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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Monday, July 30, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 11 - The legendary knightsperson, Khawla bint al-Azwar

One of my favorite stories of all time - Khawla bint Al-Azwar is someone whom I only recently learnt about and totally inspired me. Her story is about faith in Allah, sibling love, and courage. As a sister to three brothres, I like to imagine her relationship with her brother and how he taught her to be one of the best knightsperson of her time (might I add, whether male or female)! 

Khawla and her brother:
Khawlah was the daughter of one of the chiefs of Bani Asad tribe. Her brother, Dirar, was the knight and poet of his tribe, and was well known for his wisdom. He had great faith in his sister's capabilities and their fondness for each other was exemplary. Khawla would accompany her brother wherever he went and he taught her his skills of swordsmanship and poetry.

The famous story from the battle of Ajnadin: 
In the battle of Ajnadin, near Jerusalem, against the Romans, Dirar fell from his horse and was taken prisoner. Moved by the need to save her brother, and wearing male knight's attire, Khawla bint Al-Azwar took her arms and rode her horse shshe donned a male knight's attire, took her arms and rode her mare through the Roman ranks bringing down any one who came her way with her skillfull swordsmanship. The Muslim soldiers, along with their leader Khalid, were in awe of her skills and bravery, thinking she was a man. They had no idea who this brave knight was but prayed for safety.

The Romans were eventually defeated suffering great loss of lives. Khawla had been amazing on the field but by now covered in blood. According to an Arab Historian, Al Waqidi, narrates in his book "The conquering of Al Sham (Greater Syria)," when Khalid asked her to unveil herself, she tried not to respond and escape. But the soldiers did not allow her to escape and finding herself stuck, she replied in a feminine voice:

"My prince, I did not answer because I am shy. You are a great leader, and I am only a woman whose heart is burning."

"Who are you?" Khalid insisted.

"I am Khawlah Bint Al-Azwar. I was with the women accompanying the army, and when I learnt that the enemy captured my brother, which lead me to do what I had to do."

Although Khalid ordered the army to chase the Romans under Khawla's leadership so that they could retrieve her brother Dirar, they were unsuccessful in finding her brother. Khawla, after a heated chase, was able to catch up with the Roman guards, defeat them and save all the prisoners!!

The women revolt:
In another battle in Ajnadin, this time Khawla was taken prisoner by the Romans. The Romans had also attacked the women camp and captured many of them. Khawla, altough captured from the battle field was also placed in the same camp. Furious at the disgrace of the women, she called on all the other women, inspiring them to fight for their freedom. Under her instructions, the women took the tents' poles and pegs and attacked the Roman guards, while maintaining a tight circle.

According to Al Waqidi, they managed to kill 30 Roman knights, while Khawlah used her poetic verses to encourage the women and infuriate the enemies. The Roman Leader infuriated tried to tempt the women with promises, as well as eventually to attack them. He told Khawlah that he planned to marry her and make her the first lady of Damascus. But she answered him calmly and with great contempt:

"I wouldn't even accept you to be the shepherd of my camels! How do you expect me to degrade myself and live with you? I swear that I'll be the one to cut off your head for your insolence."
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ramadan Challenge 10: Turkan Khatun of Iran, the woman behind her husband and son

These last 5 days I have focussed on women Muslim rulers from around the global Muslim community showing how historically women have actively participated and excelled in political and governmental affairs. Their stories demonstrate how the men and communities of their societies revered their decisions and intellect and therefore the common perception created that Muslim women are not liberated or educated is indeed a fallacy created by generations of media manipulation and cultural enforcements via media and education.

Another story like that of Shajarat al-Durr is that of Malik Shah's wife, Turkan Khatun (1092-94) from Isfahan, Iran. Following her husband's death, she took control of his army while preparing for the successful succession of her son Mahmud to the throne. She tied up his affairs and maintained orderliness in the throne while securing his wealth. Ibn al Jawzi describes her as being a forceful woman with great political acumen. 
Turkan Khatun was a Seljuk Queen, a people whose history began after 1000 AD and who were most dominant in Turkestan. They overran Ghaznavid Empire in 1040 and took over Persia and Mesopotamia. It is unfortunate that little is known about these forgotten Muslim women rulers of the past. Their research is not easily available on the internet eg: even when you google search Malik Shah or his son who succeeded him Mahmud, you hear nothing about the woman Turkan Khatun unfortunately.

