“One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Travelers Writing about the Muslim Pilgrimage” (collected and edited by Michael Wolfe) is a treasure trove: the chronicles of hujjaaj from across time and geography, including – to my special interest – Muslim women of varying backgrounds, in wildly different time periods. I immediately jumped to their stories, eager to discover what it must have been like to make the long journey in their own eras. What historical factoids and spiritual reflections might they have shared, considered inconsequential to some but deeply meaningful to others?
After all, this was more than just any travel writing: this was about Hajj, the journey of a lifetime, the fifth pillar of Islam, the believer’s response to Allah’s invitation to His House. As it is, we have precious little details about the lives of Muslim women – in their own words or otherwise – from the distant past; it is a painful truism that history has rarely considered women’s stories worth knowing if they were not completely and utterly exceptional (or, perhaps, completely and utterly scandalous). Case in point – in this book, listing almost two dozen travelers and their tales, only four of them were women…. And three of them were white, Western women, who experienced more than some small amount of privilege. Even so – what, then, was it like for these women of the past, who had embarked on the greatest journeys of any Muslim’s life?
Nawab Sikandar, the Begum of Bhopal, was a recognized ruler in India (although, unfortunately, of a pro-Britain bent). In 1863, she left India for Makkah with a retinue of several hundred people, including her mother and uncle. She arrived in Jeddah in January of 1864, laden with wealth, of which she was quickly relieved in the form of official taxes from the Ottoman Pasha and the Sharif of Makkah, and unofficially by bandit Bedouins.
The Begum’s account of her journey is – to the modern day reader – almost amusing. Her outrage at the bureaucracy is followed up with multiple complaints sent to harbour masters, British consuls, and others. Alas, the Begum’s situation was not much improved. Instead, her invitation to dinner at the Sharif’s home comes in the form of having her escort violently assaulted as she walked through Makkah, and being threatened with having her retinue shot in the head if she declined said invitation. Snidely, she comments that by the time she arrived at his home and was brought to the food, “the dew had fallen upon the food, making it as close as nice, so that nothing had any flavour.”
Between her mother being temporarily abducted by robbers along the roads, being swarmed by the beggars who had discovered her wealth, and various other inconveniences, the Begum of Bhopal makes it clear just how little she thought of Makkah and its people. “Almost all the bad characters that have been driven out of India may well be found in Makkah,” she writes. She continues, astonished and horrified, at one particular discovery: “Women frequently contract as many as ten marriages, and those who have only been married twice are few in number. If a woman sees her husband growing old, or if she happen to admire anyone else, she goes to the Sharif, and after having settled the matter with him, she puts away her husband and takes to herself another, who is perhaps young, good-looking, and rich. In this way a marriage seldom lasts more than a year or two…”
Despite – or perhaps because of! – her displeasure, the Begum’s descriptions of her experiences are detailed and descriptive, evoking images of Makkah’s sights and scents (and scoundrels!). What stood out, however, was a particularly unique scene: a description of visiting the household of the Sharif of Makkah, meeting his mother and four wives. (The Begum notes that he had seven wives, four of whom were present, but I suspect that the remaining three were concubines rather than legal wives.)
Sikandar Begum describes the beautiful clothing of the women in attendance, the societal niceties that took place, and the rather infuriating observation that “Those wives only who have borne children to the Sharif are allowed to sit down in his presence, while those who have no family are compelled to stand with their hands put together.”
If it were not for the fact that the Begum was a woman who had access to women’s spaces – in this case, the private spaces of upper class women – these details would likely never have been noted in traditional history writing. Muslim women’s spaces have always been private spheres, the minutiae and particulars of their daily lives hidden away by the guarded jealousy of their menfolk, and often considered irrelevant to begin with.
Yet the reality of female existence, and its dramatic differences even in undertaking and completing the same, sacred tasks of Hajj, becomes even more clear in the writings of Winifred Stegar of Australia. Winifred had accepted Islam and married a desi Muslim man in China, moving with him to Australia. In 1926, she and her family embarked from Australia to India, and from thence to the Sacred Land.
