“Say it!” the angel Gabriel commanded Muhammad, who had been chosen to channel the message of Allah to mankind. “Write it,” the angel might have said, because the words the prophet recited became a book, the Koran. And in the hands of artists over the centuries that book became a devotional object of surpassing beauty.
October 29, 2008
LOOKING For Your Face
From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it.
Today I have seen
the charm, the beauty,
the unfathomable grace
of the face
that I was looking for.
Today I have found you
and those that laughed
and scorned me yesterday
are sorry that they were not looking
as I did.
I am bewildered by the magnificence
of your beauty
and wish to see you with a hundred eyes.
My heart has burned with passion
and has searched forever
for this wondrous beauty
that I now behold.
I am ashamed
to call this love human
and afraid of God
to call it divine.
Your fragrant breath
like the morning breeze
has come to the stillness of the garden
You have breathed new life into me
I have become your sunshine
and also your shadow.
My soul is screaming in ecstasy
Every fiber of my being
is in love with you
has lit a fire in my heart
and you have made radiant
the earth and sky.
My arrow of love
has arrived at the target
I am in the house of mercy
and my heart
is a place of prayer.
Divani Shamsi Tarbrizi,
from “Magnificent One”,
by Nevit Orguz Ergin
~ What is this… what is this…what is this new feeling? One whose scent has always been blowing my way, but it never fully arrived, and it seems its truly on its way now! This burning, this burning, it burns, it truly does. Let’s seperate the light of the burning fire from the darkness, lets look at it for what it really is. Is it meant to be? Let’s wait and see, wait patiently for its arrival. Everyone is waiting to see its beautiful face! ~
The winds of winter may be blowing in, but the waves of summer still sway within me…
The maturity of autumn maybe attractive, but the purity of Spring has its own beauty.
That purity is where love & in love mesh together, leaving no room for thoughts.
October 23, 2008
This world is a treasure, and it is a serpent. Some people play with the treasure, some
with the serpent. Those who play with the serpent must give their hearts over to being
bitten by it. It bites the tail, and the head. If it bites the tail and you don’t wake up, it will
bite the head.
Those who turn away from the serpent and have not been deluded by its jewels and
kindness put the shaykh that is intellect in front—because the shaykh of intellect is the
emerald [that blinds] the serpent’s gaze. When the dragon-like serpent sees that the
shaykh of intellect is the leader of the caravan, it becomes low, lowly, and frail. In that
water it used to be like a shark, but under the foot of intellect it becomes a bridge. Its
poison becomes sugar, its thorns roses. It used to be a highwayman, but it becomes the
escort. It used to be the stuff of fear, but it becomes the stuff of security. (313)
Intellect takes you to the threshold, but it doesn’t take you into the house. There intellect
is a veil, the heart a veil, the secret heart a veil. (180)
Intellect is a master archer. It can pull the bowstring to the ear. However, the this-worldly
intellect is laid low by nature. It can pull the string, but not to the ear. With a thousand
tricks it makes it reach the mouth. If you let go of the bowstring from the mouth, what
work can it do? Only if you let it go from the ear will it make a wound.
So, words that come from the mouth are nothing—only if they come from action and
practice. I am the least of the least and the lowest of the low. God knows my soul better
than I, and I know my soul better than you.
The words of the this-worldly intellect come from the mouth. The words of the thatworldly
intellect are an arrow shot from the depth of the soul. Therefore, If only a Koran,
whereby the mountains were set in motion, or the earth were cleft [13:31].
Words that don’t spring up from thought
aren’t suited for speaking or writing.
One should look both before and behind so that love for this world does not become a
barrier, for your love for a thing makes you blind and deaf. When love for this world
dominates over love of religion, it makes you blind and deaf. The result is We have put
before them a barrier, and behind them a barrier [36:9]. It may be that they will repent
and wakefulness will arrive. Then that love will decrease, and the barrier will become
thinner. For the most part, this is achieved through companionship with good
companions. Good companions last with someone who is sweet-tempered and longsuffering.
~ Me & Rumi.
