She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


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Female Muslim Reverts, Hope for A Minority in a Minority?

by Christal Williams

@ChristalBlogs

Image credit, Mariam Hicham: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/430445676858121676/

Chika is a Japanese (internationally famous) female boxer who recently converted to Islam

As a female revert to Islam, the first thing people always ask me is why? Why did I give up being able to wear my hair the way I used to? Why did I give up mini skirts and short sleeves? And the simple answer is, it didn’t make me happy.

This is a sentiment shared not just by myself but other Muslim sisters I have met along the way. The topic of Islam and women is a convoluted and complicated one, or at least that’s how we’ve make it. People always assume there’s some profound reason as to why you’d turn your back on twerking like Miley Cyrus or dressing like a “female boss” Beyonce-style. But, put plain and simple, as a woman in the society we see around us now, I just got sick and tired of always trying to conform.

From the earliest age, we as women are dictated to and told what we should want, what we should feel, how we should react and how we should present ourselves to the world by a society that ultimately cannot be pleased.

With this in mind, we can understand why so many women are flocking to Islam in their droves. It should be no surprise to the world that the religion that put an end to burying young baby girls in the desert, gave women the right to own property, marry whom they wish and make a living for themselves, is the very same that is so appealing to the ‘modern’ female.

This is the premise of Islam but we all know it can still be difficult. Dealing with the expectations of others is not something that disappears when you become Muslim however, you learn to block it out as you know the only being you must please first and foremost is Allah. And, unlike society, He is the Most Merciful.

According to statistics, in 2011 quoted by the Telegraph, in the past 10 years three quarters of those who become Muslim are female, which just goes to show Islam has more to offer women than any other religion. The patriarchal idea that when you revert to Islam, you’re automatically allocated an oppressive husband, ordered to have 6 children and chained to the kitchen cooker until your dying days is dying and I say good riddance to it!

New Muslim women are breaking taboos, continuing to be active in their communities and fulfilling their obligations just as the Sahabiyat (female companions of the Prophet peace be upon him) did. Female Muslim reverts are finding that they can find peace, solace and happiness in helping their local community, using their existing talents to teach others and represent the true face of Islam. This is where I found true happiness.

Every month, I see or hear of another sister who has taken her shahadah (proclaimed the testimony of faith to become a Muslim) and embraced Islam. To those still young in their journey, I convey my salaams wholeheartedly.

I say throw away the ideas of what the world wants you to be and become what Allah has created you to be. Look at the great examples that have been left for us such as Khadijah, Aisha, Fatima, Rabia al Basri and many more, may the peace of Allah be upon them all. Allah gave us the blueprints, now let’s get to work!

 

Image credit: Miriam Hicham

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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Blessings of Ramadan: a personal reflection

by Sprinkle of Surprise

Ramadan Geylang Serai, Singapore: https://flic.kr/p/6VsH5v

Ramadan Geylang Serai, Singapore: https://flic.kr/p/6VsH5v

Ramadan. This month means so many different things to so many different people. For some this is another month, for others, this is the time of utmost importance. Everyone performs various religious duties as they see fit this month, what ties us all together is the fasting. Fasting by abstaining from food & other acts that will break our fasts. Recitation of the Quran is at its peak this month, as are iftar get togethers & gatherings at the masjid.

As a child, I loved waking up for sehri* / sahoor with my parents thinking I was so cool eating in the middle of the night. As I got older, the less and less cool this became and the more tired I felt eating at such odd times of the night. All through most of my life, I never truly understood or cared enough to understand the true meaning and gains one can receive through this month. It hasn’t been until this past year, when I truly did a lot of soul searching and found the need, desire, passion and joy in praying to Allah & trying to better myself as a Muslim girl living in America.

This Ramadan for me is different than any of my last. I feel like I am truly fasting for the first time in my life. The fasts this year are extremely long and extremely testing. I work full time and this year for the first time I’m keeping my fasts without waking up for sehri. I have iftar at normal iftar time, and an hour or two later I just eat something light which is my sehri. I can’t wake up in the middle of the night any more like I used to as a child. Sigh, adult life problems.

Besides the actual abstaining from food, I have also told my coworkers of this month. They’re all so supportive and questioning (as they all are) but I still take my lunch break with them and they eat while I pass time. It doesn’t bother me, and it helps keep the regularity in my work day. For the first time this Ramadan, I am not listening to music for this whole month. I know for some people that is normal during this month, but I was never one of those people. This year I felt like I should keep myself from that as well, and so far I am succeeding. I have a long drive to and from work, so I now I put youtube on as I drive listening to naats.

