Saturday, April 2, 2016

MODESTY AND THE MISS-UNDERSTOOD HIJAB

Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem

“People are so judgmental, they keep asking me why I gave up wearing an abaya, after all it’s not necessary as long as I am wearing MODEST CLOTHES,” a woman ranted in the rest room. She went on to pass the verdict that an abaya was actually a cultural thing and not an Islamic requirement at all.
I was attending a seminar in Qatar on Islam and this rant was not an uncommon one. Neither was this Muslim woman’s concept of ‘hijab’ a solitary opinion.
I had to bite down on my lip to keep me from offering my two bits on this topic. Sadly, today, everything in Islam is up for debate. Modesty,  naqab, terrorism and a few other choices are the most popular. The source of knowledge most people draw upon to debate is sadly neither the Quran nor the Sunnah, but their own understanding of what they have heard Islam has ordained. People who do have knowledge are wary of speaking lest they get the oh-so-dreaded “judgmental” title.

It is no wonder then that non-Muslims are confused about the idea of hijab in Islam because we Muslims are the ones who make these confusing misrepresentations of our own Deen, sometimes with our words and more often with the way we practice it.
Anyone even slightly intelligent would know that Hijab could not possibly mean a small handkerchief sized cloth on the head and that couldn’t possibly be what Allah swt has intended for women.
Yet thousands of Muslim women choose to understand hijab to mean just that. They can wear skinny jeans, red lipstick, alluring perfume and top it off with a 'kerchief around their crown and still be included in the hijabi clan. For them, hijab or modesty means covering their hair. Period.




In some cultures, women think they can remain scantily dressed in front of their fathers, brothers and other women in the house yet wear an abaya outside the house that covers even the whites of their eyes, if you would let me exaggerate a bit. For them modesty is only practiced outside the house, and taken off with the abaya once they come home. 

Many others think modesty means they simply have to wear loose, modest clothes when they go out and skimp on the makeup. Yet many others wear an abaya and a naqab but forget to lower their gaze, specially in the virtual world where interacting with males for hours need never interfere with their modesty. For them, modesty is only a certain way of dressing and not their behavior.

But is this what Allah swt really wanted from us women? Was that the whole purpose of Hijab? Isn’t that a way of God forbid, cheating on our own Creator, by following His laws apparently, but actually fulfilling our own desires under the guise of religion?

  • What is that inner desire we are fulfilling when we flick that bang of hair or our earrings out of our scarf? To display our beauty, right? That is exactly what Allah wanted us to hide. So the purpose of hijab is lost.
  • What makes us buy a bling bling abaya? To look beautiful? Isn’t that what the abaya was worn for in the first place, to hide our beautiful clothes and figures when we go out before strangers? If the abaya itself is adding to the beautification, it is not serving its actual purpose, is it?
  



  • What makes us spray perfume and put on lipstick before we step out of the house for shopping? To be admired? Isn’t that what Allah forbade, to be admired by eyes other than our husbands?

If we only ask ourselves these simple questions, it will make it so much easier to do proper hijab. If the purpose of hijab is not being fulfilled, then it is not what Allah wanted from us. Rather, it is our own devious nafs dictating its terms under the cover of religion.

Some women argue “But we do it for ourselves, because we like looking beautiful in our own eyes”. That is clearly a contradiction because they NEVER dress like that when they are by themselves at home. PJs rule at home for most women. It is only when they go out before others that they beautify themselves.

These problems and issues arise because perhaps we do not know or realize the importance of ‘haya’ in Islam. The word haya is derived from the root ‘haa yaa yaa’ from which ‘hayat’ is also derived meaning ‘life’. If we say that haya is the very life of Islam, it would not be incorrect. 

Modesty, the inherent quality of Islam
Zayd ibn Talha ibn Rukana (may Allah be pleased with him), who attributed it to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "The Messenger of Allah said, 'Every deen has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty.' "
(Malik :: Book 47 : Hadith 47.2.9

Haya is a branch or part of Iman.
Narrated Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him): The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Faith (belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term "Haya" covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.” 
(Bukhari :: Book 1 :: Volume 2 :: Hadith 8)

Shyness or Modesty is for men too
It has become almost accepted in today’s society to look upon shyness as a weakness or a character flaw, especially in males. We see the opposite in the following hadith.
Narrated 'Abdullah (bin 'Umar) (may Allah be pleased with them): Once Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) passed by an Ansari (man) who was admonishing his brother regarding Haya'. On that Allah's Messenger said, "Leave him as Haya' is a part of faith."
(Bukhari :: Book 1 :: Volume 2 :: Hadith 23)




Haya and Iman are inseparable
Our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Indeed Haya (modesty) and Iman (faith) are companions. When one of them is lifted, the other leaves as well. (Baihaqi)

However Haya should not be understood to mean that one does not speak up for truth out of shyness or one becomes laid back and complacent instead of an active and productive member of the community.
It does not mean that women should never adorn themselves and remain shabbily dressed in permanent oblivion in their houses, never communicating with the opposite sex. What it means is that a person should have the quality of haya apparent in every aspect of his or her life: in clothes, adornments, walking, speech, dealings with the opposite sex, in private and in public life. Haya should be that inhibition that stops a Muslim from watching, hearing, saying or doing anything that he would be ashamed of doing before Allah.

