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Making Arabic compulsory in Pakistan’s schools? Why?

By Farahnaz Zahidi

arabic
This will be a rewarding move if the ministry also considers what is being taught to students in the name of Islam and more importantly how it is being taught. PHOTO: REUTERS

Arabic came into my life out of a desire to know and understand what was written in the Holy Quran. My curious, questioning mind needed answers and I now know that a one-on-one relationship with the Quran has the potential to alter my life forever.

Having lived that, I thank God repeatedly for being blessed with the understanding of Arabic. It is wonderful when you no longer have to rely on translations to understand your faith. Translations are a great starting point, but the Quran’s feel tends to get lost in translations.

You understand what it is saying when you read, say, translations by Marmaduke Pickthall, Abdullah Yusuf Ali or Fateh Muhammad Jallandhari, but you lose out on the nuances and the delicate meanings.

You do not get to know that the word ‘Bushra’ means happiness that starts reflecting on one’s skin and that all Arabic words from the root letters ‘Jeem Noon Noon’ allude towards things that are not visible – things like Jannat (heaven), Jinn (creatures of the unseen world) and Junoon (trance or mania).

Understanding Arabic gave the five prayers more soul and the Ramazan taraweeh became a joy for me.

Another step forward was reading other Islamic literature sources in depth, like Sahih Bukhari and books about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). One relishes the sweetness of why the Prophet (pbuh) nick-named Hazrat Ali (ra) ‘Abu Turaab’ and the poems that Hassan ibn Thaabit (ra) wrote in defence of the Prophet (pbuh).

Even apart from Islamic literature, the richness of the Arabic language is undisputed. Knowing the language opens the door to the poetry of Ibn al Farid and the spiritual treatise of Ibn Qayyim al Jawzi.

I love visiting mosques and museums where Arabic inscriptions make sense to me now. The prefix ‘al’ no longer irks me.

I love the language.

I am unapologetic that as a Muslim, Arabic is not just another language for me. And yes, as a mother, I would love my daughter to also experience the same joy. The preface above is meant to clarify to the readers that I am neither anti-Arabic nor a person who does not value the possible advantages of learning the language.

The problem with compulsory Arabic

Having said that, I have misgivings about the recent statement by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Sardar Muhammad Yousuf, about making Arabic compulsory in primary schools.

More than what is being suggested in this proposal, it is the way that this is being done and the reasons being given, which have left many of us ambiguous about whether this will be a good move or not.

The minister’s statement that this will be a counter-terrorism and anti-sectarianism strategy seems more like an alibi.

Are we, arguably, saying that learning Arabic will fight certain tendencies?

Are all Arabic-speaking nations free of these challenges?

Sadly, many a times such turmoil and strife is evident in Arab-speaking nations.

Also, I have to wonder if knowing Arabic is actually the route to being better Muslims and better humans.

While there is no doubt that knowing the language of the Quran and hadith would bring us closer to a better understanding of Islam, it can be so only for those who choose to understand Islam via Arabic, and then try and act on the ethics that Islam has given us.

Teaching a language by force cannot be seen as a formula for producing a generation of better Muslims.

And fortunately, Pakistan does not have a dearth of Arabic teachers.

What will actually make this a rewarding move is if the ministry also considers what is being taught to students in the name of Islam and more importantly how it is being taught. If they do use it correctly, it will indeed be a good move to introduce better ethics through religion.

There have been dissenting voices on the issue.

Some have jumped the gun and reacted a bit too strongly to the idea of making Arabic compulsory because for them Arabic is somehow the language of Saudi Arabia – of hardliners and extremists. They may have overlooked the fact that for a lot of people in this country, the move would be a welcome one – especially for parents who have a hard enough time meeting the demands of their children’s increasingly competitive study regimes and barely manage to make children learn the recitation of the Holy Quran, let alone its meaning.

In this light, for these parents who wish their children to learn Arabic, the ministry’s suggestion is a blessing. However, here is the inevitable ‘but’.

Undoubtedly, languages make us grow and soar. They have the power to unify and to liberate. But one cannot discount the fact that languages have been used, throughout human history, to strengthen imperialistic ambitions and designs. Each colonial power left its territorial mark in the form of stipulations about languages, and the languages were then used as tools of proselytising people into thinking in certain boxes.

One hopes this is not a means to making people think Islam is a monolithic entity and teaching Arabic will not end up conditioning students to look at Islam in a reductionist pattern of “I am right and everyone else is wrong”.

It would be important to know opinions of people whose children will be taught Arabic in schools and how they feel about this move. I would also need to know how and what exactly will be taught in Arabic; what will the curriculum look like and who are the teachers who are able enough to handle this important tool, because we, unfortunately, have not set for ourselves a good precedence when it comes to teachers for Islamiat.

So here is the thing.

This is one of those issues on which I have mixed feelings. My tilt is in favour of making more people, and more importantly more Muslims, learn the language of the Quran. But based on my experience as a Pakistani, I am forced to think about the possible hidden motives behind this proposal.

I do hope that there are no reasons for this but to make us grow into better humans and Muslims.

Let us wait and watch.

Wallahu A’alam

(And Allah Knows best).

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/20545/making-arabic-compulsory-in-pakistans-schools-why/

Are Pakistani women ready to go for Eid namaz?

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: August 8, 2013

Maybe it’s time for the men to rethink; maybe it’s time Pakistani women head for Eid namaz in Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

Once upon a time, Ammi used to have a list of exciting chores ready for her girls when Eid day arrived. This was the drill: Abba and brothers go for Eid namaz, and while they are gone, we, the women, had to make taaza (fresh) sheer khorma, change bed linen and table cloths (it was some family ritual, I think), get ready, pray the short Eid namaz at home, and be happily ready for the guys to return and give us Eidi.

On Bari Eid (Eidul Azha), a slight modification would be to get ready after the meat was distributed and done with; however, the rest remained the same.

It was all lovely. I am thankful that my mother made sure Eid was splendidly exciting for our family, and that we didn’t spend Eid morning catching up on sleep.

Just one thing was sorely missing in these otherwise lovely, fun family mornings of this most important festival. Like a majority of Pakistani women, we never went for Eid namaz.

We, culturally, do not think about traditions; we just follow them. Often, we don’t even know why we are doing a certain thing. We just do it because everyone else does. And so for the longest time, I never really questioned why we celebrated Eid. The emphasis was on the festivity and celebration, not on why it was such a big deal, just like we prepare for months and years for the wedding, not the marriage. Somewhere, the essence dwindles away.

That’s what my Eid was like for a long time.

Years later, a friend randomly invited me to come along with her on Eid namaz.

I could not say no because I knew by then through authentic prophetic traditions that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had in fact strongly advised women to go for Eid namaz and join in the collective prayers of the festival.

And so I went.

It wasn’t easy the first time, in all honesty. My daughter was still young and it was winter time. Dragging a little child out of bed, getting her and myself ready early on Eid morning when your body is already sleep-deprived after a month of interrupted sleep – it wasn’t easy. Also, till then my family wasn’t so convinced this was something very important, which meant I had to drive down myself and find a parking outside a crowded mosque. However, am I glad I went. Since that day, I have never missed the opportunity unless there’s been a serious reason.

