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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Unschooling” Update and Frequently Asked Questions – Part 2

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

To continue from where I left off last month at the end of Part 1 of this post, I want to point out how and why letting your children learn mostly via play and not through structured lessons and classes for the first 10-12 years of their lives is not “crazy”.

Anyone who thinks so is clearly not informed enough about the way all the little children  of mankind (i.e. those not having yet hit puberty) have learned/gained knowledge for the most part throughout it’s history, and has perhaps also not read up much about how young children have been naturally pre-programmed by Allah to learn and acquire skills from birth till puberty.

And most importantly (for us), unschooling children during the first decade of their lives, and not forcing them to sit through educational talks, classes, or formal, instruction-like lessons accompanied with obligated and forced reading and writing (‘schooling’, in other words), is also perfectly in line with lessons gleaned from the Quran and the sunnah of Allah’s messenger ﷺ.

You see, whether it is the Quranic story of Prophet Musa عليه السلام learning from Khidr, Prophet Ibrahim building the ka’bah with his young son Ismail عليهم السلام, or the incidents narrated in the Prophet’s ﷺ seerah regarding his attitude, behavior and lifestyle ethics towards children ranging in age from infancy to age 10 (e.g. the fact that the 10-year-old Anas bin Malik was left in his guardianship to serve him), one can get a clear picture of what works best for aiding and facilitating their learning during the first decade of life.

Here is what I have learnt about how children learn, after much thought and pondering on the Quran and the sunnah, modern-day research regarding children’s education, and my own childhood experiences related to education and learning:

- Allow children to remain in the company of adults (primarily their parents) as much as possible, tolerating their quirks and naughtiness (and disciplining them age-appropriately if and when required),

- Do not force them to read, write or sit still before and more than they are willing and able to.

- Let them play independently, supervising them sparingly from a distance (and join them in their play as much as you can).

- Answer their questions as much as you can, and train them how to ask questions politely, without interrupting elders. Because believe me, unschooled children let loose such an unrestricted barrage of questions all day long, that it is not even funny! Only schooled children ask questions sparingly, because they are trained very early on to raise their hand before asking a question, and to remain quiet if the adult ignores their raised hand. By age 10, a school-going child has heard “Be quiet!” so many times, that he has, by and large, stopped asking the adults around him the questions that incessantly pop up into his head due to his innate natural curiosity.

How will your children learn to socialize with others their age?

I do not think it is a matter of great concern if children under the age of 12 do not ‘learn’ to ‘socialize’ with same-age peers. I think that it is more important for them to be able to engage, converse and socialize with adults.

It’s like this (the foodie in me has come up with an analogy to help you better understand what I am trying to say):

To me, being asked why and how my unschooled children — who mostly hang out with adults, and almost always accompany their parents on ‘adult’-oriented events, trips, errands and outings, — will learn to ‘socialize’ with same-age peers, is like being asked, how a child who has already learnt how to bake assorted breads and cakes, will be able to crack an egg into a bowl.

Get it? :) I hope so.

But how will they have any friends then?

When and as they grow up, insha’Allah, they will become so well-versed in dealing with people who are older than them in age, that attracting and keeping friends their own age, will be a piece of cake.

Here, I want to narrate a personal experience.

There is this girl my older daughter’s age. She and A’ishah were born merely months apart, in fact. She has always been normally schooled, and currently attends one of the most exclusive and expensive schools in Karachi. She also went to public school in North America for a few years.

We have met her in informal settings at her home more than a few times. Not once has she tried to befriend or talk to A’ishah, nor did she greet the elders in the room (her mother’s friends), or acknowledge their presence.

In fact, being around that little girl is actually very humbling, because it allows me to feel like absolute thin air. :)

As for whether she has a problem that prevents her from befriending people, well I know for a fact that she doesn’t, because she is very vocal and expressive with a selected few others in the same setting.

Anyhow, my 8-year-old daughter A’ishah has tried talking to her and making friends with her during the few times they were in the same place, only to receive a reply in the negative. At one point, A’ishah was even told point-blank, “You are not my friend” as she walked off.

This is just one example, from among many others that I can quote here, based on my practical experiences and observations of social interactions between children.

My children usually do not avoid or shy away from peers during social gatherings or when they are in play-areas in public places (unless they are unwell); rather, in my experience, it is quite the opposite.

In particular, I have noticed that it is the children who go to clique-based, elitist schools (which usually cater to the upper-crust, affluent families of Pakistan), who are more averse to ‘socializing’ with peers outside their accented-English-speaking, branded-wear-attired schoolmates, than the children who are homeschooled.

They don’t even greet the familiar-faced elders who have been visiting their parents at their home since years, so what can be said about talking to/befriending the children of the same?

So here I’d like to make a request, please: whenever you, in your sincerity and concern (which I do appreciate, in and of itself), worry about how my homeschooled children will learn to “socialize” with peers, please take an objective, critical look at your own children, and how respectfully/cordially they meet and greet both adults and peers in social settings,– people whom they’ve known since years, but from whom they have nothing to gain in terms of social or professional prestige.

If  your son or daughter has attended and successfully passed out from expensive, high-end schools and universities, but he or she doesn’t have the courtesy to greet those whom they or their parents have known for years (whether family or friends) when they are present at the same social gathering, then you should perhaps be directing your concern more towards the moral tarbiyah (character-building) of your own offspring, before worrying about my supposedly ‘overprotected’ and ‘stifled’ home-schooled children’s social skills (who were just born yesterday, in comparison to yours).

Oops, did I just “judge” your parenting skills? :)

Sorry, I was merely returning the favor.

What curriculum are you teaching them?

I used to stick to a rigorous, class/age-wise, structured, divided-into-subjects, school-board-approved curriculum (Oxford University Press, to be exact), until 2010.

I soon realized what a folly it is to let a fish into a giant freshwater pond full of diverse species, foliage, coral, flora and fauna, only to force it to stick only to a small shallow puddle in one of its corners, forbidding it from foraying into deeper waters of its own free will (another analogy at work here, in case you were wondering :)).

Suffice to say that we buy our children whatever books, crafts, building toys, and other resources that they show an interest in, and which we deem suitable for them from an Islamic perspective.

But teachers and teaching is endorsed by Islam!

As someone whose religious practice and identity is the passion that governs and drives their whole being and existence, I find it a bit disappointing when some people mistakenly assume that I am against letting my children learn from any teachers besides myself i.e. I am anti-teaching and anti-classes.

Being anti-school for little children (aged 0 to 12) doesn’t necessarily equate to being anti-teaching, per se. Plus, the ‘teaching’ that is endorsed by Islam traverses a broad spectrum, and includes many styles, such as those that are known in the modern day as mentoring, tutoring, training, sermonizing, lecturing, dictating, coaching, as well as teaching large groups in a classroom setting.

I am currently not teaching my children ‘formally’ (except perhaps the reading of the Arabic of the Quran). Whenever they come to me with questions (about anything), I try to answer them to the best of my ability, or direct them to resources that will give them the answers that they seek. That is all the ‘teaching’ that I do.

My second child has not started reading and writing yet, because, despite all the coercing, enticing and cajoling (coupled with the provision of physical learning aids and resources that facilitate reading), he still refuses to do it (I will not elaborate more on this now, because my older two children understandably do not like it when I air their laundry in public i.e. discuss their shortcomings and learning-related challenges with others, even if my intentions are based on sincere well-wishing for them as a parent).

The reason why I am not worried about my children spending a lot of time reading and writing yet (although my oldest child is a naturally gifted reader, مَاشَاءَ اللهُ لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّابِالله) is because, at this stage in their development, I think it is not as important for them to sit down to read and write, as it is for them to engage in unsupervised creative play.

I am not against them taking courses, attending classes, and studying under a teacher in a classroom setting on a structured basis.

But that is planned for them later on in life, when they are older, independent and more mature اِنْ شَآءَ اللهُ.

Not right now.

Will you prepare your children to give exams?

We might, if the need arises.

My husband and I have diligently given many exams as youths. We were both very “پڑھاکو”  as it is called in Urdu (meaning: studious bookworms).

Despite our cramming-for-exams-filled past, we both now think that examinations and grades are very over-rated, and that they in no way indicate, guarantee or harbinger a child’s future success in life as an adult, whether on a personal or professional level.

In particular, we have learned the hard way that making a child ace his school exams with high marks in no way means that he or she will be able to easily and successfully overcome practical challenges and problems later on in life, as an adult.

So yes, while he and I grudgingly acknowledge that a young person does need a degree to get their foot inside the corporate door (i.e. especially if they want to pursue a career as a yes-sir-uttering, on-a-short-leash ‘servant’ employee of a company, and not a self-employed entrepreneur), and in order to get that degree, they will have to pass exams, we will not beat up our children for ‘failing’ an examination or for not getting good grades, insha’Allah.

But you know what? I think that that might not happen, because I don’t think our children will be forced to sit exams that they do not want to give.

When a person studies for a subject that they love, they don’t have to be motivated to study for it’s exams, or pushed to get high grades. It is more or less a self-directed and self-motivated process fueled by inner passion and ambition.

And if our children’s current zeal for learning is in any way a sign, we think they’ll probably do okay, insha’Allah.

Will you ever put them back in school?

Not willingly, no.

But since life doesn’t always go as planned, and if something were to happen to necessitate it, it might be grudgingly done as a last resort.

I sure hope I never have to see the day that my minor child has to go to school!

Heck, when I hear school vans honking their horns loudly in the quiet streets around our residence after Fajr, I thank Allah that my children are not the ones being put into them!

And FYI I went to and from school in a van, from the age of 9 to 17. :)

As for college, it was a daily, hour-long bus commute to and from campus in the outskirts of Karachi. And while I didn’t hate it, it wasn’t a joyride either.

Schools and vans — just not the choice we have made while raising our children.

Will you put them into universities at age 18?

We might. We think that a basic undergraduate university degree is a necessity of life, sort of like a driver’s license, National ID card, or a passport. You need it to be considered worthwhile as an adult.

We don’t really want our children growing up with any sense of deprivation, or any kind of social stigma.

Wait a minute, did I just say ‘social’?

Why, yes of course, because a degree is more a status symbol nowadays, as well as a facilitator of marriage (into a specific social class), than a sign of credibility as a professional. And as I said, it helps get your foot into the door when/if you are looking for a job.

But does having a university degree (from a reputed institution) really translate to future professional success?

Just ask the 20-something, 30-something, or 40-something unemployed professional who has one Bachelors and two Masters degrees (one local, one from abroad) under his or her belt, yet hasn’t been able to land a job offer for over a year, who is wondering in frustration, with his head in his hands, where s/he went wrong.

A suggested exercise for everyone who is skeptical about homeschooling

Now, if you have the time and willingness to do a self-help-type, introspective exercise, which can hopefully help widen your perspective about the crucial role that childhood experiences play in shaping one’s destiny (اِنْ شَآءَ اللهُ), I’d like to suggest that you do the following:

- Remember all the positive experiences of your childhood. Note them down. Anything that you enjoyed doing as a kid. Was it climbing trees? Riding your bike to the nearest store to buy something for your mother? Helping organize the neighborhood funfair? Helping your uncle fix his car? Write it down.

- Now recall all the negative experiences, and write down what exactly you disliked about them. Being spanked when caught breaking a rule? Being scolded in front of others? Your sibling getting something better than you? Not having your own room in the house? Being left out during games at a kiddie party? Losing a race at school? Being bullied by an older kid at school or in the neighborhood? Write these negative experiences down as a list.

- Now list down all the knowledge and skills that you acquired outside ‘school’. Then recall and note down why and how you acquired them. Who taught them to you? What was the structure of the classes and/or lessons? Which form of learning did you find to be the easiest and most enjoyable?

