Aisha bint Abu Bakr was no ordinary wife during the life of the Prophet and even after his death. None of the Prophets’ other ten wives spurred as much controversy as Aisha did. She was slandered and accused of adultery. Yet, she was also a scholar who had a profound knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence.

Yet, she was also a scholar who had a profound knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence.

Furthermore, some two decades after Prophet Muhammed’s death (632 AD/11 AH), Aisha led a rebel army in the Battle of the Camel— one of the bloodiest in Islamic history — against the formidable Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Rashidun Caliph and Prophet Muhammed’s cousin, son-in-law, and close companion. Her personality was marked by sharp intelligence and an intense penchant for leadership.

Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr al-Seddik, the first Rashidun Caliph, Prophet Muhammed’s closest friend and supporter, and one of the first believers in the message of Islam. When Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Muhammed’s first wife, died, the Prophet felt agonizingly lonely and defenseless. He was advised by some of his friends to marry, suggesting Sawda bint Zamaa and Aisha bint Abu Bakr who, later, became his wives respectively.

[Khadija bint Khuwaylid: First Lady of Islam]

[Women in Islam: Hiding Her Story]

The dominant historical narrative is that Aisha got married to the Prophet at the age of six and consummated her marriage at the age of nine. In a hadith reported by Hicham ibn Urwa on the authority of his father in the Book of Bukhari, he states that: “Aisha narrated that the Prophet was betrothed to her when she was six years old, and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years.”[1]

This “tale” was the pretense of many apologists and detractors of Islam for indicting Muhammed of pedophilia and child marriage, overlooking the fact that not all dominant stories are necessarily true. Many scholars debunked this narrative using insurmountable historical evidence.

Many Muslim revisionist scholars (ulama) believe that Aisha’s birth was four years before the revelation not four years afterward, which therefore makes her close to eighteen when the Prophet wedded her. Al-Tabari, the notable Muslim historian and hadith scholar, asserts that she may have even been born before the coming of Islam.[2]

In her book “Muhammed: A Prophet for our Time,” British religious scholar Karen Armstrong uses a plethora of historical evidence and primary Islamic textual references to discredit the claim that Prophet Muhammed had sexual intercourse with Aisha as a child.

The Syrian hadith scholar Dr. Salah al-Din al-Idlibi, who has taught in al-Qarawiyyin University in Fes, Morocco, and in many other prestigious Islamic institutions, also concludes that Aisha was a teenager, not a child, when she got married.

The exact age of Aisha at the time of her marriage remains a very controversial issue to date

Hence, the exact age of Aisha at the time of her marriage remains a very controversial issue to date, and much of the debate on this point was ideologically manipulated to serve different agendas.

As a wife, Aisha was known for her burning jealousy of her co-wives. She herself recounts in a famous hadith that “Once Halah bint Khuwaylid, who was Khadija’s sister and whose voice was similar to that of Khadija, asked the permission of the Prophet to enter… the Prophet said: ‘Oh Allah, Halah, the sister of Khadija!’ So I became jealous and said: ‘What makes you remember an old woman amongst the old women of Quraysh, an old woman who died long ago, and in whose place Allah has given you somebody better than her?’”[3]

Aisha admits in another statement, “I never felt so jealous of any woman as I did of Khadija, though she had died three years before the Prophet married me, and that was because I heard him mentioning her too often.”[4]

Another incident of her jealousy happened when her co-wife Safiyyah sent the Prophet a delicious plate of food. Unable to appease her anger, she broke the dish in rage. She later said, “I never saw any woman who made food like Safiyyah. She sent a dish to the Prophet in which was some food, and I could not keep myself from breaking it.”[5]

Yet, the most impetuous instance of her stinging jealousy is when she learned that Prophet Muhammed had received divine revelation approving his marriage of Zaynab bint Jahsh, the wife of his adopted son, Zayd ibn Harithah. In an expression of cynicism, derision, and sarcasm, she reacted to the news by telling the Prophet, “By Allah, I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”[6]

The allegations of adultery against Lady Aisha took place six years after the Hijrah (migration to Medina).

The allegations of adultery against Lady Aisha took place six years after the Hijrah (migration to Medina) when she accompanied the Prophet on an incursion against Banu Al-Mustaliq. On their way back to Medina, Aisha descended from her howdah (carriage positioned on the back of a camel) to relieve herself, and when she returned, she found that she had lost her necklace.

Upon going back to look for it, the men lifted the howdah and put it back on the camel, thinking that Aisha was inside. The Prophet ordered the expedition to set out home, inadvertently leaving Aisha behind in the middle of the desert. When she came back, the army had already left, except for Safwan ibn al-Muaattal who carried her on his camel and caught up with the expedition the next morning.

When they arrived in Medina, malicious insinuations and gossip about the incident (known as ifk) spread far and wide. The maunafiqs (non-believer hypocrites) made use of the event to slander Aisha and ruin her chastity, but a month later, a Qur’anic verse was revealed to acquit her of the false accusations of adultery and marital infidelity.

