Britishmisk's Blog

Category: Life

Habib Ali Jifri: Muhammad – Master of Change Tour

We were blessed last month to have the presence of Habib Ali Jifri visiting us in the UK. I had the opportunity to attend a weekend gathering to hear him teach Imam al-Ghazali’s 20th book the Ihya on the subject of prophetic character. For everyone there it was a deeply enriching and soulful experience to have Habib teach us the text, which became more about the inward spiritual dimension of prophetic character as opposed to the simple Shamail.

Excerpts and snippets from the weekend, as well as Habib’s other engagements can be found at this blog: Treasures for the Seeker. Just scrolling through and picking up little short quotes open up a treasure trove of wisdom within them, it’s worth taking the time to go through all of them and choosing some to spend some time reflecting on. This being one of my favourites:

Look to how great our Prophet was. Everything that was connected to him was also raised in remembrance. 1400 years later we’re talking about his donkey named Ya’fur and a mule named Dhul Dhul because they were connected to him. Even remembering them is an act of worship. The donkey is at a raised state due to its attachment. What about a heart of a believer that is attached? This donkey may be better than many human beings. The donkey didn’t eat or drink after the flight of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) due to sadness. What kind of sadness is this? Other Muslims, days pass and no tear is shed out of longing and yearning for him. This attachment increases you in degree and rank.

Radical Middle Way who hosted the event will be putting up the whole thing online soon, all the sessions put together will be quite long, but it would be very beneficial to wait and take the time to go through the whole thing, I cannot overstate the immense nature of the whole time spent there and to benefit from its recording is very worthwhile.


Shaykh Nuh on Motherhood

To benefit from changes in life, spiritual travellers must be with Allah, not their own story line. When a young woman marries for example, she suddenly finds herself not only with another ego in the house to live with, but within a short space, that the comparative ease and calm of her younger days have been swept away by the sheer work needed to keep up and think of everything in a real home. When she has her first baby, she must manage for another life even more dependent on her personal sacrifices. By the second, third, or fourth child, her days and nights belong almost entirely to others. Whether she has a spiritual path or not, such a mother can seldom resist a glance at the past, when there were more prayers. more meaning, more spiritual company, and more serenity. When Allah opens her understanding, she will see that she is engaged in one of the highest forms of worship, that of producing new believers who love and worship Allah. She is effectively worshipping Allah for as many lifetimes she has children, for the reward of every her children will do will be hers, without this diminishing anything of their own rewards: every ablution, every prayer, every Ramadan, every hajj, and even the works her children will in turn pass onto their offspring, and, so on till the end of time. Even if her children do not turn out as she wishes, she shall be requited in paradise forever according to her intention in raising them, which was that they should be godly.

Taken from Sea Without Shore

The Essence of Tawakkul (Reliance on God)

A close friend of mine who was a student of philosophy once sent me this:

If man is given two valleys of gold, he will desire a third. If he has four, he will be envious of the person who has five, and so on. Mankind naturally desires infinity. It is part of the fitra. Though to seek it in this world leads to a constant chase for contentment which repeatedly escapes the individual until death. In reality, this human desire for infinity should be directed to the Actual Infinate(sic): God, and to the bettering of the soul. Only here will such an individual find what they are looking for: contentment.

The way he expressed it was far more eloquent than any way I would have been able to do so. But I want to try and use this as a starting point and build up a chance for reflection.

It is true that it is man’s inert desire to crave the infinite, and people of all colours, faiths and creeds will attest to this, perhaps not directly, but certainly indirectly. Take for example the atheist, or even the secular humanist, who works 9-5 in the financial industry in the heart of the city of London. Since reaching maturity his desire has been to be in a position of financial security and continuing growth of wealth, so that he is able to live a comfortable life and have the ability to purchase what he so chooses to his heart’s desire. So that he is content and happy in the materialistic and superficial level of his life. His desire in life is to earn as much money as possible, that is his desire for what he regards as the infinite, he will not stop working until he feels he has reached the utmost limit possible, and if he were to reach it, he would only end up investing in something else to ensure he maintained that level of security.

Someone who fits that background may read that and say, “Yeah I work like that, but I do it for my wife and family”. OK, that is a noble endeavour, one that is encouraged by Islam. A man (or even woman) chooses to work for the sake of their families. But are our families even infinite? In a single moment they can be taken away from us, all we hold most precious and beloved by us can be taken away in an instance, and we are left with nothing. This is something a lot of mothers hold dear, not that it is a negative attribute, the love of a mother is considered one of the greatest attributes of creation. But a mother once told me that her children were the world to her and she could not be able to stand the thought of ever losing them. This thought eventually led her to become more religious and start praying for the first time in her life. But that is still no guarantee that they would live longer than her, life is a precious and fragile thing, and it can be taken away from us in a blink of an eye.

