Thursday, December 16, 2021

More Women in Jannah

 Women in Jannah vs Jahannam - who will be the majority in either one?

While initially women will indeed be the majority in Jahannam for some time, they will eventually end up being the majority of the population of Paradise.

The original hadith about women being the majority of the population of Jahannam is authentic and valid - the hadith itself stands as a warning to refrain from certain specific behaviours (cursing and ungratefulness to husbands).

It does *not* mean that women will *always* be the majority in Jahannam.

There are other ahadith, and specifically a statement/narration from Abu Hurayrah (ra), which mention that there will be two human wives per every Muslim man in Jannah - thus, literal two-to-one population.

This is the opinion of Abu Hurairah (ra), Ibn Hajar, Qadhi 'Iyadh, and Ibn Taymiyyah.

There is another narration wherein it is said that a minority of the population of Jannah will be women. This has two explanations: either that the narrator narrated the meaning that he extrapolated from the hadith about women being the majority of Jahannam (i.e. if they are the majority in one place, they will be the minority in the other); or, that this specifically refers to the time before which the believers have been released from their temporary period of punishment in Jahannam. After that, they will be purified and freed from that punishment, and they will enter Jannah.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Progressive(ly) Dishonest: The Lies Of Progressive Muslamic Academia

 “Islam and Women” (and every possible tangent that has the potential to fall within this category) is an eternally hot topic, regularly pontificated about by traditional Islamic teachers, the average Muslim layperson, and a special breed of folks that make up progressive Muslim academia. How each group handles the subject, and their impact on wider Muslim discourses, is worth a thesis in its own right; this essay will focus specifically on progressive Muslim academia and the unfortunate trend of intellectual dishonesty that they repeatedly utilize in order to further their own agenda. In particular, we will examine an excerpt from Aisha Geissinger’s paper “Female Figures, Marginality, and Qurʾanic Exegesis in Ibn al-Jawzī’s Sifat al-Safwa,” and the blatantly twisted interpretation of an anecdote featuring the famed Tabi’iyyah scholar Hafsah bint Sireen raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) as a case study.

Geissinger claims to delve into the issue of women’s tafseer of the Qur’an (or lack thereof) by highlighting four anecdotes mentioned within the classical scholar Ibn al-Jawzi’s book “Sifat al-Safwa.” The second incident that she relays is about Hafsah bint Sireen raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), and an interaction that she had with several male students; she then goes on to supply her commentary, as follows:

“Āṣim al-Aḥwal said: We used to visit Ḥafṣah bint Sīrīn. She had put on her over-garment [jilbāb] like this, and veiled her face with it.

So we said to her: “May God have mercy on you! God has said, ‘No blame will be attached to older women who are not hoping for marriage, if they take off their garments, without flaunting their charms …’ [Q. 24:60] – meaning, the jilbāb.”

He [ʿĀṣim] said: Then she replied, “Is there anything after that?” We answered, “‘… but it is preferable for them not to do this.’” And she responded, “This is the evidence for [wearing] the jilbāb.”54

Here, we have the recounting of an incident between Asim ibn Ahwal (the narrator), his unnamed male companions, and the scholar Hafsah bint Sireen raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her). Before delving into Geissinger’s interpretation of the entire scenario, readers should be aware of the following information regarding Hafsah bint Sireen raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her). Hafsah bint Sireen was a significant scholar of the Tabi’een; her father was a freed slave of the great Companion Anas ibn Malik raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), and thus Hafsah’s family was blessed to have a mawla-relationship with him. Hafsah and her brother Muhammad became known for their knowledge, with Hafsah herself being highly regarded for her knowledge of the Qur’an and ahadith. Many other scholars and students of knowledge would visit with her, seeking knowledge and the wisdom she had to impart. 

