Women in Islam

Women in Islam: baby factories? Sex machines? Punching bags? Nameless, faceless walking inferiority complexes?

Try judges, doctors, businesswomen, scholars, poetesses, warriors and philanthropists…

This is adapted from the introduction of:

Ghadanfar, Mahmood. Great Women of Islam. Translated by Jamila Qawi. Darussalam: Riyadh. 2001

Exploits and Achievements of the Sahaabiyaat (Women Companions)
The Sahaabiyaat (Women Companions) were the noble women who were the contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad (sAá&s). They were the pure, virtuous crusaders of Islaam, and were honored during the very lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad with the prediction that they would live forever in Pardise in the Afterlife. Their achievements and influence are found in every sphere of that momentous period in the history of the world, when the whole of humanity would be transfigured forever. They were as active in religion as in politics, as courageous in war as in the peaceful and persuasive propagation of the teaching of Islaam. These noble selfless women could be found in the battlefields among the foremost ranks of those taking part in Jihaad. They were to be found in the political arena, in the field of education, in the courts of Islaamic jurisprudence, in the interpretation orf Sharee’a, in trade and commerce, in agriculture, in medicine and in nursing. In short there was no sphere that did not benefit from their intellect, their wisdom and their gentle yet firm strength of character.

Religious Achievements
Among the many services that one can render to Islaam is to fight in the battlefields. Few, if any, examples of such zeal, determination, perseverance and courage can be found in history. When the disbelievers attacked the Muslims during the Battle of Úhud, only a few, devoted followers were left to fight with the Prophet Muhammad. At this critical stage the Women Companion Umm Ámmaarah shielded him with her body and warded off the enemy with her sword as well as her bow and arrows. When Qaniah got within striking distance of the Prophet Muhammad, it was she who bore the brunt of his attack. She had a deep wound on her shoulder, yet she continued to attack him with her sword. But he was well protected and she could not make a dent in his armor. Against Musailama al-Kath-thaab she fought so courageously that she suffered a dozen wounds and lost an arm.

In the Battle of Ahzaab (a/k/a the Battle of the Trench), the Companion Safiyya displayed brilliant military strategy in handling the Jewish attack and slew one of the attackers. In the Battle of Hunain Umm Salim set out to attack the enemy with her sword.

In the Battle of Yattle of Yarmuuk, Asmaa’ bint Abu Bakr, Umm Abbaan, Umm Hakeem, Khawla, Hind and the Mother of the Believers Juwairiah displayed extraordinary valor. Asmaa bint Yazeed killed nine enemy soldiers. In the year 28 Hijri, Umm Haraam took part in the attack on Cyprus.

The Mother of the Believers Áa-isha, Umm Salim and Umm Salit were among those who were very proficient at nursing the wounded.

The Sahaabiyaat usually accompanied the Prophet Muhammad on his military expeditions and took part in battles both on land and at sea. Besides taking an active part in the war, there were many other services that the Sahaabiyaat performed, like giving medical aid to the soldiers, nursing the wounded on the battlefields and providing food and water to the wounded and thirsty. Standing side by side with the soldiers they would hand them arrows, nurse the wounded and generally help to kep up the morale of the army. They also helped to carry the martyred and the wounded back to al-Madeena. Umm ‘Atiya, for example, took part in seven battles and fought during the rule of Khaleefa Úmar al-Faruuq. The women and even the children also used to help bury the dead.

They spread the message of the new revelation and through example converted many of the disbelievers to Islaam. It was Faatima bint Khattaab who converted her brother Úmar bin Khattaab; he was to become one of the bravest and most faithful of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, and his second Khaleefa. It was Umm Saalim who influenced Abu Talha, and it was Umm Hakeem who convinced her husband, Íkrima to accept Islam. Umm Shareek Dosia very discreetly worked amond the women of the tribe of Quraish to spread Islaam.

Another aspect of missionary work is to preserve the religion in its pristine form, and protect it from any modifications, impurities and innovations that may creep in because of cultural or traditional practices already prevalent in society, or in other societies believers encounter. This very important work of preserving the purity of Islaam was performed by many of the Sahaabiyaat; most prominent amongst them was Áa-isha.

In the year 35 Hijri, when Khaleefa Úthmaan was martyred and there was chaos and confusion over who was next in line of succession, it was she who brought unity into the ranks by influencing the Muslims of Basra (Íraaq), and Makka.

Leading the prayers and sounding the Athaan (the call to Salaa (“prayer”)), is another important aspect of religious life. Although women cannot lead men in Salaa, they can lead assemblies of women. Many women contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad performed this task. Áa-isha, Umm Saalim, Umm Waraqa and Sa’da bint Qamaamah were some of the most prominent among these. In fact, Umm Waraqa turned her house into a place of Salaa for women; the athaan was given there by a female mu-ath-than for the women’s congregation, and Umm Waraqa performed the duties of the Imaam in leading the Salaa.

Political Achievements
The Sahaabiyaat (Women Companions played a prominent role in politics as well. Khaleefa (Caliph) ‘Umar (rAa) so valued Shifaa’ bint ‘Abdullaah (rAa) for her political intelligence an insight that he very often consulted with her. He ofter gave her the responsibility of running the affairs of state relating to trade and commerce. Before the Hijra (migration) of the Prophet Muhammad (sAaws) to al-Madeena, the disbelievers wanted to lay siege to his house. It was Ruqayya bint Saifee (rAa) who warned him. The Prophet then secretly left for al-Madeena, leaving ‘Ali (rAa) asleep in his place.

Vast political rights are granted to women in Islaam. A woman even has the right to grant shelter to an enemy, if she so wishes. A historian, Abuu Daawuud, relates that Umm Haani (rAa) the sister of ‘Ali, had given refuge to an enemy disbeliever and the Prophet Muhammad said,

“If you have guaranteed sanctuary and safety to a person, then we stand by you.”

