“We prefer our women naked”…

…now if that isn’t a misogynistic anti-feminist statement, I don’t know what is.

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France has banned the Burkini in a few cities and police have gone as far as ordering a woman wearing this modest swim-outfit to undress . They fined her, so why force her to undress in front of her children, shaming an innocent woman?

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France claims to be liberating women from the enslavement of modest dress – for France, wearing a Burkini shows sympathy for ISIS and is incompatible with French values.

What about these nuns???

nuns

The first time I heard the word assimilation was in history class in grade 9, where we were discussing colonization. While many colonizers like Britain for example, were content to colonize an area, steal its wealth and subjugate its people, France always seemed to want to go a step further.

The French so prize their culture that they attempted to force the colonized to assimilate, to become French in as many ways as possible. But no one could ever be French enough. The standard was impossible to meet. The high and mighty French wouldn’t accept people as French enough, but they wanted people to give up their own cultures to try to be more acceptably “civilized”. What happened to those who then ended up in a cultural no-mans-land?

An article in The New York Times says “The obviousness of the contradiction — imposing rules on what women can wear on the grounds that it’s wrong for women to have to obey rules about what women can wear — makes it clear that there must be something deeper going on.” It seems France is having an identity crisis and some arrogant French people are too pathetic to deal with cultural difference.

I often wonder what would have happened to Africa and so many other developing nations if they had been left alone, to “civilize” at their own pace. What would have resulted may have been better systems than the West have engineered. Maybe some countries would have come up with superior political ideas and systems (different to democracy and what is seen as correct by the global powers) but better nonetheless.

These imperial powers came to civilize us poor little non-westerners, but in the end, we have been left as developing countries, still not completely caught up.

In another article that I wrote on English people’s reluctance to correctly pronounce non-English names,  I find the same one-sided relationship again…we must bend over backwards for the big guys, and they won’t even afford people the common decency of saying our actual names.

Cannes, one of the French cities that has banned the Burkini, also recently banned ladies from walking the red carpet at the Cannes film festival if they weren’t wearing heels.

Who makes women a slave to fashion, really?

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Stocking up in Ramadan

Date photo

It’s almost upon us, that serene and blissful time of year… the month of Ramadan is just a few days away.

A public service announcement first – remember to check where your dates come from – be wary of eating kajoor coming from Israeli date farms, who sneakily use deceptive words to hide the origin of their products – I received a watsapp message warning me of dates with the label “Product of the West Bank” – this can be misleading, because the dates either come from Palestinians or Israelis.

That watsapp message urges us to look further, to check whether dates are packaged on illegal date farms in Israel in the Jordan Valley, where Palestinians are made to work under terrible conditions.  I wish it were easy to support Palestinian goods, but we have to ensure that Israelis aren’t selling us stuff under false pretenses, hoping to make us think we are supporting Palestinians when in fact Israel is profiting. Maybe buy local, or from a Muslim.

The whole BDS thing is complicated, who knows where things come from, who gets harmed in the process and who benefits? And while we may boycott one brand or one store, others may be lurking, and we have no idea that they are also supporting Israel. I guess we have to do the best that we can with the knowledge that we have.

Apart from du’a, I’ll try to avoid as many Israel-benefiting stores as I can…I just wish I knew where to buy good thermal underwear 😦

Anyways, we’re supposed to be ready, stocking up our freezers and getting stuff organised so that we can survive the month. But apart from food, and the ironic overeating that happens in a month meant for abstinence, we should also have been stocking up our spiritual bank accounts and flexing those religious muscles, building them up for this cool month.

From Rajab, our attempts to better ourselves should be amped up, getting us ready to sprint through Ramadan with ease. For those of us who have been lax, and who are wondering where the time has gone…for those of us in a mad dash to make those first few samoosas…fear not – if we haven’t made the most of the time leading up to Ramadan, we can at least commit ourselves to making the most of the month when it comes.

After all, Ramadan is the season to stockpile your religious freezer, filling up on all things blessed, creating good habits to see us through the rest of the year. While we empty our freezers of food during the month, let’s try to fill our insides with goodness to keep us full for the whole year.

Headscarves and hijab

Scarves Istanbul

The annual World Hijab Day fanfare came and went and I barely noticed this time.  I guess if you’re not checking Twitter or Instagram, these things tend to pass you by.

I’m not yet sure what I really think about World Hijab Day, and the need to create events around solidarity and decreasing Islamophobia.  Should our actions and conduct speak louder than words and clothing?  Plus the concept of hijab is meant to be more than just a headscarf and more than just about physical covering, so there must be a deeper way to address and think about issues of Islam and its projection to the outside world.

Read this interesting article by Aaisha Dadi Patel in the Daily Vox: Muslim women, you don’t need to be validated by World Hijab Day.

