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Aspects of Mercy


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The Sealed Nectar

 The Sealed Nectar by Shaykh Safi ur-Rahman

Aspects of Mercy

Dear audience,  I greet you and welcome you after the break which was badly needed. I hope my talk will be well appreciated and that it will not be followed by any reproach by the gentlemen in the hall, as today’s lecture will deal with the manifestations of the mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, towards women.Smiling, She went on to say that some may ask why dedicate half of the lecture for this subject, which is a legitimate question, regardless of the intention of the person who poses the question, and I do not say, the woman who poses the question. At this juncture, the audience laughed and exchanged phrases which were not easy to understand.Dr Adam paused for a little while, then said, “A few years ago, I wrote an article on the role of women in social change. At the time, I noticed that woman did not enjoy a high prestige with many great men and history makers.

I had remembered a well known saying, which we all remember, namely, that behind every great man, there is a woman.  I must admit that I looked behind a great many great men but did not see the woman in question.I am not sure whether woman was behind those great men and whether they concealed her, by way of neglect, or whether she did not exist in the first place – Legitimate questions!It was not a matter of neglect by those great men, but I found that it reached the point of scorn and neglect. It seemed to me that there is a culture that has directed some of these men throughout history, namely, that greatness and women are two contradictory poles. It is as though if someone wishes to be great, he must stay away from women and dissociate himself from them. He must show that they do not mean anything  worthwhile thing, if only on the surface.

You will remember that Buddha began his journey to greatness – as he saw it – by abandoning his wife. The followers of Christ thought that that was the reason why he did not get married and built on this idea illusions that are tantamount to insult and scorn to women. Thus, Saint Bonaventure tells his disciples that when they see a woman they should not think that they saw a human being, but rather the devil himself.It seems that this culture goes back to ancient times. Thus, Socrates says: “The man is in a pitiful condition. He is at a loss whether to get married or to remain a bachelor, and in both cases he stands to lose.On the other hand, Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher, says that a woman must show absolute and unquestionable obedience to her husband, and that she must forget everything about herself in serving him, to the point of ceasing to exist and the man remains alone without any partner.Napoleon says, “In France, they overestimate women. But they must not be considered as equal to men. They are in fact nothing but devices for the production of babies.”[1]

 It was as though Aqqad had been aware of this regrettable fact, for he quoted the author of the book “The Short History of Women” the following sentence: “The age of chivalry was known as one in which young men had, in general, lost interest in the other sex”.We may feel less surprised at this statement if we know that the meaning of chivalry had nothing to do with women, unlike what many would like to think, for in the age of chivalry interest in women was less than interest in horses.Then Aqqad reports a case in the Book on Songs and Greetings, which reports that one day the daughter of Osis was sitting beside her window when two young men, Garan and Jerbert, passed by. One said to the other, “Look, look, Jilbert, how beautiful this girl is.” But his companion said no more than “How beautiful is this horse, without turning his face”.His companion said again, “I don’t believe I have ever seen a girl who is so beautiful. What beautiful black eyes!” They went on their way and Jelbert was saying all the way, “I do not believe there exists a horse that is comparable to this horse.”Commenting on this event, Professor Aqqad says, “This is a simple episode, but it has a clear significance. Lack of interest will engender disdain.” Then he reported another event in which Queen Blanchefleur went to her husband, King Pepin, asking him to help the people of Lorraine. The King listened to her, then he was furiously angry and hit her strongly on her nose, upon which blood  dropped from her face and she cried saying: “thank you. If this pleases you slap me once more whenever you wish.”[2]

 Dear audience,

A consideration of these statements and news will almost create an impression that woman had no place in the life of great men. It is as though woman degrades greatness if she is associated with it.I was struck by the fact that the manifestations of encroachment on the status of women were not confined to the whims of individuals, for they extended to official authorities that occupy a high position in society.Thus the Macon Church Synod decided in the fifth Century A.D. to discuss the matter of whether a woman is merely a body without spirit, or whether she does have a spirit. Eventually, they decided that she has no spirit that has achieved salvation from the fire of hell, with the exception of Mary, the mother of Christ.[3]The English House of Commons passed a resolution in the reign of Henry the Eighth, the king of England, prohibiting women from reading the New Testament and the Apostles of Jesus Christ, pbuh.[4]I mention this, dear audience, and add to it that the only Authorized Version of the Holy Quran was kept by Lady Hafsah, the wife of the Prophet, pbuh, and the daughter of the Khalif Omar bin Al-Khattab.

