Monday, July 27, 2015

Forgotten Heroines: Guardian of the Qur'an

Hafsah bint ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anha) is one of the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who stands out at the forefront, along with her co-wives A’ishah, Umm Salamah, and Zaynab bint Jahsh.

Her name has two meanings: one being ‘young lioness,’ and the other being a reference to a certain type of bird that was known for being beautiful, elegant, strong, and predatory. With Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), everyone around her testified to the fact that she indeed lived up to her name – a creature of power as well as beauty.  

Hafsah was amongst the eldest of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s children, and of the early believers of Makkah. She was described as being “her father’s daughter” and indeed, she had a very close relationship with him. Although they used to have strong words with each other quite often, they also respected each other greatly and loved each other dearly.
‘Umar would often go to his daughter in matters of both family dispute – for example, when he disapproved of something that one of his sons did – or politically, such as when he was the khalifah and Hafsah acted as an intermediary between him and various plaintiffs. He also referred to her for Islamic knowledge, drawing upon her understanding of legal rulings as well as an understanding of the society around her.

Hafsah’s first husband was Khunays ibn Hudhaafah, a believer who fought in the Battle of Badr and then fell ill in Madinah after the Hijrah. When he died and Hafsah was left a widow, ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) was determined to find a husband who would be suitable for his daughter. With a personality that so matched his own, he knew that not any man would be right for Hafsah – only a strong man could marry a woman like Hafsah.

With this in mind, ‘Umar approached both Abu Bakr and ‘Uthmaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhum), hoping that one of them would be as eager about the match as ‘Umar himself was. To his dismay, both of them refused. However, his disappointment was quickly alleviated when RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) proposed to Hafsah.

As RasulAllah’s wife, Hafsah quickly established herself amongst her co-wives. She and A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) were similar in temperament and immediately hit it off; A’ishah laughingly described the two of them as being ‘one hand.’ They spent time together both in camaraderie and friendly rivalry, forming their own little clique and backing each other up in conflicts with their other co-wives.

Hafsah was a woman of both strength and skills. As A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) said drily, “She was her father’s daughter” in temperament, and equal in intelligence. She was one of privileged few who were not only literate, but were able to write as well. She was eager to study and quick to learn, which RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) recognized and encouraged, especially when he found Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) sitting with ash-Shifa bint ‘Abdullah, who was famous for her skills as a doctor. RasulAllah specifically instructed ash-Shifa to teach Hafsah medicine, thus adding to her skillset.

In addition to the ‘secular sciences,’ however, Hafsah was unique in that she was one of the female Companions who memorized the Qur’an completely. She committed it firmly to memory and was well-versed in it, to the point that she would engage in debate with RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and quote ayaat of the Qur’an to bolster her points.

Jabir bin 'Abdullah Ansari narrates an incident which was related to him by Umm Mubasher. She, Hafsah and RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were sitting together and conversing. RasulAllah mentioned that all the people who had given the pledged of allegiance at Hudaybiyah under the tree would go to Paradise, and not to Hell. Intrigued, Hafsah asked how this was possible, and quoted the verse: {There is not one of you but will pass over it (Hell).} (Quran 19:71)
In answer, he replied with the verse immediately after it: {Then We shall save those who use to fear Allah and were dutiful to Him. And We shall leave the wrongdoers therein to their knees (in Hell).} (Noble Quran 19:72)[1]

Hafsah was not merely a passive caretaker of the mus’haf; she was a powerful guardian, who was also an active participant in the process of the preservation of the Qur’an.

During the lifetime of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the Sahabah used to write down the ayaat of the Qur’an on various sheets of paper and leather. Those sheets of paper were not collected in the proper order of the Qur’an itself, but rather were left loose. This was not an issue at the time as RasulAllah was still alive, and there were many Sahabah who memorized the Qur’an and taught it to those around them.
However, during the khilaafah of Abu Bakr, there arose a problem – not only were there hundreds of thousands of individuals newly accepting Islam, but there were many military expeditions against political rebels. Due to the fact that those who memorized the Qur’an were those most keen to die in Jihad, huge numbers of qurraa’ (recitors of the Qur’an) died in those battles. With their deaths came the risk of the Qur’an being lost.
Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhum) came to the conclusion that it was now necessary for Zayd ibn Thabit – the personal scribe of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – to take part in collecting all the manuscripts of the Qur’anic verses. They did so, and Abu Bakr became the first custodian of those scrolls until his death, whereupon ‘Umar took them into his care, and after his death, it was Hafsah bint ‘Umar who became the guardian of the mus’haf. (Narrated in Bukhari)[2]

It is further interesting to note that when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) passed away, he not only bequeathed the ownership of the mus’haf to Hafsah, but also appointed her as the executor of his will and his estates.[3] Considering the fact that Hafsah had several brothers – including the famous Abdullah ibn ‘Umar – it is a significant matter that Hafsah was regarded so highly by her father, and respected by others.

Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was extremely protective of the manuscripts in her care. She understood their importance and felt a personal bond with them – after all, she had been witness to the revelation of so many of those verses, and heard her husband, the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), recite them in front of her.
When ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) became the khalifah and made it his mission to provide a standardized copy of the mus’haf in order to prevent confusion regarding the different qira’aat (modes of recitation), he first asked Hafsah’s permission to use the manuscripts in her possession. Only after he promised to return the scrolls to her when he was done, would Hafsah permit him access to the scriptures. 

 Nonetheless, during Hafsah’s lifetime, her ownership of the scrolls was undisputed and unchallenged – no one could take them from her or dictate how she used them. Truly, she guarded her treasure with all the ferocity and dedication of a lioness.

When we look at the lives of the Ummahaat al-Mu’mineen and indeed, at great women throughout Islamic history, we need to consider them with more than a passing glance. It’s not enough to mention them as being ‘righteous’ and ‘pious’ – which they indeed were – but we do need to focus on how they contributed meaningfully to our history and our faith.
Without Hafsah’s dedication to being a strong protector and guardian of the mus’haf, we would not have had the Qur’an’s impeccable preservation; since we know that Allah promised us that He would never allow the Qur’an to be corrupted, Hafsah’s role is highlighted further. In essence, she was a manifestation of the promise of Allah – and indeed: {No doubt - the promise of Allah is true.} (Qur’an 10:55)

In Hafsah, we have the example of a woman who spent her life dedicated to the Qur’an; to memorize it, to protect it, to preserve it, and to live according to it. Jibreel (‘alayhissalaam) himself told RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam): “She is sawwaamah (constantly fasting), qawwaamah (constantly standing in prayer), and she will be your wife in Jannah.”
This devotion to Allah, to His Words and His Commands, is precisely what we need to revive amongst ourselves should we hope to see the rise of another generation of heroines of Islam. 



[3] (Ibn Sa’d; Kitāb al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā. Vols. 3 and 8. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Bayrut.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Theory vs Reality: The Ummah's Failure

After seeing the rising number of Facebook statuses and lectures being shared by mashaayikh and ustaadhs about domestic violence - all of which are deeply appreciated - and related discussions about divorce, a woman's right to khul', and so on, what has really been weighing on my mind is the ease with which we speak about the technicalities - e.g. "No woman should ever be abused; abuse is a valid reason for a woman to seek and receive divorce" - and the continuing difficulty to actually implement those legal rulings.

Muslim women across the world, whether in the East or the West, face an incredibly difficult challenge in having their right to khul' even *acknowledged,* let alone respected. Woman after woman has been turned back by imams and shaykhs who 'mean well' and 'don't want to break up families' and are told, "sister, be patient; sister, your reward is with Allah; sister, don't be hasty."
Few of those women know that the Shari'ah has given them provision to escape such a tormented existence; of those who do know, many of them are told by the men in authority, those of 'knowledge,' that they - as women - do not understand that "marriage is serious," "a family is serious," and that "you cannot just interpret Islamic law as you wish."

And then we wonder why women run away from home, we wonder why Muslim women seek divorce through secular courts instead of through Islamic provisions, we wonder why so many women find solace in the progressive Muslim movement, where such statements are not tolerated.
I'm not going to claim that all such leaders or imams are misogynstic or hateful of women at heart.

What I *am* saying is that the majority of them will simply never know or understand the emotional, psychological, and physical torture that women endure in their marriages.

What I *am* saying is that a lack of pro-active female scholarship, and a lack of direct influence from those women, is part of the problem that the mantra of "have patience, sister" remains the go-to advice for women who show up at the Imam's office bruised and battered, both outwardly and inwardly.

What I *am* saying is that just as men tell us women that we can never understand the fitnah of women, so too can they never understand the fitnah of *being* a woman, of being marginalized, of being silenced; of being told that we will never truly understand Islam, that we are incapable of understanding our own God-given rights, that unless we obey the status quo, no matter how many degrees or ijaazas we have, we will never be knowledgeable enough to be taken seriously, to be given our rights unless there is a man standing in front of us and speaking for us and who is willing to fight for us every step of the way.

This Ummah has failed its women. This Ummah, and its leaders, its students of knowledge, its scholars - many of whom are men - has failed its women. This Ummah prefers to treat the incident of Thabit ibn Qays and his wife as an aberration or an isolated incident, rather than evidence for a woman to leave a marriage she cannot tolerate. This Ummah prefers that its women are tortured and die at the hands of those who have been enjoined with Qawwamah, those who have been entrusted with a serious Amaanah, those whom we should be able to trust wholeheartedly, not live in terror of.

O Allah, You are the One Who hears the du'a of the oppressed.
O Allah, You are the One Who tests those Whom You love.
O Allah, You are the One Who is All-Knowing, All-Wise, Most Just.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, Taqwa that we may not abuse the authority You have entrusted with.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, the courage to speak and stand and fight for the truth.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, the ability to fight against oppression and injustice and to spread justice in the land.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, the ability to implement your Divine Laws in the most beautiful and perfect of ways, that no man, woman, or child suffer oppression in Your Name.

