Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Support Female Scholarship

How can we support/ promote female scholarship? (Note: this will all come from a very traditional/ conservative/ Orthodox perspective bc I always do.)
- Acknowledge that for many, many decades, Muslim women have *not* had the same resources, access, and opportunities for seeking Islamic knowledge that men have.
This is due to a variety of factors - whether it is outright exclusion (such as from Medinah University - and yeah, I know this is pretty much just relevant to Salafis, but let's face it, a huge percentage of Western shuyookh today are graduates from there and it has had a huge impact on Islam in the West); limitations both legal, financial, and familial (foreign women can't study in Saudi without a mahram, who is not allowed to legally work while residing there; many women can't support themselves financially if they choose to study full-time at a traditional seminary, and few have support systems that will take care of them financially; many women have parents or spouses who disapprove or outright prohibit them from studying the Deen in such a manner; those who do have supportive parents/ spouses might end up pregnant or already have children, without the financial or extended family support network to facilitate full time serious studies).
This doesn't mean btw that *no* women have been able to pursue serious Islamic studies from traditional seminaries, or that there are no men who support their wives in seeking knowledge - obviously this is not true - but it is a very serious factor that has affected the average Muslim woman’s ability to do so.
- Understand that many of the opportunities available today are very recent iniatives - online institutes have flourished over the last 5-10 years alHamdulillah but that doesn't change the fact that for decades before that, they didn't exist (bc the Internet didn't). 
Growing up, my dream was to be able to study Islam the way my father got to, and the way that it was already assumed and known that my brothers could if they wanted to. That never happened because solely by virtue of being a female, I was not logistically able to go to the same institutes. (And the one opportunity that I did have, after having earned a sponsored scholarship to study Arabic overseas, was promptly nixed because of my then-husband.)
- Supporting women to study the Deen doesn't mean saying, "Look you can study online so easily, go ahead! But make sure that you cook, clean, and raise my children satisfactorily and without complaint, and make sure that I don't feel neglected or inconvenienced in any way, shape, or form." 
It means recognizing that women with children in particular are in need of financial and domestic support (whether that means housekeeping, a babysitter or extended family to help with the kids, or otherwise) as well as emotional support (the husband making personal sacrifices in order to provide the time and space for the wife to study).
- Supporting female scholarship means that when you find out about women with Islamic knowledge, seek to have them included and involved in the community - both amongst other women and with the entire community at large.
Yes, some female teachers prefer to only teach other women, and that's fine. But there are also many who are happy to engage in more public da'wah roles, to speak to mixed audiences, to share their knowledge and their unique perspectives to everyone.
Don't assume that a 'pious' female scholar will automatically be against mixed gender audiences. Many female teachers today, such as Sh Tamara Gray, Sh Muslema Purmul, and numerous others have no problem appearing in public. 
Don't claim to support female teachers but, when they are to be a part of an event or program, sideline them or relegate them to some corner or treat them with any less respect and seriousness than you would show a male teacher in their position.
Don't assume that just because you don't know who the female teachers are, that they don't exist. Don't say, "oh, well, where are their organizations then if they've been doing so much?" Make a damn effort to learn about them, especially if you yourself are a part of a da'wah organization or masjid board and in a place to build platforms for all teachers of Islamic knowledge. And once you know about them, support them and promote them in the same way that you do with male du'aat and shuyookh.
- Acknowledge the female da'ees, teachers, and shaykhaat. Call them by the titles they deserve - whether it be Ustadha or Shaykha or Aalimah or otherwise. Enough of this "sister so-and-so" when the "sister" has spent 10 years acquiring Islamic knowledge, with the appropriate ijaazas and experience, while Bro Fresh over here who just got out of Medinah and still wet-behind-the-ears is adoringly addressed as "ya shaykh!" 
(And don't give me the "a sign of modesty and piety is to not want to be called by a title" - y'all still be calling Bro Fresh "shaykh" and I don't hear anyone questioning his piety or modesty.)
- For the men in particular, if your daughter/ sister/ wife/ niece/ any woman at all that you know expresses a serious interest in pursuing Islamic studies, help her in any way that you can. Find out where she can study, how you can facilitate it for her (financially or otherwise), make sure that her marriage contract contains the clause that she *must* be allowed to continue and complete her Islamic education, and that yes, she has the right to *not* have kids until that happens.
The first time in my life that I was able to complete anything resembling a formal Islamic education was when my father took the time to drive me, for 30-45 mins each way, after work, three times a week, to the Islamic center where I could take classes to complete a diploma. My mother watched my daughter for me on the nights that she didn't come with me to class. The second time I was able to take Islamic classes, was because my now-husband encouraged me to do so and paid for them when I couldn't, and I was in a situation where I had the time and space to complete those classes comfortably.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

