An upcoming festival celebrates the all-encompassing influence and input generated by women worldwide over the last century
If called upon to nominate history’s few greatest pioneering individuals, it goes without saying that we’d all have more men spring to mind than women – after all, it is his-tory.
And yet, computing prodigy, Grace Hooper, invented one of the first easy-to-use computer languages, a significant advance in its field. Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, survived childhood polio and a bus accident to become one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, while Dr Sally Ride was the youngest American astronaut ever to orbit Earth in 1951. All these examples serve to correct this male-orientated fashioning of accomplishments, hence defying James Brown’s notion of ours as being a ‘man’s world’.
In view of this, WOW provides a platform for the commemoration and recognition of these feats, owed to both men and women for the changes being made in attitudes towards gender. For Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre and Founder of WOW, it’s both “a celebration of achievement so far and a place to attend to what’s yet to come”.
This conversational space unites a diverse body of people who all share one thing in common: being a woman or having the willingness to talk about a woman’s potential in today’s society. Through the confrontation of these uncomfortable issues, the dialogue exchanged here each year revolutionises the eradication of gender inequality as a key 21st century concern.
Open daily from 10am-11pm, the annual series of events, whose finale coincides with International Women’s Day, boasts an array of talks, performances and workshops. These span from topics on immigration to lingerie, from pubic hair to activism, from domestic abuse to why women feel the force of Ebola more fervently.
The festival, both courageous and current, has developed an all-inclusive approach through its combination of humour and liveliness with a still effective tackling of the serious issues at hand. In doing so, it presents the very best of emerging female talent across fields including politics, the arts, economics, science, sport, business, education and music, in the form of exhibitions, workshops and networking opportunities.
Here are a few of the highlights of this year:
- Sheila Hicks’ Foray into Chromatic Zones: making her debut in the UK, this exhibition from American-born, Paris based artist works closely with fibre and yarn to create luminous sculptures. (Hayward Gallery)
- No Guts, No Heart, No Glory: a performance based on the lives of five female Bradford-born Muslim boxers, who toy with the idea of convention. (Queen Elizabeth Hall)
- The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe: a performance of four African refugees in Sydney, Australia retelling their extraordinary stories of survival in a land of refuge. (Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall)
- Annie Lenox in Conversation: the singer, songwriter and campaigner with an OBE discusses with Jude Kelly the humanitarian issues that women are faced with today. (The Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall)
- Under 10s Feminist Corner: a series of workshops focused on engaging a younger audience with the idea of feminism and what it is to be a young girl. (Level 3 Function Room at the Royal Festival Hall)
Now in its fifth successful year, WOW has achieved its goals of going global, expanding as far out as Hong Kong, Iceland, Ethiopia, New York, Australia and Baltimore last year. It first took place in the UK outside of London in Londonderry, which became 2013’s awarded city of culture as a result, and can since be found nationwide from Cardiff to Cambridge.
While each festival remains firmly established within its own local area, they continue to make use of their extensive networks for means of inspiration and sharing ideas. For Shami Chakrabarti (CBE and Director of Liberty), WOW is “responsible for enlightening feminist movements in the UK as a platform and space for empowerment”.
This celebratory week thus seeks to reveal for us the positive impact of the modernisation of gender inequality, through its remembrance of the potential women can bring to the world in all shapes and forms – and the long way we still have to go.
WOW: Women of the World at the Southbank Centre, London runs from 1st to 8th March 2015Image from: http://wow.southbankcentre.co.uk/
When murder becomes an end, in and of itself, all principles are cast aside. The fact that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ severely condemned Usama bin Zayd, when he killed a captive who had pronounced the Muslim Declaration of Faith (Shahadah), is meaningless to the shot-callers of ISIS when they decided to murder Abdur Rahman Kassig, a captive aid worker who had uttered the Shahadah. Where are we to place their actions in light of the Prophet’s ﷺ condemnation of Usama?
