The criminal justice system and the media persist in treating women as ‘doubly deviant’
“When woman falls, she seems to possess a capacity almost beyond man for running into all that is evil.” So proclaimed the Directors of Millbank Prison in 1859, voicing the common belief that female criminals were far worse than male criminals. How much has changed? It’s clear that ‘bad women’ continue to hold the public’s attention. That is, of course, why Piers Morgan chose to make a documentary series called Killer Women, and why a third of violent crime stories in British newspapers are about female offenders, even though they make up only an eighth of those convicted.
During the 19th century, women accounted for over a fifth of convictions. As this was the era in which the model of woman as Mary and Mother was established, society became fixated on these ‘bad women’. Criminologists Lombroso and Ferrero explained that because women were less ‘evolved’ than men, they were less likely to commit crime. Those rare women who did commit crimes were a double exception. They were monstrous.
The courts agreed, particularly where the female defendant had transgressed society’s rules. In the case of Sarah Gale, the real-life subject of my novel The Unseeing, the jury accepted that she must have been involved in the murder of another woman, despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence. The all-male jury no doubt bore in mind that Sarah was possibly an ‘unfortunate’ (a prostitute), and the sentencing judge helpfully reminded them she had been cohabiting with her co-defendant, James Greenacre, “without being joined to him by any moral or religious tie”. Proof that she was a bad sort. Similarly, in the case of Florence Maybrick, convicted in 1889 of poisoning her husband, the judge in his summing up laid great emphasis on Florence’s adultery, suggesting that a woman capable of such a vice was also liable to commit murder. After campaigners petitioned the Home Secretary, he recommended that her sentence should be commuted, but Queen Victoria – no friend of the feminists – refused to accede that “so wicked a woman should escape by a mere legal quibble”. Maybrick remained in prison until after Victoria’s death.
Victorian views on female criminality survived for a surprisingly long time. In 1950, Otto Pollack claimed that female crime had been vastly underestimated because women’s inherent deceitfulness enabled them to conceal their misdemeanours. Even in the 1980s, Neo-Lombrosian criminologists considered prostitution to be evidence of psychopathology. By that stage, however, feminists were fighting back. In 1976, Carol Smart argued that women offenders were perceived as doubly deviant because they not only broke the law but transgressed their gender roles. In 1992, Baroness Helena Kennedy observed in Eve Was Framed that women were still disadvantaged in the courtroom because law was made by men.
This remains true today. Women are still woefully underrepresented in the British justice system (only 15.6 per cent of High Court judges are women and there is just one female Justice in the Supreme Court), and women who come before the courts continue to encounter myths and stereotypes that distort the legal process. The media generally portray female offenders as either treacherously beautiful or unnaturally repulsive. The vast coverage of Amanda Knox and Maxine Carr concentrated on their looks, sex life and apparent composure. Sarah Williams, recently convicted of Sadie Hartley’s murder, was described as, “a leggy beauty who could charm men into bed”.
The statistics suggest that those prejudices carry over to the justice system. Women in the UK are more likely to be imprisoned for violent offences: 22 per cent of women in prison have been sentenced for a first offence, compared to 12 per cent for men. They are also more likely to be punished in jail. According to Ellie Butt at the Howard League for Penal Reform, one of the key issues is that “it’s a system designed by and for men. Women are just an add-on.” She points to a recent HM Inspectorate of Probation report, which concluded that lack of funding and doubts over the future of women’s centres were hampering the efforts of the probation staff, and that, without a clear strategy for women, they would be more likely to re-offend. The report found that female offenders have more often experienced abuse, trauma, depression and substance misuse.
This chimes with Baroness Jean Corston’s report on women’s vulnerability in the criminal justice system, which estimated that more than half of women prisoners have suffered sexual or physical abuse as children, and report domestic violence and coercion as adults. Corston pointed out that women tend to be located further away from their homes, which makes it difficult to maintain their family ties and resettle into the community. Women are also more likely than men to lose their children as a result of imprisonment.
There are other, more insidious, ways in which prejudice is at work. The law focuses on female prostitutes treating them, not their clients, as the problem, save where they have been “subjected to force”. The CPS continues to prosecute women where they are said to have made false rape allegations, despite a report finding that such allegations often involved vulnerable girls. The report also noted that the myth that false accusations were common was impeding the prosecution of rape and domestic violence. Women Against Rape have dealt with a number of miscarriages of justice arising from “negligent and biased investigations into the original rape complaints”. Layla Ibrahim, for example, was jailed after being attacked by two strangers and subsequently accused of causing her own injuries. Her fight continues.
When battered women themselves use violence to escape years of abuse, they find it difficult to use criminal law defences, which are based on male responses to violence. Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce & Partners and Justice for Women, who has dealt with many cases of women killing abusive partners, believes that, “women accused of murder are convicted more frequently than men. Juries are much more ready to convict.” Stacey Hyde was 17 when she stabbed Vince Francis after he violently attacked her and her friend. In 2011, after a prosecution that painted Stacey as drunken and promiscuous, she was convicted for murder. Her case was taken up by Justice for Women, and in 2015, after an appeal and a retrial, she was acquitted.
Where women obviously subvert gender norms, the law is brutal. In 2015 Gayle Newland was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for impersonating a man in a sexual relationship with a woman. Headlines screamed that her victim, “would rather have been raped by a man”. Meanwhile, the male undercover police officers who deceived women into sexual and sometimes long-term relationships will face no prosecution.
Female defendants no longer have to face 12 male jurors, but there are still deep-rooted prejudices within both the British justice system and the media against women who are seen to have contravened the norms. Bad women, it seems, are still worse than bad men.
Anna Mazzola’s acclaimed debut novel, The Unseeing, is based on the life of a woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted of aiding a murder in London in 1837. The Unseeing is released in paperback on 26 January 2017.Image from: http://bit.ly/2ivprGY
“In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. […] But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth.” Martin Luther King, April 1967
Four years after Reverend Martin Luther King had his renowned dream, he addressed the congregation at Riverside Church, New York, with a heavy heart. The United States of America was in the midst of its involvement in the three-decade-long Vietnam War, sending half a million troops to the country to fight and using high explosives and toxic chemicals against civilians, including the infamous napalm manufactured by DOW Chemical Company. By the time the war ended, the number of dead was “beyond counting”. Dr King pointed out just how murky the reasons for war were, the truth of which took years to emerge from behind the official deceit. Like Syria, Vietnam reminds us that there is nothing new about ‘fake news’, which has been vociferously deployed in the rivalry between world powers.
