Friday, May 26, 2006

A Message to Beau Brummel

I normally enjoy listening to The Network - a radio talk show hosted by Tim Modise on Talk Radio 702. But today, he really got on my nerves. He interviewed a nudist, famous in South Africa and in the world for having been the owner of the largest nudist colony ever. His colony came to an end some ten years ago after the whites there, refused to go bare with people of colour.

He was ranting and raving about how nudism is the product of a civilised world. All this wouldn't have turned a hair with me, but then he started a tirade against Muslims, how you'd be killed for being a nudist in Iraq and he even mentioned some 'Muslim voyeurs' in Australia (he reckons Muslims have infiltrated the country) who hurl expletives at nudists on beaches there, while ogling them at the same time. He claims that these 'Muslims' are responsible for race riots in the said country.

Well, I couldn't keep my thoughts to myself on this one. So this was my response to Tim :

Dear Tim

Well, what can I say, except that I am really disappointed. I've always looked at your show as a bridge between minds, as a place where intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals; people of differing faiths, colours and creeds could converge and find a common ground. I've always thought of it as a place where harmony and understanding could be forged between people, a place where the incipient reconciliation could be nourished. Yet somehow, I realise that I have been greatly mistaken. Your interview with Beau Brummel drove home the lesson. (was he interviewed as a South African Hero?)

Beau Brummel is an intellectual dilettante with about as much tact as a dentist doing a root canal. His statements are profanity, being paraded as enlightenment. He speaks of civilised society yet he fails to apprehend that a part of being civilised is also being educated. And one area where his education is sorely lacking is on the subject of Islam.

He speaks of his Indian daughter in law like a white lord who has deigned to confer on a poor dark skinned Indian some of his whiteness as manna from heaven. In a word, he is pathetic.

Yes, I am worked up, but what really was the last straw for me, was his crazy, bellicose theorising on Islam. Faith is not something that is forced on any being. It is something that the individual enters into of his own free will. If you believe in a God, then your faith is a covenant with Him to adhere to the laws that He has laid down. These laws cannot be applied to those who do not believe in the said God.

All faiths aim to give man a more meaningful existence, beyond just the physical acts of eating, breathing and procreating, beyond the animalistic needs that are an inextricable part of the human animal.

This path to enlightenment is supposed to teach tolerance and acceptance of the divergent paths that fellow human beings embark on. When this fails, then we have systems like apartheid, which was pursued under the guise of it having the blessings of the Christian faith.

When this fails, we have the kind of abuses that have been enacted throughout the annals of history in the name of some or other belief system.

As a Muslim, I cannot tell Beau Brummel that he must not show his skin to the heavens, but I can tell him that I do not want to show mine. It is who I am, and I do not plan on making any excuses for that.

So if his nakedness is of no consequence to me, why should my clothes of modesty be a problem for him? I dress the way I do, because I love it, I feel good that I am obeying my Lord and I feel liberated. And yes, civilised too.

And the comments about the youth in Australia. Well supposing such a thing really did happen, would it not have been sufficient to say that "guys who are against the nudity did such and such a thing". What does Islam have to do with anything?
And his 'infiltrate' word really speaks volumes of his own bigotry and hypocrisy and underscores the pernicious effects of media mis-information on the subject of Islam and Muslims.

My message to him, "Grow up, and read!!!"

Yours sincerely
Saaleha Bhamjee

Oh and about the bellicose, dilettante, et al, well blame it on acquaintance. Thanks guys, for educating me and increasing my vocabulary. I threw all these in there because I hope that if Brummel actually gets to see this, it would make him to feel a little queasy. Throughout his interview, the only thing he spewed out was "Africa is the cradle of mankind. Come and be nude in nature" (aargh!) And I wanted to show off, naturally!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Return

It was the Adaan that did it that day….that call to eternal success….that call to Prayer. And as I sit here today, in the waning afternoon light, listening to the Muaddhin calling the faithful to prayer, I watch the birds flying purposefully about.

They’ve come home, after the long winter away, they have, as always come home, to the embracing warmth of the place they love. Yet I’m still caught in the icy grip of winter, the winter of estrangement – estrangement from Allah.

I remember a time, oh, it seems an eon ago, when I too was home - in a warm spring awash with heady blossoms, heading towards a hot summer of bounteous fruit. Allah’s love was the sun that drew from me my best each day. I grew, I blossomed under His touch. My first thought as I awoke each morning was an acute awareness of His Devine presence; He was my last though too each night, as I claimed my sip from the chalice of rest. He was my purpose. When did I let it all go?

But somehow as the words of the Adaan washed over me, that day, I realized that it could still be that way. Allah hasn’t gone anywhere. He was as close then as He is now. It was I who had severed the ties. It was I who had carelessly closed my heart. I picked up the telephone each day, yet I did not ask for the right extension. So I spoke five times a day into a dead receiver.

I found it hard to believe that He could still be there holding on, waiting for me to find the right combination of numbers. But He was there, patiently waiting for His unworthy, heedless slave.

He sent His angels each day to watch over me. I was not forgotten. When He sent sustenance to all His creation, I too received my allotted share. I was not forgotten, yet I chose to forget.

I refused to feel Him. Was I afraid that He would see the spiritual diseases that have flourished in my heart? Was I afraid to confront myself? How could I ever have believed that I was alone?

I was never alone!!

In the good days, I had always visualized life, As Siraatal Mustaqeem- The Straight Path as a long and dark tunnel, full of perils and stumbling blocks. By the wayside, quicksand bubbled, sludge frothed…and at the end of the tunnel, a Dazzling light shone. Always in the dense darkness, I could feel a warm and comforting hand, the hand of Allah firmly clasping mine. In my heart I knew, He would never let go. Yet somehow, I’ve let go. We’ll it’s time to find His hand again.

