The Social Activity of Fatima al-Zahra (S.A.)
By: Allama Jafar Murtuza Amili
Some people may bring about a point with a loaded meaning. It says, “We do not find anything in history that points out to a social activity undertaken by Lady Fatima al-Zahra’ in the Islamic society except in one or two traditions.”
Commenting on the above, I would like to say the following: Each generation has its own requirements, technicalities and frameworks. A man or a woman is demanded to be or is judged accordingly. His/her activities, too, are evaluated on the same basis in as far as the size of their impact on the Islamic reality as a whole is concerned.
During the time of the Prophet S, al-Zahra’ (sa) taught women how to recite the Holy Qur’an; she educated them in the injunctions of the Shari’a and in the necessary theological branches of knowledge. She actively and effectively took part in the call to Allah, Glory and Exaltation are His, in various situations, including the Mubahala incident involving the Christians. She had a leading role in defending the issues of the fate of the nation, including that of the Imamate.
Add to this her magnificent statement which she delivered at the (Prophet’s) Mosque which by itself is considered as a school and as a fountainhead which nourishes the generations with knowledge. Add to all of this her participation, which suited her personality and abilities, during Islam’s decisive wars, in addition to her treatment of the needy, such as the orphans, the captives and the indigent, something which Allah, Glory to Him, has immortalized in a Qur’an that is to be recited till the Day of Judgment.
Greater than all the above is her powerful and effective stance wherein she played her role, including her demise and burial, in order to safeguard the fruits of Jihad for Islam’s greatest cause, just as her daughter Zainab (sa) did within the framework of her powerful and effective safeguarding of the fruits of Jihad and momentous sacrifices of Imam Husayn (as) and his companions in Kerbala’.
Yes, all of this and its likes prove that al-Zahra’ (sa) did, indeed, participate in civil activities, in political, educational and doctrinal fields as suited the reality, the dictates and the circumstances of her time and within the frameworks of its activities according to the then prevalent values.
She made essential achievements on the level of having an impact on protecting the Call, its dissemination, deepening the understanding of its concepts and filling the gaps in various fields within which the circumstances of that age permitted her to move. Such achievements may not be equaled by that of any other woman in history, no matter how great her activity might have been, how branched out its fields, and how diverse its particulars, because it aimed at firming the roots [of our Islamic faith]. It, therefore, has the greatest impact in safeguarding the tree of Islam and in granting it more strength, stability and power, and in making its fruits richer, more pleasing and more delightful.
All the above makes it clear that the difference in the fields of activity, its conditions and norms between the generation of al-Zahra’ (sa) and this generation does not place al-Zahra’ (sa) in the circle of backwardness, deficiency or shortcoming, nor does it make the achievement of woman in this generation of a greater influence, even when the demands of life are wider and the fields of activity and movement are more diverse.
It is only natural that the age of firming the foundations of the creed, of properly setting up the facts of conviction, of determining the issues that shape man’s fate as the most important, the most weighty, and the achievement therein being greater and more serious.
Thus, it becomes obvious that there is no sense in judging al-Zahra’ (sa) as having conducted a very small social activity during her time and base such a judgment on the fields of activity of women in this generation.
Having introduced all the above to the kind reader, I would like to remind him of the following matters:
FIRST: We wish that the same individual had mentioned to us the tradition or two to which he referred so that we might know what he meant by “social activity.” Does he mean that she fell short of carrying out her mission and did not fulfil her obligation as an infallible lady and as the daughter of a Prophet and the wife of a wali?
If her opponents find this to be her fault, her father and husband were then obligated to lead her to the right course in this regard. But if by “social activity” he means establishing schools, charities, educational societies, philanthropic organizations, or holding discussion circles, delivering speeches, writing books to give away or to sell..., it is then quite possible that al-Zahra’ (sa) did not do many of such activities which some women nowadays do, and this was not confined to only al-Zahra’ (sa).
