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Where Are The Women Scholars?

Zainab (AnonyMouse)

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Masha’Allah, there is a strong tradition of Muslim women studying the Deen and teaching it to their sisters in China’s Hui region, where the majority of Chinese Muslims can be found.

YINCHUAN, June 23 (Xinhua) — At a tiny courtyard mosque in China’s most populous Muslim region, Jin Meihua leads other women in prayer and chants.

Every day, the 44-year-old dons a black robe and violet scarf and preaches to dozens of women at the Little White Mosque in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous region, where most of the country’s Islam-faith Hui ethnic minority live.

Jin has a routine life. “Except attending funerals, I always stay in the mosque, teaching the female Muslims Islamic scriptures.”

She is a female imam or “ahong,” pronounced ah-hung, from the Persian word “akhund” for “the learned.” In China, a female imam is an innovation, despite being rare in Arabic countries.

Jin has 15 students, mostly middle-aged and elderly people. They learn slowly and need two years to grasp “The Holy Qu’ran.”

“Many female Muslims do not have the benefit of a school education. Although they are Muslims, they know nothing about the Qu’ran. I want to teach them the holy scriptures and hope they can be inspired and think independently,” she said.

“Women ahong are the best qualified to do this because they can communicate with the female faithful in ways the male ahongs can’t.”

As early as the late Ming dynasty (around the 17th century), the faithful had set up female Muslim schools around the country. These turned into female mosques operated by women imams in late Qing dynasty (around the 19th century).

The practice of female imams then spread to all the Chinese Muslim societies, said Shui Jingjun, a Henan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences researcher.

In the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), religion was banned. It was revived in the 1980s, increasing the numbers of Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians, among others. The government’s push for gender equality helped broaden Muslim women’s roles.

However, China’s women imams are not equal with the male prayer leaders. They do not lead salat — the five daily prayers considered among the most important Muslim obligations. The prayers are instead piped via loudspeakers into the female mosques from the nearby male ones.

Still, the female imams guide others in worship and are the primary spiritual leaders for the women in their communities. In the female mosque, the female Muslims can learn the Qu’ran and the Islamic doctrines, as well as the Arabic language.

“The appearance of female mosque and female imams has met the female Muslims’ demand for religious knowledge and promoted harmony in the Muslim society,” said Hei Fuli, vice chairman of the Islamic Association of Ningxia. “The Arabic teachings have also enriched their lives.”

Currently, Ningxia has more than 80 female imams. There are more than 3,600 registered mosques and 6,000 ahongs in the region, he said.

Unlike most of her classmates who went to the coastal areas as translators, Zhao Dongmei, 21, a graduate from the Tongxin County Arab Language School in 2005, chose to be a female imam in Yuanzhou District, Guyuan City. Here, nearly half of the population is Muslim.

The timid girl with a mauve scarf and a pair of glasses, received her imam certificate issued by the local Islamic association before graduation. She became a female imam in the female mosque a month after marriage.

“I teach 10 young girls Arabic and Islamic scriptures. They all come from the countryside,” Zhao said, adding, “They can further their studies, be translators or spread what they have learned in their villages.”

Sheikh Yahya Ibrahim discusses the role of women in the history of Islamic scholarship, and reminds us of the need for similar women today. May Allah strengthen the women of this Ummah and increase us in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the Deen, ameen!

Where Are the Women Scholars? by Yahya Ibrahim
[Audio:http://www.idealmuslimah.com/images/stories/audio/womenscholars%20-%20idealmuslimah.com.mp3]

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young Canadian Muslimah, originally from the West Coast of Canada. She writes about whatever concerns her about the state of the Muslim Ummah, drawing upon her experiences and observations within her own local community. You may contact her at anonymouse@muslimmatters.org She is is no longer a writer for MuslimMatters.org.

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Avatar

    greekmuslimgirl

    July 11, 2008 at 5:18 AM

    “Except attending funerals, I always stay in the mosque, teaching the female Muslims Islamic scriptures.”

    I wonder how they balance their personal and Islamic work life. Very interesting nonetheless!

  2. Avatar

    ibn fellah

    July 11, 2008 at 6:00 AM

    You should definitely read Shaykh Dr. Akram Nadwi’s work on female hadith scholars. The muqadimah of his multi-volume work has been translated into english. It provides a great insight.

