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Women Around the Messenger

Course Overview

This course examines the lives and contributions of several major female Companions (sahabiyyat) as well as their relationship with the Prophet. The introduction clarifies issues we face when analysing this subject historically such as the impact of culture upon our religious understanding as well as the contrast between earlier and later practices. The lives of the major female Companions are covered individually as well as their role and impact upon the Prophet, the early Islamic society, and their legacies. Topics such as gender equality, parenting, flexibility of the Islamic framework, as well as the importance of context are thoroughly discussed.

 

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the role of the female companions (sahabiyyat) of the Prophet
  • Understand the importance of retaining proper perspective in study and analysis
  • Understand the uniquely central role of women within Islam, both of the sahabiyyat and today
  • Understand the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) relating to parenting in Islam
  • Understand the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) relating to gender equality and responsibilities

Course Reviews

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  1. Review of: Women Around The Messenger (by Asim Mehmood)

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    Introduction
    In December 2018, Shaykh Akram Nadwi taught a three-day seminar on Women around the Messenger. It was a course combining both History and Politics. Shaykh Akram Nadwi made the course as relevant as possible to our current times to ensure we extract lessons from the great history of Islam. The wives of the Messenger and the pious people who followed his way were brought to the fore with plenty of reflection made to best understand why they were indeed a golden generation.

    In order to summarise and critically review the 21-hour study, I have written on a selection of themes covered in chronological order. The course had gauged my interest in a number of ways. For example, the relevancy with which the details were explained stood out throughout the course. For too long historical overviews on the wives of the Prophet are projected with abstract details with little practical elements to take home. Countless lectures can be found on the topic, yet it was this course that struck me the most. Our Sahabiyyaat were women that were born in the period of prophecy and, thus, raised to the highest ranks. They were given the rank of ‘Companion’ and they lived as female leaders in their own fields. They were scholars, mothers, ascetics etc. and left a huge impact on history… yet they were still human. Just like us in our time. They had personality, they felt pain, and they sometimes made mistakes – only to grow stronger from them.
    There were four main sections that can summarise the nature of this course: debunking cultural misapplications of Islam; humanising the Sahabiyyat; evaluating certain biographical and historical information, and discussing contentious issues in light of today.

    Debunking Cultural Misapplications of Islam
    In order to study history, one must first rid himself of any preconceived lens that falls short in capturing the essence of their lives. Shaykh Akram did just that, spending a considerable amount of time ensuring we all were on the same page. To break down the barriers of centuries of misapplication we must first understand two things that occur which distort application itself:

    1. Desire and culture tend to mix with religious values over time, and
    2. Desire and culture are then substituted for religious values that in-turn distort the application of Islam.

    This is a criteria that can simplify the process of analysing history. When looking at contemporary history this mindset helps decide what best practice should have been in light of Islam. Shaykh strongly advocates for the notion of thinking critically when approaching history. He mentioned that tackling extremism and corruption starts from the methodology one adopts to deconstruct them. ‘Darkness and light can never be mixed’ and ‘Something being popular among the scholars doesn’t mean it is right’ both highlight the need to derive approaches to gender and women from the original sources that Islam was built upon. It means ‘all policies of [re]adjustment will never work’.

    He elaborated further on the ‘madinan state’. If there were to be a state in which we can look upto in understanding women and their roles in society, it would be this one. It was a healthy mixture of intrinsic religious values and culture that harmoniously embodied the sources. Conversely, Shaykh believed that historical application from late Muslim civilisations are not a ‘fair’ representation of true Islamic practice. It is no wonder that the Imam Malik adopted the actions of the people who lived in Madinah as a source of Islamic law.
    This was because the first state to be established in Islam was in Madinah. The Prophet (s) made hijrah to it and the Islamic Calendar commenced thereafter. It became a flourishing economy where men and women were traders, scholars and important people. Reform starts from looking at the amal of Madinah as it was the first reference of application in a holistic way. In our attempt to understand the application of Islamic rulings we can use madinah and the people of those who resided in it. Did women leave the house? Were there interactions between genders? What were the occupation statuses of women in Madinah? These were addressed in due course.

    Another topic which stemmed from women empowerment was understanding the role of women through motherhood. Motherhood being the key function for survival and one of the greatest blessings bestowed on mankind. Men do not have the favour of bearing a child:

    ‘When [the] mother is pregnant, she is experiencing the child in every moment for nine months… [the] father is not with the baby in [that] period all the time. Men never understand really what it means to have a child [the same way a mother does]. Women are their future. If women do not do this thing, humanity will suffer […] Allah chose women.’

