Friday, October 25, 2019

The Blessing of Singlehood: Finding Allah in Yearning, Patience and Prayer

By Jamillah Karim


There’s a story behind why I’m featuring this picture: WhatsApp would not capture the images with quotes that I created below so I decided to use the first photo I came across in my album that was fitting. Although I’m married when this picture was taken in October 2016, it reminded me of one the greatest blessings during my single years, seeking Allah’s love through intimate companionship with beautiful women servants of Allah. 

One of the greatest struggles that African American women face is the shortage of marriageable men. In our Muslim communities alone, we know countless African American women in their thirties and even forties who have never married. Also, we know ample divorced women, including those in their sixties who divorced in their thirties but never remarried.

Black women lead in the growing numbers of unmarried women in the US.. This is due to the effects of systemic racism, manifested in outrageously high incarceration rates and low professional job rates among Black men. Other factors in society, not race related, also contribute to decreased marriage rates. These include women’s financial independence, which no longer makes marriage necessary for women's and children’s economic survival, and our culture’s acceptance of extramarital sex, which gives people less incentive to honor and ennoble amorous relationships through the institution of marriage. Trends show that women of all backgrounds will find it harder to find companionship and marry, with African American women leading in this struggle, according to Ralph Banks, author of Is Marriage for White People?  

If lived with beauty and sincerity, as demonstrated in the life of our Beloved Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him), Islam offers much promise and assistance to  women struggling with singlehood. First, Islam requires that sex take place only within marriage. Second, Islam emphasizes that men take care of women and children. Together, this means that Islam holds men to a high standard of responsibility and commitment to women. Although this standard is not always met, the ideals inspire men to be responsible and marry, thereby increasing the number of marriage-worthy men in our community compared to communities without these ideals. 

Third, Islam permits responsible, financially-able, God-conscious men the option to marry up to four women. While I do not see polygyny as the primary strategy for making marriage-worthy men available since only a very small group of men qualify for this privilege, a few single women will benefit from it. Even this select group of women profiting from polygyny grants a degree of mercy and relief to families and communities.

Perhaps the greatest advantage that Islam offers women is guidance to see the struggle of singlehood as any other struggle, that is, to test our faith in God, our patience, and our willingness to strive for His pleasure. “We will test you until We know the true fighters among you and those who are patient, and we shall test what is reported of you” (Qur’an 47:31). Also, the Qur’an states, 

“Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their wealth in exchange for the Garden. They fight in Allah’s path, killing and being killed. [It is] a promise binding upon Him in the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur'an. Who fulfills their promise more than Allah? So rejoice in the bargain you have made. That is the supreme triumph.” (9:111)  

Singlehood can be experienced as a sacrifice to rejoice and find blessing in. Women and men can benefit from this alternative way of seeing singlehood.

In this light, we resist the tendency to see singlehood as a deficiency. Too often it is suggested that Allah has yet to send a person a mate because they have more growing to do. This implies that those fortunate to have found someone have completed their growth, which is far from the truth. One’s singlehood indicates nothing for certain about a person’s maturity, beauty, desirability, spirituality, or intelligence. All that is certain is that singlehood is the particular struggle Allah has designed for some people.

This move away from figuring out how to fix oneself for a mate to embracing a struggle from Allah opens one up to a rich spiritual journey. Indeed, we grow closest to Allah in the moments when we realize that all assistance and success come from Allah alone and that there is nothing left to do but to turn our very selves over to Allah. The struggle of singlehood particularly lends itself to self surrender because singlehood requires waiting for the right person to come along. It requires patience.

Singlehood grants one the opportunity to master patience because waiting is a constant state until one marries. If we make the intention that our waiting be for the sake of Allah, then every moment of our existence will be for the sake of Allah. Just by being single, our very breathing and living will be for Allah. And when we make our waiting for Allah, Allah is always with us. “Indeed, Allah is with the patient” (Qur’an 2:153). Is not presence with Allah our highest aspiration?

