Tuesday 4 August 2015

Forgotten Heroines: Guardian of the Qur'an- The Salafi Feminist

Hafsah bint ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anha) is one of the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who stands out at the forefront, along with her co-wives A’ishah, Umm Salamah, and Zaynab bint Jahsh.

Her name has two meanings: one being ‘young lioness,’ and the other being a reference to a certain type of bird that was known for being beautiful, elegant, strong, and predatory. With Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), everyone around her testified to the fact that she indeed lived up to her name – a creature of power as well as beauty.  

Hafsah was amongst the eldest of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s children, and of the early believers of Makkah. She was described as being “her father’s daughter” and indeed, she had a very close relationship with him. Although they used to have strong words with each other quite often, they also respected each other greatly and loved each other dearly.
‘Umar would often go to his daughter in matters of both family dispute – for example, when he disapproved of something that one of his sons did – or politically, such as when he was the khalifah and Hafsah acted as an intermediary between him and various plaintiffs. He also referred to her for Islamic knowledge, drawing upon her understanding of legal rulings as well as an understanding of the society around her.

Hafsah’s first husband was Khunays ibn Hudhaafah, a believer who fought in the Battle of Badr and then fell ill in Madinah after the Hijrah. When he died and Hafsah was left a widow, ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) was determined to find a husband who would be suitable for his daughter. With a personality that so matched his own, he knew that not any man would be right for Hafsah – only a strong man could marry a woman like Hafsah.

With this in mind, ‘Umar approached both Abu Bakr and ‘Uthmaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhum), hoping that one of them would be as eager about the match as ‘Umar himself was. To his dismay, both of them refused. However, his disappointment was quickly alleviated when RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) proposed to Hafsah.

As RasulAllah’s wife, Hafsah quickly established herself amongst her co-wives. She and A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) were similar in temperament and immediately hit it off; A’ishah laughingly described the two of them as being ‘one hand.’ They spent time together both in camaraderie and friendly rivalry, forming their own little clique and backing each other up in conflicts with their other co-wives.

Hafsah was a woman of both strength and skills. As A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) said drily, “She was her father’s daughter” in temperament, and equal in intelligence. She was one of privileged few who were not only literate, but were able to write as well. She was eager to study and quick to learn, which RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) recognized and encouraged, especially when he found Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) sitting with ash-Shifa bint ‘Abdullah, who was famous for her skills as a doctor. RasulAllah specifically instructed ash-Shifa to teach Hafsah medicine, thus adding to her skillset.

In addition to the ‘secular sciences,’ however, Hafsah was unique in that she was one of the female Companions who memorized the Qur’an completely. She committed it firmly to memory and was well-versed in it, to the point that she would engage in debate with RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and quote ayaat of the Qur’an to bolster her points.

Jabir bin 'Abdullah Ansari narrates an incident which was related to him by Umm Mubasher. She, Hafsah and RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were sitting together and conversing. RasulAllah mentioned that all the people who had given the pledged of allegiance at Hudaybiyah under the tree would go to Paradise, and not to Hell. Intrigued, Hafsah asked how this was possible, and quoted the verse: {There is not one of you but will pass over it (Hell).} (Quran 19:71)
In answer, he replied with the verse immediately after it: {Then We shall save those who use to fear Allah and were dutiful to Him. And We shall leave the wrongdoers therein to their knees (in Hell).} (Noble Quran 19:72)[1]

Hafsah was not merely a passive caretaker of the mus’haf; she was a powerful guardian, who was also an active participant in the process of the preservation of the Qur’an.

During the lifetime of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the Sahabah used to write down the ayaat of the Qur’an on various sheets of paper and leather. Those sheets of paper were not collected in the proper order of the Qur’an itself, but rather were left loose. This was not an issue at the time as RasulAllah was still alive, and there were many Sahabah who memorized the Qur’an and taught it to those around them.
However, during the khilaafah of Abu Bakr, there arose a problem – not only were there hundreds of thousands of individuals newly accepting Islam, but there were many military expeditions against political rebels. Due to the fact that those who memorized the Qur’an were those most keen to die in Jihad, huge numbers of qurraa’ (recitors of the Qur’an) died in those battles. With their deaths came the risk of the Qur’an being lost.
Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhum) came to the conclusion that it was now necessary for Zayd ibn Thabit – the personal scribe of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – to take part in collecting all the manuscripts of the Qur’anic verses. They did so, and Abu Bakr became the first custodian of those scrolls until his death, whereupon ‘Umar took them into his care, and after his death, it was Hafsah bint ‘Umar who became the guardian of the mus’haf. (Narrated in Bukhari)[2]

It is further interesting to note that when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) passed away, he not only bequeathed the ownership of the mus’haf to Hafsah, but also appointed her as the executor of his will and his estates.[3] Considering the fact that Hafsah had several brothers – including the famous Abdullah ibn ‘Umar – it is a significant matter that Hafsah was regarded so highly by her father, and respected by others.

Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was extremely protective of the manuscripts in her care. She understood their importance and felt a personal bond with them – after all, she had been witness to the revelation of so many of those verses, and heard her husband, the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), recite them in front of her.
When ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) became the khalifah and made it his mission to provide a standardized copy of the mus’haf in order to prevent confusion regarding the different qira’aat (modes of recitation), he first asked Hafsah’s permission to use the manuscripts in her possession. Only after he promised to return the scrolls to her when he was done, would Hafsah permit him access to the scriptures. 

 Nonetheless, during Hafsah’s lifetime, her ownership of the scrolls was undisputed and unchallenged – no one could take them from her or dictate how she used them. Truly, she guarded her treasure with all the ferocity and dedication of a lioness.

When we look at the lives of the Ummahaat al-Mu’mineen and indeed, at great women throughout Islamic history, we need to consider them with more than a passing glance. It’s not enough to mention them as being ‘righteous’ and ‘pious’ – which they indeed were – but we do need to focus on how they contributed meaningfully to our history and our faith.
Without Hafsah’s dedication to being a strong protector and guardian of the mus’haf, we would not have had the Qur’an’s impeccable preservation; since we know that Allah promised us that He would never allow the Qur’an to be corrupted, Hafsah’s role is highlighted further. In essence, she was a manifestation of the promise of Allah – and indeed: {No doubt - the promise of Allah is true.} (Qur’an 10:55)

In Hafsah, we have the example of a woman who spent her life dedicated to the Qur’an; to memorize it, to protect it, to preserve it, and to live according to it. Jibreel (‘alayhissalaam) himself told RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam): “She is sawwaamah (constantly fasting),qawwaamah (constantly standing in prayer), and she will be your wife in Jannah.”
This devotion to Allah, to His Words and His Commands, is precisely what we need to revive amongst ourselves should we hope to see the rise of another generation of heroines of Islam. 

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