Women’s Mosque? Women’s Empowerment?

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The Women’s Mosque of America has started operations in Los Angeles. It is not a mosque per se, but the name of a non-profit organization. It began with holding female only Jumuah prayers, in an old synagogue with Stars of David etched on the stained glass windows. The decision to use this venue was made to “promote peace.”

Creating a separate space for Muslim women is a noble idea. Unfortunately the organizers chose the one event for this project for which it has no basis in the Shariah. Muslim women are not required to offer Jumuah. They are allowed but not required. (They can offer the Dhuhr prayer instead.) Further by consensus of scholars of all schools, Muslim women are not allowed to lead Jumuah prayers or deliver Jumuah Khutbahs. Not surprisingly the project met with disapproval from the great majority of local Muslim scholars who objected exactly on this ground. The women who prayed there were advised to still offer their Dhuhr prayer as the prayer obligation remained undischarged.[1]

But there is a larger issue that has not been discussed. One wonders what the officers of this corporation would think of establishing a women only school or women only college. Obviously if women need access to Islamic education in an exclusive space, then would not a daily regular school be far superior to a twenty minute sermon delivered once a month? Alas their future programs make no mention of such a plan. On the contrary other programs will be coed.

It is also interesting to see the media reaction. This was a media event and all the big names were there. And they were excited. From the Los Angeles Times to the Wall Street Journal, from ABC news to Fox News, everyone praised this as a historic event. It was considered a key development in empowerment of Muslim women. “Maybe we could get a female Luther out of this,” Los Angeles Times reported an excited congregant as saying.

The question that we must ask is what the media reaction would be if the organizers had opened a women’s only college instead. Would that be considered a historic event that would open the doors to scholarship for Muslim women? Would that be praised by the same media as a space “where Muslim women can ‘bring their whole self,’ learn more about their faith and foster bonds of sisterhood?”

It is more likely that this would be ridiculed as a step backwards, as another sign of oppression of Muslim women.

Why? Why the same act is praiseworthy in one case and blameworthy in the other? The answer may be that it is flouting the traditions and well established Islamic teachings in one case and complying with them in the other. The first act is therefore considered empowering and the other enslaving. The hypocrisy has a rationale!

It may be therefore empowering to deconstruct the notion of “women’s empowerment” itself.

The sad fact is that we are caught up in the discourse of empowerment. Everyone these days is for “women’s empowerment.” And it is taboo to question this dogma. But let us ask, where does this word come from? Does it come from the Islamic discourse or its textual sources? The Qur’an does not talk about “women’s empowerment.” Neither does Hadith. Neither does the Islamic literature produced by authorities and scholars of varied persuasions over the centuries. If in doubt please tell me what is the Arabic term for “empowerment” and where do you find it in the Islamic textual sources?

Women’s empowerment is a term foreign to Islamic discourse. And like other foreign terms it has to be examined carefully before we start using it and submit to its dictates.

Let us face it: It is a foreign term. And like other foreign terms it has to be examined carefully before we start using it and submit to its dictates.

The term as used today comes from the feminist discourse. And it brings with it the entire feminist agenda. Simply stated, the ideology of women’s empowerment means establishing an absolute-no-holds-barred-equality between men and women. Dozens of international organizations are devoted to promoting “women’s empowerment” and use the term interchangeably with “gender equality” and “gender mainstreaming.” At a more basic level it means fighting for your rights. As American feminist Gloria Steinem said, “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.”

Let us contrast this with Islamic history.

The pre-Islamic Meccan society, like all Jahiliyya societies then and now, had its share of the weak and the downtrodden. Women were oppressed. So were slaves. Anyone belonging to another tribe was discriminated against. Did the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, go to them and say I have come to empower you? Did he invite them to start an empowerment movement? If he did, the seerah and Hadith books do not record it. Rather his message to everyone was, “Become a believer and you will be successful.” The promise was falah, the eternal and ultimate success, to be achieved through iman (faith) and taqwa (righteous action performed with the fear of displeasing Allah). To men and women, to slaves and masters, the rich and poor, Arabs and non-Arabs, the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said one thing:

يَأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ، قُولُوا : لا إِلَهَ إِلا اللَّهُ تُفْلِحُوا

“O people, say there is no god but Allah and you will be successful.” Belief in Allah and submission to His commands were the road to falah.

