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Aisha bint Abu Bakr (died 678) (Arabic Transliteration: isha, "she who lives", also transcribed as A'ishah, Ayesha, A'isha, or Aisha) was the third wife of Muhammad. In Islamic writings, she is thus often referred to by the title "Mother of the Believers" (Arabic: أمّ المؤمنين umm-al-mu'minīn), per the description of Muhammad's wives as "Mothers of Believers" in the Qur'an (33.6), and later, as the "Mother of Believers", as in Qutb's Ma'alim fi al-Tariq (pps6). She is quoted as source for many hadith, sacred traditions about Muhammad's life, with Muhammad's personal life being the topic of most narrations. She narrated 2210 hadiths out of which 316 hadiths are mentioned in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

Early life

Aisha was the daughter of Um Ruman and Abu Bakr of Meccamarker. Abu Bakr belonged to the Banu Taym sub-clan of the tribe of Quraysh, the tribe to which Muhammad also belonged. Aisha is said to have followed her father in accepting Islam when she was still young. She also joined him in his migration to Abyssinia (Ethiopiamarker) in 615 AD; a number of Mecca's Muslims emigrated then, seeking refuge from persecution by the Meccans who still followed their pre-Islamic religions.

According to the early Islamic historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Aisha's father tried to spare her the dangers and discomfort of the journey by solemnizing her marriage to her fiance, Jubayr ibn Mut'im, son of Mut‘im ibn ‘Adi. However, Mut’am refused to honor the long-standing betrothal, as he did not wish his family to be connected to the Muslim outcasts. The emigration to Ethiopia proved temporary and Abu Bakr's family returned to Mecca within a few years. Aisha was then betrothed to Muhammad.

Marriage to Muhammad

See also: Criticism of Muhammad: Aisha

Aisha was initially betrothed to Jubayr ibn Mut'im, a Muslim whose father, though pagan, was friendly to the Muslims. When Khawla bint Hakim suggested that Muhammad marry Aisha after the death of Muhammad's first wife (Khadijah bint Khuwaylid), the previous agreement regarding marriage of Aisha with ibn Mut'im was put aside by common consent. British historian William Montgomery Watt suggests that Muhammad hoped to strengthen his ties with Abu Bakr; the strengthening of ties commonly served as a basis for marriage in Arabian culture.

According to the traditional sources, Aisha was six or seven years old when betrothed to Muhammad. American historian Denise Spellberg states that "these specific references to the bride's age reinforce Aisha's pre-menarcheal status and, implicitly, her virginity." This issue of her virginity was of great importance to early historians who supported the Abbasid Caliphate. These historians considered that as Muhammad's only virgin wife, Aisha was divinely intended for him, and therefore the most credible regarding the debate over the succession to Muhammad.

Aisha stayed in her parents' home for several years until she joined Muhammad and the marriage was consummated. Most of the sources indicate that she was nine years old at the time, with the single exception of al-Tabari, who records that she was ten. The marriage was delayed until after the Hijra, or migration to Medinamarker, in 622; Aisha and her older sister Asma bint Abi Bakr only moved to Medina after Muhammad had already migrated there. After this, the wedding was celebrated very simply. The sources do not offer much more information about Aisha's childhood years, but mention that after the wedding, she continued to play with her toys, and that Muhammad entered into the spirit of these games.

Status as "favorite wife"

Most early accounts say that Muhammad and Aisha became sincerely fond of each other. Aisha is usually described as Muhammad's favorite wife, and it was in her company that Muhammad reportedly received the most revelations. Some accounts claim it was the curtain from her tent that Muhammad used as his battle standard.

Accusation of adultery

Aisha was traveling with her husband Muhammad and some of his followers. Aisha claimed that she had left camp in the morning to search for her lost necklace, but when she returned, she found that the company had broken camp and left without her. She waited for half a day, until she was rescued by a man named Safwan ibn Al-Muattal and taken to rejoin the caravan. This led to speculation that she had committed adultery with Safwan. Muhammad's adopted son Zayd ibn Harithah defended Aisha's reputation. Shortly after this, Muhammad announced that he had received a revelation from God confirming Aisha's innocence and directing that charges of adultery be supported by four eyewitnesses. These verses also rebuked Aisha's accusers, whom Muhammad ordered to receive forty lashes.

