Fatima Az-zahra' the Sublime Among All Women
NAME, TITLES AND PARENTAGE
Her name is Fatima (as) and her most popular title is AZ-ZAHRA' (The Lady of Light). She was given many other titles the most popular of which are: SAYYIDATU NISA' AL-ALAMIN (Mistress of Womankind), KHATUN AL-JANNAH (Lady of Paradise), KHATUN AL-QIYAMA (Lady of the Day of Judgment), MA'SUMAT AL-ALAM (The Infallible Lady of the World), SIDDIQA (Truthful), TAHIRA (Purified). She was the only daughter of the Prophet form KHADIJA and it was her son Imam HUSAIN (AS) who perpetuated the Cause of Islam, and we can say without any hesitation that she provided the mainstay to support the mission of her illustrious father.
There is a difference of opinion regarding the dates of her birth and death. Some historians say that was born in the 5th year before Prophet-hood, while other biographers place it five years earlier. Based on AHL AL-BAYT references, one can safely say that she was born on the 20th of JUMADA AL-AKHIR in the fifth year of Prophet-hood (615 A.D.) or the 8th year before the HIJRA.
INSTRUCITON AND STATUS
Up to the age of five, she enjoyed the love and teaching of both parents. Then she was deprived of her mother's love and was looked after by her affectionate father, the Prophet of mercy. Aged ladies of the household, that is, Fatima daughter of ASAD, SAFIYYA daughter of 'ABD AL-MUTTALIB (the Prophet's aunt), and UMMU SALAMA was requested to tutor the child Fatima (as), the wise woman replied: "How can I tutor one who is the personification of high virtues and purity? It is I who should learn from her!" Her childhood, therefore, was passed in a very chaste and modest environment. Both Imam AHMED IBN HANBAL and AT-TABARI quote the Messenger of God (p) saying to his daughter Fatima (as): "I and you, and these two (i.e. Imam HASAN and Imam HUSAIN, (as), and this sleeping man (i.e. Imam Ali (as)) shall be in the same place on the Day of Resurrection". P. 219, vol. 2, of KANZ AL-'UMMAL quotes the Messenger of God (P.B.U.H.) saying that she was named Fatima (as) because God protected her and those who cherish her from Hellfire. 'A'ISHA is quoted on p. 319, vol. 2, of TIRMIDHI'S SAHIH saying: "I have never seen anyone who was so similar to the Messenger of God in his dignity and guidance, whether sitting or standing, more than Fatima daughter of the Messenger of God".
It was then that she saw her revered father preaching Islam in an un-conducive atmosphere. The hostility of the infidels and the death of ABU TALIB and KHADIJA were the shocks that broke the heart of the Prophet (p) Fatima (as) sometimes saw and dressed the wounds sustained by her father due to the stones flung at him by hostile infidels. She might have heard that certain wretches hurled rubbish on her noble father. She might also have learnt of the plans made to put an end to his life. But from all these things, Fatima (as) was neither frightened nor disheartened. She comforted her father even at that tender age, so much so that he gave her the title of "UMMU ABIHA", mother of her own father. She was dismayed at seeing the whole world around her hostile to her father, bent upon ending his life. The entire family was blanketed with clouds of sorrowful grief as a result of the almost daily humiliation and mockery to which her most revered father was subjected.
When the Migration took place, Fatima (as) was left under the care of Fatima daughter of ASAD. It was a horrible test for the girl of eight to see a group of blood-thirsty enemies surrounding the house with drawn swords. The departure of the loving father whose life was at stake was no less shocking, but Fatima (as) went successfully through this ordeal by virtue of God-gifted courage and fortitude.
It was after one year's stay at Medina that Fatima (as) came of age. The Prophet loved and esteemed her a great deal, so much so that whenever she came to him, he respectfully stood up for her. Many dignitaries, including some companions of the Prophet, sought the honor of marrying her, and some made their request formally, but the Prophet rejected all of them saying that he awaited God's Decree in that matter.
