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Forgotten Heroines: A Father’s Legacy

The relationship between a father and his daughter is a precious one. Zainab Bint Younus looks at two inspirational fathers and their daughters: ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab and Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq.

    If they had been taught that their voices, their ideas, their actions were worthless, would they ever have become scholars and warriors?



Many men dream of having children as a mark of their legacies and, usually, they think of sons taking on this role; after all, isn’t it male children who continue the father’s name?


This attitude existed and was indeed prevalent amongst the Arabs of the past, just as it is in many cultures today. The era of RasulAllah (SAW) and his companions was no exception. In fact, the Arab society of that time was virulently misogynistic, going to the extreme of killing infant daughters out of shame.


Islam changed this and changed the sahaba as well. In direct contradiction to the social norms of their times, two extremely well-known companions of RasulAllah (SAW) were at the forefront of changing the attitudes regarding women.


Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, the first khalifah of Islam, is known for many things – for his closeness of companionship to RasulAllah (SAW), for his wisdom, for his courage and for his just rule. However, part of his legacy also lay in his children and, while Arabs believed that it was only male children who played any role in continuing their legacies, none of Abu Bakr’s children are better known or remembered than his two daughters: Asmaa’ and ‘A’isha.


Abu Bakr was a unique man – one who not only married a strong woman such as Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays, but also created a home environment that produced not just one incredible woman, but two!


Asmaa’ and ‘A’isha had different mothers, but the same father. Abu Bakr was responsible for not only educating his daughters as much as he was able to, but also for instilling a love for knowledge within them. ‘A’isha is most well-known for her prodigious skills as a scholar, but Asmaa’ was no ignorant woman either. She related a large number of ahadith, which give us a glimpse of her own sharp intelligence.


Abu Bakr’s strong, unwavering personality was also something shared by his daughters; neither of them flinched in the face of hardship or difficulty. Asmaa’ became known very early on as Dhaat an-Nitaaqayn – the woman with two sashes – in reference to her nightly journeys to provide food for her father and RasulAllah (SAW), tearing her cloth belt in two so as to wrap the food in something. She undertook the long and arduous journey every night, even while pregnant!

Abu Bakr was also one of the greatest warriors in the army of RasulAllah (SAW) and his daughters displayed the same keen military skills. Asmaa’ actively took part in the Battle of Yarmuk as well as other military expeditions (she was well known for carrying a dagger on her person at all times) and ensured that her son, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, was educated in the arts of being a warrior.


During the lifetime of RasulAllah (SAW), ‘A’isha was also present on the battlefield and later on, during the infamous fitnah at the time of Ali ibn Abi Talib, commanded her own army during the Battle of the Camel.


Abu Bakr was not alone in his choices regarding how he raised his daughters. Although ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab is often accused of being a misogynist by certain groups of people, the truth is that a look at how he raised his own daughter proves the opposite.


Another Arab belief was that names had power – therefore, naming their children was a serious matter, for it meant that their children would grow into or adopt some of the characteristics of their names.


‘Umar ibn al-Khattab chose to name his daughter “Hafsah” – ‘young lioness’. What does this show? It shows that just as ‘Umar was a strong individual, he wanted his children – his daughter – to be strong. It shows that ‘Umar desired for his daughter what he did for his sons – to be an individual with personal power, to be capable of taking care of herself, able to think for herself and fend for herself if necessary.


Hafsah truly lived up to her name: it is known that amongst the Prophet’s wives Hafsah bint Umar, ‘A’isha bint Abi Bakr and Zaynab bint Jahsh were those with the strongest personalities and were outspoken women who were not intimidated by others.


Hafsah’s personality reflected her father’s in many ways. Not only was she outgoing and outspoken (it is recorded that she would have spirited disagreements and debates with her husband, RasulAllah (SAW)), but she was also wise, had a sharp mind and was amongst the few people during that era who were literate.


Hafsah’s intelligence wasn’t limited to scholarly fields; she also had keen political acumen. When her father, ‘Umar, was on his deathbed, Hafsah went to see her brother Abdullah and informed him, “your father has not yet appointed a successor” She then advised him to speak to ‘Umar on this matter, thus displaying her understanding of the political situation.


Thus, Hafsah proved herself to be well-acquainted with matters of a political as well as an Islamically academic nature.


Kunyas (nicknames) were also an important part of Arab culture and, usually, a man was named after his eldest son – “Abu So-And-So.” Even if he had no sons, he would still include a male name. Yet ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab was known not as “Abu Abdullah” after his famous son, but as “Abu Hafs” in reference to his daughter Hafsah.


How many fathers today would be so proud of their daughters that they would prefer to be known by their daughter’s name than by their son’s?


When so many men today talk about wanting to be like ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, let’s encourage them to do so… by being the types of fathers that ‘Umar and Abu Bakr were to their own daughters.


Fathers are one of the greatest sources of influence over their daughters and have an effect on their development that lasts long into the future. A father’s approval or disapproval will set the tone for a girl’s idea of self-worth and how she chooses to make decisions that confirm this view.


Would Asmaa’, ‘A’isha and Hafsah have been strong, intelligent, pious women who helped weave the very fabric of Islamic history if they were taught from a young age to sit down, shut up and smile silently? If they had been taught that their voices, their ideas, their actions were worthless, would they ever have become scholars and warriors?


It is very likely that they would not have been able to do so. Thus, the effect Abu Bakr and Umar’s influence as fathers was not only a short-term one over their daughters, but one that extended far beyond their lifespans and has lasted until today, over 1400 years later.


How’s that for a father’s legacy?


Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com