Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Movie Review: Layla M.

There are very few movies that evoke an intense emotional reaction from me, and Layla M. is one of them. A Dutch-made film that follows the journey of a young Moroccan-Dutch woman, Layla M. feels disconcertingly realistic - and does, in fact, reflect the reality of many young Muslim men and women in today's world of political Islamophobia, jihadi Internet propaganda, and complex human emotions.

We meet the title character first as the disenchanted daughter of immigrants in Denmark, struggling to learn more about Islam and practice it overtly, even as she enjoys kicking around a soccer ball and deals with her not-quite-so-conservative family members.
Drawn into a social circle of other young Muslims who resent the increasing Islamophobia in Europe, Layla goes against her family's wishes. She dons the niqab - not so much as a symbol of inner spirituality as much as a gesture of political defiance disguised as Islamism - and then elopes with an overly zealous, equally young jihadi man.

As they flee across Europe to Jordan (making a pit stop where Layla is kept sitting in the car while her husband goes off to create a jihadi boy band nasheed video), we begin to see her realize the enormity of what she has done. The idealism of her beliefs slowly evaporates, her dreams of a marital partnership based on respect and equality increasingly crushed by every new limitation imposed upon her, and the horrifying recognition of what, exactly, her new life entails.

But what made Layla M. so painful for me to watch - and yet impossible to stop watching - was how it was akin to watching an alternate reality version of myself.
As a young teenager, I gloried in jihadi anasheed (not going to lie, my playlist is still full of the classics); I daydreamed of a grand hijrah, of marrying a brave, earnest mujaahid, of engaging in a glorious mission of social work and sacrifice and battle for the sake of the Muslim Ummah. (Spoiler: none of that happened IRL.) If not for the right set of circumstances (and a solid set of parents), it would have been all too easy for me to become Layla M.

Layla M. is not just some horror story of a young woman kidnapped by some crazed jihadi man and then held prisoner. No, Layla M. is about a smart young woman, someone who is acutely aware of the politics of Islamophobia, not just in a theoretical in-the-Muslim-world kind of way, but in a right-here-at-home kind of way. Layla feels the impact of the virulent hate spread against Muslims, and she chooses to join a certain social circle of individuals; she chooses to run away from home and marry a man with whom she already knew she could never have a 'normal' happily-ever-after with. Her inner sense of justice and what is right - what should be right - burns too strongly for her to be content with being a good girl, a quiet girl, an immigrant girl who assimilates silently.

Indeed, it is the lack of outright villainy which makes Layla M's story so disconcerting. Her husband Abdel is not an evil, abusive monster. He is young, like her, brash, overly confident, utterly clueless. Their wedding night is painfully awkward in the way of most Muslim virgins - and one almost sighs with relief on their behalf when she mumbles, "I'm on my period," and they settle down together with only slightly less awkwardness.
And yet, romance does grow - in a sense. Abdel takes himself too seriously, but in a scene that is both utterly heartbreaking as well as intensely cringeworthy, Layla pulls him into a dance with her, and they share a sweetness that every teenage jihadi fangirl dreams of (or maybe that was just me. I don't know. Don't judge, okay? I had a lot going on in my head at the time. Hormones, mostly.).

Layla M. is jarringly real in a way that the phrase "Instagram ISIS wives" could never feel real (despite being an actual thing). It cuts to the core of so many realities, of the harshness of growing up Muslim in an environment that despises the very essence of your identity, of the sexism that women face no matter how much equality and empowerment we seek in any community, of the severity of one's youthful decisions, played out not in one's neighborhood or at school, but in the context of international intrigue, national security, and political prisoners.

For some Muslims in the West - the privileged ones - Layla M. might feel overdone, overly dramatic, and completely ridiculous. For others amongst us, it might feel far too much like taking a look into what-might-have-been if we too had acted upon our own brash desires and convictions of universal truths. But for all viewers, Layla M. is a brilliantly crafted movie, one which is a meaningful contribution to the sparse selection of Muslim-relevant films.

In truth, nothing I say in this review can actually encapsulate what an emotional rollercoaster this movie was for me. Waking up from delusions of grandiose saving-the-Ummah daydreams is brutal, and while my own awakening was very different (marriage to someone who was decidedly not jihadi, promptly isolated and impregnated, and then eventually getting the hell out before finally living my own real life), there is always a part of me that remembers all too well what it was like to be a teenaged girl with such fantasies. And that part of me needed to see Layla M., as the closure that I never knew I needed.

Rating: 5/5 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman

The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman: Paths to Conversion - written by Dr. Anabel Inge


"The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman" began as a thesis and ended up as a fully-fledged book. This book is unique in that it takes a long, detailed look at the daily reality of Salafi Muslim women in the UK, not from the informal perspective of a Muslim experiencing complicated intra-community politics, but as a non-Muslim woman included in the private confidences of the women whose stories are being told.

Dr. Inge's approach is refreshing, not least because she does not seek to push forth a particular agenda or perpetuate a deliberately negative image of the Salafi community (which does enough to give itself a bad reputation). Rather, as she states in the very beginning of her book: "I assumed that... Salafi women have agency and power over their lives like anybody else."

