In the last few days the Indian state of Karnataka has been in the news for the wrong reasons, with a government-run college accused of discrimination against hijabi women, all in the name of secularism.
This has given rise to protests.
It’s during this saga that one lady named Muskan grabbed the headlines: wearing a burqa, she’s seen shouting Allahu akbar confidently while being confronted by a hundred or so Hindu nationalist boys.
The Indian Express reports:
The video of a burqa-clad college student confronting a group of men trying to heckle her at the PES College in Karnataka’s Mandya district has gone viral on social media. The men, who were carrying saffron shawls, had purportedly gathered outside the college on Tuesday demanding a ban on Islamic attire like hijab and burqa at the campus.
Notably, Karnataka is in the midst of a controversy with several educational institutes witnessing protests both in favour of and against the demand for banning the hijab.
We will not discuss here how all of this has been recuperated for a sort of performative feminism, about hijab and burqa being a “choice” and other liberalizing and secularizing tropes.
We will not even consider if “protesting” for secular education is really worth the effort either.
What we’ll look at is, through the Qur’an and the Sunnah, how indeed iman is a weapon of the believer, and the role Muslim women eventually played in the battlefield.
Iman Is What Makes the Muslim Superior to the Non-Muslim
We read in Qur’an 8:66
Now, Allah has lightened [the hardship] for you, and He knows that among you is weakness. So if there are from you one hundred [who are] steadfast, they will overcome two hundred. And if there are among you a thousand, they will overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. And Allah is with the steadfast.
The context of revelation of Surah Al-Anfal was the battle of Badr, in the year 2 A.H., the first major battle of the Muslims.
During that battle the believers were largely outnumbered, some 300-odd Muslims against nearly 1000 polytheists, and, by the grace of Allah and their strong iman, the Muslims were eventually victorious.
A Western historian like Spencer Tucker had to include it in his encyclopedic Battles that Changed History, writing in p. 91:
Many in Arabia saw the victory of Muhammad’s badly outnumbered, poorly armed, and badly equipped force as a sign from God. It certainly added immensely to Muhammad’s reputation, especially as a military leader. Defeat at Badr would probably have brought his death. Instead, he emerged as the leader of a rapidly growing religion that soon came to dominate North Africa and the Middle East.
But, again, such victory is predicated on iman, as the verse insists.
Mufti Muhammad Shafi, a 20th century scholar from Pakistan, the father of Mufti Taqi Usmani, commented on the ayah as such in his Ma’ariful Qur’an, vol. 4, p. 272:
The glad tidings about this support and victory has been made subject to the condition that these Muslims should be observers of patience and fortitude. It is obvious that standing steadfast while endangering one’s dear life in fighting and killing on a battlefield is a feat which can be performed only by a person whose ‘Iman is perfect – because, perfect ‘Iman generates enthusiasm for surrendering one’s life in the way of Allah and this enthusiasm multiplies his combat strength a lot more.
Towards the end of the verse, it, was in the manner of a general principle that it was stated: (And Allah is with the patient – 66). Included here, there are those who remain steadfast in the battlefield as well as those who keep following the usual injunctions of the Shariah strictly. The promise of Divine company stands good for all of them and in this state of His being with one and all of them lies the real secret of their victory – because, whoever has the good fortune of having the company of the Absolute Master simply cannot be moved away from the station of duty by anyone, not even by the whole world in unison.
The conquering confidence and fearless exclamations of Allahu akbar by this sister in front of a group of raging Hindu nationalists is a just a glimpse of what iman can do.
Muslim Women at War?
We have to begin by stressing that our point is not to push Muslim women to join armies, as the liberal world has been doing recently.
We also find in a narration from ‘A’isha (rady’Allahu ‘anha) in Sahih Al-Bukhari 2784:
(That she said), “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! We consider Jihad as the best deed. Should we not fight in Allah’s Cause?” He said, “The best Jihad (for women) is Hajj-Mabrur (i.e. Hajj which is done according to the Prophet’s tradition and is accepted by Allah)
Women who participated in Jihad did it mainly for non-military reasons, mainly to help with their medical skills.
