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Between a Rock and a Hard Place- Black and Muslim

Margari Hill

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Margari Hill

The path to autonomy can be treacherous. In the early 90s, my International Relations professor would describe leaders in newly independent Africa and Middle East nations as being “between a rock and a hard place” during the Cold War.  He used it so much, that it became a catchphrase.   However,  I always heard the phrase, “Between Iraq and a hard place.” Every time he’d say it, I’d look at my Libyan American classmate and say, “is he talking about Jordan?”  I enjoyed the class. It satisfied my curiosity about current affairs, but I was also interested in a world that existed outside of white supremacy, of colonialism, or slavery.

Similar to those newly independent nations, our American Muslim communities also navigated uncharted territory, pressured by political forces outside our control. Inspired by the thoughts of Alija Itzbegovic who wrote Between East and West, by W.D. Muhammad who told us the sun would rise in the West, I believed in the relevance of Islam to addressing the social ills in my society. Many of these I faced personally, including family instability, substance abuse, street violence, and lack of education opportunities.  I had no idea about the complexities of building  Muslim communities, but I became a firebrand within the campus bubble. National conventions  like ISNA seemed like a distant vacation place that only my affluent friends could afford to go in order to participate in the halal meat market. From my position on the periphery of community life at the Muslim Community Association and South Bay Islamic Association, I grew tired of being upheld as some example of  perseverance through obstacles. I didn’t want to be the female version of Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), to inspire nonBlack Muslims, “See how beautiful Islam is, she believes even with that boulder weighing on her chest.”   I wanted to exist free from the things that were weighing me down and feel free from being tethered to the hard place that was my past.

At the time of my conversion, I only knew one Muslim family, a Black American family, and had little clue about the social and political dynamics of community life. Shortly after converting, I found two small scarves to cover my head and soon found myself developing relationships with Muslim men and women from the Philippines, Iran, Albania, Libya, Palestine, Nigeria, and Syria. Although I had a lot of passion for my faith, I was by no means an ideal Muslim convert. I also found the community to be less than ideal.  Dreams of racial egalitarianism faded as white converts were put on pedestals, as some of my peers told racist jokes, as colorism was rampant, and as our community was divided along  ethnic lines.  Whenever I brought up issues about race, some people blamed colonialism, others said I was making things up and or that I was too sensitive. Being Black, being a hijab wearing woman, being a college dropout, being rejected by family, being abandoned and left to fend for myself, that weight started to weigh me down more than I could bear. It would take me years to reconcile with Muslim community life.

It was only when I started blogging in 2006, over a decade later, that I began to find my voice and wrap words around the pain I experienced. Islam and the Blackamerican came out while I was in graduate school in 2005. While many Black American  Muslims nod their head in agreement when Dr. Sherman Abdul Hakeem Jackson describes the power dynamic between first and second generation American Muslims and Black American Muslims (described as the Immigrant/indigenous Muslim divide), there are many nonBlack Muslims who fail to grasp how much truth that book speaks to our reality. Privilege can provide blinders to the overt and subtle experiences racism.

In my early quest to understand my place Muslim communities, I  found anti-blackness in classical Arabic literature. This drove my quest in graduate school to understand pre-colonial racial formations in Muslim majority societies. I wanted to find myself in my tradition outside of the Bilal trope. I also wanted to be equipped to have those difficult conversations about race. Back then, there were a few bloggers who came into Islam through the Black experience. They also  wrote about race and Muslims, these bloggers include Charles Catchings, Umar Lee, Tariq Nelson, Jamerican Muslimah, Marc Manley, Abdur Rahman Muhammad, and Umm Adam.  Whenever we wrote about racism our comments sections would explode with heated exchanges that included people dismissing our views or sometimes it would devolve into ad hominem attacks. In 2007, Muslim Alliance of North America tackled the issues of race in Muslim American communities head on. But they faced push back and I remember reading  some non-Black blogger who wrote that we should just get over it with vociferous agreement in the comments section. In 2012,  Hakeemah Cummings started a campaign, “We are All Slaves of Allah.” Then Dawud Walid took the mantle in 2013 by tweeting at Muslims who used racial slurs. The chorus picked up  and since its founding in 2014, MuslimARC has helped sustain the conversation about race in Muslim communities.