Reading this book as a self-identifying Salafi woman, this statement gave me the reassurance that the stories of the women would not be twisted and used to suit a certain agenda or to fear-monger. Instead, there was a sense of genuine sincerity regarding the author's choice to study this particular demographic.

The Introduction lays the foundation for all readers - Muslim and nonMuslim alike - to understand the context of discussing Salafiyyah as both an ideological movement and a Muslim sub-culture of sorts operating within a post 9/11 political environment. There is a clear distinguishing between Salafiyyah and those whom they are often lumped with, such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Khawaarij groups that many feel no hesitance in conflating with one another.

The first chapter of the book acts as a mini history lesson in the development and rise of Salafiyyah in the UK;  as a Muslim reader from Canada, where Salafiyyah's history and current existence is far different from that of our cousins in the UK, I found this particularly interesting. It is rare to find a semi-academic account of inter-Muslim-community histories, which we as Muslims tend to neglect in our pursuit of keeping up with the times.



Am LOLing at her first exposure to "inshaAllah means no" and women cancelling plans bc "my husband said no" (aka most convenient excuse ever). Even more LOLing at her first cowife proposal hahaha (I'm sorry I am so not being an academic reviewer, I'm enjoying this too much!)

Speaking of academia, I am very appreciative of her detailed introduction where she discusses how she gathered the material for her book and the challenge of being a researcher on a specialized topic with a community that is rightly suspicious and protective of their spaces. I always find it interesting when "outsiders" share their observations/experiences with our communities - how they view our quirks & habits.

Random tidbit: educated young Somali women make up a significant portion of UK's (female) Salafiyyah.

I love her brief history of Salafiyyah in the UK - ya3ni Umar Lee's Rise and Fall series gave us an insider view of Salafiyyah in the States but for young un's like me who only know what the Muslim blogosphere imparted to us, this stuff is great.

Back to the book: I find it fascinating that "being Muslim" (or at least looking the part) was (is?) a legit trend in certain areas. The part where London gangsters were trying to use Islam as some kind of branding makes me want to read some Muslim gangsta urban fiction. What's interesting to note is the factors that led many women to choose Salafiyyah in spite of its own bad rep: akhlaaq, knowledge of Deen, and persistence in da'wah without fixating on Salafiyyah's labels or PDF reputations or other cliched silliness.
It's definitely not rocket science - it's the basic principles of da'wah, the Sunnah of RasulAllah himself - but it's an excellent reminder that those of us who would purport to be Salafi should be keeping in mind and which, unfortunately, many do not - and then bitterly wonder why folks would rather go join other groups instead. Ukhuwwah is a vital ingredient of da'wah, and not in a clique-ish, cult-ish manner.

Of note is that for some women, it made all the difference to be welcomed by fellow Muslims who didn't look down at them for their pasts. Piercings or pregnancies out of wedlock, so long as one was choosing to return to the Deen, there was no issue.

The most important part of these women's choice to turn to Salafiyyah, however, was intellectual conviction. And *that* is what I also identify with: the clear, fitrah-centric approach to Tawheed and emaan. Kitab atTawheed aside, it's honestly the basic facts abt Tawheed that are most reassuring; the freedom from depending on wazifas and peer saabs and worrying that one's relationship with Allah isn't good enough to count, or to matter.



Still making my way through @Anabel_Inge's book, and what I feel it has done most for me is give me a greater appreciation for what and how Salafiyyah comes off as to an outside, objective observer who doesn't share our emotional baggage. Whether it's things like trying a little too hard to be "Salafi enough" - particularly with regards to outward markers - to the emphasis on Tawheed and purifying oneself of bid'ah, it's refreshing to recognize those aspects of ourselves that are both praiseworthy and otherwise.

Particularly poignant is the chapter highlighting the practical inconsistencies of Salafi socio-religious standards/ expectations for women. Seeking knowledge is fardh 3ayn, but the ever-present insistence on a woman's domestic duties presents a challenge that Muslim women still face - esp when it is drummed into our heads that even preparing a husband's meal is waajib and more of a priority than anything else.


*Extremely* well-written, thoughtful, well-researched. To me, being completely unfamiliar with Salafiyyah in the UK, it was a fascinating insight into how the culture of Salafiyyah is both same anddifferent in various geographical regions.

The chapter on the history of Salafiyyah in the UK was particularly appreciated, as well as the observations regarding the ethnic demographics of Salafiyyah in certain regions (she focuses on more Somali/ other African populations).
I deeply appreciated the recognition that for many Salafi women, the pull to Salafiyyah was/ is very much both an intellectual and spiritual journey. It reminded me that while the culture of Salafiyyah can often be obnoxious and unreasonable, there is something deeper that does call to and attract those who search for something deeper - for those who genuinely want the Haqq, who look for something more.

Yes, it is very idealistic and Salafiyyah as it is doesn't always fulfill this - but there is a reason it has developed.
And yes, Salafis are pretty obnoxious judgmental fluffs when it comes to being a social group and this is probably the main reason behind people dropping the label. I don't blame them at all.

