By B. Bamba, Islamic Leadership School
In the name of Allah, most merciful, most beneficent, we must celebrate the wisdom and guidance given to us in the Quran for the conduct of our lives. Without it, confusion and chaos would reign, and we would stay in the dark without making any progress at all. Some people in this life have special work that must be done and Allah shows in the Quran examples of how certain people were chosen to protect, enhance and elevate those people. Is it that only men are chosen by Allah to have special purpose? No, indeed. The Quran mentions certain females who were assigned a special purpose. Some were mentioned in the Quran for the positions they held as queens, acting with dignity and honor and in their own right to be respected. Due to their piety, some were blessed to give birth to significant figures. All of the women mentioned in the Quran were mentioned for the special purpose of Allah to teach the believers how to conduct themselves or what attitudes to have. Yet, there are four specific women whose examples need to be mentioned to guide us this day, as we are living in a time when their feminine wisdom must be applied.
The Mother of Musa: Faith and Deliverance
The birth mother of Musa, to be referred to as Umm-Musa, received wahy, divine communication from Allah, instructing her to cast him into the river without fear or grief, for he would be restored to her and be made one of the Messengers of Allah. (Surah 28:7) During this time of oppression, the pharaoh was afraid of the foretelling that his kingdom would be coming to ruin under the leadership of a child which had been born. He decreed that there was to be a great massacre of many children, which only sealed his fate. Allah’s decree to save the child Musa, and furthermore, to have him raised under the very nose of the powerless pharaoh was a plot which involved women of faith whom Allah would deliver. Allah’s plan included that the baby Musa would refuse to take milk from any woman other than his mother. The sister of Musa ensured that the baby Musa, found and adopted into the pharaoh’s household, would be re-routed back to his natural mother for suckling.
The wife of the pharaoh, who had taken part in Musa’s upbringing, privately took Musa’s side in his struggle to encourage the pharaoh to release the enslaved ones. The Quran states in Surah 66: And Allah sets forth as an example to those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh when she said “My Lord! Build for me a home with You in the Garden, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from evil-doing folk.” She was a queen who had watched Musa grow into manhood and was dismayed at the turn of events and sought refuge in Allah from the evil of Pharaoh. Her deliverance was to be ensured by Allah. Her example demonstrates that she was of faith even though her husband was not of faith. She is mentioned in contrast to the unrighteous women who were not to be saved even though they were wives of prophets Nuh and Lut (Noah and Lot). Their husbands were righteous while they were not. In this same surah is mentioned Mary, who was righteous, with no husband at all.
The purpose of these examples in this surah is for all, but women especially, to understand that no matter whom you are married to, and even if you are not married, Allah will judge each of us, including women, and deliver us based on our own faith and action, not based on what others connected to us do.
Queen Mother of the Messiah, Maryam the Blessed
The mother of Mary(am) promised to Allah that she would dedicate her child to study and worship of Him and when she was born, her mother was surprised that she had had a girl, who were not normally sent to divinity school. However, she kept her promise and had her trained under the care of her uncle Zakariyya. His niece Maryam was not an ordinary person; she was spiritual, studious and had been blessed and was asked on one occasion, “where did you get those fruits?” and replied that it came from Allah whose bounty is great. He was thus encouraged to ask Allah for a child, for his wife had been barren for many years. Soon would he receive an affirmative answer, and the blessing of Yahya (John), the forerunner of Isa (Jesus).
Maryam would be blessed in the same manner, unexpectedly receiving the announcement that she would be given a son, with no father, different from any other, to be the Messiah. His life was to be a miracle itself and he was to perform, through Allah’s power, many miracles throughout his life. His return to us on Earth is being awaited as the final miracle. Through Maryam, the most devoted student whose piety earned her the title as the Best Among Women, this miracle was performed. She bore the pains of childbirth alone and without the assistance of painkillers. There was, however, a spirit whose voice guided her to “eat and drink and cool (thine) eye,” and to enter into a fast from talking, allowing the baby to speak for her (his first miracle.) Both Maryam and Isa were created to be examples to humankind as is stated in the Holy Quran. (S.23:50) Her piety blessed her and put her on a level above all other women. May we deepen our taqwa and become more like her in faith, dedication and resolve.
