Features · Islam

Speaking Without Thinking

Speaking Without Thinking blog

By Navida Sayed, London

Does this person sound like someone familiar? Someone who has to respond to everything regardless of thinking what he or she is saying as long as they answer, which is all that matters to them. Being around someone who got the wrong end of the stick and flew off his or her handle without pausing to think about the consequences of their words? Someone who tends to always instantaneously overreact? Only to later regret the negative impact of their words on their relatives, friends, colleagues or employees. In some situations this could result in the end of a relationship.

Speech and words can have the most powerful impact by reflecting signals about an individual’s intentions. In essence the way individuals speak can heal, soothe, comfort, hurt, offend or damage relationships. That’s why it is highly imperative that people think before they speak. Many people may not know, but the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) guided us on this matter 1400 years ago, one of his traditions mentions:

البلاء موکل بالمنطق

Meaning, speaking (without thinking) leads to trouble.

The beautiful wisdom and logical explanation behind this Islamic teaching is that, ‘one has no control over the good or bad effects of his words once these have been uttered. It is, therefore, advisable to think before speaking. Moreover, brief and gracious speech considerably covers the bad effects due to any shortcomings that may be present in the speech.’

Keeping this profound teaching in mind could prove to be a powerful and beneficial tool in practicing a difficult but useful life skill – pausing before speaking. Pausing and reflecting on the words of the hadith can naturally slow down a triggered response or outburst and a sense of empowerment by overcoming a thoughtless and reactive response.

In relation to the topic of thinking before speaking, Canadian psychologist Shirley Vandersteen, writes:

‘Speaking before you think is a bad habit that can get you into trouble and hurt you in the most important areas of your life. Relationships will suffer or end, your career will be stalled at a level far below your talents, and most importantly, you will have little confidence in yourself.’

People can become consumed by their surroundings and sometimes it’s difficult to escape the hustle and bustle of life. But that’s no excuse to react defensively by speaking instinctively without thinking. The majority of the time, those on the receiving end of harsh and thoughtless words can be close friends, family or colleagues. The consequences could result in axing ones own feet by becoming isolated from their most supportive dear and near ones.

Reflecting on the hadith when communicating with others can assist in enabling a peaceful and loving atmosphere around others. Abiding by the hadith may also assist in developing skills to consciously speak in a clear, constructive and respectable manner, which is less likely to cause offense. Individuals may also become more responsible by refraining from reacting negatively, mindlessly or angrily in specific situations. Practicing this hadith can go a long way in enabling individuals to naturally respond in a kind manner hopefully enabling similar responses in return.

The most important lesson from the hadith is to always remember that it’s important to think before we speak because we would like others to speak to us they way we speak with them. Even if others around us do not respond with kind words, it is good to put into practice the words of the hadith as a part of our daily routine to ensure that we are not responsible for creating negativity around us. As individuals our significance is that of drops in the ocean but hopefully the more mindful and thoughtful we are as individuals the more we can truly contribute to projecting positivity, love and respect in the wider society at large.

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Features · Islam

Finding Inner Peace

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Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park

Inner peace is not a destination. It is not as if we can find it one day and remain in the its bliss forevermore. No – reality likes to throw curveballs at us and keep us on our toes. It is important that we view inner peace as a state of mind that we can work towards and continue to work on. As we grow and acquire more experiences and world knowledge our definition of ‘inner peace’ will also change. In today’s hectic lifestyle it’s quite easy to forget to take care of oneself. Certainly, the self-care industry has made millions but is it possible to find inner peace without buying into large corporations? I certainly believe that Islam has the answer to this question.

Inner peace comes as a result of a personal relationship with oneself. This demands taking a step back and understanding who you are and what your priorities are. It is so easy to get lost in the world and forget what our ultimate goal is. As a Muslim, I believe that my purpose is to worship the Almighty. It is in His remembrance that we find peace as we are filled with a hope and a promise that here is indeed a Higher Power above us Who loves us at such an intensity that is unknown to human kind.

The Holy Qur’an states:
‘Those who believe, and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Aye! it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort;’ [13:29]
In just these words so much love is expressed as we see a personal relationship between each individual and Allah the Almighty.

Further, considering prayer as a form of meditation, there is undeniable scientific evidence of the benefits to one’s mental wellbeing which come as a result of prayer.

