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Ayesha

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A. D. 610-677

MOTHER OF THE FAITHFUL

About the year A. D. 569 the wife of the beautiful youth Abdallah gave birth, at Mecca, to a child named Mohammed (the past participle of the verb hamad, meaning "praised," or most "glorious"). While the child was in his cradle the father died, and the child's patrimony was five camels and an Ethiopian she-slave. An advantageous marriage (to his first wife, Khadijah, who died early) restored the youth, who was of princely birth, to a high social position in Mecca. For a whole month in each year he withdrew to a cave, where, with fasting and prayer, he prepared himself for the office of a prophet, seeking at first not so much to found a new religion as to purify and simplify the ancient worship of the Arabians. In the end he founded Islamism, or Moslemism, or Mussulmanism all from the root eslam, "to be consecrated to God." This religion, after countless wars and con-quests, extending as far westward as the Atlantic Ocean, is at present professed by about 177,000,000 people of various nations in Europe, Asia and Africa. It once probably outnumbered in its devotees any other religion in the world.

In his personal characteristics, Mohammed was peculiar. He assumed no distinction beyond others in food or dress. Milk and honey were luxuries which he seldom allowed to himself; when he ate, he sat on the ground, and when he traveled he divided his scanty morsel with his valet, who rode on the same camel behind him. Sometimes months passed without a fire or cooking on his hearth. The lord of all Arabia at last mended his own shoes and woolen garments, milked the sheep, kindled the fire, and swept the floor. He impoverished himself with giving alms, and died poor.

But there were two things without which he could not remain pious perfumes and women. He created an especial religious exemption for himself and took, instead of the legal number of four wives, no less than twenty-six wives, all widows save one Ayesha, who was but nine years old when he married her, and long sustained the reputation in Arabia of being the most beautiful and accomplished woman of her time. Her father, Abdallah, was called Abu-bekr, which means Father of the Girl. He was one of the first of Mohammed's disciples, and was very efficient in spreading the faith.

So great was the influence of father and daughter over the prophet that it was seen by the politicians of the new church that all ought to combine to ruin Ayesha, and the twenty-fourth chapter of the Koran stands as a monument of the partial success of the conspiracy which followed.

In the sixth year of the Hegira, Mohammed went on an expedition against the tribe of Mostalek, and took Ayesha in the caravan. On their return, when they were not far from Medina, the army moving by night, Ayesha, on the road, alighted from her camel; on her return, perceiving she had dropped' her necklace, which was of onyxes of Dhafar, she went back to look for it, and, in the meantime, her attendants, taking it for granted that she had re-entered her pavilion (or little tent surrounded with curtains wherein women are carried in the east), set it again on the camel, and led the animal onward.

When Ayesha came back to the road, and saw her camel was gone, she sat down there, expecting that when she was missed, people would be sent back to fetch her; and in a little time, being weary with hard travel on the camel, she fell asleep. Early in the morning, Safwan Ebn al Moattel, who stayed behind to rest himself, coming by, and perceiving somebody asleep, went to see whom it might be, and recognized Ayesha, the favorite wife of the Prophet, upon which he reverently waked her, by twice pronouncing, with a low voice, the words, "We are God's, and unto him must we return." Then Ayesha immediately covered herself with her veil, and Safwan set her on his own camel, and led her after the army, which they overtook by noon, as it rested.

Ayesha's reputation was instantly assailed by five of Mohammed's enemies, and, notwithstanding Ayesha's protestations of innocence, the case was made to look very dubious. A month later the Prophet was able to silence all scandal by the revelation of the twenty-fourth chapter of the Koran, entitled "Light."