Winifred’s recollections of her arduous journey to Hajj are a far cry from Nawab Sikandar’s litany of complaints. Though she traveled in far less luxury, and with far more difficulty, Winifred’s sincerity, strength of spirit, and good humour shine through her written memories. She describes moments of unexpected beauty, such as an ancient train in Lucknow dedicated to the hujjaaj, bedecked in wreaths of jasmine and roses from top to bottom; she speaks fondly of her kind, dignified brother-in-law, who takes charge of two abandoned young girls found aboard the rusted, repurposed ship they were all taking across the Red Sea.
One of the most dramatic scenes in Winifred’s chronicles describes the medical examination all the aspiring pilgrims had to go through before boarding their ship. The men were taken to a shaded area and provided with cool water to drink as they awaited their exams. Meanwhile, the four hundred women were taken to crumbling ruins with no shade and no drinks. “I could not help wondering what our sex had done that we might not enjoy the comfort of shelter and cool water as did the men,” Winifred writes, and I, almost a hundred years later, wonder the same. How is it that it has always been seen as common and unquestioned for women to endure conditions that our brethren need not tolerate, in the same time and the same position?
The medical examination turns into a fierce brawl between Winifred and an abusive Eurasian (non-Muslim) woman doctor; Winifred emerges victorious, the doctor is arrested, and the hujjaaj make their way across the Red Sea. Winifred’s stories leave one with a deep appreciation for both modern comforts and for her own determination to continue with the blessed journey.
Not long after Winifred Stegar came the legendary Lady Evelyn Cobbold of England, who made the trek to Makkah at the age of 66. Her accounts are riveting, of a freshly-minted Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, still mysterious and magical and untainted by the dirty politics of oil.
Lady Evelyn’s journals are perhaps the most detailed from the four women’s stories. As a European woman with significant connections, her experience was undoubtedly unique; being Western and Muslim (and elderly) gave her access to both women’s spaces and the all-male spaces forbidden to all other women, Muslim and non-Muslim women alike. Thankfully, her records are meticulous, and she introduces to the reader a perspective of Saudi that is rarely, if ever, shared with Western audiences.
Lady Evelyn gives us a lush description of the natural beauty of the ocean and deserts of the kingdom alike; she reminisces over swimming at the sea at night, picnicking beneath the full moon, and driving through the sandy hills to the sacred, hidden city of Makkah. She speaks admiringly of Ibn Sa’ud’s establishment of safety and security in the land, ending the reign of terror of Bedouin bandits; she mentions homes built to care for ex-slaves and other impoverished women. As with the Begum of Bhopal, Lady Evelyn takes the time to recount in detail a personal, intimate portrait of her visits with local women. Her descriptions of their dressing is fascinating, as most readers likely associate the dressing of Saudi women with black abayaat and niqaabs alone; instead, we are given a glimpse into the inner spaces of these women. She speaks highly of the company of the local women whom she spends time with, and her gorgeous descriptions evoke a sense of wonder and nostalgia or these hidden worlds of women, so lost to history.
Finally, we have the story of Saida Miller Khalifa, another British Muslim woman who undertook the formidable travel to Hajj in 1970. Compared to the vintage era of the previous women, Saida’s experience was far more modern, taking a flight from Egypt to Saudi. Even so, it is certainly different from the Hajj stories of today, with the sense that hers was a time when there were yet many remnants of a more ancient age.
Saida’s own experiences with the hareem are dramatically different from those of the Begum or Lady Evelyn; as a commoner rather than a person of status, her insight into the world of women is far less luxurious, yet no less rich in nature. She speaks of the home she and her husband rented space in, crowded with numerous other hujjaaj; her anecdotes of her formidable hostess, fondly nicknamed “The Turkish Tyrant”, and of the other women residing with them are both amusing and touching.
Saida’s description of Jumu’ah at the Haram in Makkah, as a woman, is fascinating to note, as are the rest of her Hajj experiences. Beautifully, she ends her account with the following words: “For myself, the Hajj meant a voyage of discovery ending in the opening of a door to a far deeper spiritual experience…”
The narratives of these four women, scattered throughout time, all to embark on the same journey, for the same purpose, resonated with me deeply. Female realities are utterly differently from male ones, even when performing a universal ritual such as Hajj; these women’s written accounts underscored this fact in multiple ways. Through their eyes, we catch glimpses of the private spheres of Muslim women, of which there are precious little records to begin with. Journeying with them through their words, we find the kinds of details that no man could share.
