Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tending the Hearth

Husbands gone to work or to war; long hours stretching into days, weeks, and months during which wives and mothers spend their days single-handedly raising their children and going to sleep in beds unwarmed by their men. Grueling journeys from one country to another; packing up not just clothing and utensils, but memories and dreams, it is women who find themselves binding their families together and fighting to create a new life and a stronger bond wherever Qadr takes them across the globe.
These are the women of the frontlines – not necessarily the women wielding swords and bandages, but those whose battles are fought on a different front, where their wounds are often invisible but no less painful than physical scars. These are the women who are left to tend the hearth but who tend to others’ hearts as well; the hearts of their husbands and children, while their own hearts struggle to remain strong.

Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was one such a woman. She accepted Islam in its earliest days in Makkah, as a young bride to one of RasulAllah’s cousins, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu ‘anhu). Instead of a romantic honeymoon, Asmaa’ and her husband experienced something much more memorable – the first hijrah to Abyssinia for the sake of Allah alone. They were amongst the first Muslim expats, as it were, establishing both their marriage and their home in a country foreign to them in every way, from language and food to faith and culture.
As anyone who has traveled and lived abroad knows, the adjustment is never easy, and it was infinitely more difficult for Asmaa’, her husband, and the other Muslim emigrants who not only had to contend with culture shock, but also with the fear of the Quraysh coming after them, and longing for the company of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Divine Revelation that came to him.

Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays spent fifteen years in Abyssinia with her husband Ja’far, raising not only her three sons, but an entire community of Muslims who clung together and held firm to the Deen of Islam. They received communication from RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi sallam), messages which shared with them the latest verses that had been revealed, as well as words of comfort, support, and advice.

Finally, the long-awaited command came: RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was calling his beloved Companions to their new home, Madinah al-Munawwarah. After over a decade in Abyssinia, leaving must have been yet another bittersweet parting for Asmaa’ and her band of emigrants. Even so, they understood the transient nature of this world, and in obedience to the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), once again uprooted themselves and took the arduous journey back to yet another foreign land.

Returning to the land of the Arabs didn’t mean an end to the difficulty, however. As one of RasulAllah’s most beloved and trusted Companions, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib was often on the frontlines of the many military expeditions that the Muslims were engaged in. At the Battle of Mu’tah, RasulAllah established a chain of command: Zayd ibn Haarith, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, and Abdullah ibn Rawaahah. If Zayd were to fall, Ja’far was to take his place – and that is exactly what happened. At the end of the battle, the Muslims were victorious… but all three commanders were martyred, and Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays was left a widow, the mother of orphaned sons.

Wracked with grief, Asmaa’ soon realized that although the battle was over, the war in her heart had only just begun. Her fight now was to raise her sons with the same unwavering faith that her husband had died with, and the same resilience and strength she herself had displayed when they had made the choice to move to and live in Abyssinia. Asmaa’s struggle as a newly single mother was recognized by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who comforted her.

Abdullah ibn Ja’far (one of the sons of Asmaa' and Ja'far) narrates:

“The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)  gave Ja'far's family some time to mourn over his death and then visited them saying, ‘Do not cry over my brother after this day.’ He then said, ‘Bring the children of my brother to me,’ and we were brought to him like young birds. He then said, ‘Call the barber for me!’ And the barber came and shaved our heads.

The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) then said, “As for Muhammed (one of Ja’far’s brothers), he looks like our uncle Abu Talib, as for ‘Abdullah he resembles me. O Allah! Be the supporter of Ja’far’s family and bless ‘Abdullah (his son) in the transactions undertaken by his hands.” The Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) repeated this three times.
Then our mother came and mentioned how her children were now orphans and began crying. The Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)) said to her, “Asmaa’, are you afraid of poverty for them while I am their guardian in this world and in the hereafter?”

(Source: “Women Around the Messenger,” Muhammad Ali Qutb)

Asmaa’ remained a single mother for some time, dedicated to both her sons and her community, determined to be an active participant of the rapidly growing Muslim Ummah.
Allah didn’t leave her alone for long, however – roughly a year later, after the Battle of Hunayn, Abu Bakr (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) proposed to Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays. She accepted his offer of marriage, and they soon developed a relationship of respect, trust and love, such that when Abu Bakr was on his deathbed, he made it clear that he wished Asmaa’ alone to bathe his body and prepare it for his janaazah.