It is unfortunate that we made little effort to preserve our history and the pride in it. Although we complain about how media shows us, as a community many of us take no pride in ourselves or do little to regain this pride hence falling into a dangerous trap of self-hatred.  
Not only were these women of superior acumen politically, they had the courage to take control of their own destinies without having to depend on others. They trusted their intelligence and used their wealth and power wisely for the betterment of their societies and the shaping of civilizations. 
They were visionaries and extremely courageous to take over the control of their armies in the absence of the men in their family, hence showing that the women of those days were taught how to participate in the battle field. The next 5 days of Ramadan Challenge, I will be focussing on brave women in the battle field who defied all our concepts of women and girls being different to the males in their family.  

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A wrap-up of the Muslim rulers studied so far:
Zubaidah bint al Jaafar al Mansur, Abbassid
Al-Udar al Karimah Shihab ad Din Salah of Yemen
Shajarat al-Durr of Egypt
Razia Sultana of South Asia
Soyembike of Kazan, Russia


  • http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=nDVOR7jZYJEC&pg=PA127&lpg=PA127&dq=Turkan+Khatun&source=bl&ots=SXFYzqk4Gw&sig=dBv1M8xAfqNeJvgNZF3y48JWX0U&hl=en&sa=X&ei=0FsRUI2NH8LO0QWuhYHYAg&ved=0CFYQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Turkan%20Khatun&f=false
  • http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Muslim_Leaders.htm

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 9: Soyembika of Kazan (Russia)

Today's story is perhaps someone I know least about. It was actually really fun to read about a Muslim ruler from Russia and in my fascination to know more about her, I have decided to include her in this Ramadan challenge list in case her story tingles your curiosity. 
Söyembikä (1516 – after 1554) was a Tatar ruler, and the last queen and the last ruler of Khanate of Kazan, a medieval Tatar state in current Russia. The Khanate covered current Tatarstan which is a federal subject of Russia today. The capital of current Tatarstan is Kazan, which happens to be one of the most prosperous cities of Russia.
Soyembika is a name of Turkish origin and means "Lovely Queen." Daughter of Nogay nobleman Yosif Bak, she was the regent of her son Kazan Khan Utamesgaray between 1549 and 1551. Previous to this, she had been married twice, first to Kazan Khans Cangali (1533-35) and later to Safagaray (1536-49). In 1551, Khanate of Kazan was partially conquered by Ivan the Terrible who had her forcibly married to Sahgali (after 1553). 

Soyembika is the national hero of Tatarstan. Her name is associated with the famous Soyembika Tower, a landmark of Tarastan. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible, struck by her beauty, wanted to marry Soyembika who knew that if she refused, he would kill her people in anger. Instead to gain time, she challenged him to build her a tower with seven tiers, one representing each day of the week. She said she would marry him if he was successful.

Apparently, Ivan the Terrible, managed to overcome this challenge and the Tower was built in a week's time. Legend says that Soyembika asked Ivan's permission to climb the Tower and say goodbye to her people before leaving Kazan with the Tsar. But from the Tower, seeing the beauty of Kazan and her people from there, she was so filled with sorrow and love for Kazan and its people, that she decided she couldn't bear to marry the horrible Tsar Ivan and instead jumped from the same tower and died.

The view of the tower in 2007.

It is interesting that the people of Kazan always believed the Soyembike Tower is the national sacred place.  In Kazan everybody can tell a legend about the tower.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 8: Razia Sultana, first Muslim woman ruler of South Asia

The first Muslim female ruler of South Asia, Razia Sultana was the only female to ever rule Delhi! Following the death of her father and brother, Razia Sultana took over the throne of Delhi upon the wishes of her late father who preferred her over his other sons. 

Razia Sultana's political acumen:
Having ruled for four years, she established orderliness and peace and order, encouraged trade, built infrastructure including roads and wells, as well as the construction of schools and libraries. Like Zubaydah al Jaafar and Shujarat al Durr, she too was a patroness of poets, painters, and musicians.

Another example of a woman of great political acumen, Razia Sultana was well-acquainted with governmental affairs as her father left her in-charge of the capital every time he left Delhi. Like some other Muslim princesses of the time, Razia Sultana was also trained to lead the army and was an excellent fighter in the battle-field. 

