Lecture by Ismail Kamdar | Transcribed by Zara T.[The following is the video and transcript of Ismail Kamdar's lecture "A Glimpse at the Life of Aishah Bint Abi Bakr." The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]
The lecture can be viewed here.
Asalamualaykum warahmatulahi wabarakatuhu
All praise is due to Allāh and may Allāh's peace and blessings be upon His final messenger, the mercy to this universe, the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], and for everybody who follows his way with righteousness until the last day.
The topic I have chosen for this session is a glimpse at the life of Aishah binti Abi Bakr [ra]. I have chosen this topic because, very often, we discuss the biographies of scholars, we focus on the biographies of the male scholars. While Islamic history is also rife with for many female scholars of Islam who serve as role models, not just for Muslim women, but also for the Muslim men, as there is much that we can learn from their lives which apply to both genders.
Aishah [ra] was perhaps the most prolific of such scholars, as she was the wife of the Prophet Muḥammad [saws]. She was one of the early scholars of his ummah, being from the sahabah, and she is a woman whose scholarship is agreed upon by the scholars of Islam. The ulema have agreed upon her high level of scholarship.
So who was Aishah [ra]? Aishah was the only wife of the Prophet Muḥammad [saws] to be born into a Muslim home, rather than converting to Islam. She was born approximately three years after prophethood in the home of Abu Bakr Siddiq [ra]. So she was a daughter of the greatest man after the prophets, Abu Bakr [ra], the greatest of the sahabah. Aishah was his daughter. And she grew up around the Prophet [saws] because her father was the prophet's best friend. Aishah [ra], we do not know much about her life before she married the prophet, as she married the prophet [saws] at a very young age. And this age, in recent times, has been deemed problematic by many non-Muslims in that it does not agree with the customs of marriages of modern people.
To be precise, the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], he wedded Aishah when she was six but they only consummated the marriage a few years later after she had attained puberty. So, this marriage, in modern terms, seems problematic because of the culture we are used to, we are accustomed to. However, when you look at it in the historical context, there was nothing wrong with it because, at that time in Arabia, it was normal for people with such different age groups to get married. It was normal for men or women to get married at a very young age. People used to mature a lot faster in terms of their mental capabilities as they were raised to be husbands and wives, and so at a younger age, they were more prepared for marriage. If the Prophet Muḥammad's [saws] marriage was something bad, his enemies would have been the first to jump on it. But not a single enemy of Islam at the time picked on his marriage to Aishah. And if it was something bad, it would have affected her in a negative way. Normally when a young woman is forced into marriage to someone who she does not like, or she's forced into marriage at a young age when she's not ready, she grows intense dislike for that individual who she's married to, and it stems into hatred. And this is seen in her life later on.
But with Aishah and the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], the case is the opposite. Her love for the Prophet [saws] grew so much that she became his most beloved wife. And even after the Prophet Muḥammad [saws] had passed away, she became one of the leading scholars to propagate his message to the world, showing that she was a mature woman who studied from the Prophet [saws], and loved him so much that she wanted to be one of the main propagators of his religion. So this marriage is something no Muslim should feel ashamed about or to try and distort historical facts about, it is something that was a blessing for the ummah.
Aishah [ra] was the third woman that the Prophet Muḥammad [saws] married. In the early part of his life, he was married to Khadija bint Khuwaylid [ra] and he remained in a monogamous marriage with her until she passed away. After she passed away, he married Saudah bint Zam'ah [ra], an elderly woman, to help raise his daughters. A few months later, he had a dream in which the angel Gabriel presented to him Aishah as his bride. And as we Muslims know, the dreams of the prophets are revelation. So acting upon this dream, he married Aishah [ra] and she became one of his wives.
The Prophet Muḥammad [saws] had many wives. This is something which all historians agree upon. And his wives were the best of women. We call them ummahatul mu'mineen, the mothers of the believers. They were the role model women of this ummah. Aishah was one of them.
There's nothing wrong with the Prophet Muḥammad [saws] having many wives. This was something which is normal amongst the prophets and amongst the people of that time. Islam came and put a limit to polygamy and said men are allowed a maximum of four wives if they can treat them with justice. But an exception was made for the prophet Muḥammad [saws]. He had up to nine wives at one time because he was a prophet of Allāh and he was able to do justice between them. And each of those marriages played an important role in the da‘wah and in the political situation of the ummah and most of these wives were divorcees or widows whom he had been assisting and caring for. Aishah was the only virgin bride of the Prophet Muḥammad [saws]. Every other woman he married was either divorced or widowed. So this automatically made her seem like the special one. And his love for her grew very intensely. So much so that Anas ibn Malik [ra] narrates that, “The first example of true love we Muslims saw was the love between Aishah and Muḥammad [saws].” His love for Aishah was so much that the other wives could see it, even though he treated them with equality and justice; but they could see his love for her.
