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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  1. i just love this whole series! what value you are contributing by educating people about the status and respect women were given for their intellect and social contributions. May Allah reward you immensely.

  2. It's not about ramadan. It is about weight loss or diet purpura bacca