A Girl called Asma

by Sr. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood.

It is important that young Muslims growing up today are inspired by examples of the past, particularly from the time of our Prophet (pbuh) and his sahabah. I was asked to think about this, and give such an example.

There are so many to choose from – and being female, I particularly wanted to choose a female Companion. As numerous young ladies (and older ones) in the UK seem to bear the noble name ofAsma, I thought I would tell something of the life of one of our most famous Asmas. She was the daughter of the Prophet’s (pbuh) best friend, and first Caliph of Islam  – Abu Bakr.

She had an extraordinary life. Asma bint Abu Bakr actually lived for a hundred years – and I was amused to find that when she died, although she had lost her eyesight, it was claimed with pride that she still had all her teeth! She was certainly an inspiration to many, even if the history of her last years was riddled with controversy.

Abu Bakr’s Wives and Children

Abu Bakr had several wives during his lifetime, and the wife of his youth was Qutaylah bint Abdu’l Uzzah. By the time Abu Bakr was 20, she had given birth to his first son, Abdullah. Being wealthy, Abu Bakr naturally assumed he would marry several other wives – this was a time when it was normal for men to marry as many ladies as they could afford. He next sought the hand of the beautiful Zaynab bint Amir of the Banu Firas – a lady better known to Muslims as Umm Ruman.

Abu Bakr had known Umm Ruman for some time, for she had been the wife of one of his best friends, Abdullah  b. Sunjra. When this friend died, Abu Bakr proposed to her, and their marriage was actually a famous love-match. She already had a son, Tufayl, and Abu Bakr brought the boy into his household too, a kindness for which she was very grateful. It was not every young man who wished to take on a wife who had existing children, and those who did and brought them up successfully were admired for their generosity.

In 593, both Abu Bakr’s wives were pregnant. Qutaylah gave birth to a daughter, Asma, and Umm Ruman to a son they named Abdu’l Ka’bah, (which was Abu Bakr’s own real name. Abu Bakrwas only a nickname, meaning ‘father of the little camel’ – he loved camels, particularly one small one). At this time, Abu Bakr’s new best friend, the young merchant Muhammad b. Abdullah (pbuh), was 23 years old, and still single. In 595, Muhammad (pbuh) married his wealthy employer, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, and their own happy relationship began. By 602, he had two daughters – the first was named Zaynab and the second was Ruqaiyyah (my namesake!).

The Revelation of Islam

In year 610, when the Prophet (pbuh) was 40 years old, came the Call to Prophethood. By this time, Asma was a teenager of 17. She was a bold and adventurous young woman, full of fire, and immediately and enthusiastically converted to the faith of Islam, on the same day as her father. According to the historian Ibn Ishaq, she was converted even before the Muslims numbered 20 people – he said she was the eighteenth. Umm Ruman converted too, but sadly Asma’s mother Qutaylah would have nothing to do with it, and remained a pagan. Umm Ruman’s next child was another little girl, Aishah, possibly born  in 614.

As we all know, the Prophet (pbuh) and his message did not have an easy time. The Muslims were ridiculed and persecuted in Makkah, and many of them were tortured, and some even put to death. One of those who was very cruelly ill-treated was another of their merchant friends, Uthman ibn Affan. Meanwhile, Ruqaiyyah had been married at the tender age of 8 to Utbah, the son of the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle Abu Lahab. This was also a normal type of arrangement in those days, and it did not involve sex – it was just an agreement. But just as some girls here in the UK do start their sexual activities when they are very young, so they did in Arabia – but in their cases, they had to be married first, and it was all honourable and not done in secret. When Ruqaiyyah was nearly 12, and about to take this step, Abu Lahab – who hated Islam – changed his mind and ordered his son to divorce her. She was sent home, but instead of being left ‘on the shelf’ the merchantUthman (known as al-Ghani ‘the generous one’), promptly asked to marry her, and they became famous as a blissfully happy and extremely attractive couple, despite the fact that she was born in c602 and he in 572 – an age gap of thirty years.

The Emigration to Abyssinia

Ruqaiyyah soon became pregnant. Uthman was very worried that his enemies might try to hurt him through her, so it was decided that they should join a small group of refugees who were going to escape to Abyssinia, where the Negus – a Christian ruler – was willing to shelter them in safety. The problem was, how to get away. Once people left their homes and ventured off on journeys, they were not at all safe, and enemies could ambush and slay them.

