Proactive Women and the Prophet ﷺ


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A group of women from the tribe of Ghifar approached the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) to seek his permission to tend to the wounded during the battle of Khaybar. The Prophet ﷺ welcomed their request, giving them permission, stating, “By the blessings of God.”

With this group of women was a young girl named Umayyah bint Qays radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with her). She shares with us her own part of the story.

“Then we set out with him. I was a young girl. He made me sit on his she-camel behind the luggage. I saw the bag had got traces of blood from me. It was the first time I had a period. Then I sat forward on the camel [to hide it] and I was embarrassed. When the Messenger of God saw what happened to me and the traces of blood, he said, “Perhaps you have had menstrual bleeding?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Attend to yourself. Then, take a container of water, then put salt in it, then wash the affected part of the bag, then come back.” I did so. When God conquered Khaybar for us, the Prophet took this necklace that you see on my neck and gave it to me and put it on my neck with his own hand. By God it will never be parted from me.” She wore the necklace her entire life and stipulated that she should be buried with it.1

Let us take a few lessons from this incredible narration. From it, we can take lessons on the perspectives and proactive attitudes of these female companions of the Prophet ﷺ. From it, we can also take incredible lessons in chivalry and beautiful interactions between the Prophet ﷺ and the women in his community.

Let us begin by considering the perspective of the women who came to offer their skills to the Prophet ﷺ. They didn’t say, “What’s up with Islam? Why aren’t women obligated to fight in this battle just like men?!”

These women understood the wisdom of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) in every ruling and situation. They knew they could participate and be rewarded if they did so (like Nusayba bint Kab who personally defended the Prophet ﷺ in the Battle of Uhud), but were not mandated to do so. They realized that there was mercy in the lifted obligation and they were of those who realized the wisdom in the fact that there were differences in obligations.

Nevertheless, simply because they were not mandated to participate in the battle did not stop them from doing their part, in whatever way they felt they could be most effective. They did not sit around complaining or waiting to be asked; they simply did. Perhaps we can take from their examples as Muslim women in our own communities.

How many of us complain about the men’s side of the prayer hall being vastly greater in size or in cleanliness? How many of us feel incredible frustration when we cannot hear the prayer because small children are screaming around us or because the microphone stops working? We have tangible issues to complain about, no doubt. However, what are we doing, as women, with the means that we already have? What are we doing in our current situation?

Are we talking throughout the khutbah (Friday sermon) when we know we are supposed to remain silent and listen attentively? When two of us cannot pray, are we speaking while everyone else is praying and potentially disturbing those struggling to concentrate in their prayers? Are we watching after our own children or helping other sisters watch after theirs? Are we bringing in food for ourselves or our children and leaving crumbs and spilled drinks on the once-clean prayer carpet, despite the specific signs which request that all food remain outside? Are we dumping our shoes in front of the shoe racks instead of on the shoe racks and creating potential blockages for the elderly and hazards in the case of emergencies? (I know of a masjid who had to call 911 because a child’s life was at risk and the firefighter could not access the child immediately because he tripped over a pile of women’s shoes!)

What are we doing with what we have, considering the situations that we are in? Look at these women. They proactively took a leadership position in offering to help in a battle and service the community. How can we also learn to follow their example in our own lives?

Additionally, let’s look at their approach and perspective. They didn’t say, “If we go out and offer to help in this battle, some men may be intimidated because we’re so aggressive.” They did not tie their responsibility to Allah (swt) and their community to the possibility of attracting or not attracting men. I am constantly approached by young women who are told by their parents or those in their communities that they should stop being involved with Islamic work because “men are scared by women who are assertive and passionate about activism.” In my personal role as the Muslim Student Association President, I was told more than once that men were intimidated by me because of my position in leadership. In some of our families and some of our communities, we sometimes focus on tying our sisters’ abilities to attracting or not attracting a potential spouse, instead of developing our sisters’ incredible skills and potentials for the sake of Allah (swt) and the benefit of the community.

On the other end, the women in this example also did not say, “We’re just going to sit around and once Prince Muslim comes along, then we’ll get involved and work on becoming better Muslimahs.” This might seem far-fetched, but how many of us have heard or said statements such as, “I want to get married because then my husband will wake me up for qiyam (late night prayer) and Fajr!” However, oftentimes, those of us who say things like this are not doing those actions on our own.

