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Resetting the Balance

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Today, terms like women empowerment, feminism, girl-power, me-too movement, influencers and the broader social media content are widely prevalent. How is this affecting a common Muslim girl? Most importantly, how do we navigate these ideologies within the Islamic framework?

Some of the key conundrums to focus on, are mental health issues, growing up in multiple cultures, navigating Islam through ‘the lens of Islamophobia’, the peer pressure associated with looks, friends and appearances, and over-sensualisation of everything around them.

This article will attempt to address these issues and provide practical strategies – to help both parents and the girls – to best access and understand this dilemma. I am not an Islamic scholar nor do I possess any Shari’a qualification. All I am trying to convey is the dilemma, a young girl faces as a mother, wife and a responsible member of the Ummah. I am an academician and an active member of the Muslim community trying to offer solutions, rather than merely discussing the problems we face in this modern day and age. I heard a Scholar commenting and discussing the inheritance laws commanded by Allah SWT in the Quran. A simple understanding is that women receive half of the inheritance as compared to their brothers. The Scholar explained that when this verse was revealed, women were treated as chattel, baby girls were being buried alive and women were traded as goods. When the verse was revealed, the men argued, “Why even half!”. Now women argue, “Why only half?”

We can extrapolate this example to try and understand what is happening with the Muslimah mindset and reset the balance. Islam is a complete way of life and all the commandments from Allah SWT in the Quran and examples from the life of the Prophet (Sunnah) have to be considered intelligently and in its entirety. I would like to mention two stories of historical Muslim women whom we need to learn about.

Umme Aiman was the Prophet’s (PBUH) foster mother – her original name was Barakah, and she was the slave girl to the Prophet’s parents. She accompanied the Prophet and his mother Amina (RAH) to visit the Prophet’s father’s gravesite. On the return journey, the Prophet’s mother passed away. It was Barakah, an Abyssinian slave girl, who comforted the Prophet (PBUH) and brought him back to Makkah to his Uncle. She went with the Prophet to Khadijah’s (RAH) house, when the Prophet got married at the age of 25 and was one of the first women to convert to Islam when the prophethood was announced 15 years later.

OUR LORD! GRANT US WHAT YOU HAVE PROMISED US THROUGH YOUR MESSENGERS AND DO NOT PUT US TO SHAME ON THE JUDGEMENT DAY – FOR CERTAINLY YOU NEVER FAIL IN YOUR PROMISE. -Al Quran (3:194)

Following her freedom, the Prophet also arranged her marriage, first to Ubayd ibn Zayd, from whom she had a son, Ayman ibn Ubayd. She was widowed and was later married to the Prophet’s adopted son, Zayd ibn Harithah. Her son with Zayd, Usama bin Zayd, served as a commander in the early Muslim army. She cared, supported and worked for the Prophet as an emissary of information when the enemy was plotting against him. The Prophet (PBUH) always held her in high esteem.

We always hear about Hazrath Bilal (RAH), the Black slave who became the Muazzin, but not of the black woman who was a foster mother to the Prophet (there are numerous narrations on this).

Umm Ayman was also present at the Battle of Uhud, she fetched water for the soldiers and helped treat the injured. It is reported that in the battle of Uhud, when many men ran away towards Medina after a rumour was spread about the Prophet’s death, Umm Ayman sprinkled dust on the face of some fugitives. She gave them spindles and told them, “Give me your sword and (you) spin spindle”. Then she went towards the battlefield with several women and was subsequently injured by an enemy soldier. These stories of courage, valour and loyalty need to be voiced to the younger generations, as these women are our role models. They are who we should aspire to imitate.She lived after the Prophets’ demise and was visited at her house by the Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, May Allah be pleased with them. If this story is told as part of the history of Islam, wouldn’t the young Muslimah be motivated to accept the beauty, colour and features that Allah SWT has given them, and respect all colours and creeds?

All women need to understand that, first and foremost, the Lord of all the worlds chose each one of us and has blessed us with being part of the Prophet’s Ummah. This is a huge blessing and privilege in itself. The man and jinn have been created to worship theAlmighty and to read, understand and follow the Quran and the Sunnah in its entirety. Islam means submission to the will of Allah.

Religion is not a buffet, where we can pick and choose the verses that suit our ego and we wish to follow while ignoring the rest. Allah SWT is asking us to strive to be better people than we were the previous day, and this should be our motivation and ambition.