In 615 Asma, now 22, and a very brave young woman, played a key role in the plan and the escape. She volunteered to risk travelling alone to the coast where she organised two boats that would take not just Ruqaiyyah and Uthman, but eleven men and four women refugees to Abyssinia. She managed to do this, returned safely to Makkah, and then went back again, escortingRuqaiyyah and Uthman. The embarkation was dramatic. The others were already on board, and Ruqaiyyah and Uthman only just got on the boat in time – their enemies had discovered their escape and given chase, but the boat managed to sail just as the pursuing party came thundering on to the quayside. So the refugees escaped. In the confusion Asma managed to hide and got safely home.

Sadly, the stress and rough journey caused tragic consequences – Ruqaiyyah miscarried her baby. (However, in Abyssinia she soon became pregnant again, and her son (named Abdullah) was born there.

The Prophet (pbuh) agrees to remarry

In 619 the Prophet’s (pbuh) beloved Khadijah died, and he became the ‘single parent’ of his unmarried daughters Umm Kulthum and Fatimah, and his fostered son Ali. He struggled with no new partner for 3 years, so sad that he had no heart to marry again. Then he heard about one of the ‘ladies of the boat’ who had gone to Abyssinia with Ruqaiyyah – Sawdah bint Zam’ah. By this time she had come back to Makkah with her husband, who happened to be the brother of one of the important chiefs, but he had died. The chief was only willing to take his brother’s widow into his household if she gave up Islam, and this she was not prepared to do. One of Khadijah’s friends suggested that the Prophet (pbuh) should marry her, and thus Sawdah became his second wife.

Shortly after that, the Prophet (pbuh) was also urged to marry Asma’s half-sister Aishah, Abu Bakr’s little daughter. She was very young, (she may have been as young as six) and although the marriage arrangement was agreed, she carried on living with her own family.  Thus Asma became the Prophet’s (pbuh) sister-in-law.

The Prophet (pbuh) leaves for Madinah – the hijrah

Muslims persecuted in Makkah had been gradually slipping quietly away to the oasis of Yathrib some 200 miles away across the desert, where the numbers of converts to Islam were spreading rapidly. The next time Asma proved very useful to the Prophet (pbuh) was in 622. Yathrib had been through a long period of inter-tribal warfare, and the Prophet (pbuh) had been invited to shift there and become their leader. He stayed back in Makkah while his followers made their departures so as not to rouse their enemies. Asma’s household was ready to go, but Abu Bakr was waiting for the Prophet (pbuh) to leave, so that he could travel with him.

One day, during the blistering midday heat, the time people used to stay indoors with their wives and families, the Prophet (pbuh) suddenly arrived unannounced at Abu Bakr’s house. He asked him to send Asma and Aishah out of the room, but when they pleaded to stay they were allowed to remain. The Prophet (pbuh) told them that the time had come for them to abandon Makkah.

The plan was for the two men to go alone, without their families – because he knew they would be hounded. It would be too dangerous for the womenfolk to be with them. Instead, the ladies were to remain behind, and when (or if) the Prophet (pbuh) and Abu Bakr got to Yathrib and found safe accommodation, they would send for them. They could only pray that the Quraysh would not sink so low as to attack the women or take them hostage. By this time Abu Bakr had a third wife, Umm Bakr, but their marriage was not successful. She was not happy with him or his Islam, and at this stage they agreed to part in divorce.

Abu Bakr had savings of around 6,000 dirhams. He knew that if he left this money behind it would be seized – he would have to be take it with him. Yathrib was to the north, but instead of going that way the two friends and Abu Bakr’s son Abdullah turned south for Mount Thawr, reaching it just before dawn, and after dawn broke Abdullah returned to Makkah.

Meanwhile, during the night their enemies led by the venomous Abu Jahl had surrounded Khadijah’s house, where the Prophet’s (pbuh) womenfolk were being guarded by Ali. As the sun rose, and they prepared to force their entry, Ali took the initiative, charged out and hurled himself upon them. The enemies realised the Prophet (pbuh) had gone, and sent out search parties to hunt down the escapees in the desert. As the Prophet (pbuh) had hoped, they began their searches in the wrong direction.

The next evening Asma accompanied Abdullah to the cave, taking very welcome food for them, and the less welcome report that a price of 100 camels had been placed on their heads.

