This hadith is extremely long. You may either read the whole story or use this link to jump to the relevant part of quotation and discussion, separated off by horizontal bars.
Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 462:
Whenever Allah's Apostle intended to go on a journey, he used to draw lots amongst his wives, and Allah's Apostle used to take with him the one on whom lot fell. He drew lots amongst us during one of the Ghazwat which he fought. The lot fell on me and so I proceeded with Allah's Apostle after Allah's order of veiling (the women) had been revealed. I was carried (on the back of a camel) in my howdah and carried down while still in it (when we came to a halt). So we went on till Allah's Apostle had finished from that Ghazwa of his and returned.
When we approached the city of Medina he announced at night that it was time for departure. So when they announced the news of departure, I got up and went away from the army camps, and after finishing from the call of nature, I came back to my riding animal. I touched my chest to find that my necklace which was made of Zifar beads (i.e. Yemenite beads partly black and partly white) was missing. So I returned to look for my necklace and my search for it detained me. (In the meanwhile) the people who used to carry me on my camel, came and took my howdah and put it on the back of my camel on which I used to ride, as they considered that I was in it. In those days women were light in weight for they did not get fat, and flesh did not cover their bodies in abundance as they used to eat only a little food. Those people therefore, disregarded the lightness of the howdah while lifting and carrying it; and at that time I was still a young girl. They made the camel rise and all of them left (along with it). I found my necklace after the army had gone.
Then I came to their camping place to find no call maker of them, nor one who would respond to the call. So I intended to go to the place where I used to stay, thinking that they would miss me and come back to me (in my search). While I was sitting in my resting place, I was overwhelmed by sleep and slept. Safwan bin Al-Muattal As-Sulami Adh-Dhakwani was behind the army. When he reached my place in the morning, he saw the figure of a sleeping person and he recognized me on seeing me as he had seen me before the order of compulsory veiling (was prescribed). So I woke up when he recited Istirja' (i.e. "Inna lillahi wa inna llaihi raji'un") as soon as he recognized me. I veiled my face with my head cover at once, and by Allah, we did not speak a single word, and I did not hear him saying any word besides his Istirja'. He dismounted from his camel and made it kneel down, putting his leg on its front legs and then I got up and rode on it. Then he set out leading the camel that was carrying me till we overtook the army in the extreme heat of midday while they were at a halt (taking a rest). (Because of the event) some people brought destruction upon themselves and the one who spread the Ifk (i.e. slander) more, was 'Abdullah bin Ubai Ibn Salul."
(Urwa said, "The people propagated the slander and talked about it in his (i.e. 'Abdullah's) presence and he confirmed it and listened to it and asked about it to let it prevail." Urwa also added, "None was mentioned as members of the slanderous group besides ('Abdullah) except Hassan bin Thabit and Mistah bin Uthatha and Hamna bint Jahsh along with others about whom I have no knowledge, but they were a group as Allah said. It is said that the one who carried most of the slander was 'Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul." Urwa added, "'Aisha disliked to have Hassan abused in her presence and she used to say, 'It was he who said: My father and his (i.e. my father's) father and my honor are all for the protection of Muhammad's honor from you.").
'Aisha added, "After we returned to Medina, I became ill for a month. The people were propagating the forged statements of the slanderers while I was unaware of anything of all that, but I felt that in my present ailment, I was not receiving the same kindness from Allah's Apostle as I used to receive when I got sick. (But now) Allah's Apostle would only come, greet me and say,' How is that (lady)?' and leave. That roused my doubts, but I did not discover the evil (i.e. slander) till I went out after my convalescence, I went out with Um Mistah to Al-Manasi' where we used to answer the call of nature and we used not to go out (to answer the call of nature) except at night, and that was before we had latrines near our houses. And this habit of our concerning evacuating the bowels, was similar to the habits of the old 'Arabs living in the deserts, for it would be troublesome for us to take latrines near our houses. So I and Um Mistah who was the daughter of Abu Ruhm bin Al-Muttalib bin Abd Manaf, whose mother was the daughter of Sakhr bin 'Amir and the aunt of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and whose son was Mistah bin Uthatha bin 'Abbas bin Al-Muttalib, went out. I and Um Mistah returned to my house after we finished answering the call of nature. Um Mistah stumbled by getting her foot entangled in her covering sheet and on that she said, 'Let Mistah be ruined!' I said, 'What a hard word you have said. Do you abuse a man who took part in the battle of Badr?' On that she said, 'O you Hantah! Didn't you hear what he (i.e. Mistah) said? 'I said, 'What did he say?'
