The Greatest Women Who Lived
Sparkling gems in their own times, they continue to glisten beyond their age, making their appeal everlasting. Each one a legend in her own right, they were declared the best of women by the Last Prophet (pbuh). So what were the special characteristics these illustrious women had and how can we follow in their footsteps in our times? Fatima Barkatullah looks for answers and finds inspiration and guidance.
What are the most famous women of today celebrated for? Those held up as role models for the modern woman include actresses, singers, footballers WAGs (wives and girlfriends) and glamour models – all celebrated for their physical appeal. Very rarely will a woman be deemed ‘successful’ for other than what is really just superficial and then, as is often the case, when she ages and her physical features fade, she will fall out of favour with the media and younger women will replace her as the icons of their era.
But Allah shows us in His Book that a woman is so much more than the outer shell that is her body. Our history is replete with examples of great women who were gems of their times and whose sparkling appeal is timeless. Islam defines for us that the truly successful are those of integrity, who fulfil the purpose of their creation and rise to the challenges that are presented to them throughout life with tenacity, thereby gaining the pleasure of their Creator and everlasting victory in the next life.
The Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said in an authentic Hadeeth:
“The best women from the people of Jannah are Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Fatima daughter of Muhammad, Aasiya bint Muzaahim – the Wife of Pharoah and Mary daughter of Imran, may Allah be pleased with them all.”
In fact Allah specifically mentions two of these great women in the Qur’an, as role models for believing men as well as women. In Surat ut-Tahreem Allah says:
“And Allah has set forth an example for those who believe: The wife of Pharaoh, when she said: “My Lord! Build for me a home with you in Paradise, and save me from the Pharaoh and his actions, and save me from the people who are oppressors.
And Maryam, the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity. And we breathed into the sleeve of her garment through our Ruh, and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and believed in His books and was of those who are obedient to Allah.”
So what were the characteristics that made them worthy of such accolades? What made Allah and His Messenger single out these women above all others? And more importantly, how can we benefit and learn from their example?
They affirmed the Truth immediately
Scholars state that these four women were from the Siddeeqoon, who, after the Prophets, have the greatest status in Allah’s Sight. A Siddeeq is someone whose submission to the Truth and to the commands of Allah is immediate, without any hesitation. We see from their stories that Mariam accepted the huge task that Allah had set for her, of going through pregnancy and childbirth by herself, unsupported by a man and then of presenting her child Jesus (pbuh) to the people who would inevitably accuse her of being unchaste.
Khadijah accepted Islam immediately and was the first Muslimah. When the Prophet returned from Mount Noor having received the first revelation from Angel Jibreel, it was Khadijah who immediately accepted his message and believed in him even though he himself was shaken by the event.
Lesson I: Today, there is a culture amongst us of ‘Fatwa Shopping’. In other words, when an Islamic ruling makes us feel uncomfortable, instead of saying ‘We hear and we obey’, we just go and ask someone who has another opinion until we find the opinion that is most akin to our own desires. We must become women who, when faced with the truth in any matter, sincerely accept it and submit without hesitation.
They had a strong relationship with Allah
Their knowledge of Allah and His attributes made them close to Him. When the Prophet returned from the Cave of Hira, fearing something bad had happened to him Khadijah knew Allah would never forsake him. She said: “Allah would never humiliate you, for you are good to your relatives, you are true to your word, you help those who are in need, you support the weak, you feed the guest and you answer the call of those who are in distress.” She knew that Allah is Just and does not humiliate the righteous.
Aasiya knew when Pharaoh was torturing her to turn her from her faith, that Allah could hear her cries and her du’a, she asked Allah to build for her, with Him a house in Paradise. During her ordeal, Allah showed her house in Paradise to her, which made her smile, just as she was martyred at the hands of her husband.
Mariam had such a close relationship to her Lord that he would provide her with the fruits of the Summer in the Winter and the fruits of the Winter in Summer. When the Prophet Zakariyyah (AS) saw this he quizzed her about the origin of the food she always had. She said, “This is from Allah. Verily, Allah provides sustenance to whomsoever He wills without limit.”
Lesson II: If we are to become close to Allah we too must have correct knowledge of Him and His names and attributes and mention Him often through His Dhikr. If we remember Him much in times of ease, only then will we be able to remember Him in times of difficulty.
They had Qunoot
Allah describes the True Believing women as being Qaanitaat and described Maryam in particular as having the characteristic of Qunoot. He says in Surah Al Imran, Aayah 43:
“O Maryam! Submit yourself with obedience (Uqnuti) to your Lord and prostrate yourself, and bow down along with those who bow down.”
