Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Forgotten Heroes Behind #ForgottenHeroines

"Behind every great man is a woman,” the saying goes. The truth is, neither heroes nor heroines are created in a void. Neither men nor women are able to succeed and achieve greatness without the support of their loved ones, family and friends, teachers and mentors.

The forgotten heroines of our Ummah are no exception. For every female scholar, for every woman warrior, for every devout worshipper there was a loving guardian, a firm mentor or a supportive spouse.

The sahabah and tabi’een were well aware of their duties towards their womenfolk. Keeping in mind the hadith that they were shepherds who will be held accountable for their flocks on the Day of Judgement, they made every effort to empower their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and anyone else under their guardianship.

The Sahabi Who Raised a Scholar

It is narrated from Ibn Jabir and ‘Uthmaan ibn Abi al-‘Aatikah that:

“Umm ad-Dardaa’ was an orphan under the guardianship of Abu ad-Dardaa’; she used to come to the mosques with Abu ad-Dardaa’ in two garments (i.e. her head was not covered; she had not yet attained puberty) and she prayed in the men’s rows and used to sit in the circles of the teachers learning the Qur’an.” This continued until she reached puberty and she then joined the women’s rows in prayer. (Al-Muhaddithaat; Jaami’ al-Hanabilah al-Muzaffaari).

This young orphan girl grew up to become a scholar of such knowledge that she would teach in the Grand Mosque of Damascus and the khalifah of the Islamic Empire, Abdul Malik ibn Marwaan, would sit at her feet as a student.

Without the foresight of Abu ad-Dardaa’, without his deliberate and conscious choices not only to teach her himself but also to create opportunities for her to study from others, Umm ad-Dardaa’ would never have become one of the greatest of the tabi’een. She was known not only for her depth of knowledge, but for the keenness of her mind and the intensity of her worship, even as an old woman.

Awn ibn Abdullah said of her, “We used to come to the assembly of Umm ad-Dardaa’ and remember God there.” Yunus ibn Maysarah reports, “The women used to worship with Umm ad-Dardaa’ and when they became weak from standing they would lean on ropes.”

Who was the man who raised such a prodigious woman? Abu ad-Dardaa’ was a sahabi of Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - an Ansari man who was bound to Salmaan al-Faarsi when Rasul Allah r established the brotherhood (al-Mu’aakhaa’) between the Muhajiroon and the Ansaar.

The stories about his life are many: he was known for being dedicated to worshipping Allah with such fervor that Salmaan al-Faarsi grew alarmed and had to remind him that his wife and his body had a right over him as well. He was known to be courageous in battle, never forsaking an opportunity to offer his life for the sake of Allah I. He valued knowledge and is quoted as having said, “Be a scholar or a student or a person who loves [the scholars] or a follower [of the scholars], but do not be the fifth.” Humayd (one of the reporters) asked Al-Hasan (Al-Basri, who reported this from Abû Al-Dardâ`), “And who is the fifth?” He replied, “A heretic (mubtadi’, religious innovator).” (Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr, Jâmi’ Bayân Al-‘Ilm 1:142.)

Who else but such a man as Abu ad-Dardaa’ could have raised a woman such as Umm ad-Dardaa’?

The Father of a Faqeeha, the Husband of a Shaykhah


The name Fatimah as-Samarqandiyyah is one that is known based on her personal accomplishments rather than because of the menfolk who surrounded her. When powerful women are linked to famous men, their own merits are usually put to the side in favour of emphasising their position in relation to those men: “the President’s wife”, “the Professor’s daughter”, “the Shaykh’s sister.”

In the case of Fatimah as-Samarqandiyyah, however, we have the opposite case. Fatimah was born in the region of modern-day Uzbekistan, approximately 500 years after the Hijrah. Her father, Muhammad ibn Ahmad, was an imam of the Hanafi madhhab; he was so prominent that other scholars would travel to seek knowledge from him. He is perhaps most well-known for the fact that he wrote a book titled Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa’ and, of course, being the father of Fatimah.

While many knowledgeable men today would elect to devote their attention towards fellow males, Muhammad ibn Ahmad’s priority was his family and his daughter Fatimah in particular. After teaching her all that she knew, to the point where she memorised his book, he ensured that she studied under other famed scholars who excelled in other fields of the Islamic Sciences. When it came to furthering his daughter’s education, Imam Muhammad spared no expense and soon, even as a young woman, Fatimah’s knowledge and intellect were so keen that her father began to refer his students to her.

