Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Strongest of Fathers

I once saw an ad for Whirlpool dishwashers that was actually really awesome because it focused on involved fathers. It showed a man playing with his son, providing a meal for him, caring for him when he got hurt, and cleaning up after him. Not once did the advert switch over to a mother completing any of those tasks - the father's relationship with his son was demonstrated as being something that existed outside of a female figure's presence.
It made me reflect on how little we focus on RasulAllah as a father figure - to Zaid ibn Harith, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Zaynab bint Abi Salamah... imagine what kind of parent-like figure he must have been to inspire Zaid to refuse to go back to his own family; imagine how Zaynab bint Abi Salamah felt, knowing him as the only father in her life, being so beloved to him that he would spend time with her even though other Sahabah were waiting for him to come out and teach them.
He raised Fatimah (ra) for some time almost as a single father, and their bond was unbreakable, testified to by A'ishah (ra) herself. RasulAllah was, even before Nubuwwa, the best example for this Ummah - a model of what it means to be an involved, invested, present father.
If people want to obsess about masculinity, then look to RasulAllah first & foremost - he exemplified what it meant to be a real man. He was unshakeable in battle & firm in principle, but he was also gentle and softhearted, who never once found it emasculating to weep in public, to cradle children, to declare his love for his wife by name, to serve his family without resentment or anger.
He was a man who supplicated for the woman who fought in battle at Uhud, throwing her body in front of his to protect him - his masculinity was not so fragile that he considered her a threat to the concept of the male warrior; when A'ishah raised her voice to him, he did not accuse her of being unwifely or disrespectful. In turn, he inspired love beyond measure; the men & women around him drew strength from his strength, inspiration from his vulnerability and humanity. His masculinity was unquestionable, & the respect even his enemies had for him was due to his justice.
!صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم
His Companions followed in his footsteps: men like Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman & Ali weren't surrounded by silent women, nor did they feel threatened by women who expressed themselves. Rather, Abu Bakr married a woman like Asmaa' bint Umays, who got angry at Umar and took him to RasulAllah to settle their dispute; Umar raised a woman like Hafsah, who had no fear of debate.
These men and women were confident enough about themselves that they didn't consider every dispute or disagreement to mean a gender war. They knew better than anyone what qiwamah meant; they lived it.
The presence of women on the battlefield did not make the men any lesser men; the presence of men in the homes, kissing their children, did not make them any lesser men. The strength of women did not negate the strength of men, but was appreciated and considered a complement, a necessary component for society's function and betterment.
These men and women had something we have little of today: respect for each other, appreciation for each other's strengths - whether stereotypically feminine, masculine or otherwise - an understanding of each other's weaknesses, and the willingness to engage with each other even when there was strong disagreement.
Above all, they knew the true meaning of the Divine Words:
{The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.} (Quran 9:71)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Joys of Motherhood

The reason that Jannah lies under the feet of mothers isn't because it's easy or because our 'feminine natures' simply incline towards it.
The reason Jannah lies under the feet of mothers is because it is one of the most painful and unpleasant jobs in the world.
From pregnancy and its assorted conditions - everything from morning sickness to gestational diabetes to depression so severe that it leads to suicidal thoughts or impulses - to the first few months of sleep deprivation, the agonies of breastfeeding, post partum depression; from the toddler years of having a child drain you of your bodily fluids, waking you up every night and at monstrous hours of the early morning clawing at your face or screaming for inexplicable reasons (and no, children don't only cry because they're hungry, sick, or need a diaper change; very often they cry because they want nothing but your undivided attention for absolutely no reason other than to sadistically test your sanity); to the years when you must spend each day grimly trying to educate them and raise them as well-mannered and respectful human beings despite their insistence on acting like ungrateful brats...
THAT is mothering. That is the daily reality - and it is not to be glossed over or shrugged off or required for us to hastily add, "But of course I love my kids and it's very rewarding."
For some people, sure, motherhood is fabulous and all they've dreamed of from life. And that's great... for them.
For so many others, especially Muslim women who have had it drilled into them that motherhood is their ultimate spiritual accomplishment, it is absolutely not fun. You don't get a daily spiritual rush or spiritual growth on a regular basis simply by keeping your spawn alive. You just don't.
So please, for the love of God, can we stop romanticizing motherhood?
It has become so painfully cliche in talks and lectures and workshops to celebrate motherhood, to revere it, to speak about every woman's maternal instinct as a gift and blessing from God and that being a loving mother is how we shall earn His Pleasure... to the point that when Muslim mothers do finally break down and confess that there are days, weeks, even months that they hate it with a passion - they are vilified for being unnatural or damaged or corrupted, they are told that they are less than good Muslim women, that they are severely lacking in faith and fitrah.
Enough of it.
Our motherhood should be celebrated not only in terms of the perceived "joys" and "beauties" of having children, but because of the sheer agony of it. Our pain needs to be recognized and acknowledged in terms of more than "your kids can't pay you back for even one contraction from labour." Such phrases lose meaning when in the next breath, mothers are berated for not being absolutely perfect, for not being sacrificing more of themselves (for either their children or their husbands), for wanting *more* from their lives than motherhood.
Jannes lies under the feet of mothers not because motherhood is wonderful, but because most of the time, it's not.
And there is nothing wrong with saying that.