11 Things I Learned from my Now-Husband

When I got my divorce at age 23, I was a thoroughly embittered, cynical woman with a solid sense of suspicion towards (most) Muslim men, the idea of love, and marriage as romanticized by popular culture and sanitized by Muslim literature and lectures.
Then I got married again. And  I was still bitter and cynical and suspicious about men and marriage and love. But I muddled along anyway, doing many incredibly dumb things along the way, and collected a few more life lessons while I was at it.
1- Marriage is Really, Really Hard. And I don’t just mean the fact that I’m in poly and live in another country. I mean the parts where I had to own up to my own emotional baggage and rendered myself a snotty emotional mess and was pretty mean sometimes and then finally had to admit that yes, I can be wrong and in fact often am.
I had to learn how to be mature (okay, still working on this one) and actively work on overcoming insecurities (yet another work in progress) and bad emotional habits. It’s not the domestic bits that are difficult, it’s the very raw and straight up mortifying bits where the other person discovers just how messed up you are. (But then they choose to stick with you anyway, so there is that comfort.)
2- Men are human and have it as rough as we do. I will up front admit that I was an entitled spoiled brat who was convinced that women have life the hardest (okay, I still think we do) and that dudes just better handle whatever is thrown at them because it’s their JOB. Ummm, yeah. About that… men are human. Which means that if you prick them, they will bleed (it is not recommended to test this theory, as stabbing people with pointy objects is haram and illegal). If you are cruel to them, they will feel pain.
Okay but seriously – men, and by ‘men’ I mean legitimately good, sincere, taqwa-exemplifying men who care deeply about their wives and families, not pathetic, immature, usually-misogynistic males – work hard to look after those whom they love. Not just physical work that brings in money, but the emotional work too. They hate to see their loved ones suffer, and will do their best to try and fix the problem… even if it they are hurt too.
Whereas society normalizes female emotion, both positive and negative, we rarely see men being allowed to express themselves in a more vulnerable manner. I don’t mean sniffling at every little perceived slight, but true expressions of deep emotion, such as heartache, sorrow, helplessness, and emotional pain.
So many of our men mask their aching hearts in order to be strong and supportive to those around them – even as they are in need of the same support. Sometimes we women need to get over ourselves and realize that men need the same love and care that they provide for us. Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) and his wives illustrates how even the greatest man on earth sought comfort in his spouses – whether it was Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her) reassuring him after his first interaction with the angel Jibreel (‘alayhissalaam), or Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) understanding his frustration at Hudabiyah, and consoling him with her suggestions.
3- Differences of opinion are okay. This was a huge one for me – in my previous marriage, differences of opinion were definitely *not* okay. This husband, however, is a fascinating specimen. While I’d already decided that this time, I was not going to be a doormat and let myself be silenced, I wondered uneasily if expressing my dissent was a bad idea.
At first, I was anxious – would voicing my disagreement lead to greater emotional conflict? Would a debate on feminism lead to a far more unpleasant argument with drastic domestic consequences? Imagine my shock, then, when I discovered that it is indeed possible for a Muslim husband to have a rousing volley of back-and-forth that didn’t result in the nushooz-card being waved about angrily in the end. A marriage in which a husband and wife can having vocal disagreement on a variety of topics without damaging their personal relationship is a marriage built upon security.
In fact, one of the most famous marriages in our Islamic history – that of A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) and Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) – was full of stories in which they used to have many enthusiastic exchanges… and not always in agreement. Yet despite their numerous debates and disagreements, their love remained strong.
4- Like a person before loving them. Love is a tricky, messy, complicated thing. Love screws you up sometimes. People fall in and out of love all the time. But liking someone… ahhh, there’s the secret. I was pretty sure I liked my husband before I married him – he was calm, level-headed, ethical, principled, intelligent, with a sense of humor and overall good character that appealed to me – but the part that really shocked me was when I realized how much I really liked him.
It’s the kind of like you have for a best friend, whom you’re eager to talk to and whose company you enjoy, whether doing things together or separately. It’s the kind of like where you could be mad at them and ignore them or fight with them, but you already miss them and you just want it over with so that you can tell them about the new exciting thing you just saw. So while I did love him, and continue to increase in that love, it’s the like part that makes things so much better when the love part really just pisses you off sometimes and has you stupidly crying into a pillow and sharing melodramatic quotes on Facebook.
5- There’s more than one kind of marriage, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. This one might be more long-distance/ polygamy related, but it’s still an important lesson. We plan, and Allah plans, and Allah is the Best of Planners. Initially, our plan wasn’t to live in separate households or even countries… but that’s what happened.
One of the many fears I grappled with was the idea that my marriage didn’t count enough, or wasn’t serious enough, or wasn’t good enough, in comparison to one where the husband and wife are together and/or monogamous. Not having a great relationship track record didn’t help, either. A couple years later, I still have my off days, but I’ve come to recognize that my marriage is a real marriage, and is just as legitimate as anyone else’s. I love my husband, and though our marital arrangements may not be the norm, I take our relationship very seriously.
It is easy for some people to write off non-monogamous marriages as not being “real” enough, but this flies contrary to the Sunnah itself. The Prophet’s polygamous marriages to his wives after Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her) were just as valid as his monogamous marriage to her.
While some people try to dismiss his polygamous marriages as simply being relationships of political advantage, to do so is to imply that he (PBUH) did not have genuine personal feelings of love and care for them, and that he was – in essence – using them for his own advantage. Yet when one looks at how he interacted with them, his love for them (and their love for him) is clear. Thus, regardless of how others consider polygamy, it is important to acknowledge that for those who have chosen it for themselves, their marriages are deserving of respect.
6- Be a secure person in order to have a secure relationship. As cliche as this may sound, it’s true. Sadly, Muslims tend to be really bad at being healthy individuals. Many of us are taught from childhood to be extremely dependent on others around us – whether parents or spouses. Few of us learn early on what it means to be secure in one’s own sense of self.
