Prominent women in the Qur’an
August 05 2021 11:07 PM
Hajj Tent

By Fatima Gailani

In this article I would like to focus on women mentioned in the Qur’an. My intention is not to prove either the superiority or equality of men and women. I will simply try to highlight those women who are included in the Divine verses. The Qur’an is not a history book, rather a book to provide guidance. We can find stories in which women are mentioned either positively or negatively according to the role they played, and above all what is expected from a woman according to the Book.
In the Muslim world millions of newborn girls are named after the noble ladies who are mentioned in the Qur’an. Mothers and wives of the Prophets are the ones who are best known to us. Some of these women are mentioned to illustrate certain qualities. In most cases they are examples of goodness; nevertheless the Prophets’ houses sometimes accommodated such women who were among the first to betray and disobey the Divine Message.
Whenever the Qur’an states these women, it simply narrates the story without mentioning their names. The Book of Allah is not interested in actors, it is the action itself which counts. One could say that Maryam, mother of Jesus, is the only woman who was named in the Qur’an. The names of other women are given to us by commentators of the Qur’an. The stories below are as mentioned in the Qur’an.

SARAH: A Dream Fulfilled
The story of Ibrahim’s wife Sarah occurs several times in the Qur’an although she herself is mentioned only twice in Surah al-Dhariyat (51:24-32) and in Surah Hud (11:69-76).
Angels in human form were going to Lut and his people; on the way they called on Ibrahim and his wife. He took them for human beings and offered them the customary hospitality. He was surprised when the guests did not eat, from which he found out they were Angels. Ibrahim was scared and wondered what was the reason for their visit. Sarah was amused at her husband’s worried face and laughed at him. The Angels turned to her and gave her the good news that she would have a son (Is’haq). She could not believe it and exclaimed:
“Oh, woe to me! Shall I bear a child now that I am an old woman and this husband of mine is an old man? Verily that would be a strange thing indeed.” (11:72)
The Angels told her that nothing was impossible for Allah. In the story Sarah is depicted to have the reaction of an ordinary woman who longed for a child. In spite of being the wife of a Prophet she reacted to the good news very naturally without pretence.

ZULEKHA: Forbidden Love
The story of Yusuf and the wife of the Egyptian noble man is indeed a story of forbidden love. It is about the life of an extraordinarily handsome man who was to become a Prophet. But Allah wanted him to pass the test of temptation. He got through it with such success that it became a lesson to Zulekha and her friends. The story is narrated in Surah Yusuf (12:21-34) in detail.
After Yusuf was dropped in an empty well by his jealous brothers, he was found by some merchants who sold him to a wealthy Egyptian couple. His looks caused the wife, Zulekha, to be attracted to him. She tried to seduce him and he resisted her. He remembered Allah and the kindness of his master. When the noble man entered and saw Yusuf’s tunic torn from his back, he knew whom to blame.
The story shows that the Egyptian society was very permissive, as when women of Zulekha’s society gossiped about the matter she invited them all. She put them into a situation where they themselves were unable to resist temptation.
The story continues with Yusuf in prison for years. At the end Yusuf’s innocence and Zulekha’s love for him reformed her deeply. She confessed her guilt and Yusuf was released.

Five women in a Prophet’s life
In Surah al-Qasas (28:7-13) three women are mentioned in Musa’s story: Musa’s mother, his sister and the wife of Pharaoh, and in Surah Taha (20:38-40) his mother and sister are mentioned. The wife of Pharaoh as an example to believers appears in Surah al-Tahrim (66:11).
For obvious reasons, Musa’s mother was scared for her son’s life; that the Pharaoh who was ruling at that time hated the Israelites and tried to exterminate them. Allah put in her mind to place Musa in a wooden box and let it float on the Nile. It was the will of  Allah that the child was rescued by the people of the Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s wife liked the child and asked Pharaoh to spare his life. That is how Musa’s life started as a future Prophet, in the palace of his enemy. The Qur’an says:
“Musa’s mother felt empty-hearted...” She sent her daughter to ‘keep track of him.’ It was also Allah’s design that Musa should not suckle at any woman’s breast. Miriam, Musa’s sister, who had followed her brother to the palace, came in and suggested:
“Shall I lead you to a family who will look after him for you? They will take good care of him.” (28:12). Musa thus was reunited with his mother when others had no knowledge of their relationship.
After growing up Musa does not feel safe in Egypt, so he goes to Midian. He meets two young girls looking after their flock. They were waiting for others to finish giving water to their animals. The girls looked so helpless that Musa offered them assistance and watered their flock. They returned home and after a while one of them came back walking shyly and said to Musa:
“My father invites you in order to reward you with some sort of payment since you have done the watering (our flocks) for us.” (28:25).
Musa went with the girl to her house and told their father his story. The old man said:
“Do not fear, you have escaped from an evil people.” (28:25).
One of the girls suggested to their father to hire Musa as he was a hardworking and honest man. Musa was thus hired on condition that he would work for eight years and in return one of the girls would be married to him. After the completion of the agreed period, Musa married Safura. (Safura’s name is not mentioned in the Qur’an. It appears in other sources.) Musa then returns with his wife to Egypt.
This story shows that Safura and her sister were hardworking girls and a great help to their old father. Allah wanted Musa not only to stay with them but also to marry one of these remarkable girls. Musa was attracted by the modesty and good manners of the girls. Musa’s loyalty and dedication complemented the family.

