Sunni and Shi’i Forces that Defined the History of Aisha Bint Abi Bakr
Dr. Shauna Huffaker
November 10, 2011
Word Count: 2273
Aisha Bint Abi Bakr is arguably the most controversial historical Islamic female figures. Her life conducted much scandal and disagreement within the Islamic community, however, it also allowed the believers to more clearly define themselves amongst one another. In Denise A. Spellberg's Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr, the opposing forces of Sunni and Shi'i give shape to the life of Aisha. Spellberg illustrates defining moments in Aisha’s life regarding her role as both wife and widow as projected through those who wrote them down. Her place in Islamic history affected the development of the community, yet varies depending on the intention of the transmitter. Through the path of her life Aisha’s actions have a direct affect on the Islam, although it is through interpretations and historical memory that Aisha’s legacy takes form.
Aisha Bint Abi Bakr was the daughter of Abu Bakr, known as the most beloved companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr and Aisha’s mother were both muhajirun, those who took part in the Hijra with Muhammad, securing them as the elite group of Muslims in early Islamic society. His daughter’s marriage to the Prophet “suggests a new basis for communal relationships forged in faith rather than blood,” as had been the case in pre-Islamic tribal law. In marrying the Prophet, Aisha assumed the title as one of the “mothers of the believers,” and was promised a place with Muhammad and his other wives in paradise. The importance of marital ties would assist in defining the authority of later leaders of the Islamic empire. Shi’i Muslims rejected the first four caliphs in favour of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin. They believed Ali’s rightful successors to be his descendants, providing an example of the pre-Islamic tribal customs of blood relationships over ones of faith. Sunni Muslims favour the Islamic tradition of marital ties to be of importance. The first five caliphs had all been related to Muhammad through marriage. Through Aisha’s claim to importance within the Islamic community, we are shown the developing ties that would hold the new religion together. Following the new Islamic tradition, Aisha’s genealogy and marital ties made her an impossible female figure to ignore.
Aisha’s relationship to her Abu Bakr defined them as complimentary forces. Regarded as Muhammad’s most beloved person, and most beloved man, they were able to profit from one another. Abu Bakr was widely respected, even by Shi’ites, for his devotion to the Prophet and his profound asceticism while acting as the first caliph. His place in Islamic society helped to establish Aisha’s place as well. Of the many names Aisha gained throughout her lifetime, attributed to her father was al-siddiqa bint al-siddiq, “the truthful woman, daughter of the truthful man.” Aisha’s prestige as the most beloved wife of Muhammad “also promoted her father Abu Bakr's remembrance as the first legitimate political successor to the Prophet." However, the importance of the duo threatened that of Ali and his wife and daughter of the Prophet, Fatima. To legitimize Shi’i belief in Ali as the true successor to Muhammad, followed by his descendants, there must be no one more respected than Ali and Fatima. It is on this basis that Shi’ites had no choice but to reject all things positive about the life of Aisha.
It is in regard to this rejection of Aisha by Shi’ism, that her closeness to the Prophet and divine intervention are questioned. Aisha had claimed herself to be the most beloved of all of the thirteen wives of Muhammad. In her biography written by Ibn S’ad more than one hundred and fifty years after her death, Aisha supposedly provides nineteen arguments to prove why she is the most beloved. Among these are her closeness to the...
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