It is a reminder to us of how important, and how necessary, it is for women’s perspectives to be valued in all things, that we may all gain a deeper and broader understanding of any given topic. When women’s voices are stifled, we all suffer from the loss of wisdom, experience, and insight. When Muslim women’s voices are stifled, we lose even more: we lose the the opportunity to gain religious knowledge and spiritual understanding.
I am profoundly grateful that these women’s writings were preserved and published, when far too many women’s words have been hidden away and disappeared in the sands of time.
Beyond the four women’s stories described here, the book contains accounts from other historical travelers, all the way from classical medieval travelers such as Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta, to Europeans and others from the early 1500s-1900s, and from the turn of the century to the modern age, including Malcolm X. Nonetheless, the singlemost important aspect of this book is that it is one of very few places where the experiences of Muslim women have been given the same due and importance as those of Muslim men.
“One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Travelers Writing about the Muslim Pilgrimage” is a precious item to have in one’s collection, as a Muslim, a bibliophile, a history buff, or all three of those things combined.
The post One Thousand Roads to Makkah: Four Women’s Stories | Book Review appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
Source: Muslim Matters
Prophet Muhammad came through with the message of Islam, and his target audience, so to speak, revolved around the youth of the time.
By Maria Zain
For new Muslims, it is vital to read up on how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) kept the teenagers around him in good company, enjoining them in doing good deeds. Embracing Islam can be a life-changing experience.
Some new Muslims come to Islam alone, whereas others revert together with their whole family. If a couple decides to embrace Islam and have young children, it is most likely that their children will also become Muslims. For those with older children, especially those well in their teens, the transition can be trickier.
Some teenagers may very well follow in their parents’ footsteps whole heartedly, others may embrace Islam with a certain amount of wariness and there are probably many others who would prefer not to make the change.
However for family members who decide to come to Islam and who join them on their journey in becoming observing Muslims, it is worth to note the Sunnah on how Prophet Muhammad treated the youth. This will enable the transition to become smoother and more of a positive challenge for the family as a whole.
When Prophet Muhammad was given the first revelation in the cave of Mount Hira’, it was well known that he was 40 years old. As many men at that age, he had reached a certain pinnacle of leadership qualities. Men at the age of forty are often seen running their own corporations and enterprises, have attained successful marriages and raised teenage children.
What differentiates the Prophet’s leadership qualities, though, was that an important majority of followers were at the time new Muslim youth.
In the most important mission of any man’s plight, Prophet Muhammad was commanded to change the mindset of the pagan Arabs, to do away with waylay practices, oppressive behavior, corrupted attitudes, and to embrace Islam as their comprehensive way of life.
Islamic history relays that this was a gruelling attempt at changing the culture of stone-cold pagans who were deeply rooted in their traditions. Prophet Muhammad came through with the message of Islam, and his target audience, so to speak, revolved around the youth of the time.
Anas ibn Malik (may God be pleased with him) was one of the young men who grew very close to the Prophet. Anas mentioned that the Prophet never once uttered a word of disgrace upon him, neither any other member of the youth of society. He had worked for the Prophet and grew up observing and learning through the Prophet’s actions and behavior. Anas was recognized as one of the most fluent narrators of hadiths of his time.
Prophet Muhammad had other young companions who flocked with him like feathers of a bird. He often joked with them, calling ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him) ‘AbuTuraab’ (father of the dust), for sleeping on the dusty ground. He was also very close to his family members, in particular his youngest daughter Fatimah, and was known to show his affection for her in public.
On several occasions, when Fatimah entered a room where the Prophet was, he would rush over to her, take her by her hands, kiss her and offer her his seat. Fatimah was also known to reciprocate in kind. But as much as the Prophet kept affectionate and jovial relations with the youth, he continuously moulded them to be the leaders of the future.
