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Role of Women in the Spiritual Development

of Family: Hazrat Zahra (SA), the Role Model

Associate Professor,
Department of Sociology, Jagannath University
Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A woman, as a mother or as a wife, sometimes even as a

daughter, plays a pivotal role in the family. Family is
considered to be the oldest institution and according to
Islam, Adam and Eve (AS) started first family life on earth.
Due to deviation from the divine teachings a family these
days cannot play a significant role in shaping the character
of its members and that causes brings about effects on the
societies, the nations and the whole world. To sociologists
education is regarded as one of the important functions of
families. Family provides the basis for the child’s formal
learning. It gives the child its basic training in the social
attitudes and habits important to adult participation for
social life. The manner in which he/she learns how to get
along with his/her family will be carried over to his/her
interactions with school authorities, religious leader, the law
enforcing agencies and other agents of social control. When
the child grows up, he/she learns to manage situations
outside the home and family, and his/her dependence on the
mother, father and other family members starts to decrease.
The family is a centre for the religious training of the
children. The children learn from their parents various
religious virtues. At present in many places religion does not
enjoy proper importance inside a family; nevertheless, a
family as a center of religious quest has not thoroughly been
uprooted from all societies. The family still teaches the
children the religious values, moral precepts, ways of
worshipping God, etc. Even today, it is the family which lays
down the foundation of moral standards that guide the
children throughout his life. The family meets the spiritual
needs of its members. It is through the family that the
religious inheritance is passed on to next generations.
Family is regarded as the foundation of the Islamic society.
The peace and security offered by a stable family is greatly
valued, and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its
members. To keep the family on the right track, i.e.,
nourishment and maintenance of spirituality and morality, a
woman as a mother or as wife is to play a crucial role.
If a woman does not play her due role and perform her
responsibilities for any reason, the children have to come
across grave consequences. From a recent investigation on
social factors favoring juvenile delinquency, it was revealed
that nearly 50% of the delinquents come from broken
families (Rao, Sociology, p. 544). The children of broken
homes and families, lack parental affection and security,
face absence of a loving mother in the childhood or an
affectionate mother substitute, lack of family ties, parental
irresponsibility and high rates in divorce, desertion and
separation; all contributory factors to delinquency.
Interaction in home is a very important means for socializing
the child. A mother plays a vital role in this regard. If the
relation between mother and father is ceased, it has an
adverse effect on the total growth of the child. In such a
situation a child is not only deprived of mother’s love but
also parental control. He will becomes an easy victim to the
outside anti-social influences then.
In respect of piety and spirituality man and woman were
given equal status in Islam. Allah has not made the smallest
discrimination between male and female as it is mentioned
in the following verses of the Qur'an, “If any do deeds of
righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith will
enter Heaven, not the least injustice will be done to them”
“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and
woman, for devout men and women, for true men and
women, for men and women who are patient and constant,
for men and women who humble themselves, for men and
women who give in charity, for men and women who fast,
for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men
and women who engage much in Allah’s remembrance, for
them has Allah prepared forgiveness and reward” (33:35).
Moreover, in an environment where fostering of faith was
very difficult, a woman set the example of ideal belief, and
that noble lady was the wife of Pharaoh, Asiya. We read
about her in the Qur’an: “And Allah sets forth an example to
those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: behold she said: “O
my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a house in
paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and
save me from those that do wrong” (66:11).
This verse of the Qur’an strongly admires the piety and
spirituality of Hazrat Asiya. And about the piety and
spirituality of Maryam (Mary), mother of Isa (Jesus), a
number of verses are found in the Qur'an. In one verse she
is called “one of the devout (Qanitin)” (66:12). Abdullah
Yusuf Ali explaining this, says that the fact that Qanitin (the
devout) is not here grammatically feminine implies that the
highest spiritual dignity is independent of gender.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) spoke of four perfect women:
They are Hazrat Asiya, Hazrat Maryam, Prophet’s wife,
Hazrat Khadija and his daughter Hazrat Fatima Zahra (SA).
We have briefly mentioned the Qur’anic view about Hazrat
Asiya and Hazrat Maryam.