After Abu Bakr’s death, Asmaa’ once again had to contend with being a widow and a single mother for the second time. Yet again, though, a worthy man stepped up to take his place at her side as a righteous husband – this time, it was Ali ibn Abi Talib (radhiAllahu anhu), who was to be the last of her husbands.

The stories of Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays’ life are not unique ones: immigration, financial struggles, the unspoken but still raw difficulty of raising a family, crisis, loss, grief… these are situations experienced by hundreds of thousands of women every day, across the world. These are the battles that women fight on a daily basis, the frontlines that they live on, and they are struggles to be recognized and honoured for being every bit as glorious and worthy of Allah’s Pleasure as other, more glamorous life challenges.

Women like Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays are not alone, but they are unique when it comes to how they tend their hearths and homes while war rages within themselves and outside in the wide world – with the remembrance of Allah no matter how weary the heart may grow, and seeking His guidance in this world and the Hereafter. It is these women – women who truly follow the footsteps of Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays, with blood, sweat and tears as well as laughter and love, emaan and taqwa – who are truly forgotten heroines in our midst. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Book Review: Dowry Divas

As an avid reader with a special interest in Muslim fiction, I jump at the chance to read and review the newest books on the market, especially if they’re written by Muslim women authors. In the course of my Muslim-fiction-hunting, I came across a new name: Zara J, the author of Dowry Divas.

Described on Amazon as ‘The Muslim Sex and the City,’ Dowry Divas follows the complicated love lives of three Muslim women – Layla, Talia, Nadia – and the men they have either married, seek to marry, or are trying to marry them.

A hot-shot African-American lawyer who has just married the hottest Muslim attorney on the block, Layla finds herself completely unprepared to deal with an unwelcome guest at her glamorous wedding. Talia, a successful Latina entrepreneur, struggles with feelings of jealousy and loneliness, and decides to take the risk of seeking a soulmate on the Internet. Nadia tries to escape her father’s preferred candidate for marriage – and finds herself falling for Lateef, a man who already has one wife.
While the book is told from the perspectives of these three female characters, the men they’re involved with are equally fleshed out and dominate a great deal of attention.

Dowry Divas was very different from my usual reading material, which tend to revolve around women in difficult situations who face down their challenges with inspiring strength and courage. To be honest, I found it difficult to relate to the three women – if anything, I empathized with the male characters most, although I had issues with some of them as well. Despite being described as ‘smart and sassy,’ I found the women to come off as both slightly flat and unrelatable – one domineering characteristic they all shared was a rather concerning (to me) obsession with material things, with a particular emphasis on money, designer clothing, purses, and so on. They appeared to be unashamedly jealous and obsessed over marriage, desiring men who had 'swag', money, and who were religious but not 'extremely' religious.

I also found that many Islamic references (ayaat, ahadith, and fiqh rulings) were tossed around in a rather awkward manner in an attempt to explain aspects of ‘Muslim-ness’, such as polygamy. Perhaps the author’s intent was to include these things for the sake of da’wah to non-Muslim readers, but from a literary perspective, I found it a clumsy and unskillful way of getting the point across. I strongly felt that the quality of the writing overall was slightly weak – both the characters and the plot could have been improved with some editing and more development.

While my review appears to be quite negative, the truth is that this was my own personal reaction to a specific genre, which others may find enjoyable. While the characters in this book did not reflect the Muslim women or situations that I am acquainted with, it did make me aware of the fact that there are Muslim women out there for whom these circumstances are a reality, and therefore would be better able to relate the story.

At the very least, it is good to see more Muslim writers, especially women of colour, coming forth and contributing to the genre of Muslim fiction with their own unique perspectives. My only suggestion would be that instead of rushing to produce more books, whether self-published or otherwise, such authors should take the time to develop their skills and polish their work. It is important that the burgeoning genre of Muslim literature should reflect skill as well as talent, quality as well as quantity.

Dowry Divas is a book with a great deal of potential, and has an intriguing premise, though it will undoubtedly resonate with certain readers more than others.

Rating: 2/5 stars

AnonyMouse (Zainab bint Younus) is a young Muslimah who has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She is a writer (for SISTERS Magazine,, and elsewhere), as well as a freelance editor who has worked for international Islamic publishing companies such as Darussalam and IIPH. She also blogs at