Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī
Fāṭima, daughter of the Prophet
Fāṭima may not be an Imam but she is the mother of eleven infallible Imams and, without a doubt, the Imams owe their infallible characteristics to their mother. Her distinctions are numerous, one of the most outstanding of which are her parents – the Prophet and Khadīja. Parents have a huge influence on their children; we already know who her father was, but we should acquaint ourselves with her mother too.
Khadīja was the first woman to accept Islam as her religion. Even before becoming a Muslim, she used to perform prayers led by the Prophet or ʿAlī. (Ibn Athīr)
ʿAfīf al-Kindī says: ‘I arrived in Mecca on business. I came across a man who was performing prayers at the Kaʿba. After some time, a woman joined her. Later on, an adolescent joined them. I asked ʿAbbās, the Prophet’s uncle, about these three and what they are doing. ‘He is Muḥammad, the son of my brother ʿAbd Allāh. He says he is the Messenger of God. The woman is his wife Khadīja and the young man is my nephew who has accepted Islam. I swear by God that this man has no other followers but these two.’ (Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha ) Now let us review some narrations about Khadīja.
Abū Hurayra says: ‘The Prophet said Gabriel came to him and announced the arrival of Khadīja carrying drinks and food: “Give her God’s regards and mine to her and promise her that God has built her a tranquil house in Heaven.”’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)
ʿĀʾisha says: ‘I was not jealous of any of the Prophet’s other wives except for Khadīja. I was not [with the Prophet] during Khadīja’s lifetime but whenever he slaughtered a sheep he would send meat to Khadīja’s friends. I was infuriated with such shows of affection. The prophet always said that he loved her.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)
One day, I saw the Prophet saluting an old woman. When I asked him about her, he replied: ‘She is Wafāʾ…She used to visit us during Khadīja’s lifetime.’ (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha)
Anas says: ‘Whenever a gift was brought to the Prophet, he ordered it to be taken to Khadīja. He loved Khadīja very deeply.’ (Safīnat al-Biḥār)
ʿĀʾisha says: ‘One day, the Prophet spoke about Khadīja. I felt jealous and said: ‘She was an old woman and God has given you a better one!’ The prophet became angry… and said: ‘I swear by God that’s not true. God has never given me a better one. At a time when people rejected me she announced her faith in Islam. When people used to deny me, she believed in me. When people deprived me of their wealth, she gave her wealth to me. She is the mother of my children…’’ ʿĀʾisha says she decided not to speak ill of Khadīja again after that. (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)
Ibn ʿAbbās says: ‘The Prophet said four women are the best in Heaven: Khadīja, Fāṭima, Mary and Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh (Khiṣāl)
These aḥādīth and many others make it clear that Fāṭima’s mother was highly respected. The Prophet did not take a second wife as long as she lived. When she died, the Prophet named that year ‘Year of Sadness’ and he personally buried Khadīja. (Sīrat al-Ḥalabī)
The Prophet’s daughter was born c. 605. She lived with her father for eight years in Mecca and ten years in Medina. After the demise of the Prophet, she lived only between 75 and 95 days before she too passed way. (Kashf al-Ghamma) She lost her mother when she was five years old. Her father’s main supporter, Abū Ṭālib, died a few years later. These two sad events distressed her greatly. At home, she had much work to do, but she became experienced. Fāṭima was eight when her father left Mecca for Medina. She arrived in Medina along with a group of Muslim women known as the Fawāṭim. A new chapter opened in her life.
The spread of Islam and the improvement of the Prophet’s position prompted Arab tribal chiefs to ask Fāṭima’s hand for marriage. Not a week passed without a new suitor for the Prophet’s only daughter. But Fāṭima turned all of them down because she believed that marriage is a connection of two souls. When the Prophet told her daughter of ʿAlī’s proposal, Fāṭima remained silent. This silence was an indication of an affirmative response. Assured of her daughter’s response, the Prophet cried. ‘God is great! May her father be her ransom! Her silence shows her agreement!’ the Prophet said.