  3. Avatar

    Ibn Masood

    July 11, 2008 at 11:51 AM

    Assalamualaikum

    JazakAllahu khair for the post lol… I always thought about marrying a Chinese sister… but I didn’t know they were THAT amazing in their deen!

    Allahuakbar!

    lol.

  4. Avatar

    Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 11, 2008 at 12:26 PM

    JazakAllahu khair for the post lol… I always thought about marrying a Chinese sister… but I didn’t know they were THAT amazing in their deen!

    MashaAllah, with excellent female scholarship, I too am contemplating marrying a Chinese sister, inshaAllah. (aside: my wife doesn’t read MM much)

  5. Avatar

    OM

    July 11, 2008 at 12:26 PM

    I dunno…I feel sorry for these guys because the Chinese government polices everything they do very rigorously, especially their religion.

  6. Avatar

    Hassan

    July 11, 2008 at 12:33 PM

    Ahmad AlFarsi (Author) said:

    MashaAllah, with excellent female scholarship, I too am contemplating marrying a Chinese sister, inshaAllah. (aside: my wife doesn’t read MM much)

    Also chineese people know martial arts, so your chineese wife can defend you against your first wife.

  7. Avatar

    Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 11, 2008 at 12:35 PM

    lol :)

    • Avatar

      Yemencutie1

      March 14, 2012 at 5:31 PM

      ditto

  8. Avatar

    UmA

    July 11, 2008 at 12:58 PM

    And the bonsai tree means?

  9. Avatar

    nasafi

    July 11, 2008 at 4:41 PM

    salam alikum

    are they chinese muslimahs or Uzbek muslimahs from eastern turkisten, an islamic nation that has been under chinese occupation.

  10. Avatar

    amad

    July 11, 2008 at 5:35 PM

    While China is busy destroying mosques that don’t support Olympics!

    News link

  11. Avatar

    nasafi

    July 12, 2008 at 12:33 AM

    brother amad ,

    just want remind everyone including myself first that we should use the term Masjid and not Mosques since this is a term that the europeans used in the times when they were fighting the uthmani empire. they got the name Mosque from mosquito and they wanted to crush us etc :)

    • Avatar

      Dan Africa

      October 22, 2010 at 11:34 AM

      What is your Dalil, InshaAllah refrrain from statements that you cannot prove.

  12. Avatar

    Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 12, 2008 at 1:47 AM

    Salam nasafi,

    Allahu a’lam, what you mentioned about the word mosque deriving from the word mosquito is more than likely a myth. It seems the word mosque is actually derived directly from the word masjid, or more likely, masgid (from some dialects of spoken Arabic).

    See the etymology of mosque below:
    http://www.takeourword.com/TOW175/page2.html

  13. Avatar

    anon

    July 12, 2008 at 2:47 AM

    What Ahmad said is correct. See the link below for more info

    http://www.islamtoday.com/show_detail_section.cfm?q_id=676&main_cat_id=20

  14. Avatar

    Nirgaz

    July 12, 2008 at 2:55 AM

    When my sons get old enough, Insh’Allah we will have to go looking for some Chinese sisters:)

    That is awsome to see that established and what a beautiful traditiion they are carrying on!

  15. Avatar

    Besim

    July 12, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    The tradition of women scholars that began with Ummul Mumineen A’ishah is still found in many places although it is nowhere near the level it used to be, much of it has to do with colonial influence (pre-women’s lib) that destroyed much.

    As for the larger English-speaking institutes SunniPath has 3 current full-time lady teachers: Ustadha Hedaya Hartford, Ustadha Noura Shamma, and Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

    -Edited: borderline advertisement moderated

  16. Avatar

    khawla

    July 12, 2008 at 2:21 PM

    May Allah bless my husband. His wife is half Chinese.

    Anyway, this post reminded me of a Chinese lady scholar who visited our community in Texas not so long ago. She’s also of the Hui people. MashaAllah, she gave us a beautiful program lecture. Surprisingly when asked how she decided to come visit the US. She said that, the Government of US invited and sponsored her entire trip. Infact, Texas was the 29th state she’d traveled.

  17. Avatar

    Yusuf Smith

    July 12, 2008 at 4:47 PM

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    As for the mosque/mosquito “connection”: this is a really bizarre connection. The word mosque is derived from the Spanish mezquita which is obviously derived from masjid (especially when you consider that a jeem or J is pronounced like a hard G in some Arab countries).

    The Hui are not Uighur; they are Chinese-speaking Muslims who are of partly Chinese and partly other (Turkish, Persian, Arab) descent. The Uighurs do not speak Chinese as a first language; their language is similar to Uzbek and Kyrgyz, and to Turkish.

