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Archive for November, 2013

This speech, ‘The Empowerment of Women’, was posted on Yasmin’s blog on Dec 12, 2011. Today, it is still as relevant as it was then.

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When the companion of the Prophet, pbuh, entered a town to bring them the message of Islam, he put it very beautifully. He said, “I have come to free you from the servitude of the slave and bring you to the servitude of the Lord of the slave.”

Within this statement lies a powerful treasure. Locked within these words, is the key to empowerment and the only real path to liberation.

You see, the moment you or I allow anything, other than our Creator, to define our success, our failure, our happiness, or our worth, we have entered into a silent, but destructive form of slavery. That thing which defines my self worth, my success and my failure is what controls me. And it becomes my Master.

The master which has defined a woman’s worth, has taken many forms throughout time. One of the most prevalent standards made for woman, has been the standard of men. But what we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to Himself—not in relation to men. Yet, as some ideologies erased God from the scene, there was no standard left—but men. As a result the woman was forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing she had accepted a faulty assumption. She had accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man: the standard.

When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man joined the army, she wanted to join the army. When a man smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol, she wanted to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Often she wanted these things for no other reason than because the “standard” had them.

What she didn’t recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in their distinctiveness–not in their sameness. When we accept men as the standard, suddenly anything uniquely feminine becomes by definition inferior. Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a full-time mother—a degradation. In the battle between stoic rationality (considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered feminine), rationality reigned supreme.

As soon as we accepted that everything a man has and does is better, all that followed was just a knee jerk reaction: if men have it—we want it too. If men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we want to pray in the front rows too. If men lead prayer, we assume the imam is closer to God, so we want to lead prayer too. Somewhere along the line we’d accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of one’s position with God.

But a Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as the standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn’t need a man to do this.

Given our privilege as women, we only degrade ourselves by trying to be something we’re not–and in all honesty–don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.

And yet, in society, there is another prevalent “master” which has defined for women their worth. And that is the so-called standard of beauty. Since the time we were little, we as women, have been taught a very clear message by society. And that message is: “Be thin. Be sexy. Be attractive. Or…be nothing.”

So we were told to put on their make-up and wear their short skirts. Instructed to give our lives, our bodies, our dignity for the cause of being pretty. We came to believe that no matter what we did, we were worthy only to the degree that we could please and be beautiful for men. So we spent our lives on the cover of Cosmo and we gave our bodies for advertisers to sell.

We were slaves, but they taught us we were free. We were their object, but they swore it was success. Because they taught you that the purpose of your life was to be on display, to attract and be beautiful for men. They had you believe that your body was created to market their cars.

But they lied.

Your body, your soul was created for something higher. Something so much higher. God says in the Quran: ‘Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most righteous’ (Quran 49:13).

So you are honored. But it is not by your relationship to men—either being them, or pleasing them. Your value as a woman is not measured by the size of your waist or the number of men who like you. Your worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And your purpose in life–despite what the fashion magazines say–is something more sublime than just looking good for men.

Our completion comes from God and our relationship with Him. And yet, from the time we were little, we, as women, have been taught, that we will never reach completion until a man comes to complete us. Like Cinderella we were taught that we are helpless unless a prince comes to save us. Like Sleeping Beauty, we were told that our life doesn’t fully begin, until Prince Charming kisses us. But here’s the thing: no prince can complete you. And no knight can save you. Only God can.

Your prince is only a human being. God may send him to be your companion—but not your savior. The coolness of your eyes—not the air in your lungs. Your air is in God. Your salvation and completion are in His nearness—not the nearness to any created thing. Not the nearness to a prince, not the nearness to fashion or beauty or style.

