2. How did women come to be included in this religious tradition?
In the case of any religion, the formative period is always one of possibility and of change. Religions shake up social orders. Theyre prescribing a very different vision, usually, than the status quo. Islam appeared and generated a certain amount of flux. In that flux, women were able to perhaps step out of more restrictive roles and exercise an influence that they might not have been allowed to exercise before.
To a large extent, the reason that these women are included in the Hadith collection has to do with the circumstances of their being wives of the Prophet and/or companions of the Prophets family. Nevertheless, because they are women, their reports are going to be slightly different than that of men. And in some cases, their reports are going to be unique, because there are some things that the Prophet might have guided on or discussed with his wives and not with any other male member of the community. So they become oftentimes the sole sources of information on certain things that are particular to women. The women referred to as sources of information on the Prophet were naturally the women that were closest to him. Among them, his wives, Aisha in particular.
The Prophet had a career that spanned two different phases. In the first phase of the prophets career, he was married to one woman, Khadija. When she died around 618, 619, the first woman that he married was Aisha, the very young daughter of one of his close companions, Abu Bakr. She was proposed to him as a suitable alliance, in part because of her personality, but also because of her relationship to Abu Bakr. The Prophet agreed to marry her, as he did many other women after her, by way of cementing alliances and rescuing some women from widowhood or other less than satisfactory social status.
Aisha, however, in the second part of his life and career, was his favorite. She was close to him and close by him when very important things happen. She is used as a reference point for what the Prophet intended and how he applied Koranic prescriptions and guidance. Four to six standard collections of Hadith exist in Sunni Islam. In those, Aisha is the source or author of about 1,200 reports.
What this tells us is that Aisha lived a very public life, because only as someone who had an obvious presence in the community would she be able to know about the Prophets experience or speak about the Prophets religious decisions, his legal advice. So not only is Aisha important because she constitutes the source for so many traditions in the collections of Hadith, but shes also important because those traditions cover a variety of different topics. That tells us something about the very public role that women like her played in the early Muslim community and the respect that they were given despite their being women.