Stay for a traditional sermon, and you will hear not of A’isha’s sharp tongue and quick wit and remarkable eloquence, but of her virginity. And you will hear the speaker who is supposedly a righteous and knowledgeable man lie, “Because of this, A’isha was the Prophet’s favorite wife.” And you will hear the speaker who is supposedly a righteous and knowledgeable man gossip, “The Prophet’s wives used to insult each other frequently, as women do, and were very troubling for him.”
We know for a fact that not only did the Prophet never state a favorite, to suggest that he would think to have a favorite is to slander him and insult his character. As human and imperfect as the Prophet was, we know he took great care to never play favorites, that he spent an even amount of time with each of his wives, that he tirelessly defended the honor of each equally and pleaded with them to be kind with one another regardless of which wife was in question. But to judge between women as though they are commodities and possessions, that one must be “the highest prize,” and to make a mockery of each woman’s struggle for love over all others when over half of them lost family to horrific war events, is an unsurprisingly disgusting tactic of patriarchy to suppress women through desperate attempts to ridicule. As it is inarguable that these were great women, sexist religious leaders look for any way possible, however superficial, to reinforce gender stereotypes and the artificial importance of virginity.
You may demand, “Tell me about A’isha!” And you will not be answered, “She healed the wounded during wars, and many commented that she was impressively graceful and eloquent and argumentative, and after the Prophet’s death her accomplishments were immense and included leading troops to battle and winning and writing law.” Instead you will hear, “She was playful and virginal, and therefore must have been the Prophet’s favorite.”
You may demand, “Tell me about Hafsa!” And you will not be answered, “She argued frequently with the Prophet, who loved her with more and more intensity, and when her father heard and came to admonish her, the Prophet forbade him to touch her or even raise his voice against her, for it is in her right to argue against her husband and against whomever would disagree with her.” Instead you’ll be told, “Once she plotted with A’isha to embarrass Zaynab; she lied to the Prophet and told him there was something wrong with the honey that Zaynab had served him.”
On a similar note, you may demand, “Tell me about the women who fought in wars!” And you won’t hear, “They were mothers and teachers and passionate lovers and fearlessly loyal warriors. And once, a woman stood beside the Prophet to protect him on the battlefield, and she took up a dagger–while she was pregnant!” You’ll hear, “Yes, there were a few of them.”
There will be numerous tales of jealousy among the women, but none of remarkable friendship. No mention of, “Sawda took care of A’isha until she died.” No “Hafsa and A’isha shared everything.” No “A’isha spoke affectionately of Zaynab’s endless generosity.”
The Prophet’s wives were jealous and sharp-tongued. Some of them were sweet and altruistic. All of their personalities incorporated pain and compassion in varying degrees, because they were complete women, after all, and not the stereotypical cookie-cutter frames of tropes that religious leaders with their passive-aggressive statements will have you believe. And every characteristic is glorious and admirable, including jealousy. They were exceptional women, most of whom had been unexpectedly widowed by war and whom the Prophet had married to relieve the hardships of the circumstances. And to belittle this, and smirk at the women scrambling for love and use this to exert upon Muslim women guilt and shame, is an offense for which I pray God would smite the oppressors. And it is further proof that polygamy was meant to be strictly limited to the good-hearted Prophet in an era of war and widows, as men make games of the lives of women and degrade them to only a part of a person and would never manage the level of kindness and equality as demanded in the Qur’an were the required conditions of permissibility (aiding those with children in poverty) met.