My Arab American friend, who is a mother of a mixed raced Black child, told me about her daughter’s experience at an Islamic school. Weekly, she gives her daughter a pep talk to counter the negative messages her peers give her about being too dark with fuzzy hair.  While she has a loving extended family, she has no friends at her school. Another Sudanese family pulled their child out of the same school. Whenever parents share these stories, and there have been too many, I realize the gravity of my work. It is also deeply personal. My daughter is only four and I dread the experiences she may have at school. Positive peer experiences contribute to Muslim youth developing their religious identities, but many Black Muslims in multi-racial communities are bullied or socially isolated. This continues in college, with Black American Muslim youth  disassociating from the MSA. While I know a few Black American Muslim families who are  three generations strong, I also know other families whose kids cite their experiences of marginalization as a reason why they don’t practice or even identify as Muslim. I know firsthand the devastating consequences of not feeling a sense of belonging in the Muslim community.  Between Islamophobia and anti-Black racism, the cultural production of Black American Muslims is at stake.

Facing these pressures, Black American Muslims are often have divided loyalties and must make difficult choices.  Do we try to integrate into communities that seem to not want us or do we work on forming havens where we can be free of Islamophobia and anti-Black racism? The principle that drives my work is that we are one family, an Ummah. So, I hold a mirror up to my brothers and sisters as a reminder. For that reason, I will not disengage from any community or organizations that seeks to serve our collective interests. I believe that Black American Muslims are like the Ansar (Helpers) and Muhajiroon (Immigrants) and we truly need each other to thrive in this society.

Despite the model that we have from the Seerah,  I have faced criticism from Black American Muslims for wasting my time working within predominantly immigrant communities.

They stress the importance of building up institutions within the Black American Muslim community. Without institutions and wealth, Black American Muslims remain on an uneven footing from their counterparts.  Questioning the benefit of my work, several Black American Muslims have urged me to refocus my energies to support Black American  Muslim self reliance. While I support Black American Muslim self reliance, I also believe in the importance of building bridges because we need allies. Inner city community organizations rely on support from affluent donors in the suburbs. Sometimes these relationships can reify hierarchies in our community.  My work is to dismantle paternalistic attitudes and relationships by training organizers and community members about systemic oppression and our shared interest in addressing it. With this in mind, I work to build relationships with individuals and organizations. It is difficult to address problems such as lack of diversity on their boards, exclusion of Black and Latino Muslims,  and ethnocentric messaging that erases the plurality of the American Muslim experience from an adversarial relationship.

My hope is that working with organizations, we can make important shifts in policies, cultures, and practices.  For working with these organizations, I also face criticism and at times derision. This year, I have faced criticism from Black American Muslims for working with ISNA to organize  a panel addressing the Muslims and the New Jim Crow and for facilitating the ISNA Black Lives Matter Roundtable. On the day I landed in Chicago for ISNA 52, I was tagged in a thread critiquing the Black Lives Matter as a kumbaya event. I have also faced criticism for working with CAIR.  I have been reminded of the importance of “do for self,” a motto of Black self determination. Some have likened my anti-racism work as an attempt to earn the respect of non-Black Muslims. In my Counter Violent Extremism organizing, I have been warned by Black American Muslims to not be used as a token by non-Black Muslims in their battles. Others encourage me to utilize my energies in Black led initiatives, rather than work on multi-racial Muslim campaigns.

