It has always been said that listening to the life stories of the sahaba or the legends of great people plays an important role in man's attaining perfection. Why is this so?
I will try and answer my own question by asking another question. Can a person understand his existence on earth without knowing the story of Adam? Other than the story of Adam is there any better method of explaining and finding resonance in our hearts regarding how he established balance between servantship and vicegerency and that repentance can not be real until one has burned in the fire of regret? Of course not. For this reason, our Creator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, always gives examples and short stories in the Quran while showing us the road to salvation.
We read about how to become Allah's friend in the example of Abraham. The Quran gives examples of obedient women by means of Mary and Asiya. On the other hand, rebellious women can be found in the wives of Lot and Noah. In other words, we can make connections with many things by means of real-life examples.
Perhaps ideas can be learned by reading about them. However, morality can not be learned from books on the subject or theories on morality; neither can it be learned from sermons that command morality. It can only be learned by being close to those garbed in morality and by taking lessons from their life stories. In fact, masters say that even music is learned from an original benefactor.
Life cannot be learned from books. Neither can religion... For this reason, Allah sent his book by means of a prophet, one described by Aisha as the "walking Quran." The source that has conveyed to us the example of our Prophet is his closest companion.
How do the wives of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), or the Mothers of Believers, comprise an example for us? More correctly, how can we take them as examples? In my opinion, we have to focus on this question today.
For example, Ummu Salama. As is widely known, she was married with Abu Salama before she married Muhammad. Together with that she was from the Muslims in Erkam's house. Because they were among the first Muslims, they experienced difficulties in Mecca. And they migrated to Abyssinia which the Prophet had pointed out to be a "place where there is a just ruler."
Ummu Salama had witnessed many important events in the Age of Happiness, this migration in particular. For example, we learn from Ummu Salama's narrations about how the Muslims were met by Najashi in Abyssinia, how Muslims were not turned over to representatives from Mecca, and how Jafar, the Prophet's cousin, read the Maryam Surah (chapter from the Quran) at the palace. Also, we learn from Ummu Salama's experience and her personal report how difficult a time it was for Muslims who migrated to Medina.
Her witnessing is a blessing that enables us to learn about the Age of Happiness, for after Aisha she is known to be the female companion who made the most narrations. However, for many people the event that is seen as the best example of Ummu Salama's shrewd intelligence occurred during the Hudeybiye agreement.
Muslims set out to make the pilgrimage in the sixth year of the Migration. They stopped to camp at Hudeybiye. It became obvious that the Meccans were not going to give them permission to make the pilgrimage that year. Our Prophet signed an agreement with them. This year they would not go to the Kaaba. Some agreements were also made in regard to security. The articles in the treaty appeared to be to the detriment of Muslims. Many companions could not understand why Muhammad had accepted this treaty, and their not being able to visit the Kaaba, which they longed to do, upset them very much. In fact, they were angry enough to rebuke the Prophet saying, "Why are you not upholding the honor of our religion? Didn't you promise that we would go to the Kaaba this year?"
Many Muslims shared similar feelings. In this atmosphere the Prophet told the companions to sacrifice their animals and, shaving their heads, to take off their pilgrims garb as if they had performed the rite of pilgrimage. Muhammad's words had always been met with great obedience, but this time it was as if he were talking to a wall. Everyone was sitting in despair and even though the Prophet repeated his command, there was still no reaction from anyone. Greatly saddened by this, the Prophet returned to his tent. He explained the situation to Ummu Salama, who made a recommendation to him.
"Don't say anything to them; just do what you will," was her suggestion. In other words, she said to Prophet Muhammad, "Go and make your sacrifice and shave your hair." Our Prophet did as she suggested. Seeing that he had removed his ihram, the Muslims acted as if they had come to their senses and immediately began to sacrifice their animals and shave their heads. In her narration Ummu Salama says, "They were acting so quickly that I was afraid they would hurt themselves while shaving their heads."
What does this example show us? Or what should we get from this example?
Ummu Salama was a woman who knew social psychology very well. In other words, she was a woman who knew that people practice what they see rather than what they hear. This is one point. On the other hand, we see that our Prophet consulted his wife about a social problem.
What happens when we look at the situation today? Everyone knows how widespread claims are that women are oppressed in Islam. When we encounter an example to the contrary, of course, we are very happy. We codify Ummu Salama as a strong woman. At least I can say that I was very much impressed by this when I read siyar during my early youth. But where does this one-way reading take us? If we look for qualities demanded by today's conjuncture in history, the companions or even the wives of our Prophet, what will be the result?
Will we not have opened the road for reducing the Prophet's wives to the following: Khadijah was an entrepreneur; Aisha was an intellectual; Zainab was a militant politician; Ummu Salama was a social adviser?
For this reason, I think it is necessary to see the sahaba women as a whole in all their aspects, rather than just in the way we have idealized them to be. For example, Ummu Salama was this intelligent a person. But this did not prevent her from being just as jealous of Aisha as the other wives were. She did not hesitate to pressure the Prophet to act justly on this issue. However, when Muhammad said, "Revelation does not come to me in any of my wives' beds except Aisha's," Ummu Salama became sorry for what she had done and apologized. This was her moral stance.
She was among the wives who wanted her share from the wealth of the Islamic community after Hayber. She was one of the Prophet's wives who said, since there is this much booty, why shouldn't we have a share of the wealth as wives of the Prophet? But when Allah invited Muhammad's wives to choose between the world and Allah's Messenger, of course, she chose Allah and His Messenger.
In order to form a sound example, we need to take into consideration other women of different temperaments and characters rather than just sahaba women.
For example, Ummu Salama was an intelligent woman. She witnessed and participated in many important events: the migration to Abyssinia, the migration to Medina, Hudeybiye, Hayber... If based on this we conclude that all women should be this active, then we get the result that women should participate in jihad. Again we will have made a deficient representation. Then where will we put the Prophet's words, "Yours is jihad, too," spoken in regard to women who stay at home and take care of their families?
For this reason, when giving examples, it is necessary to take into consideration temperament and character differences. Ummu Salama was an active female type. For this reason, her activeness can be an example for other women with this temperament. But many of her qualities like her virtue, her love for the Prophet and self-sacrifice, and her enduring all hardship for the sake of religion are examples for all Muslims -men and women.
At this point, it would be appropriate to again emphasize the development of life stories and historical experience. It is very important to take examples from experience and continue in the tracks of lives that have been lived. For if you follow their footprints, you will not get lost.
Modern man is a searching man, whereas we should be among those following the tracks. Also we should be from those searching, but what we are looking for is footprints -the footprints of those who opened new eras and put forth good practices. For how did our predecessors, our fixed stars, put these into practice and make them into a life style? We can understand only in this way, by following their footprints.