Examples: learning to drive a car or a bike; learning to cook (more than a fried egg) or bake; learning to stitch, crochet or knit; learning arts and crafts, such as fabric/oil/glass painting or print-making; learning how to operate the computer (this is for those born before 1990); learning to play a sport e.g. badminton or scrabble; learning to do a household chore, such as operating the washing machine or fixing a faucet.

Make a list of everything beneficial that you learned outside school, whether by yourself, or by joining a workshop or course.

- Now recall the moments of inspiration in your youth, which made you want to learn something new. What inspired you to learn it? Was it need? Was it peer pressure? Was it a low sense of self-worth i.e. not being good enough in someone’s eyes? Was it a desire to win a competition, or to get a coveted prize? Was it a natural love of that activity e.g. a particular art or sports?

- Recall all the adults (teachers, mentors and role-models) who had the greatest positive impact on your young self; who inspired you and motivated you to achieve something. Who made you want to do more; strive more.

Now write down what you liked about them as a child/youth. Was it their smile, their warmth, the way they greeted and treated you? Was it their personality, or just the fact that they gave you importance, and listened to you when you spoke to them? Whether each of these people inspired you at the age of 5 or or at 20, write down who they were and what you liked about them.

- Now recall and write down every useless activity, possession, habit or pastime that gnawed away at your extra time, exuberance, energy, and the activeness of your brain as a youngster. All those things you did that still fill you up with a deep sense of regret and remorse every time you recall how much you indulged in them during your childhood/youth. Was it listening to music? Watching horror or action films? Poring over fashion magazines? Being obsessed with a certain celebrity? Gossiping/backbiting/rumor-mongering with ‘friends’? Smoking or trying out drugs and alcohol? Going to late-night private dance parties? Chasing someone for years desiring to be in a romantic relationship with them, only to realize that the whole pursuit/distraction was humiliatingly, embarrassingly futile and bad for you?

Going down memory lane to revisit your childhood, and writing down in your personal diary or journal all the above things as lists, will surprisingly work wonders for your growth as an individual, whether you are a parent of young children or not.

It will, اِنْ شَآءَ اللهُ, give you a very clear picture of how foundational a person’s childhood experiences are in shaping who they are, what they become, and what they do, as an adult.

It will also perhaps help you realize (perhaps painfully), the shockingly pivotal role both parents play in shaping a child’s future life — either by allowing or giving leeway in things that should not be allowed, or by disallowing or forbidding (either by coercion or subtle brainwashing/manipulation) their children from things that should not be prohibited.

It will also hopefully broaden your vision and perception about why we have chosen to homeschool unschool our children during this extremely delicate, formative and pivotal phase of their lives.

We basically take our responsibility of their moral tarbiyah (character-building) and basic education extremely seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that we have refused to ‘outsource’ or delegate this responsibility to anyone besides ourselves for the first decade or so of our children’s existence on this planet. :)

Conclusion

In the end, I’d just like to say that I know that homeschooling one’s children full time is not possible for everyone.

Also, if I sound perfectly calm and collected in writing, don’t let that make you think that I do not have my bad days, when (as a human) I am in an extremely frustrated state because of spending most part of my days, day in and day out, with just my children. It is definitely not easy. Sometimes I sorely miss having the time to pursue my own ‘life’, my own interests, and my hobbies (pet cats, painting, baking – *sigh*).

And that is where the support of my husband plays a huge role, alhamdulillah, because he willingly takes me out after coming home from work, when he sees how much I need the breather (even if it is just to get some groceries, or have a snack/dessert somewhere).

I know that many husbands are not even half as supportive or concerned towards the emotional and psychological well-being of their wives, especially those who have other obligations in joint family living setups.

And just like husbands willingly delegate their responsibility of their children’s education and entertainment to others, they also expect their bored wives to go and spend time with someone else in order to relieve stress, while they unwind after work in front of the television, with friends, or on their laptops/smartphones/tablets.

So even if full-time homeschooling is not for you, I hope and pray that whatever I’ve shared from my personal experiences in this two-part post, particularly the retrospective, list-making mental exercise that I’ve outlined above, will benefit you in your parenting journey, or in your personal growth, in some way or the other.

And while I respect the curiosity and concern that people show about our children’s homeschooling, I hope that we will receive the same respect for privacy, that we try to give to them regarding the choices and decisions that they have made as parents of their own offspring, اِنْ شَآءَ اللهُ.

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Posted in Education, Home and Family, Home Education, homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting, Pleasing Allah, Social Psychology, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Unschooling” Update and Frequently Asked Questions – Part 1

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

It has been very long since I blogged about and provided an update on our homeschooling journey.

The third addition to our family was a huge blessing in disguise, because the lull it introduced into our till-then, by-and-large structured, curriculum-based, and parent-driven model of homeschooling, paved the way for a smooth transition into a more laid-back model of mostly unsupervised and creative way of learning for our children.

More on that below, insha’Allah.

First, I must admit, with more than a little surprise, that I never intended for our family to become a ‘celebrity’ of sorts, given my love of solitude and more than a generous penchant for personal space and privacy.

It seems, however, that with the passage of time, we are becoming a homeschooling ‘sample’ or ‘model’ of sorts in the city, as the presence and activities of the local group of homeschooling families creates more hype and awareness amongst onlookers with time, masha’Allah.

Until recently, I was naively, benignly and completely ignorant of (ignorance really is bliss) the effect that the presence of the five of us had on any particular gathering, situation or scenario, until some oft-recurring incidents shook me into consciousness and opened my eyes to reality.

Let’s not get into the details, heh? :) Suffice to say, that people notice us a lot where ever we go. In particular, I receive a lot of positive comments about my children, مَاشَاءَ اللهُ لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّابِالله. And when the appreciative people find out that our children are largely homeschooled, out comes a barrage of questions.

This post is about addressing those questions, which I will call FAQ. Please note that most of the observations that I’ll be sharing in it, will be related to children in the age range of 0-12, not teenagers or older children.

The first point I want to make is that, I have slowly begun to realize that it is very important for parents to guard their children from influences, of any kind, that can detriment their tarbiyah in any way; parental lifestyles and careers being no exception.

Now it is beginning to dawn upon us that our homeschooling will have to include measures that will ensure that our children do not grow up under their parents’ ‘shadow’, ironic and contradictory though that might sound, even though they are – by conscious choice – mostly going to be spending time with their parents until adulthood.

This means that, we will have to be conscious of not letting our personalities and career choices, and the ensuing public relations repercussions that they produce, affect our children adversely in any way.

Parents of Little Children: Facilitators and Protectors, Not Wardens and Dictators

Perhaps I can illustrate the point about parental influence better with an example: supposing a child is born to a father who is a successful businessman, and a mother who is a practicing physician.

Now, if these parents were to homeschool this child, it could happen that the child begins to undermine their own personal talents, interests and aspirations and — if the parents are not careful about it — be led to presume that they will also be expected to become either a businessperson or a doctor when they grow up.

This happens in more families than we admit or acknowledge. Parents just presume that their offspring (or at least one of them) will follow in their professional footsteps.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, as long as the said profession is halal (permissible) and noble in the light of Islam. However, if the child is being unknowingly coerced and forced to adopt this profession, it is not right or fair.

Parents must be careful that their own personal choices regarding how to live life (in all mubah matters – the things that are permissible) are not forced upon their children. Yet, it is also incumbent upon these parents to impart a very strong (rock-solid, in fact) Islamic tarbiyah (upbringing) to their children from birth.

In this scenario, a critical balance has to be maintained, and this is only possible if the parents are extremely and proactively conscious, first of Allah and their eventual and sure accountability before Him regarding how they fulfilled their duties as parents, and then of their child’s likes, dislikes, natural interests, strengths and weaknesses.

A parent who fears Allah regarding his or her children will never consciously coerce or force their personal choices upon the latter, unless it is about something truly beneficial for their Akhirah, or something that is obligatory in the Deen (viz. obligations and prohibitions enforced by Allah and His Messenger ﷺ).

As simple examples: a 6-year-old boy refuses to wear long-johns, pajamas or long shorts, ever, even to bed at night. He wants to sleep in his everyday-wear denim jeans. An 8-year-old girl loves to leave her shoulder-length hair untied inside the home and style it the way she likes. She doesn’t want to tie it up.

Now these 2 are mubah matters about which the Deen is totally silent, and gives each of us considerable leeway in personal choice.

Allah has allowed a boy to wear whatever garment he feels comfortable in when he goes to sleep (as long as it fulfills the requirements of covering his awrah), and a minor girl to style her hair any way she likes while she is inside her home, as long as hygiene, health and cleanliness is not compromised.

Now if this boy’s and girl’s parents force their son to wear long-johns to bed and their daughter to always tie up her hair in one particular style while at home, because of their own personal preferences (e.g. because of how they were brought up), resulting in daily tugs-of-war, verbal battles, lost tempers and tears of frustration – experiences that make the child repeatedly fearful and sad,– then this is frankly very unfair!

As long as the choices that the parents are forcing upon their children have nothing to do with the benefit of the health and Akhirah/Deen of the latter, they should back off and give more space, in order to cultivate a friendly, open, and non-suffocating environment in the home.

On the same token, if an adult son or daughter wants to pursue a beneficial profession that is totally halal in the light of Islam, the parents should allow them to, and not coerce or force them to join their own profession unless it will truly benefit them much, much more in the Akhirah.

Desi’s ❤ Doctors 

As an aside, I want to pinpoint here, how us desi’s love to force our children to become doctors. :)

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it is one of the most forced-upon-children professions in Pakistan!

It is often forced upon our girls, because making them doctors results in a higher chance of getting ‘good’ marriage proposals for them (did I mention that we also love marrying our sons to doctors? Forget about how promptly doctor bahu’s [daughters-in-law] are forbidden from stepping outside the house after marriage, even to teach or work at a clinic part-time!).

And medicine is forced upon our sons because, well, this one is simple: in pursuit of the prestige and the $$money$$ factor.

Where ever a qualified Pakistani doctor might be in the world, if he succeeds in getting his local license/certificate (whatever it is called), he always brings in more money than others his age who are in other professions, even if it means that he works like a ______ and sacrifices a lot of time that he can spend with his family in order to earn that extra dough.

I know of a few doctors who switched professions after they graduated — willingly. Many “lady doctors” I know readily became housewives after marrying their classmates or other ‘doctor husbands’. (Housewives, please do not fire me for saying this – I wholeheartedly respect their choice.)

As for the Pakistani doctors who went to Canada, they probably had no choice when they gave up their medical profession. *Sigh*. May Allah make ease for us all.

My whole point being, even if parents succeed at forcing their choices regarding mubah matters upon their children, exploiting the weak position and acquiescent subordination of the latter, once their child becomes an independent adult, s/he will probably readily relinquish the choices that their parents forced upon them, and do what they really want to do instead.

That being said, even if homeschooling parents who bring up their children while constantly fearing Allah and seeking forgiveness for their parenting mistakes, and who avoid forcing their child to do something that the latter is not interested in or naturally inclined towards, the influence of their company, presence and personality upon their offspring cannot be denied or even undermined.

The homeschooling approach is based upon striving to strike the critical balance between letting your child grow and blossom naturally, and facilitating their progress from a safe distance, without becoming a hovering, suffocating ‘helicopter’ parent.

To the outsiders looking in, the word “homeschooling” is a bit misleading, because it gives the impression that parents are forcing their children to sit at home all day, not make any friends, and study/learn only what they want them to.

What is actually happening behind the scenes, however, is quite the opposite: parents are refusing to allow the society at large to dictate what their child learns, and are keeping outside influences at bay as they gently nurture their child to do what he or she really wants to do.The parent is doing what they were prescribed to do in the first place: protect their child from invasive negative influences, and allow him or her to become independent learners and creative innovators and inventors, at their own pace, in a secure, fear-free and stress-free environment that the child feels totally comfortable in.

The innocent child is thus taking the lead in directing what he or she wants to learn, and the parent is observing them keenly, picking up on subtle hints of progress, and providing them with appropriate materials (crafts, brick-sets, books, art tools, paper, pencils, online tutorials, classes etc.) to aid their learning.