October 22, 2008
October 16, 2008
Musa and the Shepherd
Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying, “God,”
where are You? I want to help You, to fix Your shoes
and comb Your hair. I want to wash Your clothes
and pick the lice off. I want to bring You milk,
to kiss Your little hands and feet when it’s time
for You to go to bed. I want to sweep Your room
and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats
are Yours. All I can say, remembering You,
is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh.”
Moses could stand it no longer.
“Who are you talking to?”
“The One who made us,
and made the earth and made the sky.”
“Don’t talk about shoes
and socks with God! And what’s this with Your little hands
and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you’re chatting with your uncles.
Only something that grows
needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God!
Even if you meant God’s human representatives
as when God said, ‘I was sick, and you did not visit me,’
even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.
Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name
for a woman, but if you call a man Fatima,
it’s an insult. Body-and-birth language
are right for us on this side of the river,
but not for addressing the Origin,
not for Allah.”
The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered out into the desert.
A sudden revelation
came then to Moses. God’s voice:
You have separated Me
from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,
or to sever?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.
What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.
Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to Me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It’s all praise, and it’s all right.
It’s not Me that’s glorified in acts of worship.
It’s the worshippers! I don’t hear the words
they say. I look at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the Reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, burning.
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!
those who pay attention to ways of behaving
and speaking are one sort.
Lovers who burn
Don’t impose a property tax
on a burned out village. Don’t scold the Lover.
The “wrong” way he talks is better than a hundred
“right” ways of others.
Inside the Kaaba
it doesn’t matter which direction you point
your prayer rug!
The ocean diver doesn’t need snowshoes!
The Love-Religion has no code or doctrine.
So the ruby has nothing engraved on it!
It doesn’t need markings.
God began speaking deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words,
which cannot be recorded here, poured into
and through him. He left himself and came back.
He went to Eternity and came back here.
Many times this happened.
It’s foolish of me
to try and say this. If I did say it,
it would uproot our human intelligences.
It would shatter all writing pens.
Moses ran after the shepherd.
He followed the bewildered footprints,
in one place moving straight like a castle
across a chessboard. In another, sideways,
like a bishop.
Now surging like a wave cresting,
now sliding down like a fish,
with always his feet
making geomancy symbols in the sand,
his wandering state.
Moses finally caught up
“I was wrong. God has revealed to me
that there are no rules for worship.
and however your loving tells you to. Your sweet blasphemy
is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world
Loosen your tongue and don’t worry what comes out.
It’s all the Light of the Spirit.”
The shepherd replied,
I’ve gone beyond even that.
You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped
out of itself. The Divine Nature and my human nature
Bless your scolding hand and your arm.
I can’t say what has happened.
What I’m saying now
is not my real condition. It can’t be said.”
The shepherd grew quiet.
When you look in a mirror,
you see yourself, not the state of the mirror.
The fluteplayer puts breath into a flute,
and who makes the music? Not the flute.
Whenever you speak praise
or thanksgiving to God, it’s always like this
dear shepherd’s simplicity.
When you eventually see
through the veils of how things really are,
you will keep saying again
“This is certainly not like we thought it was!”
Mathnawi II 1720-96, from This Longing: Poetry, Teaching Stories, and Selected Letters,
translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne (Putney, Vt.: Threshold Books, 1988), pp.
I absotively love this story! Ah, Subhan’Allah…
October 12, 2008
“Forging an American Muslim Agenda”
MANA’s 2nd Annual Conference
November 28-30, 2008 (Thanksgiving Weekend)
Pennsylvania Convention Center
MANA’s 2nd Annual Conference will be held Thanksgiving weekend, Friday, November 28 to Sunday, November 30, 2008 and will return to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. This year’s theme is “Forging an American Muslim Agenda.”
The conference will repeat the main session and workshop format of the first conference and will again include a banquet; with several additions-including progress reports on resolutions presented at “The State of the Blackamerican Muslim Community” conference in November, an exhibit hall to accomodate many more vendors as well as art, photo and cultural exhibits.