The mass murder of randomly kidnapped Coptic Christians by ISIS demands that we ask a similar question. Where do we place their actions in light of the Prophet’s ﷺ covenant of protection to the Christian nation. He dictates in the Achtiname, a document cherished by the Christian monks in the Sinai who carefully guard its replica, a reminder to the mass murders of ISIS, or anyone contemplating joining their ill-fated ranks:
“This is a letter which was issued by Mohammed, Ibn Abdullah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Faithful, who is sent to all the people as a trust on the part of God to all His creatures, that they may have no plea against God hereafter. Verily God is the Mighty, the Wise. This letter is directed to the embracers of Islam, as a covenant given to the followers of Nazarene in the East and West, the far and near, the Arabs and foreigners, the known and the unknown. This letter contains the oath given unto them, and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disobeyer and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam.” Translated by Anton Haddad
Contrary to the image of our religion being put forward by warmongering murderers, both those who hate Islam and those claiming to be its adherents, Islam is dedicated to helping and assisting the weak and helpless, not using them in sadistic pornographic propaganda films, which, by the way, it is absolutely forbidden to view. We conclude with what should be chilling words to the henchmen of ISIS. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ declared, “Whosoever murders an innocent person whose life is to be protected will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, and its fragrance can be found at a distance of forty years (Bukhari).”
While the legacy of Malcolm X is commemorated by the mainstream Muslim community, his apparently uncomfortable radical political tradition is overlooked
“We live in a world, we live in a world on two different axles
You live in a world, you living behind the mirror…” – Kendrick Lamar
It has now become something of a ritual, that every year, approaching the 21st of February, many university Islamic societies and Muslim organisations around the UK and beyond commemorate the life and legacy of Malcolm X. Malcolm was assassinated on that date 50 years ago, and what we have seen over the last decade and a half, particularly among many young Muslims in the west, is an effort to make him, and represent him, as one of “ours”: a practicing Muslim in a hostile environment; an unyielding critic of the socio-political status quo; immutable in his pronouncements for justice and equality. His speeches are shared, his most powerful quotes reverberated, his image disseminated as a representation of the archetypal Muslim truth-seeker. Considering this, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that much of the Muslim community, and the various organisations therein, have in fact quite a difficult and precarious relationship to the radical activist – his radicality, I would argue, being the problem.
As public discourse has evolved and become pluralised, and historical documentation has widened, it is, for instance, much more common to hear about the dilution of a figure like Martin Luther King Jr. Criticisms of his popular political appropriation are by now familiar. This year even CNN published a piece exploring some of Dr. King’s less well-known, more confrontational speeches, demonstrating him much more accurately as someone whose hopes for America at one point dwindled into a “nightmare”, far more in line, interestingly, with the Malcolmian characterisation of the country. It could be said, as Mark Lawrence McPhail puts it, that Malcolm X’s “rhetorical vision that challenged the static demarcations of race that defined American institutions and attitudes” makes his acceptance by ruling classes more difficult. Malcolm spoke of “whiteness”, Afrocentricity and “black beauty”. This was and is not a language that western political discourse can easily adopt or manipulate. But the question is, why does so much of western Muslim discussion avoid it as well? Why is Malcolm X championed by many Muslims, but his plain rhetoric of race not?
Muslims in the west are, of course, not a single homogenous group, neither sociologically nor theologically. As such, discussions of race can be hugely varied, as are the different positions different Muslim groups occupy within structures of racism. This is not a claim that all western Muslims have sought to represent Malcolm X in a uniformly incomplete way, but is rather an observation of general depictive and discursive trends within many Islamic organisations and Muslim groups, who claim to be inheritors of his struggle and legacy. More broadly, it is a reflection of how some Muslim communities talk about and deal with the politics of race and systemic racism generally – or, more accurately, fail to do so. In this regard, and at this particular moment, it is essential that the question is put forward as to why the deaths of Deah Barakat and Yusor and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha received so much more passionate reaction from many Muslims (as well as non-Muslims) than the death of Mustafa Mattan just the day before, a Somalian shot dead through his apartment door. Looking at the way Malcolm is approached by some may help to illustrate the roots of this inconsistency, as the discussion shifts from one with an unadorned perspective on racial emancipation to one based on much more vague notions of social justice and integrity.
