'A'isha

For other uses, see Aisha (disambiguation).

‘Ā’ishah bint Abī Bakr (b. 613/614 C.E.[1][2] – d. 678 C.E.[3]) (Arabic: عائشة‎ transliteration: ‘Ā’ishah, [ʕaːʔiʃa], also transcribed as A'ishah, Aisyah, Ayesha, A'isha, Aishat, Aishah, or Aisha) was one of Muḥammad's wives.[4] In Islamic writings, her name is thus often prefixed by the title "Mother of the Believers" (Arabic: أمّ المؤمنين umm al-mu'minīn), per the description of Muhammad's wives in the Qur'an.[5][6][7]

Traditional sources state that Aisha was married to Muhammad at the age of six, but she stayed in her parents' home until the age of nine, when the marriage was consummated with Muhammad, then 53, in Medina;[8][9][10] with the exception of al-Tabari who records that she was ten years old.[11]

According to Sunni views, Aisha had an important role in early Islamic history, both during Muhammad's life and after his death. She was an active figure in numerous events and an important witness to many more. Aisha contributed to the growth, development, and understanding of Islam. Being a role model to a significant amount of others added to her attributions as a consultant regarding Muhammad's prayer and practices, soon introducing herself into a world of politics.[12]

After Muhammad, Aisha was readily involved in continuing his message. She was present through the reigns of at least the first four caliphs. Her father, Abu Bakr, became the first caliph to succeed Muhammad. The second caliph ‘Umar succeeded Abū Bakr. During the time of the third caliph's reign Aisha rebelled. She did not fully approve of ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan's practices on many occasions. During the fourth caliph's reign she wanted to avenge Uthman's death, which she attempted to do in the Battle of the Camel. She participated in the battle by giving speeches and leading troops on the back of her camel. She ended up losing the battle, but her involvement and determination left a lasting impression.[7]

Early life

Aisha was born in late 613 or early 614 C.E.[1][2] She was the daughter of Umm Rumman and Abu Bakr of Mecca, two of the Prophet's most trusted companions.[13] The word bakr in her father's name means "virgin", in reference to Aisha's virginity.[14] Aisha was the third and youngest wife of Muhammad.[15] One of Muhammad's first encounters with Aisha was by her house. Muhammad found her "crying bitterly" because her parents had disciplined her. The Prophet was affected by her tears, and in an effort to stop her from crying Muhammad asked her mother to "be gentle with the child for his sake."[16]

Marriage to Muhammad

The idea to match Aisha with Muhammad was suggested by Khawlah bint Hakim.[17][18] After this, the previous agreement regarding the marriage of Aisha with Jubayr ibn Mut'im was put aside by common consent. Abu Bakr was uncertain at first "as to the propriety or even legality of marrying his daughter to the Prophet."[19] British historian William Montgomery Watt suggests that Muhammad hoped to strengthen his ties with Abu Bakr;[20] the strengthening of ties commonly served as a basis for marriage in Arabian culture.[21]

Age at marriage

According to traditional sources, Aisha was six or seven years old when she was married to Muhammad and nine when the marriage was consummated.[8][9][10][11][20][20][22] However, al-Ṭabarī records that she was ten.[11] Maulana Muhammad Ali challenged the notion that Aisha was as young as the traditional sources claim.[23] Abu Tahir Irfani also concluded Aisha was older than the traditional sources claim.[24] The sources do not offer much more information about Aisha's childhood years.[25][26]

The issue of Aisha's age at the time she was married to Muhammad has been of interest since the earliest days of Islam, and references to her age by early historians are frequent.[11] American historian Denise Spellberg states that "these specific references to the bride's age reinforce Aisha's pre-menarcheal status and, implicitly, her virginity."[11] Early Muslims regarded Aisha's youth as demonstrating her virginity and therefore her suitability as a bride of Muhammad. This issue of her virginity was of great importance to those who supported Aisha's position in the debate of the succession to Muhammad. These supporters considered that as Muhammad's only virgin wife, Aisha was divinely intended for him, and therefore the most credible regarding the debate.[27]

Personal life

Relationship with Muhammad

In many Muslim traditions, Aisha is described as Muhammad's most beloved or favored wife after his first wife, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, who died before the migration to Medina took place.[12][28][28][29][30] There are several hadiths, or stories or sayings of Muhammad, that support this belief. One relates that when a companion asked Muhammad, "who is the person you love most in the world?" he responded, "Aisha."[31] Others relate that Muhammad built Aisha’s apartment so that her door opened directly into the mosque,[31][32] and that she was the only woman with whom Muhammad received revelations.[28][32] They bathed in the same water and he prayed while she lay stretched out in front of him.[33]

