Thursday, November 29, 2012

Youthful Marriage: Impractical Ideal, or Viable Option?

Originally written for SISTERS Magazine, November 2012. Also published at the SaudiLife website.

Umm Zainab Vanker and Umm Khadijah (AnonyMouse) discuss the concept of young marriages in the Sunnah and in its application in modern society.

SURROUNDED by a global culture of hypersexuality, Muslim parents and youth share one similar concern: marriage. When to prepare for marriage, after post-secondary education or before? How to find suitable marriage partners?
Many Muslim parents still prefer the more recent tradition when it comes to marriage: waiting for young men to finish their university educations and begin successful, financially rewarding careers; and then searching for partners within a select pool and with an even more select criteria.

However, there is another option, one that is recommended in the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and which has long been disregarded or has been considered to be a sign of ‘backwardness’ due to the incorrect way in which it has been practiced “back home.”
This Sunnah is that of youthful marriage.

In the famous hadeeth of Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah:
 Jabir b. 'Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him) reported: 'Abdullah died and he left (behind him) nine or seven daughters. I married a woman who had been previously married.
Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to me: “Jabir, have you married?”
I said: “Yes.”
He said: “A virgin or one previously married?”
I said: “Messenger of Allah, with one who was previously married,” whereupon he said: “Why didn't you marry a young girl so that you could sport with her and she could sport with you, or you could amuse her and she could amuse you?” (Saheeh al-Bukhari)

RasulAllah’s wisdom in advising Jabir to marry a youthful woman is obvious – Jabir himself was a young man, and it would have been more fulfilling for him to have a companion of his own generation, who could be energetic, creative, and entertaining. They would have been able to enjoy the pleasures of young love, and later, mature together as they experienced life’s challenges.

There are numerous examples in the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Sahabah that show how youthful marriages were encouraged and – more importantly – sustained.

The marriage of Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra) and Fatimah bint RasulAllah (ra) is an excellent example of a young marriage. Some sources state that Fatimah was fifteen years old at the time of her marriage while Ali (ra) was twenty-one; others say that she was nineteen.

It is known that their relationship was one of deep love; Ali (ra) never married another woman during her lifetime, and she loved him dearly despite the difficulties she endured due to their poverty. This does not mean that they did not have any disagreements, though – one of Ali’s nicknames, “Abu Turab,” was given to him by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) when Ali (ra) spent the night sleeping in the masjid due to an argument he had with Fatimah (ra). Nonetheless, they persevered and their mutual love for Allah and each other helped them overcome any issues they experienced.

Today, the very idea of a 16 or 17 year old (whether male or female) getting married is often looked upon with horror. It is argued that at this age, neither the young man or woman will have the emotional maturity to handle the responsibilities or seriousness that marriage demands, let alone its financial aspects. It is felt that both should have “the chance to live life freely,” without being tied down to another person; that they should use their youth to focus on their education without distractions. Most people conclude that very few (if any) youth are capable of handling marriage in at this young age.

However, it can also be argued that no one can ever be prepared for marriage, and there’s no guarantee that even an older person will be emotionally mature enough to handle it.
Physical and Emotional Maturity
Maturity can both be innate, and cultivated. Certain individuals simply have a more mature personality, and others can be taught how to react to situations appropriately, which contributes to maturity. Thus, while no one can be truly “ready” for marriage, it is possible to be prepared for it.

It is interesting to note that while so many Muslim parents claim that their adolescent children are “not ready” for marriage, non-Muslims are pointing to rising rates of early puberty and hyperawareness regarding sexuality at younger ages. Physical and even a type of mental maturity is manifested in the way that tweens and teens evaluate the opposite gender and often begin experimenting with them sexually. 
If the Muslim Ummah hopes to preserve the innocence and chastity of its youth, the only way to do so is for parents to close the gap between physical and emotional maturity.

