Thursday, May 26, 2016

Speaking Truth to Power: The Eloquence of the Prophet's Granddaughter

AHL-BAYT – the family of Prophet Muhammad,–those bound to him by blood and by marriage, those whom he spoke of in his sermon at Khumm:
And the people of my household, I remind you of Allah with regard to the people of my household! I remind you of Allah with regard to the people of my household, I remind you of Allah with regard to the people of my household. (Muslim)
And how can we uphold the rights of Ahl Al-Bayt without knowing who they are? We commonly know about the wives of the Prophet and we know of his grandsons Al-Ḥassan and Al-Ḥussain, but many of us do not know about the one granddaughter of the Prophet who played an important role during a turbulent period of Islamic history.

Amongst the Women of Ahl Al-Bayt

This woman was Zaynab bint Ali ibn Abi Ṭâlib. Sadly, her name and personality are unfamiliar to many of us, though she was the granddaughter of the Prophet, the daughter of Fâṭimah bint Muhammad  and Ali ibn Abi Ṭâlib.
She was born in the year 5 AH, during the lifetime of the Prophet  and was in fact named by him, after his daughter and her aunt, Zaynab bint Muhammad . She was the third child of Fatimah—daughter of the Prophet —and Ali—nephew and son-in-law of the Prophet —born after her brothers Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein. Though the Prophet  died when she was about five years old, her love for him never waned.
As she grew older, many sought her hand in marriage, desiring to be joined with the family of the Messenger of Allah . However, her father waited until a man of equal standing came to propose: her cousin, Abdullâh ibn Ja'far ibn Abi Ṭâlib.
Though Abdullâh became a wealthy man, Zaynab herself was a woman who lived simply. With her husband’s support, she used her wealth to provide support for the vulnerable and the needy; it is said that she owned a house which she did not keep for herself to live in, but used as a shelter for vulnerable women, orphans, and the elderly.
In addition, she was a woman who memorized the Quran and was known for her knowledge of the dîn; she regularly held classes where she taught the women of Madinah—and later, Kûfa—though her knowledge was known even to the men. Ibn Abbas related aâdîth upon her authority.
Her nephew, Zayn Al-Âbidin, referred to her as, âlima ghayr mu'allama (‘she who has knowledge without being taught’). She was a woman of piety and had a deep love for worshipping Allah, spending her nights in prayer and her days fasting. People around her spoke of her as âbida (the worshiper), zâhida (the ascetic), faia (the skillfully fluent), and balîgha (intensely eloquent).
Thus, long before any of the troubling political incidents during her father’s khilâfa (caliphate, rule) and the subsequent years, Zaynab bint Ali ibn Abi Ṭâlib was a woman whose piety, good character, and knowledge were already known. She was a beloved wife who was supported by her husband; a sister whose older brothers consulted her for her wisdom in many matters.
However, the swiftly changing political landscape of the Islamic empire was inescapable, especially for Zaynab. Her father’s assassination and the death of her brother Al-Ḥassan came as devastating blows to herself and to the Ummah; Al-Ḥussain then gathered his family together, including his sister Zaynab and her children, and together they traveled from Madinah to Makkah. After the uneasy truce during the khilâfa of Mu'âwiyah ibn Abi Sufyân, the ascension of Yazîd ibn Mu'âwiyah as khalîfa (caliph) resulted in far more overt turmoil. Once again, Al-Ḥussain decided to travel, and his family refused to stay behind – the men, women, and children all formed a caravan and made their way to Iraq, where the people of Kûfa had promised their allegiance to the grandson of the Prophet.
Alas, once the members of Ahl Al-Bayt arrived, they found to their shock a completely different state of affairs than what they were expecting – rather than a loyal group of the twelve thousand people who had already sworn bay'â (oath of allegiance) to Al-Ḥussain, barely a hundred people remained at Al-Ḥussain’s side. Betrayed by the people of Kûfa, they found themselves driven towards Karbala, where every member of Al-Ḥussain’s household knew full well what stark reality awaited them.
Yazîd ibn Mu'âwiyah had dispatched an army of 4,000 soldiers under the command of Ibn Ziyad, a ruthless military general and politician. There, in the desolate plains of Karbala, Al-Ḥussain and Zaynab bint Abi Ṭâlib sat together in their tent, their children gathered around them, knowing full well that this night might be their last together as a family. Sorrowful yet firm in their faith in Allah, they knew that their qadar (destiny) could not be averted. Though tears fell from Zaynab’s eyes, she spent the night in prayer seeking the support of her Lord alone.
The next morning, on the 10th of Muḥarram –the day that Musa had been saved from Pharaoh—Allah gave Al-Ḥussain a victory of his own: shahada, martyrdom in the cause of justice against oppression. The death of Al-Ḥussain was, in and of itself, a lesson to the Ummah: to understand that though injustice and oppression may seem to be powerful today, just as they seemed powerful when Al-Ḥussain was killed, Allah alone is the Most Powerful. Victory in the sight of Allah does not always mean that the enemies of Islam are immediately destroyed with a miracle, but that their destruction in the Hereafter will be eternal and all the more painful.