Getting married isn’t going to solve our inabilities to wake up for Fajr or get up for qiyam. We need to develop our own selves without expecting marriage to somehow magically change our lives. Marriage can be a great tool of self-improvement and can help us change for the best, with Allah’s will. Marriage is amongst the greatest blessings that Allah (swt) can bestow on a person; and the creation of a family, and taking care of that family, is amongst the greatest acts of worship. But if we are not personally working on ourselves now, how can we expect that it will be easier with the additional baggage of another individual who is also imperfect?

What we see in the example of these women is that they took action and sought to benefit the community through their work for the sake of Allah (swt). These women looked at their personal situations, considered their personal skill sets and realized that they could use the skills they had, in the time that they were needed, to benefit their society in a proactive manner. They did not dwell on how they could be perceived or make continuous excuses for why someone else should do it. How, too, can we follow their example?

Let us now look at the interaction of these women with the Prophet ﷺ and his conduct toward them. First, let’s address the incredible manhood of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. As “the walking Qur’an,” the Prophet ﷺ had such an incredible demeanor that the women knew they could easily approach him and offer their services to the community. The relationship he had built with women in his community was one of trust, empowerment, dignity and appreciation. This is evident, most specifically, in the way that he (peace and blessings of God be upon him) turned one of the most embarrassing moments Umayyah, the young girl, could have ever imagined into one of the fondest moments of her life.

When the Prophet ﷺ saw her blood, he did not embarrass her and shout, “Astaghfirillah! (I seek refuge in God!) Sister! Haraam! Now you are a fitna (trial)!” His first advice to her did not consist of ordering her to leave his presence now that she was an accountable young woman. Instead, he taught her purification in that moment. He showed her ease and naturalness in that moment. He gave her a necklace, which he personally placed on her with his blessed hands, and helped her feel honored and special in that moment.

How many young women do we know who are struggling with their self-esteem? What are we doing, as a community, to help build it up instead of tear it down? How many young women have we told, “Cover up,” because they are a temptation to men? Instead of linking hijab (modesty) to loving Allah, (swt), we have often linked it to protecting men from women within the Muslim community. How many men have made comments such as, “Fitna just walked in,” without realizing the painful consequences on a female’s psyche when the only frame of reference her Muslim brother has for her is that she’s temptation?

All of these experiences have happened to me personally within the Muslim community and also to many women that I know. The methodology in which women are made to feel that they are the ultimate fitna psychologically damages women’s understanding of Islam and their self-esteem. It cripples a natural, normative relationship in which men and women work together for the benefit of society and forces men and women to fear being around one another in unnatural ways. This is not from the Prophet ﷺ.

We take from the example of the Prophet ﷺ that he let people live comfortably around him so that even when something which could have turned into the most humiliating experience a woman could have ever imagined, that girl, in that moment, gained knowledge, nearness to Allah (swt), and love of being with the Prophet ﷺ in the Hereafter. In our communities too, we need to re-evaluate the ways through which men and women interact and the rhetoric we use to describe women.

Let us look at the rhetoric of the Prophet ﷺ when he was asked by the women if they could participate. In his interaction with them, he verbally encouraged them. He didn’t say, “No. The men might be distracted by you and be tempted to leave the battlefield.” Instead, he specifically gave them the blessings of God.

We need to begin truly exemplifying the incredible character of the Prophet ﷺ who didn’t imply that Umayyah (ra) and the women she was with would cause chaos in the battlefield if they were present. He knew his community; he had developed the men and women in his community. And the women in his community followed his example; they felt comfortable and confident approaching him (peace and blessings of God be upon him).

This is the type of respectful brotherhood and sisterhood we need to embody in our Islamic work, in our marriages, and in our lives.  Their example teaches that men and women both have something to contribute and we need to be supportive of one another’s contributions when used for societal benefit. Allah (swt) tells us in Surat al-Tawbah, “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah [charity] and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those—Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Qur’an 9:71)

The Prophet ﷺ taught us how to achieve natural, healthy, balanced and beneficial community relationships. He taught us how to teach people about Allah (swt) with mercy, humility and respect. How many more members of our communities are we going to lose before we follow his example?

The above narration is full of lessons for us as a community in the West especially. Transforming challenges into opportunities is the methodology of the Prophet ﷺ. The women in this example were empowered to take action because of the teacher who built them and taught them to do so. This is Islam; the liberating, societally-benefiting and revolutionary way of life which can transform even the most embarrassing experience into the fondest memory, cherished for life.