I also get criticism from non-Black Muslims for my engagement with mainstream Muslim organizations. While I issue statements and am not above a protest or drop the mic moment, I haven’t followed their calls to boycott ISNA, the White House Iftar, or other organizations. I believe in speaking my truth. I have weighed in on the marginalization of Palestinian American voices during the MLI controversy and critiqued Counter Violent Extremism programs from a racial justice lens. And because I take a stand, some people think that also requires I break off relationships.   In November someone sent me a screenshot of a conversation where I was the subject. They were discussing their concerns about  my acceptance of the  MPAC  Community Change Makers Award.  They were concerned I would be co-opted and stop my critique of the  Safe Spaces Initiative.  People approached me during the  months leading up to the award ceremony to express their opinions about what I should do or say. But for the most part, they expressed their support telling me the award was well deserved.  As I said in my acceptance speech, my critiques are out of love because I believe we can do better as a community. I was deeply humbled to be considered a Community Change Maker and be acknowledged  alongside the phenomenal Nahla Kayali, Founder and Executive Director of Access California Services, and Dr. Shamim Ibrahim, Founding Executive Director of Niswa Association. While they provide direct services, MuslimARC is a racial justice education organization. We have changed conversations, but these women have changed lives.  Yet that recognition helped normalize anti-racism work in Muslim communities. After I received the award, someone messaged me to express disappointment over my decision. It does hurt in many ways to think that people would take rather take a cynical view of that moment. This individual argued that my decision was an unprincipled act of hypocrisy because I had criticized MPAC. As someone who values being understood, it bothers me more that others do not want to acknowledge the reasons why my acceptance of the award is guided by my own principles. I am not sure what space some people hope for me to operate in, not at ISNA, not in multi-ethnic coalitions, not with established institutions, but maybe from the periphery in operating between a rock and a hard space.

Sometimes doing anti-racism work makes me feel like Sisyphus, punished by pushing a boulder uphill. There are times when I feel the weight of that rock crushing down on me. Everyone who has done work in the Muslim community knows that heavy criticism comes with the job. I know I am not beyond reproach. Because of social media and my accessibility to volunteers and the public, hardly a day goes by without me receiving negative feedback about my work. I take it all to heart, sometimes too heavily. I understand concerns about our tactics and methods of anti-racism work: whether too confrontational or too soft.  Even in our most successful campaigns or programs, there is no time to celebrate. We have to look at it with a critical eye and think how we can do better.
When making choices, I always keep my identity, my context as an African American Muslim woman. I often seek advice from trusted friends, family, community members, and above all guidance from my Lord before making decisions. I also take into account the vision of MuslimARC and think about the long road to liberation. In truth, MuslimARC is beyond me as an individual. But people will look at my actions to affirm or delegitimize this work. And that’s also a heavy weight.  To get out from between the rock and a hard space, I have had to carve out my own space in our community. But I may also have to  begin to dig even deeper, beyond my comfort zone, to create help create inclusive spaces where we can thrive and struggle for a world that is just.

Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaibwebb.com), and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    February 25, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    Fascinating article! The true dilemma of the thinking black American Muslim: separate or integrate. The Fantasy of black American nationalism ended with the decline of the Nation of Islam. In one of his famous lectures, Malcolm X talked about blacks doing business with blacks alone and not relying on “outsiders.” If we properly understand the teachings of Malcolm, we see new interpretations and adapt them to our circumstances in the modern world. We seek to integrate, but as Muslims, with our identities undiluted. There is no black bubble where money goes in and never goes out. If we truly want such a setup, then we must move to Africa and even then, tell me which African country is insulted at the idea of Western aid?

    We must work to build wealth as individuals, not because we are black, but be cause the proper practice of Islam takes money. Islamic education takes money. You have to have time to go to the mosque to learn and that means you have to have enough money for leisure. It takes money to build a mosque. It takes money to go on Hajj. Having a middle class or better income is not a black struggle. It’s a Muslim thing. I am an African American Muslim. The biggest challenge we face in our double bind in America is not going backwards and debating things that were settled 50 years ago.

