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Mum Why Are There No Female Prophets? ” Princesses of Paradise & Strong Female Leaders in Islam

by in Soul on 7th February, 2019

Name two Prophets who didn’t have a father?

Hmmm….prophet Adam?

Yes awesome!

“… aaaaandddd…. I forgot…his name …”

Prophet Adam had neither mother not father but this prophet had a mother. Do you remember now?

Er…..prophet Jesus? But I forgot his name in the Quran!”

We are sitting at the breakfast table on a Saturday morning, and in ‘pop quiz’ style I challenge my son and husband to answering these questions. Something in our conversation had triggered it, something about different families?  I can’t remember exactly what now, but I guess that is the point – I do my best to try and seamlessly incorporate the stories about the prophets into our everyday lives.

“Name a prophet who had two mothers?” I asked next, flipping a pancake at the same time. I liked this one, they would have to think harder.

The stories of the Prophets are important in our family. Ever since that first time when on a whim I started retelling the story of   Prophet Musa (Moses), ‘a real superhero’ to my then 3-year-old superhero obsessed boy, we not only became familiar with the basic stories of most Prophets, but my son also started loving them.  Like really loving them, asking again and again for a particular story, relishing its details. So naturally, it started becoming easier to bring a ‘lesson’ from their lives into a conversation.

On asking him to ‘forgive’ his sister for breaking down lego he had spent a lot of time making – Remember how Prophet Yusuf  (Joseph)  forgave all his ‘Big Bad Brothers’ (a term he coined himself the first time I ‘retold the story’)  when they said how sorry they were, even though they had treated him so badly? I don’t expect these ‘lessons’ to soak in perfectly. His rage regarding the dismantled lego did not just diminish with that one sentence, but I know these reminders are seeds planted which will, I pray,  start to grow and flower, later on, to be remembered, maybe, at some other, more appropriate time.

I thought I had it ‘cracked’. Yes, I had found a way to make the Prophets ‘real’ for my kids, but there was one incident which made me think again. A fellow Muslim Mama posed a question that her son had asked her… A question quite profound given his young age, a question that I would be proud of, had my own son asked it to me ~

“Mum, why are there no female prophets?”

I grew up as the eldest of four girls. No brothers.  I used to hear the whispers surrounding my mother, distressingly enough it was always other women who would lament at her ‘misfortune’: ‘Allah has given you everything’ they would say, ‘Now He should have just given you a son.’ Never mind the baseless bias toward a boy child –  they didn’t even realise they were questioning the Creator Himself. I thank God, that we had also the voice of our father surrounding us – a voice powerful enough to drown out those other voices. He taught us the hadiths (prophetic traditions) on the virtues of having daughters and so, when I grew up,  I fervently wanted to be the mother of a girl(s) myself.

When I didn’t yet know the gender of my second child, I would make dua for a daughter with a feeling in the pit of my stomach, trying not to desire her so much. When she was born I imagined telling her stories of the princesses of Jennah”, ( in my head I also debated the more alliterative ‘Princesses of Paradise’ ) I imagined idyllically in a few years time – mother-daughter bonding over stories of her namesake, Hazrett Ai’sha, one of the most prolific women the world had ever seen.

What I failed to grasp then and only started to realise now after that thoughtful question from a young boy, is that it is not just our daughters who need to hear these stories – it is our sons too. And maybe more importantly so.

There seems to be this unwritten rule that boys won’t like stories/books with a female protagonist, but it’s perfectly normal and also expected for girls to read about and like books with male protagonists. I was making the same assumptions in my mind already, by ‘saving’ these stories of trailblazing women in Islam for a future conversation with my daughter when my son was already in front of me, at the age to fully understand and comprehend them.

Pondering on from that thought, I realised I NEEDED  my son to hear these stories even before my daughter heard them. I waited for an opportune moment … We had been reading a library book about Kings and Pharaohs of the past…

“Do you know HOW prophet Musa became a superhero prophet?’ I asked.”

Yes, I was about to bust out the superhero’s backstory’.  Just like in the movies. Except in this story the hero wasn’t our prophet – the “sheroes”  were three intelligent, persistent and brave women who were the reason for who prophet Musa was to become . His mother, his sister and the wife of the Pharaoh himself – his foster or adoptive mother – the  ‘Princess’ Asyia’ one of the true ‘Princesses of Jennah. If you are interested, here is how I retold Hazret Musa’s ‘origin’ story (just skip the italics if not!)

