Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Sexual Revolutionary


As Muslims, many of us are caught between two extremes: a culture of hypersexualisation that trivialises and belittles the value of sex, turning intimacy into something crude and vulgar; and a 'back home' culture where everything that is romantic, sexual and intimate is made forbidden and shameful.

This attitude, however, is completely contrary to the Islamic attitude towards sex, displayed by members of the Sahabiyyaat such as Umm Sulaym.
Umm Salama relates that Umm Sulaym came to the Messenger of Allah and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Many Muslim women are pressured into denying their sexuality, or fully being able to explore and acknowledge it, even within their marriage. Cultural double standards that make it acceptable for men to transgress the bounds of chastity but taboo for women to be honest about their desires are poisonous.

Not only does such a mentality warp and harm those individuals affected by it, but it also interferes in every Muslim's right to a sound Islamic education and a holistic, happy life based on the deen - including the area of halal sexual gratification.

As a result, numerous intimacy-related problems have arisen amongst Muslim girls and women. Whether it’s self-esteem and body-image issues, a lack of understanding regarding their own sexual and reproductive health, fear about sex, considering sex to be ‘dirty’ or serious medical issues like vaginismus or being unable to have an orgasm - Muslim women suffer serious consequences as a result of sex-shaming.

Muslim women should not be made to feel ashamed of being aware of their bodies, their physical needs and their sexuality; these things are all gifts from Allah I, which, with the right intention, can be made a source of ajr (reward) from Him.
On the flip side, these things are also responsibilities, for if misused and abused, they can also be a source of punishment.

Let us embrace the mature, dignified, respectful and positive attitude towards female sexuality that Sahabiyaat such as Umm Sulaym displayed, and cast away the crippling mentalities that pressure women to deny their very natures.

As we’ve seen, Umm Sulaym was not ashamed of asking a question which openly discussed an aspect of female sexuality (wet dreams), in an appropriate manner, despite the fact that others around her (such as Umm Salamah) were shocked that she had the audacity to discuss it in public.

Muslim women need to revive the revolutionary attitude that Umm Sulaym displayed. In order to change the current state of affairs, we should find inspiration in Umm Sulaym’s example and be pro-active in educating ourselves about our bodies, including and especially our sexual health. Nor should this education be restricted to already-married women - it is imperative that young girls be taught about their bodies as they grow and mature into young women. It is necessary not just from a health perspective, but from an Islamic one; after all, how else are they to know about the Islamic rulings that surround menstruation, discharge, sexual gratification and more?

Rather than criticising or scolding girls and women who ask or speak openly and honestly about sex, we should remember the words of ‘Aishah when she said: “How praiseworthy are the women of Ansar! Shyness does not prevent them from having a deep understanding of religion.”

Developing this type of positive sexual attitude is not merely necessary for the overall health of the Muslim Ummah, but is a revolutionary act of heroism as well. One which will, insha Allah, give rise to a new generation of confident and educated Muslim women.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com

How Big Is Allah? - Book Review


“How big is Allah?” is a question that my four year old daughter has asked me before, and a question I always struggled to answer in a way that would be easy for her to conceptualize. Alhamdulillah for the new book, How Big is Allah? by author and illustrator Emma Apple, which came to my rescue!

Brilliantly laid out - both concise and illustrative not only due to Emma’s beautiful black-and-white ink drawings but also because of the clever use of large and small lettering paired with every image, How Big is Allah? is enchanting for both young readers and their parents.

Rather than relying on clichés that tend to be over-used when trying to teach Muslim children about their Lord, Emma’s approach is refreshing and creative. Each page encourages children to think and to reflect, a wonderful way to be like those whom the Qur’an describes:

{[Those] Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], "Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.} (Aal ‘Imran:191)

This book makes it much easier for young children to visualise the concepts of big and small, relativity/proportion, the solar system and space - while tying them all to the original question of “How big is Allah?”

The fact chart at the end of the book makes it easier to explain the definitions of words that might be new and unfamiliar, especially to the younger readers (aged around 4-6).

I found How Big is Allah? to not only be a great bedtime read that reminded my daughter to say her nightly adhkar, but also an encouragement to learn more about nature and science.

