Friday, April 15, 2011

Open Letter to Mona el-Tahawy

This letter is in response to Mona el-Tahawy and her stance on the niqaab ban (http://muslimmatters.org/2011/04/12/cnn-hebah-ahmed-muslimmatters-blogger-debates-mona-eltahawy-over-french-niqab-burka-ban/).

If you support this letter, please sign it with your name in the comments and share it with others, whether through FaceBook, email, blogs, or websites. We would like to have this letter reach Mona directly, if possible.

This article has been cross-posted at IslamicAwakening and MuslimMatters.

Disclaimer: Though the message is sincere and heartfelt, the details are not meant to identify one specific individual (i.e. the author) but rather to represent real niqaabis around the world.

From A Very Visible Niqaabi to Her Self-Appointed Champion

Dear Mona,

As much as you no doubt think that you are doing great good by appointing yourself as a champion for (or against? You’re a bit confusing on that point) Muslim women who wear niqaab, I’d appreciate if you stopped and listened to me first.

I am a Muslim woman who wears niqaab, and I neither believe that I am the paragon of virtue nor live in fear of Hell should an inch of my skin be seen in public. I am neither oppressed nor invisible. I do not consider myself so beautiful that I must cover myself to save men from temptation; nor do I believe that men are sex machines who will be turned on by the tip of my nose or the curve of my ear. I am not ignorant or brainwashed. I am not Salafi or Wahhabi.

I am a Muslim woman.

You say that niqaab has been made into the pinnacle of piety. There may be some people out there who say that, but I don’t believe God says that. In fact, God says that none of us are safe from Hell just by doing one specific action or another. Earning Paradise and protecting ourselves from Hell is an ongoing process, a constant struggle 24/7. I don’t feel that wearing niqaab has earned me a ticket to Eden... but I do believe that it’ll help me get that little bit closer.

You say that Muslim women are forced to wear the niqaab in Saudi Arabia. While I don’t agree with anyone being forced to wear niqaab against their will, I don’t see how that has anything to do with me. I don’t live in Saudi Arabia, and never have. I live in America and I chose to wear the niqaab despite my parents’ opposition to it and my husband’s unease with it. He was worried that I’d be considered “extreme” and targeted for my beliefs. Turns out he’s right, but just because people like you want to take away my freedom of belief, it doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and let you dictate what I should and shouldn’t do or believe.

You say that niqaab makes Muslim women invisible. I have no idea where you got that from, although invisibility has always been the one superpower I’d love to have. As it happens, people can see me pretty well. It’s just that they can’t see every single bit of my skin or physical features. If you mean that I’m “invisible” in that niqaab reduces my role in society and the public sphere, you’re wrong.

I’m a successful businesswoman, who left a thriving career to become an entrepreneur. The company I founded has blossomed and we’re becoming quite well-known in our field. My best friend, who started wearing niqaab after me, is a high school teacher. She’s been recognized by the school as one of the best teachers they’ve had for several years running. The local Imam’s wife is getting her PhD and volunteers at the women’s shelter – and gets a kick out of going horseback riding on the beach where people’s eyes bug out when they see a veiled Muslim women galloping across the sand.

We Muslim women who wear the niqaab come in all shapes and sizes, of every ethnic, religious, social, and educational background. We are businesswomen and artists; writers and community activists; teachers and stay-at-home mothers; philosophers, intellectuals, and housewives. You have no right to gloss over our places in society, the roles that we have and will continue to fulfill. You have no right to tell me or others that I am invisible when I very much know that I am not.

You say that niqaab objectifies women as sex objects. So does the mini-skirt and tube top. Are we going to ban those too? I don’t deny that some men obsess over women’s bodies – but those men are non-Muslim as well as Muslim. Just as there are men who would prefer that I covered my body completely, there are men who wish I’d walk around half-naked. I don’t wear the niqaab for, or because of, either of them. I wear it for myself. I am not repressing my sexuality nor exacerbating it. I am demanding that you mind your own business about my sexuality, and deal with my ideas, my words, and my actions instead.

You say that niqaab has been the reason that Muslim women have been oppressed in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. It’s not. Poverty, illiteracy, government corruption, backwards misogynistic mentalities that have nothing to do with Islam... THEY are the reason that Muslim women have been oppressed. Hijaab, niqaab, and whatever else is used only as a tool to enforce Islamically incorrect ideologies. It is not the root of the problem.

