Interfaith Now
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Interfaith Now

Women, Islam, and Oppression

A brief study of the life of Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad

Disclaimer :

  • This story is written from the perspective of a Shia Muslim. Extreme care has been taken to not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. I believe in respecting everyone’s point of view. 😊
  • pbuh means — peace be upon him/her.
  • Imam means religious leader.
Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

As I begin to write on a very controversial topic, let me tell you a bit about Fatima Zehra, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad. She is one of the most important women in Islam. She is considered among the top 4 outstanding women - Asiyah, the Pharoh’s wife who raised Moses; Mary, who was the mother of Jesus; Khadija, the wife of Prophet Mohammad; and Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad and Lady Khadija.

As we struggle with misconceptions regarding women in Islam, let us see how Fatima was treated by Islam.

A Girl Child

Fatima’s mother Khadija was a successful merchant of her time(in a male chauvinistic society). Just as Prophet Mohammad(pbuh) was popular among the people of Mecca as being truthful and trustworthy; Khadija was called at-Tahira, the Pure One, and ‘The Princess of the Merchants.’

Once Lady Khadija needed an agent for a caravan that was to leave for Syria. Prophet Mohammad’s uncle Abu Talib suggested Kadija that she appoint Mohammad as an agent for her caravan. Khadija agreed. Mohammad(pbuh) took charge of her merchandise. This commercial expedition to Syria was very successful. Lady Khadija was so impressed by Mohammad’s(pbuh) capabilities that she decided to put him in charge of all her future business transactions¹.

Khadija married Mohammad when she was 40 years old. Mohammad(pbuh) was 25. Khadija sent the marriage proposal to Mohammad through her close friend, Nafisa. Mohammad discussed with his uncle Abu Talib and accepted the proposal².

Mohammad and Khadija had two sons, but they could not survive and passed away in infancy. Arabs gave importance to sons and used to mock Mohammad by calling him abtar, one who has no posterity to follow after him. To console the Prophet, following verses were revealed -

Surely We have given you (Muhammad) abundance of good (al-Kawthar). Therefore turn to your Lord in prayer and sacrifice. Indeed your enemy is the one who will be without offspring.

Quran : Chapter 108

Al-Kawthar is a stream in heaven which God has granted to the Prophet in exchange for his infant son (Abdullah), who passed away in infancy. It is believed as a ‘Pool of Abundance’ that belongs to the Prophet from where the believers will quench their thirst when they arrive in paradise.

Another interpretation is that it refers to the abundance of descendants who will come from his daughter, Fatima Zahra³.

Lady Fatima was born, and Prophet Mohammad’s lineage grew from her. Prophet Mohammad’s descendants are known as Sayyids. They still exist today.

Status of Daughters

Lady Fatima was 5-years old when her mother passed away. After the death of her mother, she dedicated her life to her father. When Prophet Mohammad started preaching Islam, the Arabs used to throw stones at him. Many times prophet used to come to the house wounded and covered in dust. It was Fatima who used to clean the wounds of her father. It was her utmost care for her father, that she earned the title of Umme Abiha, the mother of her father⁴.

The love between Fatima and her father was mutual. Prophet, on many occasions, has openly expressed his love for Fatima.

Fatima is a part of me. Whatever upsets her, upsets me and whatever harms her, harms me.

-Prophet Mohammad(pbuh)

Fatima was so dear to the prophet Mohammad that whenever he used to go out of the city for few days, he would meet Fatima in the end, and when he would return, he would rush to meet Fatima.

The prophet respected his daughter so much that whenever he saw Fatima coming, he would stand up for her, kiss her, bring her inside by holding her hand and seat her in his own place⁵.

Status of Wife

It is a general misconception that in Islam, men are not supposed to respect their wives, and generally, wives are the most oppressed in an Islamic household. Let’s see what Islam says about the treatment of wife by the husband.

Fatima got married to Ali, who was the cousin of Prophet Mohammad and was also raised by him. Ali and Fatima shared a special bond. Although polygamy was allowed, Ali never married another woman until Fatima was alive. He was very kind and loving to Fatima.

Be kind and considerate to your woman. She is a tender flower, and not your slave in the household — Imam Ali(pbuh)

Doing housework is not obligatory upon women, but Fatima chose to do the housework, such as cooking and cleaning. Ali helped Fatima with household chores. They lived in a poor state, and Fatima was always respectful of Ali’s efforts to make ends meet. She never demanded anything at all in her life. The only demand that she ever made to her husband was of a pomegranate, and that too on Ali’s insistence when she was not feeling well.

Their marriage lasted very short, and Fatima passed away at the tender age of 18(reason written in the next section !)

Ali was very attached to Fatima. He was popular for his bravery such that no one ever dared to face him on the battlefield, but we found him fainting in the mosque upon hearing the news of Fatima’s demise.

Fatima was not just a wife for Ali; she was his best friend. Ali shared everything with her.

I swear by Allah, I never made her angry nor forced her to do anything until Allah, the Mighty, took away her soul. She never made me uneasy, nor did she disobey me, and whenever I looked at her, all my grief and sorrow vanished away.— Imam Ali.

