some nice articles

as salaamu alaykum,

In the last few days I’ve had the opportunity to surf the net and read a number of Muslim blogs in a more thorough way than I’ve ever done before. There must be a million blogs out there, and after some time online, surfing from one to the next, reading here and there, I just felt tired and overwhelmed, like you do when you’ve spent too long in the mall jostled by too many people. It’s just an ocean of voices, ideas, experiences…

They seem to be an overwhelming mixture of many things, including what seems to be simple cathartic venting and opinionated ranting on various issues. My concern when reading these things are two fold; one, the development of a sort of intense self-focus that veils a person from seeing their life and their opinions in a wider context, which would help them put things in perspective; and secondly, the trend towards everyone in our community being content with their own reading and understanding of Islam, even if that understanding is formed without any reference point or basis in knowledge.

Alhamdulillah, however in the mix I also found some excellent creative writing, thoughtful reflection, insightful commentary and sharing of knowledge.

Here are some nice things I’ve read recently:

Imam Suhaib Webb’s answer to the heat wave 🙂

A beautiful response to the question, “How do I improve my Quranic recitation?” by Sidi Faraz Rabbani.

Some good (and funny) tips on learning Arabic on the Islamic Law Etc. Blog.

 — A thought provoking piece on knowledge.  (It gives a new shade of meaning to the Prophet’s (salAllahu alayhi wa salam) duaa, Allahumma innee a’udhubika min ‘ilmin la yanfa’ “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from knowledge that does not benefit.)

happy reading 🙂

wasalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah.

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Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 3:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Sh. Habib on Women and Scholarship

I watched an excellent program the other day with Sh. Habib Ali Jifri on the important role women have to play in Islamic scholarship, and the great need we have today for women to study and become teachers, scholars, writers, to give fatawa, etc.

One thing that I find very beautiful in our tradition, but something that is often overlooked, is the critical role women have played in developing our scholarship from the very beginning and for centuries thereafter. It was only when the Muslim world began to degenerate in many different areas, politically, economically, as well as intellectually that we find a disengagement of women from the scholarly arena. (Interestingly enough, some historians cite the influence of Christian thought on the Muslim world as one of the reasons for this reversal of roles for women.)

Here are some points the shaykh said on the program (hafidhahu Allah) that I found very interesting:

— We have Sayyidah ‘Aisha (radhi Allah anhaa), as one of the first examples of a Muslim woman who was a scholar and a faqih, a woman who gave fatawa (religious rulings) and basically had her own madhhab (school of law). Many of the Ummahaat al-Mu’mineen and others of the sahabiyaat (women from the generation of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) were teachers and narrated hadith, and in the following generations we find many, many women scholars. Some of the greatest male scholars that we know of had women teachers. Imam Shafa’ii for example, had a woman as one of his primary teachers, Sayyidah Nafeesa bint al-Hasan. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, the Ameer al-Mu’mineen in Hadith, had among his teachers sixteen or seventeen women, all of whom had reached the level of Muhadith. There was a woman scholar (didn’t catch her name which was mentioned on the program) who resided in Damascus, and it is reported that students from many different countries would flock to her to study, crowding outside her door on Mount Qasiyoun. There were women who had majalis of ‘ilm at Jamia’ Umawiyy (the Omayyad Mosque) here in Damascus, and men and women would gather to attend and reap the benefits of their knowledge. He gave many, many examples, but unfortunately I did not take notes during the program so I don’t remember all the names and exact details. (sorry)

— Women especially shined in the field of Hadith in Islamic history, and he had a print-out of some women that related hadith, the number of hadith that they related and the number of their students. A number of these women were from the Ummahaat al-Mu’mineen, such as ‘Aisha, Juwayriyyah and Umm Salamah (radhi Allahu anhunn). He made the point that these women, being mothers of the believers, had some restrictions (relating to the ayaat in the Quran that talk about speaking from ‘waraa’ al-hijaab’ and so forth) and yet we still find them contributing to the knowledge. His point was basically that if there were any women who would have stepped back from studying and teaching because of the restrictions of hijab or aadaab, it would be these women, and yet we find them playing such a vibrant role in teaching.

— The interviewer asked Sh. Habib about women teaching men, something that may be considered odd or even wrong in the Muslim world today. Sh. Habib said that there needs to be a conveyance of knowledge taking place and we should not confine men and women from benefiting from each other, as long as it is based on a relationship of proper adab between teacher and student. When it comes to more basic and fundamental things, which can be taught by a number of different people, the norm should be that women teach women and men teach men. However, he said especially when we are talking about a higher level of knowledge a person should not be prevented from learning from someone because of their gender.

— On the print-out we saw a listing of some women narrators of hadith and the numbers of their students. Consistently, all of the women had more male students than female, and some even had only male students. Sh. Habib said that many people ask the question ‘why do the number of male scholars in our history outnumber that of women?’ He said that the answer can be seen from that chart. Its clear that women had the opportunity to teach and that they were esteemed for their knowledge (which is why they had students from both genders); however the number of women who stepped forward to learn were less than those of men.

And here Sh. Habib made a critical point: Women need to step forward and study. Yes, Muslim societies and male scholars and teachers need to encourage women to take on these roles, and there are many things in the Muslim community that need to be remedied in this regard, but YOU as a woman are not incapable… you are strong and you need not wait for someone to tell you that this is what you should be doing. You need to step forward, just as those women did before us.

He mentioned a modern day example from Syria, that a group of women approached Sh. Nur ad-Din ‘Itr and requested that he teach them, and this really started a movement of women in Syria who are studying and memorizing hadith. There are something like ten women now who have memorized the Six Sound Books in their entirety, with all of their isnaad! He said that he hadn’t even heard of this before, among men or women in our time. Also in Syria tens of women have memorized Bukhari, hundred have memorized Riyadh as-Saliheen…. Sh. Habib said that memorization is not necessarily the focus, but that this is a beautiful example of what can happen when women are passionate and are energized to study and take it upon themselves to seek out knowledge.

I was really moved by the shaykh’s talk, may Allah ennoble and bless him.

I hope that women out there really take this message to heart. Sometimes we are told in subtle or overt ways that in order to use our intellects in a meaningful way we need to ‘reinterpret’ Islam and have a more ‘progressive’ understanding of what our deen is about (read: change it), as if it is something intrisically oppressive of women; and on the other hand we may be told in different ways that our role is confined entirely to domestic tasks.

While the truth is something else, and we just need to go back to the roots of our religion to find it. We are the inheritors of a tradition of women poets, scholars, teachers… who were ennobled and empowered by this deen to share sacred knowledge with others. I ask Allah to make us people who walk in their footsteps, treading a road shaded by angels’ wings and that easens the one to Paradise. May Allah make us people who reflect and study and learn, and who are beautified with knowledge, and share it with others in the best of ways.

wAllahu a’lam. This is what I remember and understood in summary from the interview, and they are not the exact words of the shaykh.

wasalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah.

PS: Here is an interesting article from the NY Times about a brother’s research into the large number of female Muslim scholars in history: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/25/magazine/25wwlnEssay.t.html?ex=1329973200&en=618404334b10ecf0&ei=5124&partner=digg&exprod=digg

Published in: on June 10, 2007 at 10:11 am  Comments (5)  

sad article from the NY Times

I recently read an article about Iraqi refugees in Syria turning to prostitution to alleviate their poverty.

Some thoughts that came to my mind when I read this article:

1. I’ve heard a lot of Syrians complain about the Iraqi refugees, and they seem to blame them for many things, including increasing levels of traffic, the jump in housing costs, and a proliferation of crime and places of indecency. It really has a lot to do with the sheer number of people that have come into Syria in such a short time period (which I’ve heard is closer to 2 or 2 and a half million than the number mentioned in the article), and the lack of any sort of infrastructure that would help them transition into a healthy life here, such as viable working alternatives or assisted housing, etc. I think this is a clear example of how an unjust war inevitably breeds more and more harm, including the breakdown of family structure and a negative impact on neighboring countries.

2. I cannot imagine the desperation that would lead a believing Muslim woman, who prayed and practiced (like it’s mentioned in the article) go so far, and I can only attribute it to a state of real trauma, a hopelessness, that is beyond our understanding.

We really have no idea how big a fitna (challenge or test) poverty is for so many people in this world and how it can lead to a real shaking of faith. There are so many texts in which the Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wa salam, would seek refuge from ‘al-kufr wal-faqr’ (unbelief and poverty), as if there’s a direct connection between the two.

And wealth is an equally disastrous fitna, as can be seen by its misuse in the hands of the men who visit these places. The Prophet salAllahu alayhi wa salam would also pray, “O Lord, I seek Thy refuge from […]the evil of the challenge of wealth and the evil of the challenge of poverty…” (Bukhari and Muslim).

3. It makes me really appreciate how appealing and dignified the quality of hayaa’ (modesty, chastity) is, especially in men, and how low, base and weak a man seems without it.

There’s a story of a righteous young man from the time of the tabi’i tabi’een (the third generation after the prophet salAllahu alayhi wa salam) who was once traveling. While he was alone in his tent in the desert, in the darkness of the night, a beautiful woman approached him and presented herself to him. Hearing her offer his eyes filled with tears. She asked him why he had begun to cry and he said, “Out of a feeling of lowliness before God, that He would test me in this way.” And he asked her, “Do you not fear God, that you might die at this very moment?” The woman left, weeping in repentance.

A few months later he had a dream in which the Prophet Yusuf (alayhis salaam) came to him. The man said to Yusuf (alayhis salaam), “I was amazed by your story in the Quran, and your honor and steadfastness before the wife of Azeez.” The Prophet Yusuf (alayhis salaam) said to him in return, “and I am amazed at your story, when a woman approached you in a tent in the depths of night, and you remained steadfast.”

4. It also makes me think: Isn’t this a perfect example of when polygamy would be a healthy option in a society? These same rich Gulf Arab men who frequent these places… how much better would the situation be if they married some of these women, and honored them with the full rights, material and spiritual, that a wife deserves, instead of using them in this way, which only harms everyone involved: it hurts the men’s own souls and hurts the well-being of their marriages and their families, and it harms these women in such a horrible way, putting them at risk to disease, affecting their psychology and feelings of self-worth, damaging them spiritually… There really is so much wisdom in the Shari’ah, and its goal truly is ‘to bring about benefit and good and to avoid and push away harm’ in all of its rulings.

5. When I read things like this I really think about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. There are so many people in this world whose life struggle is simply to survive. What about me and you… what’s our struggle? What are we supposed to be doing, seeing as we’ve been blessed with so many things, not the least of which is well-being, safety and wealth?

May Allah protect us from the harms of poverty and the tests of wealth and make us people of courage, uprightness, honor and ‘iffah. May Allah make things easy for our brothers and sisters suffering in this world, and take us collectively from darkness into light, ameen.

Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 12:23 pm  Comments (5)