A bit of a tom-boy:
Having been brought up in a house full of brothers, and regularly left in charge of stately affairs even before she became a ruler herself, Razia spent little time in the harem with women. She was distant from feminine customs and almost a bit of a "tom-boy" for purposes of better imagination. She refused to be addressed as "Sultana" as it meant wife/mistress of a Sultan. Razia wanted to be called "Sultan" and refused to be addressed as Sultana because it meant "wife or mistress of a sultan". 

Razia Sultana's tolerance and intellect:

Razia was a patroness of education and research. She established schools, academies, centers for research, and public libraries that included the works of ancient philosophers along with the Qur'an and the traditions of Muhammad. In the schools constructed under her patronage, it is reported that subjects like the the sciences, philosophy, astronomy, and literature were taught.

Victorious against Turkish nobles:
Sultana Razia's most trusted personal attendant was an an Ethiopian slave named Jalal-ud-din Yaqut. Her power challenged the Turkish nobles who conspired against her. In 1239, in response to their rebellion when she marched against him, he not only fled but also apologized to her.

Her demise:
However, it was the revolt of the governor of Bhatinda that led to the demise of Razia Sultana. She died in 1240 

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  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Razia_Sultana
  • http://storyofpakistan.com/razia-sultana/
  • http://www.ing.org/community-statements/813-ing-celebrates-women-s-history-month-week-2-discover-the-tradition-of-muslim-women-s-leadership
  • http://mashir.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/razia-sultana-short-biography.html

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 7: Sultana Shajarat ad-Durr

Global media, our educational systems and cultural centres have repeatedly shown Muslim women as suppressed. These 5 days I am going to attempt and show powerful Muslim women who used their resources, wealth and status with extreme political acumen in ruling their reigns and transforming civilisations.

Shajarat al-Durr (Arabic: شجر الدر, "Tree of Pearls") [1][2]  (d. 1257, Cairo) was the widow of the Ayyubid Sultan as-Salih Ayyub who played a crucial role after his death during the Seventh Crusade against Egypt (1249–1250). of Turkic origin[4][5]. She became the Sultana of Egypt on May 2, 1250.

Sultan Al-Salih Najm Al-Din Ayyub was responsible for bringing a large number of slaves to Egypt, who  later came to rule Egypt as the Mamluks. Shajarat al- Durr was amongst these slaves but later bore the Sultan a son and a favourite of the king's wife.

While the Crusades were underway, Louis IX came with his troops to occupy Cairo. During this time Sultan as Salih Ayyub died of an unknown fever. This was the perfect opportunity for the Franks under Louis IX to take over the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt. However, Shajarat taking the chief of the Mameluke guard, Fakhr al-Din, and the Sultan's chief eunuch, Jamal al-Din into her confidence  concealed the sultan's death and managed to control Egypt long enough so that Sultan al-Salih's son Turan Shah could return from northern Syria and take over the command!

In the meantime the Sultana with her strength of mind and character managed to stabilise the country politically and militarily and eventually managed to be victorious over the Crusaders.

Due to her political acumen, she received some reverence from the incoming Mamelukes, too that they raised her to the throne with the title, Umm-Khalil, meaning "mother of Khalil". She became the first female leader to have coins struck and the Friday sermon pronounced in her own name. To begin her reign, she continued Turan Shah's negotiations with Louis, preserved the  lives of the French prisoners, regained Damietta and ransomed the French king for 1,000,000 bezants, and maintained peace in Egypt.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 6: Al Udar al-Karimah Shihaab ad Din Salah

Copyright: Maartin Ruitjers (more on the image on the bottom left)

Yesterday, we read about Zubaidah bint Ja'afar, a powerful woman of great political acumen and social understanding. A highly educated woman, she combined her resources with her intellect and came down in history as one of the most revered royalty of her time.

I enjoyed gaining confidence from her strengths so much, that I have decided to focus the next 5 blog posts from the 6th through to the 10th of Ramadan on powerful Muslim women in history - women who used their power with their intelligence and resources for the betterment of civilizations.

Al Udar al-Karimah Shihaab ad Din Salah was one such woman from Yemen. Her son, Sultan Sayf Al Islam Al Mujahid Ali ibn Al Muayyad Hizbir Al Din Daud, was the ruler of Yemen from 1322-1363 AD (724-765 Hijri). She is known as a woman of great generosity and sympathy for the poor and needy. It is said that she would go from house to house looking out for those in need, hear their stories and give them generous gifts to alleviate their sufferings.

