Part I, Written By Saadia Haq Of The Human Lens
Women were the first pioneers of Islam – without whom the history of this Muslim Ummah wouldn’t be what it is today. For if they weren’t there; the Muslim men would not have been able to achieve the feats they did and Muslim societies would have no examples, no role models to follow. What I am going to tell you about the role of women in Islam in the next ten minutes or so is going to change your opinion of the most misinterpreted religion Islam or at least I aspire to.
When Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) started receiving his first revelation from Angel Gabriel or as we say; Jibril, among his first believers were various women. In-fact the first person to accept Islam through Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was a woman – his first wife Khadijah ale salam also known as “Mother of the Believers.” She accepted the faith and supported the Messenger of Allah SWT in the earliest period of trials and persecution he faced.
Being the wife of Muhammad was one of the many aspects of Khadijah ale salam – for she was a well established and powerful businesswoman. In her we find the ultimate and perfect example of a strong Muslim woman with an equally powerful career. She wasn’t afraid to pursue her interests in business, capitalize upon excellent opportunities, and invest her wealth in the worthy cause she and her husband believed in. Following her, amongst the other first believers in Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa salam) and his message were women of his own household; his daughters Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah. All these women are worthy of particular mention in their own right for their participation in laying the stones for a newly born Islamic society.
I am proud to be part of an Islamic Ummah full of powerful women and through them I can set right those who argue Islam is anti-women and doesn’t believe in equality like the western world does. In part ii, coming soon, my co-author will digress particularly on various aspects and roles of women within the Islamic societies with specific references from the Quran and Sunnah. For now, today I will take you on a virtual journey with me to meet several young Muslim personalities in other words, woman of power.
Islam’s First Female Muslim Teacher – the illustrious Al Shifa whose real name Shifa bint Abdullah bin Abd Shams bin Khalaf bin Shadad al-Qurashiyah al-Adawiyah was literate and skilled in medicine during the Jihalah times. Al Shifa holds a strong presence in early Muslim history, she embraced Islam before the Hijrah, by boldly taking the pledge or Bayah to the Messenger, declaring loyalty to him before witnesses at a time, when it was most dangerous thing to do. She migrated from Makkah to Medina where she sought Prophet’s blessing to make use of her skills for the betterment of the new Muslim society. She approached the Prophet and said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, I used to do preventative medicine for antbites during Jahiliyyah, and I want to demonstrate it for you.”
He said, “Demonstrate it.” Al-Shifa reports, “So I demonstrated it for him, and he said “Why don’t you teach this one [indicating Hafsah] the preventative medicine against ant bites, just as you taught her how to write? And the mother of the believers Hafsah Bint Umar ale salam learned with her new teacher Al Shifa. At the personal request of the Prophet, Al Shifa continued to practice her medicinal work, healing Muslims community of sicknesses and teaching preventive medication. Along with this she continued teaching Muslim women how to read and write thus earning the position of first female teacher in Islam.
The Prophet’s wisdom is encouraging a capable woman such as Al Shifa brought fruits beyond imagination. Along with her medicine and teaching, Al Shifa attended mosque to become a great scholar in her own right. She impressed Caliph Umar who appointed her as a market controller in Medina, point to be noted is in 7th century Islamic society started off with women’s active role in public spheres women. Following her success, Caliph Umar replicated the same in Mecca where he appointed another woman; Samra bint Nuhayk. In contrast to the perceived ideas of Islamic world, such moves show that there were women shopkeepers and women shoppers in early Islamic society. For if the market place been largely a man’s place, these women would face challenges in their duties as controller yet neither Al-Shifa nor Samra’ encountered such difficulties. Later on Al Shifa was appointed as the head of health and safety in Basra and she continued to serve the Islamic society till her last days.