With very young readers (like my four year old), I personally suggest reading only the first couple of pages initially and to use them as the beginning of many more discussions about Allah I, our planet, and why we were created.

How Big is Allah? is guaranteed to charm your children with its uniquely vibrant imagery, age-appropriate language and beautifully simple yet effective method of understanding the answer to such a huge question. It’s an absolute must-have for every Muslim home, whether as part of an Islamic homeschooling programme or your own personal library.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

AnonyMouse (Zainab bint Younus) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She writes for SISTERS Magazine, SaudiLife.net, and blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Refutation of Falsehood: Busting Myths About Female Sexuality

When one sees Muslim leaders attempt to take on serious and relevant issues to the Muslim Ummah such as sexually dysfunctional marital relationships, one truly hopes for the best. Alas, well-meaning though they may be, there becomes glaringly obvious a lack of knowledge and understanding regarding female sexuality.

A few claims that are being made and circulated en masse (and dangerously so) are the following:

·        Muslim women (especially from ‘conservative, practicing families’) do not really experience sexual arousal or any feelings of intense sexuality before marriage.

·        Women’s fitrah is such that they are automatically less sexual than men.

·        Muslim women are intimidated and scared by even discussions about sex prior to marriage; if a Muslim man wants to discuss it with his fiancée, he shouldn’t lest she run in the opposite direction.

·        Women don’t ‘need’ to orgasm as much as men do; their sexual feelings are minimal and what they truly seek from sexual encounters is not necessary physical pleasure, but emotional connection.

Not only are all these claims inaccurate, but to perpetuate them on a massive public forum – and by an individual with significant influence over large numbers of Muslims – is extremely dangerous due to the fact that the Muslim community already suffers from a horrific lack of knowledge and awareness about sex and female sexuality.

Despite the fact that Islamic texts fully recognize women’s sexual needs and in fact protects them as a religious right, many male Muslim leaders perpetuate cultural stereotypes about the nature of female sexuality and falsely pass them off as Islamic guidance. Such ridiculous ideas include the belief that women have a lesser need and appreciation for the physical aspect of intimacy; that they do not experience intense sexual arousal prior to marriage; and that the very idea of sex is disturbing and unnatural to them, or that they are unable to comprehend the true nature of intercourse before marriage.

In all fairness, even Western cultures and scientific thought has long held faulty and inaccurate beliefs regarding female sexuality (most famously, the views of Sigmund Freud and the Victorian phenomenon of ‘hysteria’). However, it is also true that Western society has moved along with considerable speed with regards to knowledge of female sexuality than many Eastern (and Muslim) cultures have. It must still be kept in mind, though, that the amount of studies and research collected on female sexuality is dwarfed by those about men, and that there remains a great deal to be discovered about female sexuality in general.[1]

Going back to the claims being publicly taught, there is first of all a severely erroneous conflation between the reality of culturally ingrained attitudes about sex, and the actual innate physical desires and needs that women have for sex.

While it is absolutely true that many Muslim cultures teach women unhealthy negative attitudes about sex and equate female sexual desire with being dirty or impure, this in no way actually reflects the physiological need for sex that exists in the female gender as a whole.

No matter how much cultural brainwashing women receive regarding their sexuality, most women will still inevitably experience feelings of sexual arousal at some point in their lives – and for those who do, it will generally first happen before marriage.

Furthermore, the arousal a woman feels can and does reach strong levels of intensity, including orgasm; for example, in a wet dream. This was acknowledged even by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who confirmed Umm Sulaym’s question regarding female wet dreams.[2] 
Even outside of wet dreams and masturbation however, women can and do feel intense sexual stimulation – anything from wearing a new pair of jeans or sitting on a massage chair. This is not to be crude, but simply realistic.[3] [4]

Nor are such experiences purely involuntary; many women are curious about their bodies and are actively aware of what stimulates them both physically and mentally (after all, the brain is the most powerful sex organ). Sexual curiosity exists in women just as it exists in men; since many girls mature physically and mentally faster than boys, they can be ahead of the game when it comes to being curious about sex.
Whether it’s reading romance novels (and anyone who thinks that girls read romance novels just for the emotional fluff is fooling themselves) or magazines like Cosmopolitan, girls crave information about both the romantic and the explicitly sexual.

