Is Social Media Turning You Into a Narcissist?

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Click. Tap. Swipe.

That is all it takes nowadays for a random stranger to subscribe to your blog or Facebook feed.

computer-tablet-smartphoneTo “Like” your page.

To “Follow” you on Twitter.

To “Add” you to their circles.

To “Pin” your photograph.

All over the world, people are now connected to each other with their intangible, virtual persona, profile, or ‘face’ that is supposed to reflect their actual, physical identity.

But does it?

Different From Real Life

Real life relationships are different online, and vice versa.

It is always fun to connect and interact online, in the world of social media, with someone whom we have known for years in real life.

However, in some cases, we might get to ‘see’ a side of them that we did not know of during the years of our ‘real life’ relationship with them e.g. their opinions about certain issues and how strongly they feel about them.

This is even more true if they are avid readers, writers, thinkers, activists, or active professionals in any field, who like sharing their thoughts articulately online.

We might get to see a new side of them, especially if we witness their frank online discussions and interactions with people from their other circles, which did not include us during the years that we knew them in person e.g. professional colleagues, family members, childhood friends, or spouses.

In some unfortunate cases, this new ‘epiphany’ of sorts regarding our perception/knowledge of them, might start to signal the end of our real-life relationship with them.

The Reverse Scenario

Now for positive/less depressing analysis. In many cases, online social media brings together people who have hitherto not known, seen or met each other before in real life.

Rather ironically, the gelling factor in these cases is, also, exactly the same thing that I described in the above scenario, which drew otherwise close friends in real life apart once they connected online: their impassioned personal opinions, views and thoughts about issues, which they openly share and express online.

These expressions of personal thoughts started to garner them the support, love and admiration of like-minded new individuals who responded to their tweets, viewed their writings on Facebook, or commented on their blog posts.

Real life meetups were the natural result, and lo and behold! They connected instantly in person almost as soon as they set eyes on each other.

And though they met in flesh and blood for for the very time, it felt like they’d known each other for years.

A Double-Edged Sword

Thankfully, alhamdulillah, the latter case that I have described above, has happened to me with more sisters than the former one, although the few cases of my ‘real life’ female friends drifting away from me once they connected with me online, and read my views through my blog and Facebook, have definitely left a bad taste in the mouth.

You see, some of these past ‘friends’ decided to publicly challenge my views. Nothing wrong with that, although as I reluctantly took the bait and disagreed with their counter-opinions, I found myself getting drawn into a useless back-and-forth dialogue, which was clearly wasting my time and theirs.

Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to find out that those who challenge me stop hearing from me for a while if they decide to argue with me about any topic, because I detest arguments and debates with every inch of my being.

I also leave i.e. walk away from, an argument almost as soon as it starts, either by remaining silent, or physically going away. Because I believe that this action – of being the first one to leave the argument – is what would garner me the pleasure Allah in such a situation.

As for my other personal reasons, I think debates and arguments are the biggest waste of breath, positive energy and time, and they never bring about any good results. One thing that they do achieve, however, is the unveiling of the true face (and intentions) of the one who first challenges another person. In public.

And Allah knows best.

Anyhow, while the end of those real life, so-called “friendships” began soon after I added a few such real-life friends as “Friends” on Facebook (ironically dichotomous isn’t it?), I nevertheless still continued to really enjoy having discussions on social media with other sisters, for a while.

I made many, many new ‘friends’ by connecting with some amazing sisters online, and eventually met a few of them in person, and continued to have fruitful discussions with them in the virtual world.

I got to know them better personally; I shared their joys and sorrows. I saw them get married and have their first baby. I made some great new professional contacts as well, such as with editors and other bloggers. Things were great!

Until Zuck made that IPO.

Dang. That was when my “happy bubble” burst — with a loud bang!

Creepiness Galore

I have no idea whether the two are interrelated, but ever since Facebook had that IPO and then sent that conspicuously pointed email informing users about the change in their Terms and Conditions, and how the latter would affect their privacy, I have seen some decidedly creepy things that made my sixth sense tell me to cover my tracks online and proceed with immense caution whilst logged in to Facebook.

First of all, the sudden, unexpected increase in the number of ‘targeted’ ads and ‘Suggested Posts’ and pages!

I, like every other person, was in the habit of using the Facebook app installed on my smartphone. I, also like every other person, habitually browsed about something or another on my phone’s Safari browser.

That was all fine until I started noticing how the targeted ad of almost whatever I browsed about, would uncannily and almost creepily appear immediately in my Facebook news feed!

I mean, aren’t the frequent ads irritating enough as it is? I was beginning to get totally flabbergasted at how Facebook was tracking and cashing in on my browsing data from my phone!

The second thing that really started giving me the creeps because of Facebook, was about how it was tenaciously turning almost everyone amongst us, even the most humble and private ones, into unknowing narcissists, by keeping the default privacy setting for all their posts, links, status updates, and — cough — photos that they uploaded, to “Public”.

Now, that would perhaps be okay if Facebook informed them before they posted something online, that their privacy setting was set to ‘Public’ (and then asked them to confirm it before proceeding), and if it didn’t urge everyone to use tags and location data whenever they posted something online.

But it doesn’t. It also keeps throwing lists of “People You May Know” into everyone’s faces. And doesn’t leave them alone if they refuse to log in for days, by sending them email updates about what they have missed on Facebook.

You see, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Facebook thrives on a basic human need: social acceptance. The desire to be liked, admired and praised by other people. The need to fit in, be popular and considered ‘hip’.

Which is why Facebook wants every one of us to keep sharing our petty non-issues online, and it ensures that we almost always have an audience to “Like” what we share.

Result?

A LOT of (really dirty) laundry aired in public.

A LOT of occupied “virtual” soap boxes.

And a LOT of self-made narcissists.

Do I Know You?

There are so many people I used to know about, e.g. through common acquaintances at school or college. I never knew much beyond their name, or perhaps the number of their siblings. But I never really knew them.

However, as I sit writing this blog post right now, I now know (decades later) — courtesy Facebook’s “Friends of Friends” lists, tags, and location features — who these people are married to, where they live, where they work, what their (first or latest) child’s name is, where they went to vacation this year, what (or not) they wore on the beach while there, and what theme they chose for their last kids’ birthday party/cake.

Sigh. And you know what?

Having seen this kind of stuff makes me shudder and cringe with guilt. Because I do not think that these people would want me to see their photograph(s), or browse their online profile. And yet, all this information of theirs is set to ‘Public’, so what else can they expect?

You see, that is the other thing that Facebook thrives on; the other human trait that everyone of us is born with:

Curiosity.

So That’s it?

Yes, without much further rambling, that is why I am sitting here cocooned in my shell, off my soap box, and no longer active on Facebook. I could not take knowing any more.

Knowing what people (who know me and whom I know) did at a certain place with certain people, during which they allowed themselves to be photographed in (*cough*) compromising positions.

I couldn’t take knowing any more. Because while Facebook didn’t yet turn me into one of it’s full-fledged narcissists, it was gradually turning me into a grudging but stealthy stalker.

And even if I unsubscribed from Friends’ feeds, I still got to see many things that I never intended to or wanted to see, whenever someone on my Friends’ list decided to comment on something.

Now, in the end, I just have a list of questions for you, which each one of us should ask ourselves:

For the “narcissists”:

  1. Can you pass a single day without sharing something online?
  2. Can you pass a whole week without taking a selfie (and sharing one online)?
  3. When you post pictures online, is it because you want others to praise you? Or do you want to share your happiness with them?
  4. Do you like (i.e. are fond of) all of your Facebook “Friends”?
  5. Did you add every Facebook Friend because you wanted to? Or because you couldn’t turn down their request due to some kind of social obligation, guilt, or pressure?
  6. Do you check back often to see how many people have liked your update/photograph, and who they are?
  7. Does it crush you when no one does?
  8. Do you still pursue the hobbies and interests that you used to, before Facebook/Twitter existed?
  9. How much time do you spend online, as compared to connecting with people in real life?
  10. Do your family members (especially your children) complain about how much you/your eyes remain glued to a screen?
  11. If you were to go on a vacation to a remote locale with your loved ones, would you be able to stay offline from social media for a week?

And these are the questions I have for religious Muslims:

  1. Do you post more photos of yourself online now, than you did before?
  2. Is your hijab gradually slipping, as you post more photos of yourself online?
  3. Do you believe that the number of ‘Likes’ on your Facebook page (or the number of your followers on Twitter) depicts your true popularity among people?
  4. If all social media were to suddenly shut down indefinitely, would it affect your current motivation level for your da’wah work?
  5. Do you like being called “hot”?
  6. Do you like being publicly praised for your looks, by members of the opposite gender?
  7. Do you like being publicly praised for your work? Do you always retweet such praise?
  8. Have your religious views changed a lot since you started your Facebook page/blog/Twitter profile?
  9. How well you do you take criticism now, as compared to before you became a social media personality/public figure?
  10. How often do you engage in debates and back-and-forth arguments online?

Conclusion: I’m Out For Now

Currently, the situation stands like this: I log in to Facebook when I have to share something that (I have been told) most people would like me to share publicly, such as my latest articles.

I do miss some sisters a lot, with whom I loved to connect on social media. I really do miss interacting with them.

However, I cringe from ‘stalking’ the personal information that more and more people are inadvertently or knowingly sharing publicly online. And I don’t want to reconnect with these sisters whom I still consider to be among my special friends, at the cost of my peace of mind.

There is so much that people are sharing that I’d rather not know.

There are so many people whom I will perhaps meet some day with a casual nod and a half-reluctant “How are you?” as we cross paths by chance, and they wouldn’t have a clue about what I’ve seen them doing in an online photo. Nor will I be able to tell them that I know about it. Nor will they want me to do that, because they never wanted or expected me to see that photograph, did they?

Because we don’t really know each other. We never have. We just happen to know two separate people, who are each other’s ‘Friends’ on Facebook.

And in today’s world, that’s all that is needed to have someone’s nocturnal social activities broadcast halfway across the globe, in front of eyes and ears that never intended to witness them in the first place.

So which one are you: a stalker, or narcissist?

Take your pick!

Posted in Computers and Internet, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Family Togetherness Through Worship in Ramadan

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Every year, when Ramadan is about to start, a mother’s mind starts having some apprehensive thoughts: will I be able to fast easily? Will I feel very hungry or thirsty? How tiring will it be with the children at home all day? How will I plan meals? Will I awaken in time to pray qiyam and prepare suhoor, after returning home late after taraweeh? Will I be able to pray taraweeh at the masjid at all?

It’s a wonder how Shaitan always manages to put such thoughts into our minds as Ramadan approaches, even though year after year, Allah facilitates millions of Muslims all over the world, in varying circumstances and situations, to fast successfully throughout the month without encountering any major problems.

I haven’t known anyone to have suffered because of fasting during Ramadan. And what about the fortunate Muslims, who spend the entire month in Makkah? Despite the heat and dust of the barren desert, millions of pilgrims throng Masjid Al-Haram throughout Ramadan, to perform umrah, daily prayers, and do tawaf of the Ka’bah in the intense heat whilst fasting, without falling ill or suffering any physical harm.

The blessings of Ramadan are truly amazing!

Ramadan spent with babies

I can still vividly recall the way my Ramadans used to pass when my older two children were both under 4 years of age: still “babies”. Suhoor was prepared after carefully tiptoeing out of the bedroom in the dark, so that they wouldn’t wake up because of a noise.