Iyaas ibn Mu’awiyyah said: 

“I did not meet anyone whom I can prefer over Hafsah.” He was asked: “What about Hasan al Basri and Muhammad ibn Sireen?” He said: “As for me I do not prefer anyone over her. She learnt the Qur’an by heart when she was twelve years old.” [Al Mizzi, Tahdheeb al-Kamaal, xxxv. 152]

Hishaam ibn Hassaan said:

“I saw Al-Hasan (Hasan al Basri) and (Muhammad) ibn Sireen, and I did not see anyone that I thought was cleverer than Hafsah.” [Sifah As-Safwah, Dhikr Al Mustafiyaat min A’abidaat al Basrah, Vol 2, Page 709]

Hishaam narrates that when Ibn Sireen (her brother) would find something difficult and ambiguous (ashkala ‘alayhi) regarding the Qiraa’ah (recitation), he would say, “Go and ask Hafsah how to recite.” (Sifah As-Safwah, Dhikr Al Mustafiyaat min A’abidaat al Basrah.)

All of this is necessary to keep in mind as one reads Geissinger’s interpretation of the entire scenario. She says:

This anecdote (hereafter “the Ḥafṣah’s veil anecdote”) attributed to ʿĀṣim al-Aḥwal (d. ca. 141/758), a freedman and ḥadīth transmitter,55 presents a group of pious men in Basra who were in the habit of coming to see Ḥafṣah bint Sīrīn, perhaps in order to hear aḥādīth or inspiring words.56 

This anecdote places their perceptions at the forefront rather than hers. Through ʿĀṣim’s voice and accompanying gesture (“She had put on her over-garment like this”), the reader/audience is shown Ḥafṣah as these men see her – an older woman wearing a jilbāb that she has wrapped in such a way that her face is covered. The men disapprove, and confidently correct her by quoting part of Q. 24:60. By so doing, they imply that there is no reason for her to wear a jilbāb at her age, much less veil her face. Given her family’s slave past,57 the suggestion is not only that she is being unnecessarily stringent, but as well that she is giving herself airs as she even exceeds what is required of elite freeborn older women.58”

Thus far, the reader/audience has been primed to perceive Ḥafṣah solely through the men’s eyes, to unreflectively adopt the men’s gaze and its presumed religious authority as their own. But when she responds by posing a question that indirectly points to their failure to quote the entire verse, the reader/audience begins to suspect that Ḥafṣah knows more than they had assumed. The men reply by reciting its concluding portion, in this way indirectly conceding that their understanding of this verse is partial at best. Finally, Ḥafṣah is granted the last word, and with it she turns the tables on them (as well as on the reader/audience), asserting that its concluding words vindicate her sartorial choice.

It is fascinating, in a twisted sort of way, just how Geissinger has chosen to set the stage for readers. She frames the situation as one where the men somehow have the upper hand, and that they “disapprove” of how she is covering herself in front of them. Additionally, she insinuates that this has something to do with Hafsah’s status as coming from a family of freed slaves – and that these men look down upon her for it, and (in reference to some academic debates regarding hijab vis-a-vis slave women and free women) that they feel that she does not have the right to be observing jilbab in such a way.

Consider, instead, the following framework, which is a far more accurate depiction of the story: the interaction between Hafsah and the men who came to visit her was reflective of students visiting their older teacher, as was (and is) common amongst scholars and students of knowledge. Clearly, they visited her often and had a good relationship with her; one could even venture to characterize their relationship as her being maternal or grandmotherly with these younger men. It is precisely because they had a positive and comfortable relationship with Hafsah that they felt confident enough to tell her that she did not have to cover herself in front of them; undoubtedly, in the heat of Basra, they recognized that she was likely uncomfortable to be covering herself with an additional layer, and covering her face as well in front of them. Rather than looking down on her, or presuming that they knew better than her, they spoke from a place of consideration; they wanted her to feel comfortable and relaxed. By quoting the ayah about the rukhsa (exception) regarding jilbab for older women, they demonstrated their level of comfort with her and their fondness for her. Hafsah’s familial background plays no role whatsoever, except to emphasize her scholarly lineage as a student and mawla of Anas ibn Malik raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him); this connection raises her in the sight of other scholars and her students, rather than being a negative factor.

