Women of Islam: Steadfast, courageous & profoundly insightful

Ayesha Naseem, UK
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We have all heard this phrase used in popular culture in the West that “this is a man’s world”. And, for women in much of the world, to progress and grow, they had to fight for and demand their rights; the basic right to vote, the right to education, the right to own property or inheritance, and the right to divorce, etc. There was a decades-long struggle by women in the West before they attained these rights from their society and governments that were ruled, dominated, and led by men.

Thus, the Western capitals that specifically carry the pretence of being the standard-bearers of civilisation, for they afforded women their freedom and liberty, commonly forget that they were not the first ones to do this. In fact, even today, women continue to struggle to get their rights. Even in most advanced societies, the gender pay gap remains an issue, abuse against women is rampant and the right to abortion – something that is a necessity if it carries life-threatening risks for the mothers – is not openly afforded to women in several states of America.

For this reason, on 8 March every year, International Women’s Day is commemorated globally to recognise and celebrate women’s achievements in society through culture, politics, and the economy. The day also aims to promote the empowerment of women from all walks of life with a specific annual theme. This year, the theme is Inspire Inclusion.

This whole idea of demanding your rights from other humans is very strange for someone who comes from believing in the religion of Islam, for humans are not dependent on one another to give or grant each other their rights according to Islamic principles. They are meant to fulfil the rights of each other, yes, but they are not dependent on each other for any of their rights.

Muslims believe that Allah the Almighty is the ultimate Bestower of everything. One of Allah the Almighty’s attributes is:


al-Wahhāb – O Bestower! –

“The root of wahhāb means to give a thing as a free gift and not for any compensation. Al-Wahhāb means He who gives freely, without constraint, and for no compensation […]. Since some of our relationships are inevitably transactional, we can sometimes approach Him similarly. We may hesitate to openly pray because we feel we are asking for a favour that we will not be able to pay back. The name al-Wahhāb (The Bestower) reminds us that Allah Almighty gives as a gift. He does not need to hold it over our heads afterwards.” (“Names of Allah: al-Mājid, al-Majīd, al-Wahhāb, al-Jalīl, al-Jamīl, Dhul-Jalāli wal-Ikrām, al-‘Azīm, al-Kabīr”, www.alhakam.org)

Just like Allah the Almighty bestows on His people everything that they ask for or need, He also bestows on them the rights that they deserve as human beings, the rights that are owed to them by other humans and the rights that they need to fulfil towards others.

Much is said in the West about Islam and its teachings, specifically with regard to women and their rights, but very little is often true and rarely ever anything positive. In the media and in the narrative promoted by politicians, more often than not, Muslim women are spoken for rather than spoken to. Yet Muslim women are not dependent on men or any society for their rights. Allah the Almighty has already bestowed them with their rights and did so, centuries before any of the advanced and modern societies did.

Rights afforded to women by Allah the Almighty

In pre-Islamic Arabia, women were treated with extreme brutality. They had no rights, and no voice; the height of cruelty was such that newborn girls were buried alive because society considered them to be unwanted. With the advent of Islam and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, all these cruel practices were forbidden, and women were given the honourable and dignified status that they deserved like all other human beings.

In the Holy Quran, we find that women in Islam were given the right to education, the right to earn and keep their money, the right to own and inherit property, the right to consent in marriage and the right to divorce.

Regarding the economic rights of women in Islam, Hazrat Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra has written:

“Of the great faiths, Islam has been foremost in assigning to women a position of economic independence. It is well known that in the United Kingdom, till as late as 1882, when the first Married Women’s Property Act was passed by Parliament, a married woman could hold no property of her own, independently of her husband. Any property that a femme sole (unmarried woman) held in her own right vested automatically in her husband on her marriage. “A hundred years later, traces still linger in certain aspects of British Law which illustrate a married woman’s position of dependence upon her husband.

“In Islam, the independent economic position of a woman has been established since the very beginning. Mention has been made of the obligation of the husband to make a settlement on the wife, in proportion to his means, at the time of marriage. This settlement is called dower (mehr). If at the time of the death of the husband, the wife’s dower should be still unpaid, it ranks as a debt to be discharged out of his estate, in priority to all his other debts. In addition, the widow is entitled to her share in the husband’s estate, which is determined by law. Any property that a woman might acquire by her own effort or might inherit as an heir or receive as a legacy or gift, belongs to her independently of her husband. She may ask her husband to manage it, but if she chooses to manage or administer it herself, he cannot interfere in her management or administration of it.

“A married woman who possesses means of her own may, and in most cases does, contribute a portion or the whole of her independent means towards the upkeep of the household, but is under no obligation to do so. The upkeep of the household is the entire responsibility of the husband, even when the wife is in her own right better off than her husband.” (Women in Islam, pp. 23-24)

There is a lot more that can be said about the rights that women have in Islam and the honour that the faith grants to them in every respect. The list and their in-depth detail and wisdom are endless. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, observed last week, women from across the world are celebrated, so it’s only fair that in this piece, we look back at the history of Islam to remember just a couple of the exemplary Muslim women who were steadfast in faith, courageous and brave, and were powerhouses of knowledge.