Only the Almighty is perfect and he loves beauty. The outer beauty he has blessed us with, needs to be appreciated accepted and not tampered with.

We cannot flaunt our beauty and waste precious moments with selfies and screen filters to feed our ego. We should not follow influencers and waste time on these destructive activities as it takes us away from our real purpose. Mothers and older siblings need to advise youngsters to avoid such activities and instead, find good resources like quranle.com and other helpful educational websites.

Once we women realise our worth and the fact that Allah SWT has given us equality as stated in the Quran, Chapter 3: verse 194 “Our Lord! Grant us what You have promised us through your messengers and

do not put us to shame on the Judgement Day – for certainly You never fail in your promise”. Allah SWT teaches us the prayer and the reply is so profound and gives us equality from the Creator himself in the next verse.

Chapter 3: verse 195, “So their Lord responded to them: “I will never deny any of you – male or female – the reward of your deeds. Both are equal in reward. Those who migrated or were expelled from their homes and were persecuted for My sake and fought and “some” were martyred, I will certainly forgive their sins and admit them into gardens under which rivers flow, as a reward from God. And with God is the finest reward!”

Once we women internalise this verse and that Allah SWT has given us equality with men, we do need to succumb to culture, patriarchy, and societal norms of oppression, but achieve the confidence to navigate life focused on our deeds which will gain the ultimate reward from the Almighty. We do not have to be aggressive, anti-men or ultra-feminist, we need to approach it in a calm and balanced manner following the examples of the women of Paradise. Maryam, the mother of Jesus PBUH and other examples from the life of the mothers of the believers (the Prophet’s wives), such as Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya  Al-Qurashiya  (القرش  الفهرية محمد بنت فاطمة) who founded the world’s first university in 895 CE in Fez, which is now in Morocco. She is more usually known simply as Fatima al-Fihri and when she and her sister inherited their father’s wealth, she used her share to establish the University of Al Qarawiynn.

SO THEIR LORD RESPONDED TO THEM: “I WILL NEVER DENY ANY OF YOU – MALE OR FEMALE – THE REWARD OF YOUR DEEDS. BOTH ARE EQUAL IN REWARD. THOSE WHO MIGRATED OR WERE EXPELLED FROM THEIR HOMES AND WERE PERSECUTED FOR MY SAKE AND FOUGHT AND “SOME” WERE MARTYRED – I WILL CERTAINLY FORGIVE THEIR SINS AND ADMIT THEM INTO GARDENS UNDER WHICH RIVERS FLOW, AS A REWARD FROM GOD. AND WITH GOD IS THE FINEST REWARD! Al Quran (3:194)

The University started as a large mosque and later grew into a place of education. The Madrasa (Islamic School) Al-Fihri founded, is still in operation today as the University of Al Quaraouiyine. It is the oldest operating educational institution in the world and was the first institution to award degrees according to different levels of study, like Islamic studies, mathematics, grammar, and medicine.

The University of Al Quaraouiyine became a state university in 1963 and now awards degrees in Islamic, religious and legal sciences with an emphasis on classical Arabic grammar and linguistics and law. Interestingly, teaching is still delivered in a very traditional manner, whereby students are seated in a semi-circle around a Sheikh (Islamic scholar), who prompts them to read sections of particular texts, and asks them questions on aspects of grammar, law, or interpretation, and explains difficult points.

Adjacent to Al Quaraouiyine mosque and the University, is the world’s oldest library. The library will hopefully soon be reopened after a massive restoration overseen by another woman; this time the architect Aziza Chaouni.

Chaouni grew up in Fez and recalls seeing the great locked doors of the library as a young child. Her vision is for the library to once more become a second home for the people of Fez, a living functional library, and not just a tourist attraction. The partially re-opened, historic 9th century (CE) library now includes an isolated drainage system to avoid future damage, and a lab to treat, preserve and digitise the oldest texts. It also houses, with the greatest possible security, temperature and humidity controls, a precious ninth-century copy of the Qur’an, written in ornate Kufic script on camel skin vellum (parchment).

We need to explore examples of women accomplishing marvels in their respective fields while living the word of Allah, appreciating and following our wonderful way of life which is Islam, and motivating the youngsters to do good at all times.

Our currency is time and not money, and we need to constantly spend it in the worship of Allah SWT, follow the Sunnah, and be a force of good in the lives of our families and communities.

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