Quraan, Dhikr
[1], Muraaqabah[2], these are the keys. I need to work at curing the spiritual diseases. I’m determined to bring my dead heart back to life again

Then maybe, like the birds that have found their way home, to the summer of their fulfilment, I too will reclaim what I once enjoyed. And finally, that scarce commodity, Peace, will be mine to savour.

As the dawn brings life
to the sleeping world
So too, does Allah
if truth be told

He awakens in our hearts
that part of Him
Which we all possess
yet ignore at whim

He elevates us to a level
spiritually sublime
When we recognise
Him as truly Devine

He jolts us out
of lazy slumber
And fills our heart
with tranquil wonder

He helps us cure
each spiritual ill
And teaches us to subjugate
our stubborn will

He makes us see
that eternal pleasure
Can never be earned
through idle leisure

So do your all
to find a way
Closer to Him
each blessed day

Then finally the elusive gem
peace, as you’ve yearned
Will be your greatest treasure,
one you’ve earned



[1] Rememberance of Allah
[2] Contemplation/meditation

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Of Potholes and Picnics

I was listening to a radio show the other day. The presenter was discussing Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for an apology and acknowledgment from white South Africans that they had benefited from apartheid. This would serve as a means of bringing closure to black South Africans and help them to heal, he said. The responses that this discussion elicited were fairly typical, ranging from the ‘I don’t have to apologise for anything’ reactionary responses, to the ‘I’m really sorry that I supported a corrupt system’ types. But one caller caught my attention, not because he was saying anything new, but because he was saying what I have heard expressed so many times before by fellow South Africans. He, like far too many South Africans, was foolish enough to suggest that Apartheid was not a system totally devoid of good. “The government built roads,” he said. “We had decent schools.”

When the day that changed the history of South Africa came to pass I was all of sixteen years old. I understood little of what the day meant, coming from a family that was not politicised in the least, except for an uncle who had become something of a legend and was living in exile in Canada at the time. I grew older in the new South Africa, but little did I understand what my country was about. When I turned eighteen and was eligible to vote, I didn’t exercise this right. Politics was, for me a game of duplicitous points scoring – it was dirty ball as far as I was concerned. When the ANC drafted the constitution legalising abortion and taking away the death penalty; when two year olds got raped and their rapists were provided for with my tax money; when my house grew burglar bars on all the windows, yet thieves found their way into it, and tried to make off with various household effects, leaving my little sister severely traumatised; I was inclined to agree with this view, the view that perhaps things were indeed better under the ‘old regime’.

But one book changed my life – Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela. For the first time the blinds were removed and I understood what a gift the ballot papers were. For the first time I understood what Apartheid had really meant. For the first time I saw the absolute injustice and ugliness of it all. That a race could consider themselves superior on the basis of the colour of their skin alone; that they could deprive their fellow human beings of basic dignity and respect again based on something as superficial as skin colour; that they could claim for themselves the choicest offerings from the table, and leave the crumbs, if that at all for the rest of the citizens, through no actual virtue on their part; that they could treat a fellow human being worse than they treated their dogs, who may perchance have been black too; speaks of a bigotry, a hypocrisy on the same level as that displayed by Adolf Hitler.

The only experience I had ever had of the injustice and absurdity of the system that I could remember was a day out shopping in Benoni Town with my mother. Like all children, what would I need when one was not available, but a toilet? We hunted one down, but what should we find, but a very nicely maintained one bearing a sign on the door that said ‘Whites Only’? I couldn’t understand what that sign was really saying except that it denied me access to a toilet when I really needed one. Such was the craziness of apartheid, the kind of craziness that gave blacks shorts to wear in prison and samp to eat, while whites got long pants and white bread with their meals, the kind of craziness that provided the best schooling for whites and not even books to black students whose parents earned a pittance, making education that much more of a privilege and widening the disparity all the more.

With 1994 and the first Democratic elections, which were as peaceful as could ever be hoped for in spite of efforts by the Nats to embroil us all in civil war, came a whole host of challenges and some very uncomfortable changes. No longer were the whites the first choice for jobs in the civil service no matter how incompetent they may be – (remember the ‘tannies’ in the post office in the ‘good ol days’?). For the first time all South Africans had access to schools with recreation facilities and books. For the first time there was no first class. It was the dawn of a day so beautiful, so historic – it was the birth of something great.

Yet here we are twelve years down the road and what do we have? If the letters that regularly find their way to some of our regional papers are anything to judge by, we have ‘blacks who have hopped onto the gravy train and are all incompetent fools’ and whites who have honed their skills at expressing their views with as much sarcasm as 300 words would allow, denouncing everything from ‘picnickers on the lawn in front of the town hall, to potholes in the roads (these things didn’t happen in the old days ne?)’

I should hope that all South African’s don’t think this way, because the ‘old regime’ may have maintained the roads in town, only because there were no roads in the townships. The old regime may have run wonderful schools in town, only because the schools in the townships weren’t even fit to be called schools at all. The old regime…. the list could go on and on.

And where is the bitterness and sarcasm going to get us, I ask? Should we not embrace the change instead of hankering after what once was? Should we not work with our government to make South Africa a country we can all be proud of? Should we not play our part, become active, work towards the changes we’d like to see, instead of sitting and belching with indigestion because we found the change hard to swallow and equally hard to digest? The worst kind of critic is an armchair critic.

No matter how many potholes find their way onto our roads, I wouldn’t trade a single one for even a minute under a system that goes against the teachings of every major religion worldwide, a system that goes against common sense and human decency.

