The legacy of Aisha that will never die


Saudi Gazette

The spread of Islam, the success, and the survival of Islamic knowledge rested on the shoulders of great men and women of the past. These men and women dedicated their lives to learning and to the preservation and transmission of knowledge.

Women played no less of a role than men in the teaching of the sacred sciences, yet their names are not mentioned as often. If I were to ask, who among the companions were most known for their impeccable memorization of the Holy Qur’an, you would probably say Muadh bin Jabal, Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin Masud, and Abu Al-Dardaa. But did you know that Hafsah, the daughter of Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, and Umm Salama had also memorized the Holy Qur’an and they taught it to others?

As for studying the Qur’an and its meanings and explaining it, Ibn Abbas first comes to mind. He had so much knowledge of the Holy Qur’an that he was labeled by the scholars as Turjuman Al-Qur’an, which means the translator of the meanings of the Qur’an. What many of us do not know is that Aisha had an equally deep understanding of the Qur’an and that she too was proficient in explaining the meanings of the verses of the Qur’an.

In fact, the scholars of Tafseer (interpretation of the Qur’an) in later years relied on both Ibn Abbas and Aisha’s explanations of the Qur’an to write their books of Tafseer, which students of knowledge study to this day. The scholars mentioned that if the interpretation of a certain verse of the Qur’an by Ibn Abbas contradicts Aisha’s interpretation, that Aisha’s explanation should be taken over that of Ibn Abbas.

What made Aisha the scholar that she became was that she had more access to learning directly from the Prophet (peace be upon him), more than any other companion, so she was a treasure of knowledge. She had an unquenchable thirst and a passion for learning. She was extremely intelligent and had a sharp memory, and she worked hard to learn. Also, she was extremely inquisitive and she asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) many questions. She memorized, narrated, and taught 2,210 Hadith, sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In the books of great men like Al-Bukhari and Tirmidhi and Muslim, Aisha’s name will forever be recorded.

Not only did she memorize and pass on these sayings, but she also deeply understood them. She corrected other companions if they mentioned any mistakes in Hadith or in jurisprudence.

Take for example, when Aisha corrected a group of companions who had been studying in her presence. They were studying acts that interfere with and negate the obligatory prayer, for example if a dog were to pass in front of you in your prayer.

As recorded in Sahih Al-Bukhari, Aisha said, “The things which annul prayer were mentioned before me (and those were); a dog, a donkey and a woman. I said, ‘You have compared us (women) to donkeys and dogs. By Allah! I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in (my) bed between him and the Qiblah. Whenever I was in need of something, I disliked to sit and trouble the Prophet, so I would slip away by the side of his feet.’”

That is how Aisha corrected men when needed, as she did on several occasions.

Aisha’s area of expertise was not limited to Hadith and Tafseer, she was extremely knowledgeable in jurisprudence, history, and poetry. Her door was always open to women who had questions in the religion, who had social problems, who needed food, and those who wanted to learn and study. Aisha was constantly sought out by the women of Al-Madinah, and she listened to them, opened her heart to them, taught, advised, and assisted them. How I wish we had an Aisha in our community, a resource for knowledge who at the same time was a counselor and supporter of women.

After the death of the Messenger (peace be upon him), Aisha was a reliable source of knowledge for both men and women alike. The entire society respected her great intellect and would come to her for advice or when facing a dilemma related to religion. Even great men like Umar ibn Al-Khattab consulted her.

Abu Musa Al-Ashari, a well known companion of the Prophet and narrator of Hadith, said, “If we companions of the Messenger of Allah had any difficulty on a matter, we asked Aisha about it.”

Urwah ibn Al-Zubayr, was born shortly after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and he became a jurist in Al-Madinah. He studied under Aisha and he said, “I did not find anyone more proficient (than Aisha) in the knowledge of the Holy Qur’an, the commandments of halal (lawful) and haram (prohibited), Ilmul-Ansab (lineage) and Arabic poetry. That is why, even senior companions of the Prophet used to consult Aisha in resolving intricate issues”.

Aisha was generous not only in giving of her knowledge and time, but also in giving of what she had to anyone in need. Whenever she received gifts sent to the house of the Prophet (peace be upon him), she would distribute them to the poor and needy. The people of Al-Madinah knew Aisha’s generous nature, so anyone who had gone hungry would knock on Aisha’s door.

When the Muslims became prosperous and were favored with vast wealth, Aisha received a gift of one hundred thousand dirhams. She was fasting when she received the money, and distributed it to the poor and needy, even though she had no provisions in her house. Shortly after that, her maid servant said to her, “Couldn’t you have left a dirham’s worth of meat with which to break your fast?” “If I had thought of it,” Aisha replied, “I would have done so!”

Every time a beggar knocked on her door, she dipped the coins to give away in musk perfume before giving it to him. When asked why, she explained that the charity would reach Allah before it reached the beggar’s hands, and she wanted the charity to be given to Allah in a fragrant condition.

This is a woman who dedicated her life to education and educating others and to the service of people. Our communities today are in need of Aisha’s knowledge, generosity, kindness, and her defending of women’s and girls’ rights. Aisha’s legacy will live on forever in the books of Hadith, the books of Tafseer, history, and jurisprudence, and in our hearts.