By: Muhammad Jawad Rudgar
The lofty and superior personality of Fatima Bint Asad (a) – a woman who strove in the cause of God – can be considered from two angles: her roles as a guardian for the Holy Prophet (s) and in raising her son, Imam Ali (a). This paper studies some of her traits of character such as her devotion to God, wilayah, and jihad, as well as her presence in the cultural, political, and social arenas. A study of her life results in an understanding of her steadfastness in safeguarding and disseminating Islamic values, her existential and ideological nearness to the Prophet Muhammad (s) and Imam Ali (a), and her deep insight, wisdom, and piety.
The lofty character of Fatima Bint Asad (a) is known analytically and comprehensively for two reasons:
a. She was an exemplary woman in early Islam and a shining example of faith, struggle in the way of God, and insight and forbearance in the ideological, political, and social arenas.
b. She was an influential and competent mother who played a vital role in both her family and society. She was the mother of Imam Ali (a) who was a source of truthfulness, wisdom, and gnosis and the embodiment of justice and rationality. She was also a role model for all worshippers and mystics.
People have always been – and still are – in need of and eager for such eternal role models for mankind who went beyond time, place, and language and played a dynamic and decisive role in history.
The Facets of her Character
The personality of Fatima Bint Asad (a) is discussed in two parts: Her guardianship of the Prophet Muhammad who was titled ‘the universal reason’, the ‘guide to the paths’, the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ and the ‘bearer of good tidings.’ It is also examined with respect to her being a mother of a son who bore complete and absolute devotion to God, namely Imam Ali (a). The layman fails to understand the unseen stations and the spiritual and existential achievements of Imam Ali (a), who called himself “a servant among Muhammad’s servants.”2 Such a figure as Fatima Bint Asad (a) was the mother of Imam Ali (a)3 and played the role of a mother to the Messenger of God (s). This is a great honor, merit, and inherent nobility of this exemplary lady, who was an excellent mother and a woman of faith and good deed, and who was the prime example of “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure” (Nahl, 16: 97).4
The personal character of Fatima Bint Asad (a) is manifested in her belief in monotheism and a seeker of the truth (hanif). Before the prophetic mission of the Prophet Muhammad (s), she followed the religion of her forefather, Prophet Abraham (a), just as her husband did, as he was also a hanif and believed in the monotheism preached by Abraham.5 After the advent of Islam, she was among the first women who embraced Islam. Apart from Lady Khadija (a), she was the first woman who paid allegiance to the Messenger of God (s)6 similar to her husband, Abu Talib, who was also a fervent believer in the message of Islam, as seen in his line of poetry: ‘Verily I knew that the religion of Muhammad (s) was the best religion in the world’.7
When witnessing the Holy Prophet (s) performing prayer along with Imam Ali (a) in a valley in Mecca, Abu Talib told his son, Ja‘far, “Go and say prayer along with your cousin.”8 Such a figure as Lady Fatima bint Asad who had followed the religion of the Prophet Abraham (a) before the advent of Islam and was one of the first converts to Islam must have maintained a high status in gnosis, faith, morality, and education. Such a woman whose life was influenced by revelation and heavenly tendency is enough to be qualified as a role model?
Lady Fatima’s informed and free choice based on awareness and steadfastness in the divine religion has elevated her to such a high rank among humankind that the Prophet (s) greatly revered and praised her. Furthermore, God the Glorified deemed her as worthy of being the mother of Imam Ali (a) and permitted her to enter His House, the Holy Ka‘bah. This shows not only the high position of Imam Ali (a), who was born in the Ka‘bah, but it implies the preeminence of Fatima Bint Asad (a) as well.
Now we should reflect that given the fact that Lady Mary held the rank of servitude, purity, and guardianship (wilayah),9 does Imam Ali’s mother, for whom the wall of Ka‘bah cracked open so that she could take refuge in the divine favors and gifts, not hold such positions?10 The rank of wilayah is attained through knowledge and worship of God and devotion to Him, as well as by taking the lead in faith and good deeds. This is the rank of total submission to God, witnessing the dominion of the world and of man, and witnessing the absolute ruler of the seen and unseen world: “In Whose hands is the dominion of all things” (Yasin, 36: 83)
“So also did We show Abraham the dominion of the heavens and the earth,”11 the dominion to which Fatima Bint Asad (a) opened the eyes of her heart and played a role in her sincerity and certitude.
