Ramadan Guide For Menstruating Women

Although we all know that it’s really the inward that matters, sometimes the outward helps us get there. But when we lose certain acts of worship in Ramadan, it doesn’t mean we have to lose out. Here is a handy resource list for menstruating women to get the best out of Ramadan.

The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said about menstruation, “Verily this is a matter Allah has written upon the girls of Prophet Adam [peace be upon him].” [Bukhari] Those who claim that menstruation is like a punishment because one cannot perform acts of worship are severely mistaken. On the contrary, there are many forms of worship that a woman can do while menstruating aside from what is legally prohibited.

Allah says in the Qur’an, “He who obeys Allah and His messenger, and fears Allah, and keeps duty [unto Him]: such indeed are the victorious.” [Qur’an 24:52] Allah Most High has commanded menstruating women and women in a state of lochia (post-natal bleeding) to refrain from the ritual prayer and ritual fasting. Thus, if a menstruating woman fulfills this command with the intention to submit to Allah’s order, she is actually worshiping Allah the entire time that she refrains from the ritual prayer and ritual fasting.

It has been said, “Her praying while pure is worship (ibada), and her refraining from prayer while menstruating is worship. All of it is worship.” Therefore, there’s nothing dreadful or awful about menstruation or lochia (post-natal bleeding), rather it is a person’s attitude towards it that matters.

Suggested Acts of Worship

  1. Listen to the Qur’an
  2. Make remembrance (Dhikr) of Allah. See: Selected Supplications.
  3. Send blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). See: Selected Prophetic Prayers for Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Wellbeing by Chaplain Ibrahim Long.
  4. Give generously in charity. See: How Much Should I Give In Charity?.
  5. Be kind to others, including spouses and family members. See: Prophetic Guidance: On Forbearance, Patience, and Kindness.
  6. Make Dua for the Umma. See: Remembering the Umma in Prayers.
  7. Make much repentance. See: Chapter on Repentance-Imam Nawawi.
  8. Feed fasting people. See: Feed the People – Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said.
  9.  Carry out any righteous deed. See: Easy Good Deeds by Mufti Taqi Usmani.
  10. Gain Islamic knowledge. See: Nine On Demand Courses for Ramadan.
  11. Babysit to help mothers worship. See: Making the Prophet Real for Children.


Ten Ways to Benefit for Menstruating Women in Ramadan

Dread your period during the blessed month of Ramadan? Feel like you’re missing out on all the worship? Nour Merza gives women ten practical ways to spiritually benefit from this blessed month.

Every Ramadan, most women will have about a week in which they are unable to join in the major religious practices of the holy month: fasting and praying. When their menstrual period begins many women find that their level of engagement with the high spiritual atmosphere of the month drops. The same goes for those whose postnatal bleeding coincides with Ramadan. For many of these women, frustration and a sense of lacking spirituality sets in. This, however, shouldn’t be the case.

Menstruation, postnatal bleeding, and other uniquely feminine concerns are all part of Allah’s creation, which He created in perfect wisdom. They are not a punishment for women wanting to draw near their Lord. They are just part of the special package of blessings, opportunities, and challenges that Allaj has given uniquely to women. To refrain from ritual prayer (the salat) and ritual fasting (the sawm) during this time is actually considered a form of worship, and, if done with the intention of obeying Allah, it earns women good deeds.

In order to take full advantage of the blessed month of Ramadan, however, menstruating women and those with postnatal bleeding can do more than refraining from ritual prayer and ritual fasting to draw near Allah. Below are ten ways that women unable to fast can boost their spirituality during this special month.

1. Increase the Remembrance of Allah

In the Hanafi school, it is recommended for menstruating women to make wudu, wear their prayer clothes, and sit on their prayer mat while doing dhikr during the time they would normally be praying. This would be especially good to do in Ramadan, a time of special focus on worship. In addition to the adhkar that are well-known sunnas – such as subhan Allah, alhamdulliLlah and Allahu akbar. If you have a litany from a shaykh and are allowed to repeat it more than once a day, try to do it twice or three times for increased blessings. Dhikr has a special way of touching the heart, and by invoking Allah’s names whenever you can during this unique month you create the space, insha Allah, for beautiful spiritual openings. See: The Effects of Various Dhikr – Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad

2. Increase Supplication 

Supplication (dua) is something we do very little of these days, but speaking directly to your Lord is one of the most intimate ways to connect with Him. The beauty of supplication is that you can make it in any place or time. Take this opportunity to ask your Lord for all that you need in your life, and to draw near Him through either repeating the beautiful supplications of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, or reaching out to Allah with your own unique words. See: Ten Powerful Duas That Will Change Your Life

3. Feed Others

Whether it be your family, neighbors, community members, or the poor, use the time you are not fasting to make meals that fill the stomachs and souls of those around you. Recite the peace and blessings  (salawat) on the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, while making the food, as this imbues the food with spiritual benefit as well. Consider sponsoring iftar at your local mosque one evening with some other women who are in your situation, or volunteering at a local soup kitchen. 

4. Gain Islamic Knowledge

Use the extra time and energy you have from not fasting and praying to increase your knowledge of the faith. Listen to scholars discussing timely issues on our SeekersGuidance podcasts, form a small circle of non-fasting women who can commit to reading a book on Islam and discuss it together, or take some time to read articles on the religion from trusted online sources, such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s blog or Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s article collection at masud.co.uk. See also: Importance of Intention in Seeking Knowledge.

5. Increase your Charity

We are surrounded by countless blessings, so make sure to spread those blessings in the month of Ramadan. Give money to a good cause, such as supporting Syrian refugees, helping a local poor family with school fees, or supporting students of Islamic knowledge through SeekersGuidance. In a very busy world, we may have little opportunity to give our time to help others in charity – giving money takes minimal time, but brings great benefit. See: Eligible Zakat Recipients, Giving Locally vs. Abroad, Charity to a Mosque, and Proper Handling of Donations.

6. Make Your Responsibilities a Form of Worship

Sometimes, women are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the home and young children, and cannot make time to do things like study or sponsor an iftar. In these circumstances, renew your intention regarding your role as a mother and a wife. See these demanding and time-consuming roles for what they are: responsibilities that you are fulfilling to please Allah, which makes them a type of worship. Ask Allah to accept all your work as worship, and approach all that you do in this way. This will make even the most mundane of tasks, such as changing another diaper, cleaning up another spilled cup of apple juice, or making yet another dinner a way for you to gain the pleasure of your Lord. See: Balancing Worship and Caring for a New Child.

7. Listen to the Quran

Although the Hanafi school holds that women cannot touch the mushaf or recite the Qur’an while experiencing menses or postpartum bleeding, they are able to listen to the recitation of the Qur’an. Doing so offers much benefit in a month that has such a heavy emphasis on reciting the book. You can take special time out of your day to listen to it, such as while children are napping, or you can listen to it while in the midst of cooking or cleaning the house. See also: Listening to Qur’an While Occupied With Other Tasks

8. Increase Repentance

Ramadan is an excellent time to increase repentance to Allah. Use moments when others are praying or breaking their fast to ask Allah to forgive you and your loved ones and to keep you from returning to sin. All we have is a gift from Allah, so even forgetting that for a moment is a deed worth asking forgiveness from. Know that Allah is the Forgiving, and trust that, as our scholars have said, the moment you ask for forgiveness you are truly forgiven. See also: Damaged Inner State? Imam Ghazali on Repentance

9. Babysit to Help Mothers Worship

Mothers with young children often find it difficult to go to the mosque because they worry that their kids will disturb others who are praying. Since you don’t need to be at the mosque, volunteer a night or two (or more) to babysit the children of a young mother who would love to go pray tarawih. If you have young children of your own, you can tell the mother to bring her kids to your house before the prayer. By helping this woman worship, you will gain the same good deeds she gets from going to that prayer. See: I Love Being A Woman.

10. Spread Love and Light

Use the extra time and energy you have to share the joys of Ramadan and Eid with your non-Muslim friends, peers, and neighbors. Invite a work colleague for an iftar, make a special Ramadan dish and give it to a neighbor, or take time to make special cookies or gift bags for peers at the office or in school to hand out during Eid. By sharing these happy moments with friends and colleagues in the non-Muslim community, you counter the negative narratives about Islam in the media. More than that, however, you become someone who creates bonds in an increasingly isolated world, reflecting the beauty of the Prophetic light to all those around you. See: How Can Muslims Become More Effective Community Members?


