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Fractured Wombs

Motherhood is so beautiful, women are told, even before they have become women. Motherhood is what we are meant for. Motherhood is part and parcel of our womanhood. Motherhood will, sooner or later, define us.

What they do not tell us is that for so many of us, motherhood is trauma. It is the loss of ourselves as we are subsumed by the creature growing within us. It is the loss of control over our own bodies, the loss of sleep during pregnant days and colicky nights, the loss of our intimate selves in exchange for cracked nipples and wombs that never stop aching. It is the loss of safety in being able to confide to our loved ones, who stare at us in horror at our ugly confessions.

We are the walking wounded, the mothers with bleeding hearts and emptied wombs, the mothers whose minds are on the verge of breaking. We are the women whose souls are frozen in fear – for we are told that we are weak, impatient, failures as believing women. 

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Only Allah knows our agony, when everyone else refuses to see or hear our pain.

{And We have enjoined on humankind [goodness] to their parents. Their mothers bore them in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and their weaning takes two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.} (Qur’an 31:14)

{And We have enjoined upon humankind, to their parents, good treatment. Their mothers carried them with hardship and gave birth to them with hardship…} (Qur’an 46:15)

When the Qur’an speaks of motherhood, it is not with words of false sweetness, nor promises of unbridled joy. Instead, Allah speaks to us with the rawness of our own experiences: wahnun 3ala wahn; hamalat’hu karhan wa wadha3at’hu karhan… weakness and pain upon weakness and pain. The word “karhan” shares the same root as the word “karaaha” – something that is hated. The pain that a mother experiences is unimaginable, a pain that anyone would hate to experience – and yet, it is what women endure, over and over again.

The greatest of all women, Maryam bint Imraan (‘alayhassalaam), cried out during labour,

Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!” (Qur’an 19:23)

The burden placed on Muslim women to experience motherhood – to perform motherhood – as the completion of her feminine identity and epitome of self-worth, as the measure of her womanhood and of her spirituality, is a burden that we do not find in the Qur’an and Sunnah.

How then do we have the audacity to place this burden on women? 

Although no one can deny the status of mothers in Islam, we can no longer afford to deny the complicated reality of motherhood for Muslim women. Even in a time when women are more educated than ever, cultural expectations disguised as Islamic advice often dictates entire aspects of our lives. In many countries and cultural enclaves, there is no consideration as to whether a woman wants to be a mother; she is simply expected to be one, and expected to be happy about it, as soon as she is married – and if she isn’t pregnant soon, then she is expected to seek every means possible to ensure that pregnancy occurs, immediately. After the first pregnancy, a second is expected by the time two years are up; and after that, another one, and another one. The physical, mental, and emotional health of these mothers is rarely given consideration.

Lectures on “the status of women in Islam” and “the rewards for motherhood in Islam” almost never talk about those women whose pregnancies were neither chosen, wanted, nor welcomed; women in abusive marriages whose pregnancies were not cause for joy and celebration, but as yet another chain binding them to their abusers; women whose physical and mental health are sacrificed, over and over, on the altar of motherhood; women whose husbands demand children over and over again, and then are disgusted with the changing of their bodies, and seek fresh, nubile flesh elsewhere. There are women whose marriages are happy and healthy, but do not want children for reasons of their own – and who find themselves pressured into pregnancy, only to find themselves completely disconnected from their babies, wondering what is wrong with their womanhood. There are women who spend their pregnancies excited and overjoyed in anticipation of their offspring, but within days or weeks of birth, catch themselves with thoughts so dark that they are terrified to every speak of them. There are women who spend years functioning as mothers, raising their children and loving them – and yet do not understand what it means to feel the maternal bond. 

For these women, motherhood is trauma

The trauma that these Muslim women experience from motherhood is exacerbated by the lack of empathy, compassion, and mercy shown to them. There is a culture of romanticizing motherhood in a way that even our foremothers would not recognize – a demand that all pain be willed away, that no sign of discomfort be shown, that a mother should smile and express only joy and radiance. Worse still, Muslim women have been taught the warped idea that their spirituality – their very relationship with their Creator – is tied to their fertility and their motherhood. Women who do not choose motherhood, or women who struggle with motherhood, are viewed as spiritually diseased, as weak, as dangerous, as worthy of suspicion, sources of corruption. 