During his 14 months of absence from Yemen, when he had to join his forces to protect Egypt) Sultan Sayf al Islam left his mother as the Vicegerent Queen. In the 14 months that she ruled, she made more changes than her son had during his reign. Like Zubaidah bint Ja'afar, Al-Udar is also famous for her political acumen. She is known to have established internal security combined with justice and administrative order.

An extremely noble woman - she was a great patroness of religion and education, a quality we have noticed in all the women we have read about in the last five days. She established schools and mosques from Zabid and Taiiz to other parts of the land. 

Although her age is unknown, it is recorded that she died in 1360 AD (762 Hijri).

The image on the right is by Maartin Ruitjers whose Flickr link can be found here - He explains that this mosque in Yemen "dating from the 13-14th century, shows the influence of Egypt.Yemen was a caliphate of Egypt during several centuries. Seen from below, the twin minarets are set against the background of spectacular mountains. The courtyard, already small, is almost completely filled with 3 domed tombs. In the middle at the right of the picture you see the domes of the Machdabiya mosque, dating from the 16th century. More about the photographer here http://www.flickr.com/photos/33427270@N05/

Kid's activity:
Ask children to google famous old mosque(s) from Yemen and also from Egypt. Compare the images with them and work out with them what the differences in design are. Perhaps ask them to draw a part or the whole of the mosque and colour it. This can make a great Eid card for grand-parents too. 

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 5: Zubaidah bint Jaafar b al Mansur

Today's story is about one of the most powerful women in Islamic history - an inspiring and complete personality. Zubaidah bint Jaafar bin al Mansur was one of the wealthiest women of her time in the world. She was the wife of an imminent caliph of Islam, Harun ar Rashid (the fifth Abbasid caliph) and a lady known for her great political acumen from the 9th century AD.

The Islamic Empire under the Umayyad Dynasty (which preceded the Abbasid Dynasty) expanded to Spain in the West and China in the East. However, it was the Abbasids who are accorded with spreading the Muslim dynasty to lands far unimaginable in the years before. It was in this setting that Zubaidah bint Jaafar grew and is said to be the strong woman behind the eminent and powerful Caliph Harun al-Rashid.

Zubaidah's intellect:
She was a woman accorded much respect for her great intellect and profound opinions. Her grand father lay great emphasis on her education and so she was taught by the best of teachers and scholars. She was eloquent in Arabic literature and immensely attached to the Qur'an and Hadith. It is a well-known fact that she hired a hundred women who had memorized the Qur'an to recite it constantly in her palace which is said to have "sounded like a beehive."

Zubaidah was also a patroness of literature and sciences. She wrote many poems herself and participated in several competitions. It is known that she allocated large amounts of funds for poets, literary figures and scientists to come to Baghdad.

Her husband, Harun al-Rashid, was so fond of her and revered her opinions so much that it is no secret that he consulted her on many occasions and took her advice seriously.Historians believe that she was in-charge of parting with authority in her husband's absence as well.

Zubaidah's wealth:
Her real name was Amat-ul bint Jaafar bin al Mansur but Zubaidah was given this pet-name, meaning "butter ball" by her grandfather, Caliph Al-Mansur. This is the name that has remained more popularly attached to her identity and remains the one we remember her by. Born in 786 AD, her father was Ja'far, a half-brother of Caliph Al-Mahdi and she was the cousin of Harun al-Rashid whom she later married.  

Zubaidah was a woman of royalty from the Abbassid dynasty. She in fact became one of the best known Abbasid princesses. In fact, her and her husband's exploits are the subjects of the ever-famous stories of "The Thousand and One Nights" or "1001 Nights."

Zubaidah - a Visionary:
Perhaps the most alluring part of Zubaidah bint Jaafar's personality was that she was a visionary. She used her wealth andi ntellect to build cities and civilizations providing resources for the needy.

One of her most famous contributions is the "Pilgrimage route" from Kufa in Baghdad, going along Iran and reaching Mecca that she built with reservoirs and a series of wells and artificial pools along the route for the pilgrims. This routew was named "Darb Zubaidah" (Zubaidah's Way) in her honor. During this era pilgrims were struggling to get water as it was too expensive for the time.

The historian Ibn Al-Jawzi recorded that the Caliph's wife hired engineers to conduct an urgent study. They returned informing her that the task would be extremely difficult and costly to dig wells and tunnels in rocky terrain. Zubaidah still asked them to initiate the project immediately. The tunnel she built is still known as Neh"Zubaidah's River". She also built several cafes, workshops and mosques along this way from Baghdad to Mecca for the benefit of the pilgrims. It is recorded by historians that this project cost her over 54 million dinars!