Communication about sexual issues is another matter, one tied much more strongly to the aforementioned cultural brainwashing about intimacy than the idea that women have an inherent and instinctive fear or aversion to sex. Advising Muslim men to ‘just pray Istikhaarah, ya akhee’ instead of respectfully discussing or asking questions related to sex with their fiancées is harmful and, quite frankly, insulting to both the man and the woman. We should not be perpetuating attitudes of embarrassment, shame, and stigma about sexual issues but rather, encouraging men and women to approach the topic with respect, dignity, and honesty. It may be uncomfortable at first or awkward, but then, all positive growth and change is by necessity.
It is necessary to say here that a great deal of work needs to be done in training Muslim men and women on how to discuss matters related to sex and marriage in a respectful, dignified, and mature manner.

There is one final issue – the idea that women are innately ‘less sexual’ than men. While there is no denying the biological differences between men and women, including sexually, there is a big difference between recognizing the difference, and claiming that women simply aren’t as sexual.[5] More accurate would be to state that what men and women find sexually appealing and arousing, how they react to such stimuli, and the levels at which they respond to such urges differ greatly – but do not take away from the inherent sexuality of women.

It is also a fallacy to say that the sole or primary benefit or reason that women engage in sex is for an emotional connection; rather, while some women do enjoy sex more because of the emotional connection, it is not a necessary component of their actual satisfaction or orgasm. In fact, the vagina – specifically the clitoris – has thousands more nerve endings than the penis, which means that its orgasm can be correspondingly much, much more intense than the male orgasm, and contradicts the belief of those men who are convinced that women don’t really ‘feel it.’[6] [7] (Not to mention that women are capable of different types of orgasm[8] [9] [10] [11] [12]and multiple orgasms.[13])

It is worth noting that, once sexually aroused, women have a much stronger need to orgasm than men do. If they are stimulated and left unsatisfied, it causes extreme emotional upset (and significant physical discomfort). Should this become a recurring pattern, where husbands reach climax but make no effort to ensure their wives’ satisfaction, women often end up angry and resistant to being sexually available.
Psychological Haleh Banani mentions as well that women who are emotionally unsatisfied in their marriages yet are sexually fulfilled have higher rates of remaining within that marriage than the other way around. If that doesn’t underscore the point well enough, I don’t know what will.

The claim that women have fewer or less intense desires, or a somehow less important need for orgasm, is in fact an unhealthy way of minimizing female sexuality and its priority in a relationship. This takes place both amongst Muslims and non-Muslims and is a sign of how misogyny permeates our attitudes such that we automatically do not consider women to be of equal footing even in bed (and God help any woman who shows any sign of initiating sexual interest or contact!).
While the argument may go on to rage over who is ‘more’ sexual (keeping in mind that new studies continue to emerge on the topic, with sometimes paradoxical results), there is no benefit to be gained from pushing the view that women are simply less sexual beings.

In fact, it does the opposite, by telling men that they do not have to consider their wives’ sexual needs to be as important or necessary (the caveat that ‘a woman’s right to sexual satisfaction is guaranteed in Islam’ does nothing to change the final message). It is also implying to women that they should give up hope of true sexual satisfaction because it’s unrealistic and biologically unnecessary for them to experience it (but hey, all women really want are snuggles and warm fuzzy cuddles, right?).

It is high time that we begin to provide qualified individuals in the Muslim community who can discuss sex – and especially female sexuality – from a more nuanced and accurate perspective. Otherwise, Muslim leaders who take it upon themselves to talk about the subject are simply contributing to the already terrible state of Muslim intimacy, and the continued struggles of Muslim women seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in their own marriages.

What truly needs to be encouraged, emphasized, and taught is the importance of men and women alike to improve communication with their spouses about matters of intimacy. From there, it should become much easier for husbands and wives to become comfortable with their own and each others’ bodies; and for husbands to understand the various factors affecting women that may be significantly responsible for obstacles to sexual fulfillment. Just as men have their own unique preferences, levels of libido, and so on, so too are the tastes and desires of women varied and vast.