Haya is in the eyes
People usually use this statement to negate any need to wear hijab. They say that real haya is in the eyes or purity is in the heart so outer clothing does not matter.
It is true that hijab or “purdah” as we call it, is not only a covering or outer garb but also the kind of conduct and intention that should accompany it. Yet the presence of only a good intention is not sufficient without any action to verify that intention. You can perhaps vouch about your own purity of thought (which is disliked by Allah because no one can claim to be free from sin) but how can you vouch for the intentions of the hundreds of men you choose to walk amongst? Intention is important but not sufficient by itself for repeatedly Allah says: “Those who believed and performed good actions.” Hence, actions must accompany intention and in the following ayahs, Allah Ta’ala has stated certain specific actions that He wishes us to do.

The purpose of clothes is to cover, not reveal
Allah swt mentions the purpose of clothes in Surah Al-‘Araaf:
“O Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment (libas) upon you to cover yourselves and as an adornment, and the raiment of righteousness, that is better. Such are among the Ayat of Allah, that they may remember.” (26)
We should ask ourselves, do our clothes fulfill the purpose of covering us or are they only for adornment?
According to a hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Among the words that have come down to the people from the earlier Prophets is: If you feel no shame then do as you wish." Narrated by al-Bukhari from the hadith of Abu Mas'ood al-Badri (may Allah be pleased with him).There is a basic requirement or awrah that men need to cover even before other men and women need to cover before other women. Clothes worn by men or women cannot be transparent or figure- hugging even before mahram relatives.

Who says we have to cover our head?
In Surah An-Nur verse 31, Allah Ta'ala tells the Muslim men to lower their gaze and protect their chastity followed by commands for the Muslim women:
“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except that which is apparent and to draw their khumur over their juyub and not to reveal their adornment except to their husband’s fathers, or their sons or their husband’s sons, or their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex.”

The word ‘Khumur’ (plural of khimar) means something that covers. It refers here to what is used to cover the head, known among the people as a veil.  It was clearly ordained here to extend the head dress (or scarf or dupattaover the bosoms so they serve their actual purpose of covering a woman’s attraction. So any hijab that does not cover the bosom of a woman is not fulfilling the requirement laid out by Allah Ta'ala.
In the verse, women are explicitly told about the people before whom they may reveal their adornment. It is vital to pause here and think, “What was the need of mentioning every mahram by name if there was going to be no difference in the woman’s attire before them and everyone else?”

Catwalk in a hijab?
Not only the clothes but even the manner of walking should not be provocative or such that it draws attention to the women. The whole purpose of hijab is lost if a woman’s stilettos or anklets can be heard all over the street.
“And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” (An-Nur; 31)
For the same reason, wearing strong perfume when going before non-mahram men is strictly forbidden for women. This again is not to prevent women from the finer things in life, but a way of protecting her from unwanted attention.

An abaya is cultural, not in Islam?
In Surah Al-Ahzab: 59, Allah Ta’ala ordains “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their jilbabs (cloaks) all over themselves. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as to not be annoyed. And Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

None of us can deny this verse that states that the believing women (not just Saudi women) must draw their cloaks over upon themselves, a knowledge of Arabic will show you that this translation is the closest and the word ‘selves’ would obviously include what we include when we talk of our SELVES ie our whole body, with our clothes, jewellery, makeup, hair, and many say that it includes the face, which is the crown of our whole body. It cannot mean loose, modest clothing as some want to believe, because a ‘jilbab’ is mentioned which means outer robe or cloak or abaya or chaddar to be worn over the clothes a woman is wearing inside the house. It cannot mean she is being told to wear loose, modest clothes OVER her other clothes, can it?

It is true that some women in some countries wear an abaya as a cultural outfit, not really to fulfill an Islamic obligation. But do the actions of a few people (or even of all of mankind) absolve me as an individual of the responsibility to obey Allah's commandments? For Muslims, the Quran and Sahih Ahadith are the source of guidance, not the actions of fallible humans.

So can a woman’s voice be heard by men?
Allah Ta'ala clearly states in the Quran that the woman’s voice can be heard but with certain limits.
“O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep Taqwa, then be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire, but speak in an honorable manner. And stay in your houses, and do not Tabarruj yourselves like the Tabarruj of the times of ignorance, and perform the Salah, and give Zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. …(till the end of the ayat)” (Surah Al-Ahzab 32-33)
This means that if there is a genuine need, a woman should address non-Mahram men in a manner in which there is no softness, not in the same way that she addresses her husband, but decent and honourable talk that is known to be good.
So the voice of women is not awrah or forbidden to be heard by men. However casual, provocative, misleading, flirtatious or unnecessary, unreserved talking and mixing is not allowed.

Stepping out of the house
(And stay in your houses,) means, stay in your houses and do not come out except for a purpose. One of the purposes mentioned in Shari`ah is prayer in the Masjid, so long as the conditions are fulfilled, as the Messenger of Allah said: “Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from the Masjids of Allah, but have them go out without wearing fragrance.”