To be sure, human companionship, especially with a spouse, is a gift from Allah and in all its grandeur, can bring us close to Allah in the most profound ways. Also, Allah has made our natural makeup such that it drives us to amorous love. That natural desire and need, of course, is what makes waiting a struggle. It is precisely this yearning, though, that makes singlehood an extraordinary path to Allah. What do we do with all the desire and yearning when Allah has closed the doors of marriage to us? We cannot suppress the yearning, but we can rechannel it.

But how? Our Blessed Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) advised the person who could not afford to marry to fast, “as fasting will diminish one’s sexual power” (Bukhari). This hadith proves that waiting is both expected at times and within our capacity. The Prophet does not deny our human desire, but rather he encourages us to overcome this desire with an act of sincere devotion to God. Extra acts of worship not only help us tame our passions but also place us on a path to constantly remember and yearn for God. 

“We are living in this world, and we are surrounded by all of these desires. We know that our Origin is higher than these desires so we leave them and we come to a place that is a reminder of the Origin.” (Habib Husayn As-Saqqaf, “Obligatory Love,” Translation by SeekersHub)

Our worship constitutes the places that remind us of our Origin, Allah. It is human to love the places that remind us of “home” and to yearn for “home.” As we keep returning to these places, we find that our yearning is less and less for our desires and more and more for Allah. “Whoever loves to meet Allah, Allah loves to meet him” (Bukhari). Ultimately, our devotion, which fuels our yearning, gains us Allah’s love, which deepens our longing for and our devotion to Allah.

Indeed, we meet Allah in our yearning. Rumi wrote beautifully about the way that the yearning itself is a gift because it is both the cry for God and the answer from God:

One night a man was crying, “Allah! Allah!” 
His lips grew sweet with the praising, until a cynic said, 
"So! I have heard you calling out, but have you ever gotten any response?" 
The man had no answer to that. He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep. 
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls, in a thick, green foliage. 
"Why did you stop praising?" 
"Because I've never heard anything back."
"This longing you express is the return message." 
The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. 
Your pure sadness that wants help 
is the secret cup.

The struggle of singlehood is the crying to Allah, and it leaves the believing servant no choice but to give herself over to God--to seize the bargain that the Qur’an describes, where Allah has purchased her very body and all its innate desires for intimacy and companionship. The reward is Allah’s love and gaze.

“Remember Me by fighting with your soul, I will remember you by watching.” (Hadith Qudsi)

“So remember Me, I will remember you.” (Qur’an 2:152)

Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse wrote, 

“The sincerity of the elite is to put the religion into practice, not for the sake of reward, not for fear of punishment, nor for attaining a spiritual station (maqam). Rather, you worship Allah out of yearning ( for Him). 

Worship (‘ubudiyya) means that you put the religion into practice for no other reason than the fact that Allah deserves to be worshipped, and you are a servant for whom nothing else is fitting besides service. So you act for His sake, and you do not perceive yourself deserving anything from Him. You give witness to the blessing, and He gives witness to your good deeds.” ("The Stations of the Religion," Translation by Zachary Wright)

The struggle of singlehood is Allah’s choosing. The yearning of singlehood is the servant’s sincere worshipping. The pleasure of singlehood is Allah’s witnessing.

Out of His mercy, Allah gives us family, companions, teachers, and even personal pursuits and passions to provide comfort, satisfaction, and pleasure as we aspire to give ourselves over to Allah. This is often described as keeping ourselves busy so that we are not consumed by our desires. Because singlehood can extend over years, this platonic or spiritual love is a mercy, and it offers another pleasure of singlehood. 

Without amorous love in our lives, we are more likely to discover that intimate love can come from other places. Certainly, the devotee who has given herself over to Allah is promised Allah’s love, and Allah shows His love in tangible ways through others and through self love. When we are able to experience rich, fulfilling love from ourselves and others in the path of God, we are protected from the common mistake of rushing into romantic love. We are so full of love from Allah that we can patiently and wisely choose the right mate. 