I find it fascinating that there are people (often, Muslim men) who feel incredibly threatened by women who choose to speak honestly about their experiences, whether those experiences are regarding marriage, divorce, motherhood, or otherwise. To me at least, it seems as though there's a terror that once more women realize that they *can* speak truthfully & openly about their realities, that they'll no longer feel as pressured to endure oppression, injustice, or even just unhealthy social attitudes that have been constantly enforced.
With motherhood especially, it has been almost a part of our "Muslim culture" to tell women that their worth lies in their fertility, & that their honour comes from (solely) being mothers. The implication is that outside of maternity, we have no real worth or honour - the concept of a Muslim woman existing as an individual with her own sense of 'izzah & karam is nonexistent.
Curiously, a woman - a mother - who decides to speak about motherhood as anything other than the greatest (and most flawless) experience of her life, is seen as insulting or cursing motherhood, & is herself made the target of vilification. After all, how dare she destroy the carefully cultivated fiction that has been force-fed to Muslim women, with significant effort placed on tying their self esteem to motherhood!
To speak of motherhood openly is not to deny its station of honour in our Islamic traditions - if anything, it emphasizes to us *why* Allah has given mothers such a significant status in His Sight.
We're not being rewarded for sunshine & roses, we're being honoured for the pain both, physical & emotional, for the strength that is required from beginning to end, for all that we find ourselves sacrificing - for His Sake.
To speak of the brutal experience of motherhood is not equivalent to insulting it or putting it down. It is to acknowledge that it is a Jihad of its own, that every mother is a mujaahidah whose war never ends, that Jannah is attained by the blood, sweat & tears that we shed.
I for one will not lie, to other women or my daughters. Motherhood is not easy. Motherhood is not for everyone. Yet should it be decreed for us (because, contrary to what many people imagine, it is not always a choice for women), then know that it is a brutal, painful, agonizing, noble position of honour & responsibility.
Motherhood is not merely to conceive & to birth, but to raise, to love, to suffer, to endure, to seek Allah's Pleasure every step of the way.
Women do not need to constantly reassure men that we "love" motherhood (loving our children doesn't automatically mean that we're thrilled with all the grit and grime that accompanies it).
Men have no right to tell us that a baby's first steps or words make it "worth it" or somehow make up for everything we go through. Those moments are blessings, but they are not the reward itself. To be frank, many mothers can't even remember those moments later on.
There is literally only one thing that makes it worth it: Jannah.
And that is precisely what we are promised, if we are able to keep sight of and work towards the end goal of our entire existence - the Pleasure of Allah and His Reward.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Best of Men