There is no place for women who struggle with pregnancy, who spend each second overcome by sickness that is more than just physical; for women who find themselves impregnated against their wills, for women whose bodies treat the fetus within them as a parasite rather than a gift; for women whose despair throughout motherhood suffocates all other emotion.

In the face of this pressure, so many Muslim mothers find themselves even more overwhelmed than they already were. The struggle to perform motherhood ‘the right way’, when they don’t have the basic support that they need, leads to trauma being magnified. Many mothers find themselves trapped with imposter syndrome, despairing at their lack of maternal competence, convinced that at any moment, the full extent of their perceived failures will be revealed – and their shame made public. The trauma, the pressure, and the stress take a terrible toll on these women, in multiple ways. Their physical health declines, their mental health increasingly deteriorates, and their spiritual well-being crumbles daily.

Perinatal depression, in addition to postpartum depression, are – like so many other women’s health concerns – conditions which are ignored, dismissed, and denigrated, despite the serious impact of those conditions on mothers and their children alike. 

“Author and well known obstetrician, Christiane Northrup (2005) shares that if a pregnant mother is going through high levels of fear or anxiety she creates a “metabolic cascade.” Hormones known as cytokines are produced and the mother’s immune system is affected, including her child’s. Chronic anxiety in the mother can set the stage for a whole array of trauma based results such as prematurity, complications of birth, death, and miscarriage.”

When mothers suffer, so do their children. “Perinatal depression has been associated with many poor outcomes, including maternal, child and family unit challenges. Infants and young children of perinatally depressed mothers are more likely to have a difficult temperament, as well as cognitive and emotional delays.”

Some women, with little knowledge or understanding of how to cope with their trauma, unintentionally inflict trauma upon their children, through emotional or even physical abuse. Some may find themselves completely withdrawn, unable to do little more than perform the basic functions required to keep their children alive; these children, who desperately need physical and emotional nurturing, struggle with attachment issues and will often deal with severe emotional dysfunction in their adult lives. Some women are plunged so deeply within their pain that they cannot fathom a way out – except through death.

It is direly necessary for the conversations on motherhood in the Ummah to shift. The fear of “feminist brainwashing” is both stupid and dangerous; it is laughable to think that anyone could launch a full-scale prevention of pregnancy, especially in the Muslim Ummah, whose birth rates are already responsible for our ever-increasing population. The real issue is not about whether women will keep having babies (they will), but whether we actually care about these women in the first place – and whether we care enough about them that we are willing to overcome our own cultural dictats and instead place the well-being of these women as a priority. Pressuring women into pregnancy will not benefit them, their families, or the Ummah at large; providing support to women who find themselves struggling is a matter of communal obligation towards the believing women of this Ummah. The belief that “Muslims don’t deal with this” is a fiction; statistics show that Pakistan has a postpartum depression rate of 63.3%. In Canada, 23% of new mothers reported feelings consistent with either postpartum depression or an anxiety disorder. Those under the age of 25 had the highest rates of such feelings compared to any other age group.

When women are going through wahnun 3ala wahn, our role is not to judge them, to shame them, or to tear them down. Our role – men and women alike – is to recognize in these struggling mothers the Words of Allah, to honour them, to support them, and to provide them what they need to regain their strength in every way. Our role is to be their awliyaa, their companions and their comfort; our role is to give them the love they so desperately need, in this time of pain and hardship and difficulty that we cannot even begin to understand. Our role is to educate ourselves, to raise awareness of these serious medical and psychological conditions, and not to perpetuate the harmful beliefs and mentalities that have made the suffering of many women so much worse. Our role is to think carefully about what we teach about motherhood, how we treat struggling mothers, and whether our conduct with such women reflects the mercy and compassion of the Most Merciful, Whose very name is connected to the wombs which bear every new generation of believers. 

ArRahman recognizes the pain that every mother’s rahm feels – and so should we.

