Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A Secret History
February 25, 2007

By CARLA POWER

For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the stock image of an Islamic scholar is a gray-bearded man. Women tend to be seen as the subjects of Islamic law rather than its shapers. And while some opportunities for religious education do exist for women — the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo has a women’s college, for example, and there are girls’ madrasas and female study groups in mosques and private homes — cultural barriers prevent most women in the Islamic world from pursuing such studies. Recent findings by a scholar at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies in Britain, however, may help lower those barriers and challenge prevalent notions of women’s roles within Islamic society. Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a 43-year-old Sunni alim, or religious scholar, has rediscovered a long-lost tradition of Muslim women teaching the Koran, transmitting hadith (deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and even making Islamic law as jurists.

Akram embarked eight years ago on a single-volume biographical dictionary of female hadith scholars, a project that took him trawling through biographical dictionaries, classical texts, madrasa chronicles and letters for relevant citations. “I thought I’d find maybe 20 or 30 women,” he says. To date, he has found 8,000 of them, dating back 1,400 years, and his dictionary now fills 40 volumes. It’s so long that his usual publishers, in Damascus and Beirut, have balked at the project, though an English translation of his preface — itself almost 400 pages long — will come out in England this summer. (Akram has talked with Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the United States, about the possibility of publishing the entire work through his Riyadh-based foundation.)

The dictionary’s diverse entries include a 10th-century Baghdad-born jurist who traveled through Syria and Egypt, teaching other women; a female scholar — or muhaddithat — in 12th-century Egypt whose male students marveled at her mastery of a “camel load” of texts; and a 15th-century woman who taught hadith at the Prophet’s grave in Medina, one of the most important spots in Islam. One seventh-century Medina woman who reached the academic rank of jurist issued key fatwas on hajj rituals and commerce; another female jurist living in medieval Aleppo not only issued fatwas but also advised her far more famous husband on how to issue his.

Not all of these women scholars were previously unknown. Many Muslims acknowledge that Islam has its learned women, particularly in the field of hadith, starting with the Prophet’s wife Aisha. And several Western academics have written on women’s religious education. About a century ago, the Hungarian Orientalist Ignaz Goldziher estimated that about 15 percent of medieval hadith scholars were women. But Akram’s dictionary is groundbreaking in its scope.

Indeed, read today, when many Muslim women still don’t dare pray in mosques, let alone lecture leaders in them, Akram’s entry for someone like Umm al-Darda, a prominent jurist in seventh-century Damascus, is startling. As a young woman, al-Darda used to sit with male scholars in the mosque, talking shop. “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around, debating other scholars.” She went on to teach hadith and fiqh, or law, at the mosque, and even lectured in the men’s section; her students included the caliph of Damascus. She shocked her contemporaries by praying shoulder to shoulder with men — a nearly unknown practice, even now — and issuing a fatwa, still cited by modern scholars, that allowed women to pray in the same position as men.

It’s after the 16th century that citations of women scholars dwindle. Some historians venture that this is because Islamic education grew more formal, excluding women as it became increasingly oriented toward establishing careers in the courts and mosques. (Strangely enough, Akram found that this kind of exclusion also helped women become better scholars. Because they didn’t hold official posts, they had little reason to invent or embellish prophetic traditions.)

Akram’s work has led to accusations that he is championing free mixing between men and women, but he says that is not so. He maintains that women students should sit at a discreet distance from their male classmates or co-worshipers, or be separated by a curtain. (The practice has parallels in Orthodox Judaism.) The Muslim women who taught men “are part of our history,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you have to follow them. It’s up to people to decide.”

Neverthless, Akram says he hopes that uncovering past hadith scholars could help reform present-day Islamic culture. Many Muslims see historical precedents — particularly when they date back to the golden age of Muhammad — as blueprints for sound modern societies and look to scholars to evaluate and interpret those precedents. Muslim feminists like the Moroccan writer Fatima Mernissi and Kecia Ali, a professor at Boston University, have cast fresh light on women’s roles in Islamic law and history, but their worldview — and their audiences — are largely Western or Westernized. Akram is a working alim, lecturing in mosques and universities and dispensing fatwas on issues like inheritance and divorce. “Here you’ve got a guy who’s coming from the tradition, who knows the stuff and who’s able to give us that level of detail which is missing in the self-proclaimed progressive Muslim writers,” says James Piscatori, a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University.

