The wise mother of believers and the leader of knowledgeable women: ‘A’isha (radhi Allahu anha, may Allah be pleased with her).
According to the Qur’an, the wives of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) are the umm ul-muqminin or mothers of the believers, a position with important responsibilities. ‘A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) holds a unique place among the wives of the Prophet since she excelled in her knowledge and her social activities, leading the way among female scholars of jurisprudence to become the wise mother of believers.
A wife of the Prophet on a path to knowledge and insight, ‘A’isha (r.anha) was born during the fourth year of Bi’set in the year 614 CE in the city of Mecca. Her father was Abu Bakir “al-Siddiq” (The Trustworthy) and she was therefore known as ‘A’isha “Al Siddiqa.” Yet she was addressed as umm ul-muq’minin (the mother of the believers) as the wife of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). It was after her marriage to him that she gained real status. Her high level of knowledge, whose foundation was laid in her paternal home, was developed further during the years in which she was with the Prophet (peace be upon him), gaining a unique and well deserved place among women due to her wealth of knowledge.
Differences of opinion exist regarding the age at which ‘A’isha married the Prophet (peace be upon him). While some scholars claim she was nine years of age when she married, other narrations exist indicating that she was either 14, 17 or 18. Those who attack the Prophet over this topic have been influenced by orientalist critics of Islam. The age of marriage was unremarkable neither in its social context in Arabia, nor in the Jewish, Christian or Byzantine worlds, from the classical period up until the late pre-modern period, where adolescence has recently taken on a character of naivite and delayed adulthood is now encouraged for purposes of facilitating consumerism.
A prophet’s wife on the path to knowledge and insight:
‘A’isha (r.anha) took part in some ghazwas (battles against the unbelievers) with the Prophet, and was subjected to unjust slander after the Ghazwa of Banu Mustaliq, an event which came to be known in the texts of history as the ‘ifq incident. Allah the All-Mighty revealed verses in the Noble Qur’an stating that she had been subjected to slander, clearing her name and declaring that she was innocent. The Prophet (peace be upon him) loved ‘A’isha (r.anha) with more affection than his other wives, with the exception of Khadijah, and made her feel greatly valued. She distinguished herself through her intellect, deep understanding, strong memory, eloquent speech, interest in knowledge and her efforts to correctly understand the Qur’an and the Prophet. The Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, with his blessed head upon her lap, in her room and it was there that he was buried.
She would ask the Prophet (peace be upon him) on matters which she interpreted as differing in the Qur’an and the prophetic hadith, and discuss them with him. She would also work as an intermediary for matters about which women could not ask the Messenger (peace be upon him) directly. She even led prayers from time to time. In addition to possessing a deep love for the Prophet, she was different from his other wives in terms of her obedience to Allah and commitment in following His commands. ‘A’isha (r.anha), who spent her nights in prayer and days mostly fasting, was also an embodiment of good moral conduct. She did not speak ill of anyone, was content, humble, dignified and generous. And one of her most important qualities was her concern for orphaned and destitute children. She would take them into her care and show close interest in their moral upbringing and education as well as their eventual marriage. She had freed more than sixty slaves and bondswomen, some of whom would later become scholars of sciences and hadith.
Her preference for knowledge over politics:
During the second era of the ‘Uthman’s Caliphate, ‘A’isha, became involved in politics, because she had decided that certain of his activities and appointments were incorrect and as a result strongly opposed him. She later came to believe that she was in violation of the Qur’anic verse which stresses that the wives of the Prophet should remain in their homes and protect their dignity. She shed tears each time she read this verse and never became involved in politics again. She led a calm life in Medina and devoted herself to studies and religion. On the 17th of Ramadan in 678 CE, (during the 58th year of Hijra) she died at the age of 65. Her funeral prayer was led by Abu Hurayra and she was buried in the Jannut ul-Baqi cemetery in Madinah, outside the Prophet’s Mosque.
