Fatima al-Zahra: Mother of the Message

By Muhammad Habash

Indeed Allah only desires to keep away all impurity from you, O people of the Household and to purify you a thorough purification. [Al-Ahzab, 33:33]

The life of Sayyida Fatima (a) was a life that was fully immersed in the Message of Islam, every breath of which was dedicated for the sake of Allah (swt). She exemplified every virtue and repelled every vice, hence being attributed with the names of al-Siddiqah (the truthful), al-Tahirah (the pure), al-Zakiyyah (the virtuous), al-Batool (the chaste), al-Radhiyyah (the content), al-Mardhiyyah (the one whom God is content with), al-Shahidah (the witness), and al-Zahra (the blooming flower, the radiant). However, the greatest of titles of this pre-eminent peerless woman is that which the Messenger of Allah (s) had conferred upon her: “the doyenne of the women of the world” and “the doyenne of the women in paradise”. Let us then immerse our selves into her life, and live it even if 1%.

Mother of the Messenger, Mother of the Message

Instead of childish ignorance and naivety of one’s surroundings, we find in her someone who opened her eyes to the Message and all of its difficulties. She grew up in what we’d today call a concentration camp, when the Hashimites were exiled to the valley of Abu Talib where they faced hunger, sorrow and loneliness under a complete social and economic embargo. It was there that she lost her mother, and with that her childhood. We see that at such a tender age she bears a sense of responsibility, like that of her mother, towards the Messenger (s) and the Message.

She shared with the Messenger (s) all of his suffering, burdens and his pains. She was there to comfort him when some would taunt, curse, and mock him, calling him a sorcerer, deranged, and other such names. She was there to care for him when others threw dirt and stones at him. He (s) would say, “No prophet has ever been harmed as I have”. She stood by him, looked after him and empathized with him.

She sensed the heaviness of the mandate of consciousness for humankind that he bore on his shoulders and the enmity that he faced. She would wait in anticipation for his return home, finding the marks of pressure, stress, injury and grief. She would embrace him with her compassion, caress him with her kindness, shower him with her love, consol his worries, and heal his wounds.

She accompanies her father to support him in his loneliness as he was a stranger in his own city, with his own people and his own family. One day, she saw her father prostrating in prayer before the Ka’ba when a cruel man threw the intestines of a camel or a sheep with all its contents on the back of the Messenger (s). Sayyida Fatima (a) ran to him, removing the filth with her small hands, cleaning her father’s head and face, expressing her sadness and condolences to him with her tears, comforting him, and returning him to their home. She encourages the Messenger who carries the Word of God.

It is now that we can understand the meaning of the statement of the Messenger of Allah (s) when he said, “Fatima is the mother of her father”. What is profound is that Sayyida Fatima (a) is not only the mother of the Messenger, she is also the mother of the Message. For the Messenger (s) has also said, “Fatima is part of me and I am part of her; whoever harms her harms me and whoever harms me angers Allah” and also, “Whoever angers her angers me and whoever satisfies her satisfies me”, and also, “Allah becomes angry for her anger and satisfied for her satisfaction”. Thus we find that Sayyida Fatima (a) is not only a part of the Messenger (s), but that the Messenger (s) is a part of her, because both of them were part of the Message of Allah (swt). The Message also survives through her husband and her two sons. Rasulullah (s) had said in the Hadith of Kisa (the Narration of the Cloak), “They are from me and I am from them” and in another famous narration, “Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn”.

The scholar Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah has an insightful analysis concerning this wherein he states, “Had the Prophet (s) not been fully aware of the depth of the personality of Fatima (a), and that she was an image of his soul, thinking, way, and message, and that the Message was imprinted in her personality, and her personality dissolved in the Message, it would have been incorrect for him to bind his satisfaction to hers, and his anger to hers. This proves, very clearly, that Fatima (a) is infallible, pure and has reached the summit of perfection”. And with respect to the reference to Allah’s anger and satisfaction he says, “This text is an even stronger evidence than its predecessor in proving the greatness of Fatima (a) and her elevated position before Allah the Most High. What does it mean that Allah becomes angry for the anger of a person, and satisfied for her satisfaction? It means that this person has lived in all the locations of Allah’s satisfaction, and has stayed away from the locations of His anger.”

 

Her Education

 

We find that from her very childhood, Sayyida Fatima (a) was unique. She, along with Imam Ali (a), received their education and upbringing from none other than the Messenger of Allah (s). They were the first students in the boarding school of Rasulullah (s). They were often present when the revelation was being revealed to the Prophet (s). It was through his education that their hearts and minds and souls were nourished. Together they would listen to, write, and read the revelation and its meaning. Moreover, they observed and etched into their character everything that they saw him do, thus manifesting his manners and spirituality. As a result, they became identical to the Messenger in thought, feeling, and action. This is why later on A’isha would narrate, “I have not seen anyone more similar to the Messenger of Allah in his speech, looks, guidance, sitting and standing than Fatima. When he used to see her coming he would stand up, kiss her hand, and seat her in his place.

