The Battle of Badr was a decisive military victory for the early Muslim community. After years of pacifist resistance in Makkah, the battle represented a new willingness on behalf of the community to defend its physical integrity. It was such a watershed moment in the history of the first community that presence at Badr became the greatest signifier of religious commitment. In many ways, it is the Islamic equivalent to the Passion of the Christ (upon him be peace) or the Exodus of the Children of Israel. And while I think it a misnomer to cite Islam as a tradition which sacralizes war, martial combat is rightly viewed as an occasionally necessary evil which exposes the best and worst of humanity. On the 17th of Ramadan, in the second year following the Prophet’s migration, 313 soldiers prepared to face an opposing force comprised of over 1000. As the battle approached, they were harangued by naysayers who said they would surely meet their demise. In courageous defiance, they offered, “God will suffice us. He is a faithful guardian.” (Hasbunā Allah wa ni’ma al-wakīl). With providence, they won; and the Battle of Badr has since become a part of our sacred history.
Whenever I think about it, I find myself asking: Is there anything as meritorious as that? Is there any test of faith that even comes close to a willingness to sacrifice it all in the face of nearly insurmountable odds? For some companions of the Prophet (upon him be peace) and one in particular, the question of performing an act whose merit rivaled what had taken place at Badr was real. If seeking the pleasure of God is an equal opportunity endeavor, as is maintained by Islamic teachings, battle—which is primarily engaged by people unencumbered with domestic responsibility—cannot contain singular merit. In light of the current crisis, we’re spending more time at home than ever: Homeschooling, settling disputes, performing chores, coordinating activities, planning and preparing meals, working offsite, and STILL trying to retain at least a semblance of the special devotional character of the blessed month of Ramadan—a jihād indeed! The activities unintelligently derided as “women’s work” have become our collective theatre of battle. And for those like me, who benefit from a partner who makes contributions outside the home and inside the home—but who takes on a disproportionate amount of the household responsibility—COVID-19 has been a rude awakening. This isn’t easy. In fact, those who care for their families have the same rank as soldiers striving in the way of God. I cite this brief vignette of the Sīrah (Prophetic biography) mostly for my wife. Hadiyah, this Ramadan has given me a new appreciation for your work and struggle.
The collection of Imam al-Bukhārī contains a tradition which features Asmā’ bint Yazīd (may God be pleased with her). She is sometimes referred to as Khaṭībat al-`Arab al-Anṣāriyya. A Medinese woman; she was elected by a group of women among the Companions (may God be pleased with them) to address to the Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) some of their shared concerns. By all accounts, she spoke brilliantly. When she highlighted the disparity between men and women with respect to accessing educational opportunities, the Prophet (upon him be peace) responded by agreeing to host regular gatherings especially for women. Additionally, owing to the great esteem expressed for the men who had recently fought at Badr, she requested an action that women could do—seeing as though many of them were preoccupied with caring for their families and could not engage in combat—that would be as meritorious as striving (militarily) in the way of God. The Prophet (upon him be peace) assured her that if she “stayed with her family and looked after her children she would be given the reward of one striving in the way of God.” The Prophet (upon him be peace) likened homemaking to fighting in the path of God and some of us have yet to appreciate the profundity of the comparison.
The Prophet (upon him be peace), “…doesn’t speak from caprice” and while I never doubted the truthfulness of the statement, I think I interpreted it as a kind of hyperbolic consolation. In other words, although no act of sacrifice could really rival risking life and limb in the path of God—as happened at Badr—caring for one’s family is commendable. Suffice it to say, nearly 7 consecutive weeks at home with my children has altered my understanding! In actuality, caring for one’s family and striving militarily for the sake of God involve many shared virtues. The one that comes directly to mind, especially in the month of Ramadan, is exchanging a realization of the spiritual that comes about through enriching experience (Tarāwīḥ, night vigils, recitation of the Qur’ān, etc.) to a realization of the spiritual that comes about through service. Ibn Aṭa’Allah wrote, “…There is no sweetness in jihād there is but the jagged edges of swords. So prosecute the jihād against your passions. This is the greatest jihād.” There is likewise little sweetness in being too fatigued from a long day of child-minding to pray a lengthy, uplifting Ṣalāt al-Tarāwīḥ. However, echoing the great Alexandrian jurist, disciplining the soul isn’t sweet. It’s incredibly difficult but it’s where spiritual elevation lies. How often have we as husbands/fathers bolted from home after iftār, leaving the house (and screaming, un-bathed children) in disarray so we could get to the “real” spiritual activity of praying Tarāwīḥ in the mosque. The prayer contains immense spiritual value; however, so do the dishes and bedtime routine. Asmā bint Yazīd asked the Prophet (upon him be peace) about how the women of the community could attain the spiritual rank of the men who participated at Badr and he directed her to care for her family. “Ustadh Ubaydullah, prayer in congregation and specifically Tarāwīḥ are staples in my Ramadan regiment. Ramadan without the masjid just doesn’t feel the same. I’ve heard all of the fatāwa (legal response) about Tarāwīḥ by satellite and I’m aware that the Prophet (upon him be peace) would often offer Tarāwīḥ at home. I’m clear on that. But is there anything I can do to make up for what I’m missing because of the shut-down?” The Battle of Badr, one of the greatest events in the history of Islam, was fought in the month of Ramadan. One of the companions (may God be pleased with them) who wasn’t able to participate asked the Prophet (upon him be peace) about an action that could be done as a substitute. I could tell you about it but it might surprise you…