Diapers, tantrums, toys and my arms loaded with a child – this was how most of the day passed as I fasted in the blessed month. Feeding them and watching over them sapped most of my daytime energy, and I used to wonder if the concentration (khushoo) would ever return to my salah; if I’d ever be able to pray a full taraweeh without interruptions, the way I used to when I was single, devotedly attentive from the very first takbeer of fard salah, till the imam’s last tasleem at the end of witr.

Six years later, the onset of Ramadan has dawned upon a visible change in my life. SubhanAllah, it amazes me to realize that change is the only constant in life! Now these two children, aged 9 and almost 7, respectively, are already in the age range in which they are under rigorous training for performing the daily salah.

Alhamdulillah, that means that they really enjoy standing for taraweeh prayers with us parents during Ramadan now. I no longer have to worry about them naughtily running off during taraweeh.

My youngest, a toddler who is 2.5 years old right now, is thankfully less prone by nature than her older siblings to run off by herself in large crowds. Praying taraweeh with her this year and the last, has been much easier, alhamdulillah.

My long lost khushoo almost seems to be back! :)

This just goes to show that a mother’s patient efforts during Ramadan, of taking her babies along with her in worship, pay off much more greatly than she can ever imagine, just a few short years later!

Ramadan family meeting

It really helps to convene a small “orientation” style meeting for the whole family before or as soon as Ramadan starts. Preferably, the parents should get all the children to sit at the dining table or on the floor in a circle, and brief them about what changes to expect in the household once the blessed month commences.

Young children need to be reminded every year about the wisdom behind fasting during the day and praying at night, even if they are under the age of 10-12 and thus not fasting yet. A spirit of collective worship needs to be inculcated in the household, so that the children feel like they are a part of earning the rewards of worship even if they are not fasting every day.

cerealFor example, children in the age range of 5-9 years should be trained to independently prepare simple and healthy “do-it-yourself” kind of snacks during the day, to feed themselves whenever they feel hungry, such as cereal & milk, fruit, and butter/jam/cream cheese/any other spread on slices of bread or bagels. They can be trained to add cold cuts/deli meats to bread or pita to make cold sandwiches for themselves. The purpose of doing this would be to spare their fasting mother the toil of preparing their meal at lunch time.

When children will be thus trained, they will also not disturb their fasting mother as she naps before Asr prayer in the afternoons, by remaining quiet and feeding themselves if they feel hungry.

The parents will thus benefit by allowing the children to feel more empowered and included in partaking from the reward of their parents’ fasting.

Replacing leisure outings with nightly taraweeh

Younger children also need to be reminded that, during this month, they will see their outdoor excursions curtailed to some extent. Replacing these outdoor recreational activities with indoor games and activities (books and constructive games are a great choice) will lessen the boredom of going out less often.

With my children, I have seen that the almost daily nocturnal excursion of attending taraweeh prayers more than makes up for their supposed lack of ‘entertainment’ and leisure outings. My children enjoy going to and praying taraweeh so much, that they do not feel like they are missing out on our trips to the malls, restaurants and parks, masha’Allah.

That being said, stopping at a park for 15 minutes of carefree play after taraweeh might be a good idea to keep the children motivated to continue cooperating with their parents’ schedule of worship throughout the rest of the month.

At this point, I’d like to stress, however, that those parents whose children are very young, should be mindful of them during taraweeh, and they should train them well beforehand about how to behave in the masjid during the prayers if they intend to attend taraweeh regularly.

Some of the masajid near our home have unfortunately disallowed younger children and their mothers from attending taraweeh because of the disturbance caused to those praying because of the children’s antics, and it is sad to see this phenomenon.

It was a challenge for me to attend taraweeh when my older two children were under the age of 5, because they needed to be supervised and that meant giving up praying some of the prayer in order to keep an eye on them if I attended taraweeh. Therefore, I spent a few Ramadans just praying Qiyam Al Layl at home.

In order to maintain a balance, parents of babies and toddlers can also attend taraweeh on alternate nights or biweekly, according to their convenience.

Conclusion – children can’t wait to start fasting!

From birth till puberty, a child who is born and raised in a household in which the parents spend Ramadan in worshiping Allah in a diligent, patient and devout manner, will grow up eager to start fasting as soon as possible.

This usually happens between the ages of 8 -10 i.e. the child specifically starts asking his or her parents to wake them up for suhoor, without being forced. They want to fast in Ramadan just like they see the others around them doing.

If you are one of those fortunate parents whose child wants to start fasting before you coerce them to, know that indeed you are fortunate, because your child has clearly been positively inspired by the annual Ramadan routine in your home, to want to become a part of it themselves.

Posted in Home and Family, Parenting, Pleasing Allah | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homeschooling Children: Accepting Their Individuality, Letting Them Grow

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

A group of young women makes its way inside a bustling cafe.

They choose a table and make themselves comfortable on the cushioned chairs around it, chattering. When the time for placing their order comes, one of the young women orders a grilled chicken sandwich with a garden salad on the side, because she is “watching her weight”, as she tells her friends.

latteAnother orders a tarragon steak with a large side of mashed potatoes, because she loves meat and skipped breakfast that morning.

The third woman orders a small caramel latte with brown sugar, because she already ate lunch and is not feeling particularly hungry.

The fourth woman orders a rich chocolate cake with tea, because she likes gooey desserts but coffee makes her lose out on precious night-time shut-eye.

As they talk about their hobbies and the latest happenings in their lives, the diversity in their interests and daily activities becomes even more apparent.

One of them loves doing daily yoga workouts to stay fit. Another one prefers sprinting on the treadmill a couple of times a week. The third one cannot find the time to work out because she spends most of her day running after two small children. The fourth one doesn’t enjoy working out at all, and she remains quiet throughout the discussion on this topic.

The same variety applies to every other aspect of their individual lives, besides food and fitness, such as academic interests, leisure activities, hobbies, their chosen education and career paths, as well as their likes and dislikes regarding fashion, relationships, homemaking, personal grooming, and money management.

One of these young women reads a few fiction books per week, and is an active library visitor. Another only reads when she needs to e.g. to send a cell-phone text, or an email; to scrutinize a bill, menu, receipt, or a recipe. She was never much of a reader.

Yet another just reads on her tablet, such as her favorite blogs, or articles published in the online newspapers to which she has subscribed.

And the fourth one reads only self-help books, because everything else such as the daily news, novels and fiction do not interest her.

Now Apply The Above Fictional Scenario to the World of Children..

Now let us switch our attention to the little children that we are raising in the contemporary world.

I want to draw the readers’ attention particularly to how we, as adults, tend to react less understandingly to differences in children’s individual personalities, choices and preferences, but more so, to differences in their developmental milestones and academic progress.

Visit any park or play area and notice the differences among the children playing there. You will notice how each child has a preference for a particular kind of play-gym or activity area, from among the variety of swings, see-saw’s, monkey-bars and other jungle-gym structures that are available for them to play on.

Some children might love just the swings, not showing any interest in climbing. Others might hang off the monkey bars in a variety of ways using their limbs, but not find the slides worth their attention. And yet others might just be content playing in the sandbox.

This is just the play preferences that children have. Be it any other area in their lives, each and every child tries to clearly communicate their preferences and choices to us from as early an age as infancy, such as their likes and dislikes regarding clothes, food, sleeping times, toys, books, and outdoor activities.

Our Reactions to Children’s Efforts at Autonomy

Most adults, myself included, especially those who tend to be over-involved in their children’s upbringing or are first-time, A-type parents, can easily begin to exhibit the symptoms of what is nowadays known as “helicopter” parenting, if they are not careful.

This type of parenting or care-giving style is depicted by becoming over-worried and stressed out whenever a small child makes even a slight diversion from his or her strictly structured and monitored routine.

Be it his or her eating habits, sleeping time, or any daily activity routine, if for some reason the child refuses to do what we want them to do, or tries to make an otherwise natural transition from one stage to another, us parents can become more anxious than necessary, based on our good intentions of fulfilling our role impeccably as the ‘perfect’ parent, and wanting our child to be the ‘perfect’ child in every way.

For example, when a teething toddler starts to refuse certain foods that he or she has enjoyed so far, and becomes generally much more irritable and prone to throw tantrums, if their parent is not pre-informed about this natural developmental stage, they can become extremely worried about why their child is suddenly becoming so apparently obstinate and ill-behaved.

The same applies to every stage a child goes through as they grow up. They might achieve some milestones very quickly, and take their own sweet time in achieving many others.

However, in a world that is fast becoming saturated by scientific studies, statistical data, and doctoral research, innocent children are coming more and more under the ‘analytical’ microscope, for not developing their abilities, talents and skills soon enough, and are being unfairly pressurized to perform optimally in every field before they are naturally ready to.

The Curse of Comparing

My first born daughter who is now 9 years old masha’Allah, showed several signs of being gifted at a very early age.

She began to talk, walk, and read much earlier than other children her age. She pursued me with baby books as early as age 2, asking me to read them to her again and again.

Eventually, she made me teach her how to read, by asking me the sound of each letter, and without my asking her to, sounding the letters out loud herself when I pronounced its phonic. I still stand by the claim that she is, by and large, a self-taught reader of the English language. I taught her only because she asked me to.

Her brother was born at around the same time i.e. when she was a little over 2 years old. By the decree of Allah, he came into this world after she did, which automatically implies, as I have learned only too well in the past few years since I have been homeschooling unschooling my children, that he has been destined to a life of being unfairly compared to his ‘whiz’ older sister.

And these comparisons, much to my dismay, more often than not make him look less smart than she.

E.g. When he was 2.5 years old, he spoke only a few words in our native mother tongue, and didn’t speak anything at all most of the time. One of our relatives began to suggest speech therapy for him.

The same goes for potty-training, tri-cycling, and other skills. Most of them were naturally and willingly mastered by his older sister at a very early age, but he chose to show little or no interest. He will turn 7 in a week insha’Allah, and he still refuses to ride a bicycle, despite being offered one by us from time to time.

Before I started to read up about, and eventually practice, the “unschooling” approach of raising and educating children, I, too, fell into the destructive trap of comparing one of my children’s progress to another.

The remarks of people around us didn’t help either, who for some reason were convinced that a child who doesn’t develop his or her skills as soon as possible is somehow ‘dumber’ and ‘slower’. Which was not the case with my son at all.

After turning 3, he automatically started talking a lot, and at a very fast speed. And this milestone – talking normally – just happened naturally, within a few days, as if a ‘switch’ had suddenly been turned on.

The same happened with his potty-training, the signs of readiness for which he showed only a little before age 3, unlike his older sister, who got trained a little before she turned 2. When he was ready for it, it took less than two months to fully potty-train him.

However, regarding each and every developmental or academic milestone that I’ve noticed with my second child, whom I’ve deliberately raised in a much more laissez-faire manner and not in the ‘helicopter’ style that I used with my first one, it was pleasantly gratifying and surprising to witness how each time he, when left on his own with minimal intervention and supervision, naturally learned most skills automatically, just like that, as if Allah flipped a switch, and that was it! Alhamdulillah!

Abilities such as eating with a spoon, drinking with a straw or sippy -cup, hopping on one leg, differentiating between right and left, identifying the times of the day, counting, talking articulately,- it all just happens one day for every child, all by itself.

This is because, just as a child learns to walk, talk and eat solid foods on their own, with Allah as the sole source of imparting them these abilities, they also similarly learn to acquire every other life skill as well, such as the ability to read a language, seek knowledge, manage human relationships, and earn a livelihood.

Conclusion: Take a Chill Pill

I’ve learned that parents are mere facilitators, not the sources of knowledge and guidance for children.