On the third day a search party arrived and began to investigate the rocks and crevices. The cave was spotted, and some men clambered up. Abu Bakr was certain they would be discovered – the searchers had only to peer down and they would surely see them. The Prophet (pbuh) whispered to Abu Bakr not to be afraid – he was ‘Saniyasnain’, the ‘Second of Two,’ and Allah Himself was with them as the third. Amazingly, the trackers did not find them. A spider had constructed its web across the entrance, and a pigeon was sitting peacefully nearby on a nest of eggs, so they assumed that no-one could be there.

‘She of the Two Girdles’

After dark, Asma and Abdullah came back again, bringing camels and the supplies for their journey with the Bedouin who had volunteered to guide them to Yathrib by a devious route. Asma had bundled up the provisions in a leather cloth, but as they could not find a strap or rope to tie the bags to the camels, she pulled off the turban-length she had tied round her waist, ripped it in two, and used one piece to secure the food and the other to tie the water-bag. Thus she earned the nickname Dhat an-Nataqayn-‘She of the Two Girdles.’ (Ibn Kathir 2.168, Ibn Sa’d 1.266. Another version suggested she had split her girdle in order to let it down and help them climb out of the cave).

Thus they said their farewells to Abu Bakr’s brave son and daughter, and set off under cover of darkness for Yathrib.

Meanwhile, the Prophet’s (pbuh) enemy, the furious Abu Jahl, took his cronies round to Asma’s house. He suspected she knew where he was and threatened her, but she refused to tell him anything. He then punched her in the face so violently that he knocked her earring off, tearing her ear – and confirming her outspoken opinion that he was a ‘rough, dissolute man.’ (Ibn Kathir2.156).

Her blind grandfather Abu Quhafah suspected that his son had taken all his money with him, and was very angry that he had ‘abandoned’ them without funds. How did he expect them to cope?Asma did not want her grandfather to worry, so using his blindness to fool him, she had piled stones in the niche where Abu Bakr kept his savings, and covered them with a cloth. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, placing his hands to feel the stones. ‘He has left all this.’ Abu Quhafah was satisfied, and Asma never told him the truth.

Eventually all the womenfolk of Abu Bakr and the Prophet (pbuh) got safely to Madinah – except Ruqaiyyah’s elder sister Zaynab, who refused to leave her pagan husband, and Abu Bakr’s wifeQutaylah (Asma’s mother), who also refused to go.

Asma’s hijrah and the birth of Abdullah b. Zubayr

Asma (by now aged 30) had married a man of whom the Prophet (pbuh) was very fond –  his cousin Zubayr. Zubayr was the son of Safiyyah bint Abdu’l Muttalib, the full sister of the famous warrior Hamzah. Although Hamzah and Safiyyah were the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle and aunt, they happened to be more or less the same age as the Prophet (pbuh), had shared the same milk-mother, and had grown up with him more or less as his brother and sister.

There are two versions of Asma’s hijrah. One suggested that she was heavily pregnant and almost ready to give birth when she left Makkah, and that she only just got across the desert when her baby was born immediately after she arrived at the oasis of Quba (on the outskirts of Madinah). (Ibn Kathir 2.219). Another tradition was that no children were born to any of the Emigrants for at least a year after the Hijrah, (in which case Asma cannot have been pregnant when she left Makkah) and there was even a rumour that a sorcerer must have cast a spell on them all, so that they could not have any male issue. Whichever version is preferred, it remained the case that Asma’s son had the claim of being the first baby born to the Emigrants in Madinah.

The baby came during the night. The Prophet (pbuh) noticed a lamp shining in their house, and commented to Aishah that he was sure this must mean that Asma was in labour. He sent Aishah to help and to ask them not to name the baby, for he wished to do that himself. The newborn infant was carried straight to him, and he personally chose the name Abdullah for him (the second little Abdullah in the family, since this was also the name chosen by Ruqaiyyah and Uthman for their son born in Abyssinia). The Prophet (pbuh) then rubbed the inside of Asma’s baby’s mouth with a little piece of sweet date he had moistened by chewing.

Aishah, who never had any children of her own, soon became known as ‘Mother of Abdullah’ (Umm Abdullah), because she loved and tended Asma’s baby so devotedly. Her special relationship with Abdullah ibn Zubayr was to last the whole of his life.