In many ways the Vietnam War was the start of a new, counter-cultural anti-war movement in the west. But half a century later, the response of many anti-war proponents to Syria has been deeply disturbing, rooted in dated notions of Cold War loyalties that fail to appreciate the highly evolving, interconnected and polarised world of politics. This has manifested in a range of responses, from outright simplification that dismisses untold humanitarian suffering through a simple ‘west vs. anti-west’ formulation, to hesitating ineffectually in the morally vacuous zone of ‘complexity’. The anti-war movement and many branches of the British Left stand upon the precipice, and have failed to state clearly and decidedly that the Syrian people’s right to survival and self-determination is a priority.
These failures are not unique to the Left, but follow a pattern of general inaction that has seen numerous grave human rights violations carried out across the globe. The British media and leading politicians have barely remarked upon the atrocities of the civil war in South Sudan, a state which has been riddled with vast bloodshed since its independence in 2011. The past year has also borne witness to heightened violence against the ‘stateless’ Rohingya, a calculated annihilation legitimised by Aung San Suu Kyi. What the conflict in Syria adds to the inaction is proof that we can witness indiscriminate killings and chemical weapon attacks in real time through social media, and yet feel utterly powerless if international leaders and key institutions do not take action – or are, in fact, complicit.
The Left has a proud historic tradition of being at the forefront of many anti-imperialist struggles from Vietnam to Iraq, traditionally leading the opposition to foreign wars proposed by their governments. Yet on Syria, the usually loquacious Left seems to have lost its voice. It is not only the restrained criticism of aggression committed under the sponsorship of Putin’s Russia – often voices on the Left appear to falter as mounting war crimes present themselves in a tide of incontrovertible evidence. This silence has led to a moment of deep hypocrisy.
As the British Labour Party returns to its popular left-leaning roots, it must counter this, especially under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who has historically been a staunch anti-war figure – most recently shedding light on UK weapons sales to Saudi Arabia which are explicitly being used to destroy thousands of lives and vital infrastructure in Yemen. During the week that the world watched aghast at the biblical destruction of Aleppo, Corbyn’s six questions to Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions were all based on social care. It was a strong political performance no doubt, but one that missed the severe humanitarian situation in Aleppo. It isn’t a secret that Corbyn’s dominant anti-war credentials attracted many to the Labour party, and his double win against all odds came from the large scale mobilisation of voters disenfranchised by a hawkish political establishment. With his position on Syria, he risks alienating anti-war activists, many Syrians, and segments of British society seeking real political change through the Left.
More problematically, Stop the War Coalition’s spokesperson Chris Nineham used his slot on the Today programme to refuse to call a protest against Russia’s actions, concluding amid the bombardment that our task remains “opposing the west”. Not only is this a betrayal of the Syrian people by the Left at a time when they needed every ounce of support, it is a potentially suicidal blindness to the fact that we live in a world where grand global ambitions supplant marginalised voices. Founded by the late Tony Benn, Stop the War has been at the forefront of anti-war lobbying and has a moral responsibility to stand up for the innocent, especially if it does not want to lose its role as a credible organisation.
In a month when Putin’s greatest international friend, Donald Trump, will take up residence in the White House, the shifting dynamics of this new world cannot be ignored. The Left must be seen as a moral force that champions humanitarian values unequivocally, and it must call out whosoever seeks to damage the human rights and self-determination of a people.
To help the victims of the Syrian crisis here in Britain, you can:
1. Search for an active and trusted charity in Syria and provide a donation. The International Rescue Committee, Karam Foundation, Syria Relief, Islamic Relief UK, Preemptive Love Coalition and MSF UK are among those on the ground providing emergency relief and long-term support.
2. Search for an active and trusted charity to volunteer your time with. Help Refugees UK are currently looking for volunteers to travel to Greece.
3. Support refugee resettlement in the UK by searching for voluntary work with refugee communities. If you are willing to foster an unaccompanied refugee child, please contact your Local Government Association or Home for Good. If you speak Arabic, you can also offer translation services for aid organisations.Image from: http://bit.ly/2iQNDr0
A solemn winter for the silenced and impoverished minority community of Egypt
Exacerbated by a series of explosions over the long weekend of 9 – 11 December, 2016, Egypt’s endemic state of political unrest continues to plague the country amid growing economic woes. Not only is Egypt currently suffering from the worst economic crisis in decades, the population is also feeling a tremendous hike in prices at the same time as consumers are unable to secure a stable supply of everyday commodities such as sugar. With this political volatility, sectarian tensions seem to be rising again after St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo was targeted earlier this month, which left 25 worshippers, mostly women and children, dead. In the so-called ‘City of a Thousand Minarets’, St Mark’s Cathedral occupies a special place, since it is the seat of Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Copts account for about 10 per cent of the country’s population and are among the oldest Christian communities in the world. The attack on Sunday before last is, thus, a major setback in Egypt’s struggle to steer clear of political revolution and turmoil.
Unfortunately, this was not the only attack on Coptic Christians in recent years. On New Year’s Day in 2011, a bomb went off outside Saints Church in the port city of Alexandria, leaving 23 worshippers dead and wounding more than 90. A string of smaller attacks on Copts across Egypt, often in rural areas, has since reinforced a sense of both resistance and helplessness amid this beleaguered community, which has often been marginalised in the political, societal and economic spheres. While Copts have indeed long been subject to discrimination (sometimes latent and subtle, at other times blatant and lurid), their situation has worsened considerably in the wake of the coup d’état against former president Mohamed Morsi. Because Pope Tawadros sided with the military in 2013, some of Morsi’s supporters and Islamist sympathisers have seen Christians as complicit in, or even collectively responsible for, the ousting of the only democratically elected president in Egyptian history. Of course, the intricacies and vested interests of Egyptian politics are not reducible to mono-causal explanations, but in the often-heated political climate of the Arab world’s most populous country voices of moderation are few and far between.
In the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the country’s political situation has been notoriously unstable, giving rise to sectarian strife (fitna ta’ifiya), causing ubiquitous economic decline and emboldening political hardliners who prefer order and obedience over freedom and individual choice. Apart from Morsi, all Egyptian presidents since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952 have had a military background, and either maintained or implemented prerogatives for the country’s armed forces. Since the military has been the main breeding ground for Egypt’s most senior politicians, it is not surprising that most of them would choose a rather heavy-handed approach to such matters as national security or terrorism-related issues.
Apart from small protests, many Copts indeed abstain from large-scale political activism. Journalist and political commentator Mona Eltahaway recently described the precarious position of Copts in Egypt, who continue to trust “that such docility will protect the community from more violence”. But while the regime may welcome a docile Christian community in a country stricken by political unrest and the cumulative effects of decades of economic mismanagement, covert supporters of the former Morsi-led administration may interpret the Copts’ stance as tacit support for the armed forces and their political agenda. As a consequence, the Coptic Christians find themselves between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, politically active Copts may arouse suspicion from various sides; on the other, keeping quiet neither solves the community’s problems nor guarantees its political representation and social visibility.
