Achievements and Virtues

Mufti Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf

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How does a woman ful­fill her rela­tion­ship with Allah Most High, and at the same time, also serve the community?

There are many extremes in this.  For exam­ple, some peo­ple believe that women should not be edu­cat­ed at all; that they should be kept com­plete­ly igno­rant so that they don’t know any­thing beyond the basics of their faith. This is com­plete­ly reject­ed by our deen. Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanawi, for exam­ple, com­piled the famous work Bahishti Zewar and aimed it par­tic­u­lar­ly toward women. The com­pre­hen­sive­ness of the book sug­gests it is a work that ought to live on the book­shelf of every home and used as a guid­ance for every aspect of a woman’s (and indeed her family’s) life. Indeed, such is the use­ful­ness of the book that it is not uncom­mon to find muftis using Bahishti Zewar as a ref­er­ence point

There is the oth­er extreme, too. There are women who dis­cov­er some Islam­ic knowl­edge by way of their own research and sud­den­ly, they believe they are qual­i­fied to derive and deliv­er Islam­ic rul­ings. Seek­ing knowl­edge is com­mend­able in its own right, as is the desire to fol­low Islam­ic rul­ings.  At the same time, one must realise that there is an estab­lished and func­tion­al sys­tem that exists for Mus­lims to acquire knowl­edge and rul­ings.  It is when indi­vid­u­als fail to appre­ci­ate and engage with this con­ven­tion­al, main­stream sys­tem that rogue, iso­lat­ed and way­ward ideas and the­o­ries are formulated.

There was a case a few years back where a woman gave the adhan for Fri­day prayer and anoth­er woman led a con­gre­ga­tion of men and women.  Need­less to say, both actions are con­trary to the Shar’ia.  Of course, in both of these exam­ples the women felt they were doing the right thing. Some would argue these women were bring­ing Islam into the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry by intro­duc­ing gen­der equal­i­ty to the mosque.  What the women failed to real­ize is that Islam wel­comes indi­vid­u­als look­ing to revive the faith, but does not require indi­vid­u­als to inno­vate new prac­tices. After all, Islam has its own code of equal­i­ty which was estab­lished over a thou­sand years ago inde­pen­dent of any west­ern ideas. Why would Islam sud­den­ly need to be intro­duced to a mod­ern-day con­cep­tion of equality?

Here, I would like to men­tion nar­ra­tions that show the role of women in edu­ca­tion and trans­mis­sion of knowl­edge from one gen­er­a­tion to anoth­er. Undoubt­ed­ly, moth­ers are the first source of infor­ma­tion for their chil­dren. A look into Islam­ic his­to­ry throws up many exam­ples of great schol­ar­ly fig­ures like ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam Bukhari and Mus­lim, and we find that they were brought up in the laps of their moth­ers. Who knew that young Abu ‘Abdil­lah Muham­mad ibn Isma‘il of Bukhara, lat­er known as Imam Bukhari, would shape the under­stand­ing of many Mus­lim schol­ars and lay­men that came after him?   There can be no doubt that the moth­ers of these mon­u­men­tal schol­ars made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to their suc­cess.  The famous idiom “Behind every great man is a great woman” could not be more rel­e­vant than in the life of Imam Shafi’i, who was brought up by his moth­er alone, who was a wid­ow.   Clear­ly, many women get clos­er to Allah Most High than men do because of their devo­tion and sac­ri­fice for Islam. This is some­thing that our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not over­look; our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would fre­quent­ly con­sult with his wives.

Umm Sala­ma (may Allah be pleased with her), the Wife of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) 

The first exam­ple is a very famous inci­dent about Umm Sala­ma (may Allah be pleased with her) dur­ing the Treaty of Huday­biya. The Com­pan­ions trav­elled from Mad­i­na to Mak­ka with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to per­form the umra but were pre­vent­ed from doing so by the non-Mus­lim Makkans. The stand-off was over­come when an agreement—the Treaty of Hudaibiya—was signed, per­mit­ting the Mus­lims to per­form umra the fol­low­ing year. Because the Mus­lims had come with a desire to per­form umra this year, they were very dis­ap­point­ed and dis­heart­ened. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked them to shave their heads and sac­ri­fice their accom­pa­ny­ing ani­mals, so they could come out of the state of ihram (pil­grim sanc­ti­ty).  How­ev­er, due to their dis­ap­point­ment, they appeared reluc­tant to do so.  So, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) went inside his tent with con­cern and told Umm Sala­ma, his wife, about what was going on. She told him (Allah bless him and give him peace) to go and sac­ri­fice his ani­mal and shave his own head in front of every­one. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) came out from his tent and did exact­ly what Umm Sala­ma (may Allah be pleased with her) sug­gest­ed.  The advice of Umm Sala­ma (may Allah be pleased with her) proved sound, as the Com­pan­ions imme­di­ate­ly tried to emu­late the Prophet’s actions and thus car­ried out his command.

