She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated


Leave a comment

Women’s Peace Tribute following London Bridge and Borough Market Attacks

She Speaks We Hear organised a Women’s Peace Tribute with Women’s March on London, following the brutal atrocity in Manchester, in which twenty-two people were killed and 116 injured in a suicide bombing at Manchester Arena. We never expected to also be paying tribute to victims of two further attacks, that took place on Saturday night,  4 June 2017, on London Bridge and Borough Market. Julie Siddiqi reflects on the tribute:

On Sunday evening a few women got together to meet, to share, to listen, to connect. The same women who came together on Westminster Bridge met this time at the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park (no idea why I have never been before, it’s so nice!). It was a lovely couple of hours with old friends and some new. I was completely oblivious to the photographer most of the time but she captured some lovely moments as you can see here. I cried that evening when I tried to speak. We had originally arranged the small gathering post Manchester. Then the London attack happened and we decided to still carry on the next day. It felt raw, still does. Sometimes it is so important to meet and be with others, good people. I was grateful that evening to have that opportunity and it helped to laugh and to cry with good people around. I post it not so you can see my crying face necessarily but I hope people reading this will consider and find chances to do something similar, when you feel you need it, whatever works for you, because it really can be a great help 

By Julie Siddiqi

Julie Siddiqi is a mentor, consultant and activist with a focus on gender issues, Jewish-Muslim relations and social action. Julie was the Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Britain from 2010-2014, Founder and Director of Sadaqa Day, a one day Muslim-led focus on social action, and is co-chair of Jewish and Muslims women’s network, Nisa-Nashim.


39 Comments

A tribute to my uncles who were gunned down in the Nazimabad attacks

brothers

You never think it’s going to happen to you… until it does.

Just over a week ago, I was in a queue with my four-year-old son. We were waiting for a train ride around the park near my parents’ house, when I received a phone call from my mum. It was the phone call that nobody ever wants to receive; the phone call that informs you of tragedy at home.

Five of my maternal uncles had been shot in Nazimabad, Pakistan. We weren’t sure who was alive at that point, but as we took to Twitter, the true reality of the horror was emerging. A ladies majlis, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAW)) was taking place in a private residence; gunmen on motorbikes had opened fire, and three of my uncles, Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas, and Baqar Abbas Zaidi had been gunned down in targeted killings.

My remaining two uncles, Tahir Abbas and Nadir Abbas, and my 15-year cousin, Murtaza Ali Zaidi were in critical condition in the hospital. By the mercy of Allah, they have now recovered well.

Let’s be clear here; the attacks were sectarian, specifically targeting the Shia community. Later, the militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi took responsibility for the attacks. A spokesman for the group said: “There is no room for the enemies of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Pakistan”, a reference to Pakistan’s Shia minority.

It is important to note that whoever is behind these attacks, they are following a deviant interpretation of religion aligned to ISIS and al-Qaeda. This intolerant ideology comes from Saudi’s Salafi-Takfiris; they are a violent offshoot of mainstream Islam, and this tiny minority group is giving Muslims around the world a bad name.

In Pakistan, Shias are a persecuted minority who are still not free to practice their religion without fear of being killed for their beliefs. These attacks used to take place in public places, such as mosques, schools and hospitals. Now the attacks are taking place in private residences, which means people are not even free to practice religion in their own homes.

You think that these kinds of attacks happen to other people, but there are so many Shias being targeted, the chances are that you will know someone in Pakistan affected by these acts of violence. At the beginning of October, these same hardline groups killed my friend’s cousin, Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi, in a targeted attack, as he stood with his son outside his house. 

This is genocide, and it is specifically targeting the Shia community.

But this blog post is not an account of what happened that fateful day. You can read that yourself in the newspapers that have covered the event, including The Independent, The Guardian and The Seattle Times. The news made the front page of The Evening Standard last Friday.

This blog post is intended to tell you what you might not know about my mum’s brothers. I want you to know about their magnanimous personalities, about their humanity, and their values.

My mum’s brothers were very open-minded, tolerant, loving people who touched the lives of every single person they met. As I write this post, I know that there are not enough words to express the depth of the grief I am feeling, nor are words enough to explain how incredible my uncles were.

The Nazimabad firing took place during the Holy month of Muharram, when Shias commemorate Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. Ultimately, Hussain’s struggle was about freedom from oppression; about sacrifice to protect universal human values. My uncles lived with the love of the family of the Prophet (SAW) in their hearts, and they implemented these values in their everyday lives.