2008 Conference Links
Call for Young Muslim Artists
Volunteer for the MANA Conference!
Become a Conference Sponsor or Advertiser
Get on the Bus to Philly!
2008 Conference Program
Conference Suq (Marketplace) and Vending Information
MANA’s 1st Annual Muslim Film Festival – Call for Submissions
MANA’s 1st Annual Culture and History Exhibition – Call for Entries
Hotel Rates and Reservation Information
The Theme of MANA’s 2008 Conference
October 11, 2008
The art of the book and the art of writing are the subjects of paired exhibitions at Asia Society, “Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, Circa 1600-1900” and “Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an.” Perfect in size and proportion, carefully thought out and gorgeous, they are worthy of the book they honor.
Gorgeous is important. Precious jewels should be superbly cut and set. Many would say that the word of God is the most precious jewel of all. “Traces of the Calligrapher” is about how that word was packaged for earthly consumption. Basically, the show is a manual of fine handwriting and luxury bookmaking, illustrated by superb examples of tools of the trade and finished products.
No tool was more essential than the ink pen. From the time the first Korans were written in the seventh century, a traditional kind of pen was preferred, one made of a plain, dried, hollow reed, cut at the end to form a nib. Yet when it came to the holy book, nothing was ever really plain. Every aspect of its production took on symbolic weight.
The pen was an emblem for the creation of the cosmos, when primal matter issued forth from God like ink on a page. Its use had ethical implications. The skill with which a calligrapher trimmed the nib — ideally with a single, deft knife stroke — was assumed to say everything about his force of character.
Calligraphers were not regarded as ordinary artisans. They were members of a subculture with its own set of aesthetic codes and foundation myths and often with strong connections to Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam still too little understood in the West.
Exalted as it was, the pen came with sumptuous accoutrements. Knives used to trim it were fitted with ivory, agate or coral handles. Small flat objects, called maktas, originally bits of stone on which the pen rested when cut, were transformed into miniature sculptures of walrus tusk and gold.
Parchment was used for early Korans. Then paper became common and inspired yet another line of ornate and ingenious instruments, evident in the show.
Scissors from 18th-century Iran fold into a sleek, compact dart shape, rounded at the top and pierced with pinpoint fine openwork patterns. The finger holes of a large pair of scissors made in Ottoman Turkey form calligraphic characters that spell out one of the names of God. With every slice, the idea is, you say a prayer.
Over time, an entire industry of calligraphic accessories flourished, from pen-cases and ink wells inlaid with tortoise shell, ebony and mother-of-pearl to an Ikea’s worth of specialized furniture, including calligrapher’s tables as ornate as altars.
Most sensuous of all were book covers of tooled and gilded leather, or painted and lacquered pasteboard. Many Koran covers had abstract decorations, but on one Iranian example roses and tulips palpitate against a hot-red ground as if drawing vitality from the writing they enclosed and protected.
Writing — the written word — was the essential thing. If “Traces of the Calligrapher,” organized by Mary McWilliams and David J. Roxburgh of Harvard University, is primarily an ensemble of the instruments that produced it, the show also evokes calligraphy as a physical act.
A film of the American-born master calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya at work is a mesmerizing part of the show. So are the wall texts that describe stages of calligraphic training. Hands-on study entails the preparation of materials and the mastery of pen techniques.
But it begins with a prolonged contemplation of existing calligraphy, a total immersion in the written word, which means keeping it in front of your eye, living with it, absorbing its particular pulses and energies before attempting to send your own version out into the world.
The second and smaller of the two shows, “Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an,” affords something like this experience. It is a deep-end dive into writing and its history.
Two parchment sheets, their edges nibbled away by time, date to the seventh century, when Islam was new. The words that crowd every inch of surface might even have been copied during the prophet’s lifetime. At that early date, though, the word of Allah was customarily presented as Muhammad had presented it: orally. The manuscript at Asia Society was probably a kind of prompt-book for recitations.
But very quickly, copies of the Koran became primary objects, esteemed for their beauty as well as their content. Stretched-out Arabic letters on a single surviving page from an eighth century Koran have the stop-start rhythms of a music score. And on a page from a different copy the same script appears in gold on a rich midnight-blue ground.