 

https://psychcentral.com/blog/emotional-trauma-in-the-womb/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083253/

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/the-conversation-about-postpartum-mental-health-cannot-afford-to-neglect-suicide_n_5adfaed1e4b07560f3966133?ri18n=true

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939973/

https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190624/dq190624b-eng.htm

 

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Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Akh Muslim

    June 20, 2020 at 9:40 AM

    As a Muslim who grow up in the West and lived there till my late 20’s, I’m surprised by the emense differences between the Ummah. I currently live in East Africa and the number of both Men and Women who have had their Ema an tested by war, famine, loss of children and wealth and are still standing inspires me. As far as Dulmi between the sexes goes my Quran teacher who married a second wife as a social responsibility drew my attention to Surat An Nisa Verse 34 and how Allah describes himself in a threatening manner. This life is a test, and real enjoyment is in the here-after. I would recommend sisters make dua for pious spouses and not leave off children. Wa Bilaahi Towfiiq

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      June 23, 2020 at 6:18 PM

      I’m not sure why or how anyone got the idea that I’m saying no women should ever have babies.

      This is very clearly about not pressuring women into believing that motherhood is the be all and end all to being a pious Muslim woman. It is about recognizing that for some women, motherhood is NOT the healthiest option, and that many women experience serious physical and mental health issues due to pregnancy and motherhood – and that instead of attacking them or telling them to make du’a and keep having babies, we should be supporting them and recognizing their pain and not pressuring them to have more babies.

  2. Avatar

    Ramzan Hossain

    June 20, 2020 at 10:22 AM

    Indeed, there is no mother in the universe/world, who does not love, like her child. Mother is the unique creation of Allah almighty, Who gives highly status to them. For example He descended a large size Surah An Nissa. It is obvious that Allah, almighty keen estimated Women. On the other hand Rasoolullah Sawllallahu ‘Alyhi Wasalaam declared that: having Zannat under the foot of Mother for her child.
    Alhamdulillah, we are highly appreciated to read the unique article on Muslim Women by Zainab bint Younus ,a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women’s issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history.
    May Allah bless her and safe and sound from Novel Corona Covid-19 alongwith her family.
    وما توفيقي الا بالله
    Wama Taufiqi illa Billah
    And my success (in my task) can only come from Allah.

  3. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    June 21, 2020 at 1:53 AM

    Salam
    I really liked some part of this post but other parts felt very uncomfortable.

    If a woman doesnt want children she must be in agree with the man on this BEFORE the marriage.

    Also it differs from woman to woman. No doubt it is ALWAYS painful and difficult, but some women cope with it much better. My wife was terrified before our first child but now she wants a second one and tells me that it really wasnt too bad of an experience and that she wants to have more children.

    Allah told us to seek children:
    “So now, have relations with them and seek that which Allah has decreed for you.” Surah 2:187

    Let us not get affected by the disbelievers who want to make us like them. We should increase in children as the Prophet also encouraged:

    Aisha narrtes:
    “Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations.” Ibn Maja grade: Hasan

    If a woman doesnt want children, fine, let her agree with her husband-to-be before the marriage. But lets not act like having children is not a part of our religion. The religion encourages it.

    I must say i loved the way you described the feelings of the mother. Its truly a strength Allah blesses them with to be able to go through that trauma and still want more children. I cant imagine myself ever desiring another child after something that looks so painful.

    Barak Allahu Feeki

    Abu Ismail

    • Avatar

      Smeagle

      June 21, 2020 at 1:10 PM

      Welcome back Anonymouse with a corker of an article mashallah.

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      June 23, 2020 at 6:20 PM

      I’m not sure how you missed the ENTIRE POINT OF THIS ARTICLE.

      1) Some women don’t realize until their first pregnancy just how physically and mentally damaging it is for them. You can’t anticipate this in advance. So when it does happen that a woman ends up pregnant and it is HARMFUL to her, then instead of telling her to keep having babies… recognize her pain and don’t pressure her to keep having babies.

      2) No one is saying that people should stop having babies or that Islam doesn’t encourage it. Please point out where in the article this is stated?

  4. Avatar

    Abdullah

    June 21, 2020 at 7:29 AM

    Really great article that touches on an important, often neglected topic of mental health amongst mothers. I do think that this topic is extremely important, and requires more awareness via articles such as this. But I slso think this topic is a very deep and nuanced issue that may require a little bit more explanation. I would propose/encourage you to possibly consult a professional in this field such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, and/or OB/Gyn specialist and develop a series of articles on this topic.