During the attacks, the gunmen attempted to gain access to the ladies majlis in the house. When they could not enter, they fired gunshots on the people who were sitting outside. As the gunmen came forward, Baqar Abbas Zaidi, my mum’s youngest brother, opened up his arms to protect  the door and to stop the killers from going inside the house. He was killed instantly as the gunmen opened fire on his chest.

I think about how many lives Baqar Mamu has saved through this fearless act of self-sacrifice. By standing between the door and the gunmen, he prevented them from entering the house, thus stopping further bloodshed and carnage.

My Mum’s eldest brother was Naiyer Zaidi, a British citizen who had resided in London for more than 30 years. He loved this country as he had spent most of his adult life here.

Every year, Naiyer Mamu would go to Pakistan to commemorate the events of the tragedy of Karbala with his family. He loved to read poetry, books and literature. After retirement, he spent more and more of his time reading about Islam, and he loved to spend his time in the company of learned Islamic scholars.

It is my view that religious conviction manifests itself in the values of humanity, and Naiyer Mamu’s personality is testament to this. He was kind, he was generous and he was incredibly humble. Moreover, he would view everything in his life as an example of God’s infinite mercy. His positive outlook on life and his ability to always see the best in people is incredibly inspiring.

The true essence of religion is about akhlaaq; it’s about how you treat your fellow human beings. When my paternal grandfather, Qaiser Hussain Zaidi passed away, Naiyer Mamu truly was a rock for our family, giving us so much support and kindness in a period of great difficulty.

Another uncle who was killed on that horrible day was Nasir Abbas, a US citizen. Nasir Mamu brought joy, happiness and laughter to every single person he met. In 2008, my sister and I visited him in the US. In only a few days, Nasir Mamu had such an incredible effect on me. He had what can only be described as a magnetic personality. He was so full of life; not only was he absolutely hilarious, but we would spend hours conversing with him about many topics, including philosophy, poetry, politics. He was incredibly open-minded; he didn’t care about who you were or where you came from. He treated everyone with the same love, respect and dignity.

I have been reflecting on the personalities of my mamus and thinking about what I can learn from them. They were all so positive in their outlook, always seeing the best in every situation.

I know that they would have seen even the way they left this world as an example of God’s blessings. They lived their life through the love of the values of the Prophet (SAW) and his Holy household, and they left this world in the same way. As I watch their funeral, I know the cries of “Labaik Ya Hussain!” would have comforted their souls. They have become shaheed.

I feel so honoured and privileged to have known them, and I feel so sad that they are no longer with us. But to have left this world in the way they did is no doubt a great blessing. They have given me a lifetime of beautiful memories, and to know that so many people around the world are remembering them so fondly, is a source of great comfort.

Please pray for the departed souls of Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas and Baqar Abbas Zaidi.

Please pray for Muhammad Zaki Khan and Nadeem Lodhi, who were also martyred in this brutal attack and for the families of the injured and the deceased.

Please also pray for the soul of Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
All images are copyright of Aliya Zaidi. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission.


2 Comments

The truth about Muslims and sex slavery: according to the Quran rather than ISIS or Islamophobes.

By Mariam Sheikh Hakim

@MariamKSHakim 

Woman reciting Qur'an

Woman reciting Qur’an

 

Like many myths about Islam, the Quran and Muslims, I’ve always heard the worst from Islamophobic extremists and Islamist extremists alike. They tend to share pretty much the same language, online content and perpetuate the same awful narratives about Muslims and their supposed religious practices.

As time wears on I’m starting to see these similarities are unavoidable – particularly online where it is rife. For example this video of a female Muslim ‘scholar’ saying that men can have sex with female prisoners of war to ‘humiliate’ them has  been shared widely on right-wing news sites and social media. It’s been spread in the wake of the recent sexual assault allegations in Cologne and reports of ISIS fighters raping and selling sex slaves. It’s mainly been promoted by Donald Trump supporting anti-Muslim bigots, far-right extremists and people who’ll easily believe anything bad about Muslims.

Those sharing the video usually make unfounded claims that the ‘North African/Arab’ men accused of the Cologne assaults were motivated by a ‘Muslim background’. The video has been used as proof of a culturally ingrained mind-set that all Muslims apparently possess, as well as claims that the Quran supposedly endorses raping women, in particular female slaves.

It’s worth noting the video has also been shared by Muslims who have strongly refuted and ostracised the scholar, reacting with disgust over this extreme view that sexual violence and rape is somehow permissible.