The Daugh­ter of Abu Bakr, Asma’ (may Allah be pleased with them)

Asma’ bint Abi Bakr was a great Com­pan­ion from the time she was young. She was the old­er sis­ter of ‘A’isha and the daugh­ter of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them all). When the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) were migrat­ing to Mad­i­nah, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) took all of his wealth with him. He did not leave much behind for his fam­i­ly. In his home, there were a few fam­i­ly mem­bers; his two daugh­ters, his blind father and per­haps one or two oth­er peo­ple. Abu Bakr’s father kept com­plain­ing and ask­ing about what Abu Bakr had left behind for them. So Asma’ (may Allah be pleased with her) got some peb­bles and cov­ered them up with a cloth and then took her grandfather’s hand, let­ting him feel the peb­bles from over the cloth. Think­ing they were coins, the grand­fa­ther said that Abu Bakr has left a lot for them. From this we can see how Asma’ (may Allah be pleased with her) used her wit to deal with the situation.

The Daugh­ter-In-Law of Umar bin Khat­tab (may Allah be pleased with him)

When ‘Umar ibn al-Khat­tab (may Allah be pleased with him) was the caliph, he was patrolling the streets at night. He decid­ed to take a break and was rest­ing in front of a house. From inside the house he heard a moth­er and a daugh­ter talk­ing. The moth­er instruct­ed the daugh­ter to add water to the milk they had so that they would have more to sell. The daugh­ter remind­ed her that the caliph had out­lawed this prac­tice. Though the moth­er retort­ed that the caliph wasn’t around to wit­ness this rather dubi­ous prac­tice, the daugh­ter assert­ed that Allah Most High was the Ever Present, the Ever Watch­ful and refused to do it.

Like any father, ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) want­ed pious spous­es for his chil­dren. The fol­low­ing day, he ascer­tained that one of his sons, ‘Asim, was look­ing to get mar­ried.  ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) pro­posed a mar­riage between ‘Asim and the girl and they got mar­ried. ‘Asim and his wife had a daugh­ter who was known as Umm ‘Asim, who lat­er on mar­ried ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Mar­wan, the broth­er of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Mar­wan (one of the pow­er­ful caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty). This daugh­ter gave birth to the great caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was the one who, in a peri­od of two and a half years, sort­ed out the sit­u­a­tion of the Mus­lim ummah for a while and dealt with all the injus­tices that had tak­en place. So it can be seen how piety, espe­cial­ly in women, fil­ters down to oth­ers because they have such a great influ­ence and impact on their chil­dren and grandchildren.

Owing to the amount of time a moth­er and child spend togeth­er, a more direct and inti­mate rela­tion­ship is estab­lished. It could be said that the mother’s char­ac­ter­is­tics are passed down to her child and there­fore there is great respon­si­bil­i­ty on a moth­er to be an excel­lent role model.

The Daugh­ter of Imam Malik

It is said that when Imam Malik, a great Imam of fiqh and hadith, was teach­ing, there would be pin drop silence despite the very large class size. The respect he had for the prophet­ic hadiths would also be seen in the peo­ple who lis­tened to him; peo­ple would sit in awe whilst study­ing hadith with the Imam. The Imam would lis­ten to his stu­dents and when­ev­er a stu­dent would make a mis­take, there would be a knock on the door near to where Imam Malik would sit to alert them to the mis­take.  The knock was from his daugh­ter who had mem­o­rized her father’s entire hadith col­lec­tion, the Muwat­ta’.  Some­times a young man would pass by the gath­er­ing and Imam Malik would remark that Allah Most High grants knowl­edge and taw­fiq only to those He wish­es. The boy, who was his son, was not inter­est­ed in study­ing and when he would pass by, Imam Malik would make this com­ment. His daugh­ter, on the oth­er hand, was mem­o­riz­ing and learn­ing from a young age. Imam Malik nev­er pro­hib­it­ed her from engag­ing in the class. After all, she was observ­ing the eti­quette of hijab. There has been no pro­hi­bi­tion for women study­ing the reli­gion as long as the rules and reg­u­la­tions of hijab are observed.