There is no doubt that ‘A’ishah, Prophet Muhammad’s wife, rose to the ranks of leadership at a very young age and as she outlived her husband for half a century, she became a teacher like no other woman seen in history. Until this very day, Muslims around the world read of her narrations and regard her with the highest respect as one of the feistiest women of the companions. Another young wife, Hafsah, daughter of Umar, was appointed as the keeper of the Holy Qur’an, a grave responsibility for any youth. This shows that though many companions were teens during the Prophet’s lifetime, adulthood was only a stone-throw away.
How the Prophet did it?
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was also adamant in protecting the youth in public, honoring their opinions during debates, even against the wisest of Muslims.
‘Ali once narrated that youth between the age of fourteen and twenty-one needed to be befriended – treated as friends. Do we teach the Muslim youth the same way? Do we earn their trust by befriending them, respecting their opinions and helping them through difficulty much like good friends would do? Or do we continue to berate them for their mistakes; chastise them for their ignorance; and ignore them when they are in need, with the excuse that they are just ’troubled teenagers’?
The youth face a plethora of social ills today. From drugs to prostitution, from school drop-outs to poor qualifications; from obsession with pop culture to over-indulgences in peer pressure– it can be difficult for the Muslim youth to stand by Islamic principles with so many distractions surrounding them.
As parents of the youth of this chosen religion, we have to realize that education spans further than the walls of the classroom. The youth surrounding the Prophet were continuously surrounded by adults, not by their peers. They learned hands on how to deal with business transactions, travelling for da`wah (calling to God), teaching those who were illiterate (regardless of age) and engaged in household chores the way adults would do.
The Prophet would have frowned at those who removed the autonomy of the youth in making their own decisions, partaking in society, learning from real life scenarios and exploring their own interests and strengths that will eventually help them excel as adults in the real world. The Prophet was also adamant in protecting the youth in public, honoring their opinions during debates, even against the wisest of Muslims and allowing them to join him on even the most dangerous entourages. The youth surrounding the Prophet were definitely very involved in society.
Parents nowadays should not just categorize their teens as hormonal teenagers. For new Muslims, it is vital to read up on how Prophet Muhammad kept the teenagers around him in good company, always enjoining them in doing good deeds and encouraging them gently to ward off evil.
Embracing Islam as a family may be difficult, especially with elder children in tow, but showing how well they are appreciated within the realm of Islam, reinforces individualism, independence and autonomy in making decisions. The upside of a Muslim family coming together to Islam is that parents and children can learn together and teach each other as they journey along to becoming better Muslims. Even if older children decide not to follow their parents’ choice in faith, they still need to be treated with love and respect in light of the Sunnah, as in time they may open up to the beautiful faith and its stance on the importance of the youth.
Prophet Muhammad recognized the youth as important individuals of society. They were encouraged to learn and grow by participating in business trades, much like Anas ibn Malik; scholarly discussions, much like `Ali; and negotiations across nations, much like Usamah ibn Zayd; who led the Muslim army, including men who were old enough to be his grandfathers, at the tender age of fifteen.
The female youth of the time were not excluded from such responsibility. Ruqayyah (daughter of Prophet Muhammad) co-lead the first emigration to Abyssinia during the worst chapter of oppression upon the Muslims. Asmaa’ (daughter of Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with them all) risked her life during the Prophet’s and Abu Bakr’s plight to Madinah. She could have been killed, but due to her strong upbringing based on love for and fear of God, she took it upon her duty to protect the Prophet and her father when they were being hunted down by the Quraish.
Prophet Muhammad always perused kindness and patience in dealing with youngsters, treating them with respect, valuing their opinions and allowing them autonomy to make their own decisions.
Becoming a Muslim family, together, changes a person’s mindset on how they view teenagers. Instead of individuals who are either too young to make their own decision; or individuals who should be doing homework in order to earn straight A’s that will determine their success; or individuals who should be ‘enjoying’ life through partying and gossiping about celebrities, or being obsessed about reality television stars; the youth should be encouraged to be strong and active members of society.
The youth of today do not face the challenges of the youth of the companions. But they do definitely face a whole suite of fitnah (temptations) and conflicting identities in their own right. There are plenty of ways for the youth to become active members in the community; they just need to be befriended and encouraged by adults who wish to raise them as God-fearing adults rather than allow them to be trapped in the confusion of hormonal changes.