BILQIS: A Wise Queen
Bilqis, the Queen of Sheeba, is portrayed in the Qur’an (Surah al-Naml 27:20-44) as a wise and influential and above all a real leader. She ruled her people in a democratic way. She made every decision after consulting her counsellors.
Prophet Soloman (Sulaiman) was told about her power, kingdom and magnificent throne. Yet she and her people were not believers in God and they worshipped the sun. Soloman sent a message to invite her to his kingdom and to the faith. The message was:
“In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Mercy-giving! Do not act haughtily towards me and come to me committed to (live in) peace.” (27:30-31).
She called her advisers and officers and told them about the message. The officers suggested a military action and said:
“We possess strength and can be extremely violent, while command rests with you; so consider whatever you will command.” (27:33).
Bilqis’s reply was very wise. She said that if Soloman was just a king we would satisfy him with gifts. But if he was a Prophet, as he claims, then we would have to deal with him with great caution. Soloman categorically refused her gifts and Bilqis realised that she had to go to his kingdom.
They met, and she entered the faith. The story of the Qur’an ends here, but the traditions tell us that she married Soloman. The image of the Queen of Sheeba in the Qur’an is one of a woman whose talented personality and diplomacy do not let her underestimate reality, and a leader who is cautious and will not put her people in a helpless situation.

MARYAM: The Virgin Mother
Maryam is the only woman who has been mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Her mother’s story before her birth (Surah al-Imran - 3:35-37) and indeed her own story (Surah al-Imran - 3:37-50; Surah Maryam - 19:16-33) are among the most moving ones in the Qur’an. Maryam was very special and chosen child from the very beginning. Her mother was the wife of a person called Imran. She made a vow that her first born child would be devoted to God and His service. When Maryam was born her mother was disappointed and said to Allah:
“O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female.” (3:36)
Allah said to her:
“Allah had been fully aware of what she should give birth to, and that the male is not as the female.” (3:36)
So Maryam was brought up under Allah’s care and protection. She grew up into one of the most important personality devoted to Allah. It was she who was chosen to be the mother of the Spirit from God. When she reached maturity an angel came to her to give her the following news:
“I am only your God’s messenger sent to bestow a pure son to you.”
She said:
“How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, nor am I unchaste?” (19:20)
He replied:
“Thus your Lord has said: It is a simple matter for Me (Allah) to do. We will make him a sign for mankind and a mercy from Us (Allah). It is a matter which has been decreed.” (19:21)
When she gave birth to her son she took him to her people. They rejected her till Jesus talked to them from the cradle:
“I am a slave of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a Prophet.” (19:30)
Maryam is not only the one whose name is mentioned in the Qur’an but also the only woman to whom Allah sent Angels. She was declared as a woman above all the women in the world. She is a symbol of innocence, purity, devotion and total submission.