Expressive new script styles developed: Eastern Kufic with characters tall, thin and slightly flexed like blades of grass in a field; Maghribi from North Africa, with its flourishes of downward lines, like roots reaching into desert subsoil.
Ornament entered the picture: red and green accent marks; verse markers in the form of fat gold knots; and in a 15th- or 16th-century page, a teardrop-shaped medallion, ripe and showy, floating in the margin. And the later books bring us back around to secular examples of calligraphy in the first show.
In an early 17th-century composition, the strokes forming the letters of a poem about a celestial garden are filled with tiny birds and flowers. An imperial degree ordering that generous wages be paid to an artist is topped by what looks like a Christmas tree.
And a third sheet refers to just such an artist in the making. It is a calligraphy student’s graduation certificate, with writing in different sizes and scripts, by the student himself. His work looks more than confident; his teachers have signed off on it; clearly, he is ready to start a career.
Just for luck, though, he adds a prayer: “O Lord, make things easy and do not make them difficult. Make everything come out well.”
October 10, 2008
I try to shut my eyes to the deafening roar of the world
The drops delicately flowing down the surface of my cheek,
the waters flowing in and out of me, desperately
In attempts to purify, rejuvenate, intoxicate…
the harder they fall down my face, the clearer my eye sight becomes,
the more intensified my cries become, the brighter the light becomes,
burning my eyes, my heart tossing and turning, in complete drunkeness, in utter wild commotion, whispering in hushed voices, where have I come?
Where has your Love brought me?
Here and there, I search, rushing to and fro, where are you oh Love?
Have I sought You long enough…have I loved You strongly enough…
have I beheld You in my heart,
through my eyes, my ears, through my flesh & bones, has it been enough?
Kala! No, never! It’s never enough!
Keep seeking, keep coming, keep drinking!
The ocean of wine will never dry out, the seas of Love will never lose their taste,
don’t you know… yak chakre en daryaii Muhabbat az ashqe Mothaar meftah…
don’t you see…
It will never be enough.
Never cease asking!
I say, I didn’t hesitate to ask before,
and with what pearls and rubies, emeralds and opals I was rewarded with.
What didn’t I receive…
Mercy in its greatness cannot be perceived, mercy in its detail cannot be counted.
I asked, and from a most generous drop of that beneficent, benevolent ocean I received.
Now, that I sit and contemplate my bejewelment,
I sense the scent of dishonesty luring its way through the thief.
Who is coming to take my jewels, my wine cups, my treasures…
Where to run and hide, where to protect myself from the harsh winds of the bold,
lieing winter sun.
Flee! Flee! For otherwise, your treasures will be taken and only a trace,
a scent of all that once was will be left.
No, I refuse, I will stand still, and I will fight my enemy face to face,
Hit me with blows! thousands of times over! Hazaar ba hazaar dafah,
You will not see me flinch.
I am stone with skin as hard as the oyster shell,
and treasures more beautiful than any pearls you can imagine.
Whose to say I will open for the enemy,
revealing my inner most secrets to mere illusions, never!
Take your blows, then leave me be, I may be battered, but I will not crack, I may be stricken but I shall refuse to weaken! Afterall…what is skin and bones, flesh and nerve, if not protection for the deepest locked treasure.
They are meant to be blown at, meant to be torn, but as long as the Light pulses from within, as long as Love screams in delight from the depths of my soul, I will never leave that which I came in search of!
Behold! The strength of the Lover! The intensity of intoxication! The brilliant radiance of the Light!
October 9, 2008
Subhan’Allah, I ran across these Ramadhan commercials and remembered the loveliness of this past month..
The 1st video just about made me cry, what beauty, mashaa’Allah. Enjoy 🙂
October 7, 2008
By Mohja Kahf
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Crimson chiffon, silver lamé or green silk: Which scarf to wear today? My veil collection is 64 scarves and growing. The scarves hang four or five to a row on a rack in my closet, and elation fills me when I open the door to this beautiful array. Last week, I chose a particularly nice scarf to slip on for the Eid al-Fitr festivities marking the end of the month of Ramadan.
