Monday, April 28, 2014

Once, They Were Lovers

His dark eyes watched her from afar as she walked through the date orchard, his eyes shining with ardour, memorising every move. A small sigh escaped his lips, his beard rustling, a murmur of adoration. His heart ached, full and fierce, and he felt almost overpowered by his love for his wife.

He loved her.

She could feel his gaze on her, could feel the tug of his love for her; she lifted a shoulder in irritation, as though to shrug off the weight of his devotion the way she would brush off a fly.

She did not love him.

He could feel her shudder of distaste when he brushed his fingertips along her skin, knew that she endured his embrace only out of dutifulness, but he couldn’t stop loving her.

He loved her.

She had once loved him, long ago, but she didn’t know when it had faded to tolerance, then irritation, then something akin to hatred. His tenderness grated at her nerves; every glance, every caress, every word of love was a chain of slavery.

She did not love him.

He clung to the long-ago memories of reciprocated love, of sweetness shared, of blissful moments. The words she spoke now, the disinterest of her gaze, the forced obedience of her actions, did not matter. All that mattered was that, once upon a time, she had loved him.

He loved her.

She did not loathe him; she pitied him for the helplessness of his love. She wished that his gaze would stray, that some other woman would snare his affection, be his wife in the way that he deserved.

She did not love him.

Freedom. Finally. She rejoiced, rushing towards it with fervour and gratitude, without a moment’s backward glance at the man who adored her more than any other man could or ever would. She
didn’t care.

She was free.

His heart was broken, destroyed. His feet followed only her footsteps; his eyes saw only the woman who had been his wife, his beloved, even as she forsook him joyfully.

He still loved her.

Ibn ‘Abbas narrated:
Barirah's husband was a slave, who was known as Mughith. I can almost see him, running after her and weeping, with tears running down onto his beard. The Prophet said to `Abbas: `O `Abbas, do you not find it strange, how much Mugith loves Barirah and how much Barirah hates Mughith?'
The Prophet said (to Barirah), `Why do you not go back to him?'
She said, `O Messenger of Allah, are you commanding me to do so?'
He said, `I am merely trying to intervene on his behalf.'
She said, `I have no need of him.'" 

(Sahih Bukhari)

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a hopeless romantic who, ironically enough, knows how Barirah must have felt like. When not brooding over the meaning of love and reading tragic romances of the historical kind, Zainab blogs at

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Forgotten Heroes Behind #ForgottenHeroines

"Behind every great man is a woman,” the saying goes. The truth is, neither heroes nor heroines are created in a void. Neither men nor women are able to succeed and achieve greatness without the support of their loved ones, family and friends, teachers and mentors.

The forgotten heroines of our Ummah are no exception. For every female scholar, for every woman warrior, for every devout worshipper there was a loving guardian, a firm mentor or a supportive spouse.

The sahabah and tabi’een were well aware of their duties towards their womenfolk. Keeping in mind the hadith that they were shepherds who will be held accountable for their flocks on the Day of Judgement, they made every effort to empower their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and anyone else under their guardianship.

The Sahabi Who Raised a Scholar

It is narrated from Ibn Jabir and ‘Uthmaan ibn Abi al-‘Aatikah that:

“Umm ad-Dardaa’ was an orphan under the guardianship of Abu ad-Dardaa’; she used to come to the mosques with Abu ad-Dardaa’ in two garments (i.e. her head was not covered; she had not yet attained puberty) and she prayed in the men’s rows and used to sit in the circles of the teachers learning the Qur’an.” This continued until she reached puberty and she then joined the women’s rows in prayer. (Al-Muhaddithaat; Jaami’ al-Hanabilah al-Muzaffaari).

This young orphan girl grew up to become a scholar of such knowledge that she would teach in the Grand Mosque of Damascus and the khalifah of the Islamic Empire, Abdul Malik ibn Marwaan, would sit at her feet as a student.

Without the foresight of Abu ad-Dardaa’, without his deliberate and conscious choices not only to teach her himself but also to create opportunities for her to study from others, Umm ad-Dardaa’ would never have become one of the greatest of the tabi’een. She was known not only for her depth of knowledge, but for the keenness of her mind and the intensity of her worship, even as an old woman.