Al-Katib in his book "The History of Baghdad" and Ibn Jeed detailed that these contributions transformed the 900-mile route from a deserted one into one full of life. Robert Payne in "The Holy Sword" describes that the route helped transform the highways to Baghdad into a traditng centre of the Muslim world. "Of this period, people said 'It was one long wedding day and an ever-lasting feast'."

Zubaidah's story reminds us again of the importance of education, the contribution intellectuals can make to society and the Divine Love and Faith in Allah that allows these women to pull together their strengths for the benefit of generations of people. 

Kid's Activity:
Take a map and ask children to trace the route Zubaidah created. Give them color-coordinated stickers or pins to mark the wells, shops, cafes, or masajid along this route as per their imagination. If you find your children very interested in this - there were historically other routes from Damascus, Cairo and Mumbai where people travelled via foot and water. You can also learn about these with your children and make games around these. Ask your children to google the different people from different regions who took these routes and notice how they dressed and what they packed - celebrating the diversity of the Muslim ummah.

Today, if you go to Mecca, you can still see it. According to Dr.
Umar Farouq Abd-Allah, one of the channels is in an area called Aziziah,
which is outside Mecca towards Mina. Another channel can be seen on the
side of Mount Arafat.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 4: Shifa bint Abdullah (first Muslim woman to hold public office)

Old Medina - Mosque of Prophet Muhammad
The last three days have been a great learning experience for me. I am getting overly excited by what the research of the next 27 days has in store for me. Starting with the power of dua, going back to the basics of Divine Love, and how when combined with these strengths, education can leap a person to unimaginable bounds are themes that have already emerged for me in studying some of these great women in history. 
My fourth story of Ramadan is about a woman who precedes both Rabia Al-Basri and Fatima Al-Fihri. Al-Shifa bint Abdallah Al-Adawiyyah was a reputable healer of her time. She may perhaps be the first teacher in Islamic history too and most extra-ordinarily for me the first Muslim woman in Islamic history to have received a public affairs office, as a market controller, in the time of Umar RA's caliphate in the 7th century. 
Shifa bint Abdallah was one of the earliest people to convert to Islam. She took pledge on the hands of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) at a dangerous time when Muslims were being persecuted in Mecca. She was also amongst the first Muslims to migrate from Mecca to Medina. 

Her real name was Layla but because she was a woman of medicine with healing qualities, she was known as Al-Shifa meaning "The Healer". Before entering Islam, she had expertise over a preventative medicine against ant bites. After Hijrah or migration to Medina in order to avoid persecution in Mecca, Al-Shifa approached the Prophet (PBUH), and said "O Messenger of Allah, I used to do preventative medicine for ant bites during Jahiliyya (period of ignorance), and I want to demonstrate it for you." 
He said, "Demonstrate it." Al-Shifaa said, "So I demonstrated it for him, and he said '[continue to] do this, and teach it to Hafsah [a wife of the Prophet].'" In another version 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?"

This little anecdote in itself shows how women have always been respected and regarded for their knowledge and personality. Furthermore, it is proof that Holy Prophet (PBUH), someone who could not read or write himself, encouraged this in the women of his family and community and for women in general. It shows the importance Islam lays on knowledge.

It is extraordinary in itself that Al-Shifa bint Abdullah was so literate in those days when literacy was any way not common, leave alone with women. But Al-Shifa is known in history as being a woman of great intellect and knowledge. She was one of the very few individuals who knew how to read and write during the time.
She shared this knowledge with other women of Arabia teaching them how to read and write seeking the reward and pleasure of Allah, and making her probably the first female teacher in Islam.

It is this respect that Al-Shifaa wasawarded by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the community in general, that led Hazrat Umar (RA) to appoint Al-Shifa as the market controller in Medina. As the city was developing, Umar felt that it was important that supervision should be provided in the market place, where people buy and sell. Shifa bint Abdallah, as the market controller, had to ensure that business practices should always be consistent with Islam. She would go around the market, making sure that trading was being done on fair policies, and that that buyer and seller conformed to Islamic values. Umar had instructed shopkeepers that if they were in doubt about the legality of a particular transaction, then they should ask Al-Shifa as he trusted her knowledge of Islam.
Al-Shifa was so successful in her duties that Hazrat Umar then appointed a market controller in Mecca as well. Amazingly enough, here too it was a woman that was appointed to this duty - her name was Samra bint Nuhayk. Therefore, when Umar felt that it was advantageous to have a market controller, he appointed one in Makkah as well. Later, Ash-Shifa was appointed as the head of health and safety in Basra.

