The Significance of Gender Segregation at Jalsa Salana

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By Navida Sayed, Hounslow, UK

Every year thousands of Ahmadi Muslims flock to Jalsa Salana UK (the Annual Convention) in Alton, Hampshire. The aim of the event for the members of the community is to attain spiritual advancement, unite in universal brotherhood and promote peace. Many guests attend for whom a salient feature of the convention is the segregation of the sexes. The separation of Muslim men and women at religious gatherings can be perplexing, misunderstood and sometimes difficult to accept especially in Western society.

Segregation of the sexes exists in all spheres of society including schools, hospitals, prisons, members clubs, workplaces and gyms. Yet when Muslims uphold the same principle it is seen as a medieval sign of the oppression and subjugation of women. Unfortunately some misconceptions are due to atrocities and injustices against women inflicted by bigoted extremists. To make matters worse, the negative biased and sensationalised stories about women in Islam plague the media. Taken together this creates a public narrative that there is a need to rescue and liberate Muslim women from the clutches of the faith of Islam.

In any workforce employees happily comply with company regulations in order to keep safe and protect their rights. Disregard or disobedience could result in disciplinary action or even termination of employment. Likewise practicing Muslims are expected to understand and obey the teachings of Islam, which is the faith of their choice. The commandments of Islam for both men and women to observe Purdah (veiling as a mindset) are for the betterment of society. This does not necessitate that teachings of Islam are out-dated and in need of reform.

For Ahmadi Muslims the separation of men and women during prayers and religious events has always been the norm and stems from Islamic teachings relating to Purdah. Many individuals may be completely unaware that males were the first to be instructed in the Qur’an to lower their gaze. Being aware of men’s weak innate nature, God also commanded women to cover themselves as a preventative measure. In Islam a woman is not regarded as a sex object and is free from exploitation and harassment.

Those who strongly oppose gender segregation on the grounds that both genders are being deprived of each other’s company are not aware Islam upholds the belief that intimate relationships should be confined to the private domain of marriage only. The separation of the sexes in mosques and religious gatherings is a preventive measure both for men and women to maintain the highest standards of good behaviour, dignity, self-restraint, modesty and purity.

The separate spaces are for their own comfort and ease where they do not have to cover up and where they can relax and reap the benefits of attending religious gatherings. Religious settings and gatherings such as the Jalsa Salana are not places of social hangout rather the prime focus is to reap spiritual benefits through prayers and listening to the speeches.

Sitting separately from men at community events or wearing the Hijab, does not restrict a Muslim woman’s role. She is encouraged to seek education and is not restricted to pursue a professional career. Ahmadi Muslim women excelling in highest standards of academic achievement can be witnessed in the award ceremony on the second day of Jalsa. Muslim women have all the rights that Muslim men enjoy, and in some ways, have certain privileges, which men do not enjoy. In a recent survey amongst 323,500 American adults, 56% of working mothers with children under the age of 18 said they would prefer to stay at home and take care of their house and family. A Muslim woman has the right and choice to stay at home and raise the children and for her husband to shoulder the financial responsibility for family. Another privilege is that a Muslim man has absolutely no right to demand anything from his wife’s income, property or wealth and Islam gives her the right to spend it as she wishes.

At the Jalsa Salana we welcome all interested in discovering the true teachings of Islam including the treatment and rights of women. Islam has granted women a position of dignity and honour and was the first religion to formally grant women a status never known before. The moral, spiritual and economic equality of men and women as propagated by Islam is unquestionable.

At Jalsa special guided tours are offered and female guests have the option of visiting the women’s area too. Leading some of the tours over the years, I found the reactions of the female guests were always the same. Whilst walking across there would be an air of silence, suspense and a few questions amongst the groups. Upon entering the ladies arena the guests were astounded, some politely commenting that they expected to see only be a few women behind a curtain in a small space. Of course the prime question always arises, why do we sit separately?

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community made life easier for its members especially for women to enable them to have recognition through their own women’s organisation known as the Lajna Ima’illah. Ahmadi Muslim women around the world have their own mosque areas, offices and at Jalsa Salana an entire ladies arena to themselves.

The women’s organisation works alongside their male counterparts under the direct guidance of the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his helper and guide).

If anyone still considers that Ahmadi Muslim women are regarded inferior to men because of the segregation all they need to ask is who does the cooking? The answer people maybe expect is the women as there certainly would be no shortage of female participants at the Jalsa. In reality meals cooked over the course of the three day event for thousands of guests attending the Jalsa are all prepared by men, including peeling hundreds of bags of onions and potatoes, cooking and washing the gigantic pots and pans in very hot working conditions. Men could say that this is unfair on them, but they never complain and take on the task voluntarily and happily to serve the guests of Jalsa Salana. Likewise the men do all the cleaning and all of the heavy work.