“I am proud of myself for making these changes & feeling a difference in myself this Ramadan. I hope I can continue this in the next few years and better myself as a Muslim.”

With Eid approaching in almost a week, Eid fashion is all the hype amongst Muslim girls these days. Every time I go to an iftar party or the Mosque, this becomes a topic of discussion. Being a Pakistani Muslim, our Eids are even more extravagant than they probably should be. One of our Mosque’s in the state I live in, holds an ‘Eid Chaand Raat’ a week before Eid—This year it is July 10—where a bunch of clothing vendors come to sell their clothes. We go to this every year as the selection is so wide and it’s a good time to invest in some new clothes. I can’t wait to go shopping this weekend for a new outfit. I’m not sure yet of what I would like to buy, but we’ll see, if I find something nice, then it will be my Eid outfit.

Traditional sweet cakes and desserts served in Ramadan. https://flic.kr/p/uub3gf

Traditional sweet cakes and desserts served in Ramadan. https://flic.kr/p/uub3gf

Eid clothing & food is one of the many ways that Muslims celebrate Eid. It’s my favorite part of the holiday as it gives us all an excuse to look nice and dress up to celebrate the end of this beautiful month. The food we eat, especially in the Pakistani/Indian community, for Eid, is truly a feast. So much food is made and eaten, I always feel too full after Eid. But we should all be thankful that we are blessed with such meals on a daily basis, and especially on Eid. There are so many Muslims around the world starving and cannot enjoy these simple luxuries we have.

I hope your Ramadan is a blessed one and a very Eid Mubarak to you and your family! ☺

*’Sehri is essentially the time of the morning meal. We wake at 3 am to eat something, before morning prayer time-the time our fasts begin.

Sprinkle of Surprise is a 20 something year old girl living in the USA. She writes a personal blog ‘Sprinkle of Surprise’ documenting moments of her life and experiences. She enjoy’s writing about her life, beauty, fashion, and healthy lifestyle. She would love it if you follow her on her blog and Instagram @sprinkleofsurprise

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: Yeowatzup on Flickr commons and Isuann L.https://flic.kr/p/uub3gf.


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A personal rant about Ramadan: Fasting with Depression

by Zara

Image credit: Sadi_M, https://m.flickr.com/photos/lilion/3866584954/in/search?q=Ramadan

Image credit: Sadi_M, https://flic.kr/p/5hGPAb

Random personal rant about Ramadan

So, some of you may or may not know that I am a Muslim. Not a good one, but a Muslim nevertheless. A little info is that in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, we fast from dawn to dusk (no food or water, no smoking, ingesting of any substances).

For a few years, my psychiatrists deemed me unfit to fast. Last year I started again, this time in full knowledge of the illnesses I carry. Before then, fasting was still hard, but I was in enough denial and enough emotional pain to be completely fine with not eating or drinking, it was almost another form of self harm. Now, fasts are longer, I smoke, and instead of just being ill, I’m fighting my mental health.

Last year I managed to fast roughly half the month, and this year I’m aiming to complete the month. But my dear lord it is hard. I’ve had to rearrange my time so that I take my medication at 2am before the fast begins. And it is like all my emotions and feelings are so much more heightened during fasting. There are tidal waves of anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness and a range of many other feelings that all hit at once and are so overwhelming all I want to do is find a rock to cry under, to cut those feelings out, to make it go away. But I can’t, and I sit there with those feelings, with hunger and thirst also, in my bed waiting for dusk so I can eat something and smoke and calm down. Only to do it all again. Everyone keeps telling me if I find it too much, it is acceptable to break my fast. While I am grateful for the understanding that fasting when you have mental health difficulties is harder than fasting without, I don’t think anyone understands that breaking the fast is not helpful either. I end up feeling guilty, like I’m such a shit person for not being able to finish it. I know that may not be reality, but it’s how I feel. Like I’m stuck in a black hole.

I don’t know why I’m posting this, but what I do know is that I feel a little bit better for putting some of my thoughts into words. Anyway, another fast begins, wish me luck.

Zara wishes to remain anonymous, and is not using her real name.