The period of adolescence is a relatively modern construct of society, and responsible in large part for the lack of emotional maturity to be found amongst most youth in developed countries. Whereas many teenagers are expected and often allowed to act irresponsibly, Islam focuses on training children from a young age to have mental maturity and responsibility to perform various duties and obligations, both religious and social.
When Muslim parents give in to society’s current standards of behavior for adolescents, it is Muslim youth who pay the price. By lacking the mental and emotional maturity to develop the skills necessary for initiating and maintaining a long-term relationship, young Muslim men and women will be unable to enter into a fulfilling marriage by the time they begin to experience physical needs.

Teaching young men the importance of understanding how to deal with women – whether their mothers or sisters – will set the pattern for how they react to challenges with their wives. Similarly, teaching young women how to recognize which tasks, goals, or ambitions have priority will go a long way in helping them to cope with the many compromises that marriage demands from women.

It is therefore in the Ummah’s best interests, for young Muslim men and women, not just those in their early twenties but even those still in high school, to consider early marriage as a viable and practical option. Muslim parents need to focus on the reality that enabling their sons and daughters to marry at an earlier age will ultimately help them combat the vices of a hypersexualized global culture that they are struggling against.

In Part 2, we will inshaAllah focus on the realistic expectations which are required of those considering youthful marriage.

Umm Zainab Vanker and Umm Khadijah (AnonyMouse) are both products and veterans of youthful marriage; Umm Zainab got married at the age of 17, and her daughter followed suit! A combination of personal experience and observation of Muslim youth today encouraged them to take a critical look at the necessity and challenges of youthful marriages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

On Being A Salafi Feminist

Salafi: A Salafi (Arabic: سلفي‎) is a Muslim who emphasises the Salaf ("predecessors" or "ancestors"), the earliest Muslims, as model examples of Islamic practice.

Salafi (Media Definition): Muslim men who wear short thawbs and have big beards, Muslim women who wear hijab/ abayah/ niqaab; Muslims who despise the West, have dreams of world domination and The Khilaafah (TM), and are determined to practice Islam openly. *Shudder*

Salafi (North America): A bunch of guys with short thawbs, long beards, and way too much time on their hands, which they spend writing PDFs declaring everyone else to be Off The Manhaj (TM).

Feminist: An advocate for social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. (

Feminist (Popular Opinion): Hairy, man-hating women determined to prove themselves superior to men and take over all male jobs.

Feminist (Muslim Popular Opinion): Hairy, man-hating women who are going to destroy the natural order of this world by claiming to be equal to men.

Muslim Feminist/ Feminism: A form of feminism concerned with the role of women in Islam. It aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. (Wikipedia)

Muslim Feminist (Muslim Popular Opinion): Man-hating, self-hating women who try to use Islam as an excuse to destroy the Muslim Ummah from within; those who attempt to destroy the natural order of this world by claiming to be equal to men, or at least slightly more equal than many Muslims prefer to believe.

Alternatively, Muslim women who have been brainwashed by the West into thinking that the role of a wife and mother isn't enough for her, and is now just a pitiable tool of the Decadent West (TM) who must be warned against, because there is absolutely no hope for her, especially when she starts trying to quote ayaat and ahadeeth to justify her clearly warped and corrupted views.

The Salafi Feminist: Someone who just likes to see everyone get their knickers in a knot when they see the words 'Salafi' and 'feminist' put together, and love to say things like, "in salafi-feminism you have combined two of the most disastrous movements in modern history!" (True story.)

Okay, so maybe I'm deliberately being a tease. It's hard to resist, though, seeing as how everyone wants to shove me and my views into an annoyingly narrow box, because unless you fit into a pre-constructed box, you don't count!


I am a niqaabi who hates those "Da'wah pictures" which say women are either pretty covered-up lollipops or trashed unwrapped candies being bombarded with flies.

I am a happy wife and mother, and I loathe those people who try to tell me that I should only be happy in my role as a wife and mother.