So the next time someone tells me ‘These blacks are going to make our country like the rest of Africa. Things were better in the old days,’ I’ll do them a favour and kick them into the ocean. They can then swim to whichever country takes their fancy. Such people don’t deserve a share in this beautiful Rainbow Nation of ours that is so alive with possibility.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Letter to My Sister

My dearest sister Zaakirah

I sat in the car that night, after the blessed day of Eid and watched you, while my heart was torn to shreds. You were so pretty, so confident, so relaxed as you strolled across the street while your ‘boyfriend’ casually rested his arm on your shoulder. How I longed to get out of the car, take my burkha and drape it over you, that I may conceal some of which you deemed prudent to reveal and save you from being the object of lustful gazes.

Sure, your jeans fitted well, like a second skin, and your bare shoulders glistened beneath the street lights. No doubt, the effect you had aimed to achieve had been realized, but was the curse of Allah one of them?

That ‘look’ that you spend such a lot of time cultivating – tell me, what will be its end? A dark and lonely earth-filled grave, where it will be food for the worms and ants?

The music that blared from the speakers of the car that you had emerged from shook the very earth beneath me, but undoubtedly an earthquake from Allah would have shook the ground even more. Where would that have left us, my dearest sister?

And then the Azaan was called out. Not one of your friends switched off their thumping music and the call sent to us by Allah, since the time of His blessed Prophet, fell on deaf ears that were accustomed to the voice of Shaytaan alone.

And I cried as I thought of my and your Prophet wandering the streets of Taif, calling towards tauheed, towards a path that you have been blessed with, without any effort on your part. I cried, as I pictured the stones from urchins landing on his blessed body. Are you one of those urchins, who cast stones at the beloved of Allah and say to him, “Your way is not for me. Go, for I am at peace with what I have found. My desires reign supreme.” Are you one of them - those who draw blood from his blessed body and cause his shoes to stick to his feet due to the excessive blood flowing into them?

I had to stifle the urge to get out of the car, stand in the middle of the street and shout at all of you to stop! For Allah’s sake – stop!

My dearest sister, I love you. More than anything, I desire success for you. And what is success? Is it attracting the glance of men who desire you for nothing more than your body? Is it going out and having a ‘good time’? I would never want to see you suffer. But time has taught me that the path you are on is a slippery one and leads to nothing more than misery.

Once upon a time, I too believed that there was nothing more to life than having ‘fun’. I too revelled in male attention that gave me a sense of self-worth – until I found purpose. “What is purpose?” you ask. One word – Allah…. No amount of male attention is going to fill that emptiness, that void that not having Him in your life leaves.

I will pray for you and keep hoping that we will someday be friends in paradise. Aameen.

With love
Your Sister
Saaleha

An edited version of this letter appeared on Islam Online

My Greatest Challenge

Ask anyone who has ever tried conducting a minute-long uninterrupted telephone conversation with me, how it went and their answer will probably be, “Impossible.” And impossible it certainly is, for if the ten-month- old doesn’t stumble over something, her sister probably will and the subsequent piteous wails would drown out a thunderstorm.

Their brothers can always be relied upon, of course to add to the pandemonium and the result – IMPOSSIBLE.

Oh, the numbers of times I’ve pitied myself, longed for that bit of mature adult discussion that didn’t revolve around the ‘leetle one’s latest antic’, but sadly I seem doomed to die, my dream unrealized.

But before Sister Lil gets an idea for her next column- Discipline Tactics for Spineless Moms – let me explain.

I live in an old house – okay, maybe it’s ancient – but who’s counting. Each room has two doors. The one leads to the other, something like an obstacle-ridden racecourse – the obstacles being my furniture, naturally. And somehow, to every child that ever visits, these doors seem to traitorously beg, yes beg, to have children tearing in and out of them. The result – a rather rowdy game of tag!

My six year old has become quite a pro. He almost never falls, even when he’s shoeless, on the tiled floors, and especially when he’s chasing his nine year old brother whose greatest joy in life lies in taking the mickey out of his little brother. The three year old, well she needs some practice, but with her brothers as coaches she’s bound to have her house racing colours in no time. And the ten month old? Any day soon, she’ll be walking, and then one more permanent contestant will have entered the ranks.

And where do these many doors leave me? Well, with nothing more than my greatest challenge, The Uninterrupted Telephone Conversation.

Will I conquer, or will the wild House Racers emerge victorious? In fact, as I write, little Miss 3 year old has just raced into my bedroom and tripped at the doorway. Thank God, she’s opted not to go for the piteous wail routine….or perhaps she reserves that for telephone conversations. A revelation! She does reserve the wails for my tele- moments, so perhaps it’s a ploy, a ploy to keep me away from adult conversation until she’s old enough to join in, a ploy to keep me proficient in the fine art of Goo-goo Gaa-gaa talk. A Conspiracy.

So I suppose for now, I’ll have to resign myself to playing along. On the bright side, it can be quite stimulating. Really, you should give it a try sometime. Who needs the politics, the art, the books when you have all the Goo-goo, Gaa-gaa you’ll ever need?

Who needs the uninterrupted telephone conversation, when you have ringside seats to House Racing championships that put the Olympics to shame?

Feminism - Modern Day Muslim Madness

Have you heard? A new group has made its’ appearance on the postmodern Muslim Scene. It is called the Masculinist Movement for the Liberation of Men. They have launched a move worldwide to oppose all Islamic laws that unfairly discriminate against men. They are challenging the law that states that women do not have to earn their own living but must be cared for by their husbands. They are demanding the right to remain at home and have their wives fill the role of breadwinner. Many of them also feel strongly that it is unfair that only women are able to bear children, so strong are their sentiments in this regard, that a good number from amongst them plan on having uteruses constructed and foetuses implanted so that they too can have a share in the great rewards that until now have been granted to women only.

