Friday, March 30, 2018

Muslim Women's Day...

...should be every day.

Things like International Women's Day or Muslim Women's Day or Women's History Month always makes me think of how and why we are in a situation where we *need* these designated days to raise awareness of the fact that women do play a huge role in society, in history, in life.

As women, we need no specific reminders of significant men or male contributions to science and art and politics and literature and religion. It is the default curriculum that we are taught.

But women? We barely know the names of our grandmothers.

As children, we are taught alongside our brothers about the Prophets and great male Companions. We are taught their names, their struggles, their personalities.

But women like Maryam, Aasiyah, Hajar, and Khadijah? They were good wives and mothers, we are told.

If we want to know about who they really *were* - as women, as believers, as beloved to the Creator - we must dig through books, desperately seeking snippets of more than their wifehood or motherhood; we must sit through lectures that invoke their names to tell us how we should be more demure, more obedient (to men, usually), more of a wife and mother.

Uncovering the legacy of our #ForgottenHeroines is like digging for treasure, each tiny discovery more valuable than the pearls and diamonds we are so often compared to.

For us, as women, unlearning the ways we have been told of these women is difficult - relearning them as vibrant, amazing, powerful, world-changing individuals is new and strange and sometimes uncomfortable, because it goes against so much of what we have been taught.

But this isn't just about us as women.

This is also about our brothers. How many of our fathers, brothers, and sons know who their own ancestresses were? How many of them know the names of the women who carried this Deen forward?

How many of them know the women who fought, with their hearts and minds and swords and pens, to uphold Islam in the face of shirk, kufr, colonialism, and misogyny?

How many Muslim men today know the stories of the women who raised the Ummah with their blood, sweat, and tears?

Today, draw your siblings and children and strangers close; today, tell the stories of Hawaa, who was created to be a vicegerent of this Earth; of Hajar, for whose sake God sent His angel to release the blessed spring of Zamzam, in whose footsteps we follow in pilgrimage.

Tell the stories of Umm Musa and Aasiyah, the women whom God chose to raise a Prophet, the women whom God comforted with His Divine Promise, the women whose stories we recite during every khatmah of the Qur'an.

Tell the story of Maryam, she whom God elevated above most of mankind; tell the stories of Sumayyah and Nusaybah, who gave their lives for love of God; of Hafsah bint Sireen, a lioness amongst scholars; of Zaynab al Ghazali, who faced down a modern day Pharoah.

Tell these stories, today and every day.

Tell these stories so that our sons and daughters do not need to be reminded, one day or one month out of the year, that women matter and have always mattered.

Tell these stories so that we remember the women that God reminds us of.

#MuslimWomensDay

Divorce - a Spiritual and Emotional Journey

For a while now, quite a few people have asked me about divorce - especially the emotional process of deciding to get a divorce, and going through it. 

First of all, for women, there is this crazy ridiculous societal stigma against even *considering* divorce as an option. We are reminded so often about the hadith that a woman who asks for divorce for no reason will not smell the fragrance of Jannah, yet we overlook the fact that most women do *not* ask for divorce lightly - few women *want* to rip apart their entire lives, let alone those of their children, and the social consequences for being a divorcee do their part in further strongly discouraging women from seeking divorce.
What we seem to deliberately overlook, however, is that woman-initiated divorce existed at the time of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and was not condemned - the famous hadith of the wife of Thabit ibn Qays cemented the concept of khul' and the understanding that incompatibility in a marriage is a legitimate reason for divorce, as was also the case of Zaid ibn Harith and Zaynab bint Jahsh.
Many women have asked me "when do I know for sure if I should get a divorce"? That is a question that no one can answer except yourself. My own personal barometer was the wife of Thabit ibn Qays, who said "I fear for myself kufr if I remain with him." Explanations of this hadith discuss how this meant that she was afraid that she would not be able to uphold his rights as a husband or deal with him justly. I truly believe that the way she expressed it was beautiful and reflective of a believer's attitude, with equal concern for the other party as well as for one's own spiritual well being.
And, of course, one must absolutely do research - both legal and Islamic - and consult with those of knowledge and good advice (because unfortunately common sense and wisdom isn't something everyone is blessed with not, not even shuyookh)... and finally, Salatul Istikhaarah. Reading and understanding the meaning of the du'a of Istikhaarah will really teach you what it means to have complete trust in Allah and His Qadr.
If you have finally made the choice to divorce, then be aware that it is going to HURT. It is going to hurt like hell. It doesn't matter if you are the one initiating it or not, divorce is agonizingly painful even as it can also feel like a blissful escape. Being married - whether for a year, four years, or fourteen years - is a unique experience that makes you bond with another individual in a way that is difficult to replicate in any other way. You sleep with them, you live with them, you witness their highs and their lows... you get to know that person in a very special way. And once you've decided to seek divorce - and I'll be honest, even before you make that final decision - you will likely spend nights sobbing yourself to sleep and feeling as though your world is crumbling around you. You may very well experience strong depression as well as guilt. You will find yourself slipping up and saying or doing things which you will be ashamed of later. You will make mistakes and you will experience heartbreak.
That's just how it is. Divorce sucks even when you actually need it.
Which leads to me to the most important point: There will be no one who truly understands what you are going through. Not even other divorcees will really 'get' you. Family and friends can sympathize but will have their own perspectives. But you know who WILL understand you better than you understand yourself? Your Creator.
Divorce and its accompanying challenges can be a catalyst for you as an individual to grow closer to Allah. It is the perfect time to increase your du'a, your dhikr, your sadaqah, and your qiyaam al-layl. It is the perfect time to acknowledge your weakness, recognize your own flaws and faults, and seek comfort and forgiveness and mercy from Al-Wadud, ash-Shaafi. You will discover the true extent of your own limitations and how none of us are perfect... not your ex-spouse, and not yourself. The only being who is perfect is the One Who created us all.
Divorce can make you become a better person - but it can also bring you down and tempt you into behaving in a less than graceful or mature manner. What's necessary to keep in mind is the amazing hadith:
"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)