Story of the honey

Ibn Kathir wrote in his biography of Muhammad that Muhammad's wife Umm Salama Hind bint Abi Umayya was given a skin filled with honey, which she shared with her husband. He was fond of sweets and stayed overlong with Umm Salama Hind bint Abi Umayya; at least in the opinion of Aisha and her co-wife Hafsa bint Umar. Aisha and Hafsa conspired. Each of them was to tell Muhammad that the honey had given him bad breath. When he heard this from two wives, he believed that it was true and swore that he would eat no more of the honey. Soon afterwards, he reported that he had received a revelation, in which he was told that he could eat anything permitted by God. In the following verses, Muhammad's wives are rebuked for their jealousy: "your hearts are inclined (to oppose him)".

Word spread in the small Muslim community that Muhammad's wives were taking advantage of their husband, speaking sharply to him and conspiring against him. Umar, Hafsa's father, scolded his daughter and also spoke to Muhammad of the matter. Muhammad, saddened and upset, separated from his wives for a month. By the end of this time, his wives were humbled; they had admitted their wrongdoing, and harmony was restored.

Some Muslim commentators on the Qur'an sometimes give this story as the "occasion of revelation" for Sura 66, which opens with the following verses: "Prophet, why do you prohibit that which God has made lawful for you, in seeking to please your wives? God is forgiving and merciful. God has given you absolution from such oaths."

Death of Muhammad

In his Sirah Rasul Allah, Ibn Ishaq states that during Muhammad's last illness, he sought Aisha's apartments and died with his head in her lap. The text highlights Muhammad's fondness for Aisha. Aisha never remarried after Muhammad's death. A passage in the Qur'an forbids any Muslim to marry a widow of Muhammad:

After Muhammad

Aisha's father becomes the first caliph

After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, Aisha's father, Abu Bakr, became the first caliph, or leader of the Muslims. This matter of succession to Muhammad is extremely controversial to the Shia. Shia believe that Ali had been chosen to lead by Muhammad; Sunni maintain that the community chose Abu Bakr, and did so in accordance with Muhammad's wishes.

Battle of Bassorah

Abu Bakr's reign was short, and in 634 AD he was succeeded by Umar, as caliph. Umar reigned for ten years, and was then followed by Uthman Ibn Affan in 644 AD. Both of these men had been among Muhammad's earliest followers, were linked to him by clanship and marriage, and had taken prominent parts in various military campaigns. Aisha, in the meantime, lived in Medina and made several pilgrimages to Mecca.

In 656, Aisha took part in provoking the rebellious people to kill Uthman. The rebels then asked Ali to be the new caliph. Many reports absolve Ali of complicity in the murder. Ali is reported to have refused the caliphate. He agreed to rule only after his followers persisted.

Aisha raised an army which confronted Ali's army outside the city of Basramarker. Professor Leila Ahmed claims that it was during this engagement that Muslim slaughtered Muslim for the first time. Battle ensued and Aisha's forces were defeated. Aisha was directing her forces from a howdah on the back of a camel; this 656 battle is therefore called the Battle of the Camel.

Ali captured Aisha but declined to harm her. He sent her back to Medina under military escort headed by her brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, one of Ali's commanders.

Her respect as scholar and role model

Historians see Aisha as a learned woman, who tirelessly recounted stories from the life of Muhammad and explained Muslim history and traditions. She is considered to be one of the foremost scholars of Islam's early age with some historians accrediting up to one-quarter of the Islamic Sharia (Islamic religious law), based on the collection of hadiths, to have stemmed from her narrations. Aisha became the most prominent of Muhammad’s wives and is revered as a role model by millions of women. Feminist writers such as Haleh Afshar have argued that Aisha provided a role model for women's political participation in Islamic communities, and that women became marginalized in Islamic polity following Aisha's defeat.