And women, be warned, should you marry a Masculinist, you will be required to pay the dowry, another bone of contention for them. Says Shams Wahbi, spokesman for the group, “We feel that far too many laws in Islam unfairly discriminate against men. I mean, why should we have to share our earnings with our wives while they get to keep theirs for themselves.”

When asked about their desire to be child bearers, Wahbi says, ‘Allah has made everything so easy for women. They get to attain the reward for Jihaad by remaining in the comfort of their homes and taking care of their families. They get huge rewards for pregnancy and childbirth, not to mention the rewards for breastfeeding. I strongly feel that we men have been given the short end of the stick.”

Wahbi too will be one of those having a uterus constructed. “Why should women be the only ones able to get to Paradise the easy way?” he says.

Allah says in the Noble Quraan in Surah Nisaa Verse 32 :

“And do not covet that which Allah favours some of you with over others – men will receive the reward of that which they earn and women will receive the reward of that which they earn. And ask Allah of His bounty. Verily Allah has knowledge of all things.”

If the story concerning the Masculinists was actually true the actions of such a group would be in direct conflict with the above verse. And if such a group really did exist, I would be rather keen to introduce them to Amina Wadud. And who exactly is Amina Wadud?

Dr Amina Wadud is the professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. On March 18, 2005, she became the first woman in history to lead a mixed congregation at (wait for it) Synod House at the cathedral of St John the Divine, an Episcopal church in Manhattan, New York. The Jumuah Salaat was to have been held at an art gallery, but the venue was changed after the gallery received bomb threats.

Not surprisingly, none of the masaajid would host this preposterous gathering, not because, as her followers would have the world believe, it challenges custom, but simply because it is a flagrant violation of Islamic law which has been held as sacred since the time of the prophet (PBUH).
Strangely enough, Wadud and co. cite a certain hadith (which she is very apt at interpreting to suit her purpose) as proof of permissibility for this action, even though Wadud has shown herself to be a blatant rejecter of Prophetic Traditions. Of late she has even gone as far as “disagreeing” with the Quraan. In a meeting with Tarek Fatah, a would-be postmodernist reformer, she stated that despite the fact that the Quraan explicitly calls for the cutting off of the hands of thieves, she did not agree with the Quraan. She has no qualms with “Saying ‘No to the Quraan when one disagrees with it’”

Ironic, isn’t it, that while she rejects Ahadith, has gone as far as rejecting the Quraan, she now goes to that very source that has been the object of her scorn and uses it to justify her misguided actions. Laughable indeed.

The verses in the Quraan which read:
And Allah would wish to turn to you but the wish of those who follow vain desire is that you should turn away from Him far, far away” S4 V2

“Seest thou such a one as taketh for his god his own desires” S25 V43
No doubt, refer to people like Wadud.

Clearly Wadud and co. constantly reinterpret Quraan and Hadith to fit in with their feminist agenda, and where this is not possible, they simply “disagree”, clearly for them Islam is the entity that needs to conform to the wishes of it’s adherents rather than vice-versa.

Do I take her seriously? Obviously not!! Entering into the fold of Islam means complete submission to the will of Allah, anything less than that is off the mark. One thing Wadud has taught me though, is to become more vigilant of my own actions to ensure that they really are in accordance with the commands of My Lord and the teachings of His blessed Prophet (PBUH) and to become all the more careful of not twisting the Laws of Islam to suit my own ends. Wrong must be clearly defined as must right!

I give the final say to the Prophet (PBUH), who said:
“A wise person is one who keeps watch over his bodily desires and passions, and checks himself from that which is harmful and strives for that which will benefit him after death; and a foolish person is one who subordinates himself to his cravings and desires and expects from Allah the fulfillment of his futile desires.” Tirmidhi
And that sums up Wadud and her delusional cronies better than I ever could.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Marriage - when the thorns hurt

I’ve often wondered what the yardstick would be, whereby I could measure a successful marriage. Sadly, many of the examples I have around me - in my estimation - fall far short of the mark.

My grandparents grew old, alone and lonely. Theirs was a marriage that spanned over 50 years, and I wonder whether they ever grew to love each other during that time, nurture a friendship or find solace in one another’s company.

My parents? Well, they would make for a riveting study in psychology and human relations, but one thing is for sure, they cannot live without each other.

So what is the ideal? Is it perhaps having a mother-in-law who is either a darling or better yet, deceased? Or miracle of miracles – one who thinks that you are actually good enough for her son? Is it having a husband who is house-trained well enough to do the dishes, wields a mop better than you do, and serves you breakfast in bed; or perhaps its financial freedom – having that successful husband who earns more than you do?

I pondered and pondered for a full 7 years, and then it struck me – at an all time low point in my life – it struck me! I felt a little light switching on in my head, and for that fleeting moment, I felt as though all the treasures and secrets of marriage had been laid bare for me. I finally had the answer to my question.

It’s knowing that if you could do it over, you’d unhesitatingly opt for the same life partner to be your companion for all eternity.

You’d gladly accept his irritating habit of bringing wet towels to the bedroom and leaving them on your new bedspread; of leaving his dirty clothes in untidy piles on the bedroom floor; of always leaving the toothpaste open; or - horror-of-horrors – of him picking his toes, or worse still, his nose.