"As to the party among you who have published the falsehood concerning Ayesha," says the Koran, "think it not to be an evil unto you; on the contrary, it is better for you [that is, for the Prophet, for Abu-bekr, and for Ayesha and Safwan, for God would make them amends in the next world, since he now was revealing himself to clear their good name]. Every man of them shall be punished according to the injustice of which he hath been guilty, and he among them who hath undertaken to aggravate the same shall suffer a grievous punishment. Did not the faithful men and the faithful women, when ye heard this, judge in their own minds for the best, and say : 'This is a manifest falsehood?' Have they produced four witnesses thereof ? Wherefore, since they have not produced the witnesses, they are surely liars in the sight of God. Had it not been for the indulgence of God toward you, and his mercy in this world, and in that which is to come, verily a grievous punishment had been inflicted on you for the calumny which ye have spread, when ye published that with your tongues, and spoke that with your mouths of which ye had no knowledge, and esteemed it to be light, whereas it was a matter of importance in the sight of God. When ye heard it, did ye say, 'It belongeth not unto us that we should talk of this matter; God forbid ! This is a grievous calumny!' God warneth you that you return not to the like crime forever, if ye be true believers. And God declareth unto you his signs, for God is knowing and wise. Verily they who love to see scandal published.. regarding those who believe, shall receive a severe punishment both in this world and the next."

Four of the five persons concerned in spreading the scandal concerning Ayesha accordingly each received eighty stripes, pursuant to the law ordained in this chapter. It is said in the Moslem world that two of the offenders, Hassan and Mestah, became blind, and that Hassan also lost the use of both of his hands.

Al Beidawi, commentator on the Koran, observes concerning this chapter, that God cleared four persons by four extraordinary testimonies; for he exculpated Joseph by the testimony of a child in his mistress' family; Moses, by means of the stone that fled away from his garments; Mary, by the testimony of her infant, and Ayesha by these verses of the Koran.

It was a saying of Ebn Abbas that if the threats contained in the whole Koran be examined, there are none so severe as those occasioned by the false accusation of Ayesha; wherefore he thought even reprentance would stand her slanderers in no stead.

It had been Abubekr, the first man of influence, to whom Mohammed, coming with Khadijah, his first wife, out of the cave, imparted the secret of his prophetic powers, although a young man named Ali was really the first to hear it, and therefore styled himself "first of the believers," and set up claim to the successorship. When in the sixth year of his mission, Mohammed boldly proclaimed that he had made a night-journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and thence upward through seven heavens, several of his staunchest followers left him. At this crisis Abu-bekr declared that, if Mohammed affirmed the story to be true, he, Abu-bekr, thoroughly believed it. The known probity of Abu-bekr retrieved the waning fortunes of the Prophet, and, indeed, completed his success, for after that the Arabian world rapidly made way before him.

Thus it is plain to be seen that the daughter of Abu-bekr, herself accomplished and comely, stood in a highly advantageous position in the councils of the new religion. Khadijah had been the rich and elderly widow of a merchant, and all the other wives of the Prophet were also widows, while Ayesha was so much the junior of Mohammed that she was to outlive him 'by nearly half a century, and was only 18 years old when he died.

When Mohammed was about 6o years old a Jewess poisoned him with a roasted joint of mutton. When she was accused, she answered : "I thought, if you had been really a prophet, you would easily have discovered the poison; and if not, that it would have delivered us from your tyranny." The sickness following this crime was eventually the cause of Mohammed's death, and two of his wives, Hapsah and Ayesha, appear to have been especially faithful and affectionate in their service on the failing old man.

When the Prophet was finally attacked with the poisoning illness, he was in the apartment of Zeinab, one of his many wives. As soon as he despaired of his life, he sent for all his other wives and desired that they would allow Ayesha to take care of him in his sickness. To this they agreed, and he was at once carried to her apartment. Here he told Ayesha that the poison was again at work, yet he and Ayesha spoke together in a pleasant manner, which greatly alleviated his pain. Soon after he was in such pain that cold water was poured upon him in great volume. He was able, however, on the next day, to preach a sort of discourse from a pulpit in the mosque, in which he made his peace with the world and declared his accustomed humility, putting Abu-bekr and other high Moslems in tears and raising them to great heights of fanaticism.