When Fatimah decided that it was time for her to marry, her criteria for a suitable spouse was exacting. Wealthy men and men of power and nobility came alike to propose to Fatimah; one by one, she turned them away. Eventually, a sincere and earnest young man with neither riches nor influence to his name came forward. Intrigued by his own dedication to seeking knowledge, Fatimah chose her dowry: that the young man write and present to her a book - specifically, a commentary and explanation of her father’s book, Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa’.

This young man’s name was Abu Bakr al-Kasani and he soon became a formidable jurist himself. The father and husband of Fatimah as-Samarqandi worked together as a team, often issuing religious edicts together, but not without first consulting Fatimah, having her review their work and then ensuring that she would hand write the fatwahs and sign her name along with their own.

When Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad died, Fatimah and Abu Bakr moved to Syria, where they established themselves as a powerhouse couple who not only taught thousands of students, but also built schools and were advisors to the leading scholars of the area. Nur ad-Deen Zinki, the leader of the Islamic Empire at the time, hand-chose Fatimah to be one of his political and religious advisors.

Fatimah’s accomplishments were her own: it was her knowledge, wisdom, understanding and brilliant intellect that commanded attention and influenced an empire. However, it was her father who first cultivated her education and, later, it was her husband who ensured that her career flourished. Without Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad and Abu Bakr al-Kasani, Fatimah would not have been able to achieve her full potential.

The Sunnah of the Salaf

To celebrate female scholarship in Islam is also to recognise and honour the men who undertook the task of supporting them and pushing them to even greater heights. The Salaf as-Saalih, the pious predecessors, are remembered for their piety and quoted for their knowledge, but few men today are willing to follow in their footsteps and push their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to achieve excellence.

Looking back to our Islamic history, it is admirable that we find the greatest of Muslim men being those who did their best to encourage their womenfolk in all aspects of life. In truth, there continue to be excellent Muslim men – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons – who tirelessly support the women in their lives to achieve their dreams and ambitions. These are the men who are most conscious of the responsibility they wield as “qawwaamoon,” who understand that Allah I will hold them to account on the Day of Judgement for how they chose to practice their authority. These are the forgotten heroes of the Muslim Ummah; the men who are fostering the next generation of Muslim heroines.
May Allah I bring about yet another era of heroes and heroines in this Ummah; men and women who support each other, encourage each other and push each other to grow stronger in their faith and in their knowledge.

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

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Dear Canadian Journalists...

This is the original version of my response to Jonathan Kay of the National Post. The summarized, published version can be found here.
Hello Jonathan Kay,

My name is Zainab bint Younus, and I'm a Canadian Muslim woman who happens to wear the niqaab.

I was only just made aware of your piece: 

The space between hijab and niqab is where our anxieties lie

I am extremely dismayed by not only the sentiments that you shared, but your 'method' of determining why hijaab is acceptable and why niqaab is not (but will be tolerated because you 'other' Canadians are 'civilized').

You begin by describing the 'hijab experience' of a non-hijabi woman whose hijab doesn't affect being "a modern, confident, well-integrated, socially engaged young woman who attends college, goes out on weekends with her friends, and works for a student newspaper. If this is your way of interacting with the world, what difference does a headscarf make?"

With all due respect, the issue of people suddenly putting on the hijab for the 'experience' is actually one which disrespects the voices and experiences of those women who wear the hijaab regularly. Here is one excellent write-up on the phenomenon, provided by the Muslimah Media Watch website:


 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2013/02/world-hijab-day-everyones-favourite-dress-up-day/

Now, getting to the crux of the issue.

You speak about Muslim women who wear niqab as an 'other.' You describe 'them' as 'never... having a rollicking good time at pizzerias' and 'more apt to be traveling silently on the subway or unobtrusively taking notes in the back of a trade-college classroom.'

You make assumptions about why women wear niqab in the first place: 'But socially, it's a closed group: The face covering sends the clear message that that they conceive the world to be largely one of leering men and other vulgar social contaminants, against which they must protect every inch of their body - except an eye-slit just big enough to make sure they don't bump into cars and lampposts.'