I believe in pursuing knowledge, Islamic and otherwise (and in fields other than gynecology or teaching kindergarten), and would really like to flip the bird at those twits still debating "women's education in Islam."

I frown upon mingling between the sexes and pre-marital relationships, but I will never belittle another woman's value and worth as a human being based upon her sexual history or rumours about her reputation.

I rage against the injustices of Western governments, but I refuse to turn a blind eye to the tragedies that Muslims inflict upon each other. Drone strikes, illegal wars, and the occupation of Palestine are right up there with domestic violence, sexual abuse, and racism within Muslim communities.

I believe that men and women both have control over their actions and desires, and that a woman looking at a male speaker is not going to send her into a frenzy of lust, or that any man is incapable of keeping it in his pants when he sees a woman whose body is not covered from head to toe in black. 

I respect the scholars of Islam and will defend them to anyone who tries badmouthing them, but that doesn't mean I'll stay silent when some of their words are harmful to the Muslim women of this Ummah. 

I believe that homosexuality is a great and terrible sin, but I also believe that shirk is worse. No one should allow their sins to stop them from reaching out to Allah, the Merciful, the Forgiving, the One True God.

I uphold that modesty and chastity is for both men and women; that women should wear hijab, men should lower their gaze, and that both parties assist each other in making their societies purer in every way. 

I believe that "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)

(So in the end, I may not be a Salafi after all. Or even a feminist. But sssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh! Don't tell anyone!)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: Love InshAllah - The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women

“Love Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women,” edited by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, a brutally honest and eye-opening look at the oft-overlooked romances of self-identifying Muslim women. 
From stories of traditional arranged marriage and the struggle of marrying outside one’s own culture, to finding love, losing it, and rediscovering it in the most unexpected places, “Love Inshallah” is a one-of-a-kind anthology. 
The contributing authors are from almost every type of race, cultural background, age, and affiliation imaginable; as such, some of the stories may make some readers feel uncomfortable. What must be kept in mind, however, is that it is all too easy to judge others, but far more difficult to accept the vastly differing experiences that contribute to the multi-faceted, sometimes paradoxical Muslim Ummah. 
The stories in “Love Inshallah” are neither saccharine nor fraught with over-politicized analyses of Muslim women’s sexuality. Rather, they are frank, open accounts that read more like a close friend’s trusting disclosures. Complete with humor, heartbreak, and the recognition that Allah – Al-Wadud (the Most Loving), al-Hakeem (the Most Wise) – teaches us through these love-ridden experiences, “Love Inshallah” will move you, entrance you, and shock you.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of this particular anthology, especially given its subject matter, is that it is not limited to the narrow representation of one particular “stream” of Muslimah. Conservatives and extreme liberals, born Muslims, converts and reverts – all are included, and all share their stories honestly and openly. 
Familiar names to SISTERS magazine (S. E. Jihad Levine and J. Samia Mair) write alongside anonymous and previously unpublished authors. Together, these women force all readers – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – to recognize and acknowledge the decidedly pluralistic, un-monolithic nature of The Muslim Woman’s Experience. 
Whether or not one agrees with the lifestyles and choices discussed within this book, it will most certainly provoke a great deal of thought. Perhaps more importantly, it provides a much-needed glimpse into the lives of Muslim women, and hopefully create the opportunity for empathy amongst those who have previously had no exposure to this significant and influential group.

AnonyMouse enjoys exposing and challenging herself to new experiences (mostly via the literary form). She particularly relishes getting into controversial subjects most likely to elicit shock and scandal.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Marriage Bandits

Exposing the Marriage Bandits: Originally written for SISTERS Magazine, September 2012 

Zainab bint Younus exposes the hidden abuse of marriage fraud that occurs within the Muslim community and warns vulnerable sisters how to avoid it.

