Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breaking Stereotypes

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Breaking Stereotypes:
By Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar

While listening to Zain Bhikha and Adbul Malik Ahmed’s new song “Who I am” ( from Zain’s new album “1415:The Beginning” I thought about the social implications of this song so I wrote the following article based on the song with lyrics from the song in between. This song can refer to us trying to imitate the disbelievers and live up to their expectations, but I wrote from the point of view of us trying to live up to the cultural expectations of many Muslims:

“Social expectations drown us all inside, what you have should be what I want, because what I have just ain’t alright,” (Zain Bhikha – Who I am)

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the universe and we ask Allah to send his peace and blessings upon his final messenger Muhammad and all those who follow his way until the Last Day.

If you study the lives of the pious predecessors, you will find that each of them was unique and had their own special qualities. Looking at the prophets (peace be upon them all), Musa was strong and hot-tempered against evil, but he also had a speech impediment. Eesa on the other hand was cool and peaceful. Each prophet had unique qualities that separated them from the others, be it Ibrahim’s sacrificing attitude and soft nature, Shuaib’s eloquent speech, Yusuf’s beauty and patience, Yaqub’s beautiful patience and loving nature or Muhammad’s amazing endurance and his legendary trustworthiness. Peace be upon them all, each of them were unique.

The same goes for the companions, Abu Bakr was soft, cool yet firm upon his principles. Umar was hot-tempered, harsh yet soft towards the poor and oppresses. Uthman was patient and would not raise an arm against another Muslim. Abu Dhar preferred solitude while others preferred being part of the community. Khalid Bin Waleed was a fighter, was Hussain Bin Thabit was a peaceful poet. Each of them was unique.

The same applies to the great women in our history. Aasiyah was exceptionally brave and outspoken against her husband the Pharaoh. Maryam was the perfect example of piety and modesty. Ayesha was outspoken, learned and intelligent. Nusaibah binte Ka’ab was would sacrifice her life in the battlefield. Once again each of the great women of our past was unique.

The point I am trying to emphasize is that none of the pious predecessors fitted into a stereotype. There was no stereotype of practicing Muslim like how we have today. As long as a person fulfilled their obligations, stayed away from sin and contributed positively to the world, they were regarded ad righteous Muslims.

Today our cultures have set so much high expectations of what they perceive to be piety that Muslims get lost in two ways. One group looks at piety as impossible to achieve without losing his or her self so they choose to stay away from the road to piety so that they can be themselves, while others submit to their cultures and forge a fake shell of piety losing themselves to their cultures and living for the people instead of Allah.

“He did, she did, they all did, what’s expected of them all. To get to the top don’t matter, if somebody’s got to fall,” (Zain Bhikha – Who I am)

For example, in my society, a pious man is perceived as a man who has a long beard, always wears a hat and long-sleeved kurta or Thawb, never smiles, laughs or has fun. The result, many people choose to live this lifestyle, making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves and others, while others stay away from piety because it seems boring to them.

It’s the same with women, when a sister decides to wear niqab, she is expected to have no personality, role in society and is expected to live a boring life of only worship. If a Muslim woman in Niqab is spotted laughing or having fun, she is treated with disapproval and people shake their heads at her “hypocrisy”. As a result women choose not to wear niqab so that they can be themselves or they choose to wear it and end up oppressed by culture and social expectations.

“They tell me this is the way that I need to reform, if I continue to stray I will start up a storm, wear this, drive that, like this, not that, don’t there lose track or you will fall way back!” (Abdul Malik Ahmed – Who I am)

In reality, none of this counts as piety in Islam, a man with a short beard, who does not wear a kurta or hat, yet does the five pillars, is good to people and stays away from evil is a righteous Muslim, and having fun is permitted in Islam and at times recommended as long as the means are permissible. The same applies for a woman as long as she covers everything except her face and hands in front of men that she can marry (Ghair Mahram).

All these extras that culture and society attach to piety are unfounded (like the kurta or being boring) or differed over (like the length that a beard should be or whether niqab is compulsory or recommended) and cause unnecessary inconvenience to those of us who want to please Allah but find society turning against us for not fitting their stereotype.

Allah has create each human unique and has revealed the perfect was of life that fits with human nature as a result Islam is a religion which caters for our different personalities and lifestyles yet provides boundaries to keep us away from destructive elements. There is nothing in Islam that is forbidden unless it is harmful and there is nothing in Islam which is recommended or obligatory unless there is benefit in it, and everything else is permissible.

Allah has made Islam easy to follow and our time on this earth is short, if you wish to please Allah and earn His Paradise then you have to stop worrying about what people will say and stop trying to please them, because your reward is with Allah, not with the people. You can be a practicing Muslim and still maintain your individuality, your personality and still have a fun life. Islam caters for all this so do not stay away from practicing Islam out of fear of not meeting people’s expectations or losing yourself and do not worry about what people say.

In the end, each of us will die and meet Allah individually so let us be the best Muslims we can be for Allah even if it means breaking people’s stereotypes and cultural expectations in the process. Maybe being yourself would be a means of opening other people’s eyes to what Islam really teaches and the true meaning of piety. Let us be the best of Muslims and educate others to show them how easy and fun Islam can be.

