The Best of All Women
Agnomen: Umm Abiha.
Title: az-Zahrâ’; as-Siddiqah; al-Batűl; Sayyidatu ’n-Nisâ’.
Father: Muhammad, the Messenger.
Mother: Khadijah, the Mother of the Believers.
Birth: 20th Jumâda ’th-Thâni, 5th year after the Bi‘that.
Death: 3rd Jumâda ’th-Thâni, 11 AH.
1. Birth to Hijra
Fâtimatu ’z-Zahrâ’ was born in the fifth year of the bi’that and she was the only child who survived from among the children of Khadija. Fâtima ’s birth and the fact that only she gave the Prophet grandchildren is itself a revolutionary statement: in the pre-Islamic society, the birth of a baby girl was considered a disgrace for the family; and lineage was only recognized through male children. When the male children of the Prophet and Khadija died in infancy, some of the unbelievers of Mecca taunted the Prophet saying that he is an “abtar — a person who is cut off, that is, he has no progeny.” In response to this taunting, Allâh revealed chapter 108 of the Qur’ân: “We have verily given to you (O Muhammad) plentiful [i.e., in the form of Fâtima and her progeny]; therefore, pray to your Lord and offer sacrifice. Surely the one who taunts you is an abtar.”
Fâtima’s life is intertwined with the emergence and growth of the Islamic movement. She was just three years old when her parents —the Prophet and Khadija— had to go with other family members to Abu Talib’s castle outside Mecca when the Quraysh imposed an economic and social boycott against them. Soon after the boycott ended, at the age of five, Fâtima lost her mother. She was thereafter brought up by the Prophet himself.
A famous incident from the Meccan period shows that Fâtima , even in childhood, was part of her father’s struggle. Once the Prophet was praying near the Ka’bah while a group of Qurayshi unbelievers were sitting and watching him. Abu Jahl, their leader, said, “Who amongst you can go and bring the intestine of a slaughtered camel and put it on Muhammad when he is in prostration?” ‘Uqba bin Abi Mu’ît complied with the suggestion of Abu Jahl and placed the filthy intestine of a camel on the Prophet’s shoulder when he was in the state of sajdah. The Prophet remained in that position while the unbelievers laughed so much so that they fell on each other. A passerby went to the Prophet’s home and informed Fâtima . Fâtima , though still in her childhood, came running to the Ka’bah and removed the filth from the Prophet and cursed the unbelievers on their faces.
After the death of Khadija and Abu Tâlib, life became most constrained and difficult for the Prophet and his followers in Mecca . When the Quraysh planned to kill the Prophet, he left Mecca and migrated to Medina , and thus began a new era in the history of Islam.
‘Alî bin Abi Tâlib had been left behind by the Prophet to mislead the enemies, to return the property of others entrusted to the Prophet, and also to bring the remaining members of the Prophet’s immediate family to Medina . After accomplishing the tasks given to him, ‘Alî started the journey towards Medina with three Fâtimas: Fâtima bint Asad (‘Alî’s mother), Fâtima bint Zubayr ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib (aunt of ‘Alî and the Prophet), and Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ’.
The Prophet, who had left Mecca earlier, waited for ‘Alî and his family at Quba on the outskirts of Medina . When Abu Bakr suggested that they enter the city of Medina , the Prophet refused to do so until his cousin and his beloved daughter reached him in Quba. And, indeed, the Prophet entered Medina only after those closest to him in family ties as well as in spiritual affiliation had joined him from Mecca !
2. Father & Daughter
After Khadija’s death, the Prophet used to pay special attention to his daughter Fâtima. Whenever he went on a journey, the last person to whom he would bade farewell was Fâtima; and when he returned to Medina , the first person whom he would meet would be Fâtima . Every day before going to bed, the Prophet would kiss the cheeks of his daughter and say a prayer for her.
When the verse “Do not call the Prophet like the way you call one another”(24:63) was revealed, even Fâtima, like everyone else, started to address him as “O the Messenger of Allah” instead of saying “O Father!” After hearing Fâtima calling him in this very formal manner, the Prophet said, “O Fâtima, this verse does not apply to you or your children...You should still call me ‘O Father’ because it brightens my heart and pleases Allah.”
3. Marriage to ‘Alî
Many proposals came for Fâtima to the Prophet but he always rejected them saying that he was waiting for the divine commandment. Finally, ‘Alî bin Abi Tâlib approached the Prophet for Fâtima ’s hand in marriage. The Prophet went inside the house and asked Fâtima about ‘Alî’s proposal. Fâtima just bowed her head in modesty. According to Umm Salama, the Prophet’s wife, “The face of Fâtima bloomed with joy and her silence was so suggestive that the Prophet stood up saying ‘Allâhu Akbar, Fâtima ’s silence is her acceptance.’”
The Prophet asked ‘Alî about the mahr (dowry; marriage gift given by the groom to the bride). ‘Alî said he just had three things from the possessions of this world: a sword, a shield and a camel which he used for watering the farms. The Prophet said that you need your sword for jihâd and your camel for your livelihood, so go and sell the shield. ‘Alî sold the shield for about 500 dirhams and gave the money to the Prophet as mahr. The Prophet used a portion of the mahr to buy jahîz (the household necessities given to the bride by her family).