Wahn 'alaa Wahn

Amongst the many reasons that Allah described what a mother goes through as "wahn 'alaa wahn" is that the process of reproduction is one that is both physically and emotionally devastating.
In a best case scenario, a woman is married to a good man who loves her and takes care of her, has a strong support system, and access to medical and social resources.
But it is still her body which is being used to keep this new creation alive - for 9 months of pregnancy, during which her own bodily resources are drained; during childbirth, which is one of the most severe traumas a human body can experience in the course of a normal lifetime; and for 2 years more, when she breastfeeds and is the sole or primary caretaker of the child.
But in a worst case scenario? Or even a less-than-absolute-worse-case scenario?
There are numerous women forced into pregnancy against their wills, with men who do not care about their well-being. They have no support network, are expected to maintain certain duties regardless of their health, likely have other children whom they are responsible for, and may even be expected to contribute to the household financially or with physical labour. Access to birth control, abortion, or basic medical resources is limited or non-existent.
Pregnancy is used as a form of control over women. Numerous women stay in abusive relationships "for the kids"; they are reluctant to leave without their children and are often threatened with the idea of their children being taken away from them; they are also impregnated in order to make them less mobile and even more financially dependent. And, of course, the risk of maternal mortality is ever-present, moreso in some areas than others.
If all this sounds outlandish to you... it's likely because you are not a woman, or are privileged enough to be oblivious to these realities of numerous women around the world.
The process of reproduction is not a joyride, or something that most women engage in with ulterior motives or as an advantage to be wielded over men.
Rather, it is an experience that not only irrevocably changes our bodies, but impacts our lives permanently in every other way as well - with devastating outcomes for those who cannot afford the privileges of a healthy relationship or the medical, emotional, and material resources required to guarantee a basic level of stability.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Resources About Women of Islamic History



Women Around the Messenger by Muhammad Ali Qutb (http://www.kalamullah.com/Books/women_around_the_messenger.pdf)

Great Women of Islam (Darussalam)
(https://www.muslim-library.com/dl/books/English_Great_Women_of_Islam_Who_were_given_the_good_News.pdf)

Great Women in Islam by Tariq Suwaidan
https://www.amazon.com/Great-Women-Islam-Tareq-Al-Suwaidan-ebook/dp/B00E5IMI26

The Women of Medinah (Ibn Sa'ad; translated by Aishah Bewley)
http://www.tahapublishers.com/the-women-of-madina~103

Khadijah: Mother of History's Greatest Nation by Fatimah Barkatullah
https://www.learningroots.com/products/khadijah-mother-of-historys-greatest-nation

Return of the Pharoah - Zaynab al-Ghazali
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKASMwUWV9c)

Educating Muslim Women: The West African Legacy of Nana Asma'u
https://www.amazon.ca/Educating-Muslim-Women-African-1793-1864/dp/1847740448

Al-Muhaddithat by Sh Muhammad Akram Nadwi
https://www.amazon.ca/Al-Muhaddithat-Scholars-Mohammad-Akram-Nadwi/dp/0955454549

Women Inspired by the Beloved (audio series) by Dr Hesham al Awadi
(https://www.muslimcentral.com/playlist/hesham-al-awadi-women-inspired-by-the-beloved/)

Mothers of the Believers (audio series) by Suhaib Webb
(http://www.enjoyislam.com/lectures/Imam%20Suhaib%20Webb/index.html)

Female Companions (audio series) by Dr Zeid adDakkan
(http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=lectures&Option=author&Author=Zeid%20Dakkan)

Mothers of the Believers by Omar Suleiman (available through BayyinahTV)
A'ishah, Our Mother, Our Teacher
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flgYPlycrVs

Khadijah, the First Companion
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgWiuOupU0o
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKASMwUWV9c

Khadijah, Mother of the Believers by Yasir Qadhi
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_H95i_go5M

A'ishah bint Tal'ha
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEIUkvALd-E

IdealMuslimah's list of articles and lectures: http://idealmuslimah.com/personalities/sahaabiyaat.html 

When Muslim men say things like, "I've never seen Muslim women discriminated against!", it is simply more blatant evidence of male privilege in our communities.
You have never seen the discrimination we face because you are protected from it.
You do not walk into the masjid only to be told sorry, you can't pray here. You aren't sent to go around the back of the building, edging past overflowing garbage bins. You don't have to hold your breath to stop yourself from gagging at the smell of the winding staircase to get to the women's prayer area... which is dark, dingy, and oftentimes a fire hazard.
You aren't the ones who show up for "community meetings" only to be left alone in the women's section with no way to contribute - bc they won't send a microphone or allow you in the main musalla.
You aren't the ones who email and phone the masjid board for weeks in the winter, begging them to turn on the heat so that the aunties attending Qur'an class don't spend two hours shaking from the cold.
You aren't the ones told that it is not appropriate for you to do I'tikaaf in the masjid. You aren't the ones told that you cannot use the masjid shower facilities because you walking through a room to get to them will "distract" other worshippers.
So when you say that you've never seen discrimination against Muslim women... we know. We know that you can't fathom that all of us this happens when you, personally, show up to a clean, well-lit, welcoming space for worship and socializing and seeking knowledge.
As a child, I used to go with my father *everywhere* that he would go to give halaqas and khutbahs. For the first few years, I was cheerily oblivious - I got to sit in the front row or play off to the side.
When I got older and was sent to the women's section, the difference was jarring. All of a sudden, I was in small, cramped rooms with gross bathrooms, couldn't see or hear the halaqah properly, and they alwaysssss had a funky smell.
Brothers who cannot believe that these problems exist need to learn to seek out Muslim women's voices and listen to us. We are not all "proggies" to be dismissed - we are the women who fight every day to strengthen our emaan even when our communities threaten to pull us down.
And this is why it is important for so many of you, my dear brothers in Islam, to shut your mouths and open your ears to listen to the Muslim women IN YOUR COMMUNITIES to hear what we have to experience and deal with.
On the flip side... there are those Muslim men who *do* make an effort to ensure that women have a beautiful, clean space to be in and equal access to Islamic facilities.
My father used to personally vacuum, scrub the toilets, and burn bukhoor in the women's section of the Islamic center he used to be responsible for. Everyone who walked in commented on how wonderful it smelled and how neat and tidy it was.
Women were able to walk into the Islamic library at any time in the day to borrow books and audios or use the computers.
When the space became too crowded in Ramadan for Taraweeh, he arranged it so that women were able to pray in the men's musalla as well as our own space; the men were shifted to a temporary separate space for the duration of the month.
What is sad is that truly inclusionary spaces for women at Muslim facilities are still relatively a novelty and an exception rather than the norm.
We go out of our way to praise what *should* be a basic standard of how our community operates.
We need to *expect* that women's needs are anticipated when building a new masjid or expanding an existing one - and parental needs in particular should be kept in mind for both men and women. For example, baby change tables should be available in both men and women's bathrooms.
It should not be considered a "favour" to provide clean, safe, beautiful spaces for Muslim women to worship in and within which we can participate in our community's spiritual and social development.
Rather, we should consider it part and parcel of cooperating with one another in goodness and piety, and communally sharing the responsibility of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.
{...And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.} (Qur'an 5:2)