If this is Islam, if this is our religion, when will we put it into practice? When will we follow the example of these female companions of the Prophet ﷺ in our attitudes and our own lives? And even more urgently, is it not time that the beauty of the Prophet ﷺ began to touch those in our own communities through the virtue of our own actions?

 

* Portions of this article were generally transcribed from a session on Womanhood, which can be viewed here.

 

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  1. Nadwi, M. K. 2007. Al-Muhadithaat: The Women Scholars in Islam. London and Oxford: Interface Publications, pp. 59 []

21 Comments

  1. parveenahmed says:

    Mashaallah..That was amazing.Jazakillahu Khairan sister..

  2. M says:

    Assalam Alaikum Warahmatulahi Wabarakatuhu, sister, I saw ur video on Youtube (the link given at the end of the article). I can see the frustation u have, that have caused you to give such a speech. sister, you got the wrong message when you were verbally harassed when they called u a ‘fitna’. A women can have her business, she can trade, exercise her interest, etc etc… All you needed to do, was observe the TRUE hijaab as done in the time of Prophet era, where Aysha R.A. would be behind a VIEL and would teach or tell things in not alluring voice, to Omar R.A., and other sahabas. Imagine if such level of VIEL was observed between the chaste male and female of that time. Then what about the people of THIS time ?! No one minds you contributing actively towards Islam. Provide medics during wars. Do business/trade. “But”….. DO IT PROPERLY! And do it for the sake of ALLAH Alone.

    • Veandercross says:

      Assalamu Alaykum “M”,

      I find it extremely offensive for anyone to tell a fellow Muslimah her hijab “isn’t proper” enough. We really need to get over this virtual Islam obsession.

      This person wrote such and such a book and said this therefore anyone who does not meet the requirements set out in said book is in clear error!

      It is none of our business if a woman wears it or not. We communicate the message and our respect and kindness extends to them irrespective if they decide to wear it or not.

      Some of the women during the Prophet’s time in Madinah were walking around bare chested before the hijab verses were revealed. You can read this in Ibn Kathir’s tafsir of the hijab verses.

      So please, let’s look beyond these trivial details of the style of hijab, color, contours or whether or not they have a blueberry muffin aroma or a strawberry one and if that is halal or makruh or…

      Enough already.

      • Kirana says:

        i have to concur with veandercross and go one further. otherwise, perhaps when you go to the hospital next in need of medical attention, you should turn down the assistance of nurses and doctors not covered to your exacting standards. no one is pure. you have to appreciate the good in what is offered, and be gentle and constructive to shortcomings. otherwise nobody who has any fault whatsoever will ever offer anything to the community out of fear of the risk of censure, and then obviously the community will die – i would argue it already has, and for this reason.

    • TruthHURTS says:

      Wow. I have to agree with Veandercross. M, your attack on the sister’s hijab was totally ridiculous. You totally missed the boat/point, and your response illustrates your simple-mindedness and inability to see the big picture.
      As stupid as it was for this to even get brought up, I’ll bite. Your emphasis on the word “veil” and your examples are unclear and inappropriate. By veil, do you mean niqab? If so, you should have said that (although you still would be wrong). The prophet’s (pbuh) wives were the only ones required to cover their face, not all women of the ummah. Any other woman who does so does has not done it out of force or obligation in our religion. So why do you keep emphasizing this? Just because the sister isn’t in all black head to toe Saudi style niqab and jilbab doesn’t mean she’s not covered appropriately.
      In addition, through translation, the world “veil” is used in multiple ways to mean multiple things; sometimes it is referring to a sheet of separation, sometimes niqab, or hijab…it is not a clear word in itself. So, your rant was unclear, inappropriate, and ineffective. And your judgement of another sister is something you might want to consider repenting on, since we’re giving spiritual advice here.
      Sister Maryam please ignore this simple person, your hijab is FINE. **Eyeroll**

  3. Yasmin says:

    Jazakallah khair for this very beautiful post!

  4. Htjhd says:

    Umayyah bint Qays radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with her) story was beautiful! SubhanAllah! How fortunate she was!!

  5. Sam says:

    Jazakallah for sharing the article. I heard your lecture on YouTube as well, and it was quite inspiring. When I moved from the middle east to India, I was in a similar phase cribbing about a number of issues faced by women here. However, over time, I have seen many women out here, who with the skills and talents that Allah has blessed them with, are out there making a difference, teaching, studying, working, being a positive example for all. I guess we all need to BE the change, and contribute in whatever way we can, inshAllah.

