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Seven common mistakes Pakistani women make at the masjid

It is wonderful to see more and more women in Pakistan, especially in urban centres, developing a flavour to be part of congregational worship at mosques (masaajid), especially for the taraweeh prayers in Ramadan, and Eid prayers. The prophet (pbuh) not only encouraged but directed women to be part of the Eid congregation in particular, so that they get a feel of collective worship and feel part of the extended community. Also, prayers said in congregation give us 27 times more reward according to authentic ahadith, which is a great incentive.

But while the trend has caught on, the adaab or the decorum of HOW to say our prayers collectively is missing, and causes problems. The men are very trained in the art of ba jama’at prayers since a young age, but women are mostly and unaware, and even resistant to being advised to do better.


Here are seven common mistakes we make, pointed out in the hope that these ahadith will help us perform our prayers at the masjid correctly.

1. Row over the rows:

What basically is the purpose of congregational worship, when we can pray in the peace of our home as well? The purpose is to develop equality and a sense of community, which makes the spirit of sharing a must. But many women in Pakistan, new to the idea, do not know the adab of praying in rows. They insist upon bringing their own prayer mats that take up the space that could accommodate one and a half person. Thus, there are huge gaps between the women praying.

Narrated Anas bin Malik (RA): The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Straighten your rows for I see you from behind my back.” Anas added, “Every one of us used to put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion and his foot with the foot of his companion.”

( Bukhari).

Foot close to your neighbour’s foot, shoulder close to your neighbour’s shoulder – that is the way. But we become so selfish that we are unwilling to make space for people who join in. Mosques that allow women are already limited in number. If everyone starts taking up too much space, fewer people will get the chance. How can one develop a feeling of equality or brotherhood if we don’t even share space? The Quran advises us:

“O you who have believed, when you are told, “Space yourselves” in assemblies, then make space; Allah will make space for you.” (58:11). Selfishness makes our worship worthless.

Another problem is that rows are not formed straight and properly.

An-Numan bin Bashir (RA) said, “Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) used to straighten our rows, as if he was straightening an arrow, until he saw that we had learned it. Then he came out one day and was about to say Takbir when he noticed a man whose chest was sticking out from the row. He said: Slaves of Allah! Make your rows straight or Allah will cause discord among you.”

(Sahih Muslim, Sunan Ibn Majah).

Another huge issue is that if someone leaves the jama’at for any reason in between prayers, or their are empty spaces in the front rows, women do not fill those spaces. They want to pray with their own sister, mom or friend. Thus, gaps remain.

Jabir bin Samurah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “Do you not (wish to) line up just like the angels line up in front of their Lord?” We asked, “And how do the angels line up in front of their Lord?” He said, “They complete (& fill-up) the first row, and they line up closely in the rows.”

( Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Sunan Ibn Majah).

2. Not knowing how to move between rows when prayers are underway

To begin with, one must avoid to the fullest not to pass in front of someone in prayer. Especially  if someone passes in front of the one who is praying, i.e., in the area between the spot where he puts his forehead when he prostrates and where he stands, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “If the one who passes in front of a person who is praying knew what (a burden of sin) he bears, it would be better for him to stand for forty rather than pass in front of him.”  (Bukhari, Muslim). 

However, in emergent situations, one has to, or in some situations wants to join prayers even if one has come in late.

In that situation, one can use what is called a “Sutrah” or a barrier. The size of the Sutrah is something over which opinions have differed. The hadith here gives an idea about the size.

And it was narrated that Talhah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “If one of you puts something in front of him that is like the back of a saddle, then let him pray and not worry about anyone who passes beyond that.” (Narrated by Muslim.)

However, what if you one must pass through the rows and those praying do not have a Sutrah? The simple answer is that in that situation, pass through vertically, as the rows are formed horizontally. This way, one can avoid passing in front of the one praying.

3. Going into rukoo’ and sajda before the Imam

Ladies, what is the hurry? The Imam has barely begun saying “Allah u Akbar” and you are already in rukoo’ and sajda. Remember, the Imam is leading the prayer, so wait a few seconds till you are sure that he or she has gone ahead, and then follow. the same holds true for saying the salaam.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“Surely the imam is there to be followed.” (Muslim)

So our actions should not precede the Imam’s.

4. Not knowing how to join the jama’at if the prayer has already started

Commonly, if the jama’at has started, women make their place in rows but start praying their own individual prayer that causes confusion to those close by. So here’s the thing: If you have joined in late and the prayer has already started, no problem. If you join in any raka’at at a time that you had the chance to join in for Surah Al-Fateha or recite it yourself, and the Imam had not yet gone in rukoo’, then you can count that raka’at in. What you simply need to do is that when the Imam says his/her salaam, you don’t say it and instead stand up and complete the raka’at you missed. In that case, it is possible that you end up saying at-Tahayyat even upto thrice if you, say, joined in the second raka’at. In that case, each time say your at-Tahayyat but say the rest of the duas in your last raka’at.

5. Fidgeting and rocking

It is true that it’s not easy to manage the scarves, that chadars and the dupattas that tend to slip off during prayers. So it is best to fix them properly before namaz starts so that one is not distracted during prayers.

Also, we women tend to rock forward and backward during prayers, especially if we are listening to a beautiful recitation of the Quran. Yet, composure is a must during prayers.

All unnecessary movements must be avoided. See this:

When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was asked about smoothing the earth before prostrating, he said, “Do not wipe it when you are praying; if you have to, then just smooth the gravel once.” ( Abu Dawud,  Saheeh al-Jaami’).

6. Scolding women with children

If your own children are now grown up, chances are that you have forgotten how tough it is, and how much a mother misses saying prayers peacefully. Yes, little kids can be a bother at mosques or even at a Quran study circle, but how will they observe and learn unless they come?

So merciful was the Prophet (pbuh) that he (pbuh) said:

“When I enter the prayer I intend to prolong it. Then I hear the crying of a child, so I shorten it knowing the difficulty his mother will have with him crying.” [Bukhari]

He never stopped mothers from bringing children to the mosque, neither did he ever stop mothers from coming themselves. However, mothers should realize their share of the responsibility and watch out if their children wander off or get out of control. But scolding little children by elder women leaves a very bad impact on the child’s mind who may become averse to mosques for life. Remember the hadith that says

“He, who does not show mercy to others, will not be shown mercy.” [Bukhari]

7. Not knowing how to say Takbeeraat during Eid prayers

There are additional Takbeeraat (saying Allahu Akbar) during the Eid congregational prayers.

The step by step directions to that can be found on the internet.

It was reported from ‘A’ishah: the Takbeer of (Eid) al-Fitr and (Eid) al-Adhaa is seven in the first rak’ah and five in the second, apart from the takbeer of rukoo’.

[ Abu Dawood; Ibn Majah ]

Best to ask the men in your house before you go, as they are mostly experts at it.

Just because you give your Zakat, is it ok to over-eat and over-spend?

Pakistanis open their wallets in Ramazan, but do they open their hearts?

Pakistani Muslim women shop for bangles at a market in Karachi ahead of Eid ul Fitr. PHOTO: AFP

Ramazan – the month of giving. As one of the world’s most charitable nations, and with the desire to earn an even higher reward than other months, Pakistanis open their hearts and wallets in Ramazan.

The same holds true for Muslims all over the world. This is heart-warming and wonderful, but with just one exception. Somehow, somewhere, we have made this “giving” a justification for extravagance, excessive spending, and consequent showing off. The common understanding is that if I am giving my prescribed percentage of Zakat, and also a bit of additional charity, it justifies any amount of money that I squander.

This, then, is a deeply flawed and worrisome understanding of the concept of charity. Charity, primarily, is meant to keep the flow of money going in society instead of allowing it to stagnate in a few hands and a few bank accounts. Instead, the economic divide is getting wider. Despite the affluent giving so much charity, the poor are literally dying of poverty. Clearly, we are missing a key part of this whole equation.

It is then no wonder that in Pakistan, the 18 million richest people’s total consumption is 1.5 times more than the poorest 72 million people. Studies show that among the four key signs of perpetuating poverty, the first is that the poor remain poor and the rich remain rich. There is no level playing field for everyone, despite our charities, and our overspending has something to do with it.

Imagine this. I get my domestic helper a decent dress for Eid worth Rs1,500 or more. And that, in my head, makes it okay for me to spend on up to three dresses for Eid, shoes and accessories amounting to Rs20,000 – more than 10 times of what I gave. In summers, even the middle class Pakistani woman will end up spending thousands on an average of sixsummer wear ensembles. Upper scale lawn dresses are known to cost even up to Rs7,000 or more each. But what she will give away as her summer charity is not the same quantity or quality.

While from among the upper-middle class, or those whom we can crudely call the rich, people with tender hearts give generously to the less privileged. Yet many of them will feel no guilt in spending even a thousand dollars on a handbag as a feel-good factor. Our weddings cost millions, resembling lavish fairy tales. Maintaining ourselves and our homes costs us exorbitantly. From our prayer beads to our cell phones, everything is opulent or “classy”. There is a resulting disconnect between people from different economic strata in Pakistan.

In Ramazan, instead of being reminded by the hunger pangs that a hungry child in Tharparkar goes through, we numb the few spiritual lessons we get with “all you can eat” deals. Sales lure us into buying separate designer clothes for taraweeh prayers, others for Eid prayers, and yet others for the family Eid dinner. The month, instead of being an intended exercise in self-control, becomes a festival of overabundance. What is left of the piety that we may have gained through worship is blown away within the three days of Eid. And throughout it all, we are telling ourselves that it is okay because we give so much charity.

To keep consumption of anything under check and balance is part of the ethics in any religion. In Christianity, the seven deadly sins are on the same page, gluttony being one of them, which is the over-consumption or obsession with food, and we see a lot of that in Ramazan, including related sins of greed, sloth, pride and envy.

Islam has not stopped us from eating or dressing well. It has not given us any prescribed limit beyond which we cannot spend. It has, however, given us a framework and examples from the lives of the Prophet (PBUH), his family and his companions as role models. Among them, there were men and women who were very poor. Others were extremely rich, and were known for the profuse amounts of charity they gave. What made them different from us, however, was that they exercised a degree of self-restrain when it came to spending. While they may have led comfortable lives, they were careful not to make evident the economic gulf between themselves and the less privileged. And to build those bridges, they did two things – they spent lesser on themselves than they could afford to, and they gave charity more than they needed to. In so doing, step by step, the gap lessened.

One may counter this idea by debating why we should be made to feel guilty if Allah (SWT) has given us more. That part is justified, and true, and if you look after your community and people around you, you may have done a part of your share. But looking at the bigger picture, let us exercise a little sensitivity when flaunting wealth. Ostentation and overspending willaffect others – both those who are on the lower tiers of the social pyramid, and also contemporaries who are silently competing. The rat race has and will continue to prove that prophetic tradition correct in which the Prophet (PBUH) expressed his fear that the biggest trial for his followers would be wealth. Even those strictly adhering to tenets of religion fall into this trap – they see use of intoxicants and promiscuous lifestyles as serious sins, but see over-spending, over-eating and flaunting of wealth as permissible.

In Pakistan, this causes deeper problems. Poverty, insecurity, economic frustration and jealousy are resulting in an angry and violent collective temperament. When they cannot get it by just means, they steal it, loot it and even resort to crime and violence. While this is not acceptable, this is a bitter reality. And somewhere, we are part of this equation and are indirectly responsible for it.

Considering that Ramazan is a good time for introspection, it might be good to try and aim for moderation in spending so that we may control the glaring economic disparity in our society.

A pure word is charity….a smile is charity…

We cannot get unless we learn to give… Give love, care, service….give a part of ourselves to get. This is the teaching of our beloved Prophet (saw). This nasheed is special for me as in the month of Ramadan this is a beautiful reminder. Here, as a fan of Sami Yusuf’s work, I share one of his most beautiful Nasheeds, called “Healing” that talks about how only in giving can we get….and only by healing others can we heal ourselves. Sami Yusuf’s nasheeds touch the hurt. He has given the Islamic ideals of love of the Prophet (saw), humanity, service to Allah’s creation and appreciating relationships a new surge with his tender beautiful vocals and touching lyrics. He is a British Nasheed artist, songwriter, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist musician of Azerbaijani descent. SamiYusuf-webopener02 I personally love the Arabic version. Here is the English version with a bit of Arabic.

The most beautiful part of this rendition is the end….for those who know, the joy is even more, listening to the hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) that explains how every good word is charity (Sadaqa); a smile is charity; every good good deed is charity. Happy listening and understanding. And thank you Sami Yusuf. I pray more people understand this.



It’s so hard to explain
قد يصعب عليّ أن أعبر

What I’m feeling
عمّا يختلج في قلبي

But I guess it’s ok
لكن اعتقادي

Cause I’ll keep believing
ينبع من إيماني

There’s something deep inside
هناك شيء في الأعماق

Something that’s calling

It’s calling you and I
يناديني ويناديك

It’s taking us up high
يرتقي بنا إلى الأعلى


Healing, a simple act of kindness brings such meaning
الشفاء … قد يتجسّد في عمل بسيط لطيف

A smile can change a life let’s start believing
بسمة قد تغير حياة الإنسان

And feeling, let’s start healing
فلنبدأ بعمل يكون فيه شفاء


Heal and you will be healed
شفاء بشفاء .. ومع كل شفاء شفاء

Break every border
اكسر القيود والحدود

Give and you will receive
اعط تُعطى .. فالعطاء يوجب عطاء

It’s Nature’s order
نظام كوني رباني

There is a hidden force
هناك قوى خفية

Pulling us closer
تجذب بعضنا لبعض

It’s pulling you and I
تجذبني أنا وأنت

It’s pulling us up high
تجذبنا للأعلى


Healing, a simple act of kindness brings such meaning
الشفاء … قد يتجسّد في عمل بسيط لطيف

A Smile can change a life let’s start believing
بسمة قد تغير حياة الإنسان

And feeling, let’s start healing
فلنبدأ بعمل يكون فيه شفاء


Hearts in the hand of another heart and in God’s hand are all hearts
قلب بين يدي قلب و بيد الله كل قلب

An eye takes care of another eye and from God’s eye nothing hides
عين ترعى عينا .. وعين الله ترعى، و لا شيء عنه يخفى

Seek only to give and you’ll receive
إسع نحوالعطاء… و ستلقى و تعطى

So, heal and you will be healed
إشف.. و سوف تشفى

OUTRO (x2):

قلب بين يدي قلب و بيد الله كل قلب

عين ترعى عينا، وعين الله ترعى

كلمة طيبة صدقة

A pure word is charity (Hadith)

تبسمك لأخيك صدقه

To smile at your brother is charity (Hadith – Tirmidhi)

كل معروف صدقة

Every good deed is charity (Hadith)

اللهم اشف شفاءً لا يغادر سقماً

“O Allah,


A healing that leaves no sickness.”

[Part of a Hadith: Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, and others]

Muslim denominations: Are you Shia or Sunni?

Published: November 4, 2014

At that age, it didn’t seem like a big issue. But as I grew, I realised that it was indeed a big issue. PHOTO: FILE

It started quite early. I was seven-years-old. That’s when I first realised that there was something called a “Shia”, and people thought I was one; because in Pakistan, certain surnames are associated with being a Shia. ‘Zaidi’, one of them, sounds similar to the surname ‘Zahidi’, so I was and am often asked this question – “are you a Shia?”.

So I came home and asked my father, to which Abba replied in a very matter-of-factly that by faith, Shias and Sunnis are both Muslims. He explained to me that it’s like two brothers from the same family, we all love Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his family, and are still very sad about what happened to his grandson Imam Hussain (RA). He further explained, as best as he could to a seven-year-old, that we are from the sect called Sunnis.

At that age, it didn’t seem like a big issue. But as I grew older, I realised that it was indeed a big issue. The issue, basically, is what has caused sectarian and ethnic differences and cleansings and violence over centuries; the issue that has stained many with innocent blood; the issue is that we cannot accept someone different; the issue is of us versus them, of “the others”, this religion versus that, this sect versus that, this province versus that, this ethnicity versus that.

This is an overly simplistic analysis maybe. Or maybe not. We can go into the historical causes, but history will always be partial, lack objectivity and will literally be to each his own. So we have no sure way of knowing why Sunnis and Shias have remained daggers drawn.

Society conditions us in such a way that we have a hard time coming to terms with whoever differs from us, may it be in thought process, language, ethnicity or race, caste, creed and religion. Going against what the Holy Quran tells us to do, we don’t overlook the differences and don’t concentrate on the similarities – we do just the opposite.

I was blessed that I grew up as daughter of a father who, being a Sunni by belief, made sure that solidarity with Shias was order of the day. Abba and I spent countless tenths of Muharram talking about the history of Islam and of the Karbala massacre, with him telling me both sides of the story. He would tell me to not listen to music loudly or not do anything on that day that would hurt the sentiments of Shia neighbours or friends. And he made sure that I understand that differences in perspectives are “natural, because Allah has created each one of us differently, and our circumstances shape us. Therefore, give each other margin”. His words have stayed with me.

Sadly, many of us stereotype the others. Sometimes, you will catch one side whispering amongst themselves about the other. We are scandalised when the other group’s namaz is somewhat different, seemingly, or they break their fast in Ramazan slightly earlier or later. Same Allah, same Messenger (SAW), same Quran just doesn’t seem enough, and so we stereotype each other.

Polarisation between Shias and Sunnis has resulted in followers conveniently deciding to divide, amongst them, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

“So I am going with Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (RA) and you go with ‘Ali, Imam Hassan, Imam Hussain (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) family. In my religious literature and talks, I will talk about Ayesha (RA) and you can talk about Fatima (RA). For guidance, I can look at the rulings of Abdullah bin Masood (RA) and you can choose Abdullah bin Abbas (RA).”

The worst form of reactionary psychology is then to hit where it hurts the most – disrespecting the ideas or the people the other group holds sacred. Thus, those who were closest to Allah get dragged in our tug of war – a war which makes no sense.

However, when it comes to Hajj or Umrah, both groups are peacefully praying in the same rows, embracing the differences and celebrating the commonalities. They are performing tawaaf of the same Holy Ka’abah, doing sa’ee together between Safa and Marwa, and praying from the same Holy book, though they may differ at times in how they interpret it. Why not carry the same acceptance with them outside the haram too, and say to each other from the heart “Assalamu’Aalaikum” (Peace be upon you)?

But that does not seem to work, and I don’t know why.

What I do know is that for the longest time, every year in Muharram, we pray that these days pass without any casualties. What I do know is that year after year, innocent lives are lost – in retaliation, in reaction. Hatred takes over peace. Anger takes over sanity. The real face of Islam gets blurred, ironically on these most special of days for Muslims.

There is very little we can do about it, except start looking inward, reflect where we let stereotypes rule us, and where we crossed a line and forgot that there is no compulsion in religion.

I am a Sunni, and I peacefully remain one by choice. But another human has an equal right to follow whatever path they want to. The followers of all faiths must feel secure and not be punished for what they believe in. Humanity, peace and the true message of Islam is bigger than these denominations.

When one starts questioning the rituals of Eidul Azha

Published: October 6, 2014

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. PHOTO: FILE

Eidul Azha in a rural set-up has jarring differences when compared to how we celebrate this Eid in cities. I live and celebrate my Eid in Karachi, but if I celebrate it in my ancestral village in Khairpur, Sindh, this is what would be different.

The animals would be much less expensive, much more readily available, and the sense of community in sharing the meat would be the focus. Less affluent neighbours and relatives will casually come to the house where an animal is sacrificed and ask candidly for a share of the meat. The ones giving it out will not look down on the ones asking for it. There are fewer formalities and lesser ego issues involved, something that urbane sensibilities take away.

But perhaps the best thing about celebrating this Eid in my village is that no one questions the ritual. In an urban, more “aware” world, we question everything. But when each religious ritual is questioned, its efficacy is doubted and its methodology is demeaned, we are actually getting ahead of ourselves. A classic example is what we here every year:

“Why not do away with this ritual of animal sacrifice?”

The reasons given are many. The fact that this ritual involves blood and “gore” and millions of poor animals end up losing their lives, and so the ritual is too violent. The fact that the stench, the organs, the blood (yes, the blood is a pet peeve) and the slaughter waste makes our entire cities abattoirs. And the most classic one is that the same money could be used to help the needy with their more urgent needs.

“Why not pay a poor child’s yearly school fee, rather than spending the same money on slaughtering a goat?”

The answers to above criticisms are quite simple, really.

The problem is not with so many animals being slaughtered, but with the fact that our cities in Pakistan are not equipped with the infrastructure to dispose the slaughter waste on this day, or any day actually. Our anger is misdirected at the ritual, whereas the problem lies with the lack of civic sense in our citizens in how they dispose the slaughter waste. Here, we stumble upon a bigger issue – the fact that being a good citizen that does not harm others is a basic tenet of Islam, but is sadly not seen as one. But just because people break traffic signals, we cannot stop using cars on streets. Similarly, the ritual cannot be done away with because of the fault of some.

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. Try and explain to the shepherds who travel to Karachi from Tharparkar and to Lahore from villages in Rahimyar Khan that you think this ritual should be done away with. The reaction may surprise you.

What’s interesting is that most of the people criticising the ritual are avid meat-eaters all year round. It is not like they moved to being vegetarians and vegans. They love their ‘bong ki nihari’ and ‘mutton pulao’, but have a problem with this, giving reasons from environmental imbalance to being unkind towards nature.

The ritual is mandatory for those who can afford to sacrifice an animal. In today’s era of inflation, if a person can afford to spend on an animal’s sacrifice once a year, then that person can for sure spend on paying a child’s fee for school too. Why are the two things mutually exclusive? Why must I choose one?

But who are we kidding? The above given reasons, both for and against this ritual, are logical. And religion, worship, and most of all faith, cannot be explained by logic. Humans are innately selective in the logic they choose to strengthen what they already believe in.

Muslims, who unquestioningly carry on this ritual, or any ritual of faith, may have understood that salvation lies in trusting how the Mastermind has designed religion. He created us and He knows what works for us. Sitting and meditating is great but can never replace the five daily prayers. A nature hike may be great for your soul but can never have the effect that sa’ee between the perpetually overcrowded Safa and Marwa in the hot city of Makkah does. And if I spend money to help a needy (which I must, as charity is both a ritual and a purification exercise), it’s a great thing to do, but will not have the same effect as sacrificing an animal on this day.

In this act, I feel an affinity with that act of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). As someone who has genetic hemophobia and cannot stand the sight of blood, it’s not an easy ritual. But then, acts of love and leaps of faith never really are easy.  As mentioned in the Holy Quran, it is not the flesh or blood of animals that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. The biggest part of piety is handing over one’s reigns to Allah, and saying, “You Know best”. Accepting one’s human limitations of understanding when compared with Divine wisdom – that, my friends, is the ultimate sacrifice.

Can I Give Charity to a Thief, a Prostitute or a Non-deserving Person During Ramadan?


By Farahnaz Zahidi

Published in Huff Post Religion on July 9, 2014

Pakistan is internationally known for many things. For the surge of extremism. For the footballs we supplied to the World Cup. For an often exaggerated emphasis on the “miseries” of its people. But it is lesser known for being one of the most charitable nations in the world. It is amazing how much the people of this country give and share. The sense of giving back to one’s community is deeply ingrained in our system. We give whether we are rich or poor. We share whether we ourselves have enough or not. If you are in Pakistan in Ramadan especially, on every signal you will be handed over boxes of dates and bottles of water. Outside homes, on sidewalks or in mosques, makeshift feasts await you. At a recent journalism moot in Mexico, a friend from South Africa nailed it when she said “I think it has a lot to do with how much Islam stresses charity.”


This is true. We take the idea very seriously that charity washes away sins, wards off bad luck, wins us the pleasure of Allah and lands us in Paradise. In Ramadan, the reward, as per our belief, is multiplied into 70. So Ramadan is when all good causes like education, public health and food insecurity make enough money to last the next 11 months.

Yet, in the same country, I have witnessed communities waiting for hand-me-downs and food, with not a rupee of charity flowing towards them. The reason has been nothing but misplaced judgment.
More than once, my research as a journalist led me to the most infamous red light district in Pakistan. Heera Mandi, in Lahore, has since the time of Mughals housed courtesans, dancers and commercial sex workers. But time has been unkind to the people here. Today, most of them have moved away to better, more lucrative localities as escorts. What remains is a ghetto of very poor women, runaway or orphaned children and some scattered members of the marginalized transgender community. And no one wants to give charity to the people of Heera Mandi.

“We are dirty. We are in the filthy business. So no one gives us anything,” said a disgruntled 20 something sex worker when I visited. It was a Friday, the holy day of the week for Muslims. Incense burnt in her shoddy apartment to create an ambiance of purity. The woman had bathed and prayed that day. Ramadan was a few days away. “I wish someone would give me enough food or money that I can at least not have to do this work in Ramadan. I need a break, too to pray to God.”
On my return, I asked around if anyone wanted to donate for them. No one opted.

This attitude is not reserved for sex workers only, and not specific to Pakistan. Neither is this brand of judgment or ostracization specific to Muslims. A friend from Manchester shared that a project trying to collect donations for inmates in jails got a similar response. “They would say, ‘will our charity go towards feeding a killer or a thief?'”

For years, as both a student and teacher of Islamic Studies, I have wondered why we pass judgments on the ones we give charity to. Is their “good character” a pre-requisite to give them charity?

Thus, in giving, we place ourselves on a pedestal of piety. And this idea is not in synch with what the Qur’an endorses or what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practically did.

There is a prophetic tradition narrated in the Saheeh Bukhari that tells us that there was once a man who decided that that very night he would give charity. Accordingly, he set out with his charity and gave it to a thief. The next day people began to say, ‘Last night a thief was given charity!’ So the man supplicated, ‘O Allah, to You belongs all the praise. I shall give some more charity again.’

Once again he set off with his charity and gave it to a prostitute. The next day people began talking, ‘Last night charity was given to a prostitute.’ So the man supplicated again, ‘O Allah, I praise You for enabling me to give charity to even a prostitute; I will give some more charity yet again.’

He set out again with his charity and this time put it in the hands of a rich man. The next day the people talked again, ‘Last night charity was given to a rich man.’ The man supplicated, ‘O Allah, all praise is Yours, I thank you for enabling me to give charity to a thief, a prostitute and to a rich man.’
Then, in a vision he was told, ‘The charity you gave to the thief might persuade him to stop stealing; your charity to the prostitute might persuade her give up her way of life. As for the rich man, he might learn a lesson from your charitable giving and start to spend from the Bounty that Allah has given him in charity.’

In the Battle of Badr between Muslims and the pagans of Mecca, the Muslim camp won and ended up with 70 prisoners of the pagans. These were people thirsty for their blood. But the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted the Muslims to treat the prisoners well. So much stress was placed on showing compassion that the captors would give the captives their own bread, even at the risk of going hungry themselves.

What I have learnt from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) is simple. That when I give, I give, without judging whether that person is deserving and pious, or not. It is not my place to do that. It is only God’s right to judge. Because my Merciful Lord continues to give me, whether I am deserving or not.

Making Arabic compulsory in Pakistan’s schools? Why?

By Farahnaz Zahidi

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).


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