What illustrates the above process most noticeably is what turns out to be the focal point for many Muslims when reflecting on Malcolm’s life: his pilgrimage to Mecca and his supposed “post-Hajj moment”, when, as many portrayals suggest, he softened his language, moderated his views, and, finally, became an “orthodox Muslim”. Of course, it would not be unreasonable to see his entrance to “mainstream Islam” as a key reason for attracting such attention and admiration from so many Muslims – only at this point can he and his politics be embraced as “ours”, just less than a year before his death. This goes beyond merely classifying his religious outlook under the Nation of Islam as “deviant”, and his claim to be a Muslim during that time as illegitimate, but also centres around the idea that his supposedly unacceptable theology is reason to overlook his political cosmology.
Crucially, however, and beyond the scope of this piece, we should also consider the possibility that some Muslim communities have failed to confront problems of racial subjugation and white supremacy, thus are incapable of reconciling themselves with the language used by Malcolm when it came to such issues. This is why, for example, Malcolm’s description of his experiences “praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blonde, and whose skin was the whitest of white” seems to be so beloved by many Muslims: at the point where he embraces the true Islam, expressing sentiments like this, he becomes easy and safe to hold close. Malcolm X became El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, the latter, apparently, being far more inclined towards universality (or at least a particular liberal conception of it).
Not only does the one-dimensional concentration on his pilgrimage overstate the degree to which Malcolm became “de-radicalised”, but, ironically, it is identical to the portrayal of him by the white supremacist narrative that he was, indeed, a violent racist for most of his life. Robert Terrill has dealt with this notion of a “turn” by Malcolm with great clarity – after he shed the limitations of the approach of the Nation of Islam, he did indeed articulate a more complex ideological middle ground, but he never hesitated in insisting that violence was justified in self-defence; he never called for simple assimilation; he never described the political system of the United States as anything less than foundationally unjust; and he never, publically at least, expressed any belief that one day the country could even throw off its cloak of racism and inequality. The metaphors of “dogs” and “devils” may have disappeared, but talk of white supremacy and black pride remained. This is completely ignored in many Muslim imaginations, in favour of the more palatable, “harmonious” El-Hajj.
Of course Malcolm, and the radical black tradition he was a part of, is harsh for many to confront. Mention his name, and you are sure to receive a strong reaction— he is polarising in death as in life. His plain and sincere rhetoric on race makes many uncomfortable – including, I would say, a significant number of Muslims who claim not only him, or rather a particular, incomplete construction of him, but also a selectively produced version of his legacy. But, quite frankly, that is the point. It is meant to be brutal, just as it is to live under racial subjugation. Considering the increasingly aggressive and frequently fatal manifestations of Islamophobia in many western contexts, is it not time to gain inspiration from the disruptive radical tradition Malcolm X was a part of, rather than overlooking it? Many Muslims, who may indeed be sincerely concerned and involved in the key social and political issues of our day, are quick to point out the mis-remembrance of some of modern history’s greatest figures, caricatured into activists acceptable to power. True though this is, perhaps, for our own benefit, it is time to look into the mirror.Image from: http://bit.ly/1vgVuzZ
Existing political tensions are heightening in Bangladesh as women and girls increasingly become the target of state sponsored brutality
At 3pm in the afternoon on Friday 6 February, three men of Chattra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League political party, arrived at a house in Dhaka’s Jatrabari district. The men demanded the whereabouts of the father of the house, a local leader of the opposition party, Jamaat-e-Islami. The father was away; only his wife, daughter and elderly mother were home. The men demanded the keys to the family wardrobes seeking to loot valuables, and when denied, proceeded to violently vandalise the house, breaking belongings.
