Tuesday, January 14, 2014

First Blush of Womanhood

A girl’s first period is a major turning point in her life – the moment she crosses the threshold from childhood into adulthood, the moment she becomes a woman. It is a time fraught with anxiety and, often, with a sense of shame. Mothers and older sisters are the first to be told when a girl begins her first period; menstruation is a “woman’s secret” and men are expected to be kept deliberately ignorant of its details.

In many cultures, girls are scolded for letting slip any hints about their menses to the menfolk of the household, who often remain blithely oblivious to the maturation of their daughters and sisters. Should a situation arise wherein the subject comes up, the male reaction is usually one of mortification, irritation and a gruff change of topic.

Yet this awkward, complicated relationship between young girls and the menfolk around them doesn’t need to exist. In fact, shocking as it may seem, a different type of relationship entirely could exist – one of compassion, sensitivity, gentleness and understanding not only between girls and their immediate male relatives, but, in fact, between the unrelated men and women of the Ummah.
The proof for this lies in the seerah itself.

Umayyah bint Qays (radhiAllahu 'anha) was a young girl who had not yet reached puberty, who joined the Muslim army on its way to Khaybar. Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) had her sit on his she-camel, just behind his luggage and they rode for some time. When they paused for a reprieve, Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) descended and had his camel kneel down, whereupon Umayyah got off as well. To her mortification, she noticed that the luggage she'd been sitting on was smeared with blood - her first period.

Umayyah sat back on the bag, leaning forward to try and hide the blood stain, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment.

Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - ever keen, ever kind - noticed both her actions and the bloodstain and said gently, "Perhaps this is menstrual blood?" Umayyah nodded in confirmation and Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) suggested kindly, "Attend to yourself, then take some water, put some salt in it and wash the bag, then return."

Umayyah followed his instructions and was once again seated upon Rasul Allah's camel.
After the Muslims were victorious at Khaybar, Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) chose a necklace from amongst the spoils of war and summoned Umayyah, then placed it around her neck with his own hands. She wore that necklace until she died. (Al-Muhaddithat; al-Tabaqat al-Kubra by Ibn Sa'd.)


1) Umayyah was what we would think of as a 'tween' today - a young girl straddling the line between childhood and womanhood. Whereas most girls of that age today are pushed away by their fathers and brothers to "go be with the women", Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) fondly had her accompany him on his own camel. Considering that even the great men of the Sahabah vied to be in Rasul Allah's presence and thought of it as a great honour, this shows how much Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) valued every member of his Ummah - male and female, young and old.
Can you imagine how thrilled Umayyah must have been to be given this honour, how confident she must have felt at being chosen to ride with the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) himself? Every young girl wants to feel special and valued and what better way to make this young believer love Allah and His Messenger than to choose her out of the throngs of adults who made up Rasul Allah's closest advisers and warriors?

The gentle, compassionate and respectful relationship that Rasul Allah displayed with this young member of his Ummah was also emulated by his sahabah (radhiAllahu 'anhum ajma'een). Abu ad-Dardaa’ (radhiAllahu 'anhu) used to be the guardian of an orphan girl and he would bring her to pray with him amongst the men, wrapping her in his own cloak. When she attained puberty, he gently sent her to pray with the women, but continued to look after her carefully. She later became known as Umm ad-Dardaa’ as-Sughraa and one of the great scholars of the Tabi’een.

2) A girl's first period is a major turning point of her life. In many cultures, it is treated with shame and embarrassment, made to seem as though it is something evil or unfortunate - something to be hidden amongst women and kept a secret from men.

Imagine how mortified Umayyah was - not only had she just started her first period, but she wasn't even with her mother or other women. In fact, she wasn't even with a male family member! She was with the Messenger of Allah r and her menstrual blood had stained his luggage.

If Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) was like many other men, he could have gotten angry and upset or shooed her away and made her feel ashamed for what had happened. Instead, he was soft, gentle and understanding; he didn't blame her for anything, didn't demand angrily "What have you done?! What is this mess?!" He didn't even ask her for an explanation; he provided one for her and was incredibly sweet about it. In fact, he gave her simple, practical advice on what to do and actually told her to return to him.

3) After the expedition of Khaybar was over and the Muslims had won the battle, Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) didn't simply forget Umayyah and never think of her again. On the contrary, he hand-picked jewellery for her, brought her forward to him again and gave her the necklace himself. What better way to warm her heart and remind her of an experience that could have been a source of lifelong embarrassment, but was instead one of the most wonderful events of her life?

