Beyond the Confines of the Mosque: Islam in Daily Life

Beyond the Confines of the Mosque: Islam in Daily Life

One of the greatest struggles for Muslims is keeping our imaan from fluctuating from day to day. One reason for this, and this pertains particularly to Muslims living in the West, is the lack of an Islamic environment. When living in a socially secular society, it is unseemly to display one’s religion in public. There is an aura of shame when religion is mentioned in the presence of non-Muslims, as if it is something which should only be circulated in our own communities. However, as Muslims we should be proud in our ability to be openly religious and have our faith transcend the public and private domains. Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) said: “I fear the day when the disbelievers are proud of their falsehood, and the Muslims are shy of their faith.” Clearly, that day has come, and we are living it. The reality for many Muslims is that they suffer from low imaan because they are afraid or ashamed of being a Muslim in public.

The solution to this is to be unapologetically Muslim, and to be mindful of Allah in everything we do – to be a reminder to ourselves and others of our beliefs and values. Even though we have our busy lives, our regular nine-to-fives, it is essential to keep our attentions turned towards Allah, and when we do, the results will be palpable. Being faithful to the five daily salah is the first step in having a solid imaan. Salah is the way in which our whole day becomes grounded and rooted in Allah. By having set times to remember Him at regular intervals, it becomes easier to remember who we are and why we are here, instead of getting sucked into this temporary world. Praying salah on time therefore helps us to keep things in perspective. If you are struggling with the fardh salah, try to plan your day around your prayers, instead of squeezing your prayers into your day. Don’t be afraid to ask for a space to pray at work or school, and don’t be embarrassed to leave your friends or colleagues for ten minutes to go and pray. While it may seem that others will think you strange for breaking away from the norm, they will in fact respect your integrity.

Another reminder to ourselves is our manner of dress, and the image we choose to display to the world. A woman’s hijab or a man’s beard and modest dress are reminders to oneself and others that you are a Muslim. This constant, visible reminder helps keep us in check. Through our dress we become representatives of the religion, and while this doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to make mistakes, it can save us from engaging in sinful behaviour. In addition to our dress, we should keep Allah in mind in the way we conduct ourselves. The way we talk, our conversation topics, and the people we mix with are all part of our Islam. If we conduct ourselves in a particular manner for the sake of Allah, it becomes an act of worship, and a way of increasing imaan.

One practical way of being mindful of Allah is invoking Him in our everyday conversation. Simply saying “Insha’Allah”, “Masha’Allah”, or “Alhamdulillah” reminds us of Allah’s influence in every aspect of our lives. When praising a friend or family member, make a dua such as “May Allah increase your success.” This is a great way to consistently utilise the gift of dua, and to remind ourselves that all power lies with Allah. Changing your speech to include Allah turns even the most mundane parts of quotidian conversation into an imaan-booster.

While it may seem that Islam is something we only truly connect with while in the mosque or on the prayer mat, this does not have to be the case. By shifting our frame of mind to keep Allah as the primary focus, we can make every aspect of life a way of gaining the pleasure of our Lord and increasing our faith.

 

Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas(ra) reports:

“One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.’ ”

Related by Tirmidhi

Teach Your Daughters How To Fight

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5 years ago I started doing taekwondo and it is now one of the most important things in my life. I go to an all-girls club and it makes me so happy to see girls of so many different backgrounds learning to defend themselves. I wish that everyone would encourage their daughters to fight, not only with their fists but with their tongues.

In the South Asian community there is a horrible mindset that women must be timid. If a woman is outspoken, she is labelled as કાંત (arrogant/argumentative) even if she is speaking the truth! This culture is why so many women remain trapped in abusive situations, because fighting back will lead to her being seen as the troublemaker, rather than her abuser.

For Muslim South Asians, I would present the example of Muslim women during Islam’s early days. They were bold, confident, and unafraid to ask political questions to the Prophet ﷺ himself. Rather than silencing women, we should be encouraging them to demand their rights and to fight against mistreatment in all forms.

Mum-mi

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The woman who birthed me
wears around her neck
security, adornment, heirloom

Her freshly-baked softness
is gilded in three places:
earlobes, collar, wrist

In my mind they are part of her
not unlike the raven tresses
which grow from her in waves
gold blooms from her flesh

I have framed the second-hand
memory of my mother
holding her mother in her arms

Together like this they
circled God’s House
aching with a strength
only found in golden women

– zainab d.

