6. How do students understand the Hadith?
Students immediately understand the significance of including women as sources of information about religion. I think thats not difficult to see from the Hadith collections and the traditions that are narrated on the authority of Aisha, but also of other women of the Prophets time. Whats a little bit more difficult to appreciate is the specificity of their roles, the reason that they are witness to certain events and what that says about their social roles.
Whats interesting about teaching Islamic history or working on Islamic history is that the assumptions that students have about Islamthat women dont have any rights, women lead very silent and oppressed lives. So when youre confronted with a 7th-century text from the time of the beginnings of Islam itself, where a woman is pronouncing opinions on what might be the acceptable form of prayer or what might have happened the moment of the Prophets death, I think its not hard to appreciate that something is wrong with the picture that we usually carry around in our heads.
To properly understand that kind of Hadith and use it as evidence or as a source of information, you need to be aware of the moment and you also need to research the individuals involved. And that may seem daunting, but many of the individuals that are involved are known about from biographical literature. So its a question then of cross-referencing that literature, of jotting down names either in the chain of transmission or in the actual report itself and researching them in the whos who of early Muslims.