    Also, someone joked about taking a Chinese sister as a second wife; this is not really funny, particularly if your wife actually reads it. A while back one of the sister bloggers (UZ or Aaminah H, I think) did a long blog post about men who joke about this or threaten to take a number 2, and women don’t appreciate the joke; it makes them feel insecure in their marriage.

  18. Avatar

    Hassan

    July 12, 2008 at 8:11 PM

    Yusuf Smith said:

    Also, someone joked about taking a Chinese sister as a second wife; this is not really funny, particularly if your wife actually reads it. A while back one of the sister bloggers (UZ or Aaminah H, I think) did a long blog post about men who joke about this or threaten to take a number 2, and women don’t appreciate the joke; it makes them feel insecure in their marriage.

    The mere fact that we can take second wife makes them feel insecure. And how do you know that the brother was not serious?

  19. Avatar

    Hanifah

    July 12, 2008 at 9:24 PM

    I wish we had an all women mosque here in the U.S, I woud be there every day too. What a wonderful idea.

  20. Avatar

    nasafi

    July 12, 2008 at 11:08 PM

    brother anon, yusef smith, and ahmad al farsi , thanks for clearing up my errors.

    MAy Allah swt reward you guys

  21. Avatar

    Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 12, 2008 at 11:50 PM

    I think second wife jokes are very funny, considering it is perfectly permissible… while I acknowledge that most (all?) sisters find such jokes incredibly tactless and unfunny.

    And inshaAllah, I do seriously hope to take a second wife one day in the distant future (10+ years), and I’m not joking… and by the way, my current wife is absolutely the best wife I could ask for, may Allah reward her… my desire to take a second has nothing to do with my first.

  22. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    July 13, 2008 at 12:59 AM

    Second wife jokes are annoying, although I must admit that they are occasionally funny. I don’t find anything particularly threatening about it, although those with a strong sense of ghayrah towards their husbands or insecurities might – which is reason enough to NOT make such jokes in the wife’s presence.

    Hey, how did this post go from our female scholars to second wives?!

  23. Avatar

    H. Ahmed

    July 13, 2008 at 3:31 AM

    I wonder the same thing Anonymouse (about the thread turning into a discussion on 2nd wives).

    Anyways, a book i highly recommend on Early Islam in China is:

    Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light by Professor Sachiko Murata

    (Please dont let the ‘sufi’ in the title deter those of you who arent so sufi-friendly :) ).

    Its a great book i studied with the author back in my undergrad days of religious studies – it includes a great overview of Islam in early China, as well as the author’s translation of a couple of the earliest primary Islamic texts from China!

  24. Avatar

    moon

    July 13, 2008 at 4:52 AM

    This attitude never fails to shock me, most and i mean MOST of you brothers joke about gettiing a second wife like your choosing another new toy, i think its about time you remembered this is someones life you are playing with and it deserves the same amount of thought and if not more than your first marriage.

    Yes how did this post get onto this subject? Just goes to show it is treated in jest! This post is tryign to show you how amazing these sisters are and you have so quickly belitted that.

  25. Avatar

    Hassan

    July 13, 2008 at 10:46 AM

    AnonyMouse (Author) said:
    although those with a strong sense of ghayrah towards their husbands or insecurities might – which is reason enough to NOT make such jokes in the wife’s presence.

    I guess then we need to stop joking and start getting married to second wife. I am sure first wife ghayrah atleast does not stop from that.

  26. Amad

    Amad

    July 13, 2008 at 10:52 AM

    I remember one Shaykh telling me that those who joke and brag about second wives most usually don’t have the intention OR don’t actually have the guts/perseverance/etc to do it.

    So, I have taken heed, you won’t catch me doing so :)

  27. Avatar

    Hassan

    July 13, 2008 at 11:32 AM

    Amad (Author) said:

    I remember one Shaykh telling me that those who joke and brag about second wives most usually don’t have the intention OR don’t actually have the guts/perseverance/etc to do it.

    So, I have taken heed, you won’t catch me doing so :)

    Interesting, so first step of getting second wife is to stop talking about it.. very interesting, would start it now!

