Reflections

What’s in a name? Some thoughts on ‘scholars’

May 15, 2017

In the West, Sheikh Nuh Ha Meem Keller would be recognized as a religious figure but he’d also be recognized as a scholar of philosophy. Despite the fact that I solely know Sheikh Nuh as a religious scholar and have only occasionally heard him mention anything about philosophy, he has a Ph.D. in the subject and in the West that makes him a scholar of that subject. Dr. Amina Wadud is considered a scholar of Islam in the West because she has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, in Western Academia that is the requirement.

Yet in the Muslim community, Sheikh Nuh is considered an Islamic scholar whereas Dr. Amina Wadud, though no one would deny her Ph.D., would be considered as no more than a Muslim public figure. But why? And is that fair?

Scholarship is an interesting concept and obviously an English word which makes it difficult to understand how to use it and who it should be used for when religion and modernity cross paths.

The West has a very different method of learning and a very different road on the path to scholarship. It would be very possible to get through the American school system without reading a single book from beginning to end. Not that we don’t read books, but often we read a section from this book and a section from that book and American students are notorious for just wanting the quickest route that will get them the best grade, meaning they have no problem reading Spark Notes. That wouldn’t be possible in a traditional Islamic learning environment where the first thing you have to do with any book, is memorize it.

But that isn’t to denigrate Western scholarship and uplift traditional Islamic scholarship, it’s to point out that the methods, paths, as well as the goals, are different. In Western scholarship, the highest goal of learning is to learn, analyze and propose a new theory of one’s own. If you can successfully critic a foundational theory in any subject you’ll receive great accolades and be looked upon as a great intellectual in the field. That is not the goal of traditional Islamic scholarship. The goal of traditional Islamic scholarship is to learn firstly in order to practice. No sincere seeker studies Islamic knowledge in order to create their own rulings. And if one does it’s not celebrated, it’s shunned.

So is it shocking that Dr. Amina Wadud cursed a prophet or that Reza Aslan feels fine to practice other people’s religions as the world watches? Well, once you understand their educational background, it’s not surprising at all. In fact, if neither of them prayed or even believed in God for that matter it would not be shocking. Western academia does not care if you practice what you study. Whereas a religious scholar within the Islamic framework would rightly be called a hypocrite or an apostate if they did not practice what they studied.

We’ve been blessed in the Muslim community to not have an abundance of religious scholars (or practitioners) who are blatant hypocrites. If you look over to the other religious communities you’ll see how abundant it is for them to question and disregard even the most foundational beliefs of their religion.

It is safe to say that despite the common word, ‘scholar’, these two types of scholars can offer very different types of knowledge. I resolve that we begin to make it clear what kind of scholar we’re talking about (Traditional vs Academic) in order to clearly know the framework they are coming out of and clearly understand what we can hope to gain from them.

The difference between Ibn Ali and everyone else (ie The need for authentic dawa)

April 17, 2017

I’m not sure if ever interacted with Ibn Ali, I just noticed him and later his wife and kids among those sitting in an Islamic class in Masjid Muhammad of Atlantic City -seeing a family learning together were reason enough to smile. Recently that man that I only happened to notice in an Islamic class became the object of nationwide attention for being the star of an unusual viral fight video. Sadly, teens now not only have to live with the consequences of their classmates knowing they got beat up in a fight -they must also deal with humiliation on the Internet. That’s exactly what Ibn Ali feared when he broke up a fight between two young men as their so called friends (as Ibn Ali cautioned them, are they your real friends?) recorded the scene on their phones. He advised the boys to think about the consequences of fighting only to become the subject of someone else’s cheap entertainment, they were men now and maybe this wasn’t the course of action they wanted to take. He not only ended the fight but made the boys shake hands. This act of leadership and humanity towards a group so often demonized (black + men + teenagers) propelled Ibn Ali to instant fame as a local hero and do-gooder.

