Opinion, August 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
False Accusation Against the Prophet’s Wife
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Arab News, 8/15/03
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Those who concocted the falsehood were a band from among you. Do not regard it as bad for you; indeed it is good for you. Each one of them shall bear what he has earned of sin; and awesome suffering awaits the one who took on himself the lead among them. (Light, Al-Noor: 24: 11)
Over the last couple of weeks we discussed the stern punishment Islam prescribes for making false accusations of adultery against chaste women, without producing four witnesses to support their claims. We also discussed the exception in the case of a man finding his wife with a man, and the procedure that takes place in such a situation. Now the surah refers to the false accusation that was made against the Prophet’s wife, Aishah and makes it clear that the whole story was concocted by liars. Here are the details of the story as told by the pure and chaste lady at the center of this painful episode.
“Every time the Prophet went abroad he made a toss among his wives to decide which of them should accompany him. At the time of Al-Mustalaq expedition, the toss favored me and I traveled with him. At the time, women did not eat much, which meant that they were slim and light. When my transport was prepared for me, I would sit in my howdah which would then be lifted onto the camel’s back. When they had secured it, the camel driver would march with it.
“When the Prophet had done his business on that expedition and was on his way back, he encamped one night at a spot not very far from Madinah. He stayed there only part of the night before the call to march was again made. People started to get ready and in the meantime I went out to relieve myself. I was wearing a necklace, and I did not feel it drop off me before I returned. Back in the camp I felt for my necklace and, realizing that it was gone, I looked for it there, but could not find it. People were just about to move. I therefore went quickly back to that particular spot and searched for my necklace until I found it.
“In the meantime, the people who prepared my camel finished their task and took up the howdah, thinking that I was inside, and lifted it onto the camel’s back and secured it. It did not occur to them that I was not inside. They therefore led the camel away. When I came back to where we had encamped, there was no one to be seen. The army had marched. I, therefore, tied my dress round my body and lay down. I realized that when I was missed, someone would come back for me. I soon fell asleep.
Safwan ibn Al-Muattal of the tribe of Sulaym was traveling behind the army. He was apparently delayed by some business and did not spend that night in the camp. When he noticed someone lying down, he came toward me. He recognized me since he used to see me before we were ordered to wear veils. He said: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon, “We all belong to God and to Him we shall return.” I woke up when I heard him. I did not answer him when he asked me why I had been left behind. However, he made his camel sit down and asked me to ride it, which I did. He led the camel seeking to catch up with the army. Nobody missed me before they had stopped to rest. When everybody had sat down to relax, Safwan appeared, leading his camel, on which I was riding. This prompted those people to invent the story of falsehood. The whole army was troubled with it, but I heard nothing.”
It is worth noting here that when Abdullah ibn Ubayy saw Aishah approaching, he inquired who she was. When he was told that she was Aishah, he said: “Your Prophet’s wife has spent the whole night with a man, and now she turns up with him leading her camel!” This statement gave rise to the falsehood that was spread about Aishah. Aishah’s narrative continues:
“Shortly after our arrival in Madinah, I felt very ill. Nobody told me anything about what was going on. The Prophet and my parents heard the story, but they did not mention anything to me. However, I felt that the Prophet was not as kind to me during this illness of mine as he used to be. When he came in, he would ask my mother who was nursing me: “How is that woman of yours?” He said nothing else. I was distressed and requested his permission to be nursed in my parents’ home. He agreed. I went there and heard nothing. I was ill for 20-odd nights before I began to get better.
Unlike other people, we, the Arabs, did not have toilets in our homes. To us, they were disgusting. What we used to do was to go out at night, somewhere outside Madinah where we would relieve ourselves. Women went only at night. One night I went out with Umm Mistah (Abu Bakr’s cousin).
She asked me: “Have you not heard the story?” When I asked her what story, she recounted to me what the people of falsehood said about me. I swear I could not relieve myself that night. I went back and cried bitterly until I felt that crying would break me down. I said to my mother: “May God forgive you. People said what they said about me, and you mentioned nothing to me.”
My mother said: “Calm down, child. Any pretty woman married to a man who loves her will always be envied, especially if she shares him with other wives.”
