A’isha bint Abu Bakr was the daughter of Abu Bakr, one of the first converts to Islam and a close personal friend of the prophet Muhammad. According to the custom of the time, the family arranged A’isha’s engagement to the prophet Muhammad when she was only nine years old.
Because A’isha played an important role in the personal disputes that evolved over the leadership of the fledgling Muslim community after the Prophet’s death, accounts about her life vary widely between the majority orthodox Sunni Muslims and Shi’i Muslims.
Sunni accounts argue that the marriage was only consummated after A’isha was older, while more negative Shi’i narratives accept the tradition that she was only nine. However, historical accounts are unanimous in describing the union as a close and loving one. A’isha was thought to have been the Prophet’s favorite wife.
A’isha played an active role in the political and even military life of the Islamic community in Medina. She was seen as a rival to Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law by marriage to his daughter Fatima. Ali’s followers, or Shi’i, viewed Ali and his descendants as the rightful heirs to the leadership of Islamic society.
On the other hand, the Sunni, the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide, believed that any devout believer could assume leadership of the community. While the Prophet was still alive, A’isha being accused of adultery after she left the Bedu (Bedouin) encampment in search of a lost necklace and failed to find the group when she returned.
She was rescued and returned to camp by a man named Safwan. A’isha’s rivals, took this opportunity to urge the Prophet to divorce her. The Prophet took A’isha’s side and subsequently received a revelation that adultery had to be proven by eyewitnesses.
According to Ibn Ishaq’s Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah), the oldest existing biography, the Prophet died in A’isha’s arms in 632 c.e. A’isha’s father, Abu Bakr, was then chosen as the first caliph, or leader of the community. Although Ali’s supporters felt he should have been the rightful heir, they reluctantly went along with the majority.
When Ali’s supporters were believed to have been involved in the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman, in 656 c.e. and proclaimed Ali the fourth caliph, A’isha, astride a camel, led an armed force in a pitched battle against him. A’isha lost what became known as the Battle of the Camel and was forced to retire to Medina, where she died in 678 c.e.