You’d willingly brave his night-time-under-the-duvet orchestras, which often smell worse than they sound. You’d relive all the bad times, along with the good ones, just to have the knowledge that he will be the one growing old with you, sitting alongside you on the stoep, on tranquil summer evenings contemplating – nothing – or everything.

Nothing would give you greater pleasure than working alongside him to recreate that tapestry of your lives – intertwined – a tapestry coloured and textured by the joys and sorrows that together you have experienced – a tapestry to be cherished.

You would never choose differently!

Together you’ve laughed, cried, played, fought, loved and sometimes, even hated. Through all this you have emerged stronger, fortified by the solace you have drawn from one another, stronger in your unity than you could ever hope to be on your own.

For those who have achieved this, I salute you. You have accomplished your life’s greatest achievement. May Allah keep you that way, always, but what of those at the opposite and of the scale - those for whom the bed of roses has one thorn too many?

I am grieved when I see sisters whose marriages have been the engineers of their own destruction; sisters who have nothing more than a lifetime of regrets and what-ifs; women for whom marriage is a burden that breaks their backs and destroys their self-esteem.

While not all are victims of physical abuse, far too many find themselves at the receiving end of remarks that are often more painful than physical violence can ever be – verbal abuse that leaves them shattered, lacking in confidence, nervous wrecks.

I’ve known such women, more of them than I would care to say. My heart bleeds when I see their state each time their husbands walk through the door. Their laughter simply evaporates, in its place, a cold lonely fear.

I’ve met such men; I’ve heard the insults, the belittling, the undermining, and each time I hear it, I feel this overwhelming anger, a hatred that often makes it near impossible for me to keep my counsel.

Misogynists! Why then do they marry? Just to have some ‘weak’ female to pick on every time their pseudo-confidence needs a boost? Destroy the life of another and build yours on the ruins? A far cry from what the Holy Prophet (pbuh) taught, for Nabi (saw) has said, “The best among you is he who is best to his family.”

Sister, if you are living out this painful life sentence, this is my message to you:
Fight back! Pull yourself up and out of the mire. You are worthy! You deserve better! Don’t allow the emotional blackmail! Refuse to be a victim!

If you find that you lack the strength to do so then take advantage of the most powerful weapon you possess – the dua of the oppressed, which is never rejected – for indeed you are oppressed.

And most importantly, be heartened by the knowledge that Allah will never desert you. You will always have him to return to.

Highlighting Hijaab

In recent years, the numerous bombings that have occurred all over the world ‘supposedly’ in the name of Islam, have given rise to huge amounts of attention being given to Islam on various platforms, the media being the most prominent among these. Many of the Islamic principals and practices have been brought into the spotlight, but none more notably, than the hijaab.

Hijaab has been called many names, and those who choose to don, it have often found themselves on the receiving end of snide remarks, accusations and at times even sympathy. But what exactly is the Islamic position of Hijaab?

Allah says in the Noble Quraan in S24 V31:
And say (oh, Nabi (s.a.w)) to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty except that which co-incidentally appears thereof, that they should dray their veils over their bosoms and not reveal their adornments.

Concerning the portion of the verse ‘that which co-incidentally appears thereof’, a difference of opinion exists amongst the jurists as to whether the face too should be covered. But all unanimously agree that the entire body, including the hair should be covered in the presence of those with whom marriage is not forbidden (ghair-mahram).

I approached a few sisters, to ask them what their hijaab means to them. These were their responses:

Safiyyah* was not a hijaabi. In fact fancy hair-do’s were her trademark. One incident, however, changed her life.

She says, “I passed by a fellow muslimah one day and greeted her. She did not respond to me. I was suddenly struck by the thought that, should I die on this road, no one would know that I am a Muslim. The very next day, I wore a scarf.”

When asked what her head scarf, which has now had a niqaab added to it, she replies, “The most important aspect of this style of dress, is that it is my identity. It identifies me as a Muslim. Besides, covering the head is a command of Allah. Also my scarf ensures that I am respected by both Muslims as well as non-muslims. It is a reflection of my modesty, which is part of Imaan. It liberates me and I know that I am pleasing Allah.”

Another sister that I had the pleasure of speaking to was Fatima*, a 19 year old Hafizah. She started covering up two years after starting her hifz classes. She explains, “I just felt that it was not right. My mum went around saying that she had begun wearing the scarf because of my hifz, and this made me feel even more guilty. Initially, my scarf bothered me. I felt self-conscious and out-of-place, especially when going out with my friends. Today, I can’t do without it. It means everything to me. I feel good that I am fulfilling such an important command of Allah.”

Her elder sister, Yumna*, on the other hand does not wear as scarf. When asked why not, she says, “I don’t really know. I know that it is wrong, but maybe it’s the kind of friends I have. Maybe I just like experimenting with my hair,” she jokes.
“But if I were to marry someone who would like me to wear the scarf, I wouldn’t mind. I know that it is compulsory.”

She sees women who wear the head scarf as being more committed. “They’re better than me because they are prepared to go the extra mile. I respect them.”

And what are my views concerning the hijaab?

I wear a niqaab. It is the essence of who I am. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It also doesn’t give anyone the license to judge me more harshly, after all, the laws of shari’ah are equally applicable to everyone. It just shows that I am trying.

My hijaab means that I need not be judged on the basis of my appearance. It allows me to stand before mt Allah each day, secure in the knowledge that I have at least one less sin to answer for.

It draws me into the company of the illustrious Wives and Sahaabis (Allah is pleased with them) of the Prophet (saw) who prided themselves on the observance of hijaab as a means of preserving chastity and improving morality in society.

