Sayyida A'siya, the wife of the pharoah (Our leader our lady, A'siya)

Each of the four foremost ladies of Paradise has a unique life story. The second among them, our lady A'siya is one of the least well known out of the Muslim tradition. She is twice mentioned in the Quran, a high honour, as the 'wife of pharoah' (امرأت فرعون) itself telling; because in this case it highlights her greatest feat - which was to defy the pharoah, the most powerful man in her world and her life.

As is well known the pharoah ruling when the prophet Moses (Musa in Arabic) was born, was a tyrannical despot, so terrified of a prediction coming through that a child of Isra'eel would overthrow him, that he ordered all male children born to be put to death. In the Quran, the story is told of how when Musa was born, his mother was distraught that she would lose him. The One Divine inspired her put the baby in a basket and place the basket in the river Nile, and to have his older sister follow the trajectory of the floating basket secretly. The basket floats up to the pharoah's palace and is taken to the queen, and this is her reaction to pharoah when he hears about the baby:

In surah Qasas;

وَقَالَتِ امْرَأَتُ فِرْعَوْنَ قُرَّتُ عَيْنٍ لِّي وَلَكَ ۖ لَا تَقْتُلُوهُ عَسَىٰ أَن يَنفَعَنَا أَوْ نَتَّخِذَهُ وَلَدًا وَهُمْ لَا يَشْعُرُونَ - 28:9

And the wife of Pharaoh said, "[He will be] a comfort of the eye for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not.

Thus her first act mentioned is a tremendous one - she is the means by whom the One Divine decrees the prophet Musa (pbuh) will be saved. A great act and one accomplished with skill, wisdom, and tact.

And so the prophet Musa is brought up in the palace and she becomes foster mother to him. It is part of the Divine plan that Musa also has the presence of his biological mother in his life, as she is brought in to the palace as a wet-nurse for him. As his sister had observed how he was integrated into the palace, she was able to suggest their mother as a wet-nurse when the time came. But in the story of Musa (pbuh) it is the role of his non-biological family that is emphasized. The trouble he faced by his foster-father, the kindness and care of the family he married to, and what we draw attention to here, the role of his foster-mother as the lady who brought him up.

Islamic tradition teaches us that when Musa (pbuh) began preaching, calling pharoah and his people to the worship of the One Divine, his foster-mother, A'siya accepted, despite being the wife of the pharoah.

She did not hide her faith, prompting pharoah to torture her severely and publicly, making of her an example. She thus endured the greatest fall possible in her day, from queen to the target of the pharoah's wrath, publicly humiliated. She must have known the stakes were great when she made bold to declare her faith. She must have known there was no hope of escape for her and her death sentence was all but laid.

The second time she is mentioned in the Quran, details what happened next:

In Surah Tahrim;

وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا امْرَأَتَ فِرْعَوْنَ إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِي عِندَكَ بَيْتًا فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِي مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ - 66:11

And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, "My Lord, build for me with You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people."

She made a masterful prayer while she was being tortured. We are told the heavens parted in immediate response and she saw her house 'with' her Lord while she took her last breath.

Her story is powerful, she was able to stand up for truth in the face of a great tyrant, despite the fact and even given the fact that he was her husband. This is a clear example to all Muslim women and all women, that marriage does not equal subjugation. The One Divine is the one to be worshiped and not a 'god-king' husband. It is a lesson for all men too, any who suffer the yolk of an oppressive over-lord.

We revere her for these qualities. We honour her and she is one of the four foremost ladies of Paradise. The One Divine recognizes her motherhood without her being a biological mother, recognizes her greatest quality of one who spoke and stood for truth and recognizes her as one of perfected faith. She is our leader, a great moon lighting a dark night.

©2019 Irfa'a