Islamic Studies

What would Mariam do?

What Would Mariam Do?

Part I | Part IIPart III | Part IV

2911678575_bcfc16cfbd_oOf all the women mentioned in the Quran, only Mariam `alayha assalam (peace be upon her) is mentioned by name repeatedly. An entire chapter is named after her. She has been chosen above all other women in the world1 and in Paradise.2 Mariam is honored worldwide for her virtue, for her courage and conviction in the face of great tribulation and is Islam’s ideal of womanhood. It is necessary for both women and men to reflect upon lessons from her life.

In this series, we will look at Mariam’s role in seeking knowledge, her spirituality, her concern and contribution to the da`wah of Islam, her mother and her own motherhood, her character, and finally some general lessons that we take from her story in the Quran. May Allah help our sisters to become like Mariam (as) and help our brothers to encourage the development of sisters who want to be like Mariam.

Honored Student of Knowledge

Mariam was an honored student of knowledge. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says about her, “He made her grow in a good manner and put her under the care of Zakariya. Every time he entered al-Mihrab to visit her…” (3: 37). Al-Qurtubi explains in his tafsir that the word kaffala means more than guardianship. Rather, Zakariya (as) and the scholars of deen would teach her the revelation of Allah (swt) in the masjid when she was young. The scholars would even compete to teach her, as she was a bright student and she was also the first female to be taught in the masjid.

As she grew older, they made a separate room for her described as al-Mihrab. Sheikh Abdel Kareem Zaidan explains that al-Mihrab is a special room or an elevated place. Tafsir al-Qaasimi mentions the opinion that al-Mihrab is the best and most honored place to sit in a gathering, and as such, al-Mihrab is the most honored place in the masjid. Thus, Mariam was an honored student, taught by a prophet and the scholars of deen. There are many opinions describing why, but it suffices for us here to say, the best woman who walked this earth, in her young years, was someone who studied her religion, someone who had a connection with the revelation, and someone who impressed even her teachers.

Many times sisters are discouraged from pursuing studies that would be beneficial for themselves and the Muslim community. They are told that their greatest role in life is their role as wife and mother, so they shouldn’t focus so much on their Islamic education. There is an inherent contradiction in this viewpoint.

While these roles are extremely significant, other opinions provide a more comprehensive approach to the “most important role.” Dr. Jamal Badawi’s “Gender Equity in Islam” discusses the spiritual equality of both women and men, and what is deemed “the best” according to the Quran: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Qur’an, 49:13) These verses point to the role that both women and men play as devout servants of Allah. This may take different forms at different stages in life. I tend to lean toward this semantic approach in understanding what is the best role for a Muslim woman because it covers her entire lifespan, and includes women who never were able to get married or have children. It concretely describes her goal as seeking Allah’s pleasure, while her contributions to her family are a means of achieving her goal. Also, scholars who use the former semantic approach of emphasizing a woman’s role as a wife and mother, equally stress the importance of our sisters’ education. Therefore, it puzzles me when the excuse of the woman’s family obligations is used to completely neglect her Islamic education and development.

An Ideal Example of Motherhood

We see in the life of Mariam the pinnacle of motherhood and womanhood. Before she was a mother, she was a student – and an exceptional student at that. Before mothers can give good tarbiya, they have to receive it. And talab al-`ilm (seeking knowledge) is a crucial component of a balanced tarbiya. The community only grows stronger when our sisters are educated. In the words of El Hajj Malik Ash-Shabazz (Malcom X), “Educate a man and you educate one person; educate a woman and you educate and liberate an entire generation!” We also notice that the best of men in her time, Zakariya (as) and the religious leadership of the masjid, took time to teach her. May Allah (swt) multiply the reward for the scholars of our time who continue this legacy of teaching sisters. While there are those who refuse to teach women completely, this does not reflect the attitude of Zakariya (as) and the scholarship of his time, nor the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ.

The Role of a Wife

As wives of Islamic workers and students, women who understand the significance of Islamic knowledge and work are able to make personal sacrifices on its path and also be truly supportive to their husband. They also aid their children in pursuing this path. How many husbands who are students of knowledge or busy in da`wah cannot communicate their struggles or discuss their experiences with their wives because their wives simply do not have the Islamic vocabulary to understand such discussions? Yet, I have seen the amazing example of some brothers who took the time to help get their wives ‘on board’ and make personal sacrifices to help their wives’ Islamic education and development. Such an investment has long-lasting effects in both worlds, and reveals deep sincerity for the cause of Islam. A woman who shares the path of knowledge and service with her husband is able to relate to him and provide support at a different level, because of her deep personal appreciation for such a path…because she shares that path. This does not mean both men and women have to be doing the exact same things at the exact same level, but it means both should at least share the path at whatever capacity they each are able to in accordance with their life circumstances.

