Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: My Dad's Beard

Now that my daughter is old enough to not just enjoy picture books but understand the actual words as well, I’ve been looking for more Muslim-centered books for her… books that are not necessarily ‘Islamic’ (i.e. stories from Qur’an or hadith in ostensibly child-friendly language) but simply with Muslim characters and a background/ references to which young Muslim children can relate.
So when I received “My Dad’s Beard” by Zanib Mian, I was pretty excited – it seemed exactly the kind of book that I was looking for but hadn’t seemed to exist in the (Muslim) market yet.

Big, soft cover, and glossy, “My Dad’s Beard” is the humorous and heart-warming story of a young boy listing all the reasons he loves his father’s beard. The illustrations are bright and colourful and the colour and font of the text changes with every page, which do a wonderful of job of keeping the attention span of an otherwise impatient four year old.

My daughter adores this book – perhaps mainly because all the male members of her family (father, grandfather, uncles, and great-grandfather) all have beards of varying lengths and bushiness – and got a kick out of the imaginary “teeny tiny cat” that lives in Dad’s beard.

I love this book for several other reasons. First of all, it is wonderfully refreshing to find a well-written, well-illustrated book for Muslim children below the age of 8. My experience with books targeted at the under-8 demographic has been that even if illustrations are vibrant, the language still tends to be too advanced for toddlers and involves subject matter that may go over such young children’s heads.

Secondly, as I noted previously, there’s a distinct dearth of books for young children that isn’t specifically “Islamic” or preachy, yet still Muslim-oriented and with subtle Islamic references – such as the line “My dad says he has a got a beard because he’s copying the greatest man who ever lived.” It’s a wonderful way for parents to link aspects of ‘Muslim culture’ which young readers will immediately recognize, to how it’s relevant to Islam itself.

Finally, what was quite possibly my favourite part was how the book presented the Muslim father as a loving, playful, comforting, supportive, funny, and imaginative parent – with both his son and his daughter. There are so few positive representations of Muslim men, and especially of involved Muslim fathers, that I think that “My Dad’s Beard” is practically revolutionary. I know that for my daughter, who is separated from her father but has no dearth of loving and involved father-figures, “My Dad’s Beard” was a fun and reassuring reminder about her father as well as the other men in her life, and how important they are to her.

In short, I heartily recommend “My Dad’s Beard” for all those with hirsute Muslim male relatives (although it may be slightly awkward for those who are biologically unable to grow much facial hair…). Young readers are sure to love it and parents are sure to get a chuckle out of it as well.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Daddy's Little Princess

“Daddy’s little girl” is spoiled, coddled, and cuddled as a child – but what happens when she’s no longer a little girl, but growing up into a young woman?
Amongst the many family dynamics issues that the Muslim community is beginning to address, one of the least-discussed subjects remains that of father-daughter relationships.

