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Ramadan Fragrances: Of Body Odors and Perfumes & the Person Praying Besides You

Link to all Ramadan 2010 posts

Alhamdullilah Allah azzawajal has allowed us to witness yet another blessed month of Ramadan. Many of us are also blessed to be able to pray our salat-ut-taraweeh in the masjid enjoying varieties of beautiful recitations from different imams.

Last year I prayed taraweeh in the Middle East. I was impressed with the way the masajid are taken care of  over here. So far I have not found one masjid that was not well-maintained, cleaned and incensed, and even when I make sajdah the carpets smell fresh!

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Unfortunately though, the problem arises when the people who attend the masajid do not take care of themselves, their clothes and their body odor. Let me politely explain my dilemma without offending anyone. I have had days when I really wanted to pay attention to the recitation but couldn’t do so because the person standing next to me had a stench of sweat or food!

I am not sure how common this problem is amongst the brothers, but I know it exists because my husband, too, has complained at times about the same issue.

Obviously, the brothers do not have any excuse for smelling bad, but as for the sisters, some of them think that since they cannot wear perfume outside their homes, they cannot smell good at all!

It is true that sisters have to be extremely careful when they leave their homes and must avoid wearing strong perfumes on themselves lest they be smelled by the men they pass by, but let us be a bit more rational and use our common sense to figure out the difference between having an aroma oozing out and blowing away anyone’s mind who passes by and not being malodorous.

There is nothing wrong if a sister wears a light perfume on her body (especially if she is wearing abaya) and knows that she will not be mingling with men so her perfume will not be smelled by other men. We meet different sisters at the masjid, get in close body contact, hug them and especially during salah we stand shoulder to shoulder, closer than we would ever stand next to men even when intermingling with them. In such circumstances it is especially advisable that a sister takes care of herself and removes any foul smell from herself or from her clothes. If it is needed, perhaps she should carefully apply a very light perfume so she doesn’t offend anyone at the masjid. Please see point 4 here: http://islam-qa.com/en/ref/102329/smell

Here are a few precautions that can be taken before leaving the house for taraweeh:

  1. If you are wearing an abaya, please make sure it is does not have a sweat odor or food smell.
  2. Please realize that in summer abayas get dirty faster, and it is best to not use the same abayas twice without washing them first.
  3. If you are not wearing an abaya, please make sure that your clothes don’t smell like sweat or food! Please change your clothes especially if you were wearing them while cooking.
  4. Please wear deodorant.
  5. If you haven’t had a chance to take a shower that day, or if you are not sure if your clothes smell or not, please apply a light perfume or ‘itar (fragranced oil) on your body IF you are only going to the women’s section of the masjid and will not be encountering men before or after.  Again, please refer to the fatwa here: http://islam-qa.com/en/ref/102329/smell

Please be considerate of others, and try not to become a source of distraction during salah.  Remember the advice of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam):

“Whoever eats garlic, onion, then keeps away from our masjid because the angels get offended from what offends the children of Adam.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

When the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) warned against a foul smell coming from one’s mouth so as to not offend anyone attending the masjid, then imagine how much more we have to be careful of any foul smell coming from our clothes or our bodies!

Muslims should really be in a habit of wearing clean clothes and taking a shower every day. If not, then at least whenever they sweat, they should wash themselves off to not only avoid being malodorous but to also feel fresh themselves.

On the contrary, I have also witnessed sisters who wear such strong perfumes that even the masjid‘s hallways are filled with their aroma! Again, they must be reminded that it is not allowed for women to wear perfume in such a way that it can be smelled by other non-mahram men. And the ruling is the same whether they are wearing the perfume or if their clothes/abayas are perfumed with fragrances like bukhoor or the likes of it.

This is just a friendly reminder to myself first, and then to anyone else who reads it. I hope and I pray that we all can benefit from each other and learn to take advice without being offended.

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Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance."Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam.She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

74 Comments

74 Comments

  1. Amad

    Amad

    August 26, 2010 at 5:06 AM

    For men, this is a huge issue. There have been times where I had to turn my face in a 45 degree angle away from the musallee next to me, as I could not stand the strong body odors emanating from him.

    Where I live in the GCC, the concept of deodorants is not particularly known among the expats from South Asia. And you have a lot of blue-collar labor, drivers & laborers, who can ill-afford fresh, laundered clothes or perfumes, and definitely no deodorants. Locals, on the other hand, are very much into perfumes and oud. So, while I feel a bit racist, but I prefer standing between two thowbs than two salwar kameezes. I’d rather focus on the prayer, than minding the direction of my nose!

    I almost wish there was a door perfume sprinkler that would lightly flower all entrants with a bit of good smell..

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      August 26, 2010 at 6:00 AM

      I think South Asians generally don’t shower more than once a week (if that!), mainly because it’s not a common practice over there. Due to places like India and Pakistan suffering from severe poverty, the people there are not accustomed to using water for showering unless absolutely necessary. Somebody who showers everyday is considered to be wasteful with water, because clean water is so scarce.

      Naturally, it’s hard for these people to get something like that out of their mind and have probably become desensitised to their own body odour. That said, however, it’s not that difficult to take a shower even if you can’t afford perfumes and deoderant. Soap is part of the usual essentials and should be used as much as possible.

      When it comes to women, like Umm Reem mentions, I have seen some of them wear tonnes of perfume or none at all. Whilst I understand both sides of the story, I believe a balance needs to be struck and that balance has been struck beautifully by the IslamQA article.
      For those that can afford it, there are some deodorants that are strongly scented and ones I stopped using when I fully understood what it means to perfume oneself. And then there are those whose scent is so light that you can only smell it if you sniff yourself really hard.

      I have experimented with a variety of deodorant scents to strike the correct balance for public use and the best light-smelling anti perspirant I have found is Garnier Mineral. Its scent is so light, you can barely smell it on yourself. And it actually does last 48 hours!
      Another deodorant is by Simple. This one is fragrance-free.

      Coming back to the real issue, I find that at the masjid, people don’t have just body odour issues, but also smelly clothes after having cooked food with onion and garlic. It is for this reason washed clothes should be a requirement when heading out anywhere, esp. to the masjid.

      • Avatar

        SM

        August 27, 2010 at 2:27 PM

        “I think South Asians generally don’t shower more than once a week (if that!), mainly because it’s not a common practice over there. Due to places like India and Pakistan suffering from severe poverty, the people there are not accustomed to using water for showering unless absolutely necessary. Somebody who showers everyday is considered to be wasteful with water, because clean water is so scarce.”

        Just because some people of those countries are in poverty doesn’t mean they shower once a week and think water is scarce and a thing to ‘waste’ if showered every day. I know a lot of families who live there shower every day, even the poorest people are clean. Why? It is a common practice to shower every other day, BUT this ranges from family to family, village to village. Is this not in every other country? To say such a general comment about South Asia is pretty harsh. The people who are well off and are NOT showering often should be looked down upon, not these types of people you are describing. Nor is this a way to give generalizations about poorer countries and hygiene.

        • Avatar

          Bushra

          August 27, 2010 at 3:22 PM

          SM, please note that I also said this:

          That said, however, it’s not that difficult to take a shower even if you can’t afford perfumes and deoderant. Soap is part of the usual essentials and should be used as much as possible.

          As Br. Amad said below, most of us here are from South Asian backgrounds and there are several people from South Asian countries that live where we reside, who ARE well able to afford soap, deodorant and perfumes, but don’t take the adequate measures to ensure they don’t smell strongly of food or other odours for reasons x, y or z.

          Note to all commenters on here – please refrain from nitpicking on sentences. Please read comments carefully, take the overall gist of the comment and then reply adequately.

          • Avatar

            Sm

            August 27, 2010 at 3:58 PM

            I read the whole comment and still stand by what I advised about generalizing because it is still a statement of stereotyping in its entirety, in my opinion. (No matter what class we attack).

            May Allah swt protect and guide us. Ameen

          • Avatar

            smee

            August 28, 2010 at 8:02 PM

            I have to agree with sm, it’s not nitpicking, it’s just that your first two paragraphs have come across as being derogatory…whether that was meant or not.

      • Avatar

        SF

        July 8, 2013 at 1:32 AM

        I completely agree with ‘Sm’ and ‘smee’. It is not fair or right to generalise and make such statements about people that you obviously don’t know anything about.

    • Avatar

      Muslimah

      August 26, 2010 at 4:59 PM

      Salaam,

      I completely agree that we all need to take better care of our hygeine. But the line ‘i’d rather stand between two thawbs than two salwar khameez’ is absolutely out of line and racist. We are muslims and it is extremely important to remember that Islam transcends all nationalities. I was offended when reading that line; I know many muslim men within my own family who where the salwar khameez and groom themselves and take care of themselves. They apply itr and smell nice constantly.

      • Amad

        Amad

        August 27, 2010 at 2:31 AM

        ws… sorry it was offensive, but I can hardly offend anyone when I too am a Pakistani-American, and ALSO wear salwar kameez on and off. I am just giving you my feelings and I know many locals have the same, and I am sure people are concerned about standing next to me when I wear salwar kameez also… I understand… It’s not like a disaster. It’s something that’s unfortunately a problem. And of course not all have this issue.

        • Avatar

          Muslim

          August 27, 2010 at 4:11 AM

        • Avatar

          SM

          August 27, 2010 at 2:17 PM

          If people want to be “concerned” about the people who wear shalwar kameez and how they smell then let them be concerned. That doesn’t give us a right, no matter what ethnicity we are, to be racist and say who we prefer to pray next to. That is beyond your control, and saying such a statement that most south asians are like this is not of the akhlaq of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam. I am pretty saddened to read these statements and I really think we should all look at ourselves and make sure we smell decent. Allah will not ask you whether or not you risked your life not praying next to someone who didn’t wear a shalwar kameez because in the Quran and Sunnah we learn about mannerisms and about not judging others based upon our preconceived notions.

          If some people do smell next to you, it’s great we can have a discussion about it, but this outright bashing of other cultures or ethnicities, it’s really sad.

          I just want to advise you all that that one of the best things about Islam is that there is no superiority in Race, Gender, etc. There is only superiority in how pious you are. I think we should all not generalize about this and especially run away from those wearing shalwar kameez as if they’re carrying a bomb. I think it’s sad we can’t give everyone a chance, who knows what level they are at. Only Allah knows and He knows best.