 

Al-Zahra (a): The Educator

So if this was Sayyida Fatima’s (a) childhood, what then was Fatima (a) the woman? Often when we hear of Sayyida Fatima (a), we hear of her domestic dimension and at times her spiritual dimension, both of which set an example par excellence for humanity. But what about her social and political dimensions?

One of the teachings that she would emphasize both inside her household and outside of it was that of building social capital – that is, building a society on the basis of trust, ethics, reciprocity, justice, mercy, and other such principles. We find her concern for society when she says, “And Allah has caused amr b’il ma’ruf (encouraging others towards goodness) and nahi ‘an al-munkar (discouraging other from evil) for the amendment and enhancement of society and the public”.

We have to relive the spirit of al-Zahra (a) who used to think of others before thinking of herself. Imam al-Hasan (a) has narrated, “On the eves of Friday I saw my mother standing in her prayer niche. She was continuously kneeling and prostrating till the dawn broke. I would hear her pray for the men and women, but she did not at all pray for herself. I said, ‘Oh mother why did you not pray for yourself like you prayed for others?’ So she replied, ‘Oh my son, first thy neighbour and there after your own house’. The biggest virtue that a human being can have is to equate others with one’s self. We find this theme constantly reoccurring in Sayyida Fatima’s (a) syllabus of education. She would repeat the tradition of the Messenger of Allah (s), “You are not a believer until you love for your brother what you love for yourself”. And she would also narrate, “A believer is not truly a believer, if his neighbours do not feel assured that he will do no harm to them. He who believes in God and the Day of Judgment does not hurt his neighbours”.

Al-Zahra (a): The Humanitarian

Her social responsibility was not limited to that of education. She was also the greatest humanitarian. There are many anecdotes of the humanitarianism of the Ahl al-Bayt (a), who used to spend their days in hunger, even as leaders of the expansive Muslim nation, and prefer to give the little food they had and share the company of the poorest. We find many accounts of them giving anonymously to unknown people. Their secret was to live, to strive, and to die for the sake of Allah (swt). Sufficient it is as an example that Allah (swt) has pointed to them as the symbols of humanitarianism when He revealed the verses,

And they feed, for the love of Allah, the needy, the orphan, and the captive

(Saying),”We feed you for the sake of Allah alone; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks.” [al-Insan, 76:8-9]

Al-Zahra (a): Champion of Truth and Justice

So we find that the social and public wellbeing was of paramount importance for Sayyida Fatima (a), and we find her stance a stance for truth and a stance for justice. A’isha would say of Fatima (a), “I have not seen anyone who is more truthful than her except her father”. And Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a) describes al-Zahra (a) as being the “truthful witness”, which coincides with the verse, “So how shall it be, when We bring from every nation a witness, and We bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness over them” [al-Nisa’: 4:41].

In Sayyida Fatima (a), we find someone who confronts all the challenges for the sake of truth and for the sake of justice. She was someone who transcended her personal interests, and this is what we can find of anyone who carries a message. Thus, with Sayyida Fatima (a) we find a pioneer and a dynamic force in the political role of women. Who can take from our Muslim women what Sayyida Fatima (a) and her daughter Sayyida Zaynab (a) legitimized for them?

Despite all of her personal suffering, al-Zahra’s (a) principle concern was that of protecting the Message. Sayyida Fatima’s (a) stance of protest is the stance of responsibility that aims towards awakening the conscience of others. She knew how to cut through propaganda. She gave voice to her side of arguments in sermons matching argument for argument, offering rebuke when strong rebuke could emphasize the meaning of truth. We find her standing for truth and justice even in her last moments, when she addresses the wives of the Companions of the Messenger (s) concerning the guardianship of the Message, saying:

I tried to awaken them to their acts and show them the burden they had placed upon their own shoulders. Those who act oppressively are far from the blessings and mercy of God. Woe be to those people. They brought down a leader who was at the peak of the mission…

Woe be to them! Is it not more worthy to follow the one who guides rather than the one who cannot find his way if he is not guided? What has happened to you? What kind of a judgment is this? You have impregnated the earth with your act. Just wait until the time when it gives birth…For then, the sharp swords of the dominations of the oppressors, anarchy and the rule of tyrants will overcome you. The oppressors will enslave you. No public assets except a small quantity will remain. They will cultivate with force what you have planted with love. At that time you will only sigh for there will be nothing that you can do because you were blind and could not see the truth. They will oblige you because you have turned your faces from the right way and you did not accept it.” (How accurate her foresight. Is this not our condition today?)

