“Strength in Islam Comes from Knowledge” – Bringing Back the Esteem of Muslim Women

•August 21, 2012 • 1 Comment

Monday evening on August 13th, women from all backgrounds came together in the gymnasium of the Muslim Center to hear and learn about the role of women’s education in Islam. The lecture was provided by Anse Tamara Gray who is a scholar residing in Syria. She has her ijazas (permitsto teach others) in Qur’an and Tajweed (proper recitation of the Qur’an). She has also studied other subjects, such as hadith (documents of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and practices) and fiqh (law).

Anse Tamara Gray recently came to the U.S. on tour as part of the “Rabata Retreats”- a series of lectures and events dedicated to bringing women together for Islamic education and enlightenment. Having lived in Syria for the past 20 years, she briefly discussed her own journey from accepting Islam to moving to Syria and pursuing Islamic scholarship.

Anse Tamara converted to Islam in her teenage years in Minnesota in 1985. She soon began to feel a lack of support from the small Muslim population of her community and also a strong sense of superiority from men. She prayed for God’s guidance and sought a connection with her newly accepted faith. Soon, she met a woman from Syria who told her of a female scholar who was educating a few students, in the hopes of preparing them to attain their ijazas – an honor that no Muslim woman was documented for receiving up to that point. Soon enough, Anse Tamara married and moved to Syria with her husband and began pursuing her Islamic studies under female scholars. In 1991, the first female received her ijaza in Qur’an- but not before struggling to find a scholar who would be willing to issue it to a female.

To explain the significance, an ijaza is similar to a PhD. One theory has it that the concept of the Western doctorate actually originated from the Islamic ijaza system. To obtain an ijaza one must complete in-depth studies for several years and pass rigorous testing. Therefore, the attainment of an ijaza by the young female student was a major feat and one that was unheard of in the modern Muslim world. From that point on, thousands of women have received their ijazas in Qur’an and many women have received ijazas in the seven books of hadith.

Although, as noted, this is a major accomplishment, one should remember that, ironically, it is a major accomplishment for the modern Muslim world. Hundreds of years ago, including under the Prophet’s leadership, female scholarship was prominent and encouraged.

Recently, scholars, such as Alim Mohammad Akram Nadwi, have decided to study and search for Muslim women scholars. Up to 2007, his research unearthed at least 8,000 documented female scholars throughout Islamic history. According to Anse Tamara, that number is currently at 12,000. These women were not simply high-achieving students, but were teachers, doctors, and even scholars who issued fatwas (legal rulings and opinions).

The importance of education can be illustrated by this story: Umm Waraqa was a contemporary of the Prophet and was incredibly learned in the Qur’an and its recitation. She used to teach the other women of the community at her home. When a war was to take place and the Prophet had summoned men and women to participate as soldiers and nurses, Umm Waraqa also volunteered. However, the Prophet told her to stay. She told him that she wanted to die a martyr and the Prophet gave her the title, referring to her as “The Martyr” from that point on. The Prophet deemed Umm Waraqa’s work of educating others as so important that he denied her permission to participate in the defense of the community, an act considered of notable honor, and still gave her the title.

Another case that illustrates the high and respected status Muslim women held in the past is of Fatima bint Qais, who was a knowledgeable and respected scholar of her times. After having a personal experience with divorce and learning from the guidance she received from the Prophet regarding it, Fatima bint Qais issued fatwas based on the experience. There came a time when Caliph Umar disagreed with the fatwas she was issuing. However, although he made his opinion known, he did not stop her. As Anse Tamara said, “our tradition is a tradition of respect for opinion.” Fatima bint Qais’ opinion was so respected that the scholars of all the four madhabs (schools of thought), Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi’i, included it in some way when establishing their respective rulings and laws.

A final story is of a woman who was a scholar of hadith in the early generations after the Prophet and had published a book on the topic. Students from various places would come to study under her. One of her students asked to see her book so he could assess if he was completing his assignments correctly. The scholar told him that the only way his work would be approved was if she personally looked at it. As his teacher, she would not allow him to self-correct. Therefore, his work was assessed and approved by her personally. This point became a point of pride for him as he would use it as proof that his education was valid and to be trusted.