You take it upon yourself to tell others how women who wear niqab view the world, and to imply that they don't really wear it out of free will:

"But even if it that is so, their "free will" obviously is informed by a paranoid and highly regressive understanding of women's place in society."

And then there's so much more, where you go on to tell us how the "Burqa" (which I have never seen worn in Canada, btw), strips away body language and so on and how that automatically makes us... what? Untrustworthy?

You tell us that if niqabi women experience friendliness, it is one born of anxiety and fear.

You tell us that the niqab accuses everyone of sexual predation in 'all of us.'

Now, where to start?!

Perhaps I should start with how you immediately 'other' women in niqab vs. those in socially-acceptable hijaab.

I, a Muslim woman who wears niqab, grew up in Canada - between Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. "Home" to me, is about Tim Hortons and hiking up Mount Doug and going canoeing and grimacing at non-stop rain and eating 100% organic Canadian maple syrup and singing the Canadian anthem off-key in the car to annoy my family.

My dad grew up in Canada; his parents moved from South African to Canada when he was just 7, and he grew up between Chilliwack and Ontario and regales us with stories of his childhood in the boonies and trekking through several feet of snow just to get to school.

So no, I am not "the other." I'm not an immigrant who can't speak English or who is foreign to Canadian culture. I am Canadian.

You say that you've never seen a niqabi woman just having a rollicking good time. Obviously, you don't know me (or any other niqabi women in Canada, all of whom I can assure you have experienced a 'rollicking good time' at some point or another during their lives).

Niqabi women aren't all 'silent' or 'unobtrusive'; I for one have a pretty loud personality that can't be hidden under any number of layers (or types) of clothing. Friends and strangers alike can attest to the fact that wherever there are raised voices, uproarious laughter, and a debate or two on all sorts of juicy topics... that's where I happen to be, and usually at the center of it (if not the cause of it). And even if a Muslim woman happens to be an introvert... so what?

You claim to know 'why' Muslim women wear the niqab. Very clearly, you don't, nor have you asked a single woman in niqab about why she wears it. Here, I'll help you out.

I wear the niqab because I believe it as an act of worship to God, and a means of identifying myself as a Muslim woman. I do not believe that men (or women) are purely sexual beings without any control over themselves. I do believe that our society has been poisoned by hypersexualization and the commodification of what should be a beautiful thing, and that Muslim or not, men and women alike are suffering on so many different levels because we've been trained to view the other gender as sexual objects, not human beings. (Just check out the research on how kids as young as 7 and 8 are being sexualized and diagnosed with various body image related disorders.)

My role as a Muslim woman is so much more than what you attempt to reduce me to, with your own shallow understanding of what my alleged view of a woman's role in society is. I am a social activist, a writer, an artist, someone who deeply cares about my country and my community and the fact that Stephen Harper's government has led to such huge cutbacks in our social welfare programs that more and more vulnerable young men and women end up on the streets without shelter, food, or safety. I am a feminist who shakes with rage when I hear about the fact that Aboriginal women face some of the highest rates of violence, abuse, and death and yet the Harper government would rather make a big deal out of so-called 'honour killings' - only 3 of which have occurred in Canada within the last 15 years (http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/why-hasnt-the-canadian-government-called-a-public-inquiry-into-missing-aboriginal-women).

As a writer and social activist, I have already written extensively about my views as a Canadian Muslim woman, which you can see in the following links.

http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/p/on-being-salafi-feminist.html


http://muslimahmontage.com/muslimah-montage-reflections-zainab-bint-younus/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/32-powerful-and-brutally-honest-tweets-from-lifeofamuslimfem

http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/2011/04/open-letter-to-mona-el-tahawy.html

http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/2011/12/jason-kenney-new-grand-mufti-of-canada.html

http://www.dangardner.ca/notes/item/232-on-faces-and-veils

As a woman - as a feminist - you insult me when you make the snide implication that I can't possibly be wearing it because I 'really' want to.You insult me when you say that my world view is narrow and regressive, when you know absolutely nothing about me or my worldviews. You insult me when you imply that a niqaab is enough to limit my intelligence, to stop me from living a beautiful, wonderful, rollicking good time of a life.

Actually, scratch that.

All the statements that you have made are in fact an insult to yourself, because they prove that you haven't made any effort at all to actually educate yourself about  Canadian Muslim women, the niqab, or anything related to them.