This scenario surely does not spell “jail” for the child.

On the contrary, it spells “freedom”.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How is your homeschooling going?

It is going pretty good, alhamdulillah.

We went through a period of self-doubt following a couple of confrontations bordering on angry outbursts by well-meaning people regarding our 6-year-old son, but Allah managed to pull us through without swerving off our homeschooling decision.

You see, now that our son is the only male child in the house, and he is ‘growing’ up, some people we know who are already skeptical about homeschooling, and who subscribe heavily to ‘cultural’ gender stereotypes and roles, quite strongly opine in front of us (as we sit there, silently listening to them out of ‘respect’, just because they are older and/or have raised sons) that raising a boy to become “a man” means that he should spend a lot of time outside the home, around other, older boys in order to not turn into a sissy or effeminate coward.

Yes, even at the age of 6, apparently it is more important for a boy to be around boys and men, than at home with mom.

And what does “being a manly boy” entail, if you hail from Pakistan? Below is a list of my personal observations about the whole concept of raising a boy that is prevalent in our local culture (FYI: when I say “boy” below, I mean an older male homo sapian in the age range of 13-23):

  • It means that he loiters around outside the home when he is free, hanging out with other boys to kill time, even if it makes him an Eve-teaser, but that’s okay, because…
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoys are naturally wired to lust after, stare at, and chase girls. It is perfectly normal. Especially when they hang out on street corners, marketplaces and parking lots, in groups, killing free time. Plus, it’s all the fault of those inappropriately-clad females who roam outside their houses, who provoke them to act/behave in such a way.
  • Boys watch a lot of television, films, and sports matches. They listen to a lot of music – loudly. And they smoke. Again, this is ‘normal’ for a growing boy.
  • Manly boys ‘stand up’ to other boys. Meaning? They have the “courage” to spew out abusive language, and engage in physical wrangles at the drop of a hat, if someone dares to challenge them. The more “manly” the boy, in Pakistani culture, the more physically aggressive and verbally abusive he is. And the more he lusts after girls.
  • Manly boys don’t help their womenfolk at home in domestic chores. So a “manly” boy will never pick up after himself, fix himself a meal, iron his clothes, or wash the dishes in the sink. The females of the house are supposed to do that for him. Heck, it is perfectly alright for him to order his sisters to even get his fork for him if it is missing at the table.
  • The more “manly” a boy, the more he stays out late at night, driving around in a car or on his motorbike, hanging out with other boys. And chasing other people’s sisters and daughters, passing indecent comments about their body parts in front of his friends, right after he stares them down from head to toe. He is a “man”, after all, not a pansy, sissy or fag. “Real” men do that, because they like attractive women. A lot.
  • As this “boy” grows up, his father allows him further privileges that his sisters will never have, e.g. he buys him his favorite (sports) car, and turns a blind eye/deaf ear as his son progresses from street flirtations to dance parties and clandestine flings with “fast girls”. You see, manly Pakistani “boys” (who have the very culturally distorted version of honor or “ghairat“) clearly bifurcate women into two distinct categories: decent women (their own sisters, mothers and eventually, wives), and ‘fast’ women. The latter are fair game, at any time and place; they are the ones these “manly” boys flirt/hang out with socially, and have love affairs with, but whom they never, ever marry. Marriage for “real” Pakistani men, is always with a woman from category one- viz. a much younger, shy, and beautiful girl, who has never stepped outside her home uncovered or unchaperoned, never attended a coeducational institution, and never had any kind of friendship with any boy.
  • “Manly” boys (over)eat a lot, especially red meat. They eat like there’s no tomorrow, in fact, and they eat only freshly made food. And when they sit down to (over)eat, their women (mothers, sisters, wives) are supposed to serve them non-stop until they are done, which they announce by belching loudly. (Their women should never forget to say “masha’Allah” a few times when they mention how much their son/brother/husband (over)eats. Kahein nazar na lag jaye khaatay peetay shehzaday ko!)
  • Manly boys like to play outdoor sports, such as cricket, football, squash, and basketball etc. Girl don’t. As they grow up, the latter should be directed towards the delicate knitting/crochet needles, crafts, sewing machines, cooking utensils, stoves and ovens.

With the exception of the last point above, I do not subscribe to any of the above cultural beliefs regarding how a so-called “manly” boy should be raised, even though I hail from the same society, and have witnessed the general attitude and parenting style that most elders around me have used to raise their sons.

This is because Islam is the supreme way of life, superseding any man-made set of social values, and all of the points that I’ve mentioned above, excepting perhaps the last one, clearly contradict the lifestyle, actions and habits of Prophet Muhammad (‎ﷺ), who is supposed to be our role model, and his companions.

Our Prophet was the most “manly” man (←is that even correct grammar?) who ever lived, in my opinion, yet he never did any of the things I’ve listed above.

As a young bachelor, he avoided debauchery and womanizing. He also abstained from drinking, gambling, corrupt and lewd behavior, and all other social vices that were common in his society at that time. He was not a misogynist even before he became Allah’s Prophet.

Even after his marriage to a noble older woman, he spent his thirties in social isolation, in close communion with Allah in a cave. After becoming a Prophet of Allah at the age of 40, hitting his prime as a man, he ate less than 3 meals a day, and frowned in general upon overeating when men did it in his presence.

As for sports, my apologies to cricket and football aficionados, but the only sports Prophet Muhammad (‎ﷺ) recommended for our male and female children were: archery, swimming and horseback riding — each of which is relevant to this day.

Our Prophet never played sports on a regular basis, nor did he get distracted by athletics to the extent that it fully engaged his attention, exclusively away from his family while a sports game was in progress.

So, as I end my rant about my disdain for the way most educated and urbanized Pakistani boys are raised, I want to reiterate that, yes our homeschooling is going well, and Allah has helped us successfully overcome the temporary period of self-doubt that we went through, regarding whether or not homeschooling was a viable option for our growing, 6-year-old son who has no male company for most part of the day, at this stage in his life.

I’d also like to take this chance to openly say something to the skeptics and critics of our homeschooling decision: if you do not follow the commands of the Quran, and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) on a superlative and personal level, please do not expect me to weigh your advice about how to raise my children in gold.

Allah is the One in Whose hands lie our affairs. I am confident that, as and when our son needs it, he will easily acquire the company of other righteous brothers in faith, insha’Allah.

Upon Allah we place our trust for fulfilling all of his and our two lovely daughters’ needs related to moral upbringing, knowledge, skills and education, as time passes and they blossom into young adults.

Actually, we are unschooling our children since over 2 years, which is a more specific branch/subsection of homeschooling.

2. What is “unschooling”?

To aptly understand the answer to this question, first ask yourself: what is school?

School entails this:

  • Strictly structured timetables and curricula.
  • Time-slotted teaching of different (fixed) subjects in the form of classes.
  • Students divided into fixed, same-age groups. No transitions allowed.
  • Strict rules and discipline, adherence to which is mandatory, else punishment or reprimands are meted out.
  • Regular evaluations based on tests, grades and exams.
  • Supervised, checked, corrected, logged, recorded and journal-based classwork and homework, mostly done using pens, paper, and books.
  • Adult-planned, adult-controlled and adult-judged extracurricular activities, games, projects, and events (such as sports days, art competitions and field trips).

Just take a trip down memory lane to your own childhood and recall your school experiences as a second or third grader. That was ‘school’. :)

Now, to know what unschooling really is, just do the opposite of everything in the above list.

Shocking, isn’t it? :) I know.

Unschooling allows a child to be “free”. Yes, totally free!

It means that a child wakes up, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom when he or she wants. He reads, writes, learns, colors, paints, builds, and eats as and when he wants.

He never gives any tests or exams (he doesn’t even know what grades are, alhamdulillah). He always has his mother nearby, to go crying to for a hug and kiss when he wants to (remember: we are talking about children in the age range of 0-10).

He wears whatever he feels comfortable in.

He is never compared to anyone (well, unless his parents compare him to his siblings, cousins or neighbors’ children, but we force ourselves not to).

He can go out late at night with his parents on any day of the week, not just on weekends, without worrying about waking up late the next morning, or being late for school.

He is never “late” for anything, actually, except obligatory salah (if he is 7+), or perhaps the occasional doctor’s appointment (did I mention that an unschooled child never brings home any diseases or infections contracted from others at school?).

He is never forcibly rushed out of the house early in the morning when he is sick, crying, hungry, angry or sleepy – summer or winter.

A small exercise for you:

Recall your childhood, when you were aged between 6-10; try to remember how you felt when school went out for summer vacations every year.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself, having given all of your final exam papers (at the moment, I am not elaborating upon the subject of the absolute terror and morbidity related to exams that a little school-going child feels), and attending the last day of the school year. The final bell rings, signaling time to go home. Remember how you felt at that moment? Try to imagine that moment again, and re-live what you felt in it as it happened.

Well, that joy and ecstasy that you felt at that moment, was perfectly justified. And it forms the basis of unschooling our children. Because, I too, remember it all too well.

Life for an unschooled child is like one, big summer vacation, which never comes to an end!

Life is full of freedom, and sans worries, just as childhood is supposed to be for a child.

3. Are you crazy? How will your children learn anything then?

For the answer to that, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post!

Posted in Education, Home and Family, homeschooling, Inspiration, Motherhood, Parenting, Pleasing Allah, Social Psychology, Youth | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

A Person’s Worth Lies Not in Square Feet or Area Code

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

وَلَوْلَا أَن يَكُونَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً لَجَعَلْنَا لِمَن يَكْفُرُ بِالرَّحْمَنِ لِبُيُوتِهِمْ سُقُفًا مِّن فَضَّةٍ وَمَعَارِجَ عَلَيْهَا يَظْهَرُونَ
وَلِبُيُوتِهِمْ أَبْوَابًا وَسُرُرًا عَلَيْهَا يَتَّكِؤُونَ
وَزُخْرُفًا وَإِن كُلُّ ذَلِكَ لَمَّا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةُ عِندَ رَبِّكَ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ

“And were it not that all people would become one community, We might indeed have provided for those who deny the Al-Rahman, roofs of silver for their houses, and stairways whereon to ascend. And doors for their houses, and couches whereon to recline, – and gold. Yet, all this would have been nothing but an enjoyment of life in this world – whereas, the life to come awaits the God-conscious with your Sustainer.”- [43:33-35]

Regarding the above verses of the Quran, which occur in Surah Al-Zukhruf, this part of verse 33 – وَلَوْلاَ أَن يَكُونَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَحِدَةً  - “And were it not that mankind would have become of one community,” actually means, “were it not for the fact that many ignorant people would think that Our giving them wealth was a sign that We love the person to whom We give it, and thus they would have agreed upon disbelief for the sake of wealth.” — This is the view of Ibn `Abbas, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, As-Suddi and others, according to Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

What this part of the ayah means, is that were Allah to grant wealth, the kind of which is mentioned in the verses above, to most of mankind, it’d deceive them into believing that Allah was pleased with them, despite their rejection of Him and His Deen.

Going Down Memory Lane Again..

I often look back at my life, and find myself making a lot of comparisons. Comparisons between what I’d thought I’d be, and what I am today (‎اَلحَمْدُ لِلهِ, this comparison makes me bow my head in gratitude to my Creator).

Comparisons of what people thought would happen, and what actually happened (anyone remember the baseless “y2k” hype in 1999?). Comparisons between how some children in our school and extended family were expected to turn out when they grew up, and what they became instead (these comparisons embody some of the most mind-boggling moments of reflection for me as a homeschooling parent).

My musings leave me mostly amazed at how differently things often turn out than how they are expected to. Yet, no one openly admits and accepts that what they had vehemently predicted to happen with so much surety, turned out completely contrary to their claims.

They just remain silent; as if they never made any claims in the first place.