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Prophets Musa’s mother was very happy as she had just given birth to him – a beautiful baby boy … however, her happiness soon turned to tears when the Evil Pharaoh sent his soldiers with orders to kill all the new born boys of the land. You see he had been told by a soothsayer that a boy from the Israelites would be the reason for his demise…

The heart of Musa’s mother sent out a prayer to Allah and Allah answered her, He told her to put the baby in a basket and let it float down stream like a little boat with a precious secret cargo.

Musa’s mother’s intuition made her ask her daughter  – Musa’s older sister to run along and follow the basket … keeping an eye out to see what happens.

The river led to the gardens of the palace where there was another sad lady – the wife of the Pharaoh herself – the Queen of Egypt and her heart was sad because she longed to have a baby in her arms  yet didn’t have one … but look there! What was that stuck among the bushes and reeds of the river? It was a Gift from God Himself – her hands reached out to grab the soft sweet body of a baby! She pleaded with her husband to allow her to bring up the boy – he will be like our son she said. ‘A comfort to our eyes’ The Pharaoh finally relented and as was the custom in those days the Queen set about to find a wet nurse for the baby –  

‘What is a wet nurse? You might ask … a wet nurse is one who can give ‘mama’s milk’ to a baby. Many babies are lucky enough to receive their own mama’s milk but in those days when a mama like the Queen couldn’t give her own milk to a baby, she would pay another woman to do it. And guess what? Musa’s clever sister sought an audience with the Kind Queen and told her she knew of the perfect woman for the job! Yes in this way through the plan of Allah the baby Musa was able to be breastfed by his own mother and all three women were in peace and loved the little boy with all their hearts. In this way, prophet Musa had two mothers.

(Of course one of the most compelling parts of this story is the later episode of Aasiya’s torture by her husband and the ultimate bravery and strength of faith that she showed … The kind of spiritual and physical strength that is almost not of this world! This is something I do not shy away from describing to my child and any child, boy or girl, who hears of it would be filled with awe and wonder)

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There is so much we know about Musa (as) no wonder his is one of the most often mentioned names in the Quran. From his birth through to his relationships as an adult. Even down to the detail of a speech impediment he had, which gave rise to the beautiful dua many of us use before commencing any endeavour for eloquent communication.

It’s vital to show our children – these real, true examples of women who were just as important and influential as the men we hear about. As for that question – ‘why are there no female prophets?’  *Although we can not be sure whether female prophets existed or not (and there are some who believe women were given prophethood)* , I hope that by starting this kind of discussion with not only our girls but especially our boys they would both come to know that one doesn’t have to be a prophet to have Allah communicate directly with them and that Allah chose many women to change the course of history with their faith and action.

The story of Hajjar, and therein the whole premise of Hajj, is centered on a mother’s  quest to breastfeed and nourish her child.  Mariam, the mother of our beloved Prophet Jesus, was sent the most special of messengers – the Angel Gabriel with a direct message from Allah. Hazret Aasiya herself, when tortured for her faith, asked for and was shown, by Allah, her palace near Him in Paradise.

I have started to put a real emphasis on these stories with my son. Now he is six years old and through them we have had conversations about breastfeeding and bravery, about adoption and orphans and single parents and recently even about labour, when I described to him how the most ‘honorable woman’ mentioned in the Quran, Mariam (ra)  felt the pains of labour on giving birth to prophet Isa (Jesus). We talk about the amazing scholar, poet, woman of science and medicine that his little sister was named after: A’isha (ra). I want these names to be a part of his understanding as much as the names of the Prophets already are. And I pray that the stories of these ‘Princesses of Paradise’ are not only kept bound for our daughters to read but that our sons may also learn from them and emulate the characters of these Mighty Women.

Sumaya Teli

Sumaya Teli

Sumaya Teli is a British Muslim who now lives in the USA with her husband and three children. She is founder and writer at mamanushka.com ~ a popular lifestyle blog rooted in experiences of being a western, global Muslim, Woman and Mother.’