What this book highlighted, and what I thought was so important about it, is that it focused on the lived experiences of Salafi women... which are very, very different from those of Salafi men.

Whether in terms of the culture of the community, or how Islam is taught and internalized, to the challenges of finding a spouse and contending with things not working out, to struggling with both family tensions and challenges in the academic world/ work force... what women go through is so, so different, and so often ignored and underappreciated.

Obviously, the book is not exhaustive of *all* aspects of being a Salafi woman, nor does it necessarily touch on how the culture of Salafiyyah has evolved, esp recently.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend it. UK peeps will probably understand certain nuances better or identify possible inaccuracies, but overall I very much enjoyed the research shared and feel that it is a valuable first insight for those who might never have considered learning about Salafiyyah in outside of a cliche Muslim-men-and-politics-and-oppressed-veiled-women perspective.

The mus'haf that I've had since I was 12, that my father brought back for me from one of his many Hajj trips, has finally fallen apart. The binding has loosened, pages falling out, and after years of insisting that it's "just fine," I finally conceded defeat.
I have a new one to replace it - a classic green-and-gold, the type that I've always liked best - but I already miss my old one.
That one has sticky notes all over the last 5 ajzaa', reminders of when I was a teenager and still had a real tajweed teacher to correct me; underlined aayaat to help me memorize the supplications of the Prophets and the pious ones - those like Aasiyah (as) and Maryam (as); little marks that make my heart twinge with nostalgia as I remember the two years I had spent dedicated to reviewing my hifdh and memorizing more.
This mus'haf accompanied me across the world, staying with me during my many lows and slowly increasing highs.
There were times when, I am ashamed to admit, I barely opened it; but every time I picked it up, it fit between my hands smoothly and lovingly, a steady comfort.
I can't bring myself to send it off to get recycled with other aged, fallen-apart masaahif. It's perched atop my bookshelf now, and I can see it even as I curl up on the couch with my crisp new mus'haf, and I can't help but feel an odd sense of loss.
I can only hope that I will soon develop an equally intimate relationship with my new mus'haf; that it, too, will have small stickies tucked inside to remind me how to pronounce a particularly tricky word, or underlining an especially meaningful du'a.
Just as my old mus'haf was my companion and witness to the ups and downs of life, and my relationship with the Qur'an, I hope that this one, too, will testify for me on the Day of Judgment - that I opened to its pages often, that I memorized the Divine Words contained within it.
I hope that years from now, whenever I touch it, I will remember the days that I sat in patches of sunlight with it on my lap, the glow of the sun's rays no match for Allah's Light; that I will summon its pages easily in my mind's eye, no longer struggling so hard to remember the verses that a younger me had once found so easy to recall; that in times of sorrow, its scent will bring me comfort; that in times of joy, I will turn to it and recite the Words of Allah in gratitude.
I pray that this Ramadan, we all find our hearts growing more attached to the Qur'an, opening to its guidance and blessings, acting upon it in our everyday lives.
May Allah make us amongst Ahlul Qur'an, those who will be raised on the Day of Judgment reciting His Words.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: The New Muslim's Field Guide

As a “born Muslim,” it feels odd to be reviewing a book titled “The New Muslim’s Field Guide” - but at the same time, I deeply appreciate being given the chance to do so. While I may not necessarily be the target audience, I do believe that it is important for “born Muslims” to read material aimed at converts and reverts (and, as the intro helpfully mentions, those who are just beginning to live their lives as practicing Muslims, even if they were born within a Muslim family). We need to understand what kind of literature is being handed out to them, and especially in this case, to hear from actual converts and reverts about their experiences as new Muslims. 

The authors of The Field Guide are Theresa Corbin and Kaighla Um Dayo, two American Muslim women who have lived the highs and lows of life after accepting Islam. The first thing that stands out about The Field Guide is its tone - real talk sprinkled with humour, which helps lighten the heavy information that’s shared. 

The Field Guide holds no punches and does not shy away from tackling the issues that so many new Muslims face - whether it has to do with recognizing the difference between cultural interpretations of Islam and actual Islamic beliefs, maintaining one’s own personality after conversion, or the pressure to abandon one’s nonMuslim family and friends. 

Even in discussions on the pillars of faith and the pillars of Islam, The Field Guide is set apart from the average aimed-at-converts book. Rather than being a dense, often complex collection of religious texts that can be quite confusing for the average new Muslim, Corbin and White simplify the basic tenets of Islam in a way that makes it easy to understand for a layperson. Their explanations on the meanings of technical Islamic terms are simplified while still comprehensive, and do not overwhelm the reader. 

Corbin and Um Dayo do a wonderful job of virtually guiding new Muslims through commonly experienced minefields, challenges, and accidental faux pas. They aren’t afraid to talk about the scary stuff (extremism and Islamophobia), awkward stuff (sex), and important stuff (all of it, but especially spiritual self-development as a Muslim). 