The erosion of women’s religious education in recent times, Akram says, reflects “decline in every aspect of Islam.” Flabby leadership and a focus on politics rather than scholarship has left Muslims ignorant of their own history. Islam’s current cultural insecurity has been bad for both its scholarship and its women, Akram says. “Our traditions have grown weak, and when people are weak, they grow cautious. When they’re cautious, they don’t give their women freedoms.”

When Akram lectures, he dryly notes, women are more excited by this history than men. To persuade reluctant Muslims to educate their girls, Akram employs a potent debating strategy: he compares the status quo to the age of al jahiliya, the Arabic term for the barbaric state of pre-Islamic Arabia. (Osama Bin Laden and Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of modern Islamic extremism, have employed the comparison to very different effect.) Barring Muslim women from education and religious authority, Akram argues, is akin to the pre-Islamic custom of burying girls alive. “I tell people, ‘God has given girls qualities and potential,’ ” he says. “If they aren’t allowed to develop them, if they aren’t provided with opportunities to study and learn, it’s basically a live burial.”

When I spoke with him, Akram invoked a favorite poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Thomas Gray’s 18th-century lament for dead English farmers. “Gray said that villagers could have been like Milton,” if only they’d had the chance, Akram observes. “Muslim women are in the same situation. There could have been so many Miltons.”

Carla Power is a London-based journalist who writes about Islamic issues.

[NY TIMES]

Bone Fractures in Ibn Sina’s Medicine
September 22, 2006

Ibn-Sina, or Avicenna as he is known in the west, was born in the year 980 CE in Afshana near Bukhara in Turkistan, which is now called Uzbekistan. He left Bukhara when he was 21 years of age, and spent the rest of his life in various towns in Persia. When he died in the year 1037 he was known as one of the greatest philosophers in Islam, and in Medicine he was highly regarded and was compared to Galen, so he was known as the Galen of Islam. Because of his great celebrity, many nations disputed and competed to celebrate his anniversary. The Turkish were the first who revived his anniversary in 1937, when they held a great meeting for the occasion of nine hundred years since his death. Then Arabs and Iranians followed them by holding two festivals in Baghdad in 1952, then in Tehran in 1954. To appreciate his contribution in developing the philosophical and medical sciences, in 1978 UNESCO invited all its members to celebrate the anniversary of one thousand years since his birth. All the members participated in the celebration, which was held in 1980.

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Remember what Allah has bestowed upon You!
April 3, 2006

 

Those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah and do not follow up their spending by stressing their benevolence and causing hurt, will find their reward secure with their Lord. They have no cause for fear and grief. To speak a kind word and to forgive people's faults is better than charity followed by hurt. Allah is All-Sufficient, All-Forbearing. Believers! Do not nullify your acts of charity by stressing your benevolence and causing hurt as does he who spends his wealth only to be seen by men and does not believe in Allah and the Last Day. The example of his spending is that of a rock with a thin coating of earth upon it: when a heavy rain smites it, the earth is washed away, leaving the rock bare; such people derive no gain from their acts of charity. Allah does not set the deniers of the Truth on the right way. (2:262 – 264)
Those needy ones who are wholly wrapped up in the cause of Allah, and who are hindered from moving about the earth in search of their livelihood especially deserve help. He who is unaware of their circumstances supposes them to be wealthy because of their dignified bearing, but you will know them by their countenance, although they do not go about begging of people with importunity. And whatever wealth you will spend on helping them, Allah will know of it. (2:273)

And do not become like the woman who, after having painstakingly spun her yarn, caused it to disintegrate into pieces. You resort to oaths as instruments of mutual deceit so that one people might take greater advantage than another although Allah puts you to the test through this. Surely on the Day of Resurrection He will make clear the truth concerning the matters over which you differed. (16:92)

Have you seen him who belies the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter? He it is who drives away the orphan and does not urge giving away the food of the poor. (107:1 – 3)

Give to the near of kin his due, and also to the needy and the wayfarers. Do not squander your wealth wastefully; for those who squander wastefully are Satan's brothers, and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord. (17:26 – 27)
Look, you are being called upon to expend in Allah's Way, yet some of you are being niggardly, whereas the one who is niggardly is, in fact, being niggardly only to himself. Allah is Self-Sufficient: it is you who are the needy. If you turn away, Allah will replace you by another people, and they will not be like you. (47:38)