Hazrat Sayyedah Khadijara – the First Muslim

Ummul Momineen Hazrat Sayyedah Khadijahra, the first wife of the Holy Prophetsa belonged to the noble family of Quraish. From her childhood, Hazrat Khadijahra possessed noble qualities. Due to her pious and virtuous personality, the people of Mecca gave her the title Tahirah, which means ‘pure’, or ‘virtuous’. Despite belonging to an affluent family, she was generous with her money and used to overwhelmingly help the poor, the needy, the orphans and the widows.

She was the first wife of the Holy Prophetsa; she was a wealthy businesswoman and was in fact twice widowed. She was introduced to the Holy Prophetsa, when she sought a trader for her trading company. His honesty and sincerity brought much profit to her trade, and being impressed with his character, she proposed marriage to him. She is credited as the first person and woman to convert to Islam.

The life of Hazrat Khadijara personified the rights and freedoms that Islam has granted to women. It shows that the Prophetsa married a widow – who were looked down upon or seen as cursed in some societies. Beyond that, she owned her own business, which was successful, further demonstrating that women can have careers and can earn. In terms of faith and steadfastness, the fact that she was the first woman to accept Islam also suggests that women can attain the same spiritual standard of faith too.

Hazrat Aishara – Islam’s first female scholar

Hazrat Aishara was the daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiqra – the closest companion of the Holy Prophetsa and the first Khalifa of the Holy Prophetsa. Her life is proof of Islam’s progressive stance on women. At a young age, Hazrat Aishara grew fast spiritually, physically, and mentally, and her intellect was well beyond her years. In certain narrations, it is suggested that a substantial understanding of the spiritual and ethical dimensions of Islam could be gleaned from her insights.

It is recorded that she freed forty slaves in a single instance, distributed money when she herself did not have anything to eat and was regularly consulted by the Companions of the Holy Prophetsa on intellectual queries.

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra mentions that Urwah bin Zubairra is recorded to have said:

“In the knowledge of the Holy Quran, in the knowledge of the law of inheritance, in the knowledge of lawful and unlawful things, in the science of jurisprudence, in poetry, in medicine, in knowledge of the narrations of Arabia, and in the science of genealogy, I have not seen a greater scholar than Aishara.”(The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets, Vol. II, p. 248)

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa has stated:

“In front of all Ahmadi women is the example of Hazrat Aishahra, who, in terms of religious knowledge, attained a rank far beyond the men of her time or, indeed, any other era. Accordingly, women have the potential to scale the greatest intellectual heights, and so you must never underestimate yourselves. Rather, seek to fulfil your rich potential, as it will provide you with the capability to raise your children in a way that they grow to be beneficial to society. It will also enable you to defend your faith and beliefs.” (“100 Years of Lajna Imaillah”, www.reviewofreligions.org)

Hazrat Aishara learned the teachings and practices of Islam first-hand from the Holy Prophetsa, and over two thousand ahadith [sayings of the Holy Prophetsa] can be attributed to her narrations alone. Scholars of Islamic history believe that one-fourth of Islamic jurisprudence is based on her accounts. Such was her knowledge, which she passed on to the Muslim world.

Hazrat Hafsara – The first known keeper of the Holy Quran

Hazrat Hafsara was the daughter of Hazrat Umarra, she was married to a faithful Companion, Hazrat Khunaysra ibn Hudhafa, who had taken part in the Battle of Badr. After Badr, upon returning to Medina, Khunaysra fell ill and was unable to recover from his illness. Sometime after his demise, Hadrat Umarra began to feel a sense of concern for her second marriage. Hazrat Hafsara was also the wife of the Holy Prophetsa. The account of her marriage to the Holy Prophetsa is rather amusing, which Hazrat Umarra narrates in the following words:

“When Hafsa bint Umarra lost her husband, a Companion of the Holy Prophetsa, Khunaysra ibn Hudhafa al-Sahmi, who had fought at Badr and [later] died in Medina, I met Uthman bin Affanra and suggested that he should marry Hafsara, to which he replied, ‘I will think it over.’ I waited for a few days and then he said to me, ‘I am of the opinion that I shall not marry at present.’ Then I met Abu Bakrra and said, ‘If you wish, I can marry Hafsara bint Umar to you.’ He kept quiet and did not respond. I became agitated and it [displeased me] more than Uthman’s [response]. Some days later, the Prophetsa asked for her hand in marriage, and I married her to him. Later, Abu Bakrra approached me and said, ‘Perhaps you were angry with me when you offered me Hafsara for marriage and I gave no reply to you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Abu Bakrra replied, ‘Nothing prevented me from accepting your offer except that I learnt that the Prophetra of Allah had referred to the issue of Hafsara and I did not want to disclose his secret but had he (the Prophetsa) not married her, I would surely have accepted her.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-maghazi, Hadith 4005)

At an early age, Hazrat Hafsara learnt to read and write. She memorised the Holy Quran by heart and her knowledge of religious matters was exceptional. It is recorded that at least 60 ahadith have been quoted by her. Like her father, Hazrat Umarra, she was curious about matters by nature and would confidently ask questions to increase her knowledge.