Al-Shifa, in her love for Allah and her faith in Him, cured people and shared her knowledge for the benefit of others. Women who we have learn of after her, including Fatima Al-Fihri and Rabia Basri had the same passion for Divine Love and Faith that led them to spend their lives, wealth and intellect in benefiting others towards what they believed was vital knowledge. It was these qualities, combined with intellect and education, that led society to respect these women for generations to come. 


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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 3: Fatima Al Fihri (Founder of the first University in the world)

Did you know the first degree-giving university of the world was built by a Muslim woman? Fatima al Fihri, a woman of Tunisian origin from Morocco is the name behind the prestigious University of Qarawiyyin founded in 859 AD and located in Fes, Morocco. 

Fatima al-Fihri belonged to a wealthy family that travelled to Fes, in Morocco from Kairouan, Tunisia for trading opportunities. Both Fatima and her sister Maryam were well-educated. Unfortunately, Fatima's husband, father and brother died in quick succession leaving an abundance of wealth behind for Fatima and Maryam. It was with this money that Fatima vowed to serve her community and Allah. 

 Fatima Al-Fihri was a great visionary. She built the University within the compounds of a beautiful mosque that attracted scholars from beyond Morocco. Fes, has historically been a cultural centre for the Muslim world and therefore the location was a perfect choice for this University. Great thinkers like Abu Madhab Al-Fasi, a leading scholar and theorist from the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence and Abu Al-Abbas al Zwawi were amongst its alumni. 

The University also became a haven for diversity and played a vital role in building the Islamic world's relations with Europe. Its list of alumni  in that it boasts of many imminent non-Muslim names amongst its alumni as well. Leo Africanus, a renowned traveler and writer studied here as did a renowned Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides or Ibn Maimun. The cartographer Mohammed al-Idrisi (d. 1166), whose maps aided European exploration in the Renaissance is said to have lived in Fes for some time, suggesting that he may have worked or studied at Al Qarawiyyin. Furthermore, Ibn al-Arabi Ibn Khaldun and Al-Bitruji were all attached to the University.

Along with Qur'an and Fiqh, the University offered courses in sciences, astronomy, grammar, mathematics and even music, history and geography. Today, Qarawiyyin University is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records and the UNESCO as the world's oldest continuously operating educational institution in the higher learning spectrum.


It was this love for Allah that led Fatima to serve her community and the global community for centuries to come. It is the same Divine love and devotion that we learnt of in the stories of Hazrat Maryam AS and Rabia Al-Basri. There are still many communities and families today that do not regard a daughter's education to be as important as their son's. The focus has turned to money-making and since all men have the responsibility of being bread-winners it is assumed that women's higher education can be over-looked. 

Fatima Al Fihri's story really shows that the first verse in Qur'an that was revealed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) for all of us was "Iqra" (read) and truly if we focus our energies on knowledge, on educating our children, then whether male or female, we can all achieve goals that are bigger than our beings. Our vision can really transform the societies for generations to come.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 2: Rabia al-Basri

I began my Ramadan challenge with the story of Maryam AS, mother of Essa AS/Jesus. Her story was one of strength in character, faith in Allah and the power of dua. 

Thanks to those who appreciated the effort! An ex-colleague messaged and said she would make her daughter read the Ramadan challenge posts too and I thought to myself, what a lovely comment to receive - I should definitely try and keep my stories anecdotal and easy to read for everyone. 
Keeping in mind my new potential audience, today's story takes us back to the basics - unwavering love for God! A perfect first lesson for a child. Today's blog post is about an Iraqi woman called Rabia al Basri - the first Sufi to talk about Divine love! 
Maryam's story is about gaining success by putting your faith in Allah. Rabia Al Basri's life reminds us that actually Maryam's story is also about her utmost love for Allah - the essential tool which can lead to faith in Allah.

Who is Rabia al Basri:
Rabia al Basri was the fourth daughter in her family, born in Basra (Iraq) in the early 8th century.When her father passed away, there was also a famine in Basra and circumstances forced Rabia away from her sisters. With no money on her, she was sold to a master away from her family. Her master was ruthless and over worked her and made her toil away.  