There are also various traditions that reveal the mutual affection between Muhammad and Aisha. He would often just sit and watch her and her friends play with dolls, and on occasion he would even join them.[32][34][35] Additionally, they were close enough that each was able to discern the mood of the other, as many stories relate.[32][34] It is also important to note that there exists evidence that Muhammad did not view himself as entirely superior to Aisha, at least not enough to prevent Aisha from speaking her mind, even at the risk of angering Muhammad. On one such instance, Muhammad's "announcement of a revelation permitting him to enter into marriages disallowed to other men drew from her [Aisha] the retort, 'It seems to me your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire!'"[12] Furthermore, Muhammad and Aisha had a strong intellectual relationship.[31] Muhammad valued her keen memory and intelligence and so instructed his companions to draw some of their religious practices from her.[31]

Accusation of adultery

The story of accusation of adultery levied against Aisha can be traced to Sūrat al-Nūr (chapter 24) of the Quran. As the story goes, Aisha left her howdah in order to search for a missing necklace. Her slaves mounted the howdah and prepared it for travel without noticing any difference in weight without Aisha's presence. Hence the caravan accidentally departed without her. She remained at the camp until the next morning, when Safwan bin al-Mu‘attal, a nomad and member of Muhammad's army, found her and brought her back to Muhammad at the army's next camp. Rumours that Aisha and Safwan had committed adultery were spread, particularly by Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, Hassan ibn Thabit, Mistah ibn Uthatha and Hammanah bint Jahsh (sister of another of Muhammad's wives). Usama ibn Zayd, son of Zayd ibn Harithah, defended Aisha's reputation, but Ali recommended that he divorce her. Muhammad came to speak directly with Aisha about the rumors. He was still sitting in her house when he announced that he had received a revelation from God confirming Aisha's innocence. Surah 24 details the Islamic laws and punishment regarding adultery and slander. Aisha's accusers were subjected to punishments of 80 lashes.[36]

Story of the honey

After the daily Asr prayer, Muhammad would visit each of his wives' apartments to inquire about their well-being. Muhammad was just in the amount of time he spent with them and attention he gave to them.[37] Once Muhammad's fifth wife, Zaynab bint Jahsh, received some honey from a relative which the Prophet took a particular liking to. As a result, every time Zaynab offered some of this honey to him he would spend a longer time in her apartment. This did not sit well with Aisha and Hafsa bint Umar. (It should be noted that "taste the honey" was a commonplace Arab metaphor for "have sexual intercourse".[38] It is possible that the annoyance of Aisha and Hafsa had nothing to do with literal honey.) "So Hafsa and I agreed secretly that, if he come to either of us, she would say to him: It seems you have eaten maghafir (a kind of bad-smelling resin), for I smell in you the smell of maghafir. We did so and he replied No, but I was drinking honey in the house of Zaynab, the daughter of Jahsh, and I shall never take it again. I have taken an oath as to that, and you should not tell anybody about it."[39] Soon after this event, Muhammad reported that he had received a revelation in which he was told that he could eat anything permitted by God. Some Sunni commentators on the Qur'an sometimes give this story as the "occasion of revelation" for Surah 66, which opens with the following verses: "Prophet, why do you prohibit that which God has made lawful for you, in seeking to please your wives? God is forgiving and merciful. God has given you absolution from such oaths."[40] Word spread to the small Muslim community that Muhammad's wives were speaking sharply to him and conspiring against him. Muhammad, saddened and upset, separated from his wives for a month. ‘Umar, Hafsa's father, scolded his daughter and also spoke to Muhammad of the matter. By the end of this time, his wives were humbled; they agreed to "speak correct and courteous words"[41] and to focus on the Afterlife.[42]

Death of Muhammad

Aisha remained Muhammad's favorite wife throughout his life. When he became ill and suspected that he was probably going to die, he began to ask his wives whose apartment he was to stay in next. They eventually figured out that he was trying to determine when he was due with Aisha, and they then allowed him to retire there. He remained in Aisha's apartment until his death, and his last breath was taken as he lay in the arms of Aisha, his most beloved wife.[12][32][34][35][43]