And they are right,, rape and sexual violence is not permitted in Islamic texts. It is of course something that causes harm to other humans, which is not Halal (permissible) and in early Muslim communities rape was a crime punishable by death.

However, seeing as this myth isn’t about to go away with a few online condemnations, what scripture is being cited by extremists and has it been distorted? After all there are billions of Muslims across the globe that aren’t going round capturing women to use as sex slaves.

The main reference cited is Chapter 23:1-6 in the Quran.

“And successful are the believers who guard their chastity … except from their wives or those that their right hands possess.”

There are three main points to understand here:

  1. The reference is about sexual relations, which are forbidden with any woman unless she is a spouse or ‘those their right hands possess’. To be clear, this means a concubine or a slave, but intercourse has to be consensual. Rape is forbidden as it is violent and harmful (obviously) and Islamic texts legislated for the proper and honourable treatment of slaves.It was compulsory for a slave to be well looked after and the slave owner was fully responsible for their well-being.
  2. This is not an entitlement being discussed. Concubinage and interpersonal relations with various bondmaids/slaves was already occurring at the time the Quran came about and subsequent passages list restrictions as a starting point to help progress the end of slavery. In any case marriage was encouraged (Chapter 24:32) with slaves.
  3. Moreover, even consensual sexual relations with a slave were not permissible if it caused harm and abuse elsewhere (e.g. a wife) as all parties involved could be affected.

But why were consensual sexual relations even allowed with slaves? The main source of this is based on the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah who had a female slave (also described as a ‘bondwoman’ ‘bondmaid’ or ‘concubine’) called Hagar. Through mutual consent Abraham and Hagar had a child together called Ishmael.

Some Islamophobes have a hard time remembering this Biblical narrative, and when confronted with this fact, they start to make strange excuses. https://twitter.com/MariamKSHakim/status/699364956672827393

Given how far society has evolved from slavery, the idea of sexual relations is still an uncomfortable concept for many including myself. Yet this reference to 7th century relations is still a far cry from the ‘all Muslims want to rape sex slaves’ myth that is being perpetuated nowadays. In fact, slavery has never been encouraged by Islamic texts; rather it was something inherited from pre-Islamic cultures (pre-600s) that needed to be voluntarily and gradually weeded out of society. Conveniently something the extremists ignore.

In the Quran, slavery is regarded as something that required restraining and eliminating. Manumission, or the act of a slave owner freeing a slave, was highly encouraged (Chapter 24:33). So is giving this freed slave a portion of your own wealth (Chapter 24:33 & 16:71). The Quran also encourages Muslims (female or male) to marry their righteous slaves; a form of manumission and freedom from stigma (Chapter 24:32). The Quran and later texts list a plethora of avenues to free slaves, as it was seen as a highly virtuous act. In fact, it’s difficult to find references on how to make slaves out of people, rather the focus is always on ending slavery.

Furthermore, passages about slavery don’t apply any longer for a modern age given that slavery was widely abolished in the late 19th century (British empire) and has been officially banned internationally since 1948. Slavery is now illegal and is internationally treated as unethical. There is widespread consensus across all nations on this, including Muslims ones.

There is no desire amongst ordinary Muslims to drag humanity backwards into slavery. Just because something was permissible and regulated under a 7th century society, doesn’t mean it is a necessity for a 21st century one – especially when there was a clear agenda in early Islamic texts to eventually eradicate slavery.

Let’s not forget the Islamic abolitionist movements where Quran interpreters advocated slavery was in opposition to Islamic principles of justice and equality. These movements fought hard for progress and most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are happy to keep moving with the times.

Human trafficking and modern sex slavery is, after all, not just a ‘Muslim’ issue, it’s even happening right under our noses in the UK by all sorts of perpetrators. Therefore let’s spromote those devout Muslims like Zainab Bangura who work hard to empower victims of ISIS sexual violence and slavery, as well as those women seeking justice for having been forced into sex slavery elsewhere in the world.

On that note I leave you with a self-referential passage from the Quran about those seeking to place false interpretations on to its wording and context, be they Muslim or not:

(Chapter 3: verse 7)
“Almighty God has sent down to you the Quran, in it are verses that are precise … and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation from truth, they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation suitable to them.”

The majority of sane, law-abiding, everyday Muslims do not seek to impose themselves on others by force or aggression. They don’t even need me to explain passages in the Quran as they’re not interested in keeping a female slave to rape or ‘humiliate’.