Image credit Sadi_M from Flickr Creative Commons 

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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Ramadhan – “Why Aren’t You Fasting?”

by Maaiysa Valli

@Maaiysa

 Every year, Ramadhan comes. And every year, I struggle. Not with the fast – which this year is around 20+ hours long – but with NOT being able to fast.

It’s a battle I quietly face every year. And here I’ll explain why.

You may know that certain groups are exempt from fasting. The elderly, young children, pregnant or nursing women, and those who are ill. I’d love to say I’m too young to fast (but definitely not too old!!) but unfortunately, the reason I can’t fast is due to a lifelong illness. It’s meant I’ve not been able to fast since my health took a real turn for the worse when I was in my teens – though trust me, that didn’t stop me from fasting back then! But now, as the fasts get longer, I have to take the medical advice that I just can’t do it. And that saddens me. To some of you, that might sound strange: “Why would you be sad at not being able to starve yourself from 1am to 9pm?” But for Muslim brothers and sisters, you’ll know that feeling of sorrow. For those who aren’t able to fast, you can pay a Fidyah – which is money that goes towards feeding poor people. I do that every year, but I also used to make up the missed fasts in winter months – when the fasting hours are much shorter. The last time I did that though was 2011 and I ended up in hospital, so that was that!

I’ve been in two minds about writing this blog for years, as it opens me up to more questions and I’m a very private person, but I need to do this for my own sake. I don’t talk about things that are important to me. My personal life is just that and you’ll rarely find me opening up about my religion, let alone my health. In fact,  I’m someone who likes to deal with big issues internally. But for years now, I’ve dealt with the question “Why aren’t you fasting?”. People ask if I’m pregnant (no!), if I’m constantly on my period (NO!) or they just assume that I’m a “lazy Muslim” (DEFINITE NO!!) Because I’m such a private person, I never tell people the full story, I simply say “I can’t because of my health”. (And I’m afraid to say I won’t be giving the full answer here either.)

But everytime I’m asked why – by Muslims and non-Muslims alike – it hurts. It hurts that I can’t feel those hunger pains, it hurts that I can’t feel tired through fasting or the thirst that parches your throat – all for the love of God. Despite not being able to fast, I’ve always done Iftar (breaking the fast at sunset) and work permitting – Suhoor (keeping the fast at sunrise) because Ramadhan is so much about family. It’s probably the only time in the year where you’ll eat together as a family day in, day out and I love that. I love being with my parents and praying with them. But still, I always feel like I’m “missing out” in Ramadhan because I’m not fasting.

It’s the holiest month for Muslims and when you hear the word “Ramadhan”, you’ll probably instantly think about fasting. But Ramadhan is SO much more than starving yourself from food. It’s about starving yourself from sin. It’s a month for self-reflection, sacrifice, and love and peace. So while I can’t fast, I try to make up for it in other ways. I’ll pray lots of Qur’an, try and keep up with my salah (five daily prayers) and listen to lots of lectures by top scholars. In my house the telly is switched off for the whole month! But still, I get that feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m not striving hard enough or doing my best. I always feel lazy if I’m not spending every minute in prayer or doing something good. I know for some of you reading this, it will sound so alien, but some of you will understand.

I heard a lecture the other day that said Ramadhan always comes at the perfect time and it hit the nail on the head for me. As Muslims, we look forward to Ramadhan coming, we’re sad when it ends. And for me this year, I REALLY needed Ramadhan to come. Like I said – it’s a month of self-reflection. This year has been tough for me, and recently I had a run-in with my past that made me evaluate my life. I felt like a failure. Like I’d achieved nothing and that this wasn’t how my life was supposed to be. But Ramadhan came. And less than a week in, I’m already feeling the benefits. I’m reminded that THIS is exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. THIS is what’s written for me. And every battle I go through is just a test – and Ramadhan is as good a reminder as any of that.

So while I write this blog – probably my most emotional and personal outpouring – I pray you all have a peaceful and blessed month. Whether you observe Ramadhan or not. Whether you fast or not. Whether you’re religious or not. It doesn’t matter. This month is about remembering what you’ve been blessed with and being thankful for that. And I am very thankful and very blessed. I just needed reminding…

Maaiysa Valli

This post first appeared on Maaiysa Valli’s personal website and has been reposted with permission. 

