Sunday, December 04, 2016

Barakah

How do you know if there is barakah in your life? So often, it seems to be an almost indescribable quality, a concept that's difficult to recognise due to it being so unquantifiable.
And yet, you will know when you have it.
When the food in your fridge comes together in a wholesome meal that satisfies the family; when your paycheque stretches more than you ever imagined it could; when being with your loved ones fills you with contentment; when you experience joy in the simplest of things; when your fears and worries no longer overwhelm you so much; when difficult times are bearable because you know that they're a means of bringing you closer to Allah; when you don't feel the gnawing urge to make more, spend more, accumulate more; when good things happen unexpectedly and you're eager to share the benefits with others; when you find yourself indifferent to shallow societal standards and are happy with living your life your own way... all of these are signs of barakah in your life.
Outward wealth or meeting arbitrary standards set by others are no marker of how blessed you are. How you feel about what you already have, however, most certainly is.
Verily, Allah is the source of all blessing and He is the Most Generous to His slaves.

...

I once wrote about how one can tell if there is barakah in their life - how one feels a sense of contentment, of richness and fullness in their lives even when things are, outwardly, difficult.
How, then, does one tell if we *don't* have barakah in our lives?
If barakah is blessing and spiritual fulfillment, then its opposite is its loss.
To be starved of barakah is to find oneself reluctant to pray even the briefest of voluntary rak'aat, to glance at one's mus'haf and think absently, "I'll read it later," only for the glossy emerald green cover and gilded script become dull beneath a thin veneer of dust.
To be starved of barakah is to feel restless and anxious, to feel a gnawing ache for more, to accumulate more, to demand more; to outwardly have all the trappings of success and privilege handed to you on a silver platter, yet there is no true joy or beauty in one's heart.
To be starved of barakah is to have one's bank account filled with wealth earned from haraam; to have debts both material and spiritual strangling one's sense of peace; to eat an extravagant meal that fails to abate the appetite; to constantly crave the next fix, the next big hit, unable to quell the yearning desire for something inexplicably just beyond our reach.
It is terrible and heartrending, a malady unrecognized by doctors or self-help books - but not without cure. Ash-Shaafi, the Healer is also al-Qareeb, the Ever-Close; He is Al-Mujeeb, the Ever Responsive to our calls - and He has promised us that there is always, always, a way out of the abyss.
{He who draws close to Me a hand's span, I will draw close to him an arm's length. And whoever draws near Me an arm's length, I will draw near him a fathom's length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running. And whoever faces Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, I will meet him with forgiveness nearly as great as that, provided he does not worship something with me.} (Hadith Qudsi)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Sh Muhammad Akram Nadwi on Female Leadership

This won't be too detailed, but a really interesting tidbit from Sh Akram:
With regards to the hadith of Abu Bakra about how a nation will never succeed if they are led by a woman, it has been taken greatly out of context and misunderstood.
The full story is that RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) sent a letter of da'wah to the Kisrah, who tore up the letter. In response, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) made du'a that his empire be torn up just as he tore up the letter. Shortly after, Kisrah died, and his daughter was elected the ruler. When RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) heard the news, he made the remark that is so well known today - "Never will a people be successful who give their leadership to a woman."
However, what is not taken into consideration is that he was remarking *very specifically* about the nation of Kisrah - that *they* (a people who had made a woman their leader) would never be successful, not because their leader was a woman, but because RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) had made du'a for their entire empire to be destroyed.
Specifying "a people... who give their leadership to a woman" was merely referring to the people of Kisrah, whom (it appears) were unique at the time for having a female leader. Yet it must be understood that the hadith of Abu Bakra is not a blanket statement to be used at preventing women from having *any* positions of authority.