 If this analysis is right, then it is quite a shame to see this attitude, and I do not hesitate to say that it is a disgrace to greatness. It is at least a misjudgment of motives and exhibits a failure to reach complementarity and balance. In such case, woman would be entitled to turn away from those great men and  withdraw confidence from them.Where does Prophet Muhammad, pboh, stand in respect of what has been said. Was he, like other great men, negligent of women in his life, and is it true that the principles laid down by Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, do not respect women but oppress them?That introduction, these questions and the desire to ease matters after the academic presentation – all these have combined to make the discussion on women appropriate.I hope that this attitude will appear, through my presentation of some events in which woman was involved. I do not wish, in this context, to talk about the sublime status conferred on women by Islam, specially if we compare this status with that of women in previous civilizations. These matters are now well known as evidenced by so many texts and confirmed by rules that have been being applied  ever since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, and that have been acknowledged by the adversaries of the Prophet, pbuh, before his followers.I have found, in going through the life of the Prophet, pbuh, that women have occupied an unparalleled  prominent place in his life and interests, even in crucial situations. What has attracted my admiration is that woman herself has felt that she occupied a special position in the life of the Prophet, pbuh, more than that conferred on her by her nearest folks.

 Dear audience,

A woman went to the Prophet, pbuh, complaining about her husband and the way he treats her. Another went to complain about her father, and a third about her brother, a fourth about her relative. These are events that show the trust women have put in the Prophet, pbuh, and their belief that he would listen to their problems and sympathize with them and have mercy on them.Thus Jamila bint Salool, waited after the dawn prayer for the Prophet, pbuh, near his house.When he saw her, he asked her what was on her mind, and she said that she could not stand her husband, although she had nothing against his character and his religious devotion. She did not love him. He asked her why she did not love him. She said, “I was looking through the window and I saw him coming with four other men and found him, the shortest, the darkest, and the ugliest. So, I hated him”.When he heard that, he said no more than asked her whether she would be willing to return the orchard he had given as her dower and she said she would. So he asked him to divorce her.[5]What is strange about this episode is that the woman did not complain to her father or her brother. Probably she did not dare to tell them what she said to the Prophet, pbuh. Complaining to her fatter or brother would have embarrassed her and exposed her to reproach and reprimand, as this sort of behavior did not become a woman in the customs of her community.

Jamila had looked around her and found no one to tell him about her problem except the Prophet, pbuh. He was as she had expected. He did not rebuke her. He did not even ask her to change her mind about being separated from her husband Thabet. He merely referred to her husband’s right to retrieve the dower he had given her by way of mercy towards him, for it is not fair that the husband should lose his wife as well as the dower he had given her.The Prophet, pbuh, has had mercy on her and appreciated her feelings, but he also felt with the husband and told him about his wife’s problem and that he would like him to divorce her and take back his orchard. Thabet merely complied.You will probably have noticed that the Prophet, pbuh, did not report to Thabet what his wife had told the Prophet, pbuh, about her husband, by way of mercy towards him in order not to hurt his feelings. I must also mention that Thabet was the official spokesman of the Prophet, pbuh, in public occasions, in the language of the period.He was the Prophet’s spokesman. Jamila, on the other hand, was the daughter of Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salool, who was one of the leaders of his people before the arrival of the Prophet, pbuh, and his staunchest adversary after his arrival.  But the Prophet’s mercy was above all considerations, in this respect.