But this did not make her lose hope or faith in Allah. Rabia's love and faith in Allah did not waver. She worked endlessly but spent her nights praying to Allah. Once when she was asking Allah in her prayers, her master over heard her and was so moved by what he heard, he realized he was making a mistake by enslaving someone so close to Allah. He freed her immediately! 

(Myth says he asked her if he could instead be her slave but Rabia obviously opted for freedom instead. She remained ardently against slavery all her life!)

Equality of women in Islam: 

We saw yesterday how a daughter was accorded such high importance that Allah (swt) devoted an entire chapter to Maryam as an example for generations to come. There need not be any further proof of the status given to women in Islam. Sufi tradition in Islam saw no distinction between sexes either. Equal number of women received the status of sainthood as men. These women were respected and honored equally by both their male and female students and followers.

When freed, Rabia left for the desert where she spent her life as a sufi mystic. She wrote many poems on Divine Love and amongst her students, Hasan Basri was one of her students through whom we have learnt a great deal about Rabia Basri. This in itself shows that Islam does not differentiate between a male or a female intellectual or teacher. 

In fact, it is purely the love of Allah that will make someone understand that there is no distinction between his human beings and that each attains a strength and power that can change the world. 

Divine love: 

When freed, Rabia left for the desert where she spent her life as a sufi mystic. She wrote many poems on Divine Love. She was the first amongst the sufis to talk about this concept. She was not in denial of the reward of Paradise for the good and the punishment of Hell for the bad, but she said that these should not be the reasons why people worship God or obey Him. The reason why we should follow God's commandments is because of our unwavering love for Allah.

And how true is that! Imagine someone who studies hard for an exam. She may work hard for fear of not failing or for the hopes of achieving A grade. She will only study as much as is required to achieve these goals. But if it was the sole love for the subject that would drive her to study, she will continue to delve into the subject like it was an unending ocean yet to be discovered. 
When asked by Sheikh Hasan al-Basri (her student) how she discovered the secret, Rabia responded by stating:
"You know of the how, but I know of the how-less." [3]

If we are driven by the sole love of Allah, we will learn not to judge others by how they "follow" Islam, rather by how much they love Allah. And because we will never be able to measure others' love for Allah against ours, as that is deeper than what appears outwardly, we will soon lose this habit of being judgemental. Instead our energies will focus on loving Allah and striving to continue growing in that love. 

If we indulge in love for Allah the positive energy will reduce our bitterness and hatred for others. We won't be affected by what society tells us of a people, a group of people, and our minds will be stronger than what the media wants us to learn about a group of people. Our love for Allah will make us think and do what He loves and what He wants us to do.
When asked if she hated Satan, Rabia replied: "My love to God has so possessed me that no place for loving or hating any save Him."
Conclusion and an activity for parents
For all of us: What do you think can be the benefits of achieving Divine Love? It would be lovely to hear your comments below so that we can help each other understand that Divine Love just does not have to be a sufi concept but something that can be easily applied to our every day lives. 

For parents/ "teachers": Kids think differently from adults. This Ramadan it might be a great idea to explain your children how much we should love Allah. They will say they love Mama or Baba - ask them why and then make them push their boundaries to think why they should love Allah. Finally, do an activity with them where they can think if they love Allah, what are the things Allah loves that they can do too. 

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 1: Hazrat Maryam AS

As I grow older, my anxiety in how I would want my nephews and sons, and nieces and daughters to grow up has increased considerably. I feel sandwiched between the hypocrisies of our society in general and how media tends to portray women largely. In (local, international and to a great degree digital) media I either see us Muslim women as commercialised physical objects or reduced to create a form of Islamophobia which begins and ends with how reduced a woman’s status is in Islam.

It became more and more important for me to defy the "common-sense" statements about women in our every day lives impacted in my opinion directly by all factors of society and including media in this globalised society.

This Ramadan I have taken up the challenge of writing 30 posts on Muslim women for the 30 days of Ramadan and for me personally, I thought there would be no one better than Maryam (RA) to begin the month with. 

Born to Hazrat Emran and Hannah, and mother of Prophet Essa (Jesus) the story of Hazrat Maryam, as dictated in the chapter called "Maryam" in the Holy Quran, reminds me of:
  1. The power of dua
  2. The strength in piety
  3. The gift of a daughter and a woman

The power of dua
During Ramadan we all increase our efforts in dua and ibadah. Maryam’s story can be a reminder of the power in dua. It was her mother's dua that was granted by God and Maryam grew up to become the mother of a Prophet (purely by the miracle of Allah without any physical intervention). The birth of Prophet Essa (or Jesus) was a further miracle when he spoke in defence of his mother's piety in his cradle.