Hafsah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) in turn, reminded her younger students of the rest of the ayah, emphasizing that despite knowing about the exception afforded to her, she chose to pursue the more pious action: that is, to maintain her jilbab around them. As well, this was evidence of how she, a female scholar, understood the aayaat of hijab and chose to implement it, versus the constant claims that only male scholars weighed in on hijab and its rulings. This also demonstrates Hafsah’s own standing as a scholar, and how she chose to educate her students in this moment. She not only displayed her own knowledge of the fiqhi rulings of hijab and jilbab, but also highlighted the aspect of ihsaan (excellence) with regards to how a Muslim should conduct themselves. Even when given a legally mandated exception, Hafsah chose to continue observing jilbab with her male students due to the Qur’an’s conclusion that to do so is spiritually better (for the older women being addressed by the aayah). 

Though Geissinger claims that “the reader/audience has been primed to perceive Ḥafṣa solely through the men’s eyes, to unreflectively adopt the men’s gaze and its presumed religious authority as their own…” the truth is that she alone is the one priming the reader / audience to view the story from such a perspective. Nowhere in Asim al-Ahwal’s words can one find the presumption of religious authority from the men; indeed, the very context of the anecdote proves the exact opposite: that in this situation, Hafsah bint Sireen raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is the elder scholar, the one with whom presumed religious authority lies. The men are her younger students, coming to sit at her feet and learn from her. When Geissinger goes on to say “when she responds by posing a question that indirectly points to their failure to quote the entire verse, the reader/audience begins to suspect that Ḥafṣah knows more than they had assumed,” she betrays her own – and the presumed audience’s – ignorance: the assumption that Hafsah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is not as religiously knowledgeable, or superior to, the men visiting her. Rather, anyone with an inkling of Hafsah’s status and merits as a scholar would immediately know and assume that in this story, her knowledge will become even more evident. Geissinger concludes by saying

Finally, Ḥafṣa is granted the last word, and with it she turns the tables on them (as well as on the reader/audience), asserting that its concluding words vindicate her sartorial choice.”

Again, the framing here is strange – Hafsah is not ‘granted’ the last word; rather, she powerfully demonstrates her knowledge and provides an impactful teaching moment to her students. Unfortunately, Geissinger also simplifies and dismisses the entire issue at hand as that of a “sartorial choice,” when it is anything but a mere question of dressing. Instead, Hafsah’s decision to observe jilbab in front of her students is one that reflects a sense of higher spiritual conduct, out of the sincere and ardent desire to please her Creator. 

From beginning to end, the story of Hafsah bint Sireen’s jilbab is reflective of the powerful history of female Islamic scholarship, of the legal rulings and spiritual lessons derived from this teaching moment, and of an example of the classical tradition of interplay between Islamic scholars and their students. Geissinger’s choice to dishonestly represent and frame the characters and the events that took place is both unethical and unsurprising. Indeed, it is to be expected from the progressivists who make up the bulk of Muslamic academia, who have a long track record of twisting classical texts and historical context to make up a version of Islam and Islamic scholarship that suits their own particular world views. 

While this essay has looked at only one excerpt from a single paper, it is a glaring example of the intellectual dishonesty at play not just in Geissinger’s work, but in the vast majority of literature penned by progressive Muslamic academics. For the average Muslim – and the more-than-averagely-educated Muslim – who may find themselves delving into many popular books on Islam and gender written by well-known progressive academics, it is necessary to read the literature with a critical lens. It is all too easy to fall for the literary sleights of hand and twisted takes of our Islamic history, leading us to erroneously believe in the alternative facts of progressive Muslamic academia. 