“But if my Lord loves me then my soul is free, you can say what you want just let me be! I know if I’m real and it’s not a disguise, you’ll love who I am if you open up your eyes,” (Abdul Malik Ahmed – Who I am)

“This is who I am, this is me! Nothing everything can’t you see! Who I am, just let me be, cause all that matters is that God loves me!” (Zain Bhikha – Who I am)

The Rights of children

The Rights of Children in Islam
By Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar

All praise is due to Allah, the Most Merciful, and may peace descend upon his final prophet, the mercy to this universe, Muhammad and all those who follow his way until the Last Day.

Once a man saw the prophet (peace be upon him) kissing his grandsons and in shock this man commented, "We do not kiss our children!" In another narration, he said, "I have ten sons and I have never kissed any of them," The prophet (peace be upon him) replied, "What can I do if Allah has removed mercy from your heart," In another narration, he said, "Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy,"

This Hadith sums up the prophetic method of dealing with children, it is a relationship of love and mercy. This is the Sunnah and the way of Islam, compare this however to the following common scenario in our times:

A child enters a Masjid for the first time at the age of seven and is keen to see what the Masjid is like and what the pious people there are like. This experience will be his first and lasting impression of Islam and practicing Muslims.

The first thing he notices is that nobody is smiling, and all the old men with big beards and kurtas are frowning and glaring at him like they want to kill him. This child gets scared and either cries or wets his pants, and then all Hell breaks loose in the house of Allah! All of a sudden, the old Buzrooks are screaming and swearing at the child and his father, sometimes they might even hit the child or his father or both of them. This is the typical first experience of many children in the Masjid, if not on their first day then during their first year at the Masjid.

The result: This child grows up averse to the Masjid and all things associated with it, including prayer and growing a beard. The question that needs to be raised is when these elders studied Islam, didn't anybody teach them Islamic etiquette and how to treat children? In fact many of these people think that Islamic respect is all about respecting your elders while they treat their employees, wives, kids and anybody younger than them like crap.

The prophet (peace be upon him) said, "None of you is from amongst us unless he is respectful to his elders and merciful to the youngsters," This Hadith shows that all humans deserve respect and mercy, regardless of age, and you can not be truly pious unless you treat children with kindness.

Let us look at the practical example of the prophet (peace be upon him) and compare it to the common practice amongst Muslims today. The prophet (peace be upon him) once when delivering a Jumuah Khutbah, saw his grandson crying for him at the Masjid entrance, he stopped the Khutbah and went over and picked up the child and pacified him. Then continued with the Khutbah. How many Imams today would do that if a child is crying in the Masjid? You have to wonder, whose sunnah are they following?

Sometimes the prophet (peace be upon him) would take very long in his sajdah because his grandson would be riding on his back and he would not want to disturb or hurt the child. Other times he would pick up the child and carry him while praying if the child wanted him. How many of us do this today? How many of us get angry, swear the child and say things like, "You stupid child! Can't you see I am praying!" Whose sunnah are we following?

We need to realize that children are innocent and they do not do things with bad intentions, furthermore they are soft-hearted and absorb everything you do. How you treat them prayer time or in the Masjid will affect how they look at the Masjid and prayer. This is why the prophet (peace be upon him) would leave a special cluster of dates in a corner of the Masjid only for children. The children would come and eat from it and enjoy being in the Masjid. How many of our children enjoy going to the Masjid? Whose sunnah are we following?

Once a child companion's pet bird died. The prophet (peace be upon him) went to visit that child and give his condolences! How many of us give a child condolences when someone dies, leave alone their pets. They need it even more than the adults.

Anas Ibn Malik was a child who use to work for the prophet (peace be upon him) and says that in his ten years working for the prophet (peace be upon him), the prophet (peace be upon him) never reprimanded him! Once the prophet (peace be upon him) sent Anas on an errand, Anas saw some kids playing and forgot about the errand and joined them. Later the prophet (peace be upon him) came looking for him and found him playing, the prophet (peace be upon him) laughed and told him to go complete the errand and never shouted or reprimanded and never brought up the topic again.

We can see from all these narrations that the prophet (peace be upon him) understood the feelings and nature of children and he treated them in the best of manners. He never put them down, made them feel bad, shouted or hit them. He would listen to their opinions and play with them. he was a friend to them, rather than a boss. It was because of this exemplary behavior of his that the children at his time loved him so much, loved Islam and grew up to become the leaders of this Ummah.

In fact, most of the great scholars of the companions were children or teenagers when the prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, including Ayesha, Ibn Umar, Ibn Abbas and Ibn Amr, yet they became the leading scholars of their time because of his treatment of them and method of dealing with them.

I ask Allah to grant us all the mercy and manners of the prophet (peace be upon him) and to make us people who attract others to Islam, and save us from being the cause of chasing people away from Islam.

One last note: The prophet (peace be upon him) would smile most of the time, so smile!