Fatima (as) was the model of the Prophet's teaching among women just as Imam Ali (as) was the best embodiment of his instructions and manly qualities among men. Judged from this point of view, they were the most suitable couple. But Imam Ali (as) was too modest to speak on this subject; therefore, some individuals encouraged him to make the formal request. Some historians say that she was nine, others say she was eleven, when her cousin Imam Ali (as) finally proposed to marry her. Her holy father said to her upon that occasion: "Ali has sought your hand for marriage. You are perfectly aware of his kinship to you and devotion to Islam. I have sought the permission from the Almighty God to give you in wedlock to Ali. Tell me if you approve of the same". Out of modesty, Fatima (as) kept silent. The holy Prophet said: "God is great! Her signifies her approval!" The Prophet asked Imam Ali (as) if he had some property of his own. The youth explained that he possessed a horse, a sword and armor. The Messenger said: "The sword and the horse are indispensable for a warrior like you, but the armor is superfluous; so go and sell it".
Historians say that the armor was sold for 480 silver DIRHAMS which he presented as his bride's MAHR (dower). The Prophet arranged his daughter's matrimony. The Messenger of God told ANAS IBN MALIK to invite a group of SAHABA (companions) including ABU BAKR, UMER IBN AL-KATTAB, UTHMAN IBN AFFAN, 'ABD AR-RAHMAN IBN AWF, SA'D IBN ABU WAQQAS, TALHA, AZ-ZUBAIR IBN ABD AL-MUTTALIB, and some men of the ANSARS. ANAS says: "When they all came and were seated, while Ali was absent on an errand for the Prophet, the Prophet said: 'All praise belongs to God Who is praised through the bounties He bestows, worshipped due to His Might, obeyed due to His Authority, Whose torment and Might are feared, Whose command is obeyed in heavens as on earth, Who created everything by His own Might. He distinguished them through His commandments, dignified them through His religion, was generous unto them through His Prophet Muhammad. God, praised is His Name, Sublime is His Might, has made marriage the means towards maintaining a family line, and a matter whereby He enjoined to link the relations and He made it an obligation on His servants, saying: He it is Who created man from (congealed) water then He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things) (QUR'AN, 25:54).
God's commandment leads to its implementation, and its implementation is His commandment, and for each there is timing, and for each timing there is a record. God obliterates what He wishes and fixes what He desires, and He has the Mother of the Book. God has commanded me to marry Fatima daughter of KHADIJA to ALI IBN ABU TALIB…' Then he ordered a platter of unripe dates to be brought to him of which we ate, and while we were eating, Imam Ali (as) entered, whereupon the Prophet smiled in his face and said: 'God has commanded me to marry you to Fatima for (the dower of) four hundred (or five hundred according to other traditions) ounces of silver if you agree'. He said: 'I agreed to that, O Messenger of God!".
ANAS continued his tale by quoting the Prophet praying thus for the newly weds: "May God safeguard your tie and make happiness the reward of your toil and bless you both and bring about out of both of you a great deal of good". ANAS comments, as AT-TABARI quotes him on p. 30-31 of his History, saying, "By God, a great deal of good did indeed come out of them both". A traditionalist stated that God Almighty had granted a great portion of his universe river water as the MAHR of Fatima (as). In view of the spiritual excellences of the Messenger's daughter, this saying cannot be dismissed altogether, but the implication of the amount of silver stated above is that Muslims should not fix fabulously large amounts as their daughter's MAHR or consider the MAHR to be the scale of respect for and admiration of the brides. The meager weight of silver was to change the mentality of pride-indulging fathers. If Muslims keep the details of this marriage in view, they will never ruin their financial position by indulging extravagant customs at the marriage of their children.
Fatima (as) lived only nine years after her marriage. In the second year, she gave birth to IMAM HASAN, and in the year after she gave birth to IMAM HUSAIN (as). Probably in the fifth year, her daughter ZAINAB was born, and in the seventh year, her daughter UMMU KULTHUM was born. The above-named sons later became the Imams of the Muslim community. Her daughter ZAINAB and UMMU KULTHUM proved to be the facsimiles of their noble mother.