The Story of the 10th of Muharram

Zaynab bint Ali’s jihâd, however, did not end on the Day of Âshûra’. On that day, she lost her youngest son and her brother both; as though that were not enough grief to bear, she and her remaining family members were captured by Ibn Ziyâd and brought to him as prisoners of war.
Dignified even in seeming defeat, Zaynab’s demeanor irritated Ibn Ziyâd, who snapped, “Who is this woman?”
Her slave girl responded, “This is Zaynab, daughter of Fatimah, daughter of the Messenger of Allah .”
Sneering, Ibn Ziyâd said, “Praise be to Allah who humiliated and killed you all.”
Eyes flashing, Zaynab responded,
Rather, praise be to Allah Who honored us with His prophet and thoroughly purified us from filth! It is only the morally corrupt who are humiliated by Allah and the depraved who are disproven, and those are not us, O Ibn Ziyâd!
Angered, Ibn Ziyâd asked her, “How do you find what Allah has done with your family?”
Steadfast as ever, she replied:
They were appointed death and thus went forth to their resting places. Allah will gather [a gathering] between them and you, and you will dispute with each other before Him on Resurrection Day.
Discomfited and taken aback, Ibn Ziyâd turned his attention to Zaynab’s nephew, Zayn Al-Âbidîn ibn Al-Ḥussain, who had been severely injured during the battle. “Who are you?” Ibn Ziyâd demanded to know.
As dignified as his aunt, the young boy answered,
I am Ali ibn Al-Ḥussain.
“Didn’t Allah kill Ali ibn Al-Ḥussain?” Ibn Ziyâd retorted.
“I had an older brother named Ali [ibn Al-Ḥussain] whom your men killed,” Zayn Al-Âbidîn said calmly.
Ibn Ziyâd snapped, “Rather, Allah killed him!”
The boy recited Qur’anic verses in response:
Allah takes the souls at the time of their death. [Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:42]
No soul can ever die except by Allah’s leave and at a term appointed. [Sûrat Âl Imrân, 3:145]
Furious, Ibn Ziyâd summoned his executioner and commanded that the boy be killed immediately. Zaynab immediately stepped forward and drew her nephew into her embrace, declaring for all to hear,
O Ibn Ziyâd, if this is the case, then kill me with him!
Knowing that to have a defenseless woman killed would be a mark against his own reputation, Ibn Ziyâd commented sourly, “What kind of kinship is this? I think that it is as if she wants me to kill her! Leave him be.”
After this altercation with Ibn Ziyâd, the household of Zaynab bint Ali was sent to Syria to face Yazîd ibn Mu'âwiyah himself. As they were brought forth to his court, a member of Yazîd’s entourage caught sight of Zaynab’s niece, Fâṭimah bint Al-Ḥussain—a beautiful young woman—and demanded that she be given to him as a gift.
Infuriated by this disregard for the dignity of her family—the family of the Prophet, Zaynab bint Ali once again strode forward and spoke fearlessly:
This is neither your right nor his!” she declared to Yazîd.
Angered in turn, Yazîd snarled, “You have lied. This is certainly my right, and if I wanted to [give her to him], I would.”
“No, by Allah!” Zaynab swore, “Allah did not permit you this unless she leaves our faith and practices another religion.”
“How dare you direct such speech toward me!” Yazîd exploded. “The only ones who left the religion are your father and brother!”
“It is through the religion of my father, brother, and grandfather that you, your father, and your grandfather were guided,” Zaynab parried. She paused, and then delivered the speech that became famed throughout history for its eloquence, its ferocity, and its passion.
The Speech Before the Khalifah
The granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad, had just spoken truth to power—in front of Yazîd ibn Mu'âwiyah, the khalîfa, the Umayyad ruler in Syria (Part 1). Zaynab bint Ali paused, and then delivered the speech that became famed throughout history for its eloquence, its ferocity, and its passion.
Allah and His Messenger have spoken the truth, O Yazîd!
Then evil was the consequence to those who dealt in evil, because they denied the revelations of Allah and made a mock of them. [Sûrat Al-Rûm, 30:10]
O Yazîd, did you really think that when we were shackled by the corners of the earth and the sky’s canopies—such that we were herded about as prisoners are herded—that we were humiliated with Allah while you held a position of honor, and that this is due to the greatness of your rank? You turn your nose up at others and look at yourself in exuberant exultation as you see the world lain out before you and your affairs proceeding harmoniously. What you have actually been given is respite and lavishness, but this is the statement of Allah (Glorified and Exalted):
Let not the Unbelievers think that Our respite to them is good for themselves: We grant them respite that they may grow in their iniquity; But they will have a shameful punishment.[Sûrat Âl Imrân, 3:178]
Is it just, O Son of Freedmen, that you keep your wives and female slaves in seclusion while you parade around the daughters of the Messenger of Allah having removed their protective layers and forcing them to raise their voices —depressed, scurried about on camels, enemies guiding them from place to place, unguarded and unsheltered, watched equally by strangers and familiar people, and without a guardian from among their men-folk? How would it even be possible for someone who looks toward us with insolence, hatred, grudges, and malevolence to slow down the pursuit of our abuse?
Did you actually say—without feeling guilty or deeming it significant— “If only lords of mine at Badr could see” while scraping Abu ‘Abdullah’s teeth with your walking stick? How could you be otherwise when you have scraped the scab off the wound and nipped us in the bud by spilling the blood of the progeny of the Messenger of Allah and the stars of the earth from the family of Abd Al-Muṭṭalib? Soon you will most certainly gather together with them before Allah, and you will most certainly wish that you had been blind, mute and did not say, “They’d cry repeatedly with joy.”
O Allah, take the matter of our rights into Your Hands and avenge us of those who have wronged us!
By Allah, you have not run away except within your own skin, and you have not cut anything other than your own flesh. You will come before the Messenger of Allah despite yourself while his flesh and blood are in the Divine Sanctuary on a day when they will be united after having been dispersed. For Allah (Glorified and Exalted) says,
Think not of those who are slain in God’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. [Sûrat Âl Imrân, 3:169]
Those who positioned and affirmed you in your authority over the lives of Believers will soon know—when Allah is the judge, Muhammad is the plaintiff, and your own wounds bear witness against you for (“evil is the exchange for the wrong-doers” and “who is worst in position and weakest in forces!”)
And even though I deem you to be of paltry worth and heinous anger, our eyes flow and our chests burn. This does not compensate or benefit us as al-Hussain has been killed. The Party of Satan has brought us before the Party of Fools in order to give them the property of Allah as payment for them violating matters made sacred by Allah. Such hands drip with our blood; such mouths nurse from our flesh; and such pure bodies are preyed upon at night by roaming wolves.
So if you take us as booty, you will be held liable when you find nothing other than your own actions before you, screaming, “O Ibn Marjânah[i],” just as he screams for you.  
By Allah, I am afraid of nothing other than Allah, nor do I complain to anyone other than Allah. So scheme away, sally forth, and exert your utmost effort. By Allah, nothing will ever wash away the shame of what you have done to us.
And all praise is due to Allah Who sealed the lives of the masters of the young men of the Gardens with felicity and forgiveness, thereby guaranteeing them Paradise. I ask Allah to raise their ranks and to guarantee them an increase from His largesse, for He is the Omnipotent Guarantor.”[ii]

The Response from the Khalîfa

The words of Zaynab bint ‘Ali echoed throughout the palace, and Yazîd ibn Mu'âwiyah remained silent. Such was the granddaughter of RasûlAllah: unafraid, even in a position of seeming defeat and humiliation, to speak words of truth to an individual who clearly had no hesitation in demanding the blood of his opponents. And such was the baraka (blessings) of her words that, rather than punishing her, Yazîd released her household and returned their wealth to them.
In fact, he was so moved by her words that as the people of Ahl Al-Bayt prepared for their next journey, Yazîd took Zaynab’s nephew Zayn Al-Âbidîn aside to express his remorse for the treatment of the Prophet’s family during the events of the 10th of Muharram and its aftermath.
May Allah curse Ibn Marjânah. Lo, by Allah! Had I been one of your father’s companions, he would never have asked me for anything except that I would have given it to him, and I would have protected him from death with everything I could, even if it meant that one of my sons had to perish. However, Allah decreed what you witnessed, my young son. Write to me from Madinah with all your needs.”
Zaynab and her family chose to go back to Madinah, but their stay was cut short. Alarmed by the reaction of the people of Madinah to Zaynab’s return, the governor Umar ibn Sa'îd wrote swiftly to Yazîd, saying:
The presence of Zaynab in Madinah arouses people’s emotions and roils their thoughts because she is eloquent and intelligent. When she talks, she grabs their undivided attention, and when she delivers a speech, she enchants their minds and hearts. It is possible that she will request justice for the spilling of Al-Hussein’s blood, which will have undesirable effects and ramifications that only Allah knows.
Finally, she retired to Egypt, where she devoted the last years of her life to worshiping Allah, embodying once more her title of âbida.