We see in the seerah of the Prophet ﷺ, as well as Islamic history, the importance given to the education of our sisters. Just as the Prophet ﷺ set aside a time to teach the women in his community each week, the women of our communities should also be encouraged in learning and given time for education and development. I have unfortunately witnessed wives prohibited from even online Islamic courses, and yet encouraged and allowed to spend hours window-shopping at the mall, by brothers who are themselves busy with Islamic work. What type of wife, mother, and more importantly, slave of Allah, does that produce? When this inherent contradiction is reversed in our communities, I have strong hope we will see great changes insha’Allah, not only in the women themselves but on a large social scale. As the old saying goes, “the hand that rocks the cradle, is the hand that rules the world.” The generation of the Tabi’een were developed by the mothers who were Sahabiyat. Dr. Mohammad Ammara mentions in his book, At-Tahreer Al-Islami lil Mar’a (The Islamic Liberation of the Woman) that no less than 1000 Sahabiyat were developed, educated and trained in the madrasa of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.Subhan Allah, how much he ﷺ cared for our sisters to study and develop! Furthermore, Islamic History shows us that we never saw a rise in our global position as an ummah that did not also reflect a rise in the great women that helped carry the amana (trust) of serving this deen. Today, we live at a time where the generation of the next Islamic awakening and revival is being developed, and our choices and attitudes will have an unmistakable impact on the generation produced.

When our sisters are encouraged and supported in learning the way that Mariam (as) was,  at a community level, we will start to see the casual conversations of our women transition from personal hygiene tips, recipes, sales at the mall, back-biting, complaining, and story-telling of one’s family to conversations that reflect a mind and heart that is thoroughly concerned and busy with the priorities of the Muslim community, bettering the conditions of their societies and humanity at large, and other beneficial matters. This doesn’t mean one can’t joke and relax with their sisters. It simply means, beneficial speech would become the rule, not the exception, just as the education and Islamic development of our sisters would become the rule, not the exception. While alhamdulilah (all praise be to Allah), signs of progress in this area have appeared, we still have, as an ummah, much room for improvement. So when we remember the honored place of Mariam (as) in Paradise, and reflect on her example to all women, let us never forget that she started as a student.

  1. (Qur’an, 3:42).
  2. Sahih Hadith from Hakim’s Al-Mustadrak.

About the author

Muslema Purmul

Muslema Purmul

Shaykha Muslema Purmul was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and raised in San Diego, California. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in the Study of Religion and a Bachelor’s in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of California at San Diego. She was a scholarship student with the Islamic American University and participated in the International Union of Muslim Scholars “Future Scholars Program” in 2008/2009. She has completed the Bachelor’s degree program in the College of Shari`ah at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Currently, she is a busy new mom and gives weekly classes at the Islamic Center of Irvine.

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  • as salaamu alaykum,

    EXCELLENT piece. May Allah accept from you, increase you, bless you and grant you tawfeeq on this path. Ameen.

  • Mashallah! I never thought about this approach to gender roles in Islam…Since so much emphasis is placed on motherhood and wifehood, I always wondered what about those who never get married or have children…Perhaps this was from my ignorance that I never thought about it this way…A women's role is to serve Allah (SWT) no matter what situation she is in…

  • SubhanAllah, thank you for this! It's funny, just yesterday a group of us were discussing Sayyida Mariam (as) and how we should emulate her.

  • jazakhallah khairan for this beneficial reminder…
    when i remember the amazing female role models (like Mariam(as)) that we have as muslimahs, im always left thinking ' i wanna be just like her', but i find that i'm torn between aspiring to be the best mother i can be, or the best student of knowledge i can be. Because both roles are very demanding, and it seems almost impossible to be both at the same time.