What is deeply unfortunate is that while the various subjects of discussion regarding Islam and women are absolutely worth examining in greater detail, progressivists do us a disfavour in the way they choose to approach the topic. Rather than adhering to standards of academic honesty, and thus benefiting the wider Muslim discourses, they have chosen to undermine the very foundations of our exemplary history of Islamic scholarship. In order for us to genuinely address the valid questions and issues that exist within our communities, we must begin with a foundation of sincerity towards Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and a dedication to seeking the Truth in an honest manner, without projecting our own biases and agendas insofar as is humanly possible. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

The Khabib Halal/Haraam Ratio: Good Character, Bad Sports, And The Conundrum of Muslim Representation

 The Muslim Ummah has spent the last several years celebrating the rise and success of MMA fighter Khabib Normagomedov, a Muslim Daghestanti fighter who emerged to become an undisputed victor. On the day of his 29th victory, he also announced his retirement from MMA, referencing a promise that he made to his mother.

Muslims went wild in their praises, showering him with adoration, expressing their admiration of his obedience to his mother, his public demonstrations of sajdah ash-shukr after every match, his humility and remembrance of Allah, and his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at public events. Undoubtedly, these are all praiseworthy behaviours and characteristics that should be encouraged in all Muslims, especially Muslim men. 

However, there has been a near-deafening silence on the underlying problematic foundations of the entire phenomenon of Khabib Nurmagomedov and his popularity amongst Muslim men. 

Read more here at!

Then and Now: Rereading Mohja Kahf’s “The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf”

 In 2007, at the brash, naive, and frankly moronic age of 16, I penned a scathing review of Mohja Kahf’s novel “The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf” for this very website, Thirteen years later, I read it again – only to find myself deeply, utterly in love with this book.

Khadra Shamy is the American daughter of Syrian immigrants, Wajdy and Ebtahaj, who dreamt of little more than dedicating themselves to the Da’wah in their tiny Muslim community in Indiana. Khadra grows up immersed in the culture of conservative da’wah: of the Deen being black and white, of certain rules followed scrupulously, of culture frowned upon in exchange for the purity of Islam. As she moves from a 10 year old child overwhelmed with guilt for accidentally eating gelatin-containing candy corn, to a black-clad, angry teenager who reads Qutb and supports the Iranian Revolution, to a college student who dutifully marries young, Khadra finds the foundations of her worldview slowly cracking. 

Going for Hajj was not spiritually revolutionary, but a dark glimpse of what Arab youth get up to in the heartland of Islam; after devoting herself to tajweed and hifdh, Khadra is told that she must stop reciting Qur’an in mixed gatherings and that Qur’an competitions are only open to men. Her ideal Islamic marriage begins to crumble when her husband evokes the Qawwam card to prohibit her from riding her bike in public – and when she gets pregnant, only to decide on an abortion, and then a divorce, Khadra creates a schism between herself, her community, and all that she has known. In the years that follow, Khadra breaks down and recreates her identity as a Muslim and her beliefs about Islam. 

In many ways, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is both a love letter and a breakup note to conservative Muslims. Kahf’s book traces, with intimate authenticity, what it is to be a Western-raised child of parents immersed in the Da’wah; our quirks and eccentricities and ties to a back home culture that we don’t always understand; our hidden hypocrisies and our secret shames. She breathes into words the tenderness of our bonds of faith, the flames of our religious passion, the complexities of our relationships. She knows who we are, how we are, and she speaks to us in our own words. Perhaps ahead of her time, she gently forces Muslim readers to confront the issues of intra-Muslim racism, of the history of Blackamerican Muslims, of the naive arrogance of immigrant Muslims, of the almost insurmountable distance between the theory of Islam for Muslim women, and the reality of what Muslim women experience.

Of course, it comes with a price. Kahf ends her novel by having Khadra follow the by-now-predictable trajectory that we have seen from many Muslims of a progressive bent: Sufism is the only acceptable fluffy-enough type of Islam; all paths, even outside of Islam, lead to God; conservative Muslims are embarrassing, suffocating, and are holding their communities back from true spiritual enlightenment. To be fair, Kahf doesn’t hold back from pointing out the hypocrisies of secular liberal types either, and she is far softer and more tender in her portrayals of conservatives as well. 