It is an issue which has been overlooked, ignored, and generally treated with a sense of discomfort. Particularly amongst immigrant families, the relationship between a father and his daughter(s) is often a distant one; girls are encouraged to spend the majority of their time with their mothers and other womenfolk.
A girl might be “Daddy's little princess” as a baby, a toddler, a child, but as she grows closer to puberty she will often find herself left at home instead of taken to the masjid, attention deflected from her and turned towards her brothers instead (if she has any). This practice not only has extremely negative repercussions – for the fathers, the daughters, and indeed the Ummah at large – but is also against the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had four daughters, all of whom he loved dearly; yet the greatest amount of narrations regarding his relationship with them is specifically in regards to his youngest daughter, Fatimah bint Muhammad.
Fatimah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was approximately seven or eight years old when she used to accompany her father to the Ka’bah, where he often went to worship. In some regions and communities, it is as this very age where many fathers stop taking their daughters with them to public places – especially the masjid. As girls reach the end of their childhoods and inch closer towards the onset of puberty, many fathers prefer to start distancing themselves both physically and distantly from their daughters. Instead, girls are encouraged to spend more time with their mothers, learning ‘womanly skills.’
In pre-Islamic Arabia, it was almost unheard of for fathers to be deeply involved with their daughters; unfortunately, it remains the case even today in many parts of the world. RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), however, was a mercy to mankind who came to revolutionize the world… and that included revolutionizing the concept of fatherhood.
As Fatimah grew older, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) never pushed her away or minimized his relationship with her. In fact, if anything, their bond only grew stronger.
The historian Ibn 'Abdullah writes that whenever RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) came back from any journey or after taking part in a battle, he would first go to the his Mosque in Madinah and pray two rak’aat (units), and then visit his daughter Fatimah and then visit his wives.
Imagine the type of fatherly love that caused RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to choose to see his daughter even before his wives! The wives themselves did not feel any resentment or animosity regarding this, however, because they understood the importance of the relationship between RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and Fatimah (radhiAllahu ‘anha).
A'ishah (radhiAllahu anha) commented, “I have not seen any one of God's creation resemble the Messenger of God more in speech, conversation and manner of sitting than Fatimah, may God be pleased with her. When the Prophet saw her approaching, he would welcome her, stand up and kiss her, take her by the hand and sit her down in the place where he was sitting.” (Siyar A’laam an-Nubalaa)
Even amongst Muslim fathers who do have good relationships with their daughters, some may feel shy or embarrassed to show it or discuss it publicly due to culture-based embarrassment. RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), however, was never shy to publicly profess his love and affection for those dearest to him.
When Ali ibn Abi Talib admitted that he was considering marrying another wife, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ascended the minbar and declared:
Whoever pleased Fatimah has indeed pleased God and whoever has caused her to be angry has indeed angered God. Fatimah is a part of me. Whatever pleases her pleases me and whatever angers her angers me.” (Narrated by al-Bukhāri, 3437; Muslim, 4483)

The role of a father in his daughter's life is pivotal: he is the first man in her life; the one who teaches her what he, a male, thinks of her, a female; and thus shapes her sense of self-worth in the eyes of other men; the one whose behaviour and mannerisms will influence her mental image of “the perfect man” and her choice of life partner.
Due to many unfortunate cultural standards, Muslim men often don’t realize this, or that the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) reflected the ideal relationship that every father should have with their daughter(s).
Some of the greatest heroines of Islam – including Fatimah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) – had the strength, courage, and faith that they did because their fathers invested time, love, and du’a in them. Fatherhood is not just a beautiful gift from Allah, but an honour. A father’s relationship with his daughters could very well be a means of him entering Jannah… and of raising the next generation of heroines of Islam.
RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Whoever has two daughters and treats them kindly, they will be a protection for him against the Fire.” (Ahmad, Ibn Majah)

Innocence Lost: Child Sexal Abuse

Originally published at 

An innocent sleepover with family members. An older cousin, an uncle, or a brother and his friends. Darkness, and hands clapped over a mouth to silence the screams, while they push themselves roughly against an unwilling victim.

Or maybe:

An older teacher, paying too much attention. Beckoning a young student to sit on his lap, giving them a treat, whispering threats in one ear to make the student promise to never, ever tell… or else.

And sometimes even:

A friend, a girl with charisma and energy, giggling about ‘learning something new.’ Ignoring protests, insistently, unwelcome hands touching without permission.

These are all examples of sexual violence – a crime that exists in all countries and societies, regardless of race, culture, class, or religion.

In Canada, one in every seventeen woman is raped at some point of her life; every 17 minutes, a woman is raped; 80% of assaults take place in the victim’s home; and one in four girls, and one in eight boys, are sexually abused by the time they turn eighteen.

In England, 85,000 women are raped on average every year; and 400, 000 women are sexually assaulted every year. One in 20 children have been sexually abused, and over 90% of them were abused by someone they knew.

Muslims are far from immune to crimes of sexual violence. The statistics are equally horrifying, if not worse because the number of reports tend to be much lower due to social stigma and lack of trust and access to the authorities.

In Pakistan, nearly 3,000 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2013; 40% of abusers were relatives, family friends, or acquaintances; and the most vulnerable age to abuse for both boys and girls was between 11 and 15.
In Egypt, 83% of Egyptian women reported experiencing sexual harassment at least once while half of them experienced it on a daily basis.

Despite these statistics – and numerous horrific anecdotes – sexual violence is an issue that Muslims all over the world still prefer to remain silent about. The stigma regarding sex, which may once have originated out of the Islamic concept of hayaa’ (modesty), has become a disease in and of itself, one that simply perpetuates un-Islamic beliefs and allows these filthy crimes to continue taking place on a daily basis.

