All praises be to Allah.
Islam elevates the status of all men and women alike. Like men, women play a huge notable role in Islam. Allah had praised many women across history for their undeterred faith, perseverance, strength and bravery in upholding the truth. Allah s.w.t. also made it clear that the success of a nation highly depends on women too.
I would like to share with you four exemplary women in Islam. For me to pen down their stories, it would require gallons of ink that will eventually evolve into volumes of books. My article will not do justice to the reality of their tremendous contributions to Islam, but my poor self still chooses to write about them in hopes that their greatness will be known and emulated by many.
In a hadith, the Prophet s.a.w. once mentioned the four women of paradise:
خط رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في الأرض أربعة أخطط، ثم قال: تدرون ما هذا؟ قالوا: الله ورسوله أعلم. قال: أفضل نساء أهل الجنة خديجة بنت خويلد، وفاطمة بنت محمد، ومريم ابنة عمران، وآسية بنت مزاحم امرأة فرعون
The Messenger of Allah s.a.w. drew four lines on the ground, then he s.a.w. said, “Do you know what this is?” The Companions r.a. replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He s.a.w. then said: “The best of the women of Paradise are Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Fatimah bint Muhammad, Maryam bint ‘Imran and Asiya bint Muzahim, the wife of Pharaoh”
خير نسائها مريم، وخير نسائها خديجة
“Mary, the daughter of Imran, was the best among the women (of the world of her time) and Khadijah is the best amongst the women (of this nation).”
Sayyidatina Khadijah’s name is synonymous and inseparable from the eventful appointment of the last messenger s.a.w. She was the first person to embrace Islam and had anticipated this religion’s arrival.
When Rasulullah s.a.w. came to her in the state of shock from the presence of the angel Jibril a.s, she was the one who convinced and comforted him that he would be safe and God would never abandon a kind man like him. She reassured Rasulullah s.a.w, as narrated by Imam Muslim in a hadith, by saying, “By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. By Allah, you enjoin ties together, you speak the truth, you bear the burden of others, you help the destitute, you welcome guests and you assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones!”
She was so happy when her cousin Waraqah bin Naufal, a Christian monk, told her the news that her husband, Muhammad s.a.w, would be the last messenger of God upon hearing the extraordinary encounter.
Those early years of prophethood were the hardest as they received brutal backlash from even their own family. They were boycotted and on top of that, physically and verbally abused. She was so strong mentally and emotionally that she was the Prophet’s backbone and pillar of strength.
Khadijah was also known to be financially and socially influential that she was Islam’s biggest philanthropist during those trying times. So, it is not surprising when she was named to be the epitome of a successful woman in both worlds.
She represented quality leadership and great entrepreneurship. This could be seen in the accounts before the advent of the first revelation when she led her own trading company that travelled far from Arabia until the Roman lands in Syam to do business.
She only chose trustworthy men to represent her, one of which was the young Muhammad s.a.w. himself to ensure clean and honest transactions without any corruption or deceit.
Khadijah r.a. earned her place in the heart of Rasulullah s.a.w. who often described her. He would mention Sayyidatina Khadijah’s name at every opportunity; talking of her virtues to whoever he saw. She was also beloved to Allah and angel Jibril. Once, Jibril came to the Prophet s.a.w. and said:
يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ هَذِهِ خَدِيجَةُ قَدْ أَتَتْ مَعَهَا إِنَاءٌ فِيهِ إِدَامٌ أَوْ طَعَامٌ أَوْ شَرَابٌ فَإِذَا هِيَ أَتَتْكَ فَاقْرَأْ عَلَيْهَا السَّلَامَ مِنْ رَبِّهَا وَمِنِّي وَبَشِّرْهَا بِبَيْتٍ فِي الْجَنَّةِ مِنْ قَصَبٍ لَا صَخَبَ فِيهِ وَلَا نَصَبَ
“O Messenger of Allah, here is Khadijah coming to you with a dish of stew, food and drink. When she arrives before you, greet her with peace on behalf of her Lord and myself. Give her glad tidings of a palace in Paradise made of reeds, wherein there will be no turbulence, nor fatigue.”
