Friday, August 29, 2014

Safe Spaces, Safe Adults

Sex ed is almost always seen as awkward and rather torturous amongst Muslims - and that's just between same-gender parents and kids, let alone when it's an adult of the opposite gender doing the talking! Yet a beautiful story from the life of A'ishah gave evidence of a very different attitude entirely.

'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Aswad narrates:

"My father used to send me to A'ishah and (as a child) I used to go to her (i.e. beyond the curtain). When I became adult (i.e. reached puberty; became baaligh), I came to her and called to her from behind the curtain: "O Umm al-Mu'mineen, when does the bath become compulsory?"
She said: "So, you have done it, O Luka'! And (in answer to the question), when the private parts conjoin."

(Al-Dhahabi in Siyar A'lam an-Nubala)

This narration demonstrates a very unique relationship – that of a young boy and an unrelated (non-Mahram) woman. Although ‘Abd al-Rahman first spent time with A’ishah when he was a pre-pubescent boy, he didn’t cut off his relationship with her as soon as he reached puberty… nor was he shy or embarrassed to approach her immediately.
In turn, from A’ishah’s response, it is evident that she was fond of him, and that their relationship was close enough that she teased him gently about becoming a man according to the Shari’ah. SubhanAllah!

How many Muslim youth – boys and girls alike – feel comfortable enough to approach an elder of the same gender, let alone of the opposite sex? How many of them feel that they won’t be scolded or treated harshly, but rather showered with affection and treated with kindness?

It is time for us to recreate an Islamic environment for our youth: one wherein a young girl can get her period for the first time around a non-Mahram male, and feel safe with him; and a young boy can admit to a non-Mahram woman that he has reached puberty, and feel comfortable doing so.

#MuslimSexEd

Thursday, August 28, 2014

His Laughter, Her Love


A house full of laughter is a home full of love… and truly, the home of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) rang with laughter whenever Sawdah bint Zam’ah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was present.

Most people overlook Sawdah, even though she was the second woman whom RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) married after the death of Khadijah.

Sawdah was much older than A'ishah bint Abi Bakr, whom RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) married shortly after, and it's commonly known that she gave up her allotted days and nights with RasulAllah for A'ishah's sake.
According to many narrations, and by her own admission, Sawdah wasn't particularly beautiful, either - she is described as "elderly and fat."

What many don't realize, however, is that it was her age which RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) appreciated - or rather, the qualities associated with it: wisdom, maturity, and understanding.

Sawdah was the first stepmother for the daughters of RasulAllah, especially for Fatimah (radhiAllahu 'anha), who was still quite young at the time.
She had a nurturing personality, and a sense of humour which endeared her to her husband, her stepchildren, and her co-wives alike.

It was known that when RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was feeling sorrowful or grieved due to the hardships related to the Da'wah of Islam, it was always Sawdah who was guaranteed to make him smile with a quick-witted joke, and Sawdah who offered him advice and comfort without requesting anything from him except his company.

Once, when RasulAllah’s face was drawn with weariness, she teased him, “O Messenger of Allah! I prayed behind you yesterday, and you prolonged the prostration for so long that I nearly had a nosebleed!”
Her husband, the beloved Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) threw his head back and laughed so hard that his molar teeth were visible. The sorrow in his bearing disappeared, and his smile lit up the heart of Sawdah with joy.
(Tabaqaat al-Kubraa)

And while many women would have felt jealous at the arrival of a younger, beautiful wife, Sawdah took A'ishah under her wing immediately.
It is related that amongst the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), no two of them were closer to each other than Sawdah and A'ishah.

Sawdah’s sense of humour made it easy for the other wives to get swept away in the fun. Hafsah and A’ishah in particular used to enjoy getting up to pranks, and Sawdah was sometimes their target.

