Is It Permissible to Carry Out Surgical Procedures to Make Myself Look Younger?

Question: Can I dress up for my husband outside of the house? Is it permissible to carry out surgical and/or non-surgical procedures to make myself look younger?

Answer:

Dear Questioner,

Thank you for your important question.

May Allah make you and all believing women beautiful in His eyes and in the eyes of their husbands.

Beautification is sunna for women, and in the house, you can do whatever you like to be as attractive and beautiful in his eyes. In public, it is forbidden to wear tight or revealing clothes, but you can use Kuhl or elegant clothes even if they are colorful.

As for surgical procedures, that would only be permissible as corrective surgery. Any non-surgical procedures would be halal as long as they do not have any short- or long-term harm.

Covering Properly

It is of the God-consciousness [taqwa] of the wife and her husband to wear a proper hijab outside of the house, or in front of non-immediate relatives [non-mahrams].

Please see:

What Are the Requirements of Hijab?
Am I a ‘Dayyuth’ If I Let My Wife Go out Without Hijab and How Do I Maintain Protective Jealousy (Ghayrah)?

Cosmetic Surgery

Surgical procedures entail changing the way Allah created you, and this is forbidden unless it is done as corrective surgery.

Please see:

Is Cosmetic Surgery Allowed?
Is Cosmetic Surgery Allowed?Is It Permissible to Get Botox Injections?
Ruling on Cosmetic Surgeries
Are Breast Implants Permissible?

You should also read:
Complications and management of breast enhancement using hyaluronic acid

Keeping up with Barbie

It is, unfortunately, the case that many men think that women are or can become human Barbie dolls. This neurosis is exacerbated by the sex industry and the media in general.

The reality is that women are not walking talking Barbies (and men are not usually as handsome as Ken or as heroic as any Box Office action hero). We live in the real world, with real men and women, who all have pros and cons, both physically, emotionally, and religiously.

It is utterly imperative that we all acknowledge this, and live our marital and sexual lives in a mature and realistic way. If we don’t, we will never be satisfied with ourselves, our spouses, and the blessings that Allah has granted us.

Not doing so and continually looking for what else we imagine exists out there leads to being ungrateful for the blessings that Allah has bestowed us. Allah Most High has said, ‘And were you to count the blessings of Allah, you would not be able to: Indeed, man really is a gross wrong-doer and an inveterate ingrate.’ (Qur’an, 14: 34)

And the opposite — to be content with what one has, and not keep looking at the greener “other side” — is the means to happiness and gratitude. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Look at those who are below you and don’t look at those who are above you, for that way you are less likely to discount what Allah has blessed you with.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

So one should look at the countless blessings one has, and look at the good points in one’s spouse. ‘Live with them in accordance with what is fair and kind: if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something in which God has put much good.’ (Qur’an, 4:19)

It is normal as a wife, or husband, to feel at times that one is not quite the woman or man that one’s spouse is looking for. This is unavoidable. We do not live in Paradise, and expecting our lives and relationships to be paradisiacal is not realistic.

Rather we should try our best to be that which we can be — emotionally, physically, and spiritually — and be accepting of our spouses as long as they are trying their best too.

Talking things out, and setting realistic and halal measures to better the relationship is very important. Some things can change naturally, and sometimes we can guess what we need to change, but nothing beats having a proper one to one conversation.

Practical Measures

Tell your husband that you really want to look nicer for him, so that he doesn’t feel that you are turning down his wishes, but at the same time don’t do any surgical procedures (since by default they are forbidden), and don’t do any non-surgical procedures that may affect your health or that of the baby.

Try and act like you are more interested in him physically (even if you are not), and make him feel that you appreciate him being around. He may well just be saying these things because he can’t express his dissatisfaction with other aspects of your life. Try to get to the core of the problem.

Talk to him in a kind and receptive way, while being very frank about the reality of your body, your pregnancy, and your staunch adherence to what is halal. Make it clear that you are on his side, but that you are not willing to do something forbidden or unrealistic to keep him happy.

Be ready for some level of immaturity: if he is as you explained, he may not take any of what say seriously, and still want you to be aesthetically perfect despite the fact that you are human, and on top of that, pregnant. You just have to make sure that you have expressed yourself clearly, and wait for him to absorb the ideas.

Unfortunately, you also have to be ready to have your emotions hurt now and then. There isn’t really any way out of it. Even the wives of the best of creation, the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) sometimes felt that other women were more attractive in his eyes: he did have multiple wives after all.