Not only that, Rasulullah s.a.w.’s immense love for Khadijah r.a. was apparent even after her passing; he never forgot those who were close to her. He would often slaughter a sheep and send portions of it to the friends of his beloved Khadijah r.a.
Once Sayyidatina A’ishah r.a. enquired from Rasulullah s.a.w. about Khadijah r.a. to which he replied:
قد آمنت بي إذ كفر بي الناس وصدقتني إذ كذبني الناس وواستني بمالها إذ حرمني الناس
“She believed in me when no one else did, she accepted (my call to the truth) when people rejected me and she supported me financially when others denied me.”
Her passing was a big blow to Rasulullah s.a.w. and the believers. She was always mentioned among them and was dearly missed. The year of her passing was the same year Abu Talib, the Prophet’s uncle, departed from this world. That year was named ‘The year of Grief’.
Sayyidatina Khadijah r.a. had impacted Rasulullah s.a.w 's life positively and in many ways. She was his first love and his biggest supporter in calling others to Islam. To this day, there are volumes of books that talk about Sayyidatina Khadjiah r.a. and her virtues. She was the walking epitome of sincerity, bravery, selflessness and love that would always be followed by many.
Will we be like Sayyidatina Khadijah whose presence brought blessings and goodness and her death was a great loss felt by Rasulullah s.a.w. himself?
Sayyidatina Maryam a.s, the mother of Prophet Isa a.s, came from a noble and righteous family of Imran. Her family was mentioned in the Quran and had a dedicated chapter named after them, Surah Ali-’Imran.
Sayyidatina Maryam too had a dedicated chapter named after her. This shows that she and her family were loved and honoured by Allah s.w.t. and one of the gifts that was given to them to magnify this honour was the miraculous birth of Prophet Isa a.s. as a lineage to this honourable family.
Even before her birth, Sayyidatina Maryam’s mother made an oath to have her child as the caretaker and guardian of Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holy mosques in Islam, a mosque where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. led a prayer for all the prophets during Isra’ Mi’raj.
إِذْ قَالَتِ ٱمْرَأَتُ عِمْرَٰنَ رَبِّ إِنِّى نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِى بَطْنِى مُحَرَّرًۭا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّىٓ ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ ٱلسَّمِيعُ ٱلْعَلِيمُ
(Remember) when the wife of ’Imran said, “My Lord! I dedicate what is in my womb entirely to Your service, so accept it from me. You (alone) are truly the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:35)
Sayyidatina Maryam a.s. then led her life full of obedience to Allah under the care of Prophet Zakariyah a.s. Her service and reliance upon Allah s.w.t. was unmatched, Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran,
فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍۢ وَأَنۢبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًۭا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا ۖ كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا ٱلْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًۭا ۖ قَالَ يَـٰمَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَـٰذَا ۖ قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَآءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
“So her Lord accepted her graciously and blessed her with a pleasant upbringing—entrusting her to the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He exclaimed, “O Mary! Where did this come from?” She replied, “It is from Allah. Surely Allah provides for whoever He wills without limit.”
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:37)
Allah, The Most High, chose Maryam the mother of Prophet Isa a.s. over all the women of the world and gave her a remarkable and special status. Allah says in the Quran
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ ٱلْمَلَـٰٓئِكَةُ يَـٰمَرْيَمُ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ٱصْطَفَىٰكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَٱصْطَفَىٰكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَآءِ ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ
“And (remember) when the angels said, “O Mary! Surely Allah has selected you, purified you, and chosen you over all women of the world.”
(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:42)
Allah also describes her as being among the al-qaniteen – the devoutly obedient.
وَمَرْيَمَ ٱبْنَتَ عِمْرَٰنَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَـٰتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِۦ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ ٱلْقَـٰنِتِينَ
“And (the example of) Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into her through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was one of the (sincerely) devout.”
She was the symbol of purity and chastity. Allah s.w.t. honoured her with the status of a mother and on top of that a mother to a prophet without being touched by a single man. It was a heavy trial for her but she took it with a heart full of faith and perseverance.