Fatima Bint Asad ibn Hashim ibn Abd Manaf (a) was from the family of Abu Talib, and Abu Talib was both her spouse and cousin; thus, this made her from same family of the Prophet himself.12 She was the first Hashimite lady whose husband was also a Hashimite.13 Because of her role as mother to the Prophet (s), her faith and firmness in the way of monotheism, and her migration from Mecca to Medina, she was considered pre-eminent and exemplary. As Abul-Faraj Isfahani stated, “She was the first woman who paid allegiance to the Holy Prophet (s) after the revelation of the Qur’anic verse, ‘O Prophet! When the believing women come to you to give you a pledge…,’ (Mumtahanah, 60:12).14
Ibn Abi al-Hadid also admitted and referred15 to the fact that she was the 11th person who converted to Islam.16 Thus, she was the epitome of the abovementioned verse.17 According to Ibn Abbas, this verse was revealed with regards to Fatima bint Asad (a).18
Likewise, she was the epitome of the verse: The vanguard [of Islam] – the first of those who forsook [their homes] and of those who gave them aid, and [also] those who follow them in [all] good deeds, well-pleased is God with them, as are they with Him: for them has He prepared gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever: that is the supreme felicity (9:100).19
Fatima Bint Asad (a) was among the great women who enjoyed the virtues of taking the lead in Islam and migrating for the sake of God. In the verse 12 of Mumtahanah, after attributing the quality of making allegiance with the Prophet Muhammad (s) to her, she was cleansed of the reprehensible and vicious traits of polytheism, robbery, fornication, slander, calumny, and opposition to the Prophet (s). She refrained from all above-mentioned evils and gave the Prophet (s) a pledge to avoid the aforementioned vices. Even before paying allegiance and after it, she was never tainted with these vices. In other words, she was a faithful woman with a firm belief in monotheism. Her purity in both appearance and heart benefitted her in attaining the rank of being cleansed of blameworthy characteristics.
In the verse 100 of the chapter Tawbah, “taking the lead” and “migration” are mentioned as distinguished virtues. Moreover, some crucial, fundamental, and cognitive-spiritual traits which imply pure belief, morals, and deeds were specified for those who followed Prophet Muhammad (s), those whom God was pleased with them and they loved Him, those whom God prepared Heaven for them – which proves they are dwellers of Heaven – and the fact that they will attain supreme felicity and salvation. Fatima Bint Asad (a) enjoyed all the good qualities mentioned in the above verses. As Ja‘far ibn Muhammad, Imam Sadiq (a) was quoted as saying, “Fatima Bint Asad (a) was the first woman who migrated on foot toward the Holy Prophet (s) from Mecca to Medina.” He also said, “The mother of Imam Ali (a) – Fatima bint Asad (a) – was among the eleven ‘vanguards’ (al-sabiqun) of Islam and the ‘People of Badr,’ or Badriyyun – those who attended the Battle of Badr. When verse 12 of the chapter Mumtahanah was revealed, Fatima was the first woman who paid allegiance to the Holy Prophet (s).”20
Her unswerving faith in God
Lady Fatima displayed unwavering faith in God even before the prophetic mission of the Messenger of God (s). Based on a narration in Usul al-Kafi about the birth of the Commander of the Faithful (a) narrated by both Shi‘a and Sunni scholars, when the pains of childbirth became severe, she went towards the Ka‘bah and revealed the magnificence of her faith before God, saying: O My Lord! I believe in You and all the prophets and divine books sent down by You. I have also confirmed the words of my forefather, the Prophet Abraham (a), who built Ka‘bah. O’ My Lord! By the one who built this House and by the baby I am expecting, I beseech You to facilitate his delivery.21
The above-mentioned narration refers to several facets of Lady Fatima’s conviction: a) her faith in God and His unity, b) her faith in the divine prophets, c) her faith in the Prophet Abraham (a), d) her faith in the divine books revealed to the prophets, e) her belief in the Ka‘bah and its sanctity, f) her knowledge Imam Ali’s grand status before God, and g) her appeal to God through the prophets, the Ka‘bah, and Imam Ali (a).