For me, hijaab shows strength of conviction in one’s belief, is a symbol of Allah, as well as His flag which is being hoisted high amid all the flags of immorality. It is an expression of our modesty, concerning which, Nabi (saw) has said, “Modesty and Imaan go side by side. If the one is removed, the other too will soon follow.”

Observing hijaab brings us fully into the sisterhood of Islaam.

*names have been changed

Freedom Of Speech - Modern Day Pegasus

On 7 February 2006 Abu Hamza Masri a British citizen (although his citizenship has come under question) was found guilty of 11 of the 15 charges brought against him by the state. He was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. A short while before that, far-right, British National Party National Chairman, Nick Griffin was acquitted of two similar charges (inciting racial hatred etc.) which were brought against him.
The similarities between the two men are hard to miss. They are both extremists. And both feed off hatred, stereotyping, bigotry and insecurities of a small minority of people that are bound to exist in all cultures – the kind of people who balk at the prospect of a multicultural society and dogmatically insist that they belong to a superior race.

After all Nick Griffin’s party have been known in the past to insist upon a policy of compulsory repatriation - a policy which would send all recent immigrants, first and second generation, back to their homelands without their consent, while al Masri has been known to make statements like, “Give a person Da’wah (invite to Islam) and if he refuses, kill him.”

I must point out that al Masri’s stance is contrary to Islamic teachings which tell us that there is no compulsion in faith. If a person does not want to accept Islam, he/she is to be left to follow the faith of their choosing.

Both have been known to make statements alluding to Zoinist control of the British media. Both have also been known to deny the Holocaust. In fact Griffin feels so strongly on this particular point, that he has been known to attack a
Holocaust denier, David Irving for admitting that some Jews died at the hands of the Nazi state in the Second World War.

Now were he living in Switzerland, this act alone would have been enough to land him a conviction, because denial of the Holocaust is a crime in Switzerland, as it is in nine other European Countries, being:
Austria
Belgium
Czech Republic
France
Germany
Israel
Lithuania
Poland
Slovakia
But strangely enough of the ten Countries on this list, France, Germany and Italy (perhaps by now, there are more) saw fit to publish extremely offensive cartoons of the Prophet of Islam – Muhammed (pbuh) in defence of Freedom of Speech, an act that smacks of obtrusive double standards and religious intolerance.

Muslims all over the world, be they so-called moderates, extremists, or the much demonised fundamentalists, are all in agreement on one point – love for and loyalty to the last Prophet to mankind Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) is one of the cornerstones of their faith.

And who can help but to love Muhammed (pbuh)? He was a man, whose entire life was spent teaching compassion, love, forgiveness and mercy. Allah says of him in the Noble Quraan : And we have not sent you, (oh Muhammed pbuh) except as a mercy unto mankind.

History testifies to the hardships endured by Muhammed (pbuh) and his companions at the hands of the Mekkans, whose primary reason for their continuous opposition to his message was a fear that it would upset the status quo. Yet upon the occasion of the Conquest of Makkah - the day when Muhammed (pbuh) and his companions entered the city and it fell into Muslim hands, a companion remarked, “Today is the Day of Revenge,” whereupon Muhammed (pbuh) replied, “Today is the day of Mercy.”

A brief study of his biography will reveal that never did he raise his hand upon a woman, nor upon a child. While slavery was a common practice at the time, he worked hard to bring about reforms, and told his companions of the great rewards for freeing the slaves, encouraging them to do just that. The very first muezzin in the history of Islam, was in fact a freed slave of Abyssinian origin – a high honour indeed.

He stressed upon the importance of seeing mankind as a single body, and in his last sermon, he made it abundantly clear that all of mankind is one. In Islam there is no distinction of race, colour, and status - the superficial lines that constantly divide us.

Placing this particular teaching in a South African context, it is amazing to find that even during the dark days when Apartheid was a part of The South African constitution, the only places where the ugliness of the system had no effect were the Masjids. Here, men of all races bowed in submission to one Allah, together. No separate mosques for ‘Asians’, ‘Coloureds’, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’ as was the case with our schools and suburbs.

I remember as a child, I was once out shopping with my mother. I couldn’t have been more than five at the time. I needed the bathroom – urgently! The nearest one had a great big sign on the door saying ‘Blankes Alleen- Whites Only.” I was not allowed to use it. My mother had to search for one for us ‘Blacks’ while I walked at her side knock-kneed. Today, I smile when I recall the incident because of the funny images it evokes, but at the time, it was far from funny.

That the cartoons are extremely distasteful is obvious to anyone with half a brain cell. That they are based on (incorrect) stereotypes is equally apparent. That any ‘Freedom of Speech’ advocate could consider the act of publishing and then republishing these offensive images an act of defence for a precept that they hold sacrosanct – well I find that extremely disconcerting.

These images could be seen as being tantamount to hate speech or at least inciting racial hatred. The Muslim graves that were desecrated in Denmark, testify to that.
Seeing the double standards of the Swiss, the French, the Germans and other European nations leaves me wondering whether ‘Freedom of Speech’ is anything more than a Modern day Pegasus – mythical, magical, and tangible only to a select few – the chosen ones. Maybe, if I paint my face white, remove my hijaab and stand long enough by the Fountain of (selective) Truth, I could catch a glimpse of this magical beast. Maybe I could even be lucky enough to slip my golden Harness of Justice onto it’s neck and take flight to a land where truth is a Universal language.

© Saaleha Bhamjee - 2006

Reflections on Peace

Times, they certainly are a-changing. Some fifteen years ago very few young South Africans Muslimahs could be found sporting the hijaab. Yet, today hijaab has become quite the trend with a whole range of new hijaabs having evolved, from the tight-jeans-short-top-impeccably-pinned style, to the designer-cloak-transparent-scarf style.