As a side note - Abu Bakra was the sole Sahabi to use this hadith as an evidence against recognizing or acknowledging A'ishah's leadership in the Battle of the Camel. If, truly, the hadith was meant as a general statement against women being leaders at all, then surely the many, many other Sahabah who were still alive at that time would have used it as an evidence against A'ishah and used it to warn her that she was not allowed to assume leadership of men. Instead, numerous Companions of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) accompanied her, and even those who opposed her politically during that time did not ever use this statement against her.

One point that Sh Akram made in his explanation of the hadith on female leadership was that sometimes RasulAllah used a general phrase while referring to a specific individual.
There was another incident wherein this can also be found:
Abu Hurairah (radhiAllahu 'anhu) narrated a hadith which said, "The child of zina is the worst of the three."
When A'ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha) heard about this, she said, "May Allah forgive Abu Hurairah! He did not hear correctly and thus he is not teaching correctly. The hadith was not said like this. Rather, there was once a man from the hypocrites of Medinah who used to verbally abuse RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) a great deal. This eventually upset him, and he asked his Companions, 'Who amongst you is willing to protect me from this man?' They told him, 'This man, in addition to his already ugly character, is also a child of zina.' Thereupon RasulAllah commented, 'The child of zina (i.e. this man) is the worst of the three (i.e. even worse than his parents, who committed the sin of zina).'"
Thus we can see that out of a certain type of eloquence (and tact), a general phrase was used by RasulAllah that was known and understood by all his Companions in attendance to refer to a specific individual.

And Allah knows best.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Woman's Honour

I am particularly repulsed by the Muslim males on social media who feel perfectly at ease referring to Muslim women by various vulgar terms that insinuate aspersions against their chastity ("hoejabi" etc), claiming that they are doing da'wah by calling out fitnah. In truth, it has nothing to do with da'wah or gheerah, and everything to do with these males' inability (& perhaps refusal) to lower their gaze & control their own painfully adolescent hormones.
Not to mention that when they take it upon themselves to police the words & actions of other women who don't fit their particular model of "ideal Muslimah-ness" (i.e. invisible), often - once again - they resort to crude insinuations.
The issue of adab aside, the biggest no-no here is that for ANYONE to smear a Muslim woman by attacking her chastity is horrifically wrong. (Then again, I don't expect these punks to have read the Qur'an beyond the second half of Juz 'Amma, let alone read Surah Nur or its tafseer.)
To spell it out for those who can't be bothered to actually open the Qur'an or listen to a tafseer on the topic - slandering a woman's chastity carries a Hadd punishment of 80 lashes, having one's testimony be rejected permanently, & being labeled as one of the Faasiqoon.
There is a huge difference between faahisha (lewdness) & zina (fornication). Seeing someone flirt, dress inappropriately etc is NOT zina. As much as we are to despise faahishah in all its forms, we *cannot* label anyone perceived as immodest as zaani/zaaniyah. The requirement for 4 witnesses in order to claim fornication is extremely serious. The Sahabah held themselves to that standard strictly, as demonstrated in the story of Abu Bakra - and we are to hold ourselves to that selfsame standard.
Males of Muslim Twitter/ Facebook/ social media, chew on that for a bit before chewing out Muslim women whom you know nothing about, & whose honour is worth more in the Sight of Allah than your pathetic egos & obsession with control. Acting pious & religious while violating the rights of a fellow believer is a very obvious sign that you are not, in fact, pious at all.
And if all that isn't enough for y'all, I leave you with the story of Al-Ghaamidiyyah: the Sahabiyyah who committed zina, who begged for the Hadd to be implemented on her, & whose Tawbah was sufficient for seventy of the people of Medinah. Her honour was greater than yours.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Bent Ribs

A hadith commonly quoted about women is the "bent rib" hadith - of which there are several variations.
An issue of note is the language often used to explain the hadith, which is often condescending & patronizing. Many times it comes off as men telling other men "women - you can't live with them, and you can't live without'em." It's a very wink-wink-nudge-nudge, women-are-so-emotional-&-immature, we just have to tolerate them... at least they're good for something, eh? - type of mentality.
