Sunday, July 27, 2014

With Every Ramadan, There Is A Mark Upon My Soul

Originally published at OnIslam.net. I originally wrote this at the beginning of Ramadan, which explains the optimism at the end of it; were I to re-write it, I would end it much more soberly. Nonetheless, enjoy!

2007, aged 16:

Giggling, tripping over my friends in excitement, darting from room to room of the house that served as a masjid to our small island community in Victoria, Canada.

Welcoming the adults who entered with whooping exclamations of “Ramadan Mubarak!” and lovingly serving them with cool glasses of water between every four rak’aat, eager for the barakah of these blessed nights. Shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot with my closest friends, supporting each other in prayer as we did in everything else, our supplications earnest and naïve about our futures.

{The month of Ramadhan in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion.} (Qur’an 2:185)

2009, aged 18:

My bare feet warm the smooth marble tiles in the courtyard of a hundreds-of-years-old masjid in Heliopolis, Cairo, listening to the voice of my then-husband as his recitation of the Qur’an streamed into the hot, earthy Egyptian air, leading over a hundred people in Taraweeh.

Smiling, nodding, gesturing helplessly as I was embraced by enthusiastic young Egyptian women my age, who weren’t put off by my inability to communicate. Raising my hands in takbeer and folding them over my slowly swelling stomach, terrified of motherhood but struggling to place my tawakkul in Allah, searching for Laylatul Qadr and the answer to my prayers.

{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 97:3-5)

2011, aged 20:

Cloistered in a beautiful masjid richly decorated with ayaat carved into silken wood; just one of the many women clad in swirling abayaat, the murmurs of their voices between units of prayer revealing the lilt of Kuwaiti Arabic.

Clouds of smoky bukhoor wafting between each saff, tickling my toddler’s nose, embracing us as we knelt in sujood. Delicate crystal finjaans filled with dark, bitter gahwa or liquid amber chai, sweetened with dates and du’a, savouring these precious moments of fragile peace.

{It is He who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the believers that they would increase in faith along with their faith.} (Qur’an 48:4)

2013, aged 22:

Breathing in the tropical breeze dancing through the open-air masjid in my parents’ neighborhood in Malaysia, splashes of pink and gold calligraphy tint the edges of my vision. My heart smiles with the contagious cheerfulness that the locals exude and letting me forget, a little bit, the lingering heartache of divorce. A reminder that after hardship comes ease; verily, the promise of Allah is true. Inna wa’dAllahi haqq… the imam’s voice rises, swelling, a Divine sign.

{So be patient! Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth.} (Qur’an 30:60)

These, then, are my memories of Ramadan, in four different countries over the span of several years. Truly, the earth of Allah is vast, a planet upon which we undertake hijrah of both the body and the soul. This Ummah is strong and fragile, beautiful and flawed, as are we all.

From girl to woman, wife to single parent, I have grown and struggled and failed and succeeded – all through the Wisdom of Allah, all through His Mercy and His Ni’mah. Every Ramadan has changed me, every Ramadan has marked my soul with the Qadr of Allah.

And this year?

2014, aged 23:

This Ramadan was another gift from Allah, the beginning of a new me. Mother, writer, entrepreneur, and much more, bi ithnillaah. This Ramadan was my lingering farewell to Malaysia, a second parting from my family, and prayers of eager anticipation for the next chapter of my life.

The blessings in my life are numerous, uncountable; this month, I have only gratitude, only love, only joy. I plead for the forgiveness of my Lord, the pleasure of my parents, the future of my child, the love of my soul mates.

For myself, and for the Ummah of prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), this Ramadan is the beginning of the rest of our lives.