Once, A’ishah and Hafsah were sitting together when Sawdah came to visit them, bedecked in finery. Raising their eyebrows at each other, Hafsah said to A’ishah, “RasulAllah will come and see her, and forget about us!” Then, with a mischievous gleam to her eye, Hafsah told Sawdah, “The one-eyed one is coming! (i.e. implying the Dajjaal.)”
Sawdah panicked and asked, “Where can I go, where can I go?!”
Looking serious, Hafsah pointed at a tent outside – one where people would abandon unwanted items, and which was full of cobwebs and other creepy-crawlies. Picking up her skirts, Sawdah fled to the tent, and Hafsah and A’ishah broke into peals of laughter.
They were still laughing when RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) joined them, and asked them about the cause of their mirth. The two women were laughing so hard that they couldn’t even speak, and all they could do was point at the tent where poor Sawdah was hiding in fear.
Filled with love for Sawdah, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) rushed over to her and reassured her that it was not yet time for the Dajjal to come, and helped her up, brushing off the cobwebs and comforting her.
(Musnad Abi Ya’la, Tabarani, and al-Haythami)

Despite all this, Sawdah remained as easy-going as ever, and deeply fond of A’ishah in particular. The affection as mutual, such that when Sawdah passed away, A'ishah wept and said:
"No woman is more beloved to me than Sawdah, whom I would rather be than anyone else.”

Today, when many Muslim men express boredom with their spouses or complain about the waning beauty of their wives, Sawdah's marriage to Rasulallah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is a reminder that physical beauty is not the only thing that matters.

There are many different types of love, and every woman is to be loved, respected, and valued for who she is - without being compared to others or belittled for what she may lack in comparison to other women.
In a marriage, the human heart requires more than just outward beauty; and Sawdah’s warm, loving personality was a perfect example of why RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) found such comfort and joy in her.

As the famous hadith states, even a smile is a sadaqah – so for every woman who loves to laugh and make others join in her joy, is a mountain of reward, inshaAllah… just like Sawdah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), the beloved wife of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse/ 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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Muslim Woman's Grief

We Muslim women, we grieve for our men, we mourn them while they still live.

We grieve for the father who held us close in our infancy, in our toddlerhood, who twirled us around and called us his princess... and then who faded away as we grew gangly and got acne and began to slam doors behind which we sobbed, grieving the loss of a father who still lived.

We mourn for the father who comes home from work, face drawn and pinched, shoulders bowed from the weight of being called 'terrorist' by co-workers, eyes burning from being pulled over by cops for 'looking like Usama', wrists raw and chafed from Homeland Security dragging him away in handcuffs to be 'interviewed' at their airport, making him miss his flight to visit his dying mother.

We grieve for the brother who used to heckle us, who used to squabble over cheese and crackers and chocolate chip cookies, who used to stand up for us against the bullies at Madrasah, watchfully ensuring that our recess at the playground passed uneventfully... and then who faded away, growing angry and snappish, withdrawing into a bedroom with video games and emerging with dark circles under his eyes, ignoring us until our hearts break with grief for the loss of a brother who still lived.

We mourn for the brother who grows a beard, who is awkward but proud of his struggle to be a practicing Muslim, who carefully tucks a prayer mat into his backpack; who watches the news with horrified eyes as he watches men and women and children who share his skin colour, his curly hair, his impish smile, being blown to bits by the government of the country which he lives in, who is approached by venomously smiling spies trying to twist his words of grief into grandiose statements of terrorism, who wonders if he is truly as alone in this world as he feels.

We grieve for the greybeard masjid uncles who used to ruffle our hair and give us sweets after Jumu'ah, but whose smiles turned to frowns as we grew too old to venture into the men's musalla; who forgot that even as we were shunted into musty smelling broom closets, we still remembered the clean, open space of the men's hall; who started referring to us as 'fitnah' when only a few years ago they used to give us piggyback rides and teach us the alphabet.

We mourn for the masjid uncles who find themselves on TV when reporters barge into the masjid, demanding condemnations and explanations, who blink in confusion and try to be confident but whose tongues, trained in the professional languages of lawyers and doctors and engineers, slip from the stress and slip back into Arabic-tinged and Urdu-lilted quirks of speech; who find their pictures splashed on the front page of the newspaper, turned into bogeymen, mocked as illiterate foreigners.

We grieve for the husband who would walk in through the door with flowers, his beard unable to hide his smile, his eyes brighter than the fireworks he takes us as a late night surprise when we thought he'd be busy at work... and then whose face grew lined not with laughter, but weariness, whose sweet nothings in our ears slur into exhausted murmurs, then silence.

