18. “Ifk” in Arabic is an extremely disproportionate lie or slander (Kashshaf).
19. “`Usbah” and “`Isabah” in Arabic are for a group of people numbering ten to forty (Zamakhshari). This seems to be a later opinion. For, Qurtubi reports Ibn `Abbas’ opinion that it is a group of men from three to ten. Mujahid though said it is five to fifteen.
What band was this? Ibn Jarir answers: except for three slanderers that we know, the others of those referred to by Allah (swt) as a band are unknown. This is what `Urwah wrote to `Abdul Malik b. Marwan: “You have asked me to identify the band but none has been named in this connection except Hassan b. Thabit, Mistah b. Uthathah and HamnahbintJahash.” ???(But of course, those three were “of you.” `Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Sallul was not “of you” of the Qur’an but rather “of them,” indeed, the arch hypocrite, and hence not counted: Au.).
20. For, it was the great slander that caused the revelation of such important instructions (Au.).
Mawdudi writes: “Another good that ensued from this incident was that it made the Muslims realize that the Prophet (peace be upon him), with all his spiritual loftiness and the very special mission bestowed upon him by God, did not have access to the realm that lies beyond sense-perception.”
21. That is, to each of them is a punishment in proportion to his role in the false accusation (Zamakhshari).
22. Dahhak has said that the one who started it first – `Abdullah b. abiSallul – is the one “who took the chief part therein” – i.e., adds Ibn Jarir, it was he who played the main role through and through and will take the main part of the punishment too. `A’isha herself, along with many others, believed that the allusion is to `Abdullah b. abiSallul. Although `A’isha also applied the words to Hassan b. Thabit.Masruq reports, “I was with `A’isha when Hassan visited her. She ordered that he be properly received. When he was gone, I asked her, ‘Do you do that to him who played the chief part?’ She answered, ‘Isn’t it enough that he has been struck with blindness. I would say, that is the major punishment he has received.’ (Ibn Kathir thinks the allusion of the above words to `A’isha, although in Bukhari, is doubtful since he is not the one who played the major role).
However, it may be noted that that it is not she who said about Hassan as the one who bore the major part. As for her remark when someone said that to her, is it possible that she did not mean it seriously, but said so in the general loose sense (Au.).
Tribal rivalry led some of BanuUmayyah to believe that `Ali was also implicated. Hisham b. `Abdul Malik said so before Zuhri. Zuhri denied it. Hisham said he was lying. Zuhri gave him a piece of his mind and added that if a caller in the clouds cried that lying was declared lawful he would not lie. Then he reported a hadith from `A’isha herself (now in Bukhari) that named Ibn Ubayy (Shawkani).
The ten Qur’anic verses of this passage were revealed in connection with the slander cast against `A’isha. She herself narrated her story, and we present it here in a somewhat free form adding in parenthesis what a few other reports have to mention:
The Ifk Story:
“The Prophet used to cast lots among his wives to choose one of them to accompany him in his journeys. I was the one in whose favor the cast fell allowing me to accompany him in one of his journeys. (That was the BanuMustaliq – also known as Muraysi` – campaign that took place in the 4th year after Hijrah: Qurtubi). This was after the commandments of hijab had been revealed. Therefore, I remained in the litter (hawdah) and stayed within when we camped. Thus we traveled until the Prophet completed the journey and began to return. As we were approaching Madinah, we paused for a while. Shortly, it was announced that the journey would be resumed. So I hastened away from the troops to attend to a call of nature. As I came back, I discovered that the borrowed necklace was gone. I went back looking for it and it took me some time to return. In the meantime the attendants who used to lift the litter, hoisted it on the camel without realizing that I was not in. After all, those days women ate mere mouthfuls and were generally thin. I found my necklace but the army was gone. So, I repaired to the place where I originally was, and not finding a caller or a responder, lay down, hoping that they would soon discover my absence. As I lay down, I fell asleep.