I know that it is natural for parents to worry about and desire the holistic well-being of their children, but I find it a bit odd that, while we all respect and value the uniqueness, individuality and differences of choice among adults, we do not extend the same courtesy to children.

We unfairly expect them all to conform to a single yardstick, especially when we compare them to their peers – something which we do a lot, much to our child’s and our own detriment.

So I’d like to suggest that we all learn to give our children a break, and don’t fret if he or she refuses to wear a certain type of clothing, shows no interest in a particular sport, or is apathetic towards reading books.

Believe me, it’s not the end of the world!

Posted in Education, Home and Family, Home Education, homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Define the “Qur’an Vision” For Your Family

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Every human being is unique.

What a precious gift of Allah this uniqueness is!

It enables each one of us to use our exclusive set of talents and abilities, to acquire our own little pool of knowledge, through our own distinct style of learning, and to weave our own “one-of-a-kind yarn” in life.

Almost all Muslims approach Allah’s Book, the Glorious Qur’an, in their own particular way, out of love, faith, and devotion, but – based on their individual human uniqueness,- the Qur’an has different effects on different people, too.

Take the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ), for example. Every one of them excelled, grew and flowered in their own unique way after reverting to Islam as their Deen, and taking the Qur’an as their Book of guidance in life. The Qur’an brought out the inherent good in them in different ways.

As parents of young ones, we need to realize that what we are sowing today, we shall reap tomorrow.

You might wonder, how do we apply this ‘reap-what-you-sow’ philosophy to the way our family connects to the Qur’an?

I think it is not enough to teach a child just how to read the Arabic script of the Quran, by availing classes given by a third person. Apparently, though, in South Asia, most Muslim parents seem to believe that once they have fulfilled this duty regarding their children, their job in ‘connecting their child’ to the Qur’an is done.

Is a Muslim parent’s duty of connecting their child to Allah through the Quran, really accomplished by hiring a qualified reciter of the Qur’an (Qari) to teach their child how to read the Qur’an’s Arabic script, by taking them through it once, twice or thrice, and then leaving it (and their relationship with this Glorious Book) “shelved” thereafter, or at least until a major calamity befalls?

For most Muslim parents, yes, that truly might be “it”.

But is it for you?

And for me?

What is a “Vision”?

Well, to define the very word itself, a “vision” is simply “what you see”. It is the fantastical, self-projected “picture” that comes to your mind when you imagine a particular scenario regarding the future.

Companies, organizations, political movements, all have “visions”. Their vision describes, in a few sentences, what they “see” themselves achieving in the future.

Take a Look at the Muslim Adults Around You

In order to define the “Quran vision” for yourself and your family (spouse and children), first you need to put two and two together.

By that, I mean that you need to realize and accept that the adults walking around you today (you, too, included) are, in fact, the little children of the past (who were naughtily scurrying around, playing, giggling, and just being kids 20,30, or 40+ years ago).

You have to admit and acknowledge that what your children do, learn and practice today, will affect and determine what kind of adults they will be a few decades down the road, insha’Allah, by the will and decree of Allah.

Now, leaving out the imams (religious leaders), khateebs (sermon-givers) and qari’s (qualified reciters) for the moment, please take an objective look at yourself, and all the adults around you: your spouse, parents, siblings, parents-in-law, siblings-in-law (and their other halves), your office colleagues, and your cousins. Anyone above age 20, in fact.

Now try to see what their connection with the Qur’an is like.

And then try to imagine or reflect upon what that connection would have been like had their parents adopted a different approach towards their Qur’an education/learning during their childhood.

Be Specific in Pinpointing the Details of the “Qur’an Vision” of Your Family

There are many preliminary, basic, superlative and advanced levels of connecting with Allah through His Glorious Book, the Qur’an.

You need to decide which one is the vision for yourself and your children. The vision might also vary for each child, depending on his or her unique set of talents and abilities (recall the human uniqueness I mentioned at the start?).

Please keep in mind that I am well aware that despite a parent’s best efforts, nothing can happen except by Allah’s will.

And I also admit that many a time, parents’ efforts in making their child achieve a certain level in a particular field of knowledge fails. For the better, of course. Allah always decides for the better.

However, defining a vision is still a must, in order for us, as parents, to plan our children’s journey with the Qur’an beforehand, and not undermine the level of connection they can achieve with Allah through His Book.

Quran mushafHere are the scenarios I came up with when racking my brain for all the possible ways my adult children could be connecting with the Qur’an in the future, depending on how I undertake their Qur’an education right now, during their childhood years (admittedly, a couple of the points below made me shudder with apprehension):

1. Reading the Qur’an’s Arabic script silently, the way Urdu is read, without scrupulously adhering to each and everyone of the tajweed rules. Never reciting the Quran aloud, ever.

2. Reading a fixed portion of the Qur’an daily, at a fixed time, without reflecting- with the intention of attaining barakah (blessings) and peace in the home, job/business (provision) and family, and for preventing calamities, illnesses and grief from befalling/adversely affecting the same.

3. Relating any and all current affairs and events witnessed in life (on a personal, communal or global level) to verses (آيات) of the Qur’an.

4. Studying tajweed, translation and the detailed tafsir of the whole Qur’an thoroughly, via a course at an Islamic institute, under a teacher, at least once.

5. Being able to understand the Arabic of the Qur’an directly, without needing a translation.

6. Having listened to the recitation of most of the qualified reciters in their era, and having a favorite one, whose recitation touches and moves the heart the most.

7. Being moved to such an extent while listening to the recitation of the Qur’an, in seclusion, that their soul is shaken, their heart trembles, and their eyes begin to weep hot, heavy tears that lead to sobbing and prostration (sujood) upon the ground.

8. Teaching the Qur’an to others part-time or full-time, as a da’ee or Islamic scholar.

9. Turning to the Qur’an to seek the solution to every problem; guidance in every matter relating to practical life; and answers to every doubt and question.

10. Accepting every command in the Qur’an as the final authoritative decree that decides every matter, whether one likes it or not, and which must be obeyed, no matter how illogical or difficult it seems.

10. Not being able to spend more than a day or two away from the Qur’an without feeling the heart becoming dead and rusted.

11. Going through life as an ardent student of the Qur’an. Always jumping at the opportunity to attend a talk, class, seminar, or workshop by a learned Islamic scholar who teaches, or has taught, the Qur’an.

12. Having special “endearing” aspects of specific surah’s (chapters) of the Qur’an, which make them look forward to reciting that surah again and again.

13. Having memorized the whole of the Qur’an because of being coerced to do so by their parents; struggling to maintain their memorization intact, reluctantly. Considering it an unasked-for burden that was placed on their shoulders, which they are unable to carry (*shudder*). [FYI: I didn't just make this up. The wife of a hafidh once confessed to me that her husband feels this way now, as an adult.]

14. Having only some short surah’s of the Qur’an committed to memory, enough to perform salah (daily prayers), without any desire or motivation to memorize more of the Qur’an.

15. Not wanting to listen to the recitation of the Qur’an while alone, or in a congregation. Preferring to listen to music and songs sung by pop/classical/hard rock singers instead.

16. Having doubts about the authenticity of the Qur’an. Wondering if some of it was ever changed over the years, just like the Bible?

17. Having successfully acquired accredited-university Bachelors, Masters, and/or PhD degrees in one of the branches of the sciences of the Qur’an (tajweed, jurisprudence, tafsir, linguistics et al.), by studying under several rightly-guided Islamic scholars of the era, writing and submitting a thesis, and going on to serve Islam through leading prayers at a masjid, teaching Islamic courses, writing books, and/or giving lectures around the world.

****

Depending on what your vision is for yourself and/or your family, especially your little children (if they are still young), you will steer the course of your parenting life in a manner that will depict the intentions, efforts and practical steps needed to achieve that vision using goals, objectives and strategies (tapping into a bit of my primitive knowledge regarding management there, heh!).

For example, a mother whose vision is to just enable her children to be able to properly recite the Arabic text of the Qur’an without understanding it, will anxiously await the day when they finally “finish” one such reading of the whole Qur’an, so that she can throw a huge party to announce the happy milestone to her friends and family members.

That day of celebration, to her, will mark the achievement of her “Qur’an vision” for her children, and from that day onwards, she might not even place a lot of stress on their picking up the Qur’an to recite it on a regular basis, or to study its translation or tafsir under a scholar.

This is because, since her vision for her children was limited to their just being able to recite the Qur’an, she will not go beyond that once it has turned to reality.

To Conclude: Parents, Act Now!

My dear readers, this is the case with many, many South Asian Muslim adults you see around you. The teachers at your children’s schools. The doctors at the hospital you visit when you are sick. The drivers of the vehicles on the roads. The shopkeepers. The engineers working on buildings, roads, factories and production plants. The CEO’s and managers employed by the big multinationals. The SHM’s (stay at home mothers).

These people, although they love the Qur’an and have learned how to recite it during their childhoods, are barely able to take out time during the day to recite it out loud, with (at least) 90% correct tajweed, as adults, preferring to read it silently in a corner.

Except when there is a “special” reason to give more time to the Qur’an, such as attaining a worldly blessing, or allaying/averting a distressing calamity from their lives…..that is when the Qur’an suddenly starts to come out (of its shelf) more frequently, and is connected to with greater fervor than usual.

And although many adult Muslims read the Qur’an silently on a daily basis, most of them do not understand a word they are reading.

Do you want (any of) your children to become like them once they grow up?

 

Posted in Home and Family, homeschooling, Inspiration, Islamic Knowledge, Motherhood, Quran, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Wearing the Jilbab as a Muslim Woman: Do Not Discard This Dress Under Duress

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

It’s no secret that I have little patience for elaborate and time-consuming endeavors when it comes to ladies dressing up.

I all but have to force my eyes not to roll whenever I behold the demands of a diva as she goes on about having a bad hair day, or worse, how the tailor ‘completely messed up’ her outfit because one particular line of flower-patterns in the floral print of her shirt is not aligned perfectly in parallel with the border lace. [*yawn*]

As a bride, I was huffing and puffing under the heavy weight of the combined duo of my blood-red, intricately embroidered gharara and it’s dupatta. Had I had my way, the beautiful but extensive kaam (embroidery and bead-work) on both would have been much more sparse and light, allowing me more ease of movement and a greater ability to breathe freely on my last night as a single woman.

The gold-colored, 4-inch, pencil-thin stilettos did not help. I am just grateful that I did not trip or fall even once that night. And I had stairs to ascend and descend at the wedding venue!

But who listens to a single girl when she wants to get married in a simple dress, and (gasp!) even think about wearing flat shoes/kitty-heel pumps on her wedding?!

I’ll tell you: no one!

Ladies’ penchant for taking pains to look good

It’s no secret (again) that most women naturally love looking good, and dressing up presentably. They also take great pains (in lieu of the above introduction of this post) for the said purpose.

Anyone who denies or challenges this claim, should just take a cursory look at the number of industries in the world that thrive and burgeon only because of their exclusively female customer base. The fashion and cosmetics (makeup and hair) industry immediately comes to mind, doesn’t it?

Walk into any mall or market and count the number of shops that cater exclusively to the needs and whims of women, as compared to those whose customer base is more generalized, and you’ll find that the former almost always outnumber the latter.

The desire in women to look good facilitates many a layman’s salary-based income, and fills many a family’s mouth with food.

Take away the female customer, and the world might as well be left facing a financial crisis!

So what has all of this got to do with the obligation in Islam, of adult women wearing a jilbab?

What is “Jilbab”?