The New Muslim’s Field Guide is a valuable resource for new Muslims, particularly in a Western (specifically North American) context. It is easy to digest, is not preachy or heavy-handed with too many unexplained Arabic terms or Islamic technicalities, and reads like some solid advice from good friends with life experience - which is, essentially, what it is. As a starting point that can help new Muslims better navigate their journey to understanding Islam, and life as a practising Muslim, I highly recommend The New Muslim’s Field Guide. It should certainly be part of any masjid or Islamic centre’s staple stash of resources for both non-Muslims and new Muslims. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Certain Type of Bro

Verily, a Certain Type of Bro can be identified in the following ways:
His profile pictures are of him carefully posing his flexed biceps in a casual and yet thoughtful manner as he gazes into the distance, pondering upon the Divine Wisdoms of the Universe (he will of course share his deep pontifications in the captions of said pictures).
His social media is filled with Islamic reminders about modesty and humility, while reminding his dear sisters in Islam to protect their modesty from the attacks of those who seek to destroy the hijab... while he flexes those biceps to show the Ummah that the Muslim brothers will always defend their Muslim sisters.
He is deeply invested in all conversations regarding the dangers of the opposite gender, while frequenting the social media feeds of well known Muslim women so as to know what they are up to at any given time, that he may give them sincere naseeha... repeatedly.
He laments the Muslim marriage crisis and occasionally reminds us all of the great hikmah behind polygamy in Islam. He helpfully provides us with pictures of himself at various weddings so as to emphasize the importance of the rishta process.
His da'wah is Very Important and Very Meaningful and this is evident in all the pictures that he takes with the victims - errr, saved souls - of his Ten Minute Shahada ambushes (I mean, da'wah sessions).
My dear sisters in Islam, do not be lured by the false Facebook promises of these Certain Types of Bros.
Know that the truly pious Muslim man will guard his modesty (and selfies) and will not put himself on display for every sister to enjoy with a prolonged, no-blinking first gaze.
If his da'wah is sincere, it will be evident in the truthfulness and beauty of his words and his emaan... not the carefully chosen polo shirt that conveniently highlights his most attractive features.
Never marry the wanton males that parade themselves openly in the streets for every Fatimah, Christina and Anjali to check out.
Dear sisters, remember that the pious Muslim man is like a pearl in its shell: a treasure to be uncovered only by the one who has a halal relationship with him. Such a man will be your male hoor of this Dunya and Aakhirah - so do not sacrifice your standards for the male whores of this world!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Ali Huda TV - a review

Touted as the new “Netflix for Muslim kids,” I was quite excited when I heard about the launch of Ali Huda TV. I’m pretty thoroughly sick of Paw Patrol and random weird cut-and-paste YouTube Kids videos, and so I logged into my new Ali Huda account in anticipation of having my three-year-old son captivated by something other than bizarre remakes of children’s nursery rhymes.

Unfortunately… my three year old, a connoisseur of Netflix, PBS Kids, and YouTube Kids alike, was epically unimpressed. And so was I. While I appreciate the good intentions behind the website, I was disappointed to notice the lack of both variety and quality programming. Of the animated programs available, few were up to par in comparison to mainstream cartoons. While Christian producers have done exceedingly well in producing high-quality children’s shows and movies that impart religious values as well as engaging entertainment, Muslims sadly struggle to develop the same.

Divided into age groups (age 2-3, 4-5, and 9-12) and categories (Travel and Outdoors, Science and Craft, Songs and Nasheed, and more), Ali Huda does try to imitate the Netflix layout, which makes for easier navigation - but only on desktop. Unfortunately, trying to access it on a mobile device is nigh-impossible due to the inability to navigate it without being logged out or simply taken back to the home screen without a way to actually navigate the shows.

One thing that Ali Huda could do to improve their service is to include classic Muslim children’s shows and movies - the Adam’s World Series, Zaki, Muslim Scouts, Hurray for Baba Ali, and so many more pioneering examples of Muslim entertainment. There are entire collections of famous nasheed artists such as Native Deen, Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Talib al-Habeeb and others, and to have their work collected on one streaming service would be extremely helpful to those of us who otherwise rely on YouTube playlists that our kids can easily click out of.

Of course, I do appreciate that the first effort has been made to provide this kind of halal streaming option for Muslim children. My daughters enjoyed the “Science Made Cool” show, although they wished there was a hijabi girl also involved in the experiments, instead of being relegated to the “Kids in the Kitchen” show. While the “Saladin” and “Ibn Battuta: Prince of Explorers” cartoons try to bring famous Islamic figures to kids’ attention, unfortunately, the quality of the animation was so poor that it rather failed at its purpose.
I also appreciate that Ali Huda donates to a charity for orphans, and that there is a special discount for schools - this is quite beneficial for those who run full-time Muslim schools, or even part-time community Madrasas.

Something for people to keep in mind is that exposure has a lot to do with how well Muslim children will handle “Muslim TV” - when my daughter was quite young, I restricted her entertainment heavily and only allowed her to watch select Muslim entertainment. Since she had very few options, she enjoyed whatever it was that I let her watch. My three year old son, however, is your average toddler whose screentime indulgences include Daniel Tiger, Paw Patrol, and Pokemon - hence his much high standards.