Despite this rather bleak picture, Coptic life both inside and outside Egypt is more diverse than these stories of marginalisation and gross political calculations may suggest. For example, the late Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1922-2016) was a Coptic academic, diplomat and former secretary general of the United Nations (1992-1996). In addition, Naguib Sawiris, together with his brothers Nassef and Samih, not only ranks among Egypt’s most successful businessmen, but is also the founder of Hizb el Masriyin El Ahrar, or Free Egyptians Party. And the surgeon Magdi Yacoub is a world-renowned scientist, who has been at the forefront of cardiothoracic surgery for several decades now.
As these prominent personalities show, Copts are by no means a homogenous group. Just as the trajectories of other ethno-religious minorities, their lives intersect with the complex texture of, and tensions within, the Muslim majority that surrounds them. At the foot of the Mokattam Hills in south-eastern Cairo, there is a toxic shanty town where the Cairo’s rubbish collectors, or zabbaleen, live and work. Ubiquitous, yet hardly ever praised for their essential services rendered to the Egyptian capital, these informal and loosely organised rubbish collectors scour Cairo on a daily basis in their pick-up trucks and donkey-carts before they take their spoils to the so-called City of Rubbish, or Zabbaleen City. In this little-known and impoverished district, Christians comprise roughly 90 per cent of the population, forming a tightly-knit community in which incomes and life expectancies are low. These hardships notwithstanding, the zabbaleen have created lasting monuments to their spirituality and way of life. Hewn into the rocks and caves of Mokattam Mountain, there are several cave churches catering to the inhabitants of the City of Rubbish, as well as attracting tourists to a spot well off the beaten track. Among them is the Monastery of St Simon the Tanner, which is the largest church in the Middle East with a seating capacity of 20,000.
In more ways than one, then, Coptic Christianity is intricately interwoven with Egypt’s pulsating capital and the country as a whole. Though, like the zabbaleen, its adherents may not be among society’s most visible and prominent echelons, it is now high time to recognise their unique presence both inside and outside Egypt.Image from: http://bit.ly/2irTz6j (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
If you’re feeling afraid about an anti-Muslim attack,
The brothers on the block always got your back.
Some started down in the streets, but now they gaze firmly above,
So take a little time to show the brothers some love.
They’ve weathered recessions and the ravages of inflation.
So go online and make Taqwa a donation!
America today is no different than it was yesterday. The sun will shine, the birds will chirp and the clouds will still roll across the sky. We need to move beyond the cycle of panicked reactions to crises, real or perceived, and begin working more systematically to address issues concerning us and our fellow citizens.
Although the prospect of the Alt Right entering the mainstream poses clear challenges for Muslims and racial minorities in this country, every swing state Trump won yesterday was won by Obama in 2008 so it is not simply racist angst at work here. People are insecure and unsettled and Muslims should begin working to position ourselves to be a voice of reason, comfort and direction when Trump fails all of the people Obama failed after his landslide victory in 2008 (most popular votes ever). He will fail them - God knows best.
As alluded to above, there is of course a dangerous racist fringe that feels it is empowered by Trump’s victory. We have to attempt to mitigate its attractiveness by working with others to develop a language of political discourse that creates the psychological space for those desiring a change to actually change in real, deep and perceptible ways. The radical left cannot provide us with that language. Far too many Muslims have adopted the language and politics of the radical left in our efforts to advance the interests of our community. We need to begin speaking confidently in the language that has helped to forge a tradition that has brought more disparate racial, ethnic and national groups together than any force in history. If not now, when? If not us, who?
In conclusion, perhaps the shock so many are dealing with will prove beneficial. There is a higher plan and logic governing these events. Do not despair, work hard and be patient. The passing days will reveal to us realities we are currently ignorant of.
May Allah bless, help and protect us all.
Jen Senko’s brilliant documentary, “The Brainwashing of My Dad,” examines the systematic popularizing of the raunchy racism, misogyny, and anti-Muslim bigotry that has come to dominate our political discourse through the lens of her father’s transformation from a normal guy into a mean-spirited nasty bigot. Her father’s “demise,” facilitated by right-wing talk radio, symbolizes what decades of race-baiting, dog whistle politics, misogyny, militarism, schools lacking a civilizing mission and the removal of civics from our classrooms have done to the country at large. How long did the Republican Party think it would take before a base was created that would likely not only vote for Donald Trump, but would rush to defend his many outrageous statements, actions, positions and attitudes?
When African Americans can openly be called scum, savages and worse; when people can be openly encouraged to murder their Muslim neighbors, when women can be commodified, objectified and pornified for years on end on public airways, what sort of language, behavior and attitudes do we expect to dominate our political discourse, and how long did we expect it would take for a demagogue like Donald Trump to emerge in that sewer? The fact that Trump is a viable option for so many Americans should make the political and educational establishments of this country take a long hard look at how they have been doing business. Furthermore, they should understand that Trump will not be the last chicken coming home to roost.
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: email@example.com.
Part I | Part II
In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.
Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”
We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.
Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:
“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)
Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.
This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.
And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:
“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)
Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.
“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.
Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!
My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”
The Vikings referred to the Abbasid Empire as Serkland. There are a few theories regarding the origin of this name, but it likely originated from the Norse term serkr, which meant tunic or gown. The term was mentioned in the Ingvar Runestones, specifically in the Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179). They were raised to commemorate those Vikings who died fighting the Muslims on the Caspian Sea under Yngvarr víðförli, whose Norse name and title meant “Ingvar the Far-traveled”.1 Interestingly related to the word serkr, the English word “berserk”—meaning to go crazy—comes from the Norse word berserkr which was a term for Viking warriors who fought in a trance-like rage. They were given this name because they wore the coats of bears, called ber in Old Norse. Thus, berserkr means “bear coat”.2 So the Vikings, or Rūs, as they were called by the Muslims (from which came the later ethnonym “Russian”), saw the Abbasids wearing their long tunics, cloaks, capes and coats and referred to their realm as “Serkland”, the land of the “Serkir”, those who wear long coats. The dignified appearances of the early Muslims left quite an impression.
The Muslims were known for always dressing impeccably regardless of what social class they came from. There was a dignity and respect in the way they presented themselves, and this was markedly observed by even their adversaries. In the famous French prose “The Song of Roland”, which lauds the heroic deeds of the “Holy Barbarian” King Charlemagne in his battles against the Muslims, the leader of the Muslims is described as strikingly handsome and a noble equal to Charlemagne. The song praises him thus:
“An Emir of Balaguet came in place,
Proud of body, and fair of face;
Since first he sprang on steed to ride,
To wear his harness was all his pride;
For feats of prowess great laud he won;
Were he Christian, nobler baron none!”3
In the end, the only way Charlemagne is said to defeat him is with the help of the Archangel Gabriel.