And it made me think - just as the female scholars of old understood ayaat and ahadith to have certain wisdoms based on their own perspectives as women - how would women explain the bent rib hadith?
Ribs are part of the skeletal structure, created a very specific way so as to perform a specific function. A rib is not meant to do the same job as a kneecap, & isn't expected to. We recognize & admire the fact that we *have* ribs, that they are protecting some of our most vulnerable organs. A broken rib hurts like hell. We respect ribs, okay? We don't say, "Oh, well, look at this rib... can't do a femur's job & everyone knows a femur is more important than a rib, & look at how bent that rib is, ugh. Guess we may as well put up with it tho, it's not totally useless."
Terrible analogy aside, let's be real.We women were created by Al-Musawwir, the Fashioner, Who never creates anything half-heartedly or without reason. Does His creation not deserve respect, especially when His Messenger enjoined & emphasized our rights?
We acknowledge that all human beings have shortcomings - male & female. Neither gender is particularly better than the other. Yet in Islamic literature, we see that the language used to address women's 'shortcomings' has a very different tone to it.
"To break her is to divorce her" - such were RasulAllah's words, not to insult, but to warn men of the consequences of trying to force a woman into being someone that she is not. Ya3ni respect her as she is, warts & all, rather than trying to turn her into your personal Stepford wife. (Although that is *not* an excuse for women to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions or striving to improve oneself as a believer and a person.)
It worries me when I see the advice being peddled as "women are crooked/inferior, so just tolerate them as they are." I'm pretty sure that RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) treated his wives - & all women - with more than just condescending tolerance. It may seem to be a minor thing to quibble over, but language is powerful & influences attitudes & mentalities at a very deep, almost subconscious level.
So many women have told me that they've had fathers or husbands belittle & humiliate them using ahadith such as the bent rib one - which is horrific. How can one use the words of Allah's Messenger, the Mercy to Mankind, as a means of causing pain to another believer? But this is precisely the reality that so many of us experience, directly as a result of the way these ahadith are taught & explained.
The Qur'an tells us: {The believing men and believing women are allies of one another.} (Qur'an 9:71)
How can we be awliyaa' of each other when we have such negative attitudes towards half of our Ummah? More than ever, we need to change how we teach the words of Allah and His Messenger in order to reflect the true spirit of respect and love for the Sake of Allah that we are commanded to have for one another, male and female alike.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Support Female Scholarship

How can we support/ promote female scholarship? (Note: this will all come from a very traditional/ conservative/ Orthodox perspective bc I always do.)
- Acknowledge that for many, many decades, Muslim women have *not* had the same resources, access, and opportunities for seeking Islamic knowledge that men have.
This is due to a variety of factors - whether it is outright exclusion (such as from Medinah University - and yeah, I know this is pretty much just relevant to Salafis, but let's face it, a huge percentage of Western shuyookh today are graduates from there and it has had a huge impact on Islam in the West); limitations both legal, financial, and familial (foreign women can't study in Saudi without a mahram, who is not allowed to legally work while residing there; many women can't support themselves financially if they choose to study full-time at a traditional seminary, and few have support systems that will take care of them financially; many women have parents or spouses who disapprove or outright prohibit them from studying the Deen in such a manner; those who do have supportive parents/ spouses might end up pregnant or already have children, without the financial or extended family support network to facilitate full time serious studies).
This doesn't mean btw that *no* women have been able to pursue serious Islamic studies from traditional seminaries, or that there are no men who support their wives in seeking knowledge - obviously this is not true - but it is a very serious factor that has affected the average Muslim woman’s ability to do so.
- Understand that many of the opportunities available today are very recent iniatives - online institutes have flourished over the last 5-10 years alHamdulillah but that doesn't change the fact that for decades before that, they didn't exist (bc the Internet didn't). 
