Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Glorified Self-Sacrificing Martyr Woman

Whenever I listen to talks and lectures about women in Islam, or read books on the topic, there is one particular sentiment that is constantly mentioned and echoed - that women are somehow mystical creatures who are able to endure all of life's difficulties and calamities without complaint; that women are, by nature, not only capable of being mothers who happily suffer for the sake of their children and families, but *enjoy* this suffering; that they would prefer to give up their entire lives for the sake of their loved ones rather than pursue their own endeavours; that men could never have the strength or patience to endure these challenges.
On one hand, this sentiment is understandable - a recognition and acknowledgment of the difficulties that women go through, and of their contributions to society via raising their children.
On the other hand, however, I find it dangerous. The lauding of women tends to end with the phrase "I (a man) would never be able to do this!" The question is... why not? Pregnancy and breastfeeding aside, almost every other aspect of child-rearing could be undertaken by a man, from changing diapers to staying up with a baby at night to doing activities with older children.
There is literally nothing whatsoever preventing men from doing these things - and nothing at all to indicate that a man's "nature" renders him incapable. More and more, we hear stories of stay-at-home fathers who completely shred the stereotype of the hapless, bumbling father. Yet amongst Muslims in particular, there seems to be an aversion to the very idea that men can be capable fathers in a sense beyond that of financial contribution.
As well, the wifehood/ motherhood excuse is used all too often to marginalize women and prevent them from pursuing further studies or work - for the sake of this piece, Islamic studies and work in particular. How can we talk about female scholarship of the past when we do so little to encourage and facilitate it today?
That's not to say there *aren't* female scholars today, for they certainly exist and are of great benefit to this Ummah, but rather, that we do not see them and recognize them as female scholars of the past were. We complain that the only women who are publicly known as speakers and teachers today are 'liberal' or 'progressive' - but what are we doing to encourage and facilitate classically trained, orthodox female scholarship?
We mention female scholars of the past, but we neglect to mention that for many of them, their 'urf (societal custom) was to have extended family and a great deal of domestic help (whether from slaves or servants); we complain that women today aren't as pious or dedicated worshipers or dedicated students of knowledge, yet ignore the fact that according to some mathaahib, a wife is not obligated to even cook food for her husband - so how can we expect the average woman today, who doesn't have her family around to help raise four kids, or domestic help to take care of the daily humdrum of cooking and cleaning, to somehow spend her days in study and her nights in worship?
It's high time that we recognize the backhanded ways that we 'compliment' women, only to use those same phrases as a way of perpetuating the marginalization of women in spheres of Islamic knowledge and authority. It's high time that we stop acting so hypocritical and to go beyond mere lip service and praise of women's domestic efforts, to easing their daily burdens and facilitating opportunities for scholarship - whether teaching, writing books, or other such endeavours - and helping bring about an environment of Islamic learning that not only recognizes the role of women teachers in theory, but encourages it as a practical reality.
And for the record - no, women are not imbued with some magical 'patience' that makes them *want* to stay up nights with colicky babies and demanding toddlers; women are not, by nature, purely selfless beings who are overjoyed to sacrifice their entire lives for the sake of others. We are human beings with spiritual and intellectual needs - needs which all too often we compromise and sacrifice out of necessity, for the sheer fact that if we don't stay on the ball with the other responsibilities, there won't be anyone else around to ensure the survival and well-being of our own children.
Don't ever make the mistake of assuming that service to our families - which we do to some extent enjoy and are willing to do - is equivalent to how we want to spend the entirety of our lives.
Because we don't.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ashura: the Victory of Musa & the Victory of Hussain

The month of Muharram has begun, but rather than jumping on the 'happy Islamic new year' bandwagon, we must always go back to the ultimate source: the Qur'an and Sunnah.

It is Allah who created the months of the year and it is He alone who chooses which of those months are sacred, and which of those days are meant to be days of celebration and commemoration. In the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), we have ample evidence of specific examples: the month of Ramadan, the last ten nights of Ramadan, the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah (including the day of Arafah and the day of Nahr), and so on.

Muharram is one of those months, but never did RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) or his Companions take the first day of the 'Islamic new year' as something to commemorate or make special note of. Rather, it is the day of Ashuraa' - the 10th of Muharram - that is marked as being of significant importance in Islam.
(In short: "Happy Islamic New Year" is not a Sunnah.)