An upcoming documentary, “Breaking Silence,” bravely confronts the deep-rooted cancer of sexual violence and particularly sexual abuse of children that exists in many, many Muslim families and communities.

As illustrated by the stories of four Muslim women who were sexually violated as children by those whom they trusted – whether family members or friends – even parents who are aware of the abuse often turn a blind eye or accuse their children of lying rather than admit the truth.

One major reason for the twisted attitudes existing regarding sexual violence amongst Muslims is an ignorance and lack of education about what Islam truly teaches about sex, including the difference between consensual sexual activity and sexual violence (whether against adults or children).

Despite the fact that the Shari’ah discusses and encourages a holistic sexual education from a young age, many Muslims prefer to follow deviant notions of ‘honor’ and ‘shame.’ The true shame and dishonor lies not in admitting that sexual violence takes place, but in allowing them to continue rather than to educate oneself, one’s children, and the entire community about Islamic values regarding sex.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his Companions were very honest and open about sexual education, even with regards to children.

'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Aswad narrates:
"My father used to send me to A'ishah and (as a child) I used to go to her (i.e. beyond the curtain). When I became adult (i.e. reached puberty; became baaligh), I came to her and called to her from behind the curtain: "O Umm al-Mu'mineen, when does the bath become compulsory?" She said: "So, you have done it, O Luka'! And (in answer to the question), when the private parts conjoin."
(Al-Dhahabi in Siyar A'lam an-Nubala)

The first thing Muslim parents must do is put aside their harmful cultural attitudes regarding sensitive subjects and to develop a positive, healthy relationship with their children – one based on loving communication. It is upon this foundation that a holistic Islamic sexual education can take place.

Understanding and implementing the earliest steps of Islamic sex education, such as teaching children about ‘awrah and privacy, and providing a safe emotional environment where children can know that they will be believed by their parents, is one major step that needs to be taken in order to effectively prevent child sexual abuse from taking place.

The Shari’ah has absolutely no tolerance for those who abuse the trust of innocent children, or those who violate others against their will, as demonstrated by the Hadd punishments for rapists (which can either be the punishment for zina[1] or, according to some scholars who consider sexual violence to be a form of terrorism, being crucified and having their limbs amputated[2]) – and the attitude of the global Muslim community needs to reflect this.

We absolutely cannot accept those in our families and communities to be able to perpetrate their crimes without holding them to account and sending them to face the legal repercussions.
Parents and guardians must realize that they need to be keenly aware of our children’s lives and of their responsibility to be true guardians over their charges.

There is never an excuse to place cultural notions of ‘family honor,’ ‘reputation’ and ‘shame’ over the physical, sexual and psychological safety of a child. On the Day of Judgment, any adult guardian who knowingly allowed their charges to continue to be harmed in any way will stand before Allah and be held accountable for the grave transgression of their duties.

Parents must know that Allah has given them children as an Amanah, a trust. On the Day of Judgment, they will be held accountable for their safety, security, and overall health.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)

In short, it is the duty of every single Muslim to be aware of the existence and the seriousness of sexual violence in our societies, and to take every step necessary in order to eradicate it. Truly, Allah is the Most Just and praised this Ummah for being of those who enjoin the good and forbid the evil.

{You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.} (Qur’an 3:110)

May Allah make us of those who exemplify this verse, and truly enjoin the good and forbid the evil.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Crisis of Masculinity

In a time where feminism is a word used as both a badge of pride and an insult amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, where female empowerment is not just an idealistic concept but a steadily growing reality, there are plenty of men who claim that the rise of feminism has led to a crisis of masculinity (or lack thereof).

Many Muslim men find themselves on the defensive against those they consider the “new aggressive breed” of Muslim women, and often attempt to respond by going on the offensive, assuming a “uber-manly” persona. Yet in trying to assert their own manliness, they may end up going to the unIslamic extreme of misogyny, adopting cultural ideals of manliness and attempting to aggressively dominate women.

We know that Islam has clearly laid out guidelines for gender roles, with certain traditional expectations as well as revolutionary concepts. Women are encouraged to be good wives and mothers; but they are also encouraged to be educated, intelligent, and active in their communities and society as a whole.