It is especially important for women to choose with patience. One scholar described the reason in a special message he imparted to women: 

“O, Sister! This message is for you. Your heart is a jewel so protect it. The heart of a woman is not like the heart of a man. The heart of a woman is that if it loves, it loves something completely. So for this reason, do not give your heart to someone who does not deserve it. 

So who deserves your heart? There is a man who loves you but not for your beauty, and not for your wealth, and not for your position or job, and not for your progeny, and not for your physique, but he loves you because he knows that you are a part of him.” (Habib Husayn As-Saqqaf, “Obligatory Love,” Translation by SeekersHub)

Surely, this is a high standard for a woman, and if she strives for such a sincere mate, she is more likely to find herself waiting. Because the hearts are different, men are not given the same advice. Rather, the Prophet (s) advises them to marry once they can afford it. This means that singlehood is divinely meant to be a struggle experienced more by women than men, which is supported by relationship statistics. The beauty and mercy in this for women, however, is that we are more likely to tread this lofty path of patience and yearning for Allah.

In his beautiful counsel to sisters in this struggle, Habib Husayn continued:

[He loves you] because Allah has created him for you and you for him. This is why it’s called a partner, a zawj. The word spouse in Arabic means that one completes the other. So for this reason, if your heart wishes to be connected to someone, then it should be connected to someone who would see you as a spouse and as someone who completes you. You should ask that Allah gives you someone like that so that through him your religion will be completed, and you experience that feeling and that compassion.

And what if a sister finds herself falling in love with a man who is not right for her? Habib Husayn addressed this common occurrence:

And you should create around your heart a protection from loving someone just for the sake of desire (shahawat). And have no doubt that if you have this protection, someone will come to you who will really respect you and be the one who is really worth it. 

True, you might love all the believing men and all the believing women in general. For instance, you may love someone who has served you or helped you, but that love is not a love of desire (hawa) [and that type of love for the sake of Allah is encouraged]. 

But if your heart is connected to a man or woman without any purpose or any reason, then do not respond to this connection; do not  reply to it. You should take this feeling that you are feeling (mayl, attachment) to the Prophet (s), [in other words you should shift your attachment and redirect your heart towards loving the Prophet (s)] because he is the most worthy of this feeling (mahabbah). 

You should ask Allah to remove this connection from your heart, or if he is good as a spouse for you, then ask that Allah bring him to you as a spouse. 

Habib Husayn’s counsel to shift one’s attachment from a person unworthy of your heart to the Beloved of Allah (s) profoundly captures the blessing of singlehood. The highest form of human love is loving the Best of Creation (s) above all creation. By redirecting attachment, love, and longing to the Prophet (s), single women do not have to be deprived of the heavenly gift of being in love. Rather, they will experience the greatest love, for certainly the Prophet (s) is our door to Allah, and meeting Allah (swt) is our highest aspiration.

This alternative way of seeing the struggle of singlehood as a blessing from Allah, and particularly one for women, helps us to work for better marriage rates in our communities without losing ourselves in despair or rushing into unhealthy marriages. Allah knows our condition, and is certainly Perfect and Wise and Capable of all things. If it is His choice, He will change this condition for single women. “Oh Allah! Make us love what You love and make our choice Your choice. And do not make us need anyone other than You” (Dua of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse).

Shaykh Mahy Cisse advised that we encourage single women and men to be patient and to pray for them. Indeed, his is a reminder that this is Allah’s choice and that we all have a part to play in this struggle: patience for those single and prayers from all of us. “And seek help through patience and prayer” (Qur’an 2:45). 

I wrote this piece from the collective perspective (my use of “we”) because I too face struggles relieved through patience, yearning, and prayer, I too waited many years to find my spouse, and I too embrace the reminder that my single sisters’ struggle is my struggle and deserves my dua.