Furthermore, what of countries like South Africa, Mexico, and Britain where the daily statistics of rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, peer pressure, and so much more are all forms of crime and oppression against women? Oppression of women isn’t limited to race or religion. Unfortunately, it extends throughout the entire world, across every racial, social and economic spectrum.

You imply that it is only “extremist Salafis and Wahhabis” who wear niqaab or demand it of their women. That’s kinda funny, because I have a Sufi aunt who wears niqaab; and the nice Indian aunty at the mosque is a Deobandi, and she wears it too. The Nigerian convert who campaigns for women’s space at the mosque and demands that Muslim men stop acting like caveman and behave like gentlemen has been wearing niqaab for several years.

I’m sorry that you have had bad experiences with the niqaab. I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with Muslims who call you a she-devil, a whore, and a scourge against Islam.

Sister Heba Ahmad – the one you debated on CNN – said something really beautiful that I agree with completely: “Mona is my sister in Islam and even though I must disagree when she misrepresents Islam and Muslims, she still should be protected from the tongue of her fellow Muslims.”

That’s how I feel about you. I strongly disagree with what you say about the niqaab and much about what you say about Islam and Muslims in general. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to threaten to kill you, or swear at you, or condemn you to Hell. What I will do is invite you over for coffee at my place, with open arms and a warm smile that you can detect even beneath my niqaab.

Your sister in Islam,

A Muslim Woman Who Wears Niqaab

(Author: Zainab bint Younus aka AnonyMouse al-Majnoonah)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Al-Walaa' wa'l Baraa': From Boastful Claims to Sincere Heart-ache for the Sake of Allah

Originally written for IslamicAwakening.com

Today’s impassioned world of catchphrases – Jihad of the sword and the soul; terrorism and freedom fighting; the War on Terror and the War on Islam; sincere scholars of the religion and White-House sell-outs – throw us into a whirlwind of politics, social affairs, religious dictums, and most of all, raging emotions.


There is perhaps no one phrase that encompasses so many of today’s issues, and is so hotly thrown around, than that of Al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’: Loving and hating for the sake of Allah; or, loyalty and disassociation for the sake of Allah.


Though classical Islamic texts explain in minute detail the nuances of this concept, and thousands of Internet users debate each other on forums and chat rooms, few of us have bothered to study the topic in depth from the correct sources. Fewer yet are those who have both grasped an understanding of the subject, and perhaps more importantly, internalized it.


So many of us make loud claims of loyalty to Allah, His Prophet, His religion, and His sincere slaves... but how many of us look to what really lies in our hearts, and make a conscious effort to dig through the shadowy recesses of our egos, sorting out our false boasting from our true desires?


Al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’ for the Sake of Allah is not merely dependant upon political or social circumstances. It is not an intellectual exercise or a show of “manliness” as, alas, it has become in the dodgy corners of the cyberworld. In its truest, purest form, al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’ is an act of emotional sacrifice and spiritual cleansing. The most utter expression of al-walaa’ and al-baraa’ is that which Islam is based upon entirely: the submission of one’s desires, one’s faith, one’s actions, to Allah alone.


Al-Walaa’:


In brief, it is true love and loyalty. Specifically, in the Shar’i context, to Allah and all that which He has commanded us to have love for, loyalty for, and obedience to. Examples are the love for the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), for Islam in its whole and its entirety, and love for fellow Muslims over non-Muslims, purely due to their superiority of faith.


Al-Haafidh al-Hakamee, rahimahullaah, said:


"The signs that a person loves his Lord is: [i] that he gives precedence to what He loves, even if it opposes the person's own desires; [ii] to hate what his Lord hates, even if his own desires incline towards it; [iii] to show sincere love and help (walaa') to those who ally themselves with Allaah and His Messenger; [iv] to show enmity to those who show enmity to Allaah and His Messenger; [v] to follow His Messenger sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam; and [vi] to accept his guidance."


Al-Baraa’:


It is the disassociation from, and rejection of, and turning away completely from that which Allah has declared incorrect, wrong, forbidden, and evil. The first thing which each and every Muslim must have al-Baraa’ from, is shirk, in all its aspects and expression.


"Indeed there is for you an excellent example in the Prophet Ibraaheem and those with him, when they said to their people: Indeed we are free from you and whatever you worship besides Allaah; we have rejected you, and there has arisen between us and you enmity and hatred, until you believe and worship Allaah alone." [Soorah al-Mumtahanah 60:4].


A more detailed definition and explanation of al-walaa’ and al-baraa’ can be found here: The Islaamic Concept of al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’.


In summary, it can be said that al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’ is love and hate for the sake of Allah, based upon that which Allah has guided us to and away from in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).