Rabbanaa, taqabbal du'a.

Noblewoman, Outcast, Queen: The Story of Khadijah (Part 1)

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid – her very name evokes an image of strong, dignified femininity, of refined prestige and quiet power. She is remembered as a woman of strength, of compassion, of faith; the woman who was the first love of Prophet’s life, and who remained in his heart long after her death.
Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) was born fifteen years before the Messenger of Allah Muhammad (PBUH), to a family of high status in the Qurayshi echelons of Makkan society.
Her father was not only a tribal leader of standing, but a well-established businessman whose merchant company flourished.

Khuwaylid, the father of Khadijah, was unique in that he scorned many of the terrible behaviors common in Makkan society, such as that of burying infant daughters alive. Instead, he invested in his daughter by raising her to be well-educated, intelligent, business-smart, and to be an individual of strong ethics and personal conviction.
These were the qualities that led her to not only be a brilliant businesswoman, but to be of those few individuals in Makkah who abhorred idol-worship and instead devoted their worship to Allah alone.
Once, a popular festival took place in the vicinity of the Ka’bah, and was attended by many of the women of Quraysh. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was present, and took part in the festivities – but not in the worship of the idol Hubal. As the day wore on, an elderly Jewish man called out to the noblewomen: “O respectable women of Quraysh! A Messenger of God is due to arrive amongst you. Whoever of you has the opportunity to marry him, then do so!”
For a moment, there was stunned silence… and then the women erupted into laughter and mockery of this man who dared to disturb their event with his foolishness. Some, angered by their perception that he was insulting their idols, went so far as to hurl abuse and stones at him.
However, sitting amongst them all, refusing to take part in driving away the old man, was Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, silent and thoughtful, considering his words. It was truly a moment of fateful foreshadowing.
Khadijah was a woman of  beauty, intelligence, and superior character. Known as ‘at-Taahirah’ – the Pure – she was highly sought after by the greatest men of Quraysh. She was married twice, and had children with both her husbands. After her second experience as a widow, she chose to focus her efforts on her business instead of marriage… or so she planned, anyway.
It was in her quest to hire employees to lead her merchant caravans that Khadijah bint Khuwaylid first came across Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH). A handsome young man from a noble but impoverished family, he exuded an aura of dignity, power, and humility all at once.
For a man so young, he had also established a reputation of renown as as-Saadiq, al-Ameen (the Truthful, the Most Trustworthy). As a trader himself, he was scrupulously honest in every interaction and transaction, as Khadijah’s own servant Maysarah attested to on their very first business trip together.
With every positive experience and glowing report about Muhammad, Khadijah was filled with respect and admiration for him. Though she was significantly older than him, she was still a woman of beauty and young enough to consider marriage for a third time – and wise enough to recognize that though Muhammad had nothing to offer her financially, he brought with him something much more important.
Swiftly, marriage was proposed, accepted, and arranged… and thus began the first chapter of one of the most powerful stories of love and faith to ever be witnessed in history.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Womentrepreneur: The Longest Arm



All over the world, women engage in handicrafts, an activity that preserves aspects of different cultures and heritages as well as being a source of income in a global economy where women often suffer the brunt of poverty. Some women enjoy great success and move on to build companies based both within and outside of their homes – earning themselves the title of “womentrepreneurs.”

Umm al-Mu’mineen Zaynab bint Jahsh (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was one such woman:  she was known to be skilled with her hands, and ran a successful home-based business making and selling crafts.

Zaynab is most well-known due to the story surrounding her marriage to RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) after her divorce from his freed-slave and adopted son, Zaid ibn Harith.
She used to spend a great deal of time with her home-based business, and it is said that she was extremely skilled in both tanning skins and piercing pearls for jewelry and other adornments. She then donated the proceeds of her work to those in need, making her beloved amongst the poor.

One day, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) went to his wives and said:

“The fastest of you to follow me [after death] will be the one who has the longer arms.” (Sahih Muslim)

A’ishah bint Abi Bakr (radhiAllahu ‘anha) described how, eager to know which of them it would be, all the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) measured each others' arms against a wall, and Zaynab was disappointed - she was more petite in comparison to the other wives, and so her arms were the shortest.

Yet after the death of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), the true meaning of his prophecy became clear: it was Zaynab bint Jahsh who indeed had 'the longest arm' - and it was she who passed away in the year 20 AH.

There are many Muslim women who love doing arts and crafts, but are made to feel guilty that they're "wasting their time" or that “it’s just a hobby.” The truth is, just doing what you enjoy doing can be a wonderful way of gaining ajr (reward) and, in fact, turning it into a source of sadaqah jaariyah (continuous charity).

RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, "The most beloved action to Allah is the most continuous, even if little." (Muslim)

Entrepreneurship can most certainly be a method of making, selling, and giving in charity regularly, thereby earning us the love of Allah through something that we love doing as well.
In addition, some studies have found that engaging in creative activity contributes to higher levels of happiness[1] – which, for Muslims, can feed into a positive cycle of sharing that joy with others in the form of a smile, closer emotional bonds with our loved ones, and higher levels of Emaan and Taqwah… all of which are ways of increasing in reward and growing closer to Al-Musawwir, the Shaper of all creation.