Meanwhile, tragedy struck early for Ruqaiyyah and her Abdullah. Ruqaiyyah died (most likely of smallpox) just as the Muslims set out to fight the battle of Badr, two years after the Hijrah, in 624 CE. Uthman was devastated, but the Prophet (pbuh) urged him to marry Ruqaiyyah’s sister Umm Kulthum, who thus became her Abdullah’s stepmother. Tragically, this grandson of the Prophet (pbuh) was to pass away at the age of 6, when he was pecked in the eye by a chicken, and the wound turned septic.

The Prophet (pbuh) did not normally take the oath of allegiance from children, but he made an exception for Ibn Zubayr and took his oath when he was only 7 years old (629).

Asma’s hard work

Coming to Madinah as refugees, like so many of the Muslims who had been obliged to abandon everything, Asma and Zubayr had no belongings or servants to start with, but Zubayr did own a precious horse, Ya’sub, and a camel. Zubayr’s allotted piece of land was some two miles from where they lived in Madinah, but Asma took on the tasks of watering them, providing fodder for them, as well as grinding date-stones for them. She used to walk there to get the date-stones and carry them back on her head.  She also patched leather and kneaded bread. One thing she was said to have been no good at was actual bread-making, so her neighbours used to do that job for her.

Once the Prophet (pbuh) and his friends came by as she was walking home, and seeing her struggling with the heavy burden he made his camel kneel so that she could get up and ride behind him.Asma did not take up the offer for she was shy, and felt that it might annoy Zubayr who had a jealous temperament. She thought he would not feel happy if she accepted that help, or rode back with the men. As it happened, Zubayr assured her that the thought of her carrying the date-stones was far worse than the thought of her riding with the Prophet (pbuh).

After this Abu Bakr arranged a servant for her, who took over the job of caring for the horse. ‘It was as if he had set me free!’ she grinned. She made energetic use of her ‘freedom’, becoming the mother of many children in very quick succession – after Abdullah came Mundhir, Urwah, (the famous Urwah b. Zubayr, a principle authority on the traditions), Muhajir, Asim, Khadijah, Aishahand Umm Hasan.

Life in Madinah

One day Asma’s pagan mother Qutaylah came to Madinah to visit her, bringing her gifts of dates and ghee and mimosa leaves. Asma refused to accept the gifts, because her mother was not a Muslim, and would not even let her come into her house until she had sent Aishah to check with the Prophet (pbuh) what she should do. The Prophet (pbuh) was given the answer by the angel, a special revelation: ‘Allah has not forbidden you to deal kindly and justly with regard to those who have not made war against you on account of [your] faith and have not driven you out of your homes; Allah loves those who are just.’ (Surah 60:8-9). This is a very important verse reminding all who have left their previous faith for Islam not to turn against their non-Muslim relatives. It is a reference often used by Muslim converts whose Christian families give them gifts at Christmas. So he sent back the speedy and courteous reply that she should certainly let her mother enter and accept her gifts.

Asma was actually a very charitable woman, and used to help those less fortunate than herself. Once she admitted to the Prophet (pbuh) that she had given away charity from Zubayr’s household without asking him, and felt guilty. She wondered if she should make a special effort to save things up so that she would have something to give in times of need. The Prophet  (pbuh) told her to give as she was in the habit of giving, any small acts of kindness as they became necessary, and not to store property away, or keep it back, so that Allah would not withhold his blessings from her.

Asma used to visit the Prophet’s (pbuh) house regularly. These were the days when the rules of Islam were still being made. One day she came in wearing a garment of very fine cloth that clung to her figure. The Prophet (pbuh) was embarrassed and turned his face away from her, telling her gently: ‘Asma, after a woman reaches puberty, she should show no more of herself than this and this,’ and he pointed to her face and hands. (Abu Dawud 1902, 4092). This tradition has been used ever since to guide Muslim women to wear modest clothing that covered them properly.

Asma’s ministry of healing, and her divorce from Zubayr

Asma began to suffer from various sicknesses – headaches and a swelling in her neck. The Prophet (pbuh) used to gently stroke the swelling and pray for her whenever he visited.

She became famous for her sympathy and generosity, and began to concentrate more and more on her life of prayer, appreciated as a saintly person who set aside time to pray special requests for those who were sick. She often prayed with the Prophet (pbuh), and recorded one occasion when a solar eclipse occurred, and he rushed out to pray in such a hurry that he grabbed and put on one of her outer garments by mistake, and prayed in it until someone fetched his own cloak. The standing part of that prayer apparently went on for such a long time that Asma longed to sit down, but when she saw women older than herself standing, she carried on.