I strongly recommend that the next time you take it upon yourself to speak about Muslim women, what they wear, and what they believe, you take a moment to talk to a Muslim woman about what she wears and why. If you can't be bothered to get up and meet one in person, then I'm always here.

Sincerely,

Zainab bint Younus (Originally from Victoria, B.C.)

P.S. That bit about people only being nice to niqabis because they're "anxious" about us? Please meet all the lovely people who have been nice to me because *gasp*shock*horror* THEY'RE DECENT HUMAN BEINGS who have taken the time to be nice, and in most cases, get to know me.

...

My Letter to the Editor of the National Post:

 Hi,

I'm writing in response to Jonathan Kay's article on 'the space between hijab and niqab.'

As a Canadian Muslim woman raised in Canada, and who wears the niqab, I was extremely insulted by the sheer shoddiness of the so-called 'reporting' and the blatant fear mongering and ignorance that prevailed throughout the entire piece.

The entire article made offensive assumptions about Canadian Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab; it is clear that the author did not make any effort whatsoever to engage with such women at all, but rather took it upon himself to lecture his readers on whether they "really" wear it out of free will, and what their *actual* worldviews are.

Suffice to say that it was a load of tosh and should never have made it to print. Is this truly what journalism has sunk to? Pot shots at a visible minority, because you think no one will stand up and respond? Claiming to know them better than they know themselves?

I can tell you that nothing Jonathan Kay said holds true for me or for any Muslim women I know, for that matter, regardless of whether they wear the niqab or not.

If anyone is interested in what Muslim women believe and what they wear and why, then go ask them. Don't make assumptions... because you know what they say when you 'assume'...

Sincerely,
Zainab bint Younus - a real, live Canadian Muslim woman who wears niqab

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: Salaam, Love

Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy


Published by Beacon Press.

Reviewed by Zainab bint Younus


On the heels of the popular, groundbreaking anthology Love Inshallah: American Muslim Women on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, comes Salaam, Love – the other side of the story.  
  
As Muslim women become more proactive in sharing their voices and experiences in the public sphere, a unique phenomenon has occurred: Muslim men don’t have the same opportunity to share their own deeply personal stories. Salaam, Love is an effort to create a ‘safe space’ for Muslim men to discuss some of their most vulnerable moments.
The anthology is divided into three sections: “Umma: It Takes a Village” shares stories that revolve around the role of family and friends in the search for marriage (and love); “Sirat: The Journey” includes inward reflections of each writer’s transformational experience with spiritual and romantic love; and finally, “Sabr: In Sickness and in Health” goes beyond the fairytale ending and explores the deeper, less glamorous aspects of true love.
Just as its predecessor, Love Inshallah, reflected the realities and experiences of a widely varied Muslim Ummah, so too do the contributors to Salaam, Love come from different ethnic and theological backgrounds. 

 There were several essays which stood out to me, both in quality of writing and in content – amongst them, Sam Pierstorff’s “Soda Bottles and Zebra Skins,” “Mother’s Curse” by Arsalan Ahmed, “Just One Kiss,” by Maher Rahman, “Planet Zero” by John Austin, “The Promise” by Alan Howard, and “Fertile Ground” by Khizer Husain.
 All of these essays shared something in common: unmistakeable authenticity, excellent writing, and touching upon issues within the Muslim community that have been previously ignored but are undeniably a reality.

 From extramarital affairs amongst ‘religious’ Muslims, being rejected for marriage because of race, fertility vs. adoption, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one, these essays echoed with a rawness of emotion and relevance. All these topics are still considered taboo in the Muslim community, and yet are faced by thousands of Muslims not just in the West, but all around the world. 

 Although I have often read works by female authors related to these issues, I was startled to realize that it was the first time I had read about them from the perspective of Muslim men who have experienced these matters first-hand. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was truly enlightening to realize that men – whom many women have come to think of as the perpetrators of most injustice – are equally affected at an emotional level and seek to change things for the better. 