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 Feminine as the Balancing Force; Poetry & Literalism

by Roszeen Afsar

@Roszeen

The literalist way of thinking among certain Muslims is sad to say the least. I’ve been exposed to it many times, but the most memorable was in my university prayer room. I remember being hauled into a discussion about Sufism amongst a group of girls who carried a negative opinion of it. I mentioned Rumi to them and was surprised when they laughed, in amazement that I should bring up a poet in a discussion about theology (unaware of Rumi’s status as both poet and theologian). It was then that I realized how little is known nowadays of the history and fruitfulness of Islamic thought or more specifically, spirituality.

These girls were not new in their thinking. Their dismissiveness came from a specific disposition known as ‘Salafism’. Salafism is a literalist movement which, within its folds, narrows Islam to a dogmatic set rules, rejecting therein a great deal of tradition. From this conversation I came to believe that literalists were against poetry entirely. However, I have seen that rhyming is something used even by the Salafi’s, and amongst extremist groups there is something known as ‘jihadi poetry’. The rejection those girls had was specifically of Sufism or spirituality, Rumi being one of the key figures associated with this. But by rejecting Sufism, they also rejected the feminine, which as I have stated in an earlier piece is synonymous to spirituality. Further to that, in this piece I intend to compare the poetry of the Sufis to that of extremist groups as a tool to see their wider ways of thinking about life. By doing so we find an example in the literalist, in its most extreme form, of the result of removing the feminine (spirituality) from Islam.

The Feminine

Painting by Rozseen Afsar

Painting by Rozseen Afsar

You could easily believe while keeping up with current affairs and the goings-on of society that many of us have lost an understanding of the feminine characteristics God has given us from within Himself. God is both masculine (al-Jalal i.e. of Majesty and Power) and feminine (al-Jamal i.e. of Beauty and Compassion). His masculine characteristics are in names such as; The All-Compelling, The All-Mighty, The Afflicter of Retribution and The Supremely Strong. Examples of His feminine characteristics are in names such as; The most Merciful, The most Forgiving, The most Patient, The most Gentle. These latter names are those we regularly call Allah by, seeking His mercy, forgiveness, patience, gentleness. But within our Ummah we can see the result of being less inclined to embody these traits ourselves.

It was when I read a poem by Rumi that I found a beautiful and significant connection being made between Allah’s feminine characteristics and the creation of woman;

Love and kindness are human attributes; anger and
sensuality belong to the animals.

She is the radiance of God, she is not your beloved. She
is a creator

– you could say that she is not created.

I thought of ‘She is a creator’ as referring to a woman’s role as a mother, or as the female being a creator of love and mercy as we know it on earth. Being uncreated could mean the wholesome possession of Allah’s feminine characteristics. These of course were prevalent more than in any of us in the character of the Prophet (pbuh), who had the balance of both feminine and masculine e.g. in his mercy and his justice. The general examples however – used by the Prophet (pbuh) himself – are those of the female. He (pbuh) said that God’s mercy is greater than that of a mother’s love for her child, thereby using the example of the highest love we know on earth to demonstrate the incomprehensibility of Allah’s mercy. When I read Rumi’s poem I immediately thought of the feminine as the civilizing force of the world, beyond the simple gender-based understanding of a woman, more as part of the balance of the human being.

To be balanced with both the masculine and feminine is an interesting notion and I have thought of it in connection with the concept of the genderless worshipper, as Rabia al Basri was seen to be. But this genderless-ness was not just in the balance of characteristics, it was in fact mainly in the annihilation of one’s physical form in the love of God. It’s been said that; “When a woman walks on the path of God she cannot be called a ‘woman’” (Women of Sufism*), the notion of gender/sexuality isn’t relevant anymore. This is seen in Rabia al Basri’s poetry which expresses her experience of dedication to Allah; an annihilation of self. An incomprehensible experience to us since we have not reached such a station.

Literalism and Poetry

In comparison to the essence of Rabia al Basri’s poetry, I recently came across an article called; Battle Lines; Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry’  in which there is a secular analysis of how and why poetry is significant to extremists. The article talks specifically about a woman named Ahlam al-Nasr, a member of ISIS who has written poems, as the writers state, ‘in praise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi…and a thirty-page essay defending the leadership’s decision to burn the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh alive’. Her work uses war and violence to play upon emotions by romanticizing martyrdom, emphasizing cruelty to Muslim lands and the bravery of those fighting against it. She puts forth an idyllic dream for how things could be under the ISIS imagined Islamic state, a place which in reality does not exist.