Well and good. How now does that have to do with what we said before? How does one attain the status of one who truly loves what Allah has commanded him to love, and to hate that which Allah has commanded him to hate? And what on earth does that have to do with boasting and heartache?


Internalizing al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’ doesn’t start from watching the news or surfing the Internet and feeling rage at what is happening to Muslims across the world. Certainly, it is a part of it which no one can deny – indeed, we should feel anger and fury at what is being done to our brothers and sisters in Islam. Not to feel such emotions would imply something seriously wrong in your psyche, never mind your faith.


However, if one spends hours online raving against the American government while neglecting to pray his salawaat on time and in Jamaa’ah; if you screech that Britain is a filthy land of disbelievers while having absolutely no intention to ever make hijrah to a Muslim land; if you attempt to expose the “sell-out scholars” when you don’t bother to seek out the true students of knowledge and learn from them... well, you need to get your priorities straightened out, and realize that you’re not expressing al-Walaa’ and al-Baraa’ – you’re just being immature, lazy, and ignorant.


True Walaa’ is to love your fellow Muslim, even the homeless guy who sleeps out at the Masjid, because he believes in Allah, and to treat him the way you treat your non-Muslim boss at work – with respect.


True Baraa’ is to see your dying non-Muslim grandfather, shedding tears for him and praying for his guidance to Islam, then accepting that his death as a non-Muslim means that he will be in the company of the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib, in Hell.

"Indeed your helper and protecter is none other than Allaah, His Messenger, and the Believers." [Soorah al-Maa'idah 5:55].


True Walaa’ is to see the images of the mangled limbs of children in Chechnya, and to feel as though it is your child lying amidst that corpse-ridden carnage.


True Baraa’ is to see your non-Muslim neighbour, wave to him every morning and mow his lawn when he’s feeling sick, and feel sorrow and anger at his disbelief in Allah.


"If Allaah afflicts you with some harm, there is no one who can remove it except Allaah. And if He desires good for you, there is no one who can repel His favour." [Soorah Yoonus 10:107].


True Walaa’ is when your heart longs for a Muslim society where Islam is the norm, and you sincerely intend to make hijrah, even though you know that Muslim countries are riddled with all sorts of problems.


True Baraa’ is when you love America as the home you were born and brought up in, where you have memories of golden summers and apple pie, yet you cannot stand the kufr it represents and perpetuates.


"So whoever hopes to see his Lord and be rewarded by Him, then let him make his worship correct and make it purely and exclusively for Him; and let him not give any share of it to other than Him." [Soorah al-Kahf 18:110].


True Walaa’ is to support your Muslim brother who has been accused of terrorism by the government, vilified by the media, and slandered by other Muslims... because you place greater faith in the word of a believer than in the vows of the enemies of Islam, even if you may be targeted next.


True Baraa’ is to speak against the corruption, oppression and injustice of a government that is deliberately targeting your faith, while fellow Muslims look on in fear, trusting in Allah even at the risk of being arrested.

"So do not fear them, but fear Me and beware of disobeying Me, if you are true believers." [Soorah Aal-'Imraan 3:175].


True Walaa’ is to give your time and effort for the sake of Allah, attending the weekly dars at the masjid, memorizing the Qur’an daily, mentoring a Muslim youth, and volunteering at the soup kitchen... not trying to assemble home-made explosives in your basement.


True Baraa’ is to shun even your child if he makes statements of kufr, in public or in private, because your love for Allah overcomes the love of your son. That son who kept you up at night as a baby, whose first steps were taken into your arms, whose adolescence you helped guide him through – love for that son cannot compete with the clear commands of Allah, though your heart breaks when you tell him “No.”


"But those who believe are stronger in their love of Allaah." [Soorah al-Baqarah 2:165].


The true Muslim, the one with true loyalty and allegiance to Allah and His Command, the one with complete and utter disassociation and enmity for shirk and kufr in all its forms, is the Muslim who knows and understands the orders and the limits that his religion has placed upon him.


The true Muslim is a firm believer and a good citizen; gentle yet strong; a voice for truth, justice, reason, and above all, Islam.


The true Muslim’s heart aches, breaks, and is sacrificed for the Sake of Allah.

Can you both talk the talk and walk the walk? Will you be that Muslim?


"This day have I perfected your Religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen Islaam as your Religion." [Soorah al-Maa'idah 5:3].


(Copyright Zainab bint Younus aka AnonyMouse al-Majnoonah)
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