The daughter of the house, 19-year-old Iffatuddoha Sadia, began calling for help. The intruders, armed with knives, attacked Sadia and her mother Fowzia, stabbing both women repeatedly. They then fled the scene. Neighbours rushed mother and daughter to hospital; Sadia died a few hours later in Islami Bank Hospital after surgery failed to save her. Fowzia is fighting for her life in intensive care at Dhaka Medical Hospital. Their only crime was being members of an opposition household. With her father forced into hiding and her mother fighting for her life, neither of Sadia’s parents received the closure of attending their daughter’s funeral and seeing their beloved child for the last time.
Years of political unrest in Bangladesh came to a head in early January this year when the opposition coalition, that includes the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), demanded fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government on the first anniversary of the controversial elections of 5 January 2014 that returned the Awami League to power with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the helm. The polls, labelled a “farce of an election” by The Economist, were boycotted by the opposition due to the Awami League’s abolishment of the caretaker government system which ensures a neutral body of technocrats oversees fair elections. The caretaker government system has been successfully applied in Bangladesh since the ‘90s, ensuring credible polls. The opposition alleged, with justification, that elections conducted by the Awami League would be rigged.
When the right to hold a democratic rally on 5 January was denied, and instead the opposition leader Khaleda Zia was forced into house arrest, the opposition alliance enforced a nationwide transport blockade. The BNP and its allies have also conducted street protests across the country. Terrible petrol bomb attacks on commuter buses have cost dozens of lives with the government and the opposition blaming each other but no impartial investigations taking place to credibly identify or hold accountable those responsible. While opposition protests have included violence, there have been several cases of ruling party activists caught with petrol bombs. The authorities have conducted sweeping arrests against the opposition, with 17,000 leaders and members arrested in January alone, coupled with a government endorsed policy of shoot-at-sight that has led to dozens of deaths, raids on homes and schools, extrajudicial executions and a recent order by the deputy inspector general of Dhaka to his police force to “not just shoot [protesters], kill their whole families”.
The upshot of that latter shocking command is that families, including women and children such as Fowzia and Sadia, are no longer safe even in their own homes. The practice of ruling party activists participating in the state sponsored reign of terror with police only renders this latest injunction more deadly. It is particularly troubling given the sacred place women traditionally held in Bangladeshi society that rendered them off-limits, despite the country’s murky politics. This has seen a sharp and disturbing change under the Awami League.
On 17 December 2012, 20 female students of the opposition student body Chattri Shongstha were arrested from their Dhaka offices. In Bangladesh the law does not require police to have warrants in order to arrest, facilitating huge abuses of the system. None of these women had ever had a criminal record to their name. Their only crime was that they were of the opposition, and so were jailed under terrible conditions and burdened with trumped charges. To add to their humiliation, the veiled women were forcibly unveiled at court.
The arrests caused a commotion in Bangladesh at the unprecedented actions of police targeting respectable young ladies. Women’s Rights Organisation Bangladesh held a press conference on 5 January 2013 demanding the release of the girls, only for over a dozen of the organisers to be arrested from the press conference itself. On 19 March 2013, a further 16 opposition affiliated women and girls were apprehended from a gathering to celebrate the recent examination results of the girls, most of whom were minors of Class 9. On 28 August 2013, 22 female opposition affiliated students, many also school age minors, were arrested from an Eid gathering in Barisal. Children too are now targets in Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh.
Since these events, arrests have continued to snowball yet have been largely unreported. One activist confided under conditions of anonymity that over 300 opposition women from her party were arrested in 2014 alone. On 31 January 2015 18 opposition women were arrested following their visit to meet Khaleda Zia. The women included lawyers visiting Zia who had been under extrajudicial house arrest for over a fortnight. On 10 February 2015 another five opposition schoolgirls, aged 15 to 19, were arrested from an event at a school in the town of Noakhali.
Custodial torture of male prisoners under this government is well documented. That the arrests of hundreds of women and girls have gone largely and disturbingly unnoticed entails that any possible and probable custodial abuse has taken place in silence. A contributing complication is the social politics of shame that renders discussions regarding violations of the female body a taboo.