In other narrations, there are references to the lofty character of Fatima Bint Asad (a) and her awareness of the high status of the Holy Prophet and Imam Ali (a).22 Likewise, after Lady Fatima’s burial, the Prophet of God (s) told Ammar: By God! I did not come out of Fatima’s grave but I saw two rays of light brought to her head and two others to her hands and still two others to her feet. Also, two angels were assigned to her grave to request God’s forgiveness for her till the Day of Resurrection.23
The Holy Prophet’s actions in the burial service and funeral procession of Lady Fatima is enlightening, giving us insight into her high status. As reported by both Shi‘a and Sunni hadith narrators, the Messenger of God (s) took part in her burial service by carrying the coffin and digging her grave. Then, he entered the grave and lay in it. Afterward, he took off his garment and had Lady Fatima covered in it as a burial shroud before she was placed into the grave.24 As narrated by Imam Ali (a): After Fatima Bint Asad ibn Hashim had passed away, the Messenger of God (s) enshrouded her in his garment and performed the funeral prayer. In the prayer, he said the Takbir (Allahu Akbar) seventy times. Next, he entered her grave, extending and strengthening it. Then, he came out of the grave, shedding tears and casting soil on the Lahad (internal grave) stone.25
On the other hand, at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s)’s birth, Lady Fatima rushed to help his mother, Amina (a). Once the Prophet Muhammad (s) was born, some light appeared, extending between the east and the west, startling both of them. Fatima Bint Asad (a) talked happily to Abu Talib (a) of the light she had seen.26 This indicates at least two points:
1. The presence of Fatima Bint Asad (a) at the time of the Prophet’s birth and her helping his holy mother, Aminah Bint Wahab (a)
2. Her witness of the all-sweeping light that extended between the east and the west.
The Holy Prophet’s participation in the funeral of Fatima Bint Asad (a) and her mystic intuitive presence at the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth truly imply her sublimity and her existential nearness to God and His Messenger (s).
Her image in terms of faith and gnosis
The Prophet stated five enlightening and profound words regarding the persona of Fatima Bint Asad (a):
1. The Messenger of God (s) commemorated her, saying, “Apart from Abu Talib (a), she treated me best. She was my other mother after my own mother. Abu Talib (a) benevolently prepared the food and Fatima gathered us for this food; she gave me a larger share of all foods so that I might return to their home again.”27
2. Fatima Bint Asad (a) heard the Messenger of God (s) say, “On the Day of Resurrection, people will be mustered bare.”
Fatima said, “Woe to me for such a brazen act!”
The Prophet (s) said, “I will request God to muster you covered.”
Also, when Fatima heard the Prophet Muhammad (s) speak of the chastisement in the grave, she said, “Woe to me, helpless in that situation!”
