Ibn `Abbâs once said to `Atâ b. Rabâh: "Shouldn't I point out to you a woman of Paradise?"
He replied: "Indeed. Do so."
Ibn `Abbâs said: "Do you see that black complexioned lady? She approached the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: 'I suffer from epilepsy and during a fit, my body becomes exposed. So please supplicate Allah on my behalf.'
"Then the Prophet said to her: 'If you choose, you might rather bear it patiently and you will attain Paradise on account of it. Or if you like, I will beseech Allah to cure you.'
"She said: 'I will bear it patiently. But my body gets exposed, so please beseech Allah that my body will no longer be exposed.'
"The Prophet (peace be upon him) beseeched Allah for this." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5652) and Sahîh Muslim (2576)]
The woman's name was Su`ayrah – though some say her name was Shuqayrah – al-Habashiyyah al-Asadiyyah. She was known as Umm Zufar. She was a tall, black lady, and one of the Companions remembered for her patience.
She had been Khadijah's lady in waiting. After Khadîjah's demise, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to show her extra deference and respect.
When she grew older, she became afflicted with epilepsy, and her body would become exposed due to the severity of her seizures. The Prophet (peace be upon him) beseeched Allah on her behalf to preserve her modesty. He also gave her glad tidings of Paradise.
There are many things we can learn from her example:
1. Her story teaches us that we need to turn to Allah with our needs. We need to fear Him and worship Him alone and seek refuge with Him. It is Allah alone who can cure our ills and alleviate our suffering. Our sincerity and faith when we turn to Allah can benefit us in amazing ways. Medical doctors admit that faith has a great affect on healing, often more pronounced than medications, though medications certainly can benefit us.
2. We also learn how virtuous the quality of patience is. This hadith shows us that when we bear illness in patience and fortitude, it is a means by which our sins are forgiven and by which we attain Allah's blessings and entrance into Paradise.
Al-`Aynî says in his commentary on this hadîth: "The exercise of patience in affliction bequeaths to us Paradise. Bearing one's tribulation with fortitude is better for the one who knows he is capable of handling it without becoming weak in his resolve." [`Umdah al-Qârî (21/215)]
We can also see how the Prophet's glad tidings were a help and a comfort to her. It gave her hope. The role of a positive attitude in coping with illness and in aiding the recovery process is well-known.
3. We can see the respect that the Prophet (peace be upon him) showed this woman by his giving her the choice. He respected her right to make the decision for herself in a matter that affected her life. He let her know her options, while showing that he was well aware of the extent of her suffering. He knew it was best for her to be patient if she had the fortitude to bear her illness. However, he trusted her to make the decision for herself.
4. We can learn from this woman the value of modesty. We can see her concern for keeping her body from being exposed when she had a seizure, in her asking the Prophet (peace be upon him) to beseech Allah to protect her modesty when she was not able to control her movements and was free from all blame.
We can also take note of how the Prophet (peace be upon him) readily complied with her request. We must know that the Prophet's supplication has a special value, and his supplication was certainly answered.
We should compare her concern with the willfully immodest dress of many people today.
And Allah knows best.