The Pen has been lifted...

The hadith regarding those from whom the Pen is lifted is one which we should all reflect upon with regards to mental health issues in our communities.
Mental health is already under-diagnosed; those with severe illnesses such as BPD, schizophrenia and others are often claimed to be possessed or acting out. Certain actions they may commit while in a state of severe illness are taken as though deliberate.
Those with other forms of mental health issues such as clinical depression and so on are too often dismissed as having "weak faith."
What we DO need to be aware of is that mental health is not a black-and-white, cut-and-dry issue. It is not simple enough to judge someone as "majnoon" or not - nor is it up to us as laypeople to do so.
For those of us who do suffer from such illnesses, we also need to be aware of what we need to do to take care of ourselves medically and spiritually.
Chemical imbalances do not equate lack of faith; should we emerge from an 'episode' of mental illness to discover that we have said or done something wrong and regularly would be considered sinful, know that we have been forgiven for what was committed while in such a state, inshaAllah.
However, we also cannot use our mental health issues as an excuse or scapegoat for behaviour that is unacceptable, when we are in a state of cognizance and overall mentally healthy and aware.
It is a matter of great delicacy, and it is not up to anyone to make sweeping statements regarding the status of other people's mental health.

For Love of the Prophet

Funny how for some people, acceptance and forgiveness and love and loyalty exists for everyone *except* the Messengers of Allah.
The gheerah I have seen for people like Amina Wadud is astounding - the level of die-hard loyalty and adoration, refusal to question anything she says or accept any critique, is the kind of gheerah that I rarely see from the same people towards RasulAllah himself.
It is beyond disturbing to think that the type of love we *should* have for God and His Chosen Messengers has been assigned to those who seem to have very little confidence in God's decisions to begin with.
Here's what I want to know: if we, as Muslim women and Muslim feminists in particular, want to invoke the names of Maryam, of Aasiyah, of Khadijah, of Sumayyah, of Nusaybah, of Hind - then should we not remember that these women not only *believed* in RasulAllah, but loved him?
Hind bint Utbah (radhiAllahu anha) - once a woman dedicated to destroying Islam - said, on the night that she swore bay'ah to Allah and His Messenger:
"By Allah, there was no house on earth that I wanted to destroy more than your house. Now, there is no house on earth that I so dearly wish to honor and raise in glory than yours."
Thus was Hind - a woman of greater ferocity and honour and strength than any modern day Muslim feminist.
The greatest women of history pledged their love and allegiance to Allah and His Messenger; Allah elevated them *due* to their love for Him and His Messengers.
Who are we to ever imagine reaching their heights, without love for the ones they loved?
The Messenger of Allah said: “No one of you truly believes until I am dearer to their than their father, their son, their own self and all the people.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 15; Muslim, 44.)

Disappointment, frustration, and resentment - these are everyday emotions which can often be challenges to our emaan, sabr, and shukr without even realizing it.
Some of us can be great at recognizing bigger fitan in our lives and turning to Allah during those times, but falter when it comes to the small everyday experiences with those emotions.
Unfairness can grate on our nerves and trip us up when it comes to being patient or controlling our frustrations and remembering the right ad'iyah and reminders of patience in the moment... just when it's most important for us to be conscious of the need to wrestle with our wounded egos and actively ask Allah to improve our inner states.
It is these every day tests that can be most difficult for us to pass - even as we hit 'like' and 'share' on spiritual Facebook posts and lectures, even as we pat ourselves on the backs for being good religious Muslims, we're still shooting ourselves in the foot when we allow our nafs free reign to sulk and complain.
Thankfully, Allah is always the Most Forgiving and Merciful, and even if we've already sabotaged ourselves a hundred times this week, He is ever ready to accept our tawbah, no matter how sheepish or embarrassed or still upset we may be feeling.
Just as our small, everyday failings can pull us down spiritually, so too can our small, everyday victories - whether it is reciting dhikr in a moment of agitation or swallowing one's perfectly valid ire - cause us to rise and succeed far more than we may ever realize.