A study has stated:
‘Several reports on the application of prayers in psychotherapy illustrate the positive outcome in the individuals exhibiting pathological symptoms such as tension, anxiety, depression and anti-social tendencies.’ 1

Therefore, not only are the words of the aforementioned verse exceedingly comforting, they are also supported by scientific fact.

Along with building a strong relationship with yourself through building one with Allah, it is also essential to build a strong bond with your wider community. Through serving others we are able to come to terms with our own woes and worries. Through serving others and doing good works we spread a positive energy with those that surround us and indeed not only does this positive energy affect our exterior but also extends to the interior. Living a selfless life alienates anger and arrogance.

The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) has stated:
The last and critical stage for great devout and truthful people is to avoid anger… Anger is generated when a person gives preference to his own self over the other. [Malfoozat vol.1 p.36]’
The importance of healthy societal relations is also emphasised in the Holy Qur’an:
‘A kind word and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury…’ [2:264]’

Such amiability in society inevitably is reflected within us and allows us to find comfort within ourselves, knowing that we are contributing members of society. Inner peace and outer peace are directly related. By creating a harmonious environment around us, we are creating one within.

This also extends to living a pious life in general. In remembering our Creator and serving others we are building inner and outer peace. These acts avoid the creation of disorder and mayhem in our own lives as well as the lives of those around us.

The Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us:
“Verily, God looks not to your figures, nor to your bodies, but He looks into your hearts and to your works of piety.” Then pointing to his breast, the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘Herein lies piety.’ This he repeated thrice.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

Living a pious life, which as the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) reminds us is a matter of the heart, keeps us away from chasing material happiness. Material happiness is fleeting; we are trying to apply a tangibility to an intangible concept. Therefore, to find happiness or inner peace we must approach it with a concept similar in tangibility – that being piety.

Finding inner peace is imperative. Finding it is not an objective, rather a lifestyle. This lifestyle can be adopted with little acts that we perform every day and transform our lives. In trusting the Almighty our burdens are relieved. In serving others we create harmony. In living in piety we understand that inner peace is not material. In this process and a combination of these three interlinked practices, we can achieve inner peace.

 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705686/

Islam · Women

Day of the Girl Child

Sameea Blog DayOfTheGirl

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

I grew up as a Muslim in Britain, was educated here and, in fact, teachers told girls at my school they should strive to be whatever they wanted in their lives, regardless of whether the profession was traditionally thought of as a ‘boy’s’ job. In history, however, it was a different story as the treatment of girls was not equal to that of boys. When we studied kings and queens the women were usually pawns in a political game; in day to day life they weren’t educated, got married and had children. It was men who were doctors, men who were engineers, men who were learned in all professions.

At the same time I grew up learning about Islam and the rights granted to women. Girls were sometimes considered a nuisance in pre-Islamic Arabia which led to many instances of baby girls being buried alive at birth. This was one of the countless atrocities stopped by the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, and indeed he showed by example that girls were as valuable as boys through his love and pride for his four daughters.

Over 1500 years ago it was Islam that encouraged girls to be educated as well as boys. It was Islam that gave women the right to own property and Islam that allowed women to work in various professions.

Rufaida Al- Aslamia is known as an early Islamic medical practitioner, Zubaidah bint Ja’far was responsible for the construction of water wells on the pilgrims route to Mecca, Fatima Al Fihri founded the earliest existing university in the world in 859. Hazrat Ayesha, honourable wife of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, is well known as an exceptionally learned scholar from a young age.

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Recently I attended the annual gathering of the UK Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association – Lajna Ijtema. It was full of examples of empowered girls taking part in spiritual academic research and presentations, lectures in many subjects and scientific exhibitions.

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We could make smoothies with the power of a bicycle, learn about and grow healing plants of many different types, experiment with an invisibility device and study archaeology. A lecture taught us about the meat industry so we could find ways to ethically feed our families. A stargazing session was also arranged. The significance of all these were that they were organised, researched and presented by women and girls, many of whom had studied in those fields. How inspirational for all the young girls attending!

On International Day of the Girl Child it is sad we need to remember to promote the human rights of girls and sad that girls may not feel empowered in themselves. This is a reality of life even in these modern times.

That’s why Islamic rights granted to women and the encouragement given to girls’ education is an inspiration even in the modern world and shows that girls can grow up to become confident, educated, productive members of society achieving their full potential in whichever field they choose.

Islam · Women

Why I Look Forward to the Ijtema Each Year!

