PROLOGUE – THE BEGINNING OF THE END
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
What is faith?
It is a question I have asked myself over the years, dear nephew, and I am no closer to the answer now then I was when my hair was still crimson like the rising dawn, not the pale silver of moonlight as it is today.
I write this for you, because I know I am dying. I do not complain, for there are times I wished I had died many years ago, or better yet, never have been born. My heart looks at the trees, whose life consists of no more than dreams of the sun and memories of the rain, and I envy them. There are times when I wish I were one of the rocks that line the hills beyond Medina, ignored and forgotten by those who tread upon them.
You will protest, I am sure. How could I, Aisha the daughter of Abu Bakr, the most famed woman of her time, wish to trade in my glorious memories for the sleep of the deaf and the dumb of the earth? That is the tricky thing with memories, dear Abdallah, son of my sister. They are like the wind. They come when they wish, and carry with them both the hope of life and the danger of death. We cannot master them. Nay, they are our masters, and rejoice in their capriciousness, carrying our hearts with them wherever they wish.
And now they have taken me, against my will, to this moment, where I sit in my tiny bedroom made of mud brick, only a few feet away from the grave of my beloved, writing this tale. There is much I do not want to recall, but my memories cry out to be recorded, so that they can live in the memories of others when I am gone.
So I shall start at the beginning. At a time when one world was dying, and another was about to be born. There is much glory in my tale, much wonder, and a great deal of sorrow. It is a story that I hope you will preserve and take with you to the farthest reaches of the Empire, so that the daughters and granddaughters of those who are still being suckled today will remember. Much of what I shall relate, I witnessed with my own eyes. The rest I recount as it was recounted to me by those who were present.
It is a tale of great portent, and the bearer of my words must shoulder a weighty burden before God and man. And of all those who dwell on earth, there is none whom I can trust more than you, Abdallah, to carry my tale. In my days of honor and of disgrace, you have stood by my side, more loyal than any son of my flesh could have been. I look upon your smiling face and see all that I have gained and lost as a price of my destiny. A fate that was written in the ink of dreams when I was still a child.
I was six years old when I married the Messenger of God, although our union was not consummated until I began my cycles at the age of nine. Over the years, I became aware that my youthful marriage was considered shocking, even barbaric, by the haughty noblewomen of Persia and Byzantium, although none would have dared to say so to my face. Of course, I am used to the cruel whispers of the gossipmongers. More so than most women of my time, I have been subjected to the hidden daggers of jealousy and rumor.
Perhaps that is to be expected. A price I must pay as the favorite wife of the most revered and hated man the world has ever known.
Tell them, Abdallah, that I loved Muhammad, may God's blessings and peace be upon him, and that he loved me, for all that I proved unworthy of it. Of the many twists and turns that have guided the caravan of my life, there are none that I treasure more than my ten years with him as his wife. Indeed, there are many days that I wished I had died with him, that Gabriel would have taken my spirit with his and I could have left this valley of tears for others to conquer. I torment myself with the knowledge that many thousands would have lived had I simply died that day. An army of believers who followed me to their doom. Good men, who believed that I acted out of idealism rather than pride and a hidden lust for revenge. Good men like your father. Had my soul departed along with the Messenger, he and so many others would have lived.
But that was not my destiny.
My fate was to be the mother of a nation, even though my womb has never borne a child of its own. A nation that was chosen by God to change the world, to destroy iniquity, even as it is forever tempted to succumb to it. A nation that defeated every adversary, despite all the forces of Earth marshaled against it, and then became doomed to fight itself until the Day of Resurrection. A nation, whose soul, like mine, is filled with God and yet consumed with earthly passion. A nation that stands for victory and justice, yet can never hide its own failures and cruelties against the terrible judgment of The One.
This is my Ummah, my nation, and I am its face, even though no man outside my family has looked upon my face since I was a little girl.
I am the harbinger of joy and anger. The queen of love and jealousy. The bearer of knowledge and the ultimate fool.
I am the Mother of the Believers and this is my tale.