And so I ask you to unlearn. I ask you to stand up and tell the world that you are a slave to nothing—not to fashion, not to beauty, not to men. You are a slave to God and God alone. I ask you to tell the world that you’re not here to please men with your body; You’re here to please God. So to those who mean well and wish to ‘liberate’ you, just smile and say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Tell them you’re not here to be on display. And your body is not for public consumption. Make sure the world knows that you will never be reduced to an object, or a pair of legs to sell shoes. You are a soul, a mind, a servant of God. And your worth is defined by the beauty of that soul, that heart, that moral character. So, you don’t worship their beauty standards; you don’t submit to their fashion sense. Your submission is to something higher.

Therefore, in answering the question of where and how a woman can find empowerment, I find myself led back to the statement of our Prophet’s companion. I find myself led back to the realization that true liberation and empowerment lies only in freeing oneself from all other masters, all other definitions. All other standards.

As Muslim women, we have been liberated from this silent bondage. We don’t need society’s standard of beauty or fashion, to define our worth. We don’t need to become just like men to be honored, and we don’t need to wait for a prince to save or complete us. Our worth, our honor, our salvation, and our completion lies not in the slave.

But, in the Lord of the slave.

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Are you fighting a battle with yourself? With your family? Wih friends? With society?

Whatever your current predicament may be – this helped me so I hope it helps you. It is a post by Yasmin Mogahed on her blog titled, ‘A Believer’s Response to Hardship’. Here she talks about the fact that EVERYTHING in this life is a test and we should constantly remember that. We are not the first nor the last to be going through whatever issues we are facing.

You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination. [Holy Quran 3:186]

Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said,”When is the help of Allah ?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near. [Holy Quran 2:214]

She says:

Once we realize the fundamental truth that this life is a test, instead of asking: “How could this be happening?” “Why is it so unfair?” our questions become: “How should I react?” “How should I pass this test?” “What am I meant to learn?” “How should I see through this illusion, to the creator of the one who’s hurting me, the one who’s oppressing me, and the test itself?”  “How can we as a community use this test to bring us closer to our final destination, God?” and “How can we use this test to fulfill the purpose for which it was created – a tool to bring us nearer to Him?” Allahu akbar (God is Great).

The beauty of the tests of Allah (swt) is that after notifying us that they’re coming, He gives us the exact recipe for succeeding in them: Sabr (patience) and Taqwa (God-consciousness).

I hope that you are armed with these two things in whatever test you are facing right now and that it takes you to the light at the end of the tunnel.

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My parents think I never listen to them and most of the time they are right, but here are a few gems from them (said in a very offhand passing manner which is probably why I remember them more so than the sit down and let me tell you about life lectures) that I have taken to heart.

I was sitting with my dad and whining about how hard my life is and how my friends could go wherever they wanted and do whatever they wanted and how come I wasn’t allowed?! He pauses tapping away at the iPad, looks up at me over his glasses and says, ‘You are allowed. I raised you, fed you, educated you. I have done my job. You are now allowed to do whatever you like. But just remember that I have already been where you are. So if I tell you not to do something or not to mix with someone – there is usually a very good reason for it – a reason I do not always have to disclose to you. If you were strong enough in your faith to pull people into the gravity of your goodness then you could mix with whoever you want. but you’re not… neither am I . So be selective in who you mix with.

Mum always tends to become very philosophical when she’s in the kitchen, as if peeling potatoes and chopping onions helps release her inner Confucius. One day as we worked together she said to me, Be ready for change. Wake up every day as if something good will happen today. It is only when you ready yourself for good things, that good things will come to you. At the time I laughed it off… but in the coming days I would wake up and say those words to myself, ‘Something good will happen today.’ Slowly I began to dress more carefully – because something good would happen today. I began to live in the present and be more aware of my surroundings – because something good would happen today. And then I realised – something good WAS happening today. And every day. When I am dressed for today, when I am living in the present and thinking in the present then I am better placed to recognise the goodness in my every day and be grateful for it.