After Khadijah al-Kubra (the Great) and Fatimah az-Zahra (the Resplendent), Aishah as-Siddiqah (the one who affirms the Truth) is regarded as the best woman in Islam by Sunni Muslims. She often regretted her involvement in war but lived long enough to regain position. She died peacefully in the year 678 in the month of Ramadan. As she instructed, she was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi in the City of Light, beside other companions of Muhammad. She was 65 years of age when she died.


Sunnis hold Aisha in high esteem. Many believe that she was Muhammad's favorite wife and the best woman of her time. They consider her (amongst other wives) to be Umm al-Mu'minin and among the members of the Ahl al-Bayt, or Muhammad's family. The Shi'a view of Aisha, on the other hand, is generally a negative one. This is primarily due to her contempt for the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad's family) and her attempts to stir up communal strife (fitnah). Her participation in the Battle of the Camel is widely considered her most significant sign of such contempt. They also believe she behaved inappropriately in her role as Muhammad's wife.

Age at marriage

The issue of Aisha's age at the time she was married to Muhammad has been of interest since the earliest days of Islam. Early Muslims regarded Aisha's youth as demonstrating her virginity and therefore her suitability as a bride of the Prophet. During modern times, however, critics of Islam have taken up the issue, regarding it as reflecting poorly on Muhammad's character.

References to Aisha's age by early historians are frequent. According to Spellberg, historians who supported the Abbasid Caliphate against Shi'a claims considered Aisha's youth, and therefore her purity, to be of paramount importance. They thus specifically emphasized it, implying that as Muhammad's only virgin wife, Aisha was divinely intended for him, and therefore the most credible regarding the debate over the succession to Muhammad.

Child marriages such as this were relatively common in Bedouin societies at the time, and remain common in some modern societies worldwide. American scholar Colin Turner suggests that such marriages were not seen as improper in historical context, and that individuals in such societies matured at an earlier age than in the modern West. In modern times, however, the issue of Muhammad marrying and having sexual relations with a girl so young has been used to criticize him, particularly in the West, where there is heightened concern about child sexual abuse and related issues. In response some modern Muslim apologists have argued that adding up other dates given in the traditional sources may indicate that Aisha was older. Such a tactic was employed by the Indianmarker Ahmadiyya figure Maulana Muhammad Ali. However, scholars such as Watt accept the traditional account.

See also


  1. Watt, "Aisha", Encyclopedia of Islam Online
  2. Amira Sonbol, Rise of Islam: 6th to 9th century, Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures
  3. D. A. Spellberg, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: the Legacy of A'isha bint Abi Bakr, Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 40
  4. Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, 1992, p. 157.
  5. Barlas (2002), p.125-126
  6. , , , , , , , , ,
  7. Tabari, Volume 9, Page 131; Tabari, Volume 7, Page 7
  8. Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press 1961, page 102.
  9. Goodwin, Jan. Price of Honour: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. UK: Little, Brown Book Group, 1994
  10. Penzer, Norman Mosley. " The Harem", Chapter XI
  11. Surah
  12. Surah
  13. Glubb (2002), p. 264f.
  14. Muhammad's Wives in the Books of al-Sira
  15. translation by N. J. Dawood
  16. Death and Burial
  17. Al Nahaya, Volume 5 page 80 ; Qamus, page 500 "lughut Nathal" by Firozabadi ; Lisan al Arab, Volume 11 Chapter "Lughuth Nathal" page 670 ; Sharh Nahjul Balagha Ibn al Hadeed Volume 2 page 122 ; Sheikh al-Mudhira, by Mahmoud Abu Raya, p170 (foot note) ; Al-Imama wa al-Siyasa, Volume 1 page 52 ; Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, by Ibn Al-Ebrei, v1 p55 ; Al-Mahsol, by al-Razi, v4 p343 ; Ansab al-Ashraf, Volume 6 pages 192-193 ; History of Tabari [English translation] Volume 15 pages 289-239.
  18. Afshar, Haleh Democracy and Islam, Hansard Society, 2006
  19. Colin Turner, Islam: The Basics, Routledge Press, p.34-35
  20. Maulana Muhammad Ali (1992), Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad, p. 30.


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