So although the house is a woman’s main sphere of influence and interest, she is allowed to go out for valid reasons: for acquiring education, for providing important services like teaching and medical care and the likes, for performing Islamic rites such as Salah, pilgrimage and Eid and for other chores. What is forbidden is going out without any reason simply to display herself as eye-candy for onlookers or to while away idle hours. 

If she was not meant to go out at all, there would have been no need for Allah Ta'ala to describe the attire and manner which she must adopt when she goes out. "What she is forbidden from is tabarruj like the tabarruj of the days of Ignorance which has been described by commentators as ‘when women would go out of their homes walking in a shameless and flirtatious manner before men, not tying their hijabs properly so that their neck, earrings and all could be seen. (Tafsir ibn Kathir)

If we go out in the malls these days and witness the attire and actions of both women and men, we can understand why Allah Ta'ala wanted women to stay safe in the protection of their homes unless necessary. In our daily lives, we are well aware of the chaos a house and family fall into when some women just cannot sit at home, are never around for their families and their priorities lie elsewhere. The very foundation of the family unit is weakened and it has a ripple effect on the society. Women were never meant to be cogs in the commercial world, but the strong foundation on which sound families could be built. 

Islam is truly the religion of ease and simplicity. It fills our lives with peace if we follow its laws without trying to change them to suit our desires.  Everyday we are required to recite these verses of Surah al Fatiha in every unit of our salah:
“Guide us to the Straight Way. The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace , not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (i.e. those who knew the Truth, but did not follow it) nor of those who went astray (i.e. those who did not follow the Truth out of ignorance and error)”
So we can only adopt one of three ways, firstly the way of the Prophets, the Sahaba and the righteous people who followed the guidance sent by Allah Ta'ala, or secondly the way of those who know what Allah has commanded in the Quran and Sunnah but choose not to act upon it or lastly the way of those who are living a life of ignorance, not knowing what Allah wants from them.

The question, dear sister, is that when it comes to modesty what path will I follow?




Monday, September 17, 2012


Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) 
 A Mercy for the Worlds




Intelligence demands that one must always look at a situation from different angles. Without fail, it broadens the mind, offers solutions and inculcates deeper understanding. New horizons are discovered and misconceptions shrink away. We as Muslims invite you to examine things from a different point of view. We invite you to set all pre-conceived notions, inherited ideas and frequently heard clich├ęs to one side and give this a fair, broad-minded, democratic hearing. Let us tell you something about the man, Muhammad (peace be upon him) that the Danish press and Hollywood did not. By the end of this article that consists mostly of quotes from non-Muslim writers, historians, Nobel Prize winners and the likes, you will be more than amazed. We believe, and have done so for 14 centuries, that every human deserves to hear about this man – a man who perfected humanity, yet was perfectly human
The world has not hesitated to raise to divinity, individuals whose lives and missions have been lost in legend. Historically speaking, none of these legends achieved even a fraction of what Muhammad (pbuh) accomplished. And all his striving was for the sole purpose of uniting mankind for the worship of One God on the codes of moral excellence.
Muhammad (pbuh) or his followers never at any time claimed that he was a Son of God or the God-incarnate or a man with divinity – but he always was and is even today considered as only a Messenger chosen by God. He continues to inspire faith in more than a billion men and women. Vouched for as the “Most historical of all religious personalities” by Encyclopedia Britannica, it is an accepted fact that every event of his personal and public life has been immaculately recorded, even the minutest details preserved conscientiously for posterity. His life and works are not shrouded in mystery or doubt but open for all to study. Yet it is sad that instead of the truth becoming clearer with the growth in information and communication, many a times, fabrication overshadows and outspreads the truth.                    
As Thomas Carlyle, the author of Heroes and Hero-worship admits, “The lies which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man  (Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only.”
So let us see who Muhamamd (pbuh) really was, what was it about this man that he is accepted as the greatest sample of humanity by friends and foes alike. So many aspects of greatness did he cover, so many roles did he excel at, that it is difficult to summarize a lifetime of character in a few lines. 
K. S. Ramakrishna Rao a professing Hindu, writes in his book ‘Muhammad, The Prophet of Islam’, “There is Muhammad, the Prophet. There is Muhammad, the Warrior; Muhammad, the Businessman; Muhammad, the Reformer; Muhammad, the Orator; Muhammad, the Refuge of orphans; Muhammad, the Protector of slaves; Muhammad, the Emancipator of women; Muhammad, the Judge; Muhammad, the Saint. All, in all these magnificent roles, in all these departments of human activities, he is alike a hero.” Not a god, nor supernatural, not an angel nor omnipresent nor all-knowing, he was simply the servant of God and His Messenger. In the words of Edward Gibbon and Simon Ockley, in the ‘History of the Saracen Empire’, “I believe in one God, and Mahomet, the Apostle of God,’ is the simple and invariable profession of Islam. The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol: the honours of the prophet have never transgressed the measure of human virtue: and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion.”