One Race After Another…

One thing that stands out in my memory of the past is how, at every phase in life, people compete with each other in a certain, specific realm or field.

Throughout childhood, for example, we competed a lot in test/exam grades at school, and toys. After every Eid, for example, children would discuss with each other, on the first day of school after the Eid holidays, how much Eidi they’d got. The kids who quoted the highest figure would feel the most proud, and be the most envied.

After every summer vacation, on the first day of school (again), children would discuss at length where they’d gone on vacation during the holidays, with the one who hadn’t gone anywhere appearing the most inferior of the lot (a ‘loser’, in contemporary terms,- yours truly being among this lot most of the time).

Those ‘lucky ducks’ who’d visited the US of A and returned not just with a pseudo American accent (complete with R’s rolled for emphasis) but also with a horde of exotic-tasting chocolates that they gave out to us less fortunate ones, occupied the most envied pedestal for days, taking their own sweet time to get off of it because they loved basking in the envy-laced attention.

Anyhow, after the competition of studies, grades, certificates, and degrees dwindled into nothingness, and we entered our twenties, the competition and ‘rat race’ (among us young girls) started to change to who got the most proposals, and who got engaged and/or married first. For a 22-23 year old girl to show any apathy towards marriage meant getting the “You’re weird” and eventually, the outright “You’re lying!” looks.

By the time I was 24 (and in full hijab), friends at my religious educational institute started asking me why I was so picky, assuming that the only reason I wasn’t yet married was that my standards were too high, and that was probably why I refused every proposal that came my way.

As for the ‘friends’, relatives and acquaintances in my social circles outside my religiously-inclined circle, well, they were just plain convinced that by donning full hijab, I had signed on to a life of spinsterhood, because, in their minds at least, who’d be crazy enough to marry someone like that, right?

Presume much? :)

I am so thankful that, between the aunties who believed that I’d never get married, the religious lot who thought my standards were too high and that my niqab was a barrier to all things good in life, and the secular relatives who, sporting sullen looks, shook their head with dismay at how I’d dashed all hopes of a career for mysef by refusing to work at an office job,– I didn’t just go plain crazy!

Anyhow, cue to what I said at the start of this post — about comparing what people thought would happen, to what actually happened?! And to how they remain silent when all their prophecies regarding a young person’s future in life are proved false by divine decree?

Anyway, once you’ve traversed the rat races of studies and marriage, let’s take a look at what kinds of competition await in the late twenties, up to early thirties.

In this period, post-marriage, the competition shifts to having the first baby, and a few years after that, the second baby, and then, — without pausing for breath (for some) – the third; going on until one child of each gender has been birthed.

This is important, so as to to permanently avoid the unwelcome gazes of pity and intrusive questioning from those among the older generation who try to very emphatically convince you how absolutely imperative it is to have offspring of both genders:

What? No daughter? But daughters are the ones who take care of parents in old age.”

What? No son? Tch tch.” [No further verbal expressions of pity needed in this case. Because in the Eastern part of the world, many people staunchly believe in a simple mathematical formula/equation: no son = no wealth. Having no son implies that all the wealth that a couple owns will eventually fall into others' hands, and that their name will be wiped off the face of the earth when they die. Now who can verbalize such an impending catastrophe for those couples who couldn't successfully beseech Allah to put the coveted Y chromosome into at least one of their embryos, eh? It is better to just remain silent. <-- end of sarcasm]

Back to the twenties to early thirties age range: there is also considerable pressure on a newly married woman/girl in this age group to master the art of homemaking; to transform herself into a domestic ‘goddess’, so to speak, who can successfully multitask changing diapers, doing the laundry, grocery shopping and cooking perfectly sauteed curries, without letting out a single sigh of fatigue.

She should be able to cook well enough to host a perfect, glitch-free dinner party, especially when her in-laws are the guests, in order to show off her culinary, baking and hostessing expertise etc. and thus practically ‘prove’ to them that she is able to take care of their “little boy” (no exaggeration) and also his children. [*Yawn*]

For the guys and men, the pressure during their late twenties has less to do with making babies, and more to do with successfully establishing their careers, viz. bagging a good job at the right company, with the right-sounding job title, and, of course, the fat paycheck, along with the accompanying (and socially visible) perks and privileges.

From that point onwards, competition among men (and in the contemporary world of working mothers, also among women) mostly involves the race up the corporate ladder, even if it means switching ladders in order to skip a few rungs to get more ahead than the rest in reaching new corporate heights.

Somewhere along the way, the race to acquire a foreign (developed) country’s citizenship is also traversed by some (this especially applies to middle-class Pakistani’s who have a poverty background/mindset — a lot of them are in Canada now, by the way. Ah, Canada. The place to be!). [*snicker*]

You get the picture. It’s like a domino effect: the domino’s, in this case, comprising of one competition after another. Each decade of life seems to herald the closing of one chapter (along with packing up (quite literally), and promptly forgetting about, it’s associated achievements,- the ones we all spent years chasing and competing with others for) and the opening of a new chapter of competition – the “get set, go!” start of a new race to acquire another, different blessing or possession this time.

Now, let’s see if you can guess what realm the competition shifts to after one hits their thirties, and starts to inch towards their forties.

Having successfully covered the chronological rat races of studies (degrees, graduation, post-graduation), marriage (wedding party, bling etc.), family (the babies of each gender), the successful job and career……what now? What next?

Can you guess?

Well, it is this:

home

And this:

commercial buildings

The Pull of Property

Are you still living in that apartment?”

Everyone nowadays seems to desire to live in a big house at some point in their lives, or so it seems. At least 2500 square feet, or more. In case you know of someone who doesn’t desire this, do inform me please. Then let me know where they are locked up.

Just kidding. *Cough*

It’s like there is nothing better to aspire to or talk about when sitting in someone’s drawing room once you’re 40+, than the rising property prices and the plethora of newly emerging investment opportunities in the form of high-rise buildings, apartment complexes and shopping malls (which, in some cases, are combined into a single, massive, horizon-grabbing construction project).

Welcome to the new-age mania of property acquisition, where hotels, malls, residential apartments, offices and shops are often all found under one, magnanimous, solar-powered roof!

The recent property mania in Karachi has risen to such an extent that, if you’re ‘loser’ enough to have been living in an apartment for over a decade, you might as well hide yourself socially, (unless the apartment you own and reside in is in Creek Vistas), and not emerge from your ‘cave’ of self-imposed exile (pun not intended) until and unless you’ve taken a back-breaking property loan, or used some other (by hook or by crook) means to acquire at least a 250 square yard house or residential plot on that side of the Clifton bridge, in your name.

Even if this means being under debt for life, you can then get your desired 15 minutes of social fame by uttering the cliched catch-phrase of every quintessential, Karachi-dwelling urbanite/social butterfly: “We have just shifted to our own bungalow in Defence”, and consequently receive the coveted looks of approval from onlookers, as well those of envy from others.

Sorry, But I’m Not In

Large, cemented living spaces are grossly over-rated, in my opinion. They prove true the old cliche: all that glitters is not gold. But convince world-wise people about that and let’s hope you succeed.

The value of the property anyone owns, in addition to the variety of the types of property that is in their name (whether inside or outside Pakistan, remember Canada? :P Or it could be USA, Dubai, UK, Australia,…you name it, and a Pakistani will want a house there, or at least an apartment), is the most ‘prestigious’ and coveted goal of the latest rat race that I am, sadly, beginning to find myself reluctantly pulled into.

This time, however, I’m not a kid any more. I no longer allow people to tell me what to chase after. I am no longer a young, naive pushover; or a people-pleasing wannabe craving social acceptance and gazes of approval from people who I know will, with time, find something else to tell me to run after and desire.

What I am saying is: I am not getting into this property rat race. :P

The Realities Behind the ‘Rich’ Lifestyle

It is possible that, like most, you also desire to upgrade your standard of living later on in life and dwell in a sprawling, palatial home with your family.

Before you go and start making these future home plans for yourself, however, it would be wise to first educate and inform yourself about the various cons of living in a big house, because it always pays to be a realist:

  1. You will have to be a good manager. A spacious dwelling requires efficient human resources to sustain and manage it. A smaller home can be easily managed by one person, or two. Not so the sprawling, 10,000-square-feet mansion or villa. You will need to employ a workforce, albeit small, to manage your outdoor and indoor maintenance work and daily operations. And in order to keep that workforce loyal towards you and working efficiently, you will have to learn how to properly manage, motivate and keep them in the long term. If you currently cannot employ a maid, nanny, cook, gardener, or driver for more than a year (do your domestic helpers always leave, for one reason or another?), but still intend to upgrade to a big bungalow, please get some training in managing the blue-collar working class.
  2. brick homeYou will have less privacy. In lieu of the above point, prepare to live a life in which your employees go in and out of your private quarters (home, courtyard, driveway, garden, bedroom, home office, kitchen etc.), which means that almost every conversation that you have, whether with your spouse, parent, children, or other employees, will have a high chance of being overheard by someone. Shouting at your child? The nanny will hear it. Complaining about something over the phone to your husband? The maid or cook will hear it. Having a friend over for lunch? The maids will talk about it. Heck, many a rich person also needs personal assistant(s) to do simple tasks for them, on top of the said employees who manage their homes. These PA’s might even have the passwords to their private social media accounts, email addresses and bank accounts. Welcome to a rich person’s privacy-lacking world: you might be lonely inside (explained more, further below), but how ironic, that you’re hardly ever alone.
  3. You see less of your children. It is quite sad that many a time, even the children of rich parents cannot have a private word with them (without the presence of personal assistants or nannies around), without a prior ‘appointment’ (imagine your children saying to you, “Mama can we have lunch alone? Just us?”). Rich parents are very busy parents. They have a lot of wealth to guard; a lot of businesses to run; many people to manage. Add to that the physical distance between the parents’ and children’s bedrooms in the home (remember, they’re living in a multistory bungalow, where the higher the figure of square feet, the greater the social prestige?), and it’s not like the rich parent sees or hears too much of their child during the course of an average day in the first place – the entourage of personal assistants and employees aside. Welcome to the reality behind your illusion of property-Utopia.
  4. The bigger and more expensive the asset, the more it costs to maintain it. Using one’s wealth to purchase assets (houses, luxury cars, gold, designer furniture, branded tableware etc.) that require costly maintenance, is not always a wise decision. However, few ‘wannabe’ affluent people realize this simple fact when they join the race to chase these things. So e.g. do you want to be seen driving this car ↓ (pictured) one day? ➔ Then first try finding out how much its parts and its routine maintenance will cost you, so that you know how much money you’ll still be regularly shelling out for it once you’ve purchased it, just to keep it in good condition.
  5. You will have many superficial friends and acquaintances. Yes, rich people who live in the ‘right’ kind of home (i.e. those who openly ‘show’ others how rich they are) tend to attract more insincere and fake ‘friends’. This is because many people want to associate with them just because of their contacts and connections (or to simply become more popular/enter the “in” crowd), and to be seen associating with them, in order to get personal gains. Simple sociology.
  6. You will experience more fear. If you live in a big home, own luxury cars and other valuables, and have an openly lavish lifestyle, you will need bodyguards and other security measures/systems to protect yourself and your wealth. You will thus live in constant fear: fear of being robbed, looted at gunpoint (a norm in Karachi), kidnapped, or embezzled through fraud.
  7. You will be more recognizable, perhaps even a little famous. Still want the lifestyle of the rich? Be prepared to say goodbye to anonymity, personal security, peace of mind, and life’s simple pleasures. Such as being just a face in the crowd. Or going shopping alone, without any guard or PA tagging along.
  8. You might start to love authority and power. This is more related to personal growth/spirituality (tazkiyah). Love of power basically means: as you advance in age, you might become an overbearing old person who tries to control and manipulate others (including grown-up offspring and grandchildren). This is because it becomes a big boss’ habit to always have their own way, especially with the line of subordinates and employees at their service saying “yes, sir/ma’am” all the time.
  9. You might not be very well-liked. The well-known adage: “it gets very lonely at the top” is actually quite true. Because of all the above points that I’ve listed, while wealthy people might sport a very full social life and a busy schedule/calendar of events and activities, on the inside, they might be very lonely, simply because they have no ‘real’ friends. Most people around them might secretly envy them for their wealth. Some of their employees might even conspire to rob them of it one day. There are few people they wholeheartedly trust. Fewer still, who love them only for who they are, not what they own.