I end with reminders from our beloved Prophet, prayers and peace be upon him, and beautiful duas:
“Patience is a light.” (Muslim)

“And whoever remains patient, Allah, will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience.” (Bukhari)

“O, Allah, no one can prevent from me what you grant or give me what you deprive.” (Bukhari)

May Allah aid and comfort
 and guide and support and uplift 
our single sisters. 
May He make this test 
a means of sweet nearness to Him. 
May He make their duas 
steps to Him. 
May He bless them with the absolute 
best of mates, 
giving in ample abundance 
as He always does. 
May our duas reach Him 
and may He accept and forgive 
our error. 
All this and more. Ameen. 
(Joi Faison)

O, Allah! Protect our hearts. 
O, Allah! Grant every righteous woman 
a righteous spouse who respects her 
and gives her her right, 
who loves and protects her, 
and does not harm her, 
and who takes her by her hand
to the highest Paradise.
O, Allah! Give us a true purpose, 
love of the Prophet (s), 
and love of Allah 
in the beginning and end, 
make us taste this love, 
unite us in Paradise, 
and remove from our hearts
all love for desire in this world. 
(Habib Husayn As-Saqqaf)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Radical Love for Young Black Men, Seeing Isma’il (Beautiful Black Youth) in Medina Baye, Senegal

By Jamillah Karim

"Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all."
Toni Morrison

Ignited by you
We write
Without fear
To speak our truth

Students of Shaykh Mahy Cisse following him to his home after Fajr Prayer, July 2019

Isma’il, a symbol of Black boys’ beauty in the face of struggle

I have been blessed to write annually a piece inspired by our Mother Hagar (R) during her season, Hajj season. Just before the month of Dhul Hijjah, I visited Medina Baye, Senegal. Something that stood out to me was the abundance of young Black male spiritual aspirants. They were to my eyes what I imagine our Prophet Isma'il (S) was to Mother Hagar's (R), a beautiful coolness. After my return, I learned that more than 60 percent of Senegal’s population is under the age of 25. No wonder, then, that the youth captured my attention. 

Young Senegalese men struggle to find permanent work as do their brothers throughout Africa and the Diaspora, part of the aftermath of the plunder of Africa’s resources and labor during the transatlantic trade in enslaved people and colonization. Please know, beautiful Black brothers, “We see you, and we love you” (Oprah's words to the Exonerated Five, When They See Us Now). 

This piece is a chance to express the love. Dear Brothers, keep turning to Allah, hitting the prayer mat, reading  Qur’an, popping your dhikr beads, and, in the footsteps of Isma’il (S), gracefully surrendering your desires for what God desires. This is the success. May Allah ease your difficulty and grant you success in this life and the next. Ameen!

My love for Black boys, where it all started

At a young age, maybe as early as 9, I developed a soft spot for African American males. It went deeper than the expected crushes on my brother Sultan's school friends, deeper than the joy that overcame us when my sister or girlfriends and I spied a beautiful brother and mutually exclaimed, “Girl, he is FINE,” deeper even than the delight of Denzel dazzling us at a Spike Lee Joint. This wasn’t a surface love.

Somehow, someway, I felt deeply for my African American brothers. I heard--from the news I now assume--that young Black males constituted an endangered species. Gang violence, juvenile delinquency, low quality education, poverty, and absent fathers plagued our Black boys.

And although I lived in a family and a community in Atlanta in which this one-sided image was not the dominant experience of my beloved Black brothers, it was undeniably part of the experience. It was felt looming around the corner, or on the rare, isolated night when the sound of close gunfire jolted you out of your sleep and bed and onto the floor, or when one brother, or cousin, or friend became the stat that haunts Black mothers and fathers: one out of three Black boys will one day be incarcerated.

And here I am, a mother of three African American boys, terrified by that stat even though I know intimately a Black mother, father, and son who lived it, survived it, and came out abundantly blessed on the other side, though I will never know their scars fully. 