Muhammad-The Praiseworthy

That is what Muhammad means-the one who is praised and the past and present have witnessed how people from all walks of life have praised him. Even his enemies could not deny his excellent qualities. When his enemy, Abu Sufyan was summoned by Heraclius to his court and questioned about the Prophet (saw), he was forced to admit his virtues. Even the Jews and those who did not believe in his message would come to him for arbitration in their disputes due to his justice and honesty. He was named “Al-Ameen’ ‘The Trustworthy’ and ‘As-Sadiq’ ‘The Truthful’ by his contemporaries. Even after centuries people admit his sterling qualities.
In his book Michael H Hart ranked Mohammed first in the list of people who contributed towards the benefit and uplift of mankind:
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.” (M.H. Hart, THE 100: A RANKING OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSONS IN HISTORY, New York, 1978) 



The world has had its share of great personalities. But these were one-sided figures who distinguished themselves in but one or two fields, such as religious thought or military leadership. The lives and teachings of these great personalities of the world are shrouded in the mist of time. There is so much speculation about the time and place of their birth, the mode and style of their life, the nature and detail of their teachings and the degree and measure of their success or failure that it is impossible for humanity to reconstruct accurately the lives and teachings of these men. Not so with Muhammad (pbuh). 

Lamar Tine, the renowned historian, speaking on the essentials of human greatness wonders: “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls…. His forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; His endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death; All these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was two-fold, the unity of God and the immateriality of God; the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with the words. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is MUHAMMAD. As regards all the standards by which Human Greatness may be measured, we may well ask, IS THERE ANY MAN GREATER THAN HE?” (Alphonse de Lamar tine, HISTOIRE DE LA TURQUIE, Paris, 1854,Vol.II)

A Nation Transformed

When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) appeared in the uncultivable, harsh nothingness of the Arabian desert in 570 AD, he only had the power of God’s message and his lifelong struggle which completely transformed the barbaric Bedouins in just two decades, which shaped a new moral and religious civilization spanning 3 continents- Asia, Africa and Europe. Never would the world be the same again. It was destined not to be. The people he invited to the submission of One God alone and to universal brotherhood were a people who loved warfare, fighting bloody and savage wars. One such war consumed 70,000 lives and went on for 40 years on the slightest provocation (a camel straying into the land belonging to the other tribe). Muhammad (pbuh) taught self-restraint, forgiveness and compassion to such people. He taught them to pray in the battlefield and laid down rules for battle, humanizing the battlefield itself. Islam teaches not to mutilate, not to kill minors, women and the old, not to breach trust even with the enemies, it teaches not to destroy farmland or fruit trees unnecessarily, not to molest monks and priests. And what was even more amazing was that Muhammad (saw) exemplified these teachings and so did many generations of Muslims. That is why even today, one hardly ever hears of Muslims desecrating a church or the Bible, or Muslims annoying nuns in their typical garb or Muslims blaspheming Jesus. Non-Muslim minorities have lived peacefully for hundreds of years under Muslim rule in many countries (like Spain, Jerusalem etc), their life, honour and freedom completely protected by the rulers.
At the advent of Islam, the Arabs were debauched gamblers, burying their daughters alive, treating their women as chattel. He taught them to pray side-by-side, to respect and love their women and to live a life governed by accountability before God. Islam bestowed on women innumerable rights 14 centuries back, when contemporary civilizations were still considering whether women could be regarded as a human being. Islam gave women a status the Western woman is still fighting for. Centuries ago women were given the right to life, honour (for which Hijab plays a major role), education, owning property (England only passed such a law 12 centuries later in 1881), receiving a compulsory marital gift from the husband, the right of inheritance, testimony and financial maintenance from the husband. 

Thomas Carlyle was amazed, “How one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and wandering Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades.”

Equality and Brotherhood

The principle of the equality of mankind has been preached by all great religions, but the last Prophet put it into actual practice and achieved the greatest success.

The famous poetess of India, Sarojini Naidu says: “It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy; for, in the mosque, when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and king kneel side by side and proclaim: ‘God Alone is Great’… I have been struck over and over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes man instinctively a brother”.                                      (IDEALS OF ISLAM, vide Speeches & Writings, Madras, 1918)
 This is the miracle that history witnessed in Madina, when the Prophet migrated from his homeland of Makkah with his followers after facing severe persecution for proclaiming his message. The homeless migrants were united in a historical bond of brotherhood with the Madinites. The love, sacrifice, help and kindness that the emigrants received from these surrogate brothers went beyond the norms of human capacity. They shared everything that they possessed, their properties, houses and incomes with their brothers in faith. Our present world has so much to learn from this history if we are to survive peacefully together.
It was Islam alone which first achieved an almost complete abolishment of slavery without passing a single bill or law. Thousands of slaves were freed at a time when slavery was the norm. These slaves were not just freed to face further discrimination in society but due to the moral education of the entire society, these very slaves went on to become scholars of Islam, commanders of Muslim armies and lived at par with their counterparts. This is all well documented in Islamic history. Prophet Muhammad appointed a black slave, Bilal to the office of proclaiming Adhaan 5 times a day calling Muslims to prayer. At the time of the last pilgrimage that the Prophet made to the Ka’aba, the holiest place in the Islamic world, this black freed slave stood on the roof of the Ka’aba and called out the Azaan. People of the caliber of Umar, known historically as Umar the Great, the 2nd caliph of Islam would welcome Bilal whenever he saw him saying, “Here comes our master, here comes our lord.” Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told Bilal that he had heard his footsteps in Paradise in a dream, thus giving him glad tidings of Paradise. This was complete equality, in this world and the next, based not on colour, creed or status, but on the level of piety. Compare this to how the black people are treated by the civilized white races of today, how even after centuries of struggle, they have not attained equal rights everywhere or atleast not in the hearts of their fair-skinned counterparts. 
In the words of Prof. Hurgronje, “The league of nations founded by the prophet of Islam put the principle of international unity and human brotherhood on such universal foundations as to show candle to other nations.” He continues: “The fact is that no nation of the world can show a parallel to what Islam has done towards the realization of the idea of the League of Nations.” Every year the world witnesses this amazing spectacle of unity and equality when millions of Muslims gather from all over the world for pilgrimage at the Kaa’ba. Leaving behind all worldly identities of race, colour and rank, this universal family of Europeans, Africans, Indians, Persians and Chinese all merge into one body, clad in white, bare-headed, throbbing with the pulse that unites them, “Here I am, O God; at Thy command; Thou art One and the Only One; Here I am.”