The only true thing that is infinite is The Eternal and Everlasting God. All aside from Him are created, they have a beginning, and will one day have an end. When we have placed Him at the forefront of our lives, only then will we find contentment. All else that we put our reliance on, whether it is wealth, our families, partners, lovers, desires, passions, they can be, and will be, taken away and we will be as insignificant as a speck of dust. The Great Imam Abu Hanifah, once said: “If the kings knew of the pleasure we were in [from worshipping Allah], they would send their armies with swords to take it away from us.” That is the true level of the one who has found contentment in his life, who has raised himself above the meaningless existence of the one chasing the world, and has ascended to touch the infinite. That is why true believers believe in God, that is why they pray, not because God is in need of it, but because we are. Without something to chase and fulfilling the natural desire to go for what we deem to be infinite, our lives become meaningless and we lose the will to live, the single most important factor in why suicide is so common in the west, because people simply do not see any reason to be alive anymore.

Let us try to break beyond the bounds we have set on ourselves, leave behind the desires of the world, and reach for what is unreachable.

“Do not despise the sinners” by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani

All praise is due to God who has blessed our generation with a scholar like Mufti Taqi Usmani of Pakistan. A shining light in the land of my fathers, in an otherwise dark time.

The full article can be read on MR’s Blog, this ranks as one of his best ever posts.

Enjoy and share.

Moonsighting and the beginning of Ramadan

Every year in the UK we have this fitna of starting Ramadan and celebrating Eid on different days. One group for some reason have decided to follow this new found bida’a (innovation) of following Saudi Arabia for the moonsighting. Even though their fiqh council hardly ever check any astronomical calculations or even go outside to look to see if the moon is actually there. (See here)

The other camp are along the right lines in starting Ramadan as per sighting the moon in the UK. However most of the time they do not rely in actually going to check if the moon is actually there but rely on astronomical calculations. But here is my complaint:


This is according to the Greenwich observatory, see here:

As well as, the movement set up by Zaytuna Institute to bring back the true Sunnah of moonsighting.

What has happened to our ‘Ulema and communities today?! It’s bad enough we have come up with this idea of not following the true Sunnah but relying on maps and charts. I remember a few months ago the Imam of my Mosque when talking about fate and the future saying you should never hold a weather report to be 100% certain, only Allah knows the true outcome of the future. But when it comes to this we take it as 100% accurate.

I have still decided to however go with my local community and started fasting on Saturday like everyone else. Though I am not 100% happy about it and it has dampened the start of my Ramadan.

I just hope that someone from amongst our ‘Ulema here in the UK will one day soon stand up for the truth and rightly guided Sunnah and takes us back to the way of the Salaf.

For more information on this topic:

Cesarean Moon Births Part 1 by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Cesarean Moon Births Part 2 by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Short Lecture on Moonsighting again by our eminent Shaykh Hamza.

Is there a place for “Gay Muslims”? – Dr. Sherman Abdal Hakim Jackson

Props to Mujahideen Ryder for posting this video up:

The 10 Rules of Debating

As per the request of my eminent teacher and Sheikh to all of his students, Imam Suhaib Webb has asked that the following 10 rules of debating should be posted as far as wide as possible on the internet.

These were 10 rules outlined by a great Hanbali scholar who was received by an individual who asked to debate with him. He agreed to only continue if he could pledge to stick with the following rules. Something the youth (Esp the young online debating lovers should take heed of):

1) Don’t get angry
2) Don’t get tired
3) Don’t think of yourself as magnificent (3jeeb)
4) Do not be judgemental
5) Don’t laugh
6) Don’t make your opinion an evidence
7) If we ask you about something, Know our intention is the truth
8 ) If we ask you about something, know our intention is to know your points better
9) Both of us make truth our objective, not victory.
10) Don’t talk to anyone else except who you’re debating with.

Needless to say the individual left.

“Another Mother of the Believers” – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

A heart warming and inspirational story by Shaykh Hamza about the late wife of the great and erudite scholar of Islam, Murabit al-Hajj.

This recollection of events tracks Shaykh Hamza’s journey from the Emirates to the desert wilderness of Mauritania in search of Murabit al-Hajj, and the experiences he had with the Shaykh’s wife.

The land of Chinguett, more commonly known to the English-speaking world as Mauritania, is renowned for producing great scholars, saints, and erudite women of note. Scholars traveling to Mauritania have observed that “even their women memorize vast amounts of literature.” Mauritanian women have traditionally excelled in poetry, seerah, and genealogy, but some who mastered the traditional sciences were considered scholars in their own right.

Maryam Bint Bwayba, who memorized the entire Qur’an and the basic Maliki texts, was one such Mauritanian woman worthy of note. I had the honor of knowing Maryam, a selfless and caring woman, and the noble wife of Shaykh Murabit al-Hajj, having first met both of them twenty-five years ago in a small tent in the remote spiritual community of Tuwamirat in Mauritania.

My journey to that destination began four and a half years earlier, in 1980, at a bookstore in Abu Dhabi, where I met Shaykh Abdallah Ould Siddiq of the renowned Tajakanat clan. I knew immediately he was from West Africa, given the dir’ah, the distinct West African wide robe he was wearing, as well as the turban, a rare sight in the Gulf at that time. I had met scholars from West Africa when I was in Mali two years before and was interested in studying with them, so I asked the shaykh if he knew anyone who taught the classical Maliki texts in the traditional manner. He affirmed that he himself was a teacher of that very tradition, gave me his number, and said I was welcome anytime to come to his house for lessons. That began my Islamic education in earnest.

