Meow: Dumb Things Muslim Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives Part III
Returning to my posts about things Muslim women do to mess up our own lives — things that can’t be blamed on external forces like “patriarchy,” “the kufaaaar,” and “Republicans” — this time around I’m talkin’ about a tendency to not support one another.
4. Our sisterhood is misplaced, misguided, conditional, or non-existant.
I believe that pretty much every single Muslima out there knows what it feels like not to get any love back from her sisters. For some Muslimas, it is not even receiving the proper Islamic greetings when meeting other Muslimas. For others, it is a lack of support when we go out on a limb — family wise, career wise, community wise, even diyn wise. In other cases, it is being completely ostracized and frozen out of the community because of race, marital status, economic status, or one’s origins as a Muslim (convert vs. born).
It seems that for many of us, offering sisterhood to someone means that we condone or approve or agree with whatever it is they say or do as a person. So, when Fulana does something we don’t approve of, we withdraw our support of her as a person. By this I mean that we snub her, we don’t offer her greetings, and worse, we indulge in gossip and backbiting of her.
Sometimes, a sister puts on niqab and loses her friends. “She thinks she’s better than us.” “She went all Salafee on us.” Sometimes a sister doesn’t wear hijab outside of prayer and can’t make any friends. “She’s not a real Muslim.” “Did someone say salaams to me? I don’t see a Muslim anywhere here.” Meow, ladies.
Maintaining bonds of sisterhood doesn’t mean we have to agree with another person’s interpretation of or adherence to Islam. It means we find our common ground and our common interests and support one another on those issues. It is something as simple as not stepping away from another woman in the prayer line of a jama’at because she’s “the wrong race / ethnicity,” or for some other reason. I have seen this happen, and it is damaging to us as sisters on the most fundamental level. Jama’at brings us together as a community, and when you refuse to stand next to a sister — when you pull away from her — you are telling her that you can’t even bear to worship your Lord in her company. Audhu billah. How can you expect sisterhood when things like this are going on?
Ladies, I 100% know what it’s like to have that ugly sister rear her head inside of you when you come across someone who does something you see as wrong or un-Islamic or whatever. But when we give into that sister, we’re giving Shaytan what he wants. He’s the one telling you that you’re better than Fulana, that because of her “wrongness” it’s okay to gossip about her or treat her poorly. He wants division and strife in the Ummah from the most complex levels to the most basic — in yourself and among those around you.
Lack of support for one another also goes back to the #1 item on my list, that we take things personally. For a lot of sisters (and brothers), when we see someone who has chosen to do things differently, we take it personally. We take it personally when it’s diyn related and when it’s life related (most notoriously when it’s mothering related). Ultimately, the only way to get over that one is to realize that it isn’t all about us and that the sun does not, in fact, revolve around us.
How do we remedy this one on a practical level?
1. Stop making it personal. So what, Fulana is a Salafi. Don’t make it about you because it isn’t. And don’t make it about her as a person, because it isn’t. If she has bad character, she has bad character. Believe you me, there are so-called “Traditionals” with bad character, and there are “Salafis” with beautiful character. Fulana says “la illaha illa Allah, Muhammadur Rasul’Allah.” This means she has rights over you, and you have some over her. This means you can stand and worship the Lord together, regardless of your disagreements on anything else. This means, at a bare minimum, that you return her greetings (or initiate them) with a smiling face and a pleasant voice, not a sneer and a mumble.
If you’re in the masjid and you see other people pointedly ignoring another woman because she’s a convert / not married / not of the dominant ethnicity or race, then you make a point of getting up and greeting her and welcoming her.
Finally, just because an unmarried lady comes to the masjid, it does not mean she’s trying to “steal your husband.” This is such a stupid reaction that I can’t believe it is played out so commonly. First of all, baseless suspicion of others is haram. Most women are (a) not soap opera characters or (b) interested in polygyny. The unmarried sister who sits down next to you at Jumu’ah is most likely interested in hearing a khutbah, praying, and perhaps talking to someone. She’s not stalking you for your man.