This is the law of Islaam, that the Imaam or leader has to stand by the guarantee offered by a woman.

Education, Knowledge and the Fine Arts
There are various subjects, an understanding of which are essential for a thorough knowledge of Islaam and its principles. Qiraa-a (the correct way of reading the Qur-aan- elocution and enunciation), interpretation and commentary, Sharee’a, Fiqh, and study of Hadeeth, are all important aspects of Islaamic studies. Many of the women Companions were experts in these fields. ‘Aa-isha memorized the Qur-aan, as did Hafsa, Umm Salma, and Umm Waraqa. Hind bint Aseed, Umm Hishaam bint Haritha, Zaida bint Hayyaan and Umm Sa’d bint Sa’d all knew portions of the Qur-aan by heart. The latter used to regularly lecture on the Qur-aan. In the sensitive interpretation of Hadeeth, all were expert, but ‘Aa-isha and Umm Salma were exceptional masters of interpretation and commentary. With the former, 2,210 Ahaadeeth are associated and 378 with the latter.

Umm Salma used to recite the Qur-aan with Tajweed, which was a difficult skill and much appreciated.

‘Aa-isha was an expert on interpretation and commentary due to her close association with the Prophet Muhammad. Much of the Book of Tafseer (Interpretation0 in Saheeh Muslim contains narrations from her.

Asmaa bint Abuu Bakr (Sister of ‘Aa-isha, Umm ‘Atiya, Umm Haani and Faatima bint Qays also had extensive knowledge of Ahaadeeth.

In Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) ‘Aa-isha’s verdicts could fill several volumes. The same could be said of Umm Salma’s recorded verdicts.

The invaluable verdicts of Safiyya, Hafsa, Umm Habeeba, Juwayria, Faatima bint Muhammad, Umm Shareek, Umm ‘Atiya, Asmaa bint Abuu Bakr, Layla bint Qaa-if, Khawla bint Tuyayt, Umm Dardaa, ‘Athika bint Zayd, Sahla bint Suhayl, Faatima bint Qays, Zaynab bint Jahsh, Umm Salma, Umm Ayman and Umm Yuusuf could fill several volumes.

‘Aa-isha was also well versed in the law of inheritance and many renowned and respected Companions consulted her on the finer points of the law.

Besides being masters of Islaamic law and of the finer points of Fiqh, the women Companions had skill and ability in other branches of knowledge. Asmaa bint Yazeed bin Sakan was an expert in making speech. Asmaa bint ‘Umays was famous for her interpretation of dreams. Several female Companions were noted for their skill in medicine an dsurgery. Aslamia Umm Mattaa’a, Umm Kabsha, Hamna bint Jahsh, Mu’aatha, Ammayma, Umm Ziad, Rabee’a bint Mu’awath, Umm ‘Atiya and Umm Saalim were some of them, well known for their skills. Rufayda Aslamia’s tent, set up as a surgery with all the necessary instruments, was situated close to the Prophet’s Masjid in Madeena.

The era before the advent of the Prophet was known as the age of illiteracy, but some of these wordly women were highly educated and skilled in the arts of penmanship an dcalligraphy. Shifaa bint ‘Abdullaah learned to read and write even during these dark ages and was celebrated for her skill at this art. Hafsa, Umm Kulthuum bint ‘Uqba and Kareema bint Miqdaad were all literate. ‘Aa-isha and Umm Salma could not write but they could read. Both of them were blessed with remarkable memories and inquiring minds; and because of their close association with the Prophet many of the authentic Ahaadeeth originated from them.

The arts were not neglected by any means. Some of the most noted poetesses were Sa’di, Safiya, ‘Atika, bint Zaid, Hind bint Athaatha, Umm Ayman, Kabasha bint Raafee’a, Ummaama Maridia, Hind bint Haarith, Zaynab bint ‘Awaam Azdi, Maymuuna and Ruqayya. A book of verses by Khansaa, the best known among them has been published.

The daughters of the Ansaar would compose verses and poems for festive occasions and sing. According to the Hadeeth narrated by Fre’a bint Ma’auth, they recited their poems in the presence of the Prophet, who had appreciated their literary skills.

Industry, Trade and Commerce
The women Companions also practiced the practical or survival skills as we know them today. Agriculture, business, trade and commerce, writing, editing, cottage industries like weaving, manufacture and designing of clothes- all these are mentioned in the Musnad (collection of Ahaadeeth) of Imaam Ahmad.

Agriculture was not so common, but was mainly practiced in the rural fertile areas around al-Madeena, especially by the women of the Ansaar. Among the immigrants, or Muhaajireen as they were known, Asmaa also practiced farming.

Some of the Sahaabiyaat also ran businesses. Khadeeja was a very successful businesswoman and used to send trading caravans to different countries. Khaula, Maleeka, Thaqafiya and bint Fakhariya used to trade in the oriental oil-based perfumes known as ‘Itar. Sauda operated a leather tanning industry.

Thus there was no sphere of activity- social or cultural- that was not influenced and assisted by the presence of these great ladies. Was this not the best generation of women on the planet? This level was not even approached until centuries later by any other society. Let us all strive after this example.May Allaah have mercy on their souls!

Allaah Will Be Pleased with them and they with Him.

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3 comments on “Women in Islam

  1. Also, the first woman military general was a Muslim. The mother of believers ‘Aa-isha at the urge of Mu’awia lead one of the largest military campaigns in the history of Islam. The mother of believers marched thousands of Kilometers from Medina to Mecca then from Mecca to Basra managing to recruit and energizing thousands of fighting men which subsequently resulted in one of the bloodiest civil wars in the history of mankind .

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