The pain of jealousy is not always avoidable. But there is a difference between consistent and intentional affronts to your looks and the very occasional sense of not being the apple of his eye. The first has to be weeded out through frank conversations and/or counseling. The second is just part of life. And remember that men get jealous too.

It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Indeed, Allah has prescribed that women should bear the weight of jealousy and that men should bear the weight of jihad. Whosoever of them [women] is patient, believing in Allah, and seeking reward from Him, will have the reward of a martyr. (Bazzar and Tabarani)

Conclusion

Try your best, be as affable and hopeful as possible, and don’t get too sad. Marriages can change 180 degrees.

There is also a good book to read which is Yasmin Mogahed’s Reclaim your Heart. You cannot, and should not, detach your heart from your husband, but he also shouldn’t be the Kaaba of your existence.

[Ustadh] Farid Dingle

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language

How Do I Deal With Other’s Betrayal of Me?

Question: In every relation, whether it’s my parents, my siblings, my relatives, my friends, or my colleagues- they misuse my good qualities. Some of them betrayed me, some of them expect materialistic gain, some of them hurt me. Please guide me and pray for me.

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

May Allah Most High ease your difficulty and bless you with the strength to persevere.

Life is a Test

In situations such as this, we must remind ourselves that this life and everything in it is a test. The nature of tests is difficult and often we fail to see the wisdom behind them.

Allah Most High says, “…and We made some of you a test for others. Will you then bear patiently? And your Lord is All-Seeing.” [Qur’an; 25:20]

The tests that we go through regarding those we are close to us require patience. To strive to uphold the outward and inward commandments of Allah Most High in difficult times is the essence of patience (sabr) and God-consciousness (taqwa).

As Allah Most High says, “…if you bear patiently and have taqwa, their plot will not harm you at all.” [Qur’an; 03:120]

Reward according to Difficultly

You should see your relationships with others as an opportunity to refine yourself and your character.  There are certain aspects of beautiful character that take an effort to adopt. And often, they can only be acquired in times of hardship.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Surely the extent of the reward is according to the extent of the test. And verily when Allah loves a people, He tests them. Thus whoever is pleased (i.e. with the decree of Allah) then for them is (Divine) contentment and whoever is angered, then for them is anger.” [Tirmidhi]

When Allah Most High tests someone He gives them opportunities to purify themselves and acquire Prophetic character. This opportunity is a sign of Allh’s love for that person.

As the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Should I not guide you to the noblest character of this world and the hereafter? Pardon those who wrong you, give to those who withhold from you, and join ties with those who cut you off.” [al-Bayhaqi; al-Sunan al-Kubra]

Being Cautious

With that being said, we must also be cautious not to allow others to step on us or take advantage of us. As the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The Believer is not bit from one hole twice.” [Muslim]

Thus, distancing yourself from those non-family members who harm you may be advisable. As for your family members, you should strive to uphold family ties although it is difficult.

Prayer of Need

You should try to pray each day, The Prayer of Need, as taught to us by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) and ask Allah Most High for righteous companions.

See the following link:

How Does One Perform The Prayer Of Need (salat al-haja)?

May Allah ease your difficulty
Allahu A’alam

[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a graduate from Tarim; a student of Habib Umar and other luminaries; and authorized teachers of Qur’an and the Islamic sciences.

Muharram: The Islamic Calendar’s January | A Reader

The new Islamic year is almost upon us and although setting New Year’s Resolutions based on the Islamic calendar isn’t a common practice, there are a few things we should do; reflect over the previous year and take a moment to assess our accomplishments, and think about how we can make the next Islamic year better.

The first month of the Islamic calendar is Muharram; a very special month in Islam. Not only does it mark the start of a new year but it is from what Allah deems “the sacred months”.

Allah says:

God decrees that there are twelve months- ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth- four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation. Do not wrong your souls in these months- though you may fight the idolaters at any time, if they first fight you- remember that God is with those who are mindful of Him. (9:36)

In this reader, we have compiled for our valued readers most of our articles, questions, videos, and audio segments related to this blessed month.

Articles

Bidding Farewell to this Year and Welcoming a New Year – Muwasala

  • How should we end the year and how should we start the upcoming one?
    • “At the end of the financial year businessmen analyse their year’s trading, but our trade is with Allah and is more worthy of being evaluated. “

Muharram: Mankind’s Memorial – Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said

  • Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said explains why Muharram, the first in the Islamic calendar, is an especially auspicious month on many levels.