Her protest was the protest purely for the sake of Allah (swt). The anger of Sayyida Fatima (a) is the anger of Prophet Muhammad (s) is the anger of Allah (swt). Her last act of protest was when she asked her husband to bury her at night and level her grave, the location of which is unknown till today, so as to prevent those who oppressed her, chief of which was the confiscation of the rights of the Message of Islam and its rightful guardian Imam Ali (a), from taking opportunity of her death by burying their conspiracy along with her. Her motive was such that if the truth cannot be implemented, it can be proven and designed so that time will come to know of it. There are many Muslim historians who have hid her name and marginalized her role, so as to not give rise to the difficult questions that ought to be asked, causing the Muslim ummah to be deprived from the rich lessons of her life – a life dedicated from birth till death to the Message. However, her last act of protest had foresight as she knew that people would start asking questions: Why would the daughter of the Prophet (s) request to be buried at night? What was happening? Therefore even after her death, she eternalized, gave life, and sustained forever the spirit of those who seek justice and oppose oppression. Her everlasting impact was beautifully expressed in the lamentation of her husband Imam Ali (a) at his returning of God’s gift to the Messenger and himself by saying, “she was a flower from heaven which was nipped in the bud, and returned to heaven, leaving its fragrance behind in the mind as memories”.

The movement of reviving the Message that desires truth, justice, freedom, liberty, equality, principles, morality, and God-consciousness, which opposes tyranny, oppression, inequality, moral decadence, indifference, and complacency did not begin with Imam Husayn (a). Perhaps it culminated in him. But it began with his mother, Sayyida Fatima (a). Sayyida Fatima (a) ignited the conscience of social responsibility.

Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadhlallah beautifully captures the life of Sayyida Fatima (a) when he says that, “her stances were stances for the right, and her sorrow was the sorrow for the issue (Islam), and her joy was the joy of the Message; the depth of Islam was manifested in the depth of her personality and she amassed within herself all the Islamic human virtues. Being the doyenne of the women of the world implies that she was at the highest level of spirituality and morality”.

To Love Her is to Follow Her

Thus we find in Sayyida Fatima (a) a role model for men and women. We must open up to her message. To follow her we must emulate her. Dr. Ali Shariati emphasizes that this needs both love and wisdom, heart and intellect. One gives an understanding and the other strength. He quotes the words of a French scholar, ‘Wisdom is like the lights of a car which show the way. Love is like the motor which makes it move’. Each is nothing without the other. A motor, without lights, is blind love, which is dangerous. Lights without a motor will not take the car anywhere. Hence, love for the great personalities of humanity is not only an emotion but a stance.

The greatest calamity today that ought to be the subject of lamentation is that we have limited the spirit of our great personalities largely to tragedies and miracles only while failing to absorb the rich lessons of their lives and reflecting it onto others. The Ahl al-Bayt (a) are ‘ibra (examples) and ‘abra (a bridge or medium). We have to move with the Ahl al-Bayt (a) not only in history but in reality. Loving them is motion, not mere emotion. Loving them is a stance. To love them is to follow them.

 

A Du’a from al-Zahra (a)

 

Oh Allah! belittle me in my eyes and glorify and magnify Your station to me. And inspire in me Your obedience and the practice which may cause Your pleasure and the shunning and evading from things which are the cause of Your wrath, oh the most merciful of all!

—–

References:

[1] “Fatima is Fatima” by Dr. Ali Shariati: http://www.al-islam.org/fatimaisfatima/

[2] “The Infallible Fatimah (a): A Role Model for Men and Women” by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah: http://www.al-islam.org/fatimahrolemodel/

3 thoughts on “Fatima al-Zahra: Mother of the Message

  • Salam Alikum,

    What an articulate summary of Sayida Fatima Zahra’s(AS)life. A very well written article. May we all wake up from the hallucination that we are living in and thread on the footsteps of Sayyida Fatima Zahra(AS).

    Wa SalamAlikum

  • I love what you wrote under “To Love Her is to Follow Her.”

    “The Ahl al-Bayt (a) are ‘ibra (examples) and ‘abra (a bridge or medium). We have to move with the Ahl al-Bayt (a) not only in history but in reality. Loving them is motion, not mere emotion. Loving them is a stance. To love them is to follow them.”

    ^Ilahi Ameen.

  • How I wish that all fellow Westerners would know about Fatima Zahra and her penuries against the hijackers of Islam. Then so many misconceptions would be clarified, because we in the West are taught that those Umayyad caliphs who invaded Christian Spain by the sword were “ambassadors” of Islam, when in reality they were persecuting and murdering the very Household of our Prophet.

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