I said: “Glory be to God. That people should repeat this sort of thing!” I cried bitterly throughout that night till morning, without a moment’s sleep.
The Prophet called Ali ibn Abu Talib and Usamah ibn Zaid to consult them about divorcing me. Usamah, who felt that I was innocent, said: “Messenger of God, she is your wife and you have experienced nothing bad from her. This story is a blatant lie.”
Ali said: “Messenger of God, God imposed no restriction on you in matrimonial matters. There are many women besides her. If you would see fit to ask her maid, she would tell you the truth.” The Prophet called in my maid, Bareerah, and asked her whether she had seen anything suspicious. Bareerah said: “By Him who sent you with the message of truth, there is nothing I take against her other than, being so young, she would doze off and let the hens eat the dough I had made to bake.”
The Prophet addressed the Muslims in the mosque when I was still unaware of the whole matter. He said: “I have seen nothing evil from my wife. Those people are also involving a man from whom I have seen no evil. He never entered my wives’ rooms except in my presence.
Saad ibn Muadh, the Aws leader, said: “Messenger of God, if these men belong to the Aws, our tribe, we will spare you their trouble. If, on the other hand, they belong to our brethren the Khazraj, you have only to give us your command.”
Saad ibn Ubadah, the leader of the Khazraj, who enjoyed a good reputation, allowed his tribal feelings to get the better of him this time and said to Saad ibn Muadh: “By God, you shall not kill them. You are saying this only because you know that they are of the Khazraj.”
Usayd ibn Hudayr, a cousin of Saad ibn Muadh, said to Saad ibn Ubadah: “You are no more than a hypocrite defending other hypocrites.” People who belonged to both tribes were very angry and were about to fight. The Prophet was still on the pulpit and he tried hard to cool them down, until finally he succeeded.
I continued to cry for the rest of the day. I could not sleep. Next morning both my parents were with me — I had spent two nights and a day crying hard. My tears never stopped. Both of them felt that my crying would break my heart. While we were in that condition, a woman from the Ansar came to me and started to cry with me.
Shortly afterwards the Prophet came and sat down. He had not sat in my room ever since the rumor started. For a whole month he received no revelations concerning me. When he sat down, he praised and glorified God before going on to say: Aishah, people have been talking as you are now well aware. If you are innocent, God will make your innocence known. If, however, you have committed a sin, then you should seek God’s forgiveness and repent. If a servant of God admits her sin and repents, God will forgive her.”
When the Prophet finished, my tears dried up completely and I turned to my father and said: “Answer the Prophet.” He said: “By God, I do not know what to say to God’s Messenger, peace be on him.”
I then said to my mother: “Answer the Prophet.” She said: “I do not know what to say to God’s Messenger, peace be upon him.”
I was still a young girl, and I did not read much of the Qur’an. However, I said: I know that you all have heard this story repeated again and again until you now believe it. If I tell you that I am innocent, and God knows that I am, you will not believe me. If, on the other hand, I admit something when God knows that I am innocent of it, you will believe me. I know no comparable situation to yours except that of Joseph’s father (I tried to remember Jacob’s name but I could not) when he said: “I will be calmly patient and I will seek God’s help against your claims.” I then turned round and lay on my bed. I knew that I was innocent and that God would make my innocence known. It did not occur to me for a moment, however, that God would reveal a passage of the Qur’an concerning me. I felt myself too humble for God to include my case in His revelations. All I hoped for was that the Prophet should see something in his dream to prove my innocence. Before the Prophet left us, however, and before anyone left the house, God’s revelations started. The Prophet was covered with his own robe, and a pillow was placed under his head. When I saw that, I felt no worry or fear. I was certain of my innocence, and I knew that God, limitless as He is in His glory, would not be unjust to me. As for my parents — well, by Him Who holds Aishah’s soul in His hand, while they waited for the Prophet to come back to himself, they could have died for fear that Divine revelations might confirm what people said. Then it was all over. The Prophet sat up, with his sweat looking like pearls on a wet day. As he wiped his forehead, he said: “Aishah, I have good news for you. God has declared your innocence.” I said: “Praise be to God.”
This is, then, the story of the false accusation of Aishah, the Prophet’s wife. We will look at its significance next week, God willing.
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