I look forward to seeing Ali Huda develop further, and hope that the people behind it are able to fulfill its full potential by reaching out to other Muslim media and entertainment creators. I also hope that they are able to reach the level that Netflix has in being able to work with other Muslim developers to create new entertainment that is high quality, creative, and appeals to Muslim kids who already have a higher expectation of what will capture their attention.

The Muslim community is in dire need of greater media and entertainment that is not only produced by our own writers and artists, but also meets a higher standard that can compete with mainstream non-Muslim options. Ali Huda has the potential to be a great resource for Muslim kids, and I truly hope that they are able to develop themselves further to meet a major need in the Muslim community.

Rating: 2/5

Friday, March 30, 2018

Muslim Women's Day...

...should be every day.

Things like International Women's Day or Muslim Women's Day or Women's History Month always makes me think of how and why we are in a situation where we *need* these designated days to raise awareness of the fact that women do play a huge role in society, in history, in life.

As women, we need no specific reminders of significant men or male contributions to science and art and politics and literature and religion. It is the default curriculum that we are taught.

But women? We barely know the names of our grandmothers.

As children, we are taught alongside our brothers about the Prophets and great male Companions. We are taught their names, their struggles, their personalities.

But women like Maryam, Aasiyah, Hajar, and Khadijah? They were good wives and mothers, we are told.

If we want to know about who they really *were* - as women, as believers, as beloved to the Creator - we must dig through books, desperately seeking snippets of more than their wifehood or motherhood; we must sit through lectures that invoke their names to tell us how we should be more demure, more obedient (to men, usually), more of a wife and mother.

Uncovering the legacy of our #ForgottenHeroines is like digging for treasure, each tiny discovery more valuable than the pearls and diamonds we are so often compared to.

For us, as women, unlearning the ways we have been told of these women is difficult - relearning them as vibrant, amazing, powerful, world-changing individuals is new and strange and sometimes uncomfortable, because it goes against so much of what we have been taught.

But this isn't just about us as women.

This is also about our brothers. How many of our fathers, brothers, and sons know who their own ancestresses were? How many of them know the names of the women who carried this Deen forward?

How many of them know the women who fought, with their hearts and minds and swords and pens, to uphold Islam in the face of shirk, kufr, colonialism, and misogyny?

How many Muslim men today know the stories of the women who raised the Ummah with their blood, sweat, and tears?

Today, draw your siblings and children and strangers close; today, tell the stories of Hawaa, who was created to be a vicegerent of this Earth; of Hajar, for whose sake God sent His angel to release the blessed spring of Zamzam, in whose footsteps we follow in pilgrimage.

Tell the stories of Umm Musa and Aasiyah, the women whom God chose to raise a Prophet, the women whom God comforted with His Divine Promise, the women whose stories we recite during every khatmah of the Qur'an.

Tell the story of Maryam, she whom God elevated above most of mankind; tell the stories of Sumayyah and Nusaybah, who gave their lives for love of God; of Hafsah bint Sireen, a lioness amongst scholars; of Zaynab al Ghazali, who faced down a modern day Pharoah.

Tell these stories, today and every day.

Tell these stories so that our sons and daughters do not need to be reminded, one day or one month out of the year, that women matter and have always mattered.

Tell these stories so that we remember the women that God reminds us of.

#MuslimWomensDay

Divorce - a Spiritual and Emotional Journey

For a while now, quite a few people have asked me about divorce - especially the emotional process of deciding to get a divorce, and going through it. 

First of all, for women, there is this crazy ridiculous societal stigma against even *considering* divorce as an option. We are reminded so often about the hadith that a woman who asks for divorce for no reason will not smell the fragrance of Jannah, yet we overlook the fact that most women do *not* ask for divorce lightly - few women *want* to rip apart their entire lives, let alone those of their children, and the social consequences for being a divorcee do their part in further strongly discouraging women from seeking divorce.
What we seem to deliberately overlook, however, is that woman-initiated divorce existed at the time of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and was not condemned - the famous hadith of the wife of Thabit ibn Qays cemented the concept of khul' and the understanding that incompatibility in a marriage is a legitimate reason for divorce, as was also the case of Zaid ibn Harith and Zaynab bint Jahsh.
Many women have asked me "when do I know for sure if I should get a divorce"? That is a question that no one can answer except yourself. My own personal barometer was the wife of Thabit ibn Qays, who said "I fear for myself kufr if I remain with him." Explanations of this hadith discuss how this meant that she was afraid that she would not be able to uphold his rights as a husband or deal with him justly. I truly believe that the way she expressed it was beautiful and reflective of a believer's attitude, with equal concern for the other party as well as for one's own spiritual well being.
And, of course, one must absolutely do research - both legal and Islamic - and consult with those of knowledge and good advice (because unfortunately common sense and wisdom isn't something everyone is blessed with not, not even shuyookh)... and finally, Salatul Istikhaarah. Reading and understanding the meaning of the du'a of Istikhaarah will really teach you what it means to have complete trust in Allah and His Qadr.
If you have finally made the choice to divorce, then be aware that it is going to HURT. It is going to hurt like hell. It doesn't matter if you are the one initiating it or not, divorce is agonizingly painful even as it can also feel like a blissful escape. Being married - whether for a year, four years, or fourteen years - is a unique experience that makes you bond with another individual in a way that is difficult to replicate in any other way. You sleep with them, you live with them, you witness their highs and their lows... you get to know that person in a very special way. And once you've decided to seek divorce - and I'll be honest, even before you make that final decision - you will likely spend nights sobbing yourself to sleep and feeling as though your world is crumbling around you. You may very well experience strong depression as well as guilt. You will find yourself slipping up and saying or doing things which you will be ashamed of later. You will make mistakes and you will experience heartbreak.
That's just how it is. Divorce sucks even when you actually need it.
Which leads to me to the most important point: There will be no one who truly understands what you are going through. Not even other divorcees will really 'get' you. Family and friends can sympathize but will have their own perspectives. But you know who WILL understand you better than you understand yourself? Your Creator.
Divorce and its accompanying challenges can be a catalyst for you as an individual to grow closer to Allah. It is the perfect time to increase your du'a, your dhikr, your sadaqah, and your qiyaam al-layl. It is the perfect time to acknowledge your weakness, recognize your own flaws and faults, and seek comfort and forgiveness and mercy from Al-Wadud, ash-Shaafi. You will discover the true extent of your own limitations and how none of us are perfect... not your ex-spouse, and not yourself. The only being who is perfect is the One Who created us all.
Divorce can make you become a better person - but it can also bring you down and tempt you into behaving in a less than graceful or mature manner. What's necessary to keep in mind is the amazing hadith:
"How amazing is the affair of the believer! There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” (Muslim)