This romanticizing of ‘jihad’ is, needless to say, a dramatic break away from the poetry which has always been celebrated in the Islamic world. The insecurity brought about by the victim status of such followers overcompensates into a call for violence. The focus on sacrificing for God in classical Islamic poetry is instead in ISIS expressed as a focus on battle and a struggle seen through a political lens, for a call to take vengeance through their vigilantism and declaration of legitimacy. In the midst of such huge issues the focus on purifying the soul and seeking the Creator is seen as insignificant, even alien.

The secular world does not help with this in its incomprehension of spirituality. Secular means to not be connected to religion, but in this case I am using the term ‘secular world’ specifically in relation to contemporary thought which looks at religion from its subjective position of non-belief. In this world the voice of the extremist is religion because the concrete notions of violence and martyrdom through suicidal fantasies are part of a language secularism understands more than that of rectifying the heart and soul.

It also looks at the Muslim woman as a victim of the male gaze, having to wear a veil, thereby seeing her only as a physical entity. Similarly, ISIS has a ‘brigade’ named Al-Khansa which is the ‘female morality police’ of the cult who no doubt ensure that women are dressed appropriately and behave as they’re supposed to. And so, just as secular opinion makes a Muslim woman only her veil, Al-Khansa does no different. Just because a poetess is hailed as a voice for their movement does not mean that the feminine has found its presence amongst them.

In such groups the idea of the gender-less worshipper is nonexistent, it isn’t something that I imagine would ever make sense to those of literalist thinking. The poetry of Rumi, Rabia al Basri, Hafiz etc. which speaks about devotion to the Divine is about a love which is so fierce that were an individual to walk upon that path they would have nothing of themselves left. I think if we understood sacrifice such as this we would not ridicule such individuals or dismiss the way of the Sufi. Similarly, the feminine is not something to be hushed or underestimated, it is key to the meaning of life. Or else we have the other end of the spectrum in the form of groups like ISIS who might be able to deceive some with their romanticised jihad, but were anyone to study the works of classical Muslim poets they would see the utter emptiness in such dystopian fantasies.

*‘Women of Sufism; A Hidden Treasure’ by Camille Adams Helminski

You can view more art work by Roszeen Afsar [Inky-Art by Roszeen] on her Instagram @InkyArtbyRoszeen

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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I got 99 problems, but judging people shouldn’t be one

haram police

It’s  difficult to be a Muslim online these days; if you’re not receiving backlash from Islamophobic trolls, then you can definitely rely on your own community to take the position of judge and jury when it comes to your morality.

Okay, so I’m being a little facetious. But I see it time and time again, and we need to stop it. Right now. Because although the Muslim community has its fair share of problems, one issue that we can fix ourselves is to stop judging other people. If we all took it upon ourselves to be less judgemental, the whole community would benefit. Judgemental attitudes in the community are definitely a major barrier to Muslims progressing in this modern media landscape.

Let me explain. It’s somewhat true that Muslims are misrepresented by the mainstream media. It seems rare that your average Muslim-neighbour next door gets a spot on TV, and more often than not, the position of representing the token Muslim view often goes to extremists, such as Anjem Choudary.

But, on one hand you can’t complain that Muslims never get a platform while simultaneously judging anyone who tries comes into the limelight. If we want more Muslim-next-door types to come forward, we need to stop being so judgemental.

The internet and blogosphere is perhaps the best example of this. There are lots of Muslims doing good things online. But given that there’s so much judgement from fellow Muslims, you have to ask yourself, who would want to put themselves out there and represent the Muslim view?

For example, any Muslim who doesn’t wear hijab or wears hijab with make-up, or doesn’t wear the right type of hijab or wears the “wrong” type of clothing or who puts pictures up of themselves enjoying a concert or music of any kind (etc. etc. etc. Yawn.) immediately gets a selection of comments from other Muslims who think they know better, who feel they are in the privileged position of deciding who’s good and who’s not. It’s no wonder Muslims are reluctant to step forward.

The truth is that we all pick and choose our actions to some extent and nobody can claim to follow the religion to the letter. We’re all struggling with our own internal conflicts and sense of morality. It’s hard enough trying to be a good person yourself without having to worry about anyone else’s path in life or relationship with God.