What We Owe to Ourselves

Thus was Zaynab bint Ali ibn Abi Ṭâlib: a woman in whose veins ran the blood of the Messenger of Allah, whose tongue recited the Words of Allah, whose life was marked by sorrow and grief without end – yet whose faith never wavered, whose courage never diminished, whose dignity never faded.
It is all too easy to end her story on such a note, to admire her as a heroine without peer, to place her upon a pedestal and leave her there. However, her life was much more than just a fascinating historical incident – rather, it is a sign for us to reflect upon, a lesson for us to learn from.
Ahl Al-Bayt. Karbala. Al-Ḥassan. Al-Ḥussain. Yazîd. These terms and names tend to make many of us feel uncomfortable, referencing incidents in the history of the Muslim Ummah both painful and polarizing. The aftereffects of those events continue to be felt today, and are considered to be one of the main reasons for the difference between Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jamâ'ah, and the Shî'a. Outside of academia, the topic usually arises in Muharram and the Day of Ashura’ – and even then, the focus for Ahl Al-Sunnah lies not in discussing what took place at Karbala, but on the Sunnah of fasting the 9th and 10th of Muarram.
However, it is time that we of Ahl Al-Sunnah question why we shy away from speaking aboutAhl Al-Bayt –the family of RasûlAllah including his grandchildren Al-Hassan, Al-Hussein, and Zaynab bint Ali–when we are the ones who should love them most. Their stories are our stories to know; their lives are examples for us to learn from.
Furthermore, we have spent far too long focusing on the Shî'vs. Sunni aspect of the events of Karbala without once stopping to think about what we have to learn from it about ourselves – about our tendency to deflect, to avoid acknowledging difficult realities in our Ummah, to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves and our own mistakes. We owe it to ourselves, to our Ummah, to come to terms with this sordid history—and actively to stop perpetuating its fallout. How?
Zaynab bint Ali was a powerful figure because she called out the brutality of Muslims towards other Muslims, towards the family of RasûlAllah himself. Today, we might not be harming Ahl Al-Bayt, personally, ourselves, but this Ummah is supposed to be one body, and we need look no further than our own masajid to see the pain we have wrought amongst ourselves.
The pulpits of our masâjid have become bastions of sectarian politics, where it is considered dangerous to make du'â’ for the Muslims oppressed by our own leaders, and where support for homicidal tyrants murdering their own people is not seen as a bizarre aberration. Sisi and Bashar Al-Assad are the names we speak today, but this is not a new phenomenon: Mu‘ammar Gaddafi, Husni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, and so many more – uncountable names, for so many generations. Nay, we Muslims, we who claim to follow the Sunnah of RasûlAllah, are the ones who uphold oppression against each other out of petty worldly greed, preferring politics over piety.
Much of our reluctance to speak about the events of Karbala, to learn about the lives of Ahl Al-Bayt and what was done to them, is a reflection of our general weakness in being hesitant to admit that Muslims can and do turn on each other because of power and politics, and use din as a justification for dunyawi goals.
The story of Zaynab bint ‘Ali has very little to do with Shî'vs. Ahl Al-Sunnah, and everything to do with learning what it means to face the harsh realities of our Ummah. Her spirit and her words, her devotion to Allah and her refusal to accept quiet defeat, should inspire us to have the courage and determination to speak against the wrongdoing that we commit amongst ourselves.
We cannot claim to be obedient to Allah or to love His Messenger when we are the ones who abuse each other – politically or financially, within our homes and within our marriages. There is no outward enemy to blame for the Muslims in our own communities who are being beaten and abused by their own spouses because we are not providing them with the support they need; there is no one else to blame when we support political parties or individuals whose concern is not justice, but power over the masses.
Like Zaynab bint Ali, we must be ready to prove our sincerity of faith by being willing to experience hardship and difficulty for the sake of Allah – seeking His Pleasure alone, finding our honor not in trifling political tidbits or the advantages of financial gain, but in living His din and striving to fulfill what it means to be the khulafâ’ (guardians) of this earth.
We are currently the Ibn Ziyad’s of our Ummah, but we can also be its Zaynab’s… if only we have the courage to live like the forgotten heroes and heroines of our past.

Monday, May 16, 2016

My Khul', My Freedom

Almost three years ago today, I fought for my right to receive a khul’… and received it. It was painful and exhilarating all at once; I was twenty-two years old, I had been married for almost four and a half years, and I had a three-year-old daughter. I had asked for khul’ three times in the span of about a year, and each time I had been denied.

This last time, I stood my ground – and finally received what I knew to be my Shari’ah right.

The ‘iddah (or waiting period before being permitted to re-marry) of khul’ is only one menstrual cycle, unlike that of talaq or widowhood. Whereas a woman who has been given a talaq is obliged to stay within her husband’s home, I– being a woman who had chosen to leave the marriage– left my then-husband’s home as well, and spent that time with my family instead.

The night I received my khul’’, my tears were of relief, excitement, and joy. The next morning, as I sailed on the ferry that would take me back to my grandparents’ home, I buried my face in my best friend’s shoulder and wept for all that had passed.

My ‘iddah lasted all of two weeks, and it was a period of time marked by numerous emotions, a flash flood of exhilaration and anger, sorrow and jubilance, shattering uncertainty about the future, and a sense of renewal for my life. Every sajdah was filled with an overflowing sense of gratefulness that I had been given this opportunity that so many other women are denied; every rak’ah was performed with an aching heart and guilt at what I had chosen to do.

I wish I could say that I used my ‘iddah as a time of thoughtfulness and reflection, of heightened spirituality and increased maturity, but to be honest… to be honest, I was mostly just giddy with excitement. After four and a half years, it was a huge relief to be able to be myself again; to be able to laugh out loud, to wear a pair of shoes I liked, to be able to speak my own opinions without being censured or punished for being ‘a bad wife.’

For those two weeks, though I chafed at being kept indoors by my family, I spent a significant portion of my time simply making lists of all the things I couldn’t wait to do as soon as my ‘iddah was over.

My ‘iddah was a time where I felt like I was able to rediscover myself: remembering the person I really was behind the layers of anxiety and depression and the innumerable restrictions that had been placed on my own personality. I was able to write freely again, as though someone had removed a muzzle from my heart and mind; I could speak with honesty, instead of choosing my words based on what a certain individual wanted to hear; I could finally make choices for myself again, as a grown woman, and not someone whose existence was tied to the demands of someone else.

My identity as a Muslim woman was no longer dependent on being someone’s obedient wife; my future in the Hereafter was not hinged on another human being’s mood swings. I was, for the first time in my life (or so it felt), a grown woman whose spiritual status was a matter solely between herself and her Lord.

It was divorce, not marriage, which brought me closer to Allah and filled me with a strength of sincerity that I had not experienced in a long, long time.

When my ‘iddah ended, the first thing I did was go for a walk, hand in hand with my three-year-old daughter, retracing the neighborhood steps of my childhood and adolescence. It was here that I felt my life had come almost full-circle; here was the place that I had always felt happiest, where I had anticipated my future with eagerness, where I had experienced the early, simple struggles of adolescence and felt myself growing into the type of person I hoped to be. Now, once again, I felt the same joy and excitement, the same growing pains and the sense of discomfort that accompanies true change.

I tipped my head back towards the sun, and smiled.

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

Zainab Bint Younus (the Salafi Feminist) is a Canadian Muslim woman who tries to write thoughtfully about women of Islamic history and positive polygyny when not ranting against the patriarchy. Having sought divorce at the age of 22, she maintains that it was one of the best decisions of her life (tied with her choice to enter into polygyny and live happily ever after with her husband and best friend).

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Unveiling the Hoor al-'Ayn (Part 3)

Is Jannah Gender-Specific?

"Why does Jannah favor men?” Faced with the existence of the Ḥûr Al-În, there are many women who want to know why it is that Jannah seems so gender specific. “What about male ḥûr?”