I started to study with Shaykh Abdallah Ould Siddiq in addition to my required classes at the Islamic Institute in Al-Ain. Unlike most Mauritanian teachers, he did not emphasize rote memorization or use of the wood slate known as the lawh. I studied directly from books. After a few years and much benefit from him and two other great Maliki jurists, Shaykh Shaybani and Shaykh Bayyah Ould Salik, my education took a major turn when I met a young electrician from the Massuma clan named Yahya Ould Khati. He was of the view that while these scholars were excellent, the truly illustrious man of his age was Murabit al-Hajj, who lived in a forgotten part of Mauritania, far away from civilization and the distractions of this world. He informed me that Shaykh Abdar Rahman, the son of Murabit al-Hajj, was now in the Emirates.

Shortly after, at the house of Shaykh Bayyah, an elder of the Massuma clan who had taken me under his wing and from whom I benefited greatly in my studies, I met Shaykh Abdar Rahman. Upon meeting him, I was struck by the otherworldliness of his presence, which is not unusual for Mauritanian scholars, but it was clearly pronounced in him. I remember thinking, “If this is the son, I must meet the father.” I also began studying with his close friend and companion, Shaykh Hamid, after I helped him get settled and, with the help of Shaykh Bashir Shaqfah, another of my teachers and at that time the head of the Office of Endowments at Al-Ain, secure a position of imam for him in the main mosque of Al-Ain, where I was serving as a muezzin.

From Shaykh Hamid, I learned about the merits of memorization. Although I had studied several texts, and my Arabic was quite fluent by this time, Shaykh Hamid was adamant that without rote memorization, one was dependent upon books and did not really possess knowledge within oneself. Mauritanians, he told me, distinguish between daylight scholars and nighttime scholars. A daytime scholar needs light to read books to access knowledge, but a nighttime scholar can access that knowledge when the lights are out, through the strength of his memory and the retention of knowledge. Hence, he felt that I should start over.

I had studied Ibn Ashir, al-Risalah, and sections of Aqrab al-masalik privately; I had studied the early editions of al-Fiqh al-Maliki fi thawbihi al-jadid, which were used at the Institute; and I had studied hadith with Shaykh Ahmad Badawi, one of the great hadith scholars of Sudan. But I had put little to memory other than what I naturally retained. Shaykh Hamid procured a slate for me and began teaching me the basics again, but with rote memorization. It was humbling, but edifying, to see how this tradition has been carried on throughout the ages with these time-tested models.

I then became an imam in a small mosque near the large one, and was leading prayer for a community of mostly Afghan workers, who were sending their earnings back home to support families and the war effort against the Russians, who had invaded Afghanistan four years earlier.

It was then that I began to have dreams in which I saw a great man, whom I learned later was Murabit al-Hajj. One of those dreams included an elderly woman whom I had also never seen before.

**** ***** ****

I decided to leave my very comfortable and enjoyable life in the Emirates in 1984 and headed towards Mauritania via Algeria, where I planned on spending some months memorizing the Qur’an. I made this decision even though I was warned that there was a draught in Mauritania and living conditions were extremely harsh. Somehow, I felt compelled to go and nothing could deter me.

After spending some months with Sidi Bou Said at his madrassa in Tizi, Algeria, I traveled on to Tunisia, obtained a visa to Mauritania, and took a flight to Nouakchott, which lies on the Atlantic coast of the Sahara. I arrived in that capital city, with its extremely primitive conditions and vast slums that surrounded a small city center, with no addresses and no specific plan, other than to find Murabit al-Hajj.

I went to the marketplace and asked around if there was anyone from the Massuma clan, and was directed to a small shop where I met Abdi Salim, a very friendly man who was from the same branch of Massuma as my teacher, Shaykh Hamid. When I told Abdi Salim I wanted to find Murabit al-Hajj and study with him, his face lit up and he wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. He then took me to someone from Mukhtar al-Habib, the branch of the Massuma clan that Murabit al-Hajj was from, and they took me to the house of Mawlay al-Maqari al-Massumi, a small place made from tea boxes with open sewage in the back. Similar houses were all around, as far as the eye could see. Mawlay al-Maqari al-Massumi was one of the most hospitable and welcoming people I had ever met; I later learned he was loved by all who knew him. I stayed with him and his family for several days.

Providentially, Shaykh Abdar Rahman soon arrived from the Emirates to visit his mother and father and, not surprisingly, it was his wont to stay with Mawlay al-Maqari whenever in the capital. He would accompany me to his family’s school in Tuwamirat, but the journey required camels. A message was sent to the encampment of Murabit al-Hajj via the government radio announcements, which was how people in the capital communicated with the nomads in the desert. The message stated that Shaykh Abdar Rahman and Hamza Abdal Wahid (my given name when I converted and used at that time) would be arriving in the town of Kamur on such-and-such a date and were in need of camels there to take them to their village, Tuwamirat. We then set out on a rather unpleasant journey in a truck to Kamur, which was several hundred kilometers inland into the Sahara desert. The road at that time ended at Bou Talamit, and two-thirds of it was simply rough desert track worn down over time by loaded trucks and jeeps. It was the bumpiest, dirtiest, and most difficult road journey I had ever taken in my life.