And when he was asked to be just with his love between his wives, he replied that the hearts are controlled by Allāh. What was within his capabilities, he was just with, but the hearts are in the hands of Allāh , and love is something that Allāh controls. Once a sahabi by the name of Amr ibn al Aas [ra] asked the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], “Who is the most beloved person to you?” The Prophet Muḥammad [saws] said, “Aishah.” So he said, “I'm talking about the men.” The Prophet Muḥammad [saws] replied again, and he said, “Her father.” So from here we see that the Prophet Muḥammad (saw), not only did he love Aishah, but he was not afraid to express this in public.
We find many stories of the love that occurred between them. We find that Aishah [ra] and the Prophet Muḥammad [saws] used to race with each other. There is a narration that when she was a young bride, during the early years in Madīnah, when returning from an expedition, she and the Prophet Muḥammad [saws] stayed behind. And when the people had gone forward, they raced each other to catch up with the rest of the people. When they had reached the people, Aishah had won the race. Many years later, she had picked up a bit of weight and now the same situation occurred, and the prophet [saws] decided to race with her again. And this time he won and he told her this was for that. So it was a very friendly, a very loving relationship, that they had. For example, on the day of 'Īd, Abu Bakr walks into the house of the Prophet [saws], into Aishah's house, and finds that some girls were playing with drums, the hand drums, the duff, and they were singing some songs. So Abu Bakr got very angry and told them they cannot do this in the house of the Prophet [saws]. The Prophet [saws] told Abu Bakr [ra] that it is the day of 'Īd, let them have fun. So Abu Bakr left and the children continued to play with Aishah [ra] and sing their songs. After these girls had left, Aishah and the Prophet [saws] went outside to the masjid and in the masjid, there were some young Abyssinians who were playing with their spears, putting on a little demonstration. So the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], he held Aishah in a way that she could see properly what was happening, and he kept standing there with Aishah in his arms until she was tired and had had enough and she had enjoyed the entertainment and was ready to go back. So the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], we learn from this, not only was he loving to his wife Aishah, but he also took out time to have fun with her and to enjoy some entertainment with her, which is something a lot of people don't realize is part of Islam, that marital couples need to spend time having fun together. That time must be made. You need to take out time for your spouse and enjoy time together. This is something which is from the sunnah.
Now Aishah [ra], she was the most beloved wife of the prophet [saws], but despite that, she would still get jealous of his other wives. And she was most jealous of Khadija even though Khadija had passed away before her; the reason being that the Prophet [saws] loved Khadija a lot. So much so, that the scholars differ on whether he loved Aishah more or Khadija more. So Aishah narrates that no woman made her more jealous than Khadija even though she had never seen her, because every day the Prophet [saws] would talk about her until one day Aishah got angry and told the Prophet [saws], “Didn't Allāh give you something better than her?” (talking about herself). And the Prophet [saws], he got angry and he replied, “Khadija believed in me when nobody else did, and Khadija was the one who assisted me with her wealth, and she is the one to whom Allāh had blessed me with children.” From then Aishah realized that she should not speak about Khadija again. I'm bringing up this story to show that the sahabah, who were the greatest of humanity after the prophets, were also human and they were also subject to the mistakes of human beings and to the emotions that the rest of us feel. Sometimes we paint too beautiful a picture of the sahabah until it seems unrealistic and it seems like something we can't follow. But when you look at Aishah [ra] and the other sahabah, they were humans like ourselves but they strived to be amongst the best and, as a result, because of this, Allāh elevated their status.
There are many other stories of her jealousy, which shows some of her human mistakes. For example, once, when the Prophet [saws] had some of his guests in her house, and one of the other wives had sent some food for these guests, she got very angry as to why she was sending food to her house, and she threw the plate and it broke. The Prophet [saws] did not scream at her, he did not shout at her, he did not get abusive or vulgar, as was his nature. He was the mercy to this universe. He was a mercy to his wives as well. He simply laughed and told his companions that your mother is jealous. And he told Aishah to replace the plate and that was it. End of the story. He didn't blow it out of proportion, understanding human nature and understanding the nature of co-wives, that they would be jealous of each other.
