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History and Seerah

Ramadan Challenge – 30 days, 30 amazing Muslim women (Part 1 of 5)

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 Ramadan2012 Posts   

By  Fiza Fatima Asar

The lessons in Du‘ā’ and Divine love

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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 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), mother of a Prophet

There was no better choice than Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), mother of a Prophet (‘Īsa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)) by way of Allāh’s miracle, to begin the month. Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) 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 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) 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 raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) as market controller in Medina

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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). It is this respect that that led Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) to appoint her as the market controller in Medina.

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.

To read more on each story:

Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)

Rabia al-Basri

Fatima al-Fihri

Shifa bint AbdAllāh

Zubaidah bint Jaafar

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. AnonyMouse Al-Majnoonah

    July 30, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    BarakAllahu feeki, I love that there’s more of an emphasis on strong Muslim women in our history!

    I truly enjoyed the article on Al-Shifa bint Abdallah, but was hoping that you would be able to provide a reference to the source of the narrations that state she was chosen as a market controller by Umar (radhiAllahu anhu).

  2. Imran

    July 31, 2012 at 7:41 PM

    Assalaamu alaykum,

    As an ascetic who refused many offers of marriage, Rabia Basri chose to deny the Sunnah of our Rasool Muhammad (saws), and is therefore not a good role model for any Muslim. Asceticism is against Islam, whatever the justification. Milk, not wine, my sister.

    with Peace,
    Imran

    • Fiza Fatima Asar

      August 1, 2012 at 9:53 AM

      JazakAllah khair for your comment and I do see where you are coming from too as I myself had similar doubts. This is the first sufi I have studied as have been brought up in a way so as to not give them much attention. I do think however, that there are traits or messages or even an incident from the lives of even “non-Muslims” (leave alone Muslims) that we can learn from. Her message of Divine Love as a concept before obviously going into punishment and reward really appeals to me. Also, there will be more women to come in the series who may not necessarily follow Sunnah per word but have made contributions in the Muslim world and the purpose of the series is to show that as opposed to what media/cultural centres might show us. If we continue to find faults and not encouragements, we will remain stuck in the whirlpool of raising fingers and not achieving the strengths many of these people did centuries ago.

      • Imran

        August 1, 2012 at 3:27 PM

        Assalaam,
        I regret leaving only a criticism, and not complimenting you on the overall series; please keep up – and may Allah (swt) bless you for – the good work; it is much needed. Please note I am not at all against Sufism, just asceticism. The great majority of Sufis were not ascetic. I understand your point about Divine Love, but I prefer to view it as itself a reward, indeed the greatest reward. Our natures may be such that we cannot help but seek the greatest good for ourselves, and Allah’s Love is that.
        Rabia’s mistake I believe is taking a good thing to extremes and thereby distorting the proper balance, which is a deeper understanding of Reality than what Rabia had. Something is wrong with a Muslim who has no room in their heart for the love of Muhammad (saws).

        Jazakallah khair on the series; looking forward to it.

        • Fiza Fatima Asar

          August 1, 2012 at 5:51 PM

          Ah I see your point now – no definitely, i didnt know about her ascetism and its good to have all points of view here so that the readers can benefit more as understand that some readers might find a specific personality more intriguing than the others and want to delve into them further. So JazakAllah khair for your comment.

    • AnonyMouse Al-Majnoonah

      August 1, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      There are many great women in Islamic history (many of whom were scholars) who did not marry, but that does not detract from the fact that they were great women and excellent role models for Muslim men and women alike!

    • Layla

      August 2, 2012 at 7:33 AM

      Imam Bukhari did not marry, but do we reject him as a role model?

  3. Layla

    August 2, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    Jazakhallahu khair Sister,

    Truly as Muslim women we need strong role models to look up to. This is such a change from the women-hating opinions I’ve come across from some Muslim men.

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