Peace

The word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’ (to the Will of God) and is related to the word ‘salam’ (the daily greeting of the Muslims) meaning peace. Nothing in the teachings of the Prophet or his life represents anything other than peace. He is described in the Quran as ‘mercy for the worlds’. And he lived up to this title showing compassion to Muslims and non-Muslims, friends and foes, humans and animals alike. The first pact that he concluded with the Jewish minority on coming to Madina was a peace treaty. This was the main object why he allowed war – to unite human beings and to perpetuate peace.
Since not all human beings in this world are in favour of maintaining peace and many would disrupt it for their own vested interests, sometimes force has to be used to maintain peace. This is why we have the police who use force against criminals and anti-social elements to maintain peace in the country. Throughout his life the Prophet (pbuh) practiced such exemplary forgiveness and magnanimity that it has no parallel in human history. In his personal life, he never hit a woman or child, never scolded his servants, never held a personal vendetta. When he went to preach his message in the town of Taif, a few miles away from Makkah, the people set loose a mob of ruffians on him. They called him names and threw stones at him till his shoes were full of blood. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to ask him if he wanted this town destroyed. Bleeding and beaten, he still forgave them.
He was forgiving not just in weakness but more so when he gained victory and had the power to punish. For 13 years he suffered inhuman torture at the hands of his people who rebuked him, beat him up, tried to kill him and when he was forced to migrate to Madina, waged many wars against him. When at last he returned to his hometown as a victor leading an army of 10,000, the city lay at his feet. Instead of a massacre in the name of ‘jihad’, plundering or even public beheadings what did this great man do? He forgave his bitterest enemies saying “This day there is no reproof against you and you are all free.” Is this the image of a turbaned terrorist? Has the world ever seen such mercy? Compare this with what happened in the crusades, the mass killing of Muslims in different places, the rapes of Muslim women in occupied territories, the cruelty and havoc victorious armies wreck on the masses. Compare this to Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Palestine.
As he entered Makkah, Muhammad (pbuh) was all humility. There was no jubilation, no pride, no terror displayed by any Muslim that day. He forgave Hind, who had mutilated his uncle’s corpse after a battle and chewed his liver. He forgave Abu Sufyan who had fought bitter wars against him, he pardoned Habr bil Aswad, who had pushed his daughter Zainab off her camel as she was trying to migrate to Madina, causing her to miscarry and lose her child. The list goes on. He would have been justified by the laws of war to avenge the great cruelties he and his followers had suffered, yet all he had for his enemies was love and sincerity. Then how should the Muslims not be enraged at this cruel portrayal of such a man? 
Diwan Chand Sharma wrote, “Muhammad was the soul of kindness, and his influence was felt and never forgotten by those around him.” (D.C. Sharma, THE PROPHETS OF THE EAST, Calcutta, 1935)
In Madina, he constantly faced intrigues and setbacks at the hands of the hypocrites. They would spread rumours about his own wives, they withdrew their forces at the Battle of Uhud at the last moment, yet the Prophet dealt with them with forbearance and patience. When the leader of the hypocrites died he gave his own shirt for his burial and prayed for him at his grave. He entertained the Christian delegation from Najran in Madina for 3 days; he was married to Maria the Coptic Christian and Safia the Jewess. Where does anyone find proof that he hated or terrorized non-Muslims?
It was his kindness and noble qualities that won people’s hearts and not the sword. He was unlettered yet spoke with such eloquence and feeling as to melt the hearts of the listeners. 
Mahatma Gandhi said about Muhammad’s (saw) character, “I wanted to know the best of one who holds today’s undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind. I became more than convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the 2nd volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of the great life.”