So Aishah [ra], she was a human being like us but she strived. She strived to be the best. And she was a very gifted woman in terms of her intellect. And this can be seen from the fact that not only did she narrate many narrations from the Prophet [saws], but in many of these narrations you will find that they're not just narrating, but questioning as well. If the Prophet [saws] would say something, she would ask a question to clarify it. And it was this questioning nature of hers which led her to gain even more knowledge. The scholars of Islam deduct from her life, and from the life of other scholars, that one of the signs of a true student of knowledge is the ability to ask deep questions which expand upon the issues being discussed. So when the prophet [saws] narrated to Aishah the hadith that on the Day of Judgment humanity will be raised uncircumcised and naked, Aishah [ra] asked the question, “Won't people be looking at each other?” A very good question. And the Prophet [saws] replied, “On that day, the affair will be so severe, people will be so scared of Allāh, they wont even think about looking at each other.” So from her question we got to understand just how scary the Day of Judgment is. But these types of questions led her to become a great scholar.
We find that the age most of us spend in school and in our studies, she spent this age in the company of the Prophet [saws] studying under him. So from the age of 9 until 18 or 20, she was in the company of the Prophet Muḥammad [saws]. So when he passed away, she now had an ocean of knowledge which she began to share, not just with female companions, but even the male sahabah and the male tabieen used to come and study underneath her and she used to teach them from behind a niqab, but there were those who were mahram to her and they would study with her without hijab. The best example of this was her nephew, Urwah bin Zubair [ra], who was from the tabieen. He was the son of Aishah's sister, Asma, and husband Zubair bin Awam. Urwah wanted to study Islam and he asked his father, “Who is the best scholar for me to study under?” And Zubair told him to go and study with Aishah because Aishah was the greatest female scholar of her time and Urwah had an advantage that other men did not have. Aishah was his aunt, so there was no need for hijab so he could study underneath her in a much more personal and direct manner. So Urwah began to study under Aishah and became one of her closest students. And he narrates that he had not seen anyone with more knowledge in hadith, tafsir, fiqh, Arabic, poetry, or even medicine, than Aishah, and he had very high respect for her. So this was Aishah [ra]; she became one of the greatest scholars. She became an advisor to the khalifs after the time of the Prophet [saws], and there are many other great stories about her. Indeed you can spend many hours just discussing her life alone.
One story about her life that stands out and is perhaps most often discussed is the story of the great slander. Hadithul ifk. In this story, it happened during the lifetime of the Prophet [saws], Aishah [ra] was on a journey with the Prophet, and as they were returning from an expedition, she left the camp to relieve herself. When she was coming back, she realized that she had dropped her necklace and she went back to pick it up. While she was gone, the people did not realize that she was gone, and they continued with the journey, as she was in a hijab type of carriage and this carriage was being carried, and so people could not see inside and thought she was inside it. When she returned to the place where the caravan was, there was nobody there and she was now alone in the desert. So she sat down on a rock and she began to wait. She fell asleep and while she was asleep, her niqab came off and one of the sahabah who stayed behind, he came riding up on his horse and he saw her and he recognized her because he knew her from the days before the laws of hijab were revealed. So he just said inna lilahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon and she immediately woke up and covered her face and without speaking to each other, he let her get onto his horse and he walked and took her back to Madīnah. So here we can see the piety not just of Aishah but of this man as well, that they didn't even speak to each other out of fear, not just of what could happen, but what people could say because this is the wife of the Prophet and people are looking to try and find fault with him and his family. So in the most purest manner possible, he took Aishah back home.
But the leader of hypocrites, Abdullah bin Ubayy, he saw this and he decided to use this to his advantage to try and slander Aishah. And so he began to spread a rumor that Aishah and this sahabi had naoozubillah, done some kind of sin. And this rumor had spread. Aishah was very sick and she was in her home for a few days and she did not know that this rumor was spreading. When she finally found out about it, she went home to her parents, and she says before that that she realized the Prophet [saws] was being a bit cold; he wasn't as sweet as he normally is and she couldn't understand why. When she heard about the rumor, she finally understood and she asked permission to go to her parents' house. She went home and asked her parents if it's true that such rumors were spreading, and her parents said that yes those rumors are spreading, and they were very sympathetic, and she stayed there and she began to make duaa. The Prophet [saws], he went around doing some research and investigation to try and find out if there was any truth to these rumors and he finally came to visit her and speak to her and her family, and her family did not know what to say, so she said that, “I know that I am innocent but people won't believe me, so I leave my affair to Allāh. Allāh will help me.” And after that, the verses of Surah Nur were revealed. Surah Nur, about 10 or 20 verses of Surah Nur, clarifying the name of Aishah [ra], declaring her chastity, and condemning those who accused her of any kind of sin to hell. When these verses were revealed, her parents told her to thank the Prophet [saws] and she said that she'll only thank Allāh.