The next treasure of Islam is a special female hero of Islam whom I completely adore and look up to. Nusaybah bint Ka’ab. A true warrior, personal bodyguard and women right advocate who is one of the few female companions of Prophet that physically fought in battle in the defense of Messenger of Allah (SWT). After taking the pledge to become Muslim, this mighty woman took place in numerous major events including The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Battle of Uhud, Battle of Hunayn, Battle of Khaybar, and Battle of Yamamah.
The Quran records, when the Battle of Uhud turned into defeat due to Muslims disobeying the command of Muhammad, Nusaybah went forward with her sword unsheathed and her bow in her hand, to join the small group who were standing firm with the Prophet, acting as a human shield to protect him from the arrows of the non-believers. In her praise, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad said, “Wherever I turned, left or right, on the Day of Uhud — I saw her fighting for me.” Near the end she was inflicted with 13 wounds but didn’t run away from the battle ground rightfully so earning herself the title of “The Shield of Muhammad at Uhud.”
Her courage on the battle ground doesn’t yet define Nusaybah bint Ka’ab for she was a loving wife and strong mother. She fought actively as an advocate for Muslim women, once she asked the Messenger of Allah SWT as why the Quran only mentioned men and not women? Soon thereafter, Ayat 35 of Surah Al’Ahzab was revealed.
Her actions further teach Muslim women to learn self-defense skills as opposed to waiting for any rescue from some knight in shining armor. They also show the inherent core of Islam that doesn’t discriminate between the sexes. Her valuable services to Islam received praise and were rewarded by Allah SWT and his Messenger alike.
In times, when women were considered inferior, Nusaybah R.A’s active participation in community treaties and battles show that Islam encourages both women and men to play their roles for a just Islamic society. Yet, today’s Muslim communities and countries are plagued with many discriminatory traditions against women; don’t you feel its time for us sisters to take some lessons from our own true hero the possessor of ambition, courage, loyalty and empowerment. Say yes to Muslimah power and just bring out your Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, now.
Women of Islam. What can I tell you about these strong pillars who were and are the cornerstone of faith and divine grace. For a start, they are indeed a multitude and start at the very beginning with Eve (Awa aleihi salam) our first mother who if you read the transliteration of the Quran wasn’t accused of leading Adam (aleihi salam) to doom. It was their unanimous decision to listen to the whispers. But this is where the blaming game was inferred. Women aren’t evil temptresses. Both men and women have the ability to seduce and tempt! To prove this, the holy verses say :
“But Satan caused them BOTH to stumble therein, and thus brought about the loss of their erstwhile state. And so We said: “Down with you, [and be henceforth] enemies unto one another; and on earth you shall have your abode and your livelihood for a while.” (Quran 2 :36)
They repented and Allah made them vicegerents of earth. They ruled it peacefully until their time was up. Now speaking of peace, Bilqis (Queen of Sheba) comes to mind. She is considered a valiant governor and a democratic Queen. We know her story from surah 27 of the Quran. King Solomon sent messengers her way to announce the message of Islam (Submitting to One God). As the diplomatic ruler that she was, she consulted her advisers first.
“She said, “O eminent ones, advise me in my affair. I would not decide a matter until you witness [for] me.” ” (Quran 27: 32)
“They said, “We are men of strength and of great military might, but the command is yours, so see what you will command.” ” (Quran 27: 33)
The advisers implied that they were ready to fight off the Prophet of Allah because they had the means of their politics but she was wise not to go that route.
Since the final decision rested upon her, Bilqis decided to test King Solomon with a gift from Dunya. She wanted to know if he was after this materialistic world or if his cause was truly above that. Long story short, Bilqis (Barakissa in certain languages) and Solomon saw eye to eye and got married. In fact, Solomon was quite infatuated with her!