Furthermore, if deep down inside, you feel you’re doing the right thing, you need to have the confidence to be true to yourself. Life is too short to worry about what other people are thinking or to worry about the judgement of others. If you don’t feel something is wrong, why pretend otherwise, simply for the sake of others?

One of the most basic tenets of the Islamic faith is bismillah, the declaration: In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful. If we really understood the essence of bismillah, then it really wouldn’t be possible for us to judge others are much as we do. If God is the most merciful, the most compassionate and the most just, then surely we need to leave judgement up to Him and Him alone.

If you believe in the justice of God, and you recognise your own pale insignificance in comparison, then logically, it cannot be possible for you to to judge anyone else. Because if you think you know just as much as God, then that has to be the highest form of arrogance. Moreover, by putting yourself on the level of being able to judge another human being, you’ve assigned partners to the Almighty. Therefore judging others surely leads you to committing a form of shirk. It’s a simple message; it’s basic, but please, let’s leave judgement up to the only one who we believe has the capacity to judge.

If we go one step further, it means that as Muslims we have no right to use anyone’s actions to judge who is a Muslim and who isn’t. In a recent interview, after being questioned about what it means to self-identify as a Muslim, Mona Eltahawy’s response was this:

“To say I’m a Muslim. That’s it … You see, when people ask you these observant questions, I know what the goal of this is, you’re trying to put people in a box and say oh you’re that kind of Muslim, oh you’re that kind of Muslim. All you need to know is that I’m a Muslim, and that’s essentially what the prophet said, that you’re a Muslim.”

All human beings are judgemental to some extent and it’s something we all struggle with. But if we want the Muslim community to be better, we must allow for different attitudes and try to avoid judging others. Afterall, diversity within the Muslim community can only be a good thing.

None of us truly know what pleases the Almighty or what anyone’s struggled with or what someone else’s true intentions are. If we believe Allah is just, we must leave judgement up to Him alone. Live and let live.

Image credit: http://www.quickmeme.com/Haram-police

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 Aliens; Islam & Feminine Spirituality

by Roszeen Afsar 

Bird painting by Roszeen Afsar

Bird painting by Roszeen Afsar

In my previous post; ‘The Smiling Sister; Paintings of Hijab’, I wrote that knowledge of spirituality today is very little, and as such female spirituality is never brought up in discussions on Islam. I was asked why that is. This is an interesting question and one I touched on in my final year at university. The answer, I found, is both because of how Islam is perceived on the outside as well as how Islam has largely continued on the inside.

Islam from Outside

In terms of religion in the present day, although many believe the developed world to be mostly secular, I found in my research that there’s been a growth of new religions and the resurgence of interest in human spirituality. This is believed to be due to a backlash against the Enlightenment and modernity. In an age of globalisation many individuals in the developed world have lesser ties to the community, there’s a breaking up of the family unit (leading to a lack of identity), more focus on fiscal gain, and a lack of ‘standing for something’. The individual therefore has to find other ways to feel at peace. Followers of niche religions or agnostics (who believe in something but don’t follow any particular religion) see religions such as Christianity and Islam as rigid dogmas; too controlling, too backwards, not providing a way for their individual problems/needs to be addressed.

Although many Muslims would argue against this, we must understand that the Western view of Islam has always been rudimentary and I would argue that Western scholars haven’t made much effort in the past to understand Islam beyond seeing it from their knowledge of Christianity. If you add this to the Enlightenment’s criticism of, and moving away from, religion you have to question how Islam could have stood a chance in being recognised for the depth of its beliefs. I had this experience with my own lecturers; those of which I spoke to about Islam during my research had no idea about its spirituality or complexities. It’s no surprise then that individuals who are identified with Muslim backgrounds and who are causing harm in the world, bring about a questioning of the tenants of Islam itself rather than their actions being seen as perversions of religion or as politically motivated with political objectives as my research found was almost always the case.

Further to Islam’s alien position in the Western world, the appearance of Muslim women is seen from a black and white perspective – as alluded to in the previous post – in which the spiritual notion of hijab is never once brought up, but rather female attire is seen as oppressive or the result of fanatical ideology, or being socially motivated.

