Reflections

Stop teaching your kids to speak up

July 17, 2017

If you grew up a generation or two before mine —or within particular cultures (Caribbean or African for example), you know that when you were a kid, no one really cared about what you had to say. There was such a thing as a “grown ups table” and a “kid’s table” at large family gatherings. You knew that you ought to speak when you’re called upon, and not any sooner. You knew that if your parents were retelling a story incorrectly and you happened to know the real story —it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Repressive, no?

But something much worse has happened in the generations that came after, kids are not only be allowed to speak in adult conversations, they are encouraged. I remember a shuyukh once recalling an incident where two children were in his midst, he remarked to his teacher at how smart the talkative one must be but the teacher disagreed, it was the quieter one who probably possessed superior intelligence.

Smart people know when to be quiet. If I’m in a room full of chemists talking about chemistry I’d be best to listen and hold my thoughts or pose them as questions so I could learn if I’m in a room of psychologists or students of psychology, I should feel comfortable speaking up as appropriately as my knowledge allows. Children don’t have anything to offer an adult conversation but they aren’t yet smart enough to realize that, they have to be taught. The old system where you kept quiet if adults were talking wasn’t repressive as much as it was an initiation process into adulthood. Slowly, as you learn more, as you know more, and as you grow older, you begin to join the conversation while still holding your elders in esteem. But entering the conversation arbitrarily —talking just to talk or to make our kids feel important, does nothing but inflate their ego and give them and an unhealthy sense of self. It is why students in college stand up in lecture halls to give their opinion and debate known experts, they’ve been taught from an early age that their opinions —no matter how ill informed, matter.

At some point we became obsessed with children having good self-esteem, so we began to do everything we could to heap on the praise, ensure they know they’re loved no matter what and to always listen to them. But what is the use of an inflated ego based on nothing but external gratification for which you’ve done nothing to deserve? As my dear father explained to us recently, when you overpraise a child you lead them to believe that they are important in and of themselves, leading to a self-absorption that says, “I’m great because I’m great,” yet how can one not also develop a fragile ego under the veneer of greatness when they are fully aware they’ve done nothing to deserve praise? Yes, you love your child no matter what, but giving them a reality check to let them know that actually they don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to a conversation with adults whose life experience —if nothing else, informs their opinion and that the moments when the child is called to speak amongst them is a privilege. This creates a healthy respect for knowledge. People, who know something —whether through book knowledge or experience and people who don’t, are not the same, can we please stop teaching the younger generation that they are?

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Learn about how the concept of childhood has changed over time and varies between the West and traditional Islamic teachings, sign up for my upcoming course: nooralshadhili.com/childhoodandsociety

There is no reading of Islam that supports terrorism -or homosexuality

July 11, 2017

Liberals and far right conservatives (within and outside the Muslim community) have the same problem -they think that one can read absolutely anything into Islam/Islamic texts (primarily the Quran and Hadith). Reza Aslan, bless his heart, continuously goes on TV and talks about his “version” or “interpretation” of Islam, his “reading” of the Quran and his “understanding” of a Hadith. Let me make a note that I actually do like Reza Aslan on many fronts and appreciate his defense of Islam and criticism of Western hypocrisy but in some ways he makes the same error as far-right Islamophobes, far left Islamophobes (I.e. Sam Harris, Bill Maher), and Salafis -he believes that all interpretations are legitimate interpretations.

It’s true that when one reads the Quran they come to it with their own baggage and life experience, no one reading can purely asses what God Himself meant but that doesn’t mean everyone’s interpretation is equally valid. There is a myth that gets repeatedly pass around in the Muslim community that says that unlike Catholics, Muslims to not have central religious leadership. This is sometimes said in a positive way and sometimes in a negative light but the biggest issue with it is that it is simply not true. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Related byTirmidhi] Since the death of the Prophet, peace to him, Muslims have followed scholarship that is until there was the Wahhabi movement which won over the hearts and minds of many Muslims by telling them they didn’t need to listen to scholars, no -they just need to follow the Quran and Sunnah. While I’m not interested and no have the ability to give an extensive account of that history, it left us in the state we are today where we believe that reading the Quran and Hadith directly is somehow following the sunnah more than if we were to follow scholarship.

Reza Aslan is right in pointing out that we all come to the religious texts with ourselves (our context) and our understanding is tinted by our personal realities but that is precisely the reason we depend on scholarship. A man prone to wife beating is going to enjoy interpreting verse 3:34 as an allowance to beat his wife whenever and however he likes, a woman leaning towards homosexuality will happily interpret the story of Lot not as a punishment for the sin of homosexuality but as a punishment for rape, a man who enjoys being authoritative would be absolutely gleeful to interpret the story of Kidr and Musa as meaning that authority should be listened to without question. This is the reality, yes -but it is also the problem.

A scholar -though they too are not perfect and they too will make mistakes, can tell us the context of these verses, their ruling as it pertains to various areas of life, how they can be understood through a Fiqh lens and the lens of tassawuf, how the companions understood it, what did the prophet do or say in relation to it, what are the verses that connect to those verses to give us a fuller meaning and so on and so forth. Yes, a scholar can be incorrect, insincere and make mistakes. But to pretend that their mistakes are equal to ours is a self-delusion -Is the one who knows like the one who doesn’t know? (39:9) God probes us in the Quran.

The mistake of the wife beater who wishes to believe he has a God-given right to abuse his spouse and the mistake of the homosexual who wishes to interpret away God’s punishment for the sin of homosexuality is the same. One may say they are Salafi and the other may say they are Progressive but they are in fact in the same camp -they want Islam to fit into their already predetermined ideology, that is a grave mistake.

One of the companions -Ibn Majah, may God be pleased with him, said: “When we were young we learned Aqidah (Islamic belief system) then we learned Quran and it increased our belief”. Sadly we lack -in some ways for reasons beyond our control, a systematic approach to learning Islam. We buy sophisticated books of tassawuf before we ever receive a basic education in Aqidah. For this reason one of my shuyukh ruminated on the danger of our printing fever -classical works of Islam are being translated into English and available for all to read, but without the scholarship to match -what use is it? The saints and scholars who wrote these books often didn’t intend for a wide readership, they were guide books for other scholars to teach their students.

Fringe interpretations of Islam and Islamic texts can only be demolished once we reinstate the value of scholarship in our understanding of Islam, without that -all claims will be equal, and equally dangerous.

Necessary Losses | Visual

July 5, 2017

Necessary Losses

July 3, 2017

I don’t know how mothers do it so gracefully, whenever I think about it makes me a bit mournful.

I’ve been a close part of my eldest niece and nephew’s lives for a large part of their early years. I saw them both the day they were born, carried them when they wept, fed them when they were hungry, played with them, laughed with them and comforted them when they cried. I tried to teach them good values and be a listening ear.

Now, they’re teenagers. My nephew stands about two inches above me, my niece plasters on makeup like a pro. They are, in many ways, different people. People I don’t know as much about as I once did. Their problems are no longer about learning the value of sharing toys. I feel more concerned for them now than I did when they could barely feed themselves. Are they getting a decent education? Is my niece being harassed by the boys when she walks down the street or the halls of her high school —like I was? Is my nephew kind to girls his age? Is it wise of him to pursue football? Will he really benefit from studying overseas? Is my niece trying her best in school? Is she getting involved in the nonsense gossip and girl clicks? Are they positive influences on their friends? Are their friend’s decent people?

And on and on. Maybe it’s because of those questions and the deep involvement in them that allow mothers to not experience the pain of loss —or maybe they do but never share it with us? Since the time of our birth all we do is grow and become increasingly independent until we eventually leave them. We start our lives dependent on their very bodies, then we’re born and completely dependent on their care. Soon we learn to crawl so they don’t have to carry us every place we’d like to go. Then we learn to walk, they cheer us on until we no longer need their help to move about, we don’t have the limitations of crawling and or the confinement of our initial immobility. We also stop needing their bodies for nutrition. Once their bodies were our sole source of nutrition. Then they start to feed us bits of soft food along with breastmilk until eventual they remove us (or we remove ourselves) and allow us to fully enjoy the range of tastes known to mankind. They still feed us, no longer with their bodies but with the preparation of their hands. Chopping things and mixing things, stirring and using fire —which they warn us not to touch. She might hit us if we try to come close, we’re confused that mother —our source of all that is good, would hit us, we don’t realize that only someone who doesn’t care would let us touch the fire.

Soon we’ll get dressed by ourselves, we’ll even argue with mother about which clothes we’d like to wear. She’ll guide our choices without being too imposing. Once in a while she’ll give in and let us wear those old bunny ears that were only for the school play. As we grow we become even more independent. Somehow mother gracefully guides us without constantly weeping over memories of the small innocent wide-eyed baby that is no longer. Sometimes the tension will grow between who we want to be and who they believe we ought to be. We grow angry because we think,”who is she to tell me anything, this is my life!” We forget that once there was no she and us, there was only one. She gave us her all and we consumed the nutrients in her body like leeches, giving back nothing in return.

How does it not tear mothers apart that the once inseparable bond will never be again? How do you deal with the fact that the small baby that once smiled at your very presence now sometimes scowls or frowns? If you were self-absorbed, as most of the world is, you wouldn’t let us grow, you wouldn’t teach us to be independent, you would force us into servitude until we paid back every ounce of your exhaustion, every pain in you’re pushing, every “pick me up” you obliged to —but you don’t. You let us grow and go and hold us in your every prayer hoping God will stay close to us even if you can’t. Do you ever miss that all dependent baby you rocked in your arms? Or do you simply realize it was a necessary loss?

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.

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