For myself, an additional blessing of a long distance relationship is that I was provided with the opportunity to really establish myself as myself. I’d grown up pretty sheltered, and was relatively young when I’d first gotten married. Seeking the other party’s constant approval was a destructive characteristic of that relationship, and the consequences of disapproval were high. This time, though, I was forced to face myself head-on, to live on my own and be responsible for much of my own emotional well-being. Moving away from my previous habits of emotional dependency was jarring, but incredible – I no longer hinge my complete happiness and mental presence on another person’s moods.
Instead of feeling tied to someone out of obligation or emotional coercion, the feeling of wanting to be with that person is far more pleasurable, and leads to feeling stronger in that relationship. Being secure, and not emotionally dependent (which isn’t romantic btw, it’s just depressing), makes it much easier to resolve conflicts and to enjoy the good times.
7- Get over yourself. Seriously, just get over yourself. We all like to think that we’re better people than we actually are, that our flaws aren’t as bad as others’ shortcomings are, but we’re not. We suck as much as the other person does. It’s just a matter of admitting and acknowledging what our faults are, and managing them instead of denying them or trying to play the victim.
Before making it about you vs. your spouse, remember that it’s about you vs. your scale of deeds on the Day of Judgment. Don’t act like you’re just humoring the other person when you apologize for something awful that you said or did; know that Allah is fully aware of your sincerity, and seek to rectify yourself for His Sake before anyone else’s. Don’t go to the other extreme either, and wallow in self pity bemoaning how terrible you are. Just… get over yourself. We all have faults, and you are no exception. The real issue at hand is what you’re going to do about it.
8- Being supportive doesn’t mean never disagreeing. Many of us have fallen for the pseudo-romantic “advice” that to be a supportive partner means to never offer criticism or objection – no matter how constructive your feedback may be. That’s not being supportive, that’s being a simpering sycophant.
While initially very defensive about receiving criticism, I realized that it wasn’t doing me any good to only hear praise – neither my behavior nor my work would improve. Instead, I’ve come to appreciate when my husband points out just how idiotic I’ve been acting, or when my argument has gaping holes. He’s never stopped me from doing what I care about, and done everything possible to support me in what I love – but he’ll also point out where exactly I’m in danger of doing something really stupid.
As annoyed as I might be in the moment (it sucks being wrong), at the end of the day, I know that he isn’t trying to sabotage me – he really wants me to do well, and to do what is right. Of course, it doesn’t mean that he’s always right, either – but when he is, I’ll try swallow my pride and take him seriously. And try not to be mad at him. (Usually.)
Don’t be a Stepford spouse – be someone who sincerely wants the best for your spouse,     even if it means pointing out when they’re doing something epically stupid. Remember – adDeen anNaseeha (Religion is advice).
9- “The Ideal Muslim Marriage” doesn’t exist. All those articles and lectures about wives babying men or husbands putting up with women because you can’t live with’em, you can’t live without’em is nonsense. The model that we’re provided with is, to be frank, pretty weird and unhealthy, encouraging emotional dependence and engendering a lack of genuine respect for each other.
The ideal Muslim marriage isn’t about playing a certain domestic role in a specific way (and being guilted into it with a significant amount of spiritual blackmail). It’s about having the right priorities – both spiritually and with regards to your personal relationship. It’s about genuinely caring for each other’s well-being, respecting each other even in times of conflict, and truly enjoying being with each other.
Life will suck sometimes – perhaps even often – and there will be many unpleasant moments along the way, but it’s one’s sense of taqwa and compassion for the other person that will get you through it and remember that it’s all worth it. Don’t be a good husband or wife because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do – be a good spouse because you care for them, and want the best for them in this world and the Hereafter.
Even prophet Muhammad’s marriages were not “ideal” in the sense that his wives were not all identical, cookie-cutter women – they all had very different personalities, they experienced conflict with him, but they also loved him deeply. They interacted in a manner that was sincere, that reflected themselves as individuals, and yet with the constant awareness of their personal accountability to Allah.
10- True Qawwam Do Exist. It is painfully easy to see the many, many examples of Muslim men doing it wrong – men who are neglectful, weak, abusive, irresponsible, lacking in character, selfish, and immature. Yet despite how many bad examples there are of Muslim men, there are still those who seek to uphold the Sunnah by being true qawwam: men who embody the values of honour, dignity, responsibility, mercy, justice, and sincere love for both their families and the Ummah at large.
These men are the ones who strive to fulfill their wives’ rights before demanding their own; who understand the severity of responsibility that has been placed upon their shoulders; who know that being a Muslim man is not simply about being a financial breadwinner, but a loving husband and father, engaged with his wife and children. These are the men who do not recoil at the idea of marrying widows or divorcees, or raising children who do not share their DNA; these are the men who do not place their egos or their culture above the commands of Allah, but make an effort to overcome their own inclinations for the Sake of Allah’s Pleasure.
These men are not perfect – they make their own mistakes, they struggle with their own shortcomings, and honestly, they can mess up as well as the next person – but what sets them apart from the majority of mediocre males is that they never stop trying to do better and be better… as Muslims, as husbands, as fathers. True qawwaam are rare, but not extinct – and to have one in my life is a blessing to be treasured.
11- Love. It’s Real. It… really is. It’s more than a little terrifying, especially when one tries to maintain a certain level of skepticism for safety reasons. But it’s also giddy, and fun, and awesome, and worth all the hard stuff and messy bits. Happily ever afters might actually exist, just not the way that we’ve been indoctrinated into believing. Instead of the usual nausea-inducing cliches surrounding romance (or the opposite extreme – that it doesn’t exist), love manifests in so many other ways – with an inside joke, or a gift that doesn’t make sense to anyone else but you two, or knowing how to end a fight the right way.
It’s the small silly things and the big dramatic things and all the mundane things in between. How do you know it’s real? When thinking of your future with them is not accompanied by a sense of impending doom and misery. And you’re kinda (really) excited about it.
Silly as this all may seem, and perhaps in contradiction to much of the marriage advice peddled by Muslim writers and teachers, these are nonetheless some of the most solid relationship lessons I have derived through experience. Contrasting my previous experience with my current one has been interesting, with sometimes unexpected results (like the whole falling in love thing…woah). And so here I am, slightly less bitter and slightly less cynical and slightly more practical and wiser (I hope).
May Allah grant us all the (somewhat disconcerting and pleasantly surprising) experience of a blessed marriage to a true qawwam, ameen.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Good Girls Marry Doctors