Now there are many lessons we can derive from this story. The first lesson is that not only is it important to stay away from sins, but it is important to stay away from such situations or circumstances that can help make people accuse you of sin. Because if people see you doing something which can be interpreted in the wrong way, then they can really easily misconstrue the situation and attack your name. And defending one's honor and keeping an honorable face in public is all part of the deen.
The next lesson we learn from this story is that the covering of the face was something that the wives of the Prophet [saws] used to do. Scholars differ on whether it is obligatory or recommended. I personally follow the opinion that it is recommended, it is not an obligation, but it is something they used to do, definitely. So for those Muslims who try to stop women from covering their face and claiming it is not from Islam, this story is very clear – Aishah [ra] used to cover her face in front of men who were not related to her.
The next lesson we can derive from this story is that the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], he did not know the unseen, except what Allāh revealed to him. And this is very important because there are many Muslims who think that the Prophet [saws] had blanket knowledge of the unseen. If he had blanket knowledge of the unseen, he would not have worried, he would not have changed his attitude, he would not have done any investigations, and he would not have waited for wahy. He would have already known that Aishah was innocent. But he was a human who received revelation and only whatever revelation he received, that was the amount of the unseen that Allāh allowed him to know.
The next lesson we learn from this story is that gossip and slander are from the worst of sins that affect our society. There is a narration that says that backbiting is worse than zina. And really, here we can see the effects of backbiting, how it ruins the lives of good people. That there can be a good man or woman in the society, but people with loose tongues talk ill about them, spread rumors about them, and this affects their lives and it makes life difficult for them. Aishah [ra] was not the only person to be affected by rumors. There were others who were afflicted so badly that it even led to their death.
Look at the life of imām Bukhāri [rah]. In the final years of his life, some of the scholars who were jealous of him began to misconstrue some of his statements and spread rumors that he has wrong aqeedah. And so wherever he went, people did not want to listen to him, as those rumors had spread before him. Finally imām Bukhāri [rah] raised his hands and made duaa. He said, “Oh Allāh, your earth is vast, but it has become narrow for me, so choose me for Yourself, take me to You.” And one month later, imām Bukhāri [rah] passed away. What led to his death? Many of the scholars say it was this: slander, rumors, gossip, unfounded accusations. If it can affect the lives of righteous people like imām Bukhāri and Aishah [ra], what about us? What about your neighbor? What about your family members? So this is a warning to every single believer to control your tongue. Be careful what you say about others.
The Prophet Muḥammad [saws] said, “Whoever believes in Allāh and the last day should either speak what is good or remain silent.” That is the way of the believer. If what you are saying is not good and beneficial, don't say it. Don't speak about others. In another hadith he said, “From the perfection of īmān is to leave things that don't concern you.” Don't get involved in other peoples lives. Who is committing what sin, what is the latest gossip, what is the latest rumor. This is evil and this destroys society. Stay away from this. Stay away from these type of things. This we can learn from the story of the slander of Aishah [ra]. There are many other lessons which other speakers might be able to extract, and other authors will have extracted, as is the nature of the stories of the sahabah and the prophets and the great scholars of the past. Their lessons are not limited.
Aishah [ra], another amazing story in her life happened after the death of the Prophet [saws]. At the time of Uthman [ra], towards the end of his life, there was a great fitnah. And in this fitnah, it actually lead to many Muslims (or so called Muslims) attacking him and assassinating him. At this point in time, Aishah [ra] was in Mecca performing the hajj; Uthman was in Madīnah. So the people of Madīnah, they chose Ali to be the next khalif, and Aishah and her companions in Mecca were of the view that Ali should first bring the murderer of Uthman to justice and then they would accept him as the khalif. And so Aishah [ra], according to one of the narrations in Bidayah Wannihayah, she went in front of the Kabah and she delivered a lecture about the virtues of Uthman, and she rallied the people to go and speak to Ali about this issue. So Aishah [ra] left at the head of an army with Talha and Zubair by her side to go and speak to Ali. Note that their intention was to speak to Ali and to discuss the issue, not to fight with him. When they reached there, they had a discussion and they came to some peaceful agreement that they'll accept him as khalif and then he will do what he can to bring the murderers to justice. Some of the hypocrites in the army, when they heard about this peace, they decided to plot and start a war. And so they split themselves up in to either side of the army and began to attack each other. This caused a battle to break out between the followers of Aishah and the followers of Ali. And in this battle, known as the battle of the camel, both Talha and Zubair were murdered and Aishah, she was on her camel in a hawdaj and in order to stop the battle, Ali had his men attack the camel, so once the hawdaj fell, people stopped fighting. And that was the end of the battle. Aishah and Ali came to peaceful terms and that was a regrettable incident amongst the sahabah.