Sacred Months by Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said

  • An article highlighting the virtue of fasting in these sacred months amongst other things.

Answers

Can I Purchase Household Accessories in Muharram?

  • Clearing up some misconceptions

Is it Forbidden to Buy New Clothes During Muharram?

  • Clearing up some more misconceptions

Fiqh of The Islamic Month of Muharram

  • A detailed reply to a question posed to Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, “What is the fiqh of the Islamic month of Muharram?”

Can I Combine My Intentions for a Missed Ramadan Fast and An Optional Sunnah Fast?

  • If you’ve decided to fast some days this month but have fasts you still have to make up from Ramadan, can you combine them?

Videos

Muharram: An Opportunity to Transcend Hypocrisy

  • Dr Yusuf Patel discusses the importance of transcending the recurrent partisan and divisive issues of Muharram, and rather focus on following the universal values that Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), Imam Hussain (Allah be pleased with him) and other great personalities stood for.

Audios

Muharram & New Beginnings, by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad

  • A Friday sermon delivered by the Shaykh regarding the concept of shahada, commonly translated as “martyrdom.” The term in reality, goes much deeper than its’ simple translation.

Black Lives Matter: Racism, Social Activism, Justice | A Reader

SeekersGuidance is always committed to provide clarity, answers, and guidance, especially when new issues emerge.

We feel that in these times it is important for us to listen to our black leaders. In this reader we are featuring the voices of some of our most impactful black Muslim leaders, including Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Sherman Jackson, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Imam Dawud Walid, Shaykha Zaynab Ansari, and others.

May Allah make us of those who stand up for justice, truth and equity with principles. In the spirit of the Quran:

People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware. (49:13)

You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly- if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do. (4:135)

Articles

Blackness, Racism And How The Arabic Language Rises Above It All

  • When “Black” is good. An insight to what “blackness” truly means in the Arabic language

Black Lives Matter: If You’re Right With God, You’re Right – Imam Zaid Shakir

  • Imam Zaid Shakir has led funeral prayers (janazas) due to blue-on-black crime and black-on-black crime. In this video he touches on the history of the black struggle and sheds some spiritual light on the issue. Allah tells us our lives matter, we don’t need a movement.

Race To The Top – Imam Zaid Shakir – New Islamic Direction

  • It’s okay to get involved. Racism existed, and still does. Let us talk about it.

Spiritual Activism and the Tradition of Salawat in West Africa

  • Imam Dawud Walid discusses the inspiring story of a west African scholar, Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba

 

On Demand Courses

Social Justice In The Islamic Tradition: How to Approach Justice and Uphold Truth with Wisdom and Principle

  • Islam is a truly complete religion; a way of life. Does it lay down foundations for social justice? Of course!

Islam in Blackamerica

  • BayanOnline, an online Islamic seminary, is offering this insightful course for only three easy payments of free, yes, FREE.  Check out this beneficial course with Dr. Sherman Jackson.

 

Answers

How Do I Deal With My Racist Spouse?

  • It’s easier to avoid problems outside your home, but what do you do when the problems lie within?

Hadiths on the “Bad Traits” of Black People

  • How do we understand hadiths which seemingly describe black people negatively?

Would it Be Wrong To Avoid Interracial Marriages For Cultural Considerations?

  • Are you racist if you don’t want to marry someone from outside your race? The following answer discusses some prophetic direction in marriage.

How Do I Deal With Racist Attitudes at Gatherings?

  • Self-hate will lead to a dull fate.

Are the Islamic Rulings Regarding Marriage Racist?

  • Islam doesn’t teach us to be racist. Many people, including Muslims, are simply misinformed.

 

Spiritual Activism and the Tradition of Salawat in West Africa – Imam Dawud Walid

In this reminder, Imam Dawud Walid discusses the benefits of sending benediction and praise on the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), relating it to Sacred Activism and Centering Black Narrative.

Imam Dawud tells the story a great 19th-century West African scholar, saint, and activist, Sidi Touba, Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, whose mother, a scholar herself, was descended from the Prophet.

Shaykh Bamba wrote a great number of works in many Islamic sciences, but when exiled by the French, he devoted all of his time to writing poetry and praise on the Prophet as a means for his liberation and that of his people. Shaykh Bamba was a believer in “virtue ethics”—that the way you take means is more important is the end. Imam Dawud highlights a commonly recurring benediction in these poems, called the salat al-fatih.