The jahiz of the Mistress of the Women consisted of the following: 1. a shirt, 2. a large veil, 3. a black plush cloak, 4. a bed, 5. two mattresses, one filled with wool and another with palm tree fiber, 6. four cushions stuffed with good smelling leaves, 7. a curtain made of wool, 8. a mat, 9. a few jugs and bowls, 10. waterbag made of leather, and a few other simple items.
This is how simple the marriage of ‘Alî and Fâtima was! It should serve as a lesson for those who think that one must have “all” before making the decision of marriage!
4. Fâtima ’s Status in the Qur’ân & the Sunnah
Our Lady Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ’ (a.s.) stands on the highest pedestal of spiritual ranks. She is an integral part of many verses in the Qur’ân. The most important of those verses are the following:
1. The verse of purity: This is the verse in which Allah says: “Verily Allah intends to keep off from you, O Ahlu ‘l-bayt, all kinds of abomination, and to purify you (spiritually) a thorough purification.” (33:33) In spite of all the differences among the Muslims about those on whom this verse can be applied, no one has ever disputed the fact that Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ’ is part of it. She has been kept away from all abomination and impurities, thus rendering her an infallible and sinless person by the will of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
2. Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ, ‘Alî, Hasan, Husayn and, their servant, Fizza, fasted for three days. At sunset on the first day, a beggar came to the door; next day, an orphan came to the door; and on the third day, a captive came to the door all asking for food. On all three days ‘Alî gave away his food —which consisted of one loaf of bread only— and others also followed his example even though they had nothing left for themselves. Allah was so much pleased with the selflessness and sincerity of Fâtima and her family that He revealed Chapter 76 of the Qur’ân highly praising them. “And they give away food, out of love for Him, to the poor, the orphan and the captive; saying ‘We feed you only for God’s sake, we do not expect from you any recompense nor gratitude!’” (76:8-9) After describing their reward in the paradise, Allah says: “Verily, this is unto you a recompense, and your endeavour is appreciated.” (76:22)
This verse, in reality, is Allah’s good tiding that Fâtima and her family will surely have an honourable place in Paradise .
3. In the ninth year of the hijrah when the Christian scholars and leaders from Yemen came to see the Prophet, they refused to agree with his logical arguments against Jesus being the “Son of God”. Then Allah ordered (3:54) the Prophet to challenge the Christians for malediction and to bring themselves, their women and their children as partners in this event.
The Prophet of Islam, on his side, took ‘Alî (as representing “yourselves”), Hasan and Husayn (as representing “your children”), and Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ’ (as representing “your women”). Not that there were no other women in Medina ; no, there were many: his wives, relatives and women of his companions. But he just selected Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ’ because she alone was sufficient to stand by the Messenger of Allah in praying against the Christians.
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There are many sayings from the Prophet about Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ. For instance, he said, “The best women of Paradise are Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Fâtima bint Muhammad, Maryam bint ‘Imrân and Âsiya bint Muzâhim the wife of Fir’awn.” (al-Hâkim in Mustadrak ‘ala ‘s-Sahihayn.) ‘Âisha, the wife of the Prophet, narrates another hadith that once the Prophet welcomed Fâtima and told her a secret which she disclosed only after the Prophet’s death. In that statement, the Prophet said to Fâtima: “...Do not you like to be the mistress of all the ladies of Paradise or the mistress of all the lady believers?” (al-Bukhari in his Sahîh.) There a third very famous saying of the Prophet about Fâtima which has also been quoted by al-Bukhari in his Sahih: “Verily Fâtima is a part of me; whosoever makes her angry, makes me angry.”
These remarks cannot be seen just in the context of “father-daughter” relationship; it throws light on the spiritual status of Fâtima . After all, the Prophet “does not talk from his own accord; [whatever he says is] nothing except a revelation which is revealed to him.” (53:3-4)
5. After the Prophet
One of the darkest pages of Muslim history consists of the events which took place after the Prophet’s death. These events directly affected our Lady Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ (a.s.).
When Abu Bakr was installed as the caliph, members of the Prophet’s family and some companions refrained from pledging allegiance to him. This small group sought refuge with ‘Alî inside his home. The supporter of the caliph, led by ‘Umar ibn Khattâb, forcefully entered the house of ‘Alî and brought the men out to the mosque where they were compelled to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr. In the process of forcing the door open, they broke the door which fell upon Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ, injuring her severely and causing the loss of her unborn baby.
Fadak was a property in northern Arabia which the Prophet had gifted to Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ. But after his death, the caliphate establishment confiscated the property of Fadak. When Fâtima complained against this injustice, the caliph quoted an alleged saying of the Prophet that, “We the prophets do not leave anything as inheritance [for our children]; whatever we leave behind is charity.” Fâtima challenged the validity of this so-called hadîth by reciting verses from the Qur’ân in which Allah describes how the children of past prophets inherited their fathers! However, political expediency took precedence over truth and honesty. This was the first attack on the rights of women in Islam, and Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ was the first Muslim woman to stand up for her rights.
Fâtima also stood by ‘Alî in defending his right for the caliphate. ‘Alî used to take her at night to the houses of the Ansâr where she would address the women in support for ‘Alî’s right to the caliphate.
The physical hurt of the door falling upon her and the loss of her unborn baby combined with the emotional pain of ‘Alî’s deprivation and the confiscation of Fadak took its toll on Fâtimatu ‘z-Zahrâ — she left this world at the age of 18.
‘Alî, who had just lost the Prophet three months ago, also lost his faithful wife. These were the loneliest days for ‘Alî bin Abi Tâlib. Hasan, Husayn, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum lost their loving and caring mother. And the Muslim world lost the best of all women.