Muslim Women's Day

Things like International Women's Day or Muslim Women's Day or Women's History Month always makes me think of how and why we are in a situation where we *need* these designated days to raise awareness of the fact that women do play a huge role in society, in history, in life.
As women, we need no specific reminders of significant men or male contributions to science and art and politics and literature and religion. It is the default curriculum that we are taught.
But women? We barely know the names of our grandmothers.
As children, we are taught alongside our brothers about the Prophets and great male Companions. We are taught their names, their struggles, their personalities.
But women like Maryam, Aasiyah, Hajar, and Khadijah? They were good wives and mothers, we are told.
If we want to know about who they really *were* - as women, as believers, as beloved to the Creator - we must dig through books, desperately seeking snippets of more than their wifehood or motherhood; we must sit through lectures that invoke their names to tell us how we should be more demure, more obedient (to men, usually), more of a wife and mother.
Uncovering the legacy of our #ForgottenHeroines is like digging for treasure, each tiny discovery more valuable than the pearls and diamonds we are so often compared to.
For us, as women, unlearning the ways we have been told of these women is difficult - relearning them as vibrant, amazing, powerful, world-changing individuals is new and strange and sometimes uncomfortable, because it goes against so much of what we have been taught.
But this isn't just about us as women.
This is also about our brothers. How many of our fathers, brothers, and sons know who their own ancestresses were? How many of them know the names of the women who carried this Deen forward?
How many of them know the women who fought, with their hearts and minds and swords and pens, to uphold Islam in the face of shirk, kufr, colonialism, and misogyny?
How many Muslim men today know the stories of the women who raised the Ummah with their blood, sweat, and tears?
Today, draw your siblings and children and strangers close; today, tell the stories of Hawaa, who was created to be a vicegerent of this Earth; of Hajar, for whose sake God sent His angel to release the blessed spring of Zamzam, in whose footsteps we follow in pilgrimage.
Tell the stories of Umm Musa and Aasiyah, the women whom God chose to raise a Prophet, the women whom God comforted with His Divine Promise, the women whose stories we recite during every khatmah of the Qur'an.
Tell the story of Maryam, she whom God elevated above most of mankind; tell the stories of Sumayyah and Nusaybah, who gave their lives for love of God; of Hafsah bint Sireen, a lioness amongst scholars; of Zaynab al Ghazali, who faced down a modern day Pharoah.
Tell these stories, today and every day.
Tell these stories so that our sons and daughters do not need to be reminded, one day or one month out of the year, that women matter and have always mattered.
Tell these stories so that we remember the women that God reminds us of.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Myth of Unbiased Islamic Scholarship - Part 2