However, this has to be done in accordance with the Sunnah. Prophet Muhammad always perused kindness and patience in dealing with youngsters, treating them with respect, valuing their opinions and allowing them autonomy to make their own decisions.
For new Muslims, it is also important for their teenagers to find comrades of a feather, regardless of age and culture. As long as the new Muslim youth find a strong sense of belonging in Islam and a thriving Muslim community, their priorities as Muslims will be set on the right track and they will be able to achieve the same glory as the youth who surrounded Prophet Muhammad in the golden years of Islam.
By walking on the straight of God you will receive dignity in this world as well as in the Hereafter.
Brothers in Islam! I have frequently emphasized that ‘Islam‘ means total surrender to Allah and the Messenger, and that no one can become truly Muslim unless he gives up obedience to anyone or anything apart from God.
But why is so much stress laid on obedience to God and His Messenger? You may ask: Does God need our obedience so badly that He has to demand it so insistently from us? Is He, too, like the rulers of the world so power-hungry that He has to insist His rule cannot be sustained without subjugating us?
Let us try to examine these questions.
Essentially, the demand for obedience to Allah is intended for the well-being and betterment of man himself. He is not like the rulers of the world. They subjugate people to benefit themselves, but Allah needs nothing from anybody.
He is not in need of taxes from you, nor does He require to build mansions, buy cars and amass luxury articles at your expense. He is not dependent on anyone for anything. Whatever is in the world belongs to Him alone and He alone is the Master of all treasures.
He demands obedience from you only because He does not want man – that creation of His whom He has declared to be the noblest – to be the servant of another man like him, or of Satan or bow his head before unworthy things.
He does not desire that His vicegerents on earth grope in the darkness of ignorance and, like animals, become slaves to their desires and thus degrade themselves to the level of the lowest of the low. Therefore He urges: You obey Me and walk by the light I have sent through My Messengers. You will find the straight path. By walking on it you will receive dignity in this world as well as in the Hereafter.
No coercion is there in religion. Distinct has become the right way from [the way of] error. So whosoever rejects false gods and believes in God has indeed taken hold of the most firm handle which shall never break. God is All-hearing, All-knowing. God is the Friend of those who have faith; He brings them out of darkness into the light. And the disbelievers their friends are false gods that bring them out of the light into darkness; those are the inhabitants of the Fire, therein to abide forever. (Al-Baqarah 2:256, 257)
Obeying Others Besides Allah
Why will a man plunge into darkness by obeying others besides Allah and why is it that only by obeying Allah can his life be illumined?
Let us look into this important question…
Our lives are made up of countless relations and transactions. Our first relationship is with our own bodies: these hands, these feet, these eyes, these ears, this tongue, this heart, the mind, this belly – all these have been entrusted to you by Allah to serve you. You have also been given freedom to decide to what end to employ them.
What to put in your bellies, and what to avoid. What to make your hands do, and what to keep them away from.
Where to let your feet walk, and when to hold back. What to let your eyes see and ears hear, and what to refrain from.
What to allow your tongues to say, and when to fall silent. What kind of thoughts to make your hearts and minds reflect upon, and what to shun. These servants of yours you can make do good work or bad, as you choose. In return, they can make you ascend great heights or plunge you into abysmal depths.
Then you have relationships with the members of your family; with your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, children and other relatives with whom you have to deal continuously.
You have to decide how to behave with these people, what rights you have over them, and what rights they have over you. Your comfort, your happiness and your success in this world as well as in the Hereafter depend very much on how correctly you behave with them. If you behave wrongly, you will make this world a Hell for yourselves. And in the Hereafter, too, you will have to answer to God.
You have relationships with many other people. They are your neighbours, friends and enemies. There are also many who work for you in various ways. To some you have to give something and from others you have to receive something.
Some entrust you with their works while you entrust Your works to others. You are in command over some people and others are in command over you. In this world, your happiness, your honour and your good names all depend entirely on your ability to maintain these relationships properly.
