Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: Salaam, Love

Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy

Published by Beacon Press.

Reviewed by Zainab bint Younus

On the heels of the popular, groundbreaking anthology Love Inshallah: American Muslim Women on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, comes Salaam, Love – the other side of the story.  
As Muslim women become more proactive in sharing their voices and experiences in the public sphere, a unique phenomenon has occurred: Muslim men don’t have the same opportunity to share their own deeply personal stories. Salaam, Love is an effort to create a ‘safe space’ for Muslim men to discuss some of their most vulnerable moments.
The anthology is divided into three sections: “Umma: It Takes a Village” shares stories that revolve around the role of family and friends in the search for marriage (and love); “Sirat: The Journey” includes inward reflections of each writer’s transformational experience with spiritual and romantic love; and finally, “Sabr: In Sickness and in Health” goes beyond the fairytale ending and explores the deeper, less glamorous aspects of true love.
Just as its predecessor, Love Inshallah, reflected the realities and experiences of a widely varied Muslim Ummah, so too do the contributors to Salaam, Love come from different ethnic and theological backgrounds. 

 There were several essays which stood out to me, both in quality of writing and in content – amongst them, Sam Pierstorff’s “Soda Bottles and Zebra Skins,” “Mother’s Curse” by Arsalan Ahmed, “Just One Kiss,” by Maher Rahman, “Planet Zero” by John Austin, “The Promise” by Alan Howard, and “Fertile Ground” by Khizer Husain.
 All of these essays shared something in common: unmistakeable authenticity, excellent writing, and touching upon issues within the Muslim community that have been previously ignored but are undeniably a reality.

 From extramarital affairs amongst ‘religious’ Muslims, being rejected for marriage because of race, fertility vs. adoption, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one, these essays echoed with a rawness of emotion and relevance. All these topics are still considered taboo in the Muslim community, and yet are faced by thousands of Muslims not just in the West, but all around the world. 

 Although I have often read works by female authors related to these issues, I was startled to realize that it was the first time I had read about them from the perspective of Muslim men who have experienced these matters first-hand. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was truly enlightening to realize that men – whom many women have come to think of as the perpetrators of most injustice – are equally affected at an emotional level and seek to change things for the better. 

 This glimpse at the challenges and struggles of Muslim men in their journeys of love and experiences with lust is must needed; all too often, we buy into the idea that men experience such things shallowly, with little introspection or consideration for their actions. Instead, the contributors to Salaam, Love reminded us of the humanity of men, a prompt to help us recognize that when it comes to matters of the heart, gender means little. Allah, al-Wadud, al-Muqallib al-Quloob, is the One Who controls our hearts without the preconceived, culturally structured ideas of what men and women should feel; it is He who evokes in our souls a yearning for love of Him, and for earthly love as well.    

However, I will admit that I also found myself somewhat disappointed by Salaam, Love. In comparison to Love Inshallah, which I found engaging at every point (with only a couple of stories which did not resonate with me all that much), the remaining essays in Salaam, Love came off as mediocre at best. Some rambled on for far too long, causing me to lose my interest; most ended up sounding like a recycled version of “brown Muslim boy just wants to be with a girl.”  

 Nonetheless, Salaam, Love is enjoyable overall, and is still a book that I would recommend. It is a one-of-a-kind compilation that reminds men and women alike that the hearts of men are not so strange or unfathomable as those of women; Muslim men, like Muslim women, struggle with temptation and desire, seek love and security, and pray not just for a happily ever after, but for a happily ever afterlife.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a writer, social justice activist-wannabe, and absent-minded bookworm. She writes for SISTERS Magazine and blogs at

Order it here!! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Woman's Love, A Prophet's Promise

A woman’s love is deep and runs strong; it’s tender and fierce and sometimes needs no more than an instant to establish a bond that stretches beyond time, beyond space. A woman’s love can result in an angel being sent from heaven to reveal a miraculous well; in her name being mentioned in the greatest of all Divine Scriptures; in the power to defy a tyrant king before his people.

A woman’s love is powerful and a Muslim woman’s love for her Lord and His Messenger, Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), can make her the most powerful human being amongst mankind. Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) knew this, respected it and praised it. His love for the women of his Ummah did not stop at his wives and daughters, but extended to those who struggled, fought and died for the message he taught.

Martyr for the Beloved

Sumayyah bint Khayyat, Umm ‘Ammar, was the first to die for the sake of Islam. She and her family were slaves who had accepted Islam and, when their masters discovered their acceptance of the faith, they tortured Sumayyah, her husband and her son. Every day that they were dragged out to the desert and tormented,
Sumayyah faced the very worst of it. Abu Jahl and his companions raped her repeatedly with hot metal instruments, which eventually led to her death.
Rasul Allah would sometimes pass by and see what was being done to Sumayyah and her family - what they went through for the sake of his message. His eyes overflowing with tears, he prayed, “Have patience, O family of Yaasir! Verily, your meeting place will be in Paradise.”

Her heart burning with love for Allah and His Messenger, Sumayyah would answer, “I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah and that your promise is truthful.” Soon after, she died as a martyr and the first woman to be guaranteed Jannah by Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam).

