Assertive, Active and Knowledgable

Lady Aishah: Assertive Jurist and Activist

Aishah’s character is nowhere best expressed than in her firm and resolute attitude in facing one of the greatest of all trials she ever faced in her life: the false accusation of adultery.

When confronted with the situation she became extremely saddened and depressed and yet she never cowered or stooped low. Instead, she firmly stood her ground trusting in Allah alone until she was vindicated.

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While she had full confidence that Allah would reveal her innocence, she never considered herself so great as to be worthy of being vindicated by a direct revelation.

When finally an entire surah was revealed, numerous verses of which were directly related to her story and extolled her purity, modesty and piety, she refused to rise up and thank Allah’s Messenger. Instead she simply said, “I thank only Allah!”

By this she did not mean to be rude to the Prophet, rather she meant never to attribute the source of her relief to any other than the Source itself, which is Allah and Allah alone!

This should serve as a perfect example for all Muslims, men and women. They should not fear anyone but Allah. If they do so, they will not cower themselves before anyone but Allah, no matter how great that worldly power facing them may be!

In fact this is the ultimate freedom that many of the early Muslims enjoyed within themselves.

Strong Advocate of Justice

Thanks to her assertiveness, Aishah always stood up to what she thought was unjust, unethical and false.

Once she heard that some individuals were finding faults with Abu Bakr after his death. She gathered these people and spoke to them about his achievements as everyone would readily recognize. Then she asked them plainly which one of his actions they were critical of. None of his detractors had anything to say.

She also stood up to Caliph Mu`awiyah and vocally criticized his policies which she deemed unjust and therefore un-Islamic.

Defending the Rights of a Jew

It was because of her strength of character that she made the Caliph implement the will of Safiyyah, the mother of the faithful, who had stipulated one third of her estate to her Jewish brother.

When the Caliph thought it was against the dictum of the Prophet (PBUH), Aishah rejected that. She obliged him to fulfill the wishes of Safiyyah.

Another example of her forthrightness is her answer to those who forbade women from visiting cemeteries.

Correcting Misconceptions about Women

On her visit to Makkah, when she stopped by the grave of her brother, someone objected to her; he asked how come she was visiting his grave when the Prophet had forbidden women to do so.

She replied,

“The Prophet had forbidden both men and women from visiting graves in the early years of Islam. He lifted that prohibition later.”

In other words, in her sound understanding the lifting of the ban was applicable to both men and women; there is no evidence to suggest that it was only applicable to men.

Her confidence in the inherent justice of Islam enabled her to exercise many other interjections into commonly held assumptions about women’s roles in the Muslim community.

One such interjection was her wish not to be left out of performing Janazah prayers (often reserved for men only in the minds of many Muslims – even today).

She often sent orders to bring the janazah and place it inside the Mosque itself so that the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), could also offer the prayers, at a time when ordinarily Janazah was performed outside the precincts of the mosque itself.

An Active Participant in All Aspects of Islamic Life

Aishah serves as the best role model for women’s activism in Islam. She never was held back from full participation in any aspect of Islamic life even after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

During his life she accompanied the Prophet even to the battle fields to perform essential duties.

She led the war against `Ali because of her mistaken judgment. At the time she thought she was going out to exact justice for the caliph `Uthman who had been martyred unjustly; she thought that `Ali was harboring his murderers.

Later on, she regretted her choice to have waged the war. But the point is that, according to her, the role of women in Islam was not confined to the home. Instead, women play an active role in Islamic life.

Due to her own sound faith and Islamic character, she recanted not her activism but her stand against `Ali. Because of this she thought she had become less worthy of being buried beside the Prophet (PBUH). So, she preferred to join her own sisters (i.e. other wives of the Prophet in Al-baqi`cemetry.

Her Legacy of Scholarship

Aishah’s sound scholarship in Islamic disciplines such as tafsir, hadith, fiqh, history of Arabs and Islam, Arabic language and medicine was proverbial among Companions and successors as numerous testimonials bear witness.

Even the great Companions of the Prophet such as Abu Bakr and `Umar as well as other wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would refer to her as the final resource person in these disciplines. Abu Salamah ibn `Abd al-Rahman, one of the seven famous jurists of Madinah, said,

“I never knew of anyone –who had such thorough knowledge of the traditions of the Prophet, nor sound understanding of fiqh in any issue, that Muslims would need to know nor of any verse and when and where it was revealed or of rules of inheritance- who can surpass Aishah.”

Teacher of Teachers

Aishah served as a teacher of teachers after the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). She would correct those who were teaching in the Prophet’s Mosque and answer those who came to her seeking rulings, advice and opinions based on her expert knowledge.

Furthermore, among the numerous men and women who graduated under her tutorship were `Abdallah, Qasim, `Urwah, and `Umrah bint `Abd ar-Rahman al-Ansariyyah.

Her thorough mastery of fiqh enabled her to exercise independent ijtihad in matters of fiqh. She used to offer rulings based on her ijtihad as testified by al-Qasim during the time of Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman as well as after them until she died.

As indicated earlier, Aishah’s ijtihad was governed strictly by her deep knowledge of the Quran.

One of the many examples of this was when someone asked her about celibacy. She answered:

“Do not resort to it; did you not hear Allah say in the Quran:

{We have sent before you messengers and appointed for them spouses and children}? (Ar-Ra`d: 13: 38) Thus do not resort to celibacy.”

The independence of her ijtihad meant that she sometimes confidently held views contradicting the views of other companions and scholars. When someone asked her if it was always necessary for a woman to have a mahram (male relative) to travel, Aishah asked rhetorically, “Can everyone find a mahram?”

Conclusion

Aishah’s life is especially remarkable when examined with the lenses of contemporary times. Surrounded by current examples of Muslim women around the world not permitted to fully actualize their God-given potentials, Aishah’s life in the 6th and 7th century is a beacon to the inherent justice in Islam.

She was reared with authentic Islam from her earliest memories. She grew up to be a woman who was confident, assertive and an active participant and leader of her society.

Simply put, Aishah lived a life outstanding in its dedication to the cause of Allah and His Messenger. We can end with her own advice:

“Whoever seeks to please people by displeasing Allah, Allah will abandon him/her to people and whoever seeks to please Allah, Allah will be sufficient for him/her.”

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