- Ashuraa', the 10th of Muharram, was specifically mentioned by RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) as being a day to be remembered.

When the Prophet arrived at Medina, the Jews were observing the fast on 'Ashura' (10th of Muharram) and they said, "This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh," On that, the Prophet said to his companions, "You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses' victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day." (Bukhari)

"Fast the Day of Ashura, for indeed I anticipate that Allah will forgive (the sins of) the year before it." (Tirmidhi)

Hafsah said: ""There are four things which the Prophet never gave up: Fasting 'Ashura', (fasting during) the ten days, (fasting) three days of each month, and praying two Rak'ahs before Al-Ghadah (Fajr)." (Nasa'i)
- The 10th of Muharram has significance in later Islamic history as well. Though we must first and foremost understand that the act of 'ebaadah specified for this day is as described above - a practice of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) related to the victory of Musa ('alayhissalaam) over Fir'awn - we must never forget the rest of our history as well.

The story of Hussain ibn Ali (radhiAllahu 'anhu) is not one that belongs to only a certain group of people; it belongs to the Ummah as a whole, and in particular, those who profess to be of Ahlus Sunnah wa'l Jamaa'ah - those who must, by necessity, love RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his Ahlul Bayt.

It is one of the sad aspects of our community that we tend to shy away from speaking about the story of Hussain (radhiAllahu 'anhu), perhaps out of an exaggerated fear of being associated with the Shi'ah and the many bid'ah that have arisen related to the incident. Rather, we have an obligation to be honest to our history, to be true to it, and to learn from it - for verily, Allah is al-Qaadir, the One Who decrees events to take place, and it is we who must understand the ayaat (signs) that He has placed in those moments.

- The story of Hussain is not one that is in opposition to the story of Musa ('alayhissalaam), but in fact confirms it, and confirms the spirit of 'Ashuraa. That spirit is one of struggle against falsehood, oppression, and injustice; and of victory.

Musa ('alayhissalaam) stood against Fir'awn; a humble Prophet with a community of former slaves facing the most powerful ruler of the time and his vast army of brutal soldiers.
Hussain ibn Ali (radhiAllahu 'anhu) stood against Yazeed ibn Mu'awiyah; the grandson of the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his family members facing the ruler of the Islamic empire at the time, and his vast army of soldiers loyal to his cause.

Neither Musa nor Hussain were military leaders or set out with military intentions. Their only intention was to speak truth to power; to stand against the oppression of the innocent; to remind those in authority of the One with true power over all.

Whereas Musa ('alayhissalaam) was given a clear victory against his enemy, little do we realize that al-Hussain was also given a victory of his own. Though he may have perished, though his family was captured, and though it was perceived that the political influence of Ahlul Bayt was destroyed, Allah brought about an even greater victory through all of that: recognition for the rest of the Ummah, and for hundreds of years to come, that Allah returns to Himself those whom He loves. Al-Hussain died as a shaheed for the sake of Allah, and he remains a symbol of courage, determination, and justice to us all.

In a time when we are seeing Muslims across the world being destroyed almost effortlessly, the story of al-Hussain and the seventy-two members of his family being massacred and captured is a story which we must remind ourselves of... not that we lose hope, but that we hold strong to it.
{And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, "They are dead." Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.} (Qur'an 2:154)
Injustice and oppression may seem to be powerful today, just as they seemed to powerful when al-Hussain was killed, but Allah alone is the Most Powerful.

Thus, even the story of al-Hussain ibn Ali should not be a cause for us to mourn on Ashuraa', but to rejoice: to remember his predecessor, Musa ('alayhissalaam) and his victory, and to remember that victory in the sight of Allah does not always mean that the enemies of Islam are immediately destroyed with a miracle, but that their destruction in the Hereafter will be eternal and all the more painful.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Requiem of a Marriage (Part 1): Struggling with Divorce

Divorce is a hard word to say – sometimes it’s difficult to even say the word aloud due to the stigma associated to it, and it’s even worse for those who are either going through it or considering it.

For women in particular, seeking divorce can be a nearly impossible task… both emotionally as well as in terms of getting the Islamic and legal divorce pronounced. Choosing to get a divorce is, in and of itself, overwhelming and a painful decision to make.

