"God draws an[other] example for those who have faith: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, 'My Lord! Build me a home near You in paradise, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his conduct, and deliver me from the wrongdoing lot.' And Mary, daughter of Imran, who guarded the chastity of her womb, so We breathed into it of Our spirit. She confirmed the words of her Lord and His Books, and she was one of the obedient." (Qur'an 66:11-12)
Washington Irving – the American author, biographer and historian of the 19th century, famously known for his works The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and a biography of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) – has said: "There is in every true woman's heart, a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity."
As we continue our journey into the Qur'anic narratives, we now turn our focus to women who exemplified the highest of moral teachings – not only in everyday life, but more so under the greatest of sufferings meted out to them by their society, by their circle of friends and by their family. Despite all of that, somehow they maintained their composure and submission to Allah.
Even though all of the deputed Prophets and their successors (peace be upon them all) were male and the Qur'an also transmits stories of other men such as Luqman, when Allah brings forth the stories of spiritually-strong women, He presents them as exemplars for not only women – but for all humanity!
Though their mention is spread throughout the Qur'an, the most descriptive and beautiful remark in regard to Asiya and Maryam is contained in the 66th chapter of the Qur'an known as The Prohibition.
A short chapter of only 12 verses, it describes two groups of women:
The first group included two specific wives of the final Messenger of Allah. Not to dwell on these women and their history, it should be noted that in this chapter they were reprimanded for casting doubts on the Prophet; their plotting with one another to insult and hurt the Prophet's feelings, and their concerted efforts to work against the Prophet.
Before ending His discussion on these two individuals, Allah tells the Muslims that He, His Angels and the righteous believers – which, according to some narrations, is a reference to Imam Ali (peace be upon him) – will protect, safeguard and honor the legacy of the final Apostle of Allah even if his own community and close ones try to humiliate him.
The chapter continues on, and we reach to the portion that we want to focus on in this discussion, which is about two noble women who safeguarded their faith even while living in corrupt environments.
The first exemplar is the wife of the Pharaoh of Egypt: a woman who initially lived a life of luxury, but later on ended up enduring extreme difficulties and eventually was tortured to death by her husband for her unwavering commitment to the monotheistic message of Moses. She must have been a strong woman who, when given the message of the truth, decided to accept it and revert back to Islam, even against her husband's wishes – he was a man who was not only her husband, but the king of Egypt; not only the king of Egypt, but a man who considered himself the "Lord" of the universe!
The Qur'an narrates only one sentence from her, which formed a supplication she made to God, "My Lord! build for me a house with You in the garden and deliver me from Pharaoh and his doing, and deliver me from the unjust people."
Although she endured the mental, verbal and physical abuse of her husband and ended up becoming a martyr, we must stress that this is not the Islamic mandate for our era and, indeed, for any believing man or woman! The issue of spousal abuse and family violence is not something new nor are Muslims immune from such things. Indeed, this is not something strictly limited to "The West" – it can occur and probably does happen in "The East".
The cure is not easy and the answers on how to deal with such issues are also not quick, nor are they something which we can elaborate upon in such an article, however it is safe to say as a general rule that enduring mental, verbal or physical abuse with "patience" IS NOT what the faith of Islam asks from us.
Yes, there are traditions in which we are told that if a man or woman puts up with his/her spouse's rudeness, then we will be given a specific reward in the next life; however, such traditions must not be twisted to prove that Islam condones family violence – such traditions have a greater interpretation.
Ideally, such issues should be resolved within our community if we have a mechanism in place in which trained experts can wade through the issues and offer solutions – especially if children are involved. Yet we know that resolution is not always possible and thus, when we come to a dead end, we need to ensure that the appropriate authorities are brought in to help resolve such issues.
The second Qur'anic example of a chaste woman who was castigated from society is that of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Indeed, there was a divine plan as to why she conceived a child as she did, and as the Qur'an beautifully relates it, "We breathed into her of Our inspiration". However, the outcome of this immaculate conception – it being a test for the people of her time and also for herself – is that she came out with flying colors. However, those around her stopped at nothing and began to accuse her of bringing shame upon her family! Allah quotes her outcome in the Qur'an in verse 12 of Sura al-Tahreem as, "And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was of, the obedient ones."
Without a doubt, these women, and women in general – most specifically in our era – face numerous challenges in their lives, at times more than men do. However, through the observance of patience (in the true meaning of this word – not "passive waiting" but "active engagement") and by taking inspiration from such role models and individuals who are closer to us (in time and experience) – such as Lady Zainab the daughter of Ali and her role after the massacre in Kerbala, Lady Fatima the daughter of the Messenger of Allah and the oppression she faced after the death of her father, and even contemporary women not from the Prophetic family – we understand that women cannot only reach the peaks of importance in this world in which they are the focal point of millions of people and behind whom people march in revolution, but they are also given such an exalted spiritual rank that they become role-models for all of humanity!
Let us close this discussion with one of the most beautiful sayings from Allah in which He explains the rank of a woman. Allah has stated, "I am al-Rahman (the Most Merciful to all of My creation). I formulated the name of the womb (al-Rahm) from My name. Therefore, the one who maintains ties with his womb (mother), I shall maintain ties with him; the one who breaks off ties with his womb (mother), I shall sever ties with him."
What greater reverence can a woman have than to be given this noble distinction and for her to be one who shares such a close affinity to Allah; imagine being one under whose feet heaven lies!
Indeed, when we honor, love, cherish and respect the women in our lives and our society, we are honoring Allah.