    what advice would you give on this dilema.
    barakallahu fiki

  • Assalamu Alaikum Sis. Rasheeda,

    I think you pose an important question, which I think would be best answered by a sister with children 🙂 I ask the mothers who read this blog to help answer Sis. Rasheeda's important question because first-hand experience really helps. You might try asking some sisters on the website: . There are some amazing mothers who write for that blog, many of them students masha Allah with a lot of tips. At Al-Azhar, I meet sisters from all around the world who are mothers and when I ask how they do it, they have two main strategies: a support system, and meticulous time-management. The husband tends to play a major role as well as other family members in helping to provide the sister with the time she needs to study. That's for a mother who wants to commit to full-time study. But for a mother who simply wants to commit to a gradual and continuous program of attaining/improving Islamic literacy, it would be much less complicated. A wonderful mother I met in Egypt masha Allah, would utilize her child's nap-times, so she could study. When she needed to go to class, masha Allah, her husband (also a student) would watch the infant. You simply need to try “Your best” in accomplishing your goals in a way that takes into account and plans for your specific circumstances. Allah (swt) only asks for our best efforts, not the results so don't feel torn between two types of Ibadah. They are both for His sake insha Allah, and whatever you can plan around your duties as a mother as well as your other responsibilities in life (spiritual routine, health, family, etc.) is enough. Your best effort is enough for Allah (swt) so don't feel guilty, and let it also be enough for you insha Allah, since it's enough for Him. In MAS halaqas, we train sisters to have a weekly Muhasaba schedule that allows them to make realistic goals for themselves each week, that reflect a balanced and comprehensive approach to personal development. Some weeks, you're not able to accomplish the things you might have hoped for and written in your planner. At the very least, Allah (swt) would reward you for the sincere intention. Last, ilm is a sort of rizq from Allah (swt). It's not about the amount you memorize, but rather, if He blesses your knowledge. Some people have a lot of money, but it is not blessed, so it doesn't benefit them: somehow they are always in debt even though they make six figures. Similarly, some people memorize a lot of things, but it doesn't help them or others. Always make dua that Allah (swt) blesses your time, and the limited knowledge He allows you to acquire in your limited time, so it becomes a source of benefit for you, your family, your ummah, and elevates your rank in Al-Akhirah. After all, the purpose of seeking knowledge is practicing it and benefiting from it. May Allah(swt) help you and all of the mothers to be THEIR best as mothers, as students, as those who are active in serving this deen, and ultimately as His righteous servants. Ameen.

  • Very well written article on Mariam (as). I am so glad that more sisters are now joining the ranks of graduates from Al-Azhar University. One reason for the current crisis in the Muslim community is the lack of Sheikhas. We need more women scholars, and we need more venues where their voices are heard. I thank Sheikh Shuhaib Webb for supporting the sisters and wish other Muslim organizations like al-Maghrib Institute would feature more of our female scholars.

    One of the things known but rarely pointed out is that Mariam was a single mother. That term now a days puts people off as something bad, but Allah had chosen the best of women to be a single mother. Her reliance was only on Allah (swt) as she did not have a husband to support or protect her. Jesus (as) is known as Isa ibn Mariam. It is to clarify that Jesus (as) was a prophet and educated, trained and supported by his mother. Ishmael (as) was also practically raised by a single mother as Ibrahim (as) was told by Allah to leave his wife and infant child in the desert. As we know, Hajara was given the well of Zam Zam and to this day millions of Muslims follow her footsteps in Hajj. Women have always played a great role in the deen of Allah, even though they are given much less credit for it and portrayed as the “weaker” gender. None of the women praised in the Quran were weak. On the contrary, they were very brave and strong individuals, such as Mariam, Asya, Bilquis, mother of Moses (as), mother of Mariam, and so forth.

  • Very good points about motherhood. Sisters need to first learn to ask for help from their husbands. The men are the “qawama” of women. That is a position of responsibility, not privilege. Therefore, it is the duty of the brothers to help the sisters achieve their greatest potentials. Allah said that He “favored one over the other”. He did not say that He favored “men over women”. In certain aspects, Allah has given more favors to the brothers, on the other hand, the sisters have other favors over the brothers. One of these favors given to the sisters is that brother need to maintain and care for their total well being. Unfortunately the brothers have rarely lived up to this responsibility, and yet they expect the sisters to be “obedient”. Also, these verses in the Quran have never said women need to be obedient specifically to men, but rather it only says they need to be devoutly obedient. There is another verse later in the Quran talking about Mariam and the other women and calling them good and “obedient”. From what we know, Mariam was not obedient to anyone but Allah. Also Asya was actually disobedient to her husband (the Pharoah) and obedient to Allah which made her one of the greatest women. Therefore, the verses calling women to be obedient can only refer to obedience to Allah (swt). These verses have always been misused against women to make them subservient to men. But nowhere in the Quran is this notion supported, nor by the examples of the great women of Islam. Not one of the great women of Islam was subservient to anyone but Allah. Even the wives of Prophet Muhammad (saw) argued with him when they disagreed with him.