With regards to the scholars mentioned in Part 1, whose opinions on women come off as less than savory, we do recognize that these men were no doubt righteous Muslims and individuals who spent a great deal of their time studying the Dîn, who certainly considered themselves as seeking to live according to the Sunnah and to guide others accordingly; we pray that Allah will reward them for their good and forgive them for their mistakes.
However, this does not mean that we should acquiesce in their problematic statements and the (negative) impact that those attitudes have had on the rest of the Ummah at large. Nor should we continue to spread those teachings and perpetuate those beliefs, which are deeply harmful and bring no benefit to the Muslim Ummah, but which have indeed been used to further oppression and injustice.
It should further be noted that those who try to deny any kind of male bias in Islamic scholarship also say that the issues which Muslims have regarding gender relations are a product of corrupt outside influences, and that in the past, those issues did not exist because the Muslims had a near-utopian society. Yet when one considers some of the greatest gender- and sex-related crimes that are extant today – fornication, adultery, lack of physical modesty, homosexuality, and so on – those same issues existed even in the greatest Islamic era of all time: The Prophetic time period when he was the leader of the Islamic Empire and lived with his Companions in Madinat Al-Munawwarah.
Even then there were Sahabah, both male and female, who were convicted of adultery; slave women were bought, sold, and walked the streets dressed in not much more than what we in the West see on an average summer’s day. There were Sahabah who were known to be violent towards women and were warned against such behavior by the Prophet himself. There were Sahabah who were punished for being alcoholics, for theft, and more.
These were all human issues and impulses; even the Prophet’s society of Madinah was not free of these matters. Thus, it is absolute nonsense to say that misogyny –-or any other kind of prejudicial mentality, such as racism or classism   [*]   — did not exist amongst Muslims up until recently.
Their mere acceptance of Islam, understanding its theology, and performing certain religious acts of worship does not, in and of itself, change or purify people and society radically.  The embrace of Islam must be accompanied by a spiritual overhaul of mentality and behavior, which can only happen when one is willing to be honest with their own internal biases. Anything less than that results in both denial and arrogance — which is a potent and dangerous combination… and one of Shayân’s greatest tools.
Does this mean, however, that we are implying that Islamic scholarship was anti-women? Or that these men had a specific misogynistic agenda?
Not at all. Many of those same scholars made statements that affirmed women’s Islamic rights in various other aspects of life: We are not denying this at all. But does this mean that just because Scholar A said this good thing about women, that we will accept his other negative statements about women without question or critique? This is where we must be discerning and honest about our scholars and our scholarship:  Of course, they were not all bad, they did not all hate women or consciously try to destroy women’s lives –but they were not completely perfect or infallible either.
Their bias existed –perhaps for cultural reasons– to an extent that their personal opinion regarding women’s “inherent” inferiority and lack of “commitment to the Commands of Allah” became a part of their commentary on the Divine Verses themselves. Frankly, it is dangerous and disingenuous to deny a complete lack of bias, as all of us operate under some sort of bias.
Their bias was not one where they sought to harm women, but one where what they perceived to be ‘good’ and ‘correct’ was not a perception that took into consideration what women themselves perceived to be good or correct, especially about themselves.  Nor, in cases such as female circumcision, did their judgment always match up with what the Prophet ﷺ considered as good for women – such as their sexual satisfaction. [†]
And their perception of what was ‘good’ was similarly not necessarily in line with what we know to be from the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah. While we tend to have much higher standards today in terms of what evidence we quote, there were individuals such as Al-Ghazâli who were very liberal in the use of weak and fabricated aâdîth, and saw no problem in using non-religiously-based proverbs and sayings to bolster the arguments of previous scholars.
One example of how female reality can oppose male (scholarly) perception is in an anecdote regarding the great scholar, Al-Shaykhah Al-Muftiyyah Fâṭimah bint ʿAbbâs Al-Baghdâdiyyah. She used to debate with the ʿulamâ’ of her time, the majority of whom were men. One such debate was with Shaykh Sadr Al-Dîn ibn Al-Wakîl, on the topic of ay(menstruation). She won the debate, and she said to him, “You know about this only from the knowledge (of the books), but I know it from that knowledge and also in practice!”
In this anecdote there is a rare – but extremely relevant – example of how Islamic scholarship is incomplete –and potentially inaccurate– without the active involvement of female scholars themselves. Without women to speak of their own lived realities, how can one come to truly judicious rulings regarding those matters which affect their lives on an almost daily basis – whether this is with regards to menstruation or with their sex lives?
...
One example of how female reality can oppose male (scholarly) perception is in an anecdote regarding the great scholar, Al-Shaykhah Al-Muftiyyah Fâṭimah bint ʿAbbâs Al-Baghdâdiyyah. She used to debate with the ʿulamâ’ of her time, the majority of whom were men. One such debate was with Shaykh Ṣadr Al-Dîn ibn Al-Wakîl, on the topic of ay(menstruation). She won the debate, and she said to him, “You know about this only from the knowledge (of the books), but I know it from the same knowledge and also in practice!”
Likewise, there is the example of discussion on how often a husband is obliged to be sexually intimate with his wife; while it is unanimous that a husband who desires intimacy must be responded to immediately by his wife, the reverse is not held as automatically true by the vast majority of scholars. [*]
Instead, as Imam al-Ghazâli says in his chapter on marriage,
The husband should go to his wife once every four nights. This is fairest, because the [maximum permissible] number of wives is four. One is therefore allowed to extend the interval up to this limit. It is best that the husband should increase or decrease the amount of intercourse in accordance with his wife’s need to guard her virtue, since the preservation of her virtue is a duty of the husband. If the woman’s claim on intercourse has not been fixed [in fiqh], this is because of the difficulty of making and satisfying such a claim. [†]
While at first glance this statement is commendable, one should note that the language is quite different in comparison to the discussion of a husband’s right to intimacy. A husband “should” go to his wife “[at least] once every four nights…”   There is no “he must”; there is no, “when his wife calls to him, he is obligated fulfill her desire immediately.
In fact, a later Hanafi jurist made the bald claim, “After the first time [i.e. consummation of marriage], intercourse is his right, not her right.” [‡]
As well, it has been a common view of various scholars to say that a man is held liable, blameworthy, or accountable to the law [only] if he withholds sexual intimacy from his wife for longer than four months; the obligation is that he provide it at least “once in every third of the year.” [§]
The ‘up to four months’ rule is considered to be derived from the ruling of ʿUmar ibn al-Khattab, when he consulted his daughter Umm Al-Mu’minîn Ḥafṣah Bint ʿUmar on how long a woman could withstand being separated from her husband without sexual intercourse. Ḥafṣah responded, “Four months.” Yet while this statement of hers has been taken to be a general one, applicable to all marriages, it notably ignores the context in which this statement was made – that is, in a context of war.  ʿUmar asked this question not in a normative state of peace, but with regards to Muslim soldiers who were deployed in Jihad, and whose wives remained behind.
How, then, could it be that what was a ruling for clearly extenuating circumstances, became the basis of general statements regarding Muslim women’s right to sexual intercourse with their husbands? Al-Ghazâli states that it is ‘difficult to make a claim’ about how often women desire intimacy – well, why must it be specified at all in terms of times per day or month?
Why wasn’t it automatically understood that just as husbands have the (general) right to intimacy from their wives at any time, the reverse would hold true of wives with their husbands? And why was it so difficult to discover this information – couldn’t these scholars simply have spoken to women and found out what their opinions were on the topic? Why is it that codifying a wife’s right to sexual intimacy was made dependent solely upon one statement by a woman, issued regarding non-normative circumstances? This, despite the fact that there is a narration from Al-Bayhaqi that says,
Women have 99 times more desire than men…[**]
Although it must be noted that this narration is graded as weak, there have been discussions surrounding its meaning, with the general idea being that it can best be determined by medical opinions on the topic. (Of which there are many.  [††]   [‡‡]   [§§])
Despite all of this, there instead appears to be a lack of interest in seeking out any additional information from women, and complacency in depending upon that one statement of ḤafṢah’s alone.
While there were scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah who held that a husband was obligated to fulfill his wife’s desires and that not doing so was grounds for annulment,  [***] this view is considered a minority in the vast tradition of Islamic scholars.
#   #   #
Going back to the point of male scholars’ biases with regards to women, it should be clear now that yes, lack of active and engaged female scholarship has led to a male-dominated perspective on Islamic legal matters that is harmful to women in more than a few ways. Whether this harm was deliberately intended or not, is beside the point.
As Shaykh Akram emphasized repeatedly in his lectures on the History of Islamic Female Scholarship, traditional Islamic scholarship does have a significant lack of female voices, input, and perspectives on fiqh matters. Outside of a handful of women, the most well-known of them having been aâbiyyât or Tâbiʿiyyât, it is nigh-impossible to find female scholars’ names, rulings, and contributions to fiqh in any given discourse.
Where female scholarship is noted and recognized, these cases are very often examples of transmission of knowledge rather than production of knowledge. One notable consequence of this is that there is a significant dearth of scholarly literature produced by female scholars themselves. Omar Kahala, the author of Aʿlâm Al-Nisâ’ –which is a veritable encyclopedia of notable women in Islamic history– listed the names and biographies of around a thousand women, of whom only ten were known to be writers (excluding poetry).[†††]
Having said all of what we have noted:  Does this mean that those of us who acknowledge and point out these biases automatically believe that the corpus of Islamic scholarship should be thrown out as invalid?
No. Rather, it means that we recognize that over 1400 years of Muslim scholars worked to provide what they believed were the correct answers to religious matters; but that from their work, there is evidence that certain matters need to be re-evaluated and redressed. It must especially be stressed that we desire to do so in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, going back to the original texts and the evidences derived therefrom… not, as it is wrongly assumed by so many, that we wish to begin from scratch and impose a 21st century Western, secular, liberal paradigm on the texts themselves.
This is not to say that we today do not have our own biases either, but rather, that we should be aware of the biases which we bring to our effort and that we should ensure as best we can to set any prejudices aside and to focus on the foundational principles of our religion and its system of law-making.
It is beyond the scope of this article, or the qualifications of this author, to lay out a specific methodology for doing so (although it should be noted that the experts of Islamic sciences have already developed numerous rigorous methodologies to ensure the authenticity, validity, and strength of Islamic knowledge that is transmitted and built upon).
One question that we should ask ourselves in relation to this, however, is:  Just as we in the present must be held to those rigorous standards… how much of the scholarship of the past, including the quotes mentioned previously –as well as others on different topics and opinions– would be considered strong and authentic according to those selfsame methodologies? Again, this is not to imply that we must reject classical scholarship in general, but that we have an obligation – both scholars and laypeople – to be more discerning in what is considered acceptable to share and teach amongst the masses.
Furthermore, it is erroneous to claim that the practice of revisiting past scholarship, critiquing it, and arriving to different conclusions is a somehow new and dangerous invention. Rather, to do so has always been an integral part of the history of Islamic scholarship – scholars debated and critiqued each other’s’ opinions, or the opinions of their teachers, or of scholars from the past, or of different schools of thoughts. Books were written criticizing others, often using strong wording.
Thus, it is wrong to claim that a call to revisit our past scholarship and to make an effort to derive rulings and conclusions more in line with the now more widely available and authenticated texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah is a prohibited innovation.  In fact, this flies in direct contradiction to our actual history of Islamic scholarship.
It is in the spirit of Islamic scholarship itself –the desire to seek guidance in both the technical and spiritual aspects of our religion and our lives, to embody the spirit of the Qur’an and Sunnah– that we must acknowledge the reality of biased Islamic scholarship. In fact, we must work towards improving that scholarship such that it more accurately reflects our goal to live in a manner most reflective of Divine Justice and Mercy.