          • Amad

            Amad

            August 27, 2010 at 2:36 PM

            This is nothing about superiority of race… that’s pure misreading.

            Some people pay attention to hygiene and perfumes more than others. Consider the penetration of deodorant in India. This report (see page 10), though 4 yrs old, points a 2% penetration, a superior 6% in urban areas!

            There is nothing INHERENTLY or intrinsically wrong with South Asians, it’s just that many haven’t gotten with the program. When you talk about superiority of races or racism, then the issue is about something one is “born with”. That is not what we are talking about.

            Most of us on this thread have a South Asian background, and generally the upper middle to affluent class (in terms of wealth) are used to deodorants and DONT smell… its as simple as that. On the other hand, most nationals (at least where I live) are well above poverty levels, and there is a strong culture of fragrances here. And that’s not racism, just a fact.

          • Avatar

            Sabz

            August 27, 2010 at 3:23 PM

            Okay this is in reply to Brother Amad.
            Your last line sounds exactly how most racisim is rationalized….”its not racisim its a fact”…..the thing about stereotypes and racisim is that its NOT a fact. its just what has been portaryed to us by people who don’t like a group of people and we have chosen to accept it.

            I went to an all Pakistani masjid onec during taraweeh and guess what? no smell anywhere..in fact the women were dressed very nice and not one of them smelled and there were ALOT of women. in fact the masjid smelled of incense and so did the women. it was beautiful.

            Deodrant is not the only way to “get with the program”…..in pakistan they have powders mostly and i haven’t seen one man in my family and extended family in pakistan be not obsessed with nice perfumes and good smell. and i don’t come from an upper middle to affluent class family.
            So your comment about affluent to middle class family NOT smelling and the poor to lower middle class smelling is once again a grand generalization and a stereotype and it is not a fact.

            In the month of ramadan we should be working on having better iklhaq towards each other…do you really think someone who “smells” will read this thread and put on some deodrant.

            if any of you have a problem with someone in the masjid and usually its just one or two person…you should take them aside and advise them. Not write a whole article about them and generalize a whole culture and class.

          • Avatar

            Sm

            August 27, 2010 at 4:06 PM

            If there was nothing about feeling superior to another race, why are we all bashing on one specific one? Why are we going out of our way to find articles on one area? Wallahu alam.

        • Avatar

          Muslim

          September 3, 2010 at 5:16 PM

          Imagine if someone said that I won’t stand in the prayer with a colored muslim, because they smell, will this be accepted? Everyone would be calling the person who said it a racist and such stereotyping would never be accepted. However saying such things about south asians is being taken lightly because the person who said it is one of them. What kind of logic is that? It is similar to the moderate muslims who criticize Islam and the Shariat, and are approved by the media because they belong to the muslim community. Hence stereotyping must never be tolerate no matter who said it. And I thing our main intention about prayer should be to stand in the first row and not about in between whom we are standing.

    • Avatar

      zaib

      August 29, 2010 at 6:00 AM

      Salam

      We are all Muslims Alhamdulillah and believe that “Cleanliness is half of the faith”. I agree to what you said about those blue-collard people as their sweat is unable to produce a Dune, Safari or a Dunhill. I don’t know why all of the honorable friends call it generalization and racisms as we can see that “Crow is black – Crow is a bird – so all birds are black”. Apology to all but why should we stick to old fashioned prayer theory, we have every right to switch to modern prayer style based on classes and prudence where the lines should be named as “reserved for white-collard” & “reserved for blue-collard”. After all prayer is only a way to please Allah and not ask a Muslim brother of what is happening to him.

      May Allah guide us all towards the right.

      Zaib

      • Amad

        Amad

        August 29, 2010 at 6:32 AM

        That was a dishonest and presumptuous comment. I think your sarcasm isn’t well served here.

        • Avatar

          zaib

          August 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM

          Dear Brother Amad

          I don’t know your intention behind these words but if you can focus on what you wrote, you will find exactly what I said. As you know that words can hurt you bitter than swords.
          You may be far more better a Muslim than me but sorry your words are really misleading.
          An element of pride made Iblees losing Paradise and eternal condemnation.

          May Allah bless us all.

          • Amad

            Amad

            August 29, 2010 at 3:25 PM

            Here you go with your insinuations again. It was your comment that was sarcastic, not mine. I found your comments as I stated… they assumed something in the intentions of those you were replying to, which we did not have. Husne dhan is as much part of good manners as avoiding arrogance.

            And I didn’t mean to be arrogant in any way, I am sorry if you felt that way. I am nothing in my worldly status or my akhira status to have any arrogance.

            Perhaps I misunderstood. So why don’t you please explain what you meant in your comment without resorting to between the lines meaning?

          • Avatar

            mimi

            August 30, 2010 at 3:14 PM

            Speaking as a South Asian, those who can afford to keep proper cleanliness & hygiene do so as an utmost priority so I don’t agree with the gerenal statement that it’s a common practise among South Asians to bathe just once a week. People whom you would not want to stand next-to during prayer are either a) not taught to care for themselves in this way or b) cannot afford to due to poverty. So I guess the solution would be to 1) educate, as this article seeks to do and 2) help eliminate poverty so individuals can live a decent life Insha’Allah.

            Here are some things I’d like to add:
            -If you can afford it, take a shower/ bath EVERYDAY (it’s great for health too!)
            -Keep a separate set of clothes for cooking and do not wear these clothes outside the home
            -Keep all clothing away from the Kitchen area if possoble. (If your bedrooom is close to the kitchen, close the bedroom door when cooking & always close closet doors
            -try to create a good air circulation in the home (eg., open windows, if you have a central heating/AC system then keep the fan running regardless of the season.

            Wassalam

    • Avatar

      aar

      January 2, 2011 at 6:48 PM

      perhaps it might be a good idea to pay the smelly south asians enough so that they can afford deodorizers and develop a much needed concept :)

    • Avatar

      Denise Davis

      June 24, 2016 at 11:25 AM

      I work with 2 guys from Pakistan and they are so saturated with cologne it gets in my throat and burns my eyes! It is a daily awful experience! To make matters worse one guy who works in very close proximity and we work in cubicles with no windows, he sprays air freshener! I don’t at all get the impression that he is unclean but he is very hairy. I “tolerate” his overwhelming cologne but then I draw the line with spraying stuff! When he first came to work at our office he hung air fresheners from the door closers and I thought this we weird! Who says the scents you like are preferable to others. He is also very arrogant and doesn’t get along well with others!

      Then there was a guys I dated the first time he came to my house his cologne was so strong I almost puked…literally! Finally I had to say something and he started explaining it was oil or something. Whatever it was I had to convince him not to wear it or stay away from me!
      He showered constantly so I don’t think he was unclean either.

      Man I’m glad to find blogs because I was beginning to think it was me and that my sense of smell was skewed!

  2. Avatar

    farwin

    August 26, 2010 at 6:31 AM

    Thank you for letting the cat out of the bag umm reem. In my experience it’s not just the body odor that becomes an issue with the sisters (and the two extremes- from garlic to givenchy!). It’s the abaya itself. Here in the GCC it’s now fashionable to wear abayas that trail (sometimes waaaaay behind) the wearer, as a result the bottom of the abaya has more brown than black. I really hate to be standing behind a sister with an abaya and it’s collection of dust & dirt, simply because when I put my head down for sajda I end up laying it on that dirty, trailing part of the abaya. And it’s so distracting.

    • Avatar

      amad

      August 26, 2010 at 8:10 AM

      Some abayas are so bad and “revealing”, that it would be much better for the woman to disband it and wear trousers and loose shirts… The abayas are “fitted here”… wife tells me that women give fitted measurements, and they are fitted so well that there is nothing left to imagination!

      A lot of it is because the abayas are cultural practice for many. I have talked to Qatari women at work and they flat out admit they wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t for cultural practice… no religious inclination.

      And a couple of these women come in to work and leave a trail of aroma behind them that spans an entire lobby!

      Anyway that’s a different topic … for another day :)

      • Avatar

        Mainoooo

        August 26, 2010 at 3:24 PM

        I believe in big and small abayas. I’ve seen sisters who wear abayas TOO fitted. And I have seen sisters who wear abayas that are too big and even admits themselves that they are a bit uncomfortable, hard to walk in, and makes them look bigger than they already are.

        To make an abaya fitted, the best thing to do is not get one too long (otherwise it’ll drag on the floor and get dirty easily), and make it at least 3~4 inches bigger than your chest, and so on.

      • Avatar

        farwin

        August 26, 2010 at 8:32 PM

        Ok Br. Amad,
        this one is so out of the topic…pls excuse me, my curiosity has go the better of me. In your repsonse to my last post you said ‘Salaams neighbor’ I really thought you were just being nice….you know…you live in US, I live in the ME and we’re all children of Adam (a.s) kindda thing. Now you’re talikng about Qatari women and GCC…do u live here, in Qatar I mean? If u do I have heaps of questions for you….:)

        • Amad

          Amad

          August 27, 2010 at 8:51 AM

          Cat’s out of the bag… yup I moved to Doha last year…

    • Avatar

      Mainoooo

      August 26, 2010 at 3:21 PM

      I had this same problem. NYC is not the cleanest place, and the smell is never bad in the masjid, but the fact is a lot of sisters wear stuff that are dirty. And because I do not know them, I would not say anything. I have seen a sister who wears full black, with niqab, gloves and covers even her eyes which was beautiful until you see her abaya… it was VERY long. It was as long as a traditional big wedding gown and the back was dragging on the floor all over the streets. If you look down, you could see dust, dirt and some leaves hanging from it.

      Looks shouldn’t matter, and I am not being mean, but that is just not good.. to see that. Who knows what it dragged into.. a puddle of urine, or even hard-to-see dog feces because people here have a habit of not cleaning up after their dogs yet have one (subhanAllah) And the fact that most abayas require you to put it over your head in order to take it off, it would be kind of gross to have all that dirt rub over your body, then your face, and hair….