Muslim communities around the world face many challenges, from both within as well as outside sources. Certain issues, such as poverty and substance abuse, are widespread amongst all races and religions. The Muslim community, however, also has problems unique to itself.
One particular phenomenon has come to be known as that of “marriage fraud” – a problem found in both the West and the Muslim world, although its occurrence has been more widely documented in the West. Most cases of “marriage fraud” are recorded to take place in certain areas of America, Canada, and the UK, although there is evidence that it also occurs in other Western and Arab countries.

Shaykh Younus Kathrada, a South-African born Canadian imam has provided Islamic counseling and support services for over 20 years. He identifies the “marriage bandit” phenomenon as being when Muslim men and who claim to be knowledgeable and pious Muslims, prey on vulnerable women and convince them into marriages, only to use and abuse them, and leave them soon thereafter.  Some of these individuals have married and divorced women countless times, passing them around to their friends and treating the women like a disposable commodity. (Read more)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Seeking Hira

Over 1432 years ago, in the blessed month of Ramadhaan, a man climbed the Mountain of Light, seeking his private sanctuary, the Cave of Hira. He is a handsome man, solidly built; his wavy hair is moist from his exertion in the desert heat and drops of sweat slip from his forehead like glimmering pearls. His fair face, which would shine like the full moon when he smiled, is thoughtful now, with a faint sadness and pain at the corners of his bright eyes.

This man is Muhammad ibn Abdullah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He is abandoning his society for a few days, maybe a few weeks – he carries food and drink with him, for he does not intend to leave solitude for some time – but not because he is a social outcast. In fact, he is the darling of Makkan society: the grandson of one of its greatest Hashemite chiefs, the husband of one of the wealthiest and most powerful businesswomen in a merchant community.

He is here, in the middle of the desert, miles away from any civilization, because he is sick at heart. Sick of the overwhelming ills that have drowned the Makkans in constant intoxication, outrageous gambling, and endless tribal feuds. Pained by the exploitation of orphans, the poor, the helpless; horrified by the common burials of newborn girls, the mistreatment of women, the destruction of their dignity. He seeks something else, something better, something which seems just out of his reach. He seeks God.

Finally, he reaches his destination. It is here, in the cool shade of the cave, surrounded by solid rock, whispering sands, and endless sky, that he feels some peace of mind and tranquility of soul. He bends his head and surrenders himself to God, a million questions running through his mind, his heart aching for his lost people, crying out for that which will save them from the destruction they are wreaking upon themselves. Is there no hope? Is there no solution?

The answer appears, suddenly, shockingly. The Angel Jibreel, mighty and huge, with six hundred wings that span the horizon for as far as can be seen.

“Read!” The command is from God, an answer to those months of reflection, searching, praying. But Muhammad {sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam} is terrified, he does not understand. “I cannot read!” he cries, for he is illiterate, yet the Angel seizes him so tightly that he feels as though his bones will shatter.
“Read!” comes the order once more. “I cannot read!” he protests, and once again he is embraced by angelic limbs, overwhelming and unbearable.
“Read!” A third time, and this time he weeps, for his heart is full and he feels as he has never felt before. He submits himself to his Lord’s command. “What shall I read?”

{Read! Read in the Name of your Lord, Who created; created man from a clot of blood. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous… Who has taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.}
(Surah al-‘Alaq, verses 1 – 5)

That night was Laylatul Qadr – the Night of Decree, of Power.

{Indeed, We sent it (the Qur’an) down during the Night of Decree! And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months; the angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter… Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.} (Qur’an 97:1-5)

Over 1436 years later, it is the blessed month of Ramadhaan. We are in the last 10 nights, the nights in which we were commanded by the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to seek that beautiful, incredible, life-changing moment that he himself had experienced so powerfully on that fateful night. Every year, he would seclude himself from the world to relive the majesty of Laylatul Qadr… and so too should we follow in his footsteps.

Where is our Hira? We may not have desert caves in abundance, but we don’t need them. Location is convenient, but not necessary. At work, at home, at the masjid, in our own minds, there is space and there is time. We need to seek it, create it, use it. 

