Women in the Holy Scripture

By Jerrmein Abu Shahba

Across the centuries and civilizations, the roles and rights of women have been a continuous journey of struggle.  History remembers when the institution of slavery in North America existed from the earliest years of the colonial period until 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment permanently abolished slavery throughout the United States.  Black women have struggled for a long time and continue to suffer from racism and discrimination.  Baby girls were buried by their own fathers straight from the womb of their mothers. Women had no value in society, they were defined as objects instead of humans; they were treated as property to be bought and sold, shown off, used and abused to satisfy carnal desires. Education and literacy had no place for women and it was only the labor at home which defined the role of women, from cleaning to cooking to rearing the children, and nothing more. Women had no rights or privileges and no say in anything.

Humanity has come a long way with the evolution of the role of women and their progression over time since the time of Prophet Adam till the 20th century.   Yesterday, girls were buried upon their birth and today, families celebrate their girl’s 16th sweet birthday like it is their wedding day. Yesterday, women were not considered worthy of seeking education and today, ladies compete to get into the best of universities and Ivy league schools in professional fields and obtain highest degrees of education.  Today, women run for state and federal offices of leadership and even for Presidency!

Gender diversity has increased significantly in the 21st century workforce as more women have entered the workplace. In some cases, statistics support the notion of evolving gender equality although some work is still necessary to avail equal opportunities to men and women across all levels and job types. Today women have more courage to speak up for their rights, organize worldwide protest such as the Women March to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women’s rights.  Despite the fact that women still face gender discrimination in various parts of the world, even today we have examples of women who stand up for their rights and make their voices heard whether against injustice, oppression, or seeking reform.

Despite the fact that women continue to face sexual harassment and violation at schools and in the workplace, today we find an increasing trend of women who find the courage to speak up and present their complaint regardless of what negative reactions or skepticism they may be subjected to from their community. As more women took the stand and withstood the embarrassment of their narrations to counter harassment, more and more other ladies were inspired to follow suit and raise their voices as well against injustice they experienced, hence, slowly and gradually creating awareness and change in a male dominant society which finds it easy to hide inappropriate actions and get away with it.

What inherent factors promoted this gradual change to happen over time and what figures or personalities inspired this struggle from a grass root level to obtain and exercise human rights?  More specifically, what examples in the Biblical scriptures set a model as to the abilities that women have and are able to achieve and differences made?

Indeed, what we see today from accomplishments of women, female activists, politicians, inventors, innovators, leaders, and more is all but a reflection of the pristine examples presented by the exceptional pious women mentioned here.  Whether it is Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Ahed Tamimi, or any other woman who experienced a struggle and said “No”, the lessons were learned and planted long ago by the immaculate examples presented below.

Faith of a Woman is Greater than Mountains

Lady Hagar, the mother of Prophet Ismael and the second wife of Prophet Ibrahim went through struggles in her early life after she married Ibrahim, gave birth to her son Ismael, and was compelled to leave her home with her son to a land called Faran. Ibrahim was commanded by God to leave Hagar and her son alone in a desert. What was Hagar’s reaction to that seemingly odd position by her husband?  She recognized that the word of a Prophet is the word of God and she submitted fully without hesitation. After she ran out of water, she went in pursuit of water to quench the thirst of her son Ismael, finally encountering the well of Zamzam after she ran seven times from the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah.

Part of the pilgrimage rituals is to run seven times between the hills (known as Saey). This is in recognition of Hagar’s courage and faith in God and the celebration of motherhood as well as leadership of women.  By the strength and obedience of Hagar and her respect to her husband – the Prophet of God, she protected her family and a whole community developed afterwards in this very land. To complete this task, Muslims are recommended to drink from the Zamzam well in memory of Hagar.

A mother’s bleeding heart overcome to save a nation

Prophet Moses was born when the ruling Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites after the time of the Prophet Joseph. Around the time of Moses’ birth, the Pharaoh had a dream, in which he saw fire coming from the city of Jerusalem which burnt everything in his kingdom except that of the Israelites. When Pharaoh was informed that one of the male children would grow up to overthrow him, he ordered the killing of all new-born Israelite males in order to prevent the prediction from occurring.

When Moses, the youngest child of Jochebed was born, she hid him for three months until she could hide him no longer. God describes this situation in the Holy Qur’an, (And We inspired the mother of Musa (telling): “Suckle him, but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily, We shall bring him back to you, and shall make him one of (Our) Messengers.’’ [28:7] To save her son’s life, she made a chest and put her child in it. She then let the chest float in the Nile while her daughter kept watch over it from a distance. It was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter who had come to bathe in the river. Moved with compassion when she discovered the child and she decided to adopt Moses. The sister of the child who had come forward, suggested to find her a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. The Pharaoh’s daughter agreed and so the sister called her mother who was appointed to take care of him. Thus, Jochebed nursed her son Moses until he was old enough and brought him to the Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son.

The story continues with Moses, who grew up to become the leader of the Exodus, leading his people out of the land of Egypt.  The Holy Qur’an narrates this story of submission by a mother whose faith overcomes her bleeding heart over her son, “And the heart of the mother of Musa became empty. She was very near to disclose his (case), had We not strengthened her heart, so that she might remain as one of the believers. 11. And she said to his sister: “Follow him.’’ So she watched him from a far place (secretly), while they perceived not. 12. And We had already forbidden foster suckling mothers for him, until she said: “Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and look after him in a good manner’’ 13. So We restored him to his mother, that her eye might be comforted, and that she might not grieve, and that she might know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of them know not. [28:10-13]

Sulaiman sent the hoopoe with a letter calling them to obey Allah and His Messenger, to repent and submit themselves to his kingship and power. He sent them: {Be you not exalted against me} i.e. do not let your pride prevent you from obeying me, but come to me as Muslims who submit to Allah with full submission. After Prophet Sulaiman presented monotheism to her and tested her, Queen Bilqis said: “My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, and I submit [in Islam, together with Sulaiman to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds (mankind, jinn and all that exists)}. [27:44]  Her wisdom allowed her to open her heart and mind to what Sulaiman presented to her, and her humility was not affected by her Queenship, she consulted her peers although she was the Queen of Sheba.  With her acceptance of the monotheistic faith, many under her governorship were guided.  It’s amazing how one woman can make such a great difference by her leadership!

The Virgin Mary – Symbol of Chastity and Purity

Lady Maryam – she was born and dedicated for the service of God in the holy sanctuary of Jerusalem.  Her mother wished for a baby boy who would serve God in the fullest capacity possible.  But little did she know that her soon-to-be daughter will become the most honorable lady of her time, her name forever mentioned with blessings and grace.  Lady Maryam became the best of servants and worshippers and she earned the honor of being the virgin mother of Jesus the Messiah, by the miracle of God.  She faced lot of hardships, accusations, skepticism, but she stood strong and steadfast and abided by the word of her Lord. Her purity, chastity, and rank surprised even Prophet Zakariya when he witnessed heavenly sustenance being sent to her directly. Divine blessings and miracles indeed knows no gender or racial discrimination.

Behind every Successful Man is a Woman:

Prophet Muhammad the Seal of Messengers came a long way as an orphaned young boy who was cared for by his uncle and grandfather, he lived a very simple life and was not among the wealthy. He eventually married Lady Khadeeja who became that woman to honor her husband and the Seal of Prophets and support him financially with all the wealth she owned, such that Islam stood on its feet due to her personal contributions, patience, and perseverance in the early days of Islam.  As the saying goes, Islam did not rise except through Ali’s sword and Khadeeja’s wealth.

The Master Lady of the Universe

She is the best of women, the Queen of all queens, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad – Lady Fatima Zahra.  She is attributed by God as the Master Lady of all women in worlds, the heavens and earth.  This in itself speaks volumes and there is nothing left to say or describe. Her pleasure is the pleasure of the Prophet and God, and her anger is equivalent to the wrath of God and His prophet.  Lady Fatima manifested all the blessed qualities that a woman should manifest, she prayed for others before her own family. She is a lady who gave away her wedding gown in charity the night of her wedding! Have you ever seen a bride do that on her wedding night? She is a role model to both men and women and she earns the pleasure of intercession for those who follow the straight path.

Woman teaches eternal message of Patience during Tribulations

Lady Zainab is another exceptional example and role model for all women when it comes to her strength in character, courage in standing up for truth and against oppression, her patience withstanding and witnessing all the injustice and suffering that no man can fathom or bear.  Zainab – a woman that equals thousands of men, or better yet, much more!  The story of Karbala narrates her heroic and epic position.  One lady who led a caravan of captives and orphans with a broken heart and bent back, a distraught woman who faced that which the strongest of men have not and cannot. Her example has etched on paper the path of activism for women and that there is no fear when it comes to fighting for truth and justice.

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