There’s a lot of ways instant Internet fame can go wrong. So many people good, bad or otherwise become absolutely unbearable when the spotlight reaches them. So many of us have no real purpose in life or otherwise that we don’t know how to use fame if we ever achieve it. So much so that I fear for people who achieve instant fame, there’s probably few other surefire ways to lose one’s soul. But Ibn Ali clearly had a message despite his being plucked from obscurity and not asking for fame. Why did he do it? Because he’s Muslim and that’s what Muslims do. That simple line is the most honest bit of dawa I’ve heard from any Muslim in the limelight (momentary or otherwise).

Ibn Ali brought up Islam when he didn’t have to. He pointed people to Islam, he didn’t run away from it. And he gave God and Islam credit for his good deed. Does this sound familiar? No, not at all. The unwritten script amongst Muslims these days is to avoid at all costs talking about Islam and Muslims if one does talk about it be vague, if controversy comes up deflect, and make being Muslim as normal and as inconsequential as eating Apple pie -which you must insist you like a lot.

This is largely the fault of Muslim leadership in America turning away from black Muslims and toward immigrant Muslims. Despite our shared faith, we have completely different sociopolitical realities. Black Muslims could care less about being accepted by the mainstream -when you’ve been rejected from the beginning of your forced migration eventually you become indifferent to their acceptance. Immigrant Muslims, on the other hand, choose to leave their countries in search of the American dream which includes acceptance by the mainstream. A project that was going fine until 9/11. That connection to foreign terror made immigrant Muslims have to fight for acceptance in a way they never had -which explains the nauseating “I’m just like you” rhetoric. But black Muslims like Ibn Ali have a strange freedom only allowed to outcasts, to basically keep being themselves, business as usual.

My dad never stopped wearing the jalabia or Kufi after 9/11, it really had nothing to do with him and he never had to prove it didn’t.  When immigrant Muslims talk about Islam they speak from a place of fear when black Muslims speak about Islam,  we speak out of freedom. That freedom allows for an unadulterated dawa that isn’t concerned with naafsi naafsi  (how will this make me look?). It’s just concerned with truth. Ibn Ali didn’t set out to do a dawa campaign and in reality, we don’t need to. With no money,  fancy lights, or professional cameras Allah chose Ibn Ali to speak and to say “Islam is the reason why I’m on the right path”. Is that a good PR answer? Is that the kind of answer that with make Americans cozy? Was it well researched for virality? No, But it is exactly the kind of dawa that makes a real impact and changes hearts for the better.

Anybody home?

April 3, 2017

Solovki View Island Sea Beach Landscape Anzere

“Every woman has the God-given eternal right to be financially supported by her husband” I once put as a status on my Facebook page. One of our shuyukh commented, “…in order that she can fully realize her human potential through her chosen vocation as a channel for divine love in the world, serve as a spiritual anchor for her family and community, and as a guardian of the Unseen.” Most of the comments on that status desired to highlight the exceptions and put forth what they believed to be the current economic reality “that was then, this is now” rhetoric. I’m not sure why the assertion that men are maintainers of women, something so clearly stated in the Quran, bothers so many and is given so little consideration. It could be pure sexism -since I doubt those men have any problem with God asserting that women must obey their husbands, but maybe it’s far worse than that.

I don’t doubt that it’s more difficult to finance the life we’ve become used to seeing as standard than it was in the past (now we must have a month’s worth of groceries at all times, cable TVs, smartphones with data plans, etc.). We’ve grown in our consumerism and of course, women’s lib taught us that we ought to be out working just like the men.

I’ve been taking an interest in womanhood, motherhood, and wifehood for some time now. Thinking about essentialism and traditional women’s roles. Growing up, I knew my goal clearly, I wanted to be a stay at home wife and mom. As I got older, continued going to school and my interest in Islamic studies grew, that goal seemed less and less logical -how could “waste” all that knowledge and just “sit at home all day”.