She argues that the label “hijab” creates the binary of “good muslim/bad muslim” and that the focus on Hijab alone reduces the religion to a symbolic headscarf.

She ends saying “You don’t address a problem by dressing up. If you are an ally to a struggle, figure out a way to use your privilege to advocate for that struggle instead of making a mockery of it.”

What do you think?

 

Beginnings…

Baby clothesline

New year, new life.

2014 was filled with weddings, and 2015 was kinda dry, but 2016 is set to be the year of the baby with 7 new ones coming to our family!

Trying to be a good “sacred vessel”, I did a search online and found some good advice in an article by Seekers Hub on duaas and surahs to read during pregnancy.

Briefly, Surah Luqman for the 1st trimester – it deals with advice to children, and Luqman (AS) was also very wise.  This is probably why this surah is recommended for when the baby’s brain is developing.  Next up, when the baby’s facial features are forming, Surah Yusuf for the second trimester.  Lastly, Surah Maryam for the last trimester, as labour approaches. It is also recommended that Surah Inshiqaq be read daily throughout pregnancy, plus Ya Lateef 129 times morning and evening.

Also, think happy thoughts, listen to good sounds, read a lot of Durood and Qur’aan and eat melon for a beautiful baby.  That’s the bare minimum that I’ll try to stick to.

There’s so much other advice out there about good and bad and everything in between, I guess just do what you can to stay cool and happy.  Something I found worth a smile was that someone recommended just looking at a picture of the Kaabah when you are too tired to be actively engaged in Ibaadat 🙂

 

 

Famous beards

I saw a clip on Facebook where Mufti Menk is speaking about Sonny Bill Williams (the New Zealand Rugby player) and what a good Muslim he is.  He also explains that Williams (whose Muslim name is Hamza) did not give away his world cup medal as a publicity stunt but that is just the type of person he is, generous.

[Unrelated side note: I saw other Facebook posts about Sonny Bill: many Muslims praise him, while some others were asking why he has tattoos – people are so strange, wondering about a revert’s tattoos of all things – get a life!]

Anyways, that story got me thinking about Muslims in the media.  I was once asked by a colleague about how the soccer and rugby players manage to play in Ramadan, do they fast etc – this guy was genuinely interested and concerned about how they do it.  It’s good to see that Muslim celebs and sportspeople create some positive discussion around Islamic practice.

I wonder how much the internet and quick spread of information has affected our ability to properly learn about Islam.  It’s probably a good thing that information is so accessible, but also a dangerous thing that so much of this information may go unchecked, and that false information spreads as quickly (if not quicker) than the truth).

There is an interesting article by Shaykha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq called Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse where the author says that the “combination of electronic delivery of Islamic content and personal interaction with scholars and teachers at onsite venues has led to a revolution in ‘classical’ Islamic learning”.

She talks about the rise of the “celebrity Shaykh” and the pitfalls of that.  While most Muslim scholars probably do not set out to become famous, it seems that they sometimes become “victims of their own success” and fall into the web of “likes” and “shares” on social media, with huge numbers of followers who put them on a pedestal, leading the boundary between student and teacher to become blurred.  She also mentions sad situations where some unscrupulous scholars use their position of authority to lure women into marriage, often without much formality and without the knowledge or consent of their first wives.

As I’ve become more interested in Islamic teachings, I am becoming more and more aware of how some local scholars are spoken about as celebrities, discussed and judged, liked or disliked, some bizarre aunties even seeming to be infatuated with certain celeb Shaykhs, hoping to one day be their second wife maybe.

I guess I’ve watched all of this with a quiet amusement, often oblivious to the religious celeb scene, just sometimes catching a glimpse of the strangeness of human nature, and our odd need to put people on pedestals.  We do need to respect our ulama – but we must not deify them.

I’ll try to remember (if I ever get caught up in any celeb fan culture) that the best mentors are the Ambiyaa and the Sahaba, and try to keep a grip on those great figures of history.

What do I really know…and akhlaaq of the golden oldies

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Why wasn’t I taught so much in Madressah, stuff that I am only learning now? Not just nice-to-know but essential-to-know stuff, Waajib stuff.

There are so many things that I am learning now, and that makes me wonder about the gaps in my learning. Information is now shared at the speed of click, and that also makes me wary about the authenticity of sources. But there are some things that just seem to have been missing from my good ‘ol afternoon after school Madressah.

Apart from the missing pieces, there’s also the fact that history, for example, was taught in such a dry and boring way. The textbook (in my hazy memory) seems to have been filled with the names and dates of wars, with the numbers of soldiers on either side, and not the colourful detail that would make the stories truly memorable.

And it’s not as if we don’t have this detail – so much has been preserved from our history, and just a few exciting tidbits would have gone a long way to spark my interest in digging deeper.