{So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?} (Qur’an 55:13)

Zainab bint Younus is a young Canadian Muslimah who has been active in grassroots da’wah and writing about Islam and the Ummah for the last eight years. She was first published in Al-Ameen Newspaper (Vancouver, Canada) at the age of 14; became a co-founder, writer, and editor for MuslimMatters.org at age 16; and began writing regularly for SISTERS magazine at the age of 19 until today. She also blogs at http://www.TheSalafiFeminist.blogspot.com and is the mother of a four-year-old girl.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Careerwomen of the Sahabiyyaat

There are those who try to say that Khadijah (radhiAllahu 'anha) never worked outside of her home and point to the fact that she had agents conducting much of her work. Ironically, the very point that they try to use to prove that she wasn't involved in actually being a businesswoman (or more explicitly, that she didn't interact with non-mahram men), is what proves that she was.

Those very agents of hers were non-mahram - case in point, her trusted employee Maisara, who was the one who reported to her about the admirable character of young Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam).
As well, a false dichotomy is erected when it's implied that she didn't deal with 'strange men' - the default in Islam is that unnecessary mixed gender interaction, and inappropriate gender interaction, is what's forbidden... not respectful, dignified interaction with a necessary purpose.

The books of fiqh explicitly discuss the permissibility of women engaging in business, and in fact mention the case of a woman temporarily removing her niqab to confirm her identity for the purposes of confirming her business transaction.
(See: http://forthesakeofallah.tumblr.com/post/9534019267/conditions-of-niqab-when-can-you-uncover-your-face)

For those who wish to know of other Sahabiyaat and women of the Tabi'een who had careers, Zaynab bint Jahsh was a skilled craftswoman and would make and sell her products, then give the proceeds to Sadaqah.

Samraa' bint Nuhayk wasn't a businesswoman per se, but was appointed by RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) to monitor the marketplaces and discipline those who were caught cheating or engaging in dodgy transactions.

Rufaydah al-Aslamiyyah was a doctor whose 'hospital' was a tent erected within Masjid an-Nabawi itself. RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) would send all those who were ill or wounded to her.

Hafsah bint 'Umar and ash-Shifa bint Abdullah were teachers, who taught others how to read and write.

It is said that Sawdah bint Zam'ah owned and ran a leather tanning business, and that other Sahabiyyaat such as Khawlah, Bint Fakhriyyah and others were professional traders in the perfumes.

The women of the Ansar ran their own farms and were keen as to how the produce was collected and sold.
All of these activities were careers that had these women engaged outside of merely staying home with the husband and children - they were intelligent and they put their skills to good use.

(Source: Great Women of Islam, published by Darussalam)

In short, those who claim that there is no 'evidence' of Muslim women amongst the Sahabah and Tabi'een having 'careers' are merely revealing their own ignorance and lack of knowledge and understanding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Price of Ambition


From doctors to lawyers, artists to writers, intellectuals and academics, Muslim women today are swiftly climbing the ladders of success and proving their excellence in their chosen fields. It is heartening to see the strength and perseverance of these women, especially those who fight to uphold their religious ethics in the midst of cut-throat industries that have no time for spirituality.

Yet, there are still those who often insinuate that women who work, who have careers, and who are involved in anything outside the home are somehow corrupted, unfit to be good wives or mothers, and are a source of "fitnah."

The example of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (radhiAllahu 'anha) provides a direct contrast to this attitude - it is well known that she was a successful businesswoman, but in addition to her intellect and business acumen, she acquired another reputation - as "Tahirah" - the Chaste One.

Keep in mind that despite her previous marriages, Khadijah was reckoned to be a catch not only because of her wealth and social status, but because of her beauty.

It could have been extremely easy for her to exploit her attractiveness for various reasons... to sway a competitor, perhaps, or win over a rival, or to achieve the higher position in any business dealing. We see it often enough today, where successful career women utilize their physical appearance as much as they do other aspects of their business.

In the case of Khadijah, however, her prestige - in both this world and the Hereafter - grew because it took a formidable strength to refrain from giving into cheap marketing tactics that turned her beauty into a commodity.

What truly distinguished Khadijah from the rest, what really set her apart, was that unlike those who sought to achieve success by giving into the existing standards, she created her own model of success. Khadijah imposed her values on her others rather than allowing the pressure of society and "the industry" to wear her down.

