Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Soulful Sort of Chastity

When it comes to discussions on women's access to masaajid, bringing down barriers, and so on, it's obvious that I'm a huge proponent of following the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the Sahabah.

One of the things which has pushed me towards this stance so strongly (anti-barrier despite being a niqaabi), is observing how well this sunnah is followed in Malaysia. MashaAllah, so far wherever I've gone in one-space masaajid, I've seen exemplary behavior - respect, dignity, appropriate dressing and behavior - from the men and women alike. After reading about what Masjid an-Nabawi was like during the time of RasulAllah, seeing this has really resonated with me.

However, let's be realistic now.

Growing up in Vancouver and Victoria, Canada, every single masjid I went to was segregated, with clearly designated spaces for men and women. And yet... and yet the behavior exemplified was simply not appropriate. Inappropriate dressing is only one minor issue that I witnessed; more concering was the sheer level of inappropriate behavior between the genders.

I'm not just talking about a few people being 'friendly' - I'm talking about straightforward flirting, men feeling free to walk into the womens' space without a second thought or a little warning beforehand (because whether or not you agree with segregation, I should hope that you DO respect the idea of a 'safe space' for each gender; as a niqaabi, having a dude walk into a room where you felt 'safe' to remove your niqaab is a *huge* sign of disrespect).

At the risk of sounding more Salafi than feminist, I was (and am) reminded of the saying of A'ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha), during her own discussion on the subject of women attending masaajid:

"If RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) had lived today, he would have forbidden women to go to the masjid, as Bani Isra'eel did." (Tafseer al-Qurtubi)

Why the stark contrast between A'ishah narrating a hadeeth that unequivocally forbade the prohibition of allowing women to masaajid, and her own statement?

The truth is, Muslim women have also forgotten the adab and akhlaaq of mixed gender interaction. Just as Muslim men have the obligation to lower their gazes and treat all women with respect, honour, and dignity - so are Muslim women enjoined to lower their gazes and treat men with respect, honour, and dignity.

Whether respect, honour, and dignity is simply an alien concept these days, or Muslims have merely forgotten what exactly what kind of behavior those qualities dictate, the reality is that a mere headscarf doesn't automatically mean that we're behaving appropriately.

 Unfortunately, the concept of spiritual chastity (especially with regards to mixed-gender interaction) has been mocked, criticized, and rejected by many who consider themselves 'progressive' and yet fail to recognize that the loss of spiritual chastity has resulted in the detriment of society as a whole. Respect and dignity can only exist when these values are encouraged, and the current environment of hypersexualization does nothing to foster pure, honourable relationships between men and women that are independent of sexual intentions.

Looking back at the interactions between the Sahabah and Sahabiyaat, we see that - whether they were discussing religious matters, arguing a difference of opinion, or even just visiting each other - every instance of contact was marked by a striving for chastity, for spiritual strength and purity.

They understood that every individual is held accountable before Allah, questioned as to whether they played a role in improving society... or making it worse. Was the purpose of their communication a positive one, a beneficial one, one that would add to their book of good deeds? Or was it merely to indulge their baser human desires, the desire to be admired by the other gender, to be flattered, to attract attention, to coax interest not in a subject of import, but of a more personal type?

Whether in the masjid or the mall, school or on the sidewalk, men and women alike are enjoined to be keenly aware of themselves and their roles in creating, encouraging, and maintaining a society that values spiritual purity and chastity.

Are we doing our part?

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


Friday, October 25, 2013

When Beauty is Not to Blame

Ibn Abbas narrated: A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet. Some of the people used to go to pray in the first row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits [in rukoo' and sujood] to see her. Because of this act, in regard to her, Allah revealed, "Verily We know the eager among you to be first, and verily We know the eager among you to be behind." (Surah al-Hijr ayah 24)

(Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud Tayalisi, Baihaqi, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Nasai and it is judged sahih by Albani. He includes it as #2472 in his Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Sahih)

Why is this narration so fascinating? Because it reveals how even in the time of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), the Sahabah had differing levels of emaan and even in salah - a time when all worldly desires are meant to be put aside - they still acted upon their desires.

Yet to me, the most interesting part of this narration is that when Allah sent down a revelation concerning this situation, He did not rebuke the woman - He rebuked the men who forgot their khushoo', the men who forgot that Allah is Ever-Watching, the men who forgot that Allah can easily expose those who claim piety yet act in a contrary manner. Allah is the One Who reminded these men that their intentions are fully known to Him.

Note the way that Ibn 'Abbas (radhiAllahu 'anhu) shared this story. This woman was publicly known, and though her name is not mentioned in the narration, her identity was obviously common knowledge amongst the people of Medinah.

It was also known that the pious men were those who made a point of fighting temptation by removing themselves from a situation where they would feel weak, whereas those whose emaan was weaker were those who purposely lingered behind to indulge their desires.

Now, can you imagine the embarrassment and shame of those men who were publicly rebuked by Allah? Can you imagine having all of Medinah *and* those who were visiting Madinah at the time, knowing that *your* weak and sinful behavior was the cause of Allah sending down Divine Revelation to warn you of His Knowledge? This aayah was and remains a public reminder and rebuke to all Muslim men who attempt to dress up their inappropriate behavior with a guise of 'religiousness.' It is a reminder that Muslim men are responsible for lowering their gazes, for controlling their behavior, for removing themselves from a situation where they feel weak. It is a reminder that they CANNOT blame their own weakness of faith, character, or actions on women!

This anecdote, combined with other ahadeeth that discuss the relationship of men and women in the public sphere (the masjid), display how RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) trained his Companions in the appropriate way of interacting with the other gender.