We mourn for the husband who teaches young children at the masjid, who shoots hoops with the teens in the driveways and mentors them with Qur'anic verses and Prophetic sayings; who looks over his shoulder warily, never sure which alphabet soup agency is watching him, who hesitates before sending every email, unsure of whether his words could land him in jail, who has been betrayed by the country he lives in, works in, used to dream of his future in, who is haunted by images of his brothers in faith being held in iron cages, who knows that somewhere out there, is a cage waiting for him.

We have lost the men we love, not through death, but through life.

We Muslim women, we grieve for our men, we mourn them while they still live.

(Copyright BintYounus)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Humans Over Hooris - Who's Superior?

A lot of women are made to feel jealous of the Hoor al-‘Ayn, and much of it due to the way that male speakers discuss the Hoor of Jannah in contrast to the believing women of this world.

Unfortunately, so much emphasis is given on describing the Hoor al-‘Ayn and their alleged “superiority” to human women, that the lessons shared are in fact contrary to the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself.

Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) said that:
“Every man in heaven will go to 72 of the creatures of Allah (houris) and 2 of the women of mankind, these two (human, believing) women are superior to the creatures of Allah (houris) with their worshipping (good deeds) they had performed in this world.” [Bayhaqi, al-Bas wa’n-Nushur; Tabari, Tafsir; Abu Yala, Ibn Hajar, Fathu’l-Baari, Tabarani and others]

Umm Salamah (Radiahallahu Anha) narrates that she said to the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam):
“O Rasûlullah, are the women of this world superior or the hûrs (of Paradise)?”

He replied, “The women of this world will have superiority over the hûrs (houris) just as the outer lining of a garment has superiority over the inner lining.”

Umm Salamah then asked, “O Rasûlullah, what is the reason for this?” He answered, “Because they performed salâh, fasted, and worshipped [Allah]. Allah will put light on their faces and silk on their bodies.
[The human women] will be fair in complexion and will wear green clothing and yellow jewelry. Their incense-burners will be made of pearls and their combs will be of gold. They will say, ‘We are the women who will stay forever and we will never die. We are the women who will always remain in comfort and we will never undergo difficulty.
We are the women who will stay and we will never leave. Listen, we are happy women and we will never become sad. Glad tidings to those men for whom we are and who are for us.’” [Tabrânî]

From these two powerful ahadeeth, it is obvious that contrary to what is commonly taught today, the Sahabah and Sahabiyaat were clearly aware that the believing women of this world are far, far superior to the Hoor al-‘Ayn.

Take a moment and just think about how much time is spent in the Qur’an describing the Hoor al-‘Ayn… think about all the time that men spend talking about the Hoor al-‘Ayn…
Now take that, and multiply it - by 10, by 20… according to one narration, the believing women of this world who enter Jannah will be SEVENTY TIMES MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE HOOR AL-‘AYN.

In addition, the believing women will be queens over the Hoor al-‘Ayn; the Hoor were created not merely to be a reward for the believing men, but a reward for the believing women as well, for they will be servants to the Mu’minaat.

Whenever Allah describes something in the Qur’an and RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) explains it in the Sunnah, it’s always for a reason. Never does Allah or His Messenger belittle or put down Muslim women; to the contrary, the Qur’an and Sunnah are filled with examples of how Muslim women are empowered and honoured, in both this world and the Hereafter.

Unfortunately, however, some Muslims have conveniently chosen those things which they find personally attractive, and created a skewed narrative which has served the purpose of making Muslim women dread - wa’l iyaadhu billaah - even the thought of reading the descriptions of Jannah, because they’ve been subconsciously taught to be jealous of the Hoor al-‘Ayn.

Ladies, remember that it is Allah alone who knows us better than any other human; remember that Allah is the Most Just, the Most Compassionate, and the One Who will reward us beyond our imagination’s comprehension.
As believing women, who will inshaAllah enter Jannah, we will never be shortchanged by the One Who promised us a perfect, eternal reward.

And men, if you’re reading this… just remember that there’s no guarantee that you’re going to enter Jannah anyway. All that time you waste thinking about the Hoor al-‘Ayn and trying to make your wife jealous about them (and joke’s on you anyway, your wife is inshaAllah going to be so much better than them), is time that you could be spending actually doing good deeds and *earning* Jannah to begin with.

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