Ali’s love for Fatima can be sensed from his farewell sermon that he recited after burying his beloved. Some excerpts of that sermon are —

O’ Prophet of Allah, please accept my salaams and those of your daughter who is being buried not far from you, and who is to meet you so quickly. O the chosen Apostle! The death of your daughter has left me without patience and solace. I have lost my self-restrain and the power of endurance.

Your trust (your daughter) which was entrusted to me is taken back from me. Sorrow now abides with me and happiness has taken leave. This grief is so overbearing that it engulfs and swallows other sorrows, and it has left me with sleepless nights and joyless days. From now onward, my life will be a continued heartache until God gathers me with you both in the realm of His favour and peace.

O Apostle of God! Your dear daughter will tell you how your followers have behaved with her and how they have mistreated her. You please ask her the details of all that has happened to her during such a short period (barely three months) after your departure to the Heaven. This period of separation from you was so short that people were still remembering you and talking about you.

Please both of you accept my parting salaams and goodbye. It is the wish of a sincere heart which has loved and will always love you both, a heart which will cherish and will carry your tender and loving memories to its grave. Goodbye O daughter of the chosen Apostle of God! May you rest in peace which mankind has refused you in this world. If I leave your grave to go it is not because I am tired of your company, rather I wish I had it till the end of my life. If I make a permanent abode on your grave, it will not be because I doubt the reward that God has reserved for those who bear sorrows patiently, Goodbye, may God’s peace and blessings be with you both.

- Complete Sermon in Nahjul Balagah.

Role of Women in Defending Their Rights

In contrast to a popular misconception that says women are not allowed to speak up for their rights in Islam, we find Fatima defending her rights as well as her husband’s rights. In the historic sermon of Fadak, that she delivered in the mosque while defending her rights, she says-

O people! Know that I am Fatima and my father was Muhammad. I say and I will repeat this again and again and I do not utter any falsehood, and whatever I do shall not be wrong.

In a male dominant society, she speaks up confidently, and protests against the usurpation of her rights. She says in the sermon of Fadak-

O Muslims! Is it befitting that I am deprived of my inheritance? Surely you have done a strange thing! Did you intended to desert the Book of Allah and turned your back on it?

Allah said[in Quran]: (And Solomon was David’s heir. 27:16) and said about Yahya(John), the son of Zachariah: (Grant me from Thyself an heir, who should inherit me and inherit from the children of Yaqoub(Jacob). 19:5–6) and said: (And the possessors of relationships are nearer to each other in the ordinance of Allah. 8:75), and He said: (Allah enjoins you concerning your children: The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females. 4:11), and He said: (Bequest is prescribed for you when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth for parents and near relatives. 2:180).

You claimed that I have no position, and no inheritance from my father, and there is no kinship between us. So did Allah distinguish you with a verse, from which He excluded my father? Or do you say: people of two religions do not inherit each other? Am I and my father not of one religion? Or are you more aware of the Qur’an than my father and his cousin(Ali)?

-Excerpts from the sermon of Fadak delivered by Fatima Zehra(pbuh).

We also see Fatima proactively defending her husband’s rights. In that movement, her house was set on fire and a burning door was pushed on her. She got crushed between the door and the wall of her house. This resulted in her miscarriage.

After this incident, she remained ill most of the time and could not survive long. She knew that she would not live long. One day, she called her husband and asked for a quiet burial at night. She requested Ali to take care of her little children. Excerpts from her last conversation —

Let my death not dishearten you, you have to serve Islam and humanity for a long time to come.

Let not my sufferings embitter your life, promise me, Ali…”

Imam Ali (pbuh) said, “Yes Fatima (pbuh), I promise.”

Lady Fatima continued,

“Ali, I know you love my children but be very careful of Hussain. He loves me dearly and will miss me sadly, be a mother to him. Till my recent illness, he used to sleep on my chest. He is already missing it.

Do not weep Ali! I know with a rough outward appearance, what a tender heart you possess.

You have already borne too much and will have to bear more…

Farewell Ali! Say goodbye to me.”

Sorrow had choked Imam Ali, his words were mixed with tears, he said, “Goodbye Fatima”

Hearing this she said, “May the merciful Lord help you to bear these sorrows and sufferings patiently, now let me be alone with God.”

Source : Nahjul Balagah

She passed away soon. As Imam Ali(pbuh) was readying her for burial, people waiting outside heard loud cries of Imam Ali. No one had heard Ali crying in this way. When someone asked after some time, Ali told that when he was preparing his beloved for burial, he felt her broken ribs. He was not aware of her pain as Fatima never told him about her broken ribs.

Their farewell was a sad one. Ali, alone, and his small kids crying around him. Imam Ali(pbuh) lived 29 more years after Lady Fatima(pbuh), but he never forgot her.

A flower nipped in the bud(Fatima), it was from paradise and it went to paradise…but has left its fragrance in my mind — Imam Ali(pbuh).

Source:

1: A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims by Sayyid Ali Asghar Razwi

2: Khadijatul Kubra, A Short Story of Her Life by Sayyid Ali Asghar Razwi

3: Fatima Zahra’ in the Nobel Quran by Naser Makarem Shirazi

4: Fatima, the mother of her Father by Mansour Leghaei

5: The Virtues of Sayyidah Fatimah(sa) by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri

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