Then she told me the slander of the people of Ifk. So my ailment was aggravated, and when I reached my home, Allah's Apostle came to me, and after greeting me, said, 'How is that (lady)?' I said, 'Will you allow me to go to my parents?' as I wanted to be sure about the news through them. Allah's Apostle allowed me (and I went to my parents) and asked my mother, 'O mother! What are the people talking about?' She said, 'O my daughter! Don't worry, for scarcely is there a charming woman who is loved by her husband and whose husband has other wives besides herself that they (i.e. women) would find faults with her.' I said, 'Subhan-Allah! (I testify the uniqueness of Allah). Are the people really talking in this way?' I kept on weeping that night till dawn I could neither stop weeping nor sleep then in the morning again, I kept on weeping. When the Divine Inspiration was delayed.
Allah's Apostle called 'Ali bin Abi Talib and Usama bin Zaid to ask and consult them about divorcing me. Usama bin Zaid said what he knew of my innocence, and the respect he preserved in himself for me. Usama said, '(O Allah's Apostle!) She is your wife and we do not know anything except good about her.' 'Ali bin Abi Talib said, 'O Allah's Apostle! Allah does not put you in difficulty and there are plenty of women other than she, yet, ask the maid-servant who will tell you the truth.' On that Allah's Apostle called Barira (i.e. the maid-servant) and said, 'O Barira! Did you ever see anything which aroused your suspicion?' Barira said to him, 'By Him Who has sent you with the Truth. I have never seen anything in her (i.e. Aisha) which I would conceal, except that she is a young girl who sleeps leaving the dough of her family exposed so that the domestic goats come and eat it.'
So, on that day, Allah's Apostle got up on the pulpit and complained about 'Abdullah bin Ubai (bin Salul) before his companions, saying, 'O you Muslims! Who will relieve me from that man who has hurt me with his evil statement about my family? By Allah, I know nothing except good about my family and they have blamed a man about whom I know nothing except good and he used never to enter my home except with me.' Sad bin Mu'adh the brother of Banu 'Abd Al-Ashhal got up and said, 'O Allah's Apostle! I will relieve you from him; if he is from the tribe of Al-Aus, then I will chop his head off, and if he is from our brothers, i.e. Al-Khazraj, then order us, and we will fulfill your order.' On that, a man from Al-Khazraj got up. Um Hassan, his cousin, was from his branch tribe, and he was Sad bin Ubada, chief of Al-Khazraj. Before this incident, he was a pious man, but his love for his tribe goaded him into saying to Sad (bin Mu'adh). 'By Allah, you have told a lie; you shall not and cannot kill him. If he belonged to your people, you would not wish him to be killed.'
On that, Usaid bin Hudair who was the cousin of Sad (bin Mu'adh) got up and said to Sad bin 'Ubada, 'By Allah! You are a liar! We will surely kill him, and you are a hypocrite arguing on the behalf of hypocrites.' On this, the two tribes of Al-Aus and Al Khazraj got so much excited that they were about to fight while Allah's Apostle was standing on the pulpit. Allah's Apostle kept on quietening them till they became silent and so did he. All that day I kept on weeping with my tears never ceasing, and I could never sleep.
Slander is a serious offense that needs to be addressed. All societies have laws and procedures how to deal with slander. However, does slander justify a call for assassination? Muhammad did not call for a public trial that the slanderer be properly punished based on law agreed upon in the community. Muhammad went to the pulpit and asks for a volunteer among his companions to kill the man. Is that the proper manner a prophet would deal with offenses whether done to himself or to anyone else?
According to this hadith, the order was not carried out in this case because the companions got into an internal fight and the original request of Muhammad might have been forgotten in the end. Internal quarrels saved his life. But the issue is whether Muhammad's approach to the problem is fitting a prophet who has to judge according to God's law and cannot just send a killer to execute whomever has annoyed him.
An observation that applies to most of the assassination requests by Muhammad: If Muhammad is the offended party, why does Muhammad not go and deal with enemies directly? Why does he send others to kill his personal enemies? Why does he never call for proper trial to determine a punishment based on the law but often sends night time execution squads? Is that how a prophet of God would act?
It needs to be mentioned that there are conflicting reports about this story. See bottom of this page.
For completeness sake, we give in the below the remainder of this hadith.
In the morning my parents were with me and I wept for two nights and a day with my tears never ceasing and I could never sleep till I thought that my liver would burst from weeping. So, while my parents were sitting with me and I was weeping, an Ansari woman asked me to grant her admittance. I allowed her to come in, and when she came in, she sat down and started weeping with me. While we were in this state, Allah's Apostle came, greeted us and sat down. He had never sat with me since that day of the slander. A month had elapsed and no Divine Inspiration came to him about my case. Allah's Apostle then recited Tashah-hud and then said, 'Amma Badu, O 'Aisha! I have been informed so-and-so about you; if you are innocent, then soon Allah will reveal your innocence, and if you have committed a sin, then repent to Allah and ask Him for forgiveness for when a slave confesses his sins and asks Allah for forgiveness, Allah accepts his repentance.'