After two grueling days, we arrived in a beautiful town known as Geru, which at the time had no technology, and the buildings there were all a lovely adobe. Hundreds of students studied at seven madrassas, called mahdhara in Geru. At night, with the exception of a few flashlights, candles, and kerosene lamps, all was dark so the Sahara night sky could be seen in all its stellar glory. The entire town was filled with the soothing sounds of the recitation of Qur’an and other texts.

We stayed with Shaykh Khatri, the brother of Murabit al-Hajj’s wife, Maryam, and a cousin of Murabit al-Hajj. While in Geru, I came to know a great saint and scholar, Sidi Minnu, who was already an old man at the time. He memorized all of the Hisn al-Hasin of Imam al-Jazari and recited it everyday. His other time was spent in praying for the entire Ummah. Once, we were sitting on the sand and he picked some up with his hand and said to me, “Never be far away from the earth, for this is our mother.” He then said something that struck me to the core: “I have never regretted anything in my entire life, nor have I ever wished for anything that I did not or could not have, but right now I wish that I was a young man so that I could accompany you on this great journey of yours to seek knowledge for the sake of God.”

After a few days, we set out for Kamur, which we had passed on our way to Geru, and then took camels and set out for Murabit al-Hajj; by nightfall we arrived in Galaga, a valley with a large lake that rises and lowers with the rainfall and the seasons. After breakfast the next morning, we set out for the upper region some miles from where Murabit al-Hajj’s clan was encamped.

*** *** ***

As we came into Tuwamirat, I was completely overwhelmed by its ethereal quality. It was the quintessential place that time forgot. The entire scene reminded me of something out of the Old Testament. Many of the people had never seen a white person before and the younger people had only heard about the French occupation, but never seen French people or other foreigners for that matter. I entered the tent of Murabit al-Hajj.

My eyes fell upon the most noble and majestic person I have ever seen in my life. He called me over, put his hand on my shoulder, welcomed me warmly, and then asked me, “Is it like the dream?” I burst into a flood of tears. I had indeed experienced a dream with him that was very similar to our actual meeting. He then went back to teaching. I was given a drink, and some of the students began to massage me, which I most appreciated, as my entire body ached from the difficult journey.

Murabit al-Hajj insisted that I stay with him in his tent and sleep next to him. I soon came to know his extraordinary wife, Maryam Bint Bwayba. Completely attentive to my needs, she took care to see that I was comfortable, and provided me with a running commentary on the place and its people. Maryam was one of the most selfless people I have ever met. She spent most mornings with her leather milk container called a jaffafah, which she used to make buttermilk for her family, for the poorer students, and for the seemingly endless stream of guests that visited. She surrounded herself with wooden bowls to dispense the morning and evening milk collected from the cows, and she knew which cows were producing more milk and which ones were not. She was ably assisted in her domestic chores by her faithful and selfless servant, Qabula, who had been with her since childhood and who smiled all the time.

During my time there, I came to know Maryam as this noble and joyful woman, especially her nurturing nature. At one point, I became severely ill from the endemic malarial fevers in Mauritania, and Maryam took motherly care of me. One day I remarked that I was used to eating vegetables and that their diet of milk and couscous, with some cooked dried meat, was hard on me. Maryam immediately began giving me dates everyday before the meal and also asked some of the Harateen to plant carrots for me. Soon, she began preparing small cooked carrots and serving them with my meals.

Maryam was always in a state of remembrance of God. Her full name was Maryam Bint Muhammad al-Amin Ould Muhammad Ahmad Bwayba. At an early age, she married Sidi Muhammad Bin Salik Ould Fahfu al-Amsami, known as Murabit al-Hajj Fahfu. She was an extraordinary woman of great merit and virtue and was noted for her more than sixty years of service to the students of the Islamic College of Tuwamirat. Maryam grew up during a time of great hardship in Mauritania and told me that people were so poor that many simply covered their nakedness with leaves. Her father, Muhammad al-Amin, who was known as Lamana, was a scholar as well as a skilled horseman and expert marksman. Maryam always displayed the greatest pride in her father and related to me his many exploits. I once praised her husband, and she laughed and responded, “You should have seen my father!”

Maryam was in a state of complete submission to her Lord and always encouraged people to study. Her world was that of a small tribal province, but her spirit was truly universal. When she married Murabit al-Hajj, he was already recognized for his scholarship, mastery of Arabic, and complete disengagement from worldly matters. After he had married Maryam, her father said to him, “You might want to think about the means to a good livelihood now that you are married,” to which Murabit al-Hajj replied, “The means of this world are as multitudinous as the night stars to me, but I would not like to sully my soul with their pursuit.”

