthum was too young for Umar even though she was approximately 11 years old at that time, and Umar was roughly 58 years of age, then wouldn’t this prove that Aisha was too young for Muhammad in light of her age being nine and Muhammad was fifty-four years old when they consummated their marriage?

As we noted earlier, Shiites deny that Umar married Ali’s daughter. Rather, they are of the opinion that he actually married Abu Bakr’s daughter who was also named Umm Kulthum (see this article).

But this, too, is problematic. Certain sources say that Umm Kulthum was born after her father had died in the year 634 AD:

Illness of Abu Bakr. On the 7th of Jamadi-ui-Akhir of the 13th A H. corresponding to the 8th of August 634 C.E, Abu Bakr fell sick, and out of this sickness he never recovered. There are two accounts about the sickness of Abu Bakr. One account is that the 8th of August 634 was a cold day, when Abu Bakr took a bath and caught a chill. Another account is that about a year ago, along with some other companions Harith bin Kaladah, and Attab bin Usaid he had eaten some food which was poisoned, and which was to have its effect after a year. Harith b. Kaladah and Attab b Usaid died on the same day as Abu Bakr, and that lends support to the theory that the death of Abu Bakr was because of the effect of poison...

Property bequeathed to Ayesha. Abu Bakr had bequeathed some property to Ayesha. Now that he was on deathbed he desired that the property should be divided among her two brothers and three sisters in accordance with the Islamic Law. Ayesha said that they were two sisters, Asma and herself, and inquired as to who was the third sister? Abu Bakr said that his wife Habiba was pregnant, and he had a feeling that the child would be a girl. Indeed after the death of Abu Bakr, a girl was born to Habiba, who was named Umm Kulsum. Ayesha complied with the wish of her father and released the property in her charge for distribution among her brothers and sisters...

With these words of the Holy Quran on his lips, Abu Bakr expired. From God he had come and to God he returned. It was 22nd of Jamadi-ul-Akhir of 13 A.H. corresponding to 23rd of August, 634 C.E. The day was Monday. His death took place between the hours of the Maghrib and Isha prayers. He was 63 years at the time of his death. That was the exact age at which the Holy Prophet had died...

Habiba. The third wife of Abu Bakr was Habiba. She was the daughter of Zaid bin Kharijah Ansari, with whom Abu Bakr had the bond of brotherhood established by the Holy Prophet. While Umm Ruman lived at Madina, Abu Bakr resided with Habiba in Sukh, a suburb of Madina Habiba was the mother of Umm Kulsum who was born after the death of Abu Bakr...

Umm Kulsum. The third daughter of Abu Bakr was Umm Kulsum. She was born of Habiba bint Zaid Ansari. Umm Kulsum was born after the death of Abu Bakr. On coming of age, Umm Kulsum was married to Talha bin Ubaidullah. On the death of Talha, she married his brother Abdur Rahman bin Ubaidullah. (Death of Abu Bakr; source; bold emphasis ours)

That means that if the Shiites are correct and if Umar married Umm Kulthum in the year 639 AD, then this means that she was five years old when the caliph married her!

As a final example which shows that marrying young girls wasn’t normal even at that time, note what the following source says regarding Muhammad’s daughter Fatima:

When Fatima Zahra reached nine years of age, she was a full-grown woman who enjoyed intellectual maturity and integrity of conduct. Allah gifted her with a brilliant mentality and cleverness, together with beauty, grace and elegance. Her talents were many and her inherited and acquired noble traits excel those of any female or male.

Fatima's religious feelings and literary knowledge were unlimited. You will come to know that she was the most knowledgeable and most honorable woman in the world. In fact, history has not witnessed any other woman who achieved such a high level of education, knowledge, and social graces that Fatima reached; regardless of the fact that she did not graduate from any educational establishment save the school of Revelation and Messengership.

In light of this, it is not strange that prominent companions of the Prophet asked to marry her, but he (S) rejected them by saying …

Abu Bakr and Umar were among those who asked to marry Fatima, but the Prophet (S) rejected them too, and said that she was still too young for marriage. AbdurRahman Ibn Awf also asked for her hand, but the Prophet (S) ignored him. (Fatima ['a] The Gracious, by Abu Muhammad Ordoni [Published by: Ansariyan Publications Qum, The Islamic Republic of Iran], Chapter 25, On the Way to Marriage; source; bold emphasis ours)

The questions which naturally arise from the foregoing are if Fatima was mature at nine years of age then why did Muhammad refuse to marry her off to Abu Bakr and Umar on the grounds that she was too young for marriage? And if being nine is too young for marriage then wouldn’t this prove that Aisha was too young for Muhammad as well?

If it was appropriate for Muhammad to ask Abu Bakr for his daughter when she was merely six years old, how could he refuse Abu Bakr’s reciprocal request for Muhammad’s daughter at the time when she was already nine years old, and do so on the basis that she was too young?

This brings us to the conclusion of our discussion. May the risen and immortal Lord Jesus use this to bring Muslims out of the darkness and into his glorious light. Amen.

Further Reading

Here are Muslim links related to the subject of Aisha’s marriage to Muhammad, both pro and contra.

Articles defending Aisha’s age being nine:

Articles trying to refute the claim that Aisha was nine:

And here are some non-Muslim sites dealing with this issue:'s_Age_of_Consummation

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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