Wahn 'alaa Wahn

Amongst the many reasons that Allah described what a mother goes through as "wahn 'alaa wahn" is that the process of reproduction is one that is both physically and emotionally devastating.
In a best case scenario, a woman is married to a good man who loves her and takes care of her, has a strong support system, and access to medical and social resources.
But it is still her body which is being used to keep this new creation alive - for 9 months of pregnancy, during which her own bodily resources are drained; during childbirth, which is one of the most severe traumas a human body can experience in the course of a normal lifetime; and for 2 years more, when she breastfeeds and is the sole or primary caretaker of the child.
But in a worst case scenario? Or even a less-than-absolute-worse-case scenario?
There are numerous women forced into pregnancy against their wills, with men who do not care about their well-being. They have no support network, are expected to maintain certain duties regardless of their health, likely have other children whom they are responsible for, and may even be expected to contribute to the household financially or with physical labour. Access to birth control, abortion, or basic medical resources is limited or non-existent.
Pregnancy is used as a form of control over women. Numerous women stay in abusive relationships "for the kids"; they are reluctant to leave without their children and are often threatened with the idea of their children being taken away from them; they are also impregnated in order to make them less mobile and even more financially dependent. And, of course, the risk of maternal mortality is ever-present, moreso in some areas than others.
If all this sounds outlandish to you... it's likely because you are not a woman, or are privileged enough to be oblivious to these realities of numerous women around the world.
The process of reproduction is not a joyride, or something that most women engage in with ulterior motives or as an advantage to be wielded over men.
Rather, it is an experience that not only irrevocably changes our bodies, but impacts our lives permanently in every other way as well - with devastating outcomes for those who cannot afford the privileges of a healthy relationship or the medical, emotional, and material resources required to guarantee a basic level of stability.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Resources About Women of Islamic History



Women Around the Messenger by Muhammad Ali Qutb (http://www.kalamullah.com/Books/women_around_the_messenger.pdf)

Great Women of Islam (Darussalam)
(https://www.muslim-library.com/dl/books/English_Great_Women_of_Islam_Who_were_given_the_good_News.pdf)

Great Women in Islam by Tariq Suwaidan
https://www.amazon.com/Great-Women-Islam-Tareq-Al-Suwaidan-ebook/dp/B00E5IMI26

The Women of Medinah (Ibn Sa'ad; translated by Aishah Bewley)
http://www.tahapublishers.com/the-women-of-madina~103

Khadijah: Mother of History's Greatest Nation by Fatimah Barkatullah
https://www.learningroots.com/products/khadijah-mother-of-historys-greatest-nation

Return of the Pharoah - Zaynab al-Ghazali
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKASMwUWV9c)

Educating Muslim Women: The West African Legacy of Nana Asma'u
https://www.amazon.ca/Educating-Muslim-Women-African-1793-1864/dp/1847740448

Al-Muhaddithat by Sh Muhammad Akram Nadwi
https://www.amazon.ca/Al-Muhaddithat-Scholars-Mohammad-Akram-Nadwi/dp/0955454549

Women Inspired by the Beloved (audio series) by Dr Hesham al Awadi
(https://www.muslimcentral.com/playlist/hesham-al-awadi-women-inspired-by-the-beloved/)

Mothers of the Believers (audio series) by Suhaib Webb
(http://www.enjoyislam.com/lectures/Imam%20Suhaib%20Webb/index.html)

Female Companions (audio series) by Dr Zeid adDakkan
(http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=lectures&Option=author&Author=Zeid%20Dakkan)

Mothers of the Believers by Omar Suleiman (available through BayyinahTV)
A'ishah, Our Mother, Our Teacher
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flgYPlycrVs