Last night, I was able to attend the book launch in San Francisco for "Good Girls Marry Doctors: South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion."
The book is an anthology of personal essays written by desi women - women who did *not* marry doctors, women who *don't* fit the "good girl" mold... women who, for all their rebellion against the cultural dictats of 'respect,' 'obedience,' and 'honour,' still find themselves aching for the loss of their families' love and acceptance... no matter how painful.
I will be perfectly honest - I initially expected that the event (and the book) would be fun, but relatively light, not particularly serious, perhaps just another extension of the growing trend amongst people of colour sharing anecdotes about their lives and poking fun at our collective idiosyncrasies.
As soon as editor Piyali Bhattacharya started speaking, however, I found myself frozen in my seat - every word echoed and resonated with me, an emotional connection both intense and utterly unexpected.
"Good Girls marry doctors, it's true, especially in the desi community. What, then, do Bad Girls do? Surely, I reasoned in that moment, Bad Girls write publicly about their parents and guardians... Bad Girls forget how deeply they have been loved, Bad Girls ignore what it took for them to get the educations they now have, Bad Girls... spin spiteful tales of woe about the very people who have devoted every ounce of emotional and physical energy they had towards the Bad Girls' well-beings...
We yearned for more. We had political opinions, sexual desires, professional passions, and a whole host of other cravings that didn't fit this mold. We tried as long as we could to incorporate these feelings into our Good Girl selves, but the more we let ideas into our lives, the less space there was inside that box.
And yet, the idea of rebelling was scary. We were brought up to believe that there was no bond more sacred than that between us and our parents, and that nothing could be more dishonorable than to bring the shame of disobedience on our families. After all, didn't our parents have our best interests at heart? Just as scary was what awaited us if we gave up the safety of the Good Girl mold. What other kinds of safety would we lose? How would we support ourselves? What kind of a life could we envision for ourselves in which the home we grew up in was no longer the stable anchor it used to be? Where would our area of refuge be? Without the approval of our parents, how would we pin down and draw out the maps of our bodies, our spirits?"
(Introduction, Good Girls Marry Doctors)
The words rang in my ears, reminding me of so much of the turmoil I have experienced over the last several years. I may have been the only "conservative" (i.e. niqaabi) Muslim desi woman in a room full of middle-class, educated, liberal, hipster millenials (and not-so-millenials)... but in that moment, I knew that I shared the same experiences with them - the same sense of having chosen one's own way, making life decisions that parents and family could not fathom, and continue to struggle with today. Those choices have simultaneously benefited us and caused us pain: coming into our own; breaking out of too-rigid boxes, of expectations that we could never meet and no longer want to, of blazing our own trails through landscapes our families wished us to avoid completely... and seeing the grief and anger and heartbreak and confusion and hurt in the faces of our parents, who see in our actions a rejection of all that they have ever done for us, all that they have ever wished for us, all that they believe so strongly is the Right Thing.
It is a cliche that these types of rebellions occur only in the framework of a conservative family and a liberal renegade child - to think that the conservative men and women, the religious men and women, are the ones who simply carry on the strict, narrow standards of 'back home,' of our parents' beliefs and demands and expectations.
Yet even those men who grow their beards and attend the masjid more often than their grandparents did, even those women who cover their heads and their faces as seriously as any aunty... even we have our own stories of rebellion and obedience, of pride and sorrow, of joy and disownment. We carry the weight of Prophetic injuctions towards parental obedience along with the unshakeable knowledge that we *cannot* stay married to this person, or go through with this career, or live in a way that destroys us from within. We carry within us the ever-present fear that the gates to Paradise beneath our mothers' feet will be closed to us, even as we plead with them and with Allah for forgiveness for actions that we do not truly regret.
For every desi woman, for every desi man, for everyone who has known that they can no longer be the Good Girl (or Boy) at the expense of their own lives... Good Girls Marry Doctors is a reminder that even as we experience our own unique grief, we are not alone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Women Just Want to Have Fun(damental Rights)