Traitors in the House
Women who are mentioned in the Qur’an as examples of treachery and evil doings are only three: Nuh’s wife, Lut’s wife and the wife of Abu Lahab.
Their stories are the opposite of the story of Pharaoh’s wife. Esia, Pharaoh’s wife, was a believer under an arrogant and unjust husband. His power did not influence her, nor could his tyranny cut her off from good actions. On the other hand, the wives of Nuh and Lut remained in darkness despite living with Allah’s Prophets. They could not see the light of faith and missed the right path. They betrayed their husbands and they shall be doomed:
“For those who are bent on denying the truth God has propounded a parable in (the stories of) Nuh’s wife and Lut’s wife; they were wedded to two of our righteous servants and each one betrayed her husband, and neither of the two (husbands) will be of any avail to these two women when they are told (on the Day of Judgment): ‘Enter the fire with all those who enter it’.” (66:10)
As far as Abu Lahab’s wife is concerned she would just match her devious husband. We know about her story in much more detail as she lived in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). In the Qur’an she has been described hammalat al-hatab or the carrier of the thorny wood. Whatever her title was she is one of the most troublesome person mentioned in the Qur’an.
Other women of the time of the Prophet are not mentioned directly but they have been referred to in few places. They are: ‘Aisha (Surah al-Nur 24:11-26); Zaynab (Surah al-Ahzab 33:37-39); Hafsa (Surah al-Tahrim 66:1-5) all three wives of the Prophet; and Khawla bint Tha’laba whose prayer was answered by Allah (Surah al-Mujadila 58:1-5).
Detailed stories of these women can be found in books of Hadith and Tafseer. These stories represent certain values and characteristics, which should be emulated and some bad which should be avoided. These characters whether men or women are there as a lesson to be learnt and examples to be followed or avoided.
“And out of all the accounts relating to the apostles We convey unto thee that wherewith We make firm thy heart. For through these accounts comes the truth unto thee as well as admonition and a reminder unto all believers.” (11:120)

Knowledge is the foundation of true fear
Fear is the sensation that results from the anticipation of an expected harm; it is also felt when a person loses, or expects to lose something he cherishes. It is the exact opposite of security and can be applied to worldly matters as well as those of the Hereafter. Fear is a state of disturbance of the heart from an evil or harm that may befall a person, or, it can be the sensation it feels when missing out on something that is beloved to it.
Imam Ibn Qudamah, may Allah have mercy upon him, said: “Fear is no more than the pain and burning that one finds in his heart due to an expected harm; it is like the example of one who committed a crime and was subsequently caught; such a person will fear being sentenced to death, and the pain which his heart will suffer is dependent on how certain he is that he will (or will not) be sentenced, depending on the severity of his crime … sometimes one fears the ruler due to the power of the latter. Thus, when one realises the power of Allah and knows that if Allah wished to destroy all His creation it would not affect Him, nor could anyone stop Him from doing so, and therefore, one would fear Allah to the extent of the sins that he has committed. This is the fear of warning.”
There is a certain type of fear that is experienced only by the knowledgeable, and it is called Khashyah in Arabic, as Allah The Almighty Says (which means): “…Only those among His servants fear Allah who have knowledge…” (Qur’an, 35:28)
This is fear that is based on knowledge. Ordinary believers experience a general fear of Allah The Almighty whilst Khashyah is only experienced by the devout believers and the scholars from among them; the more knowledge one has regarding Allah The Almighty, the more he will fear Him. When one fears a person who may or may not apprehend him then this is an ordinary fear, whereas if he is absolutely sure that this person can seize him and inflict harm upon him, then it is Khashyah.
Fear, with its various different meanings, is mentioned in many places in the Qur’an, and its causes are varied:
Fear of being killed or defeated; Allah The Almighty Says (what means): “And when there comes to them something [i.e., information] about [public] security or fear…” (Qur’an, 4:83)
Fear during war and hostility; Allah The Almighty Says (what means): “… And when fear comes, you see them looking at you, their eyes revolving like one being overcome by death. But when fear departs, they lash you with sharp tongues…” (Qur’an, 33: 19) ‘Fear’ in this verse refers to war.
Fear resulting from knowledge, as Allah The Almighty Says (which means): {“But if one fears from the bequeather [some] error…”} (Qur’an, 2 :182)
Allah The Almighty also Says (what means): “…Unless both fear that they will not be able to keep [within] the limits of Allah…” (Qur’an, 2: 229) ‘Fear’ in this verse is due to one’s knowledge.
Fear due to decrease in numbers, as Allah The Almighty Says (what means): “Or that He would not seize them gradually [in a state of dread].” (Qur’an, 16: 47) This is the fear that people feel regarding a decrease in their numbers, which would be the result of them being killed, or facing death in any other way.
Fear of punishment, as Allah The Almighty Says (what means): “…They [i.e., the believers] supplicate their Lord in fear…” (Qur’an, 32:16)
Imam Ibn Qudamah, may Allah have mercy upon him, said: “Know that fear is the whip by which Allah controls His slaves so that they may continue exerting effort in order to come close to their Lord; fear is the light which illuminates the heart and enables it to distinguish good from evil.” When a person fears another, he will attempt to flee from him, and this is the case for everyone except Allah; one escapes from Him by fleeing to Him.
Fear does not depart from one’s heart except that it causes its ruin, because when fear is present in one’s heart, it burns all desires and expels the pleasures of this life from it. Fear causes a person to wake up from his heedlessness and puts him back on the right path after he has diverted from it. Being fearful is not an objective in itself, meaning, we do not feel fear due to any contentment that comes with being afraid, but rather, it should be a means to rectify our condition.

