Is it time to recognize the “muslim” Rosa Parks?

December 1, 1955. That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger beginning the Civil Rights Movement

 Rosa Parks: Symbol of Peaceful Resistance to Segregation & Racism.

Great Islamic Women who refused to go to the “back of the bus” Should be recognized

An African-American family I know stood for six hours in line for a final view of Rosa Parks before her burial. A simple, peaceful act of non-compliance with an oppressive law made this seemingly ordinary woman famous. The symbolism of her gesture [or non-gesture] caught the public imagination.

Rosa Parks was a kindly, soft-spoken woman but she knew what was right and was willing to stand [sit] for it. She refused to give up her seat in the bus to a White man and would not go to the back of the bus where the “law” said she belonged.

Segregation is a thing of the past but institutional racism refuses to go away. In spite of laws to the contrary, most American cities are unofficially segregated, with Black areas and White areas, blurred increasingly by Hispanic and Asiatic areas. Even churches remain Black and {largely} White churches.

There are no signs saying, “Whites only” but the “class” component of racism persists, and the aftermath of Katrina brought out the reality of institutional racism.

Within this American imbroglio, the power of Islam is emerging, slowly but surely. American women are saying a clear NO to the power of Madison Avenue, Hollywood and even Wall Street. I spoke at a mosque in Philadelphia and tried to explain the misunderstandings, which are prevalent in America about Afghanistan.

At this a woman got up and said: Bush should stop attacking the Taliban for making Afghan women wear the burqa. We are wearing it right here in Philadelphia.

Sure enough, she was wearing a head to foot covering but it did not stop her from being eloquent.

Eid prayers in Philadelphia and other big cities bring out the power of Islam in America. If Bush and Wolfowitz were to see the serried ranks of Muslim women in full hijab on these occasions, they would probably have nightmares about an end to their efforts to “liberate” women.

The history of Islam is replete with examples of women who stood up to power because they had faith in Allah and loved the messenger of Allah, Muhammad, peace be on him.

It’s not strange that the first person to advise and encourage Muhammad, pbuh, about the authenticity of his mission was his wife Khadija, r.a., who put her entire capital at his disposal. Here are a few salient examples we should recognize and honor:

  • Summayya, the first martyr of Islam. She was a slave woman but was liberated by Islam. [“Free the slave,” says The Qur’an, chapter 90.] When she refused to ‘go to the back of the bus,’ her slave master tortured her to death.
  • Fatima, the sister of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, defied him for the sake of Islam. He was a big, strong man. He beat her but his heart softened when he saw her bleeding. He accepted Islam, r.a., and sought Allah’s forgiveness. His life was transformed by her.
  • ‘Ayesha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, r.a., married the messenger of Allah at a very young age. Poet and genealogist, educated by the Prophet himself, she became teacher, leader, Hadith-transmitter, Qur’an-commentator. She led men at the battle of Jamal. Her oratory had no equal.
  • Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, pbuh, known for her great piety and wit, stood by him on the field of battle and at Uhud became the first Muslim physician. She, as the mother of Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain, is the symbol of sublime motherhood in Islam.
  • Umm Ammara shielded Muhammad, pbuh, at Uhud with her own body against the attacking oppressors when most of his male defenders had fled. She is known as a great warrior who participated in Islam’s classical battles even after the Prophet, pbuh, passed away.
  • Umm Waraqah was Hafiz of the Qur’an and led men and women in prayer as ordered by the Prophet, pbuh. [See Hadith in Sunan of Abu Dawud.]
  • Ghazala, in the era after the Caliphate of the Rashideen, defied the power of the kings, sword in hand. Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi has chronicled her exploits when she went to the main mosque in kufa [controlled by the King] and prayed two rakats and recited the longest chapters of the Qur’an in them. The historian attacks her as a “Kharijite.”
  • Nafisa [daughter of Hasan bin Zayd bin Hasan, r.a, son of Ali, r.a] great teacher and leader. Imam Shafi’ii was her devotee and student. She LED the JANAZA prayers of Imam Shafi’I. [There was a series of prayers for him that day.] Ibn Hajar Asqalani has listed 150 visionary aspects of her life. Ibn Khallikan described her as one of the Awliyya Allah.

In our own times, Chechen, Palestinian, Iraqi, Sudanese, Nigerian, Somali, Kashmiri, Pakistani, Afghan, African-American women devoted to the message of the Qur’an and the example of the Messenger, pbuh, have made great sacrifices to fight oppression, exploitation and imperialism/Zionism/occupation.

It’s about time we recognized our “Rosa Parks.”

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About Kaukab Siddique PhD

Professor of English, World Literature and Journalism at Lincoln University. Research specialization in Women and Islam

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