It was her determination to practice her values, regardless of what consequences her choices may have had on her business, that ensured her success. Her ambition was not merely to excel on a shallow level, but to be such a powerful force as an ethical human being in addition to being a career woman, that she earned respect rather than merely seeking it.

Nor was Khadijah an isolated case; amongst the Sahabiyaat and the women of the Tabi'een were many who owned and managed their own businesses, or were otherwise engaged in forms of employment. However, they were always aware that just as Muslim men are obligated to behave with honour and dignity, so too were they bound by the same moral code.

For many Muslim women, it can be tempting to make compromises for the sake of career, to justify excuses for behavior that may not necessary be pleasing to Allah despite the worldly payoff. The price of ambition and success can be steep… but is it a price worth paying, if it means exchanging our values for the sake of the backhanded dealings and norms of a glass-ceiling corporation?

Allah warns us of the worst kind of business:
{Those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance, so their transaction has brought no profit, nor were they guided.} (Qur’an 2:16)

In contrast, He also reminds us of the most perfect example of success:

{Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise.} (9:111)

Ambition is a good thing, even – despite what others may say – for women. In fact, it is Islam which encourages us to foster the highest ambition of all, the taste for the ultimate success… that of Jannah, of Paradise. That otherworldly success, however, doesn’t mean that one has to sacrifice the accomplishments of this world. One of the great scholars of Islam, Sufyan ath-Thawri, aptly put it this way:

عليكم بعمل الأبطال: طلب الرزق من الحلال
Do the deed of heroes: Seek your rizq (provision) from the halaal. 

Muslim women are indeed true heroines of Islam – those who seek excellence in all that they do, whose success is based not merely upon worldly ambition or status, but upon the strength of their faith and their refusal to compromise the most precious of ethics.

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

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Between Hypersexualization & Extreme Segregation: Mixed Gender Interaction in Islam

It is unfortunate that today, the Ummah seems to fall into two camps when it comes to mixed gender interaction.

One side - quite often those of a more conservative stripe, whether cultural, religious, or both - holds that it is impossible for men and women to ever interact in a way that is free of sexual tension; that men and women are primal, innately sexual beings who are unable to operate in a manner that puts sexual desire on the back burner; and that it is nigh sacrilegious to even suggest otherwise.

The other side - usually of the liberal and progressive stream - posit that implying that bringing up sexual desire as a presence in any mixed gender interactions is downright insulting. Some believe that hijab and lowering of the gaze are unnecessary and oppressively restrict both genders by creating an attitude of paranoid hypersexuality.

In truth, neither are correct.

Islam recognizes that men and women are both human beings, with diverse qualities, characteristics, and desires... but does *not* render those desires evil in and of themselves, nor state that women are solely responsible for 'inciting' the desires of men.

The obligation of lowering the gaze, modest dressing, and hijab exist for a reason - neither to hide our sexual desires nor to highlight them, but simply to recognize their existence and take appropriate measures to remind us human beings of how to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting of true believers.

Islam is a religion which does not merely create and enforce rules for no reason other than blind obedience; those rulings exist for a reason, and that reason is to purify our behaviour, our speech, and our character such that we attain not just a state of 'Islam' (submission/obedience), but of *Ihsaan.*

When we look to RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), and how his Companions - men and women alike - interacted with each other, we see a holistic understanding of both mixed-gender interaction... one which emphasized a state of Ihsaan.

The men and women of the Companions interacted with each other on a regular basis: bargaining in the marketplace, visiting each other, seeking knowledge with each other, even challenging and debating each other. Yet their every interaction was marked by a striving for chastity, for spiritual strength and purity. They had a consciousness and awareness of honour and dignity, and conducted themselves with such.

Those who imply that men and women cannot possibly interact with each other in a 'safe' manner (some go so far as to claim that if a woman even moves her elbow in a certain way, it will be percieved as sexually attractive by men) are in fact insulting the very spirit of Ihsaan that exists within the rulings of hijaab.