The seclusion we need is more than just that of relocating oneself; it is the I’tikaaf of the soul that we require, not merely the physical. It is so easy to be caught up in the raucous, demanding minutiae of the material world; so easy to be plugged into our devices and be distracted by bits and bytes in the cyber universe. It is so much more difficult to withdraw within oneself, to spend time connecting with our Lord rather than the closest Wi Fi. Yet our souls crave precisely that – to experience the discomfort of breaking away from those things which are constantly tempting our physical senses, to feel the strain of spiritual discipline, to demand a shifting of the paradigm through which we view the world.

There is a wisdom behind Allah withholding knowledge of Laylatul Qadr’s exact timing; truly, He is the Most Wise. These nights are a challenge, an opportunity, an invitation to turn back to Him the way His Messengers did before us. We often wonder why we are so overwhelmed by life; the environment is suffering, wars are raging, morals are disappearing, people are dying by incomprehensible numbers – in body and soul. What have we done? What can we do? Usually, we shrug and turn back to our daily distractions before even beginning to answer these questions.

Yet today… tonight… and every night of Ramadhaan after this, do something different. Isolate yourself from the pundits and celebrities convincing you to think about the shallow and the vapid, and instead go back to the ultimate source of wisdom, the only true answer to all our problems: the Magnificent Words of Allah, the Criterion, the Revelation, the Qur’an.

This Ramadhaan, discover your own Hira.

{Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth. Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee; save us then from the chastisement of the fire!}
(Surah Aal-‘Imraan, verses 190 – 191)

{Then contemplate the signs of Allah's Mercy! How He gives life to the earth after its death: verily the same will give life to the men who are dead, for He has power over all things.}
(Surah ar-Room, verse 50)

{And who does more wrong than he who is reminded of the Signs of his Lord, then turns aside therefrom? Verily, we shall exact retribution from the trangressors.}
(Surah as-Sajdah, verse 22)

True reflection leads to true submission: the essence of Islam. Just as Muhammad {sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam} surrendered himself to the command of Allah, even when he first thought he was unable to do so, so too must we overcome our reluctance, our own self-constructed obstacles towards obedience of our Lord.

On the Night of Power, a man became a Messenger of God; on the Night of Power, we too seek transformation with our Lord.

This Ramadhaan, let us find our Hira, and read.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Coming Home to a Strange New Land

Originally written for SISTERS Magazine (March issue).

Salamat Datang – welcome to Malaysia!

Humid air fragranced by overwhelmingly lush greenery greeted me as I stepped out of the Kuala Lumpur airport. I was beyond excited – this wasn’t just a regular touristy vacation; I was there to see my family for the first time since I’d gotten married and left Canada, my homeland, two years ago.

My family moved to Malaysia about a year after I had moved to Egypt with my husband, eliciting complex feelings on my part. Whenever I thought about seeing my family again, I’d always assumed that “going home” would mean returning to beautiful British Columbia. It was not to be! At first, I resented the idea of my family leaving the place I had always called home. How could I feel at home in a completely different country, with a culture that was completely foreign to me?

AlHamdulillaah, my arrival in Malaysia cured me of my misgivings. Within days of arriving, I was enthralled and enchanted by this jewel-toned land studded with masaajid and multi-ethnic markets.

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice!

Malaysia is truly one of the most fascinating Muslim countries in the world. It is a literal hodge-podge of colours, languages, ethnicities, cuisine, and so much more! It is home to ethnic Malays, Indians, and Chinese, and graciously hosts business people and expats from around the world. The flavour of Malaysian culture is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint: it draws upon its own historic legacy while welcoming all international contributions. However, one thing is for certain - Malaysia’s heart beats to the rhythm of Islam.

From halaal cuisine of every stripe, to the hijab-a-riffic baju kurung (traditional Malaysian women’s clothing; a long blouse over a skirt) sported by smiling local women, Islam is evident at every turn. Like the country itself, Malaysia’s Muslim culture is lush, vibrant, and welcoming.