CHARACTER AND VIRTUES
In form and features, in courage and eloquence of speech, Fatima (as) was the true copy of her holy father. Especially in truth and trust, she was an exact model of the great sire. During the brief span of her life, she left visible marks of her noble conduct that will serve as a model to lead women forever towards a sense of duty, patience, obedience and chastity. Her husband, upon being asked to describe her after she had already left this world, said, with tears in his eyes, "She was a fragrant flower of Paradise. Her fragrance perfumed my mind even after she herself had withered".
After her marriage, she did all household work in person. Sweeping the floor, cooking, wheel-spinning, flour-grinding, raising and educating the children, in addition to many other household chores, were all carried out by Fatima (as) single-handedly. She neither complained of the overwhelming rush of work, nor did she request her husband Imam Ali (as) to get her a helper. Once she asked her father if she could have a maid. The Prophet instead of acceding to her request gave her a moral counsel. He taught her a special prayer through the use of rosary beads which is still called "TASBIH AZ-ZAHRA". It consists of thanksgiving and calling upon the Glory of God the Great. Fatima (as) was so content with this celestial instruction that she gave up her desire for a helping hand.
It was her habit to be the last to take a meal, waiting till her husband and children were through. Her revered husband asked her one day for something to eat. She lowered her head with silence. He left. Coming back home, he found her busy in prayers and prostrations to God, invoking His mercy. She was not mindful of hunger but of adoration to the Almighty. On a similar occasion, the Imam expressed his surprise at not knowing the state of affairs in the house. Lowering her head, she said: "My revered father had bidden me on his departure (from this world) not to embarrass you by making any demand on you. It is for this reason that I was careful not to upset you on account of any household need".
Later, when Islam brought a measure of prosperity to the Prophet, he granted her a maid named FEDDA whom she always treated as a companion, never degrading her. Islam certainly requires a woman to take equal part with her husband in the struggle of life. But due to differences in physique, their duties are different. This division of work was so nicely demonstrated to the world by Imam (as) and Fatima (as). All the outdoor functions. Fetching water, watering the gardens and earning a living for his family by the sweat of his brow, fell to the lot of Imam Ali (as) who never hesitated to even assist his wife in some of her household chores. All indoor duties were performed by Fatima (as). In most countries, this division of work is still followed. Requirements of time may change this practice to some extent, but the spirit and motives that make the difference between indoor and outdoor duties should always be taken into consideration.
INDIFFERENCE TO ADORNMENT
It is only natural that women are inclined towards ornamentation and adornment. This creates anxiety for men who cannot afford it and spoils the balance of income and expenditure, sometimes resulting in financial and psychological problems. Fatima (as) always desisted from this, making her life a model for the women of poor families. She never allowed elaboration or adornment in dress or household articles because this was the instruction of her father the holy Prophet (p). Some traditions even that once she had somehow managed to acquire two silver bracelets, one necklace, a pair of ear-rings and a new door curtain. When the Prophet came to visit her, his meaningful silence was sufficient to instruct the pious daughter to accordingly give away all these things as an act of charity. When the Prophet came to know of it, he was so pleased that he exclaimed three times in joy: "May her father be sacrificed for her! She did exactly what I wished!". And undoubtedly it was only this high-minded daughter of the greatest teacher of humanity who could give a practical shape to her father's exalted teachings and bring high moral excellence to its climax.
SELFLESSNESS IN WORSHIP AND PRAYER
She was a devoted worshipper of God and indeed she set a noble example for humanity in this matter. Worshipping is a negotiation between man and the Creator. Some people can sacrifice their wealth and even their hard-earned bread for others; as regards their worship, they are more or less "selfish"; they do it for their own good. But the Prophet's Progeny were the exception. Whenever they stood humbly before the Almighty for prayers, they bore compassionate feelings for His creatures in their hearts. According to Imam HASAN (as), Fatima (as) once spent a whole night praying. At the end of the night, she prayed for God's mercy for the believers, imploring nothing for her self. When Imam HASAN made a mention of that to her, she said; "The neighbors must take preference", meaning that a noble person should seek the welfare of others, negating his own personal interests for their sake.
Fatima (as), the chief of the ladies, put a great deal of emphasis on PURDAH, or veiling both by her conduct and word of mouth. In those days, some ladies took part in congregational prayers in the mornings, standing behind the last row of men and leaving the mosque immediately before the men did. Fatima's house adjoined the Prophet's Mosque but she never took part in those prayers or in the sermons delivered by her revered father. She, rather, managed to hear the contents of those sermons through her son Imam HASAN when he came back home. Once the Prophet, while on the pulpit, asked the audience as to what could be the best thing for a woman. When Fatima (as) was informed of this, she simply uttered: "The best thing for woman is that she neither views a stranger, nor is she viewed by him". When these words reached the Prophet, he proudly remarked; "Naturally, quite correct; she is, after all, a part of my own being".
SERVICES TO ISLAM
In Islamic teachings, women's sphere of work is quite different from that of men. Women are not required to take a combative part in JIHAD. Reliable historians say that Fatima (as) never went to a battlefield. But indirectly she contributed to it as much as she could. For example, when the Messenger of God came back home after being injured during the battle of UHUD, she washed his face and dressed his wounds. When Imam Ali (as) came back home from the same battle, holding his victorious weapon, he exultingly said: "Take this sword; it has exceeded all the limits of faithfulness today". The Prophet also remarked: "Yes, Fatima! Take the saber from his hand. Your husband discharged his duty at the most critical moment. And it is his sword which put to death the prominent chiefs of the infidels". Fatima (as) heard all this with calm modesty and took the sword. She left exalted, thinking that her faithful husband hand fulfilled all the requirements of JIHAD because her personal contribution to the religious battles was only that which she made within the four walls of her home. Undoubtedly she had once gone out in a peaceful expostulation known as the MUBAHALA, but she was completely veiled in her long garb and was accompanied by her husband, father, and children. The details of this event are as follows: A delegation of Christian scholars and spirituals of Yemen came to Medina to argue with the Prophet about the truthfulness of Islam. The discussions with the m continued for several days, and though all points of argument were completely covered, they were not prepared to acknowledge the supremacy of Islam. At this juncture, the following verse was revealed to the Messenger:
"but whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say to them: "Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and you women, and our (dearest) souls and your (dearest) souls. Then let us pray earnestly to God, calling His curse upon the liars". (QUR'AN, 3:60).
The Christian deputation accepted this challenge. On DHU AL-HIJJAH 24, 10 A.H. (March 22, 632 A.D) the two parties appeared in a plain outside Medina. From one direction came those spiritual leaders of NAJRAN, Yemen, who were the elite among Yemen's clergy, and from the other came the messenger f Allah and his sacred progeny, graceful and dignified. The Prophet was foremost, bearing Imam HUSAIN (as) on his arm while Imam HASAN was holding him by the finger. Behind them was Fatima (as) followed by her husband Imam Ali (as). When the Christian spirituals saw the angelic faces of this assembly, they were struck with grave awe. Fearing the certain and unsparing curse of God in case of a spiritual contest, they gave in and made a treaty on reasonable conditions. The event shows that if once or twice Fatima (as) came out of her house, she was thoroughly veiled, and it was just to carry out the order of God and His Messenger.
THE PROPHET'S TREATMENT
It was due to the heavenly virtues of Fatima (as) that the Prophet was extremely affectionate to her. He also respected her in a degree never shown by any other sage. One of the demonstrations of his love for her was that whenever he proceeded to battle, he bade her farewell the last of all; and when he returned, she was the first he would visit. As regards respect, he stood up to receive her whenever she came into his presence and seated her in his own place, an honor never shown to anyone else by the Prophet.
The traditions of the Prophet, affirming her virtues are so numerous that with the exception of Imam Ali (as), none can vie with her. Many of them are undisputed, equally acknowledged by all Muslim scholars. Among such traditions are:
- Fatima is the chief of all the women of Paradise.
- Fatima is the chief of all the women of the worlds.
- God is pleased with whomsoever she is pleased.
- Whoever harms Fatima is as though he harms God.
Even her name, which means "redeemer", indicates that God will free from sins a multitude that emulates Fatima (as). Countless traditions like these are recorded in books of tradition.
ON THE PROPHET'S DEATH
In the beginning of the 11th year A.H. (May 632 A.D.), her affectionate and revered father passed into Mercy of God. The shock was so devastating that she lived for only a few months after that sad event. During those days none saw her smile or heard her laugh.
It is the most heart-rending fact that the same lady whom the Prophet always stood to receive, began to feel that the world-seeking opportunists had deserted her. Her accomplished husband Imam Ali (as) was deprived of the caliphate which was vested upon him by the Prophet. That was sad enough, but still sadder was the fact that those who snatched if from him asked him to pay them homage and endorse their regime. They even subjected him to oppression and at one time tried to set his house on fire, but they did not. According to some reports, Fatima's rib was fractured as she hid behind the door which was forced open by the intruders. Imam Ali (as) refused to swear allegiance to them in spite of their pressure as long as Fatima (as) was alive. It was only after her death that Imam Ali (as) felt compelled, in order to safeguard the unity of the Muslim nation, to do so. All these affairs pressed so heavily on her noble heart that she could not bear it and consequently died. The seriousness of these calamities can be sensed in a couplet she composed which roughly says:
Calamities befell me that would turn the most bright Of daylight into the pitch of the darkest night
The physical and spiritual shocks which distressed her were intensified by the confiscation by both ABU BAKR and UMER IBN AL-KHATTAB of the land of FADAK left for her by her father the Prophet as inheritance. It meant depriving her of a supplementary source of livelihood which was badly needed in addition to its sentimental value. Still heavier pressed on her heart the fact that when she asked ABU BARK, the ruling caliph then, why he deprived her of her father's inheritance, he told her that he had heard the Messenger of God say that prophets do not leave inheritance. In vain did Fatima (as) try to convince ABU BAKR that he misunderstood her father's statement which meant that Prophet-hood is not a matter of inheritance, that the sons of Prophets are not necessarily prophets too. She reminded him of the references in the holy QUR'AN to SULAYMAN (Solomon) being DAWUD'S (David's) heir (holy QUR'AN, SURAT AN-NAML, verse 16),
and the inheritance for which ZAKARIYYA had prayed (holy QUR'AN, SURAT MARYAM, verses 6 and 7). Indeed, what the Prophet had meant was simply that Prophets are not supposed to hoard silver and gold in order to leave it as inheritance for their descendants after them as is the practice of monarchs and those who love this vanishing world. She felt deeply disappointed and never forgot it till the last moment of her life. Fatima's children felt the same way, and they kept trying to get FADAK back and finally succeeded at the hands of the just ruler the UMAYYAD caliph UMER IBN ABD AL-AZIZ. FADAK at that time was an agricultural village situated near KHAYBER in the outskirts of Medina. The Prophet (p) had made peace with its residents in exchange for half of its crops, and it was the property of the Prophet (p) which God permitted him to have without having to fight or wage a war for it. According to ABU SA'ID AL-KHUDRI, when the verse "and grant the near in kin his right" (QUR'AN, 17:26) was revealed, the Messenger of God (p) called Fatima (as) and granted her FADAK. This is recorded on p. 136, vol. 3, of FADA'IL AL-KHAMSA IF AS-SIHAH AS-SITTA (virtues of the five persons in the six SAHIH books), in AL-HAKIM'S TARIKH, in IBN AN-NAJJAR, and it is also recorded on p. 158, vol. 2, of KANZ AL-'UMMAL by AL-MUTTAQI AL-HINDI.
Fatima (as) died while still quite young due to being profoundly disappointed with how things went in the world of Islam immediately after the death of her father the Messenger of God. Prior to her death, she made a most moving dialogue with her husband IMAM ALI IBN ABU TALIB (AS) which is recorded in several books of history and quoted by HASAN AL-AMIN in his Encyclopedia. In it, Fatima (as) said: "Cousin! My first will is that you marry after me my niece 'UMAMA (daughter of her sister ZAINAB, after whom she named her own daughter ZAINAB), for she will treat my children just as I have, fro women are a necessity to men, not a commodity".
