I will always remember the first time I truly felt heir to a great legacy as a Muslim woman. It was upon reading the biographies of different sahabiyaat in the book, ‘The Ideal Muslimah’. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Prior to this, I had been feeling a sense of malaise, of discontent with what I saw as limited opportunities for growth within my community. I had begun to feel stifled by what I saw as the one-dimensional image of the ‘true Muslim woman’. Who was she, I asked myself, this cardboard cut-out, this patriarchal fantasy, this cookie cutter Muslimah that I was supposed to be emulating? Why were her options so limited? Why were her horizons so narrow? And why did I feel claustrophobic when I contemplated a life spent trying to live up to her cloistered image?
This was not the kind of question that one voiced at the time. Instead, I bit my tongue and sought guidance in Islamic books – maybe the fault was in me and not the stereotype. In an effort to hone my character and quell any signs of rebellion, I began to read the popular book entitled ‘The Ideal Muslimah’.
As I began reading through it, I found myself somewhat pacified: I enjoyed the author’s way of focusing on a woman’s relationship with Allah SWT before anything else, and I appreciated his recognition of the fact that, first and foremost, a Muslim woman is a slave of Allah SWT. Everything else follows on from that – the roles of daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend are, in essence, extensions of our worship of our Creator.
But if the reminder of the importance of my primary purpose was comforting, the author’s inclusion of several stories about the female companions of the Prophet Muhammad SAW was nothing less than inspirational and revelatory to me.
Here were women, real women, not cut-outs or caricatures, embodying their Islam in a myriad of different ways: they were wives and mothers, of course, but they were also scholars and martyrs, warriors and poets, philanthropists and teachers. I was humbled by the story of Khadijah RA’s unwavering loyalty and courage, of Sumayyah RA’s bravery, of Nusaybah RA’s exploits on the battlefield. These women were heroes, in the traditional sense of the word!
I can’t begin to tell you how much those stories affected me: I was moved, I was awed – I was inspired. Reading about our predecessors left me confident of a woman’s place in the Ummah and her value in the eyes of Allah SWT. The stories of these complex and fascinating women left an indelible impression on me, one I carry with me to this day. The thought that occurred to me then is still pertinent today: our predecessors were truly liberated by their Islam. Their strength and courage was not in spite of the deen, but because of it, because of the tawheed, because of their belief in the message and the Messenger SAW.
So, in the spirit of our new ‘I’m inspired by…’ feature, allow me to say this:
I am inspired by the legacy of the amazing women who went before me, charting an unmapped course, leaving a legacy for us to follow. Khadijah (RA), Sumayyah (RA), A’ishah (RA), Fatima (RA), Asiya (RA) and Maryam (AS) and so many more – I salute you.
I am inspired by my mother and my mother’s mother, by generations of women who stayed strong even when the future looked bleak; women who kept their smiles and their sanity and lived their lives with heads unbowed by oppression or discrimination. My mothers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Nigeria, Palestine, Egypt, Syria – I salute you.
I am inspired by my amazing editors, past and present, our awesome designers, our wonderful writers and, of course, our beloved readers whose support and words of encouragement inspire us to keep going when times are hard and the workload seems too heavy to bear – I salute you all.