The most common response tends to be “AstaghfirAllâh! How can a woman ask such a thing?” Alas, this simply goes to show the common attitude of many Muslims towards the idea of women having any kind of intimate needs, or being ‘forward’ in expressing those desires.

However, it is a valid question that remains, and one that many try to avoid answering directly. Some may try to be evasive and remind women that they can get jewelry, pearls, and palaces – which, while true (and equally applicable to men in many cases), still does not address the matter. Nor is the question one that has only come up recently as a result of women being ‘influenced by the kuffâr,’ as some try to insinuate.

In fact, there are three recorded incidents in which female Companions of the Prophet œ posed very similar questions to him directly. They too wondered why it seemed that the Quran addressed men so often and in detail, while leaving things vague when it comes to women.

On one occasion:

Umm Salamah (wife of the Prophet) said: “O Messenger of Allah! I did not hear a Verse in the Quran regarding the Hijra (migration with the Prophet) of women.”

Then was revealed the Verse: And their Lord has accepted of them, and answered them: Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: ye are members, one of another: those who have left their homes, and were driven out therefrom, and suffered harm in My cause, and fought and were slain – Verily I will blot out from them their inequities, and admit them into gardens with rivers flowing beneath; … A reward from Allah, and from Allah is the best of rewards. [Sûrat Âl Imrân, 4:195] (Tirmidhi, # 3023)

Imam Aḥmad, Imam Al-Nasâ’i and Imam Ibn Jarîr recorded that Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, the wife of the Prophet said:

I said to the Prophet, `Why is it that we are not mentioned in the Quran as men are?’ Then one day without my realizing it, he was calling from the Minbar and I was combing my hair, so I tied my hair back then I went out to my chamber in my house, and I started listening out, and he was saying from the Minbar: “O people! Verily Allah says:

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. [Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb, 33:35]

Another female Companion, Umm Imârah, Nusaybah bint Ka'b, narrated:

I went to the Messenger of Allah  and said to him, “I feel that everything is for men. Women are not mentioned as having anything! Verse 35 of Sûrat Al-Ahzâb was then sent down. (Tirmidhi # 3211 & 2565)

Clearly, the women around the Messenger  did not simply sit by idle and unquestioning. Rather, they ensured that they approached him directly and sought clarification for their inquiries; in turn, Allah Himself reassured them with the promise of something far greater than they could have imagined for themselves.

Going back to the question of why Allah does not speak about certain specific rewards of Jannah for women (especially those of a sexual nature), some scholars have said that it is due to the shyness and modesty of the Prophet. This may or may not have some merit, as it is clear elsewhere in the Quran and Sunnah that Allah declares that He is not shy to speak of any matter. Others, however, have noted that when Allah mentions the greatest deeds that a believer can do, the rewards for those deeds are left mysteriously unmentioned:

Say, “O My servants who have believed, fear your Lord. For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.” [Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:10]

Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving (a reward of) ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, ‘…except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it; he leaves off his desires and his food for Me.’ (Bukhâri)

Most scholars explain this âyah and ḥadîth as referring to patience and fasting, and the reward for both is considered to be so magnificent and great that Allah has chosen not to describe it specifically so as to emphasize that the greatness of that reward cannot be imagined by the human mind. There is no evidence to say that this lack of description is restricted solely to the reward for fasting or patience, as we already know that Jannah is full of that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can comprehend Jannah.

An Eternity of Experience

Before we go back to the specific issue of what women will receive in Jannah, there is something else we must first look at – what is Jannah, exactly, and is it really all that gender-specific?

It was narrated from Abû Hurayrah that the Prophet said:

Allah says: ‘I have prepared for My righteous slaves that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard and it has never crossed the mind of man. All of that is reserved, besides which all that you have known is as nothing.’ Then he recited: No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do. [Sûrat Al-Sajdah, 32:17] (Bukhâri # 3072; Muslim #2824)

The Quran describes Paradise in numerous verses, mentioning both common rewards and specific features of the celestial plane:

Therein will be a running spring.

Therein will be thrones raised high.

And cups set at hand,

And cushions set in rows,

And rich carpets (all) spread out. [Sûrat Al-Ghâshiyah 88:12-16]

But for the one who fears the standing before their Lord, there will be two Gardens (i.e. in Paradise).

Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinn and men) deny?

With spreading branches –

Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinn and men) deny?

In them (both) will be two springs flowing (free) –

Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinn and men) deny?

In them (both) will be every kind of fruit in pairs. [Sûrat Al-Raḥmân, 55:46-52]

So Allah will protect them from the evil of that Day and give them radiance and happiness:

And will reward them for what they patiently endured [with] a garden [in Paradise] and silk [garments].

[They will be] reclining therein on adorned couches. They will not see therein any [burning] sun or [freezing] cold.

And near above them are its shades, and its [fruit] to be picked will be lowered in compliance.

And there will be circulated among them vessels of silver and cups having been [created] clear [as glass],

Clear glasses [made] from silver of which they have determined the measure.

And they will be given to drink a cup [of wine] whose mixture is of ginger

[From] a fountain within Paradise named Salsabîl.

There will circulate among them young boys made eternal. When you see them, you would think them [as beautiful as] scattered pearls.

And when you look there [in Paradise], you will see pleasure and great dominion.

Upon the inhabitants will be green garments of fine silk and brocade. And they will be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will give them a purifying drink.

[And it will be said], “Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.” [Sûrat Al-Insân, 76:11-22]

Almost every verse of the Quran that elaborates about Jannah, applies its rewards to men and women alike. In fact, there is a deliberate emphasis on men and women being rewarded with full justice in Paradise.

And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another. So those who emigrated or were evicted from their homes or were harmed in My cause or fought or were killed – I will surely remove from them their misdeeds, and I will surely admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow as reward from Allah, and Allah has with Him the best reward.” [Sûrat Âl Imrân, 3:195]

Besides the Quran, we also learn from the Prophet about the many incredible things that will be available for believers.

The Messenger of Allah said:

In Jannah there is a market to which the people will come every Friday. The northern wind will blow and shower fragrance on their faces and clothes and, consequently, it will enhance their beauty and loveliness. They will then return to their spouses who will also have increased in their beauty and loveliness, and their families will say to them: ‘We swear by Allah that you have been increased in beauty and loveliness since leaving us.’ Thereupon they will reply: ‘We swear by Allah that you have also been increased in beauty and loveliness since we left you.’ (Muslim)

Indeed, in Paradise there is a market in which there is no buying nor selling- except for images of men and women. So whenever someone desires an image, they enter it. (Tirmidhi)

Sa'îd bin Al-Musayyab said, Abû Hurairah said:

I supplicate Allah to bring you and me together in the marketplace of Paradise,” Sa'îd said: “Is there a marketplace there?” He said: “Yes. The Messenger of Allah told me that when the people of Paradise enter it, they will take their places according to their deeds, and they will be given permission for a length of time equivalent to Friday on earth, when they will visit Allah.

His Throne will be shown to them and He will appear to them in one of the gardens of Paradise. Chairs of light and chairs of pearls and chairs of rubies and chairs of chrysotile and chairs of gold and chairs of silver will be placed for them. Those who are of a lower status than them –and none of them will be regarded as insignificant– will sit on sand hills of musk and camphor, and they will not feel that those who are sitting on chairs are seated better than them.”