As Muslims, it is not enough for us to say "our desires exist" - it is upon us to seek to conquer those base desires, not merely in action (e.g. through observing hijab or segregating the genders), but in the very way we *think.*
Allah describes the relationship between the believers, men and women, as one of cooperation in all aspects of life and society; worshipping Allah together and enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. It is a relationship based upon honour and dignity, upon the 'izzah bestowed upon us by Islam, a relationship that recognizes our humanity (including our sexuality) but does not restrict us to being controlled by those human desires.

To reduce the rulings of our Deen in such a manner that we encourage our baser desires rather than conquering them, is to remove that 'izzah from ourselves and make us no better than animals who have no control over their thoughts and actions.

{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)

More Women in Hell... or in Heaven?

Many a misogynistic Muslim man has gleefully quoted the hadith that mentions that women will make up the majority of the inhabitants of Hellfire, and many a Muslim woman has felt despair and resentfulness regarding it.

Yet what is lesser known is that the scholars of the past had a different debate - did this hadith mean that the majority of the inhabitants of Paradise would also be women?

It appears that the general conclusion is yes - women will indeed be the majority of the inhabitants of Jannah, inshaAllah!

"Muhammad reported that some people stated with a sense of pride and some discussed whether there would be more men in Paradise or more women.

It was upon this that Abu Huraira reported that RasulAllah said: The (members) of the first group to get into Paradise would have their faces as bright as full moon during the night, and the next to this group would have their faces as bright as the shining stars in the sky, and every person would have two wives and the marrow of their shanks would glimmer beneath the flesh and there would be none without a wife in Paradise. (Sahih Muslim, Book #040, Hadith #6793)"

It was the opinion of Abu Hurayrah (radhiAllahu 'anhu) that women would in fact outnumber men in Jannah, due to the above hadith - which according to some narrations included the clarification that of the two wives mentioned, both would be from among the *human* believing women (and not the Hoor al-'Ayn).

Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Qadhi 'Iyadh, and others also considered it to be a logical extension that women will make up the majority of the inhabitants of Paradise.

This is not only due to Abu Hurayrah's statement, but also the understanding of the fact that every Muslim who experiences a punishment in Hellfire will *also* be removed from it and enter Jannah, due to the shafaa'ah (intercession) of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) or even simply the fact that they uttered the Shahaadah (as per the hadith, "Whoever says Laa ilaaha illAllah, will enter Paradise"). Accordingly, those women will leave Hell and enter Jannah - subsequently tilting the scales in their favour, as it were.

It is also generally accepted that women have and will continue to outnumber men in terms of sheer population numbers; extended to the Muslim Ummah, this continues to be so.

Thus, many scholars believed and understood that the original hadith regarding the number of women in Hell was *not* to be taken in isolation, nor limited in understanding, nor meant to be used as an 'evidence' against women (although the spirit of the hadith, as a warning to believing women, of course still stands), but rather, to be understood in a much more holistic manner... one which recognizes that there is no superiority of the genders other than in terms of piety and righteousness.

Az-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam and Domestic Violence

On discussing domestic violence, there are some twisted individuals who try to protest that az-Zubayr ibn al-'Awwaam used to 'beat' his wife, Asmaa' bint Abi Bakr and use this as an 'example' of how RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) 'permitted' such behaviour from his Companions.

Quick research, however, proves that this narration - while quoted by Ibn al-'Arabi in his book "Ahkhaam al-Qur'an"; Ibn Kathir in "al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah"; and by al-Qurtubi in his tafseer - has been classified as "ghareeb" by Al-Qadhi Abu Bakr and is considered not to be authentic... nor is there any supporting evidence for this kind of behaviour from az-Zubayr (radhiAllahu 'anhu).