    The biggest obstacle to our unity that I see is us getting our due respect from the immigrants. Sometimes in this we are our own worst enemies. In the last year, I have seen over and over old black American Muslims, for reasons that totally baffle me, who want to resurrect and legitimize Elijah Muhammad. This guy called himself a messenger, who spoke directly with God after Prophet Muhammad. He impregnated six teenage girls outside of marriage in the 60s and sat silently while his people gunned down Malcolm X.

    As individuals, we must strive to create success in the dunya as we build for our Akhira. But we must never lose sight of the fact that our goal is not to please men or be seen as good by other people. Our goal is Allah (swt). When black American Muslims use the term “the honorable Elijah Muhammad,” we are telling the greater Ummah that we don’t mind shirk and fornication, because a black man did it. Elijah was NOT honorable and using this term demeans us as people and demarks us as a people who do not understand basic Islam. Allah determines our risk. But we as individuals determine if we will stand with the good and against the bad, even if the bad happens to have dark skin or champions pseudo black nationalism. May Allah guide us.

  2. Avatar

    Anees

    February 27, 2016 at 2:15 AM

    Loved this very much. The work you are doing is absolutely necessary – building bridges within the Muslim community among the different groups is key.

    Though we have a great Black Muslim community here in Portland (the masjid/community center that our Black brothers and sisters attend to on the East side of the city, was recently lost to fire), it is clear that much of the community don’t value their place as much as their own. We recently had a fundraising event at our Islamic school (itself which has moved into a new building), but it was noticeable that the crowd was not as large as for other events, though still a good crowd by Allah’s Grace. Being a South Asian Muslim, I notice more of the outside picture, but as far as those allies that subgroups, such as the Black Muslim community need, I’m glad that those who did attend the fundraising event or those who help behind the scenes, in secret, are doing their part. It is encouraging, but as you’ve surely seen, there is still plenty of work to be done.

    Once again, so proud that the Muslim community at large has someone like you Sr. Margari. May Allah (swt) continue bless you with success, strength and patience as you move forward.

  3. Avatar

    Aafia

    February 29, 2016 at 1:10 AM

    Feel sorry that you recieve negative feedback . But does that feedback really matter If the Purpose is the Pleasure of Allah(swt)You are doing great work , Sis.

  4. Avatar

    junaid

    March 9, 2016 at 4:23 AM

    Loved this very much. The work you are doing is absolutely necessary – building bridges within the Muslim community among the different groups is key. The true dilemma of the thinking black American Muslim : separate or integrate.

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More Baby, Less Shark: Planning For Kids In The Masjid

Zeba Khan

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Of all the challenges that your focus can face in prayer, there are few as insidious as Baby Shark.

Doo-doo-doo doo. Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo. Baby Shark.

If you are not a parent, or have the type of amnesia that parents sometimes develop once their kids grow up, then you might assume that not having kids in the masjid is actually a solution to Baby-Shark induced distraction.

The inconvenient (and often sticky) truth is that not having kids in the masjid is a serious problem, not a solution. No kids in the masjid means an entire generation of the Muslim community growing up outside of the Muslim community.

Restricting the presence of children and assigning masjid priority to fully-formed, quietly attentive, and spiritually disciplined attendees – like adults – is a bit like restricting health club membership to triathletes. You’re already fit. So can we please let someone else use the treadmill, even if they’re not using it as well as you could?

The masjid is the center of the community for all Muslims, not a sanctuary for the preservation of reverent silence.  For a more detailed discussion on this, please see this great Soundvision article, Children in the Masjid, Making Space for Our Future.

For suggestions on how to help your children enjoy the masjid without Baby-Sharking the rest of the congregation to tears, I present the following recommendations.

Come Prepared

Rather than assume your child will be entertained by nothing but the carpet and how many weird faces they can spot in the bilaterally symmetrical patterns, bring them something to play with. One way to do this is to prepare your child a special bag for the masjid.

