Ayesha is widely renowned as Mohammed's* favourite wife. Muslims revere her most for her wisdom, however, not for her place of favour with her husband. You will find many Muslim women named Ayesha, or Aisha, as it is also commonly seen. "Ayesha" translates from Arabic to living1 .
Ayesha, daughter of Abu Bakr, was nine2 years old when she became the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad*, in 621 CE. Right wing readings3 will have you believe that this fact highlights Mohammed's* paedopheliac nature, however it is far more likely that their marriage was not consummated until after she began menstruating. The marriage is said to have taken place in Makkah, but upon their marriage, she entered his house in Medina.
Mohammed's* reasons for marrying Ayesha so young are unclear. A female's lot in Seventh Century Arabia was dependent on male guardianship (a female needed the protection of a father, uncle, brother or husband for her very sustainance).
In fact, Ayesha was engaged to Jubair Ibn al Mut'am inb 'Adi before her marriage. Jubair was not a Muslim and his parents prevented the wedding. Early marriage was not uncommon in Arabia at the time.
Abu Bakr and his wife, Umm Ruman, were among the first followers of Islam, and Abu Bakr and Muhammad* were close friends for the rest of their lives. Both Ibn Abbas (Sahih Al-Bukhari)4 and Jundub (Sahih Muslim)5 narrate in the Hadith where the Prophet* has directly declared that Abu Bakr is his closest friend after Islam.
An old pre-Islamic Arab custom was to make verbal relatives, adopting people as brothers even though they were not related. These verbal relationships were treated as blood relationships in the laws of marriage. Abu Bakr had taken the Prophet* as a verbal brother:
Sahih Bukhari Hadith: Narrated by 'Ursa: The Prophet* asked Abu Bakr for Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said "But I am your brother." The Prophet* said, "You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry."
During the course of their marriage, Mohammed* had many other wives. Conversely, his first wife, Khadija, was his one-and-only until her death. The Prophet* married many of his wives to dispell stigmas and taboos. He married Hafsa, daughter of Umar bin al-Khattab, because no other man would have her (she was divorced by her first husband). Another clue that his interests in Ayesha were not purely carnal is that only one woman bore him a child, his son Ibrahim, who died very young.
The grounds for holding Ayesha as Mohammed's* favourite are likely in that she was able to exercise persuasion over him. Ayesha's jealousy of his relationship with a slave girl, Maria, the mother of his ill-fated child, is often cited. Hafsa and Ayesha formed a strong allegiance. Hafsa is reported to have "surprised" The Prophet* with her and confided this in Ayesha, who broadcast it amongst the Harem. Mohammed* was so outraged that he nearly divorced all his wives on the spot, but instead abandoned them for the solitary company of Maria, for one month.
Two of them, viz., Ayesha and Hafsa, acted as their "spokeswomen." While they were pressing their demands upon him, Abu Bakr and Umar came to see him on some private or public business.
The Prophet* sat silent, surrounded by his wives. When Abu Bakr and Umar learned what was afoot, they were very angry, and they sharply reproved their daughters for demanding more money from their husband.
Abu Bakr rose to his daughter Aishah and pulled her hair and so did Umar to his daughter, Hafsah.3
Jaez says You may not have noticed, but all the men in your wu are portrayed as lustful, violent, overbearing and insensitive. However, the hadith and most of the historical knowledge of the Prophet, and his companions show them to have been quite tender in their dealings with each other and especially their wives. Also after they were married, it is doubtful that AbuBakr and Omar would have reprimanded their daughters, let alone pull their hair. It shows incredible disrespect, not only to them in their status as fully grown married women, but also to the Prophet, to whom they are now bonded. It is very much against the Arabic custom, which predates Mohammed (pbuh).
It was Mohammad's* custom to visit a cemetery to pray for the dead until past midnight. Ayesha is said to have followed him one night out of jealous suspicion. On one of his cemetery visits, Mohammad* contracted a chill, which worsened, causing his death. It is held that Mohammad* died on top of Ayesha (in CE 632), more likely a case of wanting to be close to her when he died than, as many websites imply2, of a heart attack while having sex. Ayesha was 17, and went on to live another 50 years.
During the Prophet's* lifetime, Ayesha had been one of his most devoted pupils. She displayed wisdom and intelligence that belied her youth. After his death, she continued her study and was skilled in medicine, poetry, mathematics and public speaking. This disproves the present day misconception that Islam is restrictive to women. Indeed, many modern-day Muslim women find the faith liberating.
Ayesha's closeness and place of favour with Muhammad*, as well as her confidence and the high esteem with which her male and female peers held her, resulted in her being a frequent narrator of the Hadith. Abu Musa al-Ashari said "If we companions of the Messenger of Goda had any difficulty on a matter, we asked Aisha about it." Arwa Bin Zubair said "I did not find anyone more proficient than Aisha in the knowledge of the Qur'an, the Commandments of Halaal (lawful) and Haram (prohibited). That is why even senior companions of the Prophet* used to consult Aisha in resolving intricate issues."
The Arabia in which Ayesha lived was not a particularly nice place. War and bloody battle were frequent visitors. Ayesha used her medical skill nursing the wounded on the battlefields. Though she herself was childless, she took in boys and girls (often orphans) and educated them. In the dark ages of 7th century Arabia, Ayesha was a pioneer of education for women.
Aisha lived on for nearly fifty years after her husband died. She devoted her time to continuing the charitable works of the Prophet* and studying the Qur'an and Sunnah.
- hotthamir says Aysha's name is derived from 3 root past verb Ein Aleph Sheen, meaning lived. The way accent marks and letters are added makes her name living.
- Some sources say Ayesha was nine years old at the time of her marriage
- When researching this, the only internet sources I could locate were all of this nature. It doesn't make it true, however.
- From Shaih Al-Bukhari (Hadith): Ibn Abbas reports: "The Prophet* came out during his illness from which he died, his head bound with a cloth. He sat on the minibar, thanked Allah, praised Him and said: 'There is no one among the people who has been more generous to me with his life and his property than Abu Bakr ibn Abi Quhaafa and if I was to take a bosom friend, I would take Abu Bakr as my bosom friend. But, the friendship of Islam is better. Block off every door in this Masjid except the door of Abu Bakr."
- From Sahih Muslim (Hadith): Jundub narrates: "I heard the Prophet* five days before his death saying: "I declare my innocence before Allah that I should have any bosom friend among you for Allah Most High has taken me as His friend just as He took Ibrahim as His friend. If I were to take any bosom friend from my nation I would take Abu Bakr. Listen! Those who came before you took the graves of their prophets and their righteous ones as places of worship. Listen! Do not take graves as places of worship. I forbid you that."
- Jaez says She was widely revered as the most intelligent of women at the time, and there are numerous examples in the hadith.
* Peace be upon Him
You may have noticed the inconsistency of spelling Ayesha, Aisha, Aishah, Mohammed*, Mohammad*, Muhammad*, etc. This is because transliteration of Arabic into western script is subjective.
With many thanks to Jaez and rk2001 for their invaluable help and wealth of knowledge. Also to Mr100percent for the only decent interweb link on the subject.