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Sarah Ward Khan, London                    

As I get older, as yes I must face the inevitable, Ijtema* has taken on new shades of meaning for me.  In my younger days as a Nasirat* it was all about meeting friends and not forgetting the words I had memorised for the speech competitions.  As someone who’d newly joined Lajna*, it was about transitioning from a youngster into a mature woman and listening carefully to information and evaluating its place in my own life.  As a new mother it was about finding a pattern that would fit in with me and my child’s needs.  This might mean coming late or leaving early but always trying to get the best out of each attendance. Now my children are grown and Ijtema has a new meaning. 

Of course, the highlight of any Ijtema is the address of His Holiness the Caliph, and being blessed to live in Britain where the Caliph resides and attends most national Ijtemas, I have many gems to treasure. But more recently I have attended the ijtema not as a participant or a mother but as a volunteer worker and this has by far been the most rewarding role I have held.

In my first year working with the Nasirat team I did not know my fellow team members very well.  It was daunting to work with new people in a new role and I was very much learning the ropes and watching the routines.  But one thing sticks in my memory from that first year as a volunteer: loneliness.  Sometime people cannot tell that behind the smile lies sadness but that year as I watched the other team members meet their sisters, aunties and cousins, I felt what I have felt before – an aching gap where my family should be.  Being a child of converts, or having your family live far away, it’s easy to forget amidst the hustle and bustle of life that loneliness can creep into even the happiest of places.  So that first year I was a volunteer I left with bittersweet emotions.  Happiness for an enjoyable time with friends and loneliness for a family not present.

But the next year, and every year after that has been a different story completely, I worked again with the team and we were now familiar friends who had met and communicated throughout the year.  Where before there was something missing, now lay deep friendships and sisterhood.  We met each other as old friends and laughed and joked.  I was so busy I didn’t have time to feel lonely.

The Holy Qur’an states:

And know that this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord. So take Me as your Protector (25:53)

For me, this is the blessing of Ijtema and the abiding blessing of being an Ahmadi Muslim.  We make our own family in Lajna Ima’illah and for every lonely moment I now have a thousand bonds of friendship to bind me to my sisters in faith.  Ijtema is one point in the year but it is the culmination of work done by Lajna every month. Ijtema is not simply the competitions, bazaar and food, it is also about meeting as a community and building friendships that cross divides of language, race and age.  So, my advice would be to build your own sisterhood and Lajna family, keep in touch on a regular basis and then the Ijtema will feel like a family celebration for you too.

Ijtema is an annual spiritual and academic gathering. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association has their Ijtema coming up this year with the theme ‘The Existence of God’.

Nasirat ul Ahmadiyya is an auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for young girls between the ages of 7 and 14. Literally, ‘Helpers of Ahmadiyyat’.

Lajna Ima’illah is the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Literally, ‘Group of the Handmaidens of Allah’.

Women

Ijtemas: a Time Honoured Tradition

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Qudsia Ward, Cornwall

At this time of year in the UK, members of the Ahmadi Muslim Community are finalising plans for their annual Ijtemas*. Speeches are being practiced and timed, poems polished, handicraft models and craft work completed, other skills honed.  Travel plans are being made, checking with friends and family how to reach our destination and sleep comfortably for two or three nights away from home. These Ijtemas, or gatherings are the culmination of activities throughout the year, throughout the community.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has auxiliary organisations for young boys and girls and for adult men and women.  Each auxiliary is organised with its own administration, locally, regionally, and nationally.  Each auxiliary has its local, regional and national meetings which unite, train and educate members of the community.

The national annual Ijtema, or gathering, of the Lajna Imaillah, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, will be taking place in September this year.

When I first took part in Ijtemas 45 years ago, I did not appreciate their value.  It was always fun to meet locally with old and new friends, to enjoy the competitions and speeches but I never realised the strength of the organisation that lay behind them. 

Wherever I have been the community has been there. All around England, France, and the Middle East, I have been able to find friends, to share good fellowship, to have fun, to keep fit and to gain understanding of what it means to be a Muslim and what Islam really teaches.  The community in Europe has grown so much and with this growth the skills, knowledge and experience of the ladies has grown too.  Long ago I happily enjoyed joining in with the extempore English speech competitions.  Not so intimidating when you know each lady and feel friendly support all around!  Now the competitive edge is greater, and the young girls so well educated and experienced I stick to enjoying listening!!  I listen with enormous pleasure to the well prepared and well-presented speeches, even with audio-visual presentations these days!  I love to hear the melodious recitation of Holy Quran and poems of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) who founded this wonderful community.

