The action of Iythaar, which translates to English as self-sacrifice, selflessness or altruism, is one which has been praised by the Ahlul-Bayt (as) as standing at the highest level of ethical and moral principles. They have informed us that, if put into action, it is “the highest of virtues,” “the highest rank of belief,” and “the best form of worship.” The purpose of this article will be to observe how Sayyida Fatima az-Zahra (as) implemented this principle within her life and remains one of its most luminous manifestations from which we may draw countless lessons to apply within our own lives.
Like many topics with Islam, that of the selflessness and altruism of Sayyida Fatima (as) begins with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). For he himself is foremost in possessing this attribute, and anything which Sayyida Fatima (as) was able to learn and implement of it was due to the words and actions of her father. To understand the extent to which Prophet Muhammad (saws) loved and earnestly desired the well-being of his fellow man, and therefore spent a life devoted to altruism and selflessness, we need only to read the following verses of the Qur’an:
You are liable to imperil your life for their sake, if they should not believe this discourse, out of grief (18:6)
You are liable to imperil your life [out of distress] that they will not have faith (26:3)
There has certainly come to you an apostle from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you, and is most kind and merciful to the faithful (9:128)
In other words, the desire of Prophet Muhammad (saws) to see humanity achieve success and happiness was so strong that when he saw people failing to achieve them by giving in to whims and desires, he would become so afflicted that the effects of his sorrow would manifest themselves in his body and actually threaten his life. Even we, who are far beneath prophet Muhammad (saws) in moral excellence, sometimes experience intense bodily pain in the form of headaches, stomach aches, and other ailments, solely because of our emotional suffering. Imagine then how the pain of Prophet Muhammad (saws), who had achieved perfection in his ethics, must have afflicted him, if even we experience bodily suffering on account of emotional and spiritual issues affecting us.
Similarly, Allah says:
Soon your Lord will give you [that with which] you will be pleased (93:5)
Through the narrations of Ahlul-Bayt (as) we see that what is meant by what will soon please the Prophet (s) is that every one of his followers will enter Paradise. By reflecting on this tradition, we discover that it means Prophet Muhammad (saws) himself is not content with entering Paradise unless his followers accompany him. It is easy to see how his personal desires would easily vanish in the light of such love and compassion.
This, then, was the blessed personality from which Sayyida Fatima (as) learned her ethics and morals. She herself, being a part of Muhammad, as is narrated in the books of all Islamic schools of thought, would make her own life one in which she would not find happiness within her heart unless she first witnessed happiness in the hearts of those around her.
Fatima (as) would first and foremost manifest the attribute of iythaar with her father. It is narrated in numerous books of history that anytime Prophet Muhammad (saws) would be attacked or abused by the polytheists of Mecca, Fatima (as) would immediately rush to his aid and clean any wounds he suffered and offer her emotional support to him. Her love and concern for him was so strong that he would later call her “Umm Abihaa,” or “the mother of her father.” Just as a mother sets all of her own needs and desires aside in order to serve her children, Fatima (as) would do the same for her father, as she never considered any personal desire unless she was convinced that her father was not in need of anything.
Of course, since Prophet Muhammad (saws) was concerned for the welfare of all human beings, and Fatima (as) is a part of him, she herself would extend her selflessness beyond just caring for her father and, like him, express her concern for all human beings. It is narrated from Imam Hasan (as) that on Friday nights he would witness his mother Fatima (as) praying all night until the morning prayer, during which he would hear her asking Allah to help all her neighbors, friends, and relatives, but not once would she mention herself. One Saturday morning he asked why this was and she simply responded that one’s own house is to be considered only after that of one’s neighbors.
One should reflect for just a minute or two on this narration, and see just how amazing it is. Try to imagine not only how much strength and energy would be needed to remain awake all night praying for one’s neighbors, but also how soft and pure the heart which can do such an action must be. We, the followers of Fatima (as), feel as if we have performed an enormous deed when we pray for our neighbors and friends for 10 minutes after an obligatory prayer, and even then at a time of day in which our energy is high and such a task is made easy for us with the help of Allah. However, Fatima (as) was a woman who would spend her day taking care of household activities, sometimes to the point that her hands would bleed, and would even do so on an empty stomach or, at most, a stomach which had been lightly fed. Then, at the end of such a day, she would remain awake all night purely out of love for her fellow Muslims, agitated by the plights and misfortunes they were facing, and would supplicate to Allah to assist them and fulfill their needs. In reality, even if we were to reflect for years upon years, we would never reach the core of how a heart can be so pure and how a human being can be so selfless that he or she expresses her concern for other people in such a beautiful way.