Stock it with as many things applicable:

  • A reusable water bottle: Select a bottle that your child can drink from on their own, preferably not likely to tip or spill onto the masjid carpet. No one appreciates a soggy sujood
  • A nut-free snack: If you think it’s too much trouble to be considerate of people with life-threatening allergies, consider how much trouble it is to bury a child who dies of anaphylaxis. Children share snacks in the masjid, and that’s ok as long as no one dies.
  • A small, quiet toy: The dollar store can be tremendously helpful in keeping your inventory fresh and financially feasible. Please be aware of swallowing hazards, since your child is likely to share the toy with others. One hopes.
  • A sweater or blanket: Sitting for long periods of time in an air-conditioned building can make anyone cold.
  • Art Supplies: Pack crayons, pencils, or markers IF you feel your child can refrain from drawing on the walls, or allowing other, smaller children from doing so. Magic Erasers don’t work on the prayer rug.

Reverie in Blue – Artist Unknown

Critically- and I do mean critically- don’t let your children access the special masjid bag unless they are in the masjid. The last thing you want is for your child to be bored with its contents before they even make it to prayers. Storing this bag somewhere inaccessible to your child can help keep its contents fresh and interesting longer.

Non-parent tip: Keep allergen-free lollipops in your pocket. Reward the kids sitting nicely (with parents’ permission) and you have killed two birds with one stone.

  1. You’ve  helped a child establish a happy memory and relationship to the masjid.
  2. Kids with lollipops in their mouths make less noise.

Do not pack:

Balls: Not even small ones, not even for small children. Your child may not have the gross-motor skills to kick or throw a ball at people who are praying, but there will always be children in the masjid who do. They will take your child’s ball, and they will play ball with it, because that’s what balls are for. Consider also the potential damage to light fixtures, ceiling fans, audio/video equipment, and the goodwill of people who get hit, run down, or kicked in the shins. The masjid is just not the place to play ball, even if the floor is green and has lines on it.

Not every green thing with lines is a soccer field.

Scooters: Do not bring scooters, skateboards, heelies, or other mobility toys that would turn your child a faster-moving object than they already are. Your child’s long-term relationship with the community can be fostered by not crashing into it.

Slime: Slime and carpets do, in fact, go together. They go together so well as to be inextricable of one-another. Please, do not bring slime to the masjid.

Gum: Please, for the love of everyone’s socks, no gum.

Toy Guns, Play-weapons: It should go without saying. And yet, I have seen nerf guns, foam swords, and toy guns in masjid. Apart from the basic indoor etiquette of not sword-fighting, nor launching projectiles in a house of worship, please be sensitive. No one wants to see guns in their masjid.

Non-parent tip: If children playing near you are making “too much noise” smile and find another place to sit if possible. It is not always possible to ignore or move away from disruptions, but glaring, eye-rolling, and making tsk-tsk sounds is not likely to effect long-term change in either the child’s behavior or the parents’ strategic abilities. At best, you will embarrass the parents. At worst, you will push families away from the faith and the community while confirming the opinion that masjids are full of cranky, impatient people who wish kids didn’t exist in the masjid while criticizing Muslim youth for not being there. 

Avoid Electronics. But if you can’t…

I am prefacing this suggestion with a disclaimer. Habitually putting your child on a smartphone or tablet so that you can “enjoy” the masjid without the “hassle” of you making sure they behave properly is not good parenting. A child being physically present but mentally absent in the masjid is not a long-term strategy that any parent should get behind.

Having said that, if you do give your kids a tablet or phone in the masjid, please disable Youtube and bring over-ear headphones.

Do not rely on YouTube Kids to take responsibility for your child’s content choices either. Long after Baby Shark has sunk to the depths of the internet, there will always be loud, inappropriate, or just plainly distracting and disturbing things that your child can access on it.

