AYESHA...THE MOTHER OF THE FAITHFULby
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat (June 1985)
June 6, 1985 (Ramadan 17) was the 1347th anniversary of Umm al-Mu'minin 'Ayesha Siddiqah (with whom Allah is well-pleased).
'Ayesha was not only the wife of the greatest man in human history, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his family), and the daughter of one the greatest Muslims of all times, the First Caliph Abu Bakr, but also a towering Islamic personality in her own right.
'Ayesha appears in Islamic history as a great teacher and respected leader. She was an important and sometimes indispensable source of knowledge about the life and teachings of the Prophet. Even senior disciples of the Prophet such as 'Umar frequently asked her about matters of faith in which they were doubtful and often found answers from her. Among the successors of the disciples (tabi'in) great scholars of Prophetic Traditions (Hadith) and Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) learned the teachings of Islam from her and then spread them in the rapidly expanding lands of Islam. A part of what they learned from 'Ayesha has come down to us in the form of numerous traditions that are narrated on her authority.
The position that 'Ayesha came to occupy as a teacher in early Islam was in no small measure due to her intellectual abilities. Even as a child, 'Ayesha showed exceptional intelligence, which was one of the things, in addition to her beauty, that attracted the Prophet to her. She was about six years of age when the Prophet saw her in her father's house playing with some toys, including a toy-horse with wings. The Prophet asked her, 'Ayesha! Do horses ever have wings? Instead of feeling shy in the presence of this great man, 'Ayesha confidently replied, yes, King Solomon's horse did.
'Ayesha also had a very strong memory. It is reported that she could recite poems of up to 100 verses at a stretch.
The teachings of Islam that 'Ayesha learnt from the Prophet with her strong memory and keen intelligence were delivered to her students with great eloquence. Tirmidhi reports Musa ibn talha as saying that he did not find anyone more eloquent than 'Ayesha.
Like other great Muslims of the time, 'Ayesha did not simply teach and preach Islam but lived it. She led a truly Muslim life of prayer, charity and struggle for truth and justice. The Prophet once gave her the following advice:
" 'Ayesha, if you want to meet me (again, in the life to come), then treat this world like a traveler's meal and do not attend the gatherings of the rich and the powerful and do not consider clothes old as long as they can be mended." (Ibn Sa'ad)
'Ayesha always acted according to this saintly advice of her loving and noble husband. She kept wealth away from her like one would keep dust from one's person. When in the Caliphate of 'Umar ibn al-khattab and afterwards, wealth began to pour into the hands of the Muslims, a due share of it inevitably came to 'Ayesha but she gave away almost all she received. Once 'Abd Allah bin Zubayr sent her 100,000 dirhams, but by the end of the same day she had given it all away to the people. Ibn Sa'ad reports 'Urwa as saying that on one occasion he "saw 'Ayesha distribute 70,000 dirhams among the people and then get up shaking the front of her dress as if she were clearing it of dust." 'Ayesha also often kept nafl (supererogatory) fast.
Saintliness of the great Muslims of early time was not of a reclusive type. Jihad, that is, speaking or acting against falsehood and injustice was an integral part of their saintliness. 'Ayesha was no exception.
In the 35th year of Hijrah, the Third Caliph 'Uthman ibn 'Affan was murdered by a group of his opponents. 'Ayesha despite being critical of 'Uthman's policies, was of the opinion that his murderers should be brought to justice. With her eloquent speeches 'Ayesha organized a campaign against 'Uthman's murderers and their political backers who were considerably strong. 'Ayesha's campaign for justice led to two battles at Basra, one against the Governor of Basra and the second (known as the Battle of the Camel) against the new caliph, Hadrat 'Ali. She won the first battle but lost the second. 'Ali treated the defeated 'Ayesha with the respect due to an umm al-mu'minin (mother of the believers). 'Ayesha accepted 'Ali as the lawful caliph and gave him the respect due to a legitimate leader of the Muslims.
Events that led to the Battle of the Camel (so-called because Ali's forces directed their attack against the camel 'Ayesha was riding without hurting the rider) have been hotly debated in Islamic history and will probably continue to be debated until the day of judgment. We will not here enter into this debate. We will say only that these events raised complex questions of law and order justice which despite their complexity could not be ignored. 'Ayesha faced these questions, reached an answer, and then did what she felt she had to do. And this is all that history should expect from great men and women who are not prophets.
After the Battle of the Camel, 'Ayesha returned to Makkah and to her life of teaching Islam. She died on the night of Ramadan 17, 58 Hijrah, at the age of 66.
First published in Al-Ummah, Montreal, Canada in 1985. Copyright © Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.