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.

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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’.

Politics · Women

Lessons Worth Learning

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Sarah Ward Khan, London

I love studying history. I have always been enthralled by the lives of those who paved a way forward before me and steered society towards its current point. Growing up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was also a heady time: we felt history unfolding before us and we were part of it. And the history I saw around me as a young child was an intoxicating, positive movement: it was change for the better. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, the end of the Cold War – the future at that time looked bright. Social movements were making life better for the oppressed and the downtrodden, righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward with hope.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I ponder over the world today, Society is still changing, technology and communication are changing the way we interact and forging new norms. But is it, I wonder, a better society we are building? Where are the values of freedom, tolerance, equality which were upheld in those heady days? Where is the sense of social justice and liberation?

The burqa debate and the comments of Boris Johnson only seem to highlight the difference between my childhood and now. Instead of moving towards a better life, we seem to be regressing to the dark days of nationalism, popularism and self-interest. As I look to the future I don’t see better things ahead, I see division and separation: them and us mentality and fear of others.

And who will lead the charge against this decline? Who are the leaders in society who will uphold those virtues and values that made the world a better place for all? I would hope that people in public life might feel the weight of their role and understand this facet of their influence. This is especially true of politicians. Politicians are there to serve – the needs of everyone and not just themselves. They are there to stand up for the poor, the weak and the oppressed. Their goal should be to uphold an inclusive and peaceful society and if it isn’t that goal – then what are they aiming for?

Which is why Boris Johnson’s words matter. They weren’t off the cuff, they were planned and printed in a national newspaper. They very deliberately targeted a small minority of women using mocking and ridiculing language. Commentators and Twitter trolls have leapt on the band wagon telling women to get over it, have a laugh and to get a sense of humour. Are these the values we want to build our society upon? That we are free to offend and insult and if your feelings are hurt you should grow up? What kind of a society would that create?

It’s certainly not the society I create in my classroom as a teacher and I would have failed to qualify for the profession if I had taught children in my care this principle. I teach them that words matter, that we laugh with and never at others. We share a joke – we don’t target one person or one group. This is part of the British Values of tolerance and respect which every teacher in the UK is obliged to promote. Why is Mr Johnson exempt from these values his government created and enforces? Why does is he not held to the standards he expects us all to teach? This is hypocrisy of the clearest kind.

In my personal life I go further than these broad notions, I try to uphold a very specific standard. In the 10 Conditions of Bai’at, a pledge of allegiance taken by all members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which set out standards of faith and conduct. The fourth condition is: That under the impulse of any passion, he/she shall cause no harm whatsoever to the creatures of God in general and Muslims in particular, neither by his/her tongue, hands, nor by any other means.

What an inspiring principle and aim this is in my life! I may well fall short of this but the renewed pledge taken at Jalsa Salana UK annually reminds and refocuses our minds on this. What a beautiful, peaceful, equal society this principle could create if we all stuck to it. We would not hurt anyone by any means – including the words we say. What unity there would be. Nobody would fear, like the Muslim women so openly targeted in the national press all week, that they would be coerced and bullied into conforming to the beliefs of others at the cost of their own choice. Mutual respect and care would mean that we would prevent ourselves from offending others and unity would be the result. Not uniformity and force and coercion, as many in the burqa debate wish to impose by removing women’s right to choose their own clothes, but fellowship built on peace and respect.

So, faced with these two versions of society – one in which we can say what we feel and ignore the impact on the sentiments of others, or one in which we try not to hurt any member of the community, I know where I would rather live. I, and so many other women are speaking up now because we know that this is a moment in history where the society in which we live is about to make that choice. Either we agree that insult is acceptable in public servants or we defend the value of respect and unity. History will show which side of the battle succeeds.

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

Inspirational Smiles

InspirationalSmiles!

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

At the inspection and inauguration of Jalsa Salana on Sunday, after Sadr Lajna UK had earlier requested advice from Hadhoor regarding Jalsa work, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih gave Lajna Jalsa duty workers the advice that they should engage in prayer and that they should smile and keep smiling all three days of Jalsa. This brought to mind some memories from past Jalsa days.