The Messenger of God (s) said, “I will ask God to take care of you in this regard.”28
3. The Prophet of God (s) said, “I lay in her grave in order to ease the strains of her grave and I dressed her in my garment so that she might wear the heavenly garment.”29
4. After burying Fatima Bint Asad (a), the Prophet of Islam (s) said, “The angels were everywhere in the horizon, opening the door of Heaven to Fatima and rolling out the heavenly carpets for her. The heavenly ladies rushed to meet her. Now she is showered with happiness, bounty and heavenly blessings, and her grave is a heavenly garden.”30
5. The Prophet of Islam (s) said, “The Archangel Gabriel informed me she is a dweller of Heaven and God has commanded seventy thousand angels to pray for her.”31
In addition to the Prophet’s high regard for her, great Muslim scholars and thinkers have also praised her in terms of her gnosis, morals, faith, and spirituality:
a) Abdullah ibn Abbas: “She was the first woman who migrated from Mecca to Medina in bare feet. In addition, she was the first woman who, after Lady Khadija (a), pledged allegiance to the Prophet of Islam (s).”32
b) Zahri: “The Holy Prophet (s) used to visit her and stay at her house. She was a praiseworthy lady.”33
c) Jamal al-Din Abul-Faraj Abd-u-Rahman ibn al-Jowzi: “She was a righout woman who wholeheartedly embraced Islam.”34
d) Sayyid Muhsin Amin: “She was a pioneer in Islam and the first woman who migrated to Medina.”35
Fatima Bint Asad (a) was among the women who migrated to Medina, heading toward the Prophet of Islam (s) along with Imam Ali (a) and Lady Zahra (a). During their 24-hour stay in “Dajnan,” Imam Ali (a) along with Fatima performed their prayer and remembered God the whole night, standing, sitting, and lying. At dawn, they said the dawn prayer with Imam Ali (a). They had covered each stop remembering God until they reached Medina. Before their entering Medina, the divine revelation was sent down about them: “Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the creation of the heavens and the earth.” (Ale-Imran, 3: 191)
In response to them, the end of this very Qur’anic verse reads as follows, “So their Lord accepted their prayer that never will I waste the work of any worker among you, whether male or female, …” (Ale-Imran, 195).
The term “male” refers to Imam Ali (a) and the term “female” refers to three Fatimas (Fatima, the daughter of the Messenger of God, Fatima bint Asad, and Fatima, the daughter of Zubair).36
First, Fatima bint Asad (a) had deep understanding and a pure heart, and God granted her the true faith and good deeds. He also made her the wife of Abu Talib (a), who strove in the cause of God, and was a self-sacrificing Muslim who was a full-scale supporter of the Prophet Muhammad (s).37 Her divine-monotheistic belief rendered her the receptacle of Imam Ali (a) and deserving of his training. Thus, she was the epitome of “good land” (A‘raf, 58) and “good word” (Ibrahim, 24).
Fatima bint Asad (a) became the divine greatest sign;38 that is, she trained the Father of all Imams, Imam Ali (a), and the Holy Prophet (s) regarded her as his mother.
Second, Fatima bint Asad enjoyed knowledge and gnosis,39 was God- fearing,40 did jihad in the way of God,41 and took the lead in Islam by embracing it42. These are the yardsticks of virtue and superiority, the stages of theoretical and practical perfection of the gnostic and spiritual journey. Likewise, based on the Qur’anic verse revealed about Imam Ali (a) and the Fatimas,43 she was contemplative, remembering God and enjoying wisdom and intellect.
Hence, she was a woman of intellectual and cultural genius, political and social insight, and mental and practical purity, similar to Lady Khadijah (a) and Sumayyah from the household of Yasir, who made many efforts to elevate faith and propagate Islamic values. They endeavored alongside the Holy Prophet (s) and Imam Ali (a) as well as warriors and migrants for the sake of Islam and supported Islam when it had very few defenders.44
Third, due to her inner intellectual qualifications as well as her innate talents and capacity, Fatima bint Asad (a) was deserving of a lofty status. In other words, since she was constantly in the presence of the Prophet and Imam Ali, she benefited adequately from these divine rays of two perfect men who held the privileged positions of the Prophethood and Imamate She was indebted to them for her spiritual journey in terms of creation and morality, her existential and purifying manifestation and her attraction of spiritual journey and spiritual journey of attraction. There were very few virtuous people who were qualified enough to be under spiritual guidance and support of such perfect men as the Prophet Muhammad (s) and Imam Ali (a).
How elegantly and honestly Fatima bint Asad (a) became their disciple, attained spiritual elevation, got eternal in history, followed the examples of these great role models, and herself became a role model for the truth-seeking spiritual wayfarers, Muslims and believers.