Islamic history is also a testament to the power of the arts; pottery, metal-work, clothing, and many other such artifacts remain symbols of Islam’s influence and reach throughout the world. Undoubtedly, Muslim women were of those who fashioned such items and left behind an incredible legacy for us to witness and remember.

Muslim women today are just as creative and hardworking as the women of yesteryear, and entrepreneurship remains an option for them to not only engage the senses and contribute to a tradition of Islamic craftsmanship, but to follow in the footsteps of Umm al-Mu’mineen Zaynab bint Jahsh (radhiAllahu ‘anha).

For those of us who may not be so creatively inclined, we should consider it of equal importance to support those Muslim women who do expend precious time and resources in these painstaking and beautiful efforts. Heroism doesn’t necessarily have to be a dramatic act on a grand scale; sometimes, the greatest of heroes can be found amongst those who stretch their arms out in small but regular acts of charity.

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 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate, Isn't Even a Question

With all the hullabaloo over ‪#‎SCOTUS‬ yesterday, the most striking thing to me hasn't been the ruling itself (especially since Canada legalized same-sex marriage ages ago), but how many Muslims (conservative/orthodox) have reacted.
It is bewildering to me that many feel obligated to celebrate a law which doesn't reflect our Islamic moral values in any way. It is also bewildering to me that many feel that *not* supporting or celebrating it automatically makes one a hateful, homophobic bigot.
I really do not understand why so many people assume that believing that something is haraam - e.g. gay marriage - means being a horrible abusive jerk to LGBTQ+ people. We engage on a daily basis with people who commit shirk, which is the greatest crime on the face of the earth; but on this one specific issue, some people seem obliged to morph into the Hulk (but with less noble objectives) and dooming people to hell left, right, and center.
It really is not that difficult to have firm convictions about something and to speak against the haraam (whatever it may be) while maintaining good character and excellent manners. Yesterday, I had an interesting experience - while waiting at the bus stop, my gay neighbour was chatting with me, telling me about the #SCOTUS ruling and asking me questions about niqab and hijab. At the end of our conversation, he told me, "Thank you for always being nice to me even though I know that your religion doesn't accept homosexuality."
I was taken aback, because prior to this conversation, our interaction was limited to "Hi" and "How are you" while passing each other on the street or at the door of our apartment building. Yet what I found most poignant is that yes, people can understand that you disagree with something - and feel strongly about it - without you being horrible and awful to them about it.
As Muslims, we should not feel pressured to outwardly support something that we believe is sinful... and this applies to *all* forms of sin, whether it is shirk, riba, or homosexual acts (all of which are severe in the sight of Allah). Nor should we forget our standard of Ihsaan in all that we say and do, no matter whom we are interacting with.
It's really not that hard.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

(Mis)Understanding Transgender: Outdated Fataawah, Scholarly Disengagement, & Lack of Tarbiya

Originally published here and here at AlJumuah.com

WITH EVERY PASSING year – indeed, with every passing month – Muslims are faced with new intellectual and societal challenges to their faith. Whether it’s atheism, scientific claims about evolution, or social matters related to gender and sexuality, many Muslims (especially in the West) find themselves questioning traditionally held beliefs and practices. Most recently, one of the issues to affect both the wider society and media, and the Muslim community, is that of transgender people and how the concept of gender is defined – and practiced.
Since the story of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner hit the media, a few notable issues have arisen.

1) Outdated Fatâwa

Transgender issues have not been dealt with in the general Muslim community to any great scale; discussions surrounding these matters have been, until now, limited to certain circles – progressive, academic, and (Islamic) scholarly.

Three Categories

In the latter category, fatâwa  have been issued discussing the permissibility of sex-change operations (http://islamqa.info/en/34553), but sometimes the wordings tend to conflate transgendered individuals with intersexed individuals.  (http://www.amjaonline.org/en/component/content/article/20-declarations/67-9th-conference).
The general conclusion of the scholarly community appears to be limited to ruling that cross-dressing and seeking sex change operations on the basis of identifying as the opposite gender isarâm.
Those of the former two categories who address transgender issues, even when Muslim, do not give much weight or authority to the views of traditional scholarship; they focus primarily on secular liberal theories and beliefs surrounding gender and sexuality. This implies, perhaps, that the progressive and academic thinkers do not see traditional sources as capable of dealing sufficiently with current issues.
While they may acknowledge that traditional scholarship considers those actions to be arâm, most (if not all) of them may not consider the Quran or Sunnah to be perfect and the ultimate source of non-negotiable authority. This is in contradiction to the position of Ahl Al-Sunnah, which holds that the Quran is the perfected, preserved, and undoubted Word of Allah, and that the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet œ is a primary source for all Islamic rulings, second only to the Quran.