Awn ibn Abdullah said of her, “We used to come to the assembly of Umm ad-Dardaa’ and remember God there.” Yunus ibn Maysarah reports, “The women used to worship with Umm ad-Dardaa’ and when they became weak from standing they would lean on ropes.”

Who was the man who raised such a prodigious woman? Abu ad-Dardaa’ was a sahabi of Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - an Ansari man who was bound to Salmaan al-Faarsi when Rasul Allah r established the brotherhood (al-Mu’aakhaa’) between the Muhajiroon and the Ansaar.

The stories about his life are many: he was known for being dedicated to worshipping Allah with such fervor that Salmaan al-Faarsi grew alarmed and had to remind him that his wife and his body had a right over him as well. He was known to be courageous in battle, never forsaking an opportunity to offer his life for the sake of Allah I. He valued knowledge and is quoted as having said, “Be a scholar or a student or a person who loves [the scholars] or a follower [of the scholars], but do not be the fifth.” Humayd (one of the reporters) asked Al-Hasan (Al-Basri, who reported this from Abû Al-Dardâ`), “And who is the fifth?” He replied, “A heretic (mubtadi’, religious innovator).” (Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr, Jâmi’ Bayân Al-‘Ilm 1:142.)

Who else but such a man as Abu ad-Dardaa’ could have raised a woman such as Umm ad-Dardaa’?

The Father of a Faqeeha, the Husband of a Shaykhah

The name Fatimah as-Samarqandiyyah is one that is known based on her personal accomplishments rather than because of the menfolk who surrounded her. When powerful women are linked to famous men, their own merits are usually put to the side in favour of emphasising their position in relation to those men: “the President’s wife”, “the Professor’s daughter”, “the Shaykh’s sister.”

In the case of Fatimah as-Samarqandiyyah, however, we have the opposite case. Fatimah was born in the region of modern-day Uzbekistan, approximately 500 years after the Hijrah. Her father, Muhammad ibn Ahmad, was an imam of the Hanafi madhhab; he was so prominent that other scholars would travel to seek knowledge from him. He is perhaps most well-known for the fact that he wrote a book titled Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa’ and, of course, being the father of Fatimah.

While many knowledgeable men today would elect to devote their attention towards fellow males, Muhammad ibn Ahmad’s priority was his family and his daughter Fatimah in particular. After teaching her all that she knew, to the point where she memorised his book, he ensured that she studied under other famed scholars who excelled in other fields of the Islamic Sciences. When it came to furthering his daughter’s education, Imam Muhammad spared no expense and soon, even as a young woman, Fatimah’s knowledge and intellect were so keen that her father began to refer his students to her.

When Fatimah decided that it was time for her to marry, her criteria for a suitable spouse was exacting. Wealthy men and men of power and nobility came alike to propose to Fatimah; one by one, she turned them away. Eventually, a sincere and earnest young man with neither riches nor influence to his name came forward. Intrigued by his own dedication to seeking knowledge, Fatimah chose her dowry: that the young man write and present to her a book - specifically, a commentary and explanation of her father’s book, Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa’.

This young man’s name was Abu Bakr al-Kasani and he soon became a formidable jurist himself. The father and husband of Fatimah as-Samarqandi worked together as a team, often issuing religious edicts together, but not without first consulting Fatimah, having her review their work and then ensuring that she would hand write the fatwahs and sign her name along with their own.

When Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad died, Fatimah and Abu Bakr moved to Syria, where they established themselves as a powerhouse couple who not only taught thousands of students, but also built schools and were advisors to the leading scholars of the area. Nur ad-Deen Zinki, the leader of the Islamic Empire at the time, hand-chose Fatimah to be one of his political and religious advisors.

Fatimah’s accomplishments were her own: it was her knowledge, wisdom, understanding and brilliant intellect that commanded attention and influenced an empire. However, it was her father who first cultivated her education and, later, it was her husband who ensured that her career flourished. Without Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad and Abu Bakr al-Kasani, Fatimah would not have been able to achieve her full potential.