    I personally come from the medical profession, so we know that post-partum depression is common yet can present on varying levels and degrees. These types of feelings that a new mother goes through can range from a very common benign condition called post-partum blues, all the way to severe post-partum depression or even psychosis. We also know that certain people can be predisposed to developing these conditions, which helps us be pro-active in helping prevent or identify it early on. It is a wide spectrum and I think it would be of immense benefit to provide the Muslim community with basic education/awareness regarding these feelings, when they should suspect it in themselves, and when/how to get help.

    May Allah reward you!

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      June 23, 2020 at 6:26 PM

      JazaakAllahu khayran for your thoughtful comment! I appreciate the points you made re:varying levels of peri- and postpartum depression. (And I will definitely think further on developing more articles on the topic inshaAllah.)

  5. Avatar

    Gulam Muhammad IMRAN memon

    June 25, 2020 at 6:30 AM

    Subhanallah great article
    ZajakAllauhu khair

  6. Avatar

    Oumissa

    June 26, 2020 at 2:35 AM

    Jazakallah khayran for writing about this. Many Muslim women are suffering from the detrimental effects of lack of empathy and support through experiences like abuse, infertility, mental illness, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, motherhood etc

    When there is a lack of support from their community, it makes them lonely and can affect their sense of worth, belonging or even faith. It is this absence of embrace and understanding from their fellow Muslims that open the door to much-feared ‘outside influences’ guised as help.

    The deliberate (or unintentional) misunderstanding of your article illustrates the drowning out of voices calling for much-needed Nd urgent return to the Sunnah of treating women with mercy and justice.

    Yes, dangers exist outside of the fold but we must not focus solely on that while ignoring the greater damage inflicted by Muslims on one another.

    May Allah increase you and everyone with sincerity and success in returning to the Prophets excellent system of community and deen practice.

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#Islam

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

The Prophet helped the Arabs overcome their asabiya (tribalism) and enter a new defining bond of Islam. The criterion for right and wrong was no longer clan membership, but rooted in the religion of Islam. Muslims were instructed to defend the truth, command good, and forbid evil regardless of tribal affiliation. Asabiya does not just relate to kin-based tribes.  One of the resurging traces of jahilya affecting our discourse is ideological tribalism. In ideological tribalism, we hold double standards between our tribe and other tribes, and overlook fallacies in our group that we would not for other groups. Just as we protect an idea that represents our identity, when a personality reflects our group identity, there is a personal reason to defend the personality. It then becomes instinctual then to double-down in discussions even when wrong to show group strength, which at this point is a survival mechanism and not a true dialectic. Abandoning a quest for truth and succumbing to an in-group vs. out-group dichotomy leaves us to defend falsehood and dislike truth. Refusing to accept truth is one way the Prophet described arrogance. 

Group belonging

One of the main drivers of identity scholarship is group belonging. When we focus on defending our group rather than principles which extend beyond group delineations we prove false our claims of wanting the truth.  The burden of moral responsibility is not offset by finding someone to follow [1]. Charismatic leaders have an ability to tap into latent desires of individuals and awaken in them the desire to be part of something greater than themselves. Their own identities are often validated by following the charismatic figure, and they then work hard to preserve the group as they would to preserve their own selves.

According to Ann Ruth Willner, charismatic authority “derives from the capacity of a particular person to arouse and maintain belief in himself or herself as the source of legitimacy. Willner says that the charismatic leadership relationship has four characteristics:

  1. The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman.
  2. The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements.
  3. The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action.
  4. The followers give the leader unqualified emotional commitment.
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Charismatic leadership satisfies our desire to be part of something bigger, and paradoxically, to hand all power over to someone else can make us feel more powerful because we think that person is the best version of ourselves. We feel that we have gained ‘agency by proxy.’ We have also dumped all responsibility for decisions onto the leader- what Erich Fromm, the scholar of Nazism, called an ‘escape from freedom.’ When we are in a charismatic leadership relationship, our sense of self-worth gets (attaches) attached to the identity of the leader, so that we take personally any criticism of that leader, and have as much difficulty admitting flaws or errors on the leader’s parts as we do on our own. Because we see the leader as us, and we see us as good, we simply can’t believe that he or she might do bad things” (59) [2].