Though he was known to be harsh in nature, this harshness was extended to everyone around him and not characteristic merely of his relationship with his wives (there are far more authentic narrations which discuss his harsh nature with others).

There are at least two other clearly authentic ahadith which demonstrate the type of relationship which az-Zubayr had with his wife Asmaa'.

In the first, Asmaa' was traveling long distances regularly by foot so as to contribute to their livelihood; when RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) offered her a ride on his camel, she politely refused out of consideration for az-Zubayr, who was known to be a jealous man.
Yet when she returned home and related the incident to her husband, he wept and told her, 'By Allah, the carrying of date-stone upon your head is more severe a burden on me than you riding with him!'

In the second hadith, Asmaa' relates:
We left in the state of Ihraam (for Hajj).
RasulAllah said: "Whoever has hady (a sacrificial animal) should continue in ihram, and whoever doesn't have hady, he should come out of his ihram."

Asma says: "I did not have hady, so I became halal to my husband, but my husband Zubayr had hady, so he was not halal for me.
I put on my nice clothes and came out of ihram, then I went to Zubayr, so he said: "Stand away from me." She said: "What, are you afraid I'll jump you?" (Muslim)

Contrary to the claims of others, these ahadith clearly point out a far more caring relationship between Asmaa' and az-Zubayr.

Keep in mind that Asmaa' was no wilting wallflower: She was Dhaat an-Nitaaqayn, the woman who traveled long distances while pregnant to provide food for RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and her father during their Hijrah to Madinah. She actively took part in the Battle of Yarmuk, as well as being present during other military expeditions.

The ahadith that she narrates, and the stories of her biography, prove that she was no less strong-willed than her sister A'ishah. Amongst the authentic ahadith, there are no narrations (that I am aware of) that imply that she was an abused wife.

And Allah knows best.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A Father's Legacy

Many men dream of having children as a mark of their legacies – and usually, they think of sons taking on this role, for after all, isn’t it male children who continue the father’s name?

This attitude existed and was indeed prevalent amongst the Arabs of the past, just as it is in many cultures today. The era of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions was no exception… in fact, the Arab society of that time was virulently misogynistic, going to the extreme of killing infant daughters out of shame.

Islam changed this – and changed the Sahabah as well. In direct contradiction to the social norms of their times, two extremely well known Companions of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were at the forefront of changing the attitudes regarding women.

Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, the first khalifah of Islam, is known for many things – for his closeness of companionship to RasulAllah, for his wisdom, for his courage, and for his just rule. However, part of his legacy also lay in his children… and while Arabs believed that it was only male children who played any role in continuing their legacies, none of Abu Bakr’s children are better known or remembered than his two daughters: Asmaa’ and A’ishah.

Abu Bakr was a unique man – one who not only married a strong woman such as Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays, but created a home environment that produced not just one incredible woman, but two!

Asmaa' and A'ishah had two different mothers, but the same father. Abu Bakr was responsible for not only educating his daughters as much as he was able to, but for instilling a love for knowledge within them.
A'ishah is most well-known for her prodigious skills as a scholar, but Asmaa' was no ignorant woman either. She related a large number of ahadith, which give us a glimpse of her own sharp intelligence.

Abu Bakr’s strong, unwavering personality was also something shared by his daughters; neither of them flinched in the face of hardship or difficulty.
Asmaa' became known very early on as Dhaat an-Nitaaqayn: the woman with two sashes; in reference to her nightly journeys to provide food for her father and RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), tearing her cloth belt in two so as to wrap the food in something. She not only undertook the long and arduous journey every night, but did so while pregnant!

Abu Bakr was also one of the greatest warriors in the army of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - and his daughters displayed the same keen military skills. Asmaa' actively took part in the Battle of Yarmuk as well as other military expeditions (she was well known for carrying a dagger on her person at all times), and ensured that her son, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, was educated in the arts of being a warrior.
During the lifetime of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), A'ishah was also present on the battlefield; and later on, during the infamous fitnah at the time of Ali ibn Abi Talib, commanded her own army during the Battle of the Camel.