To truly seek an improvement to the sex lives of married Muslims, the first step should not be to make sweeping generalizations of female sexuality that are based on androcentric perspectives. Rather, it must be recognized that championing outdated ideas causes a great deal of harm to both men and women. A more nuanced and accurate understanding of female sexuality must be collectively pursued in order to see significant positive change in Muslim marriages.



[2] Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) relates that Umm Sulaym (Allah be pleased with her) came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari 130)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tending the Hearth


Husbands gone to work or to war; long hours stretching into days, weeks, and months during which wives and mothers spend their days single-handedly raising their children and going to sleep in beds unwarmed by their men. Grueling journeys from one country to another; packing up not just clothing and utensils, but memories and dreams, it is women who find themselves binding their families together and fighting to create a new life and a stronger bond wherever Qadr takes them across the globe.
These are the women of the frontlines – not necessarily the women wielding swords and bandages, but those whose battles are fought on a different front, where their wounds are often invisible but no less painful than physical scars. These are the women who are left to tend the hearth but who tend to others’ hearts as well; the hearts of their husbands and children, while their own hearts struggle to remain strong.


Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was one such a woman. She accepted Islam in its earliest days in Makkah, as a young bride to one of RasulAllah’s cousins, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu ‘anhu). Instead of a romantic honeymoon, Asmaa’ and her husband experienced something much more memorable – the first hijrah to Abyssinia for the sake of Allah alone. They were amongst the first Muslim expats, as it were, establishing both their marriage and their home in a country foreign to them in every way, from language and food to faith and culture.
As anyone who has traveled and lived abroad knows, the adjustment is never easy, and it was infinitely more difficult for Asmaa’, her husband, and the other Muslim emigrants who not only had to contend with culture shock, but also with the fear of the Quraysh coming after them, and longing for the company of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Divine Revelation that came to him.

Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays spent fifteen years in Abyssinia with her husband Ja’far, raising not only her three sons, but an entire community of Muslims who clung together and held firm to the Deen of Islam. They received communication from RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi sallam), messages which shared with them the latest verses that had been revealed, as well as words of comfort, support, and advice.

Finally, the long-awaited command came: RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was calling his beloved Companions to their new home, Madinah al-Munawwarah. After over a decade in Abyssinia, leaving must have been yet another bittersweet parting for Asmaa’ and her band of emigrants. Even so, they understood the transient nature of this world, and in obedience to the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), once again uprooted themselves and took the arduous journey back to yet another foreign land.

Returning to the land of the Arabs didn’t mean an end to the difficulty, however. As one of RasulAllah’s most beloved and trusted Companions, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib was often on the frontlines of the many military expeditions that the Muslims were engaged in. At the Battle of Mu’tah, RasulAllah established a chain of command: Zayd ibn Haarith, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, and Abdullah ibn Rawaahah. If Zayd were to fall, Ja’far was to take his place – and that is exactly what happened. At the end of the battle, the Muslims were victorious… but all three commanders were martyred, and Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays was left a widow, the mother of orphaned sons.

Wracked with grief, Asmaa’ soon realized that although the battle was over, the war in her heart had only just begun. Her fight now was to raise her sons with the same unwavering faith that her husband had died with, and the same resilience and strength she herself had displayed when they had made the choice to move to and live in Abyssinia. Asmaa’s struggle as a newly single mother was recognized by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who comforted her.

Abdullah ibn Ja’far (one of the sons of Asmaa' and Ja'far) narrates:

“The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)  gave Ja'far's family some time to mourn over his death and then visited them saying, ‘Do not cry over my brother after this day.’ He then said, ‘Bring the children of my brother to me,’ and we were brought to him like young birds. He then said, ‘Call the barber for me!’ And the barber came and shaved our heads.