In their early years, Maryam studied several texts with her husband. She memorized the entire Qur’an in addition to the basic Maliki texts. Furthermore, she studied with him the entire al-Wadih al-Mubeen of Sidi Abdal-Qadir Ould Muhammad Salim with its hundreds of lines on matters of creed. She also read his extensive commentary, Bughyat al-Raghibeen ‘ala al-Wadih al-Mubeen, which she kept at her side for many years. She knew the text and its meaning by heart and was extremely adept in matters of creed. Maryam also memorized and practiced Imam al-Nawawi’s book of prayers and supplications known as al-Adhkar.

Those who have had the blessing of spending time in Tuwamirat would always see her sitting under her tent or the lumbar surrounded by her pots and milk bowls and her prayer beads. When new students arrived, she always asked about them, their parents, brothers, and sisters, and where they came from. She would laugh and say she had “luqba,” a Mauritanian colloquialism for “curiosity,” but in reality she delighted in the students and desired to make them feel at home. Incredible as it sounds, she never forgot anyone who had studied at the school and when they visited years later, she would call out their names and ask about their family members, name by name! When I first arrived, she had asked the names of all of my family members, which, given that they were Christian names, would have been harder for her to remember than Mauritanian names. But when I returned many years later, she asked about each of the members of my family, whose names I had mentioned to her only once. “Kayfa Elizabeth? Kayfa David? Kayfa John? Kayfa Troy? Kayfa Mariah?” I was completely stunned. I remarked to her that in another time she would have been a great muhaddith scholar, with her uncanny ability to recall names. The Western students and visitors who were fortunate enough to have lived there or even visited briefly all remember Maryam well. But more importantly, Maryam not only remembered each one of them, but she prayed for them by name. Many years ago, I took a friend, Abdal Razzaq Mukhtar, a Libyan who was living in Northern California, and his son Haytham to see Murabit al-Hajj. Even after many years had passed, Maryam never failed to ask each student from the West how “Abdar Razzaq and Haytham” were doing and then go on to recite a litany of names of other visitors who they might know and have news of their lives. Moreover, she sent many letters to those who visited Tuwamirat. The letters were usually accompanied by gifts from her. Students would receive a letter with some local perfume or incense or sometimes a key chain as a token of her love and remembrance of those people who had made such an arduous journey to visit her husband and his school. She even sent me some of her butter ghee that lasted for a few years in my house. She left an indelible mark on all of us fortunate and blessed enough to have spent even an hour with her. It was an hour neither she nor her visitor would ever forget.

*** *** ***

I first saw Maryam in one of the dreams I had in 1983 in the Emirates, a year before I actually met her. One day, I was sitting in the tent studying with Murabit al-Hajj, when I saw her in the background and realized she was the person in my dreams.

The last time I saw Maryam, her world had changed considerably in her lifetime, but there was something unchanging about her. Despite the fashionable colored milhafahs that the women of the clan began to wear, she clung to the old-fashioned ways of her ancestors, and wore the traditional blue-dyed nilah that left a ghostly shade of indigo on the skin of the women, as well as the men who wore turbans made of the same material. And regardless of the outward difficulties of her life, she remained one of the most happy and joyful people I have ever known.

Maryam had always hoped to make the pilgrimage but felt obliged to first take care of her responsibilities, to her family and the school that she felt were binding upon her. She was never in the limelight, but the blue image of her milhafa could be seen in the background of meetings when dignitaries and visitors would come and pay their respects to Murabit al-Hajj, always in service to all. Once, when a group of Western students visited, one of the women asked Murabit al-Hajj for his prayers and he replied that they should also ask Maryam for her supplication as her prayers were ones that, insha’ Allah, God listened to and would answer. Although she was not famous like her husband, nor noted for any distinguished achievements, she was a luminary in her own right. Her son once told me, “She was one of the hidden ones, far more learned and accomplished than the people who knew her or lived with her realized.” I couldn’t agree more. In many ways, the Quranic verse about Maryam the mother of Jesus “and she was among the righteously pious ones” aptly suites our beloved Maryam bint Bwayba. When I told her brother, Khatry, she was like a mother to me, he replied, “She was a mother to all the believers.” No words could be more befitting.

Maryam Bint Bwayba, the beloved wife of the great scholar and teacher Murabit al-Hajj Ould Fahfu, and beloved selfless servant of the students of sacred knowledge at the mahdhara of Murabit al-Hajj, died after a brief but intense illness at approximately six in the evening on Sunday, the 15th of Rabi al-Thani, 1430 AH. In her honor, we are establishing the Maryam Bin Bwayba Scholarship Fund for Women, with all proceeds to be used for scholarships for qualified women in financial need attending Zaytuna’s educational programs. Donations should be sent to Zaytuna Institute, 2070 Allston Way, Suite 300, Berkeley, California, 94704, and the Memo line of checks should be marked as “Maryam Bint Bwayba Scholarship Fund.” For those who wish to send donations to the family of Murabit al-Hajj, please call Zaytuna at 510.549.3454.