In the Hereafter, too, you can acquire places of honor near God only by scrupulously avoiding abusing the rights of others and doing them injustices. There, let no one charge you with having ruined his life or having illegally harmed his honour, life or property.
You therefore have to maintain these relationships in a proper manner; actions which may spoil or disrupt these relations should be avoided.
If you try to find this knowledge with the help of your reason and feelings alone, you will not find it.
Following One’s Desires
Now consider: in order to maintain proper relationships with your own bodies, with the members of your families and with all other people, you need the light of knowledge at every step.
You have to know what is right and what is wrong; what is true and what is false; what is just and what is unjust; what rights you have over others and what rights others have over you; in what there is real benefit and in what lies real harm.
If you try to find this knowledge with the help of your reason and feelings alone, you will not find it. Because yourself is overpowered by the urge to immediate gratification of desires. Your reason and feelings are therefore ruled by physical pleasure and immediate temptations.
They will tempt you to earn money by doing illegal things, drink alcohol and commit adultery. They will lead you to usurp the rights of others and withhold things due to them on the grounds that such behaviour will profit you: take everything and give nothing. They will also make you exploit others to serve your ends while avoiding the doing of any service to anybody, arguing that this will make life easy and comfortable.
If you allow yourselves to be led by a self which gropes in such darkness, it will drag you down to the level of selfish, depraved, and corrupt persons and your lives both on earth and in the Hereafter will be ruined.
Alternatively, instead of following the self, you may rely on other human beings like yourselves, and place yourselves in their hands to take you in whichever direction they like.
The dangers in such a course are obvious: selfish persons may make you slaves of their own desires, and ignorant men, who have themselves gone astray, may mislead you also. Tyrants may use you to perpetrate oppression and injustice on others.
From human beings like yourselves, too, you cannot get that light of knowledge which can guide you to distinguish between right and wrong, between good and bad, and direct you on the right path.
The article is an excerpt from the author’s book Let Us Be Muslims.
Salah (Prayer) is the second pillar of Islam and the first practical one. Here is a video about the story of Prayer and how to perform both the Prayer and Ablution. It will greatly help you perform your first Prayer.
First, the story began in Makkah where the Archangel Gabriel (peace be upon him) visited Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Next, they both set off for Jerusalem where they started the second journey, Ascending to the Heavens or the Night Journey. It was in the heavens where Allah made Prayer or Salah obligatory for Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the whole ummah.
After that, the video moves on to speak briefly about the Night Journey to highlight how important Salah is. It also covers the following topics:
1. Prerequisites of Salah (Prayer)
These prerequisites include clothing, purification of the body, clothing and place of prayer, etc.
2. The Wudu’ (Ablution) and what nullifies it
3. Step by step guide to Prayer from A to Z
In the below video, Shaykh Ahmed Deedat’s (may Allah be pleased with him) most The FAMOUS EPIC question which NO CHRISTIAN can answer , “Show us where Jesus said “I am God” or “Worship Me”
There are passages in the CHRISTIAN bible which are ambiguous and not in the words of Jesus which the CHRISTIAN claim are saying that Jesus is God. But there is no clear-cut passage in the bible where Jesus himself says He is God. Or Jesus himself says to worship him. This is a relevant question because the salvation of billions depend upon Jesus being God.
In the Quran its says, And when God said, “O Jesus son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind, “Take me and my mother as gods apart from God?” [Jesus son of Mary] said, “Glory be to Thee! It is not for me to utter that to which I have no right. Had I said it, Thou wouldst surely have known it. Thou knowest what is in my self and I know not what is in Thy Self. Truly it is Thou Who knowest best the things unseen. I said naught to them save that which Thou commanded me: “Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” And I was a witness over them, so long as I remained among them. And Thou art Witness over all things. If Thou punisheth them they are indeed Thy servants, but if Thou forgiveth them, then indeed Thou art the Mighty, the Wise.” (5:116-118)
For a full perspective on the debate, please watch the full debate for a full context.
Debate between Pastor Stanley Sjoberg and Ahmed Deedat (may Allah confer mercy upon him). Muslim Debate Initiative. IPCI
Our Channel : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdlAWa8Tkv24haY7rVnq2nQ/videos