The Arabic word jilbab, which Allah has described in the Quran (using it’s plural ‘jalabeeb‘) as the outer garment that Muslim women should ‘hang’ over their selves, literally means, ‘covering’, or a loose, robe-like garment that is worn over one’s clothes so that one is completely ‘enveloped’ by it.

I must say, going over the meaning of the word jilbab in Lane’s lexicon was quite an enlightening little treat for me. Because in the explanation of the word jilbab, several other garments were also described, using the following Arabic words: ridaa, khimar, izar, miqna’ah, mulhaqah, and mulaa’ah.

Black is Beautiful

Ah, the flak I get because my “abaya” is always black!

I want to point out a very interesting thing I came across whilst searching for the meaning of the Arabic word jilbab, which I might add, is the word also used in the narrations (ahadith) of Prophet Muhammad ‎ﷺ (in addition to other descriptive words) whenever the outer garment supposed to be worn by Muslim women was mentioned by him, or by others in his presence (more on that in a hadith explanation below, insha’Allah).

Here it is: جُلْبٌ or جِلْبٌ – “blackness of the night”.

The above ↑ Arabic word, formed by a rendition of the same 3 root letters (ج ل ب) that form the base of the word jilbab, actually means: “the darkness of the night.”

And why shouldn’t a jilbab be black? It is indeed a very elegant color, not to mention very good at ‘covering’ the clothes worn underneath it, including their bold patterns, bright colors, and prints (if any).

Black is actually rather cool in couture. Just take a look at the number of black evening gowns worn on the closely-watched, supposedly exclusively ‘A-list’ designer-fashion-endorsing Oscars red carpet ceremony every year (yes, I keep a cursory eye out on international fashion by reading articles online, not by watching the overrated, overblown ceremony that ‘awards’ paid ‘pretenders’ for being so good at playing out concocted tales on screen).

Men around the world almost always wear black tuxedos to formal events, including their own weddings. And the passing-out graduation gowns of many universities are also black in color.

Perhaps the best jurisprudential ‘evidence’ of black being the preferable color for a Muslim woman’s jilbab, are the two ahadith below.

Settle down in your seat for some fun Arabic word analysis now, insha’Allah. :)

Pre-dawn Obscurity

وَحَدَّثَنِي حَرْمَلَةُ بْنُ يَحْيَى، أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ وَهْبٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي يُونُسُ، أَنَّ ابْنَ شِهَابٍ، أَخْبَرَهُ قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي عُرْوَةُ بْنُ الزُّبَيْرِ، أَنَّ عَائِشَةَ، زَوْجَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَتْ لَقَدْ كَانَ نِسَاءٌ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَشْهَدْنَ الْفَجْرَ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم مُتَلَفِّعَاتٍ بِمُرُوطِهِنَّ ثُمَّ يَنْقَلِبْنَ إِلَى بُيُوتِهِنَّ وَمَا يُعْرَفْنَ مِنْ تَغْلِيسِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِالصَّلاَةِ‏

 `A’ishah, the wife of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), reported: “The believing women observed the morning prayer with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) wrapped in their mantles. They then went back to their houses and were unrecognizable, because of the Messenger of Allah’s (ﷺ) praying in the darkness before dawn.” [Sahih Muslim 645]

Word Analysis of this hadith:

- The Arabic words used to denote “wrapped in their garments” – مُتَلَفِّعَاتٍ بِمُرُوطِهِنَّ

- The meaning of the word مُتَلَفِّعَ (singular of the word used in the hadith: مُتَلَفِّعَاتٍ) is “wrapped”. I used good ol’ Google Translate to get that.

- And the meaning of مِرْطٌ (singular of the word used in the above hadith,- مُرُوطِ – to describe the outer garments worn by the wives of the Prophet) is: “a garment used as an izar (إِزَارِ) [i.e. a waist-wrapper] that a woman sometimes throws over her head, or any garment that is not sewed”.

- The meaning of the Arabic word تَغْلِيسِ, used to describe how the Prophet prayed Fajr prayer, is: “journeying or going forth during the غَلَس (darkness of the last part of the night)”.

Now, in order to better understand how indiscernible the wives of the Prophet were because of the darkness when they returned home after performing Fajr prayer with him at the masjid, please take a look at this photograph:

Pre-dawn Fajr[Please do not download, save or share the above photograph]

Unless your computer’s brightness is turned up to the maximum, you probably didn’t spot me, at first (or even second) glance in the above photograph, did you? :)

After praying Fajr one day up in Murree hills recently, my husband and I took a walk. And he photographed me (on request) as I sat on a rock with the backdrop of the beautiful valley and imminent sunrise over the mountains behind me.

And I was wearing – yes, you guessed it – a jet-black full overcoat (it was cold!) over my black jilbab.

When I had this photo taken, I had no idea it would become such a great photographic way of authenticating the above hadith. Because when I looked at this photograph after offloading it on my desktop computer, I was reminded immediately of how the Prophet’s wives were indiscernible in the post-Fajr darkness as they went back home wrapped in their jilbabs.

Now, a question: do you think, if I was wearing a light or brightly colored jilbab, I’d be more visible in the post-Fajr darkness?

I think I would.

Nocturnal “Hot Pursuit” of a husband by his loving wife

The second hadith which indicates that A’ishah, the wife of Allah’s messenger ﷺ wore a black outer garment when she stepped out, is a lengthy one, which describes how she followed him out once at night, and later on, he asked her this:

قَالَ ‏: فَأَنْتِ السَّوَادُ الَّذِي رَأَيْتُ أَمَامِي

“He said: ‘So you were the black shape that I saw in front of me?'”

The word used by the Prophet to refer to A’ishah, “السَّوَادُ”, means ‘black’.

Had A’ishah been wearing another color, he would not have seen her as a ‘black’ shape, but rather, the color of her garment would have been obvious to him during the darkness of the night, as light colors stick out when it is dark outside. And Allah knows best.

Lastly, I want to point out two interesting words that A’ishah used to describe her garments whilst narrating the above long hadith, in which she followed her husband out at night in secret:

 وَجَعَلْتُ دِرْعِي فِي رَأْسِي وَاخْتَمَرْتُ وَتَقَنَّعْتُ إِزَارِي

I covered my head, put on my veil, and tightened my waist-wrapper..”

She was in a hurry to follow him, yet, despite it being dark outside, she put on her head-covering (khimar) and her outer garment (izar) first. These are two of the words that were mentioned in the meaning of the word “jilbab“! Allahu Akbar! :)

She also uses the word “دِرْعِي“, a word which means ‘my shield’, and mentions putting it “in her head” (فِي رَأْسِي) before saying that she put on her khimar (اخْتَمَرْتُ). Perhaps the دِرْعِ is a hat of sorts, that helped keep her khimar in place, like the small, tight hat (topi) many ladies wear under their headscarves nowadays, to keep it in place? Allah knows best.

Isn’t it fun to analyze the Arabic words used in the Quran and ahadith to gain knowledge about that particular kind of ladies’ fashion that pleases Allah the most? :)

It is for me.

Also, before I finish, I want to point out that another word is indirectly mentioned in the above hadith!

A’ishah mentions ‘being masked’ with her izar (robe or wrapper), using the word “تَقَنَّعْتُ”, which is formed from the same root letters that form the word “مِقنَعَة” (miqna’ah) that I came across in Lane’s lexicon whilst reading up the meaning of the word jilbab.

Last but not least, the names of two garments worn by Allah’s messenger have also been mentioned at the start of this narration, using the Arabic words ridaa (cloak) (رِدَاءَهُ – ‘his cloak‘), and izar (wrapper) (بَسَطَ طَرَفَ إِزَارِهِ – ‘he spread the corner of his wrapper‘).

When the Messenger of Allah thought A’ishah was asleep, and he quietly started to go outside, A’ishah mentions that he put his ridaa on.

And Allah knows best.

Female Companions wouldn’t leave their homes, even on `Eid, if they didn’t have a Jilbab to wear

 وَحَدَّثَنَا عَمْرٌو النَّاقِدُ، حَدَّثَنَا عِيسَى بْنُ يُونُسَ، حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامٌ، عَنْ حَفْصَةَ بِنْتِ، سِيرِينَ عَنْ أُمِّ عَطِيَّةَ، قَالَتْ أَمَرَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ نُخْرِجَهُنَّ فِي الْفِطْرِ وَالأَضْحَى الْعَوَاتِقَ وَالْحُيَّضَ وَذَوَاتِ الْخُدُورِ فَأَمَّا الْحُيَّضُ فَيَعْتَزِلْنَ الصَّلاَةَ وَيَشْهَدْنَ الْخَيْرَ وَدَعْوَةَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِحْدَانَا لاَ يَكُونُ لَهَا جِلْبَابٌ قَالَ: ‏ لِتُلْبِسْهَا أُخْتُهَا مِنْ جِلْبَابِهَا‏

Umm ‘Atiyya reported: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) commanded us to bring out on ‘Eid-ul-Fitr and ‘Eid-ul-Adha young women, menstruating women and purdah-observing ladies, menstruating women kept back from prayer, but participated in goodness and supplication of the Muslims. I said: “Messenger of Allah, one of us does not have an outer garment.” He said: “Let her sister cover her with her outer garment.”” [Sahih Muslim]

The above narration is usually cited as evidence to indicate the stress laid by Allah’s Messenger ﷺ upon women coming out for congregational `Eid prayer.

I think it also serves as equally good evidence of the fact that all Muslim women during the time of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ couldn’t even think about leaving their homes if they did not have a jilbab to wear — even to obey his command to attend `Eid prayer!

As we know, the Prophet ﷺ performed `Eid prayer in an open plain or ground, where there were probably no physical demarcations or barriers between men and women. This meant that the women could be seen by the men, at least from afar, hence the dire need for a jilbab.

Final round-up of Arabic words used to describe outer garments in the Quran and hadith

To sum up, here is a list of the Arabic words we all should research more deeply, in order to increase our knowledge regarding the kind of outer garments that we are obligated to wear in public, as Muslim women:

خِمَار
جِلْبَاب
مُلحَقَة
مُلَآءَة
مِقنَعَة
إِزَار
مِرْطٌ
دِرْع
رِدَاءَ

Conclusion: a few reminders to help us get our facts right

- Wearing the jilbab is obligatory in Islam, especially anywhere outside the home where men are present. There is no doubt about this obligation.

- An adult Muslim woman who has crossed puberty is committing a sin if she deliberately leaves her home without wearing a proper khimar and jilbab, even though she knows that it is obligatory.

- A printed dupatta (especially that which is made up of see-through materials such as georgette, which is commonly sold as a part of 3-piece ladies’ outfits nowadays in Pakistan) that keeps slipping off the head, and reveals thick wisps or forelocks of hair, does not even qualify as a proper khimar (head covering), let alone a jilbab.

- If your husband forbids you from wearing khimar and jilbab, you have to politely disobey him (without engaging in arguments) and still do it for the sake of Allah.

- If you are a student or teacher of Islam (i.e. you either study or teach the Quran or ahadith), wearing the khimar and jilbab is even more important for you, because to many, you “represent” Islam. Many see your actions as a practical embodiment of the teachings of Islam.

- The obligation of wearing the khimar and jilbab is not waived if you are visiting, or living in, a non-Muslim majority area. If your physical safety is threatened by wearing both in public, you are supposed to move/relocate elsewhere in the world where you’ll be able to wear both safely (and believe me, Allah’s earth is very, very vast). You are not supposed to give up adhering to the obligations of Deen regarding Islamic code of dress instead. Wrong choice.