When ʿAlī was told of Fāṭima’s consent, he decided to make the necessary preparations for marriage. ʿAlī owned nothing but a sword and an armour so he sold his armour and gave the money to the Prophet who, in turn, distributed it between Bilāl, Abū Bakr and ʿAmmār to purchase perfume, clothing and furnishings. Fāṭima’s dowry included the following items:
A garment bought for seven dirhams
A headscarf bought for one dirham
A long dress
A bed made from palm trees
Two mattresses made from Egyptian cotton
Four pillows made from wool and palm fibre
A straw mat
A water container made of animal skin
A wooden bowl for milk
A green pot
Two silver armbands
A copper vessel
Having seen the material, the Prophet said: ‘May God bestow happiness on those whose living stuff is mostly pottery.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)
The marriage gift for Fāṭima amounted to 500 dirhams. (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa) This marriage set an example for others to follow, as there are always young men who avoid marriage because they think they cannot afford it and there are young women who demand too much expense. Married life should be made pleasant by kindness and faithfulness; expensive dowries and lavish gifts do not guarantee a happy life. It is unfortunate to see in the present time that the bride’s parents sometimes impose heavy demands on their future son-in-law in a bid to guarantee their daughter’s stability and keep her husband from straying. But that is no remedy; the real solution is to ensure that our youths are morally virtuous and, for this, certain cultural and social practices should be supported.
Fāṭima’s wedding ceremony
A group of guests were invited by the families of groom and bride. The guests were served lunch. After lunch, the Prophet invited her daughter to the gathering. Fāṭima was humble. As she was approaching, she was close to falling. The Prophet held her hand and said: ‘May God protect you from all deviations. Then, he unveiled Fāṭima’s face and put her hand in ʿAlī’s and told ʿAlī : ‘May God bless you with the daughter of His prophet. ʿAlī! Fāṭima is the best wife. Then he turned to Fāṭima and said: Fāṭima! ʿAlī is the best husband.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)
On that night, the Prophet demonstrated sincerity and piety which do not still exist in our society, heaping praise on both his own daughter and his son-in-law. He also divided housework between them; tasks inside house were up ton Fāṭima while ʿAlī had to take care of tasks outside. The prophet then ordered a group of Muslim women to lead the camel carrying Fāṭima to ʿAlī’s house. In some aḥādīth, the Prophet is said to have appointed an important person such as Salmān to hold the camel’s leash out of respect for his daughter.
The most pleasant moment was the nuptial night. Both ʿAlī and Fāṭima felt shy. The prophet arrived, held a bowl of water, sprinkled her daughter and said: ‘O God! This is my daughter and the most beloved of people to me. O God! This is my brother in faith and the most beloved of people to me. O God! Strengthen their affection. (Biḥār al-Anwār)
Anas b. Malik says: ‘The prophet used to leave home at dawn for mosque. For six months, he used to stand in front of Fāṭima’s house and say: ‘My household! Always offer your prayers. God wants to keep my household from any evil.’ (Musnad Aḥmad)
Fāṭima in the Qur’an
The Qur’an’s description of people is never flawed because the book speaks for God, the creator of all mankind, and God knows human beings better than they know themselves! ‘Would He who has created not know? And He is the All-attentive, the All-aware.’ (Q67:14)
The Qur’an may not have mentioned Fāṭima by name, but it has spoken implicitly about people whose characteristics match those of Fāṭima.
The verse of purification
This famous verse was revealed about the Prophet’s household, describing them as pure and pious people; Fāṭima is a member of the Prophet’s Household, as many aḥādīth confirm (Dhakhāʾir al-ʿUqbā).
‘Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification.’ (Q33:33)
The prophet describes his daughter as follows:
‘God will become angry for the sake of Fāṭima’s anger and He will be pleased on account of her happiness.’ (Farāʾid al-Samṭayn)
This tradition, narrated by Muslim traditionists with minor variations, indicates that Fāṭima is infallible, or else her feelings could not have influenced God’s: ‘Say, ‘Indeed Allah does not enjoin indecencies. Do you attribute to Allah what you do not know?’’ (Q7:28)
The Verse of Mubāhila
Mubāhila literally means to curse one another, but in Islamic tradition it refers to a form of resolving religious disputes. The event of Mubāhila involved a debate between the Prophet and the Christians of Najrān, in which he summoned the members of his household. The event is recorded in several ḥadīth collections and is referred to in Sūra Āl ʿImrān:
‘Should anyone argue with you concerning him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, ‘Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly and call down Allah’s curse upon the liars.’’ (Q3:61)
Exegetes of the Qur’an say the only woman present in the Mubāhila was Fāṭima, as no other woman from the Emigrants or Helpers was qualified to be included in the above supplication by the Prophet.