On the topic of female scholarship, there is so much to be said that no FB post or Twitter rant could really take all factors & aspects into consideration or give it justice.
Today, though, my musing is on whether it's enough to say "where are the female scholars?" & to provide a list of names, and what deeper issues there are related to the matter.
One of the main issues we have in this Ummah is that so many of the teachings & attitudes we have propagated about women are harmful & reductive - & it's not just men who are teaching this, but women as well. In fact, most of us women have probably heard the pearls & diamonds hijab analogies from other women; had our mothers, grandmothers, or aunties tell us that women are simply inferior to men. It is 'women of knowledge' who tell us that marriage is built on subservience to husbands, that we must "be patient" with abuse, that if we speak out about the horrors we experience, we are endangering our own afterlives. It is women who perpetuate FGM and abuse their daughters-in-law; women who raise misogynistic men; women who see other women and view them as enemies rather than sisters.
So no, merely having 'women of knowledge' doesn't automatically mean that the lot of Muslim women at large will improve. Often, we are our own worst enemies.
However - we still do need female scholars, for so many reasons.
We need female scholars who *know* the reality of womanhood, who are intimately acquainted with the biological and psychological realities of living in a world where being born female automatically puts us at risk of violence and devastation.
We need women who are ready & willing to break away from the chauvinistic attitudes that have been passed off as "Islam" for so long; women who love the Qur’an & Sunnah, women who are educated in our tradition of knowledge - & women who are principled enough to call BS when they see it.
We need women scholars in the spirit of A'ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha), Umm adDardaa' asSughra, Kareema al Baghdadiyyah, A'ishah bint Tal'ha... women who never confused Islamic knowledge with personal opinions or cultural attitudes about women - women who challenged those who tried to normalize chauvinism as Islamic evidence.
We need women scholars who will support & stand up for justice, who will not allow our voices to be silenced in the name of 'piety' or 'modesty,' women who are not shy to assert their presence not only as women amongst women, but women as full-fledged members of this Ummah, whose joys & sorrows & pain & challenges & intellectual contributions are as valid & legitimate as those of men.
We do not need the permission of men to exist, to study, to teach, to be empowered and to empower other women. We are half the Ummah figuratively, but we have allowed ourselves to be treated as though we barely exist.
More than ever, it is necessary for us to remember that our own courage and determination (and tawakkul upon Allah) is all we need to take back the spaces that we have a right to in this Ummah. (Regardless of how many bros then try to accuse us of tantrumming or being SJW's when we assert ourselves...)

Female Scholars and Students of Knowledge

Many people ask, "Where are the female scholars?" (especially in the West). Below is a list (to be updated regularly) of the names of conservative/ Orthodox/ traditional female scholars and students of Islamic knowledge. They either have degrees or ijaazaat in various Islamic sciences - note that this list does not include those who have earned their background in Islamic studies through secular academic institutes.

Sh Aysha Wazwaz, founder of Gems of Light:
Sh Tamara Gray, founder of Rabata:
Sh Farhat Hashmi, founder of Al-Huda:
Sh Reima Yosif, founder of Al-Rawiya and ShaykhaFest:
Dr Rania Awaad, Islamic scholar and medical professional:
Sh Taimiyyah Zubair, Al-Maghrib Instructor:
Sh Hanaa Gamal, founder of Al-Azhar Institute in Houston, Texas:
Sh Muslema Purmul, co-founder of Safa Center:

Shaykhaat of Tayyibun Institute - Umm Omar Al Farouq, Umm Ehab, Umm AbdurRahman, Umm Zakariyya, Umm 'Aisha, Umm Adam, Umm Shu'aib, Asma Khelfa

Ustadha Alima Ashfaq:

Ustadha Maryam Amir:

Sh Safia Shahid:

Ustadha Farhia Yahya:

The following is a list sent to me of the names of female students of knowledge as well as already established teachers and scholars.
List of Sunni female scholars in the US/Canada trained in fiqh from traditional seminaries:
Muslema Purmul
Tahera Ahmed
Maryam Amirebrahimi
Hanaa Gamal
Seekershub: Zaynab Ansari, Nagheba Hayel, Shireen Ahmed, Mariam Bashar, Shehnaz Karim
Sila Initiative: Sulma Badrudduja, Noura Shamma, Fareeha Khan, Raheela Maniar
Rabata: Tamara Gray, Maryam Salman, Qurat Mir (also with Fawakih), Saadia Mian, Raghad Bushnaq (also with Fawakih), Sana Mohiuddin (maybe - Marah Dahman, Rydanah Dahman, Ola Habbab, Dahlia Kaswani)
Rahma Foundation: Eiman Sidky, Rania Awaad (also with Zaytuna), Shamira Chothia Ahmed, Nawar Taleb-Agha, Saira Abubakr (past - Zakiyya Bint Suleiman, Safiyya Bint Ahmad, Mona El-Zankaly, Rookeya Kaka, Roya Ataie, Fadwa Silmi)
Fawakih: Reem Azzam, Rosabel "Rawdah" Martin-Ross, Sumaya Jeeva, Zaynab Alwani
Sanad Collective/Rhoda Institute: Shehnaz Karim
Zaytuna: Nethal Abdul-Mu'min
Mishkah University: Zehra Hazratji
Zainab Center: Humera Ahmad

*It's worth noting that most of them are either Azhari or Sufi, because SALAFIS SUCK AT PROMOTING FEMALE SCHOLARSHIP.
Also, insert 'aqeedah disclaimer here. I'm referring to scholarship in the general sense of women who have studied seriously and know their stuff; this list is not an endorsement of non-Salafi aqeedah.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Strongest of Fathers

I once saw an ad for Whirlpool dishwashers that was actually really awesome because it focused on involved fathers. It showed a man playing with his son, providing a meal for him, caring for him when he got hurt, and cleaning up after him. Not once did the advert switch over to a mother completing any of those tasks - the father's relationship with his son was demonstrated as being something that existed outside of a female figure's presence.
It made me reflect on how little we focus on RasulAllah as a father figure - to Zaid ibn Harith, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Zaynab bint Abi Salamah... imagine what kind of parent-like figure he must have been to inspire Zaid to refuse to go back to his own family; imagine how Zaynab bint Abi Salamah felt, knowing him as the only father in her life, being so beloved to him that he would spend time with her even though other Sahabah were waiting for him to come out and teach them.
He raised Fatimah (ra) for some time almost as a single father, and their bond was unbreakable, testified to by A'ishah (ra) herself. RasulAllah was, even before Nubuwwa, the best example for this Ummah - a model of what it means to be an involved, invested, present father.
If people want to obsess about masculinity, then look to RasulAllah first & foremost - he exemplified what it meant to be a real man. He was unshakeable in battle & firm in principle, but he was also gentle and softhearted, who never once found it emasculating to weep in public, to cradle children, to declare his love for his wife by name, to serve his family without resentment or anger.
He was a man who supplicated for the woman who fought in battle at Uhud, throwing her body in front of his to protect him - his masculinity was not so fragile that he considered her a threat to the concept of the male warrior; when A'ishah raised her voice to him, he did not accuse her of being unwifely or disrespectful. In turn, he inspired love beyond measure; the men & women around him drew strength from his strength, inspiration from his vulnerability and humanity. His masculinity was unquestionable, & the respect even his enemies had for him was due to his justice.
!صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم
His Companions followed in his footsteps: men like Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman & Ali weren't surrounded by silent women, nor did they feel threatened by women who expressed themselves. Rather, Abu Bakr married a woman like Asmaa' bint Umays, who got angry at Umar and took him to RasulAllah to settle their dispute; Umar raised a woman like Hafsah, who had no fear of debate.
These men and women were confident enough about themselves that they didn't consider every dispute or disagreement to mean a gender war. They knew better than anyone what qiwamah meant; they lived it.
The presence of women on the battlefield did not make the men any lesser men; the presence of men in the homes, kissing their children, did not make them any lesser men. The strength of women did not negate the strength of men, but was appreciated and considered a complement, a necessary component for society's function and betterment.
These men and women had something we have little of today: respect for each other, appreciation for each other's strengths - whether stereotypically feminine, masculine or otherwise - an understanding of each other's weaknesses, and the willingness to engage with each other even when there was strong disagreement.
Above all, they knew the true meaning of the Divine Words:
{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.} (Quran 9:71)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Joys of Motherhood

The reason that Jannah lies under the feet of mothers isn't because it's easy or because our 'feminine natures' simply incline towards it.
The reason Jannah lies under the feet of mothers is because it is one of the most painful and unpleasant jobs in the world.
From pregnancy and its assorted conditions - everything from morning sickness to gestational diabetes to depression so severe that it leads to suicidal thoughts or impulses - to the first few months of sleep deprivation, the agonies of breastfeeding, post partum depression; from the toddler years of having a child drain you of your bodily fluids, waking you up every night and at monstrous hours of the early morning clawing at your face or screaming for inexplicable reasons (and no, children don't only cry because they're hungry, sick, or need a diaper change; very often they cry because they want nothing but your undivided attention for absolutely no reason other than to sadistically test your sanity); to the years when you must spend each day grimly trying to educate them and raise them as well-mannered and respectful human beings despite their insistence on acting like ungrateful brats...
THAT is mothering. That is the daily reality - and it is not to be glossed over or shrugged off or required for us to hastily add, "But of course I love my kids and it's very rewarding."
For some people, sure, motherhood is fabulous and all they've dreamed of from life. And that's great... for them.
For so many others, especially Muslim women who have had it drilled into them that motherhood is their ultimate spiritual accomplishment, it is absolutely not fun. You don't get a daily spiritual rush or spiritual growth on a regular basis simply by keeping your spawn alive. You just don't.
So please, for the love of God, can we stop romanticizing motherhood?
It has become so painfully cliche in talks and lectures and workshops to celebrate motherhood, to revere it, to speak about every woman's maternal instinct as a gift and blessing from God and that being a loving mother is how we shall earn His Pleasure... to the point that when Muslim mothers do finally break down and confess that there are days, weeks, even months that they hate it with a passion - they are vilified for being unnatural or damaged or corrupted, they are told that they are less than good Muslim women, that they are severely lacking in faith and fitrah.
Enough of it.
Our motherhood should be celebrated not only in terms of the perceived "joys" and "beauties" of having children, but because of the sheer agony of it. Our pain needs to be recognized and acknowledged in terms of more than "your kids can't pay you back for even one contraction from labour." Such phrases lose meaning when in the next breath, mothers are berated for not being absolutely perfect, for not being sacrificing more of themselves (for either their children or their husbands), for wanting *more* from their lives than motherhood.
Jannes lies under the feet of mothers not because motherhood is wonderful, but because most of the time, it's not.
And there is nothing wrong with saying that.


I find it fascinating that there are people (often, Muslim men) who feel incredibly threatened by women who choose to speak honestly about their experiences, whether those experiences are regarding marriage, divorce, motherhood, or otherwise. To me at least, it seems as though there's a terror that once more women realize that they *can* speak truthfully & openly about their realities, that they'll no longer feel as pressured to endure oppression, injustice, or even just unhealthy social attitudes that have been constantly enforced.
With motherhood especially, it has been almost a part of our "Muslim culture" to tell women that their worth lies in their fertility, & that their honour comes from (solely) being mothers. The implication is that outside of maternity, we have no real worth or honour - the concept of a Muslim woman existing as an individual with her own sense of 'izzah & karam is nonexistent.
Curiously, a woman - a mother - who decides to speak about motherhood as anything other than the greatest (and most flawless) experience of her life, is seen as insulting or cursing motherhood, & is herself made the target of vilification. After all, how dare she destroy the carefully cultivated fiction that has been force-fed to Muslim women, with significant effort placed on tying their self esteem to motherhood!
To speak of motherhood openly is not to deny its station of honour in our Islamic traditions - if anything, it emphasizes to us *why* Allah has given mothers such a significant status in His Sight.
We're not being rewarded for sunshine & roses, we're being honoured for the pain both, physical & emotional, for the strength that is required from beginning to end, for all that we find ourselves sacrificing - for His Sake.
To speak of the brutal experience of motherhood is not equivalent to insulting it or putting it down. It is to acknowledge that it is a Jihad of its own, that every mother is a mujaahidah whose war never ends, that Jannah is attained by the blood, sweat & tears that we shed.
I for one will not lie, to other women or my daughters. Motherhood is not easy. Motherhood is not for everyone. Yet should it be decreed for us (because, contrary to what many people imagine, it is not always a choice for women), then know that it is a brutal, painful, agonizing, noble position of honour & responsibility.
Motherhood is not merely to conceive & to birth, but to raise, to love, to suffer, to endure, to seek Allah's Pleasure every step of the way.
Women do not need to constantly reassure men that we "love" motherhood (loving our children doesn't automatically mean that we're thrilled with all the grit and grime that accompanies it).
Men have no right to tell us that a baby's first steps or words make it "worth it" or somehow make up for everything we go through. Those moments are blessings, but they are not the reward itself. To be frank, many mothers can't even remember those moments later on.
There is literally only one thing that makes it worth it: Jannah.
And that is precisely what we are promised, if we are able to keep sight of and work towards the end goal of our entire existence - the Pleasure of Allah and His Reward.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Best of Men

"The best of you are those who are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 3895; Ibn Maajah, 1977; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi
This hadith is often quoted in marriage talks, conferences, and articles, light-heartedly reminding husbands to pick up their socks or buy some flowers for their wives on their way home from work.
While this may earn some laughs and a guilty resolution to be more thoughtful towards their wives, this hadith tends to be brushed off as being very general and more of a vague reminder than anything else. Even when the hadith is discussed in a little more detail, we find that most teachers tend to apply it in a rather limited way – by mentioning that the Prophet (pbuh) used to do chores around the house, or be affectionate with them.
However, this hadith has far more depth to it than we realize – when we look at the Prophet’s (pbuh) relationship with his wives, we see that when he meant he was the ‘the best… to wives’ – he reallymeant ‘the best.’
The Prophet’s (pbuh) marriages with his wives were unique because not only did he have nine wives, but he had a wonderful relationship with them all. If one wants to know what a marriage expert looks like, we need look no further than the seerah (biography of the Prophet) itself. So what is the secret behind being the best husband?
We know that the Prophet (pbuh) married women of different ethnicities, from the Qurayshi noblewomen Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Zaynab bint Jahsh, to the Jewish princess Safiyyah bint Hu’ayy; women of different personalities and temperaments, such as the high-spirited A’ishah bint Abi Bakr and Hafsah bint ‘Umar, and the calm, unruffled dispositions of Maymunah bint al-Harith and Umm Salamah. He was married to women as young as A’ishah and as elderly as Sawdah bint Zam’a; widows and divorcees, businesswomen, scholars, and mothers.
His relationship with every woman was unique, and each relationship was beautiful – and when we read about how he interacted with each and every one of them, we see that one of the defining characteristics he had, which ensured the success of his marriages, was emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is defined as the “capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”
To have emotional intelligence is not so much a rare skill or complex ability, but simply the capacity to have compassion and empathy with those whom with one interacts, and to respond to them accordingly.
In a marriage, emotional intelligence can be summed up in the following ayah:
And of His signs is this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect. [Qur’an 30:21]
The Prophet (pbuh) expressed his emotional intelligence, his capacity for love and mercy towards his wives, in numerous ways. When he was married to Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), he already knew of her impressive career as a businesswoman managing her own caravan of traders. Rather than feeling slighted or insecure by the fact that he worked for her, and that it was her wealth supporting him financially, he never once expressed resentment – rather, he never stopped praising her and expressing his appreciation of her support for him.
A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that when she once made a snide comment about Khadijah, the Prophet (pbuh) responded vehemently in her defence:
“No, by Allah! Allah did not replace her with any better woman. She believed in me when people disbelieved, she supported me with her wealth when people denied me their material aid, and Allah blessed me with children from her while I was denied children by other women.”
In a time when more and more Muslim women have impressive careers of their own, and are sometimes earning higher incomes than their husbands, the Prophet’s (pbuh) appreciation and love towards Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) is an example to Muslim husbands who may find themselves struggling with insecurities regarding their financial situations in comparison to their wives. Instead of making it a problem in the marriage, husbands can learn to use emotional intelligence to acknowledge that the size of one’s pay cheque is not a reflection of their masculinity (or lack thereof) and that it is not a reason to have a less than stellar attitude towards their wives.
The Prophet (pbuh) was also a man who was always ready to comfort his wives. On one occasion, he was traveling with his Companions and his wife Safiyyah (may Allah be pleased with her), when her camel became weak and began to fall behind. Frustrated at the distance between herself and her husband, Safiyyah began to weep. When the Prophet (pbuh) noticed that she was no longer next to him, he turned back to find her, and when he found her crying, he wiped her tears away himself and immediately looked for another camel. Rather than being annoyed or frustrated with her, the Prophet (pbuh) demonstrated his emotional intelligence by providing her with comfort, affection, and reassurance – thereby solidifying their relationship and increasing the love between them even more.
As for helping around the house, the Prophet (pbuh) did far more than just wash a couple of dishes or pick up dirty socks.
Narrated Al-Aswad:
I asked 'Aisha what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied. "He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer." (Bukhari)
Aisha reported:
“I was asked, “What did the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, do in his house?” I said, “The Prophet was a man among men. He would remove fleas from his clothes, milk his sheep, and serve himself.” (Musnad Ahmad 25662, authenticated by alAlbani)
These ahadith are self-evident: rather than waiting to be served by his wives, the Prophet (pbuh) would take the initiative to serve them and to take care of whatever domestic tasks he was able to do. An emotionally intelligent husband doesn’t take the casual approach of ‘well, I folded my own clothes last week, so I’m good’; he looks at his home, acknowledges what tasks need to be completed, and tries to lighten his wife’s workload without being even more of a burden. The point of this is not to ‘prove’ what a good husband one is and then bring it up repeatedly later on in defense of other bad habits – it is to sincerely develop a positive relationship with one’s wife. Most women, if not all, deeply appreciate it when husbands contribute by doing chores – it is a sign of respect and self-responsibility, a sign that the husband doesn’t view his wife as a maid, but as an individual whose passion does not lie solely in doing laundry or mopping floors.
Finally, the Prophet (pbuh) was a man who recognized the potential in his wives and encouraged them to fulfill that potential. Hafsah bint ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with her) was a woman of intelligence, and the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to foster that intelligence rather than stunt it. Once, a woman named ashShifa bint Abdullah, one of the few literate individuals of Medinah at the time, was visiting Hafsah and discussing medicine with her. The Prophet (pbuh) entered the home during their conversation, and noting Hafsah’s interest, he immediately told ashShifa to teach Hafsah both literacy and the healing arts.
Each and every one of these stories highlights just what it meant when the Prophet (pbuh) commanded the men of his Ummah to be the best they possibly could be towards their wives. The standard for best husband has already been set – to be humble and appreciative, to be loving and comforting, to being helpful and supportive – and when one considers the beautiful ways in which the Prophet (pbuh) exemplified these qualities on a daily basis, it really isn’t so difficult.
May our husbands fulfill the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and prove themselves to be amongst the best of men, ameen.