Abû Hurairah said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, will we see our Lord?’

He said: ‘Yes. Do you dispute that you see the sun and the moon on the night when it is full?’ We said: ‘No.’ He said: ‘Likewise, you will not dispute that you see your Lord, the Glorified. There will be no one left in that gathering with whom Allah does not speak face to face, until He will say to a man among you: “Do you not remember, O so-and-so, the day you did such and such?” And He will remind him of some of his sins in this world. He will say: “O Lord, have You not forgiven me?” He will say: “Yes, it is by the vastness of My forgiveness that You have reached the position you are in.” While they are like that, a cloud will cover them from above and will rain down on them perfume the like of whose fragrance they have never smelled before. Then He will say: “Get up and go to the honor that has been prepared for you, and take whatever you desire.”

So we will go to a marketplace surrounded by the angels, in which there will be such things as eyes have never seen, ears have never heard and it has not entered the heart of man. Whatever we desire will be carried for us. Nothing will be bought or sold therein. In that marketplace the people of Paradise will meet one another. A man of elevated status will meet those who are of lower status than him, but none shall be regarded as insignificant, and he will be dazzled by the clothes that he sees on him. He will not finish the last of his conversation before better clothes appear on him. That is because no one should be sad there.’” “He said: ‘Then we will go back to our homes where we will be met by our spouses, and they will say: ‘Welcome. You have come looking more handsome and with a better fragrance than when you left us.’ And we will say: ‘Today we sat with our Lord, the Compeller, the Glorified, and we deserve to come back as we have come back.’” (Ibn Mâjah)

It is clear, therefore, that the default state of rewards in Jannah is not gender-specific, but are of a huge variety that will be shared amongst men and women alike. Jannah is, essentially, an eternity of experience – not only what has been mentioned, but so much more of what hasn’t. The believers will not only be able to enjoy incredible foods and drinks, live in amazing palaces, visit each other and interact with fascinating individuals who lived long before and long after their own period of time on earth – they will also be able to see Allah Himself, which is truly the greatest reward of all.

And yet… the question still stands: If men get the Hûr Al-În in Jannah, what do women get that is just as special to them? Part 4 will discuss this in greater detail, inshâ’Allah.

Unveiling the Hoor al-'Ayn (Part 2)

A Poly Paradise – Earthly Wives, Celestial Brides, Oh My!

THE ḤÛR AL-ÎN are most certainly one of the most contentious issues for Muslim women, and a source of downright glee for many men.

While many women ask, “What do we get in Jannah?” – which is a valid question that certainly deserves to be addressed – it is, to be blunt, merely an aside to the true crux of the matter.

That core issue is, of course, polygamy.

Polygamy in and of itself is a fraught issue amongst Muslims. On the one hand, it is clear in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet œ that it is recognized as a legitimate, permissible form of marriage in Islam. Classical scholarship discusses and confirms the rights of Muslim women not merely in general, but specifically within the context of marriage – including polygamous marriage.

On the other hand, however, there is undeniable reality: a reality where the theories of Islamic law do not necessarily translate into real life. Polygamy has been, and continues to be, misused by Muslim men and has thus resulted in the gross abuse of Muslim women. Islamic rulings about fiqh are twisted and technicalities exploited as an excuse, in many cases, for men to avoid taking full responsibility for their actions – which in turn are driven largely by their desires and not necessarily by noble intentions or even basic honesty.

However, that is not to say that the widely-known problems surrounding polygamy as practiced by many Muslims are problems exclusive to polygamy or even to Muslims. Rather, while the behaviors may be dressed up or justified using Islamic terms, the truth is that the motivations behind those actions are purely human. Just as there are those who abuse the institution of monogamy, the problem is not with monogamy itself, but rather, with the individuals.

What is it about polygamy that makes so many women upset? Is it the idea of sharing their husband physically with another woman (or multiple women)? Is it about feeling that one doesn’t have an exclusive relationship – including emotionally – with her husband? Is it more about the common stories of abuse, or even simple irresponsibility and ineptness by many men who engage in polygamy? Or is there, perhaps, a bias through which we are viewing this entire issue that we ourselves do not even recognize?

On the Other Side of the Rainbow

Polygamy is not exclusive to Islam or Muslims. Globally and historically, polygamy has existed as an institution of marriage, wherein a man has married more than one woman and has been committed to them physically, emotionally, and financially. Polygamy differs from promiscuity in that, rather than engaging in short-term multiple relationships that are based on a largely sexual foundation, polygamy demands that the husband be committed and responsible.

From a worldview which views and encourages fidelitous relationships as necessary to a healthy society, polygamy is by far preferable to short-term relationships which do not foster strong family units. In short – marriage of any type, whether monogamous or polygamous – is considered infinitely more desirable than zina of any type.

What is peculiarly interesting about how polygamy is viewed today, and in particular in Western countries – both those with a strong Judeo-Christian history and those which are primarily secular and liberal – is that there is a huge disconnect with history and with a consistent moral framework.

Despite LGBTQ+ rights being championed around the world, and pride being taken in understanding and supporting ‘liberal’ values, polygamy continues to be viewed as something negative and shameful. For all that certain groups claim that they support ‘love’ and that it shouldn’t be restricted by race or gender, they conveniently ignore that polygamy involves consenting adults (for the most part). Those who say that polygamy is the cause of abuse, forced marriage, child marriage, and other such problems are deliberately conflating issues. Abuse, forced marriage, and child marriage all exist outside of polygamy, and are not unique to it.

It is strange to me that so many people, including Muslims, do in fact try to ‘prove’ how liberal and ‘enlightened’ they are by actively supporting something such as homosexuality, yet have such a strong kneejerk reaction to polygamy – which, unlike homosexuality, is permissible in Islam.

The blunt truth is that when individuals question things such as polygamy (or the Hûr Al-În ) in Islam, they view themselves as being objective – when in truth they are themselves biased and influenced by the prevailing attitudes and mentalities of their time and culture.

It’s very easy to claim objectivity, but no one is truly objective. Values and morals change over time, and dramatically over a period of time as short as a decade. One need look no further than Western cultures to recognize how the moral norms of society have changed drastically: as early as 60 years ago, men and women as young as their mid-teens got married and it was not considered an intolerable problem; homosexuality was, as in every monotheistic religion, reviled and considered unacceptable, and public support was nearly non-existent. Today, it’s widely considered ‘normal’ for twelve-year-olds to engage in sexual experimentation but inappropriate for seventeen-year-olds to get married, while gay marriage has been legalized in Canada, the United States, and numerous other countries.

The great wisdom behind Divine Law, the Sharî¢ah of Allah, is that as our Creator has set down a set of general (and often specific) morals and values that do not change based on people’s whims and desires. In the Sharî¢ah, we have standards and codes of conduct that reinforce morals that are non-negotiable. Modesty, marital fidelity, and a zero-tolerance policy on zina of any type are examples of these values.

Once again related to the curious dichotomy between the modern-day secular, liberal agenda and the perception of polygamy, is that the liberal movement claims to be enlightened regarding the meaning of ‘love’ – yet does not extend that to polygamy.

Instead, we have people across the world affected by the primarily Judeo-Christian ideal of monogamous love: the idea that there is only one woman for one man; that romantic love is restricted to that single relationship alone; that love is limited and confined.