Credibility

Going back to traditional scholarship: While their foundation is sound, what many unfortunately don’t realize is that their outdated language severely affects whether they are taken seriously or not.
Previously issued fatâwa need to be re-issued with a broader, more comprehensive understanding of the current thoughts and discourses surrounding LGBTQ (Lesbian – Gay – Bisexual – Trans-Gender – Queer/Questioning) matters.

Relevance

While their renewed rulings may end up having the same conclusions (i.e., that homosexual activities are prohibited), the language that is used matters a great deal in terms of how people are able to understand and comprehend the matter.
As it stands, assumptions such as “such people are just seeking attention” do not accurately reflect the situations of many individuals going through these issues.
In other cases, the language used in the fatâwa indicates that the one(s) issuing it were not fully aware of what transgender really means, or the issues surrounding it. (http://islamqa.info/en/138451)

What is Missing

Many fatâwa conflate various aspects of LGBTQ issues without understanding what they mean to begin with, or failing to recognize the differences among them.
  • One common issue is assuming that ‘transgendered’ and ‘hermaphrodite’ (or intersexed) are one and the same.
  • Another is not knowing or being aware of the discussions surrounding gender and sexuality and how they are (and are not) related.For example, a common belief amongst secular liberals is that “gender is a social construct.” There is also the concept of the ‘gender binary,’ and terms such as ‘CIS,’ ‘male,’ ‘female,’ ‘gender-fluid,’ and ‘agender.’ To effectively respond to all these concepts, those issuing the  fatâwa must be aware of them to begin with.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender#Origins)
  • Something else to be aware of is that there is still no biological (or, for that matter, social and psychological) conclusion as to the ‘causes’ of LGBTQ identities and behaviors.
    Thus, making statements such as “no one is born gay,” or “these are psychological perversions” can very well drive away those who may be struggling with legitimate and serious desires and issues, but are still seeking to understand whether they can be considered Muslim due to their belief in tawîd.

Cautions

  • It is necessary to avoid being sucked into any particular group’s agenda or to fall for their propaganda, but equally necessary to know the information being provided and disseminated by those groups.At the end of the day, there is not always a need to offer one’s personal opinion regarding a matter, as long as the Islamic ruling is laid out clearly and in an appropriate manner.

2) Lack of Scholarly Engagement and Clarification

Popular Shaykhs in North America have remained largely silent or vague when it comes to LGBTQ matters. When the term ‘transgender’ hit the general public this week, eliciting questions and confusion from many Muslims, very few well known individual speakers and ¢is  spoke up (or wrote) about it. This is unfortunate considering that we tend to have a few general categories of positions taken within the Muslim community:
  • Those who know the ruling on it already and accept it;
  • Those who know the traditional ruling but object on ideological grounds;
  • Those who are confused about it but, due to the silence from Muslim leaders, remain unclear both in what the Islamic rulings are and how they are to behave towards LGBTQ individuals.
As to the first group, they are further divided into:
  • Those who remain generally silent, and
  • Those who go to an extreme and become not only angry, but obsessive on the topic.
Many of the latter throw around offensive slurs and verbally attack and threaten to harm those who identify as LGBTQ. Obviously, the latter behavior is unacceptable and unbecoming of a Muslim; having strong convictions and beliefs does not mean being an abusive jerk.
As for the third group, the silence from scholars – and the lack of research on their part – simply contributes to the rising trend of Muslims who have a very vague or weak foundation in their faith. More and more, as Muslims are bombarded with numerous different messages and agendas from countless angles, there is a weakening of strong scholarly output clearly addressing relevant issues as they come up.

A Current Critical Crisis in our Community

Muslims are being introduced to concepts and ideas that have previously been foreign to them, and without firm (as well as understanding and compassionate) guidance from those with religious knowledge, they are left floundering. To that end, the very idea of a concrete Islamic moral compass has become strange to many, leading them to question previously established and undisputed Islamic rulings that have little difference of opinion.
With regards to LGBTQ issues in general, it should not be so hard to say:
  • that yes, the Islamic stance is clear (and to give fiqhi rulings accordingly—incorporating current terminology),
  • but that the Islamic stance does not necessitate being harsh and abusive

Public Elucidation by Up-to-Date Islamic Scholars

More knowledgeable Muslim leaders need to be willing to speak about these matters to the public, and be available for answering such questions.
Otherwise, we will find increasing numbers of Muslims falling into the second category of positions taken, that is, those whose moral values are not based upon an Islamic worldview as communicated to us in the Quran and Sunnah, but one which comes from a secular perspective that does not recognize the supremacy of religious authority.
If anything, this perspective denigrates the importance of religion and how it is implemented at a personal and societal level.
Local Leadership in One-on-One Engagement
In addition, local scholars and leaders must be able to engage with those who are themselves struggling with gender and sexual identity. They should be able to understand the discourses surrounding these concepts, and be aware of how delicate and difficult it is for individuals to navigate these inner struggles. They should be able to provide both Islamic rulings as well as guidance defined by wisdom and compassion.