Religious Scholars and Their Wealthy Patrons

Here I must point out the positive side of possessing wealth – given that I have deliberately listed only the cons of ‘living a rich lifestyle’ above (which is not synonymous with being wealthy, please note), in an effort to show the reality behind the glossy facade of living the so-called ‘life of luxury and ease’.

Muslims endowed with wisdom (religious knowledge) that they use for making decisions, and which they impart to others, as well as those who possess wealth that they generously spend in the way of Allah, are the only two people we are allowed to envy:

لاَ حَسَدَ إِلاَّ فِي اثْنَتَيْنِ رَجُلٌ آتَاهُ اللَّهُ مَالاً فَسَلَّطَهُ عَلَى هَلَكَتِهِ فِي الْحَقِّ وَرَجُلٌ آتَاهُ اللَّهُ حِكْمَةً فَهُوَ يَقْضِي بِهَا وَيُعَلِّمُهَا

`Abdullah bin Mas’ud reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “There should be no envy but only in case of two persons: one having been endowed with wealth and power to spend it in the cause of the Truth, and (the other), who has been endowed with wisdom and he decides cases with the help of it and teaches it (to others).”
[Sahih Muslim 816]

I find this hadith especially amazing, because I have witnessed how many modern-day religious scholars enjoy an especially close relationship with those who spend generously in the way of Allah i.e. both are found a lot in each other’s company.

The affluent person who donates their houses/property to a religious institute (headed by a possessor of wisdom), to be used as their centers of education/offices; who opens the doors of their own palatial personal home for the religious scholar (and their family) to stay in whenever they are passing through the city, for as long as they like, with free meals and transport available at their beck and call…

This is the person who will be found the most in the company of that religious scholar; the person whose calls the religious scholar will take on their personal cell phone (instead of routing them through a personal assistant or receptionist); whose words they will listen to extra intently, when they speak during one of their lectures/classes. The generous donor. The big-hearted patron.

The person who spends their wealth generously in the way of Allah, has been granted two rare blessings: abundance of wealth (obviously), and a big, humble heart.

Such a person probably deserves the company of the contemporary religious scholars the most, especially since every need of the latter, and that of their institute/organization, can be so quickly met with one of their cheques – right?

There is just one problem with this rosy picture: it is not the way of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), or of the pious predecessors who came immediately after him.

The Best of Mankind Chose to Live Poorly

I find myself pondering on why Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was not like some of the contemporary religious scholars today: he was so one-of-the-crowd, so easily approachable — by the poor man/woman on the street; by the woman complaining about her husband (58:1). He wore what poor people wore. He ate what they ate (when he ate at all). He ate on the floor. He slept on the floor.

He didn’t have an entourage (of personal assistants or patrons), the protocol of which a poor person would have to go through to get a one-to-one “appointment” with him. His dwellings were small, and furnished in a “bare-bones” manner. No five-star hotels, no luxury vehicles (although a camel was there, yeah).

And even he wasn’t left alone about the expensive property/big house thing. The Prophet ‎ﷺ was asked by his antagonists among the disbelievers, why he didn’t have a house adorned with gold:

أَوْ يَكُونَ لَكَ بَيْتٌ مِّن زُخْرُفٍ

Or you have a house adorned with gold…” [17:93]

I cannot stop thinking about Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) lifestyle, and why he chose to give away his wealth in the way of Allah (even though he could have had the lifestyle of a rich man); why he chose to live the way a hand-to-mouth traveler does?

He did wear nice, expensive clothes too, and he did eat good food too — to indicate their permissibility. But not as a norm for himself, or his household, but as an exception.

What I’ve concluded is that he had the mindset of a rich person, but the lifestyle of a pauper. Which means that he was truly rich i.e. ghani (i.e. self-sufficient, indifferent to anything or anyone besides Allah), but he liked to be around poor people. He was very approachable for them. He mingled with them socially, more than he did with the rich.

Unlike some religious scholars/imam’s today (I can already sense the fangs, claws and guns being drawn out by my haters for saying this — hehe! Go ahead!), Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was physically more accessible by the poor, not exclusively so by just the rich. In social settings, he was found surrounded by the poor, not sitting within exclusive cliques (viz. ‘meetings’) comprising of rich and influential people.

Let’s take a small, hypothetical test to see things more clearly, shall we?

The head of a religious Islamic/da’wah organization is sitting in a ‘staff meeting’. His or her personal assistant comes to him/her saying that 2 people are simultaneously on separate phone lines asking to speak to him:

  1. A woman with a weak, crackling voice who is sobbing uncontrollably.
  2. A (or the wife of) Major General/Minister/Businessman/Chief Justice interested in making a 20 million ___ (insert currency) donation for their organization.

Now please tell me, whose call do you think the head of the religious organization will take first?

I know which call I’d take first, if I was in their position — i.e. if I was Chief Executive of a non-profit that was always in need of big money for one project or another.

Now, I know that these organizations are doing great humanitarian work; that they are non-profit; that they run on volunteers; that the religious scholars don’t take the money for themselves or their own needs; that they pass on these donations/funds to truly needy people etc. I know all that.

What I am trying to highlight is, that the contemporary need for money to run any non-profit organization today has created an obvious, clear chasm between those who run them, and the poor people of a society. Odd and ironic though it might sound.

And this is precisely what I cannot seem to figure out. Especially in light of the comparisons I make between today’s righteous Muslims who are doing great work for Islam, and Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), his companions and his early successors from the salaf.

They looked poor, ate like (and in the company of) the poor, and lived like the poor. The poor people acquired their company easily, because these pious predecessors sought it.

Whereas me? I can hardly survive a rickety rickshaw or public bus ride, or a night of load-shedding (planned power outages) in the summers, without emerging from the experience as a cranky, snap-happy mass of nerves!

Perhaps society was very different then, than it is now?

In the world today, if you can’t bring to the table a certain figure in cash/money to donate, or in thousands of square feet/yards of cemented space, to either live in yourself, or to donate to a religious institute (in cash or kind), you are largely ignored socially – by both, the secular-minded movers and shakers in society who are actively engaged in philanthropy, as well as the ‘prominent’ religious people (da’wah activists, scholars and imam’s) who are doing the work of propagating Allah’s Deen.

Today, the two P’s go hand in hand.

No, it is not Poverty and Popularity, like it was in the days of our pious predecessors (aslaaf).

It is Prestige and Property.

In Answer to the Question…

Yes, I am still living in that apartment!

And I live in it thanking Allah every day for a roof over my head, ground under my feet, a mattress to sleep on, clothes on my back, and food in my stomach.

And even if I lived in a mansion, only these basic things would comprise my simple needs as a traveler passing through this world.

Now pass me the ketchup to have with my $5 gourmet burger, please. :|

***

وعنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ ‏رب أشعث أغبر مدفوع بالأبواب لو أقسم على الله لأبره

Abu Hurairah (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنْهُ) reported, “Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, ‘Many a person with shaggy and dusty hair, driven away from doors (because of their poverty and shabby clothes) were to swear by Allah (that something would happen), Allah will certainly make it happen’.” [Sahih Muslim]

Posted in Home and Family, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

You Were a Spouse Before You Became a Parent

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Escapism is officially defined as:

Es·cap·ism (-skpzm) n. The tendency to escape from daily reality or routine by indulging in daydreaming, fantasy, or entertainment.

[Reference: The Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia]

***

He arrives home at 8:30 p.m, exhausted from the day’s work. As he shuts the front door gently, she hears him enter, totally engrossed in the latest plot twist of the local prime time television show.

After having meticulously supervised the children’s homework, prepared their bags and uniforms for school the next day, and spent the rest of the early evening cooking dinner, she is finally enjoying her break‘: the latest episode of her favorite drama serial.

She responds to what vaguely sounds like him greeting her, with a fleeting smile and a slight nod of her head, her eyes glued to the television screen.

The children are in their rooms, their iPads and laptops on, tapping away instant messages to friends over social media. None of them hear him enter the house.

During the show’s 5-minute commercial break, she rushes into the kitchen, and starts to hurriedly set the table for dinner.

In the meantime, he takes a shower, changes into his sweatpants and a T-shirt, and turns on his laptop in the bedroom. The presentation that he has yet to finish before the office board meeting the next day, is still on his mind.

Within minutes, his eyes are glued to the day’s headlines on his favorite news website. His iPhone pings. In the background, he hears what faintly sounds to him like she calling him for dinner.

Without taking his eyes off the screen, he reaches for his phone, calling out, In a minute…!” into the empty hallway outside the ajar bedroom door.

Convenient Distractions From Marital Problems

Children and work become a convenient distraction from the smaller problems between a married couple very early on in a marriage.

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whatever the reason might be for the emotional distance between a husband and wife – and there can be many – the highly ‘engaging’ occupation of raising children (for the wife), and work/job/career (for the husband), become a convenient means of keeping their minds off the problems between them.

Ignoring and avoiding their problems is even easier in joint/extended family systems, where there is always someone else present to spend time with instead of your spouse.

As the years pass, the couple can grow even further apart if they don’t work on removing the problems that exist between them.

Before they know it, they are elderly: the husband is retired from work, and the wife is becoming too weak to do all the housework by herself, which she has been doing for years. Their children have flown the nest, busy in their own adult lives.

Now – at this stage – the couple are faced with their problems, glaring them in the face.

The New Scapegoats

Since they have used avoidance and escapism for 3-4 decades, a couple that finds it difficult to communicate openly with each other because of the emotional distance that has risen between them over the years, might start to cling emotionally to their grown-up children and grandchildren.

This might be evident in their calling them up very often, wanting to repeatedly come over for extended visits, complaining about having nothing to do, lamenting about their own house being too silent/empty, snapping at each other at the drop of a hat, and not being able to find anything enjoyable to do together.

Image courtesy of artur84/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Consequently, the husband’s best friend becomes the television and the daily newspaper, and the wife’s best friend?, —– well, the kitchen and housework, as always.

Introspect and Act – While Young

Do you want to ‘end up’ like such a couple?

Because the years will pass very quickly, and if you don’t work on your problems right now, you won’t be able to spend any enjoyable time together alone if and when you grow old (say, at the age of 55+), when your chosen ‘distractions’ are no longer there to occupy you.

Ask yourself some key questions about your marriage:

- Do you communicate with your spouse candidly and openly about everything? Or do you bottle up your feelings inside (mistakenly considering this a sign of “patience”), only to vent them later on in front of a parent/sibling/friend, when your spouse’s back is turned?

- Do you look forward to the weekends more than the weekdays? Or do you ‘dread’ the weekend, because it will mean that your spouse will be around near you?

- Is there any activity that you and your spouse enjoy doing together, alone, just the two of you?

Even if it is simply reading/discussing a book, visiting a library, going to the masjid, attending a knowledge-based/scholarly event, going for `umrah, taking a walk in the park, cycling/hiking in the hills, having dinner, coffee or ice cream at your favorite restaurant or cafe, doing grocery shopping, going out for a brunch of halwa puri on Sundays, playing a board game, cooking a meal together and eating it? Anything?

- What do you envision your old age to be like? Do you see yourself insisting that your married son(s) don’t move out, so that your house remains full? Do you see yourself imposing your company on your grown-up children who are living in separate homes: sons and daughters-in-law (or daughters and sons-in-law), uninvited, going to live in their homes for months at a time, away from your spouse, because your own home has become too ‘boring’ for you?

