The role of women in Islam beyond a wife and mother is a mystery to most Muslims.
The diversity of the roles that Muslim women played in supporting, and actively spreading the message of Islam is truly unique in the history of women’s movements.
Nowhere have women from any faith, country, and socioeconomic and racial background consistently made such a mark on history as Muslim women have in the time of the Prophet pbuh.
We as Muslims follow, and do as the Prophet did. Muslim women revere and copy what the wives of the Prophet did as well as follow the Sahabiat and the Tabaeen women.
The role of women in the Islamic movement led by Muhammad Mustafa, pbuh is a living example for all Muslim women to follow, from the most fragile (physically) to the most intelligent and or strong.
Large segments of the Qur’an were revealed with reference to Islamic women.
Let’s look at the key moments in the mission of Muhammad, pbuh which illustrate the multifaceted roles that Muslim women had in impacting society:
1. The revelation of the Qur’an in the cave of Hira. The Prophet, pbuh, went to his wife, Khadija, r.a. Not only did she comfort him, she advised him and supported him. For the rest of her life, she placed her funds and resources at his disposal especially when the unbelievers blocked him at every step.
2. Would people be willing to sacrifice their lives for Islam? The answer came from Sumayya, r.a., the slave woman who was the first martyr of Islam. This was in Makka before Jihad became mandatory. She defied the slave master though she was poor and helpless.
3. During the Hijra, central to Islamic history, Asma, r.a. climbed the mountain every day and brought food to the Prophet, pbuh, while he was concealed in the cave of Thawr, at great risk to her own life and dignity. She brought up her son Abdullah [ibn Zubair] as one of the greatest opponents of kingship. She herself defied the Umayyad tyrant.
4.One of the closest companions of Muhammad, pbuh, was his youthful wife Aisha, r.a., who did more for the rights of women than any other woman in history.
Chapter 24 of the Qur’an is about her and condemns male attitudes towards women.
- Through her the Prophet, pbuh, undermined the Jewish bigotry against menstruating women.
- Tayammum, which makes prayer possible when water is not available was revealed with reference to an incident related to Aisha, r.a. [Chapter 4 verse 43].
- Later she led an army including prominent Islamic leaders to punish the murderers of Usman, r.a. Aisha, r.a., was a woman leading men!
5. At the battle of Uhud, a woman, Umm Ummarah, r.a., saved the Prophet’s (pbuh) life when he had been left almost alone by men who were being attacked by Khalid [at that time not a Muslim]. She took part in many battles and was honored by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, r.a.
6. At the treaty of Hudaibiya, the Muslims were stunned by what seemed an unequal agreement. The Prophet (pbuh) was advised by Umm Salama, r.a., and he accepted her advice, which completely changed the situation.
7. Umm Waraqah, r.a., memorized the Qur’an and led women in congregational prayers in the Prophet’s mosque, again demonstrating that the Qur’an is not the monopoly of men.
8. The Prophet, pbuh, died in the arms of Aisha, r.a., and she bore witness that he did not appoint anyone to be the ruler of the Muslims after him. Thus the great majority of Muslims on the basis of one woman’s witness rejected the concept of hereditary rule.
Most people do not realize that the powerful Persian and Roman empires with huge military forces collapsed in front of small Islamic armies commanded by Abu Bakr, Umar and Usman, Allah be pleased with them.
These empires were based on slavery and the subjugation of women. Their people knew that Islam would liberate them; hence they did not have the heart to fight the Islamics.
Historical review of the multifaceted roles of Muslim women becomes mandatory for the understanding of the Quran and Hadith as a large part of it has to do with women and their relationship to society and men.
It is a great disservice to the female gender to restrict their growth and development in the Deen of Islam to wife and mother only.
The roles of the Sahabiat and the women of Islam are a lighted torch for all Muslim women to follow and for all others to seek guidance from.
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HADITH: How the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, changed the Condition of Women
The Prophet, pbuh, accepted ONE woman’s witness in a crucial matter in spite of opposition by a man. Some people incorrectly think that One woman’s witness is not acceptable in Islam. Not true:
“Uqba bin Harith narrates: I had married a woman but a Black woman came and said that ‘I have breastfed both of you as children.’ I Said to the Prophet, pbuh, I had married such and such woman but this Black woman said that she has fed both of us, and she is a liar. The Prophet, pbuh, turned his face away. I again approached [him] and said: she is a liar. The Prophet, pbuh, said: How can you keep your wife when she [the Black woman] says, she breastfed both of you. Let her go.”
[Hadith in Sahih of Bukhari, kitab-un-nikah.]
Thus in a matter as serious as the annulment of a marriage, Islam accepts ONE WOMAN’s witness. Let none say otherwise. This was at a time when most of the world believed that women are chattel or have no souls.