Women’s History Month focuses on honoring the sacrifice, bravery and leadership of the many women who have impacted the world as we know it. In Islam, the role of a woman can become controversial. Many times the practice of social customs gets confused for religious obligations. This can be detrimental not only for the overall view of Islam, especially in the Western world, but also for Muslims themselves, who may be receiving a skewed and ultimately incorrect practice of Islam.
When considering the role of women, we should always look to our most perfect example, our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the relationship he had with his wives. More often than not, we think only of men when considering important figures in Islam and their role in securing Islam in this world. However, there were many Muslim women who also heavily contributed to the success, spread and overall beauty of this religion. The Prophet’s (SAW) wives were the beginning, but certainly not the end of this long strain of empowering and inspirational role models.
These historical women of Islam serve as guidance to us in strength, empowerment and leadership:
Amongst all the Prophet’s (SAW) wives, Khadija is one of the most well-known, even in the Western world. Khadija bint Khuwaylid was the first wife of the Prophet (SAW) and was the only one to gift him with children. Beyond carrying his lineage, Khadija helped the Prophet (SAW) become known through her established business. She was respected and well known amongst the people of her time, however, her biggest contribution to Islam was reassuring the Prophet (SAW) and pushing him to accept the message he received from the Angel Jibreel to read to the people. Khadija was the first woman to ever convert to Islam and her confidence and reassurance in his message allowed the Prophet to gain courage and carry out the difficulty that was establishing the religion of Islam.
Sawda bint Zam’a was a woman whom was suggested to the Prophet (SAW) as a result of the hardships she faced following her conversion to Islam. While there is some dispute over the reason why, it is commonly accepted that Sawda sacrificed her own personal time with the Prophet (SAW) to Aisha. Her sacrifice illustrates the generosity and selflessness that Islam teaches. Sawda shows women of today that we don’t need to compete or go against one another, but should care for and help each other instead.
Aisha bint Abu Bakr is perhaps the second most known wife of the Prophet (SAW), after Khadija. It is a result of Aisha’s knowledge that Muslims today have over 2,000 hadiths which are used to address, solve and answer questions that may arise in modern society, as well as bring Muslims closer to the practices and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
Hafsa, Zaynab, Hind, and Rayhana
All four of the following wives, Hafsa bint Umar, Zaynab bint Khuzayma, Hind bint Umayya, also known as Umm Salama, and Rayhana bint Zayd were marriages as a result of the women being widowed by war. These marriages helped to protect the women at the time, as well as address the social taboo that a woman widowed could never be married again. This allowed Muslim men and women alike to understand they could lawfully marry even if their intended partner was previously widowed.
The marriage between the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and Zaynab bint Jahsh also served as a model for Muslims to follow. Zaynab had been previously married to the Prophet’s adopted son, which made the question of whether or not the marriage between her and the Prophet (SAW) would have been incestuous, arise. At this time, a surah came to the Prophet (SAW), where it was revealed that adopted sons were not to be viewed the same as a biological son. This addressed the issue for adopted relatives and their role in marriage for the entire ummah.
Juwayriyya, Safiyya, Ramla, Maria and Maymuna
The following four women, Juwayriyya bint al-Harith, Safiyya bint Huyeiy, Ramla bint Abi Sufyan, also known as Umm Habiba, Maria al-Qibtiyya, and Maymuna bint al-Harith were all married to the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) as a form of reconciliation either between the Arabian tribes that existed at the time or with the Meccans after the treaty of Hudaybiyah. These women helped the Prophet (SAW) secure political power as well as maintain relationships with different tribes that would have otherwise gone against Muslims.
It may be true that no woman other than Maryam (SAW) is mentioned by name in the Quran, however, it is absolutely impossible to disregard the role women played not only in the establishment, but also the spread and maintenance of Islam. There is a reason the Prophet’s (SAW) last words were a call to protect the women. As a man far ahead of his time, he undoubtedly understood the integral role of women in society.
Today we as Muslim women have the privilege and honor to live under the very social standards introduce by the Qur’an and carried out by the Prophet (SAW) as he carried out his mission. It is our mission to uphold the responsibility of continuing to enforce and maintain the teachings and practices of Islam as so many other Muslimahs have in the 1400 years Islam has existed on earth.