Why were we not told about the red turbans adorned with ostrich feathers that were worn to strike fear in the hearts of the enemy? The heroism, the bravery, the poetry. I recently read about one of the Sahabia who charged into battle to defend herself by grabbing a tentpole and proclaiming something along the lines of “let me rearrange your brains”.

I understand that Apas have their hands full managing an unruly pack of kids, and trying to ensure that they learn the basics and instill the need to practice. But adding some spice to the work would really help to inspire the love of learning that would encourage us to learn more even after class.

Religious teachers may not have been taught how to teach in the traditional sense, and this may be what holds us back – but there were still some who I will never forget who had that natural knack for inspiring us to want to know more.

We have so many interesting stories, some inspire, some teach, some break your heart – I just wish that these were better conveyed to elicit more feeling in learners.

Maybe times have changed and Madressahs are doing a better job now, I have no idea because it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve seen what goes on in those classes. I hope it’s gotten a bit more juicy.  Am I being too critical?  Is it up to us to figure out what we don’t know and sort it out ourselves, do some self-study and find something that interests us and gets us to look further?  Is it too much to expect everything to be taught adequately in such a short time, since there’s so much to learn?

Which reminds me…even though I’ve been out of Madressah for years, there seems to be a recent resurgence in adult Islamic education. People are signing up for online classes, or attending Tafseer and Arabic lessons, listening to Islamic podcasts and sharing updates about seminars and talks happening at the Masjids.

There also seems to be many more Hijabis (although maybe we just notice them more because there are also so many selfies) and a trend towards Islamic awareness.

This is really cool…but I wonder whether we are actually better off now. We may have more book-learning, actual knowledge about our religion, but our practices may not be up to scratch.

Those lovely oldies, the grand-folks and great-grand-folks, did not have as many books and classes and did not have access to all of the info that we have at our fingertips now. But the old ladies, with their triangle scarves draped lightly around their shoulders, grey hair sneaking through, had such great character.

They may not have been able to quote a Hadith about sincerity of intention, but they automatically lived their lives with sincerity and good morals. They had less theory but more practice. They may have known less, but they acted better.

What good is all of our knowledge when we find it so hard to practice? The world is so distracting, how do we just…be good?

Cover yourself…and others

We shouldn’t expose our sins, or the sins of others.

Abu Hurairah RA reported: Messenger of Allah ﷺ(sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “Every one of my followers will be forgiven except those who expose (openly) their wrongdoings. An example of this is that of a man who commits a sin at night which Allah has covered for him, and in the morning, he would say (to people): “I committed such and such sin last night,’ while Allah had kept it a secret. During the night Allah has covered it up but in the morning he tears up the cover provided by Allah Himself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

I don’t know why but sometimes we have the urge to confess.  Confess shortcomings or wrongdoings, faults…maybe it is an attempt to be self-deprecating or not to get a big head.  When discussing life we often feel the urge to not boast.  Okay.  But we must also not uncover our sins.  We need to repent and keep it private. This is not something I would have thought of as obvious, but there it is.

Similarly, if we see someone doing something that we think is bad, we should try to make excuses for them.  If they do something that we know is definitely wrong, we should say something – to them, and not to the rest of the world – we’re often quick to gossip but find it hard to tell the person to their face what we think they are doing is wrong…and in the end we end up wronging ourselves and maybe them too.

But if we are uncertain, or if they have made a mistake, we need to find an excuse for them and not judge.

And then, forgive.  This is especially hard for me.  I tend to write people off forever for some real or perceived wrong that they have done to me or others.  But this is baloney – if I can’t forgive others, how can I expect Allah to forgive me.

As always, trying to find that delicate balance between hope and fear.  But there is always love.

Should you track your Ibaadat goals? Books seen and unseen

Many people who are dieting keep a food diary to track what they eat.  They may think they are just eating a little lettuce and some grilled chicken, but in fact when they are forced to notice every nibble that enters their mouth, the oreos and sips of coke start adding up.

I read somewhere that what we measure, we improve on.  The mere fact that we are measuring something makes us conscious of that thing, and that then leads us to see where we are going wrong, and we improve.  For example, make a list of all the books you have read this year, and you will somehow feel the urge to hit a higher target.  Instead of just reading a vague amount, you aim for maybe 24 books a year. Even if you don’t hit the high target you set, you will still end up closer to 24 than if you had not thought about it at all.

Today is the 15th of Shabaan.  The old books have closed and the new ones have been opened.  I wonder if our recording angels are given new sharpened pencils and are eager to start using these fresh new books?  Do these angels know us, and do they root for us, hoping that we will do the right thing, and glad when we are engaged in Ibaadat?  When we read Salaah, do they join in?  Or do they have to just be recording all the time?  I rarely think of these angels in real terms, but they are part of the unseen, they are there.  We greet them in Salaah.