Abu Bakr was not alone in his choices regarding how he raised his daughters. Although ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab is often accused of being a misogynist by certain groups of people, the truth is that a look at how he raised his own daughter proves the opposite.

Another Arab belief was that names had power - therefore, naming their children was a serious matter, for it meant that their children would grow into or adopt some of the characteristics of their names.

'Umar ibn al-Khattaab chose to name his daughter "Hafsah" - 'young lioness.'

What does this show?
It shows that just as 'Umar was a strong individual, he wanted his children - his daughter - to be strong. It shows that 'Umar desired for his daughter what he did for his sons... to be an individual with personal power, to be capable of taking care of herself, able to think for herself and fend for herself if necessary.

Hafsah truly lived up to her name: it is known that amongst the Prophet's wives, Hafsah bint Umar, A'ishah bint Abi Bakr, and Zaynab bint Jahsh were those with the strongest personalities and were outspoken women who were not intimidated by others.

Hafsah's personality reflected her father's in many ways... Not only was she outgoing and outspoken (it is recorded that she would have spirited disagreements and debates with her husband, RasulAllah), but she was also wise, had a sharp mind, and was amongst the few people during that era who were literate.

Hafsah's intelligence wasn't limited to scholarly fields; she also had keen political acumen. When her father, 'Umar, was on his deathbed, Hafsah went to see her brother Abdullah and informed him, "Your father has not yet appointed a successor?" She then advised him to speak to 'Umar on this matter - thus displaying her understanding of the political situation.
Thus, Hafsah proved herself to be well-acquainted with matters of a political as well as an Islamically academic nature.

Kunyas (nicknames) were also an important part of Arab culture, and usually, a man was named after his eldest son - "Abu So-And-So." Even if he had no sons, he would still include a male name.
Yet 'Umar ibn al-Khattaab was known not as "Abu Abullah" after his famous son, but as "Abu Hafs" - in reference to his daughter Hafsah.

How many fathers today would be so proud of their daughters that they would prefer to be known by their daughter's name than by their sons'?

When so many men today talk about wanting to be like 'Umar ibn al-Khattaab and Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, let’s encourage them to do so… by being the types of fathers that ‘Umar and Abu Bakr were to their own daughters.

Fathers are one of the greatest sources of influence over their daughters, and have an effect on their development that lasts long into the future. A father’s approval or disapproval will set the tone for a girl’s idea of self-worth, and how she chooses to make decisions that confirm this view.

Would Asmaa’, A’ishah, and Hafsah have been strong, intelligent, pious women who helped weave the very fabric of Islamic history been able to do so if they were taught from a young age to sit down, shut up, and smile silently?
If they had been taught that their voices, their ideas, their actions were worthless, would they ever have become scholars and warriors?

It is very likely that they would not have been able to do so. Thus, the effect Abu Bakr and Umar’s influence as fathers was not only a short-term one over their daughters, but one that extended far beyond their lifespans and has lasted until today, over 1400 years later.

How’s that for a father’s legacy?

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Accidental Jihad (Book Review)

“My Accidental Jihad” is a book which proves that sometimes all it really takes to pick up a book is the title. In that, Krista Bremer was successful – I was certainly interested by the cover, and the blurb that describes her book as an “unlikely love story” between the author (an all-American surfer gal) and Ismail, a Libyan man raised in what could very well be an entirely different world.

The author is clear that her book is a very personal memoir, a journey that explores her own subconsciously held stereotypes and prejudices against the mysterious ‘other’… even as she fell in love with and married an Arab-African man. Her honesty is commendable even as it is uncomfortable; excerpts like the following made me wonder if I could make myself finish reading the book:

“Suddenly the regal Arab before me was gone, replaced by a cartoon Arab, a Disney character on a magic carpet. Now he was a dark bad man in an Indiana Jones movie, part of the hypnotized throng who prayed on all fours to the evil lord of fire, chanting mumbo jumbo and raising their backsides into the air. Or he was the bloodthirsty Libyan hell-bent to slaughter the brilliant scientist in Back to the Future, the one who ca¬reened through the mall parking lot in a VW bus, his checkered head cloth snapping in the wind as he sprayed gunfire like rain onto the asphalt.”