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[*]   In fact, there are quotes from classical Islamic scholars demonstrating what, today, would be considered abominable racism. To illustrate:
…For what his community owns exceeded the bounds of tribes both East and West, and his call (daʿwah) spread in the middle of the earth, such as the third and fourth and fifth regions; because they are more complete in intellect, and morals, and have more even temperaments, in opposition to the northern and southern climes, for those people’s brains and morals are lower/deficient, and their temperaments are deviated.
As for the southern edge/clime, for it is by the strength of the heat that their “akhlâ” (mixes) were burnt, and so their color blackened, and their hair curled.
And as for the people of the northern edge/clime, the excessively cold weather did not ripen their “akhlâ” (humors), hence, those humors became crude (fajja), which caused their hair to be exceedingly straight and their skin-color unseemly white.  http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=18&idto=18&bk_no=111&ID=22
Special thanks and credit to brother Omar Anchassi for his invaluable assistance in providing material regarding female literacy; and Shaykha Somaya AlZahrani for her patience with my numerous requests for translations.
[†] Book on the Etiquette of Marriage (chapter from Ihya’ ‘Ulûm Al-Dîn)
[‡] Ibn ʿÂbidîn, Radd Al-Mutâr
[§] Ibn Jibrîn, “The Ruling on Either of the Two Spouses Denying the Other Their Lawful Rights.” http://www.fatawaislamiyah.com/post/3683/the-ruling-on-either-of-the-two-spouses-denying-the-other-their-lawful-rights/