- The companions of the Prophet ‎ﷺ used to advise each other when they saw anyone apparently making a mistake or detracting from an obligation of the Deen. This is not ‘judging’. It is sincerity. Please do not accuse a sincere sister or brother of ‘judging’ you because you have stopped wearing a khimar or jilbab after you wore it for many years. You know what you’ve done is wrong. Anyone who stopped wearing a jilbab, including me (Allah forbid!), would be sinning.

- Even if you choose not to wear a black-colored jilbab, despite all the evidence of its desirability, please avoid jilbabs that are figure-hugging or overtly-embellished like fairytale ‘Cinderella’ gowns, such as this one:

pink gown

- The wide-cuffed sleeves of your jilbab should not ride up to reveal the skin of your arms during your day-to-day activities. If they do, and you are wearing short-sleeved clothes underneath (which means that your forearms will thus get uncovered), please invest in some plain “arm sleeves” to wear with your jilbab while you are out and about.

- Nowadays, some abaya’s and jilbabs come with a praise-worthily looser-fitting, cape-like ‘butterfly’ cut, which does away with the armpit juncture of sleeves and is, therefore, extra good at completely hiding the shape and figure of the woman wearing it. I endorse this style of jilbab.

These jilbabs are also long enough to cover a woman’s feet, which is even better for Pakistani ladies, because of their penchant for wearing extra-attractive shoes, such as delicate, shiny-rock-studded sandals and slippers.

Take a look:

Please note: I am only endorsing the color and cut of the abaya in the above photograph.

Perhaps the following image from the muhajabat blog is better at illustrating what an ideal abaya/jilbab shape should be like, although for some reason the model’s khimar is totally missing in this photo (below):

The “butterfly cut” style of abaya. Image courtesy: muhajabat.wordpress.com

- Lastly, a final reminder: your head-covering or khimar should be long enough to easily hang loosely over your chest, in accordance with the command of Allah in the Quran, to effectively conceal the size and shape of your shoulders and bosom. Tucking your khimar inside the neckline of your jilbab so that it doesn’t cascade loosely over your shoulders down over your chest, is not correct.

To tie in the above analyses and discussion with the introduction of this blog post: I have little patience with ladies who go into tremendous nitty-gritty about their appearance, clothes and accessories, especially if they are not putting in an equal amount of painstaking effort to find out and adhere to the ‘fashion guidelines’ regarding the Islamic code of dress that Allah and His Messenger ﷺ have made obligatory upon them, as Muslim women.

Allah is the Most Deserving of our hard work, our fret, and our sweat. We should worry and dwell the most over how He wants us to dress; where we can find the kinds of dresses that will please Him the most when we wear them, and how we can avoid ‘slipping’ regarding the limits and restrictions we have to adhere to, while wearing those dresses.

If you can spend hours shopping for your everyday clothes, but are negligent about wearing the khimar and jilbab that fulfill all of the requirements of Deen as outlined in the Quran and ahadith, you need to acknowledge that something is wrong, and you need to do something quickly and urgently to set it aright.

Sister in Islam, I am willing to accept your turning away from me as a friend because you found my above advice hurtful or “judgmental” (or both, heh!) – if it means that whatever I’ve said might cause you to rethink your religious practice, and consequently, it just might also become the cause of your salvation and success in the Akhirah.

The betterment of your Akhirah (and mine) over a (supposedly) close worldly friendship that requires remaining silent when seeing each other move away from the obligations of Deen?

I’d take it any day!

Posted in Islamic Knowledge, Muslim Women, Pleasing Allah, Quran, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

The “Larger Than Life” Wife

‎بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

An edited/abridged version of this post was first published in SISTERS Magazine.

Over the hill.

Has-been.

Past her prime.

Off the shelf.

Used goods.

And the worst: “hag!”.

How many subtle and direct titles and tags does modern media and journalistic chick-lit use nowadays to remind a woman who is approaching, or has already passed, the 35-40 age range, that she is no longer young and beautiful, and hence, by some fallaciously presumed and mass-endorsed correlation, not that desirable any more, especially as a wife?

When you hear or think of a woman past 40 today who has been widowed twice, what picture crops up in your mind? Perhaps a lady who is rotund, portly, loud, irritable and cranky; a woman insecure about her physical appearance, struggling to get back into, or establish anew, a fledgling career in order to make ends meet?

Someone sharp-tongued and crabby, who is angry with the hand fate has dealt her? Someone whose innate insecurities fuel her bitterness and jealousy towards younger, happily married, successful and productive women? Someone who has lost all hope of getting married again to a righteous, noble man; of attaining marital bliss and enjoying the rewards of motherhood?

The history of Islam provides examples of amazing women who were not just strong in faith, spotless in character, and righteous in deeds, but were also successful in areas of worldly life, such as education, marriage, business and motherhood.

Reflecting Upon the Effect of Aging Upon Women’s Self-Esteem..

As I traverse my mid-thirties, I find myself pondering on the self-depreciating psyches and self-esteem issues that contemporary women my age adopt and experience as they grow older, primarily those related to physical beauty and self-worth, both of which are, – for many of my feminine counterparts, – two sides of one coin.

Farhat-Hashmi

One of the most righteous, productive, empowered, secure, and beautiful (inside & out) older women I know today

I wonder why some (rarer) older righteous women do not attempt to hide their age in public, nor resort to using loud, tarty makeup, nor hide from view the white hairs on their heads when in the company of younger women and girls, like you’d expect most older women to do (and yet they look more beautiful)?

Why do they not hide their year of graduation, or date of birth, in an effort to obliterate their older age?

Why are some women secure, while others are not?

The human mind is a complex piece of work, I must say. Which is why it baffles me why perfectly talented and efficacious women sometimes tie their feelings of positive self-esteem and level of self-worth to their relationship with, and the approval received from, other human beings, when they should be doing so solely with their relationship with Allah?

Wives are no exception. In fact, I often find myself wondering, especially after I behold an oppressed, ill-treated, servile, and docile wife, who may otherwise be a decent and righteous woman, continue to allow her husband to treat her unjustly, all in the name of “sabr” (patience)?

Surely Allah has not allowed any believer to lose their self-respect in the name of honoring and serving a higher ‘authority figure’, not even the leader of a family, namely the husband?

And as I muse, I find myself admiring with more and more fervor the lovely Khadijah Bint Khuwailid (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا).

Posthumous Envy in a Younger Co-wife

The much younger girl who became Khadijah’s third husband’s wife after her demise – the only nubile female virgin he ever married – felt pangs of envy stemming from natural, territoriality-based “gheerah” because of the way he remembered, mentioned and praised the much older Khadijah, long after the latter was gone. This girl had never even met or seen the much older woman whom her husband found hard to forget:

A’ishah (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا) reported:

I never felt jealous of any of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) as much as I did of Khadijah, although I have never seen her, but the Prophet (ﷺ) used to mention her very often. Whenever he slaughtered a sheep, he would cut it into pieces and send them to the women friends of Khadijah. When I sometimes said to him: “You treat Khadijah in such a way as if there is no woman on earth except her”. He would say, “Khadijah was such and such (commending her and speaking well of her), and I had children from her.””

[Sahih Al-Bukhari]

Another similar hadith in Sahih Al Bukhari mentions how Allah conveyed glad tidings to Prophet Muhammad via Archangel Jibreel, of a special palace reserved in Paradise for Khadijah:

image courtesy: roxanneardary.com

Narrated Aishah, “I did not feel jealous of any woman as much as I did of Khadijah, because Allah’s Messenger used to mention her very often.

He married me after three years of her death, and his Lord or Jibreel ordered him to give her the good news of having a palace of ‘Qasab’ in Paradise.”

And yet another similar hadith narrated by A’ishah that occurs in Sahih Muslim ends like this:

“….I annoyed him one day and said: (It is) Khadijah only who always prevails upon your mind. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “Her love has been nurtured in my heart by Allah Himself.””

The Arabic words in the latter hadith are رُزِقْتُ حُبَّهَا (“ruziqtu hubbahaa”) – which mean that Allah Himself had given Prophet Muhammad the “provision” (rizq) of the love (“حُبَّ ”) of Khadijah. In other words, it was Allah who made the Prophet love his deceased first wife years after she was gone from his life, even after he married a beautiful girl who was decades younger.

Other Virtues

Khadijah was also one of the wealthiest women of Makkah at the time she married Prophet Muhammad. She was the first Muslim to accept Islam, and the first family member to support Allah’s Messenger emotionally and financially in his mission.

Her legacy lived on after her demise in the form of she ruling as “queen” of her husband’s heart; a continuing lineage of righteous offspring/descendents, and the joining of relations that she formed and upheld.

Entitlement vs Obligation: Not a Part of Healthy Marriages

As I said, the Quran and sunnah provide timeless guidance to Muslims in every arena, including the realm of marriage and husband-wife relations.

A healthy marital relationship is devoid of the love-killing duo of “entitlement” and “obligation” viz. one spouse feeling ‘entitled’ to a certain kind of treatment from their partner, even if the other cannot provide it for valid Shari` reasons, and the other feeling “obligated” to mete out this treatment, even if they cannot.

In the culture from where I hail, husbands are usually raised from childhood to feel “entitled” to unflinching servitude from their wives, with the result that some wives become no more than their husbands’ personal valets, chefs, secretaries and housekeepers, instead of soul mates, comrades, best friends, confidantes, trustees and consultants.

The spouses just live like two cohabitants under one roof, not emotionally close to each other at all. This sense of “entitlement” in the husbands is juxtaposed by wives feeling “obligated” to perch them up on high pedestals; pedestals that sometimes surpass those on which they should place Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ)!

I often end up shaking my head in dismay when I behold Muslim wives of all ages, who are otherwise righteous, consistently think and act insecurely on the basis of worldly fears and apprehensions regarding their husbands’ love for them.

For example: fearing his hatred or indifference if they do not beget a son to carry on his family name. Fearing not being attractive enough to prevent him from looking elsewhere: at younger, more readily available ‘specimens’. Fearing not being needed by him any more, even if his ‘need’ of her reduces her to no more than just a personal assistant performing his domestic chores.

Fearing financial insecurity in old age with the curtailment of his career or life, but not using their brains and spare time to attain financial independence via halal online or home-based business, despite being highly educated and otherwise enlightened. The list goes on.

With age, women’s fears and insecurities not only get more set into their psyches, but also increase in variety.

Set Aright Your Intentions, Witness Wonders Unfold

When a wife has her intentions and loyalties in the right place – aiming for the highest goal: the pleasure of Allah, supplemented by the love of His last Messenger (ﷺ) that supersedes the love she has for any other human being – she automatically achieves the much lower goal of pleasing her husband as well.

Khadijah had it all: she pleased Allah so much so that He sent her glad tidings through His special angel, of an abode reserved just for her in His Paradise.

As a result of Allah’s pleasure with her, she also acquired the undying love of the most exalted human being who ever walked this earth, not to mention the most noble of husbands – Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ);- a love so strong, that it did not die with her death.

She was also blessed by Allah with righteousness of progeny;- children/bloodline descendents who were chosen by Allah to not just propagate the legacy of Islam, but who also attained ultimate success in the Akhirah.

It really makes me wonder then, how we modern women can become like Khadijah, whose successful and prosperous Muslim life literally started at 40 – an age at which most of us women consider ourselves “past our prime”?

I say: when you aim for a score of 1000, you automatically achieve 50. And aiming for 1000 automatically reduces the significance of 50 in your eyes.