Hazrat Khadija’s contribution to the prophetic mission was
unparallel. She was a tower of strength to the Prophet
(SAW). When he received his first revelation on the Mount
Hera, it was Khadija who gave him courage; she stood by
him and was the first to embrace Islam. This is a case of
Allah blessing a woman with such power to supersede a
man. All through his life, the Prophet (SAW) told of the
memory of their relationship, and until her death, after 26
years of marital bliss, he did not marry another wife. In later
years when Aisha, his youngest wife, expressed jealousy
about his continuous fondness for Omm al-Momineen Hazrat
Khadija (SA) he rebuked her and said “I cherish her memory
because she was so loyal to me, when people belied me, she
believed in me, when people were afraid of helping me, she
stood by me like a rock; she was my best companion and
bore my children.”
From this statement of the Prophet (SAW), it is revealed
that Hazrat Khadija (SA) was not only the first person to
accept Islam but a staunch believer in that mission and a
strong supporter of the new religion in all vicicitudes and
tribulations. So her role in the family of the Prophet (SAW)
is unique as she kept the environment of the house ‘Allah–
believing’ and ‘Allah –friendly’, and that had a great impact
on her family members and those who were close to her.
Her noblest achievement in the path of Allah is that her
daughter Hazrat Fatima (SA) is crowned as the sayyidat un-
Nisa ul-Janna (leader of all women in Paradise). As the
teachings and life style of Hazrat Fatima (SA) are the key
points of this article, we would like to discuss these with
elaboration later.
We would like to throw some lights on what we understand
by spiritual development. But before clarifying this we are
to explain some key-concepts related to the universe where
man lives in. On the origin of the world philosophers have
different opinions. Those who believe the ultimate reality is
something spiritual are known as spiritualists and the
doctrine, they propagate is known as spiritualism; it is also
known an idealism. This doctrine emphasizes ‘spirit’ or mind
prior to matter.
On the other hand philosophers who uphold that the
ultimate reality is something material are known as
materialists and their doctrine is known as materialism.
Materialism is just an opposite view of spiritualism. The
term ‘materialism’ may be defined in various ways: the
theory that extended, self-existent atoms of matter in
motion are the constituent elements of the universe, and
that mind and consciousness – including all physical
processes- are merely different modes ofor such matter
and are reducible to the physical elements; as the doctrine
that the universe can be fully interpreted by the physical
sciences. Materialism discards the idea of creator of the
world and the notion of creation.
Modern materialism holds that the universe is an ultimate
material entity and that the universe, including all matter
and energy (motion and force) has always existed and will
always exist; that the world is a hard tangible, material
objective reality that man can know. It holds that matter
existed before mind, that the material world is primary and
that thoughts about this world are secondary. (Charles S.
Seely, Modern Materialism: A Philosophy of Action, p.7)
If we look at the doctrine of materialism, we notice that it
contradicts with the religious belief of creations. Islam and
all other religions believe that Allah created the universe
out of nothing. So in religion primacy lies with Allah, the
Supreme Being, the Supreme Spirit. Before creation only His
Being was existent. Finally everything will become non-
existent. His supreme power brought non-existent into
existence. Only, His Majesty will remain existent. In this
regard the Qur’anic view is:
“All that is on earth will perish: But will abide (for ever)
the face of thy Lord –
Full of Majesty, Bounty and Honor” (55:26-27).
So, religion endorses spiritualism as the philosophy of
creation. Behind the creation there is a philosophy which
has been disclosed in divine scriptures and sayings of the
Allah has created man as his vice-gerent (Khalifah). The
Qur’anic verse says: Behold, thy Lord said to the angels, “I
will create a vice-gerent on earth” (2:30).
The concept of vice-gerency is clarified in the following
“Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I am about to create
man from clay: “when I have fashioned him and breathed
into him My spirit, fall ye down in prostration unto him.
So the angels prostrated themselves, all of them together.
Not so Iblis: he was haughty, and became one of those who
reject faith.” (38:71-74)
From the above verses it is clear that man possesses the
spark of divine spirit. In another place the human spirit (ruh)
has been mentioned as the divine command (Amre Rabb).
This clearly indicates that man is a spiritual being, highly
dignified and sanctified in origin. But due to ignorance, he
sometimes makes violation of that great responsibility and
trust. This has been mentioned in the Qur’an in the
following verse:
“We indeed offered the trust to the Heavens and the Earth
and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being
afraid thereof; but man undertook it; he was indeed unjust
and foolish” (33:72).
