Celebrating Muslim women

MARCH 11 ― A few days ago, PAS Ulama information chief Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali At-Takiri released a statement stating the importance of restoring the institution of the family and that wives especially should be able to perform their true function at home as wives and mothers.

In response to this statement and in commemoration of International Women’s Day, in this column, I would like to talk about some of the important Muslim women in Islamic history.

Khadijah bint. Khuwaylid was the Prophet’s first wife and the first convert to the new faith of Islam. Even before her marriage to the Prophet (pbuh), Khadijah was a respectable woman in her own right.

Not only did she devote herself to the upbringing of her children, but she was also an established entrepreneur. Despite being born into a patriarchal society, she received two titles: “Ameerat Quraish” meaning Princess of Quraish, and at-Tahira, meaning The Pure One. When the Prophet received the first revelation, he ran down Mount Hira afraid and sought refuge in the arms of Khadijah.

The next woman needs no introduction, for she is Aisha bint. Abu Bakr. Also a wife of the Prophet, she had the most influence on the Muslim world after his passing.

She led an army against Ali ibn Abu Talib, but after her defeat during the Battle of Basra, she played a major role as the transmitter of Islamic teachings. She was one of the most knowledgeable Muslims and carved the way for Muslim women to participate in political and public spheres.

Nusayba bint. Ka’b, also known as Umm ‘Ammara, was a member of the Banu Najjar tribe. She was one of the earliest converts to Islam in Medina and was most remembered for taking part in the Battle of Uhud against the Meccans.

She was extremely skilled with the sword and risked her life protecting and defending the Prophet. She sustained 12 major wounds during the battle, fainting because of the last one, and when she regained consciousness, her first question was whether the Prophet was still alive. This goes to show her loyalty to the Prophet and Islam.

Rabi’a al-Adawiyya was one of the most important and influential Muslim saints and Sufis in Muslim tradition who spent her early life as a slave. She was known for her “pure love of God”, which emphasised loving God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward.

She founded the Sufi school of Divine Love (Ishq-e-Haqeeq). Her life of hardship eventually amounted to self-realisation, and Rabi’a lived the rest of her life devoting herself to God.

Zaynab bint. Ali was the granddaughter of the Prophet and one of the leading figures in Ahlul Bayt. After the death of her brother Husayn during the Massacre of Karbala, she became the effective leader of Ahlul Bayt and served as the primary defender of the cause of her brother.

Zainab was deeply against oppression and other forms of injustice and in her lifetime, showed pious defiance towards Yazid I, second caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate, who was known for being a power-driven, unjust and cruel ruler.

These are just some of the prominent female names in Islamic history and there are still many more that we can read about. These women have done a lot to contribute to the upholding of the religion and many times do we disregard their significance.

Dear Datuk, to say that a woman’s “true function” is to be a stay-at-home wife and mother is misplaced.

In a time where women were seen as objects of inheritance, Islam gave women the rights to inheritance. In a time where women were seen as personal properties, Islam gave women the right to possess personal property.

In a time where women were seen as objects to be collected, Islam gave women the right to reject and divorce. In a time where unlimited marriages were common, Islam regulated and restricted polygyny.

In a time where women were silenced and voiceless, Islam also gave women the right to testify.

In a society that looks up to fathers, the Prophet said that Heaven lies at the feet of mothers. In a society that prized sons, the Prophet told fathers that if their daughters spoke well of them on the day of Judgment, they will enter paradise.

In a society that practised  polygamous marriages, the Prophet stayed in a monogamous marriage with Khadijah RA until the day she passed on. In a society that prioritised male dominance, the Prophet allowed Umm Waraqa to lead prayers.

In a society that treated wives as possessions, the Prophet said that the best among men are those who are best to their wives. In a society that buried infant daughters, the Prophet said that daughters are a blessing; kind, helpful and good companions.

As you can see, the Prophet and Islam raised the status of women so much that your statement on limiting them to only a domestic sphere is a travesty to everything that the Prophet fought for. Women are more than just house-cleaners and baby-makers.

Would giving Muslim women more rights today than in the 7th century be considered un-Islamic?

No. Why should it? Understanding the gradualistic approach of the Quran, giving women more rights today should be seen as an improvement from the examples that have been put forth by the Prophet, his Companions, wives and early Muslims.

Instead of maintaining a stasis or regressing back to before the Islamic era, we should be building upon these examples, realising the goals that they had wanted to achieve, and that is equality, justice and fairness for all and allowing the involvement of women in public spheres, working hand-in-hand with their male counterparts.

Do not blame the crumbling of our family institution on working wives and mothers. What do you expect from a society that does not prioritise family planning and pushes forward the notion that getting married early is better?

Women should be given the choice of whether they want to be homemakers or not, without getting demonised for choosing otherwise. Either way, what’s most important is that she be given the option to choose, instead of being forced into it.

Like I have mentioned before, change or reform does not happen in a day. Let us continue the Prophet’s legacy and further push the women in our lives to be the best people they can potentially be.

Happy belated International Women’s Day!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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