Imam Dawud concludes that while at looking the issues is important, so, too, is the means we take. In addition, to keep ourselves centred and spiritually grounded, sending benedictions on the Prophet is extremely important, whether through traditional formulas, the salat al-fatih, or reading a chapter of Jazauli’s Dala’il al-Khayrat.

 

The Prophetic Paradigm of Dealing With Problems – Shaykh Amin Kholwadia

* Courtesy of Darul Qasim

In this Pre Khutba talk, Shaykh Amin Kholwadia reminds the congregation that the absence of problems in society are not a sign of communal success or well being. Human nature and society is inextricably bounded to problems and challenges. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had to deal with problems and challenges on a daily basis. Furthermore, Islamic history is replete with events and episodes of turmoil and issues. Therefore, instead of rebelling against human nature, Muslims should adopt the approach and methodology of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in dealing with problems. He (peace be upon him) showed us through his blessed life that Islam teaches us how to navigate through human complexity. It is time that we realize this and embrace the Prophetic qualities of patience, forbearance, struggle, compassion and generosity in dealing with life and others. We should do our best in providing ease and assistance to those who are suffering from the challenges of life, and try to create a peaceful society by following the Prophetic model.

* Originally published on the 21st of October 2019

Hajj, Haajar and Kashmir – Shaykh Sadullah Khan

* Courtesy of Masjid al – Furqaan’s Youtube page

In this Pre – Khutba talk, Shaykh Sadullah Khan discusses the historical meanings and lessons that we can derive from the sacred days of Hajj, including the great status that Haajar (may Allah be pleased with her) holds in Islam. Furthermore, Shaykh Sadullah reminds us about the legacies of illustrious Muslim female personalities that played significant roles in Islamic history. Additionally he reflects on the overt bigotry and discrimination that has become common on the global political stage, particularly in Kashmir. Shaykh Sadullah emphasizes the fact that our duties towards refugees and the oppressed need to move beyond lip service. We as Muslims need to be aware of the current wave of hatred and bigotry that has engulfed the world. It is critical that we look at Hajj as a symbol of unity, and an opportunity for each and everyone of us to sacrifice our self interests.

Have We Really Progressed? – Shaykh Sadullah Khan

* Originally published on the 19/07/2019 (Masjid al -Furqaan)

In this Pre Khutba talk delivered at at Masjid al – Furqaan in Cape Town (South Africa), Shaykh Sadullah Khan reflects on mankind’s progression and advancement in the scientific and technological domains. He asks us to ponder on the fact that the majority of human beings still live in poverty and under oppression despite the wonderful advancements that man has made. Our preoccupation with material progression has caused us to forget our moral and social responsibilities to humanity and our surroundings.

* Courtesy of Masjid al – Furqaan’s Youtube page

The Trodden Path (Episode 5): A Glimpse At the Lives of the Illustrious Scholars and Saints of the 20th and 21st Century.

In this series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.


In this fifth episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra

 

The Trodden Path

Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahra 1316-1397=1898-1974 (Egypt)

Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Mustafa, Abu Zahra was born in the city of Al-Malla Al-Kubra in Egypt in 1898 (1316).

As a young boy, he studied at the Al-Ahmadi Mosque in Tantaa, where he memorized the Quraan and some basics in the Islamic Sciences.

Then he joined the Shariah School, from which he graduated with excellent results in 1924. His certificate was equivalent to that of the Cairo Darul Uloom.

He taught Arabic and some Islamic subjects at the Darul Uloom and at the Faculty of Usul-Deen at the Al-Azhar University, as well as at the Faculty of Law at the University of Cairo.

He also occupied the position as lecturer for post-graduate studies from 1935 (1354). He was a member of the Higher Council for academic research and Head of the Shariah Department. He was the Deputy of the Faculty of Law and the Institute for Islamic Studies.

Hundreds of ulama from all over the world studied under him and it was he who established the Shariah Department at the University. He used to deliver lectures and lessons without any remuneration. He was invited to many parts of the world to deliver talks and to participate in seminars and Fiqh academies.

He contributed greatly to the Islamic World through the many books he wrote. His books are about eighty in number some of which are volumes; these are in addition to the many articles and fatawa he issued.

