It is not diﬃcult to grasp the role that A’isha played in softening the image of the Prophet and linking him more closely to the lifestyles of his followers. During the nine years that A’isha was married to the Prophet she witnessed many of the signiﬁcant events that shaped the destiny of the ﬁrst Muslim community of Medina, and she presented a view of them which was both highly personal and compelling. It was during the course of their marriage that the direction of the qibla was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca, thereby more clearly distinguishing the Muslims from the Jews and the Christians, and it was when they were married that she must have listened to many of the Jews and the Christians and the idol worshippers who came to argue with the Prophet in the hope that they could ﬁnd a plausible excuse to justify their rejection of him, which is certainly how A’isha represented them. It was also during the course of their marriage that drinking alcohol was ﬁnally forbidden, that it was made clear what food was halal and what food was haram, that many thought it became necessary for women to wear the hijab in public and when praying, that the guidance as to how to fast was revealed, that paying zakat (alms) became obligatory for all Muslims, and that all the rites of the hajj were established and regularized. In fact, every aspect of life, from birth to death and everything that happens in between, was illuminated by the way in which the Prophet behaved – and it was this way of behaviour, the sunna, that A’isha helped to preserve and protect, not only by embodying it herself but also by teaching it to others. A’isha was once asked to describe the Prophet and she replied that he was ‘the Qur’an walking’, meaning that his behaviour was the Qur’an translated into action. She did all that she could to do likewise. Thus she not only knew and embodied the sunna, but also she memorized the Qur’an by heart and understood it. It was during the course of their marriage that, among other things, the battles of Badr, and Uhud, and al-Khandaq (the Ditch) were fought. These were the three major battles against the Quraysh that shifted the balance of power out of the hands of the kaﬁrun (unbelievers) and into the hands of the Muslims.
Although she was still very young, A’isha participated in them all, bringing water for the Muslims and helping to look after the wounded. She certainly seems to have been loath to stay at home passive. It was when they were married that the Jews are said to have plotted and tried to kill the Prophet on more than one occasion, without success, and were punished for this. First, Jewish tribes such as the Banu Qayunqa and the Banu Nadhir were expelled from Medina; and then the Banu Qurayza – who, we are told, had broken their agreement with the Muslims during the battle of al-Khandaq and conspired to destroy them – were subjected to the punishment that was decided by the man whom they themselves had chosen to judge their actions, Sa’id ibn Mu’adh. In accordance with the commands contained in their own book, the Torah (although it is not clear where in the Torah this law is to be found), all the men were killed – with the exception of four who accepted Islam; all the women and children were taken as slaves. It was after this event that another tribe, the Banu al-Mustaliq began to prepare to ﬁght the Muslims, and accordingly the Prophet led an army against them. This campaign led to an interesting controversy that arose in relation to the conduct of A’isha. Often when the Prophet went to war, he took one of his wives with him. He did not choose anyone in particular, but simply drew lots and took the wife whose name came out. When he went to ﬁght the Banu al-Mustaliq, the lot fell to A’isha. A’isha, who was then 13 years old, was small, slim and graceful, so that it was diﬃcult for the men who carried her litter to know for certain whether or not she was actually inside it when they lifted it up, or so it has been said.
On the way back to Medina, after the Banu al-Mustaliq had been subdued, the Muslim army stopped for a rest, but then the Prophet unexpectedly ordered the army to continue the march back. Unknown to everyone else, A’isha had stepped out of her litter for a few minutes and had left the camp, seeking some privacy. On her way back she had noticed that her onyx necklace was missing and so she retraced her steps to try and ﬁnd it. When at last she found it and returned to the camp, it was to ﬁnd that everyone had gone. The men who had been carrying her litter had thought she was still in it and had picked it up, strapped it to the camel and marched on. A’isha, who trusted completely in Allah, sat down and waited, hoping that someone would notice her absence and come back for her.
Fortunately she did not have long to wait, for a young Muslim man named Safwan, who had fallen behind the army after taking a rest, reached the camp during the night and found her lying fast asleep. Safwan immediately recognized her, because he had seen her in the early days before God was interpreted as having instructed women to wear the hijab. (Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un!- Surely we come from Allah and surely to Him we return!)’, he is said to have exclaimed in surprise, waking A’isha up with the loudness of his voice. He did not say anything else, and A’isha put back on the scarf that had fallen oﬀ her head while she was asleep. Safwan made his camel kneel down close to her so that she could climb up on to it, then, leading the camel by hand, he set oﬀ on foot after the army, hoping that they would soon catch up with it, which they eventually did later the next morning, since the army had halted for a rest during the hottest part of the day. Unfortunately, some slanderers who had seen Safwan and A’isha arrive alone together began to gossip and spread lies about them. Eventually the story reached the Prophet himself, and by then the whole community was talking about what might or might now have happened between the two young Muslims. Naturally the faithful were certain that nothing bad had happened, but the munaﬁqun (hypocrites) thought otherwise and were happy to make insinuations as to the honour of the wife of Muhammad. When Safwan was confronted with the allegations that had been made, he replied, ‘Glory be to Allah! By Allah, I have never removed the veil of any woman!’, and A’isha also proclaimed her innocence by apparently quoting the verse ‘Patience is beautiful, and Allah is my protection against what you describe’ (Surah Yusuf, 12.18). Just after she ﬁnished speaking, the Prophet received a direct revelation of some more ayahs of the Qur’an, and when it was over, he smiled and said, ‘Do not worry, A’isha, for Allah has revealed proof of your innocence.’
Then the Prophet went to the mosque and recited what had just been sent down. He denounced slanderers (see Surah An-Nur, 24.11–19) and the implication is that the stories about his wife were lies and false accusations. This account gives an excellent description of the complex ways in which the Qur’an, the hadith and historical events of the time are taken to play against each other. It also builds up a rich picture of the sunna of the Prophet, his activities and manner, which was to become such a potent source of material appropriate for emulation by future generations of Muslims.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human