Qunoot means to stand for long periods in prayer and this was particularly a characteristic of Maryam and Fatima. Qunoot also means to be devoutly obedient and to submit to Allah.
Lesson III: We must become true worshippers of Allah, not only striving to establish our prayers, but striving to concentrate and to lengthen our prayers, in particular, the Night Prayer (tahajjud). We must have soft hearts that accept Allah’s commands and obey him with devotion.
They supported the Believing men in their lives
Aasiya saved the baby Prophet Musa (pbuh) from Pharoah and brought him up & believed in him. Mariam was pivotal to the message of Eesa/Jesus (pbuh) and she brought him to the people as a sign from Allah. Fatima defended her father when the idolators in Makkah threw the blood and carcass of a dead camel on her father’s back while he prayed. She removed the filth and stood up to the men who had attacked her father, only to be slapped in the face by Abu Jahl.
Khadijah stood by the Prophet (saw) and spent her wealth for the sake of his message. She endured the difficult boycott period when the Muslims and their supporters were forced to dwell in a valley away from the people of Makkah and were refused food or trade. The Muslims used to eat the leaves of the trees due to the extreme state of poverty they were in. Khadijah endured these hardships and stood by the Prophet (saw).
Lesson IV: We must support our men folk and help them to be ‘real men’. We must stand by them in times of difficulty and strengthen them when they feel weak in their Iman. It’s amazing the effect that a woman can have on a man’s self-esteem and confidence. Insha Allah, we will be rewarded for helping our men to be better servants of Allah.
They had Courage
Fatima was often seen in the wars that the Muslims fought, treating the wounded and stood up to Abu Jahl when he attacked the Prophet (saw). Mariam had the courage to bring Eesa to people after her difficult ordeal. She knew they would accuse her of being unchaste, yet she bravely obeyed Allah’s command. Khadijah had the courage to follow and encourage the Prophet (saw) in his mission even though she endured hardship due to it. Aasiyah courageously stood up to Pharoah, the greatest tyrant of that time and refused to become a disbeliever.
Lesson V: We have to be prepared to do difficult things in our lives. We must have the courage to speak out to defend the oppressed and to tell people about our Deen without watering it down and we must be prepared to sacrifice anything for the sake of the Truth.
They had Istiqamah and Sabr.
Istiqamah means to stand firm upon the straight path and sabr is patient perseverance. In other words, they tenaciously held on to the truth come what may.
Asiyah stayed firm upon the Deen of Musa throught her torture and martyrdom. Mariam had sabr when facing her peoples’ accusations and stayed firm throughout the tests she faced. Khadijah and Fatima endured the three-year boycott that was imposed on them and went through the persecution of Makkah and kept their Iman.
Lesson VI: We live in a time when we need Istiqamah. We need to stay true to the message of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and not be tempted to water-down our Deen to appease other people. It will mean being patient and displeasing people sometimes, but ultimately we will have pleased Allah and He will give us success.
They had Tawakkul (Reliance Upon Allah)
When she was being persecuted for worshipping Allah, Aasiya’s reliance upon Allah made her stay firm upon Iman and not yield under the intense pressure. Fatima faced poverty and physical hardship after her marriage to Ali to the point that her hands became rough and her face changed colour due to the physically demanding work she was doing. Despite this she was not allowed to receive Zakah and was not granted a servant when she wanted one. Instead the Prophet taught her and Ali to say ‘Subhan Allah’ (Glory be to Allah) 33 times and ‘Alhamdulillah’ (Praise be to Allah) 33 times and ‘Allahu Akbar’ (Allah is Great) 34 times. He reminded them that Allah was the One who would make things easier for them so they should put all of their trust in Him. All four of the women persevered in the tests they faced due to their reliance upon Allah and knowledge that He would make their affairs right.
Lesson VII: We must learn to truly have tawakkul in Allah and trust that after we have done our bit, Allah will make everything turn out right as long as we are conscious of Him.
They had Zuhd
This means they were not attached to the life of this world. The Prophet (saw) once told Fatima to remove the gold bangles she was wearing as he wanted to teach her not to desire this life. She immediately removed the bangles and gave them away in charity. Khadijah spent her wealth in supporting the Da’wah during the Makkan period, she gave up her status as one of the most noble and esteemed women of the Quraysh in order to stand by the Prophet.
Aasiya could have had a life of luxury as she was married to the richest and most powerful man in the world. She gave up the material delights she could have enjoyed if she complied with Pharaoh’s wishes. Yet she chose what was with Allah over this worldly life.
Lesson VIII: We must be willing to give up all we have for the sake of Allah. We must avoid joining in the race to have the best and latest commodities and realise that what is with Allah is so much more.