Many people are quick to remind Muslim women of the hadith: "If a woman asks her husband for a divorce, for no reason, then the smell of paradise is forbidden for her." (Tirmidhi) However, for most women, the word ‘divorce’ evokes depression, guilt, and fear. Not only are there serious social consequences to being divorced – whether the woman was the one who asked for it or otherwise – but there are other numerous challenges that divorced Muslim women face, such as finances, living arrangements, single parenting, and more.

Why Would a Woman Seek divorce?

With this in mind, why would a Muslim woman seek divorce in the first place? Unfortunately, too many Muslims make the assumption that women are so ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ that they will demand divorce at any given opportunity.

Reality, however, is quite different. Few women want to end their marriages and cause themselves and their children a world of pain; few women want to be left picking up their pieces of their lives. Most women in unhappy marriages struggle to keep those marriages going even when they themselves feel as though there is no joy or benefit left whatsoever.

It is important to remember that the right to divorce is something actually granted to women in Islam; the procedure of woman-initiated divorce is referred to as khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife). There are several narrations that refer to this, with the most well-known and explicit hadith being the following:

The wife of Thabit bin Qays came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, "O Allah's Messenger! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him)." On that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said (to her), "Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as Mahr\dowry)?" She said, "Yes." Then the Prophet (PBUH) said to Thabit, "O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once."[1] (Bukhari)

This incident was a clear-cut case of where a Muslim woman sought a divorce from her husband and was given it by the Messenger of Allah himself – in direct contradiction to the culturally enforced belief that women are not allowed to ask for divorce at all, or that it is haram for them to do so.

Considering the first hadith warning women against seeking divorce for ‘no reason,’ what does constitute a legitimate reason for women to seek divorce? Almost all scholars agree that being deprived of her rights – whether they be financial, sexual, or otherwise – are legitimate reasons for a woman to ask for a divorce, as is abuse. If a woman’s husband takes on a second (or third, or fourth) wife and she feels that she cannot accept it, that too is a permissible reason for khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife).

However, what about cases where there is no deprivation of Islamic rights, no conflict related to polygamy, and no abuse? What about if a couple is simply incompatible; if their personalities clash and they aren’t able to live with each other in peace?

A divorce is better than a toxic marriage

The hadith of Thabit ibn Qays’s wife once again becomes a point of reference. She explicitly mentioned that she had no problem with Thabit’s character or even his religiosity; rather, she found herself unable to live with him because of incompatibility. This was considered to be an absolutely rational and legitimate reason to seek divorce in the eyes of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Another famous case of incompatibility leading to divorce is that of Zaid ibn Harith – the adopted son of the prophet himself – and Zaynab bint Jahsh, the prophet’s cousin.
Their marriage was a tumultuous one, and it is recorded that both Zaid and Zaynab went to the messenger of Allah repeatedly seeking an end to their marriage. Their personalities clashed without abatement, and eventually, they did indeed resolve their issues… through divorce.

It is sadly very common to find women who are struggling in their marriages and who are deeply unhappy due to issues related to compatibility, and yet feel trapped and as though they have no escape.

Many times, they are told that they are simply being ‘ungrateful’ and warned that if they ask for a divorce, they will be denied Jannah itself. Yet what many people selectively overlook is that the marriage bond in Islam is supposed to be one of emotional safety and security; the Qur’an explicitly describes a relationship of mawaddah and rahmah – love as well as mercy and compassion.

{And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.} (Qur’an 30:21)

A toxic relationship is stripped of these qualities and harms both parties, rendering the Islamic purpose of marriage to be moot.
Matters become even more complicated when there are children involved. A woman who chooses to leave a marriage can very well risk custody of her children or access to them entirely, let alone the regular emotional turbulence of divorce.

Islamic legal rulings aside, however, one must recognize that toxic marriages can sometimes be even more harmful to young children than to have happily divorced parents.

A married couple who lives in bitterness are showing their children that marriage is not a source of comfort and love, but a type of torment.[2] Watching fighting parents who have no escape from each other is infinitely more painful than having parents who are separated from each other but on their way to healing emotionally and moving on positively with their lives. Thus, leaving a harmful marriage could in fact be a blessing for these children.[3]
 Divorce is not necessarily as evil a thing as many of us envision it to be. Certainly, it would not have been made permissible by Allah if it was a truly terrible thing.

Nonetheless, we must recognize the difference between cultural attitudes and the Islamic teachings regarding divorce. We need to understand that even the Companions of the prophet (PBUH) had unhappy marriages and sought a legitimate way to leave those relationships in favor of a happier future, and there is nothing wrong in Muslim men and women also seeking a halaal resolution to their unresolvable marital issues.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Requiem of a Marriage (Part 2): Recovering from Divorce

Cognitively recognizing the validity of a woman seeking divorce – whether due to incompatibility or otherwise – is one thing, but the emotional reality is a painful struggle on its own.

It can take months, if not years, to reach the point where one finally decides to seek a divorce, but in the meantime – as well as during and after the process – the challenges can feel overwhelming. As a woman who was in a toxic marriage and sought khul’, here are a few pieces of advice and points of reflection from my own experience.

-Turn to Allah

Every time you feel alone, every time you feel that your marriage is getting worse, every time that you feel that no one understands what you are going through – turn to Allah. He is Muqallib al-Quloob, the Turner of Hearts, and He alone can either soften your hearts or facilitate an end to your marriage and the beginning of something better.
Know that an unhappy marriage and divorce are tests of this world, and how you pass those tests will determine your rank in the Hereafter. Will you lose hope in the Source of Divine Mercy, or will you strive to grow closer to Him?
Make an effort to pray even two rak’aat of qiyaam al-layl; try to fast on Sunnah days, or give extra in sadaqah. Moisten your tongue with the remembrance of Allah and sending salawaat (prayers) upon His Messenger.
Every good deed you do to seek closeness to Allah will Insha’Allah be a means of increasing your reward and easing your difficulty.
{Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.} (Qur’an 13:28)

-Abusive relationships are real

Muslims have an unfortunate tendency to deny the existence of abusive relationships in our community. There are various factors behind this; some are due to cultural attitudes in which physical violence is considered ‘normal’, and others are due to pseudo-religious mentalities that don’t consider verbal or emotional abuse to ‘count’ as abuse.
It is necessary for us to learn about different types of abuse – physical and emotional – in order for us to be aware of unhealthy behavioral patterns that may emerge in our marriages, whether it’s coming from us or from our spouses.
It’s important to note that women as well as men can be, and are, abusive. We should never fool ourselves into thinking that we are the ones who are always correct, and that it is only ever the other party at fault – sometimes, it’s all too easy to fall into error and, in fact, be the oppressor ourselves. As always, we must also remember that we will be held accountable for our words and actions on the Day of Judgment.

"The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe.” (Bukhari)
{That Day shall We set a seal on their mouths. But their hands will speak to us, and their feet bear witness, to all that they did.} (Qur’an 36:65)

- Pray Istikhaara

No one can decide for you whether you should get a divorce or not. It is something solely up to you to choose for yourself. You alone know what to expect from your future, what your options are, and what you plan on doing with your life.
You also need to be aware of how the divorce will affect your children, not just emotionally, but in terms of living arrangements and so on. At the end of the day, it is you who will bear the consequences of either staying or leaving.
While others can give you advice or provide support, you are the one who must make the ultimate decision. Do your research – both Islamic and legal, as well as what to expect emotionally – and ultimately pray Istikhaarah before making your final choice.
Learn the meanings of the du’a of Istikhaarah as well, and you will learn how truly beautiful it is and what it means to place your full trust in Allah alone.

“O Allaah, I seek Your guidance by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power, I have none. And You know, I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things.
O Allaah, if in Your knowledge, this matter is good for me both in this world and in the Hereafter (or: in my religion, my livelihood and my affairs), then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge it is bad for me and for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs (or: for me both in this world and the next), then turn me away from it, and turn it away from me, and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased with it.” (Bukhari)

 - It will hurt like hell

 It doesn’t matter if you’re the one initiating the divorce or not – it’s going to hurt. Except in certain cases such as extreme abuse or forced marriages, I would say that there is almost always going to be a huge sense of loss.

Let’s face it – being married to someone, whether for four years or fourteen years, is a unique experience that brings you close to that individual and bonds you together in a way like no other. You have gone through both good and bad, witnessed both small achievements and life-changing goals, you have slept next to them almost every night for years. It is going to hurt.
"How amazing is the affair of the believer! There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” (Muslim)

-Being flawed doesn’t make you evil

It can be very tempting to view your partner as a villain who is out to destroy your life, but the truth is that they are simply flawed human beings – just like we are. They are usually going through a great deal of emotional turbulence themselves, and feeling just as alone and hurt.
Sometimes they have their own baggage and are struggling with their own demons, and we should be mindful not to conflate their flaws and weaknesses with their entire worth as a person.