“Now, Safwan b. Mu`attal had rested for the night behind the army. (He was a very courageous man whom the Prophet used to appoint as the rearguard of the main army: Qurtubi. He also picked up fallen things as the caravan advanced: Au.). He set out just before the day break and arrived at the campsite. As he approached he could see the outline of a person sleeping. As he drew near, he recognized me: he had seen me before the hijab verses were revealed. He exclaimed, “To Allah we belong and to Him we will return.” I woke up and covered my face. By Allah, he did not speak a word except to repeat “To Allah we belong ..” He brought the camel forward, made it kneel so I could climb and set out leading the camel by its halter to catch up with the army by noon.
“Then doomed was he who was to be doomed. (Note how `A’isha avoids saying she was slandered: Au.). And the one who bore the greatest of the sin was `Abdullah ibn abiSallul. In any case, we returned to Madinah where I fell ill for almost a month. Those days the people were talking among themselves about the slander, but I knew nothing about it. However, it did strike me as strange that the Prophet was not treating me as kindly as his usual whenever I had fallen sick. He would enter in and merely say after salutation, “How would you be?” That was what struck me as strange, otherwise I knew nothing about the affair. One night, I went out to Manasi`, where we went to attend to nature’s call at night. Umm Mistah was with me.
Those days there were no water closets in Madinan homes – in the fashion of the Arab houses. In fact, we recoiled from having them at close quarters. In any case, I went out with Umm Mistah and, as we were walking up she stumbled over her apron and murmured, ‘May Mistah (her son) be ruined.’ I expressed my displeasure for she saying that about someone who had fought at Badr. So she told me all about the talk of the slanderers. (I forgot all about what I had come out for. I just didn’t feel anything about it anymore, and returned without attending to the call). The news added another illness to my previous illness. As I returned and the Prophet came in, he asked me the usual “How would you be?” I asked him if I could go to my parents. Actually, I wanted to seek confirmation of the story from them. He allowed me and as I went to my parents, I asked my mother about it. She told me to take it easy since rarely it happens that a man loves a beautiful wife but his other wives should conspire against her. I couldn’t believe my ears. (I asked her if Abu Bakr knew. She said yes. Then I asked if the Prophet knew. She answered yes. I began to cry. Abu Bakr was on the roof reciting the Qur’an. Hearing my voice he came down and asked what the matter was. He was told that I had learnt of the affair. His eyes were filled with tears). I spent the night crying, continuously shedding tears, without a moment’s sleep.
“As revelation was not in the offing, the Prophet consulted `Ali ibn Abi Talib and Usama b. Zayd about divorcing a wife. (Note how she avoids using her own name: Au.). Usama told him, “We do not know except good of her.” As for `Ali, he said, “Messenger of Allah, Allah has placed no restriction on you. There are plenty of other women besides her. In any case, you might inquire her maid. She is sure to know.” So the Prophet (saws) asked Barirah, “Have you ever noticed anything suspicious about `A’isha?” She swore that she knew nothing bad of me except that I would mix the dough and sleep off on it for a goat to enter and devour it off clean. (She also said, “Had she been like what is being attributed to her, surely, Allah would not have kept His Messenger in dark about her.” And the people were amazed at her understanding of the religion).
`A’isha added, when the news reached the man implicated, he exclaimed, “By Allah, I have never uncovered a woman’s shoulder ever in my life.” (He meant, he had never committed illicit sex: Qurtubi). In fact, he died a martyr in a battle later. (That happened during the reign of `Umar ibn al-Khattab, in the battle of Armenia in the year 19 A.H.: Qurtubi). Angry at being accused, he struck Hassan with a sword on his head, and Hassan was lucky to have survived, as it only took some skin off the skull.
“[The Prophet also consulted his wife Zaynab bint Jahash (sister of Hamnah bint Jahash, one of the slanderers) about `A’isha. She replied, “By Allah, I know nothing but good of her.” This, despite the fact that she was jealous of `A’isha]. So the Prophet went up the mimbar and said addressing the people, “People! Who will help me against a man who hurts me by slandering my family while, by Allah, I know nothing but good of her, and have never suspected the man that they are implicating who has, in fact, never been in (my house) except in my presence.”
[Probably the Prophet conducted the inquiry for the satisfaction of the people: Au.].