Mohammed was now confined to Ayesha's apartment, while Abu-bekr was authorized to repeat the public prayers in the mosque. This led the people to expect that Mohammed would name Ayesha's father as the successor, but it seems he did not expressly do it, and it was the opinion of many that Ayesha did not wish that her father should be so advanced. The Prophet died with his head in her lap, without a successor.

When Abubekr came to offer two candidates, Omar and Abu Obeid, the assembly could agree on neither, and finally Omar took Abu-bekr by the hand and swore fealty to him, on seeing which all the rest did likewise.

This election then and there caused a schism in the church, which lasts to this day. Some hold that the succession was legitimate in Abubekr, and Omar who followed him, while others thought that Ali, who had been the first believer, and had married the daughter of Mohammed, should have been the first Caliph, or successor. "Of the former opinion," says Ockley, "are the Turks at this day; of the latter, the Persians (the Shiites), which makes such a difference between these two nations that. notwithstanding their agreement in other points of their superstition, they do upon this account, treat one another as most damnable heretics."

Ayesha left a tradition that she had said that Ali did not come in until six months after the death of Mohammed, when the death of his wife, the daughter of Mohammed, had sensibly diminished the political value of his claims on the Caliphate.

Mohammed was buried in the apartment of Ayesha, at Medina, under her bed, and as the Prophet had himself decorated her with the title of "Mother of the Faithful," her position henceforth was one of unassailable religious power. She now entered on a long career of influence and authority which even defeat in battle could not utterly destroy.

When Omar was dissatisfied with the appointment of Saed as a general, Abu-bekr, the Caliph, was forced to seek Ayesha for advice, as he had done on many other great occasions. It was supposed that she, having been the best-beloved of the Prophet, could tell what he would have done had he been alive. In this case, Abu-bekr must either break with Omar or take back the commission of Saed a great humiliation. Ayesha decided for Omar, and Saed patiently abided by the decision, declaring that he would fight under any orders for the propagation of Mohammed's faith.

As Ayesha charged on Ali the circulation of the scandal concerning her, it was always believed that she (temporarily at least) excluded him from the succession. She is represented as exceedingly well versed in the Arabic literature and the antiquities of her country, and her subsequent operations tend to support this claim. Abu-bekr lived to enjoy the Caliphate but two years and four months, and Ayesha was authority for the statement that he died at 63 of a cold, though it was thought by some that he, too, was poisoned by a Jew. He held money in such contempt that he left little, and authorized Ayesha to bestow that on the Moslems. He was buried under her bed, along with Mohammed.

Omar was the second Caliph, and began his career as one of the great conquerors. He took Jerusalem, Tyre, Cairo, Alexandria, and burned the great library that had been accumulating for 700 years. He overran Persia. He was assassinated in the mosque at Medina after he had reigned nearly eleven years. He, too, was buried with Mohammed and Abu-bekr beneath the bed of Ayesha, on which the Prophet had died. With him, too, Ayesha must have had great influence, for he could not be induced to nominate Ali for his successor, alleging that he was not serious enough for a position that had now become the leading one in the world as it existed. Omar, therefore, named the five Companions of Mohammed to agree on one of their number, and Othman was chosen, Ali still feeling disappointed.

Othman followed the career of Omar as a conqueror, although he was a very old man (a companion of Mohammed) and finally (after ten years' reign) was assassinated by rebels at Medina, it being alleged on one side that Ali had winked at the deed, and on the other that Ayesha had intrigued to bring it about.