Political career

After Muhammad's death, which ended Aisha and Muhammad's decade-long marriage, Aisha lived fifty more years in and around Medina. Much of her time was spent learning and acquiring knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Muhammad. Aisha was one of three wives (the other two being Hafsah and Umm Salamah) who memorized the Qur'an. Like Hafsah, Aisha had her own script of the Qur'an written after Muhammad's death.[44] During Aisha's life many prominent customs of Islam, such as veiling and seclusion of women, began. Aisha's importance to revitalizing the Arab tradition and leadership among the Arab women highlights her magnitude within Islam.[45] Aisha became involved in the politics of early Islam and the first three caliphate reigns: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman. During a time in Islam when women were not expected, or wanted, to contribute outside of the household, Aisha delivered public speeches, became directly involved in war and even battles, and helped both men and women to understand the practices of Muhammad.[12]

Role during caliphate

Role during first and second caliphates

After Muhammad's death in 632, Abu Bakr was appointed as the first caliph. This matter of succession to Muhammad is extremely controversial to the Shia who believe that Ali had been appointed by Muhammad to lead while Sunni maintain that the public elected Abu Bakr[46] Abu Bakr had two advantages in achieving his new role: his long personal friendship with Muhammad and his role as father-in-law. As caliph, Abu Bakr was the first to set guidelines for the new position of authority.[11]

Aisha garnered more special privilege in the Islamic community for being known as both a wife of Muhammad and the daughter of the first caliph. Being the daughter of Abu Bakr tied Aisha to honorable titles earned from her father's strong dedication to Islam. For example, she was given the title of al-siddiqa bint al-siddiq, meaning 'the truthful woman, daughter of the truthful man',[11] a reference to Abu Bakr's support of the Isra and Mi'raj.

In 634 Abu Bakr fell sick and was unable to recover. Prior to his death, he appointed ‘Umar, one of his chief advisers, as the second caliph[11] Throughout ‘Umar's time in power Aisha continued to play the role of a consultant in political matters.[11]

Role during the third caliphate

After ‘Umar died, ‘Uthmān was chosen to be the third caliph. He wanted to promote the interests of the Umayyads. Aisha had little involvement with ‘Uthmān for the first couple years, but eventually she found a way into the politics of his reign. She eventually grew to despise ‘Uthmān, and many are unsure of what specifically triggered her eventual opposition towards him. A prominent opposition that arose towards him was when ‘Uthmān mistreated ‘Ammar ibn Yasir (companion of the prophet) by beating him. Aisha became enraged and spoke out publicly, saying, "How soon indeed you have forgotten the practice (sunnah) of your prophet and these, his hairs, a shirt, and sandal have not yet perished!" (108).[7]

As time continued issues of antipathy towards ‘Uthmān continued to arise. Another instance of opposition arose when the people came to Aisha, after Uthmān ignored the rightful punishment for Walid idn Uqbah (Uthmān's brother). Aisha and Uthmān argued with each other, Uthmān eventually made a comment on why Aisha had come and how she was "ordered to stay at home"(111).[7] Arising from this comment, was the question of whether Aisha, and for that matter women, still had the ability to be involved in public affairs. The Muslim community became split: "some sided with Uthmān, but others demanded to know who indeed had better right than Aisha in such matters"(111).[7]

The caliphate took a turn for the worse when Egypt was governed by Abdullah ibn Saad. Abbott reports that Muhammad ibn Abi Hudhayfah of Egypt, an opponent of ‘Uthmān, forged letters in the Mothers of the Believers' names to the conspirators against ‘Uthmān. The people cut off ‘Uthmān's water and food supply. When Aisha realized the behavior of the crowd, Abbot notes, Aisha could not believe the crowd "would offer such indignities to a widow of Mohammad"(122).[7] This refers to when Safīyah (one of Muhammad's wives) tried to help ‘Uthmān and was taken by the crowd. Malik al-Ashtar then approached her about killing Uthmān and the letter, and she claimed she would never want to "command the shedding of the blood of the Muslims and the killing of their Imām" (122); she also claimed she did not write the letters.[7] The city continued to oppose ‘Uthmān, but as for Aisha, her journey to Mecca was approaching. With the journey to Mecca approaching at this time, she wanted to rid herself of the situation. ‘Uthmān heard of her not wanting to hurt him, and he asked her to stay because of her influence on the people, but this did not persuade Aisha, and she continued on her journey.[7]