It was the Thursday before Jalsa in 2014 and I was working in accommodation on the Hadeeqatul Mahdi site. Our job was to register guests, see if they needed any bedding and settle them with mattresses in the marquees. Guests had been arriving all morning and the marquees were filling up fast when in the late morning the fire drill inspection team arrived and we had to do a fire drill. Our team sprang into action, one took over the fire bell to alert the guests, several swept through the marquees making sure no one was left behind and within five minutes everyone, even the disabled elderly, had assembled outside the accommodation area. The inspection team were happy and we helped the guests go back to their marquees and continued working.

Afterwards it got me thinking about all the various work I had done at Jalsas down the years and that other volunteers did, both male and female, adults and children. For this Jalsa I had attended a fire safety course along with female volunteers from other departments, learning about fire hazards, how to deal with fires and keeping people safe. It meant that at Jalsa each area had a fire safety team who could swing into action and evacuate the whole site if necessary. My accommodation team work gave me skills in dealing with people in sometimes difficult circumstances, such as tiredness, bad weather, etc. Last year at the end of Jalsa, I visited my daughters who were still working in accommodation and found them and their team in rain capes helping guests and their children and baggage onto golf buggies to leave the site; this was after they had settled their department’s finances and helped stack returned mattresses And all of this with smiles on their faces.

Around the jalsa site there had been hundreds of women working throughout the weekend, keeping the site clean, distributing food and water, running various stalls, managing respite and crèche areas, inspecting for hygiene and safety, driving guests around, administering first aid and many, many more jobs. And whenever they saw someone they knew or just made eye contact with, they would pause, often only briefly, to smile, offer greetings and ask “how are you?” before continuing with their work.

Down the years, I’ve seen and experienced working at different jobs in extremely hot, sunny conditions as well as wearing wellies in the rain and mud. And down the years I’ve been astounded at the passion and skill displayed by these ordinary women volunteers. I’ve worked with teachers, doctors, mothers, students, scientists and more, each volunteer unafraid to get her hands dirty and each working her hardest to get the job done, just to make the Jalsa run smoothly and to please God.

What an example these cheerful women are for the younger generation and as has happened through the years, that younger generation will undoubtedly follow in their footsteps and become similar inspirational, smiling women.

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.

Features

Safeguarding Yourself: Time For Change

Laiqas blog 1

Laiqa Bhatti, Surrey

In recent months, media coverage of high profile sexual assault cases has driven countless women to speak up about the sexual harassment and assault they themselves have faced in all walks of life. In the UK alone, at least half of British women have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study and despite the widespread effort to achieve gender equality, reported cases of sexual assault have increased between 2012 and 2017 [1]. Police recorded offences have more than doubled to over 120,000 cases reported in the year 2017 [2]. These statistics raise questions as to why this issue is so widespread and commonplace and has not been effectively tackled. Even more worryingly, according to a BBC survey 63% of women said that they did not report sexual harassment at work or places of education to anyone. This portrays a bleak image where sexual harassment is almost expected and accepted as part of daily life if you are a girl or a woman.

While harassment of any form, including sexual is illegal, gathering evidence and proving it can sometimes be difficult which could be one reason many women do not report it. Therefore, any solution to tackle this issue requires preventative actions as lack of successful prosecution shows it cannot and does not serve as a deterrent. Yet debate on how to effectively reduce sexual harassment is often stifled when suggestions are presented that involve refuge for or change in behaviour by the victim. It is considered victim blaming and for many a no go. Yet the ‘Protection from Harassment Act 1997’ should have safeguarded women from unwanted sexual advances, it seems that women are no less at risk now than they were then [3]. It certainly has not eradicated harassment or even come close which calls for an alternative solution to be considered. With the media continuing to perpetually sexualise women and reducing their status to a mere object designed to be ogled, as a society it embeds the notion that the role of a woman is only one of a visual pleasure for others. With that sense of entitlement, sexual harassment is the next natural step if self-restraint is not exercised. For that reason, in the first instance Islam prescribes protection for all women in the way of men lowering their gaze. In the Holy Qur’an, it says:

‘Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well-aware of what they do.’ (24:31) [4]