Another such time in the kitchen again she said to me, We can all pray for your future but till you pray for yourself and do something to help yourself, why should God help you? I spend so much of my time watching tv shows, Facebooking – if I only invested a small portion of that time on my mind body and soul, on prayers, exercise and meditation – then I would be much better placed as a human being and in my own spirituality to tackle life head on. A small reminder to pray even for a minute each day makes a huge difference. A small step in STOPPING an action that causes you harm such as smoking, makes a huge difference. Only you can help your own cause.

And lastly, this one is for all you single ladies (and lads) out there. My dad has these words of wisdom to impart. “So what if you’re not married? You took a step towards God and He is  testing how strong your step is. Are you faltering?” We are all amazing in our own ways, we all deserve love and happiness. When you stick by yourself, when you uphold your values, when you refrain from indulging your need for love for a greater purpose… it hurts. Sometimes a lot. But you are not alone. You are not the first to go through this and you won’t be the last. So don’t falter. Be steadfast in your goals, pray, focus and achieve them. And go give a hug to your amazing parents who sometimes say the darndest things!

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If the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, does this mean the rich have to curb their dreams and aspirations to lift up the status of the poor? When David Beckham earns $100,000 a day, should he be giving that away to live in Ingleburn so that the poor can rise up to a proper standard of living? The reality of modern society is that the rich are rich at the expense of the poor. We live off the poor, we take their land, their oil, their minerals, their gemstones and their labour at such horrifying low costs that we create a socio economic divide responsible for the brain drain and resource drain of other countries. In doing so we make ourselves wholly responsible for the growing economic divide and the misfortunes of those less well off.

Does this mean the rich are not allowed to aspire? No. But everyone is entitled to aspire. The garment worker who is only paid 50c for a dress you bought at $110 is also entitled to aspire. But she lives in a society where you have contributed to the death of her dreams. We have built a Socio-economic arena in which third world countries are pitted against first world countries like gladiators with little to no hope for success. Shouldn’t we work towards a society where her labour is duly paid and her right to dream is duly respected and given a fighting chance? Islam’s way of wealth distribution gives people that chance. The concept of Zakaat which is to donate a small portion of ones wealth to the less fortunate means that if we all gave a little of what we have then there would be no poverty in this world. But we don’t. We would rather spend on a new house or another car than give even a cent more than what is expected of us.

It is here that I believe it is our collective responsibility to judge each other and remind each other of our boundaries. Of the risk of hedonism. A reminder between friends that extravagance leads to loss of values and sense of self should not be taken offense at. Rather it should be gratefully accepted so that we do not lose ourselves in the consumerist mad dash for materialistic satisfaction. So no. I don’t think David Beckham should live in Ingleburn. He has worked very hard to get where he is, by virtue of his looks, his talent and his efforts at harnessing his fame. But he should remember that the privileges he takes for granted which position him in the crème de la crème of society are but a dream for 90% of his fellow humans. And he remembers that. His efforts with Unicef and those of Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie with other NGOs shows that there are celebrities who take on the responsibility of helping those fortunate and take it very seriously.

So the next time you look at that amazing red sports car, or the brand new housing complex in which you can build a mansion, remind yourself that you having food, shelter, clothes and access to education puts you in the top 10% of society. Remind yourself that we live in a world of 6 Billion people in which the majority go hungry every day, have little to no shelter or are facing religious and cultural persecution. Recognise that the current socioeconomic status, division of wealth and labour and  of the political hegemony only perpetuate this divide and drive mankind to total despair and apathy. Remind yourself that YOU can make a difference by doing your bit for your fellow humans, buy fair trade, look behind the façade of materialism, refrain from extravagance, put aside some portion of your wealth for charity.

The most important thing you can do to stop the perpetuation of our consumerist culture is to educate your children, families and friends. Teach them the value of money. Show them through your own actions that simply because you have the means to deck yourself in Louis Vuitton doesn’t mean that you do. For somewhere in some dark decrepit factory, there is a little girl who makes those lush things you crave with no hope of ever wearing them herself. Remember that while you have aspirations – you are not the only one that does. And there is nothing more rewarding than giving back someone’s right to aspire – in whatever way you can.