Going back to what I said earlier, the sahabah [ra] were humans and they made mistakes. And these mistakes cannot be held against them. Indeed, we have done a lot worse in our lives to look back at the one or two mistakes the great scholars and great sahabah have done and to hold it against them.
Aishah [ra], in her army were Talha and Zubair, both of whom were given the glad tidings of jannah in this world. And Aishah herself was praised in the Qurʾān. And Ali himself was given the glad tidings of Jannah. So on both sides were righteous people. And we look at them as our righteous sahabah and we say for each of them radiAllahu anhum and we do not attack their character in any way, because they were the sahabah, they were much more righteous than us, and whatever mistakes they made, we just make duaa, “May Allāh be pleased with them and may Allāh have mercy on them.”
So this was Aishah [ra], a very short glimpse at her life. We looked for a short while at the slander incident. We looked at the battle of camel, a very brief run down. Really the battle alone can take 1 or 2 hours to discuss with all its lessons. Then, we also looked at her marriage.
I'd like to conclude with one more story: the story of Aishah [ra] when she passed away. I read this in Bidayah Wannihayah, that when Aishah [ra] was passing away, Abdullah bin Abbas [ra] requested permission to visit her. So he came by her bedside and he spoke to her and she said that she was fearing Allāh. And Abdullah bin Abbas said, “Good news to you.” She said “Why?” He said, “Because you are the one who Allāh has revealed verses about you clarifying your name and these verses will be recited until the day of judgment.” And imagine all the good qualities. He said that you were the only virgin wife of the Prophet [saws], and you were the most beloved of his wives, and you were a scholar of Islam, and you were the only one in whose house revelation would descend when the Prophet [saws] was sleeping in your bed, and many, many other virtues he began to mention of Aishah, until she said, “I wish I had died before this or I was something unknown.”
This was paraphrasing the words of Maryam [as] mentioned in Surah Maryam when she was pregnant with Eesa [as] and going through the pains of labor and thinking about what people will say when they see the baby, how would they react. She said the same thing, “I wish I had died before this or I was unknown.” So Aishah [ra], she passed away after this. And from that story we see the high respect that Abdullah bin Abbas and the other sahabah had for her. Because Abdullah bin Abbas himself was a scholar of Islam, the great mufassir of Islam. And he was also a scholar of fiqh but he also looked up to her as a scholar, he also had great respect for her. She was from amongst the mothers of the believers, one of our mothers.
Another lesson we can extract from this story, which also can be taken from the story of hadithul ifk, is that Aishah [ra], she had such a strong connection with the Qurʾān that many a times, her words, her speech, would be from the Qurʾān. So during the incident of the slander, when they asked her what she had to say, she simply said, “I say what the father of Yusuf [as] said: that patience is beautiful and Allāh's help is sought against what they are saying.” So her words were the words of the Qurʾān. Likewise, when she was passing away, her words were the words of Maryam [as] mentioned in the Qurʾān. So she had this strong connection with the Qurʾān that she was able to quote it like that in her own speech, for her own answers, she would quote Qurʾān. And this is a really strong connection that we all should try to have with the Qurʾān.
So the life of Aishah [ra] is a very vast topic and there is a lot that has been narrated about her in the various books of history which, inshā'Allāh, we can discuss in more detail on a later occasion. This was just to give a glimpse at her life, to get people interested in studying her life in more details, and to extract a few basic lessons that both men and women can follow and to live by.
Aishah [ra] is proof that a woman can be superior to a man in knowledge and in piety and there is no such thing in Islam that all men are better than all women or as some people think, that women are deficient, no. Aishah [ra], she was a proof who lived in this world, that a woman can reach the highest levels of scholarship, she can be extremely pious, she can play a role in politics, and she can be remembered as a righteous Muslim for all time after her.
So we ask Allāh to help the women of this ummah to follow in her footsteps, to help the men of this ummah to follow in the footsteps of her husband, the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], and in those issues which are general, to help both the men and women of this ummah to follow in the footsteps of her and her husband, the Prophet Muḥammad [saws], and to become just like them, and to be able to not only extract lessons from their lives but to apply it in our own lives till we become walking examples of the sunnah.