Queen Bilqees Makeda the Wise (who ruled land where Yemen and Ethiopia stand today)
When this illustrious queen is mentioned in the Quran, her leadership as a female was not being challenged. The only objection to her governance was the sun-worship of her people who knew not of the prophets of Allah. In fact, the surveillance of the hoopoe bird revealed that her people had been thriving under centuries of female leadership. It revealed to King Solomon that she had a magnificent throne. Because she was a sun-worshiper, Solomon invited her and her people to the worship of the one True G-d, Allah. Her reaction was,”Lo! There has been thrown to me- a noble (karim) letter.” (S27:29)
With no trace of arrogant rejection, she recognizes and is attracted to the truth in this letter and pondered the best approach. As the wisest of prophets would do, she brought her team of advisors together on the matter and although she had already decided what she would do, as a matter of protocol and diplomacy, she asked for their input. Their response as stated in the Quran, “We are lords of might and lords of great prowess, but it is for you to command; so consider what you will command.” (S27:33) These men did not feel that her authority took anything away from their authority and respected and upheld her position as their queen. She had been proficiently trained as all the queens before her and their civilization had been thriving with the exception of their incomplete religion.
Her reply which appears in the Quran was, “Lo! Kings, when they enter a township, ruin it and make the honour of its people shame. Thus will they do. But lo! I am going to send a present to them, and see with what (answer) my messengers return.” (S27:34-35) This is the crux of her wisdom; to send a gesture of peace and goodwill as opposed to raising her defenses and having her ego start a war to demonstrate the strength of her people. She did not take the course of wasting resources by building up her armed forces and weaponry in assuming that this was a threat to her people. She did not take offense to the hoopoe bird’s surveillance and waste energy launching a counter surveillance. Her approach was to exercise direct diplomacy and send her ambassadors of goodwill. Through them she would determine if this was a friend or foe. That this tactic was mentioned in the Quran Kareem indicates that Allah offers this as an honorable method for rulers to apply such diplomacy. That a woman was demonstrating this wisdom, is of no matter. Allah judges all by their taqwa, fear of Him and ability to yield to His power and will.
If being female makes women more capable of yielding to wisdom, more willing to follow steps toward diplomacy and formulate peace and good will, then this is indeed strength. One should wonder then, why is it that more women are not encouraged and supported to be more involved in government? Why are they not consulted more often and frequently left out of the conversation of how to meet the needs of their families in masjids or community centers? Now more than ever, women need to have strong support networks to raise their children in this crazy world.
To sum up, the misconception that Islam does not respect women is clearly countered by the Holy Quran, Allah’s word, not men’s. The attitudes that some Muslim men may have that women “cannot do”, is countered by the overwhelming evidence that women have done and that the Quran itself lauds women who have made significant contributions to their civilizations. Women and men are to be judged by their intentions and their taqwa. Men are supposed to be the maintainers of women, yet many women are going out to work to help maintain themselves and sometimes even their own husbands. In this day and age, the issue should not be what women can or cannot do. The issue should be, in respecting a woman’s rights, should a woman have to do it all? Women are usually less physically capable than men, yet, they are often expected to manage their children and their homes while working outside of their homes. If a man does not demonstrate compassion to his hardworking wife, then he is not much of a man. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) declared that the best among you are those who are best to their wives. This is a civilized man. Also, one who consults with his wife about matters which would affect the family or even matters outside of the family is respecting her capacity of discernment and wisdom, creating a protocol of mutual respect which is the foundation of any strong relationship. This is also an example set by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The examples of the four women here mentioned from the Quran give us specific lessons worth reviewing. Through the mothers of Musa, we have learned that having faith through adversity will eventually lead to deliverance. Through Mother Maryam’s example we see that Allah rewards us for our piety and steadfastness. Through the example of Queen Bilqees Makeda, we see that there is wisdom in demonstrating goodwill and following protocols for establishing peaceful, diplomatic relationships. Women cannot hide behind husbands on the Day of Judgment. They will be judged according to their own faith, actions and intentions. Women must respect themselves as well as hope to be respected. Our girls too must approach salat time with self-respect and reverence for their religion, accepting the cues from these Quranic Queens. Finally, may our families and communities flourish as the ancientlandofSabawith the cooperation and wisdom of our men with our women. Ameen