India, I took you into my palm

In the closing month of 2017 I travelled to India for the third time in my life. My grandparents are from there, and both my parents were born there, although only one stayed. The last time I went there was ten years ago, when I was eleven years old. I was still a child. For years I was too nervous to go again, because I was scared of some people and The Things They Thought. I was also scared of dealing with marriage proposals, which is an inevitable consequence of being a young, single woman. However when the time came to book the tickets, I did not protest or even wrestle with the decision. I knew it was the right time to go.

The first day in India occured in shifts between sleep and wakefulness. I was exhausted after an uncomfortable 2 hour flight from Dubai, and with a 5 hour drive ahead, I planned to sleep in the car. Things did not go according to plan, because as soon as we exited the aiport parking into the indigo dawn hanging over Mumbai, I had an urge to look at absolutely everything. Suddenly I was no longer tired, instead I was filled with an adrenaline that made me absorb the country with every sense available to me. I felt a sense of duty to my late Nana-baji (maternal grandfather) to truly appreciate the country he loved so dearly, for who knows if and when I’ll be able to visit again?

The trip was the most fun I’d had in a while, and going there after such a long gap, the gap between childhood and adulthood, helped me think about a lot of New Things. Since part of Indian culture includes shamelessly staring at people, it is a great place for observation. When I got back and my older sister asked to see the photos I took, she was annoyed at my strange choices. She’s right – I take photos of things that family are not really interested in seeing. I take photos of things that trigger memories of a place or a moment.

I am glad I went at this time, because of the person that I am right now, with my interest in poetry, history, art and culture. I was able to see things through my “Poetic Spectacles”, like when I went to the house of a man who swore a lot, and he had three clocks in the same room but each showed a different time.

I enjoyed travelling around my ancestral town with my mum and uncle, because they would tell me about significant places in our family history, like the Mindhola Nadi, a river where my grandmother used to go with her friends to wash clothes. My mum told me it was a social outing, washing clothes at the river. Women used to take a packed lunch and a bundle of laundry to the river in the morning and spend the best part of the day there, washing and drying clothes. This very same river also has a dark side to it. Every year, without fail, it took the life of one person who went to swim in it. Mum told me the story of one boy who went swimming with his friends in the Mindhola, and when his friends got out, he initially started to leave with them, but on a whim went back for one more dip. That is when he drowned.

I thought about how the mother of that boy might look upon the calm Mindhola as her son’s murderer, while others look upon it as a source of life. Perhaps that mother resented that she too relied on the killer river.

I made a promise to myself that no matter what people say, or what tedious issues occur, I would not let it diminish my love for this country. It is dear to my elders, and so it is dear to me. There is so much to love about it, and although I have not spent much of my life there, I have an unbreakable connection to it that, even now, I cannot fully explain.

I took the home of my ancestors into the palm of my hand and I’m not letting go. Unintentionally, I left a piece of my soul there (turned the country into one giant horcrux, uh oh) and I surprised myself. The amount of time I was there did not leave me satisfied, so I hope to visit again very soon, insha’Allah, before too many changes occur, and I am no longer the same person I was in December 2017.

Journeys in poetry: Migritude

The year 2017 so far has been a year of introductions. One introduction that was made to me this year was the world of poetry influenced by migration. This is not solely written by and about immigrants, but also poetry written by descendants of immigrants, and the continuing effects of migration in their lives. The first poems I read about migration were by Warsan Shire in her collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and I was blown away (I’ll see if I can gather my emotions about that book enough to form a blog post.) I began to scour the internet for more of the same thing, like an addict searching for his next hit. I found nothing that satisfied me. Then one day, as I scrolled down my Instagram feed, I came across a poem someone had taken a picture of from a book. It was a fragment from Shailja Patel’s poem ‘Dreaming in Gujarati’ from her collection named Migritude. The fragment read:

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Part of the appeal of this poem for me was the ‘solid ancestral pride’ Patel wrote of, my mother tongue, Gujarati. It is a language I rarely see mentioned, as South Asian focused literature mainly uses Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Gujarati is a minority language, with “only” 46 million speakers, and as my uncle once told me, it is a dying language. In the poem, Patel talks about how she struggled to speak the language, being mocked by elders as a result. This was something I could relate to deeply, feeling as if I am missing a part of my voice. She touches on the internal identity crisis caused by not being fluent in one’ mother tongue, but being fluent in the language of the people who colonised her ancestors, the people who attack her for her race.