If truly adhered to, the man that does not look directly at women out of respect, how will he even consider harassing her? In this way, Islam does not only protect Muslim women but all women. However, Islam also recognises that this injunction does not apply to non-believing men and therefore is nowhere enough to fully protect women from harassment so it goes on to say:

‘And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent, thereof, and that they draw their head-covers over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments thereof save to their husbands, or to their fathers or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters or their women or what their right hands possess or such of male attendants who have no wickedness in them, or young children who have not yet attained any concept of the private parts of women. And they walk not in the style that such of their beauty as they conceal is noticed. And turn you to Allah all together, O believers that you may succeed.’ (24:32) [5]

Alongside other guidance that Islam sets out, the essence of modesty is the keystone to protecting women from any unwanted sexual advances. Islam guides women towards modesty to protect them from sexual harassment. If we lived in Utopia where all men would truly lower their gaze and respected women, then perhaps women wouldn’t have to take actions to safeguard themselves. The sad truth is, even in Western countries where there is a strong fight towards gender equality, sexual harassment is commonplace and even more worryingly, on the rise. Yet gender equality cannot be achieved without women receiving the respect they deserve. No woman deserves to be cat called, approached with unwanted comments or even worse. Safeguarding yourself from anything negative is not victim blaming. It is simply being sensible in a less than ideal world. The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, has elaborated on the philosophy of modesty as follows:

‘It should be remembered that to restrain one’s looks and to direct them only towards observing that which is permissible is described in Arabic by the expression ghadde basar, which is the expression employed in the Holy Quran in this context. It does not behove a pious person who desires to keep his heart pure that he should lift his eyes freely in every direction like an animal. It is necessary that such a one should cultivate the habit of ghadde basar in his social life. This is a blessed habit through which his natural impulses would be converted into a high moral quality without interfering with his social needs. This is the quality which is called chastity in Islam.’[6]

As a Muslim woman, I experience the protective nature of modesty myself in my daily life. Hearing the notion of women protecting themselves from any form of abuse as ‘victim blaming’ is incorrect and insulting. Is locking our front door to protect ourselves from burglars also victim blaming? It is simply recognising that despite all other efforts, theft can happen and requires preventative measures. In the same way, women need to accept that alongside education and reformation of the way society views us, we should take measures to protect ourselves and modesty is a large part of that. Sexual harassment shouldn’t become a part of our everyday life, accepted as a by-product of our freedom and modesty shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to that freedom. Instead modesty allows us to go on in our daily life without the fear of being objectified and treated as though our only purpose in this life is a superficial one. There is no freedom for a woman if she constantly worries and continuously finds herself at risk of sexual harassment. It stifles her ability to conduct her work with full confidence and to the best of her ability. Yet if her dress portrays modesty, she stands out of the crowd as someone whose sole purpose isn’t to visually appeal to others.

In an ideal world the way a woman dresses should not have a bearing on her safety or the respect she is given, however we also cannot deny that in our current society, the Islamic solution is the one that truly protects women.

 

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41741615

[2]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/sexualoffencesinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

[3] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40/contents

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 24:31

[5] The Holy Qur’an, 24:32

[6] The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp 23-25

 

Hijab · Islam

Dignity of Hijab and Ill-Advised Solidarity Against it

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by Navida Sayed, London.

In Islam, modesty and chastity are very important tenets of faith, and are achieved through establishing certain codes of behaviour and dress. However over the last decade the hijab has not only become one of the most widely discussed controversial topics but has resulted in Muslim women dealing with endless challenges and negativity.

In pursuit of their own political agendas repeated stabs by some to intervene and attempt imposing a dress code on how Muslim women should /should not dress has divided society. The publicity surrounding such attempts has led to backlashes against Muslim women in hijab and has also resulted in some women abandoning the hijab to fit into society.

Social media platforms can be dynamic catalysts of global public opinion, especially responsible for generating popular beliefs and attitudes about most things, including discussion on Muslim women.  This has resulted in many with little awareness of Islam to identify Muslim women in hijab either with terrorism or as oppressed women in desperate need of liberation from their hijab.

Recently some non-Muslim women decided to wear hijab in solidarity with Muslim women, a personal choice and a nice gesture to support Muslim women already facing antagonism. To make matters worse social media then became a platform for ridicule suggesting ‘take off your hijab in solidarity’ with feminists and ex-Muslims.

