On the Holistic Empowerment of the Muslimah

The Muslim’s is a progressive, God-centered rationalism, coming, as it does, in a world which increasingly sees Islam as a religion of a backward community, writes SADIA FIRDOSE.

‘O Turner of Hearts! Make our hearts firm on your faith!’ This is one of the most beautiful and often repeated prayers of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), because even after being on the path of Islam, one’s heart remains highly vulnerable and susceptible to external influences, suggestions and doubts.

Unless we constantly remind ourselves of the teachings and guidance, provided in the Qur’an and the Hadith, there is every possibility of our hearts being swayed in the wrong direction. Especially so, in the environment we are living in. Here are a few examples, to which many of us can relate to:

  • Huda, a nineteen-year-old college girl does not want to stand out in the college crowd for being different; she feels an urge to blend in with them. Hence, she started talking like them, dressing like them and even acting like them. She basically wanted to be accepted by the trend-setters.
  • For Saba, a 20-year-old undergraduate, rules pertaining to Halal and Haram were not very clear. She did what her friends were doing. Since everybody around her ate non-Halal stuff, she too did it, thinking that “it’s not a big deal.” Moreover, the fear of being isolated and losing friends, which, in turn, would bring down her confidence level, compelled her to continue with the flow.
  • Farah knew listening to music is a sin, but could not stand up to her belief. In order to continue with her friendship, she immersed herself into the world of music. She kept track of all the latest music albums and artists. Music became the big part of their conversations all the time.
  • Zaiba is comfortable wearing hijab and burqa when she goes out alone or with the family, but when with friends, she is a bit reluctant about the piece of cloth on her head, because she fears being labeled by her friends as a conservative and a narrow-minded girl. She is not confident enough to question her friends, for being judgmental about hijab and the burqa.

Huda, Saba, Farah and Zaiba are all sailing in the same boat of fear and are sinking in the sea of societal pressures. I’m sure most of us can relate ourselves with these girls, since it is very much a contemporary and pervasive problem. The solution to the problem, however, may lie in a two-step process:

  • Spiritual elevation
  • Intellectual approach

Spiritual elevation

This can be achieved by following the path of Islam, with the Qur’an and its complementary component, the Sunnah (the sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad, on whom is peace), as sources of guidance. Here, the old quote, ‘well-begun is half done,’ however, does not hold good. Though, as Muslims, we all put our foot in the right direction, i.e. on the path of Islam, most of us hardly make it to the desired destination because we fail to follow the guidance prescribed. The guidance we are talking about comprises of two aspects:

  • Acquiring the correct knowledge and
  • The willingness to act upon the acquired knowledge.

The ‘will to act’ is not the same as the ‘power to act.’ This is so since man has been granted the will or freedom of choice within a limited frame work, while all power, or ability to act – referred to as Tawfiq in Islamic terminology – is granted when willingness to act upon the knowledge is demonstrated.

On achieving Tawfiq, one may go a step further and reach the stage of Taqwa. Taqwa is being God-conscious in every second of one’s life. This, in turn, creates a sense of fear – the fear of God which overpowers all other worldly fears that are trivial in comparison. One realizes this only after he/ she has passed through that phase of life.

Taqwa even enables the person to face the world more confidently, as he/ she is no longer affected by what others may think. He/ she now has the willingness to sacrifice the pleasures of the world, because, as the Prophet, on whom is peace, once stated, “the world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the unbeliever.”

The concept of Taqwa can be illustrated from a small anecdote from the life of the second caliph of Islam, Umar bin al-Khattab (ra). The story goes as follows:

Once, when Umar (ra) asked Ubayy b. Ka’b about Taqwa, he said: “Have you ever been through a path covered by thorny bushes?” to which Umar replied, “Yes”.

“How did you conduct yourself?” Ka’b asked him.

“Well, I gathered my clothes and maneuvered myself clear of them” said Umar.

Ka’b said: “That is Taqwa.” (That is, to maneuver oneself clear of sins).

Intellectual approach

Intellect, or the ability to reason, is one of the most precious gifts of Allah (swt) to Mankind. This ability promotes man to the position of Ashraful Makhluqat, the best of the creations of Allah (swt). While practicing this ability of ours, it is always recommended that we follow the middle way, for atheism and atheistic materialism have always been the very negation of all that Islam stands for. So the Muslim’s is a progressive, God-centered rationalism, coming, as it does, in a world which increasingly sees Islam as a religion of a backward community.

Logical thinking, reasoning, egalitarianism and humanism are, in fact, inherent characteristics of Islamic tradition, all of which are now falsely considered to be borrowed from modern western, secular, society. It is not necessary that the solutions to contemporary problems have to be sought beyond religion, or that true progress is achieved by following the footsteps of the west. But rather, the solutions to these problems lie in the rediscovery and reassertion of the values of Islam that address the contemporary issues. These values in fact, have been discovered and advocated by many secular and progressive moderates of all societies. These values could be social justice, morals, human rights, tolerance, modesty and peaceful co-existence, to name a few.

Islam’s teachings pertaining to modesty can clearly be rediscovered from a recent psychological research, done by a professor of psychology at Princeton University. According to this research, men view women with provocative clothes as object of action, and hence try to get closer physically. Whereas, they view fully-clothed women, as those women who are in full control of themselves, and who, thus, suggest that they be taken seriously. A similar research on child psychology suggests that for good parenting, one needs to be kind and loving towards one’s own child, and this is clearly illustrated from the teachings and practices of our Prophet, on whom is peace. As much is clear from the following incident from his life:

Once a companion of the Prophet, Aqra b Haris (ra), presented himself before the Prophet (pbuh), who was kissing a child. Aqra was astonished to see this and said: “O Prophet of Allah! You also cuddle children, I have ten children; yet, I have never shown any affection to them.” Our Prophet (pbuh) looked at Aqra and said: “What can I do if Allah has deprived you of love and compassion.”