It applies to all women of that generation and of the generations that followed. The nature of the social life and its potentials, and also the nature of woman’s life-style at that time, restricted the activity in which she could participate except in certain fields which are different from today’s, regardless of the legislative justifications about which some people talk in one way or another.
But if he means that history has not mentioned that she used to publicly declare the truth, for those who wanted to know the truth, nor did she carry out her obligation in teaching and directing women and in safeguarding the creed, on the level of the major Islamic issues, and on that of others, especially the branches of knowledge which she disseminated, even within the framework of those of her deeds that were relevant to worship..., what she has achieved in this field is as clear to the eyes of the beholder as the rays of the sun.
Her speech, which she delivered at the Mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah with him and his progeny), and with the women of the Ansar, is regarded as a school for the generations and as the fountainhead of knowledge across history only when it is well understood and benefitted from. This she did despite the presence of her father, the Messenger of Allah (S) and her cousin, the Commander of the Faithful (as), who were the axes of the social, human and Islamic activity. Her activity (sa) was part of the whole general activity of the time.
Yet his claim that there are only one or two traditions (referring to her social activities) remains unclear and imprecise. There are many traditions which have referred to her participation in various activities, be they social, political, or educational, and we have already mentioned some of them. Actually, some narrations state that she used to participate even in non-Muslim [social] functions when some Jews invited her to attend one of their weddings.
There is an incident narrating how she gave a bedouin her necklace and a bed on which al-Hassan and al-Husayn (as) used to sleep, so ‘Ammar ibn Yasir bought them back. This is well documented.
Even Allah, Glory to Him, tells us how she and her Ahl al-Bayt (as) are of the habit of feeding the indigent, the orphan and the newly released captive seeking His Pleasure.
When she delivered her famous speech at the Mosque, she went there accompanied by a crowd of women who supported her demands. Some historians discuss the presence of a bloc of women who supported her (sa) versus others who opposed her. Besides, she is famous for admonishing her children to look after the neighbor before looking after their own family.
This provides us with a picture depicting the nature of her concerns. Had she found any opportunity to carry out any social, civil or educational activity, she would have set out swiftly with full awareness and interest.
SECOND: The Prophet (S) continuously stressed her status and role, her position in Islam, belief and knowledge. This granted her a special status; she became an authority for the people who referred to her. Her house was often frequented by women coming in and out all the time16. The women of Medina [in general], as well as her neighbors [in particular] used to quite often visit her.17 People sought her to teach them from the knowledge that she had with her.18
The Prophet (S) used to personally send people who were in need of something materialistic to go to the house of Fatima (sa) as in the story of the bedouin whom she gave her necklace and a bed belonging to both her sons as we have just stated.
People used to frequent her house seeking knowledge, too. All this must have filled her life with movement and activity, in addition to her domestic activity, during a time when she used to use the grind-stone till her hands bled.
THIRD: Nobody, no matter who he/she is, can be evaluated based on his/her social achievements and activities or political shrewdness, for there are many politicians who are quite shrewd and who are not adorned by the true value of humanity. A social activity or shrewdness does not provide any value for a politician or a political stance.
Politics are ruled by their own principles and interests, and they are to be derived from an infallible person such as a prophet or a wasi, and from al-Zahra’ (sa), too. She (sa) defines for us where the political value lies, or the value of any other action, be it social or non-social. Al-Zahra’ (sa) does not derive her worthiness from her policies or social activities; otherwise, some criminals or deviators would have been valued as greater than prophets, walis or wasis, if one of them had conducted a huge social or political activity due to the Abundance of wealth, prominence and authority at the disposal of a prophet or a wali, peace with them all.
The truth is that the worthiness of a human being stems from within him, from the values which he personifies, from his ideals and humanitarianism, from his useful knowledge which produces piety and fear of Allah, Glory to Him. Anything other than these falls in the category of causes and outcomes, and it may be found on the other side of the equation.