Some of his most famous books are: (titles translated from Arabic)

  • Discourses on the History of the Islamic Schools of thought.
  • Lectures on Christianity
  • The Life of the Prophet Muhammad and Biographies of Imams Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafi’, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyah, Zaid ibn Ali and Jafar Al-Sadiq
  • The Laws of Inheritance and Succession
  • Muslim Personal Law
  • Usul-Fiqh
  • Studies in Riba (Interest)
  • Islam’s planning of the Society
  • Crimes and Punishment in Islamic Jurisprudence
  • A Commentary on the Laws of Bequest
  • International Relations in Islam
  • Discourses on Marriage and the Contract
  • Discourses on the Laws of Endowments
  • Lectures in Comparative Religion
  • Lectures in Jafari (Shia) laws of Inheritance
  • The History of Dispute and Argumentation in Islam
  • Social Insurance in Islam
  • A Book on the Manner of Delivering Khutbah’s
  • The Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence

 

Shaykh Abu Zahra was known for his courage for the truth. He was a very honorable and kind hearted person. He possessed a strong memory and the ability to invent and think of new things. He debated with clear and strong proof. In his era, people were pre-occupied with his writings and his views in Fiqh. He was willing to oppose any deviant idea, as well as those who were the students of orientalists or were influenced by secularist ideas.

The ruler of Egypt at the time issued an order that prevented Shaykh Abu Zahra from teaching at the University and from delivering any talks in the mosques. He was even prevented from speaking on the radio or appearing on television or even writing for newspapers. Instead many of the smaller newspapers were encouraged to attack his character and personality.

In an interview with Shaykh Abu Zahra in December 1960, he was asked about what should be done regarding a leader who assisted in corrupting the country and whether he should he be obeyed?

He replied, “Indeed Allah does not love evil and corruption, the worst of leaders is the one promotes evil and corruption. Any leader who does this, then his punishment is Jahanam, because authentic Hadith have been reported wherein the Prophet prohibited the chopping of trees and plundering of land during war even if it were in enemy territory. So how can such acts be permissible in the land of Islam?

Those who do that deserve the punishment of highway robbers and those who support them deserve the same punishment.”

He strongly opposed those Muslims who were influenced by foreign and western ideas that stated that a country couldn’t be established on religious principles.

He fought all attempts by the government to distance the Shariah and re-structure it to suit their desires. He participated in a number of debates with the government in which he always emerged victorious. He opposed the government’s proposal to adopt family-planning. He also resisted the Socialists and he annulled the fatwa passed by some permitting some forms of interest.

The government’s attempts to silence him, whether peacefully or by force were all unsuccessful.

On one occasion, an arrogant judge opposed Shaykh Abu Zahra and criticized his books. The Shaykh replied that these books were written for the pleasure of Allah, they were not prescribed to anyone, and neither did any government take the responsibility of distributing it.

He was once invited to a large Islamic Conference together with a number of prominent ulama from the Muslim World. The president of the host-country was an oppressive tyrant who in his opening address at the Conference spoke about the ‘socialism’ of Islam. The President called on the ulama to support him and to proclaim this as being the truth. Many were helpless and bewildered. Shaykh Abu Zahra asked for a chance to speak. He said: “We, the ulama of Islam, who know the law of Allah in matters of the country and in matters related to peoples’ problems, have come here to proclaim the truth as we know it, so the leaders of the countries should stop within their limits and they must leave Ilm for its people so they may openly proclaim the truth. You have been kind to invite the ulama and now you must listen to their views so that you don’t pronounce a view that they regard as incorrect. We ought to fear Allah regarding his Shariah.”

The President of the host-country was alarmed and afraid, so he requested that one of the scholars stand and defends him against Shaykh Abu Zahra. No one complied and the conference was abandoned after the first sitting, when the President stormed out of the hall.

 

Shaykh Abu Zahra passed away in Cairo in 1974 (1397) and the Janazah Salaat was led by the Shaykh of Al-Azhar, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Fahaam.

Abdullah Al-Aqeel praised him in a speech after his death where he said, “Allah has chosen Shaykh Abu Zahra, a brave man, an excellent scholar, a prominent jurist and a mujtahid, a very intelligent person who spent his life serving Islam…”

Dr. Muhammad Rajab Al-Bayoomi said in his book, that Shaykh Abu Zahra was the refuge and solace for the scholars in any crisis. He was sharp-witted, very eloquent and very strong and convincing in his arguments. He was known for his sincerity and his harshness against the oppressors. He was pressurized, but he never succumbed.