Charismatic leadership is emotional and works on desires. This type of leadership has no relation to truth. It exists and persists due to feelings, hence contradictions, double-standards, and outright hypocrisy aren’t issues for those in the relationship. Even when the leader confidently behaves irresponsibly, followers do not think less of him. What is inconsistent and irresponsible for an out-group observer is charming to members of the in-group. As Miller points out: 

Followers don’t expect charismatic leaders to be responsible for what they say, nor to behave responsibly; their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group (60).

Such loyalty is not specific for charismatic leaders, The Minimal Group Paradigm shows that we have more empathy for our in-group even if that in-group is arbitrarily assigned, and we will act biased in their favor against an arbitrarily assigned out-group. This is a tendency against which we must actively fight to maintain clarity in thinking and fair standards in discussions. When group loyalty is prized there is a fear of opposing the group, which obliterates any chance of scholarly discourse. Questioning a position becomes akin to questioning authority and leaves the questioner ostracized and out-casted. When the out-group is pejoratively labeled, there is an additional fear of thinking like or ending up in that group. 

Identity scholarship

Rather than looking at the argument constructed and judging whether or not it is sound, identity scholarship approves or dismisses arguments based on the person making them. Arguments are then validated by personalities and not standards of scholarship.  This is a dangerous shift from reasoning and evidence to personalities. 

Identity scholarship leverages the need to belong and centers the personality over the argument. However, focusing on the strength of arguments and not the personality is especially important given that the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is applied to vocationally trained Muslims, seminal graduates, preachers, or to those who display a scholarly caliber in Islam alike. This is a sufficient crisis. The term is heavily equivocated, and should never serve to stand in place of standards of scholarship in discourse. 

Ambiguity in the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is exploited by groups to strengthen their influence. Not always pernicious, this is the natural progression of proselytizing via group identity. An in-group who will dismiss dissenting voices for not having studied long enough, not obtaining ijazas, will promote voices of similar or less educated Muslims when those voices are in their ‘in-group.’ Titles like ‘ustadh’ and ‘ustadha’ are quickly conferred upon those who are volunteers or proponents of the ‘in-group’ even with minimal study. Advocating for the correct paradigm is rewarded more than a knowledge based approach to issues. Giving titles to those with social capital in your in-group is also an effective way for brand expansion. For example, loosely affiliated students with avenues into the growing Muslim mental health field are often referred to as ‘ustadha.’  Also, traditionalists will often promote in-group religious figures engaging in no-risk activism like condemning already popularly condemned figures as exemplary ‘scholars and activists’ who should be followed by other activists.  

If a person has been doing this long enough they become ‘shaykh,’ and then eventually a ‘senior scholar’ with assumed wisdom and spiritual insight, worthy of deference. I am well acquainted with the unfortunate irony in traditional circles where those who push a manhaj of studying at the feet of scholars have by and large not done so beyond attending general lectures by visiting scholars.  Many do not even know Arabic, but their zeal and tenure of feel good lectures in a community primarily interested in nasheeds and tea coupled with their promoting the right figures secure for them a scholarly status by generations who venerate the theory of studying at the feet of scholars. 

Thus authority and titles are conferred by virtue of in-group allegiance. 

Slip into demagoguery

When we accept an in-group and out-group dichotomy and don’t argue fairly, we lay the foundation for demagogic discourse. As Patricia Mill-Roberts writes “If people decide to see things as a zero-sum game- the more they succeed, the more we lose, and we should rage about any call made against us, and cheer any call made against them- then democracy loses” (13). The best way to avoid this is by maintaining fair discussions and letting go of double standards. Arguments appealing to in-group or out-group positions rather than being based in fact should not be accepted regardless of which group they are coming from. Several tactics used in these types of arguments are described below. 

Creating a strawman

Falsely representing the out-group is a common tactic in demagogic discourse. One example is portraying out-group critics as only critics. The critic is frozen in time as someone who has accomplished nothing, helped no one, and as only one who sees the faults in others. The in-group then goes on to list what they have accomplished -‘albeit with some faults’- to not seem as braggarts, but insists that those faults are magnified by the arm-chair critics. 

Another example is labeling Muslims more concerned with academic preservation and development as Muslims in ivory towers. This suggests knowledge is only relevant if immediately actionable and discounts the role of theoretical knowledge in both present and future action as well as an intrinsic end.  

