This extremely painful incident took place on the Prophet’s return from the expedition against Bani Mustaliq. The Muslim army had to halt for a night at a place, a short distance from Madinah.
In this expedition, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was accompanied by his noble and talented wife, ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) As it so happened, ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased her) went out some distance from the camp to attend to the call of nature.
When she returned, she discovered that she had dropped her necklace somewhere. The necklace itself was of no great value, but as it was a loan from a friend, ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased her) went out again to search for it. On her return, to her great grief and mortification, the army had already marched away with the camel she was riding, her attendants thinking that she was in the litter as she was then thin, very young and light of weight.
In her helplessness she sat down and cried till sleep overpowered her. Safwan bin Mu‘attal, an Emigrant, who was coming in the rear recognized her as he had seen her before the verse enjoining the veil was revealed, and brought her on his camel to Madinah without saying a single word to her, himself walking behind the animal.
The hypocrites of Madinah led by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Ubai bin Salul, sought to make capital out of this incident and spread a malicious scandal against ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased her) and unfortunately some of the Muslims also became involved in it. On arrival in Madinah, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) held counsel with his Companions, who pronounced different opinions ranging from divorce to retention.
The incident almost roused a fight between two rival factions, Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj, but the Prophet’s intervention silenced both parties on the sport. ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) unaware of the rumours being circulated, fell ill and was confined to bed for a month.
On recovering, she heard of the slander and took permission to go and see her parents seeking authentic news. She then burst into tears and stayed for two days and one sleepless night ceaselessly weeping to such an extent that she felt her liver was about to rip open.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) visited her in that situation, and after testifying to the Oneness of Allâh he told her, “If you are innocent, Allâh will acquit you, otherwise, you have to beg for His forgiveness and pardon.”
She stopped weeping and asked her parents to speak for her, but they had nothing to say, so she herself took the initiative and said “Should I tell you I am innocent, and Allâh knows that I am surely innocent, you will not believe me; and if I were to admit something of which, Allâh knows, I am innocent, you will believe me, then I will have nothing to make recourse to except the words of the father of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph):
“So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is Allâh (Alone) Whose Help can be sought against that which you assert.” [12:18]
She then turned away and lay down for some rest. At that decisive moment the Revelation came acquitting ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) of all the slanderous talk fabricated in this concern.
‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) of course, was wholeheartedly joyful and praised Allâh thankfully. Allâh’s Words in this regard went as follows:
“Verily! Those who brought forth the slander (against ‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) — the wife of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) are a group among you.” [24:11]
The principal elements involved in the slander affair, Mistah bin Athatha, Hassan bin Thabit and Hamnah bint Jahsh, were flogged with eighty stripes.
As for the man who took the principal part, ‘Abdullah bin Ubai, he was not flogged, either because the corporal punishment commutes the chastisement in store for him in the Hereafter, and he does not deserve this merit, or for the same public interest for which he was not killed previously. He, moreover, became the butt of reproach and humiliation amongst his people after his real intentions had been unequivocally exposed to all the public.
Almost a month later, the Messenger of Allâh (Peace be upon him) and ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab were engaged in the following talk: “Don’t you see ‘Umar if I had had him (Abdullah bin Ubai) killed, a large number of dignitaries would have furiously hastened to fight for him. Now, on the contrary, if I ask them to kill him, they will do so out of their own free will.” ‘Umar replied “I swear by Allâh that the Prophet’s judgement is much more sound than mine.”