For example, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) made it a habit to remain sitting forward (towards the qiblah) after his tasleem, giving the women a chance to leave the masjid before the men (remember, there was no physical barrier between the men and women at the time). He displayed respect towards these women (including and especially those who did not wear niqab), and thus trained his male Companions do act similarly.

Alas, both Muslim men and women alike have forgotten the beautiful akhlaaq and adab that *should* mark our actions, especially in mixed-gender interactions. Thus we have an Ummah which has gone to two extremes: attempting to segregate the genders to an unhealthy level to the point where a simple, innocent conversation is considered zina; or throwing out any notion of hijab, lowering the gaze, and considering any and all behaviour between the genders - even zina - to be acceptable.

In both cases, diseased hearts are created and fostered, because there is no holistic understanding of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Islam came to transform the Ummah from one of ignorance to one of beauty, honour, dignity, and respect. To reach that state, we *must* go back to the understanding of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions. Only then can we possibly start seeing the men and women of this Ummah coming together, as they were meant to be, to cooperate upon birr and taqwa: goodness and righteousness.


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Housewife's Lament

Money is tight. The kids are demanding. Skin is raw from all the cooking, cleaning and chores that have to be done every day. There’s absolutely no time to spare for anything else, whether it’s pursuing further education or volunteering for a special cause.

Does this sound familiar? There are Muslim women all over the world who find themselves at home, living life as domestic stay-at-home mums and housewives. It’s a physically and emotionally demanding job and it’s also a pretty thankless one. How can spending all day serving others, instead of being involved in some kind of noble, public cause, ever be truly fulfilling and worth recognition – not just by people, but by Allah Himself?

Fatimah bint Muhammad is known to be one of the four most perfect women in the entire world.
“Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) drew four lines and said to the Companions, "Do you know what these are?" They said, "Allah and His Messenger know best." He said, "The best women of the women of Paradise are Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid, Fatimah bint Muhammad, Maryam bint Imran and Aasiyah bint Muzahim (the wife of the Pharaoh)." (Ahmad)

Yet when we look at the biography of Fatimah bint Muhammad (radhiAllahu 'anha), one could say that in comparison to others amongst the early Muslim women, her life was relatively unremarkable. She grew up during a difficult time for her parents, when her father was being publicly mocked and derided for preaching his message; she lost her mother at a relatively young age and she married her cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib when she was about fifteen years old. Some of the most well-known ahadeeth related by her mention how physically demanding her lifestyle was, such that her hands would crack and bleed from the wheat-grinding that she used to do.

What made Fatimah so special? So special, in fact, that she will forever be known as one of the greatest women of Paradise?
Fatimah bint Muhammad is not known for an act of dramatic courage such as that displayed by Nusaybah bint Ka’b during the battle of Uhud, but she too provides an example for a situation that many Muslim women around the world live and continue to face: the everyday drudgery of life as a wife and mother.

Fatimah may have been the most beloved daughter to the Messenger of Allah, who was also the head of the Islamic State and leader of the Muslim army, but that didn’t mean that her life was one of luxury or ease.

Quite to the contrary, Fatimah was the mother of two young boys and ran her household single-handedly. Life was difficult back then, with none of the technologies that smooth our way through tedious tasks today. She used to grind the wheat for her bread with her own hands, to the point that her hands would crack and bleed. Her husband, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, was an employee of one of the Ansaar, but the income was meagre and they struggled to survive on a daily basis.

One day, weary and despairing of the toll that their lifestyle was taking on her, Fatimah decided that she would approach her father, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). At the time, the Muslims had won a battle and, as a result, had captured several prisoners and other spoils of war. With the reasoning that as a member of the Ummah, she was entitled to some relief, Fatimah went to visit one of RasulAllah’s homes. She did not find her father present, but seeing her stepmother A’ishah, Fatimah shared the story of her bleeding hands and her wish for a maidservant to take on a share of the burdens.
Fatimah went back to her home, and when RasulAllah returned to his own house, A’ishah told him about his daughter’s visit.
That same night, RasulAllah slipped into his daughter’s home, where she and ‘Ali were already lying in bed.
‘Ali narrates, “I wanted to get up, but the Prophet said, ‘Remain in your place.’ Then he sat down between us until I felt the coolness of his face on my chest. The Prophet said, ‘Shall I teach you a thing which is better than what you have asked me? When you go to bed, say, 'Allahu akbar' thirty-four times, and 'subhanAllah’ thirty-three times, and 'Alhamdulillah’ thirty-three times for that is better for you both than a servant.’" (Bukhari, Book #57, Hadith #55)

After this, Fatimah never repeated her request for a maid ever again.

It may seem to be a small, insignificant thing, but subhanAllah this was one of the reasons for which Fatimah earned her position as one of the queens of Jannah. Her life was spent quietly serving her Lord, through her sincere intentions behind caring for her husband and children. Around her, there were many sahabiyaat whose lives seemed much more exciting, full of adventure and grandeur. Her stepmother, A’ishah, was a great scholar; her great-aunt Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib was fierce in battle and the women of Madinah were renowned for their boldness in approaching any matter.
Nonetheless, for Fatimah bint RasulAllah, the path to Paradise was simple – though never easy. For every stay-at-home-mother and housewife who feels that her life is too consumed by daily drudgery, who worries that her life is too dull to be of consequence, the quiet strength of Fatimah bint RasulAllah is an inspiration and a reminder that no deed, however small or seemingly insignificant, is overlooked by Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Just.

For indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good. (Surah Hud, verse 115)
Jannah is not only for the Prophets, the martyrs, the ascetics, or the scholars; Jannah is attainable by every Muslimah, no matter her occupation or station in life. In the eyes of Allah, every sincere Muslim woman who pledges her life to pleasing her Lord is a heroine of Islam.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com