Second of all, trust your man a little more. Third of all, your qadr is your qadr, and if Allah wants you to be in polygyny or monogamy, it’s going to happen. Greeting that single sister with salaams and welcoming her into the community of Muslim women is not going to suddenly make your man want to marry her. Fact of the matter is he’ll probably never even see her except as people walk out of the masjid. And ignoring her and treating her like trash is not going to keep her naseeb from her. And fourth of all, when a man really wants to take a second wife or divorce his first one, he is usually quite capable of doing so on his own. You being nice to a sister in the masjid is not going to cause it to happen. (And fifth of all, if you think your man is that susceptible, perhaps you need to have a discussion with him, instead of giving Single Muslimah the evil eye and whispering about her to your friends).
2. Never step away from a sister in the jama’at prayer line. I think some might say, “Does this really happen that often?” And others of us are saying, “You’d be surprised.” If you have to leave the line for a reason, like your baby, a simple, “pardon me” or a smile as you pull her closer to the other person before the prayer starts will reassure her and dampen the whisperings of Shaytan. But if you simply move away without a smile or anything else — and worse, if you’re moving away because she’s “bad” for some reason, clicking your tongue and sucking your teeth — you are opening a door wide open for the Shaytan. Believe me, I have been in jama’at lines where women moved away from myself or my friend and it was clearly because of race, and it made a fitnah in my heart and my friend’s heart to the point where I can’t even pray in that masjid anymore. It doesn’t matter if you can’t stand that bossy, overbearing sister. You don’t move away from her in the line unless some part of you is looking to give victory to the Shaytan. Wa iyaadhubillah and I honestly believe that if such sisters thought about it that way, that isn’t what they want.
3. Support those sisters who are bold enough to take initiative as far as activities are concerned. Some examples are Qur’an reading circles, halaqat, book clubs, mother’s groups, and so forth. You might not want to participate, necessarily, but you can support her by giving her a pat on the back, helping her spread the word, or simply assisting her in getting the space and time she needs from the masjid or other venues.
When people start these activities they are looking to serve the Lord through serving His Ummah. I used to be surprised at how sisters could not only not support something, but work actively against it (brothers too, actually). How can you be catty about someone trying to benefit the Ummah? One example is the magazine Azizah. I remember when it first started, there was a backlash against the magazine and its publisher from sisters who were vehemently opposed to photographs within the magazine of sisters who were not observing hijab. Some sisters were even opposed to including such sisters as writers / contributors. There was a letter writing campaign and a talk-talk campaign on the ‘net to keep sisters from supporting the mag. Alhamdulillah it seems to have died down, but this is a clear example of how we work against our own interests. I don’t agree with everything in Azizah all the time, but I can’t understand how sisters can work so hard against the honest, well intentioned work of another Muslima. I met Tayibah Taylor and talked to her at length some years ago, and her expressed desire was to make a magazine that serves the interest of all Muslima sisters. (In add’n, I believe that all of the women pictured on the cover have been muhajabat). This is about finding our common ground and our common interests. It doesn’t mean we’re drones who agree with each other on everything all the time.
Don’t cast doubts upon her intentions by whispering to your friends. If you really believe that she is doing something misguided, then you can at least acknowledge her intentions to benefit the people without saying, “And I 100% agree with the methodology you’re following here!!” And if the matter is one of spreading misguidance or bad teachings, take it up with those in authority, while still acknowledging the good that she is trying to do.
4. Make your masjid’s “women’s committee” a reality. In many masajid, it’s just a figurehead. It exists on paper and doesn’t do anything in real life. There are ample opportunities for sisters of different races, interpretations, etc. to come together on a committee like this because you are looking to do things that benefit you as a whole. For example, remodeling the bathroom, babysitting services, putting in new carpeting, or starting tajweed classes. You can address issues that affect you on a practical level without ever getting into race, ethnicity, national origins, or madhabs.