    The brothers should heed the Prophet's example and help their wives, sisters, mothers, and other women reach their highest religious potential and support their education. If these brothers fulfill their responsibilities, the sisters will not need to consistently ask for their rights.

  • Asalamu alaykum,

    Very good point. Our history if filled with a number of very powerful, erudite SINGLE mothers:

    1. Hajar [as you noted]
    2. Amina, the mother of the Prophet [sa]
    3. Um Salaym [the mother of Anas would latter marry Talha]
    4. Um Salama [would latter marry the Prophet [sa]
    5. The mother of Imam al-Shafi
    6. The mother of Imam Ahmed
    7. The mother or Imam al-Bukhari

    The list could go on forever.


  • I don't disagree with you, but I think the thought process of some of the sisters is problematic. There is a lack of good religious (for a lack of a better term) minded brothers and sisters in our communities already, and sometimes the sisters who take Islam very seriously are on this mission to save the world. Some of these sisters do not want to be “restricted” by marriage and just want to do their own thing. That is problematic because what ends up happening is that new generations are being raised up by not-so-religious parents and we are seeing the effects of that on them. That is because the religious women think it's more important to become shaykhas or solve the world's problems (not an attack on what you said), instead of raising up a new generation with solid Islamic values.

    I believe that if women really want to seek knowledge, they should do so with their husbands. There are a lot of brothers who want to seek knowledge and would not mind their wives joining them.

  • AsSalamu Alaykum Wa Rahamtullhi Wa Barakatu…
    “ustadtha” mashaAllah great post, you read my mind.

    Akhi Zubair… i do not agree with your last few lines.

    “… if women really want to seek knowledge, they should do so with their husbands.”

    akhi what exactly do you mean by that?….

    A true Muslimah does not have to be married to truly want knowledge.

  • Great article. May Allah aid you in your studies.

    I think the moral is that a woman is an autonomous being and not only defined by roles as mother, sister, etc. The contribution of Sh.Akram Nadwi in listing of the historical legacy of female scholars in Muslim history is said to be 40 volumes, his preface alone is 300 some pages!

    Zaynab al-Ghazzali is one Caller who sticks out as someone consistent on never being swayed from working for anything other than the pleasure of Allah and of emulating the model of Mariam (as).


  • What does feminism achieve and what are its claims?

    1) Women are fundamentally oppressed and tyrannized by men in all societies.

    2) Women need to change society so that they can be equal to men.

    What has this achieved?

    The money power (bankers and industrialists) wanted a huge unorganized work force, who would work without complaint for low wages and bad working conditions. Wages were lowered by increasing the supply of labour, women were now required to compete for jobs.

    Strong families where men and women and children all spend time together and learn values from each other without 'outside' interference like schools or governments they are fiercely independent and self reliant, unwilling to follow orders or to work for corporations. So feminism was used as a weapon by the people in power to break up such families who resisted control.

  • This piece was not about the men and women relationship. This article was to show that Allah loves and respects righteous, learned women, and that women as much as men should have the right and opportunity to study the religion and most of all, be able to teach it. Women have a different perspective on many of the teachings in the Quran and hadith and have alot to share. Her education means educating the future men and women.

    As for the relation between husband and wife, there are many rights and obligations that are clear, and then there are things that are left to the individual couple. For example when to wean a child, or to find a nurse, etc. Men do not become subordinate if women get their rights. These rights are given to her by Allah, and taken away from her by some men. If everyone follows their responsibilities, then no one will need to ask for their rights.

  • This article is not about feminism. It is about understanding the Quran. I hope you are someone who really wants to learn the Quran. It is not women, but Allah (SWT) who is praising Maryam (as). It is Allah in the Quran who said that women have rights over men as men have rights over them. It is Allah (SWT) through the Prophet (saw) that has taught us that women are twin halves of men, that it is their duty like men to learn and teach, and that they will be rewarded equally for their good works. It is humans, mostly men, who have taken these Allah-given rights away from women. Anyone who wishes women to stay in the dark corners of their homes has not truly studied the Quran, hadith or learned of the spirit of Islam. If men give women their God given rights, whether they are their wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, etc, then women have no complaints. The complaint is against the majority of men who do not.

  • ASSALAMUALEIKUM WARAHMATULLAHI WABARAKTATU Inshallah we`ll try to be like her ammeen ameen and ASMA ra and all the beatifull sahabiyah during the time of rasullah

  • asalaamu alaikum

    this is very touching all sisters should be encouraged to be educated it is their right the first verse to be revealed was iqraa which is to read referring to both male and female

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