The book of ahadith, Sahih Muslim,mentions an incident in which, once, the Holy Prophetsa told Hazrat Hafsara“Of those who took the pledge of Aqabah, none would enter hell.” Hazrat Hafsara, who was of an inquisitive character, replied, “[What about the verse which states] ‘There is not one of you, but will come to it.’” The Holy Prophetsa pointed her to the next verse which stated, “God shall save the righteous and leave the wrongdoers therein, on their knees.” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 2496)

A little-known fact about the compilation of the Holy Quran is that when it was put together into a form of a book, its first custodian was a woman. In the early years of Islam, when the Holy Quran was being revealed, it was learnt by heart by the companions of the Holy Prophetsa. It was also carved onto stones or pieces of parchment. But during the Battle of Yamama, several people who had committed the Holy Quran to memory were martyred. This was during the Khilafat of Hazrat Abu Bakrra that the process of compiling the Holy Quran into written form was initiated at the suggestion of Hazrat Umarra. When the pages of Holy Quran were compiled into one book, it was handed over to Hazrat Hafsara for safekeeping.

It is recorded that even the Holy Prophetsa would entrust pieces of parchment with revealed verses of the Holy Quran written on them to Hazrat Hafsara. When the printing and distribution of the Holy Quran to the wider public started during the Rightly Guided Khilafat of Hazrat Uthmanra, it was the copy entrusted with Hazrat Hafsara that was used to initiate the process of dissemination.

Ahmadi Muslim women

An extraordinary example of inspiration and steadfastness from the history of Ahmadiyyat is that of Hazrat Sayyedah Nusrat Jahanra, the wife of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas. The literal meaning of her name, ‘Nusrat Jahan’, is ‘Helper of the World’. Indeed, when we look at her life, we find that, in every sense, her name’s meaning was fulfilled. Hazrat Sayyedah Nusrat Jahanra was fondly known as Hazrat Amma Jaanra. She was a spiritual mother and a source of Islamic knowledge to thousands of women of the Community. She was a truly compassionate and generous woman and someone with in-depth knowledge of Islam. (Hazrat Amman Jaanra – An Inspiration for us all)

An inspiring example from her life is worth mentioning here. We all know that Islam emphasises the importance of fulfilling the rights of orphans, so this was also something Hazrat Sayyeda Nusrat Jahanra pursued with great sincerity. In her life, she adopted many orphan children. By doing so, she cared for them and provided them with a home, a family, clean clothes, food, and education. Aminah Begum was adopted by Hazrat Sayyeda Nusrat Jahanra when she was three or four years old and was made part of the family. Reminiscing about the time, she spent with her, Aminah Begum commented: “Her behaviour towards me always remained extremely attentive, sometimes even real mothers can get tired of caring for their own children – but [she] always happily and cheerfully cared for me in this manner.” (Hazrat Amman Jaanra – An Inspiration for us all, p. 144)


The exemplary lives of women from the history of Islam and the history of Ahmadiyyat are an inspiration for not just Muslims but women and men of the whole world. Today, we take a moment to reflect and show gratitude for all the blessings and  rights that Allah the Almighty has granted women. As opposed to this world, which is still engulfed in all kinds of injustices and where women still do not have all necessary rights by the laws of the land, Muslim women are not dependent on any society, any state, or any organisation for any rights and opportunities. Nor are they dependent on men for their rights and dues. We have them in our hands, given to us, bestowed to us by the Lord of all the Worlds, Allah the Almighty.

There is no better way than to conclude with the blessed words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V, Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa, who encouraged Muslim women to take inspiration from the female Companions of the Holy Prophetsa. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said: 

“Those Muslim ladies (during the period of early Islam) strived to portray the true image of Islam at every juncture of their lives – whether it pertained to obedience to Allah the Almighty, elevated levels of worship, domestic and societal responsibilities, educative responsibilities of children, physical and financial sacrifices, or opportunities of displaying courage and bravery for the sake of Islam. Thus, these women laid an exemplary foundation at every opportunity and step of their lives.” (Jalsa Salana Germany Ladies Session 2023, “Head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Addresses Ladies Session at Jalsa Salana Germany 2023”, www.pressahmadiyya.com)

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