Their tongue – or mine?

Have I become the enemy?

 

In her poem ‘Shilling Love’, Patel portrays the grim realities of the migrant experience, explaining how her parents displayed love to their children.

 My mother propels us through / tutors, exams, scholarship applications / locks us in rooms to study / keeps an iron grip / on the bank books

Fifty shillings to the pound / we cry over meltdown pressure / of exam after exam / where second place is never good enough

 They snap / their faces taut with fear / you can’t be soft / you must be strong / you have to fight / or the world will eat you up

Although their parenting methods may seem harsh, for migrant parents, harshness is a necessity. To ensure their children had a better life in the long run, they had to be tough with their education to ensure they held high qualifications. Education meant opportunity in the West, meant that their children would never have to have hands callused by decades of hard labour. The love of migrant parents is sharp and hard to swallow, because they did not have the security that many of us enjoy.

Love is a luxury / priced in hard currency.

 

In her poem ‘The Making (Migrant Song)’ Patel fuses the immigrant experience with musings on colonialism and modern imperialist culture. She reveals the bleak moments of cultural integration (We cringe in silent shame for you when you don’t offer food or drink…Insult us without knowing.) Her rage against the exploitation of black and brown bodies is almost tangible, and she does not shy away from recognising injustices that still exist in the world today.

We all love to see bodies from Africa that move. We all love to move our bodies to rhythms from Africa. But we are terrified of African bodies that speak.

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Migritude draws from history to form a collection of creative work on race, ethnicity, immigration, and colonialism. It is at once a work that one can relate to as well as learn from, and even if that is not what you are looking for, it is still a shining example of stunning poetry and prose.

 

Tafseer Art: Every soul shall taste death

“And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.”

Surah Al-Imran, verse 185

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Every now and then, we need a stark reminder that this world is only temporary. When we are worrying ourselves about things which will have no importance in the afterlife, we lose sight of the bigger picture, of what really matters. Allah reminds us again and again in the Qur’an that the Day of Judgement is coming, a day when we will all stand trial before our Lord for our actions on earth. In the first verse of Surah An-Nahl, Allah states “The command of Allah is coming, so be not impatient for it.” In the original Arabic, the past tense is used, so the verse translates literally as “The command of Allah has come.” The past tense is used here to express inevitability and nearness, acting as a reminder to the believers of our fate.

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While most people are willing to forget their mortality, death will not forget us. Every soul shall taste death. On the other side of death is judgement day, and on that day only safety from the fire and entrance into paradise equals success. Everything in this world that has nothing to do with this truth is an illusion. The earthly results of a man’s actions are often quite different from the ones he will see in the next life. After the life of this world, the stage of receiving the fruit of your good deeds begins. What is of true importance is what will happen in that eternal life rather than in this transient one.

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While it may seem disheartening that this world is merely illusory, it is important not to lose hope. Things we do here still matter, and will follow us to the next life. Using the material world and its merits as a means for attaining human development, not only is not blameworthy, but necessary and essential. The most important thing is that the material world and its pleasures do not become the ideal and final goal of Man.

Tafseer Art: Remembrance of Allah

“So remember Me; I will remember you. Be thankful to me and never ungrateful.”

Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 152

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Remembrance of Allah is one of the basic concepts of Islam. Being mindful of Allah leads to receiving blessings in everything we do, which is why so many daily actions, from waking up to leaving the house, has a dua (prayer) attached to it. Remembering Allah brings Allah’s attention and favour upon the believer, while heedlessness results in Allah abandoning the believer and his needs. In Surah At-Tawbah, verse 67, Allah states “They [the hypocrites] have ignored God, so He has ignored them.”

