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.
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