But what about men? Yes, men are qawwamoon over women, they are in positions of authority and meant to be leaders on both the domestic and public scale - but what are the qualities and characteristics that our society and cultures consider to be 'masculine' and praiseworthy? Are they, in fact, truly positive, or have they been so warped and twisted by external influences that they in fact contradict the spirit of masculinity exemplified in the Sunnah?

The truth is that the standards of masculinity in both Muslim and non-Muslim societies have truly done an injustice to men as a whole - while keeping in mind the various issues related to feminism and the focused agenda on empowering women whithout involving men along the way.

Examples of such unhealthy standards are the idea that men who weep, who show softness, tenderness, and compassion in any way are 'weak' and 'effeminate'; that men do not experience problems like depression or heartbreak (or at least do not show their emotions when experiencing those issues; that men whose sisters, daughters, or wives are visible or active in any way are not 'keeping them under control'; and sexist jokes that repeatedly present men as selfish, hypersexed, incompetent bumbling idiots who are unable to look after themselves, express empathy for their wives, or care for their own children.

All of these ideas are perpetuated in media and in society, presenting a bizarre and paradoxical image of what being a 'man' really means.
The logical question arises: What *are* Muslim men supposed to be like? What does it mean to be a Muslim man? How do we define masculinity in an Islamic sense?

The first, and obvious, answer is clear: the ultimate example of masculinity is none other than our beloved Prophet, the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). In his personality, his actions, and his entire life, he was the perfect example of the ideal human, the ideal Muslim, and the ideal man.

A glance at the male Companions of the Prophet (sallAllahy ‘alayhi wa sallam) reveals to us men of drastically varied personalities and talents: shy, gentle ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affan; fierce ‘Umar ibn Khattab; stern, wise Abu Bakr; poetic Hassan ibn Thaabit; and noble Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr (radhiAllah ‘anhum ajma’een).

Being around RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) taught them that true masculinity lay not in conforming to a cartoonish parody of an ideal, but in embodying excellence of character that emphasized spiritual health as well as contributed to psychological well-being, and the overall positive growth of their families and societies.

These men understood that it was not wrong for men to weep from sorrow, nor for them to be affectionate and easy-going with their wives, nor to admit their own imperfections or ignorance in certain matters - whether they were around men or around women. They understand that their position and authority as Qawwamoon came from being authentic human beings who weren't afraid to show their humanity - including to those who could perceive their honesty as weakness. Their confidence in themselves and their humility as human slaves of Allah combined to create and foster an environment where they were respected as true leaders, and to assure other men that there were many different ways to *be* a strong, masculine leader.

Unfortunately today, we see too many men today who do not understand - and do not live by - the true essence of masculinity, but rather, rely on a warped ideal of masculinity as a response to changes that they feel unable to handle with intelligence, emotional maturity, and a holistic understanding of the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), who was himself described as being 'more modest than a virgin girl' - which, I'm sure most of you will agree, does not seem at first to be a 'masculine' trait, and yet described the most perfect, most masculine man of all creation.

In short, it can be said that the only solution to the crisis of masculinity facing Muslim men who find themselves suddenly on par with women of equal intelligence and increasing influence is to remember that true masculinity, and the authority that accompanies it, comes not from clumsily trying to become a stereotype of a 'macho' man, but to hold themselves to a standard of emotional intelligence, authenticity, and Ihsaan (excellence).


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

When True Love Comes Twice

You live once, you die once, and you only have one true love... or so many people have been raised to believe.

 A culture of fairy tales and happily ever afters, romcoms and romance novels has raised generations of people to believe that out there in the world is just one person who was meant to be with you, just one person whom you will fall in love with so deeply that you will never truly love anyone else besides them.

 Umm Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha) proved this theory false. She had not just one of her life, but two true loves!

 Umm Salamah was married to Abdullah ibn 'Abdul-Asad - also known as Abu Salamah, the father of her child. Together, they were amongst the first of those who accepted Islam, and made the first emigration to Abyssinia. Although they were separated on their second hijrah to Medinah, their love was strong and endured to see them reunited, and until Abu Salamah died of a battle-wound.

 On his deathbed, Umm Salamah tearfully told her husband, "If the husband of a woman dies and he is of the people of Paradise, and his wife dies after him without having remarried, Allah will bring them back together in Jannah. Let us pledge that neither of us will remarry!"