Fourth, Fatima bint Asad (a) enjoyed excellence of both intellect and heart; that is, both the intellectual gnosis and the inner one. Embracing monotheism before the prophethood of the Messenger of God (s), converting to Islam after his prophetic mission, sacrificing in the way of Islam and religiousness, seeing the divine Unseen rays at the time of the Prophet’s birth, and appealing to the baby she was expecting – Imam Ali (a) – at the time of his birth in Masjid al-Haram are all evident proofs that she was the very epitome of this Qur’anic verse, “Verily in this is a Message for any that has a heart and understanding or who gives ear and earnestly witnesses [the truth]..(Qaf, 50:37)”45
that she had divine vision and hearing to grasp the truths and hear the divine songs and tunes, and that she could benefit satisfactorily from her two kinds of eyes, ears and hearts;46 that is, her outward and inward faculties.
Fifth, Fatima bint Asad (a) was supported by the divine blessings and the Prophet (s) confirmed her knowledge. She enjoyed such a high status that the Prophet (s) attended her funeral as he carried her coffin, dug her grave, and talked to her, finished his words by saying, “Your son!” three times. Afterwards, he filled the grave with soil and threw himself on it. Those who were present heard him say, “There is no god but God. O’ my Lord! I entrust her to You.”47
Fatima bint Asad (a) was truly the epitome of the verse, “To Him go up [all] pure words: It is He Who exalts each good deed,” (Fatir, 35:10).
She is considered an exemplary woman in early Islam and one of the pioneers of faith, monotheism, jihad, and migration. She was a leading religious figure in terms of both understanding religion and taking responsibility for it.
1. PhD in Islamic spiritual mysticism, a faculty member of the Islamic Culture and Thought research center.
2. Usul al-Kafi, vol. 1, pp. 89 & 90, section Kawn wal-Makan.
3. Sheikh Mufid, al-Irshad, vol. 1, p.2 ; Sheikh Abbas Qumi, The Biography of Imam Ali (a.s.), p.14; Sayyid Hashim Rasuli Mhallati, The Biography of Imam Ali (a.s.), 8th ed., Tehran: The Office of Dissemination of the Islamic Culture, 1377, pp. 14 & 15.
4. See Jawadi Amuli, Woman in the Mirror of Majesty and Beauty, 3rd ed., Qum: Isra’, 1377, pp. 90 & 91.
5. Ali Muhammad Ali Dakhayyal, Fatima Bint Asad (a.s.), tras. Sadiq A’ineh-vand, Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1362, p. 12.
6. Ibn al-Sabaq Maliki, al-Fosul al-Muhimmah, p. 31.
7. Ali Muhammad Ali Dakhayyal, ibid, p.13.
8. Ibn Abi al-Hadid, The Commentary on Nahj-ul-Balaghah, vol. 1, p. 5. In Usul al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 448, there is also a Hadith by Imam Sadiq (a) in this regard: he considered Abu Talib similar to the Men of Cave, who had hidden their faith and pretended to be polytheistic; as a result, God had rewarded them twice as much.
9. Maryam 17 & 18, Tahrim 12, Ale-Imran 37, 42, 43,45; also, Abullah Jawadi Amuli, ibid, pp. 137-144; Abullah Jawadi Amuli, Wilayah in the Holy Quran, Tehran: Raja; 4th ed., 1375, p. 276.
10. See Muhammad Deilami, Irshad al-Qolub; Sayyid Muhsin Amin Ameli, A‘yan al-Shi‘a; Sheikh Saduq, al-Amali; Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Jala’ al-‘Uyn; idem., Bihar al-Anwar; Sheikh Saduq, Ilal-u-Sharayi‘.
11. The Qur’an, An‘am: 75
12. Sayyid Ja‘far Shahidi, Ali (a.s.) according to Ali (a.s.) or The Biography of Imam Ali (a.s.), 8th ed., Tehran: The Office of Dissemination of the Islamic Culture, 1378, p. 6.
13. Sayyid Muhsin Amin, ibid, vol. 3, p. 10.
14. Abul-Faraj Isfahani, Maqatil-a-Talibin, p. 5.
15. Ibn Abi al-Hadid, ibid, vol. 1, p. 6.
17. O Prophet! When the believing women come to you to give you a pledge that they will not associate in worship any other thing with God, that they will not steal, that they will not commit fornication, that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey you in what is good, accept their pledge, and pray to God for the forgiveness [of their sins]: for God is Forgiving, Merciful (Mumtahanah, 12).