The society that was so built did eliminate the injustices to the slaves and women and the poor and all the downtrodden people. But the path to that uplifting was not through the talk of empowerment. Rather it was through an exactly opposite strategy. Islam did not urge women to fight for their rights; it urged the men to discharge their responsibilities toward the women, fearing Allah. It did not urge the poor to fight for their rights; it urged the wealthy to discharge their responsibilities toward the poor, fearing Allah. It also urged the women to discharge their responsibilities toward their husbands. In fact it changed the focus of everyone from their rights to their responsibilities. For in the Hereafter we’ll be held accountable for our responsibilities, not our rights. If we were shortchanged on our rights here, we will be fully compensated there. But if we were negligent in discharging other’s rights on us, we will have to pay heavily for it there. Needless to say, with everyone concerned with their responsibilities, the rights of the others are automatically secured. Further, with justice being a supreme goal of Islam, redressing injustices becomes everyone’s job not just those of the victims. With this approach Islam obtained justice in the society but without the incessant friction and disharmony that is an essential result of an ongoing fight. It uplifted women without instituting a perpetual gender war. As Imam Zaid Shakir notes: “Islam has never advocated a liberationist philosophy.”

Islam uplifted women without instituting a perpetual gender war. It never advocated a liberationist philosophy.

The language of empowerment is diametrically opposed to it. It makes everyone focus on their rights, not their responsibilities. The battle cry is, watch out for yourself for no one else will. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. With no one being primarily concerned with discharging their responsibilities, securing your rights becomes a lifelong struggle. You will only get those rights for which you fight. Hence the perpetual campaign for women’s empowerment.

What has that led to? The exact opposite of what it aimed at. The empowerment rhetoric did not end exploitation of women; it actually has opened exciting new avenues for it. As Dr. Brooke Magnanti wrote in the Telegraph, “Too often the word is used as a smokescreen for increasing consumerism, a cousin of L’Oreal’s ‘because you’re worth it’ whereby you can presumably empower yourself by buying shoes and pretty little journals, which is somehow worthier than simply buying things because you need or like these things. Or worse still, by landing some 9-to-5 corporate grinding job.”[2]

But it has done much more. It has destroyed the home and family beyond recognition. Even more, it has drastically changed men and women. Here are the words of Father John McCloskey, a Catholic priest lamenting the disaster that this world has faced.

There is something radically wrong with the family and the relationship between the sexes in the West as we rapidly approach the third millennium of the Christian era… Indeed it would be hard to find similar situations in history, unless it be the pre-Christian paganism of the Roman Empire (cf. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans l: ll-20) or the behavior of the barbarian hordes of central Asia as they poured into a weak and decadent empire… Today, in societies that are nominally Christian, we witness the phenomenon of women who do not act like women, nor men like men, nor families like families. Codes of moral behavior that have made the family the central unit of society and have been the “guardrails” of civilization for centuries have been discarded as antiquated.”[3]

If we blindly follow the talk of women’s empowerment, we will also be headed to this lizard’s hole. Or we can follow the path of falah shown by the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam and say goodbye to the borrowed language and borrowed ideologies.

The Women’s Mosque organization was started by two ladies, a comedy writer and a lawyer, as a reaction to their “mistreatment” at some other mosque. The “mistreatment” consisted in somebody in that mosque gently pointing them upstairs to a separate area for women. They apparently thought that the separate upstairs space that had been provided was beneath them. One wonders if that is the attitude of a humble servant of God. In reaction they organized an event that violated the commands of the same God whom they so desperately wanted to serve. And they started a first ever “protest mosque.”

Among other firsts, it also encouraged women to “enter the mosque in the type and style of clothing in which they feel comfortable.” In other words it decreed that Islam does not prescribe any dress code for prayers. Anyone who thought otherwise was asked to keep their opinions to themselves. It asked that no woman should remind another woman to, say, cover her head while praying. If the mosque was a consecrated space which imposed its own rules of decorum and proper conduct, including dignified and modest attire, the “Women’s Mosque” had nothing to do with that.

Such is the tragedy when we become consumed by our desires. These ladies and their sympathizers would do well to listen to the words of Imam Zaid Shakir: “Our fulfillment does not lie in our liberation, rather it lies in the conquest of our soul and its base desires. That conquest only occurs through our enslavement to God.”