    The part where you mention that women are judged by their looks is quite true. There is a short documentary that you can read about which is called Generation M: Misogyny in media and culture. I don’t recommend watching it as it contains a lot of examples of the wardrobe of current pop stars. But yeah, it really drives the point home.

  6. Meliha says:

    Again, SO GREAT. Everything you write is incredible and inspiring. You have a gift mashAllah. Keep it up girl!!!!!

  7. Razan says:

    Lovely, I’d never heard this story before! It’s beautiful and the lessons from it wonderfully extracted by the author.

    On another note, I’ve grown up fairly sheltered so I simply cannot believe that women are openly referred to as fitna in some places. That’s horrible! What community is this, one in the states or in a Muslim country?

  8. rayan says:

    MashaAllah,I loved the topic. I watched the lecture a few months back and loved it! I’m glad you put it into article form so more people can benefit. Btw this is the same rayan who emailed you about self esteem. To which you gave an awesome response. Did you get my email responding back?

  9. Ameerah says:

    Jazakallahukhair sister! Amazing piece with many lessons mA

  10. Htjhd says:

    @Veandercross
    You said the companions walked around bare chested (never heard that before) but if it is true, then the important thing is it was *before* revelation came. You seem to use this as reasoning for saying it’s alright for people to do not dress appropriately. That’s what I understood anyway. And I don’t think it’s right or fair to use that example.

    But I do agree women shouldn’t be looked down on if they’re not completely following the right way of covering up as that wont help them. They need to be advised kindly and taught properly and if they already know the stuff then well they have the right to do what they want…

    • Veandercross says:

      I didn’t say the Companions. Nor did I say people should not dress appropriately. That’s a rather bizarre inference. I said there were women who lived among the Muslims in Medina who dressed (undressed) that way.

      My point was they didn’t make it an object of their daily life of how they can get them to cover up. They focused on themselves and building a stronger community.

      Lets get over the external cosmetics, the judging and the petty squabbles over hijab.

      We treat Muslim women like little kids who don’t have the capacity to research and ask their own questions.

      We woefully lack the wisdom and insight to realize every person goes through their own spiritual journey and they need their space.

      Shaking our fists at them about “proper hijab” is about the most irresponsible thing one can do from a dawah perspective.

  11. ramzaan says:

    Nice story at the beginning but the rest of the article appeared to be a ranting chastisement of “women”. i stopped reading half way. I try to get my deen back but all i see is petty community issues about shoe racks, hair showing etc – total turn off. the story was beautiful but the rest of the article just started to remind me why im so off muslims at the moment.

    • Hanan says:

      But that’s just it. Without inspiring people like Maryam, how are we going to address and inshaAllah fix these issues in our community? We need more articles like this. Jazaki Allah khayr Maryam!! Absolutely beautiful read, full of practical solutions to ever-growing problems and detrimental mentalities. May Allah reward you and may He continue to bless you with this gift of touching the lives of many. Ameen!

  12. Htjhd says:

    Veandercross – thanks for clearing that up.

    :)

  13. Yaman says:

    Jazakillah khair. As your Muslim brother this made my cry. Made me feel like I have to incessantly apologize for our collective ignorance. My blood started boiling at the thought of a Muslim calling my blood sister a “fitna”. And that’s just it. You’re all like my blood sisters. You can’t wait on us men to change your situation. You’re all going to have to stand up and take your rights as respectable members of a community.

    As beautiful as that narration was, it just makes me want to pull my hair out when I read that and try to comprehend why we abandoned the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet.

  14. Spakrklesart says:

    JAZAK beautiful article:)

  15. Assalamualaikum w.b.t says:

    Assalamualaikum w.b.t

    I have found the story about the girl. It was recorded in Sunan Abu Daud:

    http://sunnah.com/abudawud/1/313

    However Shaikh al-Albani said this narration is dhaeef.

    This story also exists in Musnad Ahmad:
    http://www.islamweb.net/hadith/display_hbook.php?bk_no=121&hid=26503&pid=673415

    Imam Ibn Hajar said: One of the narrator, Umayyah Bte Salit was a Majhul al-Hal

    Whatever, I really thank the author for this enlighten article. It really helps us to know what we should do when our daughter, or students face the menstruation for the 1st time.

  16. Zainab says:

    Salaam u alaikum,
    Can we please have write-up about the write of women to work – with or without a need? Please, as i am confused about women’s rights in Islam.

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