SOME OF THEM are doting grannies, beaming benignly at the children around them, soothing and entertaining expertly because they’ve done it a thousand times. Some of them are the wise, kindly aunties at the masjid with experience and intelligence etched upon every line of their face. Some of them are mothers and mothers-in-law, observing their grown children with love and concern, carefully navigating when to step in, and when to stay out. All of them have a wealth of knowledge to share, skills to pass down, and stories to tell. They are the Muslimas in their golden years. And many of them, I have discovered, are Golden themselves.
Our beloved “Mother of the Believers,” Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, the first wife and first Companion of the Prophet was the ultimate “Golden Muslima.” Already a mature woman when she married the Prophet, she possessed many characteristics that made her remarkable.
The people of Makkah called her “the pure woman.” Wealthy and of noble lineage, Khadijah was dignified and wise, a shrewd businesswoman, a generous employer, and well known for her intelligence and poise. After her second husband died, she found herself a single, working mother who had to balance raising children with simultaneously handling her business affairs.
Boldly, she sent a friend to propose marriage, on her behalf, to the Prophet, whom she had hired to conduct business on her behalf. A woman of excellent discretion, Khadijah recognized and appreciated his perfect character. He was a young man at the time, and she was not far from twice his age. However, their partnership was true and inspiring, and she became his great love, supporter, and devoted partner as well as the first person to believe his message.
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While Khadijah sets the bar extremely high for the rest of us, I have been blessed to know some modern-day Golden Muslimas whose character and behavior consistently inspire me. These older women are role models who make me strive towards improving myself, identifying my weaknesses, and channeling my abilities in the best possible way.
There are six qualities that, in my opinion, make a Golden Muslima – a sister who makes the very most of her senior years, who is a pleasure to be around, and who makes a positive impact on her family and her community:
1. A Golden Muslima continues to pursue her own interests and strives to learn new things. These superwomen do not waste their amazing minds on soap operas, gossip sessions, or nonstop complaints. They continue to lead dynamic and rich lives, and they share their talents with others.One of my friends spends many healthy, joyful hours in her backyard garden. She doesn’t stop at planting vegetation and flowers, but also experiments with raising chickens and keeping bees. She generously shares the fruits of her labor as well as various homesteading tips that she has learned along the way.Another Golden friend has some physical restrictions due to her health, but she is a master crafter who knits beautiful creations for friends and family. She never says no to a novice knitter who needs some guidance. One great-grandmother, a volunteer breastfeeding consultant, shares expert advice with new mothers in the community. Another donates her time and knowledge to the masjid, offering classes on Quran and Tafseer.
2. Golden Muslimas are fascinating company because they have so much knowledge to share, and their eagerness and passion are infectious. In addition to telling great stories, they are excellent listeners. Open-minded and generally assuming the best in others, they provide much comfort by simply hearing what others have to say and offering sympathy and understanding, not judgment.Golden Muslimas have their struggles in life, like all humans do, but they are basically positive and optimistic. Their reliance on Allah gives them a beautiful, calm presence that is a balm for everyone around them, and indeed Allah loves them for it. As He says in the Holy Quran:
Put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those that trust [in him]. [Surat Al ‘Imran 3: 159]
3. A Golden Muslima always tries to make wise decisions with her family and to promote harmony. She uses her powerful gifts of communication, perspective, and persuasion to foster a happy family unit, not to cause division or jealousy. Anas ibn Malik reported that the Prophet said,
Anyone who wants to have his provision expanded and his term of life prolonged should maintain ties of kinship. (Bukhari and Muslim)
One of my Golden friends found out her son wished to marry a recent convert to Islam. The young convert came from a culture that was completely different from my friend’s, and the girl’s parents were not very supportive of their daughter’s conversion. It was a difficult situation, and many mothers would have simply forbidden their son to enter into such a marriage. However, my Golden friend recognized her son’s noble desire to marry and to support the sincere young woman. She trusted her son, valued her relationship with him, and did not want to damage their bond. So, she met her future daughter-in-law with an open mind and eventually welcomed her into the family with an open heart. Now the whole family has an excellent relationship, Alhamdullilah, and she is a role model for the younger Muslima. Let’s face it: matriarchs can make or break a family. A Golden Muslima uses her considerable powers for good.
4. A Golden Muslima can remember what it was like to be a younger, less experienced woman. She is honest with herself about her own shortcomings, her own humble beginnings,and all the mistakes and naivete of early adulthood. She knows that she was not always so wise and experienced, so she is forgiving and patient.In relationships with the younger generation, she tries to remember how she once saw the world, and to appreciate their contemporary point of view. She knows that leading by example is usually better than lecturing or scolding. She knows, also, that some things simply must be learned by experience. Most of all, she keeps in mind that Allah is the only Judge of people’s hearts and intentions.
5. A Golden Muslima continually nurtures her relationship with Allah and the Quran. Some sisters are knowledgeable enough to lead classes, and others find themselves able to pursue a profound Islamic education for the first time in their life. Either way, a Golden Muslima puts effort and energy into her Din. For years, she may have been too busy with young children, her career, or homemaking to dedicate herself fully to Islamic scholarship, but now she uses her free time to nurture her iman as much as possible.
6. Finally, a Golden Muslima recognizes that her way is not the only way to do things. While she may have found a certain choice to be best for her and her family, she acknowledges that others have different and valid ways of doing things. This is particularly difficult when a topic is extremely important to her; refraining from imposing her views can be a huge test for a strong and intelligent woman.Perhaps, for instance, she believes strongly in a certain parenting style, but her daughter and son-in-law choose a different method. It might take monumental strength to bite her tongue and restrain herself from stepping in, but a Golden Muslima does not force herself on others. She recognizes that there is a difference between giving sincere advice and nagging – between gently advising and forcing her opinion on others. She wants what is best for her family but does not insist on being “right” all the time.Obviously, these are high standards that would not be easy for any woman to live up to, continuously. A Golden Muslima is human, after all, and will have good days and bad ones. As her ageing body changes and her stamina decreases, she will need help, sometimes. She’ll inevitably indulge in some complaining, some sadness, some selfishness. It is only natural to succumb to human weakness.However, what makes a Golden Muslima remarkable is that despite life’s challenges, she keeps striving, every day, to embody the best Islamic adab. She tries to make the most of her last years in the dunya so that she will be as ready as possible for the most important moment of her existence: her ultimate meeting with Allah. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid is proof that when we strive for excellence,we can achieve it, by the grace of Allah.