      Might I also point out that the majority of people here that I know, who have bedbugs are actually Muslims! And because of that, some masjids do not accept clothes donations during Ramadan because they fear bedbugs will spread from the clothing. Hygiene issues always seem to wander, but because we are Muslims, we should care more about cleanliness for the good of ourselves, and to please Allah, and also so non-Muslims do not think we’re dirty.

      I was not happy to see that some sisters’ homes I visited have bedbugs, rats, roaches, sick cats (could not afford medication), oily and sticky, and sometimes I do not know how to tell them, so I avoid visiting overall.

  3. Avatar

    Khan

    August 26, 2010 at 6:34 AM

    With men the over eating also causes problems along with those who smoke heavily.

    • Avatar

      amad

      August 26, 2010 at 8:12 AM

      yeah, tell me about the “I haven’t quite digested my iftaar” syndrome. People feel that their burps are odor-free, as if they are spreading itr in the masjid!

      I wish the imams would talk more about this and that the tablighi jamaah would give a talk on yaqeen and iman that revolves around taharah :)

  4. Avatar

    Bushra

    August 26, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    Also, let’s not forget that one of the preconditions of prayer is to pray in a place that is free from bad smells.

  5. Avatar

    Uthman

    August 26, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    I just met Imam Suhaib Webb and another Shaykh in the masjid. I shook their hands and when I came back home my hand was full of this wonderful smell mashAllah tabarakAllah.

    One thing that we really need to work on, is serving healthy food during iftar. Foods containing raw onion or garlic, hydrogenated oil etc. should be a big no no.

    Instead we should serve, boiled food, light snacks and fruits. This is much healthier and much better in the long run. Much healthier, causes people to burp but doesn’t disturb the person next to you and since you had something light keeps your attention focused in prayer. And the last one, eat less. The focus should not be living to eat rather eat to live.

    Perhaps MM could work on a post about eating habits in Ramadhan? Perhaps?

  6. Avatar

    Mr. Muslim

    August 26, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    For men in the middle east, it’s a little bit more understandable, and many do indeed have excuses for smelling bad.

    A lot of the men who pray in the masjid near my home are laborers and at practically every salah have more than likely come from working in extreme heat so even though sometimes they smell a bit iffy it’s sort of understandable. Some work before and after tarawih also and so don’t have time for a shower.

    Even if they’re not day laborers, if they have to walk to the masjid 5 times a day when it’s always hot, by the end of the day it’s going to take it’s toll on them.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      August 26, 2010 at 3:01 PM

      that is understandable, but the problem is not limited to the labor class muslims…

      i am talking about sisters in the west who don’t take care of this issue while they don’t have to walk to the masjid…I remember at times some sisters, in US, would walk in and the whole sisters’ section would start smelling like food!

      Over here in the middle east, I have encountered this problem more amongst south asian sisters and the ones i know are not from any labor class poor background…
      Most of the time, sisters don’t walk to the masjid here neither do they work outside the air conditioned buildings, they can easily take care of themselves IF they want to!

  7. Avatar

    Reem

    August 26, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    Baba Ali says some really funny stuff about the smell in Taraweeh:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixN0qhN39k0v

  8. Avatar

    Moosa Ali

    August 26, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    The Middle East is a fairly large land mass – you sure it’s fair to generalise like that??

    Was in Saudi concluding a legal contract; the Saudis wouldn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) stop burping and farting throughout almost every meeting we had. Was pretty embarrassing and the colleagues with me weren’t too impressed with Arab hygiene (which of course they conflated with Muslim hygiene).

    That being said, i too prefer Arab jama’ahs, on the whole, to South Asian ones, for many reasons……one of which is odor but also generally more attention to the aesthetics of worship

    • Avatar

      Mr. Muslim

      August 26, 2010 at 3:26 PM

      I don’t think it’s fair to generalise by country either. I live in Jeddah and have never encountered any Saudis like that.

      But the reminder is of course a good ‘un, and doesn’t really necessitate pointing the finger at who the smelly ones are. If you can sort yourself out before attending the masjid, do so.

      I even made sure I brushed my teeth before tarawih tonight! haha

  9. Avatar

    Mainoooo

    August 26, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    I do not think a lot of brothers and sister know they smell bad, and sometimes a lot of us do not want to hurt their feelings. I know a lot of Pakistanis who smell a bit like food and spices and when they walk past you, you can still smell it lingering in the air. It is not the best smell… but they do not realize it. And I only point it out to those I am extremely close with.

    As of washing clothes, I am suffering hardship and discouragement from a non-Muslim home, so washing my clothes is a bit more difficult. I bring them to a friend’s house to wash every month or two. It sounds dirty, but I do not wear clothes that smell or have stains.

  10. Avatar

    anonymous

    August 26, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    JazakAllah khair,
    Honestly I feel like this is one of the most relevant and most beneficial of articles on this entire website. We have to take the commands and prohibitions seriously, not lightly. May Allah guide us all to what pleases Him. And I hope you get rewarded for every application of ithaar, spray of cologne/perfume, and what is more and less than that.

    People would think I’m being a jerk if I said it. LOL . JazakAllah Khair

  11. Avatar

    ironie101

    August 26, 2010 at 8:40 PM

    I just have one question.. if someone next to you in the mosque smells bad (and, no.. they’re not of the class that can’t afford deo), what do you do – as a concerned fellow muslim?

    Of course, you could just move to another place, far away from the offending smell. But, maybe the person in question has no idea he/she smells that bad.

    If the offending person is a friend, I would be upfront about it. I’ve been in situations like this, where I’ve just bought the friend some good deo, and then we’d laugh over it. But, you can’t do that with everyone.

    In the interest of commanding the good and forbidding the evil, can you actually say something to them? If so, how can it be put across? I really believe the people reading this post or writing these comments are not a part of the percentage of people who actually are oblivious to these problems.

    My question is, how do we reach out to the rest of the people – those who really have no clue..?

    • Amad

      Amad

      August 27, 2010 at 8:50 AM

      Do it tableeghi style.. keep a small bottle of itr with you and offer it to the person :)

      I just wish the TJ would use it more often too :)

  12. Avatar

    Sadaf S

    August 27, 2010 at 1:50 AM

    BarakAllahu feeki Umm Reem for bringing up this topic!

    I agree with all the points you made in your post.

    What I’ve noticed amongst very few(!) sisters here is that their freshly washed clothes emanate the smell of their laundry detergent. It’s so refreshing to pray next to a sis who smells like Tide ;D

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      August 27, 2010 at 10:08 AM

      I prefer clothes to smell like Lenor detergent :D

  13. Avatar

    Muslim

    August 27, 2010 at 4:06 AM

    Why can’t we deal with this problem instead of labeling and dividing muslims? Also there are certain conditions that an individual may suffer from that make him have a bad odor despite his/her best efforts, hence we cannot start assuming the reasons behind the bad odor such as not taking a bath regularly.

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sweating-and-body-odor/DS00305

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hyperhidrosis/DS01082

  14. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 27, 2010 at 5:37 AM

    Salaam

    I know I stand next to lots of strong smelling adults when on the underground, particularly but not solely at the height of Summer. They come in all shapes, genders and hues.

    I know I stand next to lots of strong smelling teenagers when I’m working with schools, particularly but not solely at the height of Summer. They come in all shapes, genders and hues.

    Hygiene in mosque is a relevant issue and adds value to raise, definitely. Is it relevant and does it add value to pinpoint a particular ethnic community in the process? I feel far less definite here.

    Is my view influenced by my own south asian heritage? Definitely, maybe.

    Jzk

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      August 27, 2010 at 8:35 AM

      Um…Greengrass3, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. The article doesn’t pinpoint an ethnic community, it addresses women that come to the masjid smelling strongly of either perfume or food. This varies from person to person.

      Some of the comments have mentioned certain ethnicities based on their own experiences. These are valid points in and of themselves. However I, too, am from a South Asian background, and I haven’t taken any of the comments to offence. I can say that some of these things occur mainly with the first generation Muslims who come to the masjid smelling of oil and fried onions.

      But if we are going to speak about hygiene here, why stop at the masjid? Why not talk about the state of the toilets near the European tents in Mina on Hajj? Or even the state of the toilets at a service station near Makkah? These have been my personal experiences that haven’t been limited to just the South Asian community, but the Muslim community as a whole. I shudder when I think back to my experiences (although I would love to do Hajj again!).

      But certain ethnic communities, whether you are on the underground or at the masjid, smell a certain way and should take care to ensure that they are not distracting others with their strong smells before leaving the house for the masjid. They should ensure that they are clean, wearing washed clothes and are not smelling too strongly of anything.

      And why not? Why shouldn’t they? They are coming to have a lengthy conversation with Allah(swt) in His house. When people go for an important meeting with their boss, they ensure that they are smelling OK, but when it comes to attending the prayer at the masjid for a meeting with their Lord and Creator, few people want to make an effort. And that’s sad.

  15. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 27, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    Salaam Bushra

    I do hope you are well.

    ‘The article doesn’t pinpoint an ethnic community,’ Bushra

    I did not specifically refer my comment to the article.

    ‘However I, too, am from a South Asian background, and I haven’t taken any of the comments to offence.’ Bushra

    Nor did I, had I been offended by the comments I would have expressed this. You found the comments ‘valid’, I, less so. I felt some concern at where that line of enquiry can end up going despite good intentions, hence my note of caution. However, I did wonder if I was letting my ethnicity make me sensitive ie quick to react and so acknowledged the possibility. But, I wasn’t offended then, nor am I now.

    ‘But certain ethnic communities, whether you are on the underground or at the masjid, smell a certain way’ Bushra

    I am genuinely baffled by this remark and find it unsettling. It also contradicts my own experience as I said in the previous post. Clearly this is my experience being conveyed and I accept your own is rather different.

    ‘And why not? Why shouldn’t they? They are coming to have a lengthy conversation with Allah(swt) in His house.’ Bushra

    Indeed, my previous post did express support of this topic being raised by MM in the first instance. Respect of Allah (swt) home should be practical as well as symbolic, especially if we want to encourage more people to frequent it.