Growing up, my dream was to be able to study Islam the way my father got to, and the way that it was already assumed and known that my brothers could if they wanted to. That never happened because solely by virtue of being a female, I was not logistically able to go to the same institutes. (And the one opportunity that I did have, after having earned a sponsored scholarship to study Arabic overseas, was promptly nixed because of my then-husband.)
- Supporting women to study the Deen doesn't mean saying, "Look you can study online so easily, go ahead! But make sure that you cook, clean, and raise my children satisfactorily and without complaint, and make sure that I don't feel neglected or inconvenienced in any way, shape, or form." 
It means recognizing that women with children in particular are in need of financial and domestic support (whether that means housekeeping, a babysitter or extended family to help with the kids, or otherwise) as well as emotional support (the husband making personal sacrifices in order to provide the time and space for the wife to study).
- Supporting female scholarship means that when you find out about women with Islamic knowledge, seek to have them included and involved in the community - both amongst other women and with the entire community at large.
Yes, some female teachers prefer to only teach other women, and that's fine. But there are also many who are happy to engage in more public da'wah roles, to speak to mixed audiences, to share their knowledge and their unique perspectives to everyone.
Don't assume that a 'pious' female scholar will automatically be against mixed gender audiences. Many female teachers today, such as Sh Tamara Gray, Sh Muslema Purmul, and numerous others have no problem appearing in public. 
Don't claim to support female teachers but, when they are to be a part of an event or program, sideline them or relegate them to some corner or treat them with any less respect and seriousness than you would show a male teacher in their position.
Don't assume that just because you don't know who the female teachers are, that they don't exist. Don't say, "oh, well, where are their organizations then if they've been doing so much?" Make a damn effort to learn about them, especially if you yourself are a part of a da'wah organization or masjid board and in a place to build platforms for all teachers of Islamic knowledge. And once you know about them, support them and promote them in the same way that you do with male du'aat and shuyookh.
- Acknowledge the female da'ees, teachers, and shaykhaat. Call them by the titles they deserve - whether it be Ustadha or Shaykha or Aalimah or otherwise. Enough of this "sister so-and-so" when the "sister" has spent 10 years acquiring Islamic knowledge, with the appropriate ijaazas and experience, while Bro Fresh over here who just got out of Medinah and still wet-behind-the-ears is adoringly addressed as "ya shaykh!" 
(And don't give me the "a sign of modesty and piety is to not want to be called by a title" - y'all still be calling Bro Fresh "shaykh" and I don't hear anyone questioning his piety or modesty.)
- For the men in particular, if your daughter/ sister/ wife/ niece/ any woman at all that you know expresses a serious interest in pursuing Islamic studies, help her in any way that you can. Find out where she can study, how you can facilitate it for her (financially or otherwise), make sure that her marriage contract contains the clause that she *must* be allowed to continue and complete her Islamic education, and that yes, she has the right to *not* have kids until that happens.
The first time in my life that I was able to complete anything resembling a formal Islamic education was when my father took the time to drive me, for 30-45 mins each way, after work, three times a week, to the Islamic center where I could take classes to complete a diploma. My mother watched my daughter for me on the nights that she didn't come with me to class. The second time I was able to take Islamic classes, was because my now-husband encouraged me to do so and paid for them when I couldn't, and I was in a situation where I had the time and space to complete those classes comfortably.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

11 Things I Learned from my Now-Husband

When I got my divorce at age 23, I was a thoroughly embittered, cynical woman with a solid sense of suspicion towards (most) Muslim men, the idea of love, and marriage as romanticized by popular culture and sanitized by Muslim literature and lectures.
Then I got married again. And  I was still bitter and cynical and suspicious about men and marriage and love. But I muddled along anyway, doing many incredibly dumb things along the way, and collected a few more life lessons while I was at it.
1- Marriage is Really, Really Hard. And I don’t just mean the fact that I’m in poly and live in another country. I mean the parts where I had to own up to my own emotional baggage and rendered myself a snotty emotional mess and was pretty mean sometimes and then finally had to admit that yes, I can be wrong and in fact often am.
