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The Sahabiyat


 by Jameelah Jones

Atikah bint Nafil



During the early years of Islam, women encouraged their husbands to go forward for the cause of Islam. These women, like their men, were courageous, strong and thoroughly ready to give all for the sake of truth. The Sahabiyat (female companions of the Prophet - sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) had personalities which cannot be scoffed at. Here is a story of one such early women of Islam.

Atikah bint Amr ibn Nafil was one of the most beautiful women of Quraysh. She married AbdurRahman ibn Abu Bakr, who was extremely fearful of Allah, handsome and considerate of his parents. AbdurRahman was very much in love with Atikah. One day his father passed by and visited him in his home. When he saw how taken his son was with Atikah, he advised him to divorce her, as she had run away with his reason and overcome his senses. AbdurRahman told his father that he was not able to do this. His father said, "I endure you to do so!" Since AbdurRahman was not humanly able to oppose his father, he divorced his wife. However, after the divorce, he became extremely unhappy and even stopped eating and drinking. Abu Bakr went to him one day, but his son didn't even notice him. He realized that his son was totally devastated by the divorce. AbdurRahman was lying in the sun reciting the following: "I swear by Allah that I will never forget you as long as the sun rises, and as long as the ring-necked dove coos. I cannot imagine one such as me divorcing one like her, nor one like her being divorced without any reason. She is chaste, religious, and noble. She has a balanced personality and a logical mind." After hearing this, Abu Bakr advised his son to take her back. AbdurRahman obeyed his father, and they were reunited. Atikah remained with him until he was killed by an arrow while out with the Prophet -sallallahu alahi wasallam- on the day of Ta'if.

Atikah later married Umar during his Khilafah. Their union ended with his death at the hands of an assassin. Some time passed, then Az-Zubayr ibn Al-Awwam proposed to her and subsequently married her.

It was Atikah's custom to leave the house so that she could pray in the mosque. Az-Zubayr was possessive. It upset him to see her leaving the house to pray in the mosque. He appealed to her to stop, but she saw no reason to give up praying in the mosque in which she had prayed behind behind the Prophet -sallallahu alaihi wasallam, Abu Bakr, and Umar. Az-Zubayr knew that he should not forbid her from praying in the Prophet's mosque, because he knew the hadith in which the Prophet -sallallahu alaihi wasallam had said, "Do not forbid Allah's female slaves (from attending) His mosque".

Then Az-Zubayr was martyred, and she subsequently married Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, who was killed in Egypt. At this point, she decided that she would never marry anyone else after him, for fear that he too would be martyred. She once said, "If I were to marry all the inhabitants of the earth, they would all be killed." She was given the affectionate name "Zawjah Ash-Shuhada" - the wife of the martyrs.


Sukayna (raa) One of the notable women in Islamic history is Sukayna (raa), the daughter of Husayn (raa), grandson of the Prophet (saaw).

"Some women tried to resist the changes imposed on them after the death of the Prophet. They claimed the right to go out barza (unveiled), a word that they added to the Lisan al-‘Arab dictionary: "A barza woman is one who does not hide her face and does not lower her head." And the dictionary adds that a barza woman is one who "is seen by people and who receives visitors at home" – men, obviously. A barza woman is also a woman who has "sound judgement." A barz man or woman is someone "known for their ‘aql [reasoning]." Who are they, these Muslim women who have resisted the hijab? The most famous was Sukayna, one of the great-granddaughters of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima, the wife of ‘Ali, the famous ‘Ali, the ill-fated fourth orthodox caliph who abandoned power to Mu’awiya and was assassinated by the first Muslim political terrorist. His sons’ fates were as tragic as his own, and Sukayna was present at the killing of her father at Karbala. That tragedy partly explains her revolt against political, oppressive, despotic Islam and against everything that hinders the individual’s freedom – including the hijab.

Sukayna was born in year 49 of the Hejira (about AD 671). She was celebrated for her beauty, for what the Arabs call beauty – an explosive mixture of physical attractiveness, critical intelligence, and caustic wit. The most powerful men debated with her; caliphs and princes proposed marriage to her, which she disdained for political reasons. Nevertheless, she ended marrying five, some say six, husbands. She quarreled with some of them, made passionate declarations of love to others, brought one to court for infidelity, and never pledged ta’a (obedience, the key principle of Muslim marriage) to any of them. In her marriage contracts she stipulated that she would not obey her husband, but would do as she pleased, and that she did not acknowledge that her husband had the right to practice polygyny. All this was the result of her interest in political affairs and poetry. She continued to receive visits from poets and, despite her several marriages, to attend the meetings of the Qurashi tribal council, the equivalent of today’s democratic municipal councils. Her personality has fascinated the historians, who have devoted pages and pages, sometimes whole biographies, to her. Her character was deeply affected by history’s harsh reality – particularly the killing of her father, Husayn Ibn ‘Ali, at Karbala, one of the most outrageous massacres in Muslim political history. Husayn was a man of peace who had declared to Mu’awiya in a written contract his decision to renounce the caliphate, provided he be allowed to live in safety with his family. A poet, he celebrated the women he adored: Rabab, his wife, and Sukayna, his daughter. After the death of Mu’awiya, when he refused to swear allegiance to Mu’awiya’s son, Husayn was killed at Karbala in the midst of his family, including Sukayna. It happened on the Day of Ashura (the Day of Atonement), October 10, AD 680. All her life Sukayna harboured feelings of contempt, which she never hesitated to express, for the Umayyad dynasty and its bloody methods. She attacked the dynasty in the mosques and insulted its governors and representatives every time she had the opportunity, even arranging occasions for this purpose.

She made one of her husbands sign a marriage contract that officially specified her right to nushuz, that rebellion against marital control that so tormented the fuqaha. She claimed the right to be nashiz, and paraded it, like her beauty and her talent, to assert the importance and vitality of women in the Arab tradition. Admiring and respectful, the historians delight in evoking her family dramas – for instance, the case that she brought against one of her husbands who had violated the rule of monogamy that she had imposed on him in the marriage contract. Dumbfounded by the conditions in the contract, the judge nevertheless was obliged to hear the case, with his own wife attending this trial of the century and the caliph sending an emissary to keep him au courant with the course of the trial.

Reference: Fatima Mernissi,"The Veil and The Male Elite." (Pg 191-193)




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