Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge
I’m a Muslim. ‘Muslim’ literally means ‘one who submits’ so yes my every day is filled with a hundred different acts of submission. Islam is based on the foundation of submission and as one scholar commented it truly is remarkable how an entire religion with its own social patterns and legal framework has sprung from what is essentially “the inner spiritual posture” of a believer.
And what is this inner spiritual posture? Perhaps it is best captured in the moment of ‘Sajdah’ when a Muslim bows down in Prayer. The Islamic mystical poet Jalal-ud-din Rumi describes this inner posture, this state of utter submission in the most exquisite terms
“My place is the placeless
My trace is the traceless
I have no body or soul,
‘Cause I belong to my Beloved
-Rumi, ‘Who Am I?’
Like many other Eastern and mystical philosophies, Islam teaches that the foundation for inner peace is destruction of the ego and submission to God. However Muslims believe they have two purposes in life: to serve God and to serve His creation. And when it comes to serving God’s creation, again submission is generally the order of the day. All Muslims have responsibilities as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters and most will at times lay aside their own desires for the happiness of their loved ones. Something which I’m sure all humans can identify with.
“No man is an islande, entire of itselfe” and no man or woman can truly attain happiness and contentment simply through having their way all the time. As Rumi said “when one is united to the core of another…[one is] empty of self and filled with love”. We need to shift the paradigm a little from simple ‘submission’ vs. ‘defiance’ to a more thoughtful consideration of how we can live our lives in the most meaningful and fulfilling way.
Education is a big part of this. Indeed Islam is totally unambiguous on this point. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) declared that “it is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge” and that “a believer never has his fill of knowledge”.
Most of the women posting on Twitter also seem to equate careers with liberation. My first thought was, reflecting on my own circle of friends: is a woman who is a doctor because her parents pressured her to go down the medical route more or less submissive than one who chose to be a stay-at-home mum of her own accord?
We seem to have this idea in our heads that anything resembling domesticity or homeliness is inherently submissive and backwards. The domestic sphere means different things in different cultures and faiths. In Islam, the domestic sphere is an almost sacred space. Women are guardians over it not because ‘that’s all they’re good for’ but because the home, and the institution of motherhood are venerated so highly.
None of this I’d like to stress excludes women in the least from involvement in public life. Every woman should be free to create meaning in her life how she wishes.
And crucially despite laying all this emphasis on submission which is part of the ‘Greater Jihad’ of conquering ourselves, Muslims are also instructed to engage in another Jihad which is to struggle against all forms of oppression, injustice and cruelty. As the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, a tireless advocate of peace and champion of women’s rights unequivocally declared in a speech last year “the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community raises its voice loud and clear calling for justice at all levels so that the peace and security of the world may be secured and personal enmities, grievances and distances can all be transformed into a close bond of mutual love.”