Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 30: Asma' Bint Abu Bakr

30 days of Ramadan and 30 amazing women - I took up this challenge not knowing what would unfold for me. A range of women from across Muslim history that I had never heard or known of before. Blame media? At the end of the month, I blame all of us for not trying harder to record our histories, to learn from Qur'an, hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet pbuh) and the lives of early Muslims, or to try harder ourselves to find out about the women who were stronger, more enlightened, braver, and more sacrificing than many women I hear of today. 
The final story of Ramadan, I thought, would be best if covered one of the most amazing women Islam has produced. The daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakar (the first caliph of Islam and the first "man" after Muhammad pbuh to enter Islam) and the older sister of Hazrat Ayesha (wife of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh) - her name is Asma bint Abu Bakar. There are lessons in her life which cover every aspect that has been talked about throughout this Ramadan series - ranging from sacrifice, support and bravery. At the same time, her story includes lessons in being an exceptional daughter, wife and mother. 
A brave daughter: 
Asma bint Abu Bakar was the seventeenth person to accept Islam. When the persecutions towards the Muslims of Mecca reached their zenith, Allah swt ordered the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to migrate to Medina with the early Muslims for their safety. After his followers had safely migrated to Medina, the Holy Prophet migrated alone with Abu Bakar Siddiq as the enemies were plotting against his life. On their way to Medina, they hid in the cave of Thawr for three nights. 

Her faith in Allah was enough for her sustenance. Abu Bakar had taken all of the property of the house with him when migrating with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). When Abu Quhafa, her grandfather came to her and said, "this man put you in adversity. He deprived you of himself and property." Asma told him that their father had left a lot for them and covered some stones and brought them to the old man who could not see either due to age. Her grand father said, "There is no blame if left that" hence satisfying him in his old age.  

It was during this time that Asma endangered her life for the Prophet of Islam and her father as well as for her faith. She was called the possessor of the two scarves as she split her scarf into two parts in order to deliver food and water to the Prophet (pbuh) and her father. Abu Jahl was furious and tried to force Asma to disclose where they were hiding but she faced him bravely and kept silent. Having given up, he left Asma who safely joined the Muslims in Medina which is where she gave birth to the first new born of Islam Abdullah.

A caring wife:
At the beginning of her marital life, her husband Az-Zubair had little money and no property except a camel and a horse. She helped her husband by taking care of the cooking of the house, its cleaning and feeding of the horse.

She is quoted to have said that she would carry the date stones on her head a distance of two miles from her house. One day, during this chore, she came across Prophet Muhammad with some Ansari men. Seeing her carrying weight on her head alone, he called out to her and offered to ride with her to her home on a camel. She was shy to travel alone as there were other men with him too and she felt it would hurt her husband's pride or honour and therefore refused the offer politely. 
When she shared the story with her husband, he said  "By Allah, your carrying the date-stones (and you being seen by the Prophet (pbuh) in such a state) is more shameful to me than your riding with him.'"

A courageous and strong mother:
She was the mother of 'Abdullah ibn az-Zubair, the first new born of Islam. A courageous woman, she too fought extremely brave in the time of battle of Yarmuk and kept a dagger to defend herself when thieves appeared in Madina. 

Her courage is also demonstrated in this story when her son Abdullah consulted his mother at the time of Al-Hajjaj seige of Mecca (a battle in which Abdullah fought bravely until he was killed). 

The enemy had offered him wordly benefits to which Asma advised her son:
"You know yourself best. If you realized that you are right and calling for the truth, you would better go on. It is the issue for which your fellows passed away. Do not surrender your neck to Banu Umayyah to play it. But if you just wanted a worldly benefit you would be the worst man who demolished himself and his fellows.'  
Abdullah said, "By Allah, this is also my opinion,mother. But I fear to suffer crucifixion after death." 
She replied, "Skinning a slaughtered goat does not bring it pain. Off you go and seek Allah's help."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 29 - Sumayyah, the first martyr of Islam

Ramadan 2012 is coming to an end sadly. I thought I will try and instead of losing focus with the Eid preparations, I would try and go back to the spirit of Ramadan and what I should have taken away from this Challenge for myself. In a recent article on MuslimMatters, I read about some of the famous incidents that had occurred in world history where the author showed Muslims as actively coming together and it reminded of the sacrificing nature that we are meant to take away from Ramadan. 

With keeping ourselves hungry and thirsty throughout the day and abstaining from all horrible actions that we should be staying away from any way i.e swearing, cursing, lying, smoking etc Allah ta'ala is preparing us to be resilient, focussed people when in times of need. These attributes of sacrifice in the face of gratitude were what exemplified early Muslims and today's story is about the first martyr of Islam, who sacrificed her life to stand by what she believed to be the Truth. Her name was Sumayyah bint Khabbab and she was the first martyr (shaheed) of Islam.

Sumayya bint Khabbab was the mother of Hazrat Ammar ibn Yasir and the seventh person to enter Islam. Hazrat Yasir bin Amir, was her husband, and was killed right after her becoming the second martyr in Islam.  

Yasir bin 'Amir Al- 'Ansiy came from Yemen to Mecca where he allied with Abu Hudhaifa who offered him to marry his slave, after freeing her, Sumayya, a revered person in the society. They had two sons, Ammar and Abdullah who were brought up with a lot of love and care with the highest moral grounds established in pre-Islamic Arabia in the Quraish tribe. When the Holy Prophet (pbuh) brought Islam to Mecca, Yasir and Sumayyah converted to Islam immediately and brought its teachings to their son who too followed suit.

At the time Makhzum tribe showed utmost hatred towards Islam and the Holy Prophet, their chief being Abu Jahl. Early Islam suffered immense persecution in Mecca and although early Muslims met in secret, there were a group of Muslims who insisted that they declare their adoption of Islam. Sumayyah's family were amongst this group, obviously enraging Abu Jahl's clan.

When they approached Yasir and his family, their confirmed their allegiance to the One Allah and His Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). On hearing this, they inflicted the most horrendous form of torture on Yasir, Sumayyah and their family dragging them across the desert, chaining and whipping them even at their old age. Although the Muslim community was too weak at the time, they had solace in hearing the Prophet (pbuh) tell them that they will be the dwellers of Paradise. 

Paradise was the only thing the Yasir family strove for and were prepared to sacrifice any thing for it. Their resistance and faith only grew with their sacrifices. Abu Jahl seeing Sumayyah's strength, tried to win her over, but she was not convinced. He threatened her with his spear and spat on her face. At this moment, he stabbed her in her lower abdomen in front of her family and killed her. Thus, Sumayyah became the first martyr of Islam.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed for the Yasir family saying, "Oh Allah, do not admit any one of the family of Yasir to Hellfire."


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 28 - The mother of Imam Abu Hanifa

They are not too cliched when they say that "behind every great man is a woman." In Islam, this should not even be a point of doubt as Islam lays immense credit on the mother. There is the popular saying of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) that Paradise lies at the feet of the mother" and then there is my favorite story of when a Companion of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) asked him who he should respect of the most in order to attain Paradise, the Holy Prophet responded "Mother." The Companion repeated this question twice more and the Holy Prophet responded each time "Your mother."