God says in the Qur’an:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ
“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer.”4
Do we care for our appearance, cleanliness and attire when visiting the mosque? Even if not daily, do we at least in our Friday prayers? Sometimes we do. I often see Africans in their brightly colored gowns and hats, the Indonesians and Malays in their perfectly pressed shirts, gilded hats and sarongs, the African-Americans in their best suits, ties and/or bowties. But what I also see alarmingly too often are sweat-pants, t-shirts, tunics which you know alternate as sleepwear, long faces and disheveled hair. Sadly, I fear that may be the majority in too many mosques.
There is a Prophetic saying:
إِذا أَتَاك الله مَالا فَلْيُرَ أثَرُ نِعْمَةِ الله عَلَيْكَ وكَرَامَتِهِ
“If God has given you an income then display signs of His blessings and generosity upon you.”5
So, there is an element of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s blessings when you take care of your appearance and utilize what He has blessed you with to look your very best. Yet, the Ottoman era scholar al-Munāwī is also careful to qualify this saying:
“‘And His generosity’ – that which He has bestowed upon you. For in attire is an indication of one’s overall condition, self-worth, self-respect, and hygiene. And it is so those in need will know to go to him, but he must be careful with his intentions and avoid all forms of excess.”6
With this, he also relates an interesting story therein about the famous scholar and successor to the Prophet (ﷺ)’s Companions, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, wearing a shirt costing 400 dirhams. One time he met Farqad al-Sinjī, a known Sufi of the time, which sparked a telling dialog. In the early days of Islam, the Sufis wore coarse wool garments and, for this, some have speculated that the word “Sufi” may originate from the Arabic word for wool, Ṣūf. Farqad said reproachfully to al-Hasan, “O Abū Sa`īd, how soft is your clothing!” To this, al-Ḥasan replied using a lexical diminution7 of Farqad’s name, “O Furayqid! The softness of my clothes does not distance me from God, nor does the coarseness of your clothing make you closer to Him.” Al-Ḥasan then went on to quote the saying of the Prophet ﷺ, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” In another narration al-Ḥasan rebuked Farqad’s spiritual arrogance with: “They have piety in their clothing, but they have arrogance in their hearts.”8 Whether relevant or not, Farqad al- Sinjī later became considered a severely defective narrator.
So while we may feel that our theology is sound and we are the people of the true faith, there is something seriously wrong when Christians are in their finest clothes when visiting church on Sunday but we look like we’re running errands when we go for Friday prayers. It reflects our overall attitude, which comes across as clear as day in how we present ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be perceived by those around us. As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri said, there are those who may dress simply but their hearts are full of conceit. Don’t be content thinking you’re the people of Truth if you don’t even look the part.
A Cornell University psychologist who chaired the conference When to Judge a Book by Its Cover: Timing, Context, and Individual Differences in First Impressions stated, “Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it.” This research is particularly focused on impressions that are made within mere seconds of seeing someone and the results are that any negative impression garnered within the first few seconds can outlast any and all efforts to dispel them later through explanation or amiable conduct. So we can exhaust every effort in trying to convince our non-Muslim neighbors that we’re good people, but if we don’t look it, they won’t believe it. Fair or not, that is plain science. Would you find it easier to change human psychology or simply pay more attention to how you present yourself?
So, while the Vikings raided our coasts along the Caspian Sea and Charlemagne drove us out of Western France and invaded Muslim Spain, they were so impressed by us that they actually wrote poetry about us. We need to ask ourselves a very serious question: enemies aside, do we even leave that kind of impression upon our non-Muslim friends? Let us answer that honestly in the quiet of our conscience and, if necessary, make changes in our lives accordingly.
- Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes, p. 38, Edred Thorsson
- Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 38, Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf
- The Song of Roland, 228:3164, Translated from French by John O’Hagen
- The Holy Qur’an, 7:31, Yusuf `Ali translation, 1938
- Recorded by Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasā’ī, and many others
- Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ Jami` al-Ṣaghīr, al-Munāwī
- Called Taṣghīr al-Ism in Arabic lexical morphology wherein a word is made diminutive, or to indicate “smallness”, by conforming it to the fu`ayl consonantal skeleton.
- Kitāb al-Zuhd of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Fayḍ al-Qadīr of al-Munāwī, Muḥāḍirāt al-Adbā’ of al-Iṣfahāni, and others.
By Anthony Hardy
“I don’t understand,” said a friend of mine who happened to be an agnostic, “if Muslims here are just as racist as the Christians, why the Hell are you still Muslim?”
This question had never been posed to me in all my years of being Muslim. I had given it ample thought. I hadn’t, however, formulated a cogent, verbal response for it in the event someone asked me.
“I mean,” he continued, “if one of the reasons you converted was because of the race thing, you didn’t get very far. Seems like you may have regressed a bit actually. Just seems like you going through a lot of trouble for this Islam stuff.”
I conceded his point. While some phenomenal Muslims, Black and non-Black, had crossed my path along my trek in this great faith, I can say with unwavering certainty the vast majority of my time as a Muslim has been filled with hardship, isolation, and loneliness. Some converts break and fold under the immense pressure to which they are subjected at the hands of the community and their families. Some apostate as a result. I can’t say I blame them. I wasn’t broken – alhamduliLah (praise be to God) – but I was scarred and bent: the human heart is a fickle and fragile morsel of flesh.
There really was nothing on the outside anchoring me to Islam: with the exception of my younger brother, himself a convert, I didn’t have any Muslim relatives; my culture wasn’t enmeshed in Islam; though I have a strong affinity for the Black Muslim community, I didn’t belong to any community in particular; and because of my experiences and the experiences of loved ones, I didn’t even want to belong.
I responded to my friend’s inquiry, “True, in terms of race, I probably did backtrack a bit. Still, there are some existential considerations for which Islam provides sufficient explanations that no other system of thought I’ve come across has the potential to answer. For that reason, I stick around.”
Islam mandates upon those who embrace its inspiration to submit their ego as best as they can manage to a set of transcendent principles and confers nobility upon those individuals who make earnest attempts to uphold those dignifying principles. Unlike in our society, where one’s worth is determined by wealth, lineage, extent of education, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, physical beauty, physical handicap and – yes – even skin color and hair texture, the notion of submission and adherence to a set of divine principles as the ultimate measure of one’s value is largely independent of the circumstances surrounding one’s genesis into the world or current station in the world and thus lends itself to a humble agnosticism concerning the ultimate worth of others: under such an empowering paradigm, even the jettisoned pauper, pygmy, or orphan has the potential to be a prince or princess in the eyes of God by virtue of character, actions, and outlook.