Activating a Cohesive Islamic Authority to Lead the Way

It may seem like a great deal to demand—due to lack of a cohesive Islamic authority in general—but the role of scholars and community leaders in the West is already expanding. Muslims in non-majority Muslim countries especially need to be able to have local leaders to whom they can turn with their questions, without fear of being ignored or turned away.
Now more than ever, we need to see leadership that can respond swiftly and wisely to the issues of the day with strength and nuance. But first of all, we need the engagement of our top scholars with the whole of the LGBTQ issues, culminating in their widely accessible clarification and renewed fatâwa to address specifically the current social context in current terminology.
Hence, again, we see the necessity of ¢is who are not only knowledgeable at a theoretical level, but engaged and in touch both with wider the society and with the Muslim community specifically.
IN PART 1 we noted the critical lack of up-to-date fatâwa on the current issues concerning LGBTQ affairs—stemming from a general absence of engagement in the social context of non-Muslim majority countries.
The average Muslim’s understanding is thus hindered, and very possibly his Islamic moral compass is unsupported and under-informed on this point. Our top scholars need to step up to the plate with informed clarification of all such practical matters and our local leaders need to be engaged, one-on-one, with those who may come to them struggling with transgender issues.
Not only does our community need to be educated on LGBTQ concerns and our local leadership trained to counsel individuals in their struggles, but parents also need to be sufficiently informed in order to properly engage with their kids on this hot topic. And that is where we pick up the question again with point #3 below.
LGBTQ is a topic needing new examination and investigation, since, most likely, most of today’s Muslim parents have been totally unexposed to such current issues. It was perhaps a totally irrelevant social issue in their childhood. Today’s Muslim kids need guidance on all moral and behavioral questions, and today’s Muslim parents need to be able to understand the world which their kids must confront and negotiate. Neither parents nor kids should be forced to put their heads in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich, and refuse to accept facing the issues due to a lack in readily-available Islamic guidance.

3) Muslim Parents and Tarbiya

It is unfortunate to see that when it comes to knowing about, understanding, and talking to their children about sensitive issues, many Muslim parents are extremely behind. Although some of them have chosen to live in a non-Muslim country, while others were themselves born and raised in such regions, too many Muslim parents remain dangerously uneducated – sometimes willfully, sometimes out of unconscious incompetence.

Today’s Red Flag for Parents

Either way, the lack of education and proactive discussion is extremely concerning. Muslim parents cannot afford to remain ignorant or in denial about the very real, very relevant issues taking place in the societies where we live. The fact that we have chosen to live in these societies and to raise our children within them means that we cannot use such excuses such as “This doesn’t happen in our countries,” or “My kids don’t know about this,” or “Our parents never spoke to us about this, and we came out just fine.” The fact is, we are not ‘back home,’ our kidsare exposed to a great deal more than we realize, and we do not live in our parents’ time.
The Prophet œ informed us:
The Messenger of Allah œ said: Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The amîr (ruler) who is over the people is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock; a man is a shepherd in charge of his household and he is responsible for his flock; a woman is a shepherdess in charge of her husband’s house and children and she is responsible for them; and a man’s slave is a shepherd in charge of his master’s property and he is responsible for it. So each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. (Al-Albani, Sunan Abi Dawud 2928, graded ai)
As parents, we are shepherds over our children and will be held accountable regarding them on the Day of Judgment. Their education and their tarbiya (training) is our responsibility, and failing in their tarbiya – or in taking the appropriate measures to provide them with the correct education and training – is a burden we will suffer the consequences of.
We simply cannot afford to live in ignorance of our present world and the reality we live in.

A Double-Whammy for Our Kids

LGBTQ issues are at the forefront in media, pop culture, and even in the classroom. Despite a concerted effort, on the part of the LGBTQ community, to ensure the unwavering support of certain groups and actions, there is the irony that very often, the children are not always clearly educated about the differences among the various issues.
Thus, while kids are often told at school that they must support LGBTQ pride, many don’t know the difference between homosexuality and being transgender. Neither their secular educators nor their Muslim parents take the time to explain what these various labels mean.
For Muslim kids in particular, their parents and their communities are usually at least a decade behind in current events, and so they have a double issue of not knowing what certain terms are currently used to mean, but also not knowing what the Islamic perspective of those matters is—and how their behavior should reflect their attitudes.

What Can We Do as Muslim Parents?

Just as scholars need to be up-to-date with what’s going on in the world, so too do we Muslim parents have to know what our children are being exposed to through media and pop culture. Music videos and magazine covers, movies and social media – we have to know what the headlines are, what is being said and communicated, what messages are being pushed. We need to see for ourselves what they are exposed to.
Once we know what is being taught, we need to be pro-active and teach our children even more – to sit down with them and speak with them frankly about the difference between the values we hold as Muslims, and the ever-changing man-made codes of the world around us.

