Monday, July 27, 2015

Forgotten Heroines: Guardian of the Qur'an

Hafsah bint ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anha) is one of the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who stands out at the forefront, along with her co-wives A’ishah, Umm Salamah, and Zaynab bint Jahsh.

Her name has two meanings: one being ‘young lioness,’ and the other being a reference to a certain type of bird that was known for being beautiful, elegant, strong, and predatory. With Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), everyone around her testified to the fact that she indeed lived up to her name – a creature of power as well as beauty.  

Hafsah was amongst the eldest of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s children, and of the early believers of Makkah. She was described as being “her father’s daughter” and indeed, she had a very close relationship with him. Although they used to have strong words with each other quite often, they also respected each other greatly and loved each other dearly.
‘Umar would often go to his daughter in matters of both family dispute – for example, when he disapproved of something that one of his sons did – or politically, such as when he was the khalifah and Hafsah acted as an intermediary between him and various plaintiffs. He also referred to her for Islamic knowledge, drawing upon her understanding of legal rulings as well as an understanding of the society around her.

Hafsah’s first husband was Khunays ibn Hudhaafah, a believer who fought in the Battle of Badr and then fell ill in Madinah after the Hijrah. When he died and Hafsah was left a widow, ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) was determined to find a husband who would be suitable for his daughter. With a personality that so matched his own, he knew that not any man would be right for Hafsah – only a strong man could marry a woman like Hafsah.

With this in mind, ‘Umar approached both Abu Bakr and ‘Uthmaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhum), hoping that one of them would be as eager about the match as ‘Umar himself was. To his dismay, both of them refused. However, his disappointment was quickly alleviated when RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) proposed to Hafsah.

As RasulAllah’s wife, Hafsah quickly established herself amongst her co-wives. She and A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) were similar in temperament and immediately hit it off; A’ishah laughingly described the two of them as being ‘one hand.’ They spent time together both in camaraderie and friendly rivalry, forming their own little clique and backing each other up in conflicts with their other co-wives.

Hafsah was a woman of both strength and skills. As A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) said drily, “She was her father’s daughter” in temperament, and equal in intelligence. She was one of privileged few who were not only literate, but were able to write as well. She was eager to study and quick to learn, which RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) recognized and encouraged, especially when he found Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) sitting with ash-Shifa bint ‘Abdullah, who was famous for her skills as a doctor. RasulAllah specifically instructed ash-Shifa to teach Hafsah medicine, thus adding to her skillset.

In addition to the ‘secular sciences,’ however, Hafsah was unique in that she was one of the female Companions who memorized the Qur’an completely. She committed it firmly to memory and was well-versed in it, to the point that she would engage in debate with RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and quote ayaat of the Qur’an to bolster her points.

Jabir bin 'Abdullah Ansari narrates an incident which was related to him by Umm Mubasher. She, Hafsah and RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were sitting together and conversing. RasulAllah mentioned that all the people who had given the pledged of allegiance at Hudaybiyah under the tree would go to Paradise, and not to Hell. Intrigued, Hafsah asked how this was possible, and quoted the verse: {There is not one of you but will pass over it (Hell).} (Quran 19:71)
In answer, he replied with the verse immediately after it: {Then We shall save those who use to fear Allah and were dutiful to Him. And We shall leave the wrongdoers therein to their knees (in Hell).} (Noble Quran 19:72)[1]

Hafsah was not merely a passive caretaker of the mus’haf; she was a powerful guardian, who was also an active participant in the process of the preservation of the Qur’an.

During the lifetime of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the Sahabah used to write down the ayaat of the Qur’an on various sheets of paper and leather. Those sheets of paper were not collected in the proper order of the Qur’an itself, but rather were left loose. This was not an issue at the time as RasulAllah was still alive, and there were many Sahabah who memorized the Qur’an and taught it to those around them.
However, during the khilaafah of Abu Bakr, there arose a problem – not only were there hundreds of thousands of individuals newly accepting Islam, but there were many military expeditions against political rebels. Due to the fact that those who memorized the Qur’an were those most keen to die in Jihad, huge numbers of qurraa’ (recitors of the Qur’an) died in those battles. With their deaths came the risk of the Qur’an being lost.
Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhum) came to the conclusion that it was now necessary for Zayd ibn Thabit – the personal scribe of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – to take part in collecting all the manuscripts of the Qur’anic verses. They did so, and Abu Bakr became the first custodian of those scrolls until his death, whereupon ‘Umar took them into his care, and after his death, it was Hafsah bint ‘Umar who became the guardian of the mus’haf. (Narrated in Bukhari)[2]

It is further interesting to note that when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) passed away, he not only bequeathed the ownership of the mus’haf to Hafsah, but also appointed her as the executor of his will and his estates.[3] Considering the fact that Hafsah had several brothers – including the famous Abdullah ibn ‘Umar – it is a significant matter that Hafsah was regarded so highly by her father, and respected by others.