Rasul Allah's behaviour with this young girl holds so many lessons for Muslim men on how they should deal with their sisters, daughters and, in fact, any young girl at all, whether she is related to them or not.
His actions are an example of how every girl should be honoured and treasured as valued members of this Ummah. Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his sahabah (radhiAllahu 'anhum), such as Abu ad-Dardaa’, displayed how a relationship of compassion, gentleness, respect and dignity between men and women, and boys and girls, is possible and, indeed, necessary. Considering the current state of gender relations in the Muslim Ummah – whether it be extreme, harsh segregationor unhealthily close relationships, the balanced, positive example of Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is one that we must follow. In fact, it can be said that acting upon this sunnah is imperative for the psychological health of the Ummah.

As Muslims, we should endeavor to create a safe and healthy environment in which even a young pubescent girl in a sensitive or difficult situation can feel comfortable enough to turn to her brother in Islam – even if he is an unrelated male or older than her in age – and trust that he will care for her with the compassion, respect and dignity owed to any fellow Muslim, whether male or female.

The honour and dignity of Muslim men and women, which they hold within themselves and accord to each other, is something that is unique to the Ummah of Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). Although many Muslims appear to have forgotten about it, preferring flawed cultural notions of ‘honour’ instead, it is up to us to reclaim this beautiful aspect of our Deen and follow in the footsteps of the heroes and heroines 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

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Where Are The Fathers? Practical Steps for Fathers & Father Figures

Being a father is a tough job and mothers realise that. We appreciate the hard work you do in looking after your families and trying to give them the best that you can provide, but this in no way is an excuse to become negligent in the most important area of life: your sons!

Here are some simple solutions and ways to reconnect and have the relationship with your son/s, from a mother who has been in this situation, and a respected shaikh sharing his experience with his son.

Connect with them

Take time to connect with your sons especially as they get into older childhood and the teen years. These are tough years as we already know - your sons want to be close to you but also want their own space. This is the stage when you really need to listen to what they are saying, no matter how stupid or childish it may seem. During this time, they will closely note what you say and what you actually do. If they see you ‘preach’ but not practice, they will see you as a hypocrite so, no matter what you do or say, it will make no difference to them. They will dismiss anything that comes out of your mouth and any feelings of ‘love’ will be given elsewhere or withheld.

Age 9 – 12yrs:
This age is really hard on everyone. It’s a time of many changes physically, emotionally and mentally. There are so many temptations that they are being exposed to and bombarded with. Even those in Islamic schools are not totally protected from it all. At this age, fathers need to pay close attention to who their sons’ friends are, learn their slang and keep clued in to what games, books or activities they’re into. Speak to them about the changes they’re going to begin going through. Recent studies have shown that while boys generally mature later than girls, many young boys have had their first look at pornography or had a sexual experience by the age of 12! Disturbing, I know.
We can try and protect them, but the reality is that we’re not with them 24 hours a day. The best way to instill morals and values in them is by talking to our sons and listening to them. Fathers must not just be there physically but mentally as well; too many times, sons complain that their dads are hearing but not really listening and paying attention to them.

Age 13 yrs – 17 yrs: 
 This is when they need to do things together with you. But not things YOU feel they should be doing and learning. No, do what interests them. Learn about what their passions are, and be physically active with them as well: go biking, do martial arts, learn Arabic, play game stations or go fishing together. There are a myriad of things you can do together even if it’s not your thing. Do it for them and they will in turn want to return the favour. Don’t just judge them when they speak, but allow them to speak openly with you about any and everything. No matter how shocked or frustrated you may get at what they say, kindly (and when needed, sternly) advise and correct them.

Advice from Sh.Hussain Yee

• It starts with the scholars, du’aat and imams.
These community leaders need to step up and lead by showing their brothers in Islam how to be an involved father; not just by talking the talk but by walking the walk! Be an example by showing how it’s done
• More lessons directed to men
We need to refocus parenting lessons towards men instead of the burden being solely carried on mothers’ shoulders. It needs to be redirected to the fathers and fathers-to-be. Equal time should be given to Tarbiyyat ar-Rabbaani (divinely guided education) and the Ahkaam (literal rulings).