In 631 Abu Bakr married his last wife, and Asma and Aishah were presented with a new half-brother, Muhammad, who was born while they were on what became known as the Farewell Pilgrimage with the Prophet (pbuh), in 632.

Sadly, Asma’s marriage to Zubayr did not remain happy. Their disaffection for each other was noted during the pilgrimage, and shortly after this, when Asma had just turned 40 years old, they decided to get divorced. To make matters worse for her, Zubayr kept their son Urwah who was still very young at the time. Asma left the household to be cared for by Abdullah, and was obliged to leave her son Urwah (still very young at the time) with Zubayr. Zubayr soon remarried, to Amata the daughter of Abu Bakr’s friend Khalid b. Sa’id.

Asma’s later life

Asma never remarried, but lived with Abdullah ibn Zubayr for the rest of her life. The remaining years of her life were dramatic, and mainly involved the ambitions and political fortunes of her family.

When the Prophet (pbuh) died in 632 Ali was not given authority as Successor (as he and many others had expected), but Abu Bakr was elected Caliph. Aishah therefore not only retained her great influence, as one of the widows of the Prophet (pbuh), but she and Asma’s status increased as daughters of the Caliph. However, ill-feeling against Abu Bakr and his family was growing. There were many who felt that they had in a way usurped the positions of the Prophet’s (pbuh) own family bloodline, through Fatimah and Ali. They maintained that Ali had been promised the Succession, and was cheated by Abu Bakr being elected at the very time Ali was supervising the Prophet’s (pbuh) burial. There were ugly rumours that the pregnant Fatimah was crushed by a door when her house was raided by those intending to force her household to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr, and that she lost an unborn child.
Fatimah never recovered from the loss of her father, and only survived him for a few months. After her death, Ali went on to marry several other wives, and had up to 30 children. His faction of supporters were known as the Shi’ at Ali (partisans of Ali), or Shi’ites. With Fatimah passed away, many now felt free to support Aishah.

Abu Bakr died after two years (634), was followed by Umar who ruled for another ten (644), and then the caliphate passed to Uthman. Unfortunately, as he aged, Uthman made several unpopular decisions, notably elevating his own relatives to high positions of office. The Prophet’s (pbuh) old friend Ammar b. Yasar, who had been made Governor of Kufah, challenged the misuse of resources in Uthman’s reign, and was publicly flogged unconscious. He was taken to recuperate to the house of his milk-sister, the Prophet’s (pbuh) widow Umm Salamah. Aishah was furious, and in her support of Ammar took one of the Prophet’s (pbuh) hairs, a shirt and a sandal, and gave a speech declaring how quickly his example had been forgotten, even though these relics of his still survived. Uthman was obliged to take refuge in the mosque (Baladhuri, Ansab 5.48f).

Eventually, Uthman (now in his eighties) was besieged in his own house. People took sides; the Prophet’s (pbuh) widows Umm Habibah and Zaynab-Safiyyah supported him, the latter nearly getting beaten up when she tried to get provisions through to him. (Isaba, vol 1, p.127). During the course of the siege Mughirah b Shuba went to him and placed three courses of action before him. He could either go forth and fight the rebels, or take a camel and have safe passage to Makkah, or exile himself to Syria. Uthman rejected all three.

It was on Friday 18th Dhu’l Hijjah 35/June 17th 656, while the gate to Uthman’s house was being guarded by Ali’s two sons Hasan and Husayn, Muhammad b. Talhah, and Asma’s son Abdullahibn Zubayr, that a group of insurgents jumped over the back wall, stormed the house and murdered Uthman. The assassins were led by the half-brother of Aishah and Asma – Muhammad, the baby born on the final pilgrimage. Uthman was reading the Quran at the time with his young last wife Nailah bint Farafsa, a Christian who had accepted Islam when she married him. Nailah tried to save Uthman by throwing herself in front of him, but was swept aside, losing four fingers in the attempt.

The rioters then plundered the house and looted the public treasury (Baladhuri 5.80). Ali was (publicly) furious with his sons and slapped them both, demanding to know how the rioters had got in while they were on guard duty at the gate. Adding insult to injury, Uthman lay unburied for three days until Ali intervened, and had him buried at night in ‘Hash Kawkab’, a piece of Jewish land adjacent to al-Baqi cemetery. (It was incorporated into the al-Baqi cemetery in the caliphate of Uthman’s cousin Mu’awiyyah). Nailah sent her severed fingers to Uthman’s nephew Mu’awiyah, the Governor of Damascus, with a plea for justice.

Ali was now made Caliph (he ruled from 34-40/656-661), but many were not completely happy about it. He deposed several of Uthman’s provincial governors, including Mu’awiyah who had successfully ruled Syria for 20 years, and was accused of doing little to avenge Uthman’s slaughter, since the assassins were not hunted down. Several traditions claimed that Aishah’s cousinTalhah b. Ubaydallah and Zubayr only swore allegiance to Ali under force, and even that Zubayr never did agree to swear. Mu’awiyah refused to take the oath of allegiance, and may even have secretly offered to recognize Zubayr as Caliph. Talhah and Zubayr and were refused the governorships of Kufah and Basrah, and were not permitted to leave Madinah. In fact, Uthman’s murder led to a long-lasting power-struggle, the first Fitnah War, the Great Fitnah, (the first inter-Muslim fight), which resulted in the deaths of all the Companions who had been at Badr, and moved the capital away from Madinah.

Aishah, although she had been critical of Uthman, was deeply shocked by his murder and felt strongly that the murderers should be brought to justice. She left Madinah and travelled on pilgrimage to Makkah, giving a famous public speech from the Hijr, demanding that Uthman’s blood should be avenged and Islam restored and strengthened. She was supported by many of the Umayyadswho were nevertheless somewhat suspicious, considering her previous hostility towards Uthman. However, she insisted that Uthman had repented his ‘injustices’, and she had forgiven him and been reconciled to him. The Governor of Makkah became her first recruit for the civil war that was to follow (Tabari 1.3096-98). Aishah promptly raised an army of some 3,000 men, withAsma’s son Ibn Zubayr as one of her prayer-leaders (Tabari 1.3105).

The bloodstained shirt of Uthman and Na’ilah’s fingers were hung before the minbar of the mosque of Damascus. Mu’awiyyah decided to let Ali and Aishah battle it out for themselves, while he kept on the sidelines.

Talhah and Zubayr at last came out of Madinah, four months after Uthman’s death, and joined Aishah. Talhah and Zubayr assumed joint command of Aishah’s forces, their sons leading the prayers on alternate days. Talhah had a following in Basrah, where large numbers were gathering to seek revenge for Uthman’s death – and the three set off accompanied by their supporters fromMakkah, to restore peace and order to the country as the champions of truth and justice. Thus, they presented an open challenge to Ali. The other widows of the Prophet (pbuh) who were inMakkah did not join Aishah, (only Hafsah wished to, but was forbidden to do so by her brother Abdullah) but bid her goodbye on the ‘Day of Weeping’, at Dhat Irq. Ali was tipped off by a special messenger sent from Umm Fadl (at present his sister-in-law), and gave up the idea of marching against Mu’awiyyah in Syria but instead decided to intercept Aishah’s army en route toBasrah. Umm Salamah sent her son to support Ali, and sent Aishah a letter urging her to give up her ambition.

Aishah ignored this and like so many previous ‘battle-queens’ rode off on a prize battle-camel, Askar. At the watering place of Hau’ab the dogs barked, and Aishah remembered how the Prophet’s (pbuh) ‘seeing eye’ had predicted this, without being able to identify which of his wives it would be, and how he had prayed it would not be her. (Tabari 1.3127). Aishah promptly stopped the march, so upset she could not be persuaded to move on further for twenty-four hours. However, they eventually arrived at the outskirts of Basrah.

There was severe fighting all the next day until those who supported Ali called for a truce, but during the night Aishah’s rebel army entered their mosque and routed them. Uthman b. Hunayf, Ali’s governor of Basrah, was captured and would have been put to death but Aishah intervened to save his life. He was flogged, and had his head and beard shaved and eyebrows and lashes plucked before being sent back to Ali. (Tabari 1.3126,3143).

Meanwhile Ali and his army of 3,000 had left Madinah, heading for Kufah. Aishah sent letters to Abu Musa the governor of Kufah to beg for support. But Ali also sent envoys – to Aishah’sembarrassment they were her half-brother Muhammad b. Abu Bakr and Ali’s nephew Muhammad b. Jafar.  Abu Musa decided to remain neutral.

Eventually Ali’s army arrived (with the slayers of Uthman in its ranks), and talks took place for three days. During the negotiations, Talhah and Zubayr decided not to fight, much to the disgust ofAsma’s son  Ibn Zubayr(Tabari 1.3175f).

Then a surprise attack was launched on Aishah’s Basran camp, and the two armies crossed swords on Thursday 10th Jumada ath-Thani 36/4th December 656 CE – the Battle of the Camel, so called because Aishah herself led her troops into battle in a mail-covered red howdah mounted on her camel, Askar. But her army was no match for Ali’s and her supporters began to take flight.Aishah strove valiantly to rally them, and her ‘sons’ did their best to defend their ‘Mother’ with their lives, some 70 being slain protecting her before Ali gave orders to hamstring her camel. Her red pavilion, so thickly pierced with arrows it was compared to a hedgehog (Tabari 1.3216f), was carried off triumphantly by Ammar and her half-brother Muhammad, who protected Aishah but also rebuked her for shedding the blood of her ‘sons’. Talhah’s son Muhammad was slain, but although  ibn Zubayr sustained 40 wounds, he survived (Tabari 1.3199).

Despite their  negotiations, Talhah and Zubayr were both ‘disposed of’ after the battle. Zubayr was treacherously slain by Amr b. Jarmouz whilst he was asleep, and Talhah by an arrow allegedly shot by Marwan – a cousin of Uthman. Zubayr died exceedingly wealthy, leaving each of his four remaining wives a fortune (Ibn Kathir 4.488).

Ali did not harm Aishah or seek vengeance. He allowed her own half-brother Muhammad to escort her into Basrah where she was reunited with Asma and Ibn Zubayr. She accepted defeat and was grateful for Ali’s forbearance. Ali then tried to persuade her to return to Madinah. She refused to receive his envoy (another Abdullah – the Prophet’s (pbuh) cousin, a son of his uncle Abbas), but he forcefully entered her house and, when she protested, commented that her house which she should never have left was in Madinah. He accused Ibn Zubayr of deceiving Aishah and causing all the trouble along with his father and uncle Talhah. She agreed to go back.

Ali sent funds and an escort, and upheld her position as Mother of the Believers, and she gave a speech showing no hard feelings and bearing witness to Ali’s goodness. She thus left Basrah on 1st Rajab 36/December 24th 656, made another pilgrimage to Makkah, and then went back to her home in Madinah. Aishah’s good intentions had resulted in the deaths of over ten thousand persons, and something like twenty to thirty thousand more were due to die before the succession disputes were concluded, for it was not to be peace, but civil war that followed.

It was said that whenever she read the verse: ‘O wives of the Prophet, remain in your homes and do not display your finery as women used to do in the days of ignorance.'(33.33) she used to burst into tears of regret, and carried the regret with her to her deathbed.

Meanwhile, Mu’awiyah now decided to pick up the fight, and took on Ali’s forces at the Battle of Siffin (37/657), a battle which ended in arbitration when Mu’awiyah’s forces raised leaves of theQur’an on their spearheads.

In July-August 658/Safar 38, Muhammad b. Abu Bakr, who had been appointed Governor of Egypt by Ali, was now abandoned by him and sentenced to death, ostensibly for his part in the death of Uthman. Aishah sent her brother Abdu’r Rahman (hids name was changed from Abdu’l Ka’bah) to beg clemency for him, but Ibn Abu Bakr was killed, his corpse bound in the skin of a donkey and then set on fire (Tabari 1.3405f.). Umm Habibah and Uthman’s widow Na’ilah roasted a ram and sent it to Aishah with the spiteful message: ‘Thus was your brother roasted’ (IbnAthir 3.300). It was said that Aishah never ate roast meat again for the rest of her life.

At least Abdu’r Rahman was able to rescue his children, Qasim and Quraybah, and when he fetched them to Madinah, it was Aishah who brought them up. Asma, overwhelmed with grief, was unable to take on this task (Ibn Hajar, Isabah 4.439). Abdu’r Rahman had also wished to raise them, but Aishah felt they might suffer possible disadvantage from his several wives, and only yielded them to him when they were older.

The death of Aishah

Aishah died some 20 years later. Surprisingly, there is controversy over the date of her demise. According to Ibn Umar, Aishah died on Tuesday 17th Ramadan 58/July 13th 678 at the age of either 64 or 66/67, (which would mean she was born either in 614 or 611). Alternatively, other authorities follow the dating given by Asma’s grandson Hisham the son of Urwah, who stated that she died at the age of 67 in 672/52, after a widowhood of 40 years (eg Ahmad ibn Hanbal).  (People who are interested in how old she was when the married the Prophet (pbuh) are invited to do some maths here!) Her burial was attended by one of the largest crowds ever gathered in Madinah until then.