Abraham As The Patriarch Of Shari’a Diversity : Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad

In this talk delivered by esteemed scholar, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, he discusses how the sanctuary (haram) in Mecca is full of signs; manifest signs.  The first of these signs is the standing place of Ibrahim (Maqamu Ibrahim).

The Abrahamic qualities that the haram contains are quite evident, from them:

  • The sacrifice on the Day of Adha
  • The retracing of Abrahamic moments during the Hajj
  • Sa’i as well as Safa and Marwa

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad says regarding the latter ritual:

“…And another of these great signs is …. the Sa’i, between Safwa and Marwa which are from Allah signs or tokens (min shaa’iril Allah), that this is her moment, and the moment of the female dimension of the Abrahimic possibility in religion, because Hajar is the only one really in the history of world religions to have been identified explicitly with the instituting of a religious obligation.  I’m not familiar with any other obligatory practice in any of the world’s religions that is specifically identified in it’s founding moment with a woman…”

Shaykh Abdal Hakim continues to discuss the black stone and what we can learn from it. Umar said, “I know, you are just a stone; you cannot do anyone harm nor can you do any good, but if it were not for the fact that I saw the holy Prophet kissing you, I would not kiss you.” But the story continues:

…then he cried until his sobbing was audible.

He turned and there he saw Ali – May God exalt his face – Umar says to him, “O Amir al-Mu’minin, in this place the tears fall and the prayers ascend”

Ali says to Umar, “It does harm and it does do good!”

And he said, “How?”

Ali answered, “Truly, Allah when he took the covenant from the descendants of Adam he wrote it and he, fed this writing to the stone, and it bares witness to the faithfulness of the believer and the rejection and negation of the unbeliever.”

Shaykh Abdal Hakim then explains the covenant that Ali was referring to.

Other things discussed in this wonderful talk:

  • What does it mean when we say we’re from the Abrahamic religions? What makes us different from the Christians and Jews?
  • How is Hajar an indication of Islam’s ethnic inclusiveness?
  • Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah (upon him be peace)
  • Ibrahim’s arguing and debate with Nimrod
  • and many other interesting discussions

The talk ends with some questions from the audience.

Should I Advise My Sister To Get Back With Her Boyfriend?

Answered by Ustadh Farid Dingle

Question: Should I advise my Muslim sister to get back with her boyfriend for the sake of their daughter?

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

Dear questioner,

There is quite a lot in your question, so I will try to tackle it from a few different angles.

In summary, though, do get involved with your sister’s life, and be there for her wherever she is in her religious life, but make sure she knows that she can only continue her relationship with her ex-boyfriend in an Islamic marriage.

Mending together

Your sisters need you. And you need them. Mending, both emotionally and psychologically, takes time, but one of the greatest catalysts is family support.

The modern, almost designed breakup of the family unit is itself a cause of weakened emotional strength — a strength that we all rely on as an immunity to the ‘flings and arrows’ of the chaos of This World (Dunya). Sometimes circumstances force us to separate ourselves from our immediate kith and kin, but we always need to work to rebuild these ties for immediate benefit in This World, and our benefit in the next. So keep in contact with them, and help them through their religious confusion, because you too need them in your life.

Family ties are so important in Islam that Allah Most High equated it in the Quran with turning away from Islam:

‘And might it well be the case that, if you turned away, you will spread corruption on earth and violently sever your ties of relationship? [47:22]

It has also come in a Hadith Qudsi that the womb (the symbol of family ties) stood up before Allah and said, ‘Here I am seeking refuge from being cut off!’ At this Allah responded saying, ‘Yes, [I grant you that]. Will you be content if I keep closing whomsoever keeps you close, and cut off whomsoever cuts you off?’ To which she replied in the affirmative. [Bukhari and Muslim]

So in this vein, it would probably be a good idea to reach out to your brother too, even if he is in another country, and to parents too eventually. All of this is part of the healing process, and all of this is part of the completion of our faith.

The Letter of the Law

Before we proceed to the specifics of what to do in this scenario, we need to get our bearings on what the Sacred Law says about your sister’s relationship and her daughter.

You and I both know that an extramarital relationship between a man and woman is not halal, and that means that Allah hates it and will not make it bear fruits of happiness in the long run. For this reason, the Sacred Law does not recognize the legitimacy of fatherhood outside the fold of marriage: the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘The child is the bed’s [i.e. the mother’s], and the fornicator gets the stone.’ [Muslim] This hadith tells us that is not an issue of biological paternity, rather than only the mother is considered the mother in Allah’s eyes, and the biological father who was not married to the woman has no relationship to either one: he is not the child’s father. This is important to know and recognize, even if the law of the land states otherwise. It means that the daughter will never inherit from the biological father, and is not considered his mahram.

It is also worth noting that as we all know, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. The only way that your sister and her former partner could get back together again would be by him becoming Muslim, and then the two getting married. This marriage would also make him the daughter’s mahram.

Trying your best

Now you are probably sitting there reading this and thinking to yourself that this is all well and good, but your sister does not look at things like this at this particular point in her life. Right now, she is trying to survive physically, financially, and emotionally as a single mother. From her current point of view, she is probably torn between love and hate, and toying with the idea of getting back with someone who has a vested interest in her and her (and his) daughter.

Given the situation, you really just have to try your best to realize the least amount of harm on all levels. What if she does go back to him and becomes Muslim? What if he doesn’t become Muslim? What if she doesn’t and just ends up a single mother? What if she just gets another boyfriend?

These are all possibilities that you have to factor in. So just be there for her in these decisions and turn her towards the most god-fearing choices she can actually make at this time in her life.

One of the scholars of the past said, ‘He who guides you to the This World has cheated you; he who guides you to doing acts of worship has tired you out, but he who guides to Allah Himself has given genuine advice.’ This is what she needs right now: a comprehensive will to turn to Allah that will translate into a genuine resolve to abide by His rules.

The golden principle is that Allah is running the show and that whenever we show genuine remorse and willingness to change, He opens solves things for us in unfathomable ways. This entails that we all decide to abide by the Sacred Law, leave the haram in our lives, and strive to perform what is incumbent upon us.

Allah Most High says, ‘Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light.’ [2: 257]

We ask Allah to takes us all out of the darkness and into His light. Amen.

[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.

Reflections on Surah Taha – Dr Hadia Mubarak

Dr Hadia Mubarak reflects on Surah Taha and how it can provide us with ease and comfort in these current times of difficulty and confusion.

At times of great distress, I find my heart naturally gravitating to Surat Taha, the twentieth chapter of the Quran. Its emotive energy is powerful, taking its reader through one of the most captivating sagas of prophetic history. It puts on display the spectrum of human emotion, beginning with fear, followed by hope, then a life of privilege and access, followed by one of exile, then a sense of complete vulnerability and destituteness to God, followed by blessing, stability and gratitude. 

One of the chapter’s many appeals to its readers is the realization of converse human experiences: betrayal and loyalty, cunning enmity and trusting affirmation (i.e. the magicians), fear and love, doubt and faith. Its verses capture a depth of love that outrivals the best of human love poetry. As a mother, the words “and we returned you to your mother so that her eyes may find coolness and she may not grieve” play on the strings of my heart like music. God identifies this act of divine grace – returning Moses (peace be upon him) to be nursed by his own biological mother – as a favor to Moses’ mother, an unnamed woman whose status is so high that God wants to console and comfort her grieving heart.

The narrative of Moses’ life, from his birth to the final exodus from Egypt, can be found in many junctures of the Quran. Musa (peace be upon him) is the most mentioned prophetic name in the Quran, appearing 136 times in thirty-three chapters of the Qur’an. Yet it is chapter 20, Surat Taha, that tell us a story of love: God’s divine and tender love for Moses (peace be upon him) and Moses’ loyal and yearning devotion to God.

God proclaims His love for Moses in a literary masterpiece that combines eloquence and etiquette. In the Quran (20:39), God declares, “I have cast my love over you so that you may be reared in My eyes” and in Quran (20:41), “I have fashioned/chosen you for Myself.”

Moses is eager to reciprocate God’s love, to be worthy of this divine favor. When the Israelites have neared Mount Sinai, Moses is overtaken by his longing to hear God and rushes to Mount Sinai, leaving behind the Israelites with his brother Aaron (Harun). At this point in the chapter, God asks, “Moses, what has made you come ahead of your people in such haste?” (20:83). The insertion of Moses’ name here reflects God’s gentle tenderness towards Moses. Moses responds, “They are treading in my footsteps. And I rushed to You, My Lord, to please You.” (20:84).