Despite my personal conflict, I’ve just been thinking not simply about what’s logical or what God has so clearly pronounced in his divine book but also about what was lost. In a quote from an academic research paper comparing the shopping habits of working women to housewives, it found that “Working wives… exhibited a tendency to be less concerned with the impact of their food shopping and preparation activities on other family members.” In an essay by a woman discussing her decision to be a stay at home wife she talked about the fact that she and her husband no longer had to rush through a fast food meal, now she was able to prepare homemade food -I’ll admit, something quite embarrassing. I use to stay home sometimes when everyone went out because it felt wrong for no one to attend to the home. It seemed wrong for my parents to come home from work and not be greeted by anyone. It seemed wrong that no one should offer them tea or ask them about their day. I acknowledge it was a weird urge but it just seemed that there should be a balance.

When we talk about -in American discourse, working mother/wives vs stay at home moms/ housewives we often act as if the woman who works is doing the same job as the stay at home mom/ housewife she’s just doing less of it (and doing it in addition to her job). But the reality is the homemaking role is largely abandoned when women work. Isn’t that logical anyhow? I’d argue she shouldn’t even be expected to maintain that role if she works full-time as her husband does. As a quick side note, I deeply believe that if both a man and woman are equally working outside the home they should be equally working inside of it, but that another post… So when the homemaking role is abandoned, it is no longer being done. What do we lose when it’s no one’s full-time job is to nurture the home? When both men and women are primarily focused on providing? I opine that being a homemaker – homemaking, is desperately needed in our homes. Is it really enough to maintain the physical structure of the home but neglect the spirit?

Everyone is hustling and bustling to pay for a roof over their head who is left to “channel for divine love in the world” and “serve as a spiritual anchor” as Shaykh Mendes so graciously stated? Or is that just not important to us anymore?

How to be a good wife? Go back to the 1950’s

January 28, 2017

There’s a popular page from a 1950’s textbook that tends to make its rounds every couple of years. It always amuses me when this list of rules on how to be a good wife pops up on social media or some random blog, usually, to be made fun of. But in all honesty, as much as people joke about it, could it be that we’re also desperate for information? Growing up my parents, may God continue to bless them, never raised me to one day be someone’s wife. It was a given that I would get married. But the idea that being a wife was a distinct role that I should prepare for was nonexistent. I don’t blame them, like most modern parents they raised me to get a good education, do well in school so I could one day have a good career and support myself. Other parents, most likely in some other place, would raise their daughter to learn homemaking skills so she could one day be a good wife and be supported by a husband. In reality, the goal of all parents is the same -to raise their children in a way that will guarantee them a successful future.

But now that I am a wife and a “homemaker” (though I doubt I’ll be calling myself by that title very often), it seems that learning on the job is not as easy as I thought it would be. Men and women both come to marriage with their expectations. I was raised in a fairly egalitarian household. Mom and dad both worked, both cooked, both cleaned. It certainly wasn’t split completely down the middle, which is nearly impossible, but for the most part, it was as close as it could get. Growing up, despite never being raised by theory or practice to be a housewife I always knew it was something I wanted to do. Fluidity is important to me, so being a housewife or homemaker doesn’t mean I won’t have a million other things happening in my life but it does mean making the home, husband and hopefully future children a priority. I’ll have to learn along the way, but in all honesty, this list of rules about how to be a good wife don’t repulse me, I may not do them all but any advice on a role I was never prepared for is better than nothing:

“HAVE DINNER READY: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal–on time. This is a way to let him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned with his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and having a good meal ready is part of the warm welcome that is needed.

PREPARE YOURSELF: Take fifteen minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift. Greet him with a smile.

CLEAR AWAY THE CLUTTER: Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up children’s books and toys, papers, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you lift too.

PREPARE THE CHILDREN: If they are small, wash their hands and faces and comb their hair. They are his little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

MINIMIZE ALL NOISE: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise from the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.

SOME “DO NOT’S”: Don’t greet him with problems and complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as a minor problem compared to what he might have gone through that day.

MAKE HIM COMFORTABLE: Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest that he lie down in the bedroom. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

LISTEN TO HIM: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

MAKE THE EVENING HIS: Never complain if he doesn’t take you to dinner or to other entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his need to unwind and relax.

THE GOAL: TO MAKE YOUR HOME A PLACE OF PEACE AND ORDER WHERE YOUR HUSBAND CAN RELAX IN BODY AND SPIRIT.”

 

The Marriage Contract

January 21, 2017

You should include the right to divorce in your contract, but I didn’t

Over three years ago I took a course on marriage with Umm Al Khayr, a Shaykha of mixed descent residing in Amman, Jordan. In that course, I learned a great deal about women’s rights in marriage, the marriage contract and advice on having a good marriage. I continued to learn a great deal from Umm Al Khayr when I was able to travel to the gatherings of Sheikh Nuh Ha Meem Keller and able to later reside in Jordan. Growing up I always had the idea of being a homemaker and the “backward” belief that a woman’s focus should be the home. Umm Al Khayr relieved me of feeling like an outlier in modern society by addressing marriage in it’s most basic format -men work outside the home, women work inside the home. One of the greatest things I remember her saying to me is that you can’t leave your obligations to help your husband with his. Housework isn’t a real obligation in the truest sense of the word (at least in Shafi’i fiqh) but it is the logical conclusion in a marriage where the man is the primary breadwinner.

Another thing Umm Al Khayr taught me is that women can get divorced in Islam. Of course, I knew of Muslim women who were divorced but it seemed to me that attempting to initiate divorce as a woman was a great difficulty from a legal perspective. Men could simply say “I divorce you” while women had to go through the court system and since there was no Islamic court system in the secular West, women were at the hands of their husbands or their Imams to release them from an unwanted marriage which could sometimes prove impossible. I remember sitting in front of Umm Al Khayr in one of those gatherings Sheikh Nuh and co. provided once a year for their students across the globe. We were all crowded around Umm Al Khayr, which was common. Sometimes we enclosed her until the point where there’d only be a small circumference surrounding her, probably the very least amount of personal space we could provide while being as close as possible. I recall how much my legs ached with all of us bundled so close together to get as close as we could to her words and her presence. And she never seemed to mind, I actually was a bit afraid of her upon first seeing her because of the grandeur of her presence until I realize how jovial she was and felt at ease. She said to us, the first thing I say to women when they come to me crying about their marriage and saying they can’t get a divorce is “Yes you can”.

In the Marriage course I took with her I learned that as a woman you can request the right to divorce (in the marriage contract) -in a similar way in which the man does, I.e. verbally. Everything she taught us in that class I promised myself I’d do when the time came, but I didn’t. Way before I married my husband I was speaking to another man with the potential of marriage I expressed to him that I wanted the right to divorce to be in our contract, he basically responded with a “hell no”. On the morning of my marriage to the man, I am blessed to be married to we decided -at my mother’s request, to print up a contract. I did a quick google search for “Islamic Marriage contract” and went over each page line by line with my soon-to-be husband. Now that I think about it, I’m amazed that by the time I was ready to marry my husband I would have done it without a contract if not for my mom’s insistence, I didn’t even think about it.

When we got to the line about “both parties having the equal right to divorce” my soon to be husband responded in somewhat of an agitation “I’m not agreeing to that”. In all honesty in the last few months, because of discussing the issue on a podcast with my mom and on Facebook, as much as I encouraged women to do so I wondered if I wanted the right myself. As I recall, though my Fiqh on the issue needs refreshing, when a woman has the right to divorce it’s one finalized divorce, unlike men who have at least two chances for reconciliation at each pronouncement. Did I really want to give myself that kind of power? Years ago when I first took Umm Al Khayr’s class I would have insisted but more recently I wasn’t so sure. In a moment of anger, sadness, depression, I could end up uttering words that would ruin my entire life. And knowing my past issues with being able to live in that dark hole of depression where suddenly the entire world turns black, I wasn’t sure I could trust myself.

I do recall something about Umm Khayr saying a couple discussed this and had such a marriage contract with this provision and I recall her distinctly saying the woman was “level headed”. Am I level-headed? Sometimes, but there are certainly times when emotions rule the day. So when my husband refused to agree to the part of the marriage contract where I would be able to verbally divorce, I wasn’t strong enough on the issue to argue against him. So we crossed it out.

I learned also from Umm Al Khayr was that there was no such thing as alimony in Islam, once the waiting period is up, you’re on your own. Someone in the class described to her an example where a woman was a housewife, no work experiences, and how difficult it would be to support herself, “well then she shouldn’t have gotten herself divorced”. Obviously, a woman being divorced is not always her fault but it withstands that the best insurance against divorce is a good marriage.

So I didn’t include the allowance of verbal divorce in my contract, I still think women, in general, should. In a Western society where there are no Islamic court systems and women have to rely on our local Imams or husbands, we are presented with a kind of oppression were hoping to get a “fair day in court” is unlikely. Some women should probably be advised more strongly to have such a contract while others may not have much to worry about one way or the other or may even be disadvantaged by such an arrangement (hotheads who may divorce themselves at the first sign of trouble).

Whatever someone decides to put in their marriage contract, should be tailored to the needs of both parties. It goes without saying that no one gets married with the intention to get divorced. Once the ink dries on the signed marriage contract the goal is to use the example of our beloved messenger, peace to him, to create the best marriage we can -leaving divorce as a near impossibility.

And real protection comes from Allah alone.

Black Muslims And Black Issues

December 12, 2016

Had I been born an Egyptian during the time of Pharoahs it would’ve  been a good time to be black. Black people were the ruling class. The oppressed class at least for a period of time were the Hebrews. But I was not born back then, I was born in 1988 in America, and being black here and now means being a part of the oppressed class. Hundreds of years of slavery, decades of legalized mistreatment, disempowerment and overall injustice. I live in a time where saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ after of string of murders perpetuated by police is met with mockery and belittlement. I live in a time where a black man can be accused of everything from sexual harassment to rape decades after the alleged incidents and it ruin his legacy while white men accused of molestation continue to make movies. I live in a time where black relationships are falling apart and black children are falling behind. And yet, despite the residue of slavery, the average white American can feel more sympathy for a holocaust it didn’t cause than for the descendents of slaves on it’s own soil.

There are times in my life where I go months even years without thinking about race and racism. It’s too painful, too upsetting and too unbearable. But what I’ve come to realize is that God uniquely made me black and he bestowed upon me enough blessings to make a small dent to empower myself and my people.  If MLK and Malcolm X didn’t eradicate racism I certainly won’t either. And I’ve come to realize arguing with white people or non black Muslims about racism, trying to prove the humanity of black people or the inhumanity of our suffering should be a minuscule if not non existent part of that struggle. My struggle is to use what I have to “cast my bucket” where I am and give my people whatever I can to benefit our community.

It also means ignoring a lot of other things. I don’t plan to spend any significant portion of my life fighting ‘Islamophobia’, essentially the systematic oppression similar to what is inflicted on blacks being inflicted on “Muslims” -Muslims being, in the eyes of a typical American, Arab or South Asian. The internal racism in the Muslim community makes it so that South Asian and Arab problems become ‘Muslim problems’ while black issues are ignored. There were people in the prophet’s time who constantly came to him for knowledge then went back to their people to them Islam, did he ask them to stay with him instead and become a teacher in the “Muslim community”? Or was it natural and expected to go back and give what you’ve benefited back to your people?

It saddens me when I hear a black Muslim speaker speaking on “Islamic issues” that are in fact South Asian and Arab issues. For example, a lecture on marriage in Islam where parental approval, cultural differences and forced marriage are spoken about as if they’re universal islamic issues when they in fact have nothing to do with Islam and nothing to do with the black community that imam came from, for example. I recall Imam Siraj giving a khutbah about marriage and speaking about what I call the ‘marriage suitability problem’ that is a reality for his Muslim congregation 0black Muslims, and it would have been delusional to discuss forced marriage in any significance. Muslim speakers talk about the issue of parents forcing their chikdren to be doctors and engineers, again not a Muslim problem but an immigrant one. Had the black Muslim voice been as legitimate in the conversation focusing on the double digit employment rate, poor nutrition and institutionalized racism would be just as legitimate a discussion.

I’m not sure if black people have a huge ability for compassion and empathy or a major self esteem issue but we can’t continue to put others issues before our own communities allowing our house to burn while we put our their fire. Police brutality has been an issue in the black community -which includes black Muslims, for a very long time yet the “Muslim Community” gave no voice to this issue. So should we be expected to lend our voice when our struggle becomes there struggle as well? No, fighting for non- black Muslim rights under the general guise of “Muslim Rights” is no more important than fighting for black human rights which include Muslims. Why should we give up on our struggle for theirs? We can’t afford to lose a single soul in the black community in the fight against oppression and for empowerment.

Silence As A Cure For Hypocrisy

November 30, 2016

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As I listened to my playlist a sudden thought came over me: “Am I a hypocrite?” There are two times in my life when I stopped listening to music -both for religious reasons. The first time was under a more “Salafi” influence. I was never a “Salafi” but back when I was a kid through to my late teens/early twenties I thought they were the most religious group among Muslims and so the closer one could emulate them, the better. I don’t recall what arguments I listened to or from who but I was convinced listening to music was haram and stopped doing so for a period of time I also included occasional rants to my family about how music was haram during that period, but eventually, I would listen to music again.

The second time I stopped listening to music was more recently under the general advice of my Sufi sheikh to his mureeds. His reasons were two-fold -evidence in some schools of jurisprudence to point to the forbidden nature of music through the forbidding of particular instruments and the vile nature of mainstream music -what is it but the outpouring of the nafs (lower self)? So why waste your time with it? To be clear he wasn’t against all “music” since some music was in fact closely linked to the Tariqa itself, Sheikh Shaghouri (the sheikh’s sheikh) was a composer of music. But the music was the outpouring of one who longed for God and occasionally used nothing more then a duff (a type of drum) as accompaniment.

After living among the sheikh and his mureeds for two years, I returned home to America. I began listening to music again, for what reasons I’m not sure. The only hard reason I’m cognizance of is a longing to be -in some small way, a part of the larger culture -black culture in particular. I felt that the more religious I became the more estranged I was from the black community, listening to Solange and Beyonce helped me reconnect. It’s not a good excuse and I hope to get back to that place when it was easier to do as the sheikh said, when it came naturally.

After only fours years I see the path slipping from my hands if I don’t make a more earnest effort to keep it. I was a better mureed in the first two years than in the second two. But I know that a part of the issue was saying too much when I first began to practice the spiritual path. Whatever my sheikh said I tried to do earnestly and I tried to convince others it was worth while, that was a mistake. The time I spent attempting to convince others -often unwittingly, should have been spent traveling the path. Maybe a part of it is because when other people aren’t convinced after hearing all the same information, you begin to doubt yourself. If they don’t get it, maybe I’m wrong?

But not every path is for everyone, through God’s grace we each have a way. Silence is so valuable when beginning any path. If you’re convinced, be convinced, let the outcome speak for itself. I remember one brother telling me that his path to the Tariqa happened when he saw someone praying. “There was just something about the way he prayed, I wanted to know more” I recall him telling me. That simple act took him towards the spiritual path -not a lecture but a presence that spoke to him.

It happens to many of us, even outside of Tariqas and spiritual paths, I remember becoming vegan as a kid and trying to convince everyone around me to be vegan, they weren’t convinced and at some point I gave up and stopped being convinced myself -even though I could feel its benefits for my body.

So am I a hypocrite because I stopped doing some of the things I told others to do. And the lesson is learned that silence is the cure for hypocrisy. I wasn’t in a position to tell anyone about the spiritual path I’d only just begun myself. I wasn’t in a position to convince anyone of following a path I had not yet seen the outcome of. Maybe, at least in the beginning, this journey is best taken in silence.

What you need vs what you want

November 2, 2016

I was looking at some art, just admiring since I’m far from able to buy anything, and I came across a lot of pieces I took interest in. But I found myself saying “Ooh I love that, but I couldn’t have it in my house”. Despite being in love with moody, monotone and monochromatic works like this piece above by Robert Motherwell I got a sense that it wouldn’t be good for me to have that kind of art in my space.

It reminds of when I was younger. Anytime I felt sad I’d put on some sad music and bring myself further down the rabbit’s hole, it seemed appropriate to put on music that I could relate to. It wasn’t until I was older and chatting with a friend about music tastes and mentioned it, she responded “Really? I always listen to happy music when I’m sad”. She listened to music to inspire a change in mood instead of dwelling on a bad one.

Some of us turn to Allah in times of darkness, looking for light. Others turn to turn to drugs, alcohol, food, etc. which only serve to exacerbate the original issue. It seems heavily due to personality what option we choose but it also has to do with awareness. Once you step outside of yourself, outside of routine and watch yourself do what you do, you then have a choice. It doesn’t make it easy to change, it simply makes it possible. So, when I get the chance to buy a work of art I’ll choose something more colorful and life-giving like this second work by Julianne Strom. Because that’s the kind of energy I need instead of simply the energy I’m attracted to.

Learning on your own

August 26, 2016

Independent learningI spent a few years learning with various teachers and attending lectures around New York and thereafter traveling to Jordan to sit in on the majalis (learning sessions) there. I’ve been blessed to learn a lot from my teachers and am forever grateful to them. Having the freedom to travel and to study takes time and I was blessed to take that time because I do not have a job or a family of my own. But many people are not in a similar scenario. Though it has been stressed to me throughout the years the importance of having a teacher to learn with, the idea of sitting for hours with a teacher and learning a text from beginning to end isn’t a real possibility for many.

What is the reality for most of us is that if we make an effort we could probably gain a lot by doing a little each day -as long as we have a plan. My advice is just because you don’t have a teacher in the traditional sense doesn’t mean you can’t acquire tradition knowledge and an orthodox understanding over time. So how is this possible? Foremost with du’a and possibly with these following six steps.

  1. Read traditional books. Ask a scholar you know and trust (or a learned person -for example, that guy you know that spent two years in Egypt studying Islam) for a recommendation on classical Islamic texts. Why classic texts? Well for one, as Sheikh Nuh (May God preserve him) states in the beginning of his translation of Reliance of the Traveller: “For most nontraditional works seen up to the present have been one man efforts, while the classical texts have been checked and refined by a large number of scholars, and the difference is manifest” (P. viii). Secondly, the scholars of today pale in comparison to scholars of the past -and they’ll be the first to tell you. And thirdly the works of the past are far more accessible -many classic books have a small summary of the original text (or subject matter), the longer text for further explanation, and commentary by other scholars making it easy to gain both a overview and an in depth understanding of the text/subject.
  2. Keep in touch with any scholar. You may be asking “who and how?” Firstly, a scholar that has a basic knowledge of fundamental subjects in Islam. How would you know? Just go to the bio on their website, friend/follow them on Facebook and get a sense of what they’re about, or ask people who know them. Thereafter keep their email (or message on Facebook) and ask them questions. Ask them whatever you’re sure you don’t understand from the text and need further explanation. Of course many scholars are busy (and it doesn’t have to be a “scholar” just anyone with knowledge) and may not reply so try to contact about ten, inshaAllah, one of them will be willing to help.
  3. Strike up conversation with people of knowledge about the text you’re reading to make sure you have the correct understanding. This is for the parts of the you’re sure you understand but because you’re not in formal circles of knowledge you don’t get the feedback necessary to confirm you’re understanding the text as it should be understood, going over it with others in a causal manner will help to confirm you really understand what’s being conveyed in the text.
  4. Approach independent learning with an understanding that studying with a teacher is far superior and open your heart to the idea that when the opportunity to learn with a teacher presents itself you will take it. Maybe in the near future your time will open up and you’ll find a class or a teacher available and squeeze in those lessons you were too busy to learn before. And if you’ve done steps #1- 3 you’ll be able to utilize those teachers that you created a relationship with previously and build on what you know.
  5. Think about learning online. You may not feel you have time to learn online either but look in to different programs and see how much time they allow you to take. For example, the class may be weekly for 10 weeks and maybe you aren’t able to complete it in ten weeks, ask them how long they allow students to access coursework or register for the class again the following semester and continue where you left off. Online learning (ex: seekergudance.org, qibla.com) allows students access to traditional knowledge and seekers from the comfort of their home so it’s a viable option even for the busy soul.
  6. Be consistent. Learn a little daily (or weekly) and you’ll be surprised how far you come over time. There’s no need to feel like it’s all or nothing, the most important tool is consistency. As the beloved messenger of God, peace be upon him, has said: “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” Sunan Ibn Majah 4240

Hijab is not simply a “choice”

August 14, 2016

aab-uk-pink-and-taupe-two-tone-chiffon-hijab-s15hijpt-z-dzbb_1It’s very difficult to have an honest conversation about hijab. Muslims go in to defense mode and non-Muslims go in to attack mode. The basic question that surrounds the tension -is hijab a choice or a form of oppression? As Muslims we’ve been trained to say of course it’s a choice, many non- Muslims will say the opposite. But I’m going to say something more nuanced and honest, it is sometimes one and sometimes the other.

On the macro scale there is no doubt that some countries force their women to cover. This is often the non-Muslim retort to those of us who say hijab is a choice. They point to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia where it is no doubt that wearing hijab is not a choice. But even this is dishonest, it makes it seem as though all Muslim countries require women to wear hijab, they don’t. Jordan is one place that certainly does not, I’ve lived here for two years and it’s quite clear that though most people here dress modestly, they certainly have a choice in their dress -wearing everything from typical western clothes with or without a head scarf to Khaleeji Abayas and black face veils.

Some non-Muslims also claim that it is not a women’s choice but her father or the men in her family who force her to wear the hijab, “no” we respond, it’s our choice. But of course there are some women who wear hijab because their father tells them to and for nothing more, like I did as a teen. But here’s another level of dishonesty: force cannot be equated with abuse. My parents “forced” me to wear hijab, just like they “forced” me to go to bed at 11pm as a teenager, just like they “forced” me to go to college. What would happen if I insisted I was not going to wear hijab? I don’t know. But I certainly wouldn’t fear an “honor killing”, which was a foreign concept to me until I heard it in the news.

Yet and still for some Muslim women it is a choice, they decide at a particular age to start covering, sometimes as a religious awakening and sometimes to fit in with friends. Some Muslim women are neither discouraged nor encouraged to wear hijab and some -to the surprise of many, are discouraged from wearing hijab.

And, one last bit of honesty, hijab isn’t just a choice in Islam. It is considered an obligation. In Islam we have obligations, encouraged acts, discouraged acts, forbidden acts and acts that fit none of the aforementioned categories. Hijab falls in to the first, an obligation. I have never seen it mentioned among major sins -to not wear a head covering, but I could not say it is a minor sin either (God knows best). The point is that yes it is a choice but it’s not like drinking water or drinking tea, it is a consequential choice. So someone may go out of their way to struggle to wear hijab because of their faith, in other words they may make a choice they personally dislike in order to please God.

I understand that it’s easier to tout the line “hijab is my choice”, I understand it’s easier to forget about the nuances but there is a bit of disservice we do to ourselves and to conversations about our faith when we try to fit it in the already existent framework. The idea that hijab is simply a choice -like choosing between water and tea, is one that is most palatable to the Western framework but it lacks the depth and nuances that the conversation deeply needs and deserves. But maybe now is the time for mantra over depth, hopefully one day we can move past that.

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