We should therefore make our intention in life solely the acquisition of the pleasure of Allah, and stop associating – even slightly, – anyone else with Him, even our husbands.

Only then, we can hope to watch Allah’s wonders unfold in our marital lives, as He turns our husband’s, in-laws’ and other people hearts towards us, granting us higher levels of honor, respect, love and self-worth that will hopefully leave a trailblazing and lasting Islamic legacy behind us too, long after we are gone from this world.

And even then, the abode waiting for us at the other end will be much better than the one we leave behind – insha’Allah.

Lastly, here’s a thought: I think that young single girls, as well as young wives who haven’t yet had children, should aspire to be like the vivacious and passionate knowledge-seeking A’ishah.

As for those women who are close to hitting, or have already traversed, the age of 40, they should try to emulate the wise, generous, motherly, loving, supportive, and (not to mention) the affluent and socially well-connected Khadijah!

******
Here is an article related to this topic that I’d highly recommend reading, especially to my male readers: Would You Reject a Proposal From Khadijah?
Posted in Islamic Knowledge, Marriage, Motherhood, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

One Man’s ‘Poison’, Another Man’s Meat: Some “Food” For Thought

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Disclaimer: This post is like an ebook in length! Read it when you have the time, and perhaps a cuppa with you.

Sitting at a gathering, I listen quietly to a sister launch into a heartfelt, sincere monologue about the perils, dangers and risks of devouring packaged milk. She’d apparently seen a ‘report’ broadcasted on a local television channel, in which a company selling such milk was ‘exposed’, and accused of adding Allah-knows-which substances to their milk to make it look whiter and thicker.

Another sister, who is also an open critic of packaged milk, once said something in my presence that almost made me do a double-take, “Milk sold by the doodh wala (milkman), even if it is mixed with sewage water from a gutter, is still better for health than that which comes in packaged boxes!”

0_O

Exaggerate much?!

Whether it is milk, meat-patties in burgers sold by international franchises, frozen yogurt, baked goods sold by confectioneries, bottled mineral water, packaged juices, or even the plate of nihari sent to your home in goodwill by your neighbor, nowadays it is not uncommon for food — of any kind — to become the target of criticism, skepticism, hearsay and even slander.

All in goodwill and sincerity for others’ health and well-being, of course.

Us and Them“? What did the Prophets Eat?

وَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَكَذَّبُوا بِلِقَاء الْآخِرَةِ وَأَتْرَفْنَاهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مَا هَذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يَأْكُلُ مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ مِنْهُ وَيَشْرَبُ مِمَّا تَشْرَبُونَ

And the chiefs of his people, who disbelieved and denied the Meeting in the Hereafter, and on whom We had bestowed the good things of this life, said: “He is no more than a man like yourselves: he eats of that of which you all eat, and drinks of what you all drink.”” [23:33]

The Quran testifies to the fact that the Prophets were normal people like the rest of us, who always ate the food that other people ate, and drank the same drinks that the people around them drank.

This indicates that the Prophetic way is to be closer to the layman in one’s eating habits and choices of diet, instead of having an exclusive, elitist mindset that makes one adhere to an “us and them” strategy regarding food, viz. “We” don’t eat “that“/”That” is for “them” (e.g. poor and dirty people), not for “us” .

While the above ayah of the Quran refers to a particular Prophet who came after Prophet Nuh, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was also known to eat the same food that everyone else was eating.

No ‘special’ dishes were prepared separately for him. He did not eat at a special, separate ‘VIP’ section while he was present in a large gathering. His companions (men and women) sent him gifts of prepared food, and he’d never hesitate to partake from it, except in rare cases.

He would also ardently share his food with others, whether it was expensive (mutton), or cheap (trotters).

Breakfast for the BoysCity Food

When the young lads (the “Companions of the Cave” mentioned in Surah Al-Kahf) who had been put to sleep for many years, woke up, they felt hungry.

One of them was sent to the city to buy food whilst being discreet about his identity. He was given the following instructions by the others:

وَكَذَلِكَ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِيَتَسَاءلُوا بَيْنَهُمْ قَالَ قَائِلٌ مِّنْهُمْ كَمْ لَبِثْتُمْ قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ قَالُوا رَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثْتُمْ فَابْعَثُوا أَحَدَكُم بِوَرِقِكُمْ هَذِهِ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ فَلْيَنظُرْ أَيُّهَا أَزْكَى طَعَامًا فَلْيَأْتِكُم بِرِزْقٍ مِّنْهُ وَلْيَتَلَطَّفْ وَلَا يُشْعِرَنَّ بِكُمْ أَحَدًا

“…Now send then one of you with this money of yours to the town. Let him find out which is the best food (to be had) and bring some to you, that (you may) satisfy your hunger therewith…” [18:19]

The Arabic words أَزْكَى طَعَامًا mean: “prepared food that is the most plentiful (i.e. yielding most growth or increase)”. The Arabic word الْمَدِينَةِ means: the city.

Hence, if necessity dictates it, the Quran itself corroborates the purchase of already-prepared food from the city, in order to satisfy hunger. The condition that needs to be fulfilled is that this food be أَزْكَى – “the best in yielding growth/increase, purest/cleanest”.

If cooking food yourself in order to save the money needed to purchase commercially-prepared city food was a prerequisite of taqwa, or the ‘higher road’, the companions of the cave, being young boys, would have chosen to scavenge and hunt game in the wilderness, and cook it on a fire themselves. But they did not.

Bring to mind that they still thought/believed that they were being persecuted by the current ruling king (oblivious to the passage of decades while they were asleep), and hence, their foraying out into the city posed a unique danger to their lives.

Yet, they all sent one of their own group members down to the city to buy ‘the purest’ prepared food.

Go figure!

Allah Created Manna and Salwa as a “Favor” Upon the Children of Israel

I find it very interesting that Allah mentions the two special, easily-acquired kinds of food that He sent down upon the Bani Israel, along with the other favors He bestowed upon them. This food was called manna and salwa.

Tafsir ibn Kathir states:

Manna was a sweet substance that descended upon them from the sky and the quail (salwa) was a type of bird that would fall down to them.

They would fill every pot with them as ample provisions until the following day. This was a kindness and a mercy from Allah upon them. It was a manifestation of Allah’s good treatment of them.

For this reason Allah says,

كُلُواْ مِن طَيِّبَـتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـكُمْ وَلاَ تَطْغَوْاْ فِيهِ فَيَحِلَّ عَلَيْكُمْ غَضَبِى

Eat of the tayyibat wherewith We have provided you, and commit no transgression or oppression therein, lest My anger should justly descend on you.”

This means, “Eat from this sustenance which I have provided for you, and do not transgress against My sustenance by taking it without necessity or you will be opposing what I have commanded you.”

End quote.

Elsewhere in the tafsir (of an ayah in Surah Al-Baqarah), a more detailed description of the manna and salwa is found:

“The Manna used to descend to them to the trees, and they used to eat whatever they wished of it. Also, Qatadah said, the Manna, which was whiter than milk and sweeter than honey, used to rain down on the Children of Israel, just as the snow falls, from dawn until sunrise.

One of them would collect enough for that particular day, for if it remained more than that, it would spoil. On the sixth day, Friday, one would collect enough for the sixth and the seventh day, which was the Sabbath during which one would not leave home to seek his livelihood, or for anything else.

All this occurred in the wilderness. The type of manna that we know provides sufficient food when eaten alone, because it is nutritious and sweet. When manna is mixed with water, it becomes a sweet drink. It also changes composition when mixed with other types of food.

As for the quail (salwa) in question, `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “The salwa is a bird that looks like the quail.”

Also, `Ikrimah said that the salwa is a bird in Paradise about the size of a sparrow. Qatadah said, “The salwa is a bird that is similar to a sparrow.

During that time, an Israelite could catch as many quails as was sufficient for that particular day, otherwise the meat would spoil. On the sixth day, Friday, he would collect what is enough for the sixth and the seventh day, the Sabbath, during which one was not allowed to depart his home to seek anything.”

Allah said,

كُلُواْ مِن طَيِّبَـتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـكُمْ

Eat of the good lawful things We have provided for you..” [7:160]

End quote.

Yet, at another place in the Quran, Allah describes how the Bani Israel became ungrateful of this wholesome food that He specially provided to them without much effort or toil on their part, and how in their ingratitude they started demanding lowly food that they’d have to grow themselves:

Allah said, “And remember My favor on you when I sent down the manna and quails to you, a good, pure, beneficial, easily acquired food. And remember your ungratefulness for what We granted you.

Remember how you asked Musa to exchange this type of food for an inferior type that consists of vegetation, and so forth.” [Please see 2:61 for reference to this demand that they made]

Al-Hasan Al-Basri said about the Children of Israel, “They were bored and impatient with the type of food they were provided. They also remembered the life they used to live, when their diet consisted of lentils, onions, garlic and herbs.”

They said,

يَـمُوسَى لَن نَّصْبِرَ عَلَى طَعَامٍ وَحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنبِتُ الأَرْضُ مِن بَقْلِهَا وَقِثَّآئِهَا وَفُومِهَا وَعَدَسِهَا وَبَصَلِهَا

O Musa! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its “fum”, its lentils and its onions.”

Their phrase ‘عَلَى طَعَامٍ وَحِدٍ’ (one kind of food) meant, the manna and salwa (quails), because they ate the same food day after day.

The ayah mentioned lentils, onions and herbs, which are all known types of foods.

Allah’s statement,

قَالَ أَتَسْتَبْدِلُونَ الَّذِى هُوَ أَدْنَى بِالَّذِى هُوَ خَيْرٌ

He said, Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower?”

…criticized the Jews for asking for inferior foods, although they were living an easy life, eating tasty, beneficial and pure food.

End Quote Tafsir ibn Kathir

The reason I am quoting from the tafsir of some of the above ayaat of the Quran regarding the reaction of the Bani Israel to the special food of manna and salwa that Allah sent down specially for them, is because I see a very similar attitude prevalent among people around me today.

In their endorsement of, and strict adherence to the daily consumption of, homemade, traditional Pakistani food that they choose to cook from scratch in their kitchens, they look down upon those (like me, I will openly admit) who frequently choose to partake from already prepared food.

The reasons cited are: homemade food is better, cleaner, more hygienically prepared before your own eyes, cheaper, and more nutritious.

Yet, even though they more often than not choose to eat at home and scrupulously avoid eating the “lowly” food outside, I’ve observed that they are ironically not free from being affected by diseases and ailments related to the gastronomical system.

I think a lot about why Allah calls the already-prepared food (manna and salwa) that He specially sent down to the Bani Israel as a ‘favor’ upon them, and their subsequent preference/request for lentils, wheat, herbs and onions (food that they’d need to tediously toil hard to cultivate on earth) as a form of ‘ingratitude’ to Allah.

It makes me wonder if, readily accessible, already prepared, nutritious food that is delivered to your doorstep, for which you do not have to toil for hours, is actually a favor of Allah upon you?

And along the same lines, it also makes me wonder, if the person who can receive such high-quality food easily, but instead, he or she chooses to toil for hours in preparing food of lesser quality and nutritional value, is showing ‘ingratitude’ to Allah?

“From Scratch” — Really?

I sometimes hear sisters singing praises of the complicated, time-consuming and difficult recipes that they cook from scratch at home, following the customized and highly personalized special instructions handed down to them by generations.

The exact way the rice has to be layered, and the exact temperature at which the stove has to be tempered in order to get the ‘just right’ flavor and tenderness of the meat and spices in the special kind of biryani that no one in the clan besides them, have been able to master since their great-grandmother’s paternal aunt (who originated the recipe) passed away.