Like yesterday though, this time too I am beginning with  the reference of a man but will actually aim to show here too that behind him was the role of a most exceptional woman, this time his mother. Today's story is about one of the greatest scholars of Islam - Imam Abu Hanifa. With him is attributed the name of one of the main four Sunni schools of thoughts in Islam - the Hanafi school of thought. Each school of thought's imams are to be equally revered and regarded as they were men of great knowledge and close to Allah.

About Abu Hanifa's mother (a story from our hajj scholar):
At hajj last year, the scholar accompanying our group told us a really wonderful story. Unfortunately, i am forgetting the names of the main characters of the story but it went something along the lines of a young man for whatever reason feeling like he had not been committed to Allah the way he had (I can't seem to recall as up until this point hadn't been concentrating on whether he had made a mistake or why he felt this way) asked his very learned teacher how he could overcome this. His teacher, I believe someone the young man wanted to stay affiliated with for his Islamic growth, advised him and followed this up with a clause saying that if you marry my daughter then. The young man instantly agreed without seeing who the daughter was. The teacher said "my daughter is blind, deaf and dumb" and the young man thought to himself and still agreed as his motive was to please Allah.

The marriage was solemnized and the young man approached his new bride's room. As per Islamic ettiquettes, learn from the sunnah (life) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) he knocked thrice and heard a feminine voice allowing him to enter the room. He was a bit surprised and wondered how it was that she spoke when he had been told that his bride was dumb. When he entered he found a beautiful, young woman awaiting him who could both see, hear and speak, he asked her why he had been told that she was deaf, dumb and blind. To this she replied "I am blind because I have never seen any thing that Allah does not like, I am deaf because I do not hear any thing Allah does not want us to hear and I am dumb because I do not say any thing that is not nice to say." According to our scholar, this young woman was the mother of Imam Abu Hanifa. 

Introduction to Islamic jurisprudence
Abu Hanifa's interest in Islamic jurisprudence was sparked perhaps by chance. While running an errand for his mother, he happened to pass the home of Sha'bi, one of Kufa's most well-known scholars. Sha'bi, mistaking him for a student, asked him whose classes he attended. When Abu Hanifa responded that he did not attend any classes, Sha'bi said, "I see signs of intelligence in you. You should sit in the company of learned men."

Respect for mother
One of my favorite stories about Imam Abu Hanifa's respect for his mother is that even when her son had turned out to be the leading scholar of fiqh, her curiosity in religious matters led her to ask her son to visit scholars she highly respected for answers to her questions. One such scholar was Amr bin Dharr, a well-known preacher of Kufah, who would feel embarassed answering these questions in front of Imam Abu Hanifa, who himself was so learned.

Abu Hanifa, however, always silently went to Amr bin Dharr and said it was his mother's wish to hear the response from him. Once, Amr bin Dharr did not know the answer to a question so he asked Abu Hanifa what the response would be if someone else posed him the same question. Abu Hanifa shared the response and Amr bin Dharr repeated this saying "Please tell your mother that this is Amr bin Dharr's answer." The Imam was able to return home and satisfy his mother's command.


Unable to see his mother in pain
The ‘Amir of Kufa, Ibn Hubayra offered the Imam the post of judge which he did not accept and Yazid punished him by flogging him 110 times. When asked why he would go through this suffering, Abu Hanifa said that it was not the lashes that caused him pain but the suffering it caused his mother that pained him more.

He was undoubtedly a man of great knowledge, God-consciousness, and righteousness and there are plenty of books and accounts recording this. Imam Abu Hanifa was the first to compile and classify the Fiqh science. Amongst his famous books are Fara'id and Shurut (Obligations and Conditions). The Hanafi approach of Islam spread most actively during the Ottoman period, so that today more than half of the Muslim world follows this approach.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 27 - Teachers of Hazm Adh-Dhahiree

I have learnt much to my excitement how throughout Islamic history, extremely famous scholars of hadith and fiqh have been under the training of female teachers or have greatly revered a female teacher. This again brings me back to the emphasis on education and how as I learnt from Nana Asma'u's story that education unless passed on is barren.

Today I am going to talk about a famous male scholar and personality Ibn Hazm Adh-Dhahiree. Why a man in my Ramadan Challenge series? Well one of the most famous aspects of this man's history is that he was trained in the harem by female teachers.

Ibn Hazm who lived between November 7, 994 – August 15, 1064 was born in Cordoba, in Spain and sometimes even known as the Andulusia al-Zahiri. A prominent 11th century philosopher, litterateur, psychologist, historian, jurist and theologian of his time he produced 400 works of which 40 have survived. These range from topics such as Islamic jurisprudence, logic, history, ethics, comparative religion, and theology, as well as The Ring of the Dove, on the art of love.
His student, Sa'ed al-Tulaituli, described him as "the most knowledgeable man in al-Andalus" (Spain).1 Al-Dhahabi says about him that he was the "end of intelligence, the sharpest mind, and recipient of abundant knowledge."2 Abuzahra describes the varieties of Ibn Hazm's knowledge saying: "In the history before Ibn Hazm there had not been a scholar who had such knowledge as he did." (Quoted from KSU website)
Ibn Hazm had a very wealthy upbrining in his father's palace in Cordoba. Here he spent his childhood years secluded in the "harem" (female quarters) where he was surrounded by and given his training by educated female slaves (al-jawari). He was surrounded by highly educated and intellectual female slaves (al-jawari) who were responsible for bringing him up. Here he was taught the Qur'an, poetry, and penmanship. This was a time when all of Andulusia had highly educated women teachers and poets. It was only once he was older and had crossed childhood, that his father passed him on to other educators.

The most important views of Ibn Hazm on education and with very important issues, such as the role of freedom of the mind when acquiring knowledge; the importance of impartiality when examining intellectual problems; the call for people to abandon racism, fanaticism, and blind adoption; and what is entailed in imitation of other's ideas. (Quoted from KSU website)

Andulusi chronicles often talk about these slave women which the rulers of the time married and highly regarded. These were women who attended literary gatherings, were intellectuals and even accompanied in times of adversity the kings who had married them. Between the 8th and 14th centuries specifically, there are records of extremely well-educated, intellectual women who were designated as "scholars." They ranged from being grammarians, lexicographers, jurists had medical knowledge, had scholarly command over hadith and were learned in Qur'an and Arabic.

Parker, Margaret: The story of a story across cultures (book)
Jayush, Salma: The legacy of Muslim Spain (book)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 26 - Bilquis Bano Edhi

65 years ago, Pakistan was created on the 27th of Ramadan, the Gregorian calendar date being 14th August 1947. Today too, 14th August has fallen on the 27th of Ramadan (well at least in many parts of the world). I wanted to include a woman from Pakistan in this series but seeing feedback from a previous post, wanted to make sure that the reader understands why I would include someone who might not have contributed to "Islamic studies" in the traditional sense of the word, but could be included in the list of one of the most exceptional Muslim women in terms of their contribution to society. Hence, I choose to write about someone not give as much recognition as she deserves - Bilquis Edhi!