Islam from Inside & Feminine Spirituality

As amongst non-Muslims, the reason why female spirituality is not brought up in Islamic discussions by Muslims is because of the incredible lack of knowledge regarding it. Many cultural traditions which have taken on Islamic beliefs have unfortunately held strong to their backwards views on the position of women, disregarding the feminine in society. In both the secular and non-secular world, this ignorance leads to catastrophe, as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf writes;

‘When her natural virtues—compassion, kindness, caring, selflessness, and love—predominate in men, men are able to overcome their natural vices and realize their full humanity. When, however, those virtues are absent, men descend to the lowest of the low and are worse than beasts.’*

This is not just the case in cultural traditions, but also in those Muslims claiming to be following a ‘pure’ and ‘untainted’ version of Islam. I’m sure that many of you have noticed the literalism with which Islam is approached nowadays by some. I’ve come across writers commenting that Muslim literalism has been a result of the Enlightenment and Rationalism because of which some have approached their faith from scientific perspectives, using the Qur’an to verify mathematical and scientific notions rather than using it as a practical and spiritual guide to cleanse the heart. Along with this many have tried to ‘simplify’ the religion, leading to a kind of reductionism of teachings, principally the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). Even worse, some have taken it upon themselves – disregarding any scholarly lineage – to make their own interpretations, leading to chaos. Spirituality and inward knowledge has been pushed aside in all of this, reducing worship to rigid, meaningless ritual at best, and incredible violence at worst.

Before I end up going too much into literalism, I’ll quickly bring it back to female spirituality. I’ve heard from many sisters recently, and even from some brothers, that there’s a need for more female scholarship and I wholeheartedly agree with this. This demand, it could be said, has also brought a revival of history which was forgotten of late regarding female contributions to Islam – just as I learnt of Rabia al Basri. And so I do believe things are changing.

 

Image of a woman wearing Hijab by Roszeen Afsar

Image of a woman wearing Hijab by Roszeen Afsar

 

Nowadays Muslim women demand for their spiritual space in the Masjid. They’re becoming more active in their worship and in their participation in the community (from my experience) than their male counterparts. They also participate in society in ways separate to other women, e.g. through the creation of businesses, sister study groups and socials, and events specifically catering towards the Muslimah – which become an extension of her worship and combine with her other duties. They’ve shown courage in their adherence to hijab in the face of criticism which comes from a real lack of understanding about the feminine virtue and its relation to God. And so I would like to end this article with another quote from Shaykh Hamza’s Yusuf’s writing – a piece I’m obsessed with and have also quoted in a previous article (https://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/do-women-have-a-soul-religious-revival-the-feminine/);

‘The Arabic and Hebrew word for womb (rahm) is derived from the word for mercy (rahma) and an expression of the creative power of God in man…When her natural virtues—compassion, kindness, caring, selflessness, and love—predominate in men, men are able to overcome their natural vices and realize their full humanity.’*

*Hamza Yusuf, ‘Climbing Mount Purgatorio: Reflections from the Seventh Cornice’, Zaytuna College, p.1-20

You can view more art work by Roszeen Afsar [Inky-Art by Roszeen] on her Instagram @InkyArtbyRoszeen and follow her on Twitter @Roszeen she also blogs on http://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.com/ 

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 Smiling Sister; Paintings of Hijab

by Roszeen Afsar

“The hijab is much more than the external solid scarf, but it is worn as an internal spiritual means of faith, these collections depict that so well.”   – Nargis Akhter 

Image by Rozseen Afsar

Image by Roszeen Afsar

The above quote is the feedback I received from a friend after I showed her the piece I’d painted of her [above] based on one of her photographs. The photo I saw showed her with a peaceful yet sombre expression I would imagine of a Victorian woman saving her smile, but looking satisfied and elegant in her pose, confident in her femininity, dignified as a woman. The collection of mine she was referring to was not only the painting I did of her or the plans I’d shared with her of my future work, but also another piece I’d made previously which was inspired in the same light; by the expression of another friend whose hijab was also intrinsically melded into her closed eyes and subtle smile. I painted what struck me, inspired by their essence, and with the sole purpose of trying to capture peace. Peace is feminine in my eyes. And so is spirituality.

