Thursday, March 31, 2011

Knowledge is Power

I definitely put more time, energy and dollars into preparing our middle child for her kindergarten screening than I did for my college-entrance exams. (And the wait to hear back was also much more excruciating!)

But what's even more pitiful is I put more effort in both of the above than I do in gaining knowledge to ace the greatest test of all--this life. I realize this especially when my three-year-old stumps me with her questions.

It's hard to admit this (especially as I was once a Sunday school teacher myself!), but I need to go back and start with the ABCs of my religion and make sure I have a clear understanding of basic beliefs as well as practices. Not only that, if I want to pursuit the path of the most perfect women, my quest for knowledge can never end. As Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "Seeking knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, male and female."

We can get a glimpse of the deep knowledge and understanding of one of our role models, Fatima (daughter of Muhammad (S),"the city of knowledge," and wife of Ali, "it's gate."), when we study her maid-servant Fizza. By living with Fatima, Fizza became so conversant with the Quran that for twenty years Fizza would reply to all questions with verses from the Holy Book!

Allah has repeatedly emphasized the importance of ilm, which usually translates into knowledge but means much more than that. It connotes knowledge, insight and social action, according to Dr. Sayyid Wahid Akhtar. (There are 704 Quranic verses related to ilm; aids of knowledge, such as book, pen, ink, etc. are mentioned in almost as many places, says Akhtar.)

When Prophet Muhammad (S) was asked: "What is knowledge?" He replied: "To keep silent." He was asked, "Then?" He said: "To listen attentively." He was asked, "Then?" He said, "To remember." He was asked, "Then?" He said: "To act upon (what is learned). He was asked, "Then?" He said: "To propagate."

But before we go hit the books, there's a caveat. Allah says in the Quran: "Then let man look at his food." (80:24) According to scholars, not only does this mean making sure our food is halal but also certifying that our sources of knowledge are pure, reliable and accurate.

With Islam and Muslims center stage in the world right now, there are all sorts of scholars, experts, media personalities and even bloggers with their own agendas telling us what to believe, think and do. We have to make sure we are tuned in to the ones calling us to God's way.

As scholar Abbas Ayleya says: "If a person gets deceived, that's a sign he's lacking taqwa (God-consciousness) and lacking knowledge of the religion and concepts of religion."

So as I get ready to prepare my youngest daughter for her kindergarten exam next year (I'm already getting palpitations!), I cannot neglect my own schooling, God willing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daily News Fix

While interning at a newswire during grad school, I worked with a reporter who refused to talk to anybody first thing in the morning. I thought maybe he just wasn't a morning person until I realized he needed time to "check-in," as he would say, on the news of the day.

Years later, I see where Rupert was coming from. I also find myself irritable and disoriented until I check out the top news stories and only then can my day officially begin. If my kids try to crawl out of bed before I am through clicking, I send them back, sometimes with baggies of Cheerios to temporarily sate them.

I've always felt kind of guilty about this habit of mine, especially since the list of news sites has gotten longer with the ongoing protests in the Middle East.

That is until this week. I was much relieved to receive the following hadith of Prophet Muhammad (S) in my email inbox: "One who gets up in the morning and is not concerned about the affairs of other Muslims is not a Muslim."

Of course, we have to be careful where we get our news to avoid propaganda, misinformation and useless debates and discussions (former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter colorfully warns us against chirpily opening our beaks like baby birds and allowing others (corporate media) to stick puke down our throats). I read mainstream new stories to find out what we are supposed to know and then read alternative sites and blogs to find out what is really going on.

Indeed, we have a great example of a powerful, fully informed and active woman in the form of Zainab, the daughter of Fatima (one of the perfect women of all time). After her brother Hussain and most male members of her family were killed while resisting tyranny, she confronted Yazid, the oppressive ruler of the time, in his own court.

Scholar Hamza Sodagar talks about Zainab's political role during an interview with Tariq Ramadan on PressTV:

"There is something that comes before being active and taking on a responsibility and that is being informed, knowing what is going on. If a woman wants to be active, if Lady Zainab wanted to be responsible and do something and she really wasn't informed of her society, who Yazid was, what her history was, what her father had done, what her brothers had done, what her grandfather had done, she wouldn't have been able to do it."

Of course, my hunger for news in the morning does not absolve me from the responsibility of preparing a healthy breakfast for my family. It just means I need to get up earlier. But that's a whole different story.

Big Shoes to Fill

Throughout my life I have struggled with the question: Who am I? As a girl/woman I was bombarded by so many different and sometimes opposing messages by the influences around me, including my family (Pakistani), religion (Islam), media/magazines (Vogue, Beverly Hills 90210, General Hospital), teachers (often feminists) and friends (rolling stones). Unfortunately, my self-image and identity changed as often as did my shoe size (10!).

Looking back, I realize I did not have a clear understanding of what God (Allah in Arabic) expected from me so I filled that void with the suggestions of those around me. For sure, Allah, our Creator, Sustainer and to Whom we will return, did not leave us without guidance. Out of His Infinite Mercy he has pointed out female role models who reached human perfection for us to emulate. It is our job to seek them out, study their personalities and make them into templates for our own lives.

As I steadily creep towards mid-age, I regret it has taken me so long to figure out (sort of) who am I, where am I going and how am I going to get there. But as I endeavor to understand our role models and how to apply their lessons to my own life, I would like to share my discoveries, adventures and no doubt pitfalls with other girls/women on the same mission to live a life pleasing to God, God-willing.

The world is currently undergoing an Awakening and women play a key role in the struggle towards global peace, justice, unity and prosperity. Indeed, success will only come if women acknowledge that their God-given position, role and aims in life are much deeper, broader, loftier and vital than most of us have been told.

This blog is dedicated to the women (past, present and future) everywhere struggling to perfect themselves, their family and friends as well as their societies for the pleasure of God.

To inspire us forward, here are a few quotes from revolutionary leader Imam Khomeini as he addresses the women of Iran. These are as applicable today as they were decades ago:

"Women have shown that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their menfolk in the struggle; one could even go so far as to say that they lead the way." (May 17, 1979)

"Today's women, like the men, must be properly educated and concern themselves with the issues (of the day), they too must exercise sound judgment in their involvement in the (country's) affairs, and God willing, they will be successful. (September 10, 1980)

"Be good mothers for your children, good advisers to society and hard workers for the needy, as, praise God, you already are." (March 16, 1981)

"Strive to purify your character and to make your friends do likewise. Strive so that you react to the outrages committed against you." (March 12, 1985)