We read in a sahih narration in Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1556:
That Najdah Al-Haruri wrote to Ibn ‘Abbas asking if the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would fight along with women, and if he would fix a share of the spoils of war for them. Ibn ‘Abbas wrote to him: “You wrote to me asking me if the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would fight along with women. He did fight along with them, as they would treat the wounded. They received something from the spoils of war, but as for their share, then he did not fix a share for them.”
And whenever you hear about a Muslim woman fighting the disbelievers, she was nearly always pushed into it after initially being a non-military assistant: the most famed of such “female warriors” is undoubtedly Khawlah bint al-Azwar (rady’Allahu ‘anha), yet she was a nurse and took weapons only after her brother Dhirar (rady’Allahu ‘anhu), himself a famed Muslim commander, was captured by the Romans, then partaking in a campaign under Khalid ibn Walid (rady’Allahu ‘anhu) to rescue him, interestingly hiding her identity as a woman.
Look at all other “Muslim female warriors” you’ll see the same pattern: they were always pushed to go into physical fight due to some necessity.
We have to say it because many recycle these stories for a liberal-feminist agenda, like they do when they say that Khadija (rady’Allahu ‘anha) was somehow a “businesswoman.”
That being clarified, when Muslim women did have to fight the disbelievers, because of their powerful iman, they certainly didn’t lack courage and determination.
Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar resumes their fighting contributions for Tawhid in his Great Women of Islam, pp. 11-12:
Among the many services that one can render to Islam, is to fight in the battlefields. Few, if any, examples of such zeal, determination, perseverance and courage can be found in history. When the disbelievers attacked the Muslims during the Battle of Uhud, only a few devoted followers were left to fight with the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ at this critical stage the woman companion Umm ‘Ammarah shielded him with her body and warded off the enemy with her sword as well as her bow and arrows. When Qaniah got within striking distance of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ it was she who bore the brunt of his attack. She had a deep wound on her shoulder, yet she continued to attack him with her sword. But he was well protected and she could not make a dent in his armor. Against Mussailmah Kaththab she fought so courageously that she suffered a dozen wounds and lost an arm.
In the battle of Ahazab (the battle of Trench), the Companion Safiyyah’ displayed brilliant military strategy in handling the Jewish attack, and slew one of the Jews. In the Battle of Hunain Umm Salim set out to attack the enemy with her sword.
In the battle of Yarmook, Asma’ bint Abu Bakr, Umm Abban, Umm Hakeem, Khawlah, Hind and the Mother of believers Juwairiah’ displayed extraordinary valor. Asma’ bint Yazid killed nine enemy soldiers. In the year 28th after Hijrah, Umm Haram’ took part in the attack on Cyprus.
The Mother of the believers ‘Aishah, Umm Salim and Umm Salit were among those who were very proficient at nursing the wounded.
The Sahabiyat usually accompanied the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on his military expeditions and took part in battles both on land and at sea. Besides taking an active part in the war, there were many other services that the Sahabiyat performed, like giving medical aid to the soldiers, nursing the wounded on the battlefields and providing food and water to the wounded and thirsty. Standing side by side with the soldiers they would hand them arrows, nursing the wounded and generally help to keep up the morale of the army. They also helped to carry the martyred and the wounded back to Al-Madinah. Umm ‘Atiyah took part in seven battles, and fought during the rule of the Caliphs ‘Umar Farooq, the women and even the children helped to bury the dead.
These are “strong Muslim women,” those who, when circumstances ask them to do it, do fight, putting their life at risk, not for liberalism or feminism though, but for Tawhid.
And our Indian-Muslim sister Muskan shouting Allahu akbar against the cowardly bunch of Hindu boys is, again, just a glimpse of what iman can make a Muslim woman do.