One of the great ideologues of the “modern trends” in Islam has called her “the first flower of the Garden of Islam,” because from amongst the “new generation” Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA) was a “born Muslim!” The “flower symbol” for ‘Aishah Siddiqah (RA) is quite meaningful because being the daughter of Siddiq (Abu Bakr) (RA) and the wife of al-Sadiq al-Amin (the Truthful, the Trustworthy), that is, the Prophet (SAW), she increased the resplendence and fragrance of the Garden of Islam in many a respect. However, the most prominent field which the Sayyidah (RA) contributed to was the intellectual grooming of at least two generations in multiple fields of knowledge, both theoretical and practical.
Having come into the Prophet’s (SAW) life at a young age which the educationists, sociologists and psychologists have together called the “creative age,” the Sayyidah (RA) has had the opportunity to acquire the gems of knowledge and wisdom directly from the Prophet (SAW). Owing to this age in which any word which a student hears and any deed which an observer observes gets engraved on the slate of memory with minute details and intricacies, the Sayyidah (RA) was able to pass on the Prophetic Wisdom to the “generations next” for not less than half a century after the Prophet’s (SAW) passing away. No wonder then that the Sayyidah (RA) is among those narrators of the Prophetic Wisdom who have contributed a great deal to the colossal storehouse of this “divinely inspired wisdom” of the Prophet (SAW).
We know that Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA) was fortunate enough to receive education, instruction and wisdom directly from the Prophet (SAW), therefore, she could explain some of those delicate issues which others could find too difficult to fathom the wisdom behind. There are different examples to this effect in the Sirah literature. Once, someone rebuked a group of women who were wailing on someone who had died. The person concerned made his point on the plea that “the dead would suffer because of the wailing of these women!” When the issue was brought before Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA), she promptly said that the action (here, wailing) of one person cannot affect the other, because the Qur’an says: “Nor can a bearer of burdens bear another’s burden.” (35:18) The Sayyidah (RA) is also reported to have brought forth or explained the wisdom behind the “non-observance of Salah” (forbidden by the Prophet, SAW) at some particular periods of time usually called “zawal” (lit. decline but technically i) the pre-dawn period when the sun has not risen fully above the horizon ii) the period when the sun is at or near its meridian and iii) post-afternoon period until the sun has completely set) in the Islamic Fiqh terminology. When asked about this issue, the Sayyidah (RA) replied that actually at these particular periods of time the worshippers of (the sun, especially) the natural phenomena worship their (false) deities. Thus the reason behind the particular injunction of not offering Salah at these periods is that there should remain a distinction between the followers of monotheism and polytheism.
There is also an interesting point which the Sayyidah (RA) made while answering some of the intricate questions regarding the Ascension (Mi‘raj) of the Prophet (SAW). Although the Prophet (SAW) observed “great signs” of his Lord during this celestial/heavenly journey, but from the very outset there has been a hot discussion whether the Prophet (SAW) saw the Lord in this journey or not. The significance of this issue can be gauged from the fact that long after, the Mu‘tazilites and Ash‘arites hotly debated the issue and they even employed principles of optics to support their respective arguments. It is quite interesting that Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA), taking resort to the Prophetic saying, as reported by Sahih Muslim: “nurun, anna arahu; (He is pure Light; how could one see Him!)” clarified the queries of different people regarding this issue, especially those of Masruq who had asked different questions to Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA) including this important question regarding the “vision of God by the Prophet (SAW).” (Bukhari and Muslim)
A good section of the Prophetic Wisdom which has been preserved to posterity through the Sayyidah (RA) has come down to us through ‘Urwah ibn Zubair, the nephew and student of the Sayyidah (RA) (son of Zubair ibn al-‘Awwam and Asma’ bint Abi Bakr). Through ‘Urwah, a chain of scholars and intellectuals was produced who, naturally, had their intellectual descent from the Sayyidah (RA) and thus they became the vehicles to disseminate the Prophetic lore to the body of Muslims. ‘Urwah ibn Zubair is also reported to have produced a tract on the Sirah (biography) of the Prophet (SAW). This tract, although not preserved, was utilized by Ibn Ishaq, the first biographer of the Prophet (SAW). So far as the case of Prophetic Traditions is concerned, ‘Urwah ibn Zubair naturally derived from the Sayyidah (RA) and this was then popularized by Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, again one of the great Hadith scholars who (and ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz as well) had received Ahadith from Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib. It is worth mentioning here that Malik ibn Anas and Al-Shafi‘i relied upon Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib both in Jurisprudence and Ahadith.
It would not be out of place to mention here that like her father, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (RA), Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA) had a great command on the science of the interpretation of dreams. In this science the Sayyidah (RA) also produced several generations of great dream interpreters.
As such, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Sayyidah ‘Aishah (RA) transmitted not only the Prophetic Traditions but also played a vital part in the intellectual upbringing of a vast section of people who in turn became great savant of diverse fields of the Islamic sciences. It doesn’t, however, mean that other Umahat al-Mu’minin (the Mothers of the Believers) did nothing to disseminate the Prophetic Wisdom to the Ummah. However, what the Sayyidah (RA) did has been quite extraordinary. Knowledge, teaching, instruction and training are enough to command respect and honour for the person concerned, therefore, the Sayyidah (RA) is has always been hailed as the repository of the Prophetic Wisdom by the Muslim Community the world over. This sublime “motherly” status has been accorded to the wives of the Prophet (SAW) by God Himself in these words: “The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers.” (33:06)
(The author is Assistant Professor Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)