Muslim exegetes interpreted this verse as a sign of Moses’ longing (شوق) to meet God, his love so intense that he could not help but run to meet His lord. In his response to God, Moses reciprocates a high level of etiquette, addressing God directly as “my Lord” and affirming his devotion to God.

Finally, the Arabic-speaking reader might notice the double appearance of the term “أوحينا” (“We have inspired”) in this chapter, first in (20:38) and then in (20:77). It is in the juxtaposition of these two verses that the saga of Moses, his mother and the Israelites comes full circle. The first time this term is used, God inspires the mother of Moses to cast him in a basket in the Nile; she must muster the courage to do the unspeakable for the sake of saving her infant, who would inevitably be killed by Pharaoh’s men if left at home. The second time the term is used, God inspires Moses to flee with the Israelites and to strike a path in the Red Sea for them. Like his mother, Moses must muster the courage and faith that God will not let him down, that he and his people will not drown, that the waters of the Sea will transform into a sanctuary for them, just as the waters of the river became a sanctuary for Moses as an infant.

The juxtaposition of these two terms  (أوحينا), side by side, reveals a deep connection between the two stories. In the first instance of inspiration, the life of one soul is saved; in the second instance of inspiration, the souls of 620,000 people are saved, according to Muslim traditions. Yet the second rescue is dependent on the first. It is only through Moses that God chooses to release the Israelites from a life of slavery, turmoil and death. The Quran’s use of the phrase, “We inspired,” in these two distinct instances threads together one woman’s courage to rescue her infant son with one man’s courage to save an entire nation.

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.


Ramadan 2020 Reminders | Episode 10: God Doesn’t Forsake Us: The Story of Hagar | Dr. Hadia Mubarak

The Islamic and Biblical traditions both tell the story of Hagar, stranded in the deserts of Mecca with her baby—but in a very different way. Dr. Hadia Mubarak shows how the Islamic narrative shows Hagar empowered in the face of difficulty, showing us how to relinquish our anxieties and fears and completely trust in God.

SeekersGuidance: The Global Islamic Seminary offers structured learning and inspiring religious guidance, completely free. We also offer over a dozen classes with scholars from around the world streamed live this Ramadan. View the full schedule and tune in daily at https://www.seekersguidance.org/live.

We offer FREE courses, with clear learning streams for Islamic studies, Youth Islamic Studies, and Learning Arabic as well as a range of topics. To Register Visit https://www.seekersguidance.org/courses.

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You can also assist SeekersGuidance in spreading the light of guidance through our at https://www.seekersguidance.org/donate

Ibtihaj Muhammad: How A Champ Trains In Ramadan

*Originally posted on 2016/06/17

Muslim American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad says she spends up to seven hours training on an average day. Right now, during Ramadan, that means seven hours of intense physical exercise without any food or water between sunrise and sunset.

“My faith is first and foremost to me. It’s a priority,” Muhammad told The Huffington Post. “So it was never a question of whether I would fast and train. I’ve had to fast and train for as long as I’ve been competing at this level. The only difference for me this go around is that I’m in the middle of training for the Olympics.”

Read the rest on Huffington Post. Follow Ibtihaj on twitter.

Draw Near to Allah in Ramadan Through Service – Ustadha Umm Umar

Ustadha Umm Umar reminds us of incorporating the aspect of service in Ramadan as a means of drawing near to Allah Most High. She advises to not make Ramadan just revolve around one’s self, rather to also be concerned with others and their needs. Ustadha Umm Umar gives key advice and practical methods on how to engage in service through Ramadan.

I wanted to talk about another aspect of Ramadan that sometimes we forget. Often people think of Ramdana as my month. It‘s between me and Allah. Then they sort of annihilate the idea of doing goodness to others. It’s about me and my time with Allah. About how much time I can put in with the Qur’an. And then when we talk about service some people get a little bit bitter.

Especially the sisters. They’re like, well, why do I have to be the one to do this? why do I have to be the one to cook the iftar? I’d like to spend all day reading Qur’an. It’s sort of losing sight of what Ramadan is really about. And what the the scholars today talked and emphasized a lot is the love of Allah Most High. And rectifying the self. Turning to Allah and asking for His forgiveness.

But these two concepts do not contradict each other. Rather they run in parallel. Because it’s when we turn help each other, help fellow believers, and it’s all done out of love for Allah, that we manifest that love. That we love to have His creation turned to Him. And if there is anything we can do to help other people turn towards Allah we should run to that opportunity. Whether that be to people in our own family, whether it be our children, whether it be members of our community. We should be avid to do what we can to help other people.

Balance Service and Self

That being said, it needs to be balanced of course, because you can’t just spend all of your Ramadan running around serving other people with neglect to oneself. One needs that personal time where you’re turning to Allah. Reading the Qur’an with reflection and understanding. Spending time reading other beneficial material or listening to beneficial lectures. Benefiting the self.

But there are a lot of things, there is a lot of extra time in the day, in which one can do things for other people. And as our teachers say, it’s almost as if there’s a sale during Ramadan, because now actions that you do are multiplied. Good actions that you do, even reading the Qur’an – all the good things that you can think of doing are multiplied. So it is best to take advantage of this time .

And doing what you can to help other people is also part of making the most of one’s time. It is not that one spends a little time in intensive worship and then closes the book and goes to relax, and just sort of vegetate for part of the day. Or one decides to go to sleep for another part of the day. One strives to make the most of every moment. As we should on every other day of the year.

We should make the most of all parts of our day on a daily basis. Even when we get up from this gathering we should be striving to make the most of our lives as believers. To make all of our moments count for us and not against us.

Primary Benefits of Service

There are three primary benefits of service. One is that it erases your past sins. When you do things for other people these things get erased. So there is nothing better you can ask for. We’ve all made mistakes in the past and would do anything to not face Allah with those on our record. And by His mercy He can forgive a lot of those things when you’re serving other people with that intention.

Another benefit of doing service at this time is that you get the dua of fasting people. When you’re doing things to benefit them you’re earning their dua. And Allah knows whose dua is accepted. When you’re doing it for a number of people, that includes even small children, know that when we do things for other people they make a dua for you.

The Hidden Secret of Service

And perhaps that single dua from one single person, child or adult, known or stranger, is the reason for your success. It might not be all of these customs that you’ve done in the past or all of these other things. It might be the dua of one elder in the community that you helped in a real time of need. Allah has this knowledge. It is with Allah Most High.

It’s a hidden secret in our service to other people that we don’t know where where our ultimate success will lie. And with what action and with what person. That leaves us continuously striving to do our best at every moment.

And finally the third aspect of service is that the deeds are multiplied during Ramadan. So one might be doing things for other people at other times of the year but in Ramadan these deeds are actually multiplied. They weigh heavier on your record. So strive in this regard and in sha Allah the reward for your service will be multiplied.


Draw Near to Allah in Ramadan Through Service


Love for Lady Fatima – Habib Umar

A poem by Habib Umar bin Hafiz on the love for Lady Fatima al-Zahra (May Allah be pleased with her):

بِفَـاطِــمَـةْ قَـدْ صَــفَـا حَــاِلـي وَ نـِـلْـتُ الْـمَـرَ امْ
‎بِــضْـعَــةْ مُـحَــمَّـدْ حَــبِـيْبُ اللهِ خَــيْـرُ ا لأَ نــَامْ

By Fatima my state has been purified and I’ve attained all that I seek.
A piece of Muhammad, Allah’s Beloved, the best of humanity

‎أَعْــلَـى لــَــهَـا الُلهُ قَـدْرً ا فِـي اْلــعُـلا َ وَ الْــمَــقَـامْ
‎نِــعْمَ الْــبَــتُـوْ لِ الرَّ ضِــيَّـةْ نُــوْر كُـلِّ الــظُّـلا َمْ

Allah raised her rank and station to the highest
How excellent is the Chaste, Pleasing One, a light in every darkness

‎أُمُّ الْـحَـسَـنْ وَ الْـحُـسِـيـن أَهْـلُ الْــمَرَاقِـي الْــعِـظَـامْ
‎لــَـهُمْ عَـطَـايــَا مِنَ الْــمَـوْلَـى كِــبَـارْ جــسَـامْ
Mother of al Hasan and al Husayn, of tremendous ascension
Recipients of grand, momentous Divine gifts

‎هُمْ سَـادَة أَهْــل الْـجِـنَـانِ الْــعَـالـِـيـَّةْ يـَـا غُــلا َمْ
‎مَــنْ حــبُّـهُمْ صــدقْ بـَـا يـَـسْـكُــنْ بِــدَ ارِ الــسَّــــلا َمْ

They are the masters of the highest paradise
Whoever loves them truthfully will dwell in the abode of peace

