Modernity for Young Muslim Women

Vol 3- Issue 3 Modernity for young Muslim womenThe place of modernity in Islam is a controversial issue, often dividing Muslims into those, who condemn anything modern as incompatible with the ethos of Islam, and those, who claim that Muslims must embrace modernity in order to survive and grow.

Being a Muslim woman, I am faced with the same question of modernity. However, for me as a convert Muslim, this question takes on new dimensions, because I stepped into Islam right out of the western modernity.

In order to address the dilemma of modernity for Muslim women, it is first necessary to define what modernity is. For society in general, modernity means progress, advancement of technology, rise of secularism, and emphasis on reason and free will. For women in particular, modernity holds liberation and equality.

For western women, liberation and equality essentially means exercising the same social, legal, and personal rights as men are enjoying. The history of the first modern western woman dates back to the 1920s in the US, when American women got their right to vote, asserted their presence in society by stepping out of their homes, and gradually began breaking the taboos their mothers hardly dared to talk about. During these years, the American women (who were more advanced than their European counterparts) discovered their sexuality and began insisting on the same freedoms as men in choosing personal habits, including smoking, drinking, dancing, and dressing provocatively.

What can modernity offer to a Muslim woman?  Basically the same- liberation and equality. How so? Modernity doesn’t necessarily have to be defined from a single western perspective. The truth is women’s liberation movements didn’t begin at the end of the nineteenth century as western historians claim. Its roots can be traced back to the seventh century – the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sa). Many Muslim women don’t realize that Islam upgraded their status equal to that of men’s about 1400 years ago – the Quran clearly states that men and women are equal in whatever deeds they do. (An-Nahl 16:97, Al-Ahzab 33:35) It is important, however, to understand the distinctions that Islam makes between genders.

“The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. Equality is desirable, just, fair; but sameness is not. With this distinction in mind, there is no room to imagine that woman is inferior to man. There is no ground to assume that she is less important than he, just because her rights are not identically the same as his. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been simply a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives her equal rights – but not identical – shows that it takes her into due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.” (Abdul-Ati)

I personally feel that the true liberation for Muslim women lies in recognizing the temporary nature of this world – we will meet Allah (swt) and face the actual reality of life only after our worldly death. This intellectual freedom raises Muslim women above the mundane ‘freedoms’ western women so persistently struggle for – we submit to nothing and none but Allah (swt) and His teachings. Thus, with a complete peace of mind we can enjoy the equality with men granted to us by Allah (swt), not worrying about being the same with them.

Have I betrayed the female sex by converting to Islam or have I become any less modern than other western women? My answer is a definite ‘no.’

Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf (rta)

Vol 3- Issue 3   Abdur Rahman ibn 'AwfHis name in the days of Jahiliyah was Abdu Amr, but after accepting Islam, the Prophet (sa) called him Abdur-Rahman (rta) – the servant of the Beneficent. Abdur-Rahman (rta) became a Muslim two days after Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq (rta). He did not escape but steadfastly bore the punishment inflicted on the early Muslims by Quraish. As a result, when they were compelled to leave Makkah for Abyssinia, Abdur-Rahman (rta) went too. He returned to Makkah, when it was rumoured that conditions had improved for Muslims, but that was contrary to the truth, and so he went to Abyssinia again on a second Hijrah. He later returned to Makkah and made the Hijrah to Madinah.

Soon after arriving in Madinah, the Prophet (sa) began pairing the Muhajirin with the Ansar. This established a firm bond of brotherhood, and eased the destitution of the Muhajirin. Abdur-Rahman (rta) was linked by the Prophet (sa) with Saad ibn ar-Rabiah (rta). Saad (rta) in the spirit of generosity offered to Abdur-Rahman (rta): “My brother! Among the people of Madinah I have the most wealth. I have two orchards and I have two wives. See, which of the two orchards you like, and I shall vacate it for you, and which of my two wives is pleasing to you, and I will divorce her for you.”

Abdur-Rahman (rta) replied: “May Allah (swt) bless you in your family and your wealth. But just show me, where the Suk (market place) is.

Abdur-Rahman (rta) went to the marketplace and began trading whatever resources he had and made a profit. He continued and his profits grew rapidly. Soon, he was well off and was able to get married. He went to the Prophet (sa) smelling of perfume.

“Mahyam, O Abdur-Rahman!” exclaimed the Prophet (sa) – “Mahyam” being a word of Yemeni origin indication pleasant surprise. “I have got married,” replied Abdur-Rahman (rta). “And what did you give your wife as Mahr?” “The weight of a Nuwat in gold.” “You must have a feast, even if it is with a single sheep. And may Allah (swt) bless you in your wealth,” said the Prophet (sa).

Thereafter Abdur-Rahman (rta) was successful in business.  It was said that if he lifted a stone, he expected to find gold or silver underneath!

Abdur-Rahman (rta) distinguished himself in both battles – Badr and Uhud. At Uhud he remained firm despite suffering over twenty wounds, some severe. Even so, his physical Jihad matched that of his wealth.

When the Prophet (sa) decided to send an expedition to distant Tabuk – the last Ghazwah during his lifetime – he was in need of finance, material, and men to go against the huge and well-equipped forces of the Byzantine. That year in Madinah was one of drought and hardship. The journey to Tabuk was long and provisions were low.

The Prophet (sa) urged his companions to give generously for the path of Allah (swt) and assured them that they would be rewarded. The Muslims’ response to the Prophet’s (sa) call was immediate and generous. In the forefront was Abdur-Rahman (rta), who donated two hundred Awqiyah of gold.