The selflessness of Fatima (as), alongside that of Imam Ali (as), was so great in the eyes of Allah (swt) that He revealed several blessed verses of the Qur’an in praise of it within Surat al-Insaan. In order to really appreciate the verses being discussed, however, we will need to understand a particular event in the life of Fatima (as) and her family in greater detail.
According to the books of tafsir (Qur’anic commentary), one day when Imam Hasan (as) and Imam Hussein (a) were still children the two became very sick. Many people came to visit and it was suggested that Imam Ali (as) and Fatima (as) make a vow to God that if the two were healed, they would fast for three days. Within a short period of time, the two were healed, and Imam Ali (as) and Fatima (as) began their fast.
This seemingly simple three day fast would take a different course, however, when on their first day of fasting the two were greeted around sunset (the time of breaking fast) by a man who was himself hungry and in dire need of food. Fatima (as) and Imam Ali (as) decided to give their food to him and remain satiated only by water until the morning. The next night, the same thing would happen, as a desperate orphan would turn to them for help. Again, the two decided it was best to sacrifice their own well-being for another, and their food was given to the orphan. And finally, the third night would bring yet another visitor, this time a prisoner, and Imam Ali (as) and Fatima (as) remained firm in their practice of selflessness as they completed the three day fast by giving their food to those in need each night.
Allah (swt) would reveal the following verses in praise of their actions:
They fulfill vows and fear a day the evil of which shall be spreading far and wide. And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive: (saying) “We only feed you for Allah’s sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks: Surely we fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day.” Therefore Allah win guard them from the evil of that day and cause them to meet with ease and happiness (76:7-11)
There is another dimension of the selflessness of Sayyida Fatima (as) which helps us to understand just how strong and luminous it is. For Allah (swt) blessed her with such a heart that her selflessness actually transcends this world and will have a very prominent role in the hereafter. When she was married to Imam Ali (as) and learned of her dowry, which in itself was a very humble gift, she replied to Prophet Muhammad (saws):
“I kindly ask you to give it back and supplicate to Allah, the Exalted, to make my dowry the right to intercede for the sinners among Muslims (on the Day of Rising).”
While many young women would only be conscious of their worldly life and financial security on the day of their wedding, the heart of Sayyida Fatima (as) is so gracious and compassionate that she is not only thinking of the hereafter, but thinking of the fate of everyone other than herself! While she, due to her high stature, could easily be someone who is allowed into Paradise immediately on the Day of Judgment, she chooses to turn to Allah (swt) and ask for the right to postpone her entry into Paradise and save those of her followers who committed great sins and are destined for Hellfire.
You and I, despite our falling short of the high station of the members of Ahlul-Bayt (as), should not just take these points as simply being nice stories to relate while considering ourselves so low that we can never acquire such virtues. While we may not be able to practice these virtues to the extent that Ahlul-Bayt (as) did and we may not be able to reach a state which is equal to theirs, we must always remember that we can reach a stage of faith in which we are similar to them. Does not Allah (swt) say, “Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah,” and “Say: If you love Allah, then follow me”? Therefore, let us reflect upon these beautiful examples set forth by Fatima (as) and her family, and put them into practice so that we may truly deserve to be called their followers (shi’ah). And, finally, we should not forget the importance of the principal of selflessness in regards to our relationship with the Imam of our time (atfs). For we can never serve him, and thereby achieve the purpose of our creation, unless we reach a state where we can think beyond ourselves and value his well-being over our own, just as Sayyida Fatima (as) did for her father (saws).
Caleb Carter is a Philosophy undergraduate from University of Missouri and is now pursuing Hawzah studies overseas as well as studying to enter post-graduate studies.
 All three ahadith are quoted in their English translation from M Muhammadi Rayshahri. The Scale of Wisdom (London: ICAS Press, 2009) Page 1.
 Imam Khomeini. Forty Hadiths. Imam Khomeini (qs) cites: Al-Tabrisi, Majma’ al-bayan, x, 505.
 Abu Muhammad Ordoni . Fatima the Gracious. (Qum: Ansariyan Publications) Pages 100-101; Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi. The world’s most outstanding Lady: Fatima az-Zahra. (Naba Organization) Part Four
 Abu Muhammad Ordoni . Fatima the Gracious. (Qum: Ansariyan Publications) Pages 171-173.
 Shaheed Mutahari. The Islamic Modest Dress. (Qum: Dar us Seqafe) Fourth Lesson.
 Abu Muhammad Ordoni . Fatima the Gracious. (Qum: Ansariyan Publications) Chapter 26.