The Daugh­ter of ‘Alla­ma Samarqandi

Among the Hanafi schol­ars of the 4th and 5th cen­tu­ry, there is a great schol­ar by the name of ‘Alla­ma Samar­qan­di, the author of Tuh­fat al-Fuqa­ha’ (The gift to the jurists). Among his stu­dents was Badr al-Din al-Kasani who also became a great jurist, may be even greater than his teacher. Among the oth­er stu­dents of Alla­ma Samar­qan­di was his own daugh­ter. She was such a great jurist that many peo­ple asked for her hand in mar­riage but she refused. She said that she would only mar­ry some­one who could teach her some­thing new. ‘Alla­ma Kasani wrote a com­men­tary on his teacher’s work called Bada’i’ al-Sana’i’. He pre­sent­ed the work to his teacher and when she read it, she real­ized and appre­ci­at­ed the knowl­edge that he pos­sessed and accept­ed his pro­pos­al.  There­after, all sub­se­quent fat­was issued by this house­hold were joint­ly signed by the father daugh­ter and son-in-law.  This shows that a woman, too, can be a muftiya and jurist. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we do not see enough of this today. The more sacred knowl­edge that a woman sin­cere­ly acquires, the more obser­vant she becomes of her reli­gion and the more she becomes mod­est in the sight of Allah Most High.

The moth­er of the last ruler of Grana­da, Spain 

A’isha Umm Muham­mad was the moth­er of Muham­mad, the last ruler of Grana­da, Spain. On the day that he had to sur­ren­der Grana­da to the Chris­tians, he began weep­ing. What his moth­er said to him on this occa­sion has been writ­ten down in books and record­ed in his­to­ry. She said to her son:

O per­son of vile nature, were you not from noble Arab ances­try? I am ashamed that you were born to me. Your sense­less­ness and impo­ten­cy has ashamed me to even own you. Were a stone born to me instead! Don’t cry today like a woman over what you could not defend like a man.”

Such was his moth­er. Instead of suc­cumb­ing to the mater­nal instinct of con­sol­ing her child, she objec­tive­ly account­ed her son.  This is a great exam­ple of how women, at times, keep their sens­es in sit­u­a­tions where men may become despon­dent and defeat­ed. This is real­ly impor­tant giv­en a woman’s influ­ence with­in the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. Nobody is going to deny a woman’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Mus­lim soci­ety as long as it is done in the right way. The prob­lem we have today is that peo­ple are pur­su­ing lib­er­al­ism and buy­ing into aspects of extreme fem­i­nism.  Though some goals of it may be praise­wor­thy, it is large­ly misguided.

Moth­er­hood is an extreme­ly cher­ished con­cept not only in our faith, but in any human civ­i­liza­tion. The prob­lem with some fem­i­nists is that moth­er­hood is looked down upon. A woman that choos­es to be a house­wife or a full-time moth­er is per­ceived as less suc­cess­ful than a career woman. A woman being on the board of a big com­pa­ny, mean­while, is a spe­cial thing; it seem­ing­ly rais­es her esteem in the eyes of oth­ers and almost gives peo­ple a cause for cel­e­bra­tion.  But a woman rais­ing great sons and daugh­ters, for exam­ple, doesn’t real­ly attract the same kind of cel­e­bra­tion. Cel­e­bra­tion of moth­er­hood is very impor­tant. The way to deal with fem­i­nism today is to cel­e­brate moth­er­hood as much as possible.

Cel­e­bra­tion of Moth­er­hood: the Sto­ry of Hajar (Upon Her be Peace)

Hajar (upon her be peace) was left in the desert by her hus­band Ibrahim (upon him be peace) accord­ing to the com­mand of Allah Most High. She had noth­ing. No food. No extra cloth­ing. No water.  Ibrahim (upon him be peace) did not even ini­tial­ly pro­vide her an expla­na­tion as to why he was leav­ing her there in Mak­ka. He just took her there, turned around and start­ed to leave. She man­aged to ask whether this was accord­ing to a com­mand of Allah Most High. When he respond­ed in the affir­ma­tive, she told him that Allah Most High will not aban­don her. Imme­di­ate­ly, her mater­nal instincts kicked in. Her son became thirsty, and she began to run back and forth search­ing for water sev­en times in between the mounts of Safa and Mar­wa. This act of hers was so sig­nif­i­cant that, thou­sands of years on, mil­lions of Mus­lims still emu­late this action of hers as a rite of hajj.  Her action of search­ing for water appeared so sim­ple but Allah Most High made it so sig­nif­i­cant. It is an achieve­ment of moth­er­hood. It is from this event that we get the blessed water of ZamZam. One could say zamzam is a gift of moth­er­hood.  Also, this is prob­a­bly the only reli­gious rite the world over in the major reli­gions that cel­e­brates a woman’s action.

