Maria The Copt
In our continuing series about exemplary women in Islamic history, Sheikh Faris Ali Al Mustafa turns the spotlight on Maria the Copt
To learn from history is a crucial effort in the development of intellect. For seekers of knowledge who believe in the One God, it is important to learn how the past has revealed the Will of God. Events of every epoch gravitate towards the expression of the divinity. The ethical values expressed by the religions rooted in the oneness of God all converge upon that fact.
The comprehension of this ultimate theme of history enables many disparate events to cohere into a divine dialectic. Civilisations are born and die, diverse peoples intermingle and generate new cultures. The aspirations of mankind coalesce into a common destiny.
Throughout the complexities of human history, God has ordained the dynamic mingling of peoples and their fruitful union. The Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, journeyed westward on his ordained migration to Mecca and took Hajar of Egypt as his wife. Their progeny were the lineage of prophets, who have forever altered the path of history. And the Prophet Mohammed himself accepted Maria of the Egyptian Copts as his wife, who would bear his son.
After the consolidation of power by the first Muslims over Mecca and Medina, Prophet Mohammed dispatched emissaries bearing the glad tidings of the revealed Word to the great kings of the Middle East. Hateb bin Balta'a was sent to one of the greatest potentates, Al Muqawqas of Egypt, who was a Coptic Christian. Hateb searched through ancient Egypt and finally located Al Muqawqas at his estate near Alexandria. Hateb was allowed to approach the king, whereupon he announced the message with all of the confidence of a man who knows the truth. A thoughtful discussion ensued between the king and the emissary. Al Muqawqas finally concluded the discussion respectfully in this manner: Well done, you are a wise man, and the messenger of a wise man. I have considered this matter of your prophet, and I have have found that he has not commanded anything that should be forsaken, nor did he prohibit anything which should be sought. He is not an alluring wizard, nor an untruthful priest. I have found instead that this Mohammed has the quality of being a genuine prophet, which will allow him to produce the hidden and to foretell in confidence.
Al Muqawqas told Hateb then to return to his land and he granted many gifts to convey his respect to Mohammed. Among those gifts were two young Coptic women, Maria and her sister Serene. Such was the practice of rulers from that epoch, who took upon themselves the powers of life and death over their people, and even presumed upon the prerogatives of God. The year was the seventh of the Hijra. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) had already declared Be good to the Copts, we owe them protection as they are relatives of ours. The two sisters embraced Islam, as Hateb had convinced them of the truth of the message revealed to the last of the prophets. After the long journey from Egypt to Medina, the caravan arrived in the Hijaz. Maria was fair and beautiful, and her faith in God shone from her face. The Prophet recognised these traits and asked her to marry him. Her sister was married to the poet Hassan bin Thaber.
Maria welcomed her new life with enthusiasm. She had become the Prophet's spouse, which she understood was a great gift bestowed on her and her people from God. The young wife dedicated herself totally to the well-being of her husband. She viewed him as bestowed with the same light as the Prophet Jesus, whose belief she had embraced before Islam. For Maria, Mohammed was friend, master, family and country.
The new wife was taught many things by the Prophet, among which was the story of Hajir, the spouse of Abraham, the father of the lineage of prophets, peace be upon them. Hajir had come to the Hijaz many centuries before Maria, but the destinies of the two women had become intermingled.
Maria appreciated the similarities between her story and that of her predecessor, except the fact that Hajir had been granted a son and Maria had not. Maria desired greatly to bear the Prophet his first son, and her wish was granted. The boy was named in honour of the first prophet, but his fate was short. Ibrahim died but two years later.
Should destiny be cruel, it must be accepted as God's will as surely as the sweet. God had declared in the Holy Quran that Mohammed ...is the father of none amongst your men. According to a Hadith, a companion of the Prophet who was named Anas said: I saw (Ibrahim) dying in the Prophet's arms. The Prophet's eyes filled with tears and he said, ‘Our eyes shed tears, our hearts grieve, and we will only say what pleases God. By God, Ibrahim, we are sad for your departure'.
The mourning mother followed the example of her husband and only repeated his words, We belong to God and to Him we shall return. Maria remained patient and content with the fate that God had willed for her. Her strength was challenged then by the ultimate calamity, the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The wife remained faithful to the commitments of her belief as she had been during the Prophet's lifetime, until her own death during the rule of the second Muslim Caliph Omar bin Al Khatab in the 16th year of the Hijra.
The companions of the Prophet devoted themselves after his death to the continued welfare of his wives. They were honoured as the Mothers of the Believers. A Hadith reported that Mohammed had declared: You will conquer Egypt... When you have conquered it, be good to its people. They are to be protected, as they are relatives of ours.
In another Hadith, Al Hassan bin Ali spoke to Moaweya bin Abi Sufyan in favour of the people of Hifn, the home village of Maria. The village was then exempted from tax on its crops. It is also written that when Ebada bin Ali Samit had visited Egypt after its conquest by the Muslims, he sought out Maria's village and house. He built a mosque to honour the memory of the Mother of the believers, a symbol of love and tolerance between peoples.