Ruler of Hearts

Inspite of ruling more than a third of the then inhabited world he was a man of heartbreaking simplicity. After Islam spread far and wide, wealth began to accumulate, yet this king mended his own shoes, swept the floor and helped his wives in household chores. Many weeks would lapse before fire could be kindled in his house, his food being only dates and water. He would spend his nights standing in worship till his feet swelled and slept on a coarse palm mat.
When he died all he left behind were a few coins and grain. 
Reverend Bosworth Smith remarks, “Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a body guard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to say that he ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for all the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.”
One of the tests of a person’s greatness is whether he was found to be of true mettle by his contemporaries. Muhammad (pbuh) was loved and followed by men of the greatest caliber of his time. It speaks volumes of his sincerity and truth that his most intimate companions and relations believed first and most strongly in his message. He was not only followed by the weak and the downtrodden but soon by the noblest and best of society. Had they not found him upto his claim they would not have laid down their lives for him. On the other hand his followers braved excommunication, torture and even death for his sake. 
Encyclopedia Britannica confirms, “A mass of detail in the early sources show that he was an honest and upright man who had gained the respect and loyalty of others who were like-wise honest and upright men.” (Vol. 12)
 Even after his death, his companions carried on his mission in the most scrupulous and dedicated manner as if he was still commanding their minds and hearts. Unlike other leaders, no skeletons in the cupboard were discovered, no scandals and deception, nothing to mar the image that Muhammad had left in the hearts of millions to come. 

Thomas Carlyle praised him in the following words, “”A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle the world, the world’s Maker had ordered so.”

The Last Messenger

The Quran says: “(The believers say) We make no distinction between one another of His (God’s) Messengers.” (Quran 2: 285) As Muslims, it is incumbent upon us that we accept all the Messengers of God and honour them equally. Not believing in even ONE of them is tantamount to disbelief. In other words our faith is not acceptable unless we believe in every one of the Messengers sent by God such as Moses, Jesus and the rest mentioned in the Quran.
Yet what distinguishes the last Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from the rest is that while each Messenger was sent to a certain people in a specific time, he was the final Messenger and consequently his message was for all of mankind and for all times till eternity. God perfected and completed the guidance He wanted to give to humanity through His Final Messenger and made sure it would be preserved unchanged. The Quran is believed to be the literal word of God. Unlike the Bible, it has remained intact and undisputed even after 14 centuries. Not a word or alphabet has changed in it to date which is a miracle in itself. Countless prophesies and scientific facts stated in the Quran centuries ago have now been confirmed. 
Even a hostile critic like Sir William Muir admits, “There is probably in the world no other book which has remained 12 centuries (now 14 centuries) with so pure a text.”
As such for Muslims, their book is not irrelevant at any time or their Prophet a mere historical figure, but for them these are their active guides at every point in their daily life. 

‘In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion, which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence, which can make itself appeal to every age.”

Let us Uphold Truth and Justice

A faith must never be judged by the actions of its followers. What Muslims or Christians have done should not be the criteria for judging their respective faiths or Prophets. Muslims are raised to love the Prophet more than their parents, children or their own self. This love is part of a Muslim’s faith. It deeply hurts the Muslims if their Prophet (pbuh) or any Prophet is insulted.
The Quran asks us to honour the symbols that others hold dear. No Muslim has responded in kind by insulting Jesus or the Bible, though some have resorted to violence which is regrettable. But before blaming the Muslims for the entire episode let us ask ourselves, would any person belonging to any faith accept humiliation of their most respected ones? Are Muslims the only ‘species’ that uses violence on provocation? More than a decade ago, a film called ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ showed Jesus making love to a woman. In Paris someone set fire to the cinema showing the movie, killing a young man. Would anyone like their faith and Prophet degraded that too on the basis of untruth? What does the law call public defamation without proof? Libel, slander, discrimination? What does the heart, the internal lawgiver call it? Provocation, playing with emotions, hurting sacred sentiments? Islam strongly condemns all such yellow journalism and scandal-mongering. To add insult to injury, we are told that this is freedom of the press. Wasn’t it this same freedom of press that caused Princess Diana.’s death? Did you know that in some European nations such as France, Germany and Austria it is forbidden by law to deny acts of genocide such as saying that the Jewish Holocaust did not happen? Several European countries have anti-blasphemy laws that place limitations on speech, as do several states in the USA. In many countries, hate speech (such as holocaust denial, incitement to racial hatred, advocating genocide) is a criminal offense prohibited under incitement to hatred legislation. So it is infact impermissible to make certain statements in several countries including European nations. Hence freedom of speech is not unconditionally ‘free’, but subject to certain rules and limits.
Freedom of expression must not be allowed to undermine human sentiments and human freedom or to disrupt peace. What about freedom to practice and propagate our religion?
What about freedom to wear hijab for Muslim women? Shouldn’t that be a major consideration too? We must not forget that freedom of any sort does not mean transgressing the limits set by God or our own humanity.

Islam – A Legacy to the World

Islam, misconstrued as a terrorist-producing faith, is infact far from it. Islam paved the way for a nation of barbarians to become pioneers of science and enlightened civilization. Robert Briffalut concludes in his well-known book, ‘The Making of Humanity’, “The debt of our science to the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories. Science owes a great deal more to the Arab culture: it owes its existence.”

George Bernard Shaw said, “I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.” He also said, “I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” (Sir George Bernard Shaw in ‘The Genuine Islam,’ Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936.) 

To say that Islam was spread by the sword is the greatest of myths. On an average, the Muslims ruled Arabia for 1400 years. Yet today, there are 14 million Arabs who are Coptic Christians i.e. Christians since generations. If the Muslims had used the sword there would not have been a single Arab who would have remained a Christian.
An article in Reader’s Digest ‘Almanac’, year book 1986, gave the statistics of the increase of percentage of the major religions of the world in half a century from 1934 to 1984. At the top was Islam, which increased by 235 %, and Christianity had increased only by 47 %. May one ask, which war took place in this century which converted millions of people to Islam? 