    ‘I prefer clothes to smell like Lenor detergent’ Bushra

    I agree with the Lenor ‘softness’ adage from the ads but also found ‘Surf with essential oils, tropical flowers and ylang ylang’ leaves an almost feminine prettiness to the scent of clothing. The freshness of the scent instinctively makes me smile. Though in fairness to men, I’m not sure how they would feel if their clothing was scented just so…

    Jzk

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      August 27, 2010 at 1:42 PM

      ‘But certain ethnic communities, whether you are on the underground or at the masjid, smell a certain way’ Bushra

      I am genuinely baffled by this remark and find it unsettling. It also contradicts my own experience as I said in the previous post. Clearly this is my experience being conveyed and I accept your own is rather different.

      I wouldn’t be so unsettled by it if I was you. Generally, I find that people from the subcontinent smell of fried onions, because their homes are full of these smells from cooking (even if they do have a good extractor fan!). It’s normal. They don’t smell like this ALL the time, but in confined places such as the underground or the masjid, you will find that your sense of smell is heightened and the smell becomes more potent.

      Also, why you felt the need to quote my Lenor comment is beyond me. It wasn’t even a reply to you.

  16. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 27, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    Salaam Bushra

    This is tragic and not my idea of public debate.

    Jzk

  17. Avatar

    MuslimGirl

    August 27, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    One word: BACKBITING
    against a whole nation of a people..that’s right backbiting…now it wouldn’t be backbiting if you had said one particular person from a particular community smelled like this or what not..but consistently you guys are generalizing all south asians whether you say u are or aren’t.This was suppose to be a word of advise for ALL MUSLIMS.
    May Allah swt forgive our arrogance.

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      August 27, 2010 at 4:12 PM

      MuslimGirl – whether it’s backbiting one person from a community, or the entire community itself, it’s all the same. There is no difference.

      • Avatar

        MuslimGirl

        August 27, 2010 at 4:18 PM

        I meant without pointing out who that specific person was..for example when you say “I know a person who..” and u don’t point out any specifics as to give away the person’s identity.
        and yes i agree it’s all the same.

        • Avatar

          Bushra

          August 27, 2010 at 4:21 PM

          Depends, really. Some people might give away enough detail to almost identify that person. That comes under backbiting.

          Same if one was to say ‘there are some ethnicities that come in smelling like they’ve been frying samosas or something.’

          Here, you’ve also given them away, because everyone knows that it’s mainly South Asians who eat samosas. I don’t know of any other ethnicitiy that consumes samosas as much as us Indian/Pakistanis do.

          • Avatar

            MuslimGirl

            August 27, 2010 at 4:23 PM

            very true.

      • Avatar

        MuslimGirl

        August 27, 2010 at 4:22 PM

        i meant when u are trying to talk about one particular person you know but others don’t so you say ” i know of a person who…” not giving away any specifications.

        • Avatar

          MuslimGirl

          August 27, 2010 at 4:24 PM

          sorry my comment is repetitive.

  18. Avatar

    Bushra

    August 27, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Wow. Just wow.

    A few clarifications here.

    1. This article written by Sr. Umm Reem has been written with sincerity and good faith. She has not targeted any person, race or community. She has spoken about sisters going to extremes with the way they smell – some smelling strongly of food and therefore distracting others in prayer and some smelling strongly of perfume and, again, distracting others in their prayer, as well as smelling good to men with the latter being outright haraam. There is no mention of race or ethnicity in her article.

    2. Any comments here may well have been generalised, and we, as MM writers, apologise for causing offence to anyone. If anyone feels that the way we have stated our comments could be better or that we have been racist, etc, then the CORRECT adhab is to email us instead of rebuking us in public. We, too, are humans and are prone to error and any friendly naseeha would be most welcome via email in private, not in public. These are the manners of the Prophet(salallahu alayhi wa sallam) and therefore the manners of the true Muslim.

    3. Calling people backbiters, arrogant, rude, racist and other names is just as bad as those who are doing it themselves. If one exposes the sins of their fellow Muslim, then Allah(subhaanahu wa ta’ala) will not hide the exposer’s sins on the Day of Judgement.

    4. Please read comments carefully before you jump in all guns blazing. Try to appreciate the real gist of the argument/discussion. It’s really not fair to nitpick and take things out of context. What difference then is there between the nitpickers and the media?
    And if you do find something offensive, but do not wish to send an email, then please politely explain your sentiments.

    Wallahu ta’ala ‘alam.

    May Allah forgive us and guide us all in this beautiful month of Ramadan. Ameen.

  19. Avatar

    MuslimGirl

    August 27, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    This is in response to Br. Amad’s post of the report on soaps in India.
    Unilever is a Corporation based in England that not only sells soaps but skin whitening products…that report is probably gonna be biased in some ways……

  20. Avatar

    Apricot

    August 27, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    As-salamu Alaykum,
    Although I am not of South Asian heritage, I found the comments about South Asians inappropriate and offensive. One can simply discuss the topic by listing the elements of good hygiene and not mentioning a specific ethnic group.

    • Avatar

      Bushra

      August 27, 2010 at 4:50 PM

      Jazakallahu khair for pointing this out. Your commented is noted and appreciated.

  21. Avatar

    South Pakistani

    August 27, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    I happen to be in Pakistan. We stand in the open area outside the masjid (I don’t know why!) without any AC (obviously) or fans. It’s hot. Everyone’s sweating. The smell is so bad that the head-turning is more like 60 degrees here. It’s a tough experience. I’ve thought about the possible solutions for this and I think the only way we could avoid this is people simply took a shower every day. Hey .. over here, they can just walk into a masjid and shower. It’s not about poverty. People just need to be taught these things. If they mention this on the pulpit nicely (or maybe even not so nicely). This whole thing would be solved.

    We could even try giving out a nice little tarawih etiquettes flyer or something.

  22. Avatar

    Humility

    August 28, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    Asalamu Alaikum,
    This article was simply written to inform people of a problem that anyone can have at any given moment. However, it turned into a discussion about who smells the worst. There’s really nothing to talk about because the author is simply stating that before going out just check yourself. And in this blessed month of Ramadan I noticed people instead of simply taking the advice quietly and pondering on how they themselves can help with the small issue, there are discussions going on about who smells the worst.
    If you really think about it, people standing next to you smelling of food or body odor may be exhalted on the Day of Judgment and the hard work and labor they did may cause them to smell the freshest. And the person looking down on them in this dunya may be the one who stinks in Allah’s eyes due to their deeds and ends up looking bad in front of the one who matters..Allah (swt). Bad smell in our mouth is sometimes created in Ramadan due to having no food throughout the day and Allah (SWT) loves that smell the most is similar to the smell our deeds create that no one else can smell.
    Our deeds need to smell as beautiful as our clothes. there’s no use of the perfume or clean clothes if our mouths shout out belittled speech to our beloved brothers and sisters. I believe Shaykh Yasir Qadhi mentioned this but I could be wrong….”Allah (SWT) may forgive their ignorance and choose not to forgive your arrogance.” Think about it before you rush to hit that reply button

  23. Umm Reem

    Umm Reem

    August 28, 2010 at 4:19 AM

    salam,

    I’m just gonna say it one last time because I don’t have too much time, in Ramadan, to spend restating what I said in the article:

    No one is being judged on the level of their taqwa or piety, if they smell like food or ‘ood. The point of the article was to remind everyone to please check themselves before they go out to the masjid if they smell bad because that can be a cause of distraction for the person praying next to them, especially the sisters who think that they cannot wear any perfume outside AT ALL out of fear of it being haram…

    This is not a manufactured problem rather well recognized in our sharee’ah as well…and THAT IS WHY i mentioned the hadeeth:

    “Whoever eats garlic, onion, then keep away from our masjid because the angels get offended from what offends the children of Adam.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

    No need for anyone to get offended…just ponder upon the advice of the Prophet, sallalau alihi wasalam.

  24. Avatar

    Mozlem

    August 28, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    From my experience, wearing perfume on very sweaty/reused garb is a bad idea. It makes B.O. more evident.

    Taking a shower maybe the best bet :)

  25. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 29, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    Salaam

    I am reassured to have my sentiments echoed. I found these comments heartening.

    Jzk

  26. Amad

    Amad

    August 29, 2010 at 6:29 AM

    Let me make something clear. How a person smells (or doesn’t smell) has nothing to do with the person’s taqwa or his/her closeness to Allah. There were poor people in the time of the Prophet (S) as well and we don’t hear stories of people smelling.

    I never look at people through the lens of their status or wealth, but when I go into a Masjid and see someone who just came from a long laborious day with body odors gushing, you cannot blame me for wanting to not stand besides him (if I have a choice of course). There is a possibility that the guy didn’t have a chance to shower or change (perfumes are not necessary, showers can do the trick too), and there is no earning more halal than out of the sweat and blood of these laborers. But it doesn’t mean the need/desire for good smell can be just dismissed. I am sure those who want to appear the most noble in these comments will equally move next to someone who is in good, clean clothes. Let’s be honest to ourselves. Perhaps if we were, one thought would be to distribute free low-priced perfumes to folks who need them.

    Now if we were in a party or we were just hanging out, then the smell issue wouldn’t be as important and distracting so I have no problem being in the company of ANY Muslim.

    Why folks are conflating worldly class with akhira class is beyond me. Views are shaped by experiences, and people are sharing theirs. If yours doesn’t match with it, thats fine. But pls dont condemn others for it.

  27. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 29, 2010 at 6:59 AM

    Salaam

    I can only speak for myself in saying I have no desire to ‘condemn’ anyone.

    My initial interest in this website was the tagline for MM:

    ‘Discourses in the Intellectual Traditions, Political Situation, and Social Ethics of Muslim Life.’

    It has been an unusual experience.

    Jzk

  28. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 29, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    Salaam

    I thought I would reiterate my keen interest in:

    ‘Discourses in the Intellectual Traditions, Political Situation, and Social Ethics of Muslim Life’

    I am always keen to be stimulated and learn from varied sources and should fellow Muslims have any literature they would wish to pass on to me personally, I would be delighted.

    I can be reached at http://www.sobiamalik.com

    I feel learning will remain a lifelong passion for me, insha’Allah.

    And Allah knows best.