Or do you see yourself doing that which you’ve been wanting to do for years, but couldn’t because of a lack of time or because of other obligations: spending quality time with your spouse? – For healthy recreation, for da’wah pursuits, for seeking knowledge, for leisure – while also giving a portion of it to your offspring and grandchildren (on a demand basis), and to your greater community?

- What do you enjoy doing now, when the kids are asleep? If it doesn’t involve your spouse at all, and mostly involves useless time-fillers such as watching television, reading ‘fluff’, gossiping/venting on the phone, window shopping, or going out with ‘friends’ (i.e. people you hardly know, like, or are close to), then this is a warning sign of an impending old age filled with boredom.

Do something about it NOW, before you become a clingy, snappy senior who is always complaining of being lonely.

The Foundational Relationship

Remember that the husband-wife relationship was the first one created by Allah.

When Allah created Prophet Adam [عَلِيهِ السَّلَام], the first human being, the immediately next one to follow was his wife.

This makes it clear how the marital relationship comes into existence even before that of motherhood/fatherhood!

A single parent has to make double the effort to raise a healthy, well-rounded and righteous child, because they lack in their lives the automatic ‘boost’ provided by spousal love that makes the job of co-parenting so much easier to do.

It would, therefore, not be an exaggeration to say that your relationship with your spouse is extremely important.

I acknowledge that many of us might not even live to see old age, or that many of us might lose their spouse naturally long before they grow old, and I pray that Allah spares everyone of us the loneliness and weakness that comes with such a trial. آمِين

Which is why Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has also taught all of us to seek refuge from debilitating old age early on, while we are young and active.

But I also want to remind everyone that we need to ask ourselves the above key questions about our marriages NOW, in order to prevent bigger problems from cropping up when/if we get old.

And working on cultivating a loving, caring, and emotionally close relationship with your spouse right NOW, while you are still young, instead of caving in to escapism (using your children and careers as diversions), is one of the most effective ways of preventing many of those old-age problems.

Allah knows best and is the source of all strength.

Posted in Home and Family, Marriage, Motherhood, Parenting, Pleasing Allah, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Neither Busy Bee, Nor Queen Bee, Nor Socialite: Musings of a Secluded Scribbler

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Life has changed. A lot. I find it bemusing how true this adage is: “The only thing constant in life is change.”

My life is so different now, from what it used to be. And I mean that in a good way.

It is all about finding yourself and reaching that place where you are comfortable in your own skin, and don’t care much (nay, at all) about what others think of you.

But it is also a lot about not regretting what you lost or let go along the way, or what passed you by.

Whether you call it ‘complacence’ or ‘closure’, it is definitely nice to be here.

The Friends of Yore, No More

I’ve hinted before about how the seemingly all-important social cliques of high school and college eventually break up and disappear with time, like anything else having only illusive and superficial importance e.g. the foam on the sea.

What I find more disconcerting than their existence itself, is the importance they command upon any youngster who is in the age range of 13 – 33.

I mean, can you imagine going through school and college without any friends, albeit close or fake? You’d be branded a ‘loser’ for life!

Yet, it’s very ironic and rather weird how these ‘cliquey’ friendships usually don’t stand the test of time in the long run.

Therefore, I call them “friendships of convenience and common purpose”. Because you end up sharing a lot of time and activities together for a certain pre-determined number of years, you end up calling the people who spend that time with you, your “friends”.

When that common purpose and set of activities is no longer there, and is replaced by another purpose in life and another set of activities, which involves being around other groups of people, the friendships that were born therein are put to the test.

And most of them fail it. Wryly said.

Examples: transitioning from high school to college, with or without relocation to a new city or country. Many students end up staying in touch through this stage, however, as they still have a lot in common with their old friends. Reunions and meet-ups are meticulously planned and successfully executed.

Then comes the stage in life when you transition from college to a fledgling career. A new workplace; new colleagues; new occupations; new challenges. New “friends”. You become a young busy bee toting a smart leather briefcase or handbag, a planner full of official engagements/meetings, and a tech gadget that never stops beeping and ringing.

Then comes the inevitable time when your female “friends” start to give their careers a break to get married and/or start their families.

However, many of them nowadays do this without giving their careers more than just a small, temporary break. Because life has changed, as I said. Stay-at-home parents are becoming a minority, as grandparents are increasingly becoming unpaid babysitters and nannies.

Like dominoes, one by one, your single friends start getting hitched, and the ambitious careerist group usually bifurcates, by age 28-31, into two distinct subsets: the full-time working professionals and the glowing new parents coddling babies.

As the thirties commence, many childhood friends still end up staying in contact even through these life changes, despite having no common activities in life any more (enter Facebook!). However, things are not the same anymore.

The married/parenting group is socially involved in grocery shopping, doctors’ appointments, prenatal birthing classes, themed children’s parties, play dates, park visits, picnics, and frantic early-morning school runs.

conferenceThe other oscillates between hastily prepared PowerPoint presentations, workshops, seminars, conferences, project deadlines, over-scheduled work weeks, late-night restaurant dinners, party weekends and expensive, fleeting “escapist” vacations to exotic foreign locales.

By age 30-35, as youth beings to fade and a person becomes more set in their likes, dislikes, schedules, social habits, and lifestyle – all of which is a result of the choices they made earlier in life, – the “friends” whom they have nothing in common with any more except a past life that they enjoyed together, become just that: a name and face of the past. A past that becomes increasingly blurry and distant with time.

The ones that are left are the ones you genuinely cared about then, and still do now. The ones you want to keep in your life just because of who and what they are, even if you have nothing in common with them anymore as far as social activities go.

Very few “friends” remain in your life after this tightly-strung-filter test. :)

However, if you are truly fortunate (like me), you will cherish having these few friends still there in your life. What’s more, Allah will bring new friends into it for you, through means and gadgets that you hadn’t even imagined years ago, as a teenager!

The Can You Do Me A Favor? Colleagues

Need I even elaborate upon this?

There was a time when I often heard my so-called talents and abilities being raved about by my colleagues.

I was young, so I loved the attention. :)

People I used to work with during my early twenties, usually decided for me which work I should do in order to best serve Allah’s Deen, since my chosen career has been Islamic da’wah since the age of 21 (in case you still didn’t know that). And I allowed them to dictate that, because I assumed that they knew better, as most of them were older and presumedly wiser than me.

I never allowed my professional work life to take it’s own natural course, fueled only by the firm belief that Allah would guide me, through circumstances, some of which I’d choose independently for myself and some others which He would ‘force upon’ me by His choice, to do something for the cause of Islam without being dictated by others.

I suppose that is the thing with being young and inexperienced: you do what older people tell you to do, and take it as the guidance of Allah. Anyhow, I assumed that da’wah could only be professionally done as an autonomous activity for a pre-fixed, specific time of the day or week, by visiting another location serving as a center for an organized effort to promote Allah’s Deen, away from one’s home.

For most of the religious sisters whom I met once my high school and college days were over, and while I was working at an organization for doing Islamic da’wah, doing something — anything — for the cause of Islam involved being away from their families for a specified amount of time in a day or week to teach or promote Allah’s Deen.

Consequently, for them, one of the prime modes of da’wah was to teach classes to absolute strangers, be they little children, young adults or older people.

Consequently, when they returned home to their families, they found a comparatively “worldly” atmostphere that was devoid of the effect of their da’wah. Ironically, this aura in their homes made them crave the faith-filled, spiritually richer environment in the da’wah centers where they worked, even more, with the result that they ended up spending more and more time away from their homes (and from their spouses and children) at the da’wah centers that gave them such a spiritual boost.

Over the years, people on the outside looking in (such as me, since I separated myself from them eventually, a decision that I will explain more below), saw extremely dedicated religious women working very professionally at Islamic centers away from their homes and families, promoting the Deen of Allah to strangers, while their own husbands and children spent almost all of their time in more worldly affairs, hobbies and interests.

Among all these well-intentioned people who professionally worked full-time or part-time as dedicated “da’ees“, I witnessed a common belief (or myth, if I might call it that): that if you stay at home, you become cut off from the people who do the work of Allah, and become prone to the entrapments of Shaitaan.

I fully believed in this philosophy myself until I got married and had babies of my own, because I presumed that all these sisters knew better than me, being older and wiser; being mostly married with children, being more experienced in practical life, and definitely more Allah-fearing than me.

I also agreed with it because I did not have the Shari’ responsibilities related to marriage at that time, and I was totally “free” to work for them.

Consequently – socially, I was their favorite! :)

As I said, they loved the multitude of my skills that I offered them to use for their da’wah work: public speaking, teaching, content development, translation, and computer skills (ironically, they never recognized or detected the ‘writer’ inside me, not even once! Ha!).

I was always being contacted by phone, sms or email to do this or that, for this or that department. I was a very busy bee. In fact, a few times I actually fell ill due to burnout related to my da’wah work.

My self-imposed lack of personal choice and will in choosing what I wanted to do for Allah’s Deen made me an even bigger favorite of theirs, because it meant they had a free, will-less person to work for their department or section, if they could just get their hands on me while my immediate superior (‘in-charge’) wasn’t looking.

I consequently got pulled in multiple directions at one time: like a baseless leaf or tree branch floating on a river, going where ever the stronger waves took it.

You’d be surprised at the the way I was referred to by the “heads of departments” when they talked to each other about me, referring to me as ‘mera bunda‘ (“my subordinate” in Urdu) as they decided which one of them got to keep me for their services and for how long.

I chuckle when I remember those days. I was such a mouse.

The whole point is, when I got married and became a mother, and started bonding more with Allah through exclusive personal reflection upon His Book, the Quran, in the solitude of my home (with two little babies), I decided categorically that I would no longer allow others to dictate my choices about how I should spend my time or ‘talents’ doing da’wah, since the time-based needs of my family came first — in the eyes of Allah.

I firmly believe that if a mother is alive and healthy, her children are her biggest, most important priority until they pass age 7 (and even beyond that age), and this responsibility has been placed squarely upon her shoulders by none other than her Creator – Allah. Nothing she does, not even any work for Allah’s Deen, is more important than her child’s care-taking and moral tarbiyah during this phase. Period!

Plus, the first formative years of marriage are rather critical in the development of the mutual love, trust and understanding between a husband and wife;- a development that needs to go slow and take it’s own sweet time.

A wife willfully going off to teach a Quran class to strangers against her husband’s complete and heartfelt permission/approval, while her baby or toddler is handled by an uneducated and untrained maid, or placed in front of the television by a grandparent, was just not the choice that I was going to make for my family.

My vision involved raising a family upon the Deen, who studied Islam, acted upon it, and propagated it, together – as a team.

I did not want my family to become like those of some of the professionally dedicated religious sisters with whom I had worked: openly bifurcated in their religious inclination and commitment, with the mother away from home all day teaching Quran classes to strangers, perfecting their tajweed and explaining to her students the intricate details of fiqh, while her husband and children devoted all of their time to worldly pursuits, and didn’t even pray all of their 5 daily prayers, much less observe the other obligations and prohibitions of Islam.

No, that would not be me and my family in the next 10-15 years! Insha’Allah, — so Allah help me!

And so, I informed the people for whom I had hitherto worked that I could not give them my time for some years. This happened before I had my third baby, and even before I started homeschooling my older two children.

Do you know what happened next? Just guess! :)

I stopped receiving their phone calls and emails. I eventually got dropped off the lists of invitees for their dinners and official events. Over the next few years, I stopped existing for them completely.

They still run around all day as busy bees, though, masha’Allah, doing a lot of “before the scenes” work in a full-time, professional way for Allah’s Deen, away from their homes, at their da’wah centers. Their children have grown up and/or flown the nest by now, masha’Allah.

10 years ago, when I was about to get married and at the peak of my da’wah career (if I might call it that), I thought that the emotional bonds that I had with these sisters with whom I had spent the previous 3-4 years of my life studying and working for Allah’s Deen, were purely and sincerely selfless for the sake of Allah.