In the Qur'an, Allahs states:
 “Verily those who give sadaqah, men and women, and lend Allah a goodly loan, it shall be increased manifold, and theirs shall be an honourable good reward (Paradise)” [57:18].

Bilquis Edhi manages "jhoola" service of the Foundation
Bilquis Bano Edhi, wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi, is one of the leading if not the most active philanthropists of Pakistan. Interestingly enough, she too was born on 14th August 1947, the very day Pakistan was celebrating its independence. From very humble beginnings, themselves, Bilquis and her husband have managed to successfully run the largest charity in Pakistan. Her support for her husband has been phenomenal and very few women would stand next to their husbands to serve the poor and the needy with such a positive attitude and such gratitude. She truly is an example of a person who would certainly be close to Allah.
Largest ambulance service
 The Edhi foundation includes hospital, emergency service in Karachi, an adoption service, soup kitchen, shelter for women and children, old age home, rehabs and mental asylums etc. Edhi Foundation runs the world’s largest radio-linked ambulance service all over the country Pakistan with over eighteen hundred ambulances, twenty eight rescue boats and two airplanes. Additionally, they also run twenty-four hour medical dispensaries, a missing persons hot line and own the largest morgue in Pakistan. Their charity has also responded to international calamities around the world including donating to victims of Hurricane Katrina, cyclone relief in Bangladesh, aid to tsunami-impacted regions in 2003 and ambulance services in Afghanistan.

A cardinal support to her husband, Abdul Sattar Edhi:
Bilquis Edhi has been providing cardinal support to her husband ever since she married him 1952, running every aspect of his charity together with him and their children. In fact, Edhi proposed for her hand in marriage seeing her passion for charity and health-care.

Bilquis Edhi vividly remembers her first major experience at Edhi Foundation, when during the war; the bombings resulted in a number of brutally mutilated bodies which she had to wash for burial. At times only an arm, leg or head was recovered. She, along with about 60-70 workers including voluntary workers, collected and then washed these bodies.

"Jhoolas", girls and women:
A professionally trained health-service nurse, Bilquis Edhi took over her husband's charity project of "jhoolas" in 1952. Literally translated into swings, these are swing bassinets placed outside each Edhi centre with the message in both English and Urdu saying "Do not kill, leave the baby in the cradle."

For varying extremely unfortunate reasons, poverty and lack of education topping them, people leave behind their disabled or unwanted children in rubbish heaps and isolated places. Edhi transformed that vision by introducing these swings where thousands of babies have been saved. Due to lack of Islamic awareness, I would say, it is really sad to note that over 90% of the babies left in the cradle are female. These children are nourished and looked after until they are taken up for adoption or grown up and choose to get married. 

It can definitely be said that this alternative introduced by the Edhi foundation has reduced the number of babies left to die and the cradle concept is now a much-accepted and widely acknowledged alternative all over Pakistan.

No discrimnation:
When Abdul Sattar Edhi started his first free dispensary for the poor with the money he collected from begging and sitting on street corners or asking people himself, he hired Christian and Hindu nurses here to begin with. In fact his wife was the first Muslim nurse he hired and impressed by her enthusiasm then asked to marry her.

In their women and children centres too, or shelters for abandoned adults, Bilquis Edhi and her husband never refuse any one in. In acountry which has lost its respect for women, leave mothers of children for mistakes they make and kick them out of the house, patriarchy, not even providing for their children. If someone asks to leave, they do not refuse that either as this they consider is a right to decision and freedom to live of any adult independent person.

Humble in face of fame:
Abdul Sattar Edhi has dedicated his life for the needy
Bilquis and her husband have received numerous local and international awards and honors. In a recent show on Geo TV, when the host was telling the audience how small her room was, she kept repeating with a content smile on her face "it is very big, very comfortable, I love my room." Edhi has never owned more than two pairs of clothes, and despite being one of the largest income generating charities in Pakistan, him and his wife Bilquis Edhi have never taken salary from their charity. They live in a small rented two-bedroom apartment which is part of the building of their orphanage. Bilquis Edhi shared how Abdul Sattar Edhi himself has never driven any other car besides an ambulance in his life.

But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend – verily, God has full knowledge thereof.
(Surah Al-e-Imran, ayah 92)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 25 - Umm Darda as Sughraa

Like Amra whom I talked about yesterday, Umm Darda as-Sughraa was also a prominent jurist and yet again an example of a woman revered for her knowledge and intellect. From the seventh-century Damascus, she was the wife of the famous Companion of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) Abu Darda, She was someone with great knowledge of fiqh and in fact very young (around 18-20 perhaps) when Abu Darda passed away.

Extremely learned in fiqh and a scholar of hadith, like the women we have read about in this Ramadan Challenge series. In fact her authority in hadith was regarded more highly than many of the very renowned names of the time including Al-Hasan al-Basri and Ibn Sirin. The respected Imam Bukhari referred to her as an authority in Sahih al-Bukhari. He said, "Umm darda used to sit in tashahhud in her prayers like a man ( in worship) and she was an expert theologian." 

Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria
Umm Darda was also a much revered teacher, educating both male and female students sections separately on hadith, fiqh and law which she taught in Jerusalem and in the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. One of the blogs records her sitting with male scholars in the mosque to discuss fiqh and hadith, hence showing that in the pursuit and disparting of knowledge there were no differences. I quote from this blog: ' “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around, debating other scholars.” '

One of her students was the powerful Caliph Abdul Malik b. Marwan of Spain. His rule extended from India to Span and he admitted openly that he would never feel ashamed of learning from her. Umm Darda was old by then and Abdul Malik would help her walk from the mosque to her own home, as she would lean against her shoulder.

Once Umm Darda heard Abdul Malik curse at his servant and she prohibited him from doing so by reminding him that: "I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The invoker of curse would neither be witness nor intercessor on the Day of Resurrection."
(1- Suyuti, Tadrib, 215.
2 al-Musnad 7/448. Imam Muslim related something in his Sahih. See Sahih Muslim, the Book of Duty, Relationships and Etiquette, [Chapter] The Prohibition of Cursing Pulling Animals etc.. No. 85 (2598), 4/2006.)


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 24 - Ambra bint Abdur Rahman (a jurist)

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward”
(Surah al-Ahzaab, ayah 34) 

The theme throughout this Ramadan Challenge series has been to show this absolute equal status of men and women given by Islam almost 1400 years ago. The gender differences i.e the struggle between genders is a modern concept which should probably not even come into question if the Islamic spirit and teachings are understood. This is probably why since early days of Islam, it is common to find Muslim women serve as jurists and legal experts, scholars, and authors of major legal texts.