 This glimpse at the challenges and struggles of Muslim men in their journeys of love and experiences with lust is must needed; all too often, we buy into the idea that men experience such things shallowly, with little introspection or consideration for their actions. Instead, the contributors to Salaam, Love reminded us of the humanity of men, a prompt to help us recognize that when it comes to matters of the heart, gender means little. Allah, al-Wadud, al-Muqallib al-Quloob, is the One Who controls our hearts without the preconceived, culturally structured ideas of what men and women should feel; it is He who evokes in our souls a yearning for love of Him, and for earthly love as well.    

However, I will admit that I also found myself somewhat disappointed by Salaam, Love. In comparison to Love Inshallah, which I found engaging at every point (with only a couple of stories which did not resonate with me all that much), the remaining essays in Salaam, Love came off as mediocre at best. Some rambled on for far too long, causing me to lose my interest; most ended up sounding like a recycled version of “brown Muslim boy just wants to be with a girl.”  

 Nonetheless, Salaam, Love is enjoyable overall, and is still a book that I would recommend. It is a one-of-a-kind compilation that reminds men and women alike that the hearts of men are not so strange or unfathomable as those of women; Muslim men, like Muslim women, struggle with temptation and desire, seek love and security, and pray not just for a happily ever after, but for a happily ever afterlife.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a writer, social justice activist-wannabe, and absent-minded bookworm. She writes for SISTERS Magazine and blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com


Order it here!! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Woman's Love, A Prophet's Promise

A woman’s love is deep and runs strong; it’s tender and fierce and sometimes needs no more than an instant to establish a bond that stretches beyond time, beyond space. A woman’s love can result in an angel being sent from heaven to reveal a miraculous well; in her name being mentioned in the greatest of all Divine Scriptures; in the power to defy a tyrant king before his people.

A woman’s love is powerful and a Muslim woman’s love for her Lord and His Messenger, Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), can make her the most powerful human being amongst mankind. Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) knew this, respected it and praised it. His love for the women of his Ummah did not stop at his wives and daughters, but extended to those who struggled, fought and died for the message he taught.

Martyr for the Beloved

Sumayyah bint Khayyat, Umm ‘Ammar, was the first to die for the sake of Islam. She and her family were slaves who had accepted Islam and, when their masters discovered their acceptance of the faith, they tortured Sumayyah, her husband and her son. Every day that they were dragged out to the desert and tormented,
Sumayyah faced the very worst of it. Abu Jahl and his companions raped her repeatedly with hot metal instruments, which eventually led to her death.
Rasul Allah would sometimes pass by and see what was being done to Sumayyah and her family - what they went through for the sake of his message. His eyes overflowing with tears, he prayed, “Have patience, O family of Yaasir! Verily, your meeting place will be in Paradise.”

Her heart burning with love for Allah and His Messenger, Sumayyah would answer, “I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and that your promise is truthful.” Soon after, she died as a martyr and the first woman to be guaranteed Jannah by Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam).

A woman’s love does not need flattery or trinkets to keep it alive; it needs the Truth. Sumayyah had never lived with the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in his household; it was likely that she saw him or heard from him directly only a few times. She did not even need physical proximity to create love for him in her heart; it was enough for her that he was the Messenger of Allah, who had brought the message of truth that guided her to her Lord.

A Warrior’s Spirit

Nusaybah bint Ka'b, Umm ‘Imarah al-Ansariyyah was another sahabiyyah whose love for Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) resulted in a unique relationship that has been immortalised in the seerah.
Initially a nurse, Umm ‘Imarah was present at the battlefield of Uhud when the rumour began to spread that Rasul Allah had been killed. Amidst the fleeing of Muslim soldiers, Umm ‘Imarah lifted her sword and sought out the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) for herself. When she found him, she placed herself firmly in front of him and began to defend him with a strength and courage to rival that of the male companions.
The power of her love was such that when her son was gravely injured, she didn’t even stop until Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) told her to attend to him. “From where can anyone get courage like you, O Umm 'Imarah?”
It is narrated that the Prophet said that in whichever direction he turned in the battlefield, he could see her defending and protecting him. Admiring the ferocity of her devotion, Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) invoked Allah's blessings on Umm ‘Imarah’s family and prayed that they should be his friends in Paradise as well.
After the Battle of Uhud, Umm ‘Imarah wielded her sword on the battlefields of Yamamah and Hunayn and was present at the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. She also took part in the second pledge of ‘Aqabah.