Materialism, as we have already mentioned, is a
philosophy which disregards all religious beliefs. According
to it there is no creator of the world, and the world is
eternal. So the adherents of this philosophy are after
material gains and enjoyments. The impact of this atheistic
philosophy is visible every where. Communist states were
established on the basis of dialectical materialism of Karl
Marx which was claimed to be the advanced form of
materialism. Though western capitalist countries opposed
communism, in their ultimate objectives both capitalism and
communism are the same. Their objectives are to gain
material gains, food, money, and worldly enjoyments. In
both the systems spiritual aspects of human beings have
totally been denied. Though in the capitalist countries there
are adherents of religions, they can hardly play any role in
the spiritual progress of the masses.
Even in the Muslim countries the impacts of the
materialistic philosophy are found. Muslims deviating from
the real spirit of their religion are in most cases running
after worldly enjoyments, whereas they have been termed
as the best nation (Khairan ummatun). Their responsibility is
to guide men in the path of righteousness and also to
protect them from evil doings. Unfortunately they are failing
to discharge that great responsibility due to their ignorance
of the spiritual aspects of their religions; that is, there is not
enough of spiritual connection with the Lord. Among the
Muslims some sects have emerged who in the name of
adherents of pure Tawhid (unity of Allah) are opposing
spiritualism. Many of them ignorantly claim that there is
nothing spiritual in Islam. We have already referred to the
Qur’anic verses with regard to the spiritual aspects of man.
The purpose of religion is to arouse in man God-
consciousness. A man, as a vicegerent of Allah, must feel His
Majesty’s presence every moment. The purpose of religion is
to keep intact the real spirit of vice-gerency (khilafat).
Now the time has come to return to the real spirit of Islam.
Islam means to surrender to Allah in totality. The lesson of
that surrender has to be started from the childhood so that
hindrances from outside may not turn the infant from the
true religion with which every child is born. Here we may
mention the prophetic tradition according to which every
child is born in the natural religion (Deen ul-Fitrah), only his
parents divert him to other faiths. So, a great responsibility
lies with parents. Children at the state of their infancy stay
with their family members and this stage of life is very
important for moulding the rest of the life. In keeping a
family to the right track, a woman’s role is more important
than that of a man. The family solidarity and all the rightful
functions of its members depend on a great extent to the
devotion and sacrifice of women. One might quote words of
Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri which seem to be a very
correct assessment of woman.
“Sometimes we look at women as an active human,
sometimes as mother, daughter, sister, wife and indeed a
creature with special attributes. It makes her matchless and
different from men, in possession of emotional power and
effective natural capability, and consequently social duties.”
(Mahjubah Vol. 24, No. 11 (249), Nov. 2006, P. 40)
We have already mentioned with Qur’anic references that
man and woman are equal in respect of piety and spirituality
but for keeping a spiritual environment in a family a woman
has to play the pivotal role. To do this she must have some
ideals before her. We have very briefly made references to
the ideal ladies of human history: Hazrat Maryam and Hazart
Khadija. Now we would like to turn our attention to Hazrat
Fatima Zahra (SA), the beloved daughter of our Prophet
(SAW). She lived a very short life but that was full of
illumination and inspiration for the womenfolk. She was a
caring and loving daughter, sincere wife, an affectionate
mother with a great wisdom and also a scholar and teacher
who left lessons for men and women of her future
generation. She had the distinctive quality of taking right
decision at the right moment. How much kind and selfless
can a woman be? She once handed over her wedding dress
to a needy person who asked for her help.
About the relation of children with their parents and family
her words are so illuminating: “If you wish to remain safe
from God’s wrath and displeasure and to have a long and
healthy life, show kindness to your parents and family.”
A person cannot be a responsible person remaining
indifferent towards his parents. In the name of social service
there are a member of persons found in the society,
especially among the women, who pass their time outside
and least bother about their families. Such activities
damage the family bondage seriously.
Hazrat Zahra (SA) was the mother of four children. Each of
them proved to be an outstanding personality in the history.
As her life was very short, she didn’t find enough time to
stay with them. Even then her noble qualities reflected on
the characters of her children. Psychologists are now of the
opinion that a child’s personality is molded by the time he is
2-3 years old. From mother we learn things not like what we
learn at school. All her activities are lessons for her
children . If a mother is patient, her children will learn to be
patient, or if she puts full trust in Allah, children will
normally follow her. If she is truthful, her children will take
the lesson of truthfulness. If she is free from worldly lusts
and greed her children will try to get rid of these evils.