Abu Salamah asked her, "Will you obey me in whatever I request of you?"

Fervently, Umm Salamah replied, "Of course!"

Abu Salamah gazed at her, his heart overflowing with love for her, and told her, "If I die, swear to me that you will remarry!"

While Umm Salamah looked on in shock, he supplicated to Allah: "O Allah! Provide for Umm Salamah a man who is better than me!"

 Umm Salamah had spent her 'iddah grieving for her deceased husband, her heart breaking every time she thought of his gentleness, his kindness, his courage, and his patience. As she cradled her newborn daughter, she wept at the thought that Abu Salamah would never see his daughter, and that there might be no man who would be willing to raise another man's children as his own.

She thought back often on his words and wondered, in anguish, "Who could be better than Abu Salamah?"

 Her answer was questioned almost immediately: when her 'iddah ended at the birth of her daughter, Zaynab, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) asked for her hand in marriage.

 In disbelief, Umm Salamah sent him a response: "I am an older woman, I am a jealous woman, and I have children from my previous husband."

 With his characteristic tenderness, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) answered her fears: "I am older than you; Allah will remove your heart of jealousy; and I will raise your children amongst my own."

 The hesitation in Umm Salamah's heart, and the remnants of her grief for Abu Salamah, faded away, replaced with a sense of calmness and peace.

Abu Salamah's du'a had been answered, and once again, Umm Salamah experienced the wonder and beauty of true love... for the second time.

 There are many men and women who fall in love and are devastated at its loss… whether that loss occurs through death, divorce, or simply tests and trials in life that one never anticipated. The grief that one experiences can feel overwhelming and unbearable, and often one wonders if they will ever be able to experience such love again.

 Yet though our own concept and understanding of love is limited, Allah, al-Wadud, is not.

 The Messenger of Allah said:

“Verily, the hearts of the children of Adam, all of them, are between the two fingers of the Most Merciful as one heart; He directs them wherever he wills.” (Sahih Muslim 2654)

 The One who placed love in our hearts for one person, is easily able to heal our broken hearts and grant us the deep joy and comfort of another love in our lives – someone whom we will love not as a replacement for the person we have lost before, but as someone who will have captured our hearts in their own unique way.

 On the other hand, there is the unique situation of polygamy. It is a difficult thing for many women to understand and accept, and it’s true that polygamy amongst Muslims has garnered a bad reputation with a lot of negative baggage.

 Even so, it is something that should be recognized – although there are many Muslim men who have done polygamy badly, there are those who have done it well and with justice. For these men, Allah has also blessed them with true love, not once, but twice or even several more times.

 Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) is in fact well known for being married to two great women: Umm Rumaan, the mother of A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), and Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays. Although he divorced his first wife, Qutaylah, who did not accept Islam, Abu Bakr cared for Umm Rumaan and Asmaa’ dearly.

 It was Umm Rumaan who was the mother of A'ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha), who raised her daughter and cared for her even when she left home as the bride of the Messenger of Allah. It was Umm Rumaan who, with a mother's love, protected A'ishah from the poisonous rumours of the Ifk. It was Umm Rumaan who, with Abu Bakr, grieved as they watched the people of Madinah create a scandal surrounding their daughter.

 When Umm Rumaan died, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) prayed Salatul Janaazah over her body and lowered her into her grave, saying, “Whoever wishes to see a woman from amongst the hoor of Paradise, let him look upon Umm Rumaan!”

 As for Asmaa' bint 'Umays, she was a woman who had undertaken both emigrations for the sake of Allah - an honour limited to a mere handful of the Sahabah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), and one which he reassured her regarding.  
When Abu Bakr lay on his deathbed, he insisted that it be Asmaa' alone who should wash his dead body. Considering how many other Companions were still alive at the time, Abu Bakr's request was a sign of his deep love and trust for his wife Asmaa'.

 For men and women alike, Allah’s mercy for His creation is such that He enables our hearts to be capable of so many different types of love; He has given us the ability to love, to lose, and to love again. Indeed, it is through this very blessing of His, the gift of being able to love repeatedly and in so many ways, that our hearts grow closer to Him in taqwa… a love borne of hope and awe. Truly, who is more deserving of our love other than Al-Wadud?

 {And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you love and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.} (Qur’an 30:21)

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