Amra bint Abdur Rahman is an example of a woman who was a legal expert (her knowledge expanding over all fiqhs) in Medina and her opinion and authority highly regarded in society.  Amra, bint Abdur-Rahman was a student under Aisha bint Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s wife and an influential trasmitter of ahadith transmitter. Her opinion carried more weight than many other authorities so that there are records of her revering decisions by other judges. In fact she was regarded as the prime authority on legal concerns including that of agriculture. 
Amra was actually the grand daughter of one of the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) by the name of Asad ibn Zararah Ansari. She had a special relationship with Aisha (RA)* and according to the scholar Iman Bukhari (RA) acted as her secretary responsible for all of Aisha's correspondence. It is also believed by what the scholar Ibn Habban has taught, that Amra was the person to have received the best knowledge of ahadith from Aisha (RA). 

*RA means radi Allah ta'ala anha which translates to "May Allah be pleased with her" - and is an Islamic tradition to add against the names of those people who were close to Allah and did much for Islam and Muslims. 


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 23 - Aabidah Al-Madaniyah (the slave girl)

Women with great authority on ahadith came from all segments of society whether it be royalty or slaves of the time. Yesterday I wrote about Zainab bint Sulaiman who was a princess but more widely renowned as a scholar of Hadith. Today, I learnt about Aabidah Al-Madaniyah,  a slave girl with the same authority. It is heartening to see how knowledge gives precedence over any form of worldly status. 

Abidah al Madaniyah was a slave of Muhammad ibn Yazid who had learnt a great number of ahadith from scholars in Medina. When Habib Dahhun, someone with great scholarly knowledge of Hadith himself from Spain, was visiting Jerusalem on his way to Hajj, her master gave her as to Dhahhun.

Dahhun was so highly impressed by her knowledge that he not only freed her, but also married her, and brought her to Andalusia in Spain. It is said that she related 10,000 hadiths on the authority of her Madinan teachers.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 22- Zainab bint Sulayman

Women set up such high standards of honesty in the narration of hadith that in the book ‘meezan al aitadal’ of ‘ilm jarah o tadeel’, the compiler Alzahbi praises the contribution of these women in these words, ‘till today, I have not come across a woman whose narration was suspicious or rejected.’ 
(Farhat Hashmi in her article on Contributions of Women)

When speaking of scholarly women in the last ashra of Ramadan, the contribution made by learned women who were scholars of ahadith of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) cannot be ignored in any way. In fact some of the most amazing women from the past were scholars of ahadith whose knowledge was widely acknowledged by men and women of their times. Zainab bint Sulayman, a princess was one such woman.

Daughter of the Governor of Basra and Spain, Sulaiman ibn Ibrahim, during the reign of Al-Mansoor of the Abbasid dynasty was an exceptional woman of her time. Born into a privileged family, Zainab's popularity did not come as her being a princess but rather a scholar and teacher. A famous scholar of hadith, she was originally from Damascus, Syria but later moved to Egypt.

As I have tried to emphasize throughout this month, Zainab's key also lay in the exceptional education she received.  She received the lessons of Shams al-Din Ahmad Bukhari, Ibn Sabah, ‘Ali bin Hajjāj and from Karimah. She gave lessons to some of the most esteemed men of her time in Syria. Famous muhaditheen studied under her included Hafiz Dhahbi and they also related ahadith on her authority. 

She was given the title of “Mustanadud-Dameshyak” or “A Lady Authorized from Damascus.” If you know more about Zainab bint Sulayman, do leave it as a comment below for the knowledge of others. 


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 21 - Nana Asm'au of West Africa

In the last 10 days of Ramadan, I want to revert to my original theme of education, intellect and belief in Allah above all of this. I will be focussing on scholarly women from various eras of Muslim history. In the last 20 days, I have looked at women from Qur'anic stories, of sufi inclination, famous names from battle fields and powerful women as political rulers, and activists. I have tried to emphasize in all these examples, that it was the emphasis given on education, and the reverence for intellect whether in males or females that led these women to use their belief in Allah and make exemplary contributions in societies.

Today's story will talk about Nana Asma'u, named after the daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakar, Asma. Daughter of the founder of Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio, Nana Asma'u was a princess, poet and teacher and to this day remains a revered figure in Nigeria with schools, Islamic organisations and centres commonly named after her. 

Nana Asma'u was taught Qur'anic studies and the classics of the Arab and Classical world. She was fluent in four languages including Arabic, the Fula language, Hausa and Tamacheq Tuareg. Modern feminism in Africa is attributed to Nana Asma'u too.Being from the Sufi school of thought, she and her father believed that education was empty unless shared and therefore, she laid great emphasis on and devoted her life to educating, particularly Muslim women.

The debate with foreign princes:
A prolific writer, and due to her broad recognition in West Africa's most influential Muslim state as a leading scholar, she had the opportunity to write and correspond greatly. She recorded her witnessed experiences of the Fulani War in a book called "Wakar Gewaye" (The Journey). As the Sokoto Caliphate began as a cultural and religious revolutionary movement, later generations used their writings as a benchmark for their own leadership. When her brother took over the Caliphate, she not only advised him but also gave instructions to governors and debated with scholars sent by foreign princes.

Can poetry teach more than just verses?
Nana Asma'u's 40 years of literary work has seen over 60 surviving written pieces. which include a large body of poetry in Arabic, the Fula language and Hausa, all written in the Arabic script. These are historical narratives, elegies, laments, and admonitions. They also contain guidance and teachings of the Sukoto Caliphate. While collaborating with Muhammad Bello, the second Caliph, Asma'u works expand upon the dan Fodio's strong emphasis on women leaders and women's rights within the community ideals of the Sunnah and Islamic law.

The women teachers that went home to home
Her hired cadre of female teachers, from around 1830, went from students' home to home all over the Caliphate teaching them Islamic education using Nana Asma’u's and other Sufi scholars writings, usually through recited poetry. In this way, they trained groups of learned women called ’yan-taru, or “those who congregate together, the sisterhood” a strong example of Nana Asma'u's feminism. This educational project e poor and rural as well. 


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 20 - Maryum Jameelah (a convert)

Maryam Jameelah (b. May 23, 1934) is a renowned author who has written over thirty books on Islamic culture and history. Born in New York, to a Jewish family, and named Margret Marcus at birth, Maryam Jameelah converted to Islam in 1961 and moved to Pakistan where she married Muhammad Yusuf Khan, a leading member of the political party, Jamaat-e-Islami and has five children.

Psychological illness or a struggle to find her faith:
Since childhood, Maryam was intuitive and a deep thinker, emotionally concerned easily about her surroundings affecting her psychological health. Images from the Holocaust, stories of Palestinian sufferings and Asian and Arab culture and history were all of deep interest to her. In university, she studied Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, and even Ethical Culture and the Bahá'í Faith, but found them all unsatisfactory.

She was suffering psychological problems still and in the Summer of 1953, had a nervous breakdown during which time, she began to study Islam and the Qur'an again. Muhammad Asad's The Road to Mecca, was an inspiration to her and while at NYU, a course taught by a Rabbi on Judaism's influence on Islam brought her even closer to Islam. However, due to her ill-health she left university in 1956, and a year later was hospitalized for schizophrenia.

