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Great female role models in Islam

Great female role models in Islam

Islam made explicit prohibitions on the use of violence against female children and women as well as on duress in marriage and community affairs.

Autore: Yvonne Ridley/sabato 12 maggio 2018/Categorie: Attualità, EML, Gran Bretagna

London. In Islam’s formative years it is doubtful if much could have been achieved without the calming influence of The Prophet Muhammad and the amazing people who surrounded him and gave their unstinting support when it was most needed.
But none of this could have been achieved first without the terrific financial boost given unconditionally by one woman. Her name was Khadija bint Khuwaylid and before she met the blessed founder of Islam she was a successful businesswoman, an international trader who had to be tough to succeed in a ruthless world where women were treated more like commodities than human beings.
She knew the value of honesty and when she employed Muhammad, peace be upon him, she was so impressed with his transparency, integrity and business dealings that she proposed marriage to him even though he was 15 years younger.
Their marriage lasted nearly quarter of a century and although she died before Aisha became his wife, The Prophet never forgot and never stopped loving the woman who supported him throughout the turbulent early years promoting a new faith in a lawless region. She died aged 65 in Ramadan during the year 10 after the Prophethood.
There is a story that his youngest wife Aishah, overcome by jealousy of the memory of Khadija asked why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) missed her when he was blessed with a better, younger wife by Allah. He responded:
"I have not yet found a better wife than her. She had faith in me when everyone, even members of my own family and tribe did not believe me, and accepted that I was truly a Prophet and a Messenger of Allah. She converted to Islam, spent all her wealth and worldly goods to help me spread this faith, and this too at a time when the entire world seemed to have turned against me and persecuted me. And it is through her that Allah blessed me with children".
By the time Khadija died, her entire wealth had already been spent to promote Islam; she left not a single gold dinar nor a silver dirham – but what an investment she made and it is one which keeps giving today around the world. Each and every Muslim who has passed through this life is a living testament to the fruits of that investment.
When she died Islam was well under way and the position of women was established and protected. The Qur’an provided women with explicit rights to inheritance, to property, the obligation to testify in a court of law, and the right to divorce … rights which could not even be imagined in most other parts of the world for centuries to come.
Islam made explicit prohibitions on the use of violence against female children and women as well as on duress in marriage and community affairs. Muslim women were equally responsible for ensuring that all religious duties of the individual and the community were fulfilled, in terms of punishment for social, criminal and moral crimes.
Equal in spirituality, worth and education they were also offered equal opportunities to attain the ultimate prize: a place in Paradise and proximity to God – not for their beauty, wealth or power but based purely on piety and closeness to Allah.
Such equality was not available to women anywhere else in the world. And these great women weren’t hidden away; they were very active and influential within the fledgling Ummah.
While it is well documented that the first martyr to Islam was a woman, the first convert was a woman and when the Holy Qur’an was finally compiled in to a book it was entrusted into the hands of a woman it is perhaps less well known that women took active roles in conflicts on the battlefields back in those early days. Yet today the British, American and other armies are still agonising over whether or not to put women soldiers in the front lines and in the infantry.
In addition most Muslims know a quarter of the hadith are down to one woman, Aishah, but she was not alone in being a great female scholar – Fatima was also up there as a great teacher who men and women would go to, to seek knowledge.
It is also timely to shine a light on others whose efforts and achievements are not as widely recognised.
I am referring to Al-Shifa bint Abdullah; an amazing woman who was one of the few of her generation during the pre-Islamic era who could read and write. Regarded as one of the first female teachers of Islam she taught Hafsa, one of The Prophet’s wives, how to read and write.
She was also skilled in medical practices, particularly in the practice of ruqyah or spiritual healing. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked her to pass on her knowledge of ruqyah to other women. Her reputation and wisdom went before her and during the second caliphate of Umar, who succeeded after Abu Bakr, the position of women like her and the important roles they had to play, was already established.
Al-Shifa bint Abdullah was appointed as a public administrator in charge of the Medina market. Her position was similar to the combined position of an administrator and accountant. Now I want you to consider the importance of this – a woman was put in charge of the economy. She was chosen because she was considered to be a scholarly and intelligent woman, and the second Caliph, a brilliant man in his own right, would regularly consider her opinions and consult her for advice.
Imagine that. Under Umar the caliphate expanded at a staggering rate which saw him rule over territory encompassing today's Iran, Iraq, the Arabian peninsula and what became known as the GCC countries, the Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia), Egypt, large parts of Turkey, much of Central Asia (Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan), Yemen and Pakistan and more than two thirds of the Byzantine Empire.
By this time Umar was probably the most powerful and respected man on earth and he ensured Muhammad’s legacy, especially with regard to the economic position of women, was firmly established.
Umar recognized talent and wisdowm and he admired Al-Shifa’s intellect and counseling skills, and her vast knowledge of Islam. As a companion, she also narrated many hadiths and along with her Islamic expertise, she was widely admired for her work in health, educations, and politics.
So it should not be surprising she was appointed to the strategic role of running the economy in Medina’s markets. Her main duties were to ensure that business practices should always be consistent with Islam. She would go around the market, ensuring that no cheating or tricks took place and that buyer and seller conformed to Islamic values.
Umar told shopkeepers that if they were in doubt about the legality of a particular transaction, then they should ask Al-Shifa. He trusted her knowledge of Islam.