The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) then said, “As for Muhammed (one of Ja’far’s brothers), he looks like our uncle Abu Talib, as for ‘Abdullah he resembles me. O Allah! Be the supporter of Ja’far’s family and bless ‘Abdullah (his son) in the transactions undertaken by his hands.” The Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) repeated this three times.
Then our mother came and mentioned how her children were now orphans and began crying. The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)) said to her, “Asmaa’, are you afraid of poverty for them while I am their guardian in this world and in the hereafter?”

(Source: “Women Around the Messenger,” Muhammad Ali Qutb)

Asmaa’ remained a single mother for some time, dedicated to both her sons and her community, determined to be an active participant of the rapidly growing Muslim Ummah.
Allah didn’t leave her alone for long, however – roughly a year later, after the Battle of Hunayn, Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) proposed to Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays. She accepted his offer of marriage, and they soon developed a relationship of respect, trust and love, such that when Abu Bakr was on his deathbed, he made it clear that he wished Asmaa’ alone to bathe his body and prepare it for his janaazah.

After Abu Bakr’s death, Asmaa’ once again had to contend with being a widow and a single mother for the second time. Yet again, though, a worthy man stepped up to take his place at her side as a righteous husband – this time, it was Ali ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu anhu), who was to be the last of her husbands.

The stories of Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays’ life are not unique ones: immigration, financial struggles, the unspoken but still raw difficulty of raising a family, crisis, loss, grief… these are situations experienced by hundreds of thousands of women every day, across the world. These are the battles that women fight on a daily basis, the frontlines that they live on, and they are struggles to be recognized and honoured for being every bit as glorious and worthy of Allah’s Pleasure as other, more glamorous life challenges.


Women like Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays are not alone, but they are unique when it comes to how they tend their hearths and homes while war rages within themselves and outside in the wide world – with the remembrance of Allah no matter how weary the heart may grow, and seeking His guidance in this world and the Hereafter. It is these women – women who truly follow the footsteps of Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays, with blood, sweat and tears as well as laughter and love, emaan and taqwa – who are truly forgotten heroines in our midst. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Book Review: Dowry Divas

As an avid reader with a special interest in Muslim fiction, I jump at the chance to read and review the newest books on the market, especially if they’re written by Muslim women authors. In the course of my Muslim-fiction-hunting, I came across a new name: Zara J, the author of Dowry Divas.

Described on Amazon as ‘The Muslim Sex and the City,’ Dowry Divas follows the complicated love lives of three Muslim women – Layla, Talia, Nadia – and the men they have either married, seek to marry, or are trying to marry them.

A hot-shot African-American lawyer who has just married the hottest Muslim attorney on the block, Layla finds herself completely unprepared to deal with an unwelcome guest at her glamorous wedding. Talia, a successful Latina entrepreneur, struggles with feelings of jealousy and loneliness, and decides to take the risk of seeking a soulmate on the Internet. Nadia tries to escape her father’s preferred candidate for marriage – and finds herself falling for Lateef, a man who already has one wife.
While the book is told from the perspectives of these three female characters, the men they’re involved with are equally fleshed out and dominate a great deal of attention.

Dowry Divas was very different from my usual reading material, which tend to revolve around women in difficult situations who face down their challenges with inspiring strength and courage. To be honest, I found it difficult to relate to the three women – if anything, I empathized with the male characters most, although I had issues with some of them as well. Despite being described as ‘smart and sassy,’ I found the women to come off as both slightly flat and unrelatable – one domineering characteristic they all shared was a rather concerning (to me) obsession with material things, with a particular emphasis on money, designer clothing, purses, and so on. They appeared to be unashamedly jealous and obsessed over marriage, desiring men who had 'swag', money, and who were religious but not 'extremely' religious.

I also found that many Islamic references (ayaat, ahadith, and fiqh rulings) were tossed around in a rather awkward manner in an attempt to explain aspects of ‘Muslim-ness’, such as polygamy. Perhaps the author’s intent was to include these things for the sake of da’wah to non-Muslim readers, but from a literary perspective, I found it a clumsy and unskillful way of getting the point across. I strongly felt that the quality of the writing overall was slightly weak – both the characters and the plot could have been improved with some editing and more development.