The Sto­ry of Umm Sharik (may Allah be pleased with her)

At the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), there was a female Com­pan­ion by the name of Umm Sharik (may Allah be pleased with her). She embraced Islam ear­ly on and was a very active mem­ber of the com­mu­ni­ty. Umm Sharik decid­ed to give da’wa to the peo­ple of the com­mu­ni­ty. She went to the hous­es of those who were not Mus­lim and talked to the women about the new faith of Islam, and they start­ed embrac­ing it. Umm Sharik was very suc­cess­ful, and even­tu­al­ly, her tribe found out what was hap­pen­ing. They want­ed to pun­ish her and stop her prop­a­ga­tion. Her tribe was trav­el­ling some­where and she was tied up out­side a tent in the hot desert with­out any water or shade for sev­er­al days. After a few days, she became dehy­drat­ed and was com­plete­ly dis­ori­ent­ed, so much so, that she did not know what was hap­pen­ing any­more.  One day at noon, when the sun was at its peak and it was real­ly hot, the mem­bers of her tribe retired into their tents to take an after­noon nap leav­ing her alone out­side. At this point, she sud­den­ly saw a pot of water com­ing down from the heav­en towards her. She drank from it. It moved away, then it returned and she drank from it again until she was com­plete­ly sati­at­ed and refreshed. Once her tribe woke up and they saw how refreshed she was, they began to won­der what had hap­pened. She told them about the occur­rence and how she had received the water, but nobody believed her. They said that she must have tak­en the water from their sup­plies some­how while they were asleep. The tribes­peo­ple began to check their water sup­ply and found that no water was miss­ing. It was at this point that the truth of her words dawned on them and they all accept­ed Islam. Her exam­ple shows us that if the active peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty take their oblig­a­tions seri­ous­ly, then they can be a source of guid­ance for their entire com­mu­ni­ty. Like­wise, if peo­ple are active in wrong­do­ing, it can fil­ter down to their com­mu­ni­ty and bring about unwant­ed consequences.

Most prob­lems today exist because of igno­rance. There are indi­vid­u­als who are suc­cess­ful in their sec­u­lar work or career but are not too con­cerned about their faith.  Some­times, when such peo­ple decide to do some­thing for their faith, they may do so with a lot of zeal but it is gen­er­al­ly with super­fi­cial knowl­edge of the faith.  Their Islam­ic knowl­edge is some­times not even enough to get them through their day-to-day oblig­a­tions, let alone refute or con­vince oth­ers. Such peo­ple then stand up to defend the faith against Islama­pho­bia and oth­er vile attacks against Islam. Although their inten­tion may be praise­wor­thy, their defense takes the form of “reform­ing the faith.” They end up try­ing to apolo­get­i­cal­ly con­vince peo­ple that Islam shares the same val­ues as the sec­u­lar­ists, and sud­den­ly you have women lead­ing Fri­day prayers, call­ing the adhan and oth­er such activ­i­ties that are unsanc­tioned in the faith. These peo­ple feel they are sin­cere in their faith, and want to do some­thing for it, but often for­get they lack the cor­rect knowl­edge or qual­i­fi­ca­tion. So out of their igno­rance, they engage in ideas and actions that are con­trary and far removed from Islam. Such peo­ple think they are help­ing Islam, when, in fact, they are actu­al­ly hurt­ing it.

Estab­lish­ment of the Qarawiyyin University

While the famous Azhar Uni­ver­si­ty is com­mon­ly known as being the first uni­ver­si­ty to be estab­lished back in 361 A.H., there already exist­ed anoth­er less famous uni­ver­si­ty called Jami’ al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Moroc­co.  The Qarawiyyin was found­ed and built by a woman called Umm al-Ban­in Fati­ma bint Mohammed ibn Abdil­lah al-Fihri. Her father was very wealthy and had taught her well. She was a jurist, and used her inher­i­tance to build Qarawiyyin, a madrasa for stu­dents to stay in and learn sacred knowl­edge. Sim­i­lar­ly, Fatima’s sis­ter, Maryam bint Abdil­lah, found­ed the Jami’ al-Andalus on the oth­er side of Fez. These women used their wealth for the cause of Islam and did some­thing no man had hith­er­to accom­plished. Sim­i­lar­ly, the wife of the caliph Harun al-Rashid had a water canal built, called the Zubay­da Canal in Mak­ka, as a water source for the pil­grims to address the dif­fi­cul­ty that exist­ed of a reli­able water sup­ply. An impres­sive aque­duct was used to car­ry the water to the pil­grims and can still be seen today.