Her appointment was highly successful and so when Umar appointed another person to run the economy in the markets in Makkah , he chose another woman. Samra’ bint Nuhayk, became market controller in Makkah and her appointment is probably contrary to many perceived ideas about Islamic society at the time. It suggests that in those early Islamic societies, there were women shoppers and women shopkeepers. Had the market place been largely a man’s domain, a woman would find it exceedingly difficult to discharge her duties as controller yet neither Al-Shifa nor Samra’ encountered such difficulties.
It is worth considering that it wasn’t until 1958 that the first female bank manager -Hilda Harding – was appointed at the Barclays Hanover Street branch in London. It was said that the appearance of women in banks was the biggest banking revolution of the 20th century in the UK yet when Islam was introduced in the 7th century women were running the economies in Makkah and Medina.
It also can not be ignored that while Muslim women were free to earn and spend as they wished, economic independence is something that women in the West still struggle with today and we get a glimpse of that through the divorce courts via lurid headline stories in the media.
Shocking as it may seem in the United Kingdom till as late as 1882, when the first Married Women’s Property Act was passed by Parliament, a married woman could hold no property of her own, independently of her husband. This meant that any property she held in her own right went automatically to her husband on her marriage. Women’s rights elsewhere in Europe were just as restrictive.
Even today traces still linger in certain aspects of British Law which illustrate a married woman’s position of dependence upon her husband.
The phenomenon of ‘Wife selling’ in England was introduced in the late 17th century in England when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthiest.
After parading his estranged wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. Wife selling provides the backdrop for Thomas Hardy's famous novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, in which the central character sells his wife at the beginning of the story, an act that haunts him for the rest of his life, and ultimately destroys him.
When the practice was legally disputed one early 19th-century magistrate went on record ruling he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales, and there were cases of local Poor Law Commissioners forcing husbands to sell their wives, rather than having to maintain the family in workhouses.
Wife selling persisted in England in some form until the early 20th century; and a woman giving evidence in a Leeds police court in 1913 claimed that she had been sold off to one of her husband's workmates for £1 which, by today’s standards, is worth around £90 or just over €100 Euros.
Until the passing of the Marriage Act of 1753, a formal ceremony of marriage before a clergyman was not a legal requirement in England, and marriages were unregistered. All that was required was for both parties to agree to the union, so long as each had reached the legal age of consent, which was 12 for girls and 14 for boys.
During that period women were completely subordinated to their husbands after marriage and were indeed considered the property of their husbands. Yet in Islam the independent economic position of woman was established from the very beginning.
In the event of divorce, there is an obligation of the husband to make a settlement on the wife, in proportion to his means, at the time of marriage. This is all made clear, along with other personal requests in a pre-wedding contract drawn up by the bride’s family. The concept of the Islamic wedding contract was probably seized upon by Hollywood divorce lawyers who, in the late 20th century, introduced the term “pre-nuptial agreements” to the world … But there is nothing new about this concept which was again made available to Muslim women in the early days of Islam.
If at the time of his death, the husband’s dower to his wife is still unpaid, it ranks as a debt to be discharged out of his estate, in priority to all his others. In addition, the widow is entitled to her share in the husband’s estate.
However it is also worth mentioning that any property a woman might acquire by her own effort, or might inherit as an heir or receive as a legacy or gift, belongs to her independently of her husband. She may ask her husband to manage it, but if she chooses to manage or administer it herself, he cannot interfere in her management or administration of it.
Muslim women are not bound to contribute towards the upkeep of the household, and are under no obligation to do so even if they have independent means. The upkeep of the household is the entire responsibility of the husband, even when the wife is in her own right better off than her husband.
In the Islamic system of succession and inheritance, there is no discrimination against female heirs in view of the obligation of the male to provide for his family, while the female has no such obligation. In practice the rule works out favourably for female heirs although detractors of sharia will say this is unfair and women are not treated equally.
The female Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him and blessing to all of them, laid the foundations for gender equality in Islam and played an active role in building this great Faith. We should not allow the detractors of Islam to airbrush these women from the history books … they have more than earned their right to be remembered and revered.




Copyright 2018 Aurora International Journal - Aurora The World Wide Interactive Journal.
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