First Fitna

Main article: Battle of the Camel


Abu Bakr's reign was short, and in 634 AD he was succeeded by Umar, as caliph. Umar reigned for ten years, and was then followed by Uthman Ibn Affan in 644 AD. Both of these men had been among Muhammad's earliest followers, were linked to him by clanship and marriage, and had taken prominent parts in various military campaigns. Aisha, in the meantime, lived in Medina and made several pilgrimages to Mecca.

in 655 AD, Uthman was murdered provoking the First Fitna.[47] The rebels then asked Ali to be the new caliph. Many reports absolve Ali of complicity in the murder.[48][49] Ali is reported to have refused the caliphate. He agreed to rule only after his followers persisted.

When Ali could not execute those merely accused of Uthman's murder, Aisha delivered a fiery speech and the first to respond to Aisha was Abdullah ibn Aamar al-Hadhrami the governor of Mecca during the reign of Uthman and prominent members of the Banu Umayya. With the funds from the "Yemeni Treasury" Aisha set out on a campaign against the Rashidun Caliphate of Ali.[50]

Aisha alongside an army with Zubair ibn al-Awwam and Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah confronted Ali's army demanding the prosecution of Uthman's killers which they were mingled in his army outside the city of Basra. When her forces captured Basra she ordered the execution of 600 Muslims and 40 others were executed in the Grand Mosque of Basra among them was Hakim ibn Jabala.[51][52][53] Aisha's forces are also known to have tortured and imprisoned Othman ibn Hanif the governor of Basra appointed by Ali.[54]

Professor Leila Ahmed claims that it was during this engagement that Muslims fought Muslims for the first time.[55] Battle ensued and Aisha's forces were defeated. Aisha was directing her forces from a howdah on the back of a camel; this 656 AD battle is therefore called the Battle of the Camel during which 10,000 Muslims were killed.[56]

After 110 days of conflict the Rashidun Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib met Aisha with reconciliation. He sent her back to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, one of Ali's commanders. She subsequently retired to Medina with no more interference with the affairs of state she was also awarded a pension by Ali.[57]

Although she retired to Medina her forsaken efforts against the Rashidun Caliphate of Ali did not end the First Fitna.[58]

Contributions to Islam and influence

After 25 years of a monogamous relationship with his first wife, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Muhammad participated in nine years of polygyny, marrying at least nine further wives. Muhammad's subsequent marriages were depicted purely as political matches rather than unions of sexual indulgence. In particular, Muhammad's unions with Aisha and Hafsah associated him with two of the most significant leaders of the early Muslim community, Aisha's and Hafsah's fathers, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb, respectively.[59]

Aisha's marriage has given her significance among many within Islamic culture, becoming known as the most learned woman of her time. Being Muhammad's favorite wife, Aisha occupied an important position in his life.[45] When Muhammad married Aisha in her youth, she was accessible "...to the values needed to lead and influence the sisterhood of Muslim women."[60] After the death of Muhammad, Aisha was discovered to be a renowned source of hadiths, due to her qualities of intelligence and memory.[45] Aisha conveyed ideas expressing the Prophet's practice (sunnah). She expressed herself as a role model to women, which can also be seen within some traditions attributed to her. The traditions regarding Aisha habitually opposed ideas unfavorable to women in efforts to elicit social change.[61]

Muhammad became a significantly powerful figure of the rapidly expanding Islamic community in 627 C.E. Due to this expansion, segregation of his wives was permitted to enforce their sacrosanct status. Veiling, which was seen as its most distinctive emblem, was not specifically enjoined upon Muslim women anywhere within the Quran. During the time of Muhammad's leadership, women of the ummah were not documented or observed as wearing hijab. Other than Muhammad's wives, women were not required to veil.[59]

After the death of Muhammad, Muslim women believed it was Muslim men, not Islam, that suppressed the rights of women. It was for that reason that Muslim feminists are advocating to return Islam to the society Muhammad had originally envisioned for his followers. Muhammad designated Muslim women as spiritual guides of Medinan society; they prayed and fought alongside Muslim men, and acted not only as religious leaders but political leaders, such as Aisha herself in the Battle of the Camel. United prayer gatherings of both men and women occurred near Muhammad's house, as they were blessed as a "single undivided community" (136).[59]