I had to learn how to be mature (okay, still working on this one) and actively work on overcoming insecurities (yet another work in progress) and bad emotional habits. It’s not the domestic bits that are difficult, it’s the very raw and straight up mortifying bits where the other person discovers just how messed up you are. (But then they choose to stick with you anyway, so there is that comfort.)
2- Men are human and have it as rough as we do. I will up front admit that I was an entitled spoiled brat who was convinced that women have life the hardest (okay, I still think we do) and that dudes just better handle whatever is thrown at them because it’s their JOB. Ummm, yeah. About that… men are human. Which means that if you prick them, they will bleed (it is not recommended to test this theory, as stabbing people with pointy objects is haram and illegal). If you are cruel to them, they will feel pain.
Okay but seriously – men, and by ‘men’ I mean legitimately good, sincere, taqwa-exemplifying men who care deeply about their wives and families, not pathetic, immature, usually-misogynistic males – work hard to look after those whom they love. Not just physical work that brings in money, but the emotional work too. They hate to see their loved ones suffer, and will do their best to try and fix the problem… even if it they are hurt too.
Whereas society normalizes female emotion, both positive and negative, we rarely see men being allowed to express themselves in a more vulnerable manner. I don’t mean sniffling at every little perceived slight, but true expressions of deep emotion, such as heartache, sorrow, helplessness, and emotional pain.
So many of our men mask their aching hearts in order to be strong and supportive to those around them – even as they are in need of the same support. Sometimes we women need to get over ourselves and realize that men need the same love and care that they provide for us. Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) and his wives illustrates how even the greatest man on earth sought comfort in his spouses – whether it was Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her) reassuring him after his first interaction with the angel Jibreel (‘alayhissalaam), or Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) understanding his frustration at Hudabiyah, and consoling him with her suggestions.
3- Differences of opinion are okay. This was a huge one for me – in my previous marriage, differences of opinion were definitely *not* okay. This husband, however, is a fascinating specimen. While I’d already decided that this time, I was not going to be a doormat and let myself be silenced, I wondered uneasily if expressing my dissent was a bad idea.
At first, I was anxious – would voicing my disagreement lead to greater emotional conflict? Would a debate on feminism lead to a far more unpleasant argument with drastic domestic consequences? Imagine my shock, then, when I discovered that it is indeed possible for a Muslim husband to have a rousing volley of back-and-forth that didn’t result in the nushooz-card being waved about angrily in the end. A marriage in which a husband and wife can having vocal disagreement on a variety of topics without damaging their personal relationship is a marriage built upon security.
In fact, one of the most famous marriages in our Islamic history – that of A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) and Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) – was full of stories in which they used to have many enthusiastic exchanges… and not always in agreement. Yet despite their numerous debates and disagreements, their love remained strong.
4- Like a person before loving them. Love is a tricky, messy, complicated thing. Love screws you up sometimes. People fall in and out of love all the time. But liking someone… ahhh, there’s the secret. I was pretty sure I liked my husband before I married him – he was calm, level-headed, ethical, principled, intelligent, with a sense of humor and overall good character that appealed to me – but the part that really shocked me was when I realized how much I really liked him.
It’s the kind of like you have for a best friend, whom you’re eager to talk to and whose company you enjoy, whether doing things together or separately. It’s the kind of like where you could be mad at them and ignore them or fight with them, but you already miss them and you just want it over with so that you can tell them about the new exciting thing you just saw. So while I did love him, and continue to increase in that love, it’s the like part that makes things so much better when the love part really just pisses you off sometimes and has you stupidly crying into a pillow and sharing melodramatic quotes on Facebook.
5- There’s more than one kind of marriage, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. This one might be more long-distance/ polygamy related, but it’s still an important lesson. We plan, and Allah plans, and Allah is the Best of Planners. Initially, our plan wasn’t to live in separate households or even countries… but that’s what happened.