A woman’s love does not need flattery or trinkets to keep it alive; it needs the Truth. Sumayyah had never lived with the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in his household; it was likely that she saw him or heard from him directly only a few times. She did not even need physical proximity to create love for him in her heart; it was enough for her that he was the Messenger of Allah, who had brought the message of truth that guided her to her Lord.

A Warrior’s Spirit

Nusaybah bint Ka'b, Umm ‘Imarah al-Ansariyyah was another sahabiyyah whose love for Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) resulted in a unique relationship that has been immortalised in the seerah.
Initially a nurse, Umm ‘Imarah was present at the battlefield of Uhud when the rumour began to spread that Rasul Allah had been killed. Amidst the fleeing of Muslim soldiers, Umm ‘Imarah lifted her sword and sought out the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) for herself. When she found him, she placed herself firmly in front of him and began to defend him with a strength and courage to rival that of the male companions.
The power of her love was such that when her son was gravely injured, she didn’t even stop until Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) told her to attend to him. “From where can anyone get courage like you, O Umm 'Imarah?”
It is narrated that the Prophet said that in whichever direction he turned in the battlefield, he could see her defending and protecting him. Admiring the ferocity of her devotion, Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) invoked Allah's blessings on Umm ‘Imarah’s family and prayed that they should be his friends in Paradise as well.
After the Battle of Uhud, Umm ‘Imarah wielded her sword on the battlefields of Yamamah and Hunayn and was present at the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. She also took part in the second pledge of ‘Aqabah.

However, Umm ‘Imarah’s relationship with the Messenger of Allah was not restricted to the battlefield. It is also due to her questioning that the famous verse of Surah al-Ahzab, verse 35, was revealed.
Umm ‘Imarah al-Ansariyyah said that she went to the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and said to him: "I feel that everything is for men. Women are not mentioned as having anything!” Verse 35 of Surah al-Ahzab was then sent down.
(The Hadith is narrated by at-Tirmidhi under No. 3211, and is in Sahih at-Tirmidhi under No. 2565)

These stories are examples of how Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) interacted with the women of his Ummah, inspiring their love for him and their dedication to Islam. His dealings with the sahabiyyaat were full of dignity and respect, acknowledging their sacrifices and their talents. He valued them as much as any male companion and never, for a moment, doubted their sincerity or their worth.

In turn, the sahabiyyat loved him fiercely. Not as a husband or a father, but as the Messenger of Allah: the person who had brought them the message of Islam, the truth that purified their souls, the only path that would lead them to their Lord and Creator. It was Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) who taught them about Allah, who told them about Paradise and its beauty and its reward, who warned them against Hell and its torments.

It was for the sake of Allah and His Messenger that the Sahabiyyaat transformed their lives and sacrificed their health and wealth, dedicating their lives to the promise delivered by Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam):

{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.} (Al-Ahzab:35)


Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyyat 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

Sunday, March 02, 2014

SISTERS TalkBack! "The Housewife's Lament"

Brooke Benoit voices her opinion about a previously published SISTERS article.
The original writer, Zainab bint Younus, provides her response. Welcome to Talk Back!

As the SISTERS’ team was getting ready to print the October issue I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite writers’, Zainab bint Younus, article, “Forgotten Heroines: The Housewife’s Lament.” In my usual state of feeling overwhelmed about my own housework, I quickly lapped up the article hoping for some pearls of wisdom, a boost of inspiration or maybe even some sort of camaraderie in similarly fatigued arms. What I got was mad. I spewed my irritation at my co-editors who told me to “write a response!” 
A few days later, Zainab bint Younus separately pointed out some other rhetoric in the September issue that she felt needed critique and correction. An ‘Ah-ha Moment’ happened and we realised that instead of quietly dismissing these bothersome things, we needed to open up this space - “Talk Back” - in which both readers and writers can discuss things published in SISTERS Magazine that they feel uncomfortable about or are downright wrong in some way. So let’s begin this feature with how I felt about the “The Housewife’s Lament” followed by Zainab’s response.

[Brooke Benoit]: When I got to the portion of your article about Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) where you quote the following hadith, I was disappointed and then upset that you used the story in the same way I so commonly see it used in other articles, advices, blogs and so on.

Here is a translation of the hadith:

“Narrated By Ali : Fatima went to the Prophet complaining about the bad effect of the stone hand-mill on her hand. She heard that the Prophet had received a few slave girls. But (when she came there) she did not find him, so she mentioned her problem to 'Aisha. When the Prophet came, 'Aisha informed him about that. 'Ali added, "So the Prophet came to us when we had gone to bed. We wanted to get up (on his arrival) but he said, 'Stay where you are." Then he came and sat between me and her and I felt the coldness of his feet on my abdomen. He said, "Shall I direct you to something better than what you have requested? When you go to bed say 'subhan Allah' thirty-three times, 'alhamdulillah' thirty three times and ‘Allahu akbar' thirty four times, for that is better for you than a servant." (Bukhari)

In “The Housewife’s Lament” you say that “… the Muslims had won a battle and, as a result, had captured several prisoners and other spoils of war,” you then go on to describe Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) as asking for a “maidservant” to provide her with some domestic relief. This is how I commonly see this hadith used to dissuade women from asking their husbands to hire domestic help when actually that is not what Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) was asking for.
Just as in the translation above, “slave” and“servant” are used interchangeably (as they were nearly the same during the time of the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam)) even though they have very different meanings to us. She was asking for a slave, to own another human being who would - under kind treatment or not - work in Fatima’s home without a choice. That is something quite different from hiring someone and I think a much, much more important point than whether or not women are being lackadaisical with their approach to getting their own housework done.