    Jzk

    • Amad

      Amad

      August 29, 2010 at 3:34 PM

      Sobia,
      One article defines not the blog, just like one characteristic defines not a person.
      Pls read the “About Us” section, and it discusses in more details what MM is about. We talk about all sorts of issues. I am sure you’ll find something that interests you more if you look for it around the blog. Read the articles by Abu Aaliyah, they probably fit better with the one line you mentioned.
      w/s

  29. Avatar

    Siraaj

    August 29, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    On the bright side, at least you’re not fighting about the moon during Ramadan…

    Siraaj

  30. Avatar

    Greengrass3

    August 29, 2010 at 7:00 PM

    Salaam

    Amad, I will reflect upon your recommendation.

    Siraaj, hope you are well. Granted I am not always a shrinking violet but I had not come on this website for ‘fighting’, I want to add that for the sake of clarity. Yet, it is true, if something feels wrong I find it difficult to walk on by – text book psychology of a teacher I’m a fraid…

    I’m digressing, what I actually wanted to say was, thank you, for the levity and cordial intention in your remark.

    Jzk

    Sobia

  31. Avatar

    Tarannum

    October 30, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    ASA,
    Excellent article! Masha’Allah! There have been alot of sisters saying they don’t wear perfume coz it has alcohol. Also they are talking about halal makeup coz it doesn’t have pig in it!!
    I have tried to explain to them that as long as you are not ingesting it, its ok to put it on your body but can you give me a daleel of some sort that I can help them with. Although I did say please ask the sheikh at our masjid, not sure if they will remember.
    JAK

  32. Avatar

    Tarannum

    October 30, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    Ofcourse I am not telling them to put makeup when they go out but when they do put it at home.

  33. Avatar

    Bharat Sharma

    June 6, 2016 at 7:48 AM

    So Ramadan has started from today and while searching I found your article. I will not say that your article is awesome because it is really good and everyone is saying that but the way you use to show your idea is awesome.

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Coronavirus

Alternative Eid Celebrations In The Midst Of A Pandemic

“Eid-al-Quarantine” is what my sister has so fondly dubbed our upcoming Eid al Fitr this year. I find myself asking, “How are we going to make Eid a fun and special celebration this year in the midst of a dangerous pandemic?” With a little bit of creativity and resourcefulness, this Eid can be fun–no matter the current circumstances. This post will provide you with some inspiration to get your alternative Eid preparations underway! 

Special note: Shelter-in-place restrictions are lessening in many places in the United States, but this does not give us the green light to go back to life as normal and celebrate Eid in the ways we usually would have in the past. I am no health expert, but my sincerest wish for all Muslims throughout the world is that we all err on the side of caution and maintain rigorous precautions.

In-person gatherings are going to be much riskier in light of public health safety concerns. I do not recommend that people get together this Eid. Keep in mind, as well, that this is a big weekend for all Americans, as it is Memorial Day Weekend and crowds may be expected in places like parks and beaches. 

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Eid Day Must’s

Just because you are staying in, doesn’t mean that all of the Eid traditions have to go. Some may be exactly the same, some may be slightly adjusted this year. 

  • Get dressed up, even if it’s just for an hour or two. This might be a good chance to do hair and make up for sisters who normally don’t on Eid because of hijab or other modesty concerns. 
  • Take your family pictures, as usual. 
  • Decorate your house, even if it’s just with some fresh flowers in a vase or hanging up some string lights. (This time, I think sharing pictures of your setup may  have some more wiggle room.)
  • Find a way to pray Eid salah at home, if your local imam mentions a way to adapt for the current situation or check out this MM article
  • Eat some good food, and make sure to feast. 
  • Take that infamous Eid nap. 
  • Greet loved ones (phone calls, video calls, text messages, voice/video messages, make and send Eid cards).
  • Give and receive gifts. (Electronic ways to transfer money/checks in the mail, dropping off gifts to homes/sending gifts in the mail/having an online order pick-up in-store. You may also choose to do a gift exchange, if not this weekend, next). 

Virtual Parties

Virtual celebrations are a great, safe, option. The best thing about virtual hangouts is that people from all over the world can “come together” to celebrate Eid. This can be as simple as talking and catching up, or can be as orchestrated as a full-out party including games. Keep in mind, the games and virtual parties aren’t only for the kids–everyone should have fun this Eid! We recently threw a virtual birthday party for our one-year-old and it was quite the experience. 

  • Split guests into different calls (kids’ call, adults’ call; men’s call, women’s call)
  • Party agenda for a rigorously planned party so everyone knows what to expect
  • Party games, either with certain items that everyone has (or can easily and quickly purchase) or games that do not require much else besides an internet connection 
    • Games requiring physical items (think of items that everyone is likely to have and think of carnival-type games):
      • Soccer ball juggling or basketball shooting competition
      • Water balloon toss
      • Timed races (three-legged, holding an egg in a spoon, etc.)
    • Games with little to no special equipment
      • Online Pictionary https://skribbl.io/
      • Online Scrabble
      • Video games
      • Charades
      • Taboo (we do this for our cousin game nights with pictures of cards that one person sends to people from the opposite team)
      • Scattergories
      • Bingo
      • Mad libs
      • Speaking games that take turns going around a circle (going through the alphabet saying names of animals or colors or foods, rhyming words [we played the last two lines of “Down by the Bay” for our son’s birthday party])
      • Movement game (Simon says, dancing if you’re into that [“Cha Cha Slide,” dance-off, passing along dance moves as was a TikTok trend I heard of, simply dancing…])
      • Games like in Whose Line is it Anyway? or like the “Olympics” (specifically the “middle games”) that I wrote about way back
  • Performances
    • Skits prepared by one family or even across households
    • Reciting a poem or surah or singing
    • Other showcases of talent, by individuals or not
  • Gift Exchanges (I’ve been doing this virtually since 2013 with friends/distant family members.)

Alternative Virtual/Group Celebrations

Being “together” isn’t always gathering for a party, and that’s what I think most people miss during the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. There are many things you can do to get ready for or celebrate Eid with loved ones even if you’re not together. 

  • Share special recipes with each other or plan to serve the same meals.
  • Coordinate Eid outfits or attempt to do matching henna designs.
  • Send Eid pictures to family and friends.
  • Prepare and cook meals or clean or decorate while on a video call (you don’t have to be talking the entire time).
  • Watch the same movie or show (whether that’s something everyone does as separate households or you do concurrently/even with a video or phone call running. This might be a good time to watch Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” and do the 10 things it invites us to do.)
  • Go through family pictures or old videos together. Maybe even create a short slideshow/video of your favorites. 
  • Story time full of family legends and epic moments (the best Eid, a difficult time of sickness, immigration or moving story, new baby in the family, etc.). Someone build the fire and get the s’mores going.

Alternative “Outings”

In the same breath, it’s so refreshing to go out and do something fun, not just stay cooped up in your house, right? Seriously. 

  • Check out a virtual museum tour
  • Go on a nice drive to some place you love or miss going to, like drive by the masjid or school or a beautiful area (but stay in your car if there are other people around)
  • Watch an Eid Khutbah (or a regular one) on Eid day (make it special by listening outside in your yard or as a family where you pray).
  • Create a movie theater experience inside the home (that might just mean some popcorn and homemade slushies).
  • Get carry out from a favorite restaurant (if it’s open), and finally have the motivation to take a longer drive if needed
  • Make fruit or gift baskets for friends and family and drop them off at their homes
  • A “paint night,” or some other craft, that everyone in the family participates in
  • Decorate your car and drive around to show it off to friends (I’ve heard there’s an actual Eid car parade at various masaajid in Chicago

Interesting Alternative Community Celebrations I’ve Heard About

Some communities are getting super creative. As I mentioned above, a handful of masaajid in Chicago (Orland Park Prayer Center, Mosque Foundation, and Islamic Center of Wheaton as well as Dar Al Taqwa in Maryland) are putting together Eid drive-thru car parades. I’ve heard of different communities, whether officially sponsored by the masjid or just put together by groups of individuals, having a drive-in Eid salah, in which families pray in their cars in a rented drive-in theater or parking lot (Champaign, Illinois and a community in Maryland). I’m  definitely impressed with that last option, and I’m waiting to hear about more creative ways to get together and worship and celebrate.

So, what am I doing for Eid (weekend) this year? All the must’s, inshaAllah, including getting extra dolled up and making donuts from biscuit dough. A “game night” (virtual party) with alumni from my MSA. A gift exchange party with my cousins as well as another gift exchange party with classmates from my Arabic program (we’ll send unboxing videos out instead of meeting at the same time.) Check out a local college campus we’ve been dying to drive around. Binge a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender newly released on Netflix and do some online Memorial Day sale shopping. Le’s put a tentative on all of those, haha.

At the end of the day, Eid al Fitr is about acknowledging the month of worship we engaged in during Ramadan and spending quality time with loved ones. It doesn’t really matter what that quality time looks like–as long as it is intentional, this Eid will be special no matter what, inshaAllah. Who knows, this might be one of the best, most memorable holidays ever!

Eid Mubarak!

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A Response To Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments On Uyghurs

Toqa Badran and Aydin Anwar respond to the statements made by Shaykh Habib Ali Al-Jifri

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Protests preceding the Ghulja Massacre, 1997

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By Toqa Badran, Aydin Anwar 

We acknowledge that those individuals who have devoted their lives to the spiritual empowerment of others are to be admired and respected. The Ulema often serve as beacons of guidance and sources of emulation for the Ummah with their scholarly and moral leadership. Their critical role means that they are also expected to speak and act according to a higher standard of truthfulness and ethics. Bearing this in mind makes it especially dismaying and hurtful to witness inaccurate comments from a famous preacher and scholar who should be a part of this heritage of high intellectual rigour and superior moral conduct. It is even more problematic that these erroneous statements pertain to a group of fellow Muslims presently experiencing almost unprecedented duress to criminalize and eradicate their religion and cultural identity. 

It is unfortunate that Habib Ali al-Jifri, a popular scholar in the Arab world, in a recent lecture has misused his platform by propagating information that is all at once incorrect, biased, and otherwise detrimental to the lives of an entire Muslim nation colonized and oppressed by China. Although he tepidly acknowledges that China has done wrong to Uyghurs and is not fully innocent, a number of his claims remain inaccurate and deserve to be corrected. This article attempts to walk through some of these inaccuracies, and correct such claims that ultimately work to delegitimize and downplay the deplorable reality of Uyghurs and other Turkic-Muslim peoples, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, of East Turkistan (renamed and referred to as Xinjiang, meaning new territory in Mandarin, by the Chinese occupation). 