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Legally Brown is a new show airing on Australian TV this year. It is only 6 episodes old and has already caused a furore with Muslims and Non-muslims alike. Not surprisingly because it’s protagonist, Nazeem Hussain, is already known for his outrageous and in-your-face comedy which confronts racial and religios stereotypes.

However his show takes is one step further – and for some – one step too far. Friends of mine recently expressed their anger and dissapointment that Nazeem’s show was actually being aired and it was ‘tripe’ rife with religious allusions which they felt were an ‘injustice’ to Islam and sent the wrong message to Non-muslims.

With this in mind, I asked several non muslim friends and randoms (most notably the salesgirl at the oroton store on pitt st):

  1. Do you watch Legally Brown?
  2. Had you heard of Nazeem before this show?
  3. What do you think about the show?

Only two non muslims out of 10 were familiar with Nazeem the comedian prior to the show, only 4 had watched one or more episodes and all ten had one or more Muslim friends and acquaintances. All of them however had this to say in common, ‘I have muslims friends, they are cool. I don’t know much about Islam but I’d like to know more. I don’t buy into the media hype and I’llbe sure to check out that show now.’

It drove home the point that Most Australians simply didn’t know or didn’t care about Islam and Muslims. Despite my having the hijab on, several people asked me what religion I followed. In such a case as this, I personally believe that we as Muslims have a duty to propogate the message of Islam how WE see it. How WE interpret it and how WE live it. The first and foremost objection to this I know will be, ‘But Islam is a perfect religion and Muslims are imprefect. Why would you show people your imperfection when you can show them the perfection that is Islam?’.

The simple answer to this is that Perfection scares people. In a world where perfection equates to photoshop, airbrushing and fakeness, showing the perfection of Islam will simply lead it to be ignored as ‘too hard, too irrelevant to the society we live in.’ I know this because I have tried that with someone very near and dear to me. And failed. If we can show in our own ways, through our own abilities (be it comedy, photgraphy, writing or public speaking) that while we aspire to perfection, this is how we practise it in our own ways with the firm belief in the Mercy of the Almighty that it will accepted – then we are doing enough.

Sadly this is not the accepting and tolerant view some of us share. Most Muslims comes from cultural brack grounds in which loud verbose arumentation is widespread and evident in situations like the one below as read on FB.

A convert friend posted this: Many years ago after first embracing Islam I went to a breakfast house on a Sunday with my father. There was a large group who looked like they just came from church and a large group of Muslims (from a Muslim majority country). My father asked me to look over at both of the groups to see if I noticed anything significant….

ME: They’re both large religious groups.
FATHER: That’s stating the obvious. What else do you notice?
ME: The women in both groups have their hair covered with either scarves or hats?
FATHER: Also obvious. Look beyond the surface.
ME: I don’t see anything significant.
FATHER: Watch longer. What do you notice about attitudes and demeanor?
ME: (after watching for a few mins) The church group is lively and most of them are smiling and joking and engaging with people.
FATHER: And the other group?
ME: (reluctantly) They are mostly frowning and arguing with one another and not being very pleasant and yelling at their children.
FATHER: And as a Muslim you tell me that you believe Islam is the truth. But so often when I see the Muslims they don’t look happy to me. They seem angry, even when dealing with each other. And you’re telling me that this is what I need in my life? That’s a very hard sell son. A very hard sell.

Why is it that we publicise our disharmony? Can we really justify it by saying its a product of our cultural influence? Prophet Muhammed SAW spread the message in Arabia at a time where people spoke with swords more readily than words let alone softly! If he managed to tone down his ‘cutlure’ so that the beauty of Islam could shine through… then why can’t we?

If Nazeem Hussain is proud enough of his religion, his culture and his comedic talent to combine the trio into a veritable force that confronts, informs and entertains the masses… then I for one happily lend my support.

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