Do not keep your hand fastened to your neck nor outspread it, altogether widespread, for you will be left sitting rebuked, destitute. (17:29)

(In reference to the slaves of Allah) "who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor miserly but keep the golden mean between the two (extremes) (25:67)

You shall not attain righteousness until you spend out of what you love (in the way of Allah). Allah knows whatever you spend. (3:92)

(O Prophet!) Tell those of My servants who believe that they should establish Prayer and spend out of what We have provided them with, both secretly and openly, before there arrives the Day when there will be no bargaining, nor any mutual befriending. (14:31)

Allah does not love the arrogant and the boastful, who are niggardly and bid others to be niggardly and conceal the bounty which Allah has bestowed upon them. We have kept in readiness a humiliating chastisement for such deniers (of Allah's bounty) (part of 4:36 and all of 4:37

The people who where given the Book before this did not divide into sects until after the clear statement (of the Right Way) had come to them, and the only Command they were given was to worship Allah, making their religion sincerely His, turning all their attention towards Him, and to establish the Salat and to pay the Zakat: for this alone is the most true and right religion. (98:4 – 5)

Establish Prayer and dispense the Purifying Alms (Zakat) and bow in worship with those who bow (2:43)

The believers, both men and women, are allies of one another. They enjoin good, forbid evil, establish Prayer, pay Zakah, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Surely Allah will show mercy to them. Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise (9:71)

The alms (Zakat in this specific verse's case) are meant only for the poor and the needy and those who are in charge thereof, those whose hearts are to be reconciled; and to free those in bondage, and to help those burdened with debt, and for expenditure in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer. This is an obligation from Allah. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (9:60)

Narrated Hakim bin Hizam that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: The upper hand is better than the lower hand (i.e. he who gives in charity is better than him who takes it). One should start giving first to his dependents. And the best object of charity is that which is given by a wealthy person (from the money which is left after his expenses). And whoever abstains from asking others for some financial help, Allah will give him and save him from asking others, Allah will make him self-sufficient. (Bukhari)

Abu Huraira related that the Prophet said: He who makes a habit of asking from others reaches out for a brand of Fire, so let him refrain or continue, as he desires. (Muslim)

Ibn Abbas related that the Prophet said: Any Muslim who gives a Muslim a garment to wear will be in Allah's safekeeping as long as a shred of it remains on him. (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)

Safwan ibn Salim related that the Prophet said: Anyone who looks after and works for a widow and a poor person is like a warrior fighting for AllahÕs cause, or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all night. (Bukhari)

Anas related that the Prophet said: If any Muslim plants something or sows seed from which a man, a bird or an animal eats, it counts as a charity for him. (Bukhari, Muslim)

Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet said: The best charity is that which is practiced by a wealthy person. And start giving first to your dependents. (Bukhari)

Salman ibn Amer reported that the Prophet said: To give something to a poor man brings one reward, while giving the same to a needy relation brings two: one for charity and the other for respecting the family ties. (Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Nasai, Tirmidhi)

Jabir reported that the Prophet said: Avoid doing injustice to others, for on the Day of Judgment, it will turn into manifold darkness, and safeguard yourself against miserliness, for it ruined those who were before you. It incited them to murder and treating the unlawful as lawful. (Muslim)

Abbas related that a man asked the Prophet, Tell me what should I do to be admitted to Paradise and he (the Prophet) answered: Worship Allah associating nothing with Him, observe Salat, pay Zakat and strengthen the ties of kinship. (Bukhari, Muslim)

Abu Huraira related that the Prophet said: When someone is made rich but he does not pay Zakat for his wealth, then on the Day of Judgment his money will be turned into a poisonous snake with two black spots on its head. It will coil around his neck and bite his cheeks and say: 'I am your wealth, I am your treasure'. Then the Prophet recited verse 3:180 of the Quran. (Bukhari)

 

A JIHAD AGAINST POVERTY & WASTAGE:
See Page on Poverty
Statistics on Poverty & Food Wastage
Aisha, the Mother of Homeless in Chicago

Quran and Hadith on Helping the Poor
Jihad Against Food Wastage: How tos
9 Things Families can do for the Poor
Tips for Imams on How to Help the Poor
12 Tips for Teens on How to Help
Start a Zakat Clinic
Five Tips for your Zakat Committee

 

Reference:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/66854664@N00/

http://www.soundvision.com/Info/poor/quranhadith.asp