#1: Shaykh Ali al-Jifri claims that only around half of Uyghurs are Muslim

The first glaring error made by the shaykh is his statement that only around half of the Uyghur population is Muslim. His error may have been a result of confusing the presently reported demographic makeup of East Turkistan with the religious composition of the Uyghur people. While the Uyghur and indigenous inhabitants of the region are overwhelmingly Muslim, the Han Chinese population has climbed drastically from only 6% in 1949 to an estimated 40% – due largely to incentivized migration and other – settler colonial programs embarked upon by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This statistic itself may be unreliable as many undocumented Uyghurs are unaccounted for and, in recent years, scores of Uyghur prisoners and forced laborers have been forcibly transferred to mainland China. 

If, however, al-Jifri meant to propogate the notion that only half of Uyghurs are Muslim, this is another matter altogether. To deny the self-professed Islamic faith of the utter majority of Uyghur people is to commit one of atrocities perpetrated by the CCP itself — the denial and erasure of this long persecuted population’s faith. As for the rootedness of Islam among this people, it has been the predominant religion among Uyghurs in East Turkistan– long before Egypt, or even the Levant, became majority Muslim societies during the Mamluk era. Much of the Islamicization of Central Asia and the Turkic world has been credited to the Karakhanids – a group of Turkic tribes who lived in the Uyghur homeland and converted to Islam in the 10th century (4th century Hijri), after their ruler Sultan Abdulkerim Bughra Khan entered the faith (Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. 2002, pp 84).

Uyghurs were also historically part of the Chagatay Turkic Khanate, whence the rulers of the Mughal Dynasty — who ruled much of India for over two centuries — hailed. Tasawwuf-inflected preaching was a key driver in conversions among these Turkic tribes in ways reminiscent of Islam’s spread at the hands of itinerant Hadhrami Sufi scholars and merchants — from whom Habib Ali hails  — across the Indian Ocean littoral and Nusantara (Malay world).

Map of East Turkistan in relation to the rest of Central Asia. East Turkistan is the same size as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada combined. 

Source: International Crisis Group

Starting with the aforementioned Karakhanids in the 10th century, Islamic institutions were founded and devoted to the study of theology, natural science, arts, music, and more. These institutions allowed for the emergence of hundreds of prominent Turkic scholars, who helped shape and record Islamic, Turkic, and specifically Uyghur history through their works: The likes of Mahmud Kashgari’s Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk, the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. Yusuf Khās Hājib’s Kutadgu Bilig, a mirror-for-princes in prose from the 11th century that shed light on Turkish-Islamic history and culture, and is perhaps one of the earliest surviving Turkic works in the genre of akhlāq (Islamic morality and ethics). The Turks of the region have also been greatly impacted by the Yasawī sufi order which helped make communal dhikr gatherings part and parcel of Uyghur culture. The influence of sufism is also evident in the prevalence of  Sufi shrines — most of which have since been systematically destroyed or left abandoned after being blocked off with barbed wire by the CCP.

The survival of old Quranic manuscripts from the area, as well as manuscripts from the 19th and 20th century, testify to the centrality of the Islamic intellectual tradition and its preservation within Uyghur culture. Thousands of beautiful mosques were constructed throughout the region, many of which have been demolished in recent years by the CCP regime. Had they not been places of great significance and visitation, it begs the question as to why the Chinese government would  bother razing them. Kashgar, the historic capital of the Karakhanid Empire and “jewel” of the Silk Road, became a prominent center of learning and hub showcasing the rich Uyghur past. Yarkend had also been a particular center of Islamic learning and culture for centuries, with dozens of madrasahs present in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It even holds Queen Amanisa Khan’s shrine, where the 12 Muqam (classical Sufi dance and song performance pieces that are a central Uyghur heritage form) were established. 

It is now clear that not only have the vast majority of Uyghurs been Muslim since the 11th century at least, but that the history of East Turkistan cannot be separated from that of the greater Muslim world. Like most Turkic Muslims, Uyghurs have traditionally belonged to Ahl as-Sunnah (the mainstream and overwhelming majority of Muslims), the legal school of Hanafism, and have immense love for the noble Ahl al-Bayt (family and descendants of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). Uyghurs had even established a maqam (shrine) dedicated to the 8th century scholar and descendant of the Prophet ﷺ, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq – through whom Habib Ali traces his lineage back to the Prophet ﷺ – near the town of Khotan in East Turkistan, which was destroyed by the CCP. If segments of Uyghur society are not practicing Muslims today, it is mostly due to the Communist repression since WWII, just as Soviet anti-religious repression led to the radical decrease in religious literacy and practice in neighbouring Turkic republics. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy and heartening to see that some of the Central Asian republics are currently experiencing a gradual revival of Islamic observance thanks to the demise of oppressive policies, hinting at how the Uyghur religious life could flourish if and when repressive policies in East Turkistan cease.

Before and After of Imam Jafari al-Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019. 

Photograph: Google Earth/Planet Labs 

The systematic aggression with which the Chinese government has sought to stamp out the works produced by Uyghur scholars and the many ancient Muslim cities scattered across East Turkistan is evidence of their historical importance. From banning the publication of texts in the Uyghur language, closing all religious spaces, and transforming historic sites into propaganda centers for the dissemination of a sanitized, non-religious, and state-sponsored Uyghur identity, it is clear that the CCP feels not only threatened by Uyghur culture, but is aware of its power in maintaining a social fabric worthy of any independent nation. 

And with all of the aforementioned said, we pose the question: Even if the majority of Uyghurs were not Muslim as the shaykh incorrectly claimed, does this excuse Muslims elsewhere of their duty to stand against oppression? Over the course of his commentary on the plight of the Uyghur people, the shaykh himself asked the audience why we [Muslims] are only angry when China oppresses Uyghurs and not the Buddhist Tibetans. Not only does this question contradict his initial premise that the Uyghur community cannot be referred to as overwhelmingly Muslim, but also deeply confuses the listener: “Are we to fight against oppression, regardless of the religion of the oppressed, or not?” We would argue that it is not only an obligation for Muslims, but for all people to resist their own oppression and the oppression of others — especially if this oppression manifests as the criminalization of the most fundamental practices of a people’s faith, Islam in this case. The East Turkistani independence movement itself has always allied itself with those of the Tibetan, Palestinian, and Kashmiri people. It has been incorrectly posited by the shaykh that Uyghurs have only been oppressed for the last 3-5 years. While this is demonstrably false, through the decades-long occupation Uyghurs have faced, what is worse is that he makes this claim in order to draw a false equivalence (between East Turkistan and the Tibetan people) in the hopes of delegitimizing the plight and cause of those in East Turkistan. Worse still, is that when the shaykh is confronted with the truth of the 70+ long years of Chinese colonization of Uyghur lands, he contests its factuality by responding that if China were really so bad then we would see the individual politicians responsible for the colonization personally affected by the Chinese Coronavirus. We question the legitimacy of this apparently necessary correlation and will do so again later in this paper. Furthermore, now that we know that the Uyghur identity is as much an Islamic one as his own Arab identity and that Chinese oppression has been occurring for almost a century, do the scholar’s recommendations change? 

#2: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims that the question of Uyghur oppression is a political, not religious, one 

We would like to preface this section by making it clear that Islam rejects the false dichotomy between the religious and the secular. What is “political” is not necessarily devoid of religious significance, and what is “religious” is not necessarily apolitical. While the Sharia’s precepts pertaining to siyasah (governance and ‘urfi/customary-public law) are mostly general, with few exact prescriptions established by the sources of Sharia (al-adillah al-sharʿiyyah), Muslims have always conceived of politics as a space bound by Islamic morality and ethics, akhlāq. As with any other dimension of human life, a person’s moral culpability before God extends into the domain of the “political” just as it extends into the domain of the economic, familial, ritual, etc. 

While it is true that colonization is often understood as a political phenomenon and not a religious one, religion has featured prominently both as a pretext and the locus of subjugation in China’s crimes against the Uyghur people. China brands its campaign against the Uyghurs as a fight  against “Islamic extremism” in an attempt to ride on the coattails of the global “War on Terror” thereby garnering  sympathy for its policies — including the imprisonment of millions of Turkic peoples into concentration camps and prisons — and insulate itself from backlash it would otherwise face as a result of its inhumanity in East Turkistan. Like Modi’s India and many Western nations, China exploits the world’s frenzied paranoia surrounding “Muslim terror” to justify its crackdown on innocent Muslims.

“Ubiquitous scene on the streets of  #Xinjiang these days. Men and women (inc. the elderly) trudging around with enormous clubs, part of the ‘People’s War’ on terrorism.” – David Brophy, Nov 15th 2017 

We acknowledge, however, that if this matter was purely religious, and not political, we would see Hui Muslims, who do not have a territorial claim at stake, rounded up into concentration camps and being subject to the same forms of oppression Uyghurs and other Turkic people are. However, this is not the case. Huis have historically been left largely undisturbed for the sake of maintaining the CCP’s facade of religious acceptance — or at most they are subject to the usual disruptions any religious group faces under the anti-religious CCP. Historically, the Hui have been staunch supporters of the Chinese state, and even played a critical role in the dismantling of the first East Turkistan Republic of 1933 and the second of 1944.. This did not spare them, however, from the current religious crackdown they and other faith groups like Christians face, once again highlighting the inextricably religious dimension of the CCP’s supposedly merely “political” project. As though rounding up innocents into concentration camps and subjecting an entire people to violations of fundamental human rights as part of a larger campaign of ethnic cleansing and cultural destruction would be anything less than heinous, even if religion played no role in the matter.