Hafsah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was extremely protective of the manuscripts in her care. She understood their importance and felt a personal bond with them – after all, she had been witness to the revelation of so many of those verses, and heard her husband, the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), recite them in front of her.
When ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) became the khalifah and made it his mission to provide a standardized copy of the mus’haf in order to prevent confusion regarding the different qira’aat (modes of recitation), he first asked Hafsah’s permission to use the manuscripts in her possession. Only after he promised to return the scrolls to her when he was done, would Hafsah permit him access to the scriptures. 

 Nonetheless, during Hafsah’s lifetime, her ownership of the scrolls was undisputed and unchallenged – no one could take them from her or dictate how she used them. Truly, she guarded her treasure with all the ferocity and dedication of a lioness.

When we look at the lives of the Ummahaat al-Mu’mineen and indeed, at great women throughout Islamic history, we need to consider them with more than a passing glance. It’s not enough to mention them as being ‘righteous’ and ‘pious’ – which they indeed were – but we do need to focus on how they contributed meaningfully to our history and our faith.
Without Hafsah’s dedication to being a strong protector and guardian of the mus’haf, we would not have had the Qur’an’s impeccable preservation; since we know that Allah promised us that He would never allow the Qur’an to be corrupted, Hafsah’s role is highlighted further. In essence, she was a manifestation of the promise of Allah – and indeed: {No doubt - the promise of Allah is true.} (Qur’an 10:55)

In Hafsah, we have the example of a woman who spent her life dedicated to the Qur’an; to memorize it, to protect it, to preserve it, and to live according to it. Jibreel (‘alayhissalaam) himself told RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam): “She is sawwaamah (constantly fasting), qawwaamah (constantly standing in prayer), and she will be your wife in Jannah.”
This devotion to Allah, to His Words and His Commands, is precisely what we need to revive amongst ourselves should we hope to see the rise of another generation of heroines of Islam. 

[3] (Ibn Sa’d; Kitāb al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā. Vols. 3 and 8. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Bayrut.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Theory vs Reality: The Ummah's Failure

After seeing the rising number of Facebook statuses and lectures being shared by mashaayikh and ustaadhs about domestic violence - all of which are deeply appreciated - and related discussions about divorce, a woman's right to khul', and so on, what has really been weighing on my mind is the ease with which we speak about the technicalities - e.g. "No woman should ever be abused; abuse is a valid reason for a woman to seek and receive divorce" - and the continuing difficulty to actually implement those legal rulings.

Muslim women across the world, whether in the East or the West, face an incredibly difficult challenge in having their right to khul' even *acknowledged,* let alone respected. Woman after woman has been turned back by imams and shaykhs who 'mean well' and 'don't want to break up families' and are told, "sister, be patient; sister, your reward is with Allah; sister, don't be hasty."
Few of those women know that the Shari'ah has given them provision to escape such a tormented existence; of those who do know, many of them are told by the men in authority, those of 'knowledge,' that they - as women - do not understand that "marriage is serious," "a family is serious," and that "you cannot just interpret Islamic law as you wish."

And then we wonder why women run away from home, we wonder why Muslim women seek divorce through secular courts instead of through Islamic provisions, we wonder why so many women find solace in the progressive Muslim movement, where such statements are not tolerated.
I'm not going to claim that all such leaders or imams are misogynstic or hateful of women at heart.

What I *am* saying is that the majority of them will simply never know or understand the emotional, psychological, and physical torture that women endure in their marriages.

What I *am* saying is that a lack of pro-active female scholarship, and a lack of direct influence from those women, is part of the problem that the mantra of "have patience, sister" remains the go-to advice for women who show up at the Imam's office bruised and battered, both outwardly and inwardly.