Aisha played a key role in the emergence of Islam, and played an active position in social reform of the Islamic culture. Not only was she supportive of Muhammad, but she contributed scholarly intellect to the development of Islam.[60] She was given the title al-Siddiqah, meaning 'the one who affirms the truth'. Aisha was known for her "...expertise in the Qur'an, shares of inheritance, lawful and unlawful matters, poetry, Arabic literature, Arab history, genealogy, and general medicine."[60] Her intellectual contributions regarding the verbal texts of Islam were in time transcribed into written form, becoming the official history of Islam.[12] After the death of Muhammad, Aisha was regarded as the most reliable source in the teachings of hadith.[60] As she was Muhammad's favorite wife and a close companion, soon after his death the Islamic community began consulting Aisha on Muhammad's practices, and she was often used to settle disputes on demeanor and various points of law. Aisha's authentication of Muhammad's ways of prayer and his recitation of the Qur'an allowed for development of knowledge of his sunnah of praying and reading verses of the Qur'an.[12] ‘Urwah, Aisha's nephew, explained Aisha's strengths in knowledge of Islamic law. Aisha was also often solicited for advice regarding information on inheritance, requiring much needed knowledge of the Qur'an. She exemplified the ability to clearly and influentially speak out.

During Aisha's entire life she was a strong advocate for the education of Islamic women, especially in law and the teachings of Islam. She was known for establishing the first madrasah for women in her home.[60] Attending Aisha's classes were various family relatives and orphaned children. Men also attended Aisha's classes, with a simple curtain separating the male and female students.[60]

Political influence

As mentioned before, Aisha became an influential figure in early Islam after Muhammad's death. However, Aisha also had a strong political influence. Though Muhammad had ordered his wives to stay in the home, Aisha, after Muhammad's death, took a public and predominant role in politics. Some say that Aisha's political influence helped promote her father, Abu Bakr, the caliphate after Muhammad's death.[62]

After the defeat at the Battle of Camel, Aisha retreated to Medina and became a teacher.[62] Upon her arrival in Medina, Aisha retired from her public role in politics. Her discontinuation of public politics, however, did not stop her political influence completely. Privately, Aisha continued influencing those intertwined in the Islamic political sphere. Amongst the Islamic community, she was known as an intelligent woman who debated law with male companions.[63] Aisha was also considered to be the embodiment of proper rituals while partaking in the pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey she made with several groups of women. For the last two years of her life, Aisha spent much of her time telling the stories of Muhammad, hoping to correct false passages that had become influential in formulating Islamic law. Due to this, Aisha's political influence continues to impact those in Islam.[62]

Death

Aisha died of disease at her home in Medina on 17 Ramadan 58 AH (16 July 678). She was 64 years old.[3] Muhammad's companion Abu Hurairah led her funeral prayer after the tahajjud (night) prayer, and she was buried at Jannat al-Baqi‘.[64]

Views

Sunni view of Aisha

Sunnis believe she was Muhammad's favorite wife. They consider her (among other wives) to be Umm al-Mu’minin and among the members of the Ahl al-Bayt, or Muhammad's family.

Shi‘ah view of Aisha

Main article: Shi'a view of Aisha

The Shi‘ah view of Aisha is a negative one. This is primarily due to what is seen as her contempt for the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad's family) and her attempts to stir up the fitnah (civil war) of the time.

See also

Islam portal
Biography portal

References

  1. Holt (1977a), p.70-72
  2. Tabatabaei (1979), p.50-57
  3. The complete history. vol.2,P.19

Further reading

  • Afshar, Haleh, Democracy and Islam, Hansard Society, 2006.
  • ISBN 0-292-70904-8.
  • Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 1955
  • Rodinson, Maxime, Muhammad, 1980 Random House reprint of English translation
  • Spellberg, D.A., Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: the Legacy of A'isha bint Abi Bakr, Columbia University Press, 1994
  • Aisha bint Abi Bakr, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, 2000
  • Rizvi, Syed Saeed Akhtar, The Life of Muhammad The Prophet, Darul Tabligh North America, 1971.
  • Askri, Mortaza, 'Role of Ayesha in the History of Islam' (Translation), Ansarian publication, Iran
  • Chavel, Geneviève. Aïcha : La bien-aimée du prophète. Editions SW Télémaque. 11 October 2007. ISBN 978-2753300552

External links

  • Wayback Machine (archived February 1, 2008)
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