‎وَ مَـنْ تـَـــعَـلَّـقْ بِـــهِمْ يــَـظْــفَرْ بِـــنَــيْـلِ الْــمَرَ امْ
‎أَكــرَ مْـتِ يـَـا بِــضْــعَـةْ أَحْــمَـدْ فَـانْــعِـمِـي بـِالـتَّـــمَـامْ

And whoever attaches himself to them shall attain all desires
How generous you are, O piece of Ahmed, so please complete the favour

‎وَ امْــنَـحِــيْ عَــبْـدَ كُمْ فِـي الْــقُرْ بِ أَعْـلَـى و سَـــامْ
‎نقوم بحمل الريات الهد أحسن قيام

And confer upon your slave the highest distinction of proximity
The distinction of upholding the Flag of guidance most excellently

‎تَـــعُمُّ دَ عْــوَ تَـــةُ فِـي ا لأ َ كْــــوَ انِ كُــلَّ ا لأَ نَــامْ
‎نــَـلْـــبَــسُ خَــلْـعِ إِرْثُ مَــا يــَصِـفْ سَــنَـاهَــا كَـــلا َمْ

So that the Prophets call encompasses all humanity
And thus we are dressed with the robe of Prophetic inheritance, whose brilliance is indescribable

‎يـَـانُــوْ رُ قَــلْـبِـيْ وَ يــَا أُمِّـيْ عَــلَــيْـك الـسَّـــلا َمْ
‎فِـيْ كُــلِّ حَــالٍ وَ شَــأْنٍ كُــلِّ لــَحْـظَــةٍ دَ وَ امْ

O light of my heart, o my mother, upon you be peace
Perpetual in every state, affair, moment

‎عَــلَــيـْكَ صَـلَّـى ِإ لـــهِـيْ مَــعَ أَبِــيْـكَ ا لإِ مَـــامْ
‎ِإمَـــامْ كُــلِّ الْــوَ رَ ى فِـي كُــلِّ خَــاصٍّ وَ عَــامْ

May Allah send Blessings upon you along with your father, the imam
Imam of all creation, the elite and the commoners

‎الــشَّــا فِــعُ الْــمَــبْـتَــغ يَــوْ مُ الـلِّــقَـاءِ وَ الزِّ حَـــامْ
‎يـَـوْ مُ الْــمَــلا َ ئِــكْ تُـــنَـادِ يْ جَــمْـعَ كُــلّ ا لأَ نَــامْ

The sought over intercessor on the day of meeting and thronging
The day the angels call out to all in the assembly

‎غُـضُّــوْ ا أَبـْـصَــارَكُمْ تَــمُـرُّ بِــنْـت الـنَّـبِـيِّ بِـالـسَّــــلا َمْ
‎وَ نــَكِّـسُـوْ ا رُ ؤُ وْ سَـكُـمْ مَــاأَعْــظَـمَـهُ وَ الله ُ مَــقَـامْ

“Lower your gaze for the daughter of the Prophet is passing in safety and bow your heads”.
O how tremendous a station!

‎أتَــَـذْ كُـرِ يــْنِـي مَــعَـكِ أَعْـبُرْ وَ مَـنْ لَــهُ ذِ مَـــامْ
‎حَـاشَـــاكِ يـَـا أُمُّـــنَـا تـَــنـْسِـيْنَ هَــذَا الْـغُــــلا َمْ

Please remember me, so I cross with you, and all under your care.
Far be it for you, O mother, to forget this boy of yours!

‎مَـحْــسُـو بِــكُـمْ يـَـرْ تـَـجِــيْـه مِـنـْكُـمْ بِــهِ ا لإِ هْــتِـمَـامْ
‎أَ نْـتُــمْ مَــرَ ا مُــهْ وَ مَـقْـصُـوْ دُهُ وَ نـِـعْمَ الْــمَـرَ امْ

Your child is hoping for your attention
You are his goal and desire, and what an excellent desire!

‎يـَـا بِــنْـتَ طــهَ فَـــؤَ ادِ يْ فِـيْ مَـحَـــبَّــتِـكِ هَــــامْ
‎وَ اللهِ أَ نْــتُـــمْ مُــرَ ادِ يْ فِي الــدُّ نــَا وَ الْــقِــــيَـامْ

O daughter of Taha, my heart is enraptured by your love
By Allah, you are my desire in this world and the Resurrection

‎وَ مَــا أَنــَا ِإ لاَّ بِــكُـمْ يـَـا سَـــادَ تِــيْ يـَـا كِــرَ امْ
‎عَـــلَــيْـكِ مَـــعَ وَ الِـــدكِ أَذْ كَـي الـصَّــــلا َةُ وَ الـسَّـــلا َمْ

And I am through none other than you, O my generous masters
Upon you with your parents be the purest of salutation and peace

‎وَ أَهْـلُ الْـكِــسَـاءْ وَ اهْـلِ بَـــيـْتِـهِ عَــالِــيِـيْنَ الْــمَـــقَـامْ
‎وَ الـصَّـحْـبِ أَجْــمَــعْ وَ مَـنْ عَــلَـى هُـدَ اهُ اسْــتَــقَـامْ

And the people of the cloak and his family; all of lofty stations,
And all the companions and those steadfast upon guidance.

Reconnecting with Our Scholars Upon the Plain of Taqwa – Dr Fareeha Khan

* Courtesy of The Sila Initiative

وَإِذَآ أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَى الإِنسَانِ أَعْرَضَ وَنَأَى بِجَانِبِهِ

وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ كَانَ يَؤُوسًا

“When We bestow Our favors unto man he turns away and becomes remote.
But when evil befalls he gives himself up to despair.” [17:8]

Among the many thousands of spiritual disciples of Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (d. 1943), a large number of them were women, but he would only speak to them from behind a screen. That was in colonial India. In post-Ottoman Turkey, the Naqshbandi sheikh Hajji Baba (d. 1991) also took measures to be formal and conservative with his many women murids. He believed that without doing so, “even a sheikh could be expelled from the Divine Presence.”1 More contemporary to us, the Shadhili sheikh Nuh Keller will not meet with women in his zawiya in Jordan unless they don the face-veil (niqab) and other people are present nearby in the same setting. Sheikh Husain Abdul Sattar of Chicago for many years refused to take female disciples at all, and now does so but with the permission of her mahram2.

These kinds of measures are seen as commendable by certain Muslims of a traditional mindset. But for a number of Muslims in America, setting up such restrictions between male scholars of religion and female students of knowledge is seen as an act of placing barriers between women and their chance at religious advancement. In order to understand why some American Muslims would see the examples mentioned above in a negative light, I will first discuss some intellectual developments that affect the practice of Islam in America today. I will then argue that these developments constitute a shift away from the centrally important concept of taqwa, or Godfearingness. The final portion, and primary goal, of this essay, is to highlight this intellectual shift away from taqwa toward a liberal Islam as a means of explaining the current spiritual crisis facing the American Muslim community regarding its religious scholars.

The Effect of Liberalism3 on American Islam

Definitions of liberalism are debated, but it is generally acknowledged that some time in the 17th century there began to develop in Europe a system of thought that placed the individual at the center of human existence. The God-centered morality of Christianity and the Greek value of self-realization were replaced by an individualism that emphasized rights rather than duties and placed a central emphasis on freedom. As time progressed, freedom or the autonomy of the individual became the central goal of liberal society. And as liberalism developed and spread across the Western world, it became the dominant paradigm (in a sense, the basic ‘aqida) of industrialized Western society, such that the “supreme end of every individual” no longer was salvation, pleasing God, or self-improvement.4 Instead, it became freedom itself. The highest aim of human beings was now “to assert themselves in the world as the individuals they are.”5 Due to its pervasive influence, a critical study of liberalism would require a volumes-long assessment of modern civilization and its forms of thinking. For the purposes of this essay, three disparate seeming aspects of liberalism and its offshoots (e.g. feminism) will be outlined here. The reason for outlining these three in particular should be clear inshaAllah by the end of the essay.

i. Liberalism’s Belief in Progress

One of the unique aspects of the liberal tradition is that it upholds a meliorist view of man and society. That is, it affirms “the corrigibility and improvability of all social institutions and political arrangements.”6 The belief in progress and reform are an intrinsic part of the liberal worldview and inform therefore how the modern individual looks upon existing institutions, including that of religion (religion is viewed by secular liberals as a social institution, not as divinely revealed truth). What this means is that for the modern person, even long-established beliefs and practices are open to debate, since all such things are possible to improve.