May Allah grant her Jannat al-Firdous and make her and her husband a shining light for this Ummah. May they both be reunited. Reading stories like these makes my heart yearns to travel to West Africa to be immersed in the shining light of these people.

The Hole Story: Sexual Abuse in a “Strict Muslim” Household

I came across this article courtesy of a sister on Facebook about the recent feature on the BBC news website regarding the sexual abuse a young woman faced at the hands of her stepfather in Abu Dhabi. It points out many discrepancies in the story, some of which I failed to see when I first read it. This analysis really opened my eyes and showed me we need to be more aware of all these Islamophobic features running around everywhere.

“Sexual Abuse in Islamic Society” is the title of a recently published BBC article.* Right away, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good story (and by “good”, I mean objective, balanced, etc.). “Islamic society,” says the title, not an Islamic society, whatever that is. There is so much wrong with this BBC story and it’s upsetting on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s the story: Fatima, who is 26, was raised in a “strict Islamic family” in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. Her stepfather allegedly raped her continuously from the ages of 15-19. She was allegedly advised by Pearl, an online American chat buddy, to tell someone. She told her aunt, who allegedly took her to a lawyer, who allegedly told her that “under Shar’iah law” she would be subject to lashes for committing “adultery.” She told her mother, who allegedly confronted the stepfather, who said he did it “to make Fatima feel better and that it was all out of love.” Her mother thought about divorcing him, but changed her mind, choosing to stay with him. Fatima then left her family for America, land of the brave, where she was granted asylum:

Fatima says she realised that what mattered most, in the eyes of society, was family honour and what other people would think of them […] Fatima says that she thought that her Muslim country would protect her as a woman, but that in the end, they protected her rapist.

To begin with, did you realize how many times I used the word “allegedly?” This story is one of the worst researched stories I have ever had the bad luck to come across. There are no quotes from Fatima’s lawyer, her family, Abu Dhabi police, and no hint that any of them were even approached for interviews. But since it’s a Muslim woman outing her “Muslim oppressors,” I guess we don’t need any further information.

Domestic abuse is a terrible reality that can happen anywhere and any time, no matter what religion, nationality or ethnicity you are. It is present in every community. The criminal is the person who committed the crime–in this case, her stepfather. These criminals bend social and religious values to normalize their crime; society and tradition can then help to conceal the crime. That means we have some serious house-cleaning to do, and that domestic abuse laws in some predominately Muslim countries need to be reformed, but it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with Islam.

And, as we have said over and over again until we are blue in the face, this does not mean the actions are condoned by or the fault the criminal’s religion, which almost never figures in the story unless the faith is Islam. This is the story of a rapist. But unfortunately, it turns into an attack—seemingly by Fatima—on a Muslim country and Muslim society and Muslim ideas.

The 10-minute audio file embedded in the story begins by letting us know that the first child abuse conference has taken place in Saudi Arabia. It quotes a recent study which found that in 12 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region, more than 40% of boys and 60% of girls between the ages of 13 and 15 had been psychologically or sexually abused, which is a sobering fact if true.

To highlight the issue, Fatima then talks us through her story, which, by the way, takes place in Abu Dhabi, not Saudi Arabia. Dr. Fadheela Al Mahroos, President of the Bahrain-based International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Arab Professional Network, talks about child marriages in Yemen. But you know, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Yemen, they’re all the same thing in the eyes of the BBC. Along with the audio interview, we also get a fascinating, must-see three minute audio slideshow of Fatima’s art.

Fatima’s story is perfectly fits into the narrative that media constructs around Muslim women. We only ever seem to hear stories in non-Arab media about Muslim women when the women were abused/sold/forced into marriage, etc., or have rejected their faith and made it their life’s mission to talk about why it oppresses women.

The BBC’s story about Fatima is a classic example of both kinds of stories. Fatima’s story has been edited, possibly to fit the image the BBC wanted to portray. Let us count the ways:

She begins by telling us that she grew up in:

A conservative local Islamic family where girls are taught early on to fear God and family and more importantly to preserve family honor.

Honor, she says, is more important that anything else. Then we are treated to a description of her stepfather, one even Hollywood has to applaud:

He had three wives and 21 children. He was a violent man, a heavy drinker, a controlling narcissist. He blamed his sexual addiction on Satan, or the shaitan, saying both of us were guilty and had to stay silent, all while he played the role of good Muslim.

The saddest part of this story is that Fatima herself equates what happened to her with Islam, recounting her life in a “strict Muslim family,” and not in a dysfunctional family with a sex offender.

Fatima mentions in her slideshow that she was trapped in her house, without going into explanations why, letting listeners assume that her “Muslim family” was to blame. One of her photographs, titled Window in my Room, consists of black silhouette straining against a shut window.

And though Fatima’s aunt convinced her to tell her mother, the aunt dies of cancer. Three months after Fatima told her mother, she says that, “fearing for my life” she ran away to America. Again, there is no explanation provided of why she feared for her life. In her audio slide show, she says:

In my Muslim family, I was limited in what I could and could not do. It took me more than five years of begging and pleading with my family before they got me a camera.

We’re never told why her family wouldn’t allow her to have a camera; this example is only given to prove how constrictive her family life was.