Each soul is granted a story of its own from its Lord related to where and when He chose to author it. The purpose of those different stories is so that we might all learn and grow from them all and hence from one another. We are meant to be mirrors unto one another. I remain Muslim, among other reasons, because Islam dictates by virtue of tauhīd (oneness of God) that my story and the stories and experiences of my people have intrinsic value for humanity at large, even if many in the world, including and especially Muslims, fail to recognize that value for our skin color, class, culture, or whatever. We are lessons to be heeded and learned. As it stands, large segments of Muslims in America deign to perceive themselves as superior to us because of what Allāh, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has bestowed upon them out of His Mercy and do not wish to educate themselves with our stories or even has us in their company or communities or families, quite possibly out of the very essence of kufr (disbelief of God) itself, for it was Allāh (swt) Himself who created us as we are.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
— Qur’ān, (49:13)
Unfortunately, Muslims have done themselves, their families, their children, their communities, and their religion a grave disservice in their folly. Until Muslims begin to realize the source of their honor is with God alone, until Muslims resume their slave status before God and not to the inventions of men, physical or otherwise, my mother will continue to be correct and Black Muslims or other communities who have contributed or have the potential to contribute so much to Islam in America and throughout the world will only always be just “niggers” or “thugs” or “gangsters” or “scary” or “dime a dozen” or “too dark” or ‘abd or zenci or whatever other derogatory term cultures may design. We must muster the courage to strive against the false gods and false regimes of validation that have taken residence in our hearts and minds for the integrity of the community, for our collective existence in this country, and for the integrity and purity of our eternal souls before our Lord.
I pray for a better way forward. I can’t do it without you.
To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now –
our problem world –
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered free – help me!
All you who are dreamers, too,
Help me make our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.
– Langston Hughes, “To You”
Each year I let my family know I will not be celebrating Christmas with them. Last year my mother gave us gifts that said they were from Santa Claus. At the time, I was pregnant and it became even more important to me that we distance ourselves from non-Islamic religious holidays. I know growing up how great the time was each year, and I hate making my parents feel so bad. I am not quite sure how to explain it to them anymore. I am stuck between my mother with major anxiety and my husband who doesn’t quite understand why it is so difficult for them. Yet another year is coming, and I now have a little girl, and I have to explain to my mother why I cannot see her at this time of year. I just saw them last month, and my mother already told me she has purchased “Christmas” gifts. What should I do or say to them that will make it easier?
You are having a difficult time reconciling the importance of Christmas for your parents while desiring to raise your daughter adhering to Islamic traditions. It sounds like your husband does not understand the tension you are feeling when disappointing your parents year after year. You and your husband may not have discussed in detail how you would celebrate holidays given that your parents come from a different tradition, before getting married. Since your experience is completely foreign to your husband, he may not understand the significance of the holiday for your parents and the traditions they created with you as a child. It can be very difficult for parents whose children convert to Islam to understand that “family traditions” will no longer be celebrated because of their child’s new beliefs.
You and your husband will need to discuss how you wish to approach holidays with your parents and share this information together with your parents. Every family chooses to manage the holidays differently and these opinions may change as their children grow older. Depending on what you are comfortable with, you may choose to distance yourself from your family all together during the holidays or you may choose to join your parents in their tradition. You and your husband will have to decide together what is the best approach for your family. If you have shared with your parents that you do not celebrate Christmas and they insist on giving you and your children gifts, then you and your husband need to reconcile the idea of accepting gifts from family. Is it a challenge to your faith or an expression of love and generosity from your parents? Emulate the love you have for your parents by understanding where they are coming from and communicating with them your thoughts and views. As your children grow and new traditions develop, your parents may learn to adapt their traditions to what is more comfortable to you and your husband and even join you in your religious traditions as well.
WebbCounselors is a collaborative advice column produced by two WebbAuthors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings. To read our full disclaimer, please visit our disclaimer page. To submit questions to the WebbCounselors, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII
“Thank you so so much! I really appreciate it,” I wrote to a stranger I had never met. I was so grateful to that man. In my first visit to New York, I had lost my phone in a cab. This phone had all my numbers in it, pictures, saved messages… everything. As silly as it felt to be making du`a’ (supplication) for something seemingly so trivial, I asked Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He), to return my phone. I tried to have conviction that, because I had said the remembrances that day, I had not lost my phone.
Indeed, the next morning, I received an email from the man who had found my phone. A few arrangements were made, and I was reunited with my phone shortly after. As I thanked that man, I turned to Allah (swt) in my heart and said, AlhamduliLah – all praise is due to Allah.
Al-Hameed: the Praiseworthy
It is befitting to learn about Allah’s Name al-Hameed after having studied His Name al-Ghani, as these two Names come together in the Qur’an. Al-Hameed comes from the three-letter root ha-meem-dal (ح-م-د), which is the opposite of the word al-thamm, which means to condemn. Something that is complete and perfect deserves hamd,while something that has faults or is incomplete receives thamm. This praise is accompanied with feelings of adoration, gratitude and submission. Al-Ghazali states:
“God – great and glorious – is the Praised by virtue of His praise for Himself from eternity, and by virtue of His servants’ praise for Him forever. But this comes down to the attributes of majesty, of exaltation, and of perfection, as they are linked to the repetition of those who continually remember Him, for praise involves recalling the attributes of perfection insofar as they are perfect.”
This Name is closely associated with shukr, meaningful thankfulness. But hamd is much more encompassing than shukr. Thankfulness is expressed to someone for a particular deed or favor, whereas hamd is praise and gratitude not simply for overt favors, but for the inherent qualities the praiseworthy possesses. Thus it is said that hamd (praise) is the pinnacle of shukr (thankfulness). Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“To Him belongs what is in the heavens and what is on the earth. And indeed, Allah is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy (al Hameed)” (Qur’an, 22:64).
Thus Allah al-Hameed is the One we go to with gratitude and humility, praising Him not just for those favors we feel thankful for, but for His very essence and all His decrees. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi has said that al-Hameed is the only One deserving of true praise, which is why we repeat in every prayer:
الحمدلله رب العالمين
All-Praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds
The importance of this Name is that Allah (swt) teaches us not to be attached simply to His blessings, but to His essence. Yes, He gives us, and we thank and praise Him for what He gives. But when we think of al-Hameed, it ceases to be solely about the blessing. We are reminded of His inherent attributes, of al-Hameed Himself, and thus we praise Him when things are good or seemingly bad, because they all come from Him. When we realize that good came out of the calamity we were facing, or on the Day of Judgment when we see how we are rewarded not only for our gratitude for the good but for our patience with the hardships, do we embody the spirit of praise, and say wholeheartedly: al-hamduliLah!
And thus His Name: the Praiseworthy, the Praised.
The Prophet ﷺ and Praising Allah
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) praised Allah throughout his life, whether he was in hardship or receiving many beautiful gifts from Allah. In a famous hadith (narration), Aisha, radi Allahu `anha (may God be pleased with her), saw the Prophet ﷺ praying for so long that his feet became swollen. So she asked him:
“O Messenger of Allah, why do you undergo so much hardship despite the fact that Allah has pardoned for you your earlier and later sins?”
