Maryam is a role model for all Muslim women because she maintained her impeccable character throughout her life. Allah raised her like a lovely plant, to use the Qur'an's expression, and gave her a very important responsibility. Allah chose her, just as He chose 'Imran's family, made her one person in this lineage of the most devout and faithful people, and had her raised by these virtuous people.
He then gave her the character of a chosen and superior Prophet by entrusting her education to Prophet Zakariyya (as). When she reached this level of maturity, Allah began to show her His miracles, and she clearly saw His grace, protection, and mercy upon herself. One example of this support and grace was that she found food on the altar whenever she worshipped Him. Later on, Allah introduced her to Jibril, who told her about Allah's grace on her with his own words.
Maryam demonstrated her genuine devotion and loyalty to Allah through her impeccable virtue and behavior. She also expressed her profound and genuine devotion to Him through her determination, devotion, and unconditional surrender to His will.
Being alone in moments of great difficulty was a great trial for her, because she had no one to help, support, or guide her. Usually, lonely people surrender to helplessness and sadness. But Maryam did not, for she placed all of her hope and trust only in Allah.
She constantly sought His help and knew that she only needed to obey Him and follow His guidance. She never gave in to hopelessness and depression, no matter how difficult the trial, because she had surrendered wholeheartedly to Allah in the knowledge that He would turn all adversities into good and end the hardship in the best manner. And with every difficulty, Allah gave her a solution, supported her with His grace and help, and turned all hardships into goodness and beauty.
Her inexperience was also an important aspect of her trial. She became pregnant and delivered her child all alone. Totally alone and ignorant of what to do, she resisted pessimism and displayed her great strength, willpower, and determination. In addition, she had the peace of mind characteristic of those who know that Allah supports them with the most perfect gifts. Thus He eased her burden and helped her to succeed.
Another sign of Maryam's superior character was the patience she showed while fulfilling her difficult responsibilities. Her unbelieving people tried her patience by failing to grasp her superior and honorable position, viewing her according to their own misguided knowledge, and accusing her of things that she had not done. Here, too, she showed her patience and complete faith in Allah. She did not compromise her strength, willpower, and integrity, knowing full well that Allah controls everything and thus would exonerate her.
Another noticeable character trait was her total lack of interest in winning her people's acceptance. She had surrendered to Allah with a pure faith, and was therefore unaffected by their accusations and comments. Given her faith and devotion, all she strove to do was to behave in the way that would earn Allah's good pleasure. As a result, Allah rewarded her with His grace.
There are two ways of conveying one's good character to others: through words and through moral behavior. The second way is far more effective and valuable, for it is the genuine way and cannot be imitated. One's life and behavior can reflect one's belief only if it is genuinely alive in one's heart.
Maryam displayed this superior morality and became a role model and a living invitation to religion through her faith, behavior, and character. Her genuine call is answered in the best possible way, Allah willing. The believers' faith continues to deepen as they follow Maryam's example and try to emulate her character.
HOW UNBELIEVING SOCIETIES VIEW WOMEN
All of the knowledge necessary for living a life that will earn Allah's good pleasure is contained in the Qur'an: the true nature of life on Earth, why humanity was created, how to live a fulfilled life, and the most appropriate system of morality. People who believe in this truth and live their lives accordingly will find true happiness here and in the Hereafter.
Unbelieving societies, however, have no absolute truths or powers to guide their people. In fact, they do not know where most of their values came from, who discovered them, and when and why they became their society's social norms. These rules, which cannot be ascertained but are adopted by the community as a whole, were inherited from their ancestors. In fact, all of an unbelieving society's values, ideals, and social foundations are based on tradition, also known as the way of the ancestors. Every person has a fixed place based upon his or her social status, gender, beliefs, situation, and lifestyle.
A woman's place is determined by these fixed criteria and the dominant creeds. In some societies, women are thought to have a weaker soul than men, just because they are physically weaker. Surprisingly, many people actually believe this lie due to the mistaken and clearly illogical idea that a woman's personality, morality, and ability are limited in direct proportion to her slighter body. For instance, various activities are classified as a man's job or a woman's job. Obviously, their different physical strength and build have some impact upon what tasks they perform. But in unbelieving societies, this distinction is based on a certain bigotry that ascribes to them a weakness in both intellect and talent.
Modern women, through their abilities and achievements, have disproved such biased assertions in many. Nevertheless, some parts of society still consider women to be incompetent in some respects or believe that men, simply because they are men, can do a better job.
Many people also mistakenly believe that women have a weaker character than men. In unbelieving societies, it is taken for granted that women panic and lose control, whereas men remain cool and calm. Or, in a situation of adversity, men are said to display great strength of character, whereas women respond meekly. Girls are conditioned to conform to this prejudice from early childhood. Families, which take great care to give their boys strength of character, condition their girls with opposing character traits. In the face of trouble, boys are told that boys don't cry, behave like a man, be brave, don't be scared like a little girl, you are crying like a little girl. Girls are also told that they are different from boys and that they should behave accordingly.
In such societies, women's jobs and responsibilities are limited to certain areas. As a consequence of this bigotry, most societies still discriminate against women. This misguided view of women has revealed itself in various ways. Especially in the past, women were subjected to barbaric behavior. For example, Allah reveals that girls were considered so worthless in some societies that their fathers buried them alive as soon as they were born:
… when the baby girl buried alive is asked for what crime she was killed. (Surat at-Takwir: 8-9)
In other verses, Allah speaks of people whose faces turned angry upon learning that they had a new daughter and hid in embarrassment from their people:
When one of them is given the good news of a baby girl, his face darkens and he is furious. He hides away from people because of the evil of the good news he has been given. Should he keep her ignominiously or bury her in the ground? What an evil judgment they make! (Surat an-Nahl: 58-59)
Allah also reveals that such people considered their daughters to be pretty things who were incapable of standing up for themselves:
When any of them is given the good news of the very thing that he himself has ascribed to the All-Merciful, his face darkens and he is furious. "What! Someone brought up among pretty trinkets who cannot produce a cogent argument!" (Surat az-Zukhruf: 17-18)
Through His Prophets, Allah educated such people about the mistaken nature of this prejudiced view. Thanks to the Prophets and the spread of Islam among the people, this ignorant and disgraceful outlook has been greatly curbed.
Allah reminds people that whatever they have comes from Him: "The kingdom of the heavens and Earth belongs to Allah. He creates whatever He wills. He gives daughters to whoever He wills, and He gives sons to whoever He wills, or He gives them both sons and daughters. And He makes whoever He wills barren. Truly, He is All-Knowing, All-Powerful" (Surat ash-Shura: 49-50). Both girls and boys are gifts from Allah for which people must be thankful.
Throughout history, many societies have assumed such misguided attitude towards women. An important reality, however, must not be overlooked: Unfortunately, the morality, behavior, and personality of some women help to spread and justify this ignorant tradition by proving it true.
Islam refutes this bigoted view by declaring that all Muslims, by which it means both men and women, have sharp minds, highly developed faculties of comprehension, a great strength of character, and a superior sense of morality. Maryam and Pharaoh's wife are excellent examples of this truth.
In the coming pages, we will examine briefly the ignorance that prevents women from throwing off this destructive tradition and adopting religion's superior morality, and display the character differences between unbelieving and Muslim women.