The story provides more predictable narratives around American involvement and Arab culture. Her American friend was the one who helped her confront her stepfather (America to the rescue, haven for all!), while her society (or, actually, some shady lawyer, if that) told her she would be sentenced for adultery if she made a fuss.

Commentators across the internet differ in their outlooks towards Fatima’s story. Some applaud her bravery for speaking out, while others point out the somewhat contradictory aspects of her story. If she was trapped at home, they ask, how did she learn to speak such perfect English? If she couldn’t even leave the house to buy herself a camera, how could she travel to America? Others point out that she blames her society for not protecting her though she didn’t even attempt to contact her authorities. Others are more disturbed by how her story feeds into common misconceptions about Muslims. One commentator notes:

[Her stepfather] blamed his sexual addiction on the so called “Satan”?? Puleez could there be a more cliched answer?? Everything she said is a cliche and confirms the common intentional misconception about Muslims and Arabs, from blaming “sins” on Satan to the alleged imprisonment and “entrapment” of women inside the house […] And then she declares that she became a free woman only upon entering America.

Another adds:

She may be very sour about what happened to her and how her family didn’t reach out to her, but blaming them because they are Muslim is a cheap trick. […] Fatima should only blame her twisted family […] if Fatima felt caged it was not because she lived in a Muslim household but because she lived in an evil household. […]

Overall, I think she is hungry for attention and for complete integration in her newly found “free” society. It is easier to integrate when you can convince yourself that you miss “nothing from your society” and when you can convince others that your old society is evil, corrupt and sexist. Sadly, Fatima is equating freedom with abandonment of Islam, but frankly we have all seen that happen before.

Others feel that Fatima has come to assume Islam contributed to her suffering since her knowledge of it had been skewed by her stepfather’s actions. Understandably, they say, the fact that she has come to dislike Islam and her culture is a valid response. One commentator says:

Our experiences reflect our outlook, perspective and behaviour – her experiences were horrific and as a result her iman [faith] may have been affected – who are we to judge her? We know that iman can increase and decrease – may Allah heal her heart and soul and fill her heart with the light of iman – ameen

Now that she is ‘free,’ Fatima ends her story with this:

Now I can honestly say with complete confidence that I miss nothing from my past life. I always thought that my Muslim family and my Muslim country would protect me as a woman. I was wrong. Instead they chose to protect my rapist in the name of family honor.

Fatima’s piece, “Telling My Mother.” Image via the BBC.

Fatima’s piece, “Telling My Mother.” Image via the BBC.

The story is accompanied by a three-minute audio slideshow of Fatima’s photography. She explains the pieces, which she says served as a catharsis for the psychological problems she encountered from her abuse. Many of the images deal with women and veils. Two of the photos are of women in hijab covering their faces with their hands, out of shame. The one pictured left is titled, “Telling my Mother,” of which she says:

Shows the amount of shame and fear I felt when I first came out and told her about the sexual abuse.

About the photo, “Escape from my Home,” she says:

The birdcage […] is a reflection of my own state of mind and how I felt in my family and the feeling of entrapment. And the girl holding the traditional veil represents me and the freedom I felt after coming out and talking about the abuse and how I was able to see past my society and traditional family structure.

She explains her photo titled, “Hanging my Old Islamic Clothes for Good”:

The clothes on the line actually represent the traditional abaya and sheila local females in the UAE are required to wear. And I’ve hung them on the line under the sun to dry in order for me to start a new life as a free woman.

The trapped Muslim woman in a cage flees her country, family, and faith, and is now free. The symbol of freedom? Removing her veil. Fatima believes that by removing the shackles of the veil, she has been freed. Never mind that Abu Dhabi has no enforceable dress code, which Fatima says local women are “required” to abide by. I have been there at least half a dozen times, and have met many local women, very few who actually cover completely.

As one commentator put it:

The part that made me the most angry was when she showed the pictures of her hanging her abaya and supposedly “freeing herself” from her shackles or whatever it was that she said! The abaya and any Islamic clothing was the source of your abuse?! Even if you had worn shorts and a tank top if you live with a sick human who will abuse you what you wear doesn’t make a difference! Nor would it have made you braver in standing up to him if the society’s way of thinking was the source of the problem! In fact if he had any regard for ANY religion (or even some morals or mental stability) he would not do such a thing. Islam has nothing to with it.

Unfortunately, the issue is deeper than this commentator makes it out to be. It has become a dominant media narrative that de-hijabizing illustrates liberation of Muslim women, whereas veiling in any form represents oppression. Fatima’s statements show that she believes this narrative, where the abaya has become a symbol for the horrible things in her old life.

In the slide show, we are also treated to several random shots of mosques, assumingly to solidify the link between Islam and her abuse. We have no way of knowing if she chose the photos of the mosque or simply provided the BBC with her portfolio and they chose the images.
Fatima’s piece “Escape from my home”.

Fatima’s piece “Escape from my home”.