It is worth taking a closer look at how Kahf chose to take Khadra down the path of progressiveness. Khadra’s story is a mirror of so many true stories, of children from religious families whose resentment over their experiences pushed them to choose an easier way, one less rooted in following Shari’ah and more a vague idea of spirituality. This narrative portrays turning progressive as the only logical conclusion to such experiences, which is in itself deeply problematic. In truth, there are many Muslims – born Muslims and converts alike – who have suffered far worse than merely restrictive upbringings, or unhappy marriages, and who have chosen instead to commit themselves even more determinedly to orthodoxy. Spirituality is not the sole domain of Sufis or liberals; it is part and parcel of Islam itself, even in its most conservative form. To imply otherwise is a dishonesty that is found all too often amongst those who have their own biases and agendas against any form of Islam that does not feel flexible enough for their own tastes.

As a particularly ridiculous 16-year-old Salafi, I was too consumed in my outrage at Khadra leaving the aqeedah of Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamaa’ah, and too busy agreeing with her ex-husband on the inappropriateness of Muslim women riding bikes in public, to understand or appreciate this deeply emotional journey. Fast forward 13 years, and 29-year-old me identifies far more with Khadra than my past self could ever have imagined. Little had I known, that first time, that I too would experience what Khadra and so many other Muslim women have: the painfully cliche toxic marriage to controlling Muslim men who use Islam to suffocate our souls and our spirits. (But really, 16yo Zainab??? You legit thought that Khadra’s husband was justified in stopping her from riding her bike??? You almost deserved going through practically the same thing, you idiot.)

Rereading The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf as an adult, having lived through my own traumas and growth, through spiritual crisis and rediscovery, was a very different experience. My own upbringing was very similar to Khadra’s: in a religious da’wah bubble, surrounded by an insistence on Islamic ideals, blithely ignoring Muslim realities (and occasionally denying them outright). The self righteous ignorance in my 2007 review has me dying a thousand deaths of mortification, and I am all too aware of just how much like teenaged Khadra I was back then. Thirteen years later, my cynicism knows no bounds, my bitterness sours all idealism, and I feel a deep urge to slap my past self upside the head. There’s some Divine irony in all of this, I suppose; certainly, it is cause for reflection on the value of personal growth and maturity, of how the years and one’s experiences can turn one into the very person they once derided. I relate far more to Khadra today than my teenaged self could ever have imagined, and in many ways, I only wish that I could have retained the blithe innocence (if not the ignorance) that I once had in abundance. Following Khadra on her journey was to retrace my own steps, to remember precisely how and when I, too, made the choice to become someone new.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is an iconic piece of work. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking; utterly tender and yet unflinching from pain; brutally honest, authentic, and unapologetically Muslim. Kahf does not waste time explaining things to a non-Muslim audience, nor does she hold back from dishing out hard truths to Muslim readers. She knows us, inside and out, and it is this startling familiarity that pulls one in and doesn’t let go until we find ourselves shocked that we’ve reached the end of the book. In the era of #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Mohja Kahf was undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of diverse fiction.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is a damned good book – one that will have you blinking away furious tears and lay awake at night, feeling your heart ache with unforgotten, unseen bruises.

Muslim Adulting 101: Tips And Tricks For Every Young (And Not So Young) Muslim Adult

 Social media is rife with complaints about how young Muslim men and women today aren’t ready for marriage, aren’t responsible enough for marriage, and are barely capable of keeping themselves alive without frantically calling their mothers or Googling how to make avocado toast. Having once been such a person (I got married at 18 and was incapable of making more than scrambled eggs), and having had around a decade’s worth of practise at adulting (I am now fully capable of making several egg dishes, though I have yet to achieve a round roti), it dawned upon me to help out the current generation of hapless almost-adults by providing a list of useful survival tips – not just for marriage preparation, but for life preparation.

I learned roughly half these things in the year before marriage, and the rest during first year of marriage. I do not claim to be an expert. I was married at 18, had a kid at 19, and was adulting at a semi proficient level by 20… although yes, I still frantically text my mother even now. I learned most of this while living in Egypt (with occasional stints in the village) and in Kuwait (as a broke non-Kuwaiti, not as a spoiled Khaleeji). You learn a lot of things the hard way, like how to toast bread on the stove when you can’t afford a toaster.)

