By Dr. Abu Nawaar

In the Quran, God declares:

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, for men and women who engage much in God’s praise; for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.” (Quran 33:35)

If one studies the Quran and the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, with no preconceived notions, one cannot escape the fact that the historical evidence from the life of the Prophet offers a remarkable contrast to our received or inherited cultures. Most glaring as an anomaly in our contemporary cultures is the perception and status of women as compared to what we see during the early days of Islam. This article will focus on the contribution of Muslim women in light of the historical record. Let us shed some light on their role and contribution to set the record straight.

Illustrious Muslim Women During the Era of the Prophet

  • The person to whom the first compiled copy of Quran was given to keep and preserve: Hafsah bint Umar
  • The narrator of the second largest number of hadith and a leading jurisprudent: Ayesha bint Abu Bakr
  • The first Muslim after the Prophet was a woman: Khadija. The beginning of the Islamic society began with the unconditional support and encouragement of this strong and devoted woman. [Read more: In Her Shoes]
  • The first martyr among Muslims was a woman: Sumayyah bint Khayyat

Women were involved in the formation of the original Islamic society. Umm Ammara was a participant in the second covenant of Aqabah. She was also the valiant defender of the Prophet in the battle of Uhud. She used a shield, then picked up a sword and killed an approaching enemy, receiving twelve wounds. She avenged her wounded son after he had been tortured by the followers of Musaylama. With her son, she participated in the battle under the leadership of Khalid ibn Walid and, despite the loss of an arm, she along with her son wielded their swords against Musaylama and killed him. Thus, we can see that women directly and fully participated in battle as warriors, not merely on the sidelines as support persons.

Umm Salama served as an advisor to the Prophet when he was at a loss at the conclusion of the Treaty of Hudaybiyya with Meccans in 628 C.E. After the conclusion of the treaty, which was perceived by the Muslims as thoroughly humiliating for their side, the Prophet ordered them to shave their heads and put themselves in a state of penitence. None of them responded to his call, which he repeated three times. Very distressed, the Prophet went back to the tent of his wife, Umm Salama, who had accompanied him. When she asked him the cause of his distress, he told her: “I ordered them three times to shave their heads, no one obeyed.” Umm Salama said: “Do not worry at all, Apostle of God, but you yourself shave your head and carry out the sacrifice.” The Prophet stood up, cut the throat of the camel destined for the sacrifice that he himself was to make, and shaved his head. His Companions, seeing him do this, spoke of it to each other, and all shaved their heads and sacrificed their animals.

The woman to whom we are eternally grateful for her service during the Prophet’s migration to Medina: Asma bint Abu Bakr. Umm Salit was a Medinan woman who carried filled water skins for the soldiers on the day of the Battle of Uhud. Umm Sulaim participated in the Battle of Khaiber. Anas reported: I saw Aisha and Um Sulaim rolling up their dresses … while they were carrying water skins on their backs and emptying them in the mouths of the [wounded] people. They would refill them and again empty them in the mouths of the [wounded] people.”

Notable Women During the Period of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs

Umm Hakim married Khalid ibn Saeed at the battlefield of Marjas-Safar. The next day, while the wedding celebrations were continuing, the Roman army launched a surprise attack. Khalid ibn Saeed was martyred in that battle. The fighting was heavy and Umm Hakim fought all day, along with the other Muslims. She personally killed seven Roman soldiers in the daylong battle. Ibn Saad reports that in memory of martyred Khalid, she was using the spiked end of the tent stake in which they had consummated their marriage. It was with this spear-like heavy stake that she killed the seven Romans. While she fought, she was wearing a chain armor battle shirt. According to the historians, the battle took place in Muharram in the 14th year of the Hijrah calendar, during the caliphate of Umar.

Umar’s wife, Umm Kulthum, served as a midwife. Umm Haram participated in the first sea battle for the control of Cyprus during the period of Uthman. She sought the honor of this participation directly from the Prophet (s) himself.

Men and Women are Ideologically Co-equal

The background of verse 35 in Ch. 33 of the Quran, quoted in the beginning of this article, is as follows:

Umm Salama, wife of the Prophet, reported, “I had asked the Prophet why the Quran did not speak of us as it did of men. And what was my surprise one afternoon, when I was combing my hair, to hear his voice from the pulpit. I hastily did up my hair and ran to one of the apartments from where I could hear better. I pressed my ear to the wall, and here is what the Prophet said: “O people! God has said in his book: ‘For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women,for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women guard their chastity, for men and women who engage much in God’s praise; For them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.’

The revelation of this verse (33:35) was a revolutionary statement. It shows a genuine concern about gender issues — at that time and for all time. This verse can also be understood as a component of the Islamic charter for a society where men and women are ideologically co-equal. Their responsibilities and duties, as well as specific rights, may somewhat vary, but as human beings they are equal from the Islamic viewpoint. Our contemporary Muslim societies must bring about the reforms necessary with regards to gender relations and role of women in society in accordance with Islamic injunctions.

Adapted from an article published in Message Magazine.

How can Islam enfranchise women when it continues to treat women as inferior within its law? Explained by Dr. Ingrid Mattson.