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The verse from Surah Al-Baqarah indicates a balance in the relationship between Allah and His servant, a give and take relationship. It speaks to Allah’s power and generosity that He bestows such favours on us when all we can do in return is remember Him. On one end of the scale, there is Man with his ignorance, poverty, mortality, and feebleness, while on the other end, there is Allah, the All-Knowing, the All-Sufficient, the Eternal, and the All-Mighty, who wants us to remember Him in order to show our gratitude for the great blessings He has given to us. The remembrance of Allah is a prerequisite to being thankful to him, hence the term ‘remember’ has preceded the term ‘thankful’. This is an illustration of the consideration of Allah’s honour for Man as a reflection of His Grace unto his servants.

I’ve done something a little different with this Tafseer Art. Since this verse resonated with me so much, I wanted to express the conflict and resolution that was in me when I read it.

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I must find balance in my relationship with Allah. I know He is Al-Karim, The Generous, but first I must remember Him, it is only fair. The verse continues: “Be thankful to Me, and never ungrateful.” In the very structural order of this verse, Allah is showing me how it goes. I must first remember Him, and He promises to remember me back. Then I can be thankful to him for bestowing me with his blessings. In remembering Him, I am saved from arrogance.  Oh, have I learnt that lesson. I give what little I can, and He returns it in abundance.

Tafseer Art: The Qur’an and The Heart

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In Surah Yunus, verse 57, Allah says:

“O mankind, there has come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers.”

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The Arabic term ‘mau’izah’ (preaching) means to restrain intermingled with warning and awakening. The phrase ‘shifa-is-sudur’ refers to the purification of spirit and heart from spiritual evils. The spiritual defects are more grievous than diseases of the body. The Qur’an’s advantage lies in this very healing of spiritual diseases.

This short verse encompasses four great qualities of the Qur’an – instruction, healing, guidance, and mercy. These qualities are listed in that specific order to allude to the four kinds of stages that shape education and development, that is:

  1. The preaching stage against visible sins
  2. The purification stage for purging the soul from ethical and social evils.
  3. The self-guiding stage towards those objectives which signify worldly happiness and the happiness and prosperity in the Hereafter.
  4. The stage of receiving divine blessings which is forgiveness and Paradise. Only those groups who seek will be covered by the divine blessings.

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This verse is comparable to Surah Al-Isra, verse 82:

“And We send down of the Qur’an that which is healing and mercy for the believers, but it does not increase the wrongdoers except in loss.”

And Surah Fussilat, verse 44:

“And if We had made it a non-Arabic Qur’an, they would have said, “Why are its verses not explained in detail [in our language]? Is it a foreign [recitation] and an Arab [messenger]?” Say, “It is, for those who believe, a guidance and cure.” And those who do not believe – in their ears is deafness, and it is upon them blindness. Those are being called from a distant place.”

This is why the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“When afflictions, like a dark and terrible night, invade you, seek refuge in the Qur’an. It is simultaneously full of preaching as well as being a remedy, a source of illumination and blessing all at the same time.”

I am sure many Muslims have experienced a lapse in faith at least once in their lives, which is why Allah reminds us repeatedly to turn to the Qur’an when we feel a sickness of the heart. What I find encouraging is that Allah has addressed this verse to the whole of mankind, which is a reminder that no one is alone in experiencing spiritual ailments, that it is normal. He consoles the believer by explaining that low points are simply part of the journey.

Tafseer Art: Alif, Laam, Meem

“It is better in Ramadan to read less, but read deeply.”

Ramadan is known as the month of the Qur’an, for it was in this month that the Islamic holy book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). During this month, Muslims strive to connect with their religion and be the best version of themselves.

In my community, there has always been an emphasis on reading the entire Quran as many times as possible in these thirty days. While recitation has its rewards with Allah, for someone who can understand perhaps three words in Arabic, reciting the words does not bring me closer to understanding them. When I read the translation of the Quran, I know that the English language does not convey the subtlety and nuance of the original text, yet some verses still astound me with their beauty and wisdom. This year, I am hoping to connect further with the Qur’an by studying its tafseer (exegesis). True to form though, I feel compelled to put a creative twist on it. In a sort of art journal, I am choosing verses of the Qur’an that I love, and turning them into art.

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The first verses I have chosen are the first two of Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow).