ii. Woman as Victim

Another core tenet of the liberal tradition is that it affirms egalitarianism, in that “it confers on all men the same moral status and denies the relevance to legal or political order of differences in moral worth among human beings.”7 The early thinkers of classical liberalism had elite, propertied men in mind when calling for the equality of all. As Western political thought developed, more parties began calling for their own inclusion within this “all,” eventually leading to a movement for women’s rights to be established according to a liberal framework. However, because of the fact that liberalism emphasizes an intrinsic right to freedom, and because there continue to exist social institutions (like marriage and family) that are predicated on duties to others that must be fulfilled regardless of one’s conflicting inclinations, the feminist movement is caught in a predicament of forever positioning women as victims. To take the feminist call for freedom to its logical end, the entire structure of not just family but also men and women’s civic and social roles would have to be “radically altered” to achieve fully equal rights among adult members of a society. This is in fact the goal of many liberal and feminist thinkers today—a complete re-envisioning and restructuring of gender roles.8 As long as institutions like religion and marriage remain on earth, which honor and maintain the traditional roles of men and women, this goal cannot be fully achieved, and so the view of woman-as-victim remains.

iii. Islam vs. islams

As the liberal concept of equality gained ground in the intellectual, social and political realms of Western society, the concept of authority and authoritative figures suffered a major blow. With this, so did the idea of a unified, singularly authoritative religious tradition, with an agreed-upon set of values, practices and beliefs, since some authority would be needed to decide what in fact was agreed upon. Within the academic study of Islam, the idea began to circulate of the existence of multiple, coequal “islams”—all legitimate and equally compelling subjects of study.9 Any institutional or methodological claim to a true, capital-I “Islam” was seen as contrary to egalitarianism, and therefore circumspect. The Sunni conception of scholarly consensus (ijma‘), the authoritativeness of the four legal schools, or the exclusive validity of the Sunni schools of theology, began to be labeled by some Western academic scholars as constituting “Arab Islam.” The assumption of course is that there was something inherently unfair in the idea of a single, authoritative form of Islam. What formerly was considered to be authentic Islam was now ascribed to a single group (“Arabs”) among many, and every other individual Muslim’s interpretation of how to practice Islam was now seen as deserving of its rightful place in the liberal academic study of Islam.

American Islam and Its Scholars

As more and more Muslims in the post-colonial era began moving to Western nations, they naturally began to adapt to and be influenced by the liberal societies they now called home. They loved Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) but could not help but accept and internalize some of the liberal perspectives around them. Liberalism’s belief in progress, and its exasperation at the continued status of women as victims, were things colonized Muslims had already had to struggle with, since their colonizers had used these ideas to badger Muslim self-confidence during colonial rule (Did they believe in Islamic reform or not? Did they want advancement for women or not?). These questions followed Muslims to their new Western abodes, but to some degree they were not initially as painful to face as they had been during colonial days. Even in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and beyond, it was easy to find fellow Westerners who answered these questions with confidence in non-liberal ways, particularly in America where Christianity still had a strong presence. The fact that these Muslims now had some status as Westerners also helped, as the newly naturalized Muslim American could say, “Since I am now a citizen of your nation, do I not have the right to freedom of religion, to determine the answers to these questions as I please?” American converts to Islam had an even greater advantage in this regard and could confidently proffer non-liberal, Islamically-grounded answers to the questions in a way their immigrant coreligionists could not.

But following the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims felt great pressure to present themselves as “more American than apple pie,” and the propagation of a liberal face of Islam suddenly became a matter of urgency. Virtually overnight, the freedom of Muslims to just be themselves turned into a second-class kind of freedom. Yes, you could practice your religion, but only as far as you can demonstrate how your religion matches up with the liberal ideals of America. Otherwise, you were not “moderate” enough to be trusted.

So began a liberalization of traditional Islam in America, with the tacit support of a beleaguered Muslim American public. Fatwas unconditionally permitting things like usurious loans, the keeping of dogs as household pets, and the marking of the Islamic calendar via astronomical calculation began to circulate.10,11 It was now more important in the eyes of some American Muslim thinkers to eat organic than to eat halal. Many times, these “fatwas” were issued by academic scholars of Islam or by committees comprised of such scholars as well as scientists, thus furthering the liberalization process by not recognizing the need for qualified religious scholars (‘ulama) trained in the high skill of fatwa derivation. Numerous, sometimes complex, arguments derived from classical Islamic legal discourse were presented as justification, despite the fact that never in Islamic history had these rulings been applied in such ways by scholars of any of the four Sunni legal schools.

The place where the liberalization of Islam became most palpable, however, was in the arena of the participation of women in the American Muslim public sphere, and in particular in circles of religious learning and Muslim activism. Women’s access to classes and teachers was emphasized like never before, but with the stated intent of “empowerment,” not toward inculcating submission and humility before God. The presence of female scholars and spokesmen became a priority as a means of redressing an assumed normalcy of discrimination, rather than teaching due to qualification. A certain reticence toward commenting on proper decorum and dress developed—to the point that women without hijab were sometimes appointed emcees of national religious meetings—as a statement endorsing the full inclusion of women. A blatant call for the development of an “American Islam” was put out, with encouragement especially of new cultural forms that honored a newly emerging American Muslim identity. In “third spaces” that were not quite social and not quite religious, women and men began interacting freely to enjoy spiritually uplifting song and performance. In some cases, it was the women who would perform, or play musical instruments, with prominent male scholars and preachers of the American Muslim community present to show their endorsement.

The Place of Taqwa

The prominent vocabulary of this liberalization phase has consisted of words like identity, culture, tradition, lineage. Knowledge has been emphasized as well, but as a means of preserving the four concepts just mentioned. Rarely in American Muslim circles is knowledge emphasized as a means of fully and properly submitting to Allah. Rarely, if ever, is it emphasized as a means of developing taqwa, a core teaching of the Qur’an:

“Have taqwa of Allah and He will teach you.” (2:282)

“You who believe, if you have taqwa of Allah, Allah will make a Discrimination12 for you.” (8:29)

“Had the people of the cities believed and had taqwa, We would have opened up baraka on them from the heaven and the earth.” (7:96)

“Whoever has taqwa of Allah, He will make a way out for him, and provide him from where he does not reckon.” (65: 2-3)

“Whoever relies on Allah, He is enough for him. The command of Allah reaches the mark.” (65:3)

“Whoever has taqwa of Allah, Allah will make his affair easy for him. That is the command of Allah which He has sent down to you.” (65: 4-5)13

There are more verses and Prophetic traditions like this, highlighting the importance of taqwa in the life of a Muslim. Taqwa can be defined as “Godfearingness” or “awe and dread for Allah’s might and power, and fear of overstepping His limits.”14 It is in the actualization of the Muslim’s submission to God at the level of the conscience, such that he can come to a place where he finally realizes his true purpose on earth: to demonstrate his slavehood (‘ubudiyya) to Allah.

“I have not created jinn or men except to worship me (ya‘budun).” [ 51:56]

This purpose is as common to the Muslim who lives in Egypt or Pakistan as the one who lives in America; the earth belongs in totality to the One who created it. The submission (islam) required of the Muslim is manifest at all levels—through his body when he prays or fasts; through his intellect when he believes in the Truth revealed to Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace); and through his method of acquiring knowledge of what God commands, by seeking it at the feet of those who submitted to the pious scholars who came before. The fruit of all of this submission is that the submitted human being’s consciousness becomes in tune with the command of Allah in a way that he can no longer even consider doing what is displeasing to Him.

Allah the Almighty has said: Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him, and my servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. (Bukhari)15

How exactly can we know what the religious duties mentioned in this hadith are, what the command of Allah is in any given matter, so that we can thereby aim for this high rank of friendship with Allah? That is the real purpose of seeking knowledge in Islam. And when that is the real purpose, then selecting carefully who one takes one’s deen from—knowing who is qualified to speak on the authority of God, both in terms of training and in terms of personal piety—becomes critical.16 With this purpose, even the desire to be in the company of scholars begins to revolve around one’s need to develop taqwa.

Visiting the lords of taqwa. Go to them—it heals and it is
the key of the doors of guidance and good.17

But when seeking knowledge becomes about “representation”—who can best present an amicable face of an American Muslim identity—then the criteria of religious qualification, training, and, above all, taqwa, start to fade away into the artificially bright light of liberal public relations.