Men too have joined the evolutionary cycle by dispensing with headgear all together. The sight of men in the masjid with out so much as a topee (hat) these days, rarely turns a hair.. Why even our greeting has been unable to escape the ravages of evolution. Those in the know will tell you that it is sooo outdated to say Assalaamu Alaikum, when you can just say “Sa’laaam”(emphasis on the aaa), sweet and short and oh-so with it. Yet how many of us are aware that Allah says in the Glorious Quraan on the subject of greeting:
When ye are greeted with a greeting, greet ye with a better than it or return it. Lo! Allah taketh count of all things. S4 V86

And an incident from the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) on the same topic goes as follows:
A man come to the Prophet (PBUH) and said “Assalaamu Alaikum”. He responded to his salutation. The man sat down and The Prophet (SAW) said, “Ten”.
Another man came and said “Assalaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah. He (PBUH) responded to his salutation. When he sat down he (PBUH) said, “Twenty.”
Another man came and said, “Assalaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatuh”
He (PBUH) responded to him and said, “Thirty” (Sunan Abu Dawood)

The words of Nabi (SAW) being a reference to the rewards for each of the three.

That by adopting the abbreviated form of greeting, we are depriving ourselves of huge blessing goes without saying, for in the course of a single day how many opportunities present themselves for the earning of reward by greeting in full? Each time our children enter or leave the house, each time hubby phones to check up on the supper menu, each time mum-in-law pops in to check up on her sons’ assets or a neighbour comes around to catch up on the latest gossip, the opportunities are as endless as the day is long.

In fact even bedtime is a great opportunity for earning those voyager miles. Make a habit of greeting the kids before ordering them off to bed and instead of giving hubby your back when you get into bed after yet another argument about discipline, greet him (albeit in short clipped tones) with the greeting of peace. At least that way you’ve earned bonus points and you’ve shown him that you’re the better person, nearer unto Allah and free of pride.

In the words of the Prophet (PBUH) as reported by Abu Umamah(Allah be pleased with him) in Sunan Abu Dawood:
Those who are nearest to Allah are they who are first to give a salutation.

The origin of the Islamic greeting is very interesting indeed. In a lengthy narration from Abu Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with him) recorded in Tirmidhi it is mentioned:
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said: When Allah created Adam(PBUH) and breathed the spirit into him , he sneezed and said, “Praise be to Allah”. So he praised Allah by His permission and his Lord said to him “Allah have mercy on you, Adam. Go to those angels (i.e. a company of them who were seated) and say , ‘Peace be upon you.’” He said, “Peace be upon you,” and they replied, “Upon you be peace and Allah’s mercy.” Then he returned to his Lord, who said, “This is your salutation and the salutation of your descendants to one another.”

Proof that these blessed words are as old as mankind, itself. So why would we feel the desire to change a gift given by Allah the Almighty?

However, the practice of greeting is not without merit other than only the rewards from Allah. In a Hadith narrated by Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him ) reported in Tirmidhi, it is mentioned:
Nabi (SAW) said, “Son when you enter your home, greet your people with salutation of peace. It will be a source of blessings for you and for the members of your family”.

The importance of greeting one another can be gauged from the following Hadith which appears in Sahih Muslim:
Narrates Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (PBUH) observed. “You shall not enter Paradise as long as you do not affirm belief, and you will not believe as long as you do not love one another. Should I not direct you to a thing, which if you do, you will foster love amongst you? Give currency (to the practice) of saying Assalaamu Alaikum”

And with these words do I bid your farewell “Assalaamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh”. Until next time..

A Righteous Resolution

Meet my imaginary sister Aaminah. She could very well symbolize any of us. This is what she did two years ago during the December vacation:

Aaminah, clad in her favourite swimsuit, a colourful sarong artistically draped around her waist sat on the warm sand while her 5 year-old son Ahmed busied himself with the creation of his masterpiece, a sandcastle. Her husband, Riaaz lay on lounger engrossed in his reading of the latest best-seller.

This was Phuket, the year 2004, the day December 26, 4 days away from the new, year. Aaminah was deep in thought. She was planning her resolutions for the New Year. Top priority for the coming year, she had decided, would be to spend more time with Ahmed. Her busy job at an Accountancy firm took up too much of her time. Content with the decision, she looked at Ahmed, “Come tiger, let me help you. We’ll build our own Carlton Centre,” she said, referring to the tallest building in South Africa.
“Yay!” Ahmed exclaimed.

When the turquoise waters that had been lapping gently at the shores receded a few minutes later, the family looked on in amazement along with hundreds of other people. Colourful fish, finding themselves without life-giving water flapped about helplessly on the sand. Stunning sea-shells suddenly became visible.

“Look, mummy,” Ahmed said, pointing at these, “See the pretty shells.”
Aaminah‘s reply froze on her lips as the wall of water appeared, gaining strength as it swept its way towards them. And then they were no more.

I’ve thought of Aaminah a lot since then, and wondered whether her life and death would have been different had she heeded my advice. I knew that she would often become very irritated by my ‘lectures’ about hijaab and such, so I kept these to a minimum. Four months before they were swept away by the tragic tsunami, Aaminah had seriously considered my advice, especially when her cousin had been killed in a freak accident. Shortly thereafter she had almost started wearing the hijaab, but her husband, Riaaz, would hear nothing of that sort. His warning that her covering might lead to him looking at other women had decided the matter for her.

And now, it was too late. But her passing on so very suddenly holds a very poignant question as well as a profound message for all of us.