However, for most of these friendships, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

They show no interest in keeping in touch with me just for the sake of Allah; but rather, only if I am willing to do some work at their particular organizational branch, institute, or department; any work related to religious studies or charity. If I am not willing or able to work with or for them, I do not hear from them at all.

So, even in my field of religious da’wah, there are very few “friends” who have kept in touch with me to this day, and with whom I still keep in touch, just because of our love for each other, or because being in each other’s company gives us a spiritual boost of Islamic faith.

Basically, we meet each other only to spend time together, the way Prophet Muhammad ﷺ spent casual time with his companions for seemingly no apparent reason.

I can literally count them on my fingers, they are so few in number. Wryly said.

And I thank Allah for having them in my life, even if I meet them only once every few years.

Keeping All Social Relationships in Perspective

At this point, I’d just like to say that I understand how the realities of life take their toll on our social relationships, and that it is perfectly acceptable for some friendships to die a naturalized death.

There are no hard feelings in my heart for those people with whom my social relationships and/or friendships ended as a natural consequence of drifting apart due to the non-existence of common interests or activities.

Perhaps friends fill a void in our childhoods and our single lives as youngsters; a void that later gets filled with our families (i.e. our spouses and children). Many people remain fond of their childhood friends even if they are no longer in touch with them, and wish them well where ever they are.

Secondly, please do not take this post as a criticism of religious organizations, their employees, or their work. Allah knows how much society needs and benefits from the noble work they are doing, and it is my dua that Allah blesses their work, grants it fruition in this world, and rewards it manifold in the Hereafter — where ever they might be.

I have only highlighted one aspect related to them that I think needs to be called to everyone’s attention: when the employees of such organizations, particularly women, become so “professional” in their work, that they get distracted from their primary familial obligations.

There are some things about which a Muslim woman who is married will be questioned before Allah. In particular, if she neglects the moral tarbiyah of her minor children and/or works for da’wah according to a schedule that, unbeknownst to her, secretly displeases or annoys her husband – these two things are matters that cannot be brushed off or taken lightly.

If a married woman uses her spare/free time to do any kind of work that promotes the Deen of Allah, so that her primary obligations are not undermined or neglected, it is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

In such a scenario, the management-level workers of the religious organization for which she works, should not burden her or any other employee more than they can bear. This is very important!

I have painfully experienced the awkwardness of being cornered into doing more work than I could handle, back when I was young and submissively acquiescent. I was often overburdened until I burned out.

For example, the academic department asked me to type the exam papers because no one else knew how to type Urdu and Arabic text on a software on the computer (duh, if I could teach myself, anyone could). The media department required me to make presentations and do Internet image searches. The email-handling section requested me to read and summarize piles and piles of daily online correspondence in English. The communications section asked me to proofread and transliterate text in some textbooks. And there were many other tasks, including teaching sporadic courses, taking a regular study circle, and preparing the English content for the official website and a CD. لَا حَولَ وَ لَا  قُوَّةَ اِلَّا بِاللَّهِ

I am just listing these here in order to give you an idea of what kind of work life I had 10 years ago, before everything changed, by Allah’s will. :)

When I could not do a task or project that I didn’t have the time, energy or skills for, my refusal was met with a response along the lines of, “Well, if you turn down this opportunity to do a good deed, Allah will choose someone else to do His work for Him.” Often, this was not said in a very nice tone.

The result was that I often did work for more than one department at a time. This was because of my irritating, innate penchant for perfection – that if I do something, it must be perfect! This often went against my own interests, because if my work was done professionally, the person who’d asked me to do it wanted me to do more – and more – and more.

Result: I was often physically down, yet feeling guilty inside that I was not doing more! Ironic.

So what was the result of my willful departure from working for an Islamic organization to concentrate fully on my marriage and parenting duties?

Did Allah leave me to my supposed vain desires for idle homemaking borne out of laziness? Did I lose steadfastness upon His path? Did I go back to the glittering world (الدنيا) with it’s plethora of distracting and useless occupations?

Allah knows best.

I just know that when I became rather socially isolated to focus on the primary maternal and marital duties that Allah Himself had placed upon my shoulders, He brought to me, within the walls of the little home where I spend most of my time, the freely available resources and means that could utilize the so-called ‘talents’ that He had created in me.

Allah, in His immense benevolence, allowed my (now) ‘freelance’ work for His Deen: the content that I create بِاِذنِهِ - my written messages and penned-down thoughts – to go out into the world at a mass level and benefit those of His slaves that He wills to benefit, by His Grace.

So I always tell myself, that even if one person out there somewhere in the world, becomes closer to Allah, receives a bit of guidance towards haqq, and/or increases in faith because of reading something that I wrote, insha’Allah it will be accepted and rewarded by Allah as effective da’wah work on my behalf.

At least during this ‘reclusive’ phase of my life in which I am needed more at home by my family, than by others outside. :)

Friendships I Don’t Miss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI push the shopping cart laden with my weekly groceries out of the elevator at the mall with a huff, turn the corner and plop down with a sigh on one of the wicker chairs.

It feels weird to not have my little chirping munchkins around me, I muse. They are with their father at home, about to join me soon.

I order my usual: Elaichi Chai.

As I whip out my cellular device to check my email, I hear excited squeals nearby. Turning to look, I spot a group of 4 thirty-something women seated on a nearby table, all dressed to kill. Hovering around them like bees are their toddlers along with their respective maids.

I recognize 2 of them: one was a year ahead of me in high school, who became a popular singer and amateur actress during the 1990′s Pakistani showbiz scene. Another was my neighbor during childhood, also a friend of my friend’s older sister (yeah, figure that one out!). Each one of them had one or two children, being intermittently fed by them or their maids with the food on the table.

Their get-together lasted almost the entire time that I was seated there having my tea alone. I inadvertently heard intermittent mimes and mimicking followed by guffaws and laughter from their circle. I tried hard not to eavesdrop, but something told me that a niqabi seen sitting alone there covering her ears with her hands would look like a sociopath. So I ended up hearing almost all of their boisterous conversation.

Ironically, that was the time my mind starting planning this blog post, because I started musing about why I was where I was today, and they were where they were. I started thinking about the lack of such lively girly get-together’s in my own life.

I mean, a couple of them obviously had more or less the same past background as me,- they shared the same high school, or the same neighborhood where I had lived. They also had small children. They were also at the local mall, like I was.

But why was I alone now? Why was I not still a part of such female get-togethers, where the ticket to a good laugh was, at times, someone else’s (usually an absentee’s) honor?

There was a time in my life (a time I do not like to recall often, out of shame and regret), when I was the “Queen Bee” of such a girls’ group; when I, too, enjoyed picking apart someone’s  honor for a few laughs with my buddies, mimicking and miming and making fun of someone just to enjoy a good laugh with the girls.

What had changed?

The answer: I. Me. I had changed.

And this change had come to my life from within. مَاشَاءَ اللهُ لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّابِالله

لَاحَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّا بِالله

Which corroborates what I said at the start of this post: the only thing constant in life is change.

And it is up to each of us to keep a check on whether this change in our lives is a positive one, by Allah’s will, or a negative one.

And the friends we choose to keep in our lives make a big difference to the changes that happen in it.

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Women at the Time of the Prophet (ﷺ): Empowered But Humble

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

I often come across rather polarized views regarding women and wealth. On one end are the slightly misogynistic myths that purport that if a woman is allowed to earn her own money and become financially independent, she becomes too headstrong and rebellious, and loses interest in living a simple life that is spent mostly at home, with her family as her focus.

Consequently, many of those who endorse this myth oppose higher education for girls (lest these girls become too difficult to ‘control’) and discourage or outright disallow women of any age from doing anything besides their domestic duties of serving their husbands, taking care of their homes, and raising their children.

Surprisingly, the men and women who hold such beliefs think nothing of the women in their family spending wasting time watching television, idly surfing social media and the Internet, gossiping on the phone, reading fashion magazines, or splurging whatever money they possess in beauty saloons, clubs and malls.

On the other extreme exists the belief that all women should get highly educated and work full-time in order to be as, if not more, materially successful and financially independent as men.

Most of those who endorse this latter concept believe that every woman should work at a full-time job in order to prove that she is doing something worthwhile, focusing only on ascending the corporate ladder no matter how loudly the ticking of their biological clocks resonates in their own ears, or how intensely they secretly desire maternity and a slower, more peaceful life that is totally in their own control.

For many of those who possess such strong views, women who choose to “just” stay at home and raise a family are akin to ‘losers’.

The reality is, that women should be allowed to grow and mature according to their own individual selves, and yes, in my opinion, their first priority (either before or after marriage) should be their home — I strongly believe in and endorse this tenet of Islam.

I think that full-time, physically demanding jobs are for men because they have been obligated by Allah to work hard to provide for their families, whereas financial empowerment is for women.

Now let me explain what I mean, before you think that I just contradicted myself!

Having a job means that you are practically someone’s servant (yup, even if you are CEO of your organization, because if the CEO doesn’t deliver results, he will be out of his job, and stripped of his flashy set of company-maintained wheels right after the next annual board meeting, will he not?).

While a Muslim man has no choice but to join the rat race of employed servants corporate professionals as soon as possible, in order to fulfill the obligation of providing for his family, women have been spared the pressure of awaking at the crack of dawn to go out, take orders from someone else, and spend most of their day doing tasks that will be checked for performance appraisals later.

Women have been absolved from taking orders from others about what to do all day, because what most of them might really want to do is wake up at their own leisurely pace, prepare and consume a lazy breakfast at home without being rushed, and proceed to spend their day as they please – not as someone orders them to, in return for payment.

The Definition of Success: Financial Freedom

Today’s women have been largely duped into believing that a successful person is the one who is kept on a tight leash by his employer, albeit paid highly on a monthly basis and provided impressive ‘perks’ in return for giving their fixed daily time and efforts to the duties of their job, and that too, strictly according to their employer’s wishes.

Most “empowered” working professionals today, will readily agree that the truly successful people are those who achieve enough material success/financial freedom in life, which allows them to retire early and lounge around next to a pool in their own mansion/farm/ranch/seaside retreat, sipping a (non-alcoholic) drink, and henceforth focus all their efforts on philanthropy and humanitarian work aimed at improving the lot of those in the world who are less privileged than themselves.

Yet, despite this widely accepted definition of worldly success (which is equated with complete financial freedom, as I said), many still look down upon the similarly ‘empowered’ Muslim woman who has been absolved from having to work for someone else in return for a salary.

She has been, instead, allowed to lounge around like this in her home, enjoying full financial security by having her husband provide for her, which allows her ample time and opportunities to do other kinds of beneficial work for others, on her own terms; work that she fits into the spare time lying around in her schedule -  a schedule that is dictated primarily by her home-related obligations and duties.

Sad, eh? :) When women do not want to be liberated by the excellence that Allah has provided to them through Islam (by absolving them from having to work in order to provide for themselves, or for others), but instead, want to “earn it” themselves by working outside the home, just like men.

The fact is, that for most young, single women who are used to supporting themselves financially by working at a strictly structured full-time job, it is often very difficult to become entirely dependent on their husbands for money after marriage.

It is another fact that many men (at least in the part of the world from which I hail) get intimidated by powerful and wealthy women. They prefer to marry women who are, and will continue to be, financially lesser-off than them and entirely dependent upon them for money. Such women are (according to their perception) easier to satisfy, ‘control’, and ‘tame’ into submission. ;)

What I am saying is, that if a wife earns more money than him, a husband might start to change towards her in his attitude and behavior. This is a fact (not one that I am endorsing, but just stating) that exists all around the world, whether we like it or not.

Anyhow, what I want to say is that I do not subscribe to either of the polarized beliefs regarding women and wealth that I have mentioned above.

My beliefs lie somewhere in between: I think that even though a woman’s “base” should be her home (where she works and stays most of the time, arising from it only on the basis of need), she should not let her spare time – the one left over after she is done with her domestic duties – go to waste.