The Myth of Unbiased Islamic Scholarship - Part 1

“Muslim feminists just want to throw out all Islamic scholarship because it’s male-dominated!”
Such is the rallying war cry of those who wish to dismiss any and all questioning and critique from those who wish to engage with Islamic scholarship in a more critical manner.
First of all, it should be acknowledged that there are some individuals or groups which would in fact like to destroy Islam completely and claim that its scholarship is completely corrupt.
Nevertheless, one should never make the dangerous assumption that all (or any) Muslims – feminist or not – who wish to take a closer look at our history and its scholars are automatically of some certain bent or agenda. In fact, to do so is a direct violation of the Islamic principle husn al-ann – to assume a positive intention on the part of another Muslim. Unfortunately, it’s far more common for some Muslims to have sû’ al-ẓann – negative suspicions – towards any believer who does not conform to their own personal ‘Islamic’ philosophy.
When it comes to discussing gender bias in Islamic scholarship, anyone who expresses an interest in examining our history from a less than romanticized perspective is demonized as being some kind of ‘Western secular liberal’ tool or being corrupted by such mentalities… rather than being seen as having sincere intentions to improve the Ummah by pointing out and changing harmful phenomena that continue to have disturbing consequences on our communities at large.
Islamic scholarship has existed from the time of RasûlAllâh ﷺ until today. In its earliest days, men and women alike had almost equal access to the source of religious evidence – RasûlAllâh ﷺ himself. In many cases, women had a unique position of access to him due to their being married to him, related to him, or being close to his wives
These women would not only teach each other, but teach men as well, in matters related to “women’s issues” and otherwise. Such examples of female scholars included ʿÂishah, Ḥafṣah, Umm Salamah, Fâṭimah bint Qays, ʿAmrah bint ʿAbd Al-Raḥmân, and Umm Al-Dardâ’ Al-Sughra. They were not only narrators of adîth, but engaged in the active process of formulating legal rulings and addressing contemporary issues in their lifetimes.
As the modern scholar Shaykh Muhammad Akram Nadwi discussed in both his class on the History of Islamic Female Scholarship, and his book Al-Muaddithât, female scholarship after the 2nd century AH declined significantly after this era, particularly in fields outside that of adîth. While Muḥaddithât (female scholars of adith) continued to exist –and, in certain time periods (such as the 6th-9th centuries AH) flourished– female scholarship in other fields of the Islamic sciences faded away dramatically.
Of those women who were in fact specialized in fiqh and other areas, many of them were muḥaddithât as well, or began in the field of adîth before exploring other areas of interest.  Unfortunately, those women were viewed as anomalies not only of their time, but throughout Islamic history as a whole – they were the exception, not the rule.
While names such as Imam Bukhâri, Imam Abû Ḥanîfah, Shaykh Al-Islâm Ibn Taymiyyah, and so many others, are so familiar to us that we don’t even think twice to accept their conclusions, most of us would not even recognize the names of Umm Al-Dardâ’ Al-Sughra, ʿÂishah bint >alḥa ibn ʿUbaydillah, Fâtimah Al-Samarqandiyyah, or Fâṭimah bint Saʿd.
The reasons behind this decline in female scholarship are in many ways very predictable. Whereas in the time of RasûlAllâh ﷺ and his Companions, women were not barred from access to knowledge, from interacting with the society at large, or from being actively engaged with the spiritual and political affairs of their time (which often included traveling), Muslims of the centuries immediately afterwards did not continue this tradition of fostering female involvement.
Rather than going out of their way to facilitate opportunities for women to study, travel, and engage, there was societal pressure to keep women within the confines of domesticity. Such influences permitted their access to knowledge only to a certain extent.
Of the female scholars in later Islamic eras, a common factor is that the men in their lives (fathers, brothers, husbands) did go out of their way and inconvenience themselves in order to support and encourage these women. Fâṭimah bint Saʿd’s father ensured, from the time of her infancy, that she would be taken to circles of knowledge; later on, her husband sponsored her travels to Syria and Egypt. The same was true of Fâṭimah Al-Samarqandiyyah, and Fâṭimah bint ʿAbbâs Al-Baghdâdiyyah, who was a contemporary of Shaykh Al-Islâm Ibn Taymiyyah.
As for the majority of women, however, they did not have the same opportunities provided to even the poorest and disadvantaged of their male equals.  Rather, the chauvinistic attitudes of Jâhiliyya (including but not limited to the influence of the Greek philosophers) –and not the Sunnah of encouraging female contribution– were the norm in the Muslim Ummah for hundreds of years.

...

How dare you imply that male scholars had any kind of bias towards women? Just because they were men doesn’t mean that they hated women! They were married and knew women; how can you say that they weren’t influenced by the women in their lives?

The answer to this is both nuanced and simple.  On the one hand, yes, we do have ḥusn al-ẓann for our scholars, both past and present – but we must also be honest and not live in denial of clear evidence.

The scholars of our Islamic history were human. While they dedicated themselves to studying Islam, and no doubt were sincere in their endeavors to seek the truth, this does not absolve them from the basic human flaw of having internal biases, whether as a product of their society or otherwise.

Just as we are quick to say that Muslims today have been influenced by those around them, whether by media or by un-Islamic society or by intellectual colonization, we must recognize that the Muslims of the past had just as much external influence to contend with. This is obvious when one considers the history of Islamic creed as it was impinged upon by Greek philosophy; it must equally be recognized when it comes to gender relations and fatâwa passed regarding women.

The evidence for that statement is (unfortunately) overwhelming. From relatively early on in the history of Islamic scholarship until today, statements and rulings were made that described women as being inherently inferior and thus denied basic rights. Women were prevented even from learning to read or write out of a ‘fear of corruption’; even today, excuses are made to deny women Sharʿi rights such as khulʿ out of a belief that they will ‘abuse’ this right and somehow destroy society itself.

The evidence?

Ibn Kathîr said in his Tafsîr (1/363):

The phrase ‘but men have a degree [of responsibility] over them’ means that they are superior in physical nature, attitude, status, obedience to the commands of Allah, spending, taking care of interests, and virtue, in this world and in the Hereafter…   [*]

(The implication being that the reverse is true:  that women are inherently inferior and are not as obedient to the commands of Allah, and have less virtue than men when it comes to this world and the Hereafter.)

Al-Baghawi said in his Tafsîr (2/206):

… because Allâh has made one of them to excel the other’ means, men excel women because they have more powers of reason and religious commitment and they are in charge of affairs.   [†]

Again, this is to say that men are somehow more reasonable/ rational/ intelligent and also more religious in terms of obeying Allah’s Command – when one cannot find proof of such a claim in the Qur’an or Sunnah. In fact, the Qur’an and Sunnah do not differentiate between the religiosity of genders, but rather of individuals themselves.

It is true that the ḥadîth regarding women’s “deficiency of intellect” [‡]    was used as evidence to make statements regarding women’s ‘lack of reason,’ but even this was critiqued by other scholars of the past.

Sadly, the above are not the only scholars to reinforce the position that women are “deficient in intellect.”  Al-Baydâwi said in his Tafsîr (2/184):

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women’   means that they are in charge of them and take care of them. He gave two reasons for that, one that is inherent in them and one that is acquired subsequently, and said: ‘because Allah has made one of them to excel the other,’ because Allah has favored men over women by making men more perfect in reasoning and running affairs, and has given them more strength with regard to work and acts of worship. [§]

Here is yet another emphasis on how men are ‘more perfect’ in intelligence and ‘strength’ in acts of worship – though again, the latter is not possible to prove definitively /to support from a textual perspective.

Imam Al-Ghazali, offers advice in dealing with the supposed female ‘evil and weakness’:

…It is necessary to follow the path of moderation both in disagreement and in agreement, and to follow the truth in it all, so as to be safe from their [women’s] evil; because their scheming is great, their evil is widespread; their predominant characteristics are bad manners and weak minds, and this cannot be set straight except through a certain amount of kind­ness mixed with diplomacy…

Thus there is evil and weakness in them [women]; while diplomacy and harshness are a cure for evil, consolation and mercy are the cure for weakness. The skillful doctor is one who can estimate the amount of cure needed for the ailment; so let the man first know her character through experience, then let him deal with her in a manner that will set her straight in accordance with her state.    [**]

Imam Al-Qurṭubi, in his tafsîr of Sûrat Al-ʿAlaq, says:

It is narrated from ʿAbdullâh ibn Masʿûd that the Prophet said,

Your women should not descend from their rooms, nor should they be taught writing.

