Every person has experienced or will experience injustice at different points in their lives. Sitting through biased lectures in classrooms, fighting with siblings, or even reading the news, injustices are present at different levels of potency. With the sweeping increase of Islamophobia in today’s global society, sometimes it feels like injustice is inevitable and that there’s too much of it to fight against. There are instances we see in the media where pregnant women on public transportation are harassed and called derogatory names simply for existing, where men in the wrong place and at the wrong time are stabbed simply for speaking Arabic, and where across the globe, people are fighting for their rights to live on their own land because their oppressors don’t want them there anymore. It’s repetitive of the stories and struggles of those who lived in ancient societies that we hear in history books, and more importantly, the Qur’an.
The Qur’an tells us stories of entire populations who struggled to find a home after they were driven away because of their differing beliefs. The Qur’an also tells us stories of perseverance, bravery, and pure faith that came from the heroes and heroines of these stories and ensured their victories. Whether it was Prophet Ibrahim (AS) ostracized and tortured by his own idolizing society, Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) and his companions migrating from their homes in Mecca to Medina after being rejected and beaten down in every sense, or Prophet Musa (AS) leading those who believed out of the dangers they faced in Egypt to a new land, the Qur’an teaches us time and time again that when things are difficult, and our voices don’t seem loud enough to be heard over hatred and oppression, Allah SWT hears us even if our prayers are whispers.
One of the most powerful and empowering stories in the Qur’an is that of Asiya (RA). She was a true example of what it is like to be oppressed continuously but come out victorious against injustice. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that despite being married to the worst tyrant in history, she was still a woman with perfect imaan. Although there is not much information of her early life, scholars note that she came from a rich family, was described as extremely beautiful, was known for her generosity, and that her marriage to Fir’oun was arranged.
She was brave and steadfast…
She is perhaps most famously known for her part in the story of Prophet Musa (AS): One day, while walking along the Nile River with some of her maids, she saw a box drifting through the currents of the river. Upon opening the box, she discovered baby Musa and fell in love with the beauty of the child before her. At this point in her life and marriage, it was clear that she was unable to have children – a fact that Fir’oun used as an excuse to have children with other women and that Allah SWT assured is because Asiya (RA) was too pure and good to have Fir’oun’s child. After returning to the palace, she went to Fir’oun and told him that the baby would be the coolness of both their eyes and that she would raise him as her own. As he grew, Prophet Musa (AS) considered Asiya (RA) his mother, while his birth mother was able to watch him grow and help raise him as his wet nurse. Prophet Musa (AS) provided happiness and contentment for Asiya (RA) in her confined prison disguised as a palace.
Asiya (RA)’s story did not stop there – When Musa (AS) called out about Islam, the Pharoah was angry, but Asiya (RA) accepted Islam immediately and kept it quiet. She lived as a secret Muslim in the house of Fir’oun for years. Her secrecy was upheld without problem until one night, she stood up for her beliefs. Earlier that day, one of the daughters of Fir’oun (not through Asiya RA) witnessed her hairdresser drop a comb and say “Bismillah” when picking it up. After relaying this information to the Pharaoh, he ordered for the hairdresser’s entire family be burned in front of the entire city as an example. The poor woman watched as her children were burned in front of her eyes and when it came time for the newborn in her arms to go next, Allah SWT granted a miracle to occur – her child spoke, saying that the torture in this world is less than the torture in the next. They jumped in, and burned – and Asiya (RA) watched in the crowd, finally witnessing firsthand the cruelty of her husband. That night, she went to Fir’oun and revealed her secret faith, stating that she disbelieved in him. This was a man who had no problem killing children each year, who killed ruthlessly and continued to ignore the signs of Allah SWT and raise himself to the level of “God,” and a woman who, although confined and oppressed by her cruel husband, had never actually faced any adversity or experienced living a life of anything but luxury. She was brave and steadfast in her decision to uproot everything she was used to for the sake of Allah SWT. SubhanAllah.
Fir’oun had her dragged to the dessert and had her chained to the ground. She was deprived of food, water, shade, and the daughters of Fir’oun’s concubines would come daily to laugh and taunt her. After so long of this torture, Asiya (RA) looked to the sky and said, “Oh Allah, build for me with you a palace in Jannah.” Allah SWT opened the skies for her and she saw the palace she would be granted in Jannah.
While she was whipped and tortured, the angels shaded her, and the more she was tortured, the more her imaan grew. She would look up and see her palace, and laugh and laugh, until Fir’oun ordered for her to be taken to a mountain and tied up beneath a cliff. He ordered his guards to drop the largest boulder they could onto her body, and they did – but not before Allah SWT took her soul before the boulder even hit her body.
There are many lessons we can take from the story of Asiya (RA), and we can realize the importance of her story even being told in the Qur’an. Allah SWT tells us stories of the righteous wives of the Prophets, and the wicked wives of the enemies. But He also tells us of the wicked wives of Prophets (such as the wives of Prophet Lut and Prophet Nuh), and the righteous wives of the enemies of Islam such as Asiya (RA). This tells us something important – Imaan is an individual struggle and our relationships through family, marriage, and children, cannot help us on the Day of Judgement.
Sometimes we hide behind our comforts and luxuries to avoid doing the right thing.
Sometimes we hide behind our comforts and luxuries to avoid doing the right thing. We fear the repercussions of what people will say, how they will think of us, and what will be taken away – a job, an acceptance to school, friends, family, – but we never really think about the fact that if we don’t act as Asiya (RA) did, what’s really being taken away is our own Imaan and our beautiful hereafter. Asiya (RA) did indeed live righteously and in secret, but when it really counted, when Fir’oun truly felt powerful for making an example of the hairdresser and her children, she stood up to him, fully aware of what would happen to her. And that’s true faith and perseverance in the face of injustice.
Islamophobia is difficult, of course, but it’s not the first time Muslims have been persecuted for their beliefs. When we observe injustice and witness oppression, instead of turning away in fear of speaking out, we must do what we can with our actions and words to help our brothers and sisters across the globe and to educate our communities about what Islam truly is. And when things are hard, we need to remember to be thankful and brave like our sister, Asiya (RA).