-Display good manners

Whether you have already chosen to divorce or not, it is easy to let your frustration and your pain get the better of you. However, remember that the believer’s character is revealed during times of difficulty – how you conduct yourself, how you control your temper, and how you speak will all reflect the true level of akhlaaq (good manners).
After years of being together, of a relationship that was unique despite its turbulence, it’s impossible to just throw out the feelings of tenderness and compassion and to feel apathetic.
That’s not to say that you won’t make mistakes and stumble, or that you won’t continue to feel extreme hurt and emotional turmoil, but simply keep in mind that you should try to be the better person for the sake of Allah. Even and especially when the other individual is trying their best to get under your skin, know that you will be held accountable for your behavior, not theirs.
{Indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of the doers of good.} (Qur’an 9:120)

-You will make mistakes

There will be times when you feel like your entire world is crumbling around you. You will sob yourself to sleep; you will wake up feeling absolute rage towards the other person; you will feel resentment towards the years of your life that you feel were ‘wasted’; you may find yourself saying cruel or hurtful things.
Your emaan (faith) may become so weak that even praying your fara'id (pl. of faridah; Arabic for obligatory acts of worship) on time will feel like an impossible task. And it’s okay, because we are all human and bound to slip up.
The important thing is to recognize that making mistakes is a normal part of human life, and that we simply need to turn back to Allah seeking His Forgiveness and Mercy, and that He will always be there for us.
{Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.} (Qur’an 2:37)

-Remember the good, not just the bad

There is an infamous hadith that mentions women who become so upset that they forget the good that has happened to them. Having been in a situation where it was tempting – and easy – to overlook the bright spots in favor of brooding on the dark times, I can say that gratefulness to Allah goes a long way in healing painful hurts.
Even in deeply unhappy situations, there can still be moments of small happinesses, little joys and pleasant memories; things to think back to and smile about (even if that smile is a little sad). Don’t let the bitterness completely overcome the traces of sweetness left.

-You don’t stop caring just because you’re divorced.

Many marriages end slowly and agonizingly, and it can be more painful for one side than the other. Yet although you can be happy to finally be divorced, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically stop caring for the other individual entirely. After years of being together, of a relationship that was unique despite its turbulence, it’s impossible to just throw out the feelings of tenderness and compassion and to feel apathetic.
Even though divorce renders you non-Mahram to each other, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want the other party to find happiness, or that you won’t worry about their future. In fact, it is the mark of a believer to want for their fellow Muslim what they want for themselves. The heart doesn’t have an on/off switch, so don’t expect it to.

-It won’t always end well

Sometimes, even if we really want to have the kind of amicable divorce where everyone conducts themselves with politeness and respect and maybe even friendly cooperation… it’s not so easy for the other party to share that vision – and sometimes, it’s just impossible.
Whether you’re the one who initiated the divorce or the one who received the news of it, the pain and inner torment of it all can be too much to shelve away neatly and go on as though none of it matters. Some of us are able to acknowledge our emotions and move on, and some of us aren’t.
It can get nasty, it can get even more painful, but at the end of the day, we have to realize that as much as it would be much more convenient for things to go smoothly between you and your former spouse… it just might never reach the point of being an amicable divorce.
Once again, this is a time to turn to Allah and make du’a for the other person (even if we really, really don’t like them right now) that He ease their pain and yours.

- Divorce can make you a better person.

The struggles – and the good times – that you shared with your ex-spouse all took place for a reason. Allah tests those whom He loves, and divorce is just one of those trials and tribulations in life that we can emerge from as stronger Muslims and better people.
Not only are we given the opportunity to turn to Allah with a broken heart and find healing in the Words of al-Shaafi, the Healer, but we are now equipped with life skills that will help us recognize our own faults and shortcomings.
We are also, Insha’Allah, better able to understand and empathize with the ex-spouse, which is an excellent reminder of the importance of humbleness and forgiveness (and how hard they both are to truly embody).

{But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.} (Qur’an 2:216)

Divorce is undoubtedly a difficult, unpleasant life experience and there’s no way to really put a positive spin on it… but there are ways to recognize the blessings that accompany every fitnah in life and to benefit from them, knowing them to be a part of the journey to Jannah, Insha’Allah.

{Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you?} (Qur’an 2:214)