The Great Muslim Women
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
Bilqis, the Queen of Saba in Yemen
The status of women in Islam is far more lofty than any another creed or school of thought. The holy Qur’an has a lengthy Surah titled Nisa’ or Women, and God has revealed another Surah in honour of the Virgin Mary (peace upon her), the mother of Prophet Jesus (PBUH).
We will focus on Bilqis, the Queen of Saba in Yemen, who was endowed with wisdom, and is known in the West as Sheba.
In the days of Prophet Solomon (PBUH), whom God had endowed with the power to control birds and animals, and speak in their tongue, Hoopoe brought important news from a land ruled by a woman, who sits on a splendid throne. The bird told the Prophet that unfortunately this wealthy and powerful woman, as well as the people of her land, are devoid of faith in the One and Only God, and worship the imaginations of their minds and the forces of nature, such as the sun. Solomon sent her a letter through Hoopoe who dropped it in front of the Queen. Sheba picked up the letter, opened it, and to her astonishment, found it to be a message from the powerful ruler of Palestine, Solomon.
She summoned her advisors and read its contents, which started with the phrase Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim, or In the Name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. Solomon advised her to shun pride and arrogance, and asked her to come to him for personal submission. Bilqis was disturbed while her advisors thought it to be challenge to her power and their sovereignty that might result in possible war.
She, however, told them: Peace and friendship are better and wiser; while war only brings humiliation, enslaves people and destroys the country. She thus sent precious gifts to Solomon and told her messengers to find out about his military mighty.
When the envoys of Bilqis reached Palestine and presented the precious gifts, they were surprised to see that Solomon not even bothered to open the containers to see the priceless objects. He said: Are you enticing me with wealth, while Allah has given me plenty of wealth, a large kingdom, and Prophethood. My only objective is to spread the message of Towheed, or monotheism by inviting people to worship the One and Only Creator. He told the Yemeni envoys to take back the gifts to Bilqis and tell her that if she did not stop her deviated form of worship he would be forced to descend upon her kingdom for the sake of rectifying the wrongs being committed by the ignorant and arrogant people. Ayahs 36 and 37 of Surah Naml refer to this account.
In order to show Bilqis the miraculous powers bestowed upon him by God, Solomon asked the genies whether anyone among them could bring her throne to the palace before she arrived. One of them said: "I will bring it to you before this sitting is over." Solomon did not react and it appeared that he was waiting for a faster mean. Then Asef bin Barkhiya, who had the knowledge of the Divine Book, said: I will fetch it for you in the twinkling of an eye! No sooner had he finished his phrase the throne stood before Solomon. The mission had, indeed been accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, although a distance of over two thousand kilometers separated Palestine from Yemen.
When Solomon found the throne of Bilqis before him, he said, as is mentioned in ayah 40 of Surah Naml: "This is by the grace of my Lord, to test me if I will give thanks or be ungrateful. And whoever gives thanks, gives thanks only for his own sake. And whoever is ungrateful [should know that] my Lord is indeed all-sufficient, all-generous."
Here it should be mentioned that Solomon as the Prophet of God had the power to perform such a miracle himself, but his enquiring of the audience of genies and men as to who would undertake the task at the greatest possible speed, was to show to the Israelites the God-given powers of his vicegerent and successor after him, Asef bin Barkhiya, who was a human being and therefore superior to other forms of life, including genies.
Back in Yemen, with her throne vanished from her palace, Bilqis was informed by her envoys of Solomon’s reply and his wondrous powers. The Queen was a prudent woman, and instead of taking offence or feeling scared, she decided to travel to Palestine to meet Solomon personally. When Bilqis and her entourage arrived at Solomon's palace, the Prophet of God pointing to the throne asked her whether it was hers.
She looked at it again and again, thinking how it was possible for her throne to be here, and noting the striking similarities, said: It is as if it were the very one, and resembles mine in every aspect. Solomon judged that she was intelligent and smart. Bilqis was amazed; she had never seen such miracles before.
Convinced that this is nothing but the power of the One and Only Creator, she decided to become a Muslim, that is, those who willingly submit to none but God, and asked her people to give up the sordid practice of idolatry and sun-worship.
Here it is worth noting that in contrast to the Egyptian Pharaoh, who did not believe in God despite witnessing the miracles performed by Moses, Bilqis at once realized the clear signs of Allah. The account of the Queen of Saba or Sheba is an invitation to all those with a grain of conscience to rectify their behavior and give up the misdeeds of the past to become devout and faithful persons.
Asiya bint Muzahem, her life is indeed a great lesson for all seekers of truth
The glimpses from the life of a lady who despite being the wife of bloodthirsty tyrant was a picture of piety, virtue and complete faith in the One and Only God. Yes, we are referring to Asiya bint Muzahem, who was the wife of the arrogant and self-styled god of Egypt, Pharaoh Ramses II. She is the lady whom the holy Qur’an has introduced as an exemplary woman not only for women but also for men.
Asiya's greatness lies in her receptive attitude to the monotheistic message of Prophet Moses, and her firm conviction that what is important is obedience to God and not feeling proud on such superficial and transient factors as wealth, beauty and status. God had chosen her to provide refuge to the infant Moses when her tyrannical husband, fearful of the prophecy of his imminent downfall at the hands of a messenger of God, had ordered the slaughtering of all babies born that particular year to the Israelites.