The Sunnah of the Salaf

To celebrate female scholarship in Islam is also to recognise and honour the men who undertook the task of supporting them and pushing them to even greater heights. The Salaf as-Saalih, the pious predecessors, are remembered for their piety and quoted for their knowledge, but few men today are willing to follow in their footsteps and push their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to achieve excellence.

Looking back to our Islamic history, it is admirable that we find the greatest of Muslim men being those who did their best to encourage their womenfolk in all aspects of life. In truth, there continue to be excellent Muslim men – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons – who tirelessly support the women in their lives to achieve their dreams and ambitions. These are the men who are most conscious of the responsibility they wield as “qawwaamoon,” who understand that Allah I will hold them to account on the Day of Judgement for how they chose to practice their authority. These are the forgotten heroes of the Muslim Ummah; the men who are fostering the next generation of Muslim heroines.
May Allah I bring about yet another era of heroes and heroines in this Ummah; men and women who support each other, encourage each other and push each other to grow stronger in their faith and in their knowledge.

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

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Dear Canadian Journalists...

This is the original version of my response to Jonathan Kay of the National Post. The summarized, published version can be found here
My radio interview with the Tommy Schnurmacher show can be found here.
Hello Jonathan Kay,

My name is Zainab bint Younus, and I'm a Canadian Muslim woman who happens to wear the niqaab.

I was only just made aware of your piece: 

The space between hijab and niqab is where our anxieties lie

I am extremely dismayed by not only the sentiments that you shared, but your 'method' of determining why hijaab is acceptable and why niqaab is not (but will be tolerated because you 'other' Canadians are 'civilized').

You begin by describing the 'hijab experience' of a non-hijabi woman whose hijab doesn't affect being "a modern, confident, well-integrated, socially engaged young woman who attends college, goes out on weekends with her friends, and works for a student newspaper. If this is your way of interacting with the world, what difference does a headscarf make?"

With all due respect, the issue of people suddenly putting on the hijab for the 'experience' is actually one which disrespects the voices and experiences of those women who wear the hijaab regularly. Here is one excellent write-up on the phenomenon, provided by the Muslimah Media Watch website:

Now, getting to the crux of the issue.

You speak about Muslim women who wear niqab as an 'other.' You describe 'them' as 'never... having a rollicking good time at pizzerias' and 'more apt to be traveling silently on the subway or unobtrusively taking notes in the back of a trade-college classroom.'

You make assumptions about why women wear niqab in the first place: 'But socially, it's a closed group: The face covering sends the clear message that that they conceive the world to be largely one of leering men and other vulgar social contaminants, against which they must protect every inch of their body - except an eye-slit just big enough to make sure they don't bump into cars and lampposts.'

You take it upon yourself to tell others how women who wear niqab view the world, and to imply that they don't really wear it out of free will:

"But even if it that is so, their "free will" obviously is informed by a paranoid and highly regressive understanding of women's place in society."

And then there's so much more, where you go on to tell us how the "Burqa" (which I have never seen worn in Canada, btw), strips away body language and so on and how that automatically makes us... what? Untrustworthy?

You tell us that if niqabi women experience friendliness, it is one born of anxiety and fear.

You tell us that the niqab accuses everyone of sexual predation in 'all of us.'

Now, where to start?!

Perhaps I should start with how you immediately 'other' women in niqab vs. those in socially-acceptable hijaab.

I, a Muslim woman who wears niqab, grew up in Canada - between Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. "Home" to me, is about Tim Hortons and hiking up Mount Doug and going canoeing and grimacing at non-stop rain and eating 100% organic Canadian maple syrup and singing the Canadian anthem off-key in the car to annoy my family.

My dad grew up in Canada; his parents moved from South African to Canada when he was just 7, and he grew up between Chilliwack and Ontario and regales us with stories of his childhood in the boonies and trekking through several feet of snow just to get to school.

So no, I am not "the other." I'm not an immigrant who can't speak English or who is foreign to Canadian culture. I am Canadian.

You say that you've never seen a niqabi woman just having a rollicking good time. Obviously, you don't know me (or any other niqabi women in Canada, all of whom I can assure you have experienced a 'rollicking good time' at some point or another during their lives).

