By Fiza Fatima Asar
The lessons in Du'ā' and Divine love
Really excited about such an opportunity, in 2006 in my college in California, I took up a class called “Women in Islam” taught by a non-Muslim teacher. The course, unfortunately, turned out to be an attempt in Islamophobia involving “critical” reading of Primary text (i.e the Qurʾān) and a reading list that comprised of (for lack of a better word) “self-loathing” Muslim writers.
I found myself struggling every week in that course to refute the professor for the benefit of the class, but due to my own lack of knowledge I am still unsure how successful I was. What this left in me, however, was a quest to understand the role of women in a complete society and to reflect on the strength and beauty Allāh has given us. Sandwiched between the hypocrisies of our own societies and the role media plays in portraying women either as commercial objects or political tools against Muslim countries, it became more and more important for me to document for the current and future generations, the women Islam as produced.
The women I have studied in the first five days of Ramaḍān have a strong theme of Divine Love, devotion to Allāh, and faith in Him. These qualities, combined with their strength of character and intellect, led them be women we can look up to centuries later.
Maryam , mother of a Prophet
There was no better choice than Maryam , mother of a Prophet ('Īsa ) by way of Allāh's miracle, to begin the month. Maryam was Allāh's response to a prayer by Hannah for a child that would be devoted to Him.
“Right graciously did her Lord accept her, He made her grow in purity and beauty, to the care of Zakariyya was she assigned, every time he (Zakariyya) entered (her) chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Maryam! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allāh. For Allāh provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.” (Sūrah Āle-'Imrān:37)
Rabia al-Basri, a Sufi saint
It was the same power of du'ā' that protected Rabia al-Basri from the ruthlessness of a master she was enslaved to. She was the first Sufi saint to describe the concept of Divine love, a beautiful lesson to teach children even before the concepts of punishment and reward.
Imagine someone who is studying for an exam – if driven by rewards or failure she will only study enough to gain the former and avoid the latter. But if it is the sole love for the subject that drives her to study, she will continue to delve into the subject like it is an unending ocean yet to be discovered.
Fatima Al-Fihri, founder of the world's first university
It was the same desire to delve further into Allāh's love that led a woman like Fatima Al-Fihri to devote her wealth towards Allāh and his people. She built Qawayyin Mosque and University in Fez, which was a spiritual and education centre for the Muslims of its time. Qawayyin University is regarded as the oldest degree-giving university in the world by both UNESCO and Guinness Book of World Records. Fatima Al Fihri's story really shows the importance in the first words revealed from the Qurʾān.
Al-Shifa bint AbdAllāh, appointed by Umar as market controller in Madīnah
It was her devotion to Allāh and her intellect that led Al-Shifa bint AbdAllāh to not only be respected by the people around her, but also by the holy Prophet and Umar . It is this respect that that led Umar to appoint her as the market controller in Madīnah.
Shifa bint AbdAllāh, as the market controller, had to ensure that business practices should always be consistent with Islam. She would go around the market, making sure that trading was being done on fair policies, and that that buyer and seller conformed to Islamic values.
Zubaidah bint Jaafar, wife of Caliph Harun al-Rashid and a woman of great political and social acumen
Zubaidah bint Jaafar, grand-daughter of Caliph Al-Mansur, a highly educated woman and an intellectual companion to her Caliph husband Harun al-Rashid, took her strength even further and used her wealth to build irrigation canals, wells, hotels, cafes, shops and mosques along the 900-mile long pilgrimage route from Baghdad to Mecca. Historians have described how the vision of this woman developed the trade and life along the Baghdad highways, thus transforming the civilization around it.
The five women I studied this week have alone opened my eyes and senses. These women were revered in society, and for generations to come, for their strength of character driven by their faith in Allāh. There is a lesson in their lives for all of us to learn.
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