Why is that we are so resistant towards changing our perception of love? Why do we feel that love is something limited and quantified; that to love one individual means being incapable of loving another? Why do we feel that to have our husbands love another woman, takes away his love from us? What about loving for your loved one to be loved – to experience happiness simply in the knowledge that your loved one is happy?

Of course, the answers to much of that lies within understanding how the prominence of certain ideologies have resulted in the change of lifestyles, worldviews and perception of concepts such as love, marriage, and family.

In fact, I truly believe that the normalization of the nuclear family unit, as opposed to an extended family network that includes and incorporates polygamy, is largely responsible for the attitude that views polygamy as something innately harmful.

One counter-argument regarding polygamy often is – if it’s okay and ‘normal’ for men to be polygamous, why is it not so for women? Aren’t the same justifications for polygamous men applicable to women who incline towards the same?

The truth is, once again, harsh to some. Allah tells us clearly that “wa laysa al-dhakara ka al-untha.” The male is not like the female. Islam itself recognizes innate differences – biological, psychological, and social – and has a vast array of different rulings for the genders. However, with emotional capability to love put aside (and there are certainly some valid points regarding women’s emotional bandwidth compared to men), one very simple reason for the fact that polyandry is prohibited in Islam is because of paternity.

Access to technology such as DNA analysis is both extremely recent and privileged; the vast majority of people in the world cannot get a paternity test easily or immediately. Lineage through the father is taken very seriously in Islam, and the prohibition of polyandry is related to that.

Sharing is Caring

Though so many people are hung up on the idea of sharing their husbands with the Hûr Al-În, one point which is particularly fascinating is actually about the fact that out of the spouses whom a man will have in Jannah, two of them will be human wives.

In Sûrat Al-Wâqiah, Allah describes the women of Jannah in the following terms:

Indeed, We have produced the women of Paradise in a [new] creation; and made them virgins, beloved (by nature), equal in age…  [Sûrat Al-Wâqiah, 56:35-37]

As evidenced by the ḥadîth of the Prophet (introduced in Part 1), Abû Hurairah narrated that the Prophet Muhammad  said:

Every man in heaven will go to seventy-two of the creatures of Allah (houris) and two of the women of mankind. These two (human, believing) women are superior to the creatures of Allah (houris) with their worshipping (good deeds) which they had performed in this world. (Bayhaqi, Al-Ba'th wa Al-Nushûr; Ṭabari, Tafsir; Abû Ya¢la, Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ Al-Bâri; Ṭabarâni; and others)

These verses refer not to the Hûr Al-În (houris), but to the human believing women.

In particular, verse 37 of Sûrat Al-Wâqi'ah stands out: 'Uruban atrâban. While the word atrâban is translated as ‘equal in age,’ there are other linguistic nuances to the word. In Nouman Ali Khan’s linguistic analysis of the verse, he points out that the word atrâban is related to the word turâb – dust, dirt, that original source material from which every human being has been created. More specifically, the implication of the word is not merely that these women are made from dust (ergo, they are human beings), but that they are made from the same dust as their spouses, a symbolic reference. In essence, they will be perfect and compatible for their spouses in every way: true soul mates.

In addition, the following ḥadîth further describes these women:

It is 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 Abû Hurairah reported that the Prophet œ said:

The (members) of the first group to get into Paradise would have their faces as bright as the 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. There would be no dissension amongst them and no enmity in their hearts. Their hearts would be like one heart, glorifying Allah morning and evening. (Muslim)

Considering the way this ḥadîth is phrased – with the description of the believers in general coming first, and then specifying the women – it could be said that the final phrase regarding the hearts is also describing the women in particular.

How incredible would it be if our co-wives in Jannah are not merely soul mates to our husbands, but our kindred spirits as well?

So Many Questions, Never Enough Answers

This look at polygamy and our attitudes towards it – whether on this Earth or in Jannah – is by no means exhaustive or perfect. It is a small attempt to look into why we feel so strongly about it, and there are further points that will continue to be addressed in future parts, inshâ’Allah.

Nor are the sentiments put forth in this article meant to invalidate the questions and emotions many people have regarding this sensitive topic. It is recognized that for every individual, there will be issues that are troubling and which they find problematic. Ultimately, it is impossible for a fellow human being to provide answers that are tailored to and satisfy each and every person. What is difficult for one person to process may be very simple for another; the perspective which provides contentment to one individual may cause further discomfort for another.

In the end, we are all on a journey towards Jannah itself. That path has difficulties for us all, and those challenges must be expected – for Allah Himself tells us:

Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while Allah has not yet tested those of you who fight in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast? [Sûrat Âl 'Imrân, 3:142]

Perhaps one of the greatest tests of us all is that we do not allow our own weaknesses and question to commit one of the greatest sins: to question Allah by demanding explanations of His choices or questioning His wisdom.

He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned. [Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:23]

Friday, April 29, 2016


My mother, yanking us out of bed and laying out our best clothing - my brother's thawbs, my own jalabiyyas brought back from Hajj, and my favourite abaya stitched with little sparkling jet-black beads.
My father at the dining room table listening to his Arabic cassettes, a book or two from his massive collection laid out in front of him, notecards haphazardly scattered around him while he mumbled to himself in Arabic and scribbled out his khutbah.
My mother, asking us what we wanted to eat for Jumu'ah lunch, preparing biryani or daal and rice or ruz bukhaari or butter chicken - our favourites, reserved for only this one day of the week.
My father, wandering around the house with his mus'haf reciting Suratul Kahf, his beard still damp from wudhu, while my brothers and I tried to get out of doing the few chores we were expected to finish before going for salah.
My mother, opening the windows to let out the cooking smells, straightening the cushions on the sofa, lighting the bukhoor to waft around the house and playing Suratul Kahf in the background as she worked.
My father, lining up my brothers in their matching white thawbs, carefully choosing an 'itr from his collection, showing them how to rub the oil between their wrists and then wiping it over their hair and clothing, combing it into his beard.
Us children, piling into the car, dutifully reciting salawaat upon RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), then loudly practising our own khutbah-giving skills, proclaiming with great emphasis, "Wa kulla bid'atin dalalah, wa kulla dalaalatin fin naar!"
Scattering to our places, sitting down to listen to our father's khutbah, trying not to nod off as he went on and on and on... jumping up to pray Salatul Jumu'ah, shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot with our elders; excitedly saying salaam to the masjid uncles and aunties afterwards, patiently putting up with pinched cheeks in exchange for little treats, happily throwing our arms around our favourite people, waiting impatiently while our father finished talking to what seemed like every person in attendance, and then scampering off back to the car where we would chatter about who we saw and how many people were there and what so and so said to us.
Coming home to find the dining table set with our favourite meal, catching a glimpse of dessert in the fridge, my mother dressed up in her own Jumu'ah finest, my brothers and I nudging each other happily that she was wearing the jewelry we'd bought her last 'Eid.
Going to the Islamic center for Arabic classes in the evening, wandering in and out of the men and women's musallas, fetching things and passing messages between husbands and wives, gleefully getting our hands sticky with treats from our "almost-grandmother" Umm Hussam, talking too much and getting too excited until quelled by a warning look from either of our parents - but only until the next aunty or uncle stopped to laugh with us.
Dozing off in the car on the way home, grumbling a little about how long our father took, but sleepy and satisfied and wrapped in the security of knowing that next Friday would be just like this night, and the Friday after that, and the Friday after that.
{“This is a day of ‘Eid that Allah has ordained for the Muslims, so whoever comes to Jumu‘ah, let him do ghusl, and if he has any perfume let him put some on, and you should use the miswaak.” Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 1098; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah.}

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Jannah lies under her feet..."