So, the books…Allah tracks our deeds, so shouldn’t we also track our own deeds? It may seem clinical to say “I want to read 100 Yaaseens this year” but if I don’t make that goal, it will be harder to remember that I want to try to read more Quraan.  When I have a list that I can tick off and get that satisfying feeling of moving towards success, I will find little pockets in the day to squeeze in that one more Yaaseen.

Can we make zikr and fasting and nawaafil goals?  I think I will.  If there is an unseen book following me around, I want to try to have a worldly book that can keep me on track.  So that one day when I am asked what I did with my life, I won’t be surprised, and I can pull out my book and account.

Taalim socks and a spa for your heart

Mum gave me socks (to wear to Taalim) and they’re very spotty.  I like ’em.

I’ve been meaning to write about the recent Ijtima weekend away – most of us ladies spent the weekend at Rania’s house, since she lives in Roshnee. There was a lot of fun and a lot of noise (with 12 kids in the house we could expect no less).

But the best thing were those quiet moments after lunch or supper, when the kids had run away to play and the ladies were left sitting “pikking” at the food and talking. Ijtima vibes had gotten to us, so we shared stories and had many discussions about religion.  We even played this awesome board-game, I think it’s called the 5 Pillars, and it made me realise how much more I need to learn, even about the basics. In the dead of night, Maleeha told us about Qiyaamat and what she had read…why is it that night time always leads to  more ponderous thoughts?

We ate and ate (yellow maize meal even made it to the menu!) and we talked and talked.  We bombarded Rania’s house but she is such a cool as a cucumber hostess that I have no idea if we frazzled her nerves.  We tried to listen to some of the lectures and we asked the guys for summaries of the main ones.  I heard that there were even some Nikahs at the Ijtima.  It felt like school holidays all over again.  I spoke to Khadeeja about the Barbie movies and I sleepily heard a whispered argument between Nuha and Imaan.

We sang Nazms around the dining room table and we attempted to help the Roshnee ladies with potato peeling…sadly, even though we all arrived armed with potato peelers in our handbags, we kept missing the potato peeling sessions.  On our drive out, the courteous Roshnee-ans bid us farewell with ice cold bottles of water and friendly directions.  The people of Roshnee were really hospitable (something like the Ansaar of Medina).

It was good to camp out on the lounge floor, have long languid lunches and rambling discussions on Deen.

Oh, the socks, I like them…So I took them with me on a weekend Mastooraat Jamaat.  I didn’t think I would ever go on one of those, but I did… and it was awesome.  My cousin Razina said that going in Jamaat is like a spa for your soul (I agree).  Only focusing on one thing, leaving my cell phone and all other issues behind, it was like pressing the reset button on my mind.

It was nice to go out with some of the “old workers”, those ladies really took care of us newbies (especially Sweetie Khala, whose group I joined).

I heard a story about a revert travelling with a Jamaat telling a moulana that he is a “Thaalim”.  When the moulana confusedly asked why the man was calling him an oppressor, he replied something along the lines of: My parents died without Imaan, and you people had not come to spread the message yet.

This is our duty.  We need not have worry for ourselves only.  We must have worry for the Ummah.  We are not Indians, Black, White, African, European, Arab….we are Ummatis.

 

The Aurora Borealis and dark intentions

I love young adult fantasy fiction, it’s my favourite type of novel.  I used to think that I probably need to grow up and read more serious books.  I’ve had my Charles Dickens and Jane Austen moments and I’ve enjoyed them, but I keep coming back to fantasy.  For some reason I’d known about the Golden Compass books (by Philip Pullman) for years and didn’t feel the need to read them until I saw a reference to them in another book that I was engrossed in (Alif the Unseen).

But even then, the first time I saw Northern Lights at the library, I passed it by.  The thing that drew me to it eventually was that I remembered hearing comments about the book being heretical and having to do with religion.  Obviously, parents would be concerned if their kids are unknowingly reading a book that has strong views on religion.

Anyways, the book was stunning.  It took about 100 pages to really get into it but the alternate reality created is breathtaking.

The story follows Lyra, a young rambunctious girl who throws herself headlong into adventure (unwitting to the fact that she has been destined to change the world), but much to my delight the cast of characters is also filled with daemons, witches, gyptians and armoured bears.

The hints of religious philosophy are scattered throughout the book and really only comes to a head near the end, where there is discussion of original sin and the Church.  Being an adult and able to brush these references aside, I really fell deeply into the story…but I wonder if I would want my potential future children – or nephews and nieces – reading it until they are well into their 20s, because the obscure religious references may have an impact.  But maybe it’s good for kids to see all these divergent views, that may lead them to look deeper into their own religion and history.

I’ve heard that the Chronicles of Narnia also have a religious undertone but that was so subtle as to go completely over my head when I read the series, years ago.  It may be time to crack open the cupboard door to Narnia for a re-read.