Food plays a central role in Malaysian society. Whether by oneself or with a group, every meal offers an opportunity to experiment with different flavours or simply to enjoy culinary favourites. At every street corner, throughout every shopping center and in every home, one can find a dizzying array of cuisines, both “authentic” and contemporary fusions. The overwhelming combination of spices is enough to make your head spin!

Local markets offer classics such as satay and mutabbaq (an Arab-originated fried bread stuffed with ground meat and eggs), available 24/7. Of course, one hasn’t truly savoured Malaysian culture if they haven’t tried the world-famous roti chanai, a buttery, flaky Indian-style flatbread served with a curry or two in the traditional Malaysian style.

If you have a craving for more variety and a more up-scale seating arrangement than the tables and chairs on the sidewalk, you need never look far for one of the countless restaurants that boast food from every corner of the world. Asian, Mediterranean, Western, Indian, or Arab, you can find an establishment offering each and every dish you could possibly imagine (and many that you can’t!).

Infused with Islam

Beyond the scents and sights of Malaysia’s bustling city centers, one cannot help but notice the unique way that Islam is evidenced in the country.

Masaajid in Malaysia are open, airy affairs, letting in the bright sunshine and fresh breezes while you pray. Many masaajid have no physical barrier between the men and women, and salaah in Jamaa’ah is conducted truly Sunnah-style: with the men in the front, young children in the middle, and women behind. To see this Sunnah being observed, with absolutely no controversy and no free-mixing between the genders, was something very special to see.

Many neighbourhood masaajid will play beautiful Qiraa’ah of Qur’an over the loudspeakers, about fifteen minutes before the adhaan. I will never forget the amazing experience of walking in the park with my mother and my daughter, with Sheikh Mishary al-Afasy’s recitation in the background! In striking contrast to many Orientalist stereotypes, it made me smile to see Muslim women driving their families – including fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, to the masjid for salaah and Islamic classes. Entering the masjid, I smiled to see the women’s section filled with a sea of refreshing white khimaars (large prayer-clothes) for salaah – I was the sore thumb sticking out all in black!

After Salaatul Maghrib, the weekly Tafseer class began, with attendees young and old whipping out their notebooks and scribbling down diligent notes. Now these were true students of knowledge! Leaving the masjid, I realised that the class was broadcast over the loudspeakers for the members of surrounding homes who were unable to come to the masjid itself for the class. What a blessing to have knowledge delivered right to your ears, in the comfort of your own home!

These beautiful sights were not restricted to the masjid, however. At the numerous malls and markets, where I shopped, shopped, shopped ‘till I almost literally dropped, the adhaan would remind us to make our way to the nearest surau (musalla/ prayer place). It was heartening to see even un-hijaabed sisters, dressed in leggings and T-shirts, care a great deal about praying on time.

Passing a display of TV screens made me pause, stare, and laugh out loud: Malaysia’s film culture involves a lot of horror movies, and the one playing on the screen in front of me featured the heroine in a graveyard, menaced by ghastly ghouls and goblins. Her weapon of choice? Why, Aayatul Kursi, of course! Malaysian TV doesn’t only feature shivers and terrifying thrills; one particular children’s channel caught my eye with its daily show featuring an ustaaz and his young students, both boys and girls. Colourful and entertaining, each episode broadcasts the reading of Qur’an and an age-appropriate explanation of the verses’ meanings (tafseer). Not only were the children adorable, but their recitation was quite beautiful, masha’Allah!

While my memories of Malaysia are simply too many to recount, there was one very special moment that I will treasure forever: Going to the private women’s surau on the roof of Central Market, taking off my niqaab and hijab and feeling the breeze on my face and through my hair!

UmmKhadijah (AnonyMouse) spent an unforgettable month in Malaysia, reunited with her family and having a blast! She hopes to return soon, insha’Allah, although maybe after she’s made a few trips to the other countries on her travel list.