The empowerment rhetoric did not end exploitation of women; it actually has opened exciting new avenues for it.

Does Islam ask the women to get sacred knowledge? Absolutely. And today, unlike the bleak picture painted by the marketing department of Women’s Mosque, women are very active in seeking religious knowledge. They are doing it from their homes over the phone and Internet; in gatherings arranged at private homes; in schools established for this purpose. And they are doing it in mosques as well. There are some institutions who have thousands of women studying with them from their homes. They are studying Arabic, Hadith, Fiqh, Qur’an, and so on. May Allah bless these efforts and multiply them. This is the right answer to the problem of women education. Not a Jumuah khutbah delivered by a woman once a month.

The organizers of the Women’s Mosque are right that for proper education women need a safe space where they are by themselves. Where they can discuss their problems freely, get inspired by other sisters, and seek both emotional and intellectual fulfillment from them. Where they do not have to act like men or compete with them. Where women can be women. If one is guided by Islamic teachings and not the talk of empowerment then one could easily see that it should lead to the development of female only schools, colleges, and youth groups.

[1] For a detailed discussion of the fiqhi ruling on women leading prayers, see Imam Zaid Shakir’s article at http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/articles/female_prayer_leadership_revisited. But the matter is simple to understand even without a detailed technical discussion. Dr. Salman Nadvi, who headed the Islamic Studies department at the University of Durban until his retirement and who is the son of the illustrious scholar Allama Sulaiman Nadvi, said: “If Allah wanted women to lead their own Jumuah prayers He would have asked the Prophet to order this and would have asked the Ummahat al-Mu’mineen to lead the prayers.”

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/dr-brooke-magnanti/

[3] http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/singlesexedu.html

Article By Khalid Baig

POSTED: 11 RABI AL-THANI 1436, 1 FEBRUARY 2015

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Valentine Day, Birthdays, and Other Daze

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What commercial and cultural propaganda presents as beautiful is rooted in ugly paganism but most blind followers do not know.

There is a group of practices that we can consider as the twin sister of bid’ah. Like bid’ah they flourish on the twin foundations of ignorance and outside influence. Like bid’ah they entail rituals. But unlike bid’ah the rituals have not been given an Islamic face. They are followed because they are considered an acceptable cultural practice or the hottest imported “in” thing.

Most of those who indulge in them do not know what they are doing. They are just blind followers of their equally blind cultural leaders. Little do they realize that what they consider as innocent fun may in fact be rooted in paganism. That the symbols they embrace may be symbols of unbelief. That the ideas they borrow may be products of superstition. That all of these may be a negation of what Islam stands for.

Christianity tried to stop the evil celebration of Lupercalia. Its only success was in changing the name from Lupercalia to St. Valentine’s Day

Consider Valentine’s Day, a day that after dying out a well deserved death in most of Europe (but surviving in Britain and United States) has suddenly started to emerge across a good swath of Muslim countries. Who was Valentine? Why is this day observed? Legends abound, as they do in all such cases, but this much is clear: Valentine’s Day began as a pagan ritual started by Romans in the 4th century BCE to honor the god Lupercus. The main attraction of this ritual was a lottery held to distribute young women to young men for “entertainment and pleasure”–until the next year’s lottery. Among other equally despicable practices associated with this day was the lashing of young women by two young men, clad only in a bit of goatskin and wielding goatskin thongs, who had been smeared with blood of sacrificial goats and dogs. A lash of the “sacred” thongs by these “holy men” was believed to make them better able to bear children.

As usual, Christianity tried, without success, to stop the evil celebration of Lupercalia. It first replaced the lottery of the names of women with a lottery of the names of the saints. The idea was that during the following year the young men would emulate the life of the saint whose name they had drawn. (The idea that you can preserve the appearance of a popular evil and yet somehow turn it to serve the purpose of virtue, has survived. Look at all those people who are still trying, helplessly, to use the formats of popular television entertainments to promote good. They might learn something from this bit of history. It failed miserably) Christianity ended up doing in Rome, and elsewhere, as the Romans did.

How can anyone in his right mind think that Islam would be indifferent to practices seeped in anti-Islamic ideas and beliefs?