  1. Alif, Laam, Meem.
  2. This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah.

The first verse is simply three Arabic letters, yet their true meaning is known only to Allah. Scholars have suggested various interpretations of these letters. They could have acted as an indication to the Arabs who first heard it that the Qur’an consisted of words and letters of their own language, although it was superior to any speech of their own, being of divine origin. Allah challenged the Arabs to bring out something similar, but no one could, not the poets or the linguists. Another suggestion is that they are an exclamatory device intended to arrest the listeners’ attention, similar to the custom of beginning a poem with ‘No!’ or ‘Indeed!’.

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The second verse continues the assertion of Allah’s wisdom, assuring the reader that ‘la rayba fihi’. This term carries more than one meaning, including ‘there is nothing dubious about/in it’ and ‘it is not to be doubted’ as regards its origin or contents. The term ‘guidance’ is used to express clarifying the truth (haq) and leading people to it. ‘Those conscious of Allah’ refers to pious and righteous people – the Book is a guidance for them. There is no benefit in the Qur’an for those who do not bother to consider whether their actions are right or wrong, who follow the ways of the world or their own whims and lusts or move aimlessly through life.

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Personally, I find comfort in these verses as the first establishes that there is a higher knowledge that we humans can never hope to attain, but the second tells us that the holder of this knowledge is there to help us, and there is absolute truth in His guidance.

Calm down about the hijab: It’s not that scary

One of the first images that come to mind when we think of Islam is a woman in a headscarf, a symbol which Muslims offer to the rest of the world. Now, the hijab is a cause for much debate which I’m not about to delve in to, but suffice to say that the hijab is held up as a symbol of oppression by people who claim that Islam does not respect women. In a way, you can understand why people think this way, it seems that by covering up, a woman blames her own body for the desires of men, that she feels she needs to be hidden from view because she is worth less than a man. For others, the hijab is liberating as it rebels against the notion that a woman is only worth the attractiveness of her body – a revolutionary act considering how much a woman’s sexual allure is valued in the world today.

Veiling of the head is a custom amongst women of various cultures and religions. For some, veiling the head is merely decorative, like a hat, while for others it holds a deeper meaning. In India, many women cover their heads with a dupatta or the pallu of their sari. Covering the head with cloth is a tradition that goes as far back as 3300 BCE, to the Indus Valley Civilisation where women often covered their heads with an uttarya, or upper garment. In modern day India, head coverings are seen more in remote areas and less in the larger cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where Western culture has more influence. Sikh women wear a chunni on their heads when visiting the gurdwara, as it is seen as a way to show modesty and respect before God. In Nigeria, women’s traditional dress includes a gele, a head wrap, similarly to the traditional clothing of Mali. Women in some Christian sects cover their heads when praying in church, and more commonly, nuns cover their heads to show their devotion to God. Traditional Russian clothing for women includes a headscarf and headdress. A headscarf is part of the traditional garb of Romanian women too. The inclusion of a head veil in the cultural clothes of women around the world is evidence that the headscarf is a sign of femininity for many people, and if a woman chooses to dress that way, it is nothing to be ashamed of.

The idea of veiling being synonymous with oppression is not simply a twenty-first century notion either – it has existed ever since Westerners started travelling East and encountering cultures that were new to them. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to Turkey in the early 18th century, was known for her letters detailing her travels to the Ottoman Empire. In one of her letters, she describes the clothing of Muslim women, noting that every part of their body but the eyes is hidden, and they are totally unrecognisable, even to their own husbands. She writes that “this perpetual masquerade gives them entire liberty of following their inclinations, without danger of discovery.” She then goes on to explain how Turkish women were able to have affairs with men other than their spouses, without fear of discovery. As these women had “all their money in their own hands” they relied on their husbands for little. “’Tis very easy to see that they have in reality more liberty than we have,” wrote Montagu. Reading this, I was astounded to see another opinion of veiling – that covering herself offers a woman an type of agency rooted in mystery. Not that I condone cheating, but you see what I’m getting at.

For many Muslim women, the headscarf is worn first and foremost because it was commanded by God. What the hijab signifies is different for each individual, but I think I can speak for all women who choose to adorn the hijab when I say there is nothing more frustrating than when others try to tell us how we should feel about the way we dress. The view that wearing a piece of fabric on your head means that you are oppressed is frankly ridiculous, and is exemplary of an attitude that cannot comprehend cultures other than one’s own. In a world of increasing globalisation, culture shock is inevitable. But by making an effort to understand other cultures and traditions, the response to multiculturalism can change from fear to tolerance.