On emulating the four perfect women of all times: Asiya (foster mother of Moses), Maryam (mother of Jesus), Khadija (wife of Muhammad S) and Fatima (daughter of Muhammad S). May God's peace and blessings be upon them all. This chronicles one imperfect woman's vicissitudes on that most ambitious trail.
Perched high up on a sofa in our family room earlier this year, it was my preschooler who first noticed the check mark on her progress report as she carefully perused it.
"What does this say?" she asked, pointing to the text next to the tick mark.
"It says your manners--things like saying please and thank you--need improvement," I told her, embarrassed by what I was reading over her shoulder.
Indeed, perfecting our akhlaq (Arabic term for ethics, morals and manners) is a work in progress, and this was a good reminder that our family needed to pay more attention to ours!
God declares Prophet Muhammad (S) as the epitome of impeccable akhlaq when he says to him: "Certainly, you are upon the best morals." (Quran 68:4)
Based on the personality of the Prophet (S), there are four main aspects of akhlaq we must focus on: wisdom, chastity, valour and justice. Other qualities (48 in number), such as piety, patience, generosity and humility, are branches of these four merits.
Our salvation depends on whether or not we develop these moral attributes.
"If there is someone who is bad in his morals, God does not accept his [repentance] because this type of person comes out of one sin and enters another," says scholar Abbas Ayleya.
The Prophet's (S) daughter Fatima--whose name comes from the Arabic word for "the one who is kept away from evil and bad character"--is a female role model of ideal akhlaq as she always took the highest moral ground, even on her big day.
The Prophet (S) had gotten a new dress made for her wedding when a beggar knocked on the door asking for old clothes. Fatima remembered the Quranic verse (3:92), "By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love (prefer)," and gave away her new one. Overwhelmed by his daughter's generosity, the father of the bride wept upon hearing this.
"I have never seen anyone resemble the Prophet (S) in his way of dealing with people or character more than Fatima," the Prophet's (S) wife Aisha said.
The "Supplication for Noble Moral Traits" (expressed by Fatima's grandson Zain-ul-Abideen) describes some of the characteristics we need to aspire to:
O God, bless Muhammad and his Household
and point me straight to
resist him who is dishonest toward me with good counsel,
repay him who separates from me with gentle devotion,
reward him who deprives me with free giving,
recompense him who cuts me off with joining, oppose him who slanders me with excellent mention give thanks to good and shut my eyes to evil!
As difficult as it seems, those of us aiming to emulate women like Fatima must cultivate such traits in ourselves, our children and our societies.
Imam Khomeini, (about whom an associate once said, "He wasn't negligent on even a single point of akhlaq,") strived to implement ethics on a broader scale through the Islamic Revolution of Iran and encouraged women to do their part.
"The ladies must act on their social and religious duties and protect public morality," he said, "and in doing so carry out their social and political activities."
Understandably, I was over the moon two weeks ago when my daughter brought home an award for "Good Manners" on her final day of preschool.
My celebration was cut short, however, when her sister got whiff of the accolade.
"I'm surprised," she said to her little sister's face. "I'm very surprised."
Like I said, good akhlaq is a work in progress, especially in our house.