Hazrat Maryam`s ALAYHAS SALAAM (PEACE BE UPON HER)was the daughter of Hazrat Emraan and Hazrat Hannah.  In her old age, Hazrat Hannah ALAYHAS SALAAM (PEACE BE UPON HER) was expecting a child and expecting to have a son, made an oath that the child would be a servant of Allah, free from all wordly affairs. Allah, in his wisdom, blessed her with a daughter instead. 
The Holy Qur'an says: 

Behold! When the wife of Imraan said: "O my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy service.  So accept this of me; for thou Hearest and Knowest all things."  When she delivered, she said: "O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!"

(Surah Ale-Emraan:35-36)

However, Allah did accept Hannah's dua and not only granted her a daughter that was pious but who also grew up to be the mother of a Prophet. She was accepted for the service of Almighty Allah as an example and memory for all generations to come. It will be her son Essa ibn Maryam who will return as Messiah before the day of Judgement. How much better can a mother's (Hannah's) dua?   

The strength in piety
The second aspect of Hazrat Maryam's story is the strength of her character and piety. Hazrat Maryam ALAYHAS SALAAM (PEACE BE UPON HER)grew up under Allah's most special protection.  Allah sustained her, and her upbringing was an absolutely pure one. The Holy Qur'an, shares this childhood miracle of Hazrat Maryam ALAYHAS SALAAM (PEACE BE UPON HER)

"Right graciously did her Lord accept her, He made her grow in purity and beauty, to the care of Zakariyya (Alayhis-Salaam) was she assigned, every time he (Zakariyya) entered (her) chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance.  He said: "O Maryam! Whence (comes) this to you?" She said: "From Allah.  For Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure."

(Surah Ale-Emraan:37)

It shows to me what a woman, unaccompanied by a husband, can still achieve (if God wills) based on the strength of her faith in God. It shows to me how your children and loved ones can be protected from all evils in society if your prayers are with them and if their faith is rightly placed.  

Note: Hazrat Zakariyya Peace Be Upon Him was appointed to look after Hazrat Maryam ALAYHAS SALAAM (PEACE BE UPON HER)when she was in the service of Allah. 

The gift of a daughter and a woman

Everyone loves their children but there is an underlying feeling, perhaps even unsaid belief, that sons carry the name of their fathers and hence continue the lineage. As against Islam as that can be - there is a level of pride still prevalent amongst many Muslims associated with a son's birth over a daughter's. 

The Holy Prophet (May Peace Be Upon Him) said that whosoever brings up three daughters with complete sincerety, feeding them and providing them their rights until they grow up, will enter Paradise. A companion of the Prophet asked him regarding those that have two daughters, and the Prophet Muhammad replied "him too." 

Scholars say that if someone had asked him about raising one daughter with sincerety, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would have said the same for such a parent. Given that context and seeing how an entire chapter of the Qur'an is dedicated to a single woman and her story, is a source of great comfort and strength to me that in prayer, sincerety, piety and faith in Allah lies the strength of a woman who can then achieve miracles and statuses higher than imaginable.   


It became important for me to research on Muslim women in the past and present, to re-focus on how and for what purpose we have been created, why we should be extremely proud of who we are, to gain the enlightenment to bring up our sons to honour women and grant them their rightful status, and the strength to bring up our daughters as strong, proud, and well-guided women. 

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

30 days and 30 Muslim women blog posts

Ramadan Mubarak, Ramadan Kareem!!

Earlier this year for International Women's Day, I asked friends on Facebook who they thought were Muslim women of significance in history or even recent times. The response was so over whelming that I thought I could never cover all of this in a single article. Hence came along the idea of Ramadan challenge.

I will write a post every day of Ramadan about Muslim women from across the world - thereby challenging the media-constructed and socially accepted theories about Muslim women. Equally important this year for me is to reflect on being a woman, and the strength and beauty I can bring to this society and how I can prepare my future generations to understand the honor and respect of a woman's character and strengths. What better to achieve this than to reflect on resilient Muslim women.

Please do let me know via comments below about your favourite woman in history or someone whom you think should be part of this Ramadan series. May Allah accept our efforts the Ramdan 2012!

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