The children of Hazrat Zahra (SA) learnt generosity and
forgiveness from their loving mother. It is found in the
history of this noble family that whenever hungry persons
knocked on the door during meal time, this blessed family
offered the whole food to the poor person. Physically this
hunger might cause some troubles but all these were
washed away by the spiritual delights- food of the soul.
Because of their contentment they were rewarded
spiritually. One meaning of the word ‘Zahra’ is ‘radiant’ and
she successfully radiated her children with Divine Radiation
which she already possessed. It is reported by Imam Hasan
(AS)- her eldest son- that his mother used to pass the whole
night standing in prayer. She prayed for the sinners and her
neighbors, and for the whole Muslim community. Her
personality was glorified with love, compassion, tolerance
and sacrifice. To her, spirituality was not for the individuals’
sake only, but it had to be directed to bring back children of
Adam to their original characteristics, to become real vice-
gerents of Allah.
It is reported that Hazrat Zahra (SA) used to compose
poems and recite them to her children to infuse in them
bravery, courage, truthfulness, dignity, self-confidence and
etiquette. This is an effective method of inspiring children in
the adaptation of noble qualities.
In the pre-Islamic Arab society some used to bury small
alive out of shame, but with the emergence of our beloved
Prophet this barbaric practice came to an end. Islam not
only stopped this inhuman practice but inspired parents to
be affectionate to the children, especially with their
daughters. The Prophet (SAW) taught us to love and kiss the
children. This, he said, could tremendously impact on the
mental growth of the children.
He openly expressed his love and affection to his beloved
daughter, Fatima (SA), and always stood up and moved
forward a few steps in her honor whenever she entered into
a room.
Nowadays, most delinquencies and deviation from norms
are because of carelessness and negligence of parents. If
parents do not show love and affection to their children,
they feel a sense of insecurity and deprivation that
ultimately results in the development of improper behavior
and habit.
Hazrat Zahra (SA) properly took care of her household and
also her father. She spent time teaching women who visited
her to learn lessons about religion and life. She stood for
justice and truth. She said,”Allah has ordained the execution
and rendering of justice for the sake of putting together the
Now, why should we consider Hazrat Zahra (SA) the model
for a woman in the spiritual development of her family? The
answer may be found in a poem composed by Allamah Iqbal
of Lahore in praise of Hazrat Fatima Zahra (SA). He says
Maryam is dear because of the only relation that is the
relation of Jesus. Hazrat Fatima is dear because of three
relations: she is the daughter of Rahmatun lel-Alamin (Mercy
for the Universe), wife of Hazrat Ali (AS) and mother of
Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain. These three relations reflect
the comprehensiveness of her personality which is
illuminating for any one who wants to follow her.
As a daughter she is unparalleled as she took excellent
care of her father. She was ready to sacrifice every thing for
the sake retaining the true spirit of Islam propagated by her
father, the prophet of Allah (SAW).
As wife of Hazrat Ali (AS) she did not make any complaint
on poverty, these financial troubles however were to her the
blessings of Allah for the spiritual development of her
family. She was happy with the unique piety and spirituality
of Hazrat Ali Murtaza (AS).
As mother of Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS) she
deserves love and respect of all people who want truth and
justice prevail in the world. Imam Hasan (AS) gave away the
caliphate to save Islam and expose hypocrisy. Because of
the Supreme sacrifice of Hussain (AS) and his companions
Islam retains its true spiritual characteristics. Zahra (SA)
trained her sons in such a way that all fears and tribulations
could not stop them from standing for truth.
The whole world is now passing through spiritual crises.
Many men have forgotten their creator whereas they are the
most beloved for their Lord. Women must come forward to
save the deteriorating humanity. Women must try to create
Allah-fearing and Allah-love climate in their families, as it is
the ideal abode for a child to become a spiritually advanced
person. For turning the family into the direction of Allah, a
woman as a daughter, as a wife or as a mother must be
divinely inspired. The truest teachings of the Prophet (SAW)
were manifested in the life of his beloved daughter, Fatima
Zahra (SA). So she will remain the model for all women who
wish to raise the members of their families to vice-gerents
of Allah.

1. Al-Qur’an, English translation; Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
2. C.N. Shankar Rao, Sociology, Primary Principles, New Delhi:
S.Chand & Company Ltd. 2000.
3. Charles S. Seely, Modern Materialism: A Philosophy of Action,
New York: Philosophical Library, 1960.
4. Mahjubah: The English Family Magazine, published in Tehran, Iran