Instead of relying on Youtube at all, install child-friendly apps that you know won’t have external links embedded in their ads, and won’t lead to inadvertent, inappropriate viewing in case your child – or my child sitting next to them – click out of their app and into the great wide world. I highly recommend anything from the Toca Boca suite of apps.

Parents at Taraweeh – Making it Work

Non-parent tip: If you see a child on a tablet, do not lecture their parent. As a special needs parent, there are times when I too allow my autistic son onto a tablet to prevent a meltdown or try to get just 15 more minutes out of him so I can finish attending a class. Do not automatically assume laziness or incompetence on behalf of parents whose children you see on an electronic device. 

Reward for Success, in this life and the next

You show up in the masjid because you hope for a reward from Allah. As an adult, you have the ability to delay the gratification of this reward until well after you die. Your kids, however, don’t.

Motivate your kids with small rewards for small accomplishments as you remind them of the reward that Allah has for them too. You can choose to reward a child after every two rakah, or after every two days. How often you reward them, and what you choose to reward them for depends on their age and their capabilities.

Make dua for your kids when you reward them. If they get a small handful of gummy bears after a good evening at the masjid, pair it with a reminder of the bigger reward too.

“Here’s the ice cream I promised you for doing awesome in the masjid today. May Allah grant you mountains of ice cream in Jannah so big you can ski down them. Ameen.”

Non-parent tip: It’s not your job to discipline the children of others, but you can help praise them. Randomly compliment kids who are sitting nicely, sharing toys, playing quietly, or wearing cute headgear. Their parents will likely not mind.

Reinforce the rules – but define them first.

“Be Good In the Masjid” is a vastly different instruction depending on who you’re instructing. For a teenager, praying with the congregation is reasonable. For a two-year-old, not climbing the congregation is reasonable.

Define your rules and frame them in a positive context that your children can remember. Remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing rather than calling them out for what they are not. For example, no running in the masjid vs. please walk in the masjid.

Avoid saying this:

Try saying this instead:

Stay out of my purse Please use the toys in your bag
Don’t draw on the walls Crayons only on the paper
No yelling Please use your “inside” voice
No food on the carpet Please have your snack in the hallway
Don’t run off Stay where I can see you, which is from [here] to [here.]
No peeing the carpet We’re taking a potty break now, and we’ll go again after the 4th rakah’.
No hitting Hands nicely to yourself.

While it might look like semantics, putting your energy into “To-Do’s” versus the “To-Don’ts” has long-term benefits. If your child is going to hear the same thing from you a hundred times before they get it right, you can help them by telling them what the right thing is. Think of the difference between the To-Do statement “Please use a tissue,” versus the To-Don’t statement of “Don’t pick your nose.” You can tell you kid a hundred times not to pick his or her nose, but if you never tell them to use a tissue, you’re missing the opportunity to replace bad behavior with its functional alternative.

Plan for Failure

Kids don’t walk the first time they try. They won’t sit nicely the first time you ask them to either. Decide what your exact plan is in case you have to retreat & regroup for another day.

  • How much noise is too much? Do your kids know what you expect of them?
  • Where are the physical boundaries you want your kids to remain in? Do they know what those boundaries are?
  • For kids too small to recognize boundaries, how far are you ok with a little one toddling before you decide that the potential danger may not be worth it?
  • Talk to your spouse or other children and get everyone on board. Being on the same page can look like different things according to different age groups. A plan of action can be “If we lose Junior Ibn Abu, we’re taking turns in prayer,” or “If you kick the Imam again, we’re all going home.”
  • If your child is too small, too rowdy, or too grumpy to sit quietly at the masjid, please take turns with your spouse. The masjid is a sweet spiritual experience that both parents should be able to enjoy, even if that means taking turns.

Don’t Give up

If you find yourself frustrated with being unable to enjoy the masjid the way you did before your child starting sucking on prayer rugs, remember this:

Raising your children with love and patience is an act of worship, even if it’s not the act of worship you thought you were coming to the masjid for. No matter what your expectations are of them – or how far they are from meeting them – the ultimate goal is for your child to love Allah and love the House of Allah.

When they get things right, praise them and reward them, and remind them that Allah’s reward is coming too. When they get it wrong, remind them and forgive them, and don’t give up. The only way children learn to walk is by falling down over, and over, and over again.

Avoiding the masjid because your kids don’t behave correctly is like not allowing them to walk because they keep falling down. The key is to hold their hand until they get it right, and maintain close supervision until you can trust them to manage on their own, InshaAllah.

May Allah make it easy for you and bless your children with love for the masjid in this life and love for Allah that will guide them through the next. Aaaaaaaameeeeeeeeen

Children @ Taraweeh: Storm in a Teacup

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What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr

Make sure you maximize your sadaqah

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By Ismael Abdela

My life, just like yours, is sooo busy. So naturally, as the tech nerd I am, I turn to tech to help me manage my regular routine including project management apps to manage my daily tasks. I even have a sleeping app that wakes me up at the optimum time (whatever that means!). But even though tech has changed everything in all sectors and helped make efficiencies in my daily life, it had had little impact on my religious activities.

A few years ago, whilst I was preparing for the last 10 nights of Ramadan, it hit me – why doesn’t something exist that automates my donations during these blessed nights to catch Laylatul Qadr. Rather than putting a reminder on my phone to bring out my bank card every night and inputting it into a website – why doesn’t something exist that does it for me, solving the problem of me forgetting to donate. After all we are human and it’s interesting that the Arabic word for human being is ‘insan’ which is derived from the word ‘nasiya’ which means ‘to forget.’ It is human nature to forget.

So the techie in me came out and I built the first scrappy version of MyTenNights, a platform to automate donations in the last 10 nights of Ramadan (took two weeks) because I wanted to use it myself! I thought it would be cool and my friends and family could use it too. That same year, nearly 2000 other people used it – servers crashed, tech broke and I had to get all my friends and Oreo (my cat) to respond to email complaints about our temperamental site!

I quickly realised I wasn’t alone in my need  – everyone wanted a way to never miss Laylatul Qadr! Two years down the line we’ve called it MyTenNights, and our team has grown to 10, including Oreo, senior developers, QA specialists, brand strategists, creative directors and more. It fast became a fierce operation – an operation to help people all over the world catch Laylatul Qadr!

Last year alone we raised almost $2 million in just 10 days – and that was just in the UK. We’ve now opened MyTenNights to our American, Canadian. South African and Australian brothers and sisters and we’re so excited to see how they use it! We’ve made it available through all the biggest house name charities – Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Helping Hand, Penny Appeal, you name it! All donations go directly to the charity donors choose – all 100% of it.

Looking back at the last couple of years – it feels surreal: The biggest charities in the world and tens of thousands of users who share my need to be certain they’ve caught Laylatul Qadr. Although I hear many impressed with the sheer amount MyTenNights has raised for charity (and that excites me too!), it’s not what motives me to go on. What excites me most is the growing number of people who catch Laylatul Qadr because we made it easier.

I often tell my team that the number of people that use MyTenNights is the only metric we care about, and the only metric we celebrate. It makes no difference to us whether you donate $1 or a million – we just want you to catch Laylatul Qadr and for you to transform your Akhirah, because (after Allah) we helped you do it.

To catch Laylatul Qadr with MyTenNights, visit their website MyTenNights.com

Ismael Abdela is a Law & Anthropology graduate from the London School of Economics. He spent some years studying Islamic Sciences in Qaseem, Saudi Arabia. He is now a keen social entrepreneur. Ismael likes to write about spiritual reflections, social commentary, and tafsīr. He is particularly interested in putting religion in conversation with the social sciences.

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