At Jalsa the women also have the privilege of being addressed by the spiritual Head of the community Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahamd directly in their own gathering on the second day of the convention when he also awards female students for their academic achievements. The Lajna Ima’illah (women) have office bearers and teams of women in all departments such as health & safety, security, registration, administration, press & media, audio visual, camera crew, Voice of Islam radio, hospitality, Humanity First, discipline, first aid, exhibitions and much more. All the women are volunteers and at Jalsa Salana the volunteers comprise academics, professionals and housewives working in unison with the men all united as one. As Ahmadi Muslim women, we have absolutely no problem with the segregation, rather it is a source of great freedom and success for us. Furthermore segregation applies equally to men as it does to women, so any question of inferiority cannot apply for both are bound by this rule in equal measure.

We invite all female guests attending the convention to visit us on the ladies side and witness for themselves women leading women. Within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we are well aware and educated about our rights in Islam. The men in the community are also reminded about their womenfolk’s rights. One of the beautiful aspects of Islamic teaching is that by defining the role of women in society, and then by giving dignity to that role, it makes women feel fulfilled, empowered, respected and liberated. As Ahmadi Muslim women who experience this at first hand we can vouch for the wisdom and benefits of this teaching, as the independence we gain from segregation is a source of great strength.

 

Empowerment of Women in the 1920s: The story of Lajna Ima’illah

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Sameen R. Chaudhary, London

It is generally acknowledged that the role of women changed during and after the World Wars. With the men away on the battle field, it was up to women to hold down the fort at home, taking on war jobs that went beyond their traditional roles. Mechanics, factory workers, farmers; jobs that before were ‘men’s jobs’ were now being done by women. Posters of strong women and propaganda challenged the stereotypes and encouraged women to work, because the nation demanded, nay, depended on it for their survival. It was perhaps intended to be a temporary break from the norm until the men returned. Once begun however, many of these women found it difficult to go back to their roles pre-war. They had come to a realisation almost by default; that they were capable and intelligent enough to do a man’s job and for them that meant that they were now equal.

There was a quiet revolution for women happening elsewhere in the world around the same time, 1922 to be precise. There were no posters, and no propaganda. And women were not being told to leave their traditional roles temporarily. These women had already been given an equal status by their faith, Islam, more than a thousand years earlier, but they did not have to act like men to prove it. This revolution recognised the uniqueness of women and the contributions they could make to further a nation, as women in their own right. This revolution occurred in India. Here, even though approximately 1.3 million men had gone off the fight the war, still women did not have to take on the role of men. Instead they were taught how to flourish in their own role as women. When a woman is allowed to achieve everything on par with men, but in her own way, without having to prove that she can act like a man- that is not just equality. It is freedom. Freedom to be a woman, and freedom to be equal in the true sense of the word.

These women I speak of, Ahmadi Muslim women were relatively financially poor but rich with enthusiasm and love for Islam and even managed to wholly finance the first mosque in London while living in 1920s India. The Second Khalifa, the spiritual head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community set up an auxiliary women’s organisation called Lajna Ima’illah in December 1922. Its aim was self-education and training of women, both in spiritual and secular terms. For example, as is still the norm in rural parts of the East, women learn crafts such as sewing and embroidery. One of the first departments created within this auxiliary was that of Industry and Handicraft, after some ladies used their skills to make artefacts and hold an exhibition where they were sold. The proceeds went to good causes. And thus this department was born with its roots in the empowerment of women by encouraging them to learn and use their skills to eradicate unemployment.

In short, it allows them to pursue means by which they can improve their skills and earn their own money-an important feature for some women when claiming their independence. But crucially, it allows them to do it in a way that does not compromise any other aspect of themselves. So often women who have multiple roles face the harsh reality of having to put one role above the other: A working mother may feel the guilt of leaving her child whilst she goes to work sometimes out of financial necessity and sometimes out of having to make a financial contribution to her household as this is what her ‘equality’ entails. The Second Khalifa of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, with his amazing foresight, recognised the importance of making women independent and eradicating unemployment as a means to empower them, rather than empowering women because they needed to fill the shoes of men. Even today in many cultures financially independent women are still feared. But he encouraged them at a time when working women were scarce amongst those that were financially supported, by giving them a higher cause: to earn their own money and spend out of it for the cause of faith thereby raising their spiritual status as well.