The level she reached on the path to knowledge:
Among the wives of the Prophet, it is ‘A’isha (r.anha) who stood out due to her knowledge. The fact that she was born and raised in the home of a scholarly father who was someone who was consulted on matters of genealogy, that she spent years with the Prophet as his wife, as well her personal talents and intellect, were all central in her acquiring of knowledge. Undoubtedly, the fact that she was financially well off, that she didn’t have children, shared the same environment as the companions of the Prophet in Medina, and that she withdrew from politics entirely following the incident of the Battle of the Camel, all played roles in her further development. ‘A’isha (r.anha), who had an effective command of the Arabic language, had learned Arabic prose, history and the science of genealogy from her father who was an expert in these areas. Moreover, she had a good understanding of the social issues, customs and traditions of Jahiliyya (age of Ignorance) in Arabia. Her intellect, skills and curiosity, as well as her union with the Prophet caused her to be among the leading companions who knew the Qur’an and the Sunnah, understanding and maintaining their rulings.
The most important indicators of her profound knowledge were her tafsir of the Qur’an, assertion of critical knowledge in the understanding of the Sunnah and her use of qiyas (analogy) in reaching religious rulings, in addition to other methods of intellect. Her knowledge of the different readings of the Qur’an, reason of revelation and proof of the words, all played a great role in the development of her Qur’anic tafsir (interpretation and glosses). At the same time, due to this wealth of knowledge, ‘A’isha knew what type of rulings to extract from these verses. Due to her capabilities in matters of fiqh (legal understanding), she became one of the seven fuqaha (those who have legal understanding) who delivered fatawa (religious rulings) in Medina. Her ijtihad (juridical reasoning) and fatwa allowed her to be named among the fuqaha and mujtahid. When her fatwas are examined, it becomes evident that she had a profound understanding of furu’ al-fiqh (branches of fiqh), in addition to usul ul-fiqh or the methodology of fiqh (the principles of jurisprudence) and determination of wisdom. Due to this wealth of knowledge, as well as her capabilities, many of the knowledgable sucessors of the companions (tabi’un) would consult with and learn from her due to her profound wisdom on matters of fiqh. As such, members of the sucessors such as Ata ibn Abi Rabah, have stated that there was no one who knew matters of fiqh better than ‘A’isha (r.anha).
After the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him), ‘A’isha’s (r.anha) home become a centre of knowledge and learning. Men and women, young and old, went to her in order to benefit from her knowledge. With her significant contributions, Medina maintained its importance as a centre of knowledge and learning and as a result of her scientific initiatives; Medina became its own centre in the areas of hadith and fiqh. ‘A’isha (r.anha) did not just answer questions addressed to her in person, she also answered the questions of Muslims coming from various countries and areas by written correspondence, thereby becoming a leader in written documentation of hadith and certain matters of fiqh.
In conclusion, ‘A’isha (r.anha), both in her father’s home and in her life with the Messenger of Allah, was immersed in environments that were conducive to the acquirement of knowledge. Her becoming a faqih and, in addition to her acute observations of certain matters, were proof that she was on a different level from the companions in terms of her comprehension and evaluation of hadith. The corrections she made of many of the companions regarding hadith is another proof to this end. Her strong sense of insight coupled with her thorough understanding of the Qur’an and Sunna allowed her to stand out in matters of fiqh and as someone who could be consulted and sought for fatwas. [The fatwas she gave and religious rulings upon which she shed light, were taken with gravity by the knowledgable of the tabi’un and the imams of the different schools of legal thought, and were generally accepted.] In its entirety, her fatwas are enough to form several volumes. When her juridical thoughts are evaluated as a whole, it becomes evident that she understood the Qur’an, the Sunnah, the Prophet, society, women and thus religion deeply. ‘A’isha (r.anha) was indeed familiar with the meaning and purpose of knowledge. The fact that she considered different verses when answering questions posed to her, that she did not see verses as being disconnected, her alluding to the reasoning and background behind hadith, her utilization of the ‘ard (reading to teacher) method in hadith, her objections to narrations which were detrimental for women, and her reference to the customs and traditions of society in her fatwas must all be the result of the deep understanding she had due to her familiarity with Allah’s final Messenger.