Even when it comes to the epitome of practical action, Allah tells the Muslims to not all go out in battle, but to have groups remain behind to study.

Condescending discrediting

One way demagoguery characterizes the out-group is by a “dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness…”(66).  Just as Rudy Giuliani dismissed those protesting Trump’s 2016 win as “professional protestors” with nothing else to do in life, so do we dismiss dissenting voices. 

Terms like ‘keyboard warrior’ should be dropped from the vernacular of anyone who uses the internet for Islamic education. If the internet is good enough for theatrical Ramadan reminders and choreographed Islamic reflections, it should also be good enough for dissent and valid critiques.[3] We have to embrace the fact that the internet is not a pretend medium; social media posts are used in newsfeeds, are reacted to on the mimbar, and even prompt live events. If we dismiss valid criticisms made online as the act of ‘keyboard warriors’ we should also call those giving dawah online ‘studio daa’is.’  

Discrediting due to inexperience

Experience is an important element in answering questions and dealing with different scenarios, and, should rightly be considered when one is looking for a teacher, etc. However, frequently, the standards for what constitutes experience are used inconsistently. The same individuals who refer to young teachers as ‘shaykh’ or ‘mufti’ while in their in-group, dismiss ‘shaykhs’ and ‘muftis’ in the out-group of similar age and experience, arguing that a person can’t be a ‘real’ mufti because studying 7 years doesn’t make anyone a scholar. Graduating from a seminary or Islamic university will be the standard for members of an in-group to be called scholars, but the out-group will be ‘immature graduates’ who have not learned wisdom.  Wisdom itself will be defined as the avoidance of actions which challenge the in-group. Likewise an activist saying the right thing and echoing in-group talking points will be called ‘ustadh,’ but if from the ‘out-group’ dismissed as a Godless- activist’ that just hates hierarchy. 

Victimization and Victimology

Demagoguery thrives on the in-group being victimized by the out-group. It is common for religious figures to dismiss valid criticism as nothing but hate, envy, or ignorance [4]. When criticized by activists, it is common to label them as ‘anti-clerical’ activists who only have an issue with Islamic leaders because they are neo-Marxists. 

‘Neo-Marxist’ is used as a catch-all term to discredit those who disagree with the positions of some religious leaders to insinuate the disagreements are rooted in hate for hierarchy or authority thus being illegitimate. Even conservative and practicing Muslims are labeled as ‘leftists’ and ‘Godless activists’ for simple critiques. In Sufi groups, disagreeing with leadership is often said to be the result of being spiritually veiled, or the work of ‘dark forces’ and ‘shayateen’ dividing us. If we can agree that black-magic and evil-eye are real but should not be the first culprit in a failing marriage, let’s also look for practical failures when religious organizations break down before we start blaming the ‘shayateen.’  

On one hand the in-group claims they are victims, on the other they blame the out-group for having a victim mentality.  This may seem like an obvious contradiction, but as Miller explains,  

If condemnation of out-group behavior is performed by a very likeable persona, then onlookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior she or he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values he or she claims to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that ‘good people- that is, people who say the right things- don’t do ‘bad’ things) (56) 

Another tactic is using terms like ‘victomology’ to belittle legitimate grievances of being wronged and falsely representing those grievances as an attitude of being a victim in life.

Being oppressed (mazlum) does not require living a tough life, being a victim in life, or being part of an oppressed group. We are told by the Prophet that delaying a payment owed while being capable of paying is oppression (Muslim). When our God given rights are transgressed upon, we are mazlum in that situation. It is not uncommon however to see Muslims want to claim their rights and express they have been wronged to be dismissed as those who love to be victims. Ironically, this is even done by organizations that describe themselves with the leftist concept of ‘safe spaces.’  

Disregarding Nuance

“Demagoguery is comfortable because it says the world is very simple, and made up of good people (us) and bad people (them)” (24). 