One of the many fears I grappled with was the idea that my marriage didn’t count enough, or wasn’t serious enough, or wasn’t good enough, in comparison to one where the husband and wife are together and/or monogamous. Not having a great relationship track record didn’t help, either. A couple years later, I still have my off days, but I’ve come to recognize that my marriage is a real marriage, and is just as legitimate as anyone else’s. I love my husband, and though our marital arrangements may not be the norm, I take our relationship very seriously.
It is easy for some people to write off non-monogamous marriages as not being “real” enough, but this flies contrary to the Sunnah itself. The Prophet’s polygamous marriages to his wives after Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her) were just as valid as his monogamous marriage to her.
While some people try to dismiss his polygamous marriages as simply being relationships of political advantage, to do so is to imply that he (PBUH) did not have genuine personal feelings of love and care for them, and that he was – in essence – using them for his own advantage. Yet when one looks at how he interacted with them, his love for them (and their love for him) is clear. Thus, regardless of how others consider polygamy, it is important to acknowledge that for those who have chosen it for themselves, their marriages are deserving of respect.
6- Be a secure person in order to have a secure relationship. As cliche as this may sound, it’s true. Sadly, Muslims tend to be really bad at being healthy individuals. Many of us are taught from childhood to be extremely dependent on others around us – whether parents or spouses. Few of us learn early on what it means to be secure in one’s own sense of self.
For myself, an additional blessing of a long distance relationship is that I was provided with the opportunity to really establish myself as myself. I’d grown up pretty sheltered, and was relatively young when I’d first gotten married. Seeking the other party’s constant approval was a destructive characteristic of that relationship, and the consequences of disapproval were high. This time, though, I was forced to face myself head-on, to live on my own and be responsible for much of my own emotional well-being. Moving away from my previous habits of emotional dependency was jarring, but incredible – I no longer hinge my complete happiness and mental presence on another person’s moods.
Instead of feeling tied to someone out of obligation or emotional coercion, the feeling of wanting to be with that person is far more pleasurable, and leads to feeling stronger in that relationship. Being secure, and not emotionally dependent (which isn’t romantic btw, it’s just depressing), makes it much easier to resolve conflicts and to enjoy the good times.
7- Get over yourself. Seriously, just get over yourself. We all like to think that we’re better people than we actually are, that our flaws aren’t as bad as others’ shortcomings are, but we’re not. We suck as much as the other person does. It’s just a matter of admitting and acknowledging what our faults are, and managing them instead of denying them or trying to play the victim.
Before making it about you vs. your spouse, remember that it’s about you vs. your scale of deeds on the Day of Judgment. Don’t act like you’re just humoring the other person when you apologize for something awful that you said or did; know that Allah is fully aware of your sincerity, and seek to rectify yourself for His Sake before anyone else’s. Don’t go to the other extreme either, and wallow in self pity bemoaning how terrible you are. Just… get over yourself. We all have faults, and you are no exception. The real issue at hand is what you’re going to do about it.
8- Being supportive doesn’t mean never disagreeing. Many of us have fallen for the pseudo-romantic “advice” that to be a supportive partner means to never offer criticism or objection – no matter how constructive your feedback may be. That’s not being supportive, that’s being a simpering sycophant.
While initially very defensive about receiving criticism, I realized that it wasn’t doing me any good to only hear praise – neither my behavior nor my work would improve. Instead, I’ve come to appreciate when my husband points out just how idiotic I’ve been acting, or when my argument has gaping holes. He’s never stopped me from doing what I care about, and done everything possible to support me in what I love – but he’ll also point out where exactly I’m in danger of doing something really stupid.
As annoyed as I might be in the moment (it sucks being wrong), at the end of the day, I know that he isn’t trying to sabotage me – he really wants me to do well, and to do what is right. Of course, it doesn’t mean that he’s always right, either – but when he is, I’ll try swallow my pride and take him seriously. And try not to be mad at him. (Usually.)