    Humanising a Generation of Leaders
    This entire course, spanning three-days, is not only a biographical account of some of the greatest women to have graced this earth, but rather a course to teach you how to think about their legacy so it can be emulated to the best of our abilities in current times. Shaykh Akram spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand how they were pious in context to disputes, wars and key events. These women were shaped by trials and prophetic advice rather than an intrinsic and miraculous nature within. They were human before the inception of Islam. The Prophet (s) did say, those who were best in Jahiliyyah are best in Islam – If they have religious understanding.
    Each wife that was sent to the Prophet (s) had a distinctive quality which no other wife had. Their personalities and virtues were entirely different. Sawdah b. Zama’ah (ra), the wife of the Prophet (s) was known to be light-hearted and often joked with the messenger of Allah (s). The Prophet (s) would find comfort in this and would laugh. Khadijah (ra), the first of the wives of the Prophet (s), as described by Imam al-Dhahabi, was Haaziman, and Labibatan. She was known to be thoroughly analytical before making a decision and she was incredibly clever. These was her stand-out qualities. Safiyyah b. Uhyay was soft and the Prophet (s) once wiped her tears with his own blessed hands. Aishah (ra) was incredibly sharp and the most intelligent of all the wives. Her ability to recount the words of the Prophet (s) and understand them meant she was amongst the most knowledgeable of the entire Sahabah.

    First and foremost, one should notice the diversity of personality and attributes of each of the wives of the Prophet (s). Some had more virtues than others, however they all had stand-alone qualities which made them unique. Shaykh Akram Nadwi felt strongly that women shouldn’t be pressured through culture to adopt a personality that isn’t their nature. The Prophet (s) didn’t make an effort to change the nature of his wives to be like him. He did point them to virtue if the opportunity lended itself to it. Some virtues were easier to adopt and each person differed in what they found easy to do. They were all different, and this diversity provides rich insight for Muslims in today’s society. This is because a women can find similarities in them to any of the wives of the Prophet (s) so to best harmonise the conflict and differences a person may have with their spouse or to emulate them for self-development.

    Evaluating Historical Happenings of Importance
    Another dimension of this course was the reflective study of historical events that had huge implications in how we understand Islamic law. The lives of the companions were examples of reference on the legal boundaries of various issues such as marriage, divorce, gender interactions and various other perspectives. Shaykh Akram Nadwi felt it beneficial to provide unique takes on examples from the Prophet (s) with his wives and how in today’s time we should revisit the perspectives once more.

    Firstly, he discussed the story of the Prophet (s) marrying Khadijah (ra) in a way unheard of in the western world. Khadijah (ra) employed the Prophet (s) and the Prophet (s) proved to be an invaluable asset to her business. His honesty in his dealings led her to pursue him by inspecting him very closely. Once she had examined him (s) to see the truthfulness of what was attributed to him, she proposed. She was 15 years senior to the Prophet (s) and a successful entrepreneur, yet the Prophet (s) was noble, intelligent and honest. Shaykh Akram Nadwi relayed this in much detail and the process in which it all happened. What stood out was the gender interactions at the time and how as a woman she worked.

    Another historical aspect Shaykh Akram Nadwi brought to the fore was the story of Zainab being married to the Prophet (s). She initially was married to Zayd, a freed slave of the Prophet (s). Zainab came from a noble lineage and issues arose between herself and Zayd. Allah had decreed for their separation by revealing verses in the Qur’an both in their divorce and her new marriage to the Prophet (s).

    Similarly, a timely incident took place regarding two of the wives of the Prophet (s). It was recorded in the Qur’an (al-Tahrim) where the Prophet (s) frequented the house of Zainab during the day to get honey that he was fond of. This incident was the epitome of human weakness fuelled by a protective form of jealousy. The other wives envied her because of this, and in turn pretended to show distaste towards the breath of the Prophet (s) whenever he had drank from it. This in turn made the Prophet (s) stop taking it as he believed that it was having an affect on his breath. The Qur’an records this incident with a mighty statement that if they continue this plot against him (s) then ‘surely it is Allah who is his Guardian, and Jibreel, and the believers that do good, and the angels and after that, the aiders.’ Both wives involved were known for their incredible virtue yet their shortfall had led to Allah revealing this harsh warning of a verse. What this shows is the human nature to make mistakes and how, even with incredible virtue, we can falter. Allah in the same Surah also revealed a timely lesson on repentance and the mercy of Allah, showing a way for people of good virtue to pursue repentance if they ever falter.

    There were many instances Shaykh Akram Nadwi had brought up, each showing a unique lesson that one can embody in the 21st century.

    Discussing Contentious Issues
    Shaykh Akram elaborates on the concept of divorce and how it be revisited in light of the Sahabiyyat. In the time of the golden era, women were proposed to even if they were widows, or divorced. In fact, there was never a shortage of proposals. At the same time, they were pious people with incredible virtue but due to compatibility, divorce had become the only option. Shaykh Akram Nadwi goes into detail over this issue in the third day providing a refreshing yet balanced overview over the taboo of divorce.

    Shaykh Akram also went over other contentious issues such as concept of beauty; gender interactions; making haram what is halal as well as a plethora of contemporary problems that the Sahabah had a solution for.

    Conclusion
    This 21-hour sitting provided real examples and role models that both men and women can hold to high-regard. More specifically, the practicality of this course alongside the biographical accounts of all of the wives of the Prophet (s) and the pious Sahabiyyat make this course an interesting blend of history and politics fused with Islamic insight and direction. The most beneficial aspects of the course were in Shaykh Akram’s ability to connect history to the present day and draw parallels to the contemporary issues of our time. At the same time, the intellectual rigour with which he evaluated of the biographical accounts of our golden generation was immensely beneficial.

    We ask Allah for success and guidance through the lives of these incredible people.

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