What I *am* saying is that just as men tell us women that we can never understand the fitnah of women, so too can they never understand the fitnah of *being* a woman, of being marginalized, of being silenced; of being told that we will never truly understand Islam, that we are incapable of understanding our own God-given rights, that unless we obey the status quo, no matter how many degrees or ijaazas we have, we will never be knowledgeable enough to be taken seriously, to be given our rights unless there is a man standing in front of us and speaking for us and who is willing to fight for us every step of the way.

This Ummah has failed its women. This Ummah, and its leaders, its students of knowledge, its scholars - many of whom are men - has failed its women. This Ummah prefers to treat the incident of Thabit ibn Qays and his wife as an aberration or an isolated incident, rather than evidence for a woman to leave a marriage she cannot tolerate. This Ummah prefers that its women are tortured and die at the hands of those who have been enjoined with Qawwamah, those who have been entrusted with a serious Amaanah, those whom we should be able to trust wholeheartedly, not live in terror of.

O Allah, You are the One Who hears the du'a of the oppressed.
O Allah, You are the One Who tests those Whom You love.
O Allah, You are the One Who is All-Knowing, All-Wise, Most Just.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, Taqwa that we may not abuse the authority You have entrusted with.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, the courage to speak and stand and fight for the truth.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, the ability to fight against oppression and injustice and to spread justice in the land.
O Allah, grant this Ummah, men and women, the ability to implement your Divine Laws in the most beautiful and perfect of ways, that no man, woman, or child suffer oppression in Your Name.

Rabbanaa, taqabbal du'a.

Noblewoman, Outcast, Queen: The Story of Khadijah (Part 1)

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid – her very name evokes an image of strong, dignified femininity, of refined prestige and quiet power. She is remembered as a woman of strength, of compassion, of faith; the woman who was the first love of Prophet’s life, and who remained in his heart long after her death.
Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) was born fifteen years before the Messenger of Allah Muhammad (PBUH), to a family of high status in the Qurayshi echelons of Makkan society.
Her father was not only a tribal leader of standing, but a well-established businessman whose merchant company flourished.

Khuwaylid, the father of Khadijah, was unique in that he scorned many of the terrible behaviors common in Makkan society, such as that of burying infant daughters alive. Instead, he invested in his daughter by raising her to be well-educated, intelligent, business-smart, and to be an individual of strong ethics and personal conviction.
These were the qualities that led her to not only be a brilliant businesswoman, but to be of those few individuals in Makkah who abhorred idol-worship and instead devoted their worship to Allah alone.
Once, a popular festival took place in the vicinity of the Ka’bah, and was attended by many of the women of Quraysh. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was present, and took part in the festivities – but not in the worship of the idol Hubal. As the day wore on, an elderly Jewish man called out to the noblewomen: “O respectable women of Quraysh! A Messenger of God is due to arrive amongst you. Whoever of you has the opportunity to marry him, then do so!”
For a moment, there was stunned silence… and then the women erupted into laughter and mockery of this man who dared to disturb their event with his foolishness. Some, angered by their perception that he was insulting their idols, went so far as to hurl abuse and stones at him.
However, sitting amongst them all, refusing to take part in driving away the old man, was Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, silent and thoughtful, considering his words. It was truly a moment of fateful foreshadowing.
Khadijah was a woman of  beauty, intelligence, and superior character. Known as ‘at-Taahirah’ – the Pure – she was highly sought after by the greatest men of Quraysh. She was married twice, and had children with both her husbands. After her second experience as a widow, she chose to focus her efforts on her business instead of marriage… or so she planned, anyway.
It was in her quest to hire employees to lead her merchant caravans that Khadijah bint Khuwaylid first came across Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH). A handsome young man from a noble but impoverished family, he exuded an aura of dignity, power, and humility all at once.
For a man so young, he had also established a reputation of renown as as-Saadiq, al-Ameen (the Truthful, the Most Trustworthy). As a trader himself, he was scrupulously honest in every interaction and transaction, as Khadijah’s own servant Maysarah attested to on their very first business trip together.
With every positive experience and glowing report about Muhammad, Khadijah was filled with respect and admiration for him. Though she was significantly older than him, she was still a woman of beauty and young enough to consider marriage for a third time – and wise enough to recognize that though Muhammad had nothing to offer her financially, he brought with him something much more important.
Swiftly, marriage was proposed, accepted, and arranged… and thus began the first chapter of one of the most powerful stories of love and faith to ever be witnessed in history.