Unfortunately, all of these stories portray something that is almost unheard of in most parts of the Muslim world and communities today. There was more women’s scholarship in Islam in the past, than there is today, in the age of “women’s rights”. Anse Tamara stated that one of the primary reasons for this is Colonialism; when Muslims lost connection to their roots and faith, they also lost many of the values and principles that are held in high regard in Islam. This included education for all- men and women.

Anse Tamara encouraged everyone to seek knowledge. She gave basic, practical tips such as learning enough Arabic to be able to read a dictionary. Many translations of Arabic texts can be unreliable as they may carry personal interpretations and overtones of the translators. Therefore, if one comes across a translation that seems doubtful, one should be able to easily look up the terms in a dictionary and arrive to a more accurate meaning of the text. If learning Arabic is not a possibility at the time, she also suggested reading more than one translation for the same purpose.

During the Q/A session, Anse Tamara was asked about the permissibility of female scholars teaching in front of a male or mixed-gender student body. She clarified that unless the teacher herself chooses to not teach a male or mixed-gender student body, she is not religiously barred from teaching as long as rules of modesty are observed. Such rules include appropriate clothing and using a professional, not feminine, tone when speaking.

The overall lesson of the lecture was that women have a high status and significant role in Islam. Throughout history, Muslim women were held in esteem and were provided and encouraged to take part in opportunities to increase their knowledge and share it with others. As much as the world may have developed over the past hundreds of years, one aspect that seems to have actually backtracked is the role of women and the importance of their own education and their contributions to society. As Anse Tamara said several times, Muslim women have lost their voices and have learned to dismiss themselves. The only way they will regain their proper rights and positions is if they study the faith and act upon it. “When you are strong, no one can bully you. Strength in Islam comes from knowledge.”

Concluding One of the Most Virtuous Months

•August 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Fiqh Council of North America has declared this Sunday, August 19th, as Eid-ul-Fitr. This day would mark the first day of the month Shawwal and the end of the month of Ramadan. Briefly, Ramadan is considered a month of sacrifices. Muslims do not eat or drink and abstain from other designated acts, during daylight hours, as well as purify oneself from immoral activities such as gossiping, backbiting, etc. The month is for spiritual cleansing and growth, emphasizing the virtues of self-restraint. The day of Eid is a joyful and celebratory occasion in which worshipers thank Allah for giving them the strength and patience to positively develop themselves throughout Ramadan and asking for forgiveness and guidance for the rest of the year.

Muslims also celebrate this day by decorating their homes, wearing their best outfits, giving gifts, holding lunches and dinners, and more. The first Eid was celebrated by Prophet Muhammad and his companions (peace be upon all of them) after the Battle of Badr in 624 CE.

There are several Sunnahs, or Prophetic practices, that are associated with Eid. Some of which include the following:

1.Wake up early in the morning; freshen up by brushing teeth and taking a full bath/shower.

2.Wear the best clothes one may have, and for men, wear a perfume or scent.

3.Eat dates, and if preferred, a breakfast.

4.Go to Eid prayer early. Eid prayer should preferably be held in an open or outdoor area.

5.The Prophet (pbuh) used to go to the prayer on foot. One should also take one route going to the prayer and a different route when returning home.

6.Chant the takbir, definitely on the way to the prayer, but some also say starting from the night before after the moon is sighted. The takbir is: Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Laa ilaaha illallahu Wallahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Wa lillahil Hamd. (Translation: Allah is the greatest, He is the greatest. There is no god except Allah. He is the greatest. All praises and thanks are for Him).

7.Give zakat-or sadaqah-ul-fitr if it hasn’t been done so already. This is charity that is given before Eid to ensure that the needy have food and are also able to enjoy the holiday.