For over 10 years now I have watched my mother serve in the capacity of Secretary for Industry and Handicraft for Lajna Ima’illah UK; watched all kinds of women work hard, to learn new skills, to set up their own businesses sometimes in the face of adversity. I have seen women take on their roles as women and entrepreneurs with dignity and grace, and above all, creating a work life balance where their womanhood is not compromised. Skills such as cooking, sewing and handicrafts may seem old fashioned and out dated. But only a look at some of the most popular TV programmes currently suggest otherwise. It is not only these skills that can be developed, but whatever you wish. The idea is to help all those who have not pursued other career routes to work for themselves, giving them true independence and the ability to answer to no one but themselves and God. Women have organised bazaars with a footfall of over 3,000 women, providing a platform for many business women to sell and advertise their products and services. They work in temporary industrial sized kitchens in the outdoors, and feed over 10,000 women every day for three days every year at the Annual Convention for the Ahmadiyya Community. It is not pretty or dainty work, and it is certainly not for the weak. The strength, stamina and resolve of such women is remarkable. And they are not alone. A huge voluntary task force of women work long hours providing security, shelter, food, and comfort of every kind to their guests during this time.

As India celebrates its all women flights, Lajna Ima’illah has been running its own organisation, own events and own programme of education and reform for all women and girls for decades upon decades. Indeed, it is now an organisation global in scope, working in over two hundred countries around the world. Perhaps here in the UK in the future Lajna Ima’illah can reach the level of holding exhibitions such as those in Earl’s Court and the Excel Centre, mirroring the humble efforts of those first pioneers back in the 1920s.

Women And Islam

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Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park, UK

When the International Women’s March took place on 21st January 2017 with an estimated 4.8 million participants, it made some wonder what the current status of women and feminism in the modern world is. In the case of Islam many are quick to dismiss it as a backward religion which unjustly imposes the veil upon its women, allows child marriages and is generally in every way misogynistic. These assumptions could not be any further from the truth, and many Muslim women are proud to not only stand up for their rights as women, but as brave and true Muslim women.

In order to fully understand the status of women in Islam, one must closely examine the role and status of women before the advent of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) and this beautiful religion. From the moment of their birth, girls in Arabia were subjected to the cruellest patriarchy, in which many new born girls would be buried alive in order to save the family’s reputation. Men would indulge in numerous wives, and in all areas of life, women would be treated as second class citizens. A woman would not receive a share from the wealth of her father, nor was she considered the heir of her husband’s wealth; in some countries she was the custodian of her husband’s assets, but only during his lifetime. Once a woman was married to a man, she was declared his forever, and in no circumstance could she part from him. However while she had no right to separate from her husband, no matter how afflicted she might be, her husband had the right to divorce her.[1]

Here is the true root of the misogyny and in an area today known to be Islamic one can understand why there may be a misconception of Islam being inherently a misogynistic religion. However, as with any religion, it is important to assess the justice of a religion by its own values, not the past values and customs of the countries that are predominantly of said religion.

Before we begin an analysis of women and Islam, this quote from the Holy Qur’an beautifully encapsulates the status of women to be in every way equal to that of men.

Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward (33:36)[2]

The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) was a great advocate of women’s rights, and indeed his wives are admirable role models for young girls even today in the 21st century. Many of the above restrictions placed on women, particularly in regards to property rights and divorce rights, are also issues that western women have faced for a very long time. It was not until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937, less than a century ago, that the majority of British women were able to initiate a divorce. Yet Islam recognised the voice and freedom of women over 1,400 years ago and has allowed women to initiate divorce, “Khulla” on the grounds of a large majority of marital issues.[3]

Likewise, with the issue of property, the second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the Promised Son, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmood Ahmad writes

“The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) announced that God Almighty had especially entrusted to him the task of safeguarding the rights of women. He declared in the name of God Almighty that men and women by virtue of their common humanity were equal to one another… Women could own property just like men; husbands had no rights to spend the wealth of their spouses unless they willingly gave it to them as a gift. To seize a woman’s wealth by force or to acquire it in a manner that could be adjudged that she had only consented out of deference was unacceptable…Daughters were rightful heirs of their parents’ wealth just as sons.”[4]

It was not until the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 that women were allowed to have rights over their own property in Britain.

Finally, another great status that Islam has granted mothers in particular is something that all societies should aspire to. The Holy Prophet says “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers”. The position of mothers is so high in Islam because it recognises the sacrifices mothers make and the unconditional love that they grant again and again to their children. The love of a mother is incomparable in Islam, except when Allah himself compares his love for mankind to be greater than that of a mother’s love for her child.

The second Caliph relates

“Mothers were not consulted about their children regarding education or upbringing; their rights over their children were unrecognised. In cases where husbands and wives separated, the fathers were given the custody of the children.”[5]

Islam recognises and actively encourages the participation of a mother in her child’s life and the child’s reciprocation to the extent that in another tradition, the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) is reported to have stated when asked to whom a man should be kind: “to your mother.” When asked a second time, again said: “to your mother.” He was asked a third time, again the reply was: “your mother.” Only upon being asked a fourth time did he reply: “your father.” Thus he emphasised three times how important it is for a Muslim to take care of his/her mother and to give full consideration and respect to her needs and wishes.