I never use cheap supermarket substitutes. I grind my own spices, even if it takes hours.

Believe me, for their sake, I do appreciate their endeavors, and I do try to listen appreciatively as they go on and on about their exquisite, superior culinary expertise (without being asked, mind you), even though – personally – I think spending hours cooking up something in the kitchen when you can save at least half of the same time by easily acquiring simpler food to put into your stomach, reeks of not just a lack of wisdom and prudence, but also indicates ingratitude towards Allah for the blessings of time and energy that He has blessed all of us with.

But for the sake of fairness, let’s appreciate their efforts of cooking up things in a very complex way in their kitchens, from “scratch”. Truly, they are earning great reward by feeding their families fresh food that they have toiled to prepare, daily.

What’s more, I appreciate even more those cooking gurus who go a step further to share their culinary knowledge with others, via articles, blogs, classes, or youtube videos, because they are truly doing younger amateurs around the world a huge favor by teaching them how to cook basic dishes. :)

I have benefited tremendously from many such online chefs, bakers and cooks (I think that, here, Bajia of Australia needs a special shout-out, in particular because I really appreciate that her videos contain no music and that she remains behind the camera).

What I find a bit disconcerting about locally-based aficionados of homemade food, however, is when they attempt to justify and validate their extra hard work in the kitchen by launching into intense verbal criticisms of all the food that is available outside the home, in shops, restaurants and cafes.

Their tone and attitude inches towards arrogance as they comment on how ‘disgusting’ and unclean it is; how badly it is prepared; and how many diseases it causes. And how they can never eat it because of it’s inferior quality.

They also indirectly imply that anyone (especially a married woman) who partakes from this food and/or allows his/her family to also eat it, is not just lazy, extravagant and selfish, but also glaringly inept as a home cook. That s/he doesn’t love their family enough to ‘save’ them from the filthy, toxic outside food (bahar ka khana).

I want to suggest that they step on their brakes for a few seconds, in order to glance at the ingredients they use to cook up the supposedly superior, clean and hygienic food in their kitchen, because I want to point out something:

That unless they have their own farm where they grow their own produce, breed and slaughter their own animals, and process their own edible raw material, they are still bringing in food from ‘outside’ to their home.

Let’s take a look at the main categories of ingredients used in the average Pakistani household: flour, rice, meat, cooking oil, vegetables, fruit, eggs, packaged bread, lentils, spices, herbs, sauces, honey, milk, water and sugar.

I think I’ve covered most of them.

Critics of ‘outside’ food seem to completely ignore the fact that each and every edible, perishable item that they purchase as ingredients for their recipes i.e. the raw material that they use in preparing food at home, is bought from ‘outside'; from the same markets that sell prepared food.

They readily and willingly purchase all these ingredients in a packaged form from either the local meat shop, grocery store, supermarket, or open-air ‘farmer’s markets’ (a.k.a sabzi wala, doodh wala, dry fruit wala, gosht wala, store wala, or Sunday/Friday bazaar). And most of the blue-collar people who transport and sell these ingredients to them observe the same level of personal hygiene that they so abhor.

Their purchase of local ingredients indicates their high level of trust upon the shops and stores that sell them these items, as well as for the local factories, plants and distributors that process, package and transport this raw material.

What’s more, almost all of their ‘special’ celebrations and family ‘treats’ involve – in a rather self-contradictory way – eating food from outside, primarily weddings and birthdays. When was the last time that you attended a wedding that served food that was only cooked at home? (I’m talking to local Pakistani’s right now).

What’s more, when they travel, they readily eat food that is served to them by the airline (“We paid for it!”). And when (Allah forbid) they get admitted to a hospital, they eat the food delivered via room service to their hospital room. And when they go for hajj or umrah, they readily eat the food sold at hotels and restaurants in Makkah and Madinah (who can forget the shawarma’s and the chicken at Al Baik!).

And when they go to someone’s house on a happy occasion, they never prepare the box of mithai that they take with them as a gift, at home in their own kitchen.

Rather, last I checked, this mithai that is gifted to others is almost always purchased from a sweetmeat shop. (Once again, I am talking to local Pakistani’s, because those leading ‘privileged’ lives abroad have no such options. They have to make almost everything at home.)

Pakistani mithai is actually transported in boxes to others with great zeal and fervor all across the globe. And the names of the local sweetmeat shops that sell the best mithai’s are almost ingrained in stone by now, as thousands of their international customers lip-smackingly vouch for their products’ excellent taste and quality.

However, most of these mithai shops have the same level of cleanliness and hygiene that many of their customers tend to turn up their noses at in disgust.

So how do you explain the contradiction?

Granted, food prepared by many outside street vendors, stalls and low-cost ‘dhaba’s‘ is low on hygiene and quality of ingredients, but did it ever occur to all those who look down upon and regard this food with contempt and disgust (laced with arrogance, “Eww, I’d never eat that!”), that this is the quality and hygiene level that the impoverished street vendors can actually afford? That, based on their social, economic and educational background, this is the level that is the ‘best’ that they can possibly do?

Instead of looking down upon them, and considering yourself much better than them because you are so much cleaner, more educated and civilized than them, maybe you should be appreciating their hard work at trying to make an honest living, and at providing low-cost food to the many blue-collar workers who form their core, daily customer base?

Because the person who contributes his sweat and toil towards feeding a hungry person, has a great reward waiting for him, even if he charges his patrons for the food that he serves to them, in order to make a living and to feed his own family.

An Ode to Unsung, Underpaid, and Undermined “Heroes”

You should think about how you get the food that you eat at your table at home.

You should think about the number of hard-working, often overburdened pairs of hands it went through to reach your plate. I am talking specifically to Pakistanis right now.

Think about the bread and eggs in your fridge. A driver who awakens every morning long before you do, usually delivers them fresh in his van to the corner store in your vicinity, on a daily basis. He usually has a young boy with him, who gets off in front of each store on their delivery route, opens the van’s doors at the back, offloads packets of sliced loaves of bread/trays of eggs, and transports them diligently to the store. And this happens on a daily basis.

What about the fresh milk that you receive every day (presuming that you are one of those Pakistanis who refuse to use packaged milk and prefer the one delivered personally by the “doodh wala” (milkman))? Did you ever wonder how many hands it went through before it reached your pot? Who milked it from the udders of the cow or goat? Who lifted up and hauled the heavy milk canisters from the dairy farm to the delivery truck, and off again?

What about the heavy sacks of wheat flour that you purchase from stores, from which your daily chapati’s/roti’s are made? Did you ever wonder about how many hardworking hands handle that sack of wheat until it reaches your plate in the form of a hot, fluffy roti (flatbread)?

And what about the chunks of succulent, halal chicken, beef, lamb or mutton that are placed in front of you in a bowl, floating around in flavorful, sauteed curries?

Did you ever think how many hands they pass through before they reach your table? Who slaughtered the animal? Who chopped it up into boti’s?

And what are the hygiene habits, educational backgrounds, and the financial conditions of those who provided the cheap services that enable the food that you eat to reach your table?

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said,

حَدَّثَنَا مُسْلِمُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، حَدَّثَنَا الرَّبِيعُ بْنُ مُسْلِمٍ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ ‘لاَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرُ النَّاسَ‘ ‏

He who does not thank the people, does not thank Allah.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]

The social class, education level, and hygiene habits of the possessors of these undermined, overworked, undernourished and often calloused hands who bring you the raw material for your everyday homemade meals, is often the same as those who operate the local khoka’s, dhaba’s, and ‘dirty’ restaurants that you turn your nose up at, which feed scores of poor people every day. Who are human beings with empty stomachs, just like you.

These blue-collar workers hailing from among the mostly poorer lot in our country provide us with cheap labor because of which we can avail so many low-cost, personalized services for ourselves that make our lives easier.

In particular, the food industry thrives upon the services of this lower working class. The “khan” who kneads and bakes naan’s (flatbreads) daily, as well as the young boy who delivers piles upon piles of these hot-from-the-oven flatbreads to nearby offices and businesses for their weekday lunch.

Similarly, the tea-boy who delivers hot tea in little kettles to members of the same working class, to help them get their caffeine fix for the day, which helps them keep up their hard, manual labor.

The mechanic who fixes your car when it needs repair; the young bog who gives it’s windshield a wipe at traffic signals. The man who comes to install or fix the air conditioner in your home/office, which henceforth helps you ward off the terrible summer heat from your back.

These are the unsung heroes working hard daily in all major Pakistani urbanized cities, who make the lives of people like you and me easier, especially by helping to deliver to us the ingredients/raw material of our food (or in many cases, the prepared food itself) to our homes and tables, with which we ward off our hunger pangs.

Don’t look down upon these poor people. Please don’t think of yourself (and your homemade food) better than them or their food. Be careful when you criticize their level of hygiene and/or cleanliness as you scrunch up your nose in disgust at the restaurants and street food stalls that they help operate.

Because here is a piece of enlightenment for you:

Abud-Darda (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,

  و عن أبي الدرداء عويمر رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول‏:‏ ‏ ‏ابغوني في الضعفاء ، فإنما تنصرون، وترزقون بضعفائكم‏‏

[‏[‏رواه أبو داود بإسناد جيد‏

Bring me the weak ones, for you are given help and provision because of the weak amongst you.”  [Abu Dawud]

As the above hadith suggests, perhaps the food in your home is coming to you because of the weak ones who live around you.

And perhaps your constant disdain of, and rejection of the food cooked by, the restaurants run by these people, is indicative of your own ingratitude for the affordable and easily attainable blessings that Allah has made available for you.

Which is why I was specifically addressing the local-dwelling Pakistani’s who are reading this post. I know that my blog readers mostly comprise of the “upper crust”: the educated, privileged lot who can read English. The majority of the people in Pakistan are, however, unlike us, poor and uneducated, lacking basic hygiene and good manners.

Can you spot the man risking his life?

Can you spot the man risking his life to help construct this building in my neighborhood?

Yet, us, the so-called educated ‘bourgeois’ of Pakistani society, are absolved from doing many tough tasks involving tiresome physical labor because of these poor who live around us (just ask any Pakistani-American family living in the suburbs, who mows their backyards, washes and wipes their cars, fixes their plumbing, shovels their snow, or scrubs/polishes clean their bathrooms for them?).

Most of these poor people even need to work on Sundays, which is otherwise a day of rest for everyone else.

Just look at the lavish homes being constructed in Defence, Karachi on any given Sunday, and – while most of us are out picnicking or brunching after sleeping in till late morning – you’ll see construction workers busy working as usual in the hot sun, for whom it’s a normal working day, just because they need their daily wage in order to put food on their tables at home.

Food Service Industry: The Human Chain Behind the Finished Product that Lands on Your Plate

I once attended a dinner party at someone’s home. It was actually a barbecue. Once the grill was painstakingly brought and stationed at a strategic outdoor spot, the smoke the barbecue emitted started to permeate the rooms in the home because of the wind billowing it inside via the open windows.

My children, being still naturally curious because they are unschooled, of course wanted to watch how the chicken was being barbecued. However, they were repeatedly shooed away in a loud voice by the person who was barbecuing the chicken, and told to go inside the home and not come near them (perhaps they were a little stressed out by the amateur barbecuing experience, or so it seemed).

After a painstaking half hour or a bit more, the food was finally served. Men went first (this is actually the norm in the house where this party was hosted — to each their own).

