International Women’s Day on 8th March globally celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of fabulous women from the past, present and future. The national demographic census illustrates that there are 32.2 million women in the United Kingdom; all equally remarkable. Muslim women this, Muslim women that… In this article are examples of a few noble Muslim women who transcend all generalisations of society in their intellect, character and behaviour. May God be pleased with them all.
Khadija, daughter of Khawaylid.
Let us take a minute to mentally visualise a time when we have let out our frustration on those who did not deserve it. The subject of the outburst could have been the event of your husband forgetting to bring some milk after the kids have been misbehaving all day; or your mother, for asking you to contribute more towards the household chores after a stressful day at the office. Although we love these individuals dearly, our level of tolerance has been decreasing throughout the day. We then explode with rage at what would seem to be a small thing on any normal, pleasant day. It happens to all of us. With that in mind let us look at the conduct of Khadija.
Known as the Purified one (Tahira), and the Mother was of the believers, she was married to the Prophet for 25 years. As the first wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) she spoke words of wisdom, encouragement and comfort. When he confided in her about his overwhelming experience in cave Hira on mount Noor, and the event of a revelation from God through an angel, she believed in Him. No proof was more plausible for her than the word of the Messenger, and she became the first Muslim.
When people would curse Him, He would go home to her, she would hold His hand, look into His eyes and encourage Him in His task of delivering the message of Islam. She was His rock and His strongest supporter. It was the way she nurtured and cared for the Prophet that earned her a great rank in God’s eyes and in Paradise. It has been narrated through the Messenger that God sent salutations upon Khadija through angel Gabriel. Not only was she in awe that God had noticed her, but she had no expectation of any reward for her kind nature – indeed a very humble and remarkable woman she was.
Khadija is the personification of a strong business woman who can provide warmth in a home, as well as understand the different needs of those around her. She was a giver. Such conduct, mixed with gentleness, and catalysed with wisdom is the recipe for God’s pleasure and eternal satisfaction. So when gravity has taken its toll on our tolerance level, let us pause to think how Khadija would react. For sure, a smile will come to our faces.
A’isha, daughter of Abu Bakr
Many people are of the belief that a woman’s role is limited to the home. There is no doubt that women play a vital role in creating welcoming warm homes within four brick walls; but this should in no way mean that they are not entitled to have an identity within a wider society. In fact this is encouraged within the Islamic tradition, and is of dire importance within a multicultural society. Muslim women need to have a representative voice that is heard and respected.
A scenario we can create to help us understand the importance of this is when women go through childbirth. Some may prefer a female doctor to deal with them in that vulnerable state; this option is available. However, if the ladies were not well educated, and have little00 knowledge of a wider public sphere, they may well be unaware of this choice. Women have a crucial role to play in the facilities a community can offer.
A’isha bint Abu Bakr is the epitome of how women contribute to the betterment of a community. As the last and youngest wife of the Prophet, she was an eye witness for several revelations. Thus she played a huge role in clarifying the Sunnah. She narrated a huge 2210 Hadiths, alongside an explanation of their context and significance. She was given the title of a Mujtahid. This s an individual who is considered reliably competent and superior enough in knowledge to be able to pass independent judgements based on the Quran and the Hadith.
Many scholars have noted that a quarter of the injunctions within Shariah law have been derived by this incredible woman; whilst others have outlined that two-thirds of our religion is derived from her blessed self. Her speech was the perfect balance of eloquence and boldness. She had 200 students directly learning from her at a time. As an educator and reformer, her utterances are studied all over the world.
So when we feel like not paying attention in our lectures, or slacking with deadlines, let us think of the contributions of A’isha to the second most populous religion in the world today. This may be the extra push we need to hand in that homework on time; one day our qualifications will enable us make the world a better place, as well as fulfil our responsibility towards our community.
Remember, success is measured in inches, not in miles.
Rabi’a al- Adawiyya
It is within a woman’s nature to love selflessly. Mothers go through the pain of childbirth, are patient with the tantrums of a toddler in his or her terrible twos only to go on and forgive the screams and scolding of a dramatic hormonal teenager. All in the hope that maybe one day, her child will be an asset to society, to the home and to their parents in their old age. This hope fuels that unique love. But if there was no reward at the end of the struggle, would mothers still love their children?