Don’t be a Stepford spouse – be someone who sincerely wants the best for your spouse,     even if it means pointing out when they’re doing something epically stupid. Remember – adDeen anNaseeha (Religion is advice).
9- “The Ideal Muslim Marriage” doesn’t exist. All those articles and lectures about wives babying men or husbands putting up with women because you can’t live with’em, you can’t live without’em is nonsense. The model that we’re provided with is, to be frank, pretty weird and unhealthy, encouraging emotional dependence and engendering a lack of genuine respect for each other.
The ideal Muslim marriage isn’t about playing a certain domestic role in a specific way (and being guilted into it with a significant amount of spiritual blackmail). It’s about having the right priorities – both spiritually and with regards to your personal relationship. It’s about genuinely caring for each other’s well-being, respecting each other even in times of conflict, and truly enjoying being with each other.
Life will suck sometimes – perhaps even often – and there will be many unpleasant moments along the way, but it’s one’s sense of taqwa and compassion for the other person that will get you through it and remember that it’s all worth it. Don’t be a good husband or wife because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do – be a good spouse because you care for them, and want the best for them in this world and the Hereafter.
Even prophet Muhammad’s marriages were not “ideal” in the sense that his wives were not all identical, cookie-cutter women – they all had very different personalities, they experienced conflict with him, but they also loved him deeply. They interacted in a manner that was sincere, that reflected themselves as individuals, and yet with the constant awareness of their personal accountability to Allah.
10- True Qawwam Do Exist. It is painfully easy to see the many, many examples of Muslim men doing it wrong – men who are neglectful, weak, abusive, irresponsible, lacking in character, selfish, and immature. Yet despite how many bad examples there are of Muslim men, there are still those who seek to uphold the Sunnah by being true qawwam: men who embody the values of honour, dignity, responsibility, mercy, justice, and sincere love for both their families and the Ummah at large.
These men are the ones who strive to fulfill their wives’ rights before demanding their own; who understand the severity of responsibility that has been placed upon their shoulders; who know that being a Muslim man is not simply about being a financial breadwinner, but a loving husband and father, engaged with his wife and children. These are the men who do not recoil at the idea of marrying widows or divorcees, or raising children who do not share their DNA; these are the men who do not place their egos or their culture above the commands of Allah, but make an effort to overcome their own inclinations for the Sake of Allah’s Pleasure.
These men are not perfect – they make their own mistakes, they struggle with their own shortcomings, and honestly, they can mess up as well as the next person – but what sets them apart from the majority of mediocre males is that they never stop trying to do better and be better… as Muslims, as husbands, as fathers. True qawwaam are rare, but not extinct – and to have one in my life is a blessing to be treasured.
11- Love. It’s Real. It… really is. It’s more than a little terrifying, especially when one tries to maintain a certain level of skepticism for safety reasons. But it’s also giddy, and fun, and awesome, and worth all the hard stuff and messy bits. Happily ever afters might actually exist, just not the way that we’ve been indoctrinated into believing. Instead of the usual nausea-inducing cliches surrounding romance (or the opposite extreme – that it doesn’t exist), love manifests in so many other ways – with an inside joke, or a gift that doesn’t make sense to anyone else but you two, or knowing how to end a fight the right way.
It’s the small silly things and the big dramatic things and all the mundane things in between. How do you know it’s real? When thinking of your future with them is not accompanied by a sense of impending doom and misery. And you’re kinda (really) excited about it.
Silly as this all may seem, and perhaps in contradiction to much of the marriage advice peddled by Muslim writers and teachers, these are nonetheless some of the most solid relationship lessons I have derived through experience. Contrasting my previous experience with my current one has been interesting, with sometimes unexpected results (like the whole falling in love thing…woah). And so here I am, slightly less bitter and slightly less cynical and slightly more practical and wiser (I hope).
May Allah grant us all the (somewhat disconcerting and pleasantly surprising) experience of a blessed marriage to a true qawwam, ameen.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Good Girls Marry Doctors

Last night, I was able to attend the book launch in San Francisco for "Good Girls Marry Doctors: South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion."