Thanks to Ava DuVernay’s work 13th and When They See Us, built on the work of scholars and researchers who analyze race and the criminal justice system, we know that ours is a culture that thrives off the systematic demonization of Black men and boys. We know that the incarceration of our Black men and boys is by design. 

We know the relationship between racism, disparities in education, unemployment, and negative life outcomes for the Black poor. And we know the tragic relationship between demonizing images, police brutality, and the mass incarceration of Black men and boys. Stereotypes of them as inhumane criminals denies them due process of law, and too often, life, for they are assumed and determined guilty the instant we see them. 

As a young girl in Atlanta, who grew up riding city buses to Sister Clara Muhammad School, my private Muslim school, and who spent summers at urban camps with public school kids who noted that I talked “proper” English, I didn’t know all the complexities of the system, but I knew that the trajectories of Black boys would be different if their circumstances and environments were different. Sort of between two Black worlds in Atlanta—between the poor and the more privileged—I sensed that all our boys would excel given different conditions.

Manifesting this became both a spiritual and political exercise for me. In other words, both my spirit and my physical reality needed to see Black males differently. And both spirit and body needed me—called me— to be a part of the broader work to change how others see my brothers, like Ava’s and Oprah’s work in producing When They See Us

The first thing I did was make a dua. In adolescence I prayed that Allah would bless me with sons. I wanted to meet the challenge of raising African American boys who defy stereotypes. Growing up familiar with Malcolm X’s narrative of transformation, I believed that faith, and Islam in particular, would be the greatest key to success.

Allah blessed me with sons, but first an exceptional husband, the handsome Love of My Life, who was raised Muslim by an exceptional father. I was confident and grateful that my husband would, through our sons, continue the legacy of faith and excellence passed down to him from not only his convert father but also the larger family of African American educators, lawyers, and doctors from which he comes. 

Radical Love for Black boys

Radical Love, my latest book project, is an attempt to put into words the mind-dazzling love I have experienced after giving up my desires out of preference for others (or so I pray that God sees it this way). It was an act of giving that was both selfless and selfish. Selfless in that it was inspired by the Prophetic statement,“Your faith is not a complete faith until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

My act of giving was selfish in that I was certain that after enduring the initial pain and heartbreak, my sharing would secure me the highest love. This journey to the highest love—radical and eternal—has taken me to the place I call home—Medina Baye, Senegal— first in 2017 and recently this past July (2019). My time in 2017 was brief. I spent most of my trip in Dakar, and wrote a little about my experience here. Dakar inspired my Radical Love Quote at the beginning of this piece, an expression of gratitude for Senegal’s gifting me with an alternative way of seeing Black men.

This time, Senegal’s gift touched deeper, and naturally so, because for eleven days, I resided at the heart of the spiritual capital of the Fayda Tijaniyyah movement and global community, Medina Baye. Medina Baye was founded by Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (R), twentieth century West Africa’s most influential scholar and spiritual guide. Before his death in 1975, Shaykh Ibrahim’s followers had reached the millions in more than fifteen sub-Saharan African countries, gaining him the distinction of the one who brought the Fayda, or the divine flood, of the Tijaniyyah spiritual brother and sisterhood. 

At the tomb of Senegalese Shaykh Hassan Cisse (R). Shaykh Hassan brought the Tijani Tariqah to African American Muslims and founded a Qur’an school for them in Medina Baye, Senegal. July 2019

I was a guest in the home of Shaykh Mouhamadou Mahy Cisse, inheritor and grandson of Shaykh Ibrahim (R) and younger brother of Shaykh Hassan Cisse (R). The best analogy for my spiritual pilgrimage to Medina Baye is Umrah, or the pilgrimage to Mecca (and Medina) outside the Hajj season, what my mother described best after her first Umrah: a spiritual vacation. The pilgrim travels to Medina Baye or Mecca and Medina solely for spiritual devotion. It is likened to a vacation because you are freed from the work of earning a living or preparing family meals, and most often away from the children.