Overcoming Our Inhibitions for the Sake of our Children

It is necessary for us to emphasize that our morals come not from our own desires or societal norms, but from Allah and His Messenger œ. We also must convey to our kids the need to recognize certain actions and behaviors as sinful, without expressing disrespect or ill manners to those who exhibit those traits.
We ourselves should be educated enough to discuss topics which we may personally feel uncomfortable with, so that we can make our children feel comfortable enough to ask us these questions – and so that we can provide them with the correct answers.
We cannot allow our own discomfort in discussing delicate sexual matters, for example, to get in the way of educating our children as they need to be educated. When we are living in a sexually explicit type of society, we need to take our responsibilities as parents extremely seriously. We cannot complain about the ‘bad influences’ of society, or pretend they don’t exist, and yet constantly put our kids in the line of fire and expect them to emerge unscathed and protected from all fitna. Nor can we then be surprised when they come home having engaged in behavior that we consider arâm. Neither can we accept for them to have a worldview completely dissociated from that of Islam.

Doing Our Own Homework

We absolutely must wake up and realize the reality that we live in, acknowledge the issues that exist, make an effort to educate ourselves and understand these matters as clearly as possible, and acquaint ourselves with and reaffirm what the Shari¢ah has to say.
At the end of the day, we must understand – for ourselves and our children – what Allah and His Messenger say about these matters. It may not be politically correct or conform to the popular stance of the day, but it does conform to the concept of Divine Justice, the standard to which we will be held on the Day of Judgment. It is from within this paradigm, this worldview, that we must evaluate everything that is going on around us; and it is based upon the Divine standards for our behavior that we must act.
It’s as simple as that.
It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. [Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb, 33:36]

How To Approach Our Children

As a parent myself who has already had to explain the concept of transgender and homosexual to my 5 year old daughter – simply because we live in an environment where it is quite common to see such individual—I have some advice to offer in terms of how parents can begin to discuss this issues with their children:
  • For younger children who notice certain behaviors and ask questions, it is important to be very honest and frank with them, while keeping in mind age-appropriate language. It is also important to be aware of one’s body language and tone of voice, as that can affect how your child understands your answer.”Why is that man dressed like a woman?” is an example of a question that a young child might ask. Ideally, a good response would be along the following lines: “Some people feel that they prefer to dress up in the clothing of the opposite gender. Sometimes, they feel that they were born in the wrong type of body and that they are actually women in men’s bodies, or the other way around. Allah told us that it’s not allowed for Muslims to do that, so we don’t do it. But even though we disagree with what other people do, that doesn’t mean we are allowed to be rude or disrespectful to them.”
  • With older children, it is a good idea to have family meetings or discuss the day’s events at dinnertime or any other scheduled daily family gathering. Ask them about what they have heard and learned at school, offer them your own insights or questions about what is new in pop culture and the media, and establish open, honest communication.Remind them regularly that what Muslims consider acceptable or not is based on what Allah informed us in the Quran and Sunnah, as He is the All-Knowing and All-Wise. Encourage them to ask questions, no matter how ‘taboo’ or ‘sensitive,’ and provide them with well researched, Islamicly correct answers.
In this way, the children will experience a safe and Islamically sound environment in which to discuss these issues.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Ramadan of the Solitary

So much of Ramadan is communal - from family suhoors to group iftaars, the thronging crowds of Taraweeh - that we tend to forget those for whom Ramadan is a truly solitary experience.
Whether it is because of distance or access to the masjid, being single (or a single parent) or chronically ill, or a myriad of other factors, there are those who wake before Fajr in silence; those who break their fasts with only the companionship of recorded qurraa' reciting their favourite adhaan or surah or dua; those whose qiyaam is witnessed only by the angels and Allah, performed in a private corner of their home instead of amongst fellow Muslims at the center of the community.
For some, it is a painful thing, to have one's alone-ness feel so poignant at this time of year. For others, it is accepted and welcome, a time to have their lives stripped down to its bare essence: reliance upon Allah alone, whether for sustenance or for company.
It is in isolation at these precious moments that we may, in fact, have an advantage - there is no rushing about to feed others or be responsible for their needs, there is merely ourselves and our worship to our Lord. Even so, it is not always easy.
To those of us experiencing a much more community-oriented Ramadan, don't forget those who are unable to do so.
At the very least, make du'a for those believers scattered in our Ummah like stars who have no constellation to belong to; pray that their faith and their worship are purified, strengthened, and accepted; know that for all that they may be strangers to you in this world, they seek to be your neighbours in Jannah.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lollipops, Hijabs, & the 'Ideal Muslimah'

Regarding those who think that the lollipop/hijab analogy isn't a big deal, or that people who object to it simply don't get the point of analogies:

1) We understand what analogies are. We understand their uses. We also understand that there is such thing as a good analogy, and a bad analogy.
(Examples of bad analogies:
http://www.jimcarlton.com/bad_analogies.htm
http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/5-morons-who-pulled-offensive-analogies-out-their-ass/)

2) The lollipop analogy is particularly offensive because of what it implies. The image shows a wrapped lollipop - i.e. a woman in hijab, who is ostensibly clean and undamaged - and an unwrapped lollipop that is covered in dirt and surrounded by flies - i.e. a woman not in hijab, who is dirty and attracting filth (men).