The noted historian De Lacy O’Leary writes in the book “Islam at the cross road”: “History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myth that historians have ever repeated.” 
The world needs to benefit from this faith that many of their wise men have already hailed. 
Carlyle bids the world to listen, “The word of such a man (Muhammad) is a voice direct from nature’s own heart; men do and must listen to that, as to nothing else; all else is wind in comparison…” 
FIRST PUBLISHED AS A BOOK BY ALHUDA INT'L, PAKISTAN
THEN BY THE ISLAMIC AFFAIRS AND CHARITABLE ACTIVITIES DEPT, DUBAI

Sources: 
  • “Muhammad, The Prophet of Islam” by K S Ramakrishna Rao 
  • “Answers to non-Muslims’ common questions about Islam” by Dr Zakir Naik 
  • “You should know this man” – WAMY Series on Islam 
  • “Don’t be fooled, this isn’t an issue of Islam versus Secularism” by Robert Fisk 
  • “Muslims and the West: A culture war?” by John L Esposito, Professor at Georgetown University

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

FOOD FOR THOUGHT


I’m walking in a park in Saudia and a mother is sitting with her toddler on a bench coaxing her to drink a juice with some chips. The toddler is coughing a painful, choking cough. Yet the mother seems to be oblivious to the relationship between the packaged sugary syrup she is feeding her child and the constant coughing.
This is NOT an exceptional case. Children today are happily fed a staple diet of junk food by otherwise sensible, even religiously-conscious parents. This is besides the additives and pesticides that are already going into their bodies. Cooking healthy, nutritious and balanced meals is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Even when a baby is born, many mothers deny it the right to the best nutrition and protection it could ever get-the mother’s milk. As soon as the infant can eat, he is fed bowls and bowls of processed, dehydrated cereal. I too committed that error and then one day I tasted the gook and it was too sweet even by my standards. So I switched to a vegetable flavour. But it took years to develop my child’s taste for normal food as compared to my second born who ate home cooked food from the beginning and eats almost everything to date.
As soon as the child can start school, which is sooner than later for most, mothers conveniently pack him off to school without any breakfast in the morning. Mothers I have asked come up with the same answer “they just don’t want to eat in the morning”. This is alarming since after atleast 10-11 hours of sleep, the child should be ravaging hungry. The problem may be a disturbed toilet routine where the child is not emptying his stomach in the morning before breakfast or at night and is therefore too full to eat.

If it is a ‘dutiful’ mother, she’ll dole out a cereal or a glass of milk to the unwilling child. She packs a lunch of chips, noodles, biscuits or juice or hands the child some money to buy the same from the canteen. In the afternoon, after half a day of eating nothing worthwhile, the child returns to a lunch of leftovers or if he’s lucky some home-cooked food, or he might pick up something from a restaurant or vendor on the way. One advantage of home schooling is that children at the age of two-and-a-half and older are not deprived by the school of a relaxed, healthy breakfast with their mother or a midday snack. Most children, even if their parents don’t feed them junk food at home, pick up the habit from peers at school at a young, impressionable age.
Be it an Islamic class or a regular school, I have seen children given junk food at parties and snack time by the teachers and school authorities. What is even more disturbing is that the 'well-behaved' children are rewarded with a sweet or lolly pop. I said to one such a rewarder 'this is more of a punishment than a reward'. I hope she understood what I meant. In our well-meaning but naive way, we are opening the doors of harm for our own future generations.

Evening comes with the children playing outdoors and cycling but always with a plastic bag full of candies or chips. Maids are close at hand to never let the supply run dry. To my chagrin my sons usually walk in after playing with their friends with a candy in hand and two in the mouth. Dinner for most kids is, well anything to put in their mouths, from fatayer (pizzas), French fries, burgers or an egg. The essential and loving ritual of the family having mom’s home cooked dinner together talking about the day is gone ever since the school, office and restaurant has started running our lives.
And so the day of a child is over. So is his health.

What most parents don’t realize anymore is that this is the most crucial time not only of a child’s growth and development but also the start of a lifetime of healthy eating habits. A child raised on junk food or erratic eating habits cannot have a healthy, active life. His bones, teeth, eyes and overall health will suffer and deteriorate long before old age. The chemicals he douses daily will ruin his insides. He constantly falls sick and takes antibiotics every month and we can’t understand why. He has a multitude of allergies and skin problems and we blame it on the climate or pollution. He doesn’t have a proper appetite and doesn’t eat wholesome, home-cooked food anymore. And we can't seem to realize why.
Diabetes is knocking on almost every door and "this is a very recent phenomenon in the history of the world. Human genealogy has not changed to bring this about. But nutrition certainly has.Changes in farming practices and the preponderance of high glycemic, fast foods being aggressively marketed are the root cause of the insulin resistance that sets this process off. 
• Diabetes currently affects 246 million people worldwide and is expected to affect 380 million by 2025.
• The five countries with the highest diabetes prevalence in the adult population are Nauru (30.7%), United Arab Emirates (19.5%), Saudi Arabia (16.7%), Bahrain(15.2%), and Kuwait (14.4%).
• Every 10 seconds two people are diagnosed with diabetes.  
• At least 50% of all people with diabetes are unaware of their condition. In some countries this figure may reach 80%.
• Up to 80% of type 2 diabetes is preventable by adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity."
http://www.metabolic-syndrome-x.info/diabetes-statistics.html