As all this has illustrated, Islam is not a patriarchal religion that degrades or dehumanises its women. Women are seen as irreplaceable treasures and extremely valuable members of society. They were given many rights denied to western women for centuries after. It is undeniable that patriarchy exists in many Islamic countries – but one of the most dangerous things we can do is to assume that the misogyny is a result of Islam. Like all extremists, it is a personal desire being propagated in the guise of a religion.

[1] https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Muhammad-the-liberator-of-women.pdf

[2] https://www.alislam.org/library/links/woman_quran.html

[3] https://www.alislam.org/books/pathwaytoparadise/LAJ-chp3.htm

[4] https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Muhammad-the-liberator-of-women.pdf

[5] https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Muhammad-the-liberator-of-women.pdf

MUSLIM WOMEN’S GROUP SAY LOYALTY TO BRITAIN IS PART OF THE ISLAMIC FAITH

PRESS RELEASE

16 January 2017

Some 700 women attended a national Peace symposium titled “Faith and Loyalty to Britain: The Role of Women” on Saturday. The event was organised by women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK to dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslim Women and demonstrate that loyalty to Britain is part of the practice of Islam.

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It was held at the largest Mosque in Western Europe, the Baitul Futuh Mosque in South London.

Keynote speakers were Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State (Home Office), Ms. Patsy Robertson, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth Association, and Mrs Safiyya Salam, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, UK. Distinguished speakers included the Rt. Hon Fiona MacTaggart MP and Siobhain McDonagh MP. The event was also attended by Councillors, Mayors, academics, NGOs and invitees from many faiths and beliefs.

The aim of the event was also to highlight the important contribution made by Ahmadi Muslim women who are dedicated to Islam and its peaceful teachings but are also able to contribute significantly to British society, its culture and its economy. A £5000 cheque was presented to Whizz-Kidz a British Charity which is working hard to transform the lives of disabled children.

Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State (Home Office) said:

It’s so good to see so many women here to talk about the role we can play in promoting peace and integration. Whether we are mothers, religious leaders or politicians, we all have a role in establishing peace.” 

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Baroness Williams also commended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association and said:

“Your dedication to your faith and your country is an inspiration for us all. Ahmadiyya Muslim Women demonstrate to me their importance to building strong communities. Thank You!”

Baroness Williams also outlined the Government’s commitment to tackling hate crime which includes action on racially and religiously aggravated hate crime and to protecting communities from hostility, violence and bigotry.

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Mrs. Patsy Robertson, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth Association spoke of the advancement of women since the Beijing UN Conference for Women’s Rights, but said:

I have come to know that as a Community, you are accomplished and have done a great deal of work for your fellow citizens … I really do believe that it is incumbent on Muslim and non-Muslim women to end this idea that wearing the hijab is an oppressive tool. We are educated women, we have to speak up and challenge these societal beliefs.”

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The Rt. Hon Fiona MacTaggart MP said:

I want to congratulate you on leading this woman’s only event… Mum’s roles are not celebrated enough in government and the job they do in bringing up moral children and establishing peace within society… The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is I believe the only group in Parliament with a majority of female MPs”

Siobhain McDonagh MP said:

I want to thank you for your contributions. I want to thank you for showing loyalty without condition to your country.”

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Mrs. Nasira Rehman, National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK said:

Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and unity.  Ahmadi Muslim women have been in Britain since 1913 and adopting modest dress have been determinedly serving society ever since.  We will continue to do so building on our determination to show society that respect and tolerance for true peaceful Islam and responsibility to God and His creation is a source of unity and peace for all of us.

Mrs. Rehman also paid tribute to Councillor Maxi Martin, who passed away in 2016 and was a dear friend of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association.

Mrs. Safiyya Salam, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association in the UK and daughter in law of Dr Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel laureate in sciences said:

This Muslim Women’s Association was established in 1922 to encourage Muslim women to be improve knowledge, serve the community, and train and bring up children to be righteous and loyal citizens. As practising Muslims, we are instructed to love our country and act as an instrument of peace. Loyalty to one’s country is part of the Islamic faith and there is no conflict between this and our belief in Islam”.

Mrs. Farzana Yousuf, a lawyer and National Secretary for Community Outreach said:

Ahmadi Muslim women believe in loyalty to Britain, we believe in freedom, respect, tolerance and a shared responsibility for our world. In other words, we believe in true Islam.”