The reason that Jannah lies under the feet of mothers isn't because it's easy or because our 'feminine natures' simply incline towards it.
The reason Jannah lies under the feet of mothers is because it is one of the most painful and unpleasant jobs in the world.
From pregnancy and its assorted conditions - everything from morning sickness to gestational diabetes to depression so severe that it leads to suicidal thoughts or impulses - to the first few months of sleep deprivation, the agonies of breastfeeding, post partum depression; from the toddler years of having a child drain you of your bodily fluids, waking you up every night and at monstrous hours of the early morning clawing at your face or screaming for inexplicable reasons (and no, children don't only cry because they're hungry, sick, or need a diaper change; very often they cry because they want nothing but your undivided attention for absolutely no reason other than to sadistically test your sanity); to the years when you must spend each day grimly trying to educate them and raise them as well-mannered and respectful human beings despite their insistence on acting like ungrateful brats...
THAT is mothering. That is the daily reality - and it is not to be glossed over or shrugged off or required for us to hastily add, "But of course I love my kids and it's very rewarding."
For some people, sure, motherhood is fabulous and all they've dreamed of from life. And that's great... for them.
For so many others, especially Muslim women who have had it drilled into them that motherhood is their ultimate spiritual accomplishment, it is absolutely not fun. You don't get a daily spiritual rush or spiritual growth on a regular basis simply by keeping your spawn alive. You just don't.
So please, for the love of God, can we stop romanticizing motherhood?
It has become so painfully cliche in talks and lectures and workshops to celebrate motherhood, to revere it, to speak about every woman's maternal instinct as a gift and blessing from God and that being a loving mother is how we shall earn His Pleasure... to the point that when Muslim mothers do finally break down and confess that there are days, weeks, even months that they hate it with a passion - they are vilified for being unnatural or damaged or corrupted, they are told that they are less than good Muslim women, that they are severely lacking in faith and fitrah.
Enough of it.
Our motherhood should be celebrated not only in terms of the perceived "joys" and "beauties" of having children, but because of the sheer agony of it. Our pain needs to be recognized and acknowledged in terms of more than "your kids can't pay you back for even one contraction from labour." Such phrases lose meaning when in the next breath, mothers are berated for not being absolutely perfect, for not being sacrificing more of themselves (for either their children or their husbands), for wanting *more* from their lives than motherhood.
Jannes lies under the feet of mothers not because motherhood is wonderful, but because most of the time, it's not.
And there is nothing wrong with saying that.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

International Women's Day 2016

On International Women's Day, the first women we should be commemorating are those who were commemorated in the Qur'an: Hawaa', the Queen of Sheba, Hajar, Sarah, Asiyah, the mothers of Musa and Maryam, and Maryam herself.
These women shaped our history; they embodied piety and courage, wisdom and strength; they were made examples for this entire Ummah, men and women alike.
These women were inspired by Allah, spoken to by angels, were guided and comforted by their Lord even as they went through excruciating tests.
Slave woman and queen; known and unnamed; daughters, wives, mothers, but most importantly *individuals* - these ‪#‎ForgottenHeroines‬ tell us how to change the world simply by striving to please Allah.
These women were spoken about by our Creator Himself; their stories etched upon the Preserved Tablet above the 7 heavens, their greatness was praised in the Qur'an and they will be known for as long as the Qur'an is recited with our tongues and is protected within our hearts.
Will we raise our sons and daughters to know these #ForgottenHeroines? Will we raise them to love them and seek to emulate them? Will we teach them that greatness comes not from social status or wealth or even the pursuit of worldly happiness - but from that most rare and precious of blessings: true taqwa, a faith as brilliant and unbreakable as a diamond.
Or will we be of those who simply lets their stories fade away and be forgotten, whose children will never experience the thrill of hearing about the angel whose wing let loose a sacred well for the sake of a woman who never gave up; the queen who raised a Prophet and defied a Pharoah... or about the teenage girl who worshiped her Lord in a blessed temple, whose belly began to swell miraculously, who fled to the desert to give birth to an infant whose tiny rosebud mouth proclaimed Prophethood and honoured his mother just as the angels honoured her.
Today, and every day, honour these women by reciting the Divine Words that speak of them; today, and every day, continue their legacies by living in accordance to the principles and values they lived and died for; today, and every day, make your purpose in life that which was theirs: the love and pleasure of Allah alone.
May we be of those who love our Lord and are beloved to Him, may we be of those who love those whom He loves, may we be of those brought together in this world out of love for Him, may we be of those gathered with His beloveds on the Day of Judgment, and reunited in Jannah, ameen.
اللهم إني أسألك حبك وحب من يحبك وحب كل عمل يقربني إلى حبك

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Queen's Throne and a Prophet's Challenge