Much of Uyghur and, by extension, all Central Asian Turkic identity, has centered on religion; Uyghurs and other Turks are Muslim, just like Malays have been Muslim based on historical development in the past millennium. Historically, up until the 1930s, Uyghurs were not commonly referred to as “Uyghurs” — they and other Turkic Muslims of East Turkistan were simply referred to as “Musulman” (Muslim), “Turki” (Turk), or “yerlik” (local). This truth further explains why China has been so adamant in removing religion from the lives of East Turkistanis — Islam is so critical to the history and culture of the Turkic presence that the CCP knows that, without it, East Turkistanis will be left weak and purposeless– easily converted into malleable forced worshippers of the party, and indistinguishable from the rest of China’s largely atheist, but nominally Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist Han majority. Not to mention that they are then exploited in China’s massive hypocritically capitalistic labour scheme — which most of Chinese masses also suffer from. 

Claiming that the oppression is not a religious matter implies that Muslims need not care about the Uyghurs out of religious concern, while in reality our blood should be boiling knowing that the rights of God and His worshippers are being violated by the CCP. Muslims around the world rightly condemn and stand in solidarity against zionist oppression in Palestine, though, by the shaykh’s standards, this would be appear a purely political project undeserving of collective Muslim outrage. The Israeli state-apparatus oppresses Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike. The CCP has singled out Muslims, however, especially those in East Turkistan, as the targets of their brutal project. Again, we see that this is both a religious and political issue against which all Muslims and conscientious human beings should speak and fight. Just as we all wish for the freedom of Palestine sooner rather than later, we should pray, speak, and fight for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in East Turkistan.

Practicing Islam is categorically forbidden in East Turkistan, despite China’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Islamic texts and names are banned, practicing most of the five pillars of Islam is forbidden, and centuries old Islamic institutions have been destroyed and converted into communist propaganda centers. Religious scholars (ulema) have disappeared, sentenced to life in prison, or killed.

These tragedies are never publicized within China’s borders — and their occurrence is aggressively denied by the Chinese media apparatus. Instead, the media tokenizes and highlights a few religious acts, in reality no more than complex theatrics which the government has directed in order to showcase the power of “CCP Islam”. Journalists and political actors from other countries, especially Muslim ones, are invited to East Turkistan to witness a beautiful charade of “harmony” and happiness that, in reality, is no more than an open air prison for the Uyghurs. Albanian academic and journalist, Dr Olsi Jazexhi, was one of these visitors, who later reflected on his experiences and observations on such a CCP-sponsored trip. He and other journalists toured many mosques with the CCP’s aim being to show to the outside world that there are mosques, and indeed religious freedom, in East Turkistan. Jazexhi recalls venturing into one of the mosques near Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar and finding only a store. He also recalls his visit to a concentration camp or what China calls a “vocational training center”:

“The center was in the middle of the desert. It was a kind of Alcatraz, and by its appearance, we were expecting to find some criminals, terrorists, and killers, and people who were dangerous to society. When we went there, the criminals presented us with a concert. These poor boys and girls who were being held there since many years. They were told to dance to me; Uyghur dance, Chinese dance, and Western dance. The authorities wanted us to film them only dancing and smiling and singing. They were all speaking Chinese, even though they were Uyghurs [sic].” 

Jazexhi, a dual Albanian and Canadian citizen, was later fired from his university position in Albania — demonstrating the reach of Chinese economic blackmail diplomacy. The professor was blacklisted by China due to his truthful reports on East Turkistan, highlighting the CCP’s suppression of criticism abroad, even within the context of academia, with its diplomatic and economic pressure. 

Scene from a staged tour of a ‘vocational training center’. Uyghur detainees are playing music to show  ‘harmony’ and ‘happiness’ inside the camps. Source: BBC 

Of course, this harmony would not be complete without the millions of Han Chinese who have been settled, with the aid of the government, within the borders of East Turkistan. While Uyghurs are systematically transported outside of the borders of their homeland and into mainland China to work as forced laborers or to be imprisoned and “reeducated”, it is hard to ignore the demographic erasure of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. As more and more Han Chinese are brought into Uyghur land to replace the displaced natives, the CCP razes ancient mosques, homes, and sanctuaries to make room for the new settlers. 

Photo from Gilles Sabrie: “Sledgehammer: The Chinese say Kashgar must be destroyed because it is susceptible to earthquakes” (TIME

These settlers act both as continuous reminders of the disappearance of Uyghur autonomy as well as wardens over the remaining Uyghur population. There have been many accounts of Han Chinese living with Uyghur families in their homes as “big siblings”— feeding the government information on the family’s every move and assisting in Uyghur imprisonment for even the smallest of religious offences. Aside from simple demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, the Chinese program of destroying Uyghur cities and patrimony is intended to deracinate East Turkistanis from their culture and make them self-internalize that they are a people with no heritage, and to imprison them in easy-to-surveil panopticons with Han colonialists wardens. Destroying ancient cities and heritage is an old authoritarian communist strategy, reflecting the idea brillianty summarized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that “to destroy a people you must first sever their roots.” 

Muhammad Salih Hajim (82), widely known as the first scholar to translate the Quran to modern Uyghur, is amongst one of the martyred and was killed in detention in January 2018. Source: RFA

One former prisoner, Adil Abdulghufur, in an interview with our co-author, Aydin Anwar, recounted how he was beaten unconscious by Chinese prison authorities and forced to wear a 25 kg cement block for a month hung by a thin string around his neck after saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) in his sleep. Countless Uyghur women and men, who have been sent to camps and prisons due to religious practice have been raped, forcibly sterilized, drugged, and their bodies used for organ harvesting. Uyghurs are punished with long prison sentences; one Uyghur woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for promoting the wearing of headscarves, a Kazakh man was sentenced to 16 years in jail after Chinese authorities found audio recordings of the Quran on his computer, and several Uyghur refugees we have spoke with said that even saying the Muslim greeting Assalāmu Alaykum (Peace be upon you) can get them locked up for 10 years. Saying Insha’Allah (God-willing) is also prohibited. In one of the many documentaries published on the dystopian existence of the Uyghur people, VICE interviews a woman who states her charged crime was the learning of the Quran and the Arabic language. A man, later in the documentary, details how he was punished for refusing to eat pork even while imprisoned. By many accounts, the word God or Allah itself must be replaced with “Party” (Chinese Communist Party), or the name of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

Portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Uyghur Imams placed in Kasghar’s historical Id Kah (Eidgah) mosque in East Turkistan. Note that the picture is facing the congregants in the direction of Muslim prayer – Qiblah. Source: David Brophy 

#3: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims the reason people are fighting for East Turkistan is because they do not want China to build the so-called ‘New Silk Road’ and become 2x as strong as America economically

This claim reduces the East Turkistani freedom movement to a China vs America binary– thereby completely erasing the decades of occupation East Turkistan has endured under China. In 1759, the Manchu Qing Empire invaded East Turkistan and made it its new colony. Uyghurs rebelled against Qing rule, and in 1863 were able to break free and establish Kashgaria under their leader Yaqub Khan, now known as East Turkistan. Two decades later, the Uyghurs were invaded by the Qing again, and, this time, the Uyghur homeland was formally incorporated under the Chinese empire as “Xinjiang”. Chinese nationalists overthrew the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911, putting East Turkistan under the rule of Nationalist China. The Uyghurs carried out numerous rebellions and were able to establish the East Turkistan Islamic Republic in 1933 and 1944, both of which briefly lasted before the Chinese government reoccupied the region through the military intervention and political interest of the Soviet Union. The most recent occupation started in 1949 when the Communist Party of China came to power, and since then, millions of East Turkistanis have been subject to various forms of brutal systematic genocide. 

The Declaration of Independence of the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan, November 12, 1933 Note: As is visible, the local ulema/scholars spearheaded the effort for independence.

It is deeply condescending to not only delegitimize the efforts of a Muslim people in standing against their oppressors, but to also deem them to be no more than American pawns. Indeed, Xi Jinping’s China seeks to continue solidifying Chinese hard power in East Turkistan while working towards the larger CCP strategic goal of establishing China as a global hegemonic power with a new Chinese-dominated global economic-political order, via the multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. This strategic-economic project — the largest the Eurasian Landmass ever seen — spanning over 70 countries via railroads, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects, is one of the greatest attempts of China to secure itself a superpower position in the 21st century. Without East Turkistan, deemed by the CCP the “Chinese gateway” to Eurasia and the West in general, the entire OBOR initiative’s immediate feasibility is truly brought into question. In addition to this strategic importance East Turkistan, the land of the Uyghurs is also extremely rich in oil, gas, and coal. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, the region contains the second-highest natural gas reserves and highest oil reserves of any province-level jurisdiction of China, reportedly producing more than 30 BCM of natural gas in 2015. 

A statement that reduces the intention of the freedom movement to a simple modern economic enterprise further belittles the rich history of a people that once lived with centuries of independence, and its rightful effort to reclaim its full rights and freedom. The Uyghurs played a crucial role in establishing the Koktürk Khanate (552-744), the Uyghur Khanate (744-840), the Kara-Khanid Khanate (840-1212), Gansu Uyghur Kingdom (848-1036), and Idiqut State (856-1335). They lived co-independently in the Mongol Empire, even playing crucial roles in its administration through Gengiz Khan’s usage of the Uyghur yasa law system and the Uyghur script. After the Chagatai Khanate, East Turkistan was integrated into the Turkic-Muslim milieu of the larger Turkistan stretching from the Caspian to Mongolia including cities and polities like Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand, etc. with scholars, traders and others moving east and west. Thus, it is truly ridiculous to understand the issue of Uyghur colonization solely through a lens of Sino-American politics. The colonization of East Turkistan began long before China was a real contender in the quest for international political-economic hegemony, and will continue –ceteris paribus– long after a change in the foreign policy of either the United States or China. The recent interest American politicians have taken in the plight of the Uyghurs has never even clearly crossed into the realm of East Turkistani independence– it is Uyghur, Turkic, Muslim, and anti-colonial activists who are at the forefront of the East Turkistani independence movement. Just as it was completely understandable that Afghans accepted American assistance in the fight against Soviet occupation, and that the Viet Cong accepted Chinese assistance to protect against American invasion on the other hand, the Uyghur crisis is so dire that the people are justly tempted to accept the assistance of any powerful nation against the century long Chinese oppression they have faced. Had China, under the yoke of CCP, not suffocated the Muslim peoples inhabiting East Turkistan, Uyghurs could maybe regard China differently…

The only way to secure Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis their essential rights — to practice their faith, operate economically, and take pride in their rich culture and history without fear of imprisonment, assault or death — is to secure the sovereignty of their occupied homeland. For many Uyghurs, the human rights/autonomy discourse is dead. The Chinese government has proven over the course of its long occupation that it can never guarantee Uyghurs the safety or the freedom they deserve. Although China claims Uyghurs to be one of its “proud 56 ethnic minorities”, it sees Uyghurs not only as foreigners, as made clear with their completely distinct language, history and culture, but also as existential threats to its despotic power. As internal but “foreign” threats, the Uyghur people have been imprisoned, enslaved, indoctrinated and murdered. There can be no going back after this horror. The only solution is for the Uyghur people, completely foreign to China, to formally exist outside of the jurisdiction of the Chinese government as their own nation.