Alison Gordon O.B.E, Director and co Founder of Sister for Change, Mitty Tohma President of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, Margaret Ali, Director of the Universal Peace Federation, Councillor Brenda Fraser Mayor of Merton, Councillor Wendy Speck Deputy Mayor of Wandsworth and Deputy Mayor of Croydon Councillor Toni Letts were also distinguished guests who attended and spoke. Their thoughtful sentiments were well received by the Symposium.

 

 

 

International Women’s Day

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By Mubarika Sami, UK

It’s difficult to say exactly when International Women’s Day (IWD) began; its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.

A year later, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the US on 28th February in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin – leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany – introduced the idea of an International Women’s Day. She suggested that every country should celebrate women on one day every year to push for their demands.

A conference of more than 100 women from 17 countries agreed to her suggestion and IWD was formed. In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19.

In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since. The day was only recognised by the United Nations in 1975, but ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration.

March is Women’s History Month, a number of organisations have set up events around this time to highlight inequality.

On Saturday 5th March, around 10,000 women marched in London as part of the ninth annual Million Women Rise march. This takes place on the weekend before IWD every year, and brings together thousands of women marching to end male violence against women.

On Sunday 6th March, women marched in London as part of Care International’s Walk In Her Shoes.  Annie Lennox, Bianca Jagger and Dr Helen Pankhurst led the event that celebrated women’s achievement across the globe.

The original aim of the day – to achieve full gender equality for women across the world – has still not been achieved. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence against them is still worse than that of men.

On IWD women across the globe unite to force the world to recognise these unacceptable inequalities. At the same time we celebrate the achievements of women who have overcome these hurdles. Shockingly in the UK women still do most of the unpaid work – 4.3 hours a day compared to men’s 2.3 hours. The figures are worse in India for example where women spend 5.8 hours on unpaid work compared to men’s 0.9 hours.

It is an official holiday in a number of places including: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, , Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

One of the greatest wastes of women’s time and energy in many developing countries is the problem of daily water collection. Too often, women still have to fetch water from unimproved sources such as rivers and ponds. They often walk great distances to collect enough for all their family’s domestic needs; the chore limiting their opportunities in terms of schooling and livelihoods.

On this day we would like to remember Inspiring Muslim women through history. Hadhrat Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) was a rich and successful businesswoman who was the first wife of the Holy Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be on him). She was also the first Muslim.

Hadhrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) who was married to the Holy Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be on him) after Hadhrat Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) passed away, was renowned for her intelligence and later became a great scholar about whom the Holy Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be on him) said “Learn half of faith from Aisha”.

The first person to build a university was an educated Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri in 859 CE in Fes, Morocco. It was the first university to award degrees and open both to Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim women’s auxiliary, Lajna Ima’illah, is marking this day by giving out hampers to women’s shelters with a campaign entitled “Love From Lajna”.

With God In Heart And A Positive Mind

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By Sadia Sami, Canada

It was in 2008 when my family decided to move to Saskatchewan–one big land with a very, very small Ahmadiyya Muslim branch consisting of 20 people. Despite our branch being small, each individual Ahmadi came with their own unique story of struggles, success, sadness and happiness. However, one story in particular stood out to me from the rest. What started as a casual salutation between my mom and this lady turned into an hour long conversation about the life this lady had faced. She was not just anyone casual, she was the wife of an Ahmadi Muslim martyr.

Living in Pakistan, this lady was in her mid-twenties with three young children when her husband was murdered whilst driving alone in his car. What a woman faces upon the death of her husband and the father of her kids is something that is beyond anyone’s comprehension. It was hard. Days went by in tears and nights were even more frightening and lonely.

However, this woman did not once give up and instead of letting her life go, she pushed herself to do better for her family; she packed up her stuff and moved to Canada with three young children and her widowed mother. While she was a doctor by profession in Pakistan, Pakistani educational qualifications are not accepted in Canada which requires an individual to take many major exams to qualify for a Canadian degree in medicine.

Her nights were now spent studying, learning and re-teaching herself everything that she had already worked so hard for in Pakistan. While she studied, she raised her kids in a pious and humble manner. She took minimal support from outsiders and placed all her trust upon Allah, the Khalifa of the time (spiritual head) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Years of studying resulted in her qualification to practice medicine in Canada as a gynaecologist. She put all three of her kids through school, paid each of their university and medical school tuition fees without anyone else’s support. She proudly owns her own clinic and is known as one of the finest female doctors in her field.

Despite being an amazing doctor, this lady has never missed a Friday Prayer, branch meeting or event. We all know doctors have a ridiculous amount of work and hours to get through but this has never stopped her. I remember as a 13 year old, I would hear her pager go off during Friday Prayers but she would never rush her Prayers. However, once she completed her Prayers in peace, she ran as fast as a cougar to deal with her emergencies.