While I did realize that the purpose of mentioning such things was to highlight her ingrained prejudices, I still felt a sense of aversion to the turns of phrase utilized.

Ms. Bremer does a lot of compare and contrast between her own upbringing and background, and that of her husband’s; and the many unexpected challenges that arose during their marriage. From the purchasing of a new car to haggling over diamond rings, the author ruefully and good-naturedly talks about the beautiful ups and challenging downs of her inter-cultural marriage. The differences between Ismail and Krista are more than just cultural. Ismail is careful, deliberate, and serious, his outlook on life shaped by a harsh, poverty-stricken childhood in Gaddafi-ruled Libya, while Krista is the product of a luxurious, consumer-driven American society, longing for all the trappings of the American dream. It is interesting to note the author’s admission of being unable to relate to her husband’s background, with how she tries to look at her own culture through his eyes, and realizes that it may not be as glamorous as she’d always thought.

Each chapter reads somewhat like an anecdotal essay; by themselves, easy to digest, although it lends the book a somewhat choppy feel.

However, what really drew me into the book was the author’s description of her first visit to Libya – and many of her thoughts and experiences echoed my own, down to the agony of a first pregnancy in a foreign country where the concept of personal space and privacy are nearly non-existent.
The awe and wonder, as well as the confusion and frustration, of being surrounded by strangers who are now considered family; of sights and smells both pungent and oddly appealing, of a lifestyle that had deeply held traditions mixed with wisdom and superstitions… reading Ms. Bremer’s story reminded me of my own past, and much more able to relate with her reflections.

One thing which I found disappointing – and which had the potential to really capture a reader’s interest, and emphasize the ‘point’ of the book – is that the author mentions her own foray into Islam, and her earliest prayers, only as a casual aside. I wanted to know more about her spiritual journey, which, surprisingly, was not discussed in much depth.
Though her husband is a Muslim, religion does not play as direct a role in their story as one might think… although she was frank in how she struggled with the first Ramadan, particularly the somewhat noxious oral side effects. Perhaps most of the most interesting anecdotes was that of her young daughter’s choice to start wearing hijab, and her own internal struggle with how others would view her daughter – and how she herself viewed her daughter’s decision. It was this, more than anything else in the book, that truly highlighted the message that Ms. Bremer was trying to convey… the paradoxes, contradictions, immense frustrations, and imperfect beauty of an unconventional love.

“My Accidental Jihad” leaves one with – at the very least – a glimpse into another person’s unique experiences, with reflections both new and familiar. What readers derive from it most likely depends on what the reader brings with them when they start reading; for myself, I was not particularly swept away or impressed, but I was most certainly able to appreciate those experiences which were so similar to my own.
This book may be a helpful read to those with non-Muslim families who may not have been exposed to or interacted with many Muslims (or inter-faith marriages involving Muslims). For some, it can be an educational experience or simply an enjoyable read; all in all, “My Accidental Jihad” is a welcome contribution to the ever-increasing material of the collective Muslim narrative.

Rating: 3 out 5

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A Lioness Amongst Scholars

The Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
"The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will come after them (the next generation), and then those who will come after them (i.e. the next generation), and then after them, there will come people whose witness will precede their oaths, and whose oaths will precede their witness."
(Sahih Bukhari)

The era of the Tabi’een is often referred to as the golden age of the Islamic Sciences – a time during which scholars studied at the feet of the Sahabah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), traveled the world in search of ahadeeth, and began to compile what are now known to be the greatest books of classical Islamic knowledge.
The names of the Tabi’een are many: Fudhayl ibn ‘Iyaadh, Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib, ‘Urwah ibn az-Zubayr, Imam Malik ibn Anas… and many more, besides.