FOURTH: We have first to verify the status of al-Zahra’ (sa) with relevance to the conviction of any Muslim and also verify the reality of the responsibilities expected to be undertaken in support of this religion and its structure. So, let us say the following: The loyalty of a Muslim to the Prophet (S), to the Imams and to al-Zahra’ (sa), plays a major and crucial role in crystallizing his conviction and realizing his identity, personality and humanity. The presence of al-Zahra’, the woman, who is neither an Imam nor a prophet, being a woman perfect in her humanity, is what we need by necessity to be mandated by life, belief, conduct and daily process. As regarding her social or political activity, this does not have the same degree of significance or sensitivity in the presence of her father and husband.
We need such a presence so that we may be linked to it, so that our hearts may lean towards it, for it embodies for us values and principles and the human perfection which we need, too, so that our hearts may embrace it through embracing al-Zahra’ (sa), then it participates in building our creed and firming the Islamic concepts, the values and the principles in our hearts and minds…, so that it may coin our feelings and emotions, actually our existence altogether. Such is the role of Fatima (sa). Her role or theirs is not to establish foundations, civil organizations or charities, etc.
FIFTH: There is no doubt that al-Zahra’ (sa) plays a serious and sensitive role in keeping this religion alive and pure. Had it not been for her, it would have been distorted and become a thing of the past. Al-Zahra’ (sa) is the window of light, the proof of righteousness, the mirror of Islam that reflects its teachings, injunctions, concepts and outlooks towards the cosmos and life itself, as is the case with her husband, the Commander of the Faithful (sa). She and the truth are inseparable companions.
She is the criterion and the scales whereby people’s conviction is weighed, and so is their uprightness on the path of guidance, goodness, honesty and sincerity. We know thereby whether Allah and His Messenger (S) are pleased or displeased. This is referred to by the tradition of the Prophet (S) wherein he says, “She is part of me; she is my heart within my ribs; whoever harms her harms me, and whoever harms me in fact harms Allah,” or “I am pleased with whoever pleases her, and I am angered by anything/anyone which/who angers her,” or some such wording.
Notice how he has made her part of him, the very criterion for his pleasure with whatever/whoever pleases her and his displeasure with whatever/whoever displeases or harms her.19
It is quite evident that her being part of his physical body, being his daughter, is not the reason that whatever pleases her pleases him for two reasons:
FIRST: He does not set out from a point of bias towards his kinship or blood relation, etc. Rather, he wishes that all the particularities and privileges, material or immaterial abilities, should be at the service of this religion.
SECOND: Being the biological or non-biological father is insufficient by nature to win privileges of such a level of significance, though they may be important since they refer to the purity of the element and the purification of the kind, since she (sa) was a nur in the lofty loins and the purified wombs. When the son of Noah (as) who, according to some traditions, was adopted20, did not exert such an effort, he strayed and perished, so much so that Allah said the following about him to his father Noah, “O Noah! Surely he is not of your family; surely he is (the doer of) other than good deeds; therefore, do not ask of Me that of which you have no knowledge; surely I admonish you lest you should be among the ignorant” (Qur’an, 11:46).
Thereupon, the pleasure of Noah’s son was surely not the Pleasure of Allah and His Messenger, nor was his anger theirs.
What is intended, in as far as her being part of him is concerned, should be a meaning hinging on her pleasure being also his, and her being harmed is his harm, especially since we know that he said so when she answered the following question: “What is the best for a woman?” She said, “That she does not see men, nor do men see her,” as will be discussed, God willing. Or it may have been said to Ali (as) in the presence of those who harmed Fatima (sa) when they told her that he had sought the hand of the daughter of Abu Jahl. Ali (as) said to him, “By the One Who sent you with the truth as a Prophet, there is no truth whatsoever in what she was told that I have done, nor did I ever contemplate doing anything like that.” The Prophet S said to him, “You have said the truth, and you are the truthful one.” Fatima (sa) then felt glad about it. She smiled till her father saw her teeth. One of the two men said to his companion, “What caused you to call on me during a time such as this?”