It irks me that I even have to say this: Being a Muslim woman is a joyful thing.
My first neighbor in Arkansas borrowed my Quran and returned it, saying, ‘I’m glad I’m not a Muslim woman.’ Excuse me, but a woman with Saint Paul in her religious heritage has no place feeling superior to a Muslim woman, as far as woman-affirming principles are concerned. Maybe no worse, if I listen to Christian feminists, but certainly no better.
Blessings abound for me as a Muslim woman: The freshness of ablution is mine, and the daily meditation zone of five prayers that involve graceful, yoga-like movements, performed in prayer attire. Prayer scarves are a chapter in themselves, cool and comforting as bedsheets. They lie folded in the velveteen prayer rug when not in use: two lightweight muslin pieces, the long drapey headcover and the roomy gathered skirt. I fling open the top piece, and it billows like summer laundry, a lace-edged meadow. I slip into the bottom piece to cover my legs for prayer time because I am wearing shorts around the house today.
These create a tent of tranquility. The serene spirit sent from God is called by a feminine name, ‘sakinah,’ in the Quran, and I understand why some Muslim women like to wear their prayer clothes for more than prayer, to take that sakinah into the world with them. I, too, wear a (smaller) version of the veil when I go out. What a loss it would be for me not to have in my life this alternating structure, of covering outdoors and uncovering indoors. I take pleasure in preparing a clean, folded set for a houseguest, the way home-decor mavens lay elegant plump towels around a bathroom to give it a relaxing feel.
Tassled turquoise cotton and flowered peach crepe flutter as I pull out a black-and-ivory striped headscarf for the day. When I was 22 and balked at buying a $30 paisley scarf, my best friend told me, ‘I never scrimp on scarves. If people are going to make a big deal of it, it may as well look good.’
I embraced that principle, too, even when I was a scratch-poor graduate student. Today I sort my scarves, always looking to replace the frayed ones and to find missing colors, my collection shrinking and expanding, dynamic, bright: The blue-and-yellow daisy print is good with jeans, the incandescent purple voile for a night on the town, the gray houndstooth solidly professional, the white chambray anytime.
As beautiful as veils are, they are not the best part of being a Muslim woman — and many Muslim women in Islamic countries don’t veil. The central blessing of Islam to women is that it affirms their spiritual equality with men, a principle stated over and over in the Quran, on a plane believers hold to be untouched by the social or legalistic ‘women in Islam’ concerns raised by other parts of the Scripture, in verses parsed endlessly by patriarchal interpreters as well as Muslim feminists and used by Islamophobes to ‘prove’ Islam’s sexism. This is how most believing Muslim women experience God: as the Friend who is beyond gender, not as the Father, not as the Son, not inhabiting a male form, or any form.
And the reasons for being a joyful Muslim woman go beyond the spiritual. Marriage is a contract in Islam, not a sacrament. The prenup is not some new invention; it’s the standard Muslim format. I can put whatever I want in it, but Muslims never get credit for that. Or for having mahr, the bridegift that goes from the man to the woman — not to her family, but to her, for her own private use. A mahr has to have significant value — a year’s salary, say. And if patriarchal customs have overridden Islam and whittled away this blessing in many Muslim locales, it’s still there, available, in the law. Hey, I got mine (cash, partly deferred because my husband was broke when we married; like a loan to him, owed to me whenever I want to claim it) — and I was married in Saudi Arabia, a country whose personal-status laws are drawn from the most conservative end of the Muslim spectrum.
I had to sign my name indicating my consent, or the marriage contract would not have been valid under Saudi Islamic law. And, of course, I chose whom to marry. Every Muslim girl in the conservative circle of my youth chose her husband. We just did it our way, a conservative Muslim way, and we did it without this nonsensical Western custom of teenage dating. My friends Salma and Magda chose at 16 and 17: Salma to marry boy-next-door Muhammad, with whom she grew up, and Magda to marry a doctor 10 years her senior who came courting from half a world away. Both sisters have careers, one as a counselor, one as a school principal, and both are still vibrantly married and vibrantly Muslim, their kids now in college.