I agree with you, of course, that Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) is an excellent example (if not The Example) of how a woman can earn her blessings via caring for her family, but I think a larger point to this particular hadith is overlooked. As an example to the Ummah (all of the Muslims) the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), who was actively pushing for Muslims to manumit slaves, did not want his own daughter to hypocritically go against his activism. He did not want her to have a slave and oppress another human being for her own benefit. Patience is better than that kind of shortcut.

Something I worry about is the way this hadith is often used to support the Super Muslimah role - to make women feel like they are being whiny and unappreciative about how much work they have to do and how much help we do have (via modern appliances and other conveniences). But, in my experience, I don’t know any of these spoiled women we hear about who have a servant for each child and do nothing but watch serials in between trips to the mall and salon. I’m sure these women exist, but I don’t know any personally and I don’t think they are the average SISTERS reader.
Nearly all of the women I know earn an income in addition to caring for their home and balancing those responsibilities is a real burden on them and their marriages.

I think the average SISTERS reader is more likely to be someone who is already doing too much and feels guilty that she can’t do more and be like the respectfully endearing Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha). I’m worried that while you may have meant to make true housewives feel better about their roles, which can be painfully monotonous and demanding, I think this common misrepresentation of this hadith contributes to inappropriate and damaging guilt. The message is that Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha) of all people could have had a little help around the house, but she chose to help her husband save some dirhams instead and drudged on by herself - but that’s not entirely true. Sure, he would have had to feed a slave, but he would not have been paying wages. I really see this hadith being about not oppressing people more than being about humbly accepting household drudgery.

[Zainab bint Younus]: First of all, I’ve got to say that I love the idea of Talk Back! Hearing feedback and constructive criticism is great for any writer who is desperate to know what their readers are thinking. I love this opportunity to be able to discuss anything that my readers find disappointing, irritating or flat out terrible.

With regards to The Housewife’s Lament, it’s part of my series titled “Forgotten Heroines”, which aims to re-examine the lives of the sahabiyyaat and women of Islamic history through a different lens: one which is directly relatable and applicable to Muslim women in every situation of life. My first few articles have dealt with very dramatic themes so far – coming of age, women pioneers, true love and (my favourite) how a villainess became a heroine.

My own life is far from dramatic and, one day when I was struggling to write my next FH article, I thought about how I didn’t feel like my life matched up to the standards of the exciting women I’d written about so far. These women were all very inspiring, yes, but what about women like me – housebound mothers who, quite frankly, don’t have the luxury of pioneering anything or saving the world (yet)? I thought about which sahabiyyah best fit this role, as most of my reading and research has currently been focused on women who performed great feats and found the story of Fatima (radhiAllahu 'anha).
To be honest, I hadn’t bothered re-reading her story for a long time because it wasn’t as exciting as the others. And that’s when I had my aha! moment. Out of the four women promised Jannah (Asiyah, queen of Egypt; Maryam bint ‘Imran; Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Fatimah bint Muhammad), only Fatimah’s adult life was, shall we say, unremarkable.

This was what really inspired me to write about Fatimah – the feeling of kinship with a woman who was surrounded by other women whose lives were, in comparison, full of derring-do. Thus, my usage of the commonly quoted hadith was to show that her life was as monotonous as that of the average housewife and that it was not shameful for her to feel sick of it all or ask for help. The fact that she took her father’s advice and resorted to tasbeeh instead of domestic help is merely an illustration of the type of inner strength (which is what I intended to be the focus) that caused her to be one of those who were guaranteed Jannah – what I personally found to be inspirational.

I also understand and agree with your frustration over how this particular hadith is often used to make women feel guilty or ashamed of themselves. My own raging feminist spirit loathes such tired and reinforced interpretations of ahadith. My intent in quoting this hadith was completely unrelated. Though, as I now re-read my article, I can see where I should have used stronger language to focus on my main point; that one doesn’t have to be a world-famous academic or infamous revolutionary in order to be considered strong or worthy in the Sight of Allah.

I found your take on the hadith to be extremely interesting and certainly a valid one. I appreciate you bringing it to my notice, as I’d never thought of it that way before (and I love learning about the deeper dimensions of ahadith and their meanings)! You never know, it could wind up featuring in another FH article in the future, without the typical interpretation attached to it!

Read the original article that inspired the talk back in SISTERS’ October issue!

Brooke Benoit has been working from home for nearly 15 years and recently took her own advice about outsourcing by hiring someone to cook a hot, delicious meal for her family several times a week.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the sahabiyyat 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