The book is an anthology of personal essays written by desi women - women who did *not* marry doctors, women who *don't* fit the "good girl" mold... women who, for all their rebellion against the cultural dictats of 'respect,' 'obedience,' and 'honour,' still find themselves aching for the loss of their families' love and acceptance... no matter how painful.
I will be perfectly honest - I initially expected that the event (and the book) would be fun, but relatively light, not particularly serious, perhaps just another extension of the growing trend amongst people of colour sharing anecdotes about their lives and poking fun at our collective idiosyncrasies.
As soon as editor Piyali Bhattacharya started speaking, however, I found myself frozen in my seat - every word echoed and resonated with me, an emotional connection both intense and utterly unexpected.
"Good Girls marry doctors, it's true, especially in the desi community. What, then, do Bad Girls do? Surely, I reasoned in that moment, Bad Girls write publicly about their parents and guardians... Bad Girls forget how deeply they have been loved, Bad Girls ignore what it took for them to get the educations they now have, Bad Girls... spin spiteful tales of woe about the very people who have devoted every ounce of emotional and physical energy they had towards the Bad Girls' well-beings...
We yearned for more. We had political opinions, sexual desires, professional passions, and a whole host of other cravings that didn't fit this mold. We tried as long as we could to incorporate these feelings into our Good Girl selves, but the more we let ideas into our lives, the less space there was inside that box.
And yet, the idea of rebelling was scary. We were brought up to believe that there was no bond more sacred than that between us and our parents, and that nothing could be more dishonorable than to bring the shame of disobedience on our families. After all, didn't our parents have our best interests at heart? Just as scary was what awaited us if we gave up the safety of the Good Girl mold. What other kinds of safety would we lose? How would we support ourselves? What kind of a life could we envision for ourselves in which the home we grew up in was no longer the stable anchor it used to be? Where would our area of refuge be? Without the approval of our parents, how would we pin down and draw out the maps of our bodies, our spirits?"
(Introduction, Good Girls Marry Doctors)
The words rang in my ears, reminding me of so much of the turmoil I have experienced over the last several years. I may have been the only "conservative" (i.e. niqaabi) Muslim desi woman in a room full of middle-class, educated, liberal, hipster millenials (and not-so-millenials)... but in that moment, I knew that I shared the same experiences with them - the same sense of having chosen one's own way, making life decisions that parents and family could not fathom, and continue to struggle with today. Those choices have simultaneously benefited us and caused us pain: coming into our own; breaking out of too-rigid boxes, of expectations that we could never meet and no longer want to, of blazing our own trails through landscapes our families wished us to avoid completely... and seeing the grief and anger and heartbreak and confusion and hurt in the faces of our parents, who see in our actions a rejection of all that they have ever done for us, all that they have ever wished for us, all that they believe so strongly is the Right Thing.
It is a cliche that these types of rebellions occur only in the framework of a conservative family and a liberal renegade child - to think that the conservative men and women, the religious men and women, are the ones who simply carry on the strict, narrow standards of 'back home,' of our parents' beliefs and demands and expectations.
Yet even those men who grow their beards and attend the masjid more often than their grandparents did, even those women who cover their heads and their faces as seriously as any aunty... even we have our own stories of rebellion and obedience, of pride and sorrow, of joy and disownment. We carry the weight of Prophetic injuctions towards parental obedience along with the unshakeable knowledge that we *cannot* stay married to this person, or go through with this career, or live in a way that destroys us from within. We carry within us the ever-present fear that the gates to Paradise beneath our mothers' feet will be closed to us, even as we plead with them and with Allah for forgiveness for actions that we do not truly regret.
For every desi woman, for every desi man, for everyone who has known that they can no longer be the Good Girl (or Boy) at the expense of their own lives... Good Girls Marry Doctors is a reminder that even as we experience our own unique grief, we are not alone.