Conversing with Maulana Maududi:
On her return home in 1959, Maryam Jameelah involved herself with various Islamic organizations. She even began corresponding with Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, a leading thinker and head of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. She reverted to Islam on May 24, 1961 and accepted Maududi's invitation to reside in Pakistan with his family. This was before she married Muhammad Yusuf Khan in 1963. Jameelah regards these years (1962-64) to be the formative period of her life during which she matured and began her life's work as a Muslim defender of conservative Islam.

Jameelah's writing career:
Jameelah is a prolific author, offering a conservative defense of Islamic values and culture and deeply opposed to globalization and secularism. Her books and articles have been translated into several languages around the world including Turkish, Urdu, Persian, Bengali and Bahasa of Indonesia. The collection of her work including correspondence, manuscripts, speeches, published articles and artwork besides videos etc are included in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library collection of the New York Public Library.

Some of the books that she has written are:
  • Islam and Modernism
  • Westernization and Human Welfare
  • Three Great Islamic Movements in the Arab World of the Recent Past
  • The Generation Gap - Its Causes and Consequences


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 19 - Fatima Jinnah (Mother of the Nation for Pakistan)

In the last three days, I have been writing about women from the Arab world who played a pivotal role in raising their voices against oppression despite setbacks and attempts to place fear in them. Today's example is of a woman from contemporary Muslim history , who played an active political role even before the three we have learnt about recently.

Fatima Jinnah, not only stood as a major source of support for her brother, the founder of the first Islamic republic of the world, but was also a revered activist of the region for pulling the women together in this struggle. A highly accomplished woman, she was a dental surgeon, extremely active politically, a biographer, stateswoman, and indeed the leading Founding mothers of Pakistan. Today, Pakistan boasts to be one of the top three most populated Muslim countries in the world and to not discuss one of the key women from this struggle would not be doing justice to this series of Ramadan.

Fatima Jinnah's education:

Fatima Jinnah (July 30, 1893 — July 9, 1967) was again a highly educated woman, having studied from the highly competitive University of Calcutta where she attended the Dr. Ahmad Dental College and graduated a dental surgeon. Out of all her seven brothers and sisters, she was the closest to Jinnah, who became her guardian and ensured she received the best education. After she qualified, Jinnah went along with her idea of opening a dental clinic in Bombay and helped her set it up in 1923.

The biggest support for her brother Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan:

Fatima Jinnah lived with her brother for 28 years before and after the death of his wife Rutanbai. She even wound up her dental clinic to choose to accompany her brother who was alone. He suffered from tuberculosis which he did not disclose publicly for fear that those who did not wish to see Pakistan form would take to their advantage but the sister was his confidante and support system during this time too. Many say the reason behind her never getting married was so that she could support her brother during his struggle first against the British rule of South Asia and then for a separate homeland for the Muslims.  

Fatima Jinnah also accompanied her brother on numerous tours including the Lahore session of Muslim League in March 1940. When the All India Muslim League was being organized, Fatima Jinnah was taken on as a member of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League, and worked in that capacity until 1947. 

Paying tribute to his sister, Ali Jinnah once said, "My sister was like a bright ray of light and hope whenever I came back home and met her. Anxieties would have been much greater and my health much worse, but for the restraint imposed by her".

Fatima Jinnah in the Pakistan Movement:

Following the declaration of the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore in 1940, Fatima Jinnah played a crucial and influential role as one of the founding members of the Pakistan movement. She fervently believed in an independent homeland for Muslims of South Asia as she saw that in a minority position in post-colonial India, Muslims would greatly suffer. It was her initiative that led to the organization of the All India Muslim Women Students Federation in February 1941 at Delhi.

Fatima Jinnah was truly an inspiration to Muslim women during 1947 when power was being transferred to Pakistan and India and the British were leaving South Asia. She formed the Women’s Relief Committee, which later laid the foundations for All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA). She also played a significant role in the settlement of Muslim refugees from the Indian-side of South Asia into the new state of Pakistan. 

Mother of the Nation for Pakistan:

She stood against military rule in 1965 when Ayub Khan, a military ruler, reigned over the country undemocratically. She was an extremely popular candidate in 1965 elections against Ayub Khan, traveling to both West and East Pakistan (current Bangladesh) promulgating the vision of Pakistan her brother and other founding members had for the country and vowing for civil rights and education. Many believe that these elections were rigged and Fatima Jinnah lost the elections.

After battling a long illness, Fatima Jinnah died on in Karachi, on July 9, 1967. After her death, Fatima Jinnah was honored and she is commonly known in Pakistan as Khātūn-e Pākistān (Urdu: — "Lady of Pakistan") and Māder-e Millat ("Mother of the Nation.")

1967 - Madar-i-Millat's Message to the Nation on Eid ul-Adha:

"The immediate task before you is to face the problem and bring the country back on the right path with the bugles of Quaid-i-Azam's message. March forward under the banner of star and the crescent with unity in your ranks, faith in your mission and discipline. Fulfill your mission and a great sublime future awaits your enthusiasm and action. Remember: 'cowards die many times before death; the valiant never taste death but once.' This is the only course of action which suits any self-respecting people and certainly the Muslim Nation."


Monday, August 6, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 18 - Tawakkul Karman

In the last two posts, I wrote about women who suffered torture at the hands of authoritarian regimes of Nassar and Assad in Egypt and Syria respectively. Those women displayed great courage in the face of disturbing persecution and in my opinion, are the mothers from contemporary times of the women of the Arab Spring. Tawakkul Karman is one such woman who rose to fame in the latest Arab uprisings and became the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

Tawakkul is the first Arab woman to receive this award and the second Muslim woman after Shirin Abedi to be awarded this. Born 7 February 1979, she happens to be the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate todate and is known by many Yemenis as the "Iron Woman" and the "Mother of the Revolution."

Like all women we have discussed in this series of Ramadan Challenge, Tawakul too is a woman of intellect, political fervor, and someone who displays great faith in Allah. A journalist by profession and a senior political member of Al-Islah political party, Tawakkul is an example from current times by which we ought to bring our girls up too. She co-founded and heads a human rights group called "Women Journalists Without Chains."

Tawakkul's political role

Tawakkul Karman is a member of the opposition party Al-Islah which is an umbrella party expanded beyond it roots as an Islamic political party after it began in 2005, the same time when Tawakul came into Yemeni limelight. When in 2007 the Yemeni government denied a license to a mobile phone news service in her country, she began staging weekly protests for press freedom, gradually expanding her issues of concern. Always against government corruption, she became more vocal in her anti-Saleh protests after village lands of families around the city of Ibb were appropriated by a corrupt local leader.

