[Then] Queen Zubaida bint Jafar Al-Mansour
Concerning women of the past, I will not be going in order throughout time. I will be jumping from different time periods to provide a more diverse picture. The woman I will be talking about today was during the Abbasid Empire, and she was born 170 years after Hijra, 786 A.D. This period was not documented like that of the prophetic ﷺ time. There are no hadiths or Quranic references and the stories are not found in many Islamic books. I have done months of research using the most legitimate sources I could find. My purpose, God willing, is to show you that all throughout history, we have had extraordinary Muslim women.
Zubaida bint Jafar Al-Mansour was born in 170H (786 AD) during the time of the Abbasid Empire, an empire that lasted about 508 years and stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to China. The Abbasid caliphs were all descendents of Abraham and they were the ones that brought about the Islamic Golden Age during the 8th century. This was a time where the Muslim world became the intellectual center of art, philosophy, medicine, science, architecture and engineering, commerce, and education. It was an era of great advances in technology and culture. The Muslim world was the source of knowledge, not only because of the advancements made during this era, but because the Muslim scholars used to translate classic and historical works into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and Latin. If it were not for these translations, these works, some of them of famous Greek philosophers, would have been lost.
Zubaida was born into this time of productivity and advancement. She lived during and after the time of Imam Al-Shafi’i. Growing up, Zubaida’s grandfather considered her education a top priority and allocated the best teachers and scholars for her. She was very intelligent and loved to learn. She was especially attached to Quran, hadith and Arabic literature.
She married Harun Al-Rashid, who was the fifth Abbasid Caliph (there were a total of 38 Abbasid Caliphs). As a queen, Zubaida was eloquent in speech and received great respect and admiration from the people. She was the most powerful and wealthy woman in the world at her time. Harun would always seek her advice concerning all matters and she was known to always provide him with wise and valuable decisions. Of her many talents, Zubaida was a poet and she used to enter many competitions. She allocated large amounts of funds for poets, literary figures and scientists to come to Baghdad.
It was said that Zubaida and Harun enjoyed a wonderful marriage. They were partners as a married couple, as parents, and as rulers. The currency at the time had both his and her name printed. It was well known that Harun would work with his wife on decisions but nevertheless, she always let him take credit for it.
Zubaida was a very devout Muslim and never missed a prayer. She hired 100 servant girls to constantly recite Quran throughout the palace so that wherever you were, the versus of the Quran were echoed around you. She also made Hajj many times, often making the 900 mile trip from Baghdad to Mecca on foot. During one of her pilgrimages, she noticed that there was a water problem in Mecca. Many Muslims performing Hajj could not afford drinking water in areas in Mecca, near Mount Arafat, Mina and Muzdalefa. Zubaida was so distressed by seeing this that she brought forth the best engineers to build a canal that provided free water throughout all areas of Mecca. The water was brought from over the mountains for many miles and from the ground using tunnels, pits, channels, and all other methods. She was very involved in the whole process as she herself was educated in the ways of building and planning cities and infrastructure. The whole project took three years and cost the equivalent of billions of dollars in our time, which she personally paid from her own money.
Not only did she build this water system in Mecca, but also she created a path from Baghdad to Mecca to make it easier to travel to Hajj. There was a path that existed but it was always fading away because of desert sand and weather conditions. So to solve this problem, Zubaida built up walls that provided shelter to the travelers from the blowing sand and she also built masjids and hostels along the way.
During the Ottoman Empire, the canals were repaired and maintained very well. For over 600 years, they provided the pilgrims with free drinking water. The canals only became discontinued about 30 or 40 years ago. In 1988, King Fahad built a large water desalination plant 100 km from Mecca, which can now accommodate the extremely large numbers of pilgrims that come each year. However, the canal was not forgotten and in 2001, King Abdullah allocated a committee to preserve it in order to maintain it historic importance.
Today, if you go to Mecca, you can still see it. According to Dr. Umar Farouq Abd-Allah, one of the channels is in an area called Aziziah, which is outside Mecca towards Mina. Another channel can be seen on the side of Mount Arafat.
What can we learn from this story:
*There are not as many lessons embedded in this story as there are of women from the prophetic time, but just realizing the historical impact of these Muslim women makes me feel that there is so much we dont know and so much to learn. Not to mention, so much to live up to.
*I have read a lot of stories talking about how Zubaida used to never one up her husband and always let him be the man of the house and take credit for many public decisions, even though they were made by her. Modern feminism will tell you that she is being weak when she does that and by doing so she is taking away her own rights or equality. However, I disagree. Zubaida was remembered in history more than her husband was and some historical events like this canal were done by her and in her name. That is the difference between Islam and modern feminism. In Islam, men and women are equal but their different roles are recognized. Women dont need to be exactly like men in order to be equal. Zubaida had her rights as an equal to her husband in every way but was respectful to his position as the leader of the household. Doing so, did not in any way diminish her importance or status in their relationship or in her post as queen.
P.S. between you and me, I recommend you read up on the Islamic Golden Age. Its LEGIT! (as in UH-MA-ZING)
Abd-Allah, Dr. Umar Faruq. “Famous Women in Islam.” Lecture.
Khan, Nasreen. “Zubaida Bint Jafar.” Web.<http://www.814us.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=513:zubaida-bin-jafar-a-woman-behind-a-man&catid=122:opinions&Itemid=479>
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