Our scholars say:

 The Prophet warned against this because in their descending from their rooms, they will look at men, and this action is not (considered) safeguarding oneself, or concealment. And, they will be observed by men. The narration speaks of discord (fitna) and affliction. So, they are cautioned to stay in their rooms on the pretext of fitna. And this is because the Prophet said, “There is no good in women unless they do not see men, and they are not seen by men.” This is because she was created from the man, and the man was created with desire, and she provides him with comfort. So, they find comfort in each other.

And accordingly, writing can be a cause of fitna, for example, if she learns writing, and then writes (letters) to the one she loves. Writing is like an eye, it is seeing the one who is not present. And writing is from the effort of the hand. It is an expression of conscience; it is what cannot be told by the tongue, but starts with the tongue.

So, the Messenger of Allah sought to cut off all causes of fitna, safeguard women, and purify their hearts. [††]

Related to the ḥadîth quoted by Al-Qurṭubi above –which has been declared fabricated by scholars of ḥadîth    [‡‡]  –the following is recorded regarding the Shâfiʿi scholar Ibn Ḥajar Al-Haytami:

It was put to Ibn Ḥajr Al-Haytami: What is the ruling for teaching women writing, and Sûrat Al-Nûr, and what has been narrated that it is not recommended. Is that hadith authentic, or not?

He replied: It is authentic, Al-Ḥakim narrated, and in an authentic form from Al-Bayhaqi, from ʿÂishah who said, “The Prophet said, ‘Women should not descend from their rooms, and they should not be taught writing, but teach them the spindle, and Sûrat Al-Nûr.’”

Because of the great number of provisions in them which lead them to safeguarding themselves from all discord (fitna) and uncertainty…

It should be known that prohibiting women from writing does not prevent them from learning the Koran, knowledge, or proper etiquette. Because, this a general right that has no fear of sin associated with it, unlike writing. The fear of sin and repelling it takes precedence over all other interests.

He was then asked, “Abû Dâwûd narrated from Al-Shifâ’ bint ʿAbdallâh that she entered upon the Prophet with Ḥafṣa, and he said, ‘Why do you not teach her the ruqya for ant bites, as you taught her writing?’ Is this not proof that women should be taught writing?”

Ibn Ḥajr Al-Haytami replied, “This is not proof that women should seek out how to write, it is only proof that they are permitted to learn it. But we say that this is a dangerous matter, and severely disliked for the sinful consequences that can arise from it.” [§§]

It is necessary to note that at least nine muḥaddithîn have declared the original ḥadîth   ‘evidence’ to have been fabricated, notably Ibn Ḥibbân, Al-Bayhaqi in Shuʿab Al-Imân, Ibn Al-Qisrâni, Al-Dhahabi, Ibn Hajr Al-ʿAsqalâni.   [***]

It is also interesting to know that there is a statement attributed to ʿUmar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb that says,

Learn Sûrat Al-Tawbah, and teach your womenfolk Sûrat Al-Nûr, and give them silver (jewelry) to wear. [†††]

The contrast between the fabricated ḥadîth and the statement of ʿUmar is stark, despite the commonality of mentioning Sûrat Al-Nûr. The former seeks to render women isolated and ignorant; in the latter case, ʿUmar considers it worth emphasizing the relevance of Sûrat Al-Tawbah for men due to its âyât on Jihad, Sûrat Al-Nûr’s direct address to women, and urges men to support women’s financial well-being.

One possible wisdom behind the urging of men to read Sûrat Al-Tawbah is that one of its themes is that of the equality between men and women in terms of the rewards they receive from Allah for obedience to His Commands. [‡‡‡]

With regards to the scholars mentioned whose opinions on women come off as less than savory, we do recognize that these men were no doubt righteous Muslims and individuals who spent a great deal of their time studying the Dîn, who certainly considered themselves as seeking to live according to the Sunnah and to guide others accordingly; we pray that Allah will reward them for their good and forgive them for their mistakes.


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[*] https://islamqa.info/en/43252

[†] Ibid

[‡] https://aljumuah.com/women-men-and-intellectual-deficiency/

[§] https://islamqa.info/en/43252

[**] Al-Ghazali, “Book on the Etiquettes of Marriage, Iḥyâ’ ʿUlûm Al-Dîn.” http://ghazali.org/works/marriage.htm

[††] Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Qurṭubi (d. 671 AH/1273 CE). Al-Jâmiʿ Li Aḥkâm Al-Qurân (Tafsîr Al-Qurṭubi). For the identical wording see also Al-Ḥakîm Al-Tirmidhi (d. 320 AH/932 CE). Nawâdir Al-Uṣûl fi Aḥâdîth Al-Rasûl. https://selfscholar.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/female-education-a-view-from-early-islam/

[‡‡] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.ilmgate.org/teaching-women-to-write-prohibited-in-hadith/&gws_rd=cr&ei=J5pEV_r5BNbwyQKNpI2YBA and http://www.ahlalhdeeth.com/vb/showthread.php?t=194211

[§§] Ibn Ḥajr Al-Haytami (d. 909 AH/1503 CE). Al-Fatâwa Al- Ḥadîthiyah https://selfscholar.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/female-education-a-view-from-early-islam/

[***] http://fahmalhadeeth.com/weak-hadeeth-3-restrict-women-to-their-rooms-do-not-teach-them-to-write-but-sewing-surah-noor/

[†††] http://shamela.ws/browse.php/book-37620/page-120

[‡‡‡] http://articles.islamweb.net/media/index.php?page=article&lang=A&id=169509