I held out until I was 18, making my parents beat back suitors at the door until I was good and ready. And here I am, still married to the guy I finally let in the door, 22 years (some of them not even dysfunctional) later. My cousin, on the other hand, broke off a marriage she contracted (but did not consummate) at 16 and chose another man. Another childhood friend, Zeynab, chose four times and is looking for Mr. Fifth. Her serial monogamy is nothing new or radical; she didn’t pick up the idea from reading Cosmo or from the ‘liberating’ influence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It’s simply what a lot of women in early Muslim history did, in 7th- and 8th-century Arabia.
And would you guess that we’ve also been freer to divorce and remarry than Christian women have been for most of history? In medieval times, when Christian authorities were against divorce and remarriage, this was seen as another Islamic abomination. Now that divorce and remarriage are popular in the West, Muslims don’t get credit for having had that flexibility all along. We just can’t win with the Muslim-haters.
Here’s another one: Medieval Christianity excoriated Islam for being orgiastic, which seems to mean that Muslims didn’t lay a guilt trip on sex (at least within what were deemed licit relationships). Now that sex is all the rage in the post-sexual revolution West, you’d think Muslims would get some credit for the pro-sex attitude of Islam — but no. The older stereotype has been turned on its head, and in the new one, we’re the prudes.
Of course, I’m still putting in my time struggling for a more woman-affirming interpretation of Islam and in criticizing Muslim misogyny (which at times is almost as bad as American misogyny), but let me take a moment to celebrate some of the good stuff. Under Islamic law, custody of minor children always goes first to the mother. The Quran doesn’t blame Eve. Literacy for women is highly encouraged by the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. Breast-feeding is a woman’s choice and a means for her to create family ties independent of male lineage, as nursing creates legally recognized family relationships under Islamic law. Rapists are punishable by death in Islamic law (and yes, an atavistic part of me applauds that death penalty), which they certainly are not in any Western legal code. Birth control allowed in Islamic law? Check. Abortion? Again, allowances exist — even Muslims seem not to remember that.
It’s easy to forget that Muslims are not inherently more sexist than folks in other religions. Muslim societies may lag behind on some issues that women in certain economically advanced, non-Muslim societies have resolved after much effort, but on other issues, Muslim women’s options run about the same as those of women all over the world. And in some areas of life, Muslim women are better equipped by their faith tradition for autonomy and dignity.
There are ‘givens’ that I take for granted as a Muslim woman that women of other faiths had to struggle to gain. For example, it took European and American women centuries to catch up to Islamic law on a woman’s fully equal right to own property. And it’s not an airy abstraction; it’s a right Muslim women have practiced, even in Saudi Arabia, where women own businesses, donate land for schools and endow trusts, just as they did in 14th-century Egypt, 9th-century Iraq and anywhere else Islamic law has been in effect.
Khadija was the boss of her husband, our beloved Prophet Muhammad-peace be upon him, hiring him during her fourth widowhood to run caravans for her successful business; he caught her eye, and she proposed marriage to him. Fatima is the revered mother figure of Shiite Islam, our lady of compassion, possessed of a rich emotional trove for us. Her daughter Zainab is the classic figure of high moral protest, the Muslim Antigone, her tomb a shrine of comfort for millions of the pious. Saints, queens, poets, scribes and scholars adorn the history of Muslim womanhood.
In modern times, Muslim women have been heads of state five times in Muslim-majority countries, elected democratically by popular vote (in Bangladesh twice and also in Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan). And I’m not saying that a woman president is necessarily a women’s president, but how many times has a woman been president of the United States?
Yet even all that gorgeous history pales when I open my closet door for the evening’s pick: teal georgette, pink-and-beige plaid, creamy fringed wool or ice-blue organza? God, why would anyone assume I would want to give up such beauty? I love being a Muslim woman. And I’m always looking for my next great polka-dot scarf.