The murder of Sadia marks a new and outrageous low. Like the arrests, if this too goes unreported in national and international press, it is likely that such murders will increase. As one resident of Jatrabari stated, also anonymously in the prevailing climate of fear, “it used to be just the men who lived in fear. Now we, too, women and children, are living in terror.” The reality on the ground in Bangladesh is truly disturbing; such crimes not only grossly violate women’s rights in the country, but also further fuel and aggravate instability in a nation increasingly on the brink.
Crucially, of the many women’s rights movements in the world today, it is troubling to see so little attention given to Bangladesh, apart from on the (no less relevant) issue of labour rights where Bangladeshi women are major producers of western fashion. If the campaign for women’s rights, as so many around the world take pride in advocating for, is to hold any credibility, it must include addressing violence beyond those directly affecting the western marketplace. Women’s participation in education and politics are foundational factors of empowerment that must be protected, yet these avenues are actively and violently being curtailed in Bangladesh for those not toeing the ruling party line. Even women’s rights activists are not spared.
Sadia was not only a young girl in her prime ripped from the bosom of a loving family. She was an accomplished young lady with incredible promise. A graduate of Tamirul Millat Madrasah, among Bangladesh’s premier seminaries that combine national curriculum with traditional religious sciences, she went on to attend National Ideal College in Dhaka and had just started a degree in Physics at Eden College, one of Bangladesh’s oldest and most respected universities. Alongside academic merit, Sadia was also socially and politically conscious and active. For any nation seeking female advancement, she would have been an asset and role model.
While Bangladesh is hailed for its female Prime Minister, it is Sheikh Hasina herself–who gained her position through hereditary politics and a discredited election rather than any feat of female empowerment–who is violently curtailing the rights of women and girls in Bangladesh through political vindictiveness. As the violations increase and Bangladesh’s women and children live in ever more terror, these stark realities can no longer be ignored.Image from: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-906351
The ‘Human Rights, Human Wrongs’ gallery interrogates the processes of cultural production and consumption displaying a vast selection from the Black Star Photo Agency archives
Everyone has the right to representation as a person before the law. Article 6. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This article hovers over the ‘Human Rights, Human Wrongs’ gallery in gold shiny letters against a regal purple backdrop in merciless, authoritative glory.
The selection of over 300 photos curated by Mark Sealy explores the Black Star Photo Agency archives beginning from 1945 up until the early 1990s. It takes viewers through a period of graphic brutality and change in which the old world order was being dismantled and old colonial powers were losing sight of their possessions. Although universal declarations were being introduced, the incompatibility of sovereign domination and human rights was becoming glaringly evident.
Amid these pivotal changes emerged the iconic photos of the 20th century – but certainly not by accident. The lighting, angles and sharpness of the photos are thoroughly calculated and would have appeared in Life Magazine and other publications under the instruction of an editor, hand-picked to suit the required narrative. You’d be hard-pressed to separate the majority of these from stills of a West End stage due to their theatrical studio-like quality.
Very much a Eurocentric conversation during this time, the rhetoric of esteemed and valuable photography did not transcend a great deal beyond France, Germany, Britain and the United States. As such, images from agency leaders in corporate assignment photography would have been a one-sided discussion carrying huge political bearing, reflecting the narrow dialogue of power dynamics that was happening globally. Stemming from this background, the gallery invites the viewer to question the historical accounts in the stock photographs produced for mass western consumption during key historical shifts. Mark Sealy explains that he is less concerned with the photographers, as much as the ideas or forces in which they operated.
“Any enquiry into photojournalistic practice and its impact on humanitarian objectives, has to necessarily interrogate not only the kind of images we are presented with, but where, when and how they are distributed.”
State violence is a powerful reoccurring theme of the exhibition, underpinned by racial segregation in the case of the USA, with photos of protests, hunger strikes and riots. This includes a photo from 1968 of the sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis, Tennessee, by Cleatis Ray Keisling, which shows a row of policemen crouching with their guns pointed towards a row of visibly unarmed black men, who, in stark contrast, stand tall holding placards which read “I Am A Man”. The words are echoed aptly (and sadly) in the message “Black Lives Matter” which emerged internationally in the past few months as a response to police aggressions and acquittals in the USA, placing the images firmly in living memory and at the forefront of current struggles.