Without further ado, here's a basic list of Muslim adulting skills!

Read more here at!

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (book review)

 In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

Read more here at!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Women and Jannah

 "Are there more men or women in Jannah?" is a question that Muslims have been asking since the time of the Companions of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam). While Abu Hurayrah (radhiAllahu 'anhu) produced a narration which I would think would settle the debate quite easily, apparently there are too many people who would rather quibble on endlessly about how that can't be true because of other ahadith that say that there will be more women in Hell, and since those ahadith are quoted far more often (in almost every lecture reminding us of how women are the sources of almost all evil), then it should be obvious that most women are doomed to an eternity of hellish damnation... 

Academia, on the other hand, is little better; Aisha Geissinger's paper "Are Men the Majority in Paradise or Women?" almost gleefully seizes upon quotes from medieval Islamic scholars (and calls upon laughable ideas of masculinity and femininity medieval Islamo-Grecian philosophy to posit equally laughable ideas about how gender exists in Jannah) to seemingly insist that all Islamic thought portrays the concept of women in Jannah in a less than just manner.

Putting aside the ignorance, stupidity, and clearly twisted desire on the parts of such people to somehow present women as inherently evil creatures who should hold little hope of God's Mercy and reward, there is another, deeper issue that seems to underlie most discussions related to Muslim women and Jannah. Somehow, it seems that everyone is overlooking the fact that Muslim women lived Islam from its earliest days, pursued Jannah as a goal from the very beginning, and in fact, were promised Jannah as their ultimate reward for all their sacrifices.

Khadijah (radhiAllahu 'anha) was the very first believer, and received glad tidings from Jibreel ('alayhissalaam) of the incredible palace of Paradise in which she will reside; a place of peace, joy, tranquility, and safety, for all the torment, abuse, and harassment that she endured in this world. 

Sumayyah bint Khayyat (radhiAllahu 'anha), the elder African woman who was the first martyr of Islam, killed for her unyielding belief in Allah, was promised "Paradise will be your meeting place!" by the Messenger of Allah, who wept to see her tortured daily. 

Aasiyah, the wife of Pharoah, had her supplication immortalized in the Qur'an: "O Allah, build for me, close to You, a home in Paradise!" (Qur'an 66:11)

Umm Salamah (radhiAllahu 'anha) demanded to know why the Qur'an always specified men - "What about women?" she asked - and Allah revealed: "Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward." (Qur'an 33:35)

The believing women of the past were not passive women whose faith or spirituality was dictated by men around them. They engaged with the Qur'an and with God's Messenger directly; their belief was fervent, strong, and powerful; their intellect was wielded as a tool of faith, to seek knowledge, to gain deeper understanding. Jannah, to them, was not insignificant, nor were they unmotivated to pursue it. Jannah was not a distant idea; they did not feel that there was not enough incentive for them to seek its rewards; they believed, truly and deeply, in Allah's Promise that He would never withhold or shortchange any believer, man or woman, of their rewards in Paradise.

Fixating on questions of demographics or debating whether women matter in Jannah, or what we get vs men, is not only a waste of time and insulting to God's Justice, but is an insult to the believing women of the past - those who literally gave their lives for God, seeking His Love and His Reward. For us to frame Paradise as an academic exercise, or just another way to belittle women and exclude them from God's Mercy, is a perversion of what religious discourse should be. Indeed, it is precisely because of these types of discussions that so many Muslim women's faith has been harmed - because rather than referring to the Qur'an for breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of eternal joy, peace, and pleasure, some people prefer to invoke specific ahadith (usually out of context!) in order to insult, belittle, and put women down.

Discussions about Jannah should be about reminding believers, men and women, of all that awaits us for our lifetimes of faith and difficulty. Jannah, for women, is not just another place where we will face injustice - why then would we even want to be there?! 

This very subject is, perhaps, yet another reason that Muslim women need female scholars to turn to: that our faith and spirituality is bolstered by positive discussions of Jannah, that we may have conversations where our gender is not the focus of questions about our worthiness as humans and believers, where we are reminded, with love and joy, of God's Love for us, and of His Promised rewards. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (Book Review)

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America - not as privileged individuals, but as slaves at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Translatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam - regardless of their circumstances - to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas. This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up slaves in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Translatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature.

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African slaves to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions - eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics.

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendents of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community - both enslaved and freed - held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89).

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal. In other areas, the descendents of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year - saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting - in Ramadan and outside of it - was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah - demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House.

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork - Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen - and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery.

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances.

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Fractured Wombs: The Trauma of Motherhood

Motherhood is so beautiful, women are told, even before they have become women. Motherhood is what we are meant for. Motherhood is part and parcel of our womanhood. Motherhood will, sooner or later, define us.

What they do not tell us is that for so many of us, motherhood is trauma. It is the loss of ourselves as we are subsumed by the creature growing within us. It is the loss of control over our own bodies, the loss of sleep during pregnant days and colicky nights, the loss of our intimate selves in exchange for cracked nipples and wombs that never stop aching. It is the loss of safety in being able to confide to our loved ones, who stare at us in horror at our ugly confessions.

We are the walking wounded, the mothers with bleeding hearts and emptied wombs, the mothers whose minds are on the verge of breaking. We are the women whose souls are frozen in fear - for we are told that we are weak, impatient, failures as believing women.

Only Allah knows our agony, when everyone else refuses to see or hear our pain.

{And We have enjoined on humankind [goodness] to their parents. Their mothers bore them in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and their weaning takes two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.} (Qur'an 31:14)

{And We have enjoined upon humankind, to their parents, good treatment. Their mothers carried them with hardship and gave birth to them with hardship…} (Qur'an 46:15)

When the Qur'an speaks of motherhood, it is not with words of false sweetness, nor promises of unbridled joy. Instead, Allah speaks to us with the rawness of our own experiences: wahnun 3ala wahn; hamalat'hu karhan wa wadha3at'hu karhan… weakness and pain upon weakness and pain. The word "karhan" shares the same root as the word "karaaha" - something that is hated. The pain that a mother experiences is unimaginable, a pain that anyone would hate to experience - and yet, it is what women endure, over and over again.

The greatest of all women, Maryam bint Imraan ('alayhassalaam), cried out during labour, "Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!" (Qur'an 19:23)

The burden placed on Muslim women to experience motherhood - to perform motherhood - as the completion of her feminine identity and epitome of self-worth, as the measure of her womanhood and of her spirituality, is a burden that we do not find in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

How then do we have the audacity to place this burden on women?

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Torment, Tears, and Tawbah

Have you ever had that moment where, all of a sudden, you remember something that you said or did in the past, the severity of which you only realized later on?

That sharp inhalation, shortness of breath, the flush of humiliation, the sick lurching in the pit of your stomach as you recall hurtful words, or an action that was so clearly displeasing to Allah... it is a very physical reaction, a recoiling from your own past deeds.

It may not even be the first time you think about those actions, it may not even be the first time to make istighfaar because of them... but sometimes, it may be the first time that you really and truly feel absolutely sickened at the realization of the gravity of it all. It might not even have been a 'big deal' - perhaps it was a cruel joke to a sensitive friend, or not having fulfilled a promise that was important to someone, or betraying a secret that you didn't think was all that serious.
And yet... and yet, at this moment, your memory of that action is stark and gut-wrenching.

It is a deeply unpleasant feeling.
It is also a very necessary one.

Tawbah - seeking forgiveness from Allah - is something that we speak about, especially in Ramadan, the month of forgiveness. However, it is also something that we tend to speak about in general terms, or write off as something simple - "Just say astaghfirAllah and don't do it again."

In truth, tawbah is about much more than muttering istighfaar under your breath. It is a process, an emotional experience, one that engages your memory, your soul, and your entire body.
The first step of tawbah is to recognize the sin - whether seemingly small or severe - and to understand just how wrong it was. Each and every one of our deeds is written in our book of deeds; each and every deed will be presented to us on the Day of Judgment for us to be held accountable for. There are times when we say things so casually that it doesn't even register to us
how we could be affecting the person we've spoken to.

As RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) once told A'ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha), "You have said a word which would change the sea (i.e. poison or contaminate it) if it were mixed in it." (Sunan Abi Dawud)

The second step is to feel true remorse. It's not enough to rationally acknowledge that action as being sinful; one must feel guilt, remorse, and grief over having committed it.

Tawbah is to feel that sucker-punch of humiliation and guilt as we recall our sins: not just the mildly awkward ones, like a petty fib or mild infraction, but the genuinely terrible parts of ourselves... ugly lies, vicious jealousy, violations against others' rights, abuse.

Some of us may be actual criminals - others of us may seem presentable on the outside, even religious, maybe even spiritual... and yet have violated others in terrible ways. Abuse comes in so many forms, and some of us are perpetrators, not just victims.

Facing that reality can be a gruesome process. 
It is a necessary process. Token words, glib recitation of spiritual formulae, those do not constitute tawbah in its entirety. Rather, it is a matter of owning up to our violations, experiencing genuine emotion over them - true humiliation, true regret - and striving not to be that person ever again. 

Much as we hate to admit it, we have our own fair share of red flags that we create and wave, even before we get into the nasty business of committing the worst of our sins. Tawbah isn't just feeling bad for those Big Sins - it's to recognize what led us to them to begin with.

It requires us to acknowledge our own flaws of character, of the ease with which we fall into certain behaviours, the way we justify the pursuit of our desires, the blindness we have to the worst parts of ourselves. Tawbah is to sit down and face all of it - and then to beg Allah, over and over, not just to forgive us and erase those specific actions, but to change us for the better. 

This experience is so much more powerful than a mere "I'm sorry," or "omg that was awful"; it is an act that embodies our submission to Allah because it requires us to make ourselves incredibly emotionally vulnerable, and in that moment, to experience a deep pain and acknowledge our wrongdoing. It is to hold your heart out to Allah and to beg Him, with every fiber of your being, with tears in your eyes, with a lump in your throat, wracked with regret, to please, please, please forgive you - because without it, without His Mercy and His Forgiveness and His Gentleness and His Love towards us, we have no hope and we will be utterly destroyed.

{Rabbanaa thalamnaa anfusanaa, wa illam taghfir lanaa wa tar'hamnaa, lanakunanna mina'l Khaasireen!}
{Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers!} (Qur'an 7:23)

This experience of tawbah is powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking. It is meant to be. It is a reminder to us of how truly dependent we are upon our Lord and our Creator, how nothing else in our lives can give us joy or a sense of peace if He is displeased with us. It is a reminder to us of how deeply we crave His Love, of how desperately we need it, of how His Pleasure is the ultimate goal of our existence.

Finally, there is the step of resolving never to commit that sin again, to redress the wrongs if possible, and to follow up the bad deed with a good one.

The vow is one we make to ourselves, asking Allah's help to uphold it - because we are incapable of doing anything at all without His Permission; the righting of wrongs is what we do to
correct our transgression against others' rights over us, although there are times when we may well be unable to seek another individual's forgiveness, whether because of distance, death, or
otherwise; and the good deeds to undertake as penance are numerous, whether they be sadaqah or increased 'ebaadah.

But it doesn't end there. And it never will.

Tawbah is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is not even a once-a-year event, or once a month, or once a week. It is meant to be a daily experience, a repeated occurrence, in the earliest hours of
the morning, in the depths of the last third of the night, during your lunch break or your daily commute or in the middle of a social gathering.

Tawbah is a lifelong journey, for who amongst us doesn't commit mistakes and errors every day?
All we can do is beg of Allah not only for His Forgiveness, but also:

{Allahumma ij'alnaa min at-tawwaabeen.} - O Allah, make us amongst those who are constantly engaging in repentance! Read and comment at MuslimMatters!