A’isha Bint AbuBakar (c. 613-678 CE) A’isha was Muhammad’s third wife, some say his favourite wife. She is the daughter of AbuBakar Siddiq, Muhammad’s close friend and the First Caliph. There is much speculation and debate as to A’isha’s age when she married Muhammad however most believe it to be about nine years old. Although this seems young by today’s standards it was not unusual for the times. Like the other wives of Muhammad, A’isha became known as the “mother of the believers”. A’isha was the only of Muhammad’s wives to be a virgin and was 18 years old when Muhammad died. He chose to spend his last days at A’isha’s house and died in her arms. He was buried at her house. She was known for her compassion and work with the poor, was a gifted speaker and had an incredible memory.
Contribution to the development and expression of Islam
Role Model: A’isha is a role model for several reasons.
Role model for women: She promoted the education of women and became a persuasive and clear speaker. Men and women from near and far would come to benefit from her knowledge of Islam. She was regularly asked to interpret his revelations and was seen as one of the foremost scholars of the Qur’an. She showed a woman could be the authority on religion and Islam. She took children into her care and educated them. A’isha did what no other wife of Muhammad did, that is she left the house and became a political figure. She challenged the gender norms of the time and even for today. Although her actions in the Battle of Camel were unsuccessful and she left political life, she is still seen as a role model for Muslim women.
Role model for her rejection of wealth: Muhammad received a revelation from God to offer his wives the choice between a separation from him, which would allow them to become wealthier, or staying with him and remaining in poverty. A’isha was the first to choose, she opted for poverty. She lived in poverty with the Prophet and continued to do so after his death. Even when wealth came to her she quickly distributed it to the poor. This acts as an example to Muslims that faced with the choice between Muhammad and their faith or wealth, they should choose the former.
A’isha had little formal education. She became well known for her intelligence and her incredible memory. Over 2000 Hadiths (recorded teachings of Muhammad outside the Qur’an) were transmitted by A’isha. Had it not been for her much of the Hadith would not have been recorded and preserved.
Two of A’isha’s journeys were responsible for revelations to Muhammad. These two revelations are in the Qur’an. The first sometimes referred to as “the affair of the slander” brought a revelations about adultery. The second brought about a revelation about ablution (ritual act of washing or cleansing).
A’isha’s journeys led to two revelations in the Qur’an.
The first incident occurred when Muhammad was returning from battle. A’isha had accompanied her husband and when the army stopped en route they accidentally left camp without her. She accepted a ride back to Mecca with a fellow lost army member, who offered A’isha his camel. A man and a woman who were not married in such circumstances was considered scandalous and many rumours circulated. Muhammad was advised by many, including his cousin Ali, to repudiate (disown) A’isha, but Muhammad received a revelation from Allah. This led to the Surah 24:4 on adultery which stated “And those that accuse honourable women but bring not four witnesses… never accept their testimony”. This Surah highlighted that no charge of adultery is valid unless it is supported by four witnesses.
The second incident occurred when A’isha lost her necklace and the prophet and his people stayed behind to look for it. As the hours passed it came time to pray, howver they had no water to perform wudu (ablution). It was revealed to Muhammad that in the absence of water ablution could be performed with fine dust or sand. This provides Muslims with instruction on how to perform ablution without water.
After Muhammad’s death A’isha remained devoted to sustaining and preserving the religion that had been established by her husband, sometimes taking extreme measures to do this. One of the main issues that occurred after Muhammad’s death was that of succession (who should take leadership next). Many believed that Ali was the right person to take leadership of the Muslim community, A’isha led an army against him. A’isha demanded revenge on the perpetrators of the murder of ‘Uthman, the third Rightly Guided Caliph (the previous leader). It is called the Battle of Camel because most of the fighting was centred around the camel on which A’isha was mounted. By most accounts Ali did not wish to fight A’isha and was unhappy about the idea of Muslims shedding the blood of a fellow Muslim. A’isha’s army had killed 500 men to avenge the blood of ‘Uthman, now 5000 more men stood ready to avenge the blood of those 500. It was clear that there would be no end unless they entered into negotiations. They agreed to call a peace but some members of Ali’s army attacked anyway. Ali tried to restrain his men but was unable to. A bloody battle ensued and it wasn’t until the slaying of A’isha’s camel that the fighting stopped. Ali was very respectful to A’isha and gave her safe passage back to Medina to her home and forty hand maids. He did suggest that for the sake of her name she remain in her house and not meddle in politics again.
This battle marked the division of Muslims into Shiites and Sunnis with the two sides having opposing views on who was the rightful caliph. This division still continues today and fuels conflict in the Middle East.
As stated above A’isha was responsible for transmitting over 2000 Hadith which is probably her greatetst contribution to Islam. The impact of this is the Hadith informs Muslims of the prophet’s personal behaviour and provides them with information about different ways of living. Hadith is considered to be second to the Qur'an. It is impossible to understand the Qur'an without reference to the Hadith; and it is impossible to explain a Hadith without relating it to the Qur'an. The Hadith, in practical terms, explains, clarifies, and paraphrases the Qur'an. In transmitting the Hadith, A’isha became a source of knowledge and wisdom for both men and women.
Historically A’isha has been used and misused by groups to defend or promote their own political or social agendas. For example A’isha is used as an example why women shouldn’t be involved in politics as well as being a role model for women being involved. Views vary on the historical accuracy of A’isha’s life because of the strong emotional sentiment associated with the division of the Shiites and Sunnis. However whether or not you believe that her contribution was good or bad or the impact was good or bad, it can not be denied that she has influenced the way Islam is practiced and understood today.