Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Black Sheep

(Originally published here at
Na’ima B. Robert, author of several young adult novels, founder and editor-in-chief of SISTERS magazine, has done it again with her new book, Black Sheep. 
Black Sheep-bk-review-zainab-Naima-Robert

EMOTIONAL yet thoughtful, Black Sheep is the tale of Dwayne Kingston, a young man whose childhood and
adolescence have been rough in the poverty-ridden, gangster-territory area of Brixton. 

His poet’s soul, however, still flourishes, and brings him together with Misha, a girl from the higher end of London. Misha’s private-school education, refined accent, and sheltered life are very different from Dwayne’s, and though they find themselves deeply in love, they both have struggles of their own to overcome.

Misha has always been reserved when it comes to boys, and driven when it comes to her studies. Pushed by a mother who insists on excellence, and setting her eyes on a top university, Misha finds herself bewildered by the feelings she has for Dwayne. As the relationship turns turbulent, Misha is forced to ask herself whether she’s just trying to escape her mother’s pressure, or if she really believes that Dwayne is worth the heartache. And if he is, what does that mean for her future?

Dwayne grew up on the council estates, living the gangbanger reality. Spitting beats, cruising the streets, and making money by selling weed is all Dwayne really knows. Although he’s managed to avoid getting arrested so far, his mother and the new principal at school both know that it won’t take long for the street life to swallow him up… until he meets Misha, that is.

Dwayne finds himself changed by Misha – her insistence that he can ‘rewrite the script’ and make something of himself, to look for a future that doesn’t revolve around the streets. Earnestly seeking to better himself, Dwayne finds that the harder he tries to fight against the cycle he’s been trapped in all his life, the more it threatens to pull him down. Even after accepting Islam, the dark side of life that Dwayne had tried to hide from Misha catches him to him in a way that threatens to destroy the fragile hopes he had begun to harbor.

Together, Misha and Dwayne wrestle with issues of identity, family, and true love, against the backdrop of gangs and drugs on the streets of London.

Echoing with Romeo-and-Juliet themes, Black Sheep is a book that I would strongly recommend for ages 11 and up, especially for young boys who glorify the gangster lifestyle. What’s refreshing is that although Islam plays an important role in the characters’ story, it remains a subtle influence that does not clash with the larger themes of the novel.

As well, though the points of view switch between Dwayne and Misha, the larger part of the narrative is focused on Dwayne, which would work well in keeping the attention of male readers. Na’ima B. Robert skillfully taps into a young man’s sense of confidence, insecurity, hopes, and fears to create an engaging, empathetic figure who learns that the best things are worth fighting for.

The street-style vocabulary, which is heavily used throughout the novel, is hard to understand at first, but the context usually assists in figuring out. It would have been a good idea to include a short appendix explaining the terms commonly used, especially for readers not based in the UK.

However, the story itself is very well written and the characters well developed. The message is clear but not preachy, and the book tackles themes that are serious without becoming too graphic, and without minimalizing the severity of the issues.

I would rate this book 4.5 out of 5, and would highly recommend this to Muslim parents and teachers alike, especially for young boys.

 AnonyMouse (Umm Khadijah) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She writes for SISTERS Magazine,, and blogs at

Monday, April 15, 2013

Physically Disabled, or Enabled for Paradise?

Those suffering from mental illness or extreme physical ailments are often treated shamefully by fellow Muslims. Many times, they are overtly excluded from being a part of the Muslim community; whether it's looking at them askance, avoiding talking to them, or not making an effort to make our masaajid and Islamic centers wheel-chair friendly, our behavior is in direct contradiction to the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam).

We tend to use the term "disabled" to describe people who have been tested by Allah in terms of their physical or mentally health - yet what we don't realize is that in many cases, they are actually far more "enabled" than the rest of us are. Our brothers and sisters in Islam who are experiencing these trials in their lives often display levels of patience and strength in the face of hardship than most of us, who enjoy good health throughout our lives, do.

Umm Zafar, better known as 'the Abyssinian woman' who suffered from epilepsy in the time of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was such a person. Though epilepsy was, at the time (and still is, in many parts of the world), considered to be something severe, strange, and even shameful, she bore her test with a strength, patience, and dignity equal to that of any mujaahid on the battlefield.

Ibn `Abbâs once said to `Atâ b. Rabâh: "Shouldn't I point out to you a woman of Paradise?"

He replied: "Indeed. Do so."

Ibn `Abbâs said: "Do you see that black complexioned lady? She approached the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: 'I suffer from epilepsy and during a fit, my body becomes exposed. So please supplicate Allah on my behalf.'

"Then the Prophet said to her: 'If you choose, you might rather bear it patiently and you will attain Paradise on account of it. Or if you like, I will beseech Allah to cure you.'

"She said: 'I will bear it patiently. But my body gets exposed, so please beseech Allah that my body will no longer be exposed.'

"The Prophet (peace be upon him) beseeched Allah for this.
" [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5652) and Sahîh Muslim (2576)]

As a result of what many of us would consider her "disability," Umm Zafar was blessed with the greatest ability of all: the ability to enter Paradise.

The next time we see a fellow Muslim who is suffering, whether from a physical or mental ailment, don't treat them as inferior or as though you're afraid that they're contagious. Don't talk down to them, don't assume that you are better than them, and don't think that because of their illness, that they are inferior to you.

Yes, they are 'different' - not because they are "sick," but because so many of them have met the challenge that Allah has placed before them with such strong emaan, patience, and strength, that they may be amongst those guaranteed Jannah.


Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Embracing Sexuality

As Muslims, we are caught between two extremes: a culture of hypersexualization that trivializes and belittles the value of sex, that turns intimacy into something crude and vulgar; and a 'back home' culture where everything that is romantic, sexual, and intimate is made forbidden and shameful.

Umm Sulaym (radhiAllahu anha) was not ashamed of asking a question which openly discussed an aspect of female sexuality (wet dreams), in an appropriate manner, despite the fact that others around her (such as Umm Salamah) were shocked that she had the audacity to discuss it in public.

Many Muslim women are pressured into denying their sexuality, or fully being able to explore and acknowledge it, even within their marriage. Cultural double standards that make it acceptable for men to transgress the bounds of chastity but taboo for women to be honest about their desires are poisonous.

Not only does such a mentality warp and harm those individuals affected by it, but it also interferes in every Muslim's right to a sound Islamic education and a holistic, happy life based on the Deen - including the area of halal sexual gratification.

Muslim women should not be made ashamed of being aware of their bodies, their physical needs, and their sexuality; these things are all gifts from Allah, which, with the right intention, can be made a source of ajr (reward) from Him.
On the flip side, these things are also responsibilities, for if misused and abused, they can also be a source of punishment.

Let us embrace the mature, dignified, respectful, and positive attitude towards female sexuality that Sahabiyaat such as Umm Sulaym displayed, and cast away the crippling mentalities that pressure women to deny their very natures.

Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) relates that Umm Sulaym (Allah be pleased with her) came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari 130)

Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) said: “How praiseworthy are the women of Ansar; shyness does not prevent them from having a deep understanding of religion.