She is one person who has given me hope and I feel very inspired by her. This lady has seen probably some of the worst things imaginable but still managed to struggle through it all with God in heart and positivity in her mind. I would catch myself complaining about something so insignificant and remember that if this lady can overcome such hardship with the support of merely her own elderly mother, then definitely I can overcome my minor issues.

If you ever had the good fortune to bump into this woman, you would never be able to tell she had been through such circumstances. She maintains a very joyful and thankful personality which has become so contagious in our very small local branch that when she is not present, we all feel incomplete.

This is just one in a handful of stories of the wives of martyred Ahmadi Muslim men. How these women overcome their struggles and pave a path for themselves through all their obstacles is exemplary for all women out there.

She Inspires Me

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For International Women’s Day members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim women’s and girls’ auxiliaries have been writing about women who inspire them.

Some have chosen figures from history while others write about women in their personal lives who have inspired them.

What we learn is that no matter who the women are, whether significant historical figures or personal friends, all women have their own strengths and the ability to inspire us if we are willing to be inspired.

She Inspires Me…

Hazrat Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her)
By Maleeha Mansur, Hayes,UK

A woman of wealth and honour, with the world at her feet, served upon day and night, the Queen of Arabia. However, the comforts of her life did not blind her spiritual sight. Her purity and nobility superseded all her worldly treasures, such that she immediately recognised the piety of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and firmly grasped hold of this righteousness.

She inspired me for she willingly forsook a life of luxury and grandeur for meekness and righteousness. She exchanged the treasures of the world for the treasures of the Hereafter. She was a woman in this world but not of this world.

Inspiring women! By Riyya Ahmad (age 12), Aldershot, UK 
Muslim women have served as heroic leaders!

One of the inspiring women in Islam is Hazrat Khadija. She was very wealthy but still clothed the poor and fed them. She was the wife of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him). Khadija was his support beam. She always gave to charity and faced many hardships when her husband founded Islam. She played an important role in the foundation of the first Islamic society.

Muslim women of our generation continue to play an important role in society.

My second inspiring woman is Malala Yousufzai and many have heard her story; she is a young girl who fought for the rights of education. Malala faced many hardships, for instance, being shot in the head by the Taliban, but that never stopped her. She became the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner when she won the Nobel peace prize in 2014. Malala exemplifies that you can do anything, if you believe in it. She once said “they thought that the bullet would silence us but they failed, nothing changed in life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, courage and fervour was born”

The world without these women would be a horrible place to live in; they have changed it so much. Don’t think you can’t either.

My Inspiration
Sabah Javaid Khan, Cheam, UK

For her unfaltering faith through adversity. 

For her stoic determination to keep her young family safe during the treacherous partition of India,  

For carrying such enormous burdens of responsibility from the tender age of 16, showing extraordinary patience and wisdom, yet expecting no worldly recognition.  

Such beautiful humility & dignity.

Such a simple soul.

For being the embodiment of a believing woman throughout every stage of her 94 years on this Earth, living on through the legacy of the 10 children she raised and now through their progeny.

Because I find myself asking “what would she have done?” when I try to navigate my own life’s hurdles. 

It is her values that hold her most dear, and her example that I wish to follow.

She is my inspiration.

Sayyeda Begum, my maternal grandmother.
(Mother of Imam Ataul Mujeeb Rashed)

Mary Seacole
By Zohra Jonnud , Aldershot, UK

Mary Seacole was a mixed race nurse from Jamaica who, after being turned down for jobs with both the War office and Florence Nightingale travelled independently to nurse using her mother’s herbal remedies during the Crimean War.

She set up a hospital close to the front line and helped even those who could not afford treatment. Her manner was kind, friendly and motherly which is what set her apart from other female nurses of the time.

After the war she went bankrupt; however in 1857, 80,000 people turned out to honour her as a hero. They donated money to her and she received an award from Queen Victoria and was employed by the Princess of Wales.

She inspires me for the way she fought against prejudice and adversity with a kind and loving heart.

Star Against A Dark Sky
By Ayesha Malik, Tilford, UK

It is often said trials test the limits of our soul. That what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger. A precious diamond is indeed defined by how often it is cut and human trials have been known to define outcomes of human character in similar ways. I have believed from a very young age that it is our response to tribulation that shapes the contours of our inner strength and tenacity and defines our outlook on life and the world. As someone once said, “without these trials, life would be a straight flat road to nowhere; safe and comfortable, but dull and utterly pointless.”

Human responses to trials are as diverse as humanity itself. Yet, with the many people that enter one’s life along the way, there are certain individuals that have for me shone like stars against a dark sky.

