The Great Women behind Great Men

(part 1 of 4): The Mother

Behind every great man stands a woman; behind every man stands a great woman; behind every successful man stands a woman. These are three different versions of an old saying, best remembered as a feminist slogan of the 1960s and 1970s. When you think about it however, it rings true. How do we respond when we hear about the man whose mother gave up everything to give him an education, the woman who worked 3 jobs to raise her children, and the woman who stands silently in the background as her husband rises to power as a statesman, businessman, politician, or educator? Men rise to soaring heights when the women in their lives nurture, support and encourage them to be the best men that they can be. Even the Prophet’s of God benefitted from the wise counsel of the women in their lives.

Today we start a series of articles about the great women who stood, not behind but at the side of the men in their lives. These great women, in their own individual ways, supported and encouraged men whose lives were fraught with danger and monumental change. Mothers, wives, daughters; the influence these women have over the men in their lives is remarkable. Islam calls these women the best of humankind.
‘The best women of humankind are four: Mariam, daughter of Imran, Assiya, the wife of Pharaoh, Khadija, daughter of Khuwailid, and Fatima the daughter of the Messenger of God[1].’

The key to success for any woman is to live life according to God’s guidance. As we know, this guidance is contained in and completed by the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad. Let us begin with mothers; Islam emphasises their significant role on numerous occasions. Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, says, “…and He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer, and alms, as long as I live, and to be dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant.” (Quran 19:30-32)

And when the angels said: ‘O Mary! Verily, God has chosen you, purified you, and chosen you above the women of the worlds of mankind and jinn.’ (Quran 3:42)

Prophet Muhammad’s son in law and close companion Ali, said, “I heard the Prophet of God saying Mary, the daughter of Imran was the best among women.”[2]

Maryam, the Arabic word for Mary, means maidservant of God. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was dedicated to God before she was born. Mary’s mother dedicated her child to the temple and by doing so she secured Mary’s freedom because she understood that true freedom was only attainable through complete submission to God.

Mary grew up having complete trust in God and her story can be found in Quran, particularly in chapters 3 and 19. In chapter 5 of Quran Mary is referred to as a siddiqa (truthful one) and the Arabic word siddiqa implies more than just speaking the truth. It indicates one who achieves a very high level of righteousness. It means that one is truthful, not only with themselves and those around them, but also with God. Mary was a woman who fulfilled her covenant with God, Whom she worshiped with full submission. She was pious, chaste, and devout; the woman chosen above all other women to be the mother of Jesus.

After the birth of Jesus, Mary faced incredible hardship. Even though she was a young woman of faith, character and self control, try to imagine the courage it took for her to return to her village with a babe in arms. She left the village a young woman not much older than a child but with a reputation for piety and righteousness. She returned as an unmarried mother of a new born child. Imagine the talk, the gossip and accusations. When the townspeople surrounded and questioned her she followed God’s instructions and did not speak. Jesus himself, a baby cradled in Mary’s arms, spoke, declaring himself to be a prophet from God.(Quran 19:30)

Islam tells us very little about the life shared by Jesus and his mother Mary. Of course we can surmise that Mary was a woman of her time. With the exception of her education and possibly her ability to read, Mary would have lived and learned just like the other Jewish girls around her. She would have kept house, cooked, cleaned, sewed, walked to the well for water but above all she was an educator. It is easy to imagine Jesus sitting on her lap or at her feet listening to the stories of her people and their prayers. He would also have experienced at close hand Mary’s profound love and trust in God. How much of Mary’s character influenced Jesus as he grew up? A great deal, is the most probable answer.

As Jesus grew and began his mission, Mary must have behaved like any other mother. She probably swallowed her fears and encouraged her son to strive to please God. Mary would have sensed the danger of Jesus’ mission yet undoubtedly she held onto her total trust in God and conveyed her sense of contentment with God’s will to her son.

The mother’s role is both monumental and overwhelming. Not only does she go through both the joys and difficulties of pregnancy and giving birth, she dedicates her entire life to nurturing and caring for her children. It is her responsibility to raise and to educate them to be righteous and pious human beings. She cooks, cleans, nurtures and educates, she is also responsible for their spiritual, emotional and physical health and well-being. A mother’s role does not end when her child grows and begins a life of his or her own, it goes on and on and continues to influence her children and grandchildren.

In this day and age when the role of motherhood is being undermined at every turn, women should draw strength from great women such as Mary the mother of Jesus.

[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim
[2] Saheeh Al-Bukhari


(part 2 of 4): The Foster Mother

Another great woman who raised a great man despite the difficulties and pressures she faced was Assiya. She is more often remembered as the wife of Pharaoh; however this great lady was also the foster mother of Prophet Moses.

Like Mary the mother of Jesus, Assiya was a woman chosen by God to care for a child who would grow up to be a prophet of God. What qualities did Assiya have with which to support and influence Moses? It was, once again, as we will discover her complete and total trust in God. As the wife of the most powerful and arrogant man in all Egypt, Assiya was surrounded by luxury, wealth and beauty yet she was able to recognise that without God human beings were lost bereft and incomplete.

“Many men reached the level of perfection, but no woman reached such a level except Mary, the daughter of Imran and Assiya, the wife of Pharaoh.”[1]

When Moses birth mother was compelled by circumstances to put her tiny new born baby in a basket and float him down the waters of the Nile her heart was nearly broken beyond repair. But God is the best of planners. Assiya’s maidservant drew Moses from the river and presented the tiny bundle to Pharaoh’s wife. Assiya, in contrast to her arrogant, proud husband was a righteous, merciful woman. God opened her heart and Assiya looked down up on the tiny baby and felt overcome by her love for him. She asked her husband to accept him into the family.

The wife of Pharaoh said, a comfort for the eye, for me and for you; kill him not. It may be that he may be of benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not (the result of that). (Quran 28: 9)

Once again the Quran tells us very little about Assiya and even less about her relationship with her foster son Moses. However, as a woman of faith, she must have had a profound influence on her foster son. Moses, the man was forthright and believed in speaking his mind and standing up for the weaker members of society. Whenever he witnessed oppression or cruelty, he found it impossible to stop himself from intervening. Today psychology tells us that this sense of justice, and the ability to empathise, is learned at a very early age. They are skills that are often not able to be acquired in later life. Assiya must have helped instil these qualities in her foster son.

As Moses grew up he was considered a wise young man; in all respects regarded as Pharaoh’s son. We do know from the words of the Quran however that Moses’ birth mother was his wet nurse. Ibn Kathir believes that Moses’ birth mother lived in the palace while she was breast feeding him and that as he grew up she was allowed the privilege of visiting him. Her influence must also have played a part in shaping Moses’ character.

“So did We restore him to his mother, that she might be delighted, and that she might not grieve, and that she might know that the Promise of God is true. But most of them know not.” (Quran 28:13)

Moses was quite possibly a child that was loved by both his real mother and Assiya. There is little doubt that before he reached manhood Moses knew about the Children of Israel and the political situation in Egypt. A number of circumstances, the details of which can be found in the Quran,[2] forced Moses to flee Egypt. From royal son to common criminal, how must Assiya have felt?

We can surmise that Assiya knew the danger inherent in allowing Moses to understand the differences between his life in the palace and his birth family’s life in an impoverished district. Eventually Pharaoh discovered that his wife was secretly worshipping the God of Moses. He was incensed and raged with anger. Pharaoh both threatened and cajoled his wife Assiya, but her heart now belonged to God Alone. Pharaoh offered his wife a choice, to accept him (Pharaoh) as her God or to continue to worship the God of Moses and be tortured until death. Assiya chose torture and death and in her last painful moments she could be heard calling out to God.

“O my Lord! Build for me, a home with You in Paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong.” (Quran 66:11)

As the primary caregiver and educator, the mother has many heavy responsibilities, the most important of which is her responsibility to teach the children entrusted to her by God. It is the mother who first teaches her children how to know and love God. The best way to instruct children is by example because from the moment they can interact with their surroundings they are learning. As mothers, both Mary and Assiya taught the boys in their care to have complete trust in the One most worthy of Trust – God.

[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[2] God mentions Moses in Quran more than 120 times, and his story ranges across several chapters. It is the longest and most detailed story of a prophet in the Quran and is discussed in elaborate detail. Chapter 28 of the Quran is named, ‘The Narration’, the first 45 verses focus solely on the story of Moses.


(part 3 of 4): The Wife

“And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.” (Quran 30:21)

Love and mercy between your hearts is a beautiful way to describe a tranquil relationship between a man and a woman. Marriage is a sacred contract, one made not between a man and woman but between a couple and God. It is a relationship where rights and responsibilities are clear and the purpose is to please God by striving to secure a place in Paradise. Just as mothers are able to exert great influence over their sons, wives too are able to influence their husbands. Great women, woman who love God above all else are a mercy and their husbands are often great men due to the unwavering support they receive from their wives.

Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said,“The best among you are those who are the best to their wives.”[1] Why would he have made this clear on numerous occasions? Possibly because a partnership built on love and mercy cannot help but be successful, whereas a relationship built on dominance and mistrust rarely succeeds except in heartache and sorrow. Another reason might be due to the fact that in pre-Islamic Arabia females were so undervalued that baby girls were buried alive and women were owned like livestock.

One of the greatest role models for women, particularly wives, was born in this time of ignorance, yet she was able to rise above the discrimination around her and have one of history’s most successful marriages. She was Khadijah, the first, and for 25 years, the only wife of Prophet Muhammad. What do we know about Khadijah that made her such a fantastic wife and incredible role model? Why do we consider Khadijah, the daughter of Khuwaylid, to be a great women standing by the side of a great man?

“Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, was the best among the women (of the world of her time) and Khadija is the best amongst the women (of this nation).”[2]

Khadijah was 40 years old and twice widowed when she married Muhammed, then aged 25, who had not at that stage been granted prophethood. She was an accomplished businesswoman, wealthy in her own right with a reputation of dealing with the disabled, orphans, widows and the poor with kindness and compassion. Just as Prophet Muhammad was known as Al-Amin – the trustworthy one, Khadijah was known as At-Tahira, the pure one. Khadijah was impressed by Muhammad’s honesty when she employed him to trade for her in Syria and on his return to Makkah she defied the conventions of her time and proposed marriage to him. Muhammad accepted eagerly and promptly.
Islam teaches that a woman should always display tenderness and care towards her husband. Khadijah loved and supported Prophet Muhammad through the difficult years of the establishment of Islam. In the spirit of partnership and companionship inherent in a truly Islamic marriage, great men and women find no difficulty helping each other. Prophet Muhammad was known to perform many household chores such as cleaning and mending garments. It was narrated regarding him, “He used to keep himself busy in household chores and went out when the time for prayer came.”[3]

Khadijah, for her part kept a home that was a refuge from the trouble and problems Muhammad faced every day. She also gave freely of her time and knowledge. She supported her husband with advice, and opinions and generally helped in practical ways. Prophet Muhamad said: “This world is just temporary conveniences, and the best comfort in this world is a righteous woman.”[4] (Wife, mother, daughter)

When Prophet Muhammad first received revelation from the angel Gabriel, it was a very frightening experience. Although it was his habit to spend time alone in a cave meditating and pondering the wonders of the universe he did not expect to be visited by an angel demanding that he, an unlettered man, read. He ran home to his loving supportive wife as soon as he was able, saying “Cover me, cover me!” Prophet Muhammad told her what had happened and expressed his fear. Khadijah did not belittle him or


Source: https://www.islamland.com/eng/articles/the-great-women-behind-great-men

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