• Increase youth involved activities
Our communities need to increase the activities and programmes (not just sports related or Islamic studies related) for our youth boys. Encourage the boys (or even gently push them) into taking on responsibility for some events, under the supervision of elder, experienced brothers. Get them collecting for the poor and delivering to the needy. Encourage them to go and visit the sick - not just children, but the elderly as well. Take them to spend time with orphans and the handicapped. All this will allow them to learn to have a greater appreciation for what they have been given by Allah ('azza wa jall).

• Combined family activities
Instead of having youth only camps, lets make them family camps - the best way for the community leaders to teach both the youth and parents at the same time. Divide the activities into some combined sessions and others only for the youth.

• When the fathers can’t or won’t be there...

Brothers, just as you make time for those activities you’re passionate about, make time to be a mentor! Whether sports, knowledge, deen or dunya related, we are begging of you to PLEASE give more than just an hour every second weekend to our boys. We have a great shortage of strong, good, male role models and mentors that our Muslim boys can relate to. Make some time to take on even one boy who is fatherless or has no Muslim man to be his guide as he grows up. Show him what being a Muslim man is by being a living example of the knowledge you have from our Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the Sahaba (radhiAllahu 'anhum ajma'een).

• Make Islam relevant as a practical way of life
Use our Islamic history to not just read and say ‘Oh, how great Islam is’, but to apply use it as a practical guide in showing the young boys HOW it can be done. Explain the challenges they will face and don’t brush their ideas or thoughts off. Listen and help them find the correct solutions to their issues, problems and challenges. Be the middle man between them and their parents. We have many examples in the seerah to show you and them how it was done.

• Teach them to love Allah and His deen
Let’s remember: quality over quantity! Don’t become jaded when you have only a couple or even a handful of boys show up for a programme/event. Remember that some Prophets had only a handful of followers who believed in their message, yet they never gave up. At least they cared enough to come (or their parents cared enough to bring them). Give them what you have for the sake of Allah ('azza wa jall) and then leave it in Allah’s Hands to guide them. Once you have, with the help of Allah ('azza wa jall), planted that seed of love for the deen in their hearts and minds, nothing and no one can change it except Him (subhanahu wa Ta'aala).

Patience, patience and patience
Don’t give up on our young Muslims. Even the boy that seems the most unlikely to listen to the message may surprise you by being the one who accepts and makes the greatest changes in themselves. Imagine if those you looked up to had given up on you... What if Allah gave up on you? Do you think you would be where you are today?

Remember even our beloved Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) did not give up on his uncle Abu Talib while he was in the throes of death. Even Prophet Nuh ('alayhissalaam) tried in every way, including making du’a to Allah I, to help save his son.

So why do fathers today just give up on their sons? In the end, remember that it is only Allah ('azza wa jall) that guides but that does not remove our responsibility of giving and trying till our last breath and making du’a for them - and Allah is the source of strength and guidance.

Umm Zainab Vanker has been active in da'wah and community activism in Canada for the last ten years, and is deeply concerned with issues related to family and parenting. She is the mother of one crazy daughter, three teenage sons, and grandmother to a three year old girl. She continues to struggle in raising her children and finding resources for them even in a Muslim country.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Wisdom of Wives

All the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) were married for a reason.

After the death of Khadijah (radhiAllahu 'anha), RasulAllah was heartbroken - the loss of Khadijah, the first love of his life, the one who had supported him with wisdom and loyalty, had left an emptiness in his heart.

Thus, when Allah decreed that it was time for him to marry again, his first wife after Khadijah was Sawdah bint Zam'ah. She, like Khadijah, was a woman older than RasulAllah - but with that difference of age came maturity, wisdom, and calm reassurances. She provided him with the same sense of steadfastness and loyalty that he had been blessed with from Khadijah - and at that period in RasulAllah's life, it was exactly what he needed.

Umm Habibah bint Abi Sufyaan was different: She was one of the earliest believers in RasulAllah, and had made the Hijrah to Abyssinia with her first husband. However, this man apostated and died upon Christianity, leaving Umm Habiba shaken and alone. Keep in mind that she couldn't go back home even if she wanted to - her father, Abu Sufyan, was an avowed enemy of RasulAllah at the time.
RasulAllah married her to offer her comfort and reassurance for the ordeal she went through: the difficulty of being a believing woman first in Makkah, and then in a foreign land; the devastating experience of having her first husband leave Islam and die upon kufr.