The rebels now compelled Ali to become Caliph, and that ambitious and designing person, at last, found himself unwilling to take the great office over which he had so long been unhappy. Ayesha, though detesting Ali no less, was also, from fear of massacre by the outsiders, compelled to favor the exaltation of Ali. But no sooner was he placed in power than she aggravated the already distracted state of affairs by declaring that the assassins of Othman ought to be brought to judgment, which was just then politically impossible. Ali had had two rivals Telha and Zobeir. These were the leaders on whom Ayesha now wrought, hoping to secure the ruin of Ali. She started on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and Telha and Zobeir followed her. No sooner had they arrived in Mecca than they recruited an army, while their partisans raised another in Syria. In changing governors of provinces at this critical time, Ali also lost other regions. Ayesha now boldly charged Ali with murdering Othman, and the bloody shirt of the slain Caliph was adopted as the standard of the Syrians and others who burned for vengeance on the murderers. A messenger reached Ali. "What news is stiring in Syria?" asked the Caliph. "There are no less than sixty thousand men in arms under Othman's shirt," answered the messenger, "which is erected as a standard under the pulpit at Damascus."

Ayesha now believed that it was best to march with the small army at Mecca directly on Medina, but other counsel finally prevailed, and Basra was chosen as a stronghold. Proclamation was made that the Mother of the Faithful, with Telha and Zobeir, was about departing for Basra, and therefore all who were desirous of supporting the true religion and avenging the death of Othman ought to join her expedition.

When Ayesha departed from Mecca she was at the head of a thousand camels with a thousand warriors, all fanatically determined to depose Ali from the Caliphate.

The camel on which Ayesha rode was called "The Army," and was of great value. Mounted on this camel, in a litter, she led her forces out of Mecca, and, by the time she had arrived at Basra, had three thousand soldiers.

But a peculiar incident marked her passage through Jowab, a village.

On Ayesha's approach all the dogs of Jowab met her in a body, and barked at her with great fury. This Ayesha took as a notification to make camp, for she declared that Mohammed, once on a journey with her, had remarked specifically that it was good to lodge within the noise of the barking of the dogs of Jowab, and therefore had predicted the present uncommon event. She at once recited a passage of the Koran, and struck her camel on the knee, preparing to dismount. But Telha and Zobeir, desiring a forced march, in order to reach Basra before Ali, got fifty persons to swear to Ayesha that this village went by another name than Jowab. Ayesha still determined to encamp. Thereupon the false cry was raised : "Make haste, make haste, Ali appears behind us !" Whereupon all, Ayesha included, marched on with speed.

This the Moslem writers own to have been a public lie, the first that had been allowed to go unpunished between the revelation to Mohammed and the defection of Ayesha. And it should also be noted that all the Caliphs before Ali had been men who did not seek the office nor leave it to their sons, being inspired with a high order of devotion to the new faith, which Mohammed had revealed.

At Basra the Syrians so greatly reinforced Ayesha that her army amounted to thirty thousand men. The Governor of Basra, summoned to surrender by the very Mother of the Faith herself, did not know what to do, and asked instructions from Ali, who returned word that, inasmuch as Ayesha, Telha and Zobeir had sworn fealty to him as Caliph, it was the Governor's duty to oppose them if they demanded a new Caliph. The Governor (named Othman) therefore resisted, was taken, insulted, shaven, con-fined, and finally dismissed, beardless, to Ali, who received him with great honor, and promised him adequate heavenly rewards for the afflictions that had befallen him.

At Medina, all was not well with Ali, and it was only after some time that two doctors of the law stood up and pronounced the following decision "The Imam Othman, Master of the Two Testimonies, did not die by the Master of the Two Testimonies" that is, "Ali is not guilty of the death of Othman." These are the "two testimonies" ónamely, (i) "There is but one God; (2) Mohammed is the apostle of God."

Ali, now having Medina with him, set out with a small army to besiege Ayesha. His son Hassan made bold to censure him for not making peace with Ayesha, but Ali silenced the young man, declaring that the ambition of Ayesha was insatiable, and that the course he had pursued through all the troubles was the best.

Still, such was the power of the name of Ayesha in the Moslem world and over Ali himself, who had spent his life near her, that there was much parleying between the two armies, when they were drawn up together, and it is possible that, if the Mother of the Faithful had not been implacable, some kind of peace would have been made without battle. When Ali, therefore, saw that the thing was inevitable, he called down the vengeance of heaven on Telha and Zobeir, and hostilities began.