Religious illiteracy has recently been cited as a root cause of extremism and rightly so. Islamophobic extremists as well as Islamist extremists (like ISIS) that promote and validate sexual violence through ‘unspecific passages’ in the Quran – or without context –  do so to justify their own violent mind sets.

These people will and should get called out for it, by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. They have perverted the Quran, which is a falsehood and a smear on the religion of billions across the globe. Islamic texts do not promote rape and do not encourage slavery. We must therefore all be united in spreading light on the matter through proper understanding, not further ignorance and bigotry. This ignorance only plays into the hands of extremists, who have a vested interest in burying the truth of the Quran and pushing their own agendas instead.

 

Mariam Hakim is a communications professional who regularly writes about faith, gender and parenting issues. 

Image courtesy of Hafiz Issadeen; ‘Reciting’ posted on Flickr

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. A shorter version of this article first appeared on the Independent Voices website.


Leave a comment

The Call to Love, with Deep Courage

by Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills

@EvansHills

Image courtesy of Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills

Image courtesy of Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – The words of Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians.

Love, Peace, Humility, Gentleness – lovely sounding words, and because they are words of that to which each of us, each and every human being seeks to attain, thirsts for as the deer pants for the water, we want them to be easy. But we now they are not easily won – they are won through tremendous courage, the kind of courage that only Love can bear, the kind of courage that takes a man to a cross for the sake of the ones he loves. Love bears all things.

This past week I went to a conference at the University of Lancaster on Faith, Communities and Radicalisation. Astounded to be introduced as one of the Church of England’s experts on confronting the far right, I eventually realised that what I consider to be humble experiences, on the ground, at grassroots level, were actually valuable first-hand knowledge the those I shared the platform with viewed as indispensable.

“It is easy to now find a scapegoat in Muslims or immigrants or Eastern Europeans.”

The common theme of the day was one of preventing our younger generation in particular from seeking to fulfil their hopes in the arms of the likes of extremism – whether it is with ISIS, or groups such as the EDL, Britain First or neo-Nazi groups such as New Dawn. We have a global context in which employment and housing opportunities are almost non-existent for a generation of young people. In the 14 years since 9/11, a generation of young Muslims have received a daily onslaught from media telling them they are terrorists. And other young people, struggling to find jobs – have also been on the receiving end of that onslaught. It is easy to now find a scapegoat in Muslims or immigrants or Eastern Europeans. What each of us concurred upon, academics, religious leaders, sociologists, criminologists, community workers, was that young people need to be given hope, hope for a future in which they might have employment, feel valued, and have a place in this world. If we don’t, as a nation, give it to them – someone else will.

ISIS is the extreme manifestation of those seeking to benefit from a disaffected  generation. It is said that from their fruits you shall know them – and their fruits are that of organised crime. They are involved in trafficking of human beings, in arms and antiquities sales, sale of oil, in drugs. They terrorise just as organised crime uses terror to control swathes of communities.

One of the things that was said is a feeling that this is a new phenomenon – how do we stop it? But we have been here before. Much of the patterns we know of from groups in Northern Ireland are followed in the patterns of behaviour here in the UK with regard to the EDL and Britain First – mapping almost exactly in the Orange parades and organised drug crime. Tommy Robinson, founder of the EDL, has been convicted of a number of crimes which include drug charges and assault.

What we have with both groups such as the EDL and with ISIS are a pattern of terror, illicit financial gain, and grooming of the vulnerable for the purposes of forming a voluntary army – whether it is on a small scale here in Britain, or the horrific events in Syria and Iraq. The pattern is the same.

This sounds a bleak picture – but I want to assure that it is not. The solution is not more bombing campaigns, the solution is not a 1950’s McCarthy-era style of thought police. Truly, the first solution, the solution that will make a real difference in the world, is Love.

Rick Love (yes, that is his name!) of the World Evangelical Alliance, has challenged the Christian world to wage Love. He is challenging to follow the words of Jesus Christ that we love our enemies, that we love ISIS. Not their ideology – of course not, not their actions. But individual by individual, person by person, cup of tea by cup of tea – that we sit down and listen to people, value them as human beings, that we give hope through love.

I have worked enough on the street to see how things ratchet up, and keep on ratcheting up. The more attention you give to the violence, to the anger, things ratchet up. Before we can even listen to one another – we have to stop, love, provide hope.

I was on the train to London at rush hour when the last budget was announced, and I listened to what I discerned were two social workers heatedly discussing the results. Young people between the ages of 18-25 will not be entitled to minimum wage. It is considered appropriate that they should seek help from their families. But these social workers were asking what about the young people in care who are expected to be independent when they are 18, no longer entitled to housing or benefits. Their only choice at this point is to return to a household where they were abused or neglected. It is a choice forced upon them. It will be that or the streets.