As the community has grown in UK the handicraft and sports department have grown too.  There is something for everyone and that’s what binds us together.

Think of the skills and experiences that ladies gain in preparing for the competitions; first locally, then regionally, then nationally.  The life skills and knowledge gained is what makes the ladies of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stand out as strong, active citizens wherever they live in the world.  Being trained and then training our children to understand and take part in the organisation unites us and makes us strong.  It protects and guides us.  Seeing, and being part of the ijtemas sets an important example for younger women and girls.  Knowing there is always a place and a role for you when ever you are ready is so important and is one of the reasons our young people are ready to take part in the active service of others within and outside the community.

The greatest blessing of the community is that it is led by the Khalifa, the community’s worldwide spiritual head. Ahmadi Muslims worldwide are united, taught, advised and loved by our Khalifa.  He oversees the community’s organisation and it is this leadership and organisation that makeIjtems it strong. His prayers and guidance lead us all towards success.

The message of the community is one of peace.  Our Khalifa is constantly reminding us to remember our obligations to our Creator, Allah and to His creation.  This message is reinforced and repeated throughout the world through the organisation of the community, and lastly, through its Ijtemas.

 

Ijtema is an annual spiritual and academic gathering. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association has their Ijtema coming up this year with the theme ‘The Existence of God’.

Freedom and Responsibility · Integration · Politics

The Media Narrative

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Yusra Dahri, London

As my fingers skid across the keyboard, I not only present my thoughts to you, but I influence how you hear them. Is one thing more significant than another? Or another more stressed? What do you hear? Is it it LOUD or quiet? AmIconfusingyourushingyouafterallhowshouldyoubereadingthis?

How do you feel when you read this? Who do you think I am, and what do you think I’m trying to say?

What is the voice you hear?

And whose story do you think I’m trying to tell?

The above tend to be questions that any active reader asks themselves whilst reading. However, as constantly bombarded with information we are on a daily basis, surely even the most active reader would become exhausted and start passively accepting information at some point.

Usually from an early age, by either our teachers or our parents, we are taught to think before we speak. Nowadays, we think that happens less and less with introduction of social media. However, is that really true?

In reality, the duty to carefully curate our words is the first, universal responsibility we have and everyone keenly senses how we use them. We know the power of language. We know how it can be used to manipulate, even in the most innocent of ways. And this is amplified by the mainstream media.

The narratives that we know are founded upon the same ‘truths’, obviously. However, it is in the presentation of these truths that diversity of opinion emerges. All language has a purpose, otherwise why would it exist?

Likewise, the very way that we perceive the world, others and even ourselves is affected by this. We all know that we are connected more than ever before, but on a human level, are we really? Hiding behind our screens, we are often inflicted with a false sense of bravado. Ironically, we tend to witness the kind of immature shouting match that we thought we left behind in our diaper days more than constructive and intelligent dialogue. If everyone is fighting to get the last word, the sad truth is no one can really be heard. If everyone is in a bid to ‘out dazzle’ each other, the truth never really gets its moment in the spotlight.

Furthermore, the media can change the perception we have of ourselves. Of course, we know this. Take for instance the “even smarter, even slimmer, even richer” standards that are impossible to meet, or conversely what is in my opinion one of the great trends of the last few years namely that self-care and motivation has been riding a hype, but that hype too is dying down. All of this can alter our self-perceptions and have deep-reaching impact.

However, what I’m mainly referring to is the portrayal of minorities and marginalised communities. To be fair, I don’t think the mainstream media is particularly as cruel as some individuals can be. However, speaking as someone who grew up in a generation where social media and global connectivity were almost a rule of life, I think we have to think what message we are sending to the children of this generation. I wouldn’t want any child to read or hear a part of themselves, be it religion, race or identity, ripped apart by someone who ‘forgot to think’.

There was nothing more harrowing to me as a child to read the cruel, alien words of others about myself yet to hear them echoing in my own mind. I was both my own victim and criminal. When you can’t find the words to fight back, you feel nothing but a woeful acceptance. I was lucky in the sense that I could just close a tab or browser, but for the children who couldn’t escape what the media reflected in our world, I only hope they never began to believe it. That they had the courage to find their own sense of self. Especially as what we believe, we tend to become.