Khadijah, the First Companion
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgWiuOupU0o
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKASMwUWV9c

Khadijah, Mother of the Believers by Yasir Qadhi
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_H95i_go5M

A'ishah bint Tal'ha
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEIUkvALd-E

IdealMuslimah's list of articles and lectures: http://idealmuslimah.com/personalities/sahaabiyaat.html 

When Muslim men say things like, "I've never seen Muslim women discriminated against!", it is simply more blatant evidence of male privilege in our communities.
You have never seen the discrimination we face because you are protected from it.
You do not walk into the masjid only to be told sorry, you can't pray here. You aren't sent to go around the back of the building, edging past overflowing garbage bins. You don't have to hold your breath to stop yourself from gagging at the smell of the winding staircase to get to the women's prayer area... which is dark, dingy, and oftentimes a fire hazard.
You aren't the ones who show up for "community meetings" only to be left alone in the women's section with no way to contribute - bc they won't send a microphone or allow you in the main musalla.
You aren't the ones who email and phone the masjid board for weeks in the winter, begging them to turn on the heat so that the aunties attending Qur'an class don't spend two hours shaking from the cold.
You aren't the ones told that it is not appropriate for you to do I'tikaaf in the masjid. You aren't the ones told that you cannot use the masjid shower facilities because you walking through a room to get to them will "distract" other worshippers.
So when you say that you've never seen discrimination against Muslim women... we know. We know that you can't fathom that all of us this happens when you, personally, show up to a clean, well-lit, welcoming space for worship and socializing and seeking knowledge.
As a child, I used to go with my father *everywhere* that he would go to give halaqas and khutbahs. For the first few years, I was cheerily oblivious - I got to sit in the front row or play off to the side.
When I got older and was sent to the women's section, the difference was jarring. All of a sudden, I was in small, cramped rooms with gross bathrooms, couldn't see or hear the halaqah properly, and they alwaysssss had a funky smell.
Brothers who cannot believe that these problems exist need to learn to seek out Muslim women's voices and listen to us. We are not all "proggies" to be dismissed - we are the women who fight every day to strengthen our emaan even when our communities threaten to pull us down.
And this is why it is important for so many of you, my dear brothers in Islam, to shut your mouths and open your ears to listen to the Muslim women IN YOUR COMMUNITIES to hear what we have to experience and deal with.
On the flip side... there are those Muslim men who *do* make an effort to ensure that women have a beautiful, clean space to be in and equal access to Islamic facilities.
My father used to personally vacuum, scrub the toilets, and burn bukhoor in the women's section of the Islamic center he used to be responsible for. Everyone who walked in commented on how wonderful it smelled and how neat and tidy it was.
Women were able to walk into the Islamic library at any time in the day to borrow books and audios or use the computers.
When the space became too crowded in Ramadan for Taraweeh, he arranged it so that women were able to pray in the men's musalla as well as our own space; the men were shifted to a temporary separate space for the duration of the month.
What is sad is that truly inclusionary spaces for women at Muslim facilities are still relatively a novelty and an exception rather than the norm.
We go out of our way to praise what *should* be a basic standard of how our community operates.
We need to *expect* that women's needs are anticipated when building a new masjid or expanding an existing one - and parental needs in particular should be kept in mind for both men and women. For example, baby change tables should be available in both men and women's bathrooms.
It should not be considered a "favour" to provide clean, safe, beautiful spaces for Muslim women to worship in and within which we can participate in our community's spiritual and social development.
Rather, we should consider it part and parcel of cooperating with one another in goodness and piety, and communally sharing the responsibility of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.
{...And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.} (Qur'an 5:2)

The Pen has been lifted...

The hadith regarding those from whom the Pen is lifted is one which we should all reflect upon with regards to mental health issues in our communities.
Mental health is already under-diagnosed; those with severe illnesses such as BPD, schizophrenia and others are often claimed to be possessed or acting out. Certain actions they may commit while in a state of severe illness are taken as though deliberate.
Those with other forms of mental health issues such as clinical depression and so on are too often dismissed as having "weak faith."
What we DO need to be aware of is that mental health is not a black-and-white, cut-and-dry issue. It is not simple enough to judge someone as "majnoon" or not - nor is it up to us as laypeople to do so.
For those of us who do suffer from such illnesses, we also need to be aware of what we need to do to take care of ourselves medically and spiritually.
Chemical imbalances do not equate lack of faith; should we emerge from an 'episode' of mental illness to discover that we have said or done something wrong and regularly would be considered sinful, know that we have been forgiven for what was committed while in such a state, inshaAllah.
However, we also cannot use our mental health issues as an excuse or scapegoat for behaviour that is unacceptable, when we are in a state of cognizance and overall mentally healthy and aware.
It is a matter of great delicacy, and it is not up to anyone to make sweeping statements regarding the status of other people's mental health.