Several sequences of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s life and activism are highlighted in the collection, including a succession of frames by Charles Moore, depicting Dr King’s arrest in Montgomery, Alabama in 1958. There’s also a photo of the Selma to Montgomery rally in 1965 and the first public use of the “black power” fist by students at the Mississippi Meredith March evening rally in 1966.
The pictures are embedded within the wider context of Pan-African unity taking hold of the African continent, with 17 countries being liberated in 1960 alone, including the Republic of Congo, Somalia and Kenya. However, these huge changes and celebrations are simplified to an “infinite, reproducible” handful of stock images, often depicting the African with hands out, begging, at the European camera – or otherwise, weak, broken and incompetent. This is loudly exemplified in photos by Carlo Bavagnoli and Ray Bellisario, one of which shows an overcrowded row of unclothed, seemingly malnourished, mourning mothers breastfeeding their babies in the Republic of Biafra (now the Federal Republic of Nigeria) in 1967. That being said, in one rare and amusing series by Robert Lebeck, a young man is shown tactfully stealing the sword of the Belgian King Baudouin I during a procession which took place the day before the liberation of the Republic of Congo highlighting colonial transition most vividly.
Moments of strife in Morocco and of the joy of independence in Tunisia are also on display in this gallery, as well as the fight for justice in Santiago, Chile, 1983, with women demanding to know where their loved ones have been taken (director Patricio Guzmán shows how this search is still ongoing in his extraordinary 2010 documentary film, Nostalgia for the Light). The political and military role of women is further explored in photos from Somalia to Vietnam.
Yet, with all the momentous milestones in this latter 20th century story, come images of the slow, long wait, the observers who stand in the background of pictures witnessing the violence, accustomed and silent. The barren warzones and burnt forests are inhabited by soldiers watching time go by. This seeming irrelevance of war is accentuated by the facade of peace with winners and rejectors of the Nobel Peace Prize overlooking different sections of the gallery. Journalistic stamps and notes at the back of photos of the most heinous crimes are put together in a collage to visually demonstrate the thought processes that led the images into glossy markets.
As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X fast approaches, the gallery also points to the cost of acting for peace. Several leaders of the period covered in this gallery paid the ultimate price in challenging the status quo: X was eliminated at the point in which he campaigned to change the discourse from ‘civil’ to ‘human’ rights; Dr King was murdered when he began to address social and economic equality; and beyond the USA, Thomas Sankara was killed mere months after he appealed to the west to stop sending aid and to allow Burkina Faso to flourish on its own merit.
While in some ways our cultural focus has turned to Hollywood and YouTube, cultural production and consumption remains caught up in global power dynamics. The ‘Human Rights, Human Wrongs’ gallery prompts us to examine the given narrative, and understand the interconnectivity of events and the legacies we have inherited. It also forces us to question, over and over, how we have wronged each other in our confined interpretation of human rights.
The ‘Human Rights, Human Wrongs’ gallery runs until 6 April 2015 at The Photographers’ Gallery. Entry is free. Please see website for further details.Photo Credits: Charles Moore / Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, May 3 1963 / The Black Star Collection, Ryerson Image Centre.
Our condolences to the families of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and her sister Razan, the three young Muslims who were murdered yesterday in North Carolina. May their entrance into Paradise be swift and sure, as is the case for the martyr.
Many are complaining of the lack of media coverage around this event. The sad fact is that the mainstream media that recently brought us “I am Charlie” has no interest in humanizing Muslims.
The deceased were too full of life and positive energy to meet the media-fueled stereotype of the evil, sneaky, not to be trusted Muslim. Why provide free humanizing coverage to the adherents of an evil ideology, hellbent on taking over the country. Their smiles, vitality and genuine concern for others were likely just Taqiyya, self-serving deception.