Favouring the date of 678 is the fact that Waqidi and most scholars date the death of Sawdah in 676/56 (in the caliphate of Mu’awiyyah). When Sawdah died she left her room to Aishah, a room she was said never to have left after the death of the Prophet (pbuh). Mu’awiyyah bought it from Aishah for 180,000 dirhams, allowing her to keep her use of it for the rest of her life. Aishah did not keep the money but distributed the huge sum amongst the poor by the evening of the same day she received it. It was typical that this happened on a fasting day. She had kept nothing back, and as evening approached her maidservant Barirah reminded her that they had nothing to eat. Aishah grunted that it was a pity she had not thought of that earlier! The household went hungry (Mustadrak Hakim).

Asma’s son Ibn Zubayr then purchased her own apartment from her, for such a large sum that it took five camels to transport the money – and also allowed her to live there until her death.

Later Aishah had a rift with Ibn Zubayr over the sale of some property and swore not to speak to him again, but he tricked his way into her presence and was reconciled, Aishah manumitting 40 slaves for breaking her oath.

One of the things that Aishah left to her sister Asma was a cloak which the Prophet (pbuh) had been given as a present from Khusraw Parwiz 2nd (Chosroes),  the Emperor of Persia. Asma was surprised to note that although the Prophet (pbuh) had worn this cloak it had a thin border of silk on the hem and sleeves. She sent to find out about it, for the Prophet (pbuh) had forbidden silk garments for men. She was told that he had allowed a silk hem of up to two fingers width. The cloak became one of Asma’s greatest treasures, and she used it in her healing prayers. She had a ministry of tending women who were sick with fever. They would be brought to her, and she would make du’a for them. Then, she used to dip the Prophet’s (pbuh) cloak in water, and sprinkle the invalids with the water that had touched it, or let them drink a sip. According to one witness, she used to take the water and pour it inside the neck of their dresses, claiming that the Prophet (pbuh) himself had taught her to do this. (Muwatta 50.15).

Asma’s final years

In 680/60, Mu’awiyyah became seriously ill and died in great torment in Damascus, aged between 75 – 80. He had done all he could to undermine the influence of the household of Ali and introduce monarchy into the structure of Islam, by strengthening the position of his son Yazid. Mu’awiyyah had demanded allegiance (bayah) to Yazid from the leading people, but had not imposed this on them, and had advised Yazid to also pass the matter over in silence and overlook it. Unfortunately, Yazid chose not to accept this sensible advice, and his opposition to Husayn led to the appalling events of the battle of Karbala in which Husayn and most of the Prophet’s (pbuh) descendants were slain in battle.  In fact, there were many who wished to rival Yazid as candidates for the position – including Husayn b. Ali, Asma’s half-brother Abdu’r Rahman, and the three Abdullahs – her son Ibn Zubayr, Ibn Umar, and Ibn Abbas, who all refused to pledge allegiance to him.

Abdu’r Rahman b. Abu Bakr died suddenly away from Makkah, but was brought back there for burial.

In August 63/683, Asma urged Ibn Zubayr to claim the caliphate, which precipitated the Battle of Harrah on 26th August between his forces and those of Yazid. This ended with Madinah being sacked and plundered for three days, some 10,000 Ansars (including c.80 Companions) being put to death, and the Prophet’s (pbuh) mosque being turned into a stable. None of the Companions of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah were left alive.

Yazid died in the November of 683 at the age of 33 or 38. He was succeeded by his son, who died of plague a mere two months later. Then the people of Damascus chose another Umayyad,Marwan b. Hakim, who died nine months later. He was succeeded by his son Abdu’l Malik, a brutal dictator.

Ibn Zubayr took the chance to relaunch his claim to the caliphate, and the Second Fitnah War broke out. This time Makkah was laid siege to with catapults and stones were hurled at the Ka’bah. Fires were lit all around it, and the Ka’bah was destroyed when a spark ignited the veil covering it. The Black Stone was split into three pieces. The war finally ended on 17th Jumada 73/October 4th 692, when Ibn Zubayr was slain.

In 693 Asma was 100 years old and blind. The desecration of the Ka’bah and martyrdom of her son proved too much for her to bear, and at last she passed away. It was the end of an era.


source : ruqaiyyah.karoo.net

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