The Current Problem

Liberal American Islam is apparently here to stay. American Muslims are proud of the progress they have made beyond the Old World methods of practicing Islam. The compromised nature of women’s status is no longer a question. It is a fact, needing not even to be spoken, and to help overcome the historical victimization of women, access to religious learning (and all other aspects of public life) has been increased and promoted with obvious results. No longer do we feel the need to justify a different way of practicing Islam from those who came before. We are American, after all, and have the right to assert our American Islam in the world as the unique community that we are.

The above is the view of prominent liberalizing factions among the Muslims in America. But Allah Most High has now sent us a challenging test: how will you deal with situations where those you consider to be scholars of religion fail to have taqwa? Will your solution continue to lie within a liberal paradigm, or will you turn back to Allah? The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) told us, “The believer is the mirror of his fellow believer.” A mirror is now being held up to the lack of taqwa inherent in “American Islam”: what will we as a community of believers in this country reflect back?

I do not confess to have the answer. I am not a religious scholar, a member of the ‘ulama. I am, rather, an academic scholar of Islam, trained to analyze Islam through the lens of history and the liberal critical tradition that forms the foundation of the modern Western academy. But as someone who has tried to save her soul from the liberalizing tendencies of the Academy by keeping the company of religious scholars, and by seeking knowledge and advice from them, I offer below a few reflections and recommendations that I hope will prove useful to the Muslims in America who are struggling through the current test Allah has put before us.

I was fortunate in that I grew up in a conservative, traditionally minded community within America. My exposure to religious scholars came at a young age through Qur’an classes and Sunday school lessons on the basics of fiqhtajweed and seerah. The real exposure to seeking knowledge however came in 1998 when I was able to attend an Islamic study program in Fez, Morocco, in which we Western Muslim students were taught by both local Moroccan scholars as well as scholars who themselves resided in the West. It was a life-changing experience for which I will forever be grateful, as it helped me appreciate Islam, Islamic scholarship, and Muslim saints and scholars in a way I never had before. As a female student, had I not been given access to this opportunity, I don’t know if I ever would have embarked so confidently and with such enthusiasm on the journey to study Islam.

When I began graduate study of Islam in America, I was cognizant of the fact that studying Islam in the university was not the same as studying Islam at the feet of scholars. My professors at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan were not the same as the pious, dignified, sunnah-following ‘ulama of the Qarawiyyin in Fez. My professors knew a lot about theory and history and legal methodology, but they were not even Muslim,18 let alone able to say anything of worth about what I as a Muslim should believe or how I should practice. So to get answers on questions regarding women in Islam—the focus of much of my research—I made it a point to seek out religious scholars both at home and abroad in the Muslim world. And to my surprise, some of the most well-known and conservative or traditional male scholars offered me the same access that had been granted to me by that Western-Muslim organized program in Fez.

There was a difference, however, in how that access was granted in comparison to some of the scholars I met in America, and therefore a subtle difference in what was ultimately conveyed. When I met to discuss my work with Mufti Taqi Usmani in Karachi, he made sure when we were done to introduce me to his wife as he and my husband went off to pray in the masjid. In Damascus, the Hanafi scholar Sheikh Hassan al-Hindi gave me a lot of time, may Allah preserve him. Like Mufti Taqi, he too had me meet his wife and family, and took numerous other precautions to assure the appropriateness of our meetings, despite the fact that he is blind. The great Syrian hadith scholar Dr. Nuruddin ‘Itr introduced me to his top female student, presumably as a means for me to benefit not just from the single meeting with him but from potential long-term contact with women scholars of the deen. In Abu Dhabi, the Yemeni scholar Habib ‘Ali al-Jifri made sure to have an excellent, academically-informed translator present during our meeting, in case I would have any trouble conveying my own ideas or grasping his. He too made sure to connect me with a female member of his family—his sister, a woman of religious accomplishment—which I interpret to be an act of propriety as well as a mode of encouragement to me as a female student in my pursuit of sacred knowledge.

Such precautions and markers of propriety served to grant me access, while making clear that the intellectual exchange was purely for the sake of Allah, upon the grounds of taqwa, not for the appeasement of some liberal ideal of equal opportunity. On the other hand, though meeting with Muslim scholars in America was generally within the bounds of propriety (alhamdulillah), there were times when I faced awkward circumstances. On one occasion, I was given an appointment to meet with a scholar at the institution where he teaches. I waited for my appointment as he finished a class with two men, but then they left, and I ended up in a meeting with this scholar alone on a large premises with no one else around. The same thing happened at another institution, with a well-known religious scholar of a different educational lineage. I showed up to the meeting assuming the bustle of students and classes, or at least the presence of staff. But I again found myself alone with a male scholar, and though technically someone could have easily walked in,19 as a woman and as a student of knowledge who knows better, both these meetings made me highly uncomfortable. On another occasion, I was given permission to meet a renowned scholar at his residence. Having learned my lesson from previous experiences, I took a companion with me. Had I not done so, I found that for a good part of that meeting too I would have been alone with him.

Aside from what happened at these meetings, other cues have been given to me by American Muslim scholars regarding the need to relax the traditional boundaries between men and women. As a young woman at an Islamic study program, I wore the face-veil for a couple of days, imitating what I saw to be the good practice of one of the British students there. But one of the main teachers of the program discouraged me from wearing it, citing no valid religious justification for his discouragement. On another occasion, a well-known Muslim scholar deliberately initiated a handshake with a random non-Muslim woman passing out pamphlets on the street. Since the woman was barely paying attention to our presence, the only reason I could discern for why he had done that was to demonstrate to me (the only other person around) that this is what the face of American Islam should look like.

I relay these stories with some shame and quite a bit of hesitation, because though I do not ascribe any sinister motive to any of the people mentioned, and in fact respect all of them for the good work they have done and continue to do, I do believe there was something wrong done at each of these occasions. Having gone through these experiences myself, I can relate to the claim that women in such situations cannot be judged harshly, because the power differential in place (he being a respected scholar, I being a mere student) compromises the woman’s ability to speak out.

But by using this as a reason to demonize male scholars and deem women as perpetual victims who cannot be held accountable is taking a page out of the liberal, feminist rule book. Instead, we must remind ourselves that, despite the social structures in place that try each of the genders in different ways, we will all have to answer to Allah for our own contribution to any given life situation. I know that the women scholars with whom I have studied and spent time, whether from the Levant, Pakistan or elsewhere, have taqwa so engrained into their practice of Islam that they would have left the former situations as soon as they saw something to be off. They would have left, or not have allowed themselves to be caught in such a situation in the first place. And in the latter types of situations, they would have spoken out. When I told one of my teachers about the handshaking incident, she looked at me incredulously and exclaimed, “Why didn’t you say something?”

I could have said something. In both types of incidents, I could have taken a stand. I could have said, “I’m sorry but I didn’t realize there would be no one else here. Can we reschedule this meeting?” I could have said, “I have to say, that was wrong to shake that woman’s hand, and it made me uncomfortable seeing it.” It is my own weakness of resolve and taqwa that I did not do these things. Both actions would have been difficult for me to do, but not nearly impossible. To call out the handshaking incident would have been especially hard though, because the liberal concept of “live and let live” does not match up well with the Islamic obligation of enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong. It would also have been hard because within American Muslim circles, so much rhetoric had already gone into questioning the laws of Islam on this matter that even an observant Muslim woman like me who knows it is wrong to touch unrelated men would be confused as to whether it would be right for me to say anything at all.

Though I am a human being accountable before Allah, and I was as obliged to do the right thing as the men mentioned in the incidents above, as a Muslim woman it would have been much easier for me to stand up for the truth had there already existed a robust culture of taqwa within Muslim communities in America. Wasn’t it this same culture of taqwa that allowed the knowledgeable woman to question the noble Companion ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) when she saw he was advocating something not in line with the teachings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)?20 Why do we read feminism and individual rights into such situations, when we know that the Companions, both men and women, have their high rank because of their single-eyed focus on gaining the pleasure of Allah, even to the detriment of their own selves?

Having such a culture of taqwa engrained into the practice of Islam in America would help the male scholars do right just as it would help women. There are, in fact, many ‘ulama in America who do take measures of taqwa when teaching and interacting with their female students. As a graduate student, when I was going through a text of Islamic legal rulings (fiqh) with a local scholar, we would always meet in the masjid right in the center of the men’s prayer hall after Maghrib salah, sometimes with my husband present. A friend of mine relates how careful her teacher was when training her in the science of Qur’anic recitation (tajwid). Not only did he teach from behind a curtain, he also avoided communicating with his female students on the phone (preferring written communication outside of class) in order to prevent the growth of familiarity and casualness in the student-teacher relationship. What is unfortunate, however, is that these measures do not match up with the current religious atmosphere in America. The ‘ulama are labeled as unaccommodating or extremist if they ask for such protective measures to be taken. We have to realize though that if such taqwa-centered practices are normalized, and are instituted from a place of wanting to please Allah, then everyone in the community will feel more confident to act according to the laws of God and to stand up for these laws when they are being violated.