Rather, she should spend it in doing beneficial work for humankind, which is very easy to do in the current day and age, ‎الحَمْدُ لِلهِ, with the Internet and telecommuting options making it possible to bring about global good from within the confines of one’s own home office.

I also think that if women efficiently manage the money and other financial assets that they possess (and as life goes on, they will be possess more and more wealth, I can tell you that much, — but only if they discipline themselves to save it, spend it wisely, discharge their zakah scrupulously, and give supererogatory charity regularly for the sake of Allah), they can become financially very secure without needing to work for an employer — ever.

I refer to the Quran and sunnah as usual, whenever I am pondering about something in my mind (which is currently the issue of women and wealth), and I try to find answers therein.

Alhamdulillah, I came across a hadith of Sahih Al-Bukhari, which I am going to take you through below, which threw ample light upon the nature of the Allah-fearing and financially empowered women (sahabiat) who lived at the time of our Prophet ﷺ.

The central figure in it is Zainab, the wife of the noble companion Abdullah bin Mas’ud رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنْهُمَا.

حَدَّثَنَا عُمَرُ بْنُ حَفْصٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبِي، حَدَّثَنَا الأَعْمَشُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي شَقِيقٌ، عَنْ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْحَارِثِ، عَنْ زَيْنَبَ، امْرَأَةِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ قَالَ فَذَكَرْتُهُ لإِبْرَاهِيمَ فَحَدَّثَنِي إِبْرَاهِيمُ عَنْ أَبِي عُبَيْدَةَ عَنْ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْحَارِثِ عَنْ زَيْنَبَ امْرَأَةِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بِمِثْلِهِ سَوَاءً،

Heeding the Prophet’s Advice in His Masjid

قَالَتْ كُنْتُ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ فَرَأَيْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَصَدَّقْنَ وَلَوْ مِنْ حُلِيِّكُنَّ”‏

Narrated `Amr bin Al-Harith: Zainab, the wife of `Abdullah said, “I was in the Mosque and saw the Prophet saying, ‘O women! Give alms even from your ornaments.’

The narration begins with Zainab present in the masjid of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ listening to him especially exhort the women who were there to give in charity, even from some of their trinkets and jewelry (حُلِيِّ).

This proves two things: first, that women used to listen to the sermons of the Prophet in his masjid and that he’d address them specifically during these sermons. The second is that women have been especially advised by the Prophet ﷺ to give away some of their jewelry in charity for the sake of Allah. I have already touched upon this topic before.

Zainab, the Secret Provider

Muslim women at the time of Prophet Muhammad were financially secure and empowered, yet they downplayed their affluence. They did not need fancy job titles or a bunch of “Yes-Ma’am”-saying subordinates to feel worthwhile.

 وَكَانَتْ زَيْنَبُ تُنْفِقُ عَلَى عَبْدِ اللَّهِ وَأَيْتَامٍ فِي حَجْرِهَا، قَالَ فَقَالَتْ لِعَبْدِ اللَّهِ سَلْ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَيَجْزِي عَنِّي أَنْ أُنْفِقَ عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَى أَيْتَامِي فِي حَجْرِي مِنَ الصَّدَقَةِ فَقَالَ سَلِي أَنْتِ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏.

Zainab used to provide for `Abdullah and those orphans who were under her protection. So she said to `Abdullah, ‘Will you ask Allah’s Messenger whether it will be sufficient for me to spend part of the Zakat on you and the orphans who are under my protection?’

He replied, ‘Will you yourself ask Allah’s Messenger?’

This part of this hadith is even more enlightening!

  1. Zainab used to financially support not just her husband (who was undoubtedly out of work and needy) but also some orphans (in another narration found in Sunan ibn Majah, they are mentioned to be her deceased brother’s children) – and she undertook this spending for the sake of Allah. [Lazy, spineless, gheerah-lacking male readers -- this hadith should not be used by you to start eating from your wife's money! I hope you will never, ever take a single paisa/cent/pence from your wife's money for yourself, unless you hit absolute rock bottom in your life (Allah forbid) and find no means of sustenance.]
  2. Zainab wanted to know if she could count this spending of hers as zakah. What did she do? Did she go out and ask the Prophet herself? No, she took her husband’s counsel about it, and asked him to find this out for her by going to the Prophet with her question. This shows that even if a wealthy Muslim wife is supporting her husband financially, out of dire need, she should still consult him and take his permission in matters concerning their lives, i.e. treat him as her ameer, just as Allah has ordained. Modern day Muslim ladies, please note: just as your employer holds a degree above you on the basis of the contract of employment that you’ve signed with them, for which they pay you in return for your services, your husband will always hold a degree above you on the basis of the contract of nikah that you’ve both signed for the sake of Allah. So consult him and take his permission in all matters, especially those that involve talking about him or discussing him with others.
  3. Abdullah bin Masud allowed his wife Zainab to go and ask the Prophet about this issue herself. Consequently she went. This indicates that both of them had a secure, trusting relationship, just as the ideal husband-wife relationship should be. Abdullah did not feel his honor lessened by the Prophet discovering that he was being supported by Zainab. Nor did he dislike his wife going out of the house to ask the Prophet a question about matters of jurisprudence in Deen. This indicates that Muslim women can ask scholars and leaders questions of fiqh themselves, and their husband should not stop them without a valid reason.
  4. Zainab was truly one awesome lady. Spending on her husband and also on her nieces/nephews? She must have a really big heart!

Going Incognito Out of Humility

‏ فَانْطَلَقْتُ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏.‏ فَوَجَدْتُ امْرَأَةً مِنَ الأَنْصَارِ عَلَى الْبَابِ، حَاجَتُهَا مِثْلُ حَاجَتِي، فَمَرَّ عَلَيْنَا بِلاَلٌ فَقُلْنَا سَلِ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَيَجْزِي عَنِّي أَنْ أُنْفِقَ عَلَى زَوْجِي وَأَيْتَامٍ لِي فِي حَجْرِي وَقُلْنَا لاَ تُخْبِرْ بِنَا‏.

(Zainab added): ‘So I went to the Prophet and I saw there an Ansari woman who was standing at the door (of the Prophet) with a similar problem as mine.

Bilal passed by us and we asked him, ‘Ask the Prophet whether it is permissible for me to spend (the Zakat) on my husband and the orphans under my protection.’

And we requested Bilal not to inform the Prophet about us.

  1. It seems that the women at the time of the Prophet ﷺ used to spend their money in the way of Allah more than on worldly interests. Most of the women I’ve taught Fiqh of Zakah to at Al-Huda, shared with me that they did not possess enough liquid cash to discharge the zakah on their gold, as they were not earning money. I came to the conclusion that they were unable to save any money from that which they were given by their husbands for household expenditures. Most people tend to undermine, or are outright ignorant of, the tremendous power of saving, especially for those people who are dependent on others for money. Saving is done by putting away a small portion of money as soon as any money comes into your hands. Small portions thus saved add up over time, and become a considerable pool of liquid cash. Anyway, it is quite clear that the sahabiat were not spendthrifts. They knew how to handle their money wisely, which is why they were able to support their needy husbands as well as minor orphans among their close relatives.
  2. They requested Bilal to not inform the Prophet about their identities (unless asked). This undoubtedly stems from humility: they did not want people to find out that they were spending on their husbands and other relatives. What taqwa!

فَدَخَلَ فَسَأَلَهُ فَقَالَ ‏”مَنْ هُمَا‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ زَيْنَبُ قَالَ ‏”أَىُّ الزَّيَانِبِ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ امْرَأَةُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ‏.‏

So Bilal went inside and asked the Prophet regarding our problem. The Prophet asked, Who are those two?’ Bilal replied that she was Zainab. The Prophet said, ‘Which Zainab?’ Bilal said, ‘The wife of `Abdullah (bin Mas`ud).’

I can’t help but smile at this part of the hadith! The Prophet wanted to know who these 2 women were, who were asking him this noble question. Bilal, keeping his word, tried to avoid revealing their identities for as long as he could, by mentioning just their first names.

But the Prophet persisted in finding out exactly which “Zainab” it was, who was standing at his door with this question! :) So, in obedience to the messenger of Allah (ﷺ), Bilal had to relent and divulge her identity.

Women Get Double Rewards

قَالَ ‏”‏نَعَمْ لَهَا أَجْرَانِ أَجْرُ الْقَرَابَةِ وَأَجْرُ الصَّدَقَةِ”‏‏.‏

The Prophet said, ‘Yes, (it is sufficient for her) and she will receive a double rewards: one for helping relatives, and the other for giving Zakat.’”

If a Muslim man spends on his dependents, he gets one reward, that of fulfilling his obligation. However, since a woman has not been obligated to spend her wealth on anyone besides herself (and what she spends in Allah’s way as zakah, if it is due on her wealth), she gets two rewards if she spends on needy relatives: one reward for helping relatives (الْقَرَابَةِ) because giving a relative something to fulfill their needs leads to improvement of relations and strengthening of the ties of blood, and one reward for discharging charity in the way of Allah (الصَّدَقَةِ).

Now I ask you, who is being given an extra degree of excellence by Islam? Who has the greater reward, based solely on gender? :)

Conclusion

In the end, I just want to point out a few things, lest this hadith be used by some readers as an excuse to start eating shamelessly from their wives’ money.

Ideally, a Muslim husband with a high sense of honor and self-respect should take offense at the thought of his wife spending her money on the household expenses, or even on her own basic expenses (such as food, clothing, and medical needs), as these expenses are his responsibility.

He should dislike her ‘chipping in’ to share the financial burden of running their house to such an extent, that she should have to resort to contributing her money in any way into their household (for the sake of earning rewards) discreetly and secretly, so that he doesn’t find out that she is doing it.

As for those husbands and in-laws who take a woman’s wealth by coercion, emotional blackmail or outright force – well, they are sinning, and will be answerable to Allah for committing this oppression.

Husbands and in-laws nowadays do this in various ways: e.g. by not paying a wife her dower (mahr) despite it being stipulated in the nikah contract. Not providing for her medical expenses, even during pregnancy and childbirth. Or by forcing her to work at a job against her will, and to give them all or a portion of her salary, or to pay for the children’s expenses from her money.

Such ignorant Muslims should brush up on their knowledge of Islam, increase their waning level of faith and self-respect, and stiffen up their spines to stop themselves from stooping to this injustice.

Finally, to those working women who have become so used to living the luxurious, independent and self-absorbed ‘carefree’ single life that they cannot envision themselves being dependent on a man for money, I say: there are some needs inside you, as a woman, that no one but a man can fulfill, through marriage. Not even your parents, much less your friends or siblings, can satisfy that part of you, or come close to.

There is a part of you that wants to be pampered by a man; to be indulged and flattered by him. The part that wants a man to pick up the cheque after dinner, carry the heavy bags during the shopping trip, and take care of you when you are down (e.g. when you’re sick). The part that wants strong, manly shoulders to support you with a hug; to get wet with your tears as you sob your heart out. The part that wants him to bring you flowers when you least expect it, hold your hand for no reason, and caress your face like a child’s. The part that wants you to ‘make a baby together’…

Enough? :)

You don’t know what you’re missing, sister. So stop letting your love of financial independence keep you from attaining that elusive marital bliss, because marriage is much more than just a relationship based on who pays the rent, and who does the pile of dishes in the sink.

To my married female readers, I entreat you to start saving money for discharging your zakah and to spend the remaining amount wisely in order to attain true, long-lasting financial freedom and empowerment. Take care of your husband if, Allah forbid, he hits a bad spot in his life, and do not desert him in pursuit of material wealth and status, unless his character is very bad and he is severely lacking in Deen.

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This article was republished in two parts by OnIslam.net.
You can read them here
: Part 1, and Part 2

Posted in Hadith, Home and Family, Inspiration, Islamic Knowledge, Marriage, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments