Among the most prominent characteristics of the Muslim woman is her strength of character, mature way of thinking, and serious conduct. These are qualities which the Muslim woman possesses both before and after marriage, because they are the result of her understanding of Islaam and her awareness of her mission in life.
She exhibits this strength of character when she is choosing a husband. She does not give way to her father’s whims if he has deviated from the right way and is seeking to force her into a marriage that she does not want. Neither does she give in to the man who comes to seek her hand in marriage, no matter how rich or powerful he may be, if he does not have the qualities of a good Muslim husband.
After marriage, her character remains strong, even though she is distinguished by her easy-going nature, mild-tempered behavior and loving obedience to her husband. Her strength of character comes to the fore especially when she has to take a stand in matters concerning her religion and ‘Aqeedah (Islamic Creed), such as Umm Sulaym bint Milhan (may Allah be pleased with her), who insisted on adhering to Islaam along with her son Anas, although her husband Maalik ibn al-Nadhar remained a Mushrik (polytheist), opposed to his wife becoming and being a Muslim. There was also Umm Habeebah bint Abi Sufyaan who remained steadfast in her Islaam when her husband ‘Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh al-Asadi became an apostate and joined the religion of the Abyssinians. Barirah, another female Companion, was determined to separate from her husband whom she did not love, even though the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) tried to intervene on his behalf. The wife of Thaabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, also demanded a divorce from her husband whom she did not love and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) accepted her request.
The primary motive of these women in taking up such a strong stance was their concern to adhere to Islaam, to keep their belief (‘Aqeedah) pure, and ultimately to please Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa). Each of them was seeking that which is halaal (permissable) in her married life, and feared committing any haraam (impermissable) deed, either because she was married to a man who did not share her religious beliefs, or she was falling short in her duties towards a husband whom she did not love or could not live with. If it were not for their strength of character and feelings of pride in themselves and their faith, they would have followed the commands of the misguided husbands and would have found themselves going astray, choking on the misery of living with a husband they could not truly accept. The courage of these women shows how the true Muslim women should be, no matter where or in what time she lives in.
But the Muslim woman’s strength of character should not make her forget that she is required to obey her husband, treating him with honor and respect. Her strength of character should make her strike a wise balance in the way she speaks and acts towards him, with no inconsistency or carelessness. Even in those moments of anger which are unavoidable in a marriage, she should control herself and restrain her tongue, lest she says anything that could hurt her husband’s feelings. This is the quality of a strong, balanced character.
‘Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) represents the highest example of this good quality and every Muslim woman should follow her example. The way in which she swore an oath when she was happy with her husband, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), was different from the way she spoke when she did so when she was upset with him. This is an example of good manners and respect. It was something that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) noticed, as she narrated that he said,
“I know when you are happy with me and when you are upset with me.” She said, “How do you know that?” He said, “When you are happy with me, you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Muhammad,’ and when you are upset with me, you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Ibrahim.’” She said,
“Yes, that is right. By Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa), O Messenger of Allah! I only keep away from your name.” (See Sahih Muslim, 15/203, Kitab fada'il al-Sahabah, bab fada'il Umm al-Mu'minin 'A'ishah.)
What refined manners and sincere love!
‘Aa'ishah’s strength of character became even more prominent when she was tried with the slander (al-Ifk) which Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) made a test for His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and for all the Ummah, raising the status of some and lowering that of others, increasing the faith of those who were guided and increasing the loss of those who went astray.
Her strength of character and deep faith in Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) became apparent, and her trust in Him alone to prove her innocence was quite clear. I can find no more beautiful description of the deep and sincere faith of ‘Aa'ishah and her trust in the justice of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa), than that given by Imaam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, who said,
“The test was so severe that the Revelation ceased for a month because of it, and nothing at all concerning this issue was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) during that time, so that the wisdom behind what had happened might become completely apparent and the sincere believers might be increased in faith and adherence to justice and might think well of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa), His Messenger, the Messenger’s family and those believers who spoke the truth.
The Munaafiqoon (hypocrites), meanwhile would be increased only in sins and hypocrisy, and their true nature would be exposed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the believers. ‘Aa'ishah, the one who had spoken the truth, and her parents would be shown to be true servants of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) who had received His full blessing. Their need for Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) and desire to draw closer to Him would increase; they would feel humble before Him and would put their hope and trust in Him, instead of hoping for the support of other people. ‘Aa'ishah would despair of receiving help from any created being, and she passed this most difficult test when her father said, ‘Get up and thank him,’ after Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) had sent down a Revelation confirming her innocence. She said,
‘By Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa), I will not get up and thank him; I will only give thanks to Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) Who has revealed my innocence.’
Another aspect of the wisdom behind the Revelation being suspended for a month was that people would focus solely on this issue and examine it closely; the believers would wait with eager anticipation to hear what Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) would reveal to His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) concerning this matter. The Revelation came like rain on parched land, when it was most needed by the Messenger of Allah and his family, by Abu Bakr and his family, by the Sahaabah (Companions) and by the believers, and it brought them great relief and joy. If Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) had revealed the truth of the matter from the first instant, then the wisdom behind this event would have been obscured and a great lesson would have been lost.
Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) wanted to demonstrate the status of His Prophet and his family in His sight, and the honor which He had bestowed upon them. He Himself was to defend His Messenger and rebuke his enemies, in such a way that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had nothing to do with it. Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) alone would avenge His Prophet and his family.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the target of this slander, and the one who was accused was his wife. It was not appropriate for him to declare her innocence, although he knew that she was indeed innocent, and never thought otherwise. When he asked people to avenge him of those who had spread the slander, he said, ‘Who could blame me if I were to punish those who slandered my family? By Allah, I have never known anything but good from my family, and they have told me about a man from whom I have never known anything but good, and he never came in my house except with me.’ He had more proof than the believers did of ‘Aa'ishah’s innocence, but because of his high level of patience, perseverance and deep trust in Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa), he acted in the appropriate manner until the Revelation came that made his heart rejoice and raised his status, showing to his Ummah (nation) that Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) was taking care of him.
Whoever examines ‘Aa'ishah’s response, when her father told her to get up and thank the Messenger of Allah, and she said,
‘No, I will give thanks only to Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa)...’
will realize the extent of her knowledge and the depth of her faith. She attributed this blessing to Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) alone, and gave thanks only to Him. She had a sound grasp of Tawheed (Islaamic Monotheism), and demonstrated great strength of character and confidence in her innocence. She was not curious or anxious about the outcome when she spoke thus, because she was sure that she had done nothing wrong. Because of her faith in the Prophet’s love for her, she said what she said. She became even dearer to him when she said,
‘I will not give thanks except to Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa), for He is the One Who has revealed my innocence.’
She displayed remarkable maturity and steadfastness when her beloved husband, whom she could not bear to be apart from, kept away from her for a month. Then when the matter was resolved and he wished to come back to her, she did not rush to him, despite her great love for him. This is the highest level of steadfastness and strength of character.” (Zad al-Ma'ad, 3/261-264.)
It is indeed the highest level of maturity and strength of character. The true Muslim woman is humble, kind, loving and obedient towards her husband, but she does not allow her character to weaken before him, even if he is the most beloved of all people towards her, and the most noble and honorable of all human beings, so long as she is in the right and is adhering to the way of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa). ‘Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) set the highest example of the strength of character of the Muslim woman who is proud of her religion and understands what it is to be a true servant of Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) alone.
The Muslim woman shouldn't interpret ‘Aa'ishah’s attitude as an attitude of superiority or arrogance, pushing her husband away. Rather, the duties of the Muslim woman towards her husband is that she should have obedience, loving kindness and seek to please him, in accordance with Islamic teachings. What we learn from the attitude of ‘Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) is the esteem and honor with which Islaam regards woman, so long as she adheres to the laws and teachings of Islaam. This is what gives her character strength, pride, honor and wisdom.
Islaam gives women rights and recognition which are envied by Western women; this has been freely admitted by women’s liberation activists in Arab countries. Many of them have retracted their claims that Muslim women need to be liberated; one such activist is Dr. Nawaal El-Saadawi, who was interviewed for the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Watan (mid-August 1989).
Dr. El-Saadawi was asked, “Do you think that the European women are an example to be copied?” She replied,
“No, not at all. European women have advanced in some fields, but are backward in others. The marriage laws in Europe oppress women, and this is what led to the development of women’s liberation movements in those countries and in America, where this movement is very strong and is even at times quite vicious.”
Then she remarked,
“Our religion of Islaam has given women more rights than any other religion has, and has guaranteed her honor and pride, but what has happened is that men have sometimes used certain aspects of this religion to create a patriarchal class system in which males dominate females.”
Clearly this patriarchal oppression mentioned by Dr. El Saadawi, which has led to the oppression of women, has been caused due to ignorance of the true teachings of Islaam.