The Verse of Mawadda
It is well-known that the Prophets have endured great difficulties and hardships all for the sake of God and their reward lies with him Him. However, God has obliged mankind to love the close associates of the Final Messenger: ‘Say, ‘I do not ask you any reward for it except love of [my] relatives.’’ (Q42:23) The prophet’s daughter, Fāṭima, is the closest person to him and therefore it is incumbent upon all Muslims in the world to love and respect her.
ʿAlī, Fāṭima and their sons, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, as well as their servant Fiḍḍa had decided to fast for three days as part of a vow for the health of Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. On the first night, a poor came and asked for food so they gave him their food and broke their fast with water. On the second night, an orphan came and asked and the Prophet’s household repeated their sacrifice. On the third night, the same happened for a slave. Out of respect for the sacrifices of these four people, fifteen verses were revealed to the Prophet. Two of these verses read: ‘And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive… (Saying), They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, [saying,] ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks.’ (Q76:8–9)
‘Indeed We have given you abundance. So pray to your Lord, and sacrifice. Indeed it is your enemy who is without posterity.’ (Q108:1–3)
Enemies of the Prophet such as ʿĀs b. Wāʾil taunted the Prophet for not having any male descendants but God dismissed this view and revealed these verses to tell him that he will have progeny through Fāṭima, his only surviving offspring. Fāṭima’s children were killed one after another by Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, but today the entire world feels the presence of the progeny of the Prophet.
In his interpretation of this sūra, Fakhr al-Rāzī says God means He will protect the Prophet’s progeny for the rest of time: ‘Look how many of the Prophet’s household have been killed, but still the world is replete with them. But there is no one important from the Umayyad family. Then look at the scholars in the Prophet’s family like al-Bāqir, al-Ṣādiq, al-Kāẓim and al-Riḍā…’ (Mafātīh al-Ghayb)
Fāṭima, a paragon of virtue
Fāṭima is an example for all women to follow in their lives. The Qur’an refers to two women as examples of piety and prosperity and two others as signs of misery. The latter are wives of the Prophets Noah and Lot. These two women betrayed their husbands who were messengers of God. To that effect, the Qur’an says: ‘Allah draws an example for the faithless: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of our righteous servants, yet they betrayed them. So they did not avail them in any way against Allah, and it was said [to them], ‘Enter the Fire, along with those who enter [it].’’ (Q66:10)
The two examples of prosperity are Asia, the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Asia was the Queen of Egypt. She was unique, but she accepted the invitation of Moses, regardless of all risks. Pharaoh was infuriated when he discovered his wife’s inclination towards his enemy. Despite his love for her, he crucified her, little knowing that he only served her realize her dream. The Qur’an says: ‘Allah draws an[other] example for those who have faith: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, ‘My Lord! Build me a home near You in paradise, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his conduct, and deliver me from the wrongdoing lot.’’ (Q66:11)
The second woman was Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur’an describes how she reacted to Gabriel: ‘Thus did she seclude herself from them, whereupon We sent to her Our Spirit and he became incarnate for her as a well-proportioned human. She said, ‘I seek the protection of the All-beneficent from you, should you be Godwary!’ He said, ‘I am only a messenger of your Lord that I may give you a pure son.’’ (Q19:17–19) The Qur’an describes Mary as follows: ‘And Mary, daughter of Imran, who guarded the chastity of her womb, so We breathed into it of Our spirit. She confirmed the words of her Lord and His Books, and she was one of the obedient.’ (Q66:12)
Fāṭima as the best woman of the world
The third example for women to follow is Fāṭima. The prophet has said that four women, including his daughter, will be the best women in Heaven. ʿĀʾisha says: ‘I found nobody much virtuous than Fāṭima except her father…’ (Sīrat al-Ḥalabī)
Ḥusayn b. Ziyād ʿAttār says: ‘I asked Imam al-Sādiq if the Prophet meant that Fāṭima, who will be the best of women in Heaven, is the best of her own time too. The Imam said: ‘Maryam was so, but Fāṭima will be the best in Heaven.’
Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet, passed away at the age of 18. It happened three months after her father’s death. Fāṭima was killed as a mob invaded her home. Imam al-Sādiq says she drank the chalice of martyrdom. Nobody is able to cover up the injustice perpetrated against the daughter of the Prophet. The Eighth Imam says she was buried in her own home. (al-Kāfī)