When Allah's Apostle finished his speech, my tears ceased flowing completely that I no longer felt a single drop of tear flowing. I said to my father, 'Reply to Allah's Apostle on my behalf concerning what he has said.' My father said, 'By Allah, I do not know what to say to Allah's Apostle .' Then I said to my mother, 'Reply to Allah's Apostle on my behalf concerning what he has said.' She said, 'By Allah, I do not know what to say to Allah's Apostle.' In spite of the fact that I was a young girl and had a little knowledge of Quran, I said, 'By Allah, no doubt I know that you heard this (slanderous) speech so that it has been planted in your hearts (i.e. minds) and you have taken it as a truth. Now if I tell you that I am innocent, you will not believe me, and if confess to you about it, and Allah knows that I am innocent, you will surely believe me. By Allah, I find no similitude for me and you except that of Joseph's father when he said, '(For me) patience in the most fitting against that which you assert; it is Allah (Alone) Whose Help can be sought.' Then I turned to the other side and lay on my bed; and Allah knew then that I was innocent and hoped that Allah would reveal my innocence. But, by Allah, I never thought that Allah would reveal about my case, Divine Inspiration, that would be recited (forever) as I considered myself too unworthy to be talked of by Allah with something of my concern, but I hoped that Allah's Apostle might have a dream in which Allah would prove my innocence. But, by Allah, before Allah's Apostle left his seat and before any of the household left, the Divine inspiration came to Allah's Apostle.
So there overtook him the same hard condition which used to overtake him, (when he used to be inspired Divinely). The sweat was dropping from his body like pearls though it was a wintry day and that was because of the weighty statement which was being revealed to him. When that state of Allah's Apostle was over, he got up smiling, and the first word he said was, 'O 'Aisha! Allah has declared your innocence!' Then my Mother said to me, 'Get up and go to him (i.e. Allah's Apostle). I replied, 'By Allah, I will not go to him, and I praise none but Allah. So Allah revealed the ten Verses:-- "Verily! They who spread the slander Are a gang, among you............." (24.11-20)
Allah revealed those Quranic Verses to declare my innocence. Abu Bakr As-Siddiq who used to disburse money for Mistah bin Uthatha because of his relationship to him and his poverty, said, 'By Allah, I will never give to Mistah bin Uthatha anything after what he has said about Aisha.' Then Allah revealed:--
"And let not those among you who are good and wealthy swear not to give (any sort of help) to their kinsmen, those in need, and those who have left their homes for Allah's cause, let them pardon and forgive. Do you not love that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is oft-Forgiving Most Merciful." (24.22)
Abu Bakr As-Siddiq said, 'Yes, by Allah, I would like that Allah forgive me.' and went on giving Mistah the money he used to give him before. He also added, 'By Allah, I will never deprive him of it at all.'
Aisha further said:." Allah's Apostle also asked Zainab bint Jahsh (i.e. his wife) about my case. He said to Zainab, 'What do you know and what did you see?" She replied, "O Allah's Apostle! I refrain from claiming falsely that I have heard or seen anything. By Allah, I know nothing except good (about 'Aisha).' From amongst the wives of the Prophet Zainab was my peer (in beauty and in the love she received from the Prophet) but Allah saved her from that evil because of her piety. Her sister Hamna, started struggling on her behalf and she was destroyed along with those who were destroyed. The man who was blamed said, 'Subhan-Allah! By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, I have never uncovered the cover (i.e. veil) of any female.' Later on the man was martyred in Allah's Cause."
More details about `Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul al-`Aufi are found in Sirat Rasul Allah, pages 205-6, 277-9, 363, 371-2, 437, 463, 481, 491-2, 495, 604, 621, 623. In particular, the above story of the suspicion against `A'isha is told somewhat different on pages 493-499. According the Sirat the death request for `Abdullah is not uttered by Muhammad, but Usayd b. Hudayr, asking Muhammad to allow kill the slanderers. The question would be which report is more authentic.
Interestingly, in the Sirat `Abdullah b. Ubayy is named first among the greatest offenders (p. 495) but not flogged for false testimony like Mistah b. Uthatha, Hassan b. Thabit and Hamna d Jahsh (p. 497) after `A'isha's innocence is declared. He is spared probably because of his high standing as a great leader of the community in Medina. The punishment seems not to be applied impartially. This is one of the moral problems in the report according to Ibn Hisham's account. We would expect that a prophet of God would judge impartially and people will be punished equally if they have committed the same crime, no matter if they are of low rank or high standing.
Page 623 reports about the (seemingly natural) death of `Abdullah bin Ubayy.
Muhammad and his enemies
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