At the tomb of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (R). I decided to patronize a brother taking photos at the tomb. He pleasantly surprised me with the image of Shaykh Ibrahim (R). July 2019

A highlight of my spiritual vacation in Medina Baye was visiting the tombs of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (R), Shaykh Hassan Cisse (R), Seydi Aliyyu Cisse (R), and other great awliya, or Friends of Allah, of the city. I call Medina Baye a City of Lovers because it is out of "thick" love, to refer back to our beloved Toni Morrison's quote, that devotees visit these awliya, who represent Prophet Muhammad (S) in their proximity to Allah and their beautiful character. 

Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (R)

At the tombs, lovers show their love through greetings and gifts. The gift that was immediately enjoyed by the other lovers in the space was the recitation of poetry or divine remembrance. The lovers don’t hold back, breaking the silence with riveting songs to the Beloved. Below are two short samples of this type of radical love song, the second by a woman. In my eleven days, I only witnessed a woman sing out once. Imagining it to be a rarer occurrence, I feel especially honored to have been sitting right next to her.

Two other things struck me about this space, one of which returns me to my love for Black boys. First, I was struck by the close proximity and free flow of men and women in the tight space. There were subtle indications of gender lines--the way women only shook women’s hands and men shook only men’s hands--but there were no imposed, tangible gender lines like in mosques where the touching of bodies in salat requires boundaries. The downplay of gender inspired reflection on Radical Love. Radical Love aspires to a purity in love between brother and sister in faith, where spirits gather, not bodies.

At the tombs after Friday Jumu'ah Prayer

The second thing that struck me was that young men—between the ages of 16 and 25 perhaps—often dominated the space. My observation made me think back to my Intro to Islam students at Spelman. They were required to visit a masjid and write a reflection on what they observed. For so many of them, it was an unexpected pleasure to see large numbers of Black men in sacred space. From church, they were familiar with women, not men, holding it down with the Lord. 

Now the intrigued observer at the tombs, which lies adjacent to the grand masjid, I felt what matched the pleasant surprise of my students. Coming from the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, with a Black male youth presence quite strong for Black urban masjids, I was accustomed to youth attending the weekly congregational prayer, but here young men dominated sacred space around the clock as they made their ziyara (visit) to the tombs before or after any one of the five daily prayers. Naturally, they were present at the masjid too.

My heart was moved by this dominant way of seeing young Black men, that is, as spiritual lovers. Enhancing this image were the dangling dhikr beads that nearly every soul held. Walking with dhikr beads was not a sign of spiritual ostentation, a charge that I imagine likely to be made on one carrying them in the U.S., but a sign of everyday living and worship in Medina Baye (as is the case in other Muslim cities).

That I was moved by this dominant way of seeing young Black men is an understatement. One incident in particular made me realize something profound: My soul yearns to see young Black men in their original state—spiritual aspirants, not bodily threats. It happened after Asr prayer one day in the small musallah (prayer space) in the same building as the tombs. Usually women would make salat in the rear and men towards the front, but outside of the prayer times, men--and women sometimes too--would study, dhikr, socialize, or relax--all over the space.

I tried a different spot than my usual to perform my post-Asr dhikr, against a wall in the rear, in what most would consider the women's area. Yet, even when I sat down, there was already a young man sitting a few feet away with his beads. Soon another joined the first brother. Then another sat in front of the second. And another next to him. And then one next to him, and then behind, and then next to him, and so on, until before I realized what was happening, one was sitting next to me, the distance between us the width of one worshipper, if that.

I tried to take this picture as inconspicuously as possible. My yellow dress at the margins gives a sense of the proximity between us, and I had even moved over a bit at this point.

As you can tell from the picture, the young men had formed a small jama'at next to me. With beads moving, their dhikr was silent except periodically one of the young men in the front would recite Allahu Akbar, likely to mark their place. Once I realized that I was part of their jama'at, though on the margins, tears flowed in awe of this space.