However, Umm ‘Imarah’s relationship with the Messenger of Allah was not restricted to the battlefield. It is also due to her questioning that the famous verse of Surah al-Ahzab, verse 35, was revealed.
Umm ‘Imarah al-Ansariyyah said that she went to the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and said to him: "I feel that everything is for men. Women are not mentioned as having anything!” Verse 35 of Surah al-Ahzab was then sent down.
(The Hadith is narrated by at-Tirmidhi under No. 3211, and is in Sahih at-Tirmidhi under No. 2565)

These stories are examples of how Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) interacted with the women of his Ummah, inspiring their love for him and their dedication to Islam. His dealings with the sahabiyyaat were full of dignity and respect, acknowledging their sacrifices and their talents. He valued them as much as any male companion and never, for a moment, doubted their sincerity or their worth.

In turn, the sahabiyyat loved him fiercely. Not as a husband or a father, but as the Messenger of Allah: the person who had brought them the message of Islam, the truth that purified their souls, the only path that would lead them to their Lord and Creator. It was Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) who taught them about Allah, who told them about Paradise and its beauty and its reward, who warned them against Hell and its torments.

It was for the sake of Allah and His Messenger that the Sahabiyyaat transformed their lives and sacrificed their health and wealth, dedicating their lives to the promise delivered by Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam):

{Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.} (Al-Ahzab:35)


#ForgottenHeroines

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyyat 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

Sunday, March 02, 2014

SISTERS TalkBack! "The Housewife's Lament"

Brooke Benoit voices her opinion about a previously published SISTERS article.
The original writer, Zainab bint Younus, provides her response. Welcome to Talk Back!

As the SISTERS’ team was getting ready to print the October issue I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite writers’, Zainab bint Younus, article, “Forgotten Heroines: The Housewife’s Lament.” In my usual state of feeling overwhelmed about my own housework, I quickly lapped up the article hoping for some pearls of wisdom, a boost of inspiration or maybe even some sort of camaraderie in similarly fatigued arms. What I got was mad. I spewed my irritation at my co-editors who told me to “write a response!” 
A few days later, Zainab bint Younus separately pointed out some other rhetoric in the September issue that she felt needed critique and correction. An ‘Ah-ha Moment’ happened and we realised that instead of quietly dismissing these bothersome things, we needed to open up this space - “Talk Back” - in which both readers and writers can discuss things published in SISTERS Magazine that they feel uncomfortable about or are downright wrong in some way. So let’s begin this feature with how I felt about the “The Housewife’s Lament” followed by Zainab’s response.

[Brooke Benoit]: When I got to the portion of your article about Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) where you quote the following hadith, I was disappointed and then upset that you used the story in the same way I so commonly see it used in other articles, advices, blogs and so on.

Here is a translation of the hadith:

“Narrated By Ali : Fatima went to the Prophet complaining about the bad effect of the stone hand-mill on her hand. She heard that the Prophet had received a few slave girls. But (when she came there) she did not find him, so she mentioned her problem to 'Aisha. When the Prophet came, 'Aisha informed him about that. 'Ali added, "So the Prophet came to us when we had gone to bed. We wanted to get up (on his arrival) but he said, 'Stay where you are." Then he came and sat between me and her and I felt the coldness of his feet on my abdomen. He said, "Shall I direct you to something better than what you have requested? When you go to bed say 'subhan Allah' thirty-three times, 'alhamdulillah' thirty three times and ‘Allahu akbar' thirty four times, for that is better for you than a servant." (Bukhari)

In “The Housewife’s Lament” you say that “… the Muslims had won a battle and, as a result, had captured several prisoners and other spoils of war,” you then go on to describe Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) as asking for a “maidservant” to provide her with some domestic relief. This is how I commonly see this hadith used to dissuade women from asking their husbands to hire domestic help when actually that is not what Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) was asking for.
Just as in the translation above, “slave” and“servant” are used interchangeably (as they were nearly the same during the time of the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam)) even though they have very different meanings to us. She was asking for a slave, to own another human being who would - under kind treatment or not - work in Fatima’s home without a choice. That is something quite different from hiring someone and I think a much, much more important point than whether or not women are being lackadaisical with their approach to getting their own housework done.