However, amongst all these masculine names, a feminine name stands out: Hafsa bint Seereen.

Hafsa was the daughter of Seereen, the freed slave of Anas ibn Maalik (radhiAllahu ‘anhu), and Safiyyah, the freed slave of Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu ‘anhu). Due to her parents’ proximity to the Sahabah, Hafsa and her numerous siblings were raised in a household that was permeated with knowledge. Hafsa and her sister Kareemah were both known for memorizing the Qur’an at a young age; Kareemah at the age of nine, and Hafsa at twelve.
While Kareemah grew up to be known and revered as a great ‘aabidah (worshipper), Hafsa’s destiny was slightly different. Though it is her brother Muhammad ibn Seereen who is better known today, in particular for his book on dream interpretation, it was Hafsa who was respected most highly in her time.

Living up to her namesake, Hafsa was a lioness amongst the scholars of Madinah. Hafsa was a qaari’ah (reciter of the Qur’an) and was well-versed in the various recitations of the Qur’an; she was a muhaddithah (narrator of ahadeeth); and she was a faqeehah (Islamic jurist) as well.
To be a scholar in any one of these fields was and is considered to be a major achievement; in Hafsa’s case, she excelled in all three.

Her knowledge and expertise was not limited to a select circle, or restricted only to women. The men of Iraq, scholars in their own right, publicly acknowledged Hafsa’s superiority.

Iyaas ibn Mu’awiyyah said:
‘I did not meet anyone whom I can prefer over Hafsah.’ He was asked: ‘What about Hasan al Basri and Muhammad ibn Sireen (her brother)?’ He said: ‘As for me, I do not prefer anyone over her. She learnt the Qur’aan by heart when she was twelve years old.’ (Al Mizzi, Tahdheeb al-Kamaal, xxxv. 152.)

Hishaam ibnu Hassaan said:
“I saw Al-Hasan (Hasan al Basri), and (Muhammad) ibnu Seereen, and I did not see anyone whom I thought was cleverer than Hafsah.” (Sifah As-Safwah, Dhikr Al Mustafiyaat min A’abidaat al Basrah, Vol 2, Page 709.)

Hishaam narrates that when Ibn Sireen (her brother) would find something difficult and ambiguous (ashkala ‘alayhi) regarding the Qiraa’ah (recitation), he would say, “Go and ask Hafsah how to recite.” (Sifah As-Safwah, Dhikr Al Mustafiyaat min ‘Aabidaat al Basrah.)

As a muhaddithah, Hafsa’s chains of narration were both short and strong, which resulted in her narrations being included in all six authentic books of hadith (as-Sihaah as-Sitta).

Despite her impressive qualifications, despite the fact that the male scholars of Medina used to visit her in search of knowledge, Hafsa didn’t live in an ivory tower of academia.
Keenly aware that the upcoming generations were tempted to abandon knowledge for entertainment, and worship for luxury, she reached out to them repeatedly. One of her most well-known pieces of advice to the youth of her time was recorded:

“O youth (Ya Ma’shar ash-Shabaab)! Take from yourselves while you are young, for certainly I do not see (real) action except in youth.” (Sifah As-Safwah, Dhikr Al Mustafiyaat min 'Aabidaat al Basrah)

Hafsa was just one of many intelligent, educated women in Islamic history, but she is also one of the few who achieved mastery in fields which are now considered to be predominantly male. Her accomplishments prove that in the earlier generations of Islamic history, it was not gender which merited renown, but excellence of intellect combined with wisdom and worship.

Today, there are Muslim men who claim that women’s education is not a high priority, that it is nigh-impossible for them to be good wives or mothers while pursuing a vigorous education and career in academia. Yet if they were to find themselves before Hafsa bint Seereen, they would find themselves justly humbled before the knowledge and power of the ‘Aalimah, the Saa’imah, the ‘Aabidah… the lioness amongst scholars of Islam.

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