18. Sibt ibn Jowzi, Tadhkirah al-Khawas, p.10.
19. See Nasir Makarim Shirazi et al., Nemuneh Qur’anic Commentary, vol.8, pp. 99-111.
20. Hashim Bahrani, al-Borhan fi Tafsir al-Quran, vol.4, p. 227; as for the conditions of allegiance and the relationship between women’s allegiance and their characters, see Nasir Makarim Shirazi et al., ibid, vol.24, pp. 44-50 & vol. 22, pp. 69-78.
21. Muhammad ibn Ya‘qub Kuleini, Usul Kafi, vol.3, pp.301-313; Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.5, p.307; Allameh Amini, al-Qadir, vol. 6, pp. 21- onward; Hakim Neishaburi, al-Mustadrak ala-Sahihain, vol.3, p.483
22. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.25, pp. 70, 179, 180; Ibn Athir, Usd-ul- Ghabah, vol. 5, p. 517;
23. Sayyid Hashim Rasuli Mhallati, ibid, p.15.
24. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.25, pp. 70, 80, 179, 180; Ibn Athir, Usul- Ghabah, ibid, vol. 5, p. 517.
25. Hakim Neishaburi, ibid, vol.3, p.108.
26. Sayyid Hashim Rasuli Mhallati, ibid, p.12.
27. Tawfiq Abu ’Ilm, al-Imam al-Ali; Rajul al-Islm al-Mukhallad, p.33; Ibn Hajar Asqalani, al-Isabah fi Tamiz al-Sahabah, vol. 4, p.369; Abu-l-Muayyad al-Muwaffaq al-Kharazmi, Maqtal al-Hussain (a.s.), vol.1, p.33.
28. Sibt ibn Jowzi, ibid, p. 12.
29. ‘Imad-u-Din ibn Yahy ibn Abi Kibr al-Ameri, Commentary On Bahjat-ul-Mahafil, vol.1, p.232.
30. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 9, p.17.
31. Hakim Neishaburi, ibid, vol.3, p.108.
32. Sibt ibn Jowzi, ibid, p. 13.
33. Ibid, p. 12.
34. Jamal al-Din Abul-Faraj ibn al-Jowzi, Safwah al-Safwah, vol.2, p. 28.
35. Sayyid Muhsin Amin, ibid, vol. 42, p.250.
36. Ali Muhammad Ali Dakhayyal, ibid, pp.24-25.
37. See Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 35, pp. 183-68; Allameh Amini, ibid, vol.7, pp.330-49; Abdullah Sheikh Ali al-Khunaibizi, Abu Talib: the Quraishite Believer.
38. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 36, p. 1.
39. Mujadalah, 11.
40. Hujurat, 13
41. Naba’, 95; Tawbah, 20.
42. Hashr, 10; Tawbah, 100.
43. Ale-Imran, 190-195; Nasir Makarim Shirazi et al., ibid, vol. 3, pp. 243-251.
44. See Abdullah Jawadi Amuli, Woman in the Mirror of Majesty and Beauty, p. 290-304; Ali Muhammad Ali Dakhayyal, The Great Muslim Women, vol.2, pp.34-9.
45. Also see Muhammad ibn Ya‘qub Kulayni, ibid, translated and commented on in Persian, 5th ed., Osweh, 1381, vol.3, p. 307, no.3.
46. Hajj, 22:46, Mulla Muhsin Feiz Kashani, Tafsir al-Safi, Mashhad: Sa’id Publications, vol.3, pp.383 & 384; Sayyid Muhammad Hussain Tabatab’i, al-Mizanfi Tafsir al-Quran, vol.14, p.389, Arabic version, published in Iran; Nasir Makarim Shirazi et al., ibid, vol.14, pp.145- 146.
47. Sayyid Hashim Rasuli Mhallati, ibid, pp. 14 & 15; Sayyid Mahdi Sahams-u-Din, The Exemplary Women, Qum: Daral-Fikr, 1376, p. 35.