She was then accused of engaging in immoral acts that never once crossed or resided in her mind, and she still kept firm and trusted that Allah would prove her innocence and goodness would come out of this trial. True enough, Allah proved her innocence by a miracle performed by Prophet Isa a.s. when he verbally proved his mother’s innocence while he was still an infant.
يَـٰٓأُخْتَ هَـٰرُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ ٱمْرَأَ سَوْءٍۢ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيًّۭا. فَأَشَارَتْ إِلَيْهِ ۖ قَالُوا۟ كَيْفَ نُكَلِّمُ مَن كَانَ فِى ٱلْمَهْدِ صَبِيًّۭا. قَالَ إِنِّى عَبْدُ ٱللَّهِ ءَاتَىٰنِىَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ وَجَعَلَنِى نَبِيًّۭا
”O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother a woman unchaste!” But she pointed to the baby. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He (the baby) said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has given me revelation and made me a prophet.”
(Surah Maryam, 19:28-30)
From Sayyidatina Maryam’s story, we see that Allah gives trials to his believing servants not to disgrace them but to elevate their status beyond human’s comprehension. We also learn that a pious family that constantly strives to obey Allah’s commands and protecting the purity of their souls in every aspect brings not only blessings to themselves but also to their children and the many generations to come.
Sayyidatina Maryam a.s. guarded her purity and chastity solely for Allah, and when other humans said otherwise, Allah himself proved them wrong. She was not considered great just because she was the mother of a prophet, she herself was recognised as a woman who perfected her faith, she demonstrated to us the real essence of tawakkul (whole reliance on Allah) and putting undivided trust in Allah in the most difficult times.
On top of that, Sayyidatina Maryam was titled to be among the best women in both worlds; her story in the Quran is eternalised and would be read repeatedly as a virtuous example for many until the end of time.
Asiyah, the brave and righteous wife of the evil Pharoah / Fir’aun, had advised her husband to adopt the infant Musa a.s. when she found him at River Nile.
Even though Asiyah was not Prophet Musa’s biological mother, her love for him was extraordinary and it only grew bigger day by day. She had loved him since the first time she laid her eyes on him as a baby. She was the one who convinced Fir’aun not to kill Prophet Musa a.s. and insisted that Prophet Musa a.s. would be their beloved child and would later bring great benefit to them.
This was at a time when infanticide was the law of the land. All the newborn Jewish boys were being executed and slaughtered because of the prediction that one of them would finally overthrow Fir’aun and destroy him. Asiyah not only nurtured Prophet Musa a.s. in the very palace of Fir’aun, but was also one of the first to accept monotheism, as preached by her adopted son.
Fir’aun was the biggest tyrant of his time and a ruthless king. He was the leader of an exceptional civilisation and was surrounded by wealth and power. He proclaimed himself to be God and commanded his people to worship Him. Despite being Fir’aun’s wife, Asiyah had no commonalities with him. She was one of the loyal followers of Prophet Musa a.s. and she firmly believed in his message without any doubt knowing that whoever followed Prophet Musa a.s. would face a grave punishment and severe torture.
Despite being married to an absolute tyrant that is even acknowledged in the Quran, she was still a woman of complete conviction and unshaken faith as the Prophet s.a.w. had described her.
Allah s.w.t. mentioned in the Quran that He set the wife of Prophet Noah and Prophet Lot as an example for the disbelievers. Even though their respective husbands were prophets a.s, they betrayed them and rejected the truth.
ضَرَبَ ٱللَّهُ مَثَلًۭا لِّلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ ٱمْرَأَتَ نُوحٍۢ وَٱمْرَأَتَ لُوطٍۢ ۖ كَانَتَا تَحْتَ عَبْدَيْنِ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا صَـٰلِحَيْنِ فَخَانَتَاهُمَا فَلَمْ يُغْنِيَا عَنْهُمَا مِنَ ٱللَّهِ شَيْـًۭٔا وَقِيلَ ٱدْخُلَا ٱلنَّارَ مَعَ ٱلدَّٰخِلِينَ
Allah sets forth an example for the disbelievers: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Each was married to one of Our righteous servants, yet betrayed them. So their husbands were of no benefit to them against Allah whatsoever. Both were told, “Enter the Fire, along with the others!”