These exam­ples show that women, like men, can be activists, savvy prob­lem solvers and vision­ar­ies. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are some peo­ple who are sup­pressed so much that they feel they can­not do any­thing for their faith, while on the oth­er hand there are those who become prey to the Shay­tan, and their mis­placed zeal leads them to focus on the absolute wrong things and they end up divid­ing the community.

The Daugh­ter of Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab 

Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab was a great tabi’i (an imme­di­ate suc­ces­sor to the Com­pan­ions) also known as the leader of the tabi‘in (sayyid al- tabi‘in). His daugh­ter learned all the hadith that he knew. She was so beau­ti­ful and knowl­edge­able that many peo­ple sought her hand in mar­riage. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Mar­wan who became the caliph of the Ummayyads also asked for her hand in mar­riage but Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab refused. He had her mar­ry an impov­er­ished stu­dent of his. Once after mar­riage, her hus­band put on his cloak to leave the house. She asked where he was going and he said to study with her father. She told him to take his cloak of and sit down and she would teach him the knowl­edge of Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab. Her hus­band said about her that she was the most beau­ti­ful and the most knowl­edge­able about the Sun­na, and she knew the rights of her husband.

Hadith on the Reward for Women

Women are get­ting reward­ed auto­mat­i­cal­ly for doing things that they have to do as part of their human life cycle. They are get­ting the same reward that men would get for doing things which take a long time to do. They are get­ting so many rewards in those nine months and beyond. Allah Most High has made both men and women dif­fer­ent but at the same time they both can achieve the great sta­tions in the sight of Allah Most High.

Asmaa bint Yazeed (may Allah be pleased with her) came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said may my father and moth­er be sac­ri­ficed for you O Mes­sen­ger of Allah. I am a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the women to you. God has sent you as a mes­sen­ger to all the men and women, we have believed in you and your God.  Now we women have been con­fined to the hous­es, we bear your chil­dren, men have been pre­ferred over women in terms of Fri­day and the oth­er con­gre­ga­tion­al prayers, vis­it­ing the sick, attend­ing funer­als, doing hajj after hajj, and more than that, jihad in the path of Allah. When you men go out for hajj, umra, or jihad, we look after your prop­er­ty, we weave your clothes, and we bring up your chil­dren. Will we not share with you in the reward? [Note here that the women aren’t seek­ing to do what men do; they recog­nise their respon­si­bil­i­ties but want to know if they will get a share of the reward.] The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) then com­plete­ly turned around to the com­pan­ions and said to them, ‘Have you heard any woman ask­ing about her reli­gion bet­ter than this?’ They said, ‘O Mes­sen­ger of Allah, we nev­er thought any woman could have been guid­ed to do this’. Then the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) turned to her and said ‘Under­stand O woman, tell the oth­er women behind you, that a wife look­ing after her hus­band, seek­ing his con­tent­ment and going along with him is equal to all that.’ The woman went back with her face shin­ing with hap­pi­ness (Usd al-Gha­ba 1:1313).

A woman look­ing after all of her husband’s inter­ests, play­ing the role of the moth­er and the woman of the house, is get­ting an equal amount of reward as her hus­band when he is out earn­ing a liv­ing and gen­er­al­ly meet­ing all his oblig­a­tions.  The woman is play­ing a great role which is impor­tant for the prog­e­ny to con­tin­ue and for the fam­i­ly to work as a whole.

Shaykh Akram Nad­wi, in his book the Muhad­dithat, the female hadith schol­ars in Islam, has com­piled numer­ous vol­umes on the lives of the women hadith schol­ars. In his intro­duc­tion, he writes, “I have worked through much mate­r­i­al over a decade and I have spent more than ten years com­pil­ing bio­graph­i­cal accounts of near­ly eight thou­sand muhad­dithat.”  Inter­est­ing­ly, he notes that not one of them has been report­ed to have con­sid­ered the domain of fam­i­ly life infe­ri­or or to have neglect­ed the duties there­in or con­sid­ered being a woman unde­sir­able or infe­ri­or to that of a man.

These sto­ries and inci­dents are only a few exam­ples to show us the zeal of women, their will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate in soci­ety and their desire to achieve great feats in this world. Cru­cial­ly, women can achieve all this, whilst at the same time play­ing the role of a daugh­ter, a sis­ter, a wife and a mother.