It cannot be denied that Muslim women have made great strides in representing themselves —and being recognized by mainstream American society — as empowered and willing to challenge stereotypes about them. They place a rich imprint on hearts and minds as to who they truly are as Muslim women. The signatures of accomplishment exist now in politics, education, sports, and business, and many other fields of endeavor. We must continue on the path of inspiring Muslim women who are willing to push and pull with great perseverance to fulfill their definitions of success. As Muslim women, we no longer can accept being underestimated, criticized, or targeted for negative energy because of our faith. We must remember the success of Khadijah, the heart of Fatimah, the faith of Maryam, the perseverance of Asiyah, and the countless Muslim women exemplars of devotion and strength.
Ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The best of women among the people of paradise are Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Fatimah bint Muhammad, Maryam bint Imran, and Asiyah bint Muzahim, the wife of Pharaoh.”
Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (r)
Khadijah was born in Makkah in the year 556 CE; her mother was Fatimah bint Za’id and her father was Khuwaylid bin Asad. She grew up in a wealthy, respected family and became known as the Ameerat Quraish (Princess of Quraish) and at-Tahira (The Pure One). After Khadijah’s second husband died, she took charge of the caravan trade business that she inherited from her father, a businessman and leader of Quraish. As a caravan merchant, she was importing and exporting goods to and from various locations such as Syria. Makkah was the epicenter of many caravan routes, and this played a significant role in Khadijah’s thriving business. She would employ others to lead caravans on her behalf, giving them fifty percent of the profit. Abu Talib, an uncle of the Prophet (s), was a frequent patron of her business and was often accompanied by Muhammad on business journeys. After hearing good words about Muhammad’s skill, reliability, and trustworthiness, Khadijah chose him as a caravan trader for her business. Khadijah’s love for the Prophet (s) originated during this time.
One night, she dreamt of the sun coming down and shining on her courtyard. She went to her cousin, Waraquah ibn Nawfal, who was an old man known for his knowledge of the existing Scriptures. Khadijah told him about the dream, and he interpreted it as a sign that the prophet of God predicted in the Scriptures would grace her life and home. Soon after, she sent her friend, Nafeesah bint Manbah, to ask Muhammad if he would be interested in marriage and he accepted. Khadijah is also known as the “Mother of the believers” for she was the first person to accept that Muhammad was a prophet sent by God with the message of Islam. It was she who provided comfort and support of the Prophet (s) after he came from the Cave of Hira, fearing for his life. She had full faith in him and accepted the path of Islam.
After the death of Khadijah, Aishah (r) asked the Prophet (s) what distinctly made him miss Khadijah so much. The Prophet said, “She believed me when nobody believed me. Everybody called me a liar, but she accepted that I was telling the truth. When nobody gave me anything, she supported me with her wealth. God Almighty gave me children from her.”
Leading one of the most prominent trading businesses of her time, Khadijah demonstrated power and strength during a generation when the societal norm left women dehumanized, undervalued, and seen as incapable of tasks outside the confines of their homes. Khadijah (r) shattered this societal stereotype with her success and wealth, achieved through operating her own business. She displayed an empowering independence and effective leadership in business, as well as the astuteness and willingness to recognize the Divine mission of the Prophet (s) and support him with all her means.
Fatimah bint Muhammad (r)
Born in Makkah, Fatimah was the youngest daughter of the Prophet (s) and Khadijah (r). She married Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin. Fatimah was only ten years old during the siege of Shi’b Abi Talib. This was a social and economic boycott against the Muslims in which the people of Quraish were prohibited from buying from or selling to them. The siege lasted for about three years, denying the Muslims access to basic supplies including food and water, and resulting in years of hunger, thirst, and distress. One year after the siege ended, Fatimah’s mother passed away. Fatimah spent a significant part of her childhood experiencing the persecution by the Quraish in their attempts to deny Muhammad’s prophethood and stop his mission.
As the Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah was often the target of hatred from the disbelievers. She also witnessed much abuse of her father and in one incident, the Prophet (s) was with a few companions when it was time to pray. Abu Jahl and others were nearby and they brought the entrails of a camel and put them on the back of the Prophet (s) while he was prostrating. When Fatimah heard about this incident, she went straight to the scene and removed the entrails from her father’s back, expressing anger towards the disbelievers. Fatimah had a deep love for her father and felt protective of him. She had to stay strong as she was also targeted by Abu Jahl and the disbelievers.
There is a miracle described in the book, Great Women of Islam, when a woman sent Fatimah a couple of pieces of bread and meat and Fatimah put it on a large plate and covered it with a cloth. She asked her father to share the meal at her house and when she removed the cloth, she found the plate full of bread and meat; the amount seemed to have been multiplied. There was a surplus of food left even after their meal was finished. When the Prophet (s) asked who had sent all the food, Fatimah replied that it was from Allah’s mercy.
Fatimah endured many hardships in her life, from the siege during her childhood years to the ongoing persecutions by the disbelievers. But her faith in the truth of Islam remained firmly grounded. From Fatimah’s life, we can learn to remain firmly on the path of Islam even when setbacks come our way. We can successfully move past those setbacks by seeking Allah’s guidance and having faith in Him as our Creator. Hardships and failures are ways by which we demonstrate that faith and strengthen our resolve and dedication on the path.
After the death of the Prophet, Aishah (r) asked Fatimah what the Prophet had whispered in her ear right before his death. She answered, “Firstly he said, ‘O Fatimah I am going to die tonight,’ and so I cried, and when he saw me crying, he said, ‘Will you not be satisfied that you will be the first from amongst my family to follow me and that you will be the leader of the women of Paradise,’ and so I laughed.” Fatimah (r) passed away only six months after the Prophet’s death. She is venerated by Muslims for her outstanding character strength, devotion to Islam, and loving support of her father, Prophet Muhammad (s).
The second part of this article will cover Maryam bint Imran and Asiyah bint Muzahim, the wife of Pharaoh (may Allah be pleased with them).