By the time us ladies were asked to help ourselves, the whole barbecue chickens were by and large dissected into a messy heap of bones and shreds of meat (the thighs conspicuously missing, no surprises there). The beef barbecue chunks were a bit hard and difficult to chew.

Anyhow, my point is not the food, but what was said about it with much flair and pride as the guests were partaking from it. I will try to quote it (not verbatim):

“Look at this whole roasted chicken that I have just barbecued for you. These (whole) chickens cost only Rs 250 each. Now if you were to order the same kind of chicken at BBQ Tonite, you’d have to pay Rs 2000 for it!

Truth be told, there is a reason that BBQ Tonite is doing such great business; why people pay them for barbecued chickens.

Suffice to say that we should let home-cooked-food aficionados presume that theirs was just as good. But the reason why I am mentioning this incident here, is that I want to elaborate about what we pay for when we go out to eat somewhere.

The money that we outwardly pay for the experience, does not just cover the price of the food raw material that we order and consume, as the person who barbecued the chickens that night seemed to have believed.

There is a difference between a Rs 250 raw whole chicken, and an expertly barbecued Rs 2000 one. And this difference is what the extra money (shock, horror, gasp – oh, the extravagance) is all about.

For one thing, when we pay Rs 2000 to eat a whole chicken roast at BBQ Tonite, we are in essence paying for:

  1. Someone to go out and buy the raw meat.
  2. Someone to clean it.
  3. Someone to marinate it (cost of marinade, and it’s preparation included). Marinating is extremely important for barbecued meat, because the softness of the finished product depends almost entirely upon it. Just recall the hardness of the meat barbecued by an amateur, and you’ll understand.
  4. Someone to barbecue it for us: a very tricky business, requiring much skill and expertise. FYI, the chefs at outdoor restaurants do not shoo away inquisitive children who want to watch them, nor are their barbecue stations positioned in a way that waiting customers end up inhaling, or having their eyes watered by, the barbecue smoke, as they wait for the food to be served to them. Please note that this step also includes not just the cost of the barbecue equipment, but also the human effort behind getting this equipment ready before the barbecue, and in grilling the meat on it whilst standing in the midst of the smoke emanated by the barbecuing meats.
  5. Someone to set it on a platter for serving to us (includes decoration etc.)
  6. And finally, someone to bring it to our table, hot and fresh, along with the cutlery.

Now you decide, which chicken is more worth the money: the amateurishly prepared one left over after hungry men have partaken from it, or the perfectly tender, expertly barbecued one that you get exclusively on a plate placed right in front of you?

Sorry for being such a ‘selfish’, gluttonous woman, but I prefer the latter. :P

By the way, hasn’t Allah mentioned food of your choice being personally served to you by waiters, as one of the blessings of Jannah?

And since when is it desirable to deny a brief glimpse of that in this world? Isn’t a happy marriage also one such glimpse?

Loving Food is Not Synonymous With Gluttony

Some people, may Allah guide me and them, assume that I overeat, or eat a lot on a regular basis. They presume this on the basis of viewing the photos of the food that I post online, and reading my raves about restaurant food awesomeness in general, on my eating out blog.

I have also been asked by a sister (very politely, might I add), how I don’t put on weight if I eat out ‘so much’, and because I love to eat ‘so much’.

The answer is simple: Portion control. Self-control while eating. Replacing meals with smaller-sized, healthy ‘snacks’. There is no need to eat a lot of something that you love, or to eat it very frequently. But it is okay to love the little bits of food that you do eat, and it is actually praiseworthy to openly thank Allah for letting you enjoy their great taste and flavor.

So go ahead and ‘sample’ all the foods that you like, and keep switching between the different varieties that Allah has placed before you as rizq, in His vast benevolence, but do so while keeping yourself and the amounts of food that you consume strictly in check.

  حَدَّثَنَا هَنَّادٌ، وَمَحْمُودُ بْنُ غَيْلانَ، قَالا‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو أُسَامَةَ، عَنْ زَكَرِيَّا بْنِ أَبِي زَائِدَةَ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ أَبِي بُرْدَةَ، عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ‏:‏ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيَرْضَى عَنِ الْعَبْدِ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ الأَكْلَةَ، أَوْ يَشْرَبَ الشَّرْبَةَ فَيَحْمَدَهُ عَلَيْهَا‏.‏

Anas relates from Allah’s Messenger that Allah is pleased with that servant who eats one morsel (bite) or drinks one sip, and gives thanks to Him.”
[Shamail Muhammadiyya]

Sort of like, partaking from a variety or ‘carousel’ of food. Try everything halal and tayyib that Allah has created for you, but in moderation. Then praise Allah for it, and move on without overeating.

And FYI, in case you still don’t get it: my praise for the food that I sample is not based on greed, gluttony, or a desire to brag about the fact that I can afford it.

It is a way of thanking Allah in public for His blessings, according to this ayah of the Quran:

    وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ

And the bounty of your Lord – rehearse and proclaim” [93:11]

And you know what? I think that it is actually very sad that I even need to make this clarification. Sort of like how sad it was for me to need to post photographs of the food that I cook at home online on this blog, through my Flickr feed (check out the very first photos in my photostream), in order to stop many people (mostly ladies) from presuming that I couldn’t cook, and criticizing me on my face for ‘always eating out’.

I love their silence since then, by the way. :P Sorry for stifling an impulsive laugh as I recall this, but it is very amusing for me, how no one doubts my cooking skills any more, nor asks me what I cook at home.

Most of these people can easily go out and purchase the same food that I go out to eat (and which I also photograph and blog about online). This category also includes my maid (the girl who cleans my home. By the way, she likes KFC. And she eats there sometimes with her family. Shock, horror, gasp! Isn’t she extravagant?)

However, most of these people choose not to eat food outside the home, because of their mindset, or because they regard all kinds of food that is prepared outside the home with disgust and disdain (even that which is not unclean). Or because of their innate insecurities about family relationships that are supposedly tied together by the hungry stomachs attached to male homo sapians.

Go figure that last bit out yourself. Think: insecure woman getting jealous when her man dishes out (pun not intended) praise for any food cooked by hands other than her own.

Or: insensitive, controlling men forcing the woman in their home to cook for them like a personal chef because of years of habit, even though she clearly can’t do it anymore because of ill-health, or chronic fatigue.

Enough said.

Extravagance in Eating is Not Gender-Dependent

I have touched upon this many times. So I’ll keep it simple.

What, how much, or where someone eats their food, and how much it costs them, doesn’t fall into extravagance or non-extravagance (in the light of Islam) on the basis of their gender.

Rather, it depends upon the wealth that they own (which is a private matter, i.e. none of your business), and whether or not they follow the Islamic etiquette of eating as highlighted by Allah’s messenger ‎ﷺ.

Let me ask you a question first, please. :)

You hear of a group of corporate men holding a business meeting at their office, and ordering food for this meeting from a particular catering service that costs a certain amount.

You hear of a group of business-women (who earn the same amount of money as the men in the above scenario) meeting at the residence of one of their members, to convene a meeting regarding an important matter, ordering food for this event from the same catering service.

Honestly ask yourself, will you perceive both situations the same way, or not?

I am sure many people will consider the cost of catering at the first meeting something necessary, acceptable and routine, but the latter, a case of extravagance and waste.

Because, in their perception, since men need to work to support their families, they should not need to cook, and their spending on catering is justified.

True, that.

But if women entrepreneurs choose to delegate or outsource the cooking/catering work for their social event, they are being extravagant, because they (being female) should aptly and expertly cook the food themselves. At home. In their kitchen.

After all, isn’t cooking for a large number of people (a la restaurant-chef style) supposed to be an exclusively female-dominated occupation?

You might try checking out the global world statistics about that yourself. :)

But that’s just silly old gluttonous, overspending me talking again.

You probably know better.

Conclusion: Ride the Wave, or Live in Your Bubble – It’s Your Choice

The world is fast becoming a global village. Cultures and cuisines are mixing fast, because of instant information sharing, increasing relocation and immigration, and cross-cultural marriages.

Consumerism is one of the trials of this era of mankind. Now, even tents erected in arid deserts have air conditioners, plush/thick carpets, and stand-by generators (think Mina, Saudi Arabia).

Five-star hotels, luxury vehicles, branded products, affordable international tourism, tall buildings, instant communication, varieties of cuisines, global connectivity, explosion of real-time content — these things that are specific to the current era of humankind, are all here to stay, whether we accept them and/or use them as blessings or boons, or not — the fact remains that they are here to stay.

The same applies to the food industry. The almost sudden, worldwide, burgeoning plethora of eateries, cafes, restaurants and hotels is something that will only increase with time.

Side by side, so will small, home-based businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups that deliver fresh, “homemade” food to your doorstep, piping hot and in good time. Some of them charge a tad more because they use only high-quality ingredients and cook the food fresh, from scratch, in clean home-kitchens, just like you do in yours.

So, even if you choose to live in your own little bubble, and painstakingly cook only traditional Pakistani dishes at home from scratch well into old age, ‘priding’ yourself in choosing the better option than those who eat ‘outside food’, who prefer global cuisines, or who cannot/do not cook themselves (throwing in a few disdainful sentences about restaurants too, while you’re at it), please accept the fact that there will be an increasing number of people (perhaps even your own adult children) who will readily choose the alternative option: of eating out or ordering in, more often than you like or approve of.

Just like the Internet has permeated every aspect of our existence via smartphones, tablets, and wifi; just like tall buildings are a rising trend (pun not intended) in the landscape of every geographical region; just like those people who previously scrupulously refused to be videoed or photographed digitally (ever) – because they thought it came under haram picture-making – have finally relented, so that digital content is now permeating every aspect of our existence; food hailing from diverse cuisines from around the world prepared outside your kitchen, will occasionally make its way to your palate, sooner or later, with or without your approval or consent.

Have a pita flatbread with hummus and tabbouleh, my dear traditional Pakistani sister/brother, and please take a chill pill about food. :)

Food diversity, food blogs, amateur chefs, online food ‘vloggers’, catering services, all-you-can-eat buffets, all-day breakfasts, gourmet delicacies, upper-end and lower-end restaurants, food magazines, cooking shows, celebrity chefs, restaurant ratings, street foods and food streets are all here to stay.

Ride the wave, or stand on the sides, watching – clucking your tongues and going “tut-tut” – the choice is yours, but you cannot reverse this trend.

Kabab roll or wrap, shawarma or burrito, roti/chapati or crepe/blini/tortilla, bhujia or vegetable hash, dalia or wholegrain cereal, khagina or scrambled eggs, paratha or pancakes, aloo qeema or Shepherd’s pie, halwa or souffle, kheer or rice pudding, pakora or falafel, mithai or cake, pasta or puff pastry, curry or stir-fry, biryani or risotto, khattay aloo or mashed potatoes, chai or coffee — all of these delicious eatables are gifts and blessings from Allah!

While the raw material and ingredients might be more or less the same, the variety of preparation methods and spices used to combine them, by chefs and cooks around the globe, will grant the end-products a refreshingly pleasurable diversity in taste and texture.

In a world that Allah has blessed with so many tastes, textures, colors and flavors, I find it hard to believe why/how anyone would deliberately restrict themselves to just one type of cuisine in the name of traditionalism: “We don’t like to eat that.”

So, trust me, if you ever invite me to your home, – whether you choose to serve me food in boxes ordered in from ‘outside'; or food that you’ve freshly prepared yourself from scratch, I will not judge, tut-tut, or look down upon you either way.

Because I want to eat from what you eat, and drink from what you drink. :)

Posted in Pleasing Allah, Quran, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments