Takeaways from women’s empowerment during Prophet’s ﷺ Time
For a religion which is labelled “backward”, in its own time, Islam bothered contemporaries for being “too progressive”
By Neelofar Rafeeq
THE tests of the times are such that it has become increasingly difficult to see our beliefs as they are instead of how they’ve been interpreted or perceived. Whether it is the worldover Islamophobic demonization of muslim women’s choices or the policing within their own communities; women have found it extremely difficult to form an untainted opinion of their own choices as Muslims. There’s been so much said about the oppressed state of women in Islam that one would think it true. One would think that Islam has only set limitations and boundaries upon women. Infact, in some cases, within our own communities too, these biases often keep us from realizing the true benefits of the rights given to women by Islam.
For a religion which is labelled “backward”, in its own time, Islam bothered contemporaries for being “too progressive”. A reason for this was the Prophet’s fight for the rights of women.
The Prophet’s ﷺ phenomenal success in his mission has always intrigued scholars and laymen alike. As Muslims, we believe that his success was due in no small measure to his outstanding qualities as a leader and divine support. Thanks to the Prophet’s ﷺ extraordinary leadership skills, he inspired people to join his cause and commit wholeheartedly to it. He encouraged both men and women, young and old, of various levels and ranks. Many Aḥadith are related to women’s status, role, and societal position. Abdullah ibn Amr reports that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The world is the provision, and the best provision is a righteous woman.” [Shahih Muslim: 1467].
Abu Huraira reports that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, said, “I enjoin you to treat women well, for the women were created from a rib and the most cursed part of the rib is its uppermost part. If you try to straighten it, you will break it, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain curved. Thus, I enjoy you to be good to women”. [Shahih Bukhari- 3153].
Before the advent of Islam, women were often treated worse than animals. The prophet ﷺ wanted to stop all cruelties against women. He preached kindness towards them. He told the Muslims: “Fear Allah in respect of women”; “The best of you are they who behave best to their wives”; “A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he is displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good”; and “the more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is.”
The Prophetﷺ was most emphatic in enjoining Muslims to be kind to their women when he delivered his famous Khutbah on the occasion of Hajj al Wada (Farewell pilgrimage) and said: “Fear Allah regarding women. Verily you have married them with the trust of Allah and made their bodies lawful with the word of Allah. You have got (rights) over them, and they have got (rights) over you in respect of their food and clothing according to your means.”
The first person to believe in Allah as the lord and Muhammad ﷺ as the Messenger and prophet, was his wife, Khadija. She was the first person to support the messenger of Allah ﷺ. She strengthened him, assured him, and consoled him. She received the prophet and his message with her big heart. After her, many women embraced Islam, not in compliance with their husbands’ will, out of tribal solidarity, or in obedience to their father’s command. Instead, these women, in most cases, embraced Islam independently, out of conviction, and in demonstration of their right of choice.
Khadijah [R.A], the prophet’s wife, was undoubtedly the first person to embrace Islam. It is worth remembering that she was attracted to the prophet ﷺ by his trustworthiness and noble character. A successful entrepreneur of immense wealth, she rejected proposals for marriage from several men of high status. However, she was the one who proposed marriage to the prophet. Khadija [R.A] was not only the first to embrace Isla, but was also the first to place all her wealth at the service of Islam. When the Quraish taunted the prophet, saying that he was the poorest man in Makkah, she went out to the courtyard of the Haram where the Quraish had gathered and declared that she had gifted all of her wealth to Muhamad! Khadija stood by the prophet like a firm pillar of support until the end-sacrificing everything for the cause of Islam.
Khadija [R.A] was not alone in giving up everything for the cause of Islam. Another pioneer was Sumayyah, the mother of Ammar, Who is reported to be the seventh person to choose Islam. Her master unleashed a torrent of punishments upon her as soon as she decided on Islam. She was offered the choice of renouncing Islam or suffering ordeals. She preferred the latter, ultimately surrendering her life. She thus became the first martyr in Islam. The examples set by Sumayyah [R.A] were followed by women from all walks of life under varying circumstances. The sister of Umar [R.A] stood up to her brother, a notorious and relentless persecutor of Muslims, before his conversion to Islam. Umm Salamah and others were among the first batch of emigrants sent by the prophet to Abyssinia. She provided us with the narrative of their encounter with the emperor and the story of their experience in Abyssinia. The prophet’s hijrah to Madinah was planned and executed with utmost finesse and skill. It was not a men’s affair; women also played a crucial role. A highly guarded secret, it was entrusted to both Asma [R.A] and Aisha [R.A]. They were in charge of arranging provisions for the journey. Even though Asma was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, she would deliver requirements by climbing mountains considered challenging for the toughest of men. Both refused to disclose the prophet’s whereabouts and his companion despite threats from Abu jahal, described as the women did not lag behind men in any of the decisive events, which were always at the forefront alongside men.
If there are men companions, there are also women companions. If there are ‘men around the messenger,’ there are also ‘women around the messenger.’ Each of these women played their role in the best and noblest way in the arena of faith and sincerity. These women excellently maintained a necessary balance between the two segments of humanity: male and female. They stand out as outstanding models in the history of humanity in a way that made them unrivaled in the history of nations from the time of Adam until Allah inherited the earth and all that is on it. This essential and critical aspect in the life of Allah’s Messenger, the message that he was carrying, the journey of Islam in its first step, and the appearance of the dawn of Islam after the stark darkness in which the entire humanity was living then needs to be written down in many reasons.
Allah’s Messenger [S.A.W] imparted teaching to the women companions making these allowances and emphasizing them. There was a proper arrangement for women’s education in the prophet’s times. They did not come to the prophet’s classes as men did, but other methods were adopted to teach them. The sahabah [R.A] taught their women and children the Quran at home. When the prophet ﷺ said Knowledge of religion would disappear, Ziyad ibn Labid Ansari [R.A] submitted (How can Knowledge disappear from us when we recite the Quran, and by Allah, we will recite it and teach it to our women and our children). [Musnad Ahmad 4/160, Tirmidhi 3653].
The Prophet ﷺ used to go to the exclusive gatherings of women companions to educate, encourage them. Syed Asma bint Yazid ibn sakan Ansariyah [R.A] was a knowledgeable and religious woman companion. The other women companions (sahabiyat) sent her as their envoy to the Prophet ﷺ She said to him, “I have come to you as an envoy of the wives of Muslims who say….and I say too- that Allah has sent you to men and women. We, women, have believed you, and we obey you. We are behind the veil and stay indoors in our homes. We fulfill every wish of our men and raise their children while men offer Salah with the congregation, participate in the funeral and jihad, and earn rewards and excellence. When they go to battle, we look after their property and children. These are evidence that the sahabiyat were very eager to acquire Knowledge. The prophet ﷺ encouraged them.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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