The Qur’an informs us of how God inspired the mother of Moses to build a casket and set afloat her infant in the River Nile so as to be safe from certain death at the hands of soldiers of the Pharaoh. Thus, one fine morning while sitting beside the Nilethat flowed past the staircase leading to her royal palace, she suddenly saw a straw casket afloat in the waters. She ordered that it be brought to her and to her surprise she saw a lovely baby inside it. At once the issueless Asiya became attached to the strange baby body. The Pharaoh was furious on seeing the infant fished out of the river, but, as ayah 9 of Surah Qesas of the holy Qur’an informs us, she said: "‘[This infant will be] a [source of] comfort to me and to you. Do not kill him. Maybe he will benefit us, or we will adopt him as a son.’ And they were not aware."
Asiya had declared her faith in the message of God after witnessing the miracle of Moses in the Court of Pharaoh; and after witnessing the death of another believing, woman under torture. Pharaoh tried to turn her away from the God of Moses but Asya refused to reject the God of Moses. On Pharaoh's order, she was tortured to death.
The holy Qur'an says in Surah Tahrim, Ayah 11: "Allah draws another 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."
Asiya indeed was one of the supreme examples of self-sacrifice. By marrying Pharaoh, she became the queen of Egypt and gained everything that she wanted in this worldly life, such as the finest clothes, the best food, ornate palaces, expensive jewelry, servants, maids, etc. Yet she chose to discard all such luxuries of life in bringing up Moses and later believing in his message as the Prophet of God. Moses grew up in the royal palace and the masses viewed him as the Pharaoh's son, and thus a prince.
He, however, was not the least arrogant, and despised the atmosphere of pomp, pleasure, and polytheism of the Pharaoh's court. Years later, after escaping from Egypt on killing an Egyptian in defence of one the oppressed Israelites, he was summoned by God on Mount Toor in Sinai, where he was bestowed with prophet-hood. When as commanded by God he returned to Egypt to invite the Pharaoh and the people to monotheism, Asiya, who had earlier concealed her monotheistic faith, openly acknowledged the path that leads to the One and Only God.
For years she had secretly worshipped only God Almighty, but now her secret was disclosed and the Pharaoh became angry. At first he pressured her to give up her belief in God. He tried to entire her through presents and promises, but when neither threats nor promises worked, he decided to torture her. Asiya was not afraid of her cruel husband, and having failed to guide her erring husband towards monotheism, she resigned herself to her fate. Having witnessed the miracles of Moses, she did not fear death, and only longed for the bliss of the Hereafter.
The holy Qur’an informs us ayah 11 of Surah Tahrim: "Allah draws another 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."
Thus, according to narrations, it is said the Pharaoh ordered that the virtuous Asiya be nailed to the ground and exposed to the scorching heat of the midday sun, with a heavy boulder place on her chest. This way she achieved martyrdom. Her life is indeed a great lesson for all seekers of truth.
Yaquba, the mother of Moses, Mariyam, sister of Moses and Safura the loyal wife of Moses
Asiya, the virtuous and Godfearing wife of the Godless Egyptian tyrant, Pharaoh Ramses. She not only brought up the infant Moses on finding him floating in the water, but on declaration of his prophethood, believed in his message, and attained martyrdom at the hands of the Pharaoh in defence of monotheism. Contemporary with Asiya were three more virtuous ladies, who played vital part in the life of Prophet Moses (PBUH). These were, Jochebed or Yaquba, the mother of Moses, Mariyam, sister of Moses and Safura the loyal wife of Moses.
Jochebed, was the wife of Emran the father of Moses. After giving birth to Moses, she feared for the infant’s life, because of the Pharaoh’s orders to kill all newborn sons among the Israelites. God Almighty, however, inspired her to put the baby in a wooden basket and set it afloat in the River Nile.
In Ayah 7 of Surah Qasas, God says: "We revealed to Moses’ mother, [saying], ‘Nurse him; then, when you fear for him, cast him into the river, and do not fear or grieve, for We will restore him to you and make him one of the prophets."
Later when Moses was picked up from the waters by Asiya, his anxious sister, Mariyam, who had concealed herself in the reeds to see the outcome, approached the Pharaoh’s wife and told her that she knew of a wet nurse who might give suckle to the hungry baby. In this way, she arranged for the real mother of Moses to nurse and nurture him in the palace of the tyrant himself. In ayahs 38 and 39 of Surah Ta Ha, God says: "When We revealed to your mother whatever was revealed"
"Put him in the casket, and cast it into the river. Then the river will cast it on the bank, and he shall be picked up by an enemy of Mine and an enemy of his.”
There is thus a great lesson for all in the behavior of the mother and sister of Moses, who put their complete trust in God, instead of following their own whim and fears.
Safura or Zipporah ws the daughter of Prophet Shuaib or Jethro, and she became the wife of Moses during his self-exile in Midyan in northwest Arabia, when he left Egypt. One day while he sat by a well, two girls came to water their father's flocks. Other shepherds arrived and drove the girls away so they could water their own flocks first. Moses helped the girls and watered their flock. Upon their return home their father Shuaib asked them, "How is it that you have come back so soon today?" The girls answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock." Then Shuaib asked Safura to invite Moses to their house. Moses accepted the invitation and arrived in Shuaib's house which was filled with the light of monotheism. In this regard, ayah 26 of Surah Qasas says: "One of the two women said, ‘Father, hire him. Indeed the best you can hire is a powerful and trustworthy man."
Then Shuaib, as the Qur’an informs us said: "‘Indeed I desire to marry you to one of these two daughters of mine, on condition that you hire yourself to me for eight years. And if you complete ten, that will be up to you, and I do not want to be hard on you. God willing, you will find me to be one of the righteous."
Moses agreed and married Safura. Upon his return to Egypt, she accompanied him and when God granted him prophethood, Safura played a prominent role in enlightening others with monotheism. She was thus an exemplary woman.