Not to get to twisted up in Pavlovian theory, but the words we see commonly lumped together in the news such as ‘crime’ and ‘refugee’ and ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ are going to create (and have created) adverse connotations in our minds such that even refugees and Muslims themselves will have trouble forgetting the ‘classical conditioning’ that has created this fear, even though we know better. Is the media narrative to blame?

In our time on this earth, we have amassed a mountain of history and literature. We know how people thought, what they believed (Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, are a testament to the anti-Semitism of his time) and yet we still have the audacity to laugh at them.

If our words are really (as they were for our ancestors) our ‘time capsule’ for the future I suggest we cease our mocking. We are remembered for as much we say as we do.

And if this is our legacy, I think our descendants will get their fair share of amusement.

Holy Quran · Islam

Freedom of Speech & Its Limits – Finding the Middle Path

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Iffat Mirza, London

The development of the notion of freedom of speech in the West has run parallel to the construction of democracy in its states. Looking at British history, we see that the 18th and 19th centuries were ridden with laws that suppressed any organisation, literature, or activity that was seen as a threat to the ruling order. With laws such as the 1795 Treasonable Practices Act and Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, the government was able to establish its dominance over the country and limit the consciences of those who dared question their rule. Ideals of freedom of speech were reactions to these laws. Freedom of speech was created in order to facilitate a true democracy, and we can see the direct correlation between the increase in freedom of speech and the progress of democracy.

Now we must ask the question why this has once again become a big issue now? Well, the idea of political correctness has taken hold, which many see as an attack on freedom of speech. We have seen recent examples of Boris Johnson’s controversial statements on the burka and Geert Wilders’ proposed Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ‘drawing contest’ (now thankfully cancelled), and once again the debate over freedom of speech has risen again. However, I would argue that both stunts were nothing more than political charades and had very little to do with protecting freedom of speech. It must be clarified to all that freedom of speech is not synonymous with right to hurt. Freedom of speech is a tool that helps us grow as individuals and societies. We must set ourselves boundaries to distinguish what is acceptable and constructive dialogue, and what is simply an excuse to tyrannise.

In any case of conflict or difference of opinions, dialogue is essential to advance as a society, therefore we must welcome an atmosphere of trust and respect where each and every member can share their opinion and worries over any topic, regardless of how sensitive it may be. Yes, freedom of speech is our right, and indeed, a right that must be exercised to ensure true democratic rule.

However, it is also a responsibility that must be taken seriously. We can vocalise our opinions without dehumanising and hurting people. Freedom of speech is not being threatened by those who take offence at hurtful words. It is being threatened by those who defend their bigotry under the shield of freedom of speech. A shield that is increasingly being worn thin. By stubbornly using the guise of freedom of speech to offend others, we are limiting constructive dialogue as we are focussing more on our right to speak rather than our need to speak.

The Holy Qur’an captures the essence of how freedom of speech should be approached by encouraging an attitude of moderation. In Chapter 2, Verse 144, which can be understood as ‘We have made you into a nation which adheres to the middle path…’, God has taught us to strike a balance in all that we do and this will most definitely ensure a peaceful and harmonious society. If this teaching were to be applied to freedom of speech we would learn that freedom of speech is necessary to challenge us and to help us grow. We would learn to see the world from other perspectives and in doing so learn more about our own perspective. But neither would we take it to such an extreme that we are not facilitating conversation, but are instead screaming over each other, resulting in a lot of words with very little meaning. So, it is in treading the middle path that we can do justice to freedom of speech.

Customs and Rituals

Teenage Years: Keeping Faith in a Faithless World

Teenage Years and Faith poster

Nooresahar Ahmad, Hartlepool

In many ways, being a teenager is much harder than being an adult. We’re in the years when we have to make decisions that will impact the rest of our lives, even though most of us don’t really know what we want from our lives. Pressure is piled on what with exam results and parental expectations; having to balance our faith with our studies, our studies with our hobbies, and our hobbies with our rest. At a time when we need more sleep than ever, late nights are more often spent frantically completing homework than actually sleeping!

And then- on top of all that- there’s the peer pressure. Pressure from classmates and friends is something that weighs heavy on all teenagers. But when you’re a Muslim girl, and you stick out just a little bit (okay, a lot) more than everyone else, and the list of things you refuse to partake in (like wearing revealing clothing, socialising with boys or drinking alcohol) is much longer than others’, the pressure can be even harder to deal with. It is this very distinction that can make some people feel as though their religion and beliefs are becoming cumbersome; especially when their peers have no faith of their own, no religion that they are connected to, and cannot relate to their situation at all.