For Love of the Prophet

Funny how for some people, acceptance and forgiveness and love and loyalty exists for everyone *except* the Messengers of Allah.
The gheerah I have seen for people like Amina Wadud is astounding - the level of die-hard loyalty and adoration, refusal to question anything she says or accept any critique, is the kind of gheerah that I rarely see from the same people towards RasulAllah himself.
It is beyond disturbing to think that the type of love we *should* have for God and His Chosen Messengers has been assigned to those who seem to have very little confidence in God's decisions to begin with.
Here's what I want to know: if we, as Muslim women and Muslim feminists in particular, want to invoke the names of Maryam, of Aasiyah, of Khadijah, of Sumayyah, of Nusaybah, of Hind - then should we not remember that these women not only *believed* in RasulAllah, but loved him?
Hind bint Utbah (radhiAllahu anha) - once a woman dedicated to destroying Islam - said, on the night that she swore bay'ah to Allah and His Messenger:
"By Allah, there was no house on earth that I wanted to destroy more than your house. Now, there is no house on earth that I so dearly wish to honor and raise in glory than yours."
Thus was Hind - a woman of greater ferocity and honour and strength than any modern day Muslim feminist.
The greatest women of history pledged their love and allegiance to Allah and His Messenger; Allah elevated them *due* to their love for Him and His Messengers.
Who are we to ever imagine reaching their heights, without love for the ones they loved?
The Messenger of Allah said: “No one of you truly believes until I am dearer to their than their father, their son, their own self and all the people.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 15; Muslim, 44.)

Disappointment, frustration, and resentment - these are everyday emotions which can often be challenges to our emaan, sabr, and shukr without even realizing it.
Some of us can be great at recognizing bigger fitan in our lives and turning to Allah during those times, but falter when it comes to the small everyday experiences with those emotions.
Unfairness can grate on our nerves and trip us up when it comes to being patient or controlling our frustrations and remembering the right ad'iyah and reminders of patience in the moment... just when it's most important for us to be conscious of the need to wrestle with our wounded egos and actively ask Allah to improve our inner states.
It is these every day tests that can be most difficult for us to pass - even as we hit 'like' and 'share' on spiritual Facebook posts and lectures, even as we pat ourselves on the backs for being good religious Muslims, we're still shooting ourselves in the foot when we allow our nafs free reign to sulk and complain.
Thankfully, Allah is always the Most Forgiving and Merciful, and even if we've already sabotaged ourselves a hundred times this week, He is ever ready to accept our tawbah, no matter how sheepish or embarrassed or still upset we may be feeling.
Just as our small, everyday failings can pull us down spiritually, so too can our small, everyday victories - whether it is reciting dhikr in a moment of agitation or swallowing one's perfectly valid ire - cause us to rise and succeed far more than we may ever realize.

Muslim Women's Day

Things like International Women's Day or Muslim Women's Day or Women's History Month always makes me think of how and why we are in a situation where we *need* these designated days to raise awareness of the fact that women do play a huge role in society, in history, in life.
As women, we need no specific reminders of significant men or male contributions to science and art and politics and literature and religion. It is the default curriculum that we are taught.
But women? We barely know the names of our grandmothers.
As children, we are taught alongside our brothers about the Prophets and great male Companions. We are taught their names, their struggles, their personalities.
But women like Maryam, Aasiyah, Hajar, and Khadijah? They were good wives and mothers, we are told.
If we want to know about who they really *were* - as women, as believers, as beloved to the Creator - we must dig through books, desperately seeking snippets of more than their wifehood or motherhood; we must sit through lectures that invoke their names to tell us how we should be more demure, more obedient (to men, usually), more of a wife and mother.
Uncovering the legacy of our #ForgottenHeroines is like digging for treasure, each tiny discovery more valuable than the pearls and diamonds we are so often compared to.
For us, as women, unlearning the ways we have been told of these women is difficult - relearning them as vibrant, amazing, powerful, world-changing individuals is new and strange and sometimes uncomfortable, because it goes against so much of what we have been taught.
But this isn't just about us as women.
This is also about our brothers. How many of our fathers, brothers, and sons know who their own ancestresses were? How many of them know the names of the women who carried this Deen forward?
How many of them know the women who fought, with their hearts and minds and swords and pens, to uphold Islam in the face of shirk, kufr, colonialism, and misogyny?
How many Muslim men today know the stories of the women who raised the Ummah with their blood, sweat, and tears?
Today, draw your siblings and children and strangers close; today, tell the stories of Hawaa, who was created to be a vicegerent of this Earth; of Hajar, for whose sake God sent His angel to release the blessed spring of Zamzam, in whose footsteps we follow in pilgrimage.
Tell the stories of Umm Musa and Aasiyah, the women whom God chose to raise a Prophet, the women whom God comforted with His Divine Promise, the women whose stories we recite during every khatmah of the Qur'an.
Tell the story of Maryam, she whom God elevated above most of mankind; tell the stories of Sumayyah and Nusaybah, who gave their lives for love of God; of Hafsah bint Sireen, a lioness amongst scholars; of Zaynab al Ghazali, who faced down a modern day Pharoah.
Tell these stories, today and every day.
Tell these stories so that our sons and daughters do not need to be reminded, one day or one month out of the year, that women matter and have always mattered.
Tell these stories so that we remember the women that God reminds us of.