A long time ago, in a land far away, a bird called the Hudhud (Hoopoe) flew over the land of Sheba and gazed in shock at the sight he saw. He winged his way back to the kingdom of Prophet Sulaymân (Solomon), and announced:
{I have encompassed [in knowledge] that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Sheba with certain news. Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of to Allah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided, [and] so they do not prostrate to Allah, who brings forth what is hidden within the heavens and the earth and knows what you conceal and what you declare. Allah! – there is no deity except Him, Lord of the Great Throne!} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:22-26]
The Hudhud’s words express amazement and dismay alike at this marvel which he witnessed. Then as now, a woman in a position of such ruler-ship was not the norm – and clearly, this woman enjoyed many blessings of Allah in addition to her power. Yet what was most shocking to the Hudhud was that despite the greatness of her throne and of her land, this remarkable queen did not worship Allah, but worshipped the sun instead. Nor was the queen alone in her sun worship. The Hudhud noted that “she and her people” were engaged in this worship together, which illustrates the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Inevitably, wherever one goes in the world, the faith of the ruler(s) will affect the faith of a nation; the beliefs of those in authority will always impact the people they rule over.
The Hudhud was both fascinated and concerned at this state of affairs. How could someone not recognize Allah’s existence and worship Him as He deserves, when they were already showered with His blessings? As a prophet of Allah, Sulaymân knew that he had a duty to engage in da'wah with this fellow leader.
Sulaymân instructed the Hudhud:
{Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them. Then leave them and see what [answer] they will return.} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:28]
Thoughtfully, he wondered what kind of ruler the queen really was, and what response he would receive.
Allah introduces us to the Balqîs, Queen of Sheba (Saba’: Yemen/Ethiopia), in the most beautiful of ways.
{She said, “O eminent ones, indeed, to me has been delivered a noble letter. Indeed, it is from Sulayman, and indeed, it reads: ‘In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission.} ‘[Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:29-31]
Immediately, an image is conjured – a woman of grace and wisdom, a ruler who does not hold herself aloof from her people, but who consults with those around her. Balqîs is a woman whose intellect and poise is clear from her every word.
As she reads the letter out to her cabinet, it is clear that she has already read the letter. She has thought about it, and considered it seriously; she is impressed, not afraid, of what she has read, for she describes it as ‘kitâbun karîm’ – a noble and gracious message.
Sulaymân’s letter begins with the basmala, invoking the Name of Allah, and she recognizes that this is not about himself and how great he is, but about something far more serious. What he says and does is not out of his own sense of superiority, but out of submission to Allah.
Balqîs also recognizes the nuances of his words: when he said “allâ ta'lû ‘alayya,” he was telling her not to be arrogant towards him – but also carried the meaning of warning her not to advance against him militarily. The Hudhud, having noted Sheba’s influence and might, may have implied that the queendom of Sheba was considering expansion of its borders.
Sulaymân had continued, saying, “wa âtûni muslimîn” – “come to me in a state of non-aggression, of submission” to Allah.
{She said, “O eminent ones, advise me in my affair. I would not decide a matter unless you are present.”} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:32]
The Queen of Sheba’s success as a ruler no doubt had something to do with the fact that she was far from reckless, hasty, or emotional. The word aftûnî “advise me”—related to ‘fatwah’—as used in this verse, carries in its meaning the connotation of empowering someone to make a decision, to provide them with the evidence required to make a correct decision. Balqîs did not simply tell her ministers that she had received a message from Sulaymân, but she made a point of reading out the letter in its entirety; she provided them with the complete information rather than merely her own perception.
{They said, “We are men of strength and of great military might, but the command is yours, so see what you will command.”} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:33]
Balqîs’ cabinet of ministers were as foresighted as she was: though they were men of influence and authority, who wielded military power, they still acknowledged her power and trusted her to make the right decision.
{She said, “Indeed, kings – when they enter a city – they ruin it and render the honored of its people humbled. And thus do they do. But indeed, I will send to them a gift and see with what [reply] the messengers will return.”} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:34-35]
The Queen’s comment about the behavior of kings displayed her political astuteness. She knew better than anyone that conquerors engage in media campaigns – that they inflict political oppression and brutally crush any opposition. Her decision was one of sharp insight: she decided to send gifts to Sulaymân to test him, to see if his invitation to Islam was really one of principle, or whether it was just an excuse for exerting political power and asking for bribes.
Qatadah said about her thought process: “May Allah have mercy on her and be pleased with her—how wise she was as a Muslim and (before that) as an idolater! She understood how gift-giving has a good effect on people.” Ibn `Abbas and others said: “She said to her people, if he accepts the gift, he is a king, so fight him; but if he does not accept it, he is a Prophet, so follow him.”[1]
Now comes the response of Prophet Sulaymân, his dignity offended by the very idea of accepting what could be construed as a bribe.
{So when they came to Sulaymân, he said, “Do you provide me with wealth? But what Allah has given me is better than what He has given you. Rather, it is you who rejoice in your gift! Return to them, for we will surely come to them with soldiers that they will be powerless to encounter, and we will surely expel them therefrom in humiliation, and they will be debased.”} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:36-37]
Sulaymân’s answer first and foremost speaks about Allah, acknowledging that everything is from Him, and that He is the One Who gives. His response is also one of political know-how: he is basically saying that he is insulted at the idea that they think they can buy him off, that they are so confident that he will be easy to manipulate. Though his threat may seem harsh, it is to display his refusal to be seen as weak. The exchange of messages is that of rulers testing each other’s mettle, examining the other’s strength and commitment to honor and principle.
Finally, a meeting is arranged between the two monarchs – but the matching of wits is not yet over.
{He (Sulaymân) said, “O assembly [of jinn], which of you will bring me her throne before they come to me in submission? “A powerful one from among the jinn said, “I will bring it to you before you rise from your place, and indeed, I am for this [task] strong and trustworthy. Said one who had knowledge from Scripture, “I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you.” And when he (Sulaymân) saw it placed before him, he said, “This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful, his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself; and whoever is ungrateful, then indeed, my Lord is Free of Need and Generous.” He said, “Disguise her throne for her; we will see whether she will be guided [to truth] or will be of those who is not guided.” So when she arrived, it was said [to her], “Is your throne like this?” She said, “[It is] as though [this] was it.”} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:38-42]
Sulaymân had one final test to put before Balqîs, a challenge to her intellect. Mujahid said: “He issued orders that it should be changed, so whatever was red should be made yellow and vice versa, and whatever was green should be made red, so everything was altered.” Ikrimah said, “They added some things and took some things away.” Qatadah said, “It was turned upside down and back to front, and some things were added and some things were taken away.”[2]
Balqîs was a woman of caution and keen acumen, wary of passing judgment swiftly or making quick decisions. She neither affirmed nor denied that the throne before her now was the same throne she presided over in Sheba; instead, calm and unruffled, she merely acknowledged the similarity between what she knew of her own possession, and the throne she looked upon in that moment.
{She was told, “Enter the palace.” But when she saw it, she thought it was a body of water and uncovered her shins [to wade through]. He said, “Indeed, it is a palace [whose floor is] made smooth with glass.” She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Sulaymân to Allah, Lord of the worlds.”} [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:44]
How beautiful is the Queen of Sheba’s conduct! Her intelligence, her dignity, and her grace are all highlighted in just a few words. There is no arrogance whatsoever—no stubbornness or reluctance to admitting previous wrongdoing, just honesty. She had borne witness to amazing things on this day, and she would not allow her ego interfere with her testimony of truth. On this day, she submitted with Sulaymân to Allah – the submission of equals before their Lord. There is a sense of dignity to it all, a powerful aura of respect.
What is truly amazing about how Allah tells the story in the Quran is that it ends with her declaration of faith in Him, with such grace. Many people turn the story of Balqîs into a romantic tale or argue that she gave up her queendom to Sulaymân, but none of that is even hinted at in the âyât that speak about her.
Allah so clearly brings our attention to a woman who had both power and wisdom; who did not allow herself to be swayed by fear, but who was determined to make her decisions based upon actual experience. She demonstrates to us the attitude that we should all have: a willingness to go out there and seek knowledge and experience for ourselves; to be cautious but not stubborn; open-minded but not easily dazzled… and above all, the ability to acknowledge that we have done wrong, and to turn to Allah with a heart full of faith and repentance—with dignity.
The Queen of Sheba is the perfect example of how submitting ourselves to Allah does not bring us down, but simply raises us higher.
The relationship between Sulaymân and Balqîs as hinted at from that final declaration of Balqîs, also encapsulates the ideal relationship between men and women; that they both be seen as individuals capable of authority, and of humility at the same time. Most importantly, that each party respect the other – acknowledging each other’s strengths and seeking only to assist each other in improving as human beings, and above all, to support each other in turning to Allah and worshiping Him alone. The image we are left with in the Quran is that of Sulaymân and Balqîs, king and queen, submitting themselves equally as slaves to Allah alone. How much more beautiful could their relationship be?
From beginning to end, the Queen of Sheba is presented to us as an example of an amazing individual. Though initially she was of those misguided, who wrongfully worshipped other than Allah, her intelligence and her honesty led her to recognize the truth and submit herself to her Creator in the most beautiful of ways. In her personality, we see a true heroine – someone who did not allow her position of power or her possession of great luxury to prevent her from humbling herself spiritually.
Like Balqîs and Sulaymân, men and women are meant to be strive together to realize their full potential, in terms of both worldly accomplishments and spiritual submission. Only when we recognize that our strength lies in supporting each other will we find contentment and success alike. By following the footsteps of a Prophet and a Queen, we will ultimately find ourselves submitting to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.