Fatima’s story, as told to us by the BBC has logical holes in it, it hasn’t been verified, and falls into all the traps I would expect from someone who has never even been to an “Islamic” society. But since it’s an edited version of Fatima’s story, we have no way of knowing if the holes were explained by Fatima. The story, whether true or not, has been co-opted to reinforce the narrative of the oppressed Muslim woman and the evil Muslim man and horrible Muslim society. It also seems to have been amplified to gain asylum and media attention, since the poor-Muslim-woman-breaks-free is a tried and tested formula for doing so.

Stories like this happen. Women and children are abused, and we need to make sure this stops, because it is out duty as Muslims and human beings to protest against what is clearly wrong.

But once she equated the horrible things she went through with Islam, and not a hypocritical man, her narrative lost Muslim sympathy because it echoed Islamphobic narratives blaming Islam for all the evils that people do. The word “Muslim” is stressed so much it’s not even remotely subtle (the emphasis on the word Muslim is Fatima’s, not mine).

And if her story is true, then it illustrates an even worse malady in the “Muslim” consciousness: we have begun to internalize the negative, Orientalist, imperialist messages that we see and hear. Perhaps Fatima has come to believe in the Western idea that the veil in some way represents her oppressions and believes that her religion and abuse are intertwined, assuming that only after she shuns her Islamic beliefs, symbolized by her veil, could she be truly happy and free. If her story is true, then I doubt the mental and emotional trauma she suffers from will be as easy to get rid of as her veil.

*Editor’s note: The BBC has since changed the title to “Sexual Abuse in Abu Dhabi.”

Source: Muslimah Media Watch

Six “Kalimas”

Most Muslims from the “Indo-Pak” sub-continent (Or descended from there) will remember a time in their youth that the first thing that they ever memorised Islamically were the “Six Kalimas”.

No explanation was given as to why we needed to memorise them, what they were for, or if there was an specific time or place we should recite them. They were just forced into our memory with bad tajweed and no understanding, followed by the “2 Imans” and then finally Sura al-Fatihah, Sura al-Ikhlas Ayat-al Kursi and so on.

I came across the following question posed by someone on Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari’s Darul Iftaa website:

Please can you kindly answer the following question within the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. The five kalimahs, which are taught in many madaris (Islamic Schools for Children) overlooking other important issues relating to Islam, what is its reality? I live in a society where there is great importance to this factor. I am sure there are other important things that can be taught to the children.

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

The five Kalimas (statements) that are taught in the religious schools of the Indian Subcontinent (and by those who originate from there) is for the purpose of instilling in a child’s heart the roots of faith (iman) and belief (aqidah).

The first two of the five Kalimas are necessary and important for every Muslim, for it is bearing testimony (shahadah) on the fact that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (Allah bless him & give him peace) is his Prophet and Messenger.

The third Kalimah is actually a Dhikr of Allah in glorifying and praising Him. There are great rewards promised in the Ahadith upon this Dhikr of Allah.

The Companion Abu Hurairah (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah said:

“That I say “Subhan Allah wal hamdu li Allah wa la ilaha illa Allah wa Allahu Akbar” is more beloved to me than whatever the sun has shed its light on.” (Meaning its rewards are more beloved to me than the whole universe and whatever it contains). (Sahih Muslim, 2695 and Sunan Tirmizi, 3591)

The wording of the fourth Kalimah has also been mentioned in the Hadith. Sayyiduna Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said:

“Whosoever says: “La ila ha illa Allah wahdahu la sharik lah lahu al-mulk wa lahu al-hamd wahuwa ala kulli shay in qadir” ten times, will receive the reward of freeing four slaves from the children of Isma’il (Allah bless him).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 6404 and Sahih Muslim, 2693)

The fifth Kalimah is a supplication (Dua) in disapproving of disbelief (kufr) and seeking protection of Allah from associating any partners with Him.

Now, the first two or one of the two Kalimas are essential and must be taught to the children, as they represent the basic belief of Islam. However, the other three Kalimahs are the words of Dhikr and Dua.

There is nothing drastically wrong in teaching these Kalimahs to the children in the Madaris, and one should not object to it. However, it must be remarked here that, by teaching these Kalimahs, one should not overlook and neglect other important aspects of Islamic Knowledge. The child is in his initial learning stages of the basics of Islam and we should ensure that he receives adequate knowledge of Islam that will benefit him in this world and the hereafter.

And Allah Knows Best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK


There you have it, the great mystery is finally revealed. (But I’m sure there were six, not five, and I still don’t know what those “two Imans” were for).

I personally think this system that desi Muslims have for teaching their children needs to be scrapped immediately. There are much more important things need to be taught and instilled first and foremost, such as Aqeeda and belief, and then to learn how to pray Salah properly, then they should advance to learning particular du’as and Dhikrs.

It really personifies the state of Islamic scholarship back home when people just blindly follow what has been taught to them and not questions the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. This is one of the problems that has led to a nearly non-existent Ijaza system and Islamic “scholars” who have very little if any knowledge of Arabic, Proofs and Texts. Let’s make d’ua Allah (SWT) guides the Muslim ummah to what is right and good for it, and lead us to knowledge and wisdom. Ameen.