 He did not side with her husband Thabet, despite his close relation to the Prophet and his love for him. He did not take the opportunity to take revenge against her father Abdullah bin Salool, despite his enmity to the Prophet, pbuh. On that occasion he merely wanted to do justice to the woman.Another woman, Khansaa bint Khudham came to the prophet to complain about her father, who had given her in marriage to someone she did not love without asking her opinion, upon which the Prophet annulled the marriage straight away.In this behavior, the Prophet, pbuh, has confirmed that the age of enslavement of girls by their fathers or others was over for good. This is why he annulled the marriage by way of mercy to this girl, because he could imagine how her life would be with a husband she did not love.In another case, Hind bint Otbah came to the Prophet, pbuh, complaining about the avarice of her husband Abu Sufyan, saying that he did not give her what was enough for her and her son. The Prophet, pbuh, said, “Take from his money what is enough for you and for your son, without his permission.”[6] The mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, would not tolerate the situation of a woman living together with her son under a miserly husband who can afford to spend on them.There is another woman, Um Kulthoom bint Oqbah, who ran away from her folks, because she was Muslim and her folks were unbelievers, who were harassing her.  She had left Mecca and migrated to Medina, after the Prophet has signed the treaty with Quraish, which treaty provided, among other things, that the Prophet, pbuh, shall return to Mecca those who come from Quraish as Muslims.

When Um Kulthoom came as a Muslim, the Prophet, pbuh, did not return her to Mecca, as provided under the verse of the Quran, which  reads,“and if you have ascertained that they are believers, do not send them back to the deniers of the truth (Al-MumtaHanah, 10). Thus women were excluded from this stipulation, as it was applicable only to men, by way of mercy towards women and in appreciation of their special circumstances, despite the protestation of Quraish.[7] As to Um Hani, the cousin of the Prophet, pbuh, and the sister of Ali bin Abu Taleb, she came to the Prophet to complain against her brother Ali[8], who took no account of her when he wanted to kill two of her husband’s relatives who had sought her protection and entered her house, on the day of the entering of Mecca. She had closed the door of her house to prevent him from killing them.She had come running to the Prophet, pbuh, saying in anger, “This son of my mother – she did not refer to him as her brother because she was angry – wants to kill those who have sought my protection.” The Prophet, pbuh, said, “We give protection to whom you have given your protection.” It was a kind gesture to the woman.

Woman has received tender treatment from the Prophet, pbuh, which she had never had throughout her long history. In standing by the woman, the Prophet, pbuh, was destroying customs that went back to many centuries, and spared no effort to secure for woman her due position, using several means, because he had mercy on her on account of the condition she had come to suffer from..His tender treatment began with his own family and he urged his companions to do likewise. Thus, among his statements is the following: “The best, the best, among you is the best to his family, and I am the best of you towards my own family.” [9]His wife Aisha, has reported that he had never hit a woman in his whole life.[10]  This is a message of mercy that the Prophet, pbuh, sends to every husband, father, indeed to every man and to all human beings, to which I add another message of mercy and cooperation conveyed to us in an authentic piece of information, which I present to men in this hall in particular: “Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, was in his house a help to his family; but when it is prayer time, he would rise to pray.”[11] The Prophet, pbuh, was merciful towards his spouses; he used to help them in their house work, as he felt that the wife needs such help. Such attitude is not contrary to greatness or manhood, as some husbands think, and I hope that women would not stir any problems at home after hearing this piece of information.

The Prophet, pbuh, has urged men to be gentle with their wives and to play with them, so much so that he said that every thing that is not within the scope of the remembrance of God is amusement and fun, unless it is one of four things, of which he mentioned man’s amusement with his wife.[12] I should mention the noble instructions of the Prophet, pbuh, to the men, and he was the first to apply same, namely not to enter the house of his wife all of a sudden, after returning from a trip. Abdullah bin Omar has reported that the Prophet, pbuh, has said, “Do not knock at the door of women at night, and he used to send harbingers[13] to inform the wives that their husbands were back. Thus, he and his companions used to go to the Mosque to pray for a while and then they would go to the houses of their wives, who as soon as they heard that their husbands had returned, they would hurry to prepare themselves to receive them. This is an ultimate refinement of taste, mercy and kindness, and is a practice to be emulated in our times.The Prophet, pbuh, used to practice such amusement himself. His wife, Aisha, tells us the following story. “On a trip in which I accompanied the Prophet, pbuh, at a time when I was still very young and thin, he told his companions to ago ahead of him and then proposed to me to race him, which I did and was ahead of him. But when I grew up and became fatter and forgot all about the racing, I accompanied him on another trip. He told his companions to go ahead of him and then proposed that I race him, which I did and he was ahead of me, upon which he laughed saying, ‘Tit for tat’.[14]