Who is this ZAINAB? According to HASAN AL-AMIN, who quotes prominent historians of Islam, ZAINAB was daughter of KHADIJA BINT KHUWAILED (the Prophet's first wife) by her former husband whose biography seems to have slipped the attention of historians. Before the Prophet had received the first revelation, ZAINAB was married to her cousin ABU AL-'AAS IBN AL-RABI' IBN ABD AL-UZZA IBN ABD SHAMS. ZAINAB believed in Muhammad immediately after her mother KHADIJA did, while her husband remained polytheist. ZAINAB'S only offspring were Ali, who died young, and UMAMA, whom Imam Ali (as) married in deference of his wife's will. Fatima (as) emphasized the importance of veiling even in the last days of her illness. One day when she seemed to be very upset, her aunt ASMA' daughter of UMAYS (the widow of JA'FAR AT-TAYYAR) asked her for the reason. She said she did not like the custom of carrying a dead woman on a plank which discloses her size and physique. ASMA' said she had seen in ABYSSINIA a better method. She made for her a semblance of the covered plank or coffin in which a woman's body was carried in that country. Fatima (as) was glad to know it and smiled for the first time since her father had died. She indicated in her will that her corpse should be carried in such a manner. Historians record that it was the first corpse should be carried away in that way. She also indicated that her corpse should be carried away at night, and that those persons whose behavior had wounded her heart and with whom she was extremely displeased when she died should not be allowed to accompany it.
Realizing that her end was coming near, she asked her husband to arrange for her last (pre-burial) bath. Having bathed, she put on neat clothes, applied perfume and asked her husband to give her the funeral bathe without removing those clothes (see HILYAT AL-AWLIYA'. Part II. P. 43). After she had left this vanishing world to the eternal one, her husband did as she had requested him, using seven pieces of cloth as her shroud and applying whatever remained of the holy Prophet's camphor to perfume her with. Those present at the time of the ceremonial funeral bath were ASMA' daughter of UMAYS, both of her sons, her daughter ZAINAB and UMMU KULTHUM, and her maid FEDDA. When the news of Fatima's death became known in the city, a large number of the faithful gathered outside Imam Ali's house awaiting the funeral, but Imam Ali (as) sent them both SALMAN AL-FARISI and ABU DHARR AL-GHIFARI to ask them to disperse, for Fatima (as), in her last will and testimony, emphatically expressed her desire that she must not be buried in public or be mourned by the crowds as customary. The funeral prayers therefore were conducted by Imam Ali (as) with five TAKBIRS. He buried her at midnight, obliterating thereafter all the signs of her grave and leveling the ground, just as she had requested in her will.
At the time of the funeral prayers, none was present besides Imam Ali (as) except both his sons, AMMAR IBN YASIR, AL-MIQDAD IBN AL-ASWAD AL-KINDI, AQIL IBN ABU TALIB, AZ-ZUBAYR IBN ABD AL-MUTTALIB, ABU DHARR AL-GHIFARI, SALMAN AL-FARISI, BURAIDAH, and a few members of the clan of BANU HASHIM. Her will also indicated that her grave should not be visited by anyone with whom she was displeased during her lifetime. Finishing the burial, the bereaved Imam stood up, turned his face towards the holy Prophet's sepulcher and said:
"O Messenger of God! I offer salutations to you on my own behalf and on your daughter's. She has come to be your neighbor. She will be resting in your vicinity under the dust. The Almighty God has arranged a quick reunion between you both. O Messenger of God! I have lost patience because of separation from your beloved daughter. I put up with the shock of being separated from you. I repeat the same attitude now with this new separation. I laid you to sleep in your grave. The separation of your soul from your body came about when your body was resting between my chest and neck. The command of the holy QUR'AN suffices me: "Verily we are God's, and verily unto Him is our return".
It was on JUMADA AL-AKHIR 3, 11 A.H. (August 26, 632 A.D.), three months after her father's death, that this most noble lady passed into the Mercy of God. She was buried in the graveyard of JANNAT AL-BAQI'. Her tomb, built later, was razed to the ground along with other tombs of the Prophet's family by the WAHHABI monarch of SAUDI ARABIA the bigoted IBN SA'UD on SHAWWAL 8, A.H. (April 21, 1926 A.D).