The Prophet of Allah (pbuh) often prayed: “Oh, Allah, make my last deed, my best one, and make the best day of my life, the day on which I will meet you.” (Tabarani) - this, of the man who was assured of Paradise, and whose every living moment was spent in the worship and obedience to Allah.

The Islamic New Year is upon us. It is time for us to reflect on the year gone by, another year from a life whose end we have no assurances about. What resolutions have we made?

Allah tells us in the Noble Quraan : And fear Allah as much as you can manage ( S 64 V 16)

Keeping this verse in mind, would a good resolution not be to strive to cultivate Taqwa? We know that our true purpose in this world is purely to worship Allah. Are we worshipping Him as is His right to be worshipped?

Each year that slips by, should bring with it wisdom, and an improvement of the self. With each year that draws us closer to death, we should be drawn closer unto Allah. The changes needn’t be huge. One at a time : one more Fard Salaat, one more sunnah, one more Nafl.

That way, should we be lucky enough to attain old age, our lives would be fulfilled as well as fulfilling. Loneliness in old age? Not even a question, for how can one ever feel lonely, when one has the companionship of He who resides in the heart, whose friendship is as perennial as the evergreens on the rolling Majubas.

How can one be ill, when the heart is alive with the zikr of Allah and the soul revels in the bliss of proximity to The Divine? How can one be sad, when one has tasted utter bliss?

Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it. So get that pen and paper out and write in BIG, BOLD letters, ‘I RESOLVE TO BE A BETTER MUSLIM,’ and renew this resolution each year when the time for stock taking rolls around. Ask Allah for His guidance and assistance, for with this on your side, Insha Allah, your best action will be the one to set the seal on your mortal life, and your best day will be the one on which you will meet Allah.


The Sands



The sands, they flow
Grain by grain
Each grain a second
In a life soon spent

The grains, they pile
One upon the other
Never to be returned
To the other side

No second chances
Repeated seconds
A pipe dream
Like so many others

Unfulfilled?


The days, they pass
Unnoticed, not counted
Each day closer
To a pre set end

The days, they’re swift
Their hours short
Yet, so many grains
Pass through the glass

Countless?

The months, they flow
Each into the next
Names and numbers
On calendars, crossed

The dates commemorate
Deaths and births
Wars and treaties
Beginnings and ends

Eternally?

The years grow short
As time goes by
Days like minutes
Weeks like days

Months like weeks
Years like months
So many months
Bringing wrinkles

Illness?

The sands, so small
They make the minutes
Hours, days,
Weeks, months
And years

Those sands - unnoticed
That Death -
Impossible not to
Notice?

A Healthy Dose of Hope

It’s official! Spring is here!

As the once bare branches become adorned with a profusion of pastel coloured blossoms, the days gradually grow longer and warmer and a sense of intense expectancy – of wonderful things to come fills the air. I am filled with a wonderous feeling that soon the tide will turn – that miraculous things are just waiting to happen.

So what if I’m staring another birthday in the face and I’m growing (yes, say it) older, and I suspect, no wiser? So what if my already crowded house is going to have to expand to make room for one more little being and my already overflowing cupboards are going to be called upon to accommodate one more winter and summer wardrobe? So what if my bathroom is crying for a makeover and accomplishing it in time seems as likely to occur as does my summiting Everest? So what if the gloom of winter seems determined to cling to me with tenacious obstinance and drag me back into it’s cold?

I’m more determined! Determined to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Determined to continue to hope.

Invariably there are times when the light dims and my problems seem insurmountable, I take consolation from verse 155 Surah 2 where Allah says, “And we shall indeed test you with a little bit of fear and hunger and a reduction of wealth and souls and fruit – and give glad tidings to the patient ones. Those who, when difficulty afflicts them say – Verily to Allah do we belong and to him is our return”

So when hardship strikes, I accept it as nothing more or less than a test from my Lord. And after reading through verses 5 & 6 Surah 94, appropriately located in the 30th Juz of the Quraan where Allah says, not once, but twice, “verily after one hardship comes much ease, thus surely after hardship comes much ease,” is it ever possible for hope not to emerge the victor?

Indeed where there is life, there is hope – hope for a change for the better. It helps when one remembers that, while Jannah has eight doors, Jahannum has only seven, and Allah has informed us that His mercy exceeds His wrath.

So your creditors may be beating down your door, your mother-in-law may be nothing short of impossible; your children may be demanding and stubborn; your neighbours may be mean and nosy and their dog may consider your front lawn to be
the perfect shade of green for utilisation as a toilet, in the face of all this , one thing remains and that is HOPE!!

You could win a crossword grand prize, settle the debts and have enough change left over to treat yourself to that aromatherapy massage you so richly deserve. Your mother-in-law’s heart may soften, or better still she could become senile and forget who you are altogether. It isn’t inconceivable to imagine that your children could outgrow their stubbornness and learn to value your love more than the latest toy craze.

Your neighbour could get a transfer to Katmandu and once your lawn has turned and ugly brown their dog might just move to the patch of lawn two doors away, where he might just get shot, so keep the hope alive by nurturing it with abundant Zikrullah and dua.

Speak to Allah like a trusted friend and make Him your counsellor, after all He does say in Surah 50 Verse 16, “And we are closer to him (man) than his jugular vein”. Strive to shut out the clamour from without and listen to the gentle voice within- the voice that will continue to remind you of precisely who you are.

That may seem a mammoth task with your brood tearing around the house at breakneck speeds and working up a din that could drown out the roar of a bulldozer – but with a bit of perseverance it can be achieved. So no matter what your problem, remember , the solution lies within, so don’t give up the search and whatever you do ….just keep HOPING!!

This article first appeared in The Muslim Woman Magazine.