24.4 The Slander
Often when the Prophet went to war, he took one of his wives with him. He did not choose but drew lots and took the wife whose name appeared. When he went to fight Banu AI-Mustaliq, the lot fell to Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr. Aisha was small, slim, and graceful, so that the men who carried her litter could not tell by any perceptible change in weight, whether she was in it or not. When the Prophet ordered the abrupt, long march towards Medina, , Aisha had left her litter for a moment. On her way back, she missed her necklace and so retraced her steps in order to find it. She searched and searched until at last she found it and returned to the Muslim camp. When she came back, she found there was no one left. Thinking she was still in her litter, they had picked it up and marched on.
Aisha, brought up by Abu Bakr and taught by Mohamed, trusted in Allah; she knew that He forgets no one. So she sat in the empty camp and waited, hoping that they would miss her and come back for her, or that someone would pass by. She did not have to wait long, for Safwan ibn al-Muattal, a young Muslim man, passed by a short time later. He was amazed to see her sitting there and said,
"To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return."
These are the words Muslims say in the face of disaster. Then without more words, for he revered the wife of the Prophet, he brought his camel nearer to her, so that she could ride. He walked beside it as quickly as he could in order to catch up with the army, but it arrived in Medina before them. He arrived with Aisha on his camel a little later, delivered her at her house and went on his way.
Aisha was the Prophet's favorite. Ever since she had come to his house as a little girl, he had cared for her and was kind and affectionate to her. He taught her much and was delighted by her intelligence and quick learning, her eloquence and wit.
The wicked in Medina, seeing her return on Safwan's camel instead of in her litter, began to whisper,
"Whatever made her leave her litter? Where and how did she meet Safwan?"
From tongue to tongue the story spread and grew until it became a slander discussed in the whole city. People began to take sides. There were those who absolutely refused to believe such gross lies, those who doubted and wavered in between, and those who propagated the evil lie. Some were ready to fight for Aisha while others were ready to believe the worst. Abdullah ibn Ubayy found this a fertile field to sow. In the end the story reached the Prophet. He could not believe this of the little girl he had cared for almost from childhood until she had become a woman of such intelligence, refinement, and charm. but as a man and a husband the story upset him.
Aisha noticed that he was rather preoccupied, a little cold in his treatment of her, and she did not know how to account for this sudden change. Was the cause the presence of Juwayriya among the captives? Had Juwayriya taken her place in his affections? It is true that he had married her to save the face of Banu AI-Mustaliq, but who can tell what changes occur in the human heart? Aisha was not used to this cold treatment, she who had always been so tenderly treated. Mohamed was the soul of courtesy to everyone, but to her he had been more, so much more. It broke her heart; she fell ill from grief.
Her mother came to nurse her in her illness, and whenever Mohamed came to ask about her, he spoke rather formally, asking about her and her mother at the same time. This hurt her terribly. She asked permission to go to her father's house in order to be better nursed by her mother, and permission was readily granted. Aisha nearly died of grief. Was she no longer indispensable? She who had been his beloved child bride?
People continued to talk to the extent that the Prophet had to speak to them in the mosque, saying that they were injuring him and his family and a man he knew only good of.
A man from Al-Aws said,
"Messenger of Allah, if those that speak against you are of our brethren, Al-Aws, we shall rid you of them. If they are of our brethren, AI-Khazraj, and then command us and we shall obey, for they deserve to have their heads cut off."
The old, old feud between Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj was about to raise its head again, for a man from Al-Khazraj said,
"Yes, you say this because you know those who spoke to be from Al-Khazraj and not from Al-Aws."
People began to quarrel and it took all Mohamed's tact and intelligence to stop a civil war from breaking out in Medina. A revelation from Allah would have gladdened his heart and cleared his perception, but not a word came on the subject. He had to act according to his own judgment. This was a trial for him, for Aisha, and for all the Muslims, but at that moment they did not realize it.
At last the story reached Aisha. She was so shocked. III and weak, she nearly fainted from horror at the idea, then all the suffering she had gone through in silence began to find an outlet. She began to sob and sob as if her heart would break.
She could not control herself and still sobbing, said to her mother,
"May Allah forgive you, mother, you heard people talk so and did not tell me?"
Her mother tried to comfort her, telling her that every lovely woman who had rivals was talked about, but this was no comfort to Aisha. Mohamed was unhappy, could he possibly doubt her? She sat crying in her room when Mohamed entered. Her father and mother were also present. Mohamed said,
"Aisha, fear Allah, if you have committed what people say, return to Allah, penitent, for Allah out of His mercy accepts the penitent."
She was shocked. Did he really doubt her? She looked at her parents and said,
"Will you answer?"
They said, "We do not know what to say."
She burst into tears again. Did her parents also doubt her? Then she was furious with them all. How could he? How could they? Those who knew her so well. She turned upon them saying,
"No, I will not repent of what I have not committed. Allah knows I am innocent. I will not say what has not been. But when I deny it, you do not believe me."
She was quiet for a moment, then said,
"I will only say what the father of Joseph said, 'Good patience, and Allah is my aid against what you depict."
Here she did what older and wiser people sometimes fail to do. She sought the aid of Him who answers the call of the distressed. Immediately after, Mohamed began to tremble and feel cold which always preceded a revelation from Allah. They covered him and left him to receive the message.
"I was not afraid. I knew myself to be innocent and I knew Allah would not wrong me, but as to my parents, I felt their souls were about to leave their bodies out of fear lest the message from Allah verified what people said."
Mohamed rose wiping the sweat from his forehead. (Communication with the unseen, tremendous and difficult to bear always left him exhausted). He said,
"Be of good cheer, Aisha, for Allah has sent down proof of your innocence."
Then he went to the mosque and read to the people what had been sent down:
Those who have fabricated the lie are a group among you.
Do not think it is an evil, but a good thing for you.
For each of them has his share of sin,
and for him who has undertaken the greater part of it,
there is great torture. (24:11)
The holy verses continue to point out that Muslims should think only good of each other, and should not speak ill of anyone. Slander is an ugly and an evil sin.
Since you receive it with your tongues,
and utter with your mouth what you have no knowledge of,
and think nothing of it,
when to Allah it is very grave. (24:15)