While my review appears to be quite negative, the truth is that this was my own personal reaction to a specific genre, which others may find enjoyable. While the characters in this book did not reflect the Muslim women or situations that I am acquainted with, it did make me aware of the fact that there are Muslim women out there for whom these circumstances are a reality, and therefore would be better able to relate the story.

At the very least, it is good to see more Muslim writers, especially women of colour, coming forth and contributing to the genre of Muslim fiction with their own unique perspectives. My only suggestion would be that instead of rushing to produce more books, whether self-published or otherwise, such authors should take the time to develop their skills and polish their work. It is important that the burgeoning genre of Muslim literature should reflect skill as well as talent, quality as well as quantity.

Dowry Divas is a book with a great deal of potential, and has an intriguing premise, though it will undoubtedly resonate with certain readers more than others.

Rating: 2/5 stars

AnonyMouse (Zainab bint Younus) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She is a writer (for SISTERS Magazine, SaudiLife.net, OnIslam.net and elsewhere), as well as a freelance editor who has worked for international Islamic publishing companies such as Darussalam and IIPH. She also blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com

Friday, January 23, 2015

Outspoken: The Power of a Woman's Voice


“Muslim women should be seen, not heard” is a belief that – if not spoken outright – is implicitly understood and reinforced constantly. “A woman’s voice is ‘awrah” is another catchphrase that is floated around commonly, and used to shame Muslim women who take a stand for themselves in any way. “Women who speak are fitnah!”

If anything, one common trait amongst all the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - besides being of those who were guaranteed Jannah - was that, in their own way, they were incredibly strong women who were never afraid to stand up for themselves or to speak out.

Juwayriyyah bint al-Haarith was the daughter of an Arab chieftain - making her, in essence, a princess of sorts. When her father's tribe waged war against the Muslims and were defeated, they captured prisoners and spoils of war as was customary at the time. Amongst the prisoners was Juwayriyyah, who was the prisoner of Thaabit ibn Qays.
Despite the fact that Juwayriyyah's husband had just been killed in battle, rendering her a widow, and her own captivity, she was nonetheless both courageous and intelligent. She immediately began to arrange her own ransom, reaching an agreement with Thaabit that she would ransom herself for nine measures of silver.

She also arranged it so that she was given a meeting with RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). With her head held high, her dignity undiminished by her circumstances, she addressed him with an eloquent and powerful speech.

"O Messenger of Allah! I am Juwayriyyah, the daughter of al-Haarith, the leader of his people. You are not unaware of what has befallen me. I am a captive of Thaabit ibn Qays, and I have bargained with him to ransom myself for nine measures of silver - so help me to free myself!"

In these brief words, Juwayriyyah established herself as a woman of intelligence, dignity, and of faith. Her very first words made it clear that she had accepted Islam - why else would she refer to him (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) as the Messenger of Allah? - and called attention to her situation by emphasizing her former position as the daughter of a leader, and her current position as a prisoner.
She made it known that she was not going to remain helpless and idle and allow herself to remain a prisoner, ensuring that everyone present was aware of the fact that she had taken pro-active measures, but also called upon RasulAllah's sense of honour, compassion, and generosity to assist her.

And indeed, this small speech was all it took to guarantee freedom not only for herself, but for her entire tribe.
RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was so impressed by her that he immediately told her, "Would you like something better than that?"
Quick witted as ever, Juwayriyyah didn't simply accept, but rather asked, "What is it?"
RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, "I will pay your ransom and marry you as well."
Her answer was swift. "Yes, O Messenger of Allah!"

And with that, she was included amongst the ranks of the Mothers of the Believers. Not only that, but due to her acceptance of Islam and her position as the wife of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), she secured the freedom of her entire tribe… as well as their Islam. The power of her words, of her voice, was clear.

Unfortunately, it’s common today in many Muslim cultures and communities to find that women who speak up, whether in defense of themselves or for a specific cause, are penalized for voicing themselves. Their modesty, their piety, and even their personal lives are often targeted, sometimes with crude insinuations made. It is appalling that these accusations are thrown around at women who are doing little more than following in the footsteps of the heroines of Islam – the wives and daughters of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), his female Companions, and the great women scholars of the Tabi’een.