The Prophet S, then, wanted to tell the person who brought that false news to Fatima that he had caused her and him harm. No matter what, the meaning of this statement harmonizes with: harming her means harming him. Her characteristics are derived from those of the Messenger of Allah S and so is her perfection. Discussing her connotes that she is part of the Prophet S and his human and prophetic existence in all its attributes, in its particularities, minute characteristics, as a perfectly holy human being who represents humanity, perfection, purity, truth and righteousness, in the most precise and manifest of such means and in their most sublime.
Obviously, when Fatima (sa) is angry, she is angered when humanity is belittled, and when values and principles are violated. She is pleased when humanity is honored and values are firmed. Her being exposed to oppression does not anger her as an individual; it angers her because it is an aggression against humanity, spiritual perfection and ideological sublimity, and because it is an attempt to belittle this sacred existence.
To assault Fatima (sa) is to assault righteousness, natural disposition and honor, and this is what angers her and angers Allah and His Messenger. Every deed which is done according to natural disposition, safeguarding this existence, pleases her and pleases the Messenger and Allah.
Thus, she fits to be a criterion and a scale when she is pleased and when angered. We may make this meaning clearer when we refer to the Qur’anic verse saying, “Whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept all men alive” (Qur’an, 5:32). The body, which is composed of flesh and bones, remains present, and what is missing is its power of will, the ability to choose, reason as well as human characteristics of nobility, generosity, feelings, emotions... The body is emptied of its contents when the soul is separated from it.
16. Ibn Abul-Hadid al-Mu`tazilite al-Shafi`i, Sharh Nahjul-Balagha, Vol. 9, p. 198.
17. Ibid., Vol. 9, p. 193.
18. The story of how someone went to her seeking to learn from her, so she asked for a book which the Messenger of Allah (S) had given her will come later in this book. When she [actually her maid, Fidda] did not first find it, the man had to wait.
19. There is no doubt in the consecutive reporting of this tradition or in its authenticity. Shaikh Ja`far Kashif al-Ghita’, on p. 12 of his famous book Kashf a-Ghita’, has noted its being consecutively reported by both parties, so refer to it. Since this tradition is mentioned in various references which discuss al-Zahra’ (sa), listing its references is very hard, even impossible, and we find no need to do so here. We, however, will contend ourselves by mentioning some of them. Anyone who wishes to know more should review the books which discuss the biography of al-Zahra’ (sa), her miracles or merits. He will find this tradition cited wherever he goes. The references to which we would like to point out here are: Fara’id al-Simtayn, Vol. 2, p. 46; Mujma` al-Zawa’id, Vol. 9, p. 203; al-Khawarizmi’s Maqtal al-Husayn, Vol. 1, pp. 52-53; Kifayat al-Talib, pp. 364-365; Thakha’ir al-`Uqba, pp. 37-39; Usd al-Ghaba, Vol. 5, p. 522; al-Bukhari’s Sahih, Muslim’s Sahih; Yanabi` al-Mawadda, pp. 173-174, 179, 198; Nazm Durar al-Simtayn, pp. 176-177; al-Hakim’s Mustadrak, Vol. 3, pp. 154, 158-159 and its Talkhis by al-Dhahbi as referred to in the latter’s footnote; Kanz al-`Ummal, Vol. 13, pp. 93 & 96 and Vol. 6, p. 219 and Vol. 7, p. 111; Al-Ghadir, Vol. 7, pp. 231 & 236; Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’, Vol. 2, p. 132; Al-Sawa`iq al-Muhriqa, pp. 186 & 188; al-Zarqani’s Sharh al-Mawahib, Vol. 4, p. 335; in addition to many others.
20. It does not make any sense when some people say that Noah’s paternal feelings affected him, so he followed his emotions, not paying attention to Allah’s address in this regard. Refer to Vol. 2, p. 220, of Al-Burhan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an.