One of these is Nasira Bhatti, my husband’s aunt who was widowed in her late 20s when her husband passed away suddenly from a heart attack. She was left to raise two infants on her own in Pakistan, a son and a daughter. Just a few years following her husband’s tragic demise, Nasira Bhatti’s son, then 8, took a fatal fall from the rooftop of his Rawalpindi home. Barely in her mid-30s, she was widow and a grieving mother, yet her resilience and fortitude and her faith in God have not only been unshakeable but awe-inspiring. Nasira Bhatti single-handedly raised her daughter, Amatul Mateen, who went on to earn her Masters from Kings College London and a PhD from the University of Oxford – the only girl in her family to have done so.

The dignity and infallible grace, the positivity and immense fortitude with which Nasira Bhatti has grappled with her deeply perplexing personal challenges, the courage and steadfastness she has exhibited in confronting her darkest days make her exemplary and an inspiration to all around her. Notwithstanding her difficult journey, she has always been and continues to be a hugely beneficial and positive presence, always selflessly yearning to help others. It is this towering resolve and reservoir of faith that continues to be a beacon of inspiration for me personally and to many who know her.

Inspirational
By Sadia Rana, London, UK

Marie Curie

Marie Curie inspires me, as she was the first individual to win the Nobel Prize twice, as well as the first woman to win it. She had huge amounts of difficulty thrown at her; educational restrictions against women, migration from her home country for education, appalling living conditions whilst studying in Paris, due to heating problems and housing issues. Yet her research was far reaching and is still applied and taught to students today.

Jessica Ennis-Hill

Jessica Ennis-Hill inspires me, not because she is an elite athlete, but as an extreme hard worker. She balances her home life with her professional life and undergoes extreme physical and mental discomfort for years at a stretch. It may only be for achieving physical prowess, but the main point is that she works hard, sacrifices a lot, puts herself under immense pressure and stress to achieve something she believes in.

Mrs. Majeeda Shahnawaz
By Hamdah Farooqi, London, UK

I knew her as our Karachi Lajna President, (Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s auxiliary) when I was growing up in Karachi Pakistan.

My mother was working with her for Lajna services, I therefore had the opportunity to see Mrs Shahnawaz very regularly. Also as she was the President of Lajna, I saw her at most Lajna and Nasirat (girls group) meetings, held at the Mosque.

By the time I arrived in the UK, Mrs Shahnawaz had already taken permanent residence and had undertaken services in Lajna UK.

I always found her to be a very kind and gentle lady, always looking out for the comfort of others. Arranging meetings and activities to enhance knowledge and empowerment of women.

In her own right, she was considered a V.I.P. She was well known in Pakistani women’s social circles, where she participated in charity work with organisations like APWA: All Pakistan Women’s Association. She would get invited to many women’s events in London as well.

Mrs Shahnawaz would invite some of her social contacts to her house, where she would also invite members of Lajna, to have exposure to those circles, so as to have the confidence to mingle with important personalities, from amongst the women.

Had Mrs Shahnawaz, chosen to spend her time in comfort and leisurely pursuits, there would not have been any blame on her as she was a big contributor to charities and a pious person, but her desire to serve humanity and community, always kept her busy, working on different projects, and she worked hard for these causes.

I had the great good fortune of working with Mrs Shahnawaz for nearly three decades. I saw first-hand how she treated people as equals, her unfailing humility and deep dedication to help others never failed to impress me.

I remember her angelic reactions and responses with love, respect and admiration.

 …Now Who Inspires You?

Show Mum You Love Her One Day A Year?

mothers day

By Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

“It’s Mother’s Day! Time to buy flowers and chocolates and make a card to show Mum how much I love her!”

A quick Google of ‘Mother’s Day’ results in a page of articles such as “What can I buy my mum?” and “Best deals available on flowers”. Going to a supermarket on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day (or Mothering Sunday) itself you will often find the flower and chocolate aisles depleted to signal the arrival of the one day in the year when we must show our mother how much we love her.

The first Mother’s Day dates back to ancient Egypt where they celebrated a festival for the goddess Isis who was known as the mother of the Pharaohs.  In ancient Greece it was in honour of Rhea, the mother of the Greek gods and in ancient Rome around the time of March the festival honoured Cybele, the mother of all gods. Early Christians celebrated the spring Mothers festival to honour Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mother’s Day is still celebrated in many countries around the world, although the date and traditions may be different in each country

In the UK, Mothering Sunday started around the 17th century when servants and apprentices were given time off, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, to attend their mother church with their families and take presents for their mothers, traditionally a cake made of eggs, butter, simnel and finest flour, ingredients not otherwise used in Lent.

Shops always like to have some day or other to promote with displays of goods and in the UK soon after Christmas, along with promotions for Valentines and Pancake Day, the shops start filling with gifts for Mother’s Day. To help with ideas, articles appear in the newspapers suggesting how to make the day special for mum.