A'ishah bint Abi Bakr was married to RasulAllah by the Command of Allah - and though her marriage to him is one of the most controversial, she was also the means of preserving roughly half the Deen! Whether it was through the ahadith she narrated, the fiqh rulings she issued, or her overall knowledge in various fields (language, medicine, and more), A'ishah became one of the greatest of all Islamic scholars. Without her, knowledge of Islam would not have been preserved or submitted in a way that ensured it would pass down to generations today... over 1400 years later.

Zaynab bint Khuzaymah was a quiet woman, and she passed away during the lifetime of RasulAllah, mere months after she married him. Yet in her, there is an example for those Muslim women who are of a different nature than Khadijah, A'ishah, or Hafsah... She was of those who maintained a quiet life, but no less blessed because of it. In fact, she was known as Umm al-Masaakeen due to the fact that she gave the most charity amongst all the wives of RasulAllah.

Umm Salamah was deeply in love with Abu Salamah and devastated when he died. When she was told, "Allah will replace him with someone better," she replied in anguish, "And who could be better than Abu Salamah?!" Soon after, RasulAllah himself came to ask for her hand in marriage.
In Umm Salamah is the proof that a woman may love deeply and truly, and that Allah will bless her with even more love in her lifetime - forget happily ever after with *one* true love; Umm Salamah was blessed with two!

Hafsah bint 'Umar was her father's daughter in many ways - strong, outspoken, and a dedicated worshipper to Allah. One of her greatest roles as the wife of RasulAllah, however, actually played out after his death. When the first manuscript of the Qur'an was compiled, it was placed in her care - rendering Hafsa the first caretaker of the Mus'haf, which she was until she passed away.

Zaynab bint Jahsh was a noblewoman of Quraysh, and the example of her marriage to RasulAllah was twofold: First, that she was married to a former slave (Zaid ibn Harith), proving that it is permissible for a woman of high social standing to marry someone of a so-called 'lower' social class; and secondly, that Zaid ibn Harith was the adopted son of RasulAllah... and she later divorced Zaid and married RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) himself.
Zaynab's marriage to RasulAllah was proof that in the eyes of the Shari'ah, the adopted son does not fall under the same rulings as a blood or milk son.

Safiyyah bint Hu'ayy was perhaps one of the first examples of intercultural marriage amongst Muslims. She was the daughter of a Jewish chief - essentially, a princess. Though she accepted Islam, the other wives of RasulAllah at first belittled her for her Jewish background, until such time that RasulAllah admonished them strongly and told Safiyyah, "Do not grieve, for your uncle was a Prophet, and your husband is a Prophet." From then on, Safiyyah's Jewish heritage was a source of honour for her - not of shame, as others had tried to make it seem.

Juwayriyyah bint al-Harith demonstrated political power: her choice to marry RasulAllah ensured that her entire tribe was freed from captivity. In a narration, it is said that she approached him directly regarding her freedom, whereupon he offered her marriage as an option. She immediately agreed, and as a result, she guaranteed social and political privilege to her tribe.

Maymunah bint al-Harith was similar to Zaynab bint Khuzaymah in that she was a woman who enjoyed seclusion; yet also, her relationship to Abdullah ibn Abbas - as his maternal aunt - was a means of allowing him access to a side of RasulAllah's life which was not open to many. There are numerous ahadith narrated by Ibn Abbas in which he says, "I was at the house of my maternal aunt, Maymunah bint al-Harith..."
In her own way, Maymunah was also a source of the preservation of the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam).

Every wife of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) had a different personality: Some were assertive, bold, and feisty; others were shy, quiet, and reclusive. Some had a mischievous sense of humour, while others were serene and had an aura of maturity around them. Some were scholarly and intellectual; others enjoyed making handicrafts and selling them. Some were politically aware and active; others preferred to engage in social activism at an intimately grassroots level.

Yet each and every one of them was specifically chosen by Allah, from above the seven heavens, to be married to the greatest of all creation: RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). Each and every one of these women was a devoted worshipper of Allah. Each and every one of them was given the title "Umm al-Mu'mineen" - the Mother of the Believers, and they were all informed that they would be reunited with their beloved husband in Jannah.

And each and every one of them is an example to us today - not only to other women, but to the menfolk of the Ummah as well. 

Are we willing to learn? Are we willing to follow in their footsteps? Are we ready to train ourselves and the next generation of Muslims to be of the calibre and standard of the greatest Muslim women to walk the earth?