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Honorable Status of Women in Islam

  Peace-Forum: Equality :  Men and women are absolutely equal with regard to their human status. The Qur’an, and the Prophet (pe...

Prominent Muslim Women

The main responsibility of women is to look after the household and children but it does not imply that the women have to confine herself to her house only. They have the right to participate in public life in dignified manner. 

Narrated byJabir ibn Abdullah: My maternal aunt was divorced, and she intended to pluck her dates. A person scolded her for having come out (during the period of Iddah, the waiting period after death of husband or divorce). She came to Allah's Prophet (peace be upon him) and he said: Certainly you can pluck (dates) from your palm trees, for perhaps you may give charity, or do an act of kindness.(Sahih Muslim Hadith. 3535).

The women got exalted positions in the Muslim society. The Mother of Believers, Khadijah al-Kubra the first wife of Prophet (peace be upon him) was not only the first one to embrace Islam but also supported Prophet (peace be upon him) during the critical phases of his life. Fatima az-Zahra the loveable daughter of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the wife of Ali, was an excellent daughter who brought up her sons Hassan and Hussein in befitting manner. She was a role model of a domestic Muslim lady, who lived extremely simple life despite her exalted position. Woman is equal to man in the pursuit of education and knowledge. The Prophet declared: “Search for knowledge is a sacred duty imposed on every Muslim man and woman.” 

The life of Aysha (Mother of Believers,) is proof that a woman can be far more learned than men and that she can be the teacher of scholars and experts. Khadijah al-Kubra (the Great) and Fatima az-Zahra (the Resplendent), Aysha as-Siddiqah (the one who affirms the Truth) are regarded as highly respected woman in Islam. Her life also substantiates that a woman can exert influence over men and women and provide them with inspiration and leadership. Her life is also an evidence of the fact that the same woman can be totally feminine and be a source of pleasure, joy and comfort to her husband. The example of Aysha (r.a) in promoting education and in particular the education of Muslim women in the laws and teachings of Islam is one which needs to be followed. She is source of numerous Hadith and has been teaching eminent scholars. Because of the strength of her personality, she was a leader in every field in knowledge, in society and in politics. The useful advise rendered by Umm al-Mumineen Ume Salma (Mother of Believers) to the Prophet (peace be upon him) at the occasion of Hudabia, and its acceptance by the Prophet (peace be upon him) helped to avoid an odd situation. Umm al-Mumineen Hafsa, the daughter of Umar, was entrusted with the honor of custody of original manuscript of Qur’an till 3rd Caliph Usman got the standard copies prepared for distribution. 

History shows that women played active role in all walks of life. Women not only participated in trade, but even took part in defensive efforts. They were never shut behind iron bars or considered worthless creatures. Laila Al-Ghifaria would nurse the wounded in battles. Suffiah Bint Abdul Muttalib even fought and killed the enemies. 

The Second Caliph of Islam, Umar, appointed a woman, Shaffa Bint Abdullah, to supervise the market. He would often consult her and held her in high esteem. Sukayna (also “Sakina), the great granddaughter of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and daughter of Imam Hussein was the most brilliant most accomplished and virtuous women of her time. She grew up to be an outspoken critic of the Umayyads. She became a political activist, speaking against all kinds of tyranny and personal, social and political iniquities and injustice. She was a fiercely independent woman. She married more than once, and each time she stipulated assurance of her personal autonomy, and the condition of monogamy on the prospective husband’s part, in the marriage contract. She went about her business freely, attended and addressed meetings, received men of letters, thinkers, and other notables at her home, and debated issues with them. She was an exceedingly well-educated woman who would take no nonsense from anyone howsoever high and mighty he or she might be.

Um Adhah al-Adawiyyah (died 83 AH), was a reputable scholar and narrator of Hadith based on reports of Ali ibn Abu Talib and Aish’a. Amrah bint Abd al-Rahman (d. 98 AH) was one of the more prominent students of Aish’a and a known legal scholar in Medina whose opinions overrode those of other jurists of the time.  Hafsa bint Sirin al-Ansariyyah (d. approx. 100 AH) was also a legal scholar. Amah al-Wahid (d. 377 AH), was noted jurist of the Shafi’a school and a mufti in Baghdad. Karimah bint Ahmad al-Marwaziyyah (d. 463 AH) was a teacher of Hadith (Sahih Bukhari); Zainab bint Abd al-Rahman (d. 615 AH) was linguist and teacher of languages in Khorasan. Zainab bint Makki (d. 688 AH) was a prominent scholar in Damascus, teacher of Ibn Taimiya, the famous jurist of the Hanbali school; Zaynab bint Umar bin Kindi (d. 699 AH) was the  teacher of the famous Hadith scholar, al-Mizzi; Fatima bint Abbas (d. 714 AH), legal scholar of the Hanbali school, mufti in Damascus and later in Cairo. Nafisin bint al Hassan taught Hadith; Imam Shafi’ sat in her teaching circle at the height of his fame in Egypt. Two Muslim women — Umm Isa bint Ibrahim and Amat al-Wahid — served as muftis in Baghdad. Aish’a al-Banniyyah, a legal scholar in Damascus, wrote several books on Islamic law. Umm al-Banin (d. 848 AH/ 1427 CE) served as a mufti in Morocco. Al Aliyya was a famous teacher whose taught men in classes before the noon prayer (Zuhr) and women after the afternoon prayer (Asr). A Muslim woman of the name of Rusa wrote a textbook on medicine, and another, Ujliyyah bint al-Ijli (d. 944 CE) made instruments to be used by astronomers. During the Mamluk period in Cairo (11th century) women established five universities and 12 schools which were also managed by them.

Rabi’a al-Adawiyya al-Basri (717 C.E), is honored as one of the earliest and greatest Sufis in Islam. Orphaned as a child, she was captured and sold into slavery. But later her master let her go. She retreated into the desert and gave herself to a life of worship and contemplation. She did not marry, and to a man who wanted her hand she said: “I have become naught to self and exist only through Him. I belong wholly to Him. You must ask my hand of Him, not of me.” She preached unselfish love of God, meaning that one must love Him for His own sake and not out of fear or hope of rewards. She had many disciples, both men and women.

Zubaida (Amatal Aziz bint Jafar), the favorite wife of Harun al-Rashid, the legendary Abassid caliph. She came to be an exceedingly wealthy woman, a billionaire so to speak, independently of her husband. Granddaughter of Al-Mansur, she grew up to be a lady of dazzling beauty, articulate and charming of speech, and great courage. Discerning and sharp, her wisdom and insightfulness inspired immediate admiration and respect. In her middle years she moved out of the royal “harem” and began living in a huge palace of her own. She owned properties all over the empire which dozens of agents in her employs managed them for her. 

A cultured woman, pious and well acquainted with the scriptures, Zubaida was also a poetess and a patron of the arts and sciences. She allocated funds to invite hundreds of men of letters, scientists, and thinkers from all over the empire to locate and work in Baghdad. She spent much of her funds for public purposes, built roads and bridges, including a 900-mile stretch from Kufa to Makkah, and set up, hostels, eating places, and repair shops along the way, all of which facilitated travel and encouraged enterprise. She built canals for both irrigation and water supply to the people. To increase the water supply in Makka for the benefit of pilgrimages, she spent many millions of Dinars on getting a canal built, that went through long tunnel through mountains. She took a keen interest in the empire’s politics and administration. The caliph himself sought her counsel concerning the affairs of state on many occasions and found her advice to be eminently sound and sensible. After Harun’s death, his successor, Al Mamun, also sought her advice from time to time. She died in 841 C.E (32 years after Harun’s death).

Arwa bint Ahmad bin Mohammad al-Sulayhi (born 1048 C.E) was the ruling queen of Yemen for 70 years (1067-1138 C.E), briefly, and that only technically, as a co-ruler with her two husbands one after the other, but as the sole ruler for most of that time. She is still remembered with a great deal of affection in Yemen as a marvelous queen. Her name was mentioned in the Friday sermons right after that of the Fatimid caliph in Cairo. She built mosques and schools throughout her realm, improved roads, took interest in agriculture and encouraged her country’s economic growth. Arwa is said to have been an extremely beautiful woman, learned, and cultured. She had a great memory for poems, stories, and accounts of historical events. She had good knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah. She was brave, highly intelligent, devout, with a mind of her own. She was a Shi’a of the Isma’ili persuasion, sent preachers to India, who founded an Isma’ili community in Gujarat which still thrives. She was also a competent military strategist. At one point (1119 C.E) the Fatimid caliph sent a general, Najib ad-Dowla, to take over Yemen. Supported by the emirs and her people, she fought back and forced him to go back to Egypt. She died in 1138 C.E at the age of 90. A university in Sana’a is named after her, and her mausoleum in Jibla continues to be a place of pilgrimage for Yemenis and others. The other eminent ladies who played important role in the affairs of state and philanthropy include, Buran the wife of Caliph Mamun. Among the Mughals Noor Jehan, Zaib un Nisa left their mark in Indian history. Razia Sultan was an other eminent women ruler in India. In modern period, Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia), late Benazeer Bhutto (Pakistan), Sheikh Hasina Wajid & Khilida Zia (Bangladesh) have lead their governments as political leaders.  
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