#4: Al-Jifri asks how COVID-19 can be divine punishment if Communist Party authorities themselves remain untouched by the virus

While we agree with al-Jifri that we are in no position to state definitely whether any worldly occurrence is a direct act of Divine punishment, we question a few of the implications presented during the lecture. For example, the shaykh asks how the coronavirus pandemic can logically be considered Divine punishment if the individuals, who made the governmental decisions resulting directly in the oppression against Uyghurs, themselves remained unscathed by the virus. We respond: How can a virus which has debilitated the economy and social structure of a country, whose government is committing genocide against millions of colonized peoples, including millions of Muslims, not be? This article does not aim to delve into a metaphysical discussion on the nature of blame and culpability, but we can simply ask how the shaykh knows that none of those individuals he identifies did not fall ill. 

Additionally, we question why such a punishment could not target an entire corrupt regime — or even a complicit or apathetic populace — and not simply certain individuals, who he might deem actually culpable. 

The fact of the matter is this: We do not know how many of the Uyghurs who are trapped in concentration camps, prisons or forced labor factories, have been additionally subject to this seperate CCP oppression — a virus which only became as terrible of an international menace as it has due to the deception and inadequacy of the CCP. We hope their number is very low, but also understand that the illness of Uyghurs does not indicate that the CCP is any less problematic or morally horrific in its dealing with the virus and with the regime’s colonial holdings. The shaykh  also asks why other oppressors would not be more deserving of a plague such as this one. To this we repeat the shaykh’s  question to himself: Who are we to question God’s methods? The burning of the Amazon is not certainly a punishment for the South American nations whose borders it crosses, or it may be a punishment for humanity at large — we cannot know. 

It does not take an act of divine punishment for us to recognize the immorality of an action or event. We do not wait for lighting to strike us down before we realize we may have committed a misdeed. In the same way, we do not know if COVID -19 is divine punishment, but we do know that the oppression of Uyghurs is a moral outrage and requires immediate international action, especially from fellow Muslim brethren. 

 As previously noted, we do not seek to act as interpreters of God’s will. On the contrary, we only seek to act according to a well-established Islamic tradition of taking ʿibrah, a lesson derived from a moral experience, from what we observe in the world. Even while carefully performing this observation, we acknowledge that our derivations are zannī, or of uncertainty. This being said, we believe that our history and faith have so clearly called for justice and religious freedom that to ignore the direct suppression of Islam or Muslims, especially through means as violent and cruel as those practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, is to commit a definitive moral misdeed.

This kind of deduction by ulema and regular Muslims alike has been practiced for centuries. One pertinent example is of an individual named Mirza Ghulam of Qadiyan, who apostatized from Islam in the late 19th century as a claimant of prophethood, and experienced a rather gruesome death due to dysentery. His downfall has been commonly interpreted (taʾwīl) as punishment, for his attempting to act as a divinely ordained prophet of God. This kind of informed and qualified interpretation has been performed for centuries and is allowed for any individual so long as they ultimately believe in the finality of the Knowledge and the Will of God. W’Allāhu Aʿlam (God knows best).

Action Items & Closing Notes

We do not seek to find out the intention of Habib Ali al-Jifri’s speeches on the situation of our Uyghur brothers and sisters – he may have simply been misinformed. What we can do, however, is question the sources of his information and highlight the graveness of his actions and words. The fact of the matter is that millions of Muslims are detained by China for committing simple acts of faith that people elsewhere have the pleasure of doing each and every day– including saying “Bismillah” before they take a bite of food. As we observe Ramadan currently, it is devastating to think of the Uyghurs, who are forced to eat and drink, let alone drink alcohol and eat pork, during the holy month to prove their “innocence” from Islam to the Chinese government. While we sit with our families and break our fast, Uyghurs and other Turkic people suffer silently in thousands of prisons and labor camps far from their families. 

This scholar, or those who have misinformed him, have not only dismissed the CCP’s violations against our religion and the Ummah at large, but have also attempted to disincentivize hundreds of thousands of free Muslims from aiding the Uyghur people in their plight against the CCP.

We ask that you to pray that the oppression of the Uyghur people ceases as soon as possible; but also urge you to boycott Chinese or Chinese-made products likely to be reliant on Uyghur slave labor; to actively spread the word on the suffering of East Turkistan; and to build interest groups and networks to pressure governments to lower their dependency on China, while increasing economic and political collaboration between Muslim people. Change starts with and around each and every one of us; inquire about Uyghur-East Turkistani exiles in your area and country, and organize your communities to help stranded Uyghur orphans, students and other disadvantaged individuals survive as Muslim Uyghur people with their culture. Lobby for issuing Uyghurs passports and securing Uyghur emigres refugee-asylee status and protection. Stop “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China. Call for a united diplomatic effort of Muslim, Arab, and/or Turkic and others concerned for freedoms countries against China’s atrocities. They should act according to inter-state relations and not as slavish would-be vassal states, and hold a respectable diplomatic stand vis-à-vis China from our countries.

We ask that you get your universities involved by both raising awareness on campus as well as by assessing your university’s relationship with China. Check to see if your school has a Confucius or China Institute. These entities often serve as a public educational arm of the Chinese government abroad, and are controlled by the CCP — thereby enabling them to exercise soft power all over the world. Insist that these institutes make a statement and acknowledge the atrocities faced by those in East Turkistan, and call them out if they do not. Call for a double background check for Chinese researchers lest they actually be informants as often happens in the U.S. Countless events and panels discussing the horrors committed by the CCP have been canceled by universities around the world due directly to Chinese pressure. Call for university endowments to divest from China. Finally, call on your school to increase funding for Uyghur/Turkistani studies and to set up scholarships and grants to assist exiled Uyghur students and scholars — their lived experiences are essential to hear, accept, and make sure fewer people have to go through again. 

 It is important to ensure the political and economic independence of academia– without which generations of students will maintain worldviews colored by propaganda and complicit in the oppression of millions. Insist that your school cuts ties with Chinese bodies violating academic freedoms, similar to how Cornell cut ties with a Chinese university. Hold your universities accountable regardless if they are directly complicit in, or just silent on, the human rights abuses China commits. Demand that these important institutions divest from these China and the CCP. 

We have seen large-scale protests across the Muslim world, especially in countries, whose governments have remained silent against the oppression in East Turkistan for fear of Chinese retribution, and hope to see even more people push their governments to pressure the CCP. The shaykh encourages members of the audience to maintain an Islamic guiding moral principle and to act on it. We agree with this wholeheartedly — but we vigorously disagree with his calls to (in)action. Instead of focusing only on ourselves and our individual economic and academic developments, we also hope to fight for the Uyghur and other Turkic people’s ability to do the same — to practice their faith, live without fear of imprisonment, and in a homeland that is formally their own. This is not a hopeless cause– our voices can and must be heard, inshAllah. 

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا

From Anas Ibn Malik, Allah be pleased with him: The Prophet Muhammad, the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, said: if the day of judgement is upon you, and in your hand is a seed, plant it. 

Action Items:

  1. Keep making Dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world
  2. Boycott Chinese products– do not be complicit in slave-labour
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause, learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui, Christian or Tibetan Buddhist
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by either citizenship or refugee-asylee status. Stop the “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China! 
  9. Get your universities-endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies.

Dislclaimer: The authors acknowledge Habib Ali’s willingness to retract his statements, and appreciate his dua for the oppressed Uyghur when faced with rightful criticism. However, the retraction came to our attention towards the very end (on May 12, article published May 14) of writing the piece (a month long process) and despite being a welcome move, does not remove the falsehood of most of his takes. He only corrects the first item from his otherwise totally-problematic takes. After an online correspondence with Uyghur activist Abdulghani Thabit, Habib Ali only corrected his statement number 1 from the longer talk. The three other misleading takes remain and were thus addressed in the piece. The authors tried their best to give all due respect to someone who dons the mantle of ‘scholar’. Our intention is not to attack Habib Ali or any other scholar, rather we seek to use his misleading commentary (corrected albeit in part by the Shaykh later) as a segue into educating the largely ignorant Muslim masses susceptible to Chinese propaganda on Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause.

Here is a condensed Arabic version of this article translated by Imam Abdul Jabbar

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Ramadan

Podcast: Revisiting Women-Only Tarawih | Ustadha Umm Sara

I still remember the first time I heard of a women-only Tarawih congregation. I was about 10 years old and my father had told me that Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (1914–1999), a prominent Indian Hanafi scholar of the past century, had written a book about his mother (d. 1968) who was a hafidha (memorizer of the Quran) and had mentioned she would lead women in Tarawih. Shaykh Nadwi had written:

“What a beautiful era it was when they (his mother and aunts) all would recite one juz each in Tarawih. They would follow the fatwa of some scholars and have their own congregation in which there would be a woman Imam and women followers. Their Tarawih congregation would go on from after Isha till almost Suhoor time. All of them would recite Qur’an very beautifully with impeccable pronunciation. If it’s not disrespectful I would say that they recited better and more accurately than many of today’s scholars. Their heartfelt passion and natural melody would add even more beauty to this. I recall one time I stood for a long time watching my mother recite as she was leading Tarawih. It felt as if rain was descending from the heavens. I still have not forgotten the beauty of that moment.” (Nadwi, 1974).


The full original piece that this podcast is based on may be read here.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Podcast recorded and produced by Zeba Khan

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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