I found out what men enjoy there and women miss out on. Raising your hands multiple times till your ears and saying “Allahu Akbar” reminds one of why we are celebrating Eid in the first place. It is a celebration of the fact that this past month, we may have inched closer to our Creator. We may have become better human beings; we may have been forgiven this Ramadan; we may be starting with a clean slate and for that, we thank God and rejoice.

Women who go for Eid namaz regularly know that it is not just a spiritual but also a wonderful social experience. The feeling of togetherness and of a community that is swiftly fading in our fast-paced lives is revived. We greet those we know and we greet those we don’t know, and we don’t really care who makes the first move. We congratulate each other and set out with our families after that to eat, meet, greet and enjoy the blessings God has showered on us.

If you take away the Eid namaz from Eid, there is honestly a sense of disconnect between Ramadan and the rest of the year, starting on Chand Raat. We have this 30-day crash course in connection with the Divine, in charity, in prayers and in goodness, and suddenly, we switch all of that off on Eid morning.

Interestingly, many Pakistani women who have been going for taraweeh throughout Ramadan do not go for Eid namaz. More intriguing is how the same women who regularly go for Eid prayers when abroad do not do so when back home in Pakistan.

While a small but increasing number of Pakistani women are going for Eid namaz to mosques, a majority still don’t. The reasons are predictable; for one, not many mosques have that arrangement. Organisers of mosques will be more open to women’s wings in mosques if more women want to go.

Another reason is simple laziness and time management skills that need improvement. Women who don’t want to miss Eid namaz still make the sheer khorma and still change the linen in a ritualistic manner, but they do it a day before. It also boils down to a lack of awareness about the fact that yes, women are supposed to say their Eid namaz too, just like the men.

Talking of the men – they are often not used to the idea. They don’t mind if their lady was outshopping on Chand Raat till midnight, but will raise their brows quizzically if she says “I want to go for Eid namaz”.

Maybe it’s time for the men to rethink; maybe it’s time Pakistani women head for Eid namaz in Pakistan.

If you are a woman and do decide to go for Eid namaz this time, here are some of the places it will be held at:

  • Faisal Mosque, Islamabad
  • Jamia Masjid DHA, Sector J, Masjid Chowk, Lahore
  • Khalid masjid, Cavalry grounds, Lahore
  • Imambargah Yathrab, Phase 4, DHA, Karachi (For Fiqh-e-Jafria)
  • Ayesha Masjid, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Karachi
  • Masjid Saad bin Abi Waqqas, Phase 4, DHA, Karachi
  • Quran Academy masjid, Seaview, Karachi
  • Gulistan-e-Anis, off Shaheed-e-Millat road, Karachi
  • Sada bahaar lawn, off Shaheed-e-Millat road, Karachi
  • Masjid Bait-us-Salam, Commercial Avenue, phase 4, DHA, Karach

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18465/are-pakistani-women-ready-to-go-for-eid-namaz/

Waiting for the moon to shine

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: August 1, 2011

 

Last year, sometime after Ramazan, I was at the Jinnah International Airport, on my way to Lahore. In the boarding lounge, I saw a bearded gentleman with a soft stance, waiting to board his flight too. He looked familiar and he also looked apologetic. I suddenly realized that this was the most popular face of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon sighting) Committee.

People sitting and standing around me also recognized this religio-celeb, and nudged each other, commenting on him.

“Yahee to hai jis kee wajha se Eid ka chaand raat ke gyara bej nazar aate ha.”

(He is the one because of whom the Eid moon is sighted at eleven in the night.)

“Inn ka jab dil chahta hai Eid kar dete hain, aur jub dil chahta hai tees rozay karwa dete hain”

(Whenever he wants, it’s Eid and whenever he wants, there are 30 fasts in the month of Ramadan).

And these were some of the more polite comments.

It seemed strange to me that the gentleman was being blamed for something he had no control over – and for a decision that is not unilaterally made by him. The decision is made by respected and renowned Islamic scholars, media personnel, meteorologists and telescopes on board.

But this happens every year, doesn’t it?

We dispute on dinner tables and we argue at work places over this issue.  It’s ironic how, Ramazan, the month of peace and tolerance and serenity,  begins with relentless bickering over the issue of whether the entire Muslim Ummah should “unite” by celebrating the advent of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and then Zul-Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha on the same days as Saudi Arabia or not.

Then there is the issue of whether scientific equipment should be relied upon, and the question of whether moon sighting should totally be done away with or not. And then follows the mockery of how the moon’s been sighted in Peshawar and that discussions on how a nation can ever progress if they don’t even celebrate Eid on the same day.

This issue (or non-issue) is a classic example of how the gulf between extremes is widening.

Fundamentalism and liberalism, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin and are coming from the same place. This widening  gulf results in polarization where no single group or party is willing to listen, understand and tolerate the opinion of the other.

Those who follow the moon sighting ritual are upset at the “modern” citizens who have given it up. The other side is forever squabbling about how this ritual is  responsible for pushing back the Muslims in time by about 1400 years.

Why, simply, can both views not co-exist in harmony?

Opening Facebook at the advent of Ramazan is interesting to say the least. An assortment of sarcastic retorts awaits in the form of status updates.

While they start with Ramazan Mubarak wishes, they inevitably end up commenting on this issue. I am concerned about the motive behind these comments.

What leads to the derision of each other’s viewpoint?

Is it a simple difference of opinion, which would be completely understandable? Or the inconvenience of not knowing it is Eid till the last moment?

Or is it peer pressure from the rest of the world which makes Muslims a tad bit apologetic (as usual) and wonder why their religious festivals are devoid of a semblance of discipline and is celebrated on not one but different days?

The latter two, to me, are not good reasons.

As a boring pacifist, my take on the issue is pretty simple. I am happy for both groups so long as they don’t disrespect the other’s viewpoint and don’t display a lack of tolerance. That does not mean I don’t have a very clear viewpoint of my own.

I rather enjoy not knowing till the end whether it is Ramazan or Eid the next day, or not.

I would not give up for anything the joy of rushing to the roof with my daughter, in anticipation and excitement, and reciting the supplication the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to recite when he saw the moon. The sliver-like crescent that flashes a smile, informs us that it’s time to gear up for the spiritual detox month, and vanishes.

To me, this is actually a ritual that unites followers of a single faith beyond political boundaries. When a Muslim in Indian Punjab and a Muslim in Pakistan’s Punjab fast and celebrate Eid on the same day. But if some of my friends subscribe to another viewpoint, I will wish them a blessed Ramazan sans sarcasm and judgment. A Ramazan of worship, connection with Allah, forgiveness, mercy, sharing, charity and joy.

Enjoy Ramazan. Peace be upon you.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/7290/waiting-for-the-moon-to-the-shine/

Ramazan diaries – From Makkah and Medinah

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: July 31, 2013

The millions are just tiny specks of people trying to get closer to the Ka’aba. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sitting in a lounge for the privileged, waiting to board a flight to Dubai and then another from there to Jeddah, I find myself texting away. I have a million things on my mind. I have a life.

Four hours later…

I’m at the Dubai airport, about to board a flight to Jeddah; the only words on my lips are:

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik

(I am here, my Allah (SWT). I am present.)