 Speaking of women's rights: 
"Women should stop being or feeling that they are part of the problem and become part of the solution. We have been marginalized for a long time, and now is the time for women to stand up and become active without needing to ask for permission or acceptance. This is the only way we will give back to our society and allow for Yemen to reach the great potentials it has."
          Tawakkul Karman told the Yemen Times in 2010

Tawakkul is an advocate for laws that should prevent Yemeni girls under the age of 17 from being married. She has also voiced her concern over malnutrition being more common amongst girls, as well as higher rates of illiteracy amongst females.

Tawakul Karman and the Arab Spring:
Calling the Arab Spring in Yemen, the "Jasmine Revolution," Tawakkul owes the liberation of the region to Tunisian revolution. Being a vocal opponent of President Saleh, she redirected the Yemeni protests to support the "Jasmine Revolution." After her 36-hour imprisonment (in chains) on 22 January 2011, Tawakkul Karman, led another protest on 29th January calling people to come together on the "Day of Rage" on 3rd February. On 17 March, she was re-arrested amidst ongoing protests.
Iron Woman:
Tawakkul's life has not been a safe one any way. A woman attempted to stab her during 2010 protests where she was saved by her supporters. Her brother Tariq Karman, his sister was given a death threat on 26th January 2011 via a telephone call, which Dexter Filkins, of The New Yorker, believed to be President Saleh himself. 
When asked by journalists regarding her Hijab not impeding with her level of intellect and education, Tawakkul responded:
“Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am told and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is a regression back to the ancient times.” 
Nobel Peace Prize: Tawakkul considers the Nobel Peace Prize given to her as a victory for Arabs and Arab women around the world. She dedicated the Prize to the youth of Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. She also saw this as an acknowledgement for the struggles of the youth of Syria, Libya and Yemen who wanted to see an end to authoritatianism in their countries.

Speaking before an audience at the University of Michigan, Karman summed up her belief: 

"I am a citizen of the world. The Earth is my country, and humanity is my nation."


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 17 - Heba Dabbagh (Prisoner of Assad's regime)

Just Five Minutes!

Nine Years in the Prisons of Syria

It's been a journey of much awe-inspiring learning for me. I have been hearing and reading about women's rights in Islam as I have been interested in the topic but I would have never realized the strength women in Islam have had throughout history since the last 1400 years until I started this Ramadan Challenge. 

Last week I wrote about women who participated in battles in early Islam and this week I thought it would be a great idea to reflect on the women of contemporary history displaying similar strength of character and mind in the political field. Yesterday we talked about Zainab al-Ghazali who endured horrendous torture and persecution at the hands of her own government in Egypt, and today I reflect on a similar experience of a woman from Syria. Heba Dabbagh,  over 30 years ago was asked by agents from Assad's regime for just five minutes of her time. What she ended up giving away were nine precious years in the prisons of Syria!

Heba Dabbagh was a university student and preparing for an exam, when secret agents raided her apartment and asked for five minutes of her time. This was a time when Syrian armed forces were clashing with Islamic opponents. Her older brother had to escape from his house as he was falsely accused of being part of “The Muslim Brothers’ Society” but Heba had no political affiliations at all. Heba was imprisoned between 1980 and 1989 and during this time, her parents, eight brothers and sisters were all killed in the collective massacres that Syrian armed forces undertook in February 1982. 

Pen testifies against evil:

Like Zainab al-Ghazali's "Return of the Pharoah," Heba Dabbagh put together her memoirs from her time in imprisonment in Syrian jails for nine years in a 239-page book called "Just five minutes - nine years in the prisons in Syria". It is a record of an era when any form of political opposition was silenced immediately and ruthlessly and where human rights and international laws were violated to no end. The Mukhabarat, secret agents of Assad's regime, hunted down anyone remotely opposed to the regime and held them hostage for years until they gave testimony, whether false or true, against those who were in the anti-authoritarianism camp. Heba Dabbagh was one such hostage. 

During her imprisonment she was attacked with verbal and physical abuse, beaten with bamboo rods and eloctrucuted. Her book testifies her faith in Allah and her strength of mind that kept her strong and allowed her to survive in the face of false allegations and disturbing torture. She uses the power of pen to put together a record of the prisons of Syria, torture chambers and the types of prisoners she came across in her cells (ranging from Communists to spies, her own family members and even children.  

Dabbagh takes us on a journey through the prisons of Syria and reveals the nightmares that come to life in the Mukhabarat interrogation and torture chambers. During her nine year imprisonment, Dabbagh shares cells and stories with members of the political opposition, communists, spies, children and even members of her own family. She saw women made nude, hung upside down from ceilings and sexually assaulted. Coupled with this they were given insufficient food and medical help. The book shares harrowing experiences but is a much needed raised voice against oppression. 
Whether it is the examples of families putting emphasis on their daughter's intellect and education, or the strength of mind and character these women had, or the power they possessed to rule and strategize, or the practicality in the following of Islam, I have learnt that today we have successfully managed to complicate the following of religion and as a result moved away from the resilience, the essence, and the focus of what Islam as a way of life was meant to teach us.  

Download Heba Dabbagh's book "Just five minutes - nine years in the prisons in Syria"


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 16 - Zainab al-Ghazali (Pioneer of Islamic Feminism)

Pioneer of Islamic feminism, a prolific writer and intellectual, Zainab al Ghazali was born in Egypt on January 2, 1917 and lived until August 3, 2005. At a very young age of 18, she laid the foundations for Jamiat Al-Sayyidat-ul-Muslimeen (Muslim Women's Association) in 1936, an organisation established for the welfare of women. She claims that by the time the organisation was disbanded by the Egyptian government in 1964, it had an enrolment of three million women across Egypt.

An intellectual woman, she used her strengths for a noble and true cause. Her story is of facing torture and hatred in the face of activism. She spoke against authoritarianism and for justice and fair rule in accordance with what Qur'an had taught. In response, she faced trials with patience and courage - again something that can only be achieved with true faith in God. Today's women of Arab awakening and revolutions, perhaps owe an unrealized strength and will to speak up against all odds to the legacy of this woman - Zainab Al-Ghazali. 

Giving daughters education and strength: 
Her father being an an Al-Azhar educated religious teacher as well as a cotton merchant brought her up to adopt leadership qualities giving examples of Nusayba bint al-Kaab (Umm Umarah), the lady (whom we read about last week) fought alongside of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in the Battle of Uhud. Umm Umarah, indeed a great example of courage and patience to live by.    

Inspired by Muslim Brotherhood's struggle in Palestine, Zainab al-Ghazali joined the Muslim Brotherhood under Hassan al-Banna Shaheed in 1948She was a prominent writer in Egypt and a prolific speaker and teacher. held weekly lectures to women at the Ibn Tulum Mosque which drew a crowd of thousands. Her Muslim Women's Association had a political inclination, worked for the welfare of women, offered help to the needy and orphans and published a magazine with her articles on Islamic education and women empowerment to assist the cause of political Islam, . 