As for their self-proclaimed atheist killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, there is no way he could be an adherent of an evil ideology. He probably never heard of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens or their humanized atheism ilk who openly call for the indiscriminate mass murder of Muslims. He’ll likely be declared insane, perhaps he went to view American Sniper and lost it.
May the deaths of these beautiful young people, and all others who have perished as a result of senseless, inexcusable violence, anywhere, not be in vain. May they motivate us all to do more to stop this insanity, because all of their lives do truly matter.
Goran Olsson’s chilling documentary explores Frantz Fanon’s powerful landmark text with some limitations
‘Concerning Violence’ is the opening chapter of Martinique-born psychiatrist Franz Fanon’s book, The Wretched of the Earth. It is also the title of Swedish director Goran Olsson’s documentary, which explores Fanon’s landmark text. Fanon dictated his posthumously published book while ill with leukaemia at the age of 36. It reads as a final call to arms to those living under the tyranny of colonialism during the 1950s and ‘60s. Olsson continues with the theme of human injustice and oppression, which he explored in his previous documentary about the civil rights movement, Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.
Olsson stamps his signature love of music to this documentary as he did in Black Power Mixtape, in which he used 1960s and ‘70s R&B and Motown songs as the backdrop to archival footage of the civil rights movement. However, in Concerning Violence, a simple composition of a searing trumpet slices through the scenes and emotion evoked by Fanon’s blistering critique. Passages from The Wretched of the Earth are read by none other than Fugees singer Lauryn Hill. Hill’s voice is resolute, as if a sergeant were commanding her troops about the enemy, yet she soulfully pounds Fanon’s words.
The documentary contains rare archival footage of Africa under colonial rule during the 1960s and ‘70s. Anti-colonial fighters are shown in Mozambique, Angola, Congo and Burkina Faso, travelling through the rich and dense forests of the continent. The images in the documentary are at times harrowing, such as the footage of the amputee baby suckling on his mother’s breast, with both arms of the mother also decapitated by a bomb. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s in-depth preface at the start of the documentary compares this image to that of the Black Madonna, emphasising the importance of the inclusion of female resistance in the anti-colonial narrative.
These disturbing scenes are interspersed with miscellaneous interviews showing the absurd yet commonplace racial attitudes of the time. Olsson searched through hundreds of hours of archives and meticulously selected material which succeeds in capturing the varying themes and experiences of life under colonialism. On second viewing, the footage of a man speaking about his experience of torture in a South African jail, the Lamco workers dispossessed for striking over unfair wages in Liberia, and the young FRELIMO women of Mozambique talking about education and social liberation, are not random, but carefully chosen sequences which create a mosaic of the psychological, social and economic effects of colonialism.
There is, however, a glaring absence in Olsson’s documentary, and that is of the country that inspired Fanon’s revolutionary ideas: Algeria. In the Q&A that followed the Frontline Club screening of the documentary last November, Olsson admitted that he had excluded Algeria for both artistic and a practical reasons. Artistically, there was already an unparalleled film about Algerian resistance, The Battle of Algiers, and practically, there is little footage left. The absence of Algeria and non-African colonial struggles points to the main flaw in this documentary: a solely surface exploration of Fanon’s ideas in The Wretched of the Earth. The documentary is, in Olsson’s words, intended as an “advert for Fanon’s book”, and to introduce Fanon to new audiences. Therefore, the documentary manages only to excavate the sexiest quotes of this complex book.
Olsson’s painstaking search for rare footage reveals to audiences a not too distant past, and reminds us of the world in which this ‘radical’ book was written. Olsson’s reanimation of Fanon’s evangelical rhetoric through Hill’s melodic and resolute voice, alongside the striking footage of Africa at war, ensures that audiences are unyieldingly engrossed throughout this documentary.
Concerning Violence will be screened at Somerset House on Monday 2nd March 2015 as part of the Unorthodocs film series, curated in partnership with Dartmouth Films. The film is also available to purchase on DVD.Image from: http://bit.ly/1vHep7u
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.