Even if one plays along and agrees to the premise that hijab is primarily (or solely) to protect women from men, the analogy is still quite dangerous. Why? Because a hijabed 'lollipop' is considered worthy and desirable, and an unwrapped lollipop is considered - literally - garbage to be discarded.
Thus, the analogy does nothing to say that a woman in hijab will be protected. It implies very heavily that a woman in hijab is desired (everyone would love a wrapped lollipop!) but that a woman who does not wear hijab is NOT desirable and is dirty and is, essentially, worthless and to be despised.

Again - even assuming that one agrees with the sentiment that hijab is about protecting women from men - this is, at the very least, a disturbing way to speak about any human being, let alone one's sister in Islam.

3) Using analogies is great to get a point across - except that we also need to recognize that the way certain analogies are used, and the context they're used in, also contribute to something more.
In the case of the lollipop analogy, it has contributed and exacerbated the attitude that hijab *is* primarily about 'warding off men', and stripping it of all other nuance and reasoning (including what Allah mentioned in the Qur'an, i.e. that it is also a form of identity for the Muslim woman, and obviously, that it is an act of worship).

Just a brief look at the comments section of these memes will show how so many Muslims - men and women alike - truly believe that hijab is the be-all and end-all definition for what a good Muslim woman is, that it is the only yardstick by which a woman's self worth or piety revolves around.

Other analogies such as the flowers and pearls/diamonds are not as offensive as the lollipop one (in that there is no equating un-hijabed women with being garbage), but still contribute to unhealthy ideas about Muslim women, their self-worth, and their role in society is (that they are *all* delicate - or should be if they aren't, and if they aren't, that they are lacking in femininite; that they are to be seen - but only in a certain way - and not heard; that they are not meant to contribute in any other capacity than a domestic one).

The lollipop one, however, remains hands-down the most disgusting and offensive analogy I have seen in terms of how it refers to women.

4) It is very, very easy for men to tell anti-lollipop folks (and I mean lollipop in the metaphorical sense, obviously) that we are exaggerating - because they themselves have never experienced firsthand what it is to be told that your entire self-worth as a human being depends on whether you are covered, how you are covered, and what you are covered with.

As an example -
I wear niqab and in the time that I once had a picture of myself on FB - in black abayah, niqab, half-gloves, a jacket, and sunglasses - I received numerous comments telling me that I wasn't wearing "real" hijab because I was 'attracting too much attention.' Despite the fact that I am a writer who posts almost daily on a wide variety of topics, people felt compelled to comment solely on on this one aspect - my image.

I found it annoying, but I have more to worry about than what people think of my image. Yet it also made me realize how much more other Muslim women go through on a daily basis - how pressured they are, how they are made to feel that their entire worth depends solely upon how they look, instead of a myriad of other factors.

5) It is necessary to know that for many, many years, a significant percentage of Islamic books and lectures about "women in Islam" pushed forward a very shallow, narrow, and restricted view of Muslim women.
The 'ideal Muslimah' was described as being a woman solely dedicated to the domestic sphere; a woman who is quiet, meek, and delicate; that her only desires revolve around her husband and her family.

There is, of course, nothing wrong whatsoever with a woman who does match that description. The problem arises when women who do *not* fit those characteristics are looked down on, viewed as and spoken about as lacking in faith and 'true femininity.' These women are considered to be inferior and less valuable as members of the Ummah, simply because they do not fit a certain definition.
Unfortunately, we forget that even the wives and female Companions of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) varied from each other in personality and demeanour. Women such as A'ishah and Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anhunna) were forthright and outspoken; others, such as Fatimah bint RasulAllah and Maymunah bint al-Haarith were much more demure and private. Both categories of women, both types of women, were beloved to Allah and recognized as greater than all others simply because their Taqwa was what He cared about most - not that they should have all been cookie cutter replicates of each other.

It is this history and baggage that many Muslim women carry today. We have heard these messages for so long and had them shoved down our throats to the point that many of us have questioned whether we have any worth in the Sight of Allah.

It is not enough to say that "not all men" carry such an unhealthy attitude about Muslim women, because the sad fact is that many of them - a significant proportion of them - do. What's worse is that many of them have only the best intentions and do not actually intend to be hurtful or offensive. It is precisely because of this that we should encourage a stop to the use of lollipop (and other) analogies - to help our brothers in Islam realize that such a reductive attitude does nothing to foster goodwill and harmony between Muslims, but merely exacerbates antagonistic feelings and behaviours.

Rather than spend further time arguing as to whether it is okay or not to use analogies that compare women to objects, we should be channeling our energy on how to view each other - men and women alike - as more than one-dimensional creatures whose value depends solely upon one single behaviour or item of clothing.
Instead, let us take the time to overcome our own inner biases and strive to see each other as human beings with both strengths and flaws, weaknesses and abilities. Let us try to embody the best description of believers as Allah mentioned in the Qur'an:

{The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.} (Qur'an 9:71)