We must understand that if someone does not see an issue as black or white, it’s not because they are obviously corrupt, willfully ignorant, or stupid.  The word nuance itself triggers cynicism and is treated as an excuse to employ mental gymnastics to deny what is ‘obvious.’  The fact of the matter is when it comes to khilafi issues there is generally a vast scope of acceptable actions, and when it comes personal ijtihaadi matters for policy there is often no clear-cut best answer. Thus in such matters the objective is to come to a best resolution or course of action. In short, we should all take appropriate measures in our decisions to ensure the benefit outweighs the harm. Certain positions are cautioned against due to the likelihood of harm to one’s religion, but that likelihood may not serve as evidence that one has harmed his religion. As the great scholar Muhammad Awama relates in Ma’laam Irshadiya, the way of the scholars is to leave people in what they are following as long as it is correct and has a valid legal perspective [5]

Scholarly discourse

Advice from recognized experts in a field carries weight, but it should not be conflated with a scholarly argument. A common mistake is to confer authority upon an opinion outside the area of one’s authority. Scholarly works must prove themselves to be scholarly as stand-alone works. Even if a great scholar has published many scholarly works, his advice should be taken as advice. For example, Imam al-Ghazali was a great scholar, but Dear Beloved Son is not a scholarly work.  We have a malfoozaat (wisdom-sharing) tradition that is precious, but we must know where to place it in the hierarchy of Islamic knowledge. 

Islamic scholarly discourse should be evidence based, demonstrative of legal proficiency, and cater to Islamic concerns. Those engaging should share the evidence for what they say, the sources of the rulings they share, the difference between the reason for a ruling and the wisdom of a ruling [6], understand contextual fatwas,[7] and understand which rulings are based on urf and which rulings are intrinsic obligations or prohibitions. These are just some elements of Islamic scholarly discourse, and it cannot exist alongside identity scholarship. 

There should be private forums with prerequisites where scholarly discourse can take place. When these discussions move outside of their proper place other issues such as discussing weak or aberrant (shadh) fiqh opinions arise, which to an undiscriminating audience all will seem co-valid on the spectrum of differing opinions in sharia. Promoting aberrant positions caters to our cultural preferences of thinking outside the box and carries the façade of an intellectual approach to Islam. In Maharam al-Lisaan (Prohibitions of the Tongue) Muhammad Mawlud lists both mentioning the conflict between the Sahabah, and mentioning aberrant opinions as prohibitions.  This is not due to the utterance being sinful, but rather to the misconceptions it can lead to for the average Muslim if not properly addressed.  

There may be a need to dismiss open innovators and those spreading misguidance, because there is no end to the possibilities of innovation and it obfuscates what should be self-evident, and can be very difficult for even scholars to refute in ways that resonate with those affected by innovation. The double standard as previously mentioned is when lack of formal credentials is only a problem for out-groups. 

How to have productive discourse

Islamic historical discourse has its share of polemics. There are commentaries, fatwas and treatises which insult valid ijtihad and even refer to the entirety of a madhab with epithets. Some scholars were harsh and had a penchant for polemics. Transgressions into mockery and slander were not condoned, and belligerent attitudes were something scholars sought to check with reminders of adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquettes of disagreement). While the previously mentioned certainly existed and such an approach may serve to strengthen positions of the in-group to the in-group, it does not make for productive dialogue with the out-group.

Outside of scholarly discourse, when we debate policy and Islamic positions, we need to have sincere, fact based arguments with the goal of arriving at truth. Our ability to accept truth no matter who says it shows we have transcended in-group vs. out-group tribalism and have entered the realm of sincere discourse.  Overcoming in-group tribalism and following the truth, rather than blindly following our ‘fathers’ is a central message in the Quran. 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?  2:170 

Arguments on points should never be personal. We should train ourselves to evaluate arguments and understand that people we like can make mistakes, and people we dislike and generally disagree with may be right on certain matters. 

Don’t take cheap shots if you disagree with someone, such as pointing out a typo to insinuate incompetence. 

It’s important to leave double-standards, and to point them out when someone is employing them.  When one side is unfair or uses double standards, it encourages the opposition to act in kind, and the discussion devolves into a fight. When disagreeing with someone, never insult that person.  When a personality is attacked, the response will be defending the personality, and the entire discussion is derailed. 