Niqabi women aren't all 'silent' or 'unobtrusive'; I for one have a pretty loud personality that can't be hidden under any number of layers (or types) of clothing. Friends and strangers alike can attest to the fact that wherever there are raised voices, uproarious laughter, and a debate or two on all sorts of juicy topics... that's where I happen to be, and usually at the center of it (if not the cause of it). And even if a Muslim woman happens to be an introvert... so what?

You claim to know 'why' Muslim women wear the niqab. Very clearly, you don't, nor have you asked a single woman in niqab about why she wears it. Here, I'll help you out.

I wear the niqab because I believe it as an act of worship to God, and a means of identifying myself as a Muslim woman. I do not believe that men (or women) are purely sexual beings without any control over themselves. I do believe that our society has been poisoned by hypersexualization and the commodification of what should be a beautiful thing, and that Muslim or not, men and women alike are suffering on so many different levels because we've been trained to view the other gender as sexual objects, not human beings. (Just check out the research on how kids as young as 7 and 8 are being sexualized and diagnosed with various body image related disorders.)

My role as a Muslim woman is so much more than what you attempt to reduce me to, with your own shallow understanding of what my alleged view of a woman's role in society is. I am a social activist, a writer, an artist, someone who deeply cares about my country and my community and the fact that Stephen Harper's government has led to such huge cutbacks in our social welfare programs that more and more vulnerable young men and women end up on the streets without shelter, food, or safety. I am a feminist who shakes with rage when I hear about the fact that Aboriginal women face some of the highest rates of violence, abuse, and death and yet the Harper government would rather make a big deal out of so-called 'honour killings' - only 3 of which have occurred in Canada within the last 15 years (

As a writer and social activist, I have already written extensively about my views as a Canadian Muslim woman, which you can see in the following links.

As a woman - as a feminist - you insult me when you make the snide implication that I can't possibly be wearing it because I 'really' want to.You insult me when you say that my world view is narrow and regressive, when you know absolutely nothing about me or my worldviews. You insult me when you imply that a niqaab is enough to limit my intelligence, to stop me from living a beautiful, wonderful, rollicking good time of a life.

Actually, scratch that.

All the statements that you have made are in fact an insult to yourself, because they prove that you haven't made any effort at all to actually educate yourself about  Canadian Muslim women, the niqab, or anything related to them.

I strongly recommend that the next time you take it upon yourself to speak about Muslim women, what they wear, and what they believe, you take a moment to talk to a Muslim woman about what she wears and why. If you can't be bothered to get up and meet one in person, then I'm always here.


Zainab bint Younus (Originally from Victoria, B.C.)

P.S. That bit about people only being nice to niqabis because they're "anxious" about us? Please meet all the lovely people who have been nice to me because *gasp*shock*horror* THEY'RE DECENT HUMAN BEINGS who have taken the time to be nice, and in most cases, get to know me.


My Letter to the Editor of the National Post:


I'm writing in response to Jonathan Kay's article on 'the space between hijab and niqab.'

As a Canadian Muslim woman raised in Canada, and who wears the niqab, I was extremely insulted by the sheer shoddiness of the so-called 'reporting' and the blatant fear mongering and ignorance that prevailed throughout the entire piece.

The entire article made offensive assumptions about Canadian Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab; it is clear that the author did not make any effort whatsoever to engage with such women at all, but rather took it upon himself to lecture his readers on whether they "really" wear it out of free will, and what their *actual* worldviews are.

Suffice to say that it was a load of tosh and should never have made it to print. Is this truly what journalism has sunk to? Pot shots at a visible minority, because you think no one will stand up and respond? Claiming to know them better than they know themselves?

I can tell you that nothing Jonathan Kay said holds true for me or for any Muslim women I know, for that matter, regardless of whether they wear the niqab or not.

If anyone is interested in what Muslim women believe and what they wear and why, then go ask them. Don't make assumptions... because you know what they say when you 'assume'...

Zainab bint Younus - a real, live Canadian Muslim woman who wears niqab