Ayesha was mounted on her great camel, in a well defended pavilion, and moved with great resolution, from one part of her army to another in the heat of the action. Hence this battle of Khoraiba (near Basra) came to be called the Day of the Camel. Ali had twenty thousand veterans; Ayesha thirty thousand volunteers. The result could not remain doubtful, for Ali had long been a good general.

Telha was killed by an arow, and Ali soon had the victory assured. Zobeir retreated to a rivulet, where he kneeled to pray. A soldier named Amru struck off Zobeir's head while Zobeir prayed, and carried it to Ali. But Ali revolted at the sight, saying : "Go carry the news to Ebn Safia, in hell !" Then answered the irate soldier : "Thou art the evil genius of the Moslems. If a person deliver thee from any of thine enemies, he is presently doomed to hell for such deliverance; but if he kill one of thy men, thou instantly pronouncest him one of the devil's companions !" Then the soldier drew his own sword and slew himself in the presence of Ali.

So long as the great camel of Ayesha stood on its feet, her troops fought about her standard with valor, and could not be dispersed. Seventy holders of one bridle had their hands cut off, and the pavilion in which she sat had its sides stuck so full of arrows and javelins that it looked like a porcupine. At last the camel was wounded and forced to fall, and Ayesha lay there until the engagement was over.

Ali sent the son of Abu-bekr to see if Ayesha remained alive, but she dismissed him with scornful language. When the defeated woman was brought before Ali, the triumphant Caliph received her with reverence, dismissed her courteously, and ordered his sons Hassan and Hosein to attend her a day's journey, with a splendid equipage, on her way home to Medina.

Afterward the Caliph confined her to her house, and commanded her from henceforth never to concern herself with state affairs, although he permitted her to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, because she was held in high veneration by all the Arabs.

She henceforth, for many years, and until her death, was engaged in construing the Koran, on which she was held to be the greatest earthly authority, and her sayings are compiled in the book called the Sunna, which gives a name to the Sunnites as against the Shiites, or sects that reject the Sunna.

In the reign of Moawiyah I, a following Caliph, Ayesha unsuccessfully interceded to save the life of Hedjer, a man of piety and austerity of life, whom the Caliph suspected of fidelity to the house of Ali. Hedjer had been insubordinate to a governor, and the Caliph put the disaffected subject to death.

In the last public act of Ayesha that is recorded by the Arabian historians, the aged Mother of the Faithful cursed the Caliph for his cruelty in Hedjer's case, the next time she saw her sovereign at Medina.

It is written that this ruler made a present to Ayesha of a bracelet that cost 100,000 dinars, so that between the early and the late days of Ayesha there was an extraordinary growth of luxury.

In the year 677 A. D. Ayesha died at Medina, being then 67 years old. The Companions had lived to see others on the throne, but the old women of their circle exercised a dreadful tongue with a long memory behind it, if we may judge by some of the recitals. But the Caliph had only begun to adopt aristocratic manners and assume especial privileges, and Ayesha's moral empire, although disturbed by the part she had played in the Battle of the Camel, still remained till her death the most impressive phenomenon attending the progress of Islam in Asia and Africa. She was given the most sacred of burials, beside the Prophet and first two Caliphs.

The bodies of Mohammed and Abu-bekr, Omar, and Ayesha, three of the Companions, lie interred in Medina in a magnificent building, covered with a cupola, on the east and adjoining the great temple which stands in the midst of the city.

It is quite within the bounds of reason to believe that no other priestess of a religion has so long lived to receive the reverent attention of so many implicit believers in the especial sanctity of her sacerdotal acts, for, at the time she died, the Mohammed Caliphate, although it had passed to the Damascan general, was still the greatest throne east of China, and the organization and ecclesiastical polity of the empire were more thoroughly established than any other similar structures then on earth.

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