In a time when the Muslim Ummah is besieged on numerous fronts – militarily, economically, socially – the example of Juwayriyyah (radhiAllahu 'anha) is one to be told to every Muslim man and woman, reminding us that no matter what situations we find ourselves in, Allah helps those who helps themselves. In Juwayriyyah's case, it was her pro-activeness, her quick mind, and her courage that changed her from not only prisoner to princess, but into a woman of Jannah. By modeling ourselves on Juwayriyyah, we will discover that one of the greatest tools for changing our less-than-ideal circumstances is complete trust in Allah, and never backing down from the numerous obstacles that will inevitably be in our paths.

{Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.}
(Qur’an 13:11)

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

On Handsome Men, Women's Desire, & Umar ibn al-Khattab

There is a famous story set during the time of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s khalifate regarding the man who was ‘too handsome for Medinah.’ The story is as follows:

As was his wont, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab patrolled the streets of Medinah at night, observing the state of his community at its most relaxed and vulnerable. Passing by a house, he heard the voice of a young woman raised in longing as she recited a couplet.

هل من سبيل إلى الخمر فأشربها؟
أو هل من سبيل إلى نصر بن الحجاج

“Is there no way for me to receive wine that I may drink it? Or is there no way for me to be with Nasr ibn Hajjaj?”

Alarmed by the desperation and longing in her voice, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab knew that he had to do something. The next day, he summoned the man known as Nasr ibn Hajjaj – and discovered that he was one of the most handsome men of Medinah.

Hoping to diminish the effect that this young man obviously had on the women of Medinah, Umar commanded that Nasr’s hair should be cut from the front - only to realize with dismay that the man’s beauty only increased.

Next, Umar told Nasr to wear a turban and cover his hair completely – with the same result. Exasperated, Umar finally demanded that Nasr’s hair be shaved off entirely. Unfortunately, Nasr’s handsomeness simply became even more obvious.

In response to Umar’s actions, Nasr composed the following poetry:

لظـن ابـن خطـاب ٍعلـي ّ بجُمـة ٍالى رُجّلت تهتـز هـز السلاسـل ِ
فصـلّـع رأســا ً لــم يصلّـعـه ربّــهيـرف رفيفـا ً بـعـد أســود جـائـل ِ
لقد حسد القرعان اصلع ُ لم يكناذا مـا مـشـى بالـفـرع مُتخـايـل ُ

"Umar could not see my curls,
My hair which when combed waved like a chain;
He made that head bald where once there was profuse hair;
He who was bald headed felt jealous of him who had hair,
As he could not be proud of his hair, he deprived me of his hair."

News of ‘Umar’s actions spread, and the young woman who had first recited the fateful couplet that had begun this entire saga shared her own feelings on the subject.

حلـقوا رأســه ليـــكـسـب قــبـحاً
غيرة مـــنـهــــم عـليـه وشـحـــا
كـان صـبـحـا عـلـيـه لـيـل بـهـيـم
فمحــوا لـيـلـه وأبـقــوه صـبـحـــا

"They shaved his head so that he may become ugly, jealousy from them of him and a stinginess,
The morning on him was like a dark night, then they erased his night and left him as morning. "

‘Umar was further vexed by how dramatic the situation had become. “Ya Ibn Hajjaj!” he exclaimed. “You’ve charmed the women of Medinah! By the One in Whose Hands is my soul, I do not want you as a neighbor in any town I live in.”

So saying, ‘Umar ordered Nasr to be exiled to the city of Basra (in Iraq), which was a military town. A few days later, Nasr sent ‘Umar a letter, pleading his innocence and asking to be allowed back to Madinah. Nasr’s mother went to ‘Umar, begging him to allow her son to return.
“Your sons are with you,” she told him. “But you have exiled mine! This is truly unfair.”
“Your son is a danger to the morals of the women of Medinah!” ‘Umar retorted. “As long as I live, I will not allow him to return and create temptation with his looks.”

