Important Figures: Fatima Al-Zahra

Fatima Al-Zahra in Arabic

Many Muslims choose to name their daughters Fatima after the youngest daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Fatima is revered by all Muslims because she was very close to the Prophet. Moreover, she is the only one of his children to give him descendants. Fatima is most often referred to as Fatima Al-Zahra (the Resplendent One) and is the focus of this post, the seventh in a series on important men and women in Islam’s history.

Fatima was the fourth daughter of Khadijah and the Prophet Muhammad. Most sources agree that she was born around 605 C.E. Fatima grew up at a difficult time in the Prophet’s life. He had just started to receive revelations and the Meccans were very hostile to the new faith. Fatima was known to be a very sensitive child and was deeply affected by the persecution that her father had to endure. There are several stories in which Fatima, even though a young child, would come to the defense of her father. One example occurred when the Prophet went to the Kaba to pray. While he was praying, some of the Meccans threw entrails of a slaughtered animal on him. Fatima ran to her father, wiped him off, and yelled at the Meccans.

Fatima was very close to the Prophet even into adulthood. After Khadijah’s death, as a result of the boycott on the Muslims and the Banu Hashim clan by the Meccans, Fatima felt that she had to take care of her father. Because of this sentiment, she was called “Umm Abiiha” (the mother of her father). Their closeness was exemplified in the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad:  “Fatima is a part of me, he who upsets her, upsets me.”

After the hijra to Medina, Fatima married Ali. They had four children together: Hasan, Husayn, Zaynab, and Umm Kulthum. During their marriage, they lived in poverty often going days without food. Despite this predicament, Fatima was known to be compassionate and generous, always giving to those in need.

In addition, Fatima was respected for other traits. She was known to be deeply spiritual. She would spend most of her time praying and reading from the Qur’an. Also, Fatima was very active in the community. During the Battle of Uhud, she tended to the wounded and during the Battle of the Trench, she prepared food for the community.

In 632 C.E., after completing his final hajj, the Prophet Muhammad sensed that he was going to die. Fatima died six months after her father at the age of 29. There is a well-known story that relates to their deaths and illustrates their close bond. It is said that one day he called Fatima and when she came he whispered something in her ear. When she heard it, she began to cry. He whispered in her ear again and she smiled. Ayesha saw this exchange and asked Fatima about it:

“You cry and you laugh at the same time, Fatima? What did the Messenger of God say to you?”

Fatima replied, “He first told me that he would meet his Lord after a short while and so I cried. Then he said to me: ‘Don’t cry for you will be the first of my household to join me.’ So I laughed.”

Like Ali, Fatima is not herself controversial but has become part of the disagreement between Sunnis and Shia. She is respected by both groups as the daughter of the Prophet and for the traits mentioned above. However, for Shias, Fatima holds a much higher place because she is the wife of Ali, considered to be the first Imam, and the mother of Hasan and Husayn, the second and third Imams. Moreover, she is seen to be immaculate and sinless. Sunnis and Shia differ about Fatima’s opinion on who should be the leader after the Prophet’s death. Despite these differences, Fatima Al-Zahra is considered to be one of the great women of Islam.

Have you heard of Fatima? What is your impression of her? Is she still relevant today? Do the different stories about her matter? Please share your comments below.

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