Some people may go to Church to pray for their Mothers but mostly mothers are given presents, cards and flowers. Breakfast in bed is greatly popular and children make a point of carrying out household chores and being on their best behaviour because they don’t want mummy to be upset on Mother’s Day; this makes it seem as if it is okay to be lazy and upset her for the rest of the year!

Incidentally although modern Mother’s Day is widely associated with Christianity, its celebration is not mentioned in the Bible and neither did Prophet Jesus (on whom be peace) observe it or teach his disciples to follow it.

According to Islam, men and women are spiritually equal in the sight of Allah; in their role as mothers, Islam places women at an even higher status than men. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly directs Muslims to care for their parents, especially the mother.

“And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents —his mother bears him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning takes two years —‘Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. Unto Me is the final return.” (31:15) 

Islam recognizes the great role that women play in bringing up their children and in this way the future of a peaceful and harmonious society depends on mothers. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) emphasized the love and respect due to mothers in Ahadith including:  “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.”   The Paradise mentioned by the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) refers to both earthly as well as heavenly paradise.  

As children our mothers did everything for us. They kept us safe and during illness would spend nights awake with worry and prayers until we recovered. They continue to love, protect and pray for our every success and happiness throughout our lives and when we go out into the world our mothers always remain in our hearts. 

A beautiful verse from The Holy Quran referring to parents reminds us of our true obligations to our mothers:

“And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness. And say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me in my childhood.’” (17:25)

Once a year on Mother’s Day children make an effort to show their mothers how much they love them. But why should we only make an effort once a year? We should show our love every day and remember our duty to our mothers by looking after them whenever they need us. 

Mother’s Day should be every day!

 

 

Muslim Women and the Narrative of Modernity

Hijabi_in_front_of_mosue_in_Cairo

Source: Flickr

Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge

A lot of the time when I tell people that my Hijab liberates me, they nod indulgently, their expression a little doubtful, whilst they kindly explain ‘no darling, liberation means being free!’ Our interactions, almost inevitably, drift towards an impassé. We might be saying the same word: ‘liberation’, but in my mind and theirs it means different things. To me, my Hijab means liberation. To them, Islamic dress represents only patriarchal oppression. But this cultural misunderstanding sadly goes far beyond the Hijab.

In Britain today, Muslim women are free to wear the headscarf and observe Islamic dress. However while our Hijabs may be accepted, many of the practices and observances which often accompany the Hijab i.e. rules on modesty and mixing are still stigmatised. From David Cameron’s patronising comments on ‘Traditionally Submissive’ or his ill-thought polemic against segregation (never mind the plethora of gender-segregated institutions in Britain) to the new D&G Hijabi range, it is clear that Muslim women today are free to keep their Hijab on, but according to some they really ought leave ‘Islam’ to the Saudis. In other words, the Hijab can stay so long as every other aspect of how we live our lives is in line with the norm in Britain. We may differ from the norm in the way we dress, but not in the way we engage with society or order our homes.

I don’t want to put ‘Islam’ in one camp and ‘Britain’ in another. Many British Muslim women today do lead lifestyles which mirror point for point those of their non-Muslim peers save for an extra garment and five daily Prayers. Indeed Islam is not at all prescriptive when it comes to such matters.

But what about the women, Muslim or not, who of their own volition choose to take a different path? Are their personal definitions of ‘liberation’ accepted? If for instance they find liberation in their mosque, their church or their synagogue? If they find fulfilment in the domestic sphere? Or if perhaps they’re more for Yin and Yang than feminist gender theory? Or is it simply Cameron’s way or the high-way? This goes both ways- with those who would impose ‘traditional’ values (I use this term generally) on all. When some women simply cannot identify with such values.

It is important to stress above all that every woman is on her own personal journey in search of peace and fulfilment. Are we to block off all routes but one? Enshrining in law every freedom and liberty, but nevertheless creating a culture which expects women to conform to an increasingly narrow definition of what it means to be an empowered and liberated female. Telling all women, Muslim or otherwise, ‘be unique, but not too different!’ Thus Hijabi fashionistas or ballerinas are celebrated while their more ‘traditional’ sisters are looked down upon for not fitting into the general narrative of modernity. Surely we should celebrate choice, and accept the patchwork of diversity that is Britain; and not just simply laud conformity to the norm i.e. to standard practices in dress, thought and domestic arrangements.

In the first poem of his Four Quartets, a long, jaggedly flowing piece entitled ‘Burnt Norton’, T.S. Eliot explores perception, time and forms. In this work, a wise little birdy chirps that “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Alluding to this, to the limitations of human perception and to being open to different experiences, Eliot writes

Other echoes

Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

I’m a Muslim Woman and yes, I am #TraditionallySubmissive

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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

Entire whole.”

-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.”