He ﷺ responded: “Afala akuna abdan shakura? – Should I not be a thankful servant?” (Bukhari)
And what did the Prophet ﷺ say as he was praying in the night? Ibn `Abbas relates that the Prophet ﷺ used to say when he stood for the tahajjud (late night) prayer:
“O Allah! Yours is the praise. You are the sustainer of the heavens and the Earth and all that they contain. And Yours is the praise. Yours is the dominion of the heavens and the Earth and all that they contain. And Yours is the praise. You are the light of the heavens and the Earth and all that they contain. And Yours is the praise. You are the king of the heavens and the Earth. And Yours is the praise. You are the Truth. Your promise is true. The meeting with You is true. Your word is true. Paradise is true and the Fire is true. The prophets are true. Muhammad (peace be upon him) is true. The Hour is true…” (Bukhari, Muslim).
The Prophet ﷺ, throughout his hardships, reflected on the nature of this world. And he saw the majesty of Allah’s attributes in all of creation, and in everything that happened. And with awe, humility and gratitude, he makes that du`a’ we see above from all of His heart.
We know that Allah pairs many of His Names and attributes in the Qur’an. One of the reasons is to show us how these Names relate to each other. Al-Hameed is paired with a few Names in the Qur’an: al-Ghani, al-Wali, al-Majeed, and al-Hakeem.
1—Allah says: “O mankind, you are those in need of Allah, while Allah is the Free of need (al-Ghani), the Praiseworthy (al-Hameed),” (Qur’an, 35:15).
If a human being is seen as self-sufficient, that usually causes him to withdraw from people. Since this person does not need people, he may not see any reason to help or to give or to be nice—and he is certainly not perfect in his essence. But truly glory is that Allah (swt) does not need anyone, yet He still gives people, and acts with ultimate wisdom, and is praised.
2—”And it is He who sends down the rain after they had despaired and spreads His mercy. And He is the Protective Friend (al-Wali), the Praiseworthy (al-Hameed),” (Qur’an, 42:48).
You might assign someone to be your lawyer, entrusting him to protect you. But if this lawyer is careless, and loses your case, he would not be praised, neither for his action nor for his essence. But when Allah is your Wali, you cannot help but praise Allah, who defends and protects His intimate friends.
3—”They said, “Are you amazed at the decree of Allah? May the mercy of Allah and His blessings be upon you, people of the house. Indeed, He is Praiseworthy (al-Hameed) and Honorable (al-Majeed),” (Qur’an, 11:73).
Al-Majeed, according to al-Ghazali, is “one who is noble in essence, beautiful in actions, and bountiful in gifts and in favors.” Thus while Allah is the Lord and commands that come from Him do not need to be explained, out of His nobility and bounty He explains many things in the Qur’an. So He is praised for that.
4- “Falsehood cannot approach it from before it or from behind it; [it is] a revelation from a [Lord who is] Wise (Hakeem) and Praiseworthy (Hameed)” (Qur’an, 41:42).
Here Allah (swt) is pointing out to us that if we reflected on His decree, we would praise Him for His wisdom. Because while Allah does as He pleases, He is also the Most-Wise and thus there is always the best wisdom behind His actions.
Connecting to Al-Hameed
- Praise Allah through the good and the bad
The Prophet ﷺ tells us that “AlhamduliLah fills the scales,” (Muslim). One way of retaining blessings is thanking and praising Allah (swt) for them. And through the bad, we should remember that ultimately whatever occurs is out of Allah’s wisdom, He is both Hakeem (all-Wise) and Hameed (Praiseworthy), and therefore we should remember to humble ourselves and praise Him.
- Write down Allah’s Name al-Hameed and then write down all of Allah’s blessings upon you
We know the verse in the Qur’an where Allah states: “And if you should count the favor of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful” (Qur’an, 14:34).
Interestingly, Allah uses the word “favor”—ni`ma—in the singular, as though saying: even trying to enumerate the blessings of one single favor is impossible! To reflect deeply upon just one favor, and to ponder over its impacts, can fill us with so much awe for al-Hameed.
- Speak well to people
Allah says in the Qur’an, “And they had been guided [in worldly life] to good speech, and they were guided to the path of the Praiseworthy (Al-Hameed)” (Qur’an, 22:24).
In a beautiful reflection, Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi says that it is as though the path to Allah al-Hameed is through good speech, as Allah also says: “[…] And speak to people good [words][…]” (Qur’an, 2:83).
A beautiful hadith of the Prophet ﷺ states that: “A person’s faith is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart will not be upright until his tongue is upright” (Ahmad).
- Praise Allah by using His gifts in His service
The highest form of praise is to use those gifts He has bestowed upon us in His service and therefore in good. But do not be like those who Allah says about them:
“And whoever exchanges the favor of Allah [for disbelief] after it has come to him – then indeed, Allah is severe in penalty,” (Qur’an, 2:211).
Belief is a blessing, but this can apply to other favors as well. If we use those gifts in ways that are unbecoming, then this is the opposite of hamd. The result is that our favors could be taken away, or perhaps worse, we cannot find the joy or sweetness in those favors. If we look at the story of Qarun in the Qur’an, he was given many blessings. He was from the people of Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him). And Allah says, “We gave him of treasures whose keys would burden a band of strong men…” (Qur’an, 28:76). Yet Qarun tyrannized his own people, and had the gall to say, “I was only given it because of knowledge I have.” He did not attribute His gifts to Allah AND he used them for corruption. And what was the result?
“And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves” (Qur’an, 28:81).
May Allah protect us.
“Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – their Lord will guide them because of their faith. Beneath them rivers will flow in the Gardens of Pleasure. Their call therein will be, ‘Exalted are You, O Allah,’ and their greeting therein will be, ‘Peace.’ And the last of their call will be, ‘Praise to Allah, Lord of the worlds!’” (Qur’an, 10:9-10)
(Note: many points in this article can apply to men as well.)
If you are reading this, chances are that you are searching for some answers to some deeply seated issues you have or have had. Or, you are looking for a resource to share with your fellow single brothers and sisters. Whatever your personal reasons may be, I pray that you benefit from the following.
- Realize That You are Where You’re Meant to Be
It may be hard to do so, especially when it seems that so many individuals around us are in a relationship/seeing someone. However, one of the most sobering ways to change your perspective is recognizing that Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has written your entire destiny – way before you even came into existence. What has happened in your life was decreed, and what has been decreed and yet to happen will surely come to pass. If you are single right now, it is because you are living out what has already been decreed for you. That’s it. Your destiny lies in the hands of Allah (swt) – your job is not to dwell on it or worry about it, but to carry on with life as you should. If it happens that a husband – or no husband, or multiple ones due to divorce/death – is written as part of your destiny, then have faith that it will surely come to materialize. Feeling anxious over a future you’ve had yet to live will serve you in no way other than to keep you down and even feeling depressed. Wherever you are in your life right now, whether in hardship or ease, know that it is exactly where Allah (swt) intends you to be – and Allah (swt) intends everything for a reason. You have no clue: maybe He knows you are not ready for a relationship, or that a relationship at this particular point in your life may be disastrous for you. Have trust in Allah (swt) and believe with all of your heart that He, the Most Kind, is always looking out for you in your favour!
- Let Go of Entitlement
You are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or a great cup of coffee, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt). Think of all of the millions of individuals who perished before ever experiencing a relationship, or those who have been in many relationships but have never experienced true love. Allah (swt) bestows upon people what He wishes – he is Al Wahhab after-all. And so, letting go of the idea that you deserve to be in a relationship or that Allah (swt) has been unfair to you in any way (and we seek refuge in Allah from such thoughts), will free your mind and allow you to be grateful for the multitude of other blessings that He has placed in your life out of His Mercy. Remember – a husband may be the cherry on the cake, but he is not the cake. For me, at least, the cake is my relationship with Allah (swt). Every other piece of decoration on the cake – such as friends, family, a spouse, a career – make up the beautiful blessings that Allah (swt) has surrounded me with.
- Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Muslimahs
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” – Iyanla Vanzant
Often times, we self-sabotage by comparing where we are in our lives to other people. Indeed, if you ever find yourself doing this, refer back to point #1. Once you realize that they are in a different chapter of their life stories than you are, comparison becomes futile. Truly, it turns into comparing apples and oranges.
One of the worst arenas for comparison is social media; when one’s newsfeeds are decorated with happy engagement, wedding, or baby announcements, it can be a quick way for insecurities to develop and take hold. Indeed, if you are already insecure with your “singlehood,” then such images and status updates may be salt added to your emotional wounds. Rather than wallowing in misery or blaming those who choose to share their happiness publicly, it is very important for you to ask yourself why you have reacted in such a way. What triggered your flood of emotions – whether it be sadness, jealousy, or bitterness? Ceasing to compare yourself to others and instead, addressing any emotional voids you may be feeling is a healthy approach for any individual who is feeling insecure with being single. Oh yeah—and get off the computer.
- Be Secure with Being Single
What can be worse than being single? Being single and insecure. Since you’ve already established that you are simply living out the destiny Allah (swt) has decreed for you, learn to not only own but LOVE your single status! Admittedly, for a very long time, I held marriage and relationships to a very ideal standard. It wasn’t until I actually hung-out/spoke with married couples, and dealt with children that I realized how blessed I was to be single! I know it sounds odd, but after hearing about the things that couples go through, or the actual difficulties of child-rearing and witnessing first-hand what that entailed, I became very grateful for my current lifestyle. I completely love having free time and scheduling my days the ways that I want. I also love my personal space and not being held accountable to any person (…well except my parents to a certain degree). Once I was able to stop feeling insecure about being single, the quality of my life improved tenfold! Most importantly, I began to think realistically: am I at a place where I even want to be in a relationship now – am I ready? Do I want children before pursuing my own personal life-goals? Am I mature enough to face a relationship? Am I ready to choose someone to spend the rest of my entire life with? Honestly asking yourself such questions, and removing the facade of a perfect husband and children from your mind will help to make you feel more secure with your personal decisions and where you are in your life.
- Be Critical of Expectations
One important thing to ask yourself is: Do I want to get married for myself, or because it’s expected of me? As women, we need to acknowledge and challenge the life-scripts that have been doctored for us by society, culture, friends, family, and heck, even ourselves, and realize that we are living within a patriarchal sociopolitical framework which often limits women’s roles. If you want to be in a relationship due to external pressures and not internal decisions, then pause and ask yourself if that’s fair to you – or your future spouse. Unfortunately, young marriages – as great as they can be – have been idealized to such an unhealthy degree in our Muslim communities that it has isolated and ostracized entire cohorts of people including those who are single and in their mid-late twenties/thirties, or those who are divorced with or without children, and/or widowed.
I know plenty of sisters who are absolutely desperate to get married because of social pressures. That is, if they don’t get married, their communities will view them and their families as pariahs. Even worse, assumptions may be made of the single female; e.g. she’s single because she’s infertile, has poor character, is too career driven, or that she may be gay (ignorant, I know). Unfortunately, it is very hard for many individuals to wrap their heads around the fact that a woman may be single because she CHOOSES to be. By not acknowledging a female’s agency to choose whether or not to be in a relationship, many Muslims expose their patriarchal and sometimes even sexist states of minds. Therefore, it is very important for us to recognize the often limited roles that are allotted to women (such as wife or stay-at-home mom), and how that may affect us and the decisions we make in our lives. We are more than our wombs, sexual organs, and ability/inability to carry children. Allah (swt) has honored us far above such things.
- Educate Yourself
One of the biggest regrets I’ve heard and read from other women who are married and/or have children is that they no longer have the time for educational pursuits. It is so, so important for us as single Muslimahs to realize that we have time on our side! Seize the opportunity NOW to get a degree, read/memorize/study the Qur’an, learn the deen (religion), or simply pursue new skills or languages. The reality is that if you hope to one day be married and have children, it will be very difficult to do these things therefore, empower yourself with education. It deeply saddens me when I see bright, young Muslimahs expressing such sorrow over not being in a relationship when they have so much more to offer themselves and their communities – their minds.
A great example is Imam An-Nawawi, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), the legendary hadith (narrations) scholar, who chose not to get married because he felt as though his studies would cause him to not fulfill his duties towards his wife. SubhanAllah (Glory be to God)! Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with wanting to get married – of course not! But it is incredible to see how Imam An-Nawawi, a young man when he died, could’ve been so honest with himself and so dedicated to his studies. On top of that, he was able to realize his duties as a Muslim and did what he thought was most pleasing to Allah (swt). What does that say about us barely learned lay-people who are passing up priceless educational opportunities for the sake of getting married? If you are single, my sister, I highly encourage you to learn something new; every piece of knowledge you acquire will, insha’Allah (God willing), be a cornerstone of education and guidance for primarily yourself, and insha’Allah, your future spouse and children. And hey, if you decide to never get married or it’s a lifestyle that doesn’t fit, then you will still be a vesicle of knowledge, spreading your light wherever you go and to whomever you meet. It’s a win-win situation.
- Realize that Having Sexual Desires DOES NOT Necessarily Mean that You are Ready for a Relationship
This is a tough one. It would be laughable to deny that one of the greatest motivators for marriage for Muslims is…sex. And yes, for Muslim women too. Indeed, I’ve met sisters who’ve disclosed to me that they were physically ready for a relationship – but failed to display any other type of readiness beyond that. Sexual frustration is very real for Muslims, especially since we are commanded by God to abstain from any premarital sexual relationships. Can you imagine the number of Muslim females and males who are struggling with both their sexual desires and finding a compatible spouse to relieve these desires? This is probably one of the greatest challenges, especially for our brothers, and I’d like to take a moment for anyone reading this to make genuine du`a’ (supplication) for all of our Muslim brothers and sisters in the Ummah who are struggling with such issues. May Allah (swt) grant them a path of sexual expression that He is most pleased with – Ameen.
With that said, the truth is that just because you are physically ready to be intimate with someone, doesn’t mean that you are emotionally or mentally ready. Bluntly stated, wanting to have sex does not in any way mean that you have what it takes to fulfill the duties of a wife in accordance to the Shariah. Point-blank. I have personally met individuals who in no way exhibited any maturity to get married and yet were so desperate to do so in order to fulfill sexual desires. If having sex was the pinnacle of relationships, why is it that non-Muslims or Muslim who don’t practice abstinence are often unable to maintain one sexual partner? Is it not the case that after the haze of passion and lust has faded, what is left are two individuals who actually have to deal with each other? Truly, a relationship built on sexual favors will never last. That’s not love, and that’s not what marriages are made of. Again, why would Muslims who’ve had sexual relations in their marriages ever divorce if that was the case? You see, there’s more to marriage than the physical aspect, and I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to realize that my spouse only wanted to be with me in order to fulfill a carnal, base desire. How dehumanizing is that? It’s also dehumanizing to the brothers when we do it to them, my beloved sisters.
Sexual desires aside, I think what’s more important for single Muslimahs is to educate themselves on their reproductive rights within Islam; we should truly empower ourselves with the knowledge of what things like birth control pills, contraceptives, consent, or marital rape mean to us as Muslim women. We should also educate ourselves on sex within the framework of Islam; e.g. what is haraam (impermissible)? What isn’t? How do we communicate our wants and needs to our spouses without being shamed for having *GASP* sexual desires?
(Disclaimer: the following explicitly discusses sex/sexuality)
In terms of curbing sexual desires, the truth is that avoiding acts such as pornography viewing and/or masturbation is hard for THOUSANDS of Muslims out there! The first thing I’d like to mention in regards to that is: I don’t judge you, and I accept you. The second is a list of things that may help curb our very real sexual appetites (in no particular order):
- Keep yourself busy. One of my favorite sayings is: “an idle mind is a playground for the devil.” Don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable to satanic whispering as you are when you’re alone and in private. Go out – hang with friends, chill at the masjid, go to the library, start a new project or hobby, go for a walk, go workout, go do anything!
- Limit media intake. There is no doubt that most of what’s on T.V., the internet, music videos, and billboards are soft-core pornographic images. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God), I quit watching T.V. a long time ago, and insha’Allah I will write an article on how I did that one day. I highly recommend limiting the number of stimulating images that you see in a day. It really has an effect on your psyche and such images certainly get stored in your unconscious memory, only to haunt you at your weakest moments.
- Search for a spouse. But do so with the awareness that your spouse is more than an outlet for your sexual desires and is an actual human being. Once the sex comes and goes, there’s an actual marriage that must be dealt with for (presumably) the rest of your life. Tread lightly and intentionally.
- Speak with a counselor/therapist. It’ll be amazing the resources you may be provided with. And because they are bound by confidentiality and are trained to be non-judgmental, you can speak as openly as you want and get a ton of shame and burden off of your chest.
- Try the Prophetic method. And fast. And fast some more – especially since it’s winter and the hours are so short! Also make tons of du`a’ for Allah (swt) to aid you. He is Al-Fattah, The Opener – have no doubt that he’ll find a way out for you!
- Never Lower Your Standards
Please, please, please, my sisters – set standards for yourself. Have a list of things that you will *never* compromise on when considering someone for a spouse. Now, don’t be unrealistic, but at the same time, exercise your dignity! I will share with you two of my complete deal-breakers: 1. Dishonesty (I cannot deal with liars or cheats) and 2. Smoker (this speaks for itself). These are just two of a number of deal-breakers that I’ve developed based on my personal standards and understanding of Islam. It’s important, however, to realize that you must also be fair. Don’t set your standards so high that you are setting yourself up for rejection and disappointment. At the same time, do not compromise or be afraid to set your foot down if need be. If a man is raising what you see as red flags – address that quickly! Trust yourself and your ability to decipher what you do and do not want for yourself.
Also, sisters, don’t be desperate. Don’t be willing to overhaul your entire life for the first man that comes knocking. Don’t throw those closest to you – your family, friends, etc -under the bus for an individual who knows how to say the right things. For the sake of Allah – be critical! Have standards! Assess the situation! I’m not saying be high-maintenance, sisters, I’m saying be like Khadijah (ra) who had her own set of standards that she measured the Prophet ﷺ up against (such as honesty and integrity) prior to proposing marriage to him! Desperation is obvious, cringe-worthy, and just plain sad. Trust Allah (swt) and never let go of your self-respect for anyone (this means not being afraid to say “NO”).
- Re-evaluate the Sources of Your Happiness
If you believe, dear sis, that your life will only be complete once you are married and have children then please take a moment to re-evaluate the sources of your happiness. The easiest way to do this is to see whether or not you have tied your happiness to internal or external things. If you have tied it to external things such as a man, children, a house, etc. then indeed, know that everything in this life is temporary and that once any of these things disappoint you or disappear, you’ll be left in a deep, deep sadness. Therefore, your happiness should be tied to the internal – specifically, your personal relationship with Allah (swt); your heart and its connection to the One who created it. Never will this internal source of happiness leave you lest you die. And so, being connected to Allah (swt), despite the transient nature of a husband or children, will always leave you feeling happy and content, insha’Allah.
- Take Care of Yourself…For You
The final point, dear sister, is recognizing the importance of self-care. Feeling and looking good are things that most people value, and there is nothing wrong with that! However, your focus should be on taking care of yourself for you (or even better, for the sake of Allah (swt)), and not some imaginary husband.
I recently had a dear friend of mine point to her body and indicate that she needed to lose weight prior to getting married. That really made me sad; I’m a firm believer that any type of self-care should be directly for YOU. It’s not being selfish – it’s actually an act of love towards yourself.
Go ahead and take the time to indulge yourself in the things that give you a sense of peace and wholeness: whether that be a cozy bubble bath, a nice cup of coffee, some type of physical activity, hanging out with friends/family, becoming lost in a great book, taking care of your hair or makeup – do whatever you need to wind-down and take care of YOU. Self-care is an important element of life that has wonderful effects on the psyche. For me, one of my greatest self-care activities is writing (surprise!). Spending an hour or so on an article or poem puts me into a complete state of mindfulness and relaxation. I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care my dear sisters – try it!
I genuinely hope, from the bottom of my heart, that this article was a source of betterment for you and that it has helped you, dear sisters, to realize the beautiful realities of your existences.
And Allah (swt) knows best.