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How do you face good and bad times?
The more one ponders over the apparent and hidden favours from Allah The Almighty upon him, the more he will realise that his Lord has granted him abundant blessings and protected him from a number of evils; this will certainly remove grief and anxiety and bring happiness and contentment. Thus, take heed of the advice of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, when he said: “Look to those who are lower than you (i.e., those who possess less than you) and do not look to those higher than you; this will make you appreciate the bounties of Allah upon you.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Such people get the support and assistance of Allah The Almighty which makes fear vanish, as Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {“Be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are the patient.”} [Qur’an 8: 46]
The virtuous and the sinful, and the believer and the disbeliever are the same when it comes to conditioning oneself to becoming brave, which is the natural ability to calm oneself during moments of terror. Due to the believer’s strong faith, perseverance and reliance on Allah The Almighty, he emerges stronger than others in difficult situations and this reduces his fear and anxiety and ultimately makes matters easy for him. As Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {“And don’t be weak in the pursuit of the enemy; if you are suffering (hardships) then surely, they (too) are suffering (hardships) as you are suffering, but you have a hope from Allah (for the reward, i.e. Paradise) that for which they hope not}.” [Qur’an, 4: 104]
However, the one who is devoid of strong faith will be the opposite; he becomes anxious, nervous, confused and full of fear; indeed his anxiety and paranoia team up against him. If this type of person does not possess the worldly means to tackle his fear and affliction, then he will collapse because he does not possess the faith which would enable him to persevere during tough times.
Another example of this is when certain frightening or disturbing events occur, such as emergencies or accidents. One finds that a person with sound faith is calm, steadfast, and able to cope with the situation and handle the hardship he is going through; such a person has conditioned himself to receiving such afflictions and this makes his heart stronger and more steadfast, which gives him tranquillity.
These examples show the great difference between a person who has strong belief and acts accordingly, and another who is not at this level of faith. Due to the strong belief of the true believer and his contentment with whatever Allah The Almighty has decreed, if he is afflicted with sickness, poverty or any other affliction, he is tranquil and content and has no desire for anything which has not been decreed for him. Instead, he looks at those less fortunate than him rather than those who are more fortunate and by doing so he becomes happier, even more than one who is discontent despite possessing all the riches of this world.
Many people receive affliction with fear, discontent, sorrow and despair; their life becomes miserable, they panic and become short tempered. Such a person fails to think about the reward that he should be hoping for, nor does he exercise patience that would bring about contentment and thus make life easier for him.
There can be several reasons for this state of mind: the fear of losing the things one desires and cherishes or the greed to acquire more of the same, because man will never reach a point where he is fully satisfied in life.
Different people can have completely different reactions when something good or bad befalls them, and their reactions depend on the strength of their belief and the extent of their righteous actions. One person may receive goodness with gratitude and evil with perseverance, which brings him peace of mind and happiness, causing his grief, anxiety and misery to disappear. Thus, this becomes a cause of positivity in his life. The second person receives goodness with arrogance and transgression; his manners degenerate and become evil; he receives this goodness and utilises it in an unthinking manner; it does not give him any peace of mind and his mind is always restless and agitated.
The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “How wonderful is the affair of the believer! All of his affairs are good and this is the case for nobody except a believer. If he is blessed with prosperity he thanks (Allah) and that is good for him; and if he is afflicted with adversity he perseveres and that is also good for him.” [Muslim]

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