Artistic depictions of Muslim women in history have consisted of Orientalist ideas mostly, often portraying the Arabian (which is the only ethnicity of the Muslim woman in Western stereotype) female ‘other’ as an erotic being, an object hidden behind a veil. Discussion of the Islamic woman is concrete, black and white. As material, physical and solid as the scarf around her head – just as my friend referred to in the above quote. Although I may in future discuss something I’ve painted or drawn as a response to secular opinion or critique of female autonomy in Islam, I didn’t begin my work that way and it is not what inspires me. First and foremost my inspirations come by way of…the innocence of the unguarded moment, the natural beauty of the created, the split second of a peaceful smile, a feminine confidence, the image of the soul materialised. It is therefore the painted or drawn face itself which takes precedence above whatever opinion or stereotype others may have, which speaks for itself, which stands on its own before whatever follows from it and not vice versa.

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression.

Image by Roszeen Afsar

Knowledge or appreciation of spirituality in this age is naïve at most and non-existent at least. It is not surprising that female spirituality is never brought up in discussions regarding Islam, but Rabia al Basri is the woman who immediately comes to mind when I think of it. Rabia’s earlier life was very much concrete; poverty placed her into slavery. She was a woman tied to her circumstances and could have become the helpless victim Muslim women are often depicted as. However, her hardships and worship led to her rising spiritually, they led to her certainness of being, so much so that she freed herself of her circumstances and was seen as a saint. I would give a great deal to be able to witness the way she was and the aura surrounding her as a woman in oneness with God.

Without even intending to seek, I believe I have come across drops from such an ocean of spiritualism and being, cast upon the faces of women around me. Though the moments are fleeting, they exist. The expressions which have inspired me are from the lives of real women. And what strikes me about them is that their expressions are both close and distant, just as every single soul is both alive in the physical, immediate realm, as well as in the metaphysical, experiential one. I believe that what inspires me to paint and create is witnessing the presence of being at peace – something I have seen in its purest in the feminine.

You can view more art work by Roszeen Afsar [Inky-Art by Roszeen] on her Instagram @InkyArtbyRoszeen and follow her on Twitter @Roszeen she also blogs on http://ispeakinwriting.wordpress.com/  

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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My Faith Inspires Me To Express Myself Freely And Peacefully

by Sabrina Mahmood

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression.

Spirituality, Muslim women and expression. Image by Roszeen Afsar

It’s safe to say that there are times when we all feel like we need to say something but for whatever reason, we hold back and let the moment pass. When you add being a Muslim and woman into the equation it sometimes seems like an impossible feat to be heard. That is in no way because Islam treats women as lesser people in society, but largely due to patriarchy of the cultures we have been brought up in. It is the dichotomy between Islam and culture.
Freedom of expression for women is essential to our faith and always has been. Let’s forget some of the awful examples of our times, where we hear of oppression towards Muslim women in certain societies. If we look at the best example we have, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the example that we should all strive to be like, we are shown that women were able to ask questions, express their views and they were an integral part of society. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was greatly loved and respected by his wives who were treated with great respect and love. This clearly shows us the validity and importance of Muslim women in Islam.
I have often felt that as a Muslim woman, it is sometimes harder to speak with other Muslim women about certain issues as they do not want to hear about anything negative or any questions about their beliefs. But talking, debating and discussing are so vital in affirming what is right and wrong, and actually understanding the Islamic basis of our beliefs, rather than what society and many cultures have imposed. Isn’t it about time that we stand in solidarity and support each other?
I believe regardless of whether a person is Muslim or not, we should allow ourselves to listen to their opinions, even when we do not agree, and to be understanding and thoughtful. The basis for good character of a Muslim is truthfulness and patience, so if we inject this into our own lives with sincerity, we are able to listen to and understand the opinions of other people.

Islam teaches us not to categorise ourselves into groups:

‘Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them…’ [Quran 6:159]

Essentially, we should not divide ourselves religiously and on a deeper level, in any way whatsoever. We are all equal, we are all human and therefore should all be able to express ourselves freely, whether we are Muslim women, or not.
And in the times when we do feel that people are intolerant, we return their negativity and criticism with the positivity and love that the Prophet (pbuh) showed us. I would never have called myself a spiritual person before or even thought about what it can do to a person, but since I sought God, I have had an immense wave of peace and humanity in my life. Because the true crux of Islamic faith, is that connection with the Creator, and anyone who feels that, will never be harsh or rude or arrogant in their expression. Because that deep, binding love for Allah, it completes their opinions and expressions with morality and humility.

 

Sabrina Mahmood blogs at www.theinternaldebate.wordpress.com and you can follow her at @sabrina01m

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

Image credits: Roszeen Afsar http://instagram.com/inkyartbyroszeen