  28. Avatar

    Umm Reem

    July 13, 2008 at 4:49 PM

    It is interesting how me and Umm Sarah (and Sh. Waleed through Umm Sarah) were just recently talking back and forth about female scholars in Saudi. I was amazed to find out how many Muslim sisters graduate in Sharee’ah there. But then either they get married or get busy with their children.
    Regardless there is still a large number of sisters spreading knowledge to others. Umm Sarah herself is a student of one.
    In fact, Sh. Waleed, sometime ago, was trying to get his ijaazah from a famous female scholar (I will have to go back to my emails to find her name) but ended up going to a male scholar.
    So it was nice to know that they are there but we just don’t get to hear about them often.

  29. Avatar

    ibn abbas

    July 13, 2008 at 5:00 PM

    salaam, you guys are really making us(single men) depressed by talking about 2nd wife. Have sum mercy on us…

  30. Avatar

    Hassan

    July 13, 2008 at 6:58 PM

    ibn abbas said:

    salaam, you guys are really making us(single men) depressed by talking about 2nd wife. Have sum mercy on us…

    Aim high (4), you would get one insha’Allah atleast. And you know first step to get 2nd wife, is to get first wife. So we are just one step ahead of you.

  31. Avatar

    bint Ashfaq

    July 13, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    @ Hassan lol and kinda sad! : )

    *disappears before she gets grilled*

    Sorry for the sidetrack Anonymouse bwt great post masha’Allah…

    I think i may travel to China sometime insha’Allah to see what all the fuss about.

  32. Avatar

    Hannah

    July 15, 2008 at 12:03 AM

    has anyone heard of the weagers? i think im spelling that wong.

  33. Avatar

    Hannah

    July 15, 2008 at 12:12 AM

    Uighurs! thats how you spell it. This part 1 of a REALLY interesting documentary. It’s really short for a documentary but it reveals a great deal about the situation of the chinese muslims. It’s not a new video, but still has alot of interesting realities. PLEASE WATCH inshaAllah Khair.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBnv-bKUbe8

  34. Avatar

    Yus from the Nati

    July 15, 2008 at 12:00 PM

    Subhan’Allah…come to Columbus, OH

    You’ll see masjids pushing out Somali-sister hafizas like crack masha’Allah!

  35. Avatar

    Yafiah

    July 24, 2008 at 2:27 PM

    It is true that Chinese Muslims suffer under the regime as mentioned above but nevertheless this story of the Ahung is very heartening. Alhamdulillah!

  36. Avatar

    Idrus Fareez

    August 12, 2008 at 7:18 AM

    Assalamualaikum Warahmatullah

    Actually in south-east Asia especially in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, there are lots of Muslim women who teach Islam to the public, whether at the mosque or private homes. While they teach mostly other women, many of them are accustomed to attending public forums where they address both sexes. In the madrasahs, women teachers are a common sight.

    Just go to Malaysia and ask about Dr Sharifah Hayaati Syed Ismail, Ustazah Salbiah Umar or Ustazah Norbahyah Mahmood. Malaysian Muslims who make it a habit to watch the weekly Forum Perdana Ehwal Islam programme on state television would know who they are. In Singapore, the Ustazahs Habsah Senin, Kamariah Abdul Halim and Siti Rahmah are among the well-known female figures.

    If a female Muslim scholar is a rarity now in the Arab Middle East, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or Africa, the opposite is true in the Malay south-east asia. The Ustazah in this part of the world is a common sight and she has great deference, which is given to her by both men and women.

    As a Singaporean Muslim, what is amazing about this story to me is therefore never about China having female ahungs, but rather at the fact that they are doing marvelously in preserving Islam in the community and working to ensure its survival in the coming generations, insha allah. Not only are they a tiny minority constantly exposed to the habits and traits of the vastly non-Muslim majority but they are also living within a communist state which denies the very existence of God. To continue living Islam and to manage imparting Islam to the next generation while facing these challenges, now that’s amazing.

  37. Avatar

    Bint

    November 13, 2008 at 2:42 AM

    well said, br. Amad

    Yes, I agree about the guys that joke about second wife rarely end up taking second wives. That is why I let my husband joke al he wants. I seriously actually helped him find a second wife but the sister declined. and then he definitlely doesnt have guts to get a second wife.

    most importantly…he cannot afford it like a lot of men.

  38. Avatar

    Doohinky

    April 11, 2010 at 11:54 PM

    @Bint – are u implying that marriages are dont only because of financial ability ?

    • Avatar

      Sayf

      April 12, 2010 at 4:11 PM

      If you get a reply after a 1.5 year comment I’m gonna lol.

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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