(Surah At-Tahrim, 66:10)
On the other hand, Allah s.w.t. set Asiyah the wife of Fir’aun and Maryam the mother of Prophet Isa a.s. as an example for the believers, Allah praised them and spoke highly of them:
وَضَرَبَ ٱللَّهُ مَثَلًۭا لِّلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱمْرَأَتَ فِرْعَوْنَ إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ٱبْنِ لِى عِندَكَ بَيْتًۭا فِى ٱلْجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِى مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِۦ وَنَجِّنِى مِنَ ٱلْقَوْمِ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ. وَمَرْيَمَ ٱبْنَتَ عِمْرَٰنَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَـٰتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِۦ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ ٱلْقَـٰنِتِينَ
“And Allah sets forth an example for the believers: the wife of Pharaoh, who prayed, “My Lord! Build me a house in Paradise near You, deliver me from Pharaoh and his (evil) doing, and save me from the wrongdoing people.”
“(There is) also (the example of) Mary, the daughter of ’Imrân, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her through Our angel ˹Gabriel˺. She testified to the words of her Lord and His Scriptures, and was one of the (sincerely) devout.”
(Surah At-Tahrim, 66:11-12)
In these verses, Allah s.w.t. showed us that having faith is an individual struggle; Asiyah was living with a cruel oppressor, Fir’aun but he did not in any way define Asiyah. Asiyah had all the reasons to hide her faith but her love for Allah overcame her fear of being tortured and she eventually professed her faith that led her to her death. Asiyah was tortured in the most brutal way, and time after time, Fir’aun would ask her if she had changed her mind, and every time she would affirm her faith in Allah, the God of Prophet Musa and Prophet Harun a.s. Fir’aun was infuriated and felt deeply betrayed and decided to end her life. Asiyah was not affected by the severity of the torments, she made a prayer that was preserved in the Quran.
She prayed, “My Lord! Build me a house in Paradise near You, deliver me from Pharaoh and his ˹evil˺ doing, and save me from the wrongdoing people.” She died while holding on to her strong faith and she was guaranteed paradise.
Asiyah r.a. was a woman surrounded by power and wealth, but those worldly possessions did not blind her when her eyes were set upon the truth. She could do anything with a command but she chose God over any worldly benefits. Even though she was married to the biggest tyrant, Allah set her as an example for the believers! She embodied kindness, strength and courage all in the name of submitting to Allah; qualities that named her a woman of paradise.
“The mother of her father.”
The pure and modest, the obedient and the humble. The fighter and the devotee. The pious and the God-Fearing. The first one to meet Rasulullah s.a.w. after his passing and the leader of the believing women in Paradise.
Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a. was five years old when the first revelation descended upon Rasulullah s.a.w. She grew up witnessing the hardship and torture experienced by the believers in the early years of the Prophethood. She was at a tender age when her mother, Sayyidatina Khadijah r.a. passed away. With the loss of her mother, the backbone and strong pillar of the family, she too lost her childhood. However, it did not make her frail and helpless. Instead, she was stronger than any children her age, mentally and spiritually.
Even when Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a. was a young girl, she was already protective of Rasulullah s.a.w. Her love for her father was so deep that she would sacrifice her timid self and showed outstanding bravery to protect Rasulullah s.a.w. Once when the Prophet s.a.w. was prostrating before Allah s.w.t, ‘Uqbah bin Abi Mu’eet, a prominent enemy of the Prophet s.a.w, put offal and filthy blood-soaked intestines of a camel sacrificed in the name of one of the idols on the Prophet’s back.
Upon seeing how cruelly Rasullah s.a.w. had been treated, Sayyidatina Fatima r.a. ran to him, removing the filth with her small hands, cleaning her father’s head and face, expressing her sadness with her tears, comforting him, and returning him to their home. With her extraordinary care for her father, her strength in facing torments with him and providing comfort to him, it is not a surprise when she was called ‘the mother of her father’.
Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a. bore a remarkable resemblance to her father s.a.w. According to Sayyidatina A’ishah r.a, Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a. not only looked like Rasulullah s.a.w. but her way of speaking, sitting, standing and walking, in other words, all of her manners and gestures were exactly like his. Whenever her father visited her, she would welcome him and kiss his forehead with love and respect. They were exceptionally close to each other and whenever she visited her father, he would stand up and embrace her. It was as if she left the sweet aura of her personality wherever she went.
If the Prophet s.a.w. saw her troubled or sad, he would also be grieved. And if her father saw her happy, he would also be pleased. This is reflected when the Prophet s.a.w. said
فَاطِمَةُ بَضْعَةٌ مِنِّي، فَمَنْ أَغْضَبَهَا أَغْضَبَنِي
“Fatimah is a part of me, and he who makes her angry makes me angry”
Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a. led a very humble life and was always in a state of gratitude towards Allah s.w.t. There are many narrations of the hard and difficult times which she had to face and endure. Once, she requested Rasulullah s.a.w. to provide her with a helper as her daily chores became too heavy and unbearable for her, and in return Rasulullah s.a.w. told her and her husband (Sayyiduna Ali r.a.) that he had a better gift than what she had asked for, saying
أَلاَ أَدُلُّكُمَا عَلَى مَا هُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكُمَا مِنْ خَادِمٍ، إِذَا أَوَيْتُمَا إِلَى فِرَاشِكُمَا، أَوْ أَخَذْتُمَا مَضَاجِعَكُمَا، فَكَبِّرَا ثَلاَثًا وَثَلاَثِينَ، وَسَبِّحَا ثَلاَثًا وَثَلاَثِينَ، وَاحْمَدَا ثَلاَثًا وَثَلاَثِينَ، فَهَذَا خَيْرٌ لَكُمَا مِنْ خَادِمٍ
"Shall I not tell you of something better for both of you than a helper?" When you go to your beds, mention: (Allahu Akbar - God is Great) thirty-three times, (Subhan-Allah - Glory be to God) thirty-three times, and (AIhamdulillah - Praise be to God)" thirty-three times, and this is better for the both of you than a helper”
She accepted this gift with open hands knowing that this gift would not only help her in this temporary world, but it would bring great benefit in the hereafter too.
She was the definition of modesty, humility, piousness and spirituality. Sayyidah Fatimah, may God be pleased with her, was given the title of "az-Zahra" which means "the Resplendent One". That was because of her beaming face which seemed to radiate light. She was also called "al-Batul" because of her asceticism. Instead of spending her time in the company of women, much of her time would be spent in prayers, in reading the Quran and in other acts of ibadah.
Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a. is a role model for all of us, she deserved to be followed by all believing women as she resembled Rasulullah s.a.w. in all aspects. She lived a virtuous and exemplary life that guaranteed her a high place in paradise. May we be among those who listen to their great stories and follow in their footsteps. Aameen.
From this short article, it is crystal clear that women in Islam – like men – are the pillars of the community; they are respectable figures that represent remarkable bravery, admirable modesty and righteousness. Their sacrifices are great and their love for Allah is so special that Allah preserved Asiyah’s prayer in the Quran, a book that lasts till the end of times, Allah gave salam to Sayyidatina Khadijah through the angel Jibril a.s, Allah showed his miracle through Maryam when she carried Prophet Isa a.s. in her womb without any men touching her and Allah placed a special holistic resemblance of his beloved Rasulullah s.a.w. in Sayyidatina Fatimah r.a.
May Allah s.w.t. honour us by making us great followers of his beloved servants. Aameen.
1- The Honorable Wives of the Prophet Peace Be Upon Him, compiled by Darussalam and edited by Abdul Ahad (Alig.). Darussalam, 2004
2- Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar. Great Women of Islam Who Were Given The Good News of Paradise (Rev. by Sheikh Safiur-Rahman Al-Maubarakpuri). Darussalam, 2009
3- Ibn Kathir. Kisah Para Nabi (Trans. By M. Abdul Ghoffar E.M.). Pustaka Azzam, 2001