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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