The hadith “Never will succeed such a nation as lets their affairs carried out by a woman.” was uttered in a very specific and isolated case about a treacherous nation (Neo-Persian Empire) whose tyrant ruler died and his daughter took over doing the same thing he was doing. The success of Balqis, the former idol worshiper, who converted to Islam after the presence of Allah was made evident to her goes against the fact that this hadith was meant as a general rule of thumb like many religious clerics and some Muslim men make it sound like. Who do you think counselled great kings and men behind closed doors when no one was/is at ear shots? Women of great morals of course! In my opinion, if a nation doesn’t do well because its ruler is a woman it’s probably because the men surrounding her don’t have her back, give her the evil eye, or perhaps undermine her authority because they can’t seem to get acquainted with the idea that a woman is above them. Plain and simple. Idiosyncrasy when a woman gives birth to you…
To continue with another Muslim woman, how about Mary (Maryam aleihi salam) mother of Jesus (Issa alehi salam) ? She was a spiritual woman whose mother (Hanna) prayed that she only become a servant of Allah in a time where only boys were allowed to become monks. Her name actually means just that too. She was so close to Allah that her name is mentioned in the Quran masha’Allah and the law changed because of her and she entered in the service of Allah when she reached the age. Even back then, gender disparities were present. The other great women of Islam aren’t mentioned in the Quran by name but their stories are still known by His might.
Hanna, mother of Maryam aleihi salam was also very religious. She made immeasurable prayers to have a pious boy devoted to the service of Allah. But Allah had a plan and gave her a girl instead to make groundbreaking changes in regard to gender discrimination! So always pray for your children and the sake of the ummah as it is Allah only that guides people and fix all our affairs!
“[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of ‘Imran said, “My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Quran 2: 35)”
“But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah ].” (Quran 2: 36)”. See, women are just as capable of doing what men do and the real Islam doesn’t preach discrimination between the sexes.
Feeling like many of the early verses revealed always addressed men or were perhaps vague for her, Umm Salama (aka Hind bint Abi Umayya) spoke up about her concern to her husband Rasullulah sallallahu aleihi wasasalam. Then the same day by Zhur prayer, Surah 33 verse 35 was revealed. How special would you feel when a verse is addressed to you just because you spoke up? I bet fabulous will be the word! So speak up about what bothers you and bring about a change! Surah 3 Verse 195 was also revealed under the same circumstances of brave women demanding inclusion and recognition for their tireless efforts in spreading the message of Islam under the harsh times the Ummah faced at the time.
And in the time of Rasullulah sallallahu aleihi wasasalam, there were such ‘things’ called mubayiat (the involvement of women in politics) and shura (consultation between the head and the constituents of the community). Women participated in many events in the communities notably the bayat annisa. Umm Umarah aka Nusayba bin’t Ka’b mentioned in part I was actually in one of the stages of the bayat al-Aqaba. She was what you call a true warrior never falling short of her duty and allegiance to protect the Prophet Rasullulah sallallahu aleihi wasasalam. She lived the life of a bodyguard for him.
With all that being said and as you might suspect, anything related to women evolving has to be stopped, reduced, hidden, and diminished by closed-minded people. Many women entered Islam and pledged allegiance to the Prophet sallallahu aleihi wasasalam because non-believing Arabs at the time didn’t treat women well. Here is a religion that put women on a pedestal, what do you think I would do in those times? I would join to and surah 60 verse 12 was revealed to protect these enlighted and chosen women to siratal mustaqeem. However, this women’s revolution was cut short when our beloved Prophet sallallahu aleihi wasasalam died and many of his successors went retrograde. Women were pushed back to the sidelines and dismissed from social and political involvement. A women revolution is on its way and nothing will stop it because it was written long ago.
In conclusion here, without women society will collapse. Without men, it’ll collapse too. So give us credit where it is due and see us not as handicapped and invaluable.
Note: ‘The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff’ is a copyrighted collaborative feature series bringing forward attention towards serious issues within the global Muslim communities. This is a joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feuxzar of Djarabi Kitabs Publishing and Saadia Haq of The Human Lens. We will be pleased to hear your feedback, here at wordpress or through email which ever medium works for you. Copyrights @2015 – 2016