It’s a vicious cycle too, a child raised in this fashion will not know better and will probably raise his children the same way. An interesting study says that junk food may be just as addictive as hard drugs as it produced the same brain response. So once hooked to junk food, the habit may be very hard to break.
I cannot say I never give my children junk food but I try that it should be an exception or treat rather than the norm. I try to choose the healthier alternative when eating out. Also I’ve noticed that when you start allowing a little, it can suddenly get out of hand until you wish you’d never relaxed the rules.But there are many who don’t even know or realize that what they are feeding their children is harmful. They buy junk food in bulk with their monthly grocery and serve soft drinks with every meal. It’s as if Shaitan has deluded people into thinking that there is no other way to live.

Years ago, a sister made me realize that the packed cupcakes I was feeding my child could easily be bought fresh without the preservatives or even better baked at home with wholewheat; that nuts and fruit make a great snack instead of biscuits and chips, that plain yogurt tastes just as yummy to the baby as flavoured, sweetened yogurt, that dates and honey satisfy sweet cravings amazingly.
However some people when advised give the strangest arguments. One common argument is “well everything is harmful these days, like the microwave, like x-rays, but you can’t give up everything. A little junk food won’t kill you.” This argument is the same as saying “the sun’s rays can also cause radiation, so being exposed to a nuclear bomb can’t be all that bad.” There are certain things that can and should be avoided and that are within our power and control. In this age of chemicals and hazards, we must try our utmost to save ourselves and our families from harm as best we can.

One of the commandments where all of mankind is addressed directly is about food, “O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan. Verily he is to you an open enemy.” (Al-Baqarah: 168)
We need to think, what was it that Shaitan used to tempt the first human being , Adam (alaihi salam) with- FOOD! And he’s doing the same with his progeny, which is why the entire mankind is addressed in this verse for we are all descended from the same set of parents who lost their Paradise because of one slip.
If we don’t equip ourselves physically and spiritually, we too shall fail this test. We have been sent as ‘khalifa’ to this Earth for a pre-ordained and limited time. This means that we are succeeding each other generation after generation and our role is to implement Allah’s rule in this world so that people may be saved from destroying themselves. Food is immensely important for us to function properly in this world and fulfil our goals. Yet little attention is given to what we are putting into our body, whether it is helping us fulfil our role on this earth or if it is becoming the biggest obstacle.
Our acts of worship, our health, our sleep, our state of mind, our moods and desires are very much governed by what we eat. Feel the difference in mood as soon as the first cup of caffeine enters your blood stream!

Today Shaitan, mankind’s avowed enemy, is tempting us with a variety of food never known in history before. Today we eat what our forefathers never dreamt of. As a result we have cuisines from all over the world available at our doorstep. Hundreds of varieties of food adorn supermarket shelves, a restaurant beckons from every street, food shows are aired round the clock on multiple channels. Fast food chains offer toys with kids meals that see children running to buy the food to get the toys. Even in Makkah, I marvel how the fast food chains swallow the devout Muslims as soon as they step out of the haram. The processed, refined, polished rice, flour and sugar makes our bellies bulge and visiting the bathroom a nightmare.

Everyday we create crimes against our very own body and stomach. We starve it in the morning when it is in need of some energy and our metabolism is fastest, then we down a coffee or tea kick-starting it to work. We don’t eat for long hours ignoring the hunger signals our body is giving us and then grab a sandwich or burger which we eat while we are on the phone, at our desk or on the computer. In the evening when our digestive system is slowing down and about to shut down for the night we barrage it with a flood of rich food of many different types. The only thing that gets our attention is when some system in our poor body breaks down and gives up. Then we run to doctors, go on crash diets and make the grave situation no better.
We eat leaning on sofas or dining chairs that again strains our digestive system which requires our legs to be up at level with our stomach for the blood to flow to the stomach for digestion.
We were supposed to eat a third of the capacity of our stomach but we usually don’t stop until our buttons start popping or the food before us finishes. The super sized French fries and drinks don’t help the situation. We never see how the Prophet (saw) achieved so much in such few years, because his eating habits and lifestyle were in harmony with nature. He hardly had enough to eat, yet even when he did, he did not binge eat to store reserves for future days. He ate and slept and rose with the rest of the universe, not against it. He had his food sitting down with one leg propped up. He used all five senses while eating, using his fingers to eat, not half comatose like us in front of a screen.

Yet like cattle we chew and eat without a clue, without a thought or purpose. Has Allah created us for no purpose? Has he given us this supreme intellect for no reason? Is eating a meaningless activity like it is for the cows and sheep? Did Allah create such a complex system within our bodies so we could treat it carelessly? Do we have sole ownership rights to our bodies to do with them as we please or do they have to be returned one day? If we don’t provide our children with healthy eating habits and food, will we not be questioned about them? How many times a day are we feeding our children things that are harmful for them?
We all have the power of choice. Let's use it.