Women choosing to walk away from the hijab as feminists or activists are taking the removal of the hijab to a whole new level, from videos and blogs on how to remove the headscarf to linking the headscarf as an out dated cultural practice or view it merely as a piece of cloth. If any women removed their hijab out of defiance, because it was enforced on them, this enforcement is clearly against the teachings of Islam. It is not for man to either impose or enforce the hijab on women, nor punish them for not observing it.

Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab do not struggle with any kind of inferiority complex or dilemma about whether or not they should wear the hijab. They do not feel constricted or objectified, instead they feel confident and empowered. Hijab establishes dignity and respect for women, so that they are recognised in society as individuals who are respected for their intelligence, personality and academic achievement, rather than for their physical appearance. For Muslim women having the right to choose what to wear, including the hijab, is the most liberating and empowering choice of all.

Ironically whether it is a political figure or a journalist it’s men who always try and dictate the dress code for Muslim women. Yet they seem to be clearly unaware that men were the first to be instructed in the Qur’an to lower their gaze and not ogle women in society. Being aware of men’s weak innate nature, God further guided women to cover themselves as a preventative measure for their own protection.

Muslim women are granted the right to dress how they choose and will not remove their hijab in solidarity with anyone, because among other things it will not make the world a better place. If women were safe in a world where covering up was not a choice we would not see so many high profile sexual harassment cases. But it all comes down to choice in how a woman wishes to dress, Islamic dress code should not repeatedly be targeted.

Women in hijab will stand by in solidarity, which results in real support for the betterment of society. Women united in true solidarity can confront problems together, not with hatred or derision for one another’s beliefs and practices. Lets stand in solidarity and mutual respect for one another to counter all hurdles which threaten to divide us.

Islam

Our Response: The Need to Lift the Stigma

Our response

Laiqa Bhatti, Surrey

Fasting in the month of Ramadhan is obligatory for every man and woman, except for those who are travelling or sick. Also exempt are women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating. As a mother of two, I have more than once been exempt from fasting for all those reasons. But when reading the recent articles on how Muslim women have been shamed for eating during Ramadhan, it struck me how yet again, cultural ignorance has been mistaken for Islamic rules. I have experienced both, the cultural ignorance and the true application of Islam’s openness in these matters. The former has nothing to do with the latter. In fact, it was Islam that lifted the stigma of menstruation 1400 years ago through Holy Scripture as well as through the teaching of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) and yet here we are again, subjugating women into shamefulness. Does Islam really require women to conceal such a common natural phenomenon that affects roughly 50% of the world’s population?

‘And that He creates the pairs, male and female,’ (Surah Al-Najm, verse 45)

When God Himself has created woman, then there is nothing in the functioning of His creation that is shameful. It is only Islam that not only gave rights to women such as the right to divorce, the right to inherit, the right to vote, the right to have an equal voice and at the same time normalised the differences between men and women. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) openly spoke about matters pertaining to women, his teaching also demonstrated that menstruation was not something to be ashamed of. Muslim women are exempt from Praying, fasting and other aspects of daily life to ease any hardship this time may bring.

Sadly, as time has passed cultural ignorance has now in some sections of society infiltrated the beautiful and pure teachings of Islam and once again, women find themselves compelled to pretend something so natural and universal does not exist. When the Qur’an that is read by every Muslim man and woman, clearly speaks about menstruation, when the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) clearly spoke about menstruation to Muslim men and women during his counsel, how is it right to associate this shame surrounding menstruation with Islam?

Furthermore, the pretence of women not having menstruation verges on the point of deception and lying. That deception and lying can then lead into a myriad of other sins.

‘Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.’ (Surah Al-Saff, verse 4)

How can it then be acceptable that women should not disclose that they are not fasting and instead pretend otherwise? So, it is simply not feasible to associate the stigma surrounding menstruation to Islam. It has been used as a beating stick since the dawn of mankind and Islam only normalises them. Cultural stigma needs to be removed as it hinders the truth being spoken and allowing Muslim women to practice their religion as it was prescribed for them.