Some Muslims are adamant that Ayesha is the mother of all believing men and women and enjoys a very high status which gives her authority and privileges above all other Muslims including the caliph of the time. Some of these privileges include waging war against the caliph of the time, abandoning the confines of her home on a whim, divulging the secrets of Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
It is clear that these special privileges have more to do with Ayesha being the daughter of Abu Bakr than being the wife of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Because the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had many wives, but for some reason only one wife corners all attention.
While we do not wish to delve on these special privileges, we are keen to evaluate the basis for these privileges which stem from her status as Ummul Momineen. So the question that needs answering is:
Is Ayesha really the mother of all believers and if she is, then what’s the limit of this motherhood?
Let us examine Ayesha’s own view in this regard to understand whether she is indeed the mother of all believing men and women.
Ayesha denies being the mother of all believing women
One day one woman addressed Ayesha as ‘Ummul Momineen’.
Upon this Ayesha became enraged and declared – I am not your mother, but (only) of your men.
Celebrated Sunni scholar Muhyiddin Ibne Arabi – popular as Ibne Arabi asserts – This hadis is authentic (Sahih).
Other references include:
1. Qurtubbi under Tafsir of verse 6 of Surah al-Ahzaab (Surah 33: Verse 6)
2. Imam Baihaqi in his Sunnan (from الشعبيّ)
3. Tabaqaat Ibne Sa’d (from another chain than الشعبيّ)
4. Tafsir Mazhari (Urdu Edition, under Tafsir of Surah 33, Verse 6) by Qazi Sanaullah Panipati – the highly regarded scholar from the Indian sub-continent
Why did Allah declare Ayesha as Ummul Momineen
Since there is no contradiction in the Holy Quran, it is necessary to examine the verse that declares the wives as Ummul Momineen (Surah Ahzab (33): Verse 6) in the light of other verses.
We do not have to look far as the answer lies in Surah Ahzab itself in Verse 53:
‘…nor is it right for you that you should annoy Allah’s Messenger, or that you should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing is in Allah’s sight an enormity.’
(Surah Ahzab (33): Verse 53)
So Ayesha and other wives were Ummul Momineen (mother of believing men) only so that Muslims would not marry them after the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) demise.
More than being an honour for the wives, the status of Ummul Momineen actually accords respect and honour to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) since his widows are off-limits for Muslims, while he (s.a.w.a.) was free to marry their women and widows.
To interpret this in any other way is to lower the position of the one (s.a.w.a.) Allah has raised and to raise the position of the one Allah has lowered.
All claims that the wives are Ummul Momineen due to their personal virtues, piety, worship, etc. are pure conjecture and have no basis in the Quran.
Abbas b. Abdul Muttalib was the uncle of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) but even he was captured like all other prisoners after the Battle of Badr and was released only on ransom although the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had the option to release him without a ransom as per the Quranic verse:
So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates
(Surah Muhammad (47): Verse 5).
This shows mere relation to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) even a blood relation does not give anyone the authority to disobey Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.a.) and get away with it. Relationship through marriage counts for even less. Ultimately, those closest to Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) are the ones with maximum piety:
…surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
(Surah Hujaraat (49): Verse 13)
For this reason wives of previous Prophets (a.s.) were also marked for their apostasy and treachery notwithstanding their relation to the Prophet (a.s.). Deservedly, their place is in hellfire and the Quran mentions as much.
Allah sets forth an example to those who disbelieve the wife of Nuh and the wife of Lut: they were both under two of Our righteous servants, but they acted treacherously towards them so they availed them naught against Allah, and it was said: Enter both the fire with those who enter.
(Surah Tahreem (66): Verse 10)
On the other hand, piety has saved the wife of an apostate and claimant of divinity like Firaun meriting special mention in the Quran.
And Allah sets forth an example to those who believe the wife of Firon when she said: My Lord! build for me a house with Thee in the garden and deliver me from Firon and his doing, and deliver me from the unjust people.
(Surah Tahreem (66): Verse 10)
Clearly, there is no merit in a position. The merit lies in the piety and action of individuals. Bad actions cannot salvage a person regardless of his proximity to the Prophet and piety and good actions elevate an individual to the highest status even she is married to Allah’s biggest enemy.
Therefore, beliefs like the wives are above criticism, cannot make intentional mistakes but can commit mistakes in ijtehaad (judgment) are baseless. The only thing that wives can do – rather cannot do – is marry other Muslims, because as the Noble Quran says, that would have annoyed the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.).
The moot point over here is the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his pleasure and displeasure not the wives being Ummul Momineen. As far as the wives are concerned, anything that would have annoyed the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is prohibited, not just marrying other Muslims. These annoying actions include waging war against the Prophet’s self (Nafs-e-Rasool) and brother – Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.). If this can be dismissed as an ijtehaadi mistake, then any wife can marry a Muslim and call it an ijtehaadi mistake. In fact, such a mistake would have been preferable because at least it would not have resulted in the death of thirty thousand Muslims – including the Sahaabah and Taabe’een of the Holy Prophet s.a.w.a.) from ijtehaadi blunders.
It is clear that all arguments and theories about Ummul Momineen and their right to commit ijtehaadi blunders were coined to defend Ayesha’s many transgressions which do not even qualify as ijtehaad. This is a clear case of Sahaabah worship, which came into being to dilute the importance of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) and his Ahle Bait (a.s.). The Muslims who accuse Shias of exaggerating the status of Ahle Bait (a.s.) need to first look closely at Ayesha’s exaggerated status and her many ijtehaadi misdemeanors.
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