Prior to my flight, concerned friends had been warning me about a viral infection that is widespread in Makkah, and the unbelievable rush in Ramazan especially due to the underway expansion of the Masjid-ul-Haram.

“You should not have gone in Ramazan.”

I am going anyway. It is my ‘calling’. I have been called, right? He who has called me will manage.

A seven-day detox:

Paradigm shift within hours, change of heart within minutes, priorities falling into place within seconds – this is precisely what a visit to Makkah and Madina does to you.

Here I am, one amongst millions. It’s suddenly clear. I may be important in my comfort zone but here, I am just one of them. And the millions, from a bird’s eye view, are just tiny specks of black and white, men in white and women mostly in black, all scurrying to get closer to the Ka’aba.

When the props fall off and masks wear off, I have nothing to hide behind. I am as real as it gets. In hordes of people and thousands of heads, I am only searching for my family. Perspective becomes clearer.

I go around in a pair of chappals (slippers) that I wouldn’t even dare to wear at a grocery market in Karachi. I have no access to the internet, which means I have no way of succumbing to moments of vain indulgences where I tweet about my achievements. Most of my suitcase remains packed as is. I learn to survive on basics.

My DSLR camera rests in the hotel room. I’m lapping up images through the lens of my eyes and heart. And these images are not Photoshopped, nor Lighthoused. This is hardcore spirituality – a reconnection of souls with their Creator.

Each step of this ‘ritual’ as we like to call it has been carefully designed to help us grow and cleanse to the fullest.

Yet, they say ‘I believe in spiritual but not rituals’? Nothing makes the spirit evolve and soar like these rituals. They were designed by the One who created the souls, right?

I can feel my system being flushed out of anger, resentment, pride and negativity, if any. I am also not taking as many medicines as I usually do, apart from the occasional Panadol. Food is simpler. Walks are more. Squatting in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque with my family and extended family, life is beautiful – simpler. I am happy.

The funeral prayer:

A unique act of worship that women don’t get the opportunity to do usually is praying the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer). In Makkah and Madina, after each namaz, it would be called out:

“As-salaat ‘ala al-amwaat-i yarhamukumAllah”

(Prayer for that the dead [so that] Allah’s (SWT) mercy be upon you).

I selfishly join in. When my time comes, I want that many prayers for me.

Makkah the powerful; Medinah the soothing:

Makkah is intense, and comes on strong. Its landscape is dry; its people are strong and goodhearted but tough. How did my beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) manage to plant faith and compassion in the hearts of Makkah’s people? I wonder. But it was this very toughness that enabled the people of Makkah to give the sacrifices they did and endure oppression and migration.

Medinah will always have oasis in sight. Promising date palms give away the hospitality of the people of this city from a distance. The land of the Ansaar (the helpers). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) chose to be here till his last day.

En route to Madina, the farms and farms of camels are a lovely sight – camels of all colours – fawn, brown, dark brown, white. Much like the diversity of people we meet in Makkah and Madina, they are all different, yet the same.

The clock tower makes me sad:

I am here after eight years. Taken aback by the sight of the humongous high rise structure in front of the first gate to the Ka’aba, this is my first meeting with the Makkah clock tower and the adjoining towering hotels. It looms higher than any of the minarets of the Haram. With millions of pilgrims visiting all year round, it is understandable that Makkah will need high-rise hotels. But so high and jarringly juxtaposed opposite the Haram? I cringe inside.

Without judging those who can afford and stay in these elite hotels just next to the Haram, the “towers” make me sad on another level too. Now, only the rich can afford to live right next to Haram. The poorer you are the farther you stay, the tougher it is for you to commute to the Masjid.

I prefer the earlier more eclectic mix of hotels all around the mosque, allowing both rich and poor to live close to it for the days they are there.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Afternoon siestas:

Makkah’s relentless summer heat is at its peak in the afternoon. If you’re fasting, the body’s reservoir of energy that we get from food is depleting, and a sluggish wave of drowsiness engulfs you. You lie down on the carpets or on the marble floor of the Haram, depending on where you get place, and doze off with your eyes fixed on the Ka’aba. Bliss!

The world’s best “all-you-can-eat”:

Iftar in both the holy mosques of Makkah and Madina is a unique and beautiful experience. I am at the receiving end of charity. It is something I will probably never get to experience in my homeland. Around Asar namaz, one sees people competing with each other and talking to the organisers to allow them to distribute Iftar in a certain part of the mosque.

At Maghrib time beautiful children appear from nowhere, distributing a variety of dates, laban (butter milk), zamzam water, and traditional Arabic kahwa, delicately scented and instantly refreshing.

Boxes of traditional Arabic saffron-treated rice and roasted whole chicken, with dates and small packs of juice are the popular menu in Masjid-e-Nabawi. The hospitality of the people of Medinah is not overrated. No one goes hungry.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

That moment

We all have our special moments. This time, I had my moment at Masjid-e-Nabawi on our last evening in Medinah. I had gone to pray at the Riazul Jannah (the place the Prophet (pbuh) called one of the gardens of paradise) and to offer Salam to my beloved Prophet (pbuh). It hit me where I was in that moment…and that I was going back home soon.

But there is so much I am taking back with me. When life pulls me down, I know now, more than ever, Who is there by my side, watching out for me – none other than my Allah, my Creator.

Published at : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18359/ramazan-in-makkah-reconnecting-with-my-merciful-creator/

Ali (ra) – The eternal hero of a Sunni Muslim woman

For me, he is the emblem of heroism. Of wisdom. Of passion. Of love of Allah.

He accepted Islam as a ten year old child, when very few were willing to risk their life. He grew up, literally, in the house of Allah’s beloved (saw). He resembled Rasool Ullah (saw) in mannerism and action. On the night of the migration from Makkah, he slept in the bed of the Prophet (saw) with the risk that the enemies may kill him in place of the Prophet (saw).

Our beloved (saw) trusted Ali (ra) with his treasure, his youngest daughter Fatima (ra). He was the Prophet’s (saw) kin.

While Rasool Ullah (saw) breathed his last on the chest of our mother Ayesha (ra), Ali (ra) was the one to bathe Rasool Ullah (saw) after his death.

Ali was a lion in the battlefield and most humble in private life. In worship, such was he that he told people to pull out an arrow lodged in his body during salaat (namaz) because when in the presence of his Rabb in prayer, he focussed on nothing else.

Ali (ra) is my hero, forever.

They are all my heroes: Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) and Uthman bin ‘Affan (ra) and Ali (ra). Each a sparkling gem warding away darkness and showing rays of light. Each with their own beautiful unique personalities. Each chosen by God for special work. Each guiding us in their own way.

Yet, with the mention of Ali (ra) the heart softens with the realization of how beloved he was to the Prophet (saw) of Allah. He is the father of Hasan (ra) and Hussain (ra), and the love of Fatima’s (ra) life.

These glimpses from ahadith and seerah remind me even more why Ali (ra) is who he is to me:

 Abu Turaab

So many incidents are recorded about the beautiful way the Prophet (saw) used to solve disagreements between Ali and Fatima.

One such incident resulted in Ali getting the title Abu Turaab – “The man covered with dirt” – this title was one of the dearest to Ali. For once the Prophet went to visit his daughter Fatima & he did not find Ali home. He asked about him, so Fatima told her father that she had some argument with her husband so he left home angry in the afternoon without taking his usual nap. The Prophet told someone to go & look for Ali. He came back saying that he is in the mosque. The Prophet went to him to find him lying on the floor with his dress falling off his flank which was covered with dirt. The Prophet woke him up clearing the dirt off his body & addressing him with a smile: “Wake up you who is covered with dirt”.

The Prophet’s (saw) Kin

When the verse 3:61 was revealed to the Prophet (saw): “Now that you know the facts, say to them ‘Come, let us summon our sons and your sons, our women and your women and ourselves and yourselves and pray Allah and beseech Him to accurse those who intentionally assert falsehood’”; he summoned Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussain and said: “O God, & these are my kin”.

How can a believer not love Ali (ra)

Zirr reported: ‘Ali observed: By Him Who split up the seed and created something living, the Apostle (may peace and blessings be upon him) gave me a promise that No one but a believer would love me, and none but a hypocrite would nurse grudge against me.
Reference: Book 001, Number 0141: (Sahih Muslim) 

The strength of Ali – in fighting the enemy and fighting anger

I love the incident where Ali (ra) was fighting with an infidel on a battlefield. Ali was about to thrust his sword into the other man’s heart when all of a sudden the infidel raised his head and spit at him. Ali immediately dropped his sword, took a deep breath, and walked away. The infidel was stunned. He ran after Ali and asked him why he was letting him go. “Because I’m very angry at you,” said Ali.
“Then why don’t you kill me?” the infidel asked. “I don’t understand.”

Ali explained, “When you spit in my face, I got very angry. My ego was provoked, yearning for revenge. If I kill you now, I’ll be following my ego. And that would be a huge mistake.”
So Ali set the man free. The infidel was so touched that he became Ali’s friend and follower, and in time he converted to Islam of his own free will.

He whom Allah and His Messenger (saw) love

Narrated Salama: Ali happened to stay behind the Prophet and (did not join him) during the battle of Khaibar for he was having eye trouble. Then he said, “How could I remain behind Allah’s Apostle?” So ‘Ali set out following the Prophet . When it was the eve of the day in the morning of which Allah helped (the Muslims) to conquer it, Allah’s Apostle said, “I will give the flag (to a man), or tomorrow a man whom Allah and His Apostle love will take the flag,” or said, “A man who loves Allah and His Apostle; and Allah will grant victory under his leadership.” Suddenly came ‘Ali whom we did not expect. The people said, “This is ‘Ali.” Allah’s Apostle gave him the flag and Allah granted victory under his leadership.
Reference: Volume 5, Book 57, Number 52: (Sahih Bukhari)

He was to the Prophet (saw) what Haroon (as) was to Musa (as)

Sa’d reported Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying to ‘Ali: Aren’t you satisfied with being unto me what Aaron was unto Moses?
Reference: Book 031, Number 5916: (Sahih Muslim)

For whosoever is Prophet (saw) Mawla, Ali is Mawla

Sayyidna Abu Sarihah (Radhi Allah) or Zayd ibn Arqam (Shu’bah is uncertain about it) said that Prophet (salallaho alaihi wasalam) said: He for whom I am Mawla (friend, beloved, helper), Ali is Mawla
Reference: Sunan al Tirimdhi Hadith No. 3733 – Imam Abu Isa Tirimdhi (rah) said: This Hadith is “HASAN SAHIH”

Published at: http://www.mybitforchange.org/2013/ali-my-eternal-hero/

Junaid Jamshed and the ‘maternal instinct’

By Farahnaz Zahidi / Photo: Ameer Hamza

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A side to this man shrouded from public eye has to do with his work as philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

A side to this man shrouded from public eye has to do with his work as philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZAA side to this man shrouded from public eye has to do with his work as philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

Who would have thought that the pop-icon turned televangelist who irked women with the statement “it is better if women are not taught to drive” has invested the last ten years trying to save the lives of underprivileged women of Pakistan

Junaid Jamshed — the name brings to one’s mind an image of two juxtaposed pictures: one of a drop-dead handsome young Junaid, the other of a seasoned man with a long beard and a mellower face, beckoning people to come towards Islam.

Yet, there is a side to this man shrouded from the public eye. And that has to do with his work as a philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. Once known as the darling of female fans, Junaid is still very connected to women — he is helping save the lives of thousands of them in Pakistan. The man continues to surprise us and challenge stereotypes.

At the Muslim Charity fund-raising dinners in Manchester, Birmingham and London May 31 to June 2, 2013. PHOTO: MOHAMMED RAYAZ

Yet, he does not reveal this side to his life readily. The first of a series of interviews, as he agreed to talk to The Express Tribune, revolved around Vital Signs and his metamorphosis into the world of preaching. Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the Beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.

The second interview was hard to schedule. His travelling is incessant, more for philanthropic work and less for proselytising, contrary to popular belief. “I think I am ready to talk in detail. It is time people hear my side of the story. I may come across as someone who has something against women. I’m NOT!” he said on the phone while he was at the site of a model village of 200 houses near Rahimyar Khan built with his support for flood-hit people.

Meray oopar bohat zimmedari hai. As a human, a Muslim, a Pakistani, a person whom people know. I cannot turn away from these responsibilities; that would be [ingratitude]. Being grateful increases blessings and being ungrateful sucks them away,” he said at the second interview, sitting in his comfortable home in DHA, Karachi. He had just returned from a trip to the UK to raise funds for charity.

A suitcase is forever ready for the globe-trotter. It is pertinent to wonder how he balances family life and his added responsibilities. “I try my best to balance. Whatever time I give to my family is quality time. Ayesha and the kids will vouch for it,” he said. Any conversation with him is incomplete without periodic mention of his wife Ayesha. But he does agree that there is a price to his philanthropy. “The life of this world and the Hereafter are like two wives of one man. If you please one, the other will be upset. It’s a choice you have to make. Fact of the matter is that when we struggle for the Hereafter, Allah is pleased. And when Allah is pleased the life of this world improves automatically. Theek hai na?” he said, smartly interspersing an element of preaching in the interview. He never lets go of that opportunity.

 Muslim Charity has established five hospitals in Pakistan in Jhang, Faisalabad, Mangani,  Rawalakot and in Lahore. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY

“Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this.”

“The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me,” said Junaid.

At the Muslim Charity fund-raising dinners in Manchester, Birmingham and London May 31 to June 2, 2013. PHOTO: MOHAMMED RAYAZ

Comparing it with the comfort and facilities which are available to women in the cities, like his wife at the birth of their four children, he felt deeply disturbed at why so many women in Pakistan had to go through this. “It was during that time that I came to know that this organisation called ‘Muslim Charity’ was working to improve the state of maternal health. I contacted them to ask how I could help in my small way. I have been affiliated with them since then.” Junaid now works as the vice president of Muslim Charity, and uses his public influence, talks and naats to raise funds for the causes.

Till now, with his support, the charity has managed to make five hospitals in Pakistan mainly focusing on maternal health. As a global initiative, the charity works on improving maternal health the world over.

The masjid schools

A fascinating project Junaid has been working on is an interesting attempt at consensus-building between the clergy in Pakistan’s rural areas and those who believe in literacy as the answer to Pakistan’s problems. “How we do this is simple. We identify impoverished rural areas and broken-down mosques. We then reconstruct mosques and construct small houses for the village imams. In return, we request them to allow use of the mosque from 8 am to 12 am,” he said.

Part of this project is to sensitise locals and persuade them to send their children to these schools. These are regular schools where the children have the option of also learning the Quran. “The idea is to get these kids off the streets. We make them realise that they have a responsibility towards themselves. With mentorship, they realise that education is their path to a better life. Our aim is to produce peaceful and responsible citizens.”

In Sindh alone, up till now, they are responsible for putting 3,500 children back in school, both boys and girls. “One of them recently sat his CSS exam. I had tears when I heard this,” he said.

On men, women and balance

“It is sad how women are objectified. Rights to women have been given by the Creator. There is no problem with women working. Didn’t Hazrat Khadija (RA) work?” he said almost defiantly when asked about his views on women and their rights, adding that limits have been defined by God for both men and women. “Women should not be coerced in any way. A man needs to be more sensitive towards his wife. A woman’s biggest insecurity is loss of control.”

A Muslim Charity tent city in Dadu in 2011. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY

He admitted candidly that Pakistani society was, according to one view, chauvinistic and male-driven. It is a place where men often oppress women. “For the sake of family honour, Pakistani women continue to suffer. Divorce may have been considered an unsavoury thing in the time of the Prophet (PBUH) but [it] was not a taboo, unlike [in] today’s Pakistani society!” he said. “In a society where [the] male-child preference still exists and women are blamed for producing too many daughters, will men not stand up for them? I have always felt strongly about the rights of women.”

When asked why families seem to be falling apart, he has a simple formulaic solution. “Damage control lies in this: men should control their tempers and women [should] think before they speak.”

Junaid Jamshed and Ali Haider performing at the Spiritual Chords Nasheed concert held in South Africa in August 2011. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY SOUTH AFRICA

So is Ayesha allowed to drive?

“I knew you’d ask this!” he said with a chuckle. “Before I got married, I was visiting my father-in-law with a friend. My father-in-law mentioned that my wife-to-be was learning how to drive, and I was happy to hear that. But my friend, a senior, advised me, as experienced friends do: ‘Don’t teach your wife how to drive’. That was what I mentioned light-heartedly in that show.”

Junaid Jamshed helped raise funds for the charity that was involved with the building of Doha village in Sanjarpur, Rahimyar Khan. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY

After he got married, he tried to teach her to drive but couldn’t because of a paucity of time. “She never insisted and never learnt,” he added. “It never really was an issue for us.” Wary of calling himself a scholar, he is clear that he is in no position to pass a verdict about women who drive. “But my personal opinions, likes and dislikes are my own. I have a right to them.”

The crossroad and the road less traveled

It was around 1999 when his solo album Uss raah par was released. The main track of the same title was conceived metaphorically by Shoaib Mansoor. “He knew that something had changed in me,” said Junaid, recalling the lyrics: hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain. Kyun na chunain wo raasta jis par naheen koi gaya. In a very Robert Frost fashion, the song talked about the road less traveled, which, in JJ’s life, did make all the difference.

“The transition in me had started. That song was about my journey. But at that time we couldn’t have showed it in the video. People were not ready for it.” He had not gone public with his change then. But he had started visiting religious scholars for his own inner healing. “I had everything — fame, money. But I did not feel complete. Being in a masjid made me feel at peace. Masjids still have the same effect on me. It is the place where we discover humanity. I confess that I had no plans of leaving music at that time. But I could feel I was changing. I couldn’t run away from it.”

And does he miss his past life? “Naheen yaar. No withdrawal symptoms of my past life. I own and cherish my time with Vital Signs. I am happy that as a singer I contributed to my country in a positive way. I lived that part of my life to the fullest. But now that is the past,” he said, with a direct look, again defying the pre-conceived notion that he no longer talks to women directly or makes eye contact with the opposite sex.

Ramzan offering

This Ramzan he will be seen again on TV every day, all through the holy month, sharing what he knows. “It will be different,” he said, alluding to an approach that relies on more outreach as opposed to sermons. He agrees that people should be sensitised about civic responsibilities through religious shows. “Breaking a red signal, parking a car behind someone’s, evading taxes: I consider all of these major sins. Religion IS about being a better, more considerate human.”

While Junaid is armed with Islamic study and training, he stops people from calling him amaulana. “It is a compliment when people call me that but I don’t think I am worthy of that.” His pet peeve is “When people use the word mullah or maulvi in a derogatory way.” For now, it appears that he is neither and defies being pegged as one thing or another.

Making a difference

We highlight three other people who are acting much in the same way as Junaid Jamshed to help those around them

Sarfaraz Rehman

The CEO of Dawood Foundation smiles a guarded smile, instantly commands respect, has a command over literature and poetry, and completely owns the floor when he begins public speaking. He is best known for being associated with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). “Religion is more than just spiritual and ritualistic attainment. It is a code of life intertwined with a belief in Allah, which then helps one live in a fair, calm, equitable manner and makes the plank of value addition to the community a major goal,” says the man who uses religion to support his mentoring and academic activities. The Dawood Foundation just finished a city campus for the Karachi School for Business & Leadership, a graduate management school, established in strategic collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Judge Business School.

Hina Shamsi Nauman

With infectious energy, this mother of three wants to contribute to society. You can find her planting mangroves with her students to fight delta flooding, or selling hand-crafted environment-friendly stationery made by physically challenged people. She teaches Quranictafseer to groups of women, and teaches business ethics and what Islam says about that at university. From a traditionally religious family, she studied Islam in-depth by choice at a more mature stage, and feels that “a leap of faith is what it takes to discover oneself. But it was not easy coming out of the closet about it”. A teacher for the past seven years, this business grad decided to bring religion to her university students, breaking the taboo that religious discussions are only for the madrassas.

Aly Balgamwala

They call him “disco maulvi” and he fits the bill, happy with the description. He tweets incessantly, has his hand in a lot of social causes, and blogs. An entrepreneur by profession, the tech-savvy Aly’s niche is activism for social causes through social media, be it the cause of a better Karachi or raising civic awareness. As a founding trustee of Ihsaas Trust, a not-for-profit set up to provide Islamic Microfinance along with other charitable work, he and his team “use this platform to advocate husn-e-khuluq (good behaviour/ethics) as taught by Islam within the context of business and personal life.” Aly has been a volunteer teacher at “Active Saturdays”, a Saturday class for young men aged 10 to 15 years.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 21st, 2013.

Salam Namaste

Salam Namaste

Published: January 31, 2013

The writer is a senior sub-editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @FarahnazZahidi

It is said that there’s enough religion in the world to make men hate one another, but not enough to make them love. But what if religion were to become a common ground where shared religious and ethical values are celebrated? Perhaps, too far-fetched a dream for the world that we live in. Especially for Pakistan. For we do not unite in the name of God. We dissent, for God’s sake. Quite literally so.

But this might be a good time to take a closer look at the possibilities of an inter-faith understanding, if nothing else. Tomorrow, we embark on the World Interfaith Harmony Week, celebrated in the first week of February each year. What does this even mean? And what does it mean for Pakistan in particular, a county ravaged by polarisations. We are divided in the name of faith — we are Muslims and Christians and Hindus; we are majorities and minorities; we are the green and the white; we are the crescent and the star. Tier two of being poles apart: division in the name of denominations within the framework of the same faith — need I even say Shia and Sunni? It stares us in the face, way too close for comfort.

Hence, there is a need for not just interfaith dialogue, which ensures empathy, tolerance and understanding between followers of different faiths, but also inter-religious (bainal masaalik) dialogue.

Yet, this seems an under-celebrated and under-emphasised concept today in the post 9/11 world, and in present-day Pakistan in particular. Often, in interfaith fora, experts sit proselytising others to their own, in desperate attempts to convert and convince the others to ‘our’ way of thinking. And if not that, at least establish the supremacy of our faith over the others. An attempt at hegemony.

One reason we see resistance against sincere interfaith dialogue is that it is seen as a conniving, insidious attempt at syncretism — something that will take away my religious identity from me and make society a melting pot where all ideologies are conflated into one, basically leaving us with none at the end. Something like what John Lennon was trying to say in his song ‘Imagine’.

In reality, however, the interfaith dialogue process actually helps us understand and strengthen our own faith better, and also learn to respect other ideologies. If it involves all stakeholders, it helps get rid of stereotypes. It helps a nation get over the ‘us vs them’ phenomenon.

If these efforts were made with the genuine intention of understanding one another, the benefits for Pakistan, a religio-centred nation, would be immense. Consensus-building does not do away with agreeing to disagree. What if followers of different faiths and different religious denominations come together on things all religions believe in — peace, justice and sustainability. Practical implications can include things that give a huge push to Pakistan’s developmental issues. To cite one example, we are 180 million strong, and the world’s fifth most populous nation has no hope of population control unless this is discussed by faith-based representatives and a consensus is built. Indonesia has achieved it by bringing all Muslim denominations, as well as Catholics and major religious leaders on board.

Interfaith dialogue is linked closely to human rights. Which brings us to the third tier at which this discourse needs to be fostered — dialogue between the seculars and the religious. In a society which cannot realistically do away with either element, it would be a good idea to create spaces where commonalities can be celebrated for civic and national stability.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/500566/salam-namaste/

But where to will I run from You, my Beloved?

May the Nur (light) of the Qur’an guide us all

The Qur’an tells many glorious true stories. And the miracle that the Qur’an is, every time I need a lesson or a sign or guidance in life, God brings into my heart via the pages of the Qur’an the message He wants to convey to me. Provided, of course, I reach out to the Qur’an. For God comes to us at speed when we go toward Him walking, but it is we who must take that first step, out of our own free will.

Out of the numerous true stories in the Glorious Qur’an, two have clung to my heart inseparably. One is that of Moosa (as) or Moses, particularly how he evolves as a person in Surah Taha. From prince of Egypt to fleeing assassin to shepherd to the Prophet who leads his people out of bondage and confronts Fir’aun (Pharoah), finally to reach his destination of talking to his Creator. I relate to it in ways I cannot describe.

The Qur’an, you see, like all things beautiful, must be understood through a delicate balance of the heart and mind. And because Wahi (divine revelation) came on the Prophet’s (saw) heart, I do not see any way the Qur’an can be understood but through loving devotion and thoughtful deliberation, with every fibre of your being committed to understand it with positivity. Only when you allow your heart to be an empty vessel in God’s hands can the essence of the Qur’an begin to flow in.

I, obviously, know nothing. All I know is that reading the Qur’an, to me, is an act of worship fueled by His love.

I digressed!

The second story from the Qur’an that never stops knocking on the door of my heart is in Surah at-Taubah.

It is the story of the 3 who stayed back!

Ka’ab Ibn MalikMurarah bin al-Rabee’ and Hilaal bin Umayyah: The 3 blessed, sincere, devoted companions of the Prophet (saw) who had time and again proven their sincerity to Allah, His Messenger (saw) and Islam. But when the Prophet (saw) summoned every Muslim who had the ability to fight in the name of Allah for the tough battle of Tabuk, these 3 stayed behind!

The others who stayed behind were either the disable or the hypocrites. The hypocrites were of course lured by the pull of money, for it was date harvest season. Also, the journey was to be one of inconvenience. The sweltering Arabian desert heat kept them back.

But these 3 simply procrastinated. Like we all do, many a time, they intended well but delayed a good deed.

Regret set in when it was too late to join the troops.

On his return the Prophet (saw) said nothing to the hypocrites. But these 3 were worth salvaging. And so they were taught a lesson.

The story is best told in an account in the words of Ka’ab ibn Maalik (ra). And reading this story in detail if you have not already is a must. (http://myummah.co.za/site/2008/09/10/the-story-of-kab-ibn-malik-ra/)

When the Prophet (saw) asked him his reason for staying back, Ka’ab told the truth like very few can in such a circumstance would. He said: “…..by Allâh, if I was in the presence of any other man from amongst the inhabitants of this World, I would avoid his wrath by presenting an excuse for I have been granted the ability to speak in an eloquently persuasive manner. However, I am aware that if I utter a lie today in order to seek your pleasure, certainly Allâh will cause you to become enraged with me in the future. Alternatively, if I inform you of the truth, thereby causing you to become angry, I may nevertheless hope for Allâh’s Pardon. No, By Allâh I have no excuse to present. I had never before been stronger nor wealthier than during the time I neglected to accompany you.”

The Messenger of Allâh (saw)replied: “In relation to this man – he has spoken the truth. Therefore, stand until Allâh pronounces judgment in this matter.”

When something is worth saving, it is saved by Allah in ways He alone Knows the wisdom of. Those ways are often painful. And teach us lessons we understand the importance of years later. Or may be never in this lifetime.

And so, these 3 who were worth saving, were taught the lesson of their life!

A boycott of 50 days by the community. Ordained by Allah. The pain of not having even the Prophet (saw) talk to them. Even their families showing a disgruntled attitude to convey what it meant to them to say “Labbaik” (I am here) to the call of Allah, and what saying no to that call could result in.

Every time I read Ka’ab’s account, my eyes are filled with tears. For so true was this man’s faith that even while being so severely reprimanded, he never questioned the Prophet’s (saw) decision. Rather, he connected himself more and more with Allah in those days of isolation.

He said: “On the morning of the fiftieth night, I performed the Fajr prayer upon the roof of one of our houses. I was experiencing a condition which Allâh had mentioned in the Book: ‘My soul had become contracted, and the earth had contracted upon me despite its vastness.’”

Eventually, glad tidings came through the verses of the Qur’an. “He also forgave the three who remained behind…” [Qur'ân 9:118]. It is legend how the same community which had boycotted them welcomed them back and healed that pain.

The 3 had been taught a lesson the hard way. Just like sometimes Allah teaches us a lesson the hard way.

We wonder why we didn’t get admission in a certain college. Why we didn’t get married to a certain person. Why we were fired from a certain job. Why did this and that happens.

And then, faith steps in and reminds us that Allah wanted you to learn something no book could teach, but only time could. Only hardship could. Only loss could.

Particularly, THIS is the verse that has stuck to my heart as the ultimate reality:

9:118

And [He also forgave] the three who were left behind [and regretted their error] to the point that the earth closed in on them in spite of its vastness and their souls confined them and they were certain that there is no refuge from Allah except in Him. Then He turned to them so they could repent. Indeed, Allah is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. (Qur’an 9:118)

There is no refuge from Allah except in Him…..there is no refuge from Allah except in Him.

This makes me think of a little child….the mother reprimands him, he cries and still hides his face in his mother’s lap. What other place could be a better sanctuary?

And Allah, Ar-Rahman, loves us more than 70 mothers’ love put together, as a hadith tells us.

So when we are in trials…..trials that are ordained by Him, and also the trials we bring upon ourselves through our callousness and neglect, whom do we turn to to save us from Allah’s displeasure but to Allah Himself?  Where do we run to where He is not with us? For we are like animals in a safari….we live on this earth, deluded by our limited freedom, that we are free. But where do we run to from Allah’s jurisdiction? From His domain?

And do we actually want to run away from Him? In a world so fleeting where change is the only constant, the one relationship never changing is between God and His creations – us.

We suffer change and grief and loss. Parents die. Siblings move away. Friends change. Kids grow up. Love becomes stale. Break-ups happen. Marriages whither.

And through it all, whom are we naturally drawn to when we feel weak, alone, isolated, vulnerable? Allah and Allah alone.

People come and go as do jobs and joys and sorrows.

But Allah is the only constant.

The sooner we realize this the better. For He is the One who decides to bring a certain trial on us to teach us a lesson, but He is also the only one who has the power to replace sorrow with laughter and anxiety with peace.

In Defence of the Mullah

 

Visualise this. There is a guy with blood shot eyes, a kill-joy demeanor, a furrowing brow, wearing his shalwar nearly up to the knees and beard reaching down to the knees. You hear him say “haaza haraam” to everything while unnecessarily using a heavily-accented Arabic. He has more than one wife, probably, and multitudes of children; with no inkling about what’s happening in the world and living in a bubble (somewhat similar to how the Americans look at life, maybe?). He wears a suicide jacket or maybe only gives khutbas that endorse that ideology while carrying an invisible gun of hatred for the minorities. And to add to that, his hair has to be dripping with oil and he must burp loudly after every meal, praising Allah.

The above is a stereo-typical profile of what we call a “Mullah” in Pakistan. That is how we imagine a Mullah and expect a Mullah to be; more obnoxious maybe, but not less. ShoMan’s (Shoaib Mansoor) famous Lollywood flick “Bol” (which was more sermonic than any khutba and had scores of over-lapping social issues taken up in an over-dose) had the brilliant actor Manzar Sehbai in the role of the fundo-mullah “Hakeem Sahab”. With eyebrows that reminded one of curtains that flutter with a breeze, a despicable holier-than-thou attitude and the most bizarre interpretations of things, Hakeem Sahab was shown as the stereo-typical Mullah – he hated daughters and beat his wife and….the works!

Characters in movies and teleplays which give a stereo-typical image of the Mullah are abundant. One such play is on air as this blog goes into print – a play in which the religious man rushes to the mosque five times a day and also religiously ridicules and insults his wife at least five times a day.

Mullah bashing is our country’s intelligentsia’s favourite sport and now ours too after terrorism affected the future of cricket in Pakistan. It’s fun, it costs nothing (except that you have got be social media savvy-cum-troll to do this) doesn’t make you sweat or disrupt your couch potato routine. Plus it gives you a serious high! One umbrella term “Mullah” and you can get away with any kind of catharsis and venting, just like with the one term “Rumi” you can announce to the world that you are a spiritually evolved, deep being.

While not every symptom of the Mullah syndrome is exaggerated, many are. In a post-Zia reactionary Pakistan ‘Mullah’ is a bad word with a negative connotation.  In reality, it is not so simplistic. To begin with, we have to carefully look who we term as a Mullah. Liberals (I have to use this term, reeking of compartmentalization only because it is most easily understood) will usually see a person with a certain outward signs of being a strictly practicing Muslim and often, if not always, assume a lot of what is written above. There is anger and bitterness against this breed which makes people pass comments like “Mullahs have high jacked Islam” and “Who are Mullahs to tell us what Islam is?”

Let us attempt to understand the two broad divisions of people that we usually tag as Mullahs. The first is the scholars, the preachers, the Imams and the teachers; people who have taken upon themselves the tough job of trying to keep religious knowledge alive. With an increased awareness about religion, a re-kindled curiosity in Islam and more readily available literary sources have made studying religion easy on a personal level. That in itself is a very positive attitude. Half-baked knowledge, however, is often more perilous than no knowledge at all. For this, each one of us wants to stop relying on the above mentioned group of Mullahs. We all wish to do our own ijtihaad and we think that following them and the varied interpretations of certain rulings of Islam is an insult to our intelligence and spirituality. Hence, each one of us wishes to be an aalim in our own right. We are willing to learn about every subject in the world from experts but not Islam. In that, we want to indulge into “self-medication”.

The reader should not misunderstand me here. I am cent per cent in favour of studying, discovering and understanding religion on our own. I am also aware that in this world of egoistic human beings, even men of faith and scholars fall into the dangerous pitfall of churning out fatwaas that have hidden agendas. Assuming that all Ulama (Islamic scholars) have hidden agendas therefore writing them all off and believing that we can figure out everything on our own seems to be an unnaturally simplistic and naïve attitude. In defense of this type of Mullahs, I would say that there are gems among these – wise and learned; both in religious sciences as well as in spirituality, genuine people who see religion as a tool that benefits humanity.

The second type of Mullah is of course the archetypical one. The village simpleton whose parents put him in amadrassa at age 7 where he grows up memorizing the Quran not out of love but compulsion, a regular victim of caning for every mistake. This Mullah, it is true, knows very little about the world outside his bubble. He has had very little exposure and is easily high-jacked by extremists if he is not one himself already. This is the one that we usually avoid but are dependent upon for nikaah or shrouding and burial rituals, simply because we, the intelligent Muslims, do not know enough duas and rites ourselves.

Among these, there are also the soft-hearted true worshippers of Allah whose soul is pure, and who impact lives in a positive way. We often quote the Mukhtar Mai incident when we talk about the patriarchal Mullah-driven women’s rights’ violations. However, we forget that it was the village Imam who supported Mukhtar. Many of Pakistan’s most credible charities are steered by men of God who may not be the most educated in a worldly way, but know enough to know that the quickest way to attain the pleasure of Allah is to serve humanity.

There is also a third type of Mullahs emerging these days. They are modern, tech-savvy and have probably studied in universities abroad. You will find them tweeting both fun things and religious things on their iPhones while combing through their beards with their fingers. They are pleasant, amiable and believe in peace and harmony. They have a tough job as they are somewhere in the middle, struggling with moderation.

Stereo-typing is a dangerous sport, as is Mullah-bashing when done in a non-discerning manner. To be gullible and absorb any and every narrative from the microphone of a mosque and everything coming from a podium is a crime. But so is to write off every good soul attempting to re-connect humanity’s weakened connection with the Creator. These are dangerous times. We have to make cautious and informed decisions. However, apathy towards religion and religious people is something we do not have the liberty of doing.

Originally published here: http://www.borderlinegreen.com/2012/09/26/in-defence-of-the-mullah-by-farahnaz-zahidi-moazzam/

Why was Khadijah (RA) so special to the Prophet Muhammad (saw)?

He was young. Handsome. Of noble lineage. Of impeccable character. He was known as “The Truthful” and “The Trustworthy”. Yes, he was born an orphan and his financial standing was not the best when Khadija (ra) met him. But he, nevertheless, was the best of the best. The epitome of the human race, when Khadija (ra) proposed to him, was a young 25. 25, when she was 40 and widowed twice before, having bore children from both earlier marriages. He could have had any younger girl. Any virgin who did not carry with her the baggage of widowhood and children. So why, then, did he accept her proposal?

Two reasons come to my humble mind.

Firstly, the “he” in question was Muhammad (saw), a young man but not any man. Although he had not yet attained prophethood, yet he could look beneath the surface….the superficial. Khadija (ra) even on the apparent was a beautiful woman. “Ameerat-Quraish” or “Princess of Quraish” as she was called, she was rich, beautiful and had social standing. Yet, for Muhammad (saw), it would have to be more than riches and beauty that drew him towards the decision of accepting this proposal. For Khadija had qualities that were unmatched, as time would prove. Maturity, wisdom, intelligence, loyalty, generosity and courage.

Secondly, this was the woman (like all of his other wives) who was chosen to be his wife by Allah in His infinite wisdom. And his first wife at that. And the only wife who bore Muhammad’s (saw) children and had the longest singular companionship with him – a companionship of almost 25 years. She was to be the backbone of Islam, the foundation stone of Islam, the first ever Muslim who believed in Muhammad (saw) as Allah’s last and chosen Prophet. If it were not for her unflinching support for him and unequivocal faith in him, Muhammad (saw) would have still done what Allah destined for him to do. But without Khadija (ra) beside, it would have been a lonelier and even more tedious journey.

Whenever I read about Khadija (ra) I am amazed, always, by how much she loved and supported him.

She opened the doors to her home and heart to him. She shared her wealth with him. She took into her home his cousin, the young Ali (ra). And then there was Zaid ibn Harith (ra). And then there were their own children – Qasim (who died young) and Zainab (ra) and Ruqayya (ra) and Umm Kulthum (ra) and Fatimah (ra) and Abdullah (who also died very young). And her own children from previous marriages. And this blessed home’s doors were open to all – charity was a norm. An abundant norm. As a couple they complemented each other so beautifully and thought so much in synch that goodness was what they spread left right and centre.

The years before and around prophethood of Muhammad (saw) would have been tough for her. Imagine how she felt when he disappeared into the cave of Hira and did not come home for days. Any wife in her position would cease to see the bigger picture and let the desire to own her man and his time take over. But Khadija (ra) knew her man. She allowed him the space he needed to grow inch by inch and day by day towards prophethood. And her support remained unequivocal. There are reports that she would climb upto the cave of Hira and carry food and water for him. She was not exactly young at that time. But she did what it took to support him.

Perhaps the most well-known and yet never deplete of lessons and emotional impact is the incidence when the Muhammad (saw) returned after he received the first revelation from the cave of Hira, having witnessed the angel Jibreel (as). Shivering. Afraid. Realizing somewhat what a massive responsibility lay ahead of him. Understanding that his life would change forever. Fearing for his safety. And in those moments as he asked her to cover him with a blanket, it was Khadija (ra) by his side. To comfort and soothe and calm him down.

Her words at this moment have gone down in history. In Sahee Bukhari, it says: “Then he went to Khadija bint
Khuwailid and said, “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him till his fear was over and after that
he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may happen to me.”
Khadija replied, “Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with
your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the
deserving calamity-afflicted ones.”

She was the first to believe in his prophethood and therefore the first Muslim. Today, Muslims are a 2.1 billion strong, and growing. At that time, in those crucial moments that were to alter history, it was just her.

We all need that one person, at least, to believe in us implicitly. To know our mettle. To bring out the best in us. To be our fallback. We need to know in moments of fear and insecurity and vulnerability that there is someone who will stand by me, no matter what. And the bigger and more important a human’s intended task or goal and the better the substance of that person, I believe sincerely that the better will be the person Allah chooses to complement you. To facilitate an ultimate aim. For Prophet Muhammad (saw), Allah chose Khadija (ra).

It is then no small wonder that one day, Jibril (as) came to the Prophet (saw) and said: “O Allah’s Messenger! This is Khadijah, coming to you with a dish having meat soup (or some food or drink). When she reaches you, greet her on behalf of her Lord (Allah) and on my behalf, and give her the glad tidings of having a palace made of Qasab in Paradise, wherein there will be neither any noise nor any toil, (fatigue, trouble, etc.).” [Al-Bukhari]

Muhammad (saw) included her in the four foremost ladies of the universe: Khadija bint Khuwaylid (ra), Fatimah bint Muhammad (ra), Maryam bint Imran (the mother of the Prophet Issa) and ‘Asia bint Muzahim (the wife of the Pharaoh).

The richest woman in Makkah sacrificed all her wealth for the cause of Islam. The Princess of Quraish had to sustain the hardships of the 3 years of political and economic boycott, during which the Muslims had to stay in Shaib e Abi Talib, at times surviving by eating mere leaves! Yet, she did not complain or let go of her sabr.

It is no wonder, then, that Muhammad (saw) never really got over her death. He called the year of her death “The Year of Grief”. A Companion of the Prophet narrates that whenever any gift was brought to him he would immediately send it to some lady who had been a friend of Khadija (ra). Ayesha (ra), a favorite wife of Muhammad (saw) says that whenever a goat was slaughtered the Prophet (saw)would send some meat to Khadija’s (ra) friends; when she remarked about this on one occasion he told her that he had great regard for her friends, as she had a special place in his heart. Ayshah said she never experienced such a feeling of natural feminine jealousy for any other wife of the Prophet (saw) as she did for Khadija. She also narrates that whenever Muhammad (saw) spoke of her he would talk at great length and praise her qualities, and pray for her forgiveness.

Once the Blessed Messenger (saw) mentioned Khadīja (ra) before Ayesha (ra), the latter responded: “She was not but a such and such of an old lady, and Allah replaced her with a better one for you.” He replied: “Indeed Allah did not grant me better than her; she accepted me when people rejected me, she believed in me when people doubted me, she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me, and Allah granted me children only through her.” Ayesha (ra) says, after this incident, “I learnt to keep quiet, whenever Khadīja’s name was mentioned by Muhammad.” (Sahih Muslim)

Her place in his life can easily be understood by the fact that till she lived, the young Muhammad (saw), in the prime of his youth, did not marry another woman.

She fulfilled all his needs and gave him the happy content married life that is required for anyone who wishes to achieve or do anything great in life. Khadija (ra), Mother of the believers, took care of the home front and gave Muhammad (saw) support in the worst of times, enabling him to do what he did. For her part, she understood and appreciated him and his responsibility. For his part, he cherished and appreciated who she was and what she meant to him. Together, they complemented each other, working hand in hand for a cause bigger than everything.

Such a companionship, then, is the material of the truest love story ever.

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