“At that,Sa`d b. Mu`adh got up and said that he would deal with the man for him. He said, ‘If he is of the Aws tribe, I’ll cut off his head, but if he is from another tribe, you suggest as to what we shall do with him.’ At that Sa`d b. `Ubadah got up. He was the leader of Khazraj, a righteous person but affected by tribal chauvinism. He taunted Sa`d b. Mu`adh, ‘By Allah, you can’t, and will never be able to kill him.’ In reply Sa`d b. Mu`adh said, ‘By Allah, we shall surely kill him. You are a hypocrite yourself defending a hypocrite.’ That provoked the two groups Aws and Khazraj to vent anger at each other and came near to exchanging blows while the Messenger stood on the pulpit trying to calm them down. He kept appealing until the voices died down.
“And I kept weeping the day, unceasingly, without a moment’s sleep until my parents thought my liver will burst up. Then an Ansari woman came in to see me. But she sat there and only wept with me. While we were in that state the Messenger of Allah came in and sat down. A month had passed since the rumors and he had never sat down with me for that period. He recited the invocatory supplication and began to say, ‘`A’isha! Such and such things have been reported to me about you. Now, if you are innocent, Allah will exonerate you. But if you are guilty, then seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent to Him, for, when a person admits his guilt and then repents, Allah also relents to him.’ (According to another report, she pointed to the Ansari woman sitting at the door and taunted him, ‘Don’t you feel shy that the woman would remember the things you say now?’).[The above sentence was beautifully woman-like of `A’isha: Au.].
“In any case, those words of the Prophet stopped my tears completely. I had not a trace of them in my eyes anymore. I turned to my father and said, ‘Answer the Messenger of Allah on my behalf.’ He said, ‘I do not know how to answer him.’ So I told my mother, ‘Answer the Messenger of Allah on my behalf.’ She said, ‘I do not know how to answer him.’ So, although I was pretty young and did not know much of the Qur’an, I said, ‘By Allah. I believe you have heard so much of this scandal that it has got planted in your hearts and you have begun to believe in it.’[We might remind ourselves that the above sentence is from a teen-ager: Au.].
“(According to one version, ‘your hearts are drunk up in it’). Now, if I were to say I am innocent – and, of course, I am – then you will not believe me. But if I admitted – although I am innocent, you will believe me. By Allah, I cannot find any example to give you except that of Prophet Yusuf’s father (she forgot his name) who said, “So goodly patience is most fitting. And Allah’s help is to be sought against what you allege.”’
“Then I lay down in the bed and turned my face away from them. I felt strongly at that point that Allah would exonerate me. It is another thing that I never dreamt He would send down a revelation in that regard that would be recited forever. I thought myself too insignificant for that, but rather, it would be that the Prophet would see a dream exonerating me. And by God, the Prophet did not move from where he was sitting, nor had anyone left the house when Allah sent down His revelation. He was overtaken by the state that usually overtook him on such occasions, until drops of pearl-like sweat began to roll down from the heaviness of revelation although it was winter. Then he recovered, wiped the sweat from his forehead, smiled and said, ‘Be of good cheer `A’isha, Allah has exonerated you.’ My mother exhorted me, ‘Rise and go up to him,’ I said, ‘By Allah, I shall not rise and will not go to him, nor shall I thank anyone but Allah, the Glorious, who sent down the exoneration.’ (She also added, I was pretty angry at that moment and said, ‘I am not going to thank any of you. Aren’t you the ones who wouldn’t believe in me?’). Allah had revealed, ‘Surely, those who brought forward the lie are a band of you ..until the next ten verses.”
The narration is found in several hadith books. The above version seems to have been pieced together by several reporters and is in Ibn Is-haq (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
Sometime later, `A’isha and Zaynab contended with each other over their respective virtues. Zaynab said, “I am the one who was given in marriage to the Prophet up in the Heavens.” ‘A’isha said, “I am the one in whose exoneration was revealed in Allah’s Book when Safwan took me up on the camel.” Zaynab asked, “Tell me, what did you say when you were up on his camel?” ‘A’isha replied, “I said (4: 173), “Allah is sufficient for us, and He is the most to rely on.”
Zaynab said, “You said the words of the believers.”
23. That is, those of them who died having not repented (Qurtubi).