~Mohja Kahf is the author of the novel ‘The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf.
Mashaa’Allah amazing piece of writing! May we be guided amongst our Sisters in Islam, and help guide others as well, Ameen.
October 5, 2008
Woman’s Reflection on Leading Prayer: Yasmin Mogahed
‘Given my privilege as a woman, I only degrade Myself by trying to be something I’m not–and in all honesty–don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.’
On March 18, 2005 Amina Wadud led the first female-led Jumuah (Friday) prayer. On that day women took a huge step towards being more like men. But, did we come closer to actualizing our God given liberation? I Don’t think so.
What we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to God not in relation to men. But as western feminism erases God from the scene, there are no standard left but men. As a result the western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man-the standard.
When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man joined the army, she wanted to join the army. She wanted these things for no other reason than because the ‘standard’ had it. What she didn’t recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in their distinctiveness—not their sameness. And on March 18, Muslim women made the very same mistake.
For 1400 years there has been a consensus of the scholars that men are to lead prayer. As a Muslim woman, why does this matter? The one who leads prayer is not spiritually superior in any way. Something is not better just because a man does it. And leading prayer is not better, just because it’s leading. Had it been the role of women or had it been more divine, why wouldn’t the Prophet have asked Ayesha or Khadija, or Fatima-the greatest women of all time-to lead?
These women were promised heaven-and yet they never lead prayer.
But now for the first time in 1400 years, we look at a man leading prayer and we think, ‘That’s not fair.’ We think so although God has given no special privilege to the one who leads. The imam is no higher in the eyes of God than the one who prays behind.
On the other hand, only a woman can be a mother. And God has given special privilege to a mother. The Prophet taught us that heaven lies at the feet of mothers. But no matter what a man does he can never be a mother. So why is that not unfair?
When asked who is most deserving of our kind treatment? The Prophet replied ‘your mother’ three times before saying ‘your father’ only once.
Isn’t that sexist? No matter what a man does he will never be able to have the status of a mother.
And yet even when God honors us with something uniquely feminine, we are too busy trying to find our worth in reference to men, to value it-or even notice. We too have accepted men as the standard; so anything uniquely feminine is, by definition, inferior. Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a mother-a degradation.
In the battle between stoic rationality (considered masculine) and self-less compassion (considered feminine), rationality reigns supreme.
As soon as we accept that everything a man has and does is better, all that follows is just a knee jerk reaction: if men have it-we want it too. If men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we want to pray in the front rows too. If men lead prayer, we assume the imam is closer to God, so we want to lead prayer too. Somewhere along the line we’ve accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of one’s position with God.
A Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as a standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn’t need a man.
In fact, in our crusade to follow men, we, as women, never even stopped to examine the possibility that what we have is better for us. In some cases we even gave up what was higher only to be like men.
Fifty years ago, society told us that men were superior because they left the home to work in factories. We were mothers. And yet, we were told that it was women’s liberation to abandon the raising of another human being in order to work on a machine. We accepted that working in a factory was superior to raising the Foundation of society -just because a man did it.
Then after working, we were expected to be superhuman-the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker -and have the perfect career. And while there is nothing wrong, by definition, with a woman having a career, we soon came to realize what we had sacrificed by blindly mimicking men. We watched as our children became strangers and soon recognized the privilege we’d given up.
And so only now-given the choice-women in the West are choosing to stay home to raise their children.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, only 31 percent of mothers with babies, and 18 percent of mothers with two or more children, are working full-time. And of those working mothers, a survey conducted by Parenting Magazine in 2000, found that 93% of them say they would rather be home with their kids, but are compelled to work due to ‘financial obligations’. These ‘obligations’ are imposed on women by the gender sameness of the modern West, and removed from women by the gender distinctiveness of Islam.
It took women in the West almost a century of experimentation to realize a privilege given to Muslim women 1400 years ago.
Given my privilege as a woman, I only degrade myself by trying to be something I’m not–and in all honesty–don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.
If given a choice between stoic justice and compassion, I choose compassion. And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven at my feet – I choose Heaven.