This nation which in its compassion saw the establishment of the NHS and a benefit system that feeds and houses the vulnerable, and that our Prime Minister is asking to return to British values, is at risk of losing the best of those values. We who pay in to a system of taxes that is supposed to protect us when we need it most, are seeing that slowly eroding away.

This past week, a dentist in America received global disapproval of something he considered a sport. He shot a lion in Africa – and the world went crazy with accusations. And then there were the counter accusations – that people, and the media, care more about a lion being shoe than….well, you name it; a Palestinian child burned to death, a black woman beaten to death by police in the US, or nameless migrants killed in the Channel Tunnel from Calais.

Jesus is calling us, calling us to love, to peace, to gentleness, to humility. It is a radical calling. It is a loud calling – and it is getting louder and louder!

When my children were small and had nightmares, I used a Native American technique with them. I told them the next time something chased them in their dream, they were to turn around and ask what gift it was the monster was trying to give them. You see, the thinking behind this is that our nightmares are really something in our psyche that is trying to get our attention – and that if we turn around and listen to what it is, we will find that it is a valuable gift we need to receive.

We are at a crossroads of humanity as a nation. We are being called to love, to compassion, to hope. Several people have died in the middle of a dark tunnel, crushed by lorries and God knows what. We are not provided with their names – they remain dehumanised, nameless, faceless, termed part of a swarm and like cockroaches.

Calais immigrants, courtesy of  Tom Jervis

Calais immigrants, courtesy of Tom Jervis

What is happening in Calais has been happening for years, but is currently part of a sharp increase of refugees worldwide. What some media term to be a huge swathe is in reality on a minute portion of those seeking sanctuary worldwide. Other European countries take in hundreds of thousands rather than the thousands Britain receive. That a small portion of refugees seek to make it to the UK is no surprise. There is a global pressure of people seeking to escape unthinkable violence in their home countries, and by far the greater majority are finding refuge in countries closer to where they are coming from. They are not coming to the UK because they are under the impression we have a great system they can exploit. Those who are trying to come here either have some kind of connection through relatives, or have some knowledge of English which they believe will help them find a job.

I have worked with refugees when I was living in Sussex. Many of them were highly skilled but prevented from working, from earning their way and paying taxes because while awaiting the lengthy process of seeking asylum, they have little or no recourse to public funds or to employment.

But as hard as things are for them here and in Europe – there is at least hope, at least no one is going to shoot them just for being who they are.

I was a trustee for Brighton Voices in Exile, a Christian charity which provided for those seeking asylum who were falling through the cracks – left with no food, shelter or recourse to clothing – even for families with children, the charity provided what little they could.

What love, commitment, courage, humility and gentleness it takes to provide hope for the hopeless. It is not a case that if we opened our borders there would be hordes of refugees coming in. We are at the edge of Europe, and an island. Those who come this far are the most desperate. Rather than put up walls in fear, we need to work closely with the whole of Europe to find a means of providing for the needy – those in need of saving their own lives.

A Daily Mail headline from 1938 draws comparisons with those we are now seeing with regard to Calais: ‘The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port in this country is becoming an outrage. In intend to enforce the law to its fullest.’ – quoting a London magistrate. It goes on to makes claims about problems surrounding unemployment issues – there not being enough jobs, etc.

At this end of history, I would rather be perceived as the one who provided sanctuary for those escaping oppression, than the one turning them away.

The bread of life Jesus speaks of is the love for God and for one another each and every one of us is called to. That love would never see another go hungry or thirsty, in fear for their life or without shelter. The bread of Life is Love – courageous, humble, gentle, patient Love. It is not easy, it is not hearts and flowers and romance – but it is full of light and grace and blessing.

From Sunday’s sermon, 2 August 2015, using the following readings:

Ephesians  4.1-16

John 6.24-35

Bonnie Evans-Hills has considerable experience in interfaith dialogue, serving on the national Church of England Presence & Engagement task group, and working with the World Council of Churches. With the Anglican Communion, Bonnie took part in a theological exchange at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Bonnie is Inter Faith Adviser in the Diocese of St Albans, and a parish priest. You can read more of her work at https://bonnieevanshills.wordpress.com/,  academia.eduhttps://heythrop.academia.edu/BonnieEvansHills

Images credit: Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills and Calais immigrants from Tom Jervis

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


4 Comments

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.