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Jerry Lee Lewis and Muhammad: More In Common Than You Might Think



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Jerry Lee Lewis, the celebrated and notorious rock and roll pioneer, died last Friday, and for his sheer exuberance and joy of living, to say nothing of his heart-stopping pianistic pyrotechnics, he will be missed. From the looks of some of the coverage of his death, however, the only noteworthy thing he did was marry his 13-year-old cousin when he was 22. The Los Angeles Times asked: What happened to Jerry Lee Lewis’ 13-year-old bride? She’s been here the whole time.” Newsweek went with “Jerry Lee Lewis Ex Myra Said She Never Lost ’13-Year-Old-Child-Bride’ Title.” In the New York Post, we got “How Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was ruined when he married his 13-year-old cousin.”

And it’s true: Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was ruined, or at least severely derailed, by this marriage in 1957. This is an intriguing lesson in cultural differences, for in some parts of the world, no one would have looked twice at Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to a child. That’s because according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad, the prophet of Islam and “excellent example” for Muslims for all time, married a child himself.

Traditions of Muhammad’s words and deeds that are considered normative in Islamic law, when judged authentic, record that Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, was six when Muhammad wedded her and nine when he consummated the marriage:

The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death) (Sahih Bukhari 7.62.88).

Another tradition, or hadith, has Aisha herself recount the scene:

The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Sahih Bukhari 5.58.234).

Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old. As Jerry Lee Lewis might say, “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire.”

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