The only success it had was in changing the name from Lupercalia to St. Valentine’s Day. It was done in CE 496 by Pope Gelasius, in honor of some Saint Valentine. There are as many as 50 different Valentines in Christian legends. Two of them are more famous, although their lives and characters are also shrouded in mystery. According to one legend, and the one more in line with the true nature of this celebration, St. Valentine was a “lovers'” saint, who had himself fallen in love with his jailer’s daughter.

Due to serious troubles that accompanied such lottery, French government banned the practice in 1776. In Italy, Austria, Hungry, and Germany also the ritual vanished over the years. Earlier, it had been banned in England during the 17th century when the Puritans were strong. However in 1660 Charles II revived it. From there it also reached the New World, where enterprising Yankees spotted a good means of making money. Esther A. Howland, who produced one of the first commercial American Valentine’s Day cards called— what else— valentines, in the 1840s, sold $5,000 worth–when $5,000 was a lot of money–the first year. The valentine industry has been booming ever since.

It is the same story with Halloween, which has otherwise normal human beings dressing like ghosts and goblins in a reenactment of an ancient pagan ritual of demon worship. Five star hotels in Muslim countries arrange Halloween parties so the rich can celebrate the superstitions of a distant period of ignorance that at one time even included the shameful practice of human sacrifice. The pagan name for that event was Samhain (pronounced sow-en). Just as in case of Valentine’s Day, Christianity changed its name, but not the pagan moorings.

Christmas is another story. Today Muslim shopkeepers sell and shoppers buy Christmas symbols in Islamabad or Dubai or Cairo. To engage in a known religious celebration of another religion is bad enough. What is worse is the fact that here is another pagan celebration (Saturnalia) that has been changed in name —and in little else— by Christianity.

During joys and sorrows, during celebrations and sufferings, we must follow the one straight path — not many divergent paths.

Even the celebration considered most innocent might have pagan foundations. According to one account, in pagan cultures, people feared evil spirits – especially on their birthdays. It was a common belief that evil spirits were more dangerous to a person when he or she experienced a change in their daily life, such as turning a year older. So family and friends surrounded the person with laughter and joy on their birthdays in order to protect them from evil.

How can anyone in his right mind think that Islam would be indifferent to practices seeped in anti-Islamic ideas and beliefs? Islam came to destroy paganism in all its forms and it cannot tolerate any trace of it in the lives of its followers.

Further, Islam is very sensitive about maintaining its purity and the unique identity of its followers. Islamic laws and teachings go to extra lengths to ensure it. Salat is forbidden at the precise times of sunrise, transition, and sunset to eliminate the possibility of confusion with the practice of sun worship. To the voluntary recommended fast on the tenth of Muharram, Muslims are required to add another day (9th or 11th) to differentiate it from the then prevalent Jewish practice. Muslims are forbidden to emulate the appearance of non-Muslims.

A Muslim is a Muslim for life. During joys and sorrows, during celebrations and sufferings, we must follow the one straight path — not many divergent paths. It is a great tragedy that under the constant barrage of commercial and cultural propaganda from the forces of globalization and the relentless media machine, Muslims have begun to embrace the Valentines, the Halloween ghost, and even the Santa Claus. Given our terrible and increasing surrender to paganism the only day we should be observing is a day of mourning. Better yet it should be a day of repentance that could liberate us from all these days. And all this daze.

By Khalid Baig

Attending a Janāzah

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by Shaykh Mawlānā Muhammad Saleem Dhorat hafizahullāh

The journey to the Hereafter is one which almost every person fears, yet we fail to show any concern for our dear and near ones from the time of their demise to after burial. Our condition at such a critical time is worthy of much lament and shame. Rather than our benefitting the deceased in anyway, we return from the funeral with no benefit to ourselves or to the family; in fact we return with increase in the hurt and grief of the family and maybe sin too. This is because we are neglectful and forget the severity of the stages which our beloved ones are soon to reach. Continue reading

The cleanliness of the Masjid

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By (Mufti) Abraar Alli

The religion of Islam being a natural way of life is promotes many simple, yet essential values to our existence. Islam lays a lot of importance to respect, etiquettes and moral conduct which can be found throughout the Quran and Sunnah.
An example of this is found where Allah Ta’ala has honoured and revered the Masajid, This entails that everyone else also follows in this order. Allah Ta’ala associates the respect shown to the symbols of Islam (here the Masjid) with the grand quality of Taqwa:
وَمَن يُعَظِّمْ شَعَائِرَ اللهِ فَإِنَّهَا مِن تَقْوَى الْقُلُوبِ
Those who show respect to the signs of Allah Ta’ala for this is from the Taqwa of the heart (Surah Hajj) Continue reading

