?A?isha (614-678 C.E.)

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˓A˒ISHA (614-678 C.E.)

˓A˒isha bint Abi Bakr was the favorite wife of the prophet Muhammad and a significant religious and political figure in early Islam. The daughter of Umm Ruman and one of the Prophet's companions, Abu Bakr (the first caliph of Islam after the death of the Prophet), she married Muhammad at a young age. Her intelligence, beauty, and spirited personality are well recorded in historical sources.

The hadith tradition records a unique level of intimacy shared by the Prophet and ˓A˒isha. They bathed in the same water, he prayed while she lay stretched out in front of him, he received revelation when they were under the same blanket, and he expressed a desire to be moved to ˓A˒isha's chambers when he knew his death was approaching. Affection and playfulness also characterized their relationship. They raced with each other and enjoyed listening to the singing of Ethiopian musicians together. The Prophet related that when ˓A˒isha was pleased with him, she would swear "By the God of Muhammad" and when she was annoyed with him she would swear "By the God of Abraham." She regularly engaged the Prophet on issues of revelation and religion. Recognizing her intelligence and perceptiveness, he told the Muslims "Take two-thirds of your religion from al-Humayra," the term of affection referring to the rosy-cheeked ˓A˒isha.

A scandal once surrounded ˓A˒isha, who was mistakenly left behind during a caravan rest stop on an expedition with the Prophet. She returned to Medina escorted by a young man who had found her waiting alone. Amid the ensuing gossip and speculation about ˓A˒isha's fidelity, one of the Prophet's companions, ˓Ali, advised Muhammad to divorce her. This caused her to bear deep resentment against ˓Ali, which manifested itself in her later opposition to him as Muhammad's successor. Finally a Qur˒anic revelation exonerated her of all suspected wrongdoing, proclaiming her innocence. This same revelation established the punishment for false accusations of adultery.

In the lifetime of the Prophet she, together with Muhammad's other wives, was referred to as "Mother of the Believers." She is known to have transmitted approximately 1,210 traditions (hadiths), only 300 of which are included in the canonical hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim. She is said to have transmitted hadith to at least eighty-five Muslims, as well as to have corrected inaccuracies in the hadiths reported by some of the Prophet's male companions.

After the death of the Prophet, she was critical of the third caliph, ˓Uthman, but also called his killers to accountability during the caliphate of ˓Ali. Together with the Companions Zubair and Talha, she mobilized opposition to ˓Ali, culminating in the Battle of the Camel (656 C.E.). The name of the battle reflects the centrality of ˓A˒isha's role in the conflict, seated on her camel in the middle of the battlefield. This struggle over succession marked the development of a major civil war (called fitna) in Islam, which ultimately contributed to one of the most significant religious and political divisions in the Muslim world. The representations of ˓A˒isha in subsequent Shi˓ite and Sunni polemics reflected some of the historical antagonisms between the two. Many Shi˓ite Muslims reviled ˓A˒isha, whereas Sunni Muslims embraced her as a revered wife of the Prophet. Tradition holds that she was consulted on theological, legal, and other religious issues, and was also known for her poetic skills. She is buried at al-Baqi in Medina.

See also˓Ali ; Bukhari, al- ; Fitna ; Muhammad ; Shi˓a: Early ; Sunna .


Abbott, Nabia. ˓A˒ishah: The Beloved of Muhammad. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.

Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite: A FeministInterpretation of Women's Rights in Islam. Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley, 1992.

Spellberg, Denise A. Politics Gender and the Islamic Past: TheLegacy of ˓A˒isha Bint Abi Bakr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.


Sa˓diyya Shaikh