I agree with you, of course, that Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) is an excellent example (if not The Example) of how a woman can earn her blessings via caring for her family, but I think a larger point to this particular hadith is overlooked. As an example to the Ummah (all of the Muslims) the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), who was actively pushing for Muslims to manumit slaves, did not want his own daughter to hypocritically go against his activism. He did not want her to have a slave and oppress another human being for her own benefit. Patience is better than that kind of shortcut.

Something I worry about is the way this hadith is often used to support the Super Muslimah role - to make women feel like they are being whiny and unappreciative about how much work they have to do and how much help we do have (via modern appliances and other conveniences). But, in my experience, I don’t know any of these spoiled women we hear about who have a servant for each child and do nothing but watch serials in between trips to the mall and salon. I’m sure these women exist, but I don’t know any personally and I don’t think they are the average SISTERS reader.
Nearly all of the women I know earn an income in addition to caring for their home and balancing those responsibilities is a real burden on them and their marriages.

I think the average SISTERS reader is more likely to be someone who is already doing too much and feels guilty that she can’t do more and be like the respectfully endearing Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha). I’m worried that while you may have meant to make true housewives feel better about their roles, which can be painfully monotonous and demanding, I think this common misrepresentation of this hadith contributes to inappropriate and damaging guilt. The message is that Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) of all people could have had a little help around the house, but she chose to help her husband save some dirhams instead and drudged on by herself - but that’s not entirely true. Sure, he would have had to feed a slave, but he would not have been paying wages. I really see this hadith being about not oppressing people more than being about humbly accepting household drudgery.

[Zainab bint Younus]: First of all, I’ve got to say that I love the idea of Talk Back! Hearing feedback and constructive criticism is great for any writer who is desperate to know what their readers are thinking. I love this opportunity to be able to discuss anything that my readers find disappointing, irritating or flat out terrible.

With regards to The Housewife’s Lament, it’s part of my series titled “Forgotten Heroines”, which aims to re-examine the lives of the sahabiyyaat and women of Islamic history through a different lens: one which is directly relatable and applicable to Muslim women in every situation of life. My first few articles have dealt with very dramatic themes so far – coming of age, women pioneers, true love and (my favourite) how a villainess became a heroine.

My own life is far from dramatic and, one day when I was struggling to write my next FH article, I thought about how I didn’t feel like my life matched up to the standards of the exciting women I’d written about so far. These women were all very inspiring, yes, but what about women like me – housebound mothers who, quite frankly, don’t have the luxury of pioneering anything or saving the world (yet)? I thought about which sahabiyyah best fit this role, as most of my reading and research has currently been focused on women who performed great feats and found the story of Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha).
To be honest, I hadn’t bothered re-reading her story for a long time because it wasn’t as exciting as the others. And that’s when I had my aha! moment. Out of the four women promised Jannah (Asiyah, queen of Egypt; Maryam bint ‘Imran; Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Fatimah bint Muhammad), only Fatimah’s adult life was, shall we say, unremarkable.

This was what really inspired me to write about Fatimah – the feeling of kinship with a woman who was surrounded by other women whose lives were, in comparison, full of derring-do. Thus, my usage of the commonly quoted hadith was to show that her life was as monotonous as that of the average housewife and that it was not shameful for her to feel sick of it all or ask for help. The fact that she took her father’s advice and resorted to tasbeeh instead of domestic help is merely an illustration of the type of inner strength (which is what I intended to be the focus) that caused her to be one of those who were guaranteed Jannah – what I personally found to be inspirational.

I also understand and agree with your frustration over how this particular hadith is often used to make women feel guilty or ashamed of themselves. My own raging feminist spirit loathes such tired and reinforced interpretations of ahadith. My intent in quoting this hadith was completely unrelated. Though, as I now re-read my article, I can see where I should have used stronger language to focus on my main point; that one doesn’t have to be a world-famous academic or infamous revolutionary in order to be considered strong or worthy in the Sight of Allah.

I found your take on the hadith to be extremely interesting and certainly a valid one. I appreciate you bringing it to my notice, as I’d never thought of it that way before (and I love learning about the deeper dimensions of ahadith and their meanings)! You never know, it could wind up featuring in another FH article in the future, without the typical interpretation attached to it!

Read the original article that inspired the talk back in SISTERS’ October issue!

Brooke Benoit has been working from home for nearly 15 years and recently took her own advice about outsourcing by hiring someone to cook a hot, delicious meal for her family several times a week.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the sahabiyyat 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.