Some Ahmadi girls may well find it uncomfortable to enter discussions regarding their religion, drawing extra attention to themselves in an environment where they already feel (like all teenagers) self conscious. When they are asked questions about their faith they may want to shrink away from responding. However, as Ahmadi Muslim girls, we know this isn’t what we should do.

Looking towards the examples of the very accomplished, inspiring women in our Community, it is vital we calmly and kindly answer the questions of our classmates regarding our religion, stand our ground even if we are pressured to do otherwise, and learn that our unique identities as Ahmadi Muslim girls are not something to be ashamed of. Rather, we should take pride in who we are and what we believe. Doing so can often gain us more respect than changing ourselves to fit in.

To do this, however, it is vital that we have knowledge of our own religion. Otherwise, if we do not understand the reasoning behind the teachings, we can become confused and, when faced with a difficult question regarding our religion, may find we don’t know the exact answer. We do not have to blindly follow what our parents are telling us; instead, we should constantly ask questions and read religious books, articles and blogs so that we develop a faith in God, and an understanding of Islam, that is personal.

In short, no matter how busy we become, or how awkward we may feel, our faith isn’t something that we can afford to ignore or neglect. Because before long school will finish- and we will never see the classmates who once pressured us or made us feel uncomfortable ever again. The way we decide to act now will determine whether we can look back at our conduct with pride, or with regret. Even as teenagers, it is our responsibility as Ahmadi Muslims to put our faith first and prioritise our religion before anything else.

And once we have done that, we find that we are free to enjoy our adolescent days as much as-if not more- than the next person.

Hijab · Women

Muslim Women

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Yusra Dahri, London

This is not just a cloth
Nor the hatred that you’ve made,
But a symbol of faith and trust.
A decision that will not fade.

Yet all cloths are woven from thread.
And this thread has been constantly weaving.
From our mothers to our grandmothers,
From ancient scriptures to a world never sleeping.

We are not hidden but carrying a trove of history.
Our minds are bejeweled with meaning.
So let us teach you how we live.
We are not asleep, but dreaming

Features · Women

Celebrating the Right to Drive – a Novel or Forgotten Right?

 Ayesha's Blog

Ayesha Malik, Surrey

On June 24th this year, women in Saudi Arabia took to the steering wheel for the first time, after being banned from driving for decades. The reforms introduced by Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman are considered to be sweeping, granting Saudi women the right to drive without a legal guardian. The measures allowing driving licenses to be issued to women were announced in September 2017, with driving schools never having opened their doors to Saudi women before this.

Ironically, a month before the ban was due to be formally lifted, prominent female campaigners including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aisha Al-Mana were detained by Saudi authorities who declined to reveal the reason for their detention. However, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said that, “The message is clear that anyone expressing scepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.” These women were part of dozens of women activists who had been campaigning for years for the driving ban to be lifted and were part of the Women2Drive Movement. When the pronouncement to lift the ban was made in autumn last year, the authorities were quick to contact these women urging them not to comment on the decision in the media.

The Saudi Government’s contradictory two-pronged approach has become a hallmark of the Kingdom’s repressive regime against women. That this should be the case in a country where Islam dawned is deeply disconcerting. Early Islamic history records women partaking in battle and aiding the wounded soldiers in combat. At a time when horseback and camels were the only means of transport, having women on the battlefield was concomitant to women riding horses or camels. In the 21st century, this right would translate into the right to drive motor vehicles.

For those celebrating the right of Saudi women to drive as something worth hailing as part of a liberal rights movement are in need of a history lesson. All too often history is forgotten for the pursuit of partisan agendas and geo-political haggling. Saudi women have too often become the scapegoat of this phenomenon. In fact, horse riding is a Sunnah (practice) of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) and there are Ahadith (traditions) in which he urged his followers to learn to ride a horse, shoot a bow and swim.

Thus, June 24th simply “gave back” Saudi women a right they had earned 1400 years ago. The image of the Saudi Muslim woman has become the archetype of oppression and subjugation. The construction of this image has been the product of the Saudi Government’s adherence to a puritanical version of Islam, which is completely antithetical to the original teachings of the faith. This image is also cemented by the mainstream media, which has effectively hijacked the notion of what ought to be considered liberty for women worldwide – with little deference to cultural or personal preference. A far more informed and balanced discourse is required in order to cut through the glaze of both these competing views such that the nuance of socio-religious stories is preserved.