Shaykh Salih Al-Jafari, Imam of the Al-Azhar, also commemorated his death by speaking about Shaykh Abu Zahra and his personality.


Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.

He has authored two books:

  1. Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.
  2. Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.

He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.


 

 

 

Reflections on the Life of Omar ibn Said – Dr Hadia Mubarak

Dr Hadia Mubrak shares her reflections and thoughts on the life and legacy of Omar ibn Said.

 

In our public discourse, the term “Muslim” tends to be synonymous with words like “foreigner,” “immigrant” and “refugee.” Yet the historical reality of Muslims in America depicts a completely different portrait. The first Muslims to come to America were Africans, chained, forced into bondage and stripped of their heritage, religions, and families.
The history of Muslims in America begins with people like Omar ibn Said, a Muslim scholar who was brought to Charleston, SC in 1807 and was later imprisoned in Fayetteville, NC for running away from his slave master. A few months ago, the Library of Congress made virtually accessible his autobiography, the only one of its kind, to the world, noted in the PBS video below.As a Muslim American, I feel personally indebted to the legacy of Omar ibn Said. I cannot fathom what it must have been like for this 37-year-old Gambian scholar of Islam to arrive to a new land, forced to contend with a new culture, religion and language and be stripped of one’s freedom and identity. The autobiography of Ibn Said speaks to his faith, wisdom and perseverance.
His decision to write his autobiography in Arabic – the only extant autobiography in Arabic by an African slave – is not incidental. By writing his autobiography in Arabic, a language that neither the slave masters nor the dominant society could understand, Omar ibn Said was asserting an autonomy of identity. He, and not his slave masters, would have the final word on his own narrative. Further, Ibn Said’s reference to the 67th chapter of the Quran, the Chapter of Dominion (Surat al-Mulk), in his autobiography is revealing. It reflects the faith of a man who internalized the ultimate reality of God’s dominion over all things; it reflects the knowledge of man who recognized that the only Master in this world is the Creator of the heavens and earth and everything in between.
It is worth considering how Omar ibn Said’s mastery of the Quran paved his way to living the rest of his life honorably, removed from a life of arduous labor under ruthless conditions, to which most slaves were subject. By writing passages of the Quran in Arabic on the walls of his Fayetteville prison cell, Ibn Said was recognized by those in power to be an educated man. As a result, Ibn Said was not subject to the laws applied to runaway slaves. Saved from punishment, he was instead transferred to the home of General James Owen, the brother of North Carolina’s governor, and treated very well, according to Ibn Said himself. It was not Omar’s decision to run away from slavery nor to seek shelter in a church that turned his fate around. Rather, it was his decision to write passages of the Quran on his prison cell walls that turned his fate around, attracting the attention of state authorities.
As the Library of Congress makes virtually accessible Ibn Said’s autobiography to the world, I cannot help but wonder whether he had ever considered the possibility that millions of people would one day read his biography. As an educated, literate and well-read scholar, his decision to select high quality paper for his manuscript indicates that he was writing for posterity. Could he have imagined, however, that millions, maybe billions, would read his words nearly 200 years later? We can never really know.
The public release of his autobiography reflects the redemptive nature of history, a history in which the marginalized, the oppressed and the voiceless are given the final word. As a Muslim, I interpret this as God’s acceptance of Ibn Said in His divine favor, and God knows best.
The stories of Muslim African slaves like Ibn Said’s offer just a glimpse into a part of American history that we’ve neglected to tell. And by the way, Ibn Said’s story represents not African American history nor Muslim American history, but American history. The personal accounts of enslaved Muslims like Ibn Said, who felt compelled to publicly convert to Christianity – the official religion of their slave masters – shifts the overall story we have told ourselves about religious freedom in U.S. history. Without question, America offered refuge from religious persecution for scores of immigrants who came to U.S. shores of their own volition. Yet this was not the case for over 300,000 enslaved African men and women. The personal accounts of folks like Omar ibn Said should occupy the center, not the margins, of American history.

Dr. Hadia Mubarak is an assistant professor of religious studies at Guilford College. Previously, Mubarak taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Davidson College. Mubarak completed her Ph.D. in Islamic studies from Georgetown University, where she specialized in modern and classical Qurʾanic exegesis, Islamic feminism, and gender reform in the modern Muslim world.