Author of the book, Ayyam min Hayati (Days in my life), also translated into "Return of the Pharoh" is a popular book she wrote which disclosed for the first time to the Egyptian public the conditions in which female prisoners were kept in within their own jails. No amount of persecution or torture could waver her faith in Islam or her belief in her cause. The book is a proof of her patience, courage and resilience only seen and heard of before in the stories of the women from early Islam.  

No torture can weaken a woman:
It was her association to Muslim Brotherhood that led to her arrest by Nasser in 1965. Here she was imprisoned for six years during the same time as Syed Qutb, sharing the same jails. She bore the torture because the authorities wanted her to falsely testify against Syed Qutb and other Muslim Brotherhood men that were also perceived by the government as arch enemies. She was even bribed with the reward of a ministerial post in the government if she gave this testimony. 

 It was while in imprisonment that she heard of Syed Qutb's martyrdom on August 29, 1965. In her book, Zainab al-Ghazali talks about the level of torture even men may find unthinkable to bear, beyond all expectations of human rights. Men of Muslim Brotherhood were called in front of her jail and and asked to humiliate her by hurling slanders at her which they obviously refused. However, she explains there visions and miracles from Allah in her dreams that kept her resolve strong during this period. 

Following is an account in her own words from her book:  
During her imprisonment, Zainab was tortured and humiliated in every imagine way. The authorities used to bring group of young Ikhwan in front of her cell and ordered them to to curse Zainab, which either they refused or while weeping used to say: “How could we? She is just like our mothers.” Nasser’s regime even tried to bribe her by offering a cabinet post (Minister), if she become a witness against Sayyid Qutb and Ikhwan movement – which she refused, again and again.

After one of such routine torture and humiliation, Zainab fell asleep and found herself in a big desert crowded by camels on each of which were riding four pious men. A long row of camels was passing through one end of the desert to another. At the end there stood a man with a glowing face that commanded respect too. He was holding the reins of numerous camels. I asked gently, “Is the Holy Prophet (pbuh) present?” Turning to me he replied: “O Zianab! You’re following the right path of Allah and His Prophet.” I asked him again whether I was on the right path?”Description of the persecution on her in prison:
"The next moment the door was locked and a bright light switched on. Now their purpose was revealed; the room was full of dogs! I could not count how many!

"Scared, I closed my eyes and put my hands to my chest. Within second the snarling dogs were all over me and I could feel their teeth tearing into every part of my body. Clenching my hands tight into my armpits, Ibegan to recount the Names of Allah, beginning with 'O Allah! O Allah!'…. I expected that my clothes would be thoroughly stained with blood, for I was sure the dogs had bitten every part of my body. But, incredulously, there was not a single bloodstain on my clothes, as if the dogs had been in my imagination only."

"I do not know how but I fell asleep while invoking Allah, and it was then that I experienced the first of four visions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that I was to see during my stay in prison. There in front of me, praise be to Allah, was a vast desert and camels with hawdahs as if made of light. On each hawdah were four men, all with luminous faces. I found myself behind this huge train of camels in that vast, endless desert, and standing behind a great, reverent man. This man was holding a halter, which passed through the neck of each camel. I wondered silently: Could this man be the Prophet (peace be upon him)?

"Silence has no safeguard with the Prophet, who replied: 'Zaynab! You are following in the footsteps of Muhammad, Allah's Servant and Messenger.'"`

"I remained in my cell for six consecutive days: from Friday 20th August to Thursday 26th August 1965. My cell door, during these six days was never opened. I was given neither food, drink, allowed to go to the toilet nor any contact with the outside world, except my warder who, now and then, peeped through the small hole in my cell door. You can imagine, dear reader, how a person can live in such circumstances."

"Write down the names of all your acquaintances on the face of this earth. If you don't, we will shoot you where you stand. Write down the names of all your Ikhwan acquaintances and everything about your relationship with them.

"They then left the cell, closing the door behind them. I wrote: 'I have many friends, in many countries, who have known me through Islamic da'wah. Our movements on this earth are for Allah, and He leads those who choose His path. This path is the same as that which the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions followed before us. Our aim is to spread Allah's message and to call for the implementation of His rule. I call you, in the Name of Allah, to leave your Jahiliyyah, renew your Islam, pronounce the Shahadah and submit and repent to Allah from this darkness that has swathed your hearts, and which prevents you from doing any good deed. If you do so, perhaps Allah will take you out of this abyss of Jahiliyyah and bring you to the light of Islam."


Friday, August 3, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 15 - Ar-Rubai' Bint Mu'awidh

An early Muslim woman, Ar-Rubai' bint Mua'widh ibn al-Harith ibn Rifa' a ibn Malik was a woman of great knowledge and authority and another example of a woman who actively helped the Muslim army in the battle-field. Her authority in reporting ahadith of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was widely acknowledged. She died during the era of Mu'awiyah forty-five years after Hijrah 

Ar-Rubai's coming into Islam:

Ar-Rubai was among the Ansar (The Helpers) who took the pledge of allegiance to the Holy Prophet under the tree. This is the pledge that has been mentioned in the Qur'an as well:
”O Prophet when believing women come to thee to take the oath of fealty to thee, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobeythee in any just matter, then do thou receive their fealty, and pray to Allah for the forgiveness (of their sins): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.”(Al-Mumtahana: 12)
Ar-Rubai's role in the wars:

Ar-Rubai contributed along with other Muslim women in the battle-field by carrying water to the soldiers and treating the wounded - a most essential role in any battle-field. There are also incidents when the situation called for her to fight the enemy on the field too clearly showing that both men and women contributed equally to the needs of society and the protection of people.

The lesson of knowledge:

Once again, the importance of knowledge is apparent from the very early days of Islam. Ar-Rubai's knowledge of Islam was revered to by the companions who would ask her when concerned about matters of belief. Regarding ablution, for example, she said:

"The Prophet used to visit us. Once he asked some water to do ablution. She then described the Prophet's way of doing ablution saying, "He started by washing his hand thrice..."
(reported by Abu Dawud).


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 14: Umm Hakim, a heroine of Islam

In the last few days, I have been focussing on Muslim women in the battle-field or at times of war. We read about Umm Umarah who participated with exemplary courage in several wars including the Battle of Uhud where she protected the Holy Prophet (pbuh) when he was surrounded by enemies. We also learnt about Khawla, an amazing knight! Much was to be learnt from the stories of both these women.

Like Azdah bin Harith,  Umm Hakim's story from the Battle of Marj al-Saffar is also the story of a strategist in the times of war. Umm Hakim was a sahaba or a Companion of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). She was the wife of two martyrs of Islam and later was also married to Caliph Umar (RA).

Her first husband was Ikramah, a non-Muslim at the time who was imprisoned in Yemen. Upon receiving pardon from the Holy Prophet (pbuh), he returned to Medina with his wife. Umm Hakim had brought him from Yemen and touched him with the stories of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). Upon his return he took allegiance to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), participated in several wars and worked for the cause of Islam. Ikrama was martyred at the battle of Ajnadin.

Umm Hakim continued to stay in Syria after her husband's death. Here she was proposed to marriage by Khalid bin Saeed. She accepted the proposal, but said that the marriage should be held after the war against the Byzantines in the south of Syria was over. Khalid bin Saeed, expected to not survive the Battle of Marj al-Saffar (fought in 634 AD) and wanted to consummate the marriage before going to war to which she agreed. It is believed, unfortunately, the following day of her marriage, Khalid bin Saeed was also martyred while her camp was attacked by the Byzantine enemies.

Umm Hakim was still believed to be dressed in bridal clothes when the Byzantines attacked her tent. Displaying great strength of mind, Umm Hakim pulled the poles from the ground of the tent and struck any Byzantine soldier that attempted to enter the tent. In this manner, she killed seven to nine men from the enemy army. The Byzantine soldiers were confused and Um Hakim escaped and sought safety in the midst of the Muslim army.

Impressed by her heroism and sympathizing with the loss of her martyred husbands, Umar (RA), Caliph at the time proposed for a hand in marriage to Umm Hakim who had returned to Medina with the Muslim army. Umm Hakim was married to the Caliph Umar in the third year of Caliphate.  

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 13: Azdah bint al-Harith bin Kaldah (strategist)

Key players in any battle-field are the strategists and although they don't receive the same limelight as those who pick up swords and guns, it is the strategy of war or clever schemes devised by others in the battle field that lead the "soldiers" or "knights" to success.

Azdah bint al-Harith bin Kaldah, was one such strategist. She participated in the battle by the Al-Mughrab led by Mughirah bin Shu'bah when the people of Maisan had put together an army to challenge the Muslims. Maisan is located in Iraq and located between Basra and Wasit.

They waited but not all of the enemy showed up together. Seeing that the Muslim army appeared defenseless and remained exposed to the enemy, she told the other women:

“Our men are busy in combat with the enemy and I do not feel secure that the enemy might not turn back upon us, and we do not have anyone here to prevent them. And I also fear that the enemy may be too many for the Muslims and that they may defeat us.”

Azdah bint al-Harith advised the women to tie their headscarves to create a banner and charge towards the approaching enemy. She led this batallion of women calling out war poetry for the victory of Islam.
The enemy mistook the women for reinforcement troops and for fear of losing, retreated to the middleo f the battle where the Muslim men were waiting for them and chased them into defeat.

Thus, Azdah bint al-Hartih bin Kaldah played a pivotal role in the victory of Muslims in this war.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 12 - Umm Umarah, defending Prophet (pbuh) in Uhud

Umm 'Umarah - Nusaybah bint Ka'b

An exemplary woman, a lot can be learned from the life of Umm Umarah - whose actual name was Nusaybah bint Ka'b. Umm 'Umarah, an exceptionally brave Ansariyyah, lived during the times of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and participated in several wars with the Holy Prophet and later in the days of the Caliphate.

She was also exceptionally patient - Her two sons were martyrs of Islam and her brother Abdullah bin K'ab was a Companion of the Holy Prophet. Her story shows us that bravery of women was treated as equal to that of men's battle-field skills in the early Islamic days. 
Like Shifa bint Abdallah, Umm Umarah was also another example of an intellectual woman, who was very learned in the Qur'an and Hadith. She swore allegiance to the Holy Prophet. (amongst seventy two people and one other woman from Medina) who said there would be no difference in the terms of allegiance between men and women.

Stories from the battle-field:
Umm 'Umarah took part in the Second Bait-ul-'Aqabah, the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Hunayn, the war of Yamamah, and the Treaty of Hudaybiyah.
During the battle of Uhud, she was astonishingly skilfull with the sword and The Prophet said that in whichever direction he turned in the battlefield he could see her defending and protecting him.
When the Muslim army was on the verge of defeat, Umm Umarah joined her two sons and husband in surrounding the Holy Prophet (pbuh) on foot while the enemy was on horsebacks. 

When one of the enemies attacked her she defended herself with her shield and then pulled on the bridle of the horse to turn it around and attacking the horse back with her sword. Seeing this, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) called out to 'Abdullah bin Umm 'Umarah to help his mother so that together with her son, she finished off the enemy soldier.
At one point, Abdullah was injured in the left arm and began losing a lot of blood. The Prophet (pbuh) told him to immediately bandage his wound. Umm 'Umarah bandaged her son but told him not to give-up against the enemy. On seeing her and her son's courage, it is known that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) remarked:
'From where can anyone get courage like you, O Umm 'Umarah?'

When the man who had injured Abdullah approached Umm 'Umarah who was standing in front of the Prophet (pbuh), The Holy Prophet pointed out to her that this was the man who had injured her son. Umm Umarah struck a powerful blow with her naked sword cutting off his leg, making the man fell face down.
During this battle she sustained at least twelve major wounds; the deepest one being on her shoulder was so severe that it had fainted her and it took a year for it to heal. On regaining consciousness her first concern was for the well being of the Prophet (pbuh).

Women also get a share in the victory:

Along with Umm Umarah, twenty women took part in the Battle of Khyber and on triumph women received a share of the booty of war. Umm 'Umarah got expensive dresses and jewellery and two Dinars. In the Battle of Hunayn as well she had fought valiantly and received some part of the booty.

Patience in sacrifice
The Prophet (pbuh) sent Umm 'Umarah's son, Habib bin Zaid to Musaylamah Al-Kadthab, with the message of Allah. Against diplomatic norms, Musaylamah tied Habib bin Zaid to a pillar and demanded to testify in the Prophethood of Muhammad to which Habib did. When asked if he also testified that he, Musaylamah, was also the messenger of Allah. Habib replied that he was deaf and could not hear him. When Musaylamah repeatedly asked this and Habib repeatedly gave the same response, Musaylamah gradually first cut off Habib bin Zaid's body parts and then martyred him. Umm 'Umarah showed exemplary patience at the receipt of this news.

During the days of Caliph Abu Bakar and Umar:
At sixty years of age, Umm Umarah joined the army that was sent by Caliph Abu Bakr Siddiq to challenge Musaylamah. Umm 'Umarah was also in the army. Abdullah bin Zaid was also with her in this army and he was responsible for finally killing the arched enemy of Islam, Musaylamah. During this battle, Umm Umarah lost her arm her arm and sustained eleven injuries but the happiness that thr defeat of Musaylamah brought her subdued any grief she might have over her own loss.

A questioning mind:
One of my favorite incidents from Umm Umarah's story shows how women participated in critical religious thinking and intellectual pursuit from the times of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Once Umm 'Umarah told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that in the Noble Quran only men were mentioned and women were often deprived of any importance.

Then this Ayah was revealed.

"Verily, the Muslims men and women, the believers men and women, the men and the women who are obedient (to Allah), the men and women who are truthful, the men and the women who are patient, the men and the women who are humble, the men and the women who give Sadaqat (i.e. Zakah and alms), the men and the women who observe fast, the men and the women who guard their chastity (from illegal sexual acts) and the men and the women who remember Allah much with their hearts and tongues, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward (i.e. Paradise)." [Noble Quran 33:35]

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