"The best of you are those who are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 3895; Ibn Maajah, 1977; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi
This hadith is often quoted in marriage talks, conferences, and articles, light-heartedly reminding husbands to pick up their socks or buy some flowers for their wives on their way home from work.
While this may earn some laughs and a guilty resolution to be more thoughtful towards their wives, this hadith tends to be brushed off as being very general and more of a vague reminder than anything else. Even when the hadith is discussed in a little more detail, we find that most teachers tend to apply it in a rather limited way – by mentioning that the Prophet (pbuh) used to do chores around the house, or be affectionate with them.
However, this hadith has far more depth to it than we realize – when we look at the Prophet’s (pbuh) relationship with his wives, we see that when he meant he was the ‘the best… to wives’ – he reallymeant ‘the best.’
The Prophet’s (pbuh) marriages with his wives were unique because not only did he have nine wives, but he had a wonderful relationship with them all. If one wants to know what a marriage expert looks like, we need look no further than the seerah (biography of the Prophet) itself. So what is the secret behind being the best husband?
We know that the Prophet (pbuh) married women of different ethnicities, from the Qurayshi noblewomen Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Zaynab bint Jahsh, to the Jewish princess Safiyyah bint Hu’ayy; women of different personalities and temperaments, such as the high-spirited A’ishah bint Abi Bakr and Hafsah bint ‘Umar, and the calm, unruffled dispositions of Maymunah bint al-Harith and Umm Salamah. He was married to women as young as A’ishah and as elderly as Sawdah bint Zam’a; widows and divorcees, businesswomen, scholars, and mothers.
His relationship with every woman was unique, and each relationship was beautiful – and when we read about how he interacted with each and every one of them, we see that one of the defining characteristics he had, which ensured the success of his marriages, was emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is defined as the “capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”
To have emotional intelligence is not so much a rare skill or complex ability, but simply the capacity to have compassion and empathy with those whom with one interacts, and to respond to them accordingly.
In a marriage, emotional intelligence can be summed up in the following ayah:
And of His signs is this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect. [Qur’an 30:21]
The Prophet (pbuh) expressed his emotional intelligence, his capacity for love and mercy towards his wives, in numerous ways. When he was married to Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), he already knew of her impressive career as a businesswoman managing her own caravan of traders. Rather than feeling slighted or insecure by the fact that he worked for her, and that it was her wealth supporting him financially, he never once expressed resentment – rather, he never stopped praising her and expressing his appreciation of her support for him.
A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that when she once made a snide comment about Khadijah, the Prophet (pbuh) responded vehemently in her defence:
“No, by Allah! Allah did not replace her with any better woman. She believed in me when people disbelieved, she supported me with her wealth when people denied me their material aid, and Allah blessed me with children from her while I was denied children by other women.”
In a time when more and more Muslim women have impressive careers of their own, and are sometimes earning higher incomes than their husbands, the Prophet’s (pbuh) appreciation and love towards Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) is an example to Muslim husbands who may find themselves struggling with insecurities regarding their financial situations in comparison to their wives. Instead of making it a problem in the marriage, husbands can learn to use emotional intelligence to acknowledge that the size of one’s pay cheque is not a reflection of their masculinity (or lack thereof) and that it is not a reason to have a less than stellar attitude towards their wives.
The Prophet (pbuh) was also a man who was always ready to comfort his wives. On one occasion, he was traveling with his Companions and his wife Safiyyah (may Allah be pleased with her), when her camel became weak and began to fall behind. Frustrated at the distance between herself and her husband, Safiyyah began to weep. When the Prophet (pbuh) noticed that she was no longer next to him, he turned back to find her, and when he found her crying, he wiped her tears away himself and immediately looked for another camel. Rather than being annoyed or frustrated with her, the Prophet (pbuh) demonstrated his emotional intelligence by providing her with comfort, affection, and reassurance – thereby solidifying their relationship and increasing the love between them even more.
As for helping around the house, the Prophet (pbuh) did far more than just wash a couple of dishes or pick up dirty socks.
Narrated Al-Aswad:
I asked 'Aisha what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied. "He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer." (Bukhari)
Aisha reported:
“I was asked, “What did the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, do in his house?” I said, “The Prophet was a man among men. He would remove fleas from his clothes, milk his sheep, and serve himself.” (Musnad Ahmad 25662, authenticated by alAlbani)
These ahadith are self-evident: rather than waiting to be served by his wives, the Prophet (pbuh) would take the initiative to serve them and to take care of whatever domestic tasks he was able to do. An emotionally intelligent husband doesn’t take the casual approach of ‘well, I folded my own clothes last week, so I’m good’; he looks at his home, acknowledges what tasks need to be completed, and tries to lighten his wife’s workload without being even more of a burden. The point of this is not to ‘prove’ what a good husband one is and then bring it up repeatedly later on in defense of other bad habits – it is to sincerely develop a positive relationship with one’s wife. Most women, if not all, deeply appreciate it when husbands contribute by doing chores – it is a sign of respect and self-responsibility, a sign that the husband doesn’t view his wife as a maid, but as an individual whose passion does not lie solely in doing laundry or mopping floors.
Finally, the Prophet (pbuh) was a man who recognized the potential in his wives and encouraged them to fulfill that potential. Hafsah bint ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with her) was a woman of intelligence, and the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to foster that intelligence rather than stunt it. Once, a woman named ashShifa bint Abdullah, one of the few literate individuals of Medinah at the time, was visiting Hafsah and discussing medicine with her. The Prophet (pbuh) entered the home during their conversation, and noting Hafsah’s interest, he immediately told ashShifa to teach Hafsah both literacy and the healing arts.
Each and every one of these stories highlights just what it meant when the Prophet (pbuh) commanded the men of his Ummah to be the best they possibly could be towards their wives. The standard for best husband has already been set – to be humble and appreciative, to be loving and comforting, to being helpful and supportive – and when one considers the beautiful ways in which the Prophet (pbuh) exemplified these qualities on a daily basis, it really isn’t so difficult.
May our husbands fulfill the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and prove themselves to be amongst the best of men, ameen.

Friday, September 09, 2016

You Are Your Own Strongest Advocate

You are your own strongest advocate.
Women who go to imams and shuyookh seeking khul' or faskh or resolution for any other issue are often turned away or brushed off with non-committal shrugs and not followed up on.
But here's the thing. You can either sit there meekly and say, "Okay," and walk away without your issue resolved or without receiving justice... or you can sit there and say, "No, I know my Islamic rights and I'm not budging until I get them. And I WILL hold you accountable and follow up until it's done."
There are so many imams who don't expect this response, who expect us to just accept whatever excuses are thrown at us, who know just how well Muslim women have been trained to unquestioningly accept the statements of a man of (perceived) religious authority.
They *don't* expect us to pursue our Islamic rights, or to even know what they are. *We* must educate ourselves, do our research, and *not* back down. They won't be happy, but when they know that they can't just wave you away, they'll also feel the pressure to actually take the case seriously.
Note: this obviously doesn't apply to all cases. #NotAllImams and whatnot.
Also, actually do your research and make sure that you do know what you're talking about before you go in there, so that you're not bamboozled by something being passed off as "the strongest opinion" when it's actually just a fringe opinion or summat.