5. Patch together your own community. Find sisters who support you and whom you will support. Let’s face it. For many of us, our community is not existent. Perhaps we live far from a Muslim community. Perhaps we don’t fit in, for a variety of reasons. Find your community online. Or perhaps accept that your personal community is going to be limited to a few like minded friends. Whatever it is, find those friendships and hold tight to them.
7. Watch the talk talk. The major cause of our problems with one another is that sisters talk too much and say things that they’re not supposed to be saying, whether it’s about a person, or about the diyn. This extends to blogs (and of course, it includes the brothers as well). I have seen so many sisters seriously confused, upset, and misled on the diyn — even on basic matters like praying — because of other sisters with big blabbermouths who were shooting off and expounding on things they had no business talking about.
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him say what is good or remain silent.”
He also said, “A servant unthinkingly says something pleasing to Allah for which Allah raises him whole degrees. And a servant unthinkingly says something detested by Allah for which he plunges into Hell.” Imam Shafi’i said, “When one wishes to speak, one must first reflect, and if there is a clear interest to be served by speaking, one speaks, while if one doubts it, one remains silent until the advantage becomes apparent.”
Allah ta’ala says in His Qur’an:
Pursue not that of which you have no knowledge. The hearing, the eyesight, the heart: all will be asked about. (al Isra’, 36)
Imam Qushayri said, “Safety lies in remaining silent, which should be one’s basis. Silence at the appropriate time is the mark of men, just as speech at the appropriate time is one of the finest qualities.”
Finally, the Messenger of Allah (aleyhi salatu wa salaam) said, “The excellence of a person’s Islam includes leaving that which does not concern him.”
What we say about another sister, or what we tell others about the diyn can put us in the Hellfire. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t Q&S thumping from a wild-eyed fanatic. This is the major, major problem of the Ummah at large. This is the major, major problem of humanity at large. Much of the unhappiness and discord between sisters starts with taking it personally and continues with talk. Aside from that, before you speak (or write / publish) whatever pops into your head, you are obligated to evaluate whether or not what you’re saying (a) falls into the categories of forbidden speech (such as backbiting and slander) or (b) will misguide someone Islamically.
One example of this is how some people went way overboard with regards to Asra Nomani. Her ideas and actions need to be challenged and clarified, yes, but some people had a field day with her reputation and self as a Muslim, as a human being. Do you really want to stand up there on the Day of Judgment and answer for wrongs you committed against Asra Nomani or Fulana or Bob? Do you want to be faced with Fulana on the Yawm al Qiyama, as she bears witness against you, telling how you brought her to misguidance with your careless words, or how you sowed the seeds of doubt and dislike for Allah and His Diyn in her? Reflect on the words above. May Allah forgive us for all of the wrong things we have said in the past, and may He make us people of judicious and beneficial speech in the future, amin.
A final matter related to talking is to measure how much negativity you put out there vs. positivity and benefit. Have you ever spent time with that sister who has nothing good to say about anyone or anything? Maybe you are that sister. Isn’t it emotionally and mentally exhausting? Take some time to reflect on how you deal with others. If all you are putting out there is negativity, what responsibilities will you bear for your effects on others?
I want to follow this up with a description of the sisterhood I have experienced, to show you that it is possible. A lot of Muslima blog readers and writers seem to be completely alienated from the community at large. I’ve read so many posts or comments on posts where sisters express their feeling that there is no real sisterhood left. But there is, and I’m going to tell you about it soon, insha’Allah.
You have to hold fast to the rope with the sisters of all races, with the Salafi, Sufi, and Shi’a sisters, with the niqabis and the non-hijabis, with the unmarried and the co-wives, with the converts and the cradle sisters, the rich and the poor. Holding fast to His Rope doesn’t mean that we say, “Everything is acceptable, whatever you want is cool.” It doesn’t mean that you can’t agree to disagree. It means acknowledging that we are all struggling, stumbling seekers on the Path, and offering to help one another when we trip and fall.
This entry was posted on 05 June 2007 CE | 20 Jumada al-Ula 1428 AH at 7:45 pm and is filed under Muslim Women.
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