The Muslim army eventually left for Tabuk. The time of Salah came, and the Prophet (sa) was not there, so the Muslims chose Abdur-Rahman (rta) as their Imam. Just before the completion of the first Rakat the Prophet (sa) joined the worshippers and performed the Salah behind Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf (rta). Could there be a greater honour conferred on anyone than to have been the Imam of the most honoured of Allah’s (swt) creation!

When the Prophet (sa) passed away, Abdur-Rahman (rta) took on the responsibility of looking after the needs of his family. He would go with them wherever they pleased, and even performed Hajj with them to ensure all their needs were met. This is a sign of the trust and confidence, which he enjoyed on the part of the Prophet’s (sa) family.

Once he sold a piece of land and distributed the entire amount among the Banu Zahrah (relatives of the Prophet’s (sa) mother Aminah (rta)), poor Muslims, and the Prophet’s (sa) wives.

The prayer of the Prophet (sa) that Allah (swt) should bestow Barakah on the wealth of Abdur-Rahman (rta) accompanied Abdur-Rahman (rta). He became the richest man among the Companions of the Prophet (sa). His trading caravans grew bringing to the people of Madinah wheat, flour, butter, cloth, utensils, perfume, and other commodities and exporting whatever surplus produce they had.

One day, a loud rumbling sound was heard beyond the boundaries of Madinah. In addition, clouds of dust were seen. The people of Madinah realized that a mighty caravan was entering their city. They were amazed as seven hundred camels laden with goods crowded the streets. There was much excitement as people called others to witness the sight and goods that they had brought.

Aisha (rta) heard the commotion and asked: “What is this that’s happening in Madinah?”

She was told: “It is the caravan of Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf, which has come from Syria bearing merchandise.” “A caravan making all this commotion?” she asked in disbelief. “Yes, O Ummul-Mumineen. There are seven hundred camels.”

Aisha (rta) shook her head and gazed in the distance, trying to recall an utterance of the past and said: “I have heard the Messenger of Allah (sa) say: ‘I have seen Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf entering Paradise creeping.'”

Some friends related this Hadeeth to Abdur-Rahman (rta), although he had heard it more than once from the Prophet (sa). He hurried to Aisha (rta) and said: “Ya Ammah! Have you heard that from the Messenger (sa)?” “Yes,” she replied.

“If I could I would certainly like to enter Paradise standing. I swear to you, ya Ammah, that this entire caravan with all its merchandise, I will give Fi-Sabilillah.”

And so he did. This is just one incident that shows the type of man Abdur-Rahman (rta) was. He earned much wealth, but he never remained attached to it for its own sake and did not allow it to corrupt him.

All this wealth did not corrupt Abdur-Rahman (rta). When he was among his workers and assistants, people could not distinguish him from them. One day, food was brought to him with which to end a fast. He looked at the food and said: “Musab ibn ‘Umayr (rta) has been killed. He was better than me. We did not find anything of his to shroud him, with except what covered his head but left his legs uncovered… Then Allah (swt) endowed us with the (bounties of) the world… I really fear that our reward has been bestowed on us early (in this world).” He began to cry and sob and could not eat.

May Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf (rta) be granted felicity among “Those who spend their wealth in the cause of Allah (swt) and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury, their reward is with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Al-Baqarah 2: 262)

Dear Haadia

Question: I am a recent revert to Islam and want to learn and practice more and more every day. My family, unfortunately, does not approve of my inclination towards Deen. As a result, we are having constant friction at home. What should I do?

Answer: First, Barak Allah (swt) on your being a Muslim. Alhumdulillah. My dear sister, do remember the path to Jannah passes through many trials. This is the Law of Allah (swt) to strengthen and purify a Muslim’s Iman. As Allah (swt) says: “And certainly, We shall surely test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives, and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirin (patient).” (Al-Baqarah 2:155)

Also, never despair, as Allah (swt) promises us: “Verily, along with every hardship is relief, verily along with every hardship is relief.” (Ash-Sharh 94:5-6)

Now, what should we do when faced with such opposition, especially from our dear ones?

First of all, remember that God knows every iota of our intentions. So, we must begin with utterly pure intentions.

You must let go of all the things that you try to control in your life and recognize that God is in control. This is part of your fate.

Constantly analyze your behaviour. Allah (swt) states: “Invite (mankind, O Muhammad (sa) sa) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His Path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided.” (An-Nahl 16:125)

Stay firm upon Islam and your belief in Allah (swt), but continue to treat your family with respect and honour, in spite of their opposing beliefs. It is not permissible for you to obey your family, if they request you to act in disobedience to Allah (swt), because we are not to obey any of the creation, if it involves disobedience to Allah (swt) – our Creator. Allah (swt) has the greatest right over the human being, and Allah’s (swt) right to be worshipped and obeyed deserves to be fulfilled first and foremost. You should strive to please your family by showing them kindness and respect. Practically speaking, one may increase smiling and giving gifts, checking the tone of voice.

In the Quran, Allah (swt) has told us: “And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents. Unto Me is the final destination. But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do.” (Luqman 31:14-15)

So continue to be gentle with your family and return their harsh words with kindness and love. It will become increasingly difficult for your family to argue with you or treat you in a bad manner. With time and patience, your family will see, how Islam has made you a better person, and by the will of God, this will soften their hearts towards you and Islam.

Seek a support system by associating and bonding with practicing Muslims. This is extremely important for strengthening your Iman. “The believers, men and women, are Auliya (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another…” (At-Taubah 9:71)

Do consistently make Dua for your family to be guided to Islam. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “And your Lord said: ‘Invoke Me and ask Me for anything. I will respond to your invocation.’” (Ghafir 40:60) Further, we need to realize the importance of Tahajjud prayer too, when Allah (swt) descends on the lowest heaven waiting for His slaves to ask Him for relief and assistance.

May Allah (swt) guide us all and our families to the straight path. Ameen.