Sharing a post, or article should not be seen as endorsing an individual or a post. Sometimes it’s a means of opening a discussion, other times to share beneficial points even if the entirety of what is shared is not beneficial. Furthermore, endorsing an individual in one area is not a blanket endorsement, and should never be taken as such.  The Hanafi tradition was able to benefit from legal fatwas while not accepting theology of Mu’tazilite scholars. Likewise, many of our best tafseers are from Mu’tazilite scholars. The widely studied and highly regarded Tafseer al-Baydawi is basically a reworked Mu’tazilite tafseer without the Mu’tazilite aqidah. Scholars have been able to ‘take the good and leave the harm.’ 

“I don’t think you could search America, sir, and find two men who agree on everything.” – Malcolm X

We need to uplift our intellectual level and drop disclaimers like “I don’t agree with everything in this article” or “I don’t agree with everything he said.”  It is only worth stating when you do agree with everything someone says or does.  The common disclaimers should be taken as givens and we shouldn’t capitulate to a cultural push of walking on egg-shells so no one accuses us of supporting the wrong person or idea. 

It is critical we operate under the assumption that sharing a panel with or working with an individual is not an endorsement of that individual. Likewise, working with an organization is not an endorsement of that organization. Such associations are attacked as potentially confusing to the average Muslim, but we must work towards establishing that such actions are not support. 

Here we see an ambivalent conceptualization of the ‘average Muslim’ as someone who both deserves transparency from religious scholars for their actions as well as one who is easily confused or misled by the actions of Muslim scholars. If we can accept both propositions, that a scholar’s actions are not proof, and that working with someone and sharing posts and platforms do not equate support for every particular view or stance of a person, we may set the foundation for being issue focused rather than personality focused. 

In conclusion, it is important we all hold ourselves to high standards of discourse and not support behavior or fallacies from our in-group that we would deride from an out-group. The groups themselves are inevitable and not a problem, but we have to work to overcome the natural ideological tribalism that accompanies group membership.  If we personally transcend in-group bias and reflect it in our discourse, we can overcome the pettiness and hypocrisy that stifles productive discussions. 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 16: The Best of You

Now that we have learnt about fruit out of season, let’s now talk about the best of you.

I want you all to think about your closest friends and how you treat them. 

Question: Would anyone like to share how they try to treat their closest friends?

That’s wonderful! You try to be thoughtful and considerate of their feelings. You bring snacks to share with them, you may buy or make them a gift.

Question: Now, I want you to close your eyes and think of the way you treat your family members. Is it the same?

Question: Why do you think that there is a difference between the way we treat our friends and the way we may treat our siblings or parents?

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Yes, we do spend a lot of time together. We see each other when we’re cranky or frustrated. Sometimes we want our own space to think, or we don’t want someone interfering with our things. Those are all valid reasons. But, do you know that it is more beloved to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that you treat your family members better than you even treat your friends?

It’s true! In a hadith, Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِهِ وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِي وَإِذَا مَاتَ صَاحِبُكُمْ فَدَعُوهُ

“The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family.” 

Question: What are some ways we can be the best to our family members? I’m going to share with you a hadith that may help you get some ideas: 

وعن أبى أمامه الباهلى رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ “أنا زعيم ببيت في ربض الجنة لمن ترك المراء، وإن كان محقاً، وببيت في وسط الجنة لمن ترك الكذب، وإن كان مازحاً، وببيت في أعلى الجنة لمن حسن خلقه” ‏(‏حديث صحيح رواه أبو داود بإسناد صحيح‏).‏

“I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.”

If we work on these three things: less arguing, no lying, and good manners, alongside all of your other suggestions, we will be rewarded with Jannah, inshaAllah

Question: Do you think we can all work hard to be the best to our family members?

 

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Raised by Converts

Note to the reader:  Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?”  In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.”  Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.  

Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married.  Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam.  Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.  

Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen

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How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?

To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.  

Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old.  When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.  

“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”

Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.  

As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”

Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med.  “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”

 She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions.  When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”

For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence.  “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains.  “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her.  I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”

Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”

Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman.  “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”

Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970.  She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.

“She was the main parental source of knowledge for us, although we also attended Sunday school.”Click To Tweet

Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says.  “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.” 

“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”

As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.  

“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah.  “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”

“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa.  “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”

I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”

While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam.  She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.” 

Wisdom to Share

These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.  

Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.” 

She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”

Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,

“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.” 

I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”

When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.”  They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it. 

Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.  

*Names have been changed

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