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Wise Women in The 99 Names of God

I co-founded Chickpea Press, a multi-faith children’s publisher, after working in mainstream publishing for over a decade. One of our core aims is to cultivate an awareness of the equality of women and men in faith. After a lifetime of struggling to find a voice within a faith setting, thinking that my religion didn’t allow it, it was a shock, as an adult, to discover Muslim women throughout history who not only had voices, but profound wisdom to share about God, life and religion.

The 99 Names of God is an illustrated guide to the Divine attributes of God within Islam, written and illustrated by Daniel Thomas Dyer. Designed for young and old, the book shows how compassion and peace are at the heart of Islam, and how the faith celebrates social diversity, recognizes the validity of other religions, promotes social equality and justice, abhors violence, values self-expression and the arts, and encourages responsible custodianship of the natural world.

One of the key features is a quote for each Name from a prophet or holy person of faith. It was very important that we try to have an equal balance of female and male voices in the book. This was a challenge from the start. Whilst we are aware of many women of faith, finding actual records of their words is a lot harder. There may be lots of reasons for this: historically women seemed more busy in the actual process of communing with God than writing down their experiences; women who had learned men-folk in their life (husbands, fathers) might be mentioned in their writings but without direct quotes; for women who did keep a record of their life and work, the sources may not have survived – or may have been destroyed over time in a patriarchal system.

One of the most important books to collect their voices, however, is Women of Sufism by Camille Adams Helminski. This treasury of female Muslim saints was a guiding light in our work for the book, unveiling women from across cultures and social classes, and providing more sources that we could explore. For many women, we were only able to source one referenced saying.

This being an illustrated guide, Daniel spent a lot of time working on appropriate and sensitive visual representations of all the key figures quoted. One of my favourite images is of Khadijah with Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them both, illustrating the attribute of al-Mumin, the Inspirer of Faith. The image illustrates the time when Muhammad, on first receiving his prophethood, rushed to Khadijah who comforted and reassured him that he was not mad and had truly been chosen as a messenger of the Almighty. Khadijah’s strength and faith are beautifully encapsulated in this Name and the accompanying words she is believed to have said:

khadijah

Another favourite is Rabiah of Basra, the great mystic who was renowned for sincerely loving God for God’s sake alone. Daniel’s illustration is based on her famous saying, used for al-Khafid, the Abaser, and ar-Rafi, the Exalter:

rabiah

The book also contains sayings from Hagar, Mary, Aishah, and Fatimah, as well as introducing lesser known figures such as Shawana, renowned for weeping out of love and awe of God; Lady Nafisah of Cairo, known as ‘the Jewel of Knowledge’; Fatimah al-Bardaiyyah of Iran, who was renowned for speaking words of ecstasy; and Unayzah, a witty and spirited mystic from Baghdad.

This book is offered as a guide to help us witness the Divine Majesty and Beauty. For children it is a rich treasury of wonder that will reveal greater depths as they grow and mature, whilst for parents and teachers it will offer much to inspire, inform, and remind. Each name is accompanied by engaging reflections and activities, with signs to highlight the Name both within our hearts and outside in nature.

I wonder how I would have been affected if I had been given access to an education that offered me a deeper understanding and awareness of my mothers and sisters of Islam at a younger age. It is my fervent hope that we can create quality resources that give a new generation what so many of us missed out on.

We are launching The 99 Names of God in London on February 6th at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Daniel will speak more about his personal journey with the Names, and we will be joined by Azim Rehmatdin who penned the original calligraphy for the book, and Julia Katarina from Music With Refugees who will be singing Qawwali and Nasheeds on the Divine Names.

You can book your ticket for the launch, see more about the book and get your copy here: chickpeapress.co.uk

By Saimma Dyer

Saimma Dyer is the Managing Director of Chickpea Press and Co-founder of Rumi’s Circle. When not busy publishing or organising interfaith events, she can be found exploring the Divine Feminine and how to be a Sufi Feminist. Follow her @SaimmaDyer

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

 


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The Colour of Love #NotGrey

by Sabrina Mahmood

@sabrina01m

Did I really just read that? That was my initial reaction after I read the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series. Everybody was talking about it, it was trending in all the charts, and I just had to know what the fascination was. And we all love a good love story right? As I began reading, I immediately took to Ana, a student like me I at once understood her naivety. She was intrigued by this mystery man and of course so was every avid reader on the planet. But as the book, and eventually the series continued, I was deeply troubled by many of the not so blatant undertones in the book.

“…we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship.”

Image by Jeffery: https://flic.kr/p/q5W7s8Image by Jeffery: https://flic.kr/p/q5W7s8

The whole idea that a man was able to dictate the way a woman dresses, eats and spends her free time really stuck with me. As a society, we have been fighting to stop women from being ‘under the thumb’ so to speak. Behaviour like this is now associated with religious oppression and yet this book was glamourising these facets of what essentially is an abusive relationship. I had many discussions about the book and people always said “but she has a choice!”

'Fifty Shades of Grey' book cover

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book cover

Do you really believe that any woman would choose to be treated in such a way? Yes, everybody has their preferences but when you take away all the superficial aspects, and look just at Ana, can you relate to her on a human aspect? She wants to be loved, and she will do anything she can to try and make this man love her. Clearly, she doesn’t realise what she is in for, and is hurt physically and emotionally through the course of the story. I felt that E L James created a very stereotypical idea of Ana, whereby she becomes dependant on a man’s love, even when she leaves him she cannot stay away, she is clumsy and needs’ to be ‘looked after’. When I read it, I was willing Ana to be stronger, to leave him, but of course that never happened.

And if you look at real life abusive relationships, women often believe that the man loves them, despite years of suffering abuse. In the end his character does change, but the fact remains that he is still a controlling man that clearly has issues. It is my personal belief that if any person loves another, they would not do anything to harm them. In the first book towards the end, there is a belt whipping scene which epitomises the abusive nature of this relationship, and highlights the growing concern that  Ana has for her wellbeing. Every woman deserves to feel safe, without concerns for her own safety when she is in a relationship, and that is the message that James should have been promoting.

The most shocking aspect of the whole thing was the way the 50 shades phenomenon took off in the media, it fast became a trend. Everybody wanted to have a man like ‘Christian’, and although a huge part of the story is about sex, the things that really troubled me was the ongoing lack of freedom and choices that Ana had. People wanted to be ‘dominated’.  And in a world where freedom of expression is celebrated, I really don’t think we should be accepting a book that promotes anything less.

“As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.”

Christian had a troubled past, and the cause for his control issues stems from a neighbour having a relationship with him when he was a young teen. If we read a news article of a 15/16 year old boy engaging in a sexual relationship with an older neighbour we would immediately think grooming or sexual abuse. Yet, at no point in the trilogy, does James suggest anything of the sort. And for me, that is deeply worrying. In real life, a man with such high levels of emotional trauma would need psychological help and counselling. And if James wanted to write a book about a troubled man she should have done it responsibly, rather than making him take out his aggression and problems on vulnerable young women. As a society we have to show people what love really looks like, and love most definitely does not look grey.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Images credit: Jeffery and Wikipedia