8.Make sure to attend the prayer and have all your family members attend. Eid is when it is almost considered obligatory to attend the prayer. It is a day of Allah’s mercy and blessings and everyone should be able to take part. Although in some families and cultures, women are discouraged to attend the mosque; religiously, women are encouraged especially on Eid. As narrated by Umm Atiya (pbuh), the Prophet (pbuh) told the people to “bring out on Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha, young women, hijab[modesty]-observing adult women and the menstruating women. The menstruating women stayed out of actual Salaat but participated in good deeds and Duaa (supplication)” (Muslim).

9.Stay for the Khutbah (sermon). It is considered a part of the worship and it is best not to neglect it.

10.Greet fellow worshipers, those you know and those you don’t know, after Eid prayer.

Upon returning home, individuals and families can then take part in individual festivities by inviting/attending meals and feasts with families and friends, going on day trips, taking kids to Eid carnivals, and much more. However, Allah’s blessings should always be remembered and on this joyous day one should make sure to stay within the moral guidelines set by Islam. May Allah grant everyone an enjoyable and blessed Eid. Eid Mubarak!

Muslim Presence at the 2012 Olympics

•August 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

August 5, 2012

Over 3,000 Muslim athletes and officials are said to be present at the Olympics taking place in London this year. There are a couple of significant aspects of this year’s events.

The first and foremost, is the mere fact that the games are taking place during Ramadan. All the athletes are managing their time in different ways. For example, some athletes are continuing to fast, such as on the Moroccan team. Others, such as the Egyptian team, have been advised by religious counselors that they are exempt due to the fact that they are traveling and in a foreign land. Yet, others plan on giving to charity enough for 60 needy people to make up for their voluntary missing of their fasts. The organizers of the Olympics have also been accommodating by providing snack packs to the athletes that include items such as dates.

Another significant attribute of this year’s games is the continued involvement of Muslim women. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei have sent female athletes to the Olympics for the first time ever. The women faced incredible political and social difficulties as they fought for the honor to represent themselves and their nations. For example, Wojdan Shaherkani, 16, who competed in Judo was labeled the “Prostitute of the Olympics” by ultra-conservatives in her home country of Saudi Arabia.

Many of the athletes wore hijab, or the headscarf, and modest clothing, which in itself was a challenge for some women as their home countries required them to wear traditional attire, while the Olympics Committee required them not to. Therefore, after much discussion, a compromise had been made between the two to allow athletes to continue wearing the scarf or modest attire, but with some modifications to meet sport safety and other rules. Regardless of the obstacles, the women made it to the games and although most did not last long, their efforts and appearances were noted by the international community and have begun to possibly pave the way for future female athletes.

The diversity of the games in which Muslims, males and females, are competing range from track, swimming, rifle competition, weightlifting, and many other areas.

The BBC has been covering the Olympics in much detail. The website has a comprehensive list of all the participating countries with profiles of their athletes and Olympic-related stories. Visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/2012/countries/.

Getting Down to Business

•August 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

July 29, 2012

Have you ever considered starting your own business? Many people consider it, but don’t follow through because it seems like a daunting idea. However, the amount of work that goes into starting a business varies greatly from the type of business you would like. Regardless, there is a guarantee that there will be some work and extra hours involved.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. The State of Michigan has a great resource website called Michigan Business One Stop that provides almost all the support and information one may need to get started on his/her journey. In addition, the federal government also has resources through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

SCORE is a nonprofit associated with the SBA and is an excellent resource to get free business advice and guidance from an actual business mentor. You can choose one who has the most similar background and expertise in the areas you would like to pursue for your business and then arrange to contact them through email, phone, even in-person. Plus, this isn’t a one-time session; your mentor will continue to help you through the process if you choose to go with this option. SCORE also offers a variety of resources, including free or low cost webinars and local workshops.

There are also several resources available specifically for women and minorities. Many can be found through the sources mentioned earlier. Another great place to find information: your local library! For updated information, you would certainly want to do your research online, but the library is a great starting point- a way to simply browse and get ideas.

Nowadays, many people are also being inspired to work for a cause and are considering nonprofits instead of businesses. Nonprofits certainly have benefits such as tax advantages, but there are some drawbacks as well. One being the obvious, you can’t make a profit. Another is that the process of running a nonprofit is much lengthier and intense. There are several other pros and cons of nonprofits that one should consider before heading down that route.

If a nonprofit doesn’t sound appealing but working for a cause still does, an alternative is the social business or enterprise. A social business is a regular profit-making business, but one that focuses and works for a social benefit cause. In the U.S. social businesses haven’t gained as much popularity yet, but in Europe and other parts of the world, social businesses are on the rise, and the U.S. is certainly following.

A famous example, and a pioneer in the field of social businesses, is Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank deals with providing loans to help the poor who are in need of financial assistance. Another example is the Canadian business, CharityVillage, which actually focuses on being the largest resource for nonprofit news, updates, and other information. Therefore, having a business should not bar one from working for the common good.

In general, regardless of what type of business you dream of starting, consider it a little more before you consider backing out because there is a world of resources available and your dream might just come true. We’ve noticed that there are several young entrepreneurs right here in the Southeast Michigan area. In the coming weeks, we’d like to showcase young people who have started their own businesses, their inspirations, and their tips and advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs. Please take a look at the information in the box and let’s help each other out by promoting local businesses and inspiring others as well.

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Helping to Ensure a Successful & Productive Ramadan

•August 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

July 22, 2012

As we all know, Ramadan is a time for increased productivity. Sometimes organizing one’s time to juggle several priorities from professional, to family/personal, to spiritual, can be a difficult task. Thankfully, a number of websites have taken the opportunity to create a variety of resources for all people to use during Ramadan to make it the most productive one yet.  Three sites that have served this purpose are Soundvision, Productive Muslim, and My Halal Kitchen.

Soundvision’s Ramadan Page and Productive Muslim’s Ramadan & Productivity section serve as great all-inclusive toolkits. Both websites focus not only on achieving spiritual goals, but also practical and family/personal-oriented ones. Soundvision provides a variety of articles and checklists to ensure one has a successful Ramadan. One of its great features is its focus on incorporating family values in Ramadan. Several resources provide ideas on how to make Ramadan a family affair with kid-friendly activities, as well as how to introduce Ramadan to children’s teachers and classes for when the month falls during the school year.

Productive Muslim is a similar website with a great collection of resources people can refer to so they can make the most of their Ramadan practices. Productive Muslim even has worksheets and daily/monthly planners, such as its Ramadan Taskinator, and even Habitator- a planner to develop good habits, that assist in organizing one’s professional, personal, and spiritual priorities.

Once one is able to organize their priorities and have plans in place on goals they want to achieve for this Ramadan, one great resource to use to help achieve those goals is My Halal Kitchen. This is great for both; people who actually have healthy eating as one of their goals, as well as those who simply want a resource to get a quick recipe for suhoor and iftar so they can focus on their actual goals. My Halal Kitchen provides a food blog consisting of delicious, healthy, and halal recipes, as well as tips and ideas on how to manage and prepare our kitchens for Ramadan so we can spend our time on other practices, rather than worrying about the groceries or what should be cooked next. My Halal Kitchen, through Batoul Apps, has even launched an iPhone and iPad application. With a cookbook look and set up, one can search for recipes through different search filters such as by meal type (i.e. suhoor, iftar, dinner) and ethnicity.

Ramadan is for personal growth and re-growth; to reach another level spiritually, socially, physically, and in every other aspect. It is said that Ramadan is the best time to break bad habits and develop good ones with the goal to maintain them throughout the year. Even the UK’s National Health Service recognized this by stating that Ramadan is the ideal time to quit smoking, due to having to do so anyways to fast and then easily being able to find support groups of other Muslim smokers aiming to quit.

Another key to keep in mind is that in Islam, quality and consistency is more admired than quantity. We should focus on developing goals for ourselves that we would be able to maintain throughout the year, even if we start off small. Therefore, Ramadan is a great “launch pad” to begin our self development and now we know that there are several resources out there to help us through the process.