The Qur’an states: “Indeed, those who came up with that [outrageous] slander are a group of you. Do not think this is bad for you. Rather, it is good for you. They will be punished, each according to their share of the sin. As for their mastermind, he will suffer a tremendous punishment.”[7]

Unlike her co-wives, Aisha was highly knowledgeable about Islamic jurisprudence and narrated 2,210 hadiths, 174 of which were endorsed by Bukhari and Muslim and included in their Sahih books. Imam Ibn Kathir exalted her above all women, stating: “No one among the nations equaled Aisha in her memorization, knowledge, eloquence, and intellect.”[8]

“No one among the nations equaled Aisha in her memorization, knowledge, eloquence, and intellect.”

She was also very acquainted with ancient Arab poetry and served as a judge for young Arab poets. After the death of Prophet Muhammed, men and women would clamor at her house seeking fatwas (rulings) on religious law, especially on the matters of marriage, divorce, sexual ethics, and intimacy. Many of her hadiths on marital sex were, in fact, very explicit when viewed in light of the standards of modern Islamic conservatism.

[Reclaiming an Egalitarian Understanding of Islam]

[Feminism and Islam]

Aisha was not only a revered religious leader but also an engaged political activist. During the third Caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, she opposed his policies concerning the impunity enjoyed by many of his corrupt governors in Egypt, Bilad al-Sham (Syria), and Iraq.

Khawza

Lady Aisha led a rebel army of 30,000 men in the Battle of the Camel— one of the bloodiest in Islamic history — against the formidable Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Rashidun Caliph and Prophet Muhammed’s cousin, son-in-law, and close companion.

Despite her disagreements with his policies, when Uthman was killed, Aisha sought to avenge his murder by rallying a rebel army of 30,000 men to fight Ali and the Kharijites (those who defected from the original Islamic community and killed Uthman). This move led to the first and bloodiest civil war in the history of the Islamic nation, known as the Battle of the Camel, or the Battle of Basra, Iraq, in December 656 AD/36 AH.

Aisha sought to avenge Uthman’s murder by rallying a rebel army of 30,000 men to fight Ali and the Kharijites

There is much debate on the real incentives behind Aisha’s role as the head of an enormous army to Iraq, where Ali Ibn Abi Talib had chosen to establish his caliphate instead of Medina after the assassination of Uthman ibn Affan.

Some claim that Aisha, Talha, and Zubayr’s (both prominent companions of Muhammed) demand for retribution against the killers of Uthman was only a pretext to oust Ali himself from power because his position as a caliph intersected with their interests. Others claim that Ali granted impunity for the perpetrators of the crime against Uthman and did not serve justice. Thus, the rebellion by Aisha and her allies had a sound basis despite its catastrophic results.

The amount of contradictions in historical narratives is so baffling that any objective reconstruction of events would seem a lost cause. This ambiguity reflects the abysmal doctrinal gap between the Shiites and Sunnis whose sectarian conflict continues to plague many Muslim nations to date.

What we do know for sure, and what all narratives agree upon, is that after a bloody war between Aisha, Talha, and Zubayr on one side, and Ali ibn Abi Talib on the other, Aisha was taken captive but was soon released and sent back to Medina, withdrawing completely from politics until her death in 678 AD/58AH.

Aisha bint Abu Bakr played a major religious and political role in the history of Islam and the early Islamic community. Despite her gender, she greatly contributed to the preservation of Islam through her narration of hadiths and issuing of fatwas on a range of topics, to changing the course of history through her political leadership.

Today’s feminists always cite Aisha as a role model for Muslim women who submit to oppression and subservience. Sunni Muslims admire and revere her as a central religious figure in the history of Islam, and also because she was Prophet Muhammed’s preferred wife. It is narrated in the Book of Bukhari that when Amr ibn al-As asked the Prophet ‘“who is the most beloved person to you?” He replied, “Aisha.”[9]

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[1] al-Bukhārī, Abū ‘Abdullah Muhammad bin Ismail (n.d) Al–Jami al-Sahih (Sahih al- Bukhārī), Cairo, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64.

[2] Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari: Chap. Year 13, Section ‘Mentions of the Names of Abu Bakr al-Seddeeq’ (Dar al-Maarif: Egypt, 1962), Vol. 3, pp. 6-425.

[3] Muhammed Fathi Musa, The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad: Their Strives and Their Lives (Cairo: Islamic IC, 2001), p.21.

[4] al-Bukhārī, Abū ‘Abdullah Muhammad bin Ismail, Al–Jami al-Sahih (Sahih al- Bukhārī), Ciaro, Volume 8, Book 73, number 33.

[5] Sunan an-Nasa’i, Vol. 4, Book 36, Hadith 3409.

[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 65, Hadith 310.

[7] Chapter 24, verse 11.

[8] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, Vol. 3, p. 129.

[9] Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 62, Number 14.