While this story is usually mentioned with an air of jest, or as part of a discussion on the wisdom of ‘Umar’s policies, I want to take a moment to look at this incident through a slightly different lens.
When it comes to female desire, many Muslims react in one of two ways: either they deny it entirely, or they demonize it as a source of evil and ‘fitnah’ for men. A woman’s expression of desire, whether it be verbal or otherwise, is condemned as being something filthy and in need of being immediately silenced.

Yet when we look at this story and the way that ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) reacted to the unnamed woman’s poetry, we see a completely different attitude. ‘Umar did not storm into the woman’s house and command her to be quiet, or to be ashamed of herself, or to rebuke her for daring to give voice to her emotions.

Instead, he recognized her desires as being completely natural, and rather than targeting her for being out of line, went to the source of the fitnah itself: the object of her longing affection.
‘Umar’s concern for the women of Medinah was not tied to labeling them the fitnah or uncontrollable, but to acknowledge their difficult circumstances (it is said that this was a time during which many of the men in Medinah were participating in Jihad elsewhere) and to do what he could to make it easier for them to bear.

Consider this in comparison to the way that Muslim women today are treated when they dare to mention the struggles they experience, whether it be with regards to the temptations of developing emotional relationships with men they interact with regularly at school or at work, or the very real issues of masturbation and porn addictions.

We today need to change the way we look at women and female desire, and instead of viewing them as something strange, impure, or impious, remember the attitude of Ameer al-Mu’mineen ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu ‘anhu): to understand, to empathize, and to help in a productive manner.

(Sources:
Ibn Sa'd
Ibn Asaakir; Taareekh Dimashq
Ibn Hajr; Al-Isaabah
Umar ibn al-Khattab, Volume 1, by Dr. as-Sallabi)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Orthodox Muslims and Feminism

After watching an old video clip of a BBC program panel discussion on faith and feminism (featuring a Muslim woman in niqab as well as women from other faith groups), my primary reaction was one of disappointment.

Not only did the Muslimah representative remain largely silent throughout the discussion, but when she did speak, it was to offer weak platitudes and analogies about 'equality' - frankly, it made me cringe.

The video, however, highlighted to me many trends that I see when it comes to discussions about feminism amongst or involving conservative/orthodox Muslims.

For one thing, those who don't identify as feminists usually have skewed perception of feminism; those who do identify as feminists always fall back on the topics of hijab/niqab, polygamy, and 'equal but different'. There is very little mention of the active and important role of women from the very beginning of Islamic history.

Furthermore, orthodox Muslims discussing feminism often seem oblivious to the very existence of intersectional feminism, let alone the larger discussions and trends taking place within it. In general, conservative Muslims focus heavily on secular feminism rather than intersectional feminism, which is much more relevant to both women of faith as well as colour. The former is largely recognized to be exclusionist and limiting, with its focus being primarily on White, middle-class women of privilege.

Sadly, many conservative Muslims use the excuse of 'evil feminism' to deliberately ignore serious issues within our communities, especially with regards to the abuse and (mis)treatment of women. Discussing male privilege within masaajid, the abuse of authority, and how women are blocked from accessing their Shar'i rights are all written off as 'deviant feminism,' regardless of whether or not the individual identifies as a feminist to begin with!

It becomes ironic when even the most ideal, model Muslimah is condemned as a feminist the moment she starts speaking up for women's rights - or speaking up about anything at all, for that matter.

In short, rather than freaking out about feminism (and arguing about how it's 'kufr'), orthodox Muslims need to fix the major problems in our communities that lead to people seeking out feminism as a solution to begin with.
If we are so concerned with people 'abandoning the Shari'ah' allegedly because of feminism, we should be more concerned with *why* people are doing so - and the answer is very obvious. It is because we, the Muslim Ummah as a whole, are hell bent on avoiding dealing with our dirty laundry; in fact, in many cases we seem to want to *preserve* the injustice and oppression we inflict upon each other.

Bottom line: Stop whining about feminism, and start focusing on the very real problems (including and especially misogyny) that have left our Ummah weak and diseased.

May Allah make us amongst those who strive to fight oppression and stand up for the justice found within His Shari'ah (regardless of whether one calls themselves feminist or not ), ameen.