The point is, our community and interpersonal affairs must be handled through taqwa, not through the lens of liberal thought that supposedly empowers the ever-victimized woman to live according to a more progressive paradigm. What does a liberal American Islam have to say about the former above-mentioned incidents of seclusion, except “it’s all fine as long as women are being empowered, everyone’s consenting, and nothing bad happens”? Why not pay more attention to the Lord of men and women, who laid down the rules of taqwa to help ward away evil before it comes?

“Do not even approach zina (sexual unlawfulness), for it is an indecent thing and an evil way.”
(Quran 17:32)

The possibility of zina is always present and is the reason why the scholars of the Muslim world whom I met took the precautions they did. No human being, in the East or West, is safe from the devising of Satan or the inclinations of his lower self (nafs). But in a place like America, we do not have the unwritten rules of a Shariah-infused culture to help guide our everyday interactions, as is the case still in many Muslims lands. The fact that we do not have cultural understandings and social structures that encourage taqwa should make us as American Muslims eager to be more cautious, not less. The unfortunate reality however is that the sense of superiority and self-sufficiency that is unique to America results in an exceptionalism that is useful for the liberalization project. Through it, Muslim Americans are emboldened to rewrite the rules of decorum in even “Islamic” and “traditional” spaces in a manner unprecedented.

Now that some breaches of conduct have happened, instead of deriving solutions to the problem from the Shariah, some Muslims are continuing to apply the same liberal standard of ethics that got us to the ugly place where we now stand. There is a call to action, particularly on social media, with every man and woman speaking his individual mind. But taqwa there is almost non-existent, with little regard for the Divine commands related to backbiting, slander, rules of evidence, etc.

As for more formal action, meetings are being organized, conferences held, and policies drawn up, that aim to prevent sexual violations between male scholars and their female students and co-workers. But the language being employed indicates not a concern to make tawba from the community’s collective turning away from the Rule of God, nor even reminders to individual believers that we must all one day face Allah. The language of these more formal initiatives is deeply liberal, assuming: that hierarchical relationships are intrinsically problematic; a tendency in men to abuse power; the victim status of women regardless of their actions and intentions; and a program of reform that further promotes a fractured, distrustful, and ultimately incoherent view of Islamic social and communal relationships.

A Call Toward Reorientation

How fortunate we would be as a community if we called each other to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil” according to a comprehensive plan to abide by the command of Allah, one that calls for a reassessment of: the changes that have come about in American Muslim religious spaces; the changing dynamic of family and marriage among American Muslims; the particular pressures that high-profile scholars and their families face; the unique religious challenges to proper decorum posed by the now widespread use of social media; and the need to increase access to the religious education of all members of the American Muslim community while still upholding the dictates of the Sacred Law.

Centering the discourse on taqwa rather than on the liberally defined rights of “socially disempowered” individuals does not mean that women will be excluded from circles of learning. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself set aside a day just for women at their request, “admonishing them and enjoining them” (Bukhari). The Prophet’s wife ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) is cited as having personally taught the 2,210 hadith she related from him (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to 17 women and 156 men, “with a throng besides those”21 that hadith scholars were unable to list. The teaching of women must continue. As a community, however, we should purify our intention to make such opportunities open to women out of a desire to help them succeed on their path to Allah, not out of conscious or subconscious imitation of the liberal model of representation and empowerment.

Similarly, we should for sure hold those in positions of power and influence to greater accountability, as can be seen in the examples of the Messenger of God (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his blessed Companions, who only placed those most fearful of Allah in positions of influence. What I argue is that our impetus for holding influential men accountable should be the same desire to please Allah and preserve the deen that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his Companions had. We should not be holding them accountable due to the inherent distrust of men that results from liberalism, which only encourages individualism and fails to connect human beings to each other in any kind of wholesome manner.

Along with robust discussion on how taqwa can be increased and compliance to the Shariah improved on a community-wide level, the men who are religious scholars and teaching in our communities should call themselves to account and check their own intentions before Allah.22 Even though his contemporaries taught women, the Shafi‘i scholar ‘Abd al Wakil al-Durubi (d. 1993) refused to do so, saying, “Were she Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya, and I Hasan al-Basri, I wouldn’t teach her the ABC’s.”23 As a community, we should respect such positions, and laud the types of measures taken by the scholars mentioned at the very start of this essay, instead of lambasting them for being unfair and accusing them of being unconcerned for the advancement of women, even as we construct opportunities for learning that are in line with what is pleasing to Allah.

Our goal as a community when trying to return to a condition of taqwa, particularly in our religious institutions and gatherings, must be to do so with the wisdom and balance of what the Shariah calls for. We can only do this with confidence as Muslims in America, however, when we believe in the truth and efficacy of the sacred laws of God. A good friend of mine demonstrated this confidence at her workplace, where she is part of the administration of a public school. It was the height of the Me Too movement (the same time as when our own Muslim American fitna began). She approached the male principal of the school and stated, “Michael24, you need to not meet with teachers in private behind closed doors anymore, unless the room has windows.” She went on to explain to both the principal and other staff that this was for the protection of both him and the female teachers of the school. Michael readily agreed, and so did the rest of the administration. When done with wisdom and confidence, even non-Muslims can appreciate the social benefit that results from putting the Shariah in place.

When I advocate a return to a taqwa-centered approach to Islamic practice in America, I am not endorsing any particular practice or regimen. “Al-taqwa ha-huna,” “Godfearingness lies right here,” said the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), pointing to his chest three times, indicating that real consciousness of God lies in one’s heart, at the core of one’s being. Wearing the face-veil, for instance, may be appropriate and called for in Muslim lands, but numerous ‘ulama of high standing have discouraged the practice in America because they see the possibility of greater harm being done than good. This is a Shariah-based calculation though, not something based on whim or liberal calls to freedom of expression, and so such an ijtihad25 within the practice of American Muslims may very well come from a place of taqwa.

At the same time, we must remember how fortunate we are as Muslims, as a people of God whose religion has been divinely preserved till the end of time, that the main teachings of our religion are clear and agreed upon, with no room or need for legal deliberation (ijtihad). This broad consensus on the teachings of Islam had struck me even as a young woman: the piety and practice I saw among the religious scholars of Fez was the same as what I experienced when I later married into a religious family from Pakistan. If the practices that mark pious comportment in the Muslim world seem foreign to some of us, this is only because we have allowed American exceptionalism to color the way we view our own practice of Islam.  It is up to us to reject such an exceptionalist view of Islam in America. As American Muslims, we have access to the same beliefs and practices that have always beautified the lived practice of Islam, and many Godfearing families here in America continue to abide by the rules of decorum that a state of taqwa entails.

Finally, if we as American Muslims are to take any lesson from liberalism, let it be the emphasis on you as an individual in its ultimate sense. Those who believe know that each of us will stand alone as individuals before Allah on the Last Day, and so carry themselves accordingly. The Shadhili Sheikh al-Kurdi (d. 1972) had told his disciples in Jordan, “If you see me step outside the masjid with my right foot first,26 cease to follow me.” His example is used by Sheikh Nuh Keller to convey the same idea to his own disciples: do not succumb to following a “sheikh” if you find that he does not follow the Shariah and the sunnah of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). These words indicate not just the humility before Allah of these men, but the fact that the onus is on us as individuals. It is up to us, once we profess belief in Him, to obey the command of Allah, whether we are women or men. On the private level, each one of us is responsible to uphold the laws of God as best as we are able.

As for the public sphere, what measures are required to bring the American Muslim community back to a taqwa-based equilibrium with respect to Islamic practice is not for me or any one person to decide. It will take consultation and honest discussion between the religious scholars and the men and women of our community, as has already begun to some extent. What I wish to emphasize, however, is that this discussion must include the ‘ulama in their roles as teachers who guide us on how to truly submit to Allah, and not simply use them as tokens of legitimization of the liberalization process.  If we wish to take a God-centered approach to the problem, we cannot take the liberal stance of excluding and deeming suspicious the scholars who hold fast to the authoritative positions and perspectives of Islam. It had been the responsibility of the ‘ulama to guide the community toward taqwa in open and in secret. When they failed to do this, and the community went along with the liberalization of Islamic practice in America, Allah removed His protective cover from over this community, and the sins of a few became the spiritual crisis of many. It is now up to the Muslim Americans who have been active or complaisant supporters of this liberalization to make tawba,27 whether they are scholars or lay women and men, for we all bear responsibility before Allah in this regard. Turning back to Him with sincerity will, inshaAllah, be the key to us gaining His Help, as well as our ultimate salvation.

That is His right over us, to turn back to Allah and to adopt taqwa at both the private and the public level. As the Messenger of God (Allah bless him and grant him peace) told us, it is also the only real means of success and protection for the Muslims of America:

Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find him in front of you. If you ask, ask Allah. If you seek help, seek help of Allah. Know that if the Nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that Allah had already prescribed for you, and that if they gather together to harm you with anything, they would harm you only with something Allah had already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.28


As quoted in Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, Sea Without Shore: A Manual of the Sufi Path. Amman: Sunna Books, 2011, p. 102.

i.e. close male relative

To critique liberalism is not the same as taking a politically right-wing stance, as some in America who are unfamiliar with the broader history of classical liberalism may assume. This paper is essentially arguing for an Islamic counter-perspective.

Gray, John, Liberalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995, p. 9-11.

ibid., p. 11.

ibid., p. xii.


Okin, Susan Moller, Women in Western Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979, p. 278-281.

By the time the eminent anthropologist Talal Asad critically engages with the concept of “islams” in his 1987 paper, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,” it had already been around at least for some decades, if not from the turn of the century in the works of Orientalists like Snouck Hurgronje (d. 1936). Reprinted: Asad, Talal, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,” Qui Parle, vol. 17, no. 2 (2009), p. 1-30.

10 Despite the difference of opinion regarding the ritual impurity (najasa) of dogs, Maliki scholars hold it to be either disliked or impermissible to keep a dog at home without reasonable need.

11 In the late Shafi‘i school, al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that a person with knowledge of astronomy could follow calculations instead of sighting the moon, and those who trust him can do so as well, but it is not on the basis of his opinion, nor on the conditions specified by the Shafi`i school, that the calculation position had been adopted in North America. In fact, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, executive director of the Fiqh Council of North America, states explicitly in a 2018 article that the calculations position on moonsighting was adopted in North America with the intent of carving out a new legal position and methodology that would “make Islam germane” to modern realities, showing no awareness or need of the Shafi‘i position in his defense of the calculations position. This confirms my assertion that the North American position was adopted from a stance of liberalization that honors progressive innovation and the interpretive right of American Islam (as per the specific aspects of liberalism that I outline at the start of my essay), and not according to the legal methodology of the Sunni Islamic tradition: “The Muslims in the West are living different realities than their brethrens in the Muslim majority contexts. Their hermeneutical instincts are expected to be at variance with their fellow Muslims in the Muslim world because of the circumstantial disparity. The Muslim jurists of the West also have leverage over their counterparts in the Muslim world. They can dare to think out of the box and withstand the popular pressure. I am confident that they will rise above the tide of criticism, stand their grounds and continue their principled stand. The employment of astronomical calculations is a new phenomenon and a new debate. Gradually it will become a norm like the calculated prayer schedules with more education, awareness and passage of time.” Zulfiqar Ali Shah, An Analysis of Moon Sighting Arguments, June 22, 2018, http://fiqhcouncil.org/an-analysis-of-moon-sighting-arguments/ Last accessed: December 11, 2019.  See also: See: Hamza Yusuf, “Caesarean Moon Births,” 2006; Sohail Hanif, “Why Can’t We Unite? A Brief Overview of Moon-Sighting Wars (And How to Avoid Them),” https://seekersguidance.org/articles/social-issues/moon-sighting-wars/ Last accessed: December 5, 2019; and Waleed S. Ahmed, “Crescent Chronicles: A Brief History of Moonsighting in America,” https://muslimmatters.org/2014/07/26/crescent-chronicles-a-brief-history-of-moonsighting-in-north-america/ Last accessed: December 11, 2019.

12 Discrimination through which you can discern Right from Wrong.

13 The translations of these Quranic verses have been taken from ad-Darqawi, Mawlay al-Arabi, The Darqawi Way: The Letters of Shaykh Mawlay al-‘Arabi ad-Darqawi, trans. Aisha Bewley. Cambridge: Diwan Press, 1979, p. 139 and 311.

14 Keller, Sea Without Shore, 417.

15 al-Nawawi, Yahya b. Sharaf al-Din, An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, trans. Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies. Beirut: The Holy Koran Publishing House, 1976, p. 118.

16 The relationship between worship, taqwa and seeking sacred knowledge is beautifully summed up in a letter by the Naqshbandi sheikh Khwaja Nasir al-Din ‘Ubaydullah Ahrar (d. 1490 CE) to his disciple Mawlana Muhammad Qadi: “The true essence of worship is humble veneration, supplication, and contrition. These qualities arise in the heart through the contemplation of God’s glorious majesty. The achievement of such bliss depends on love. Love becomes manifest through obedience to the Prophet and Master of all ages. We therefore need to know how to obey. Thus it becomes necessary to pay attention to those scholars who are the heirs  to true religious knowledge. As for those who abuse their learning, making it a means to worldly gain or an instrument of fame and fortune, they must be avoided. One should not mix with dervishes who indulge in music and dancing and who do not hesitate to buy and sell all kinds of things. One’s ears must be deaf to heretical doctrines. One must study to acquire true wisdom, in conformity with the practice of the Prophet. May you be blessed with peace.” From Safi, Mawlana ‘Ali b. Husain, Rashahat-i ‘Ayn al-Hayat, as cited in, Shushud, Hasan Lutfi, Masters of Wisdom of Central Asia. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2014, p. 119.

17 Poetic verse of Sheikh Ibrahim al-Taza, as quoted in ad-Darqawi, The Darqawi Way, p. 118

18 Save one! May Allah bless him with the khayr.

19 Islamic sacred law prohibits khalwa or unlawful seclusion between an unrelated man and woman. Technically in the Shariah, a situation where two people are meeting in a public place, where others are expected to easily walk in and out, does not constitute khalwa.

20 See the commentary for Qur’an verse 4:20, for example in al-Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jami` li ahkam al-Qur’an. Cairo: Dar al-Shu`b, n.d. vol. 3, p. 1669.

21 Quoted from Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi’s Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala in Keller, Sea Without Shore, p. 101.

22 Sheikh ‘Abdullah ibn Ahmad al-Zubaydi asked Imam al-Haddad about the following hadith: “There is a valley in Hell against which Hell itself cries out seventy times a day for protection; it has been prepared by God the Exalted for those scholars of this community who are hypocrites.” Imam al-Haddad responded by saying that the ‘ulama being referred to here were either a) actual hypocrites with no faith in their hearts or b) people of faith who became “so overcome by their love for social eminence and high status that they ostentatiously display their devotion and knowledge to achieve them.” al-Haddad, Imam, The Sublime Treasures: Answers to Sufi Questions, trans. Mostafa al-Badawi, Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2008, p. 38.

23 Keller, Sea Without Shore, p. 101.

24 Name has been changed.

25 i.e., a legal position based on reasoning and contemporary circumstance

26 The practice of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was to enter the mosque with his right foot and to exit with his left. It is not required for Muslims to do the same, but it is highly commendable to imitate the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in all of his states and actions to the best of one’s ability.

27 i.e., turn to Allah in sincere repentance

28 Hadith related in al-Tirmidhi. Translation adapted from al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, trans. Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies.


About Dr. Fareeha Khan

Born and raised in Chicago, Fareeha holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago in Middle Eastern Studies and a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan. Fareeha studied under Dr. Sherman Abdul Hakim Jackson at Michigan, and her main academic research interests include Islamic law, women, and application and interpretation of the Islamic tradition in the modern period. She is an affiliated scholar at Willamette University (where she has also served as assistant professor), and is an Advisory Editor for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islamic Law. Fareeha has been blessed to be able to study with Islamic religious scholars as well. Some of her teachers include: Sheikh Nuh Keller, Umm Sahl, Sheikh Faraz Rabbani, and Sheikh Ashraf Muneeb. She lives with her husband Ibrahim Mansoor in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she continues to write and study privately and online. She also serves on the Sila Executive Board.

The Sila Initiative was founded to address the concerns of Muslim women in regards to their relationships with their families, society, and Islam. The Initiative is grounded in the work of contemporary ‘ulama, who are the inheritors of a rich tradition of Islamic scholarship. Through emphasizing the need for knowing and loving Allah, we hope our research and educational efforts will bring much needed balance to contemporary discussions on women and men in Islam and encourage Muslims to strengthen their relationship with Allah Most High.