33 Reasons to study under a Qualified Teacher

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Knowledge is attractive and it’s something everybody needs. However, when the correct procedure is not followed, the desired results are lost. The trend of self-study that has become ever so popular in the current times actually contributes to the destruction of pure knowledge. The boom of the internet and its search engines have also contributed to this trend. What follows is an in-depth look at the “Need for a Tutor”

Introduction
To acquire knowledge under the expertise of a fully qualified, Sunnah-conscious ‘Alim of deen is absolutely essential. Failure to do so will result in misguidance. In fact, the system of tutorship has been adopted throughout time and was even the practice of the Ambiya (‘alaihimusalam) and our pious predecessors. This is the only way in which one will acquire pure authentic knowledge. An added benefit is that one will also discover how to respect the people of knowledge. Continue reading

The Beginnings of Arabic Grammar

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إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ

“Indeed, We have sent it, an Arabic Qur’an so that you all may understand.” (12:2)

قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا غَيْرَ ذِي عِوَجٍ لَّعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ

“It is a Qur’an in Arabic, without any crookedness, in order that they may have Taqwa.” (39:28)

Imam Shafi’ said, “Every Muslim is obligated to learn the Arabic tongue to the utmost of his power in order to profess through it that ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is His Messenger’ and to utter what is mandated upon him…” (al-Risalah, pg.93) Continue reading

The Importance of Du’ã

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Du’ã is asking Allah for help or for the fulfilment of a particular need. It expresses a slave’s helplessness and dependence on Allah, the All-Powerful and Merciful. It is the channel through which one gets directly in touch with one’s Creator.

The purpose of man’s creation is worship and according to a Hadeeth, ‘Du’ã is the essence of worship’. (Tirmizi) And according to another Hadeeth, ‘Du’ã is the worship’. (Tirmizi)
Continue reading

The Qur’ān – A Clear Proof

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By Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Saleem Dhorat hafizahullah

Indeed, We have sent down the Dhikr [the Qur‘ān], and indeed We are its guardian. (15:9)

In this verse Allāh ta‘ālā proclaims that it is He, and He alone, who has revealed the Glorious Qur’ān to mankind, which means it is His Word. This claim is followed by a proof to validate it: that Allāh ta‘ālā Himself is its guardian and protector. When Allāh ta‘ālā protects something, nothing and no one can ever interfere with it, so the continual preservation of the Qur’ān is a proof that it is the Word of Allāh ta‘ālā. There are many other proofs of the Divine origin of the Qur’ān, including its i‘jāz (inimitability) – the challenge to mankind to invent even a single verse to match the Qur’ān in its perfection. However, the preservation of the Qur’ān is a proof that even a child can understand.

Continue reading

Sublime “Holiday Spots” Not to forget!!

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By: Moulana Mohammad

A man was on his way to a neighboring village when an angel suddenly appeared before him. ‘What takes you to this village? ‘Enquired the angel. ‘To visit a brother whom I love for the sake of Allah,’ was the sincere reply. The angel questioned further, ‘do you have any other motive?’

The man replied ‘No, upon which the angel exclaimed, I am the messenger of Allah and I assure you that Allah loves you as you love your brother.’

(Sahih Muslim, Hadith:6495)

At the same time, another angle is deputed to proclaim he following message to him:

“You have done well, your foot steps have been profitable, and you have prepared an abode for yourself in Paradise.”

(Sunan Tirmidhi, Hadith:2008) Continue reading

Two Levels of Al-A‘māl As-Sālihah (Good Deeds)

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Every human that comes into this world is ordered to fulfil two responsibilities – Īmān and Al-A‘māl As-Sālihah (good deeds). The success and failure of both worlds depend on completing these two tasks.

If a person on an individual level adorns his life with Īmān and Al-A‘māl As-Sālihah, then he will achieve individual success in his individual kingdom. Allāh ta‘ālā states:

Whoever, male or female, has acted righteously, while being a believer, We shall certainly make him live a good life, and shall give such people their reward for the best of what they used to do. (16:97) Continue reading

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