Rabia al-Adawiyya was the founder of the doctrine of Divine Love for whom God is the subject. She promoted a type of love that looks beyond rewards, pleasures for the self or obedience that results from a fear of punishment.
Rabia herself dismissed the comfort of a pillow and sleep; rather she spent the night in prayer and used a brick to rest her head upon. She insisted that we should love God, and obey His commandments because He is the most Magnificent, the most Loving and the most Beautiful. If and when we truly believe in God’s benevolence, we will also accept what He decides for us – the pleasures of the Garden, or the torment of the Fire. One of her famous poems articulates this idea:
“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”
So the way a Mother would love the child beyond any hope for reciprocation; it is innate to return that love beyond boundaries of old age requirements, fear of the naughty step, or failure in academic examinations. We love those who love us. God loves us seventy times more than our own mothers. Rabia al-Adawiyya taught us to love Him for the sake of that immense love.
Not only did she unveil to us our own nature, but her biography and teachings assisted us towards the love and mercy of God.
Maryam, daughter of Imran
The life of Maryam is greatly detailed in Surah al-Imran and conveys many lessons. The one we will highlight is that of having complete faith (tawakul) in God. To be able to relate to this we can use the demand of equal rights for men and women; which conceptualises on many platforms. The glass ceiling in a career is an example, as well as the hostility towards instilling the idea in young girls’ minds that a super hero will be the only way they can live happily ever after.
This creates overbearing dependence on a superior individual, whose loyalty and protection are not guaranteed. They are only human, they are not God. The life of Maryam beautifully illustrates how God is the rightful and most worthy owner of this dependence and that women’s spiritual capability is no less than men’s.
Although Mary lived as a Jewess in Roman-occupied Palestine, and idolatry was Rome’s state religion, she is portrayed as a believing woman with monotheistic views in the Quran. Imran and his wife, Hanna bint Faqudh, decided to dedicate their unborn child as a keeper to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Such a role meant that one is fully submitted to the worship of God and results in the gift of full freedom (tahrir) from any worldly attachments or pressures of society.
However, to the surprise of Hanna she gave birth to a child with less social privileges; she gave birth to a girl. Hanna planned, but God’s plan was surely better, so she handed over her daughter into the reliable hands of her brother- in-law, who was a well-known scholar of religion at the time. His name was Zachariah. He built a room for Maryam on the side of the Mosque where no one was allowed to enter apart from himself. Whenever he visited Maryam, he would find her absorbed in the worship of God and out of season fruits in her room. When Zachariah inquired about them, she explained they were gifts from God.
Maryam’s success took form in her ability to draw nearer to God, to worship Him and attain His pleasure in abundance. God became her shield when her chastity was questioned at the birth of Prophet Jesus. He ordered this new-born child to speak against the slander and accusations against her from her society. Maryam was a successful woman and her dependence on a superior Being is perfectly balanced.
Nusayba daughter of Ka’b
Expanding on the battle of the sexes, this woman – also known as Ammarah- was present at the pledge of Al-Aqabah alongside leaders, warriors and statesmen. This was a testimony that if they were needed in a time of war, they would be present. As a wise and intellectual woman she actively assisted in the spread of Islam, but she often wondered why the Quran only addresses men. She posed the question to the Prophet and soon after this exchange, verse 35 of Surah Ahzab was revealed. God heard her voice the way he hears all our voices. This verse narrates that both men and women who are steadfast in religion have a great reward waiting for them; proving that men and women have the same spiritual standing, and were able to utilise every quality a man could access.
Never did she shy away from helping others. She accompanied the men to in the Battle of Uhud with the intention of taking water to the soldiers. But she did not stop there. When the soldiers who were at the top of the mountain came down thinking they had won the battle; the opposition came out of hiding and attacked, Nusayba fearlessly took a shield and sword and made her way to the battlefield.
This incredibly brave woman wanted to protect the Prophet and received many arrows in the process. When the man who injured her son came to her attention, she cut his leg off with a single blow of her sword. Her heroism was praised by the Prophet, as well as being compared to some of his greatest companions she was set in high esteem.
So next time we are scared of that big injection, or the huge black hairy spider creating a web in the corner of our room… let us take inspiration from the fearless stance of Nusayba. But to note as a disclaimer, no swords should be pointed at the spiders in the process; wrap them in tissue and placing it outside in the open, will be brave enough for the likes of you and me.
By Tahira Khan