When the young men finished, they greeted each other with handshakes, many of them with broad smiles, as if they had accomplished something great. I imagined that this was something they did everyday after Asr, that Allah simply allowed me to stumble across this group worship, that Allah wanted me to see it with my own eyes. 

A torrent of thoughts on Radical Love overcame me. The concept of a time before we were bodies but spirits, consumed with the remembrance of Allah. There was no gender. And although now bodies on earth, nothing can stop our spirits from crossing paths or coalescing, to acknowledge that we once were a circle of lovers before, when Allah was our sole obsession, presently in a sacred spirit space to which the lovers travel, so that once again Allah is our sole obsession.

I wrote down these words to preserve the moment.

Sitting with Shaykh Ibrahim (R)
Facing the Qibla
Gradually men join me
Forming a jama’at
I’m on the periphery
But no matter
My jama’at now 

“You will be with whom you love”
No gender lines to divide us
Only seeing hearts, worshippers, lovers
Loving with one desire

Though not expressed explicitly in the lines, I know that my heart softened instantly because they were Black brothers. My love for them is radical because it is a spiritual love as indicated in the lines of poetry. At the same time, my spirit was especially moved because they were Black male bodies. Through young Black men's public expressions of divine remembrance in Medina Baye--which they carried out with a sense of enthusiasm and accomplishment--I constantly saw young Black men as my soul yearns to see them and has known them, pre-eternity and eternally. 

Beloved Shaykh Hassan Cisse (R) once made this dua for us in America: "I pray for all of you that Allah gives every one of you what he needs in this life and in the Hereafter." Though I never met Shaykh Hassan (R), this dua was answered for me in his very home. Allah, the Subtle and Gentle (Latif), crafts experiences and bestows gifts that are uniquely meaningful to each and every one of us. Allah gives us what our souls need.

In several speaking engagements, I have told audiences that my work on race and gender is spiritual for me, and I attribute this to the Imam WDM community in which I was raised, where standing up for justice for oppressed people was presented as part of our worship and the Prophetic legacy. So though I marvel at this space and how Allah placed me in it, it’s no wonder that Allah made me love Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (R), for loving him is loving the Prophet (S). And it’s no wonder that sitting with the lovers and visiting with Shaykh Ibrahim (R) would touch the depths of my soul as much as sharing that space, beyond gender lines, with my Black brothers in faith. Exactly what I needed.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

In Search of My Qawwam (Provider/Protector) After 5 Years of Singledom: “Qawwam, Take Me Away!"

By Ayisha Karim

The Life-Altering Separation: March 23, 2014 

This past March marked 5 years that I’ve been single without a husband to provide for me in the traditional way that our religion dictates. But the truth is, my ex-husband wasn’t providing in the traditional Islamic manner prior to the separation, and subsequent divorce, long before that turning point.

I’ll leave it at that. I won’t go into the details of the nature of our bank accounts and work schedules to prove to you why I make such a claim. Instead, I’ll simply tell you that at the end of March 2014, I was forced to leave my family home of 10 years, with a fraction of our belongings that I primarily picked out, without my two children ages 1 and 3, and abruptly settled into a moderately-sized, one-room suite in my oldest brother’s home, where he and his two teenage children were also living. It was a Sunday at the end of the spring term of school, and I had to pull myself together the following Monday morning, and prepare to teach my full load of math classes - business as usual.

The days that followed were filled with a sadness that I can’t bring myself to fully recount, a sadness like none I’d experienced in the 35 years leading up to it, a sadness that led me to cry in the bathroom stall at work or irrationally fantasize about ways that I could escape and move past this torture/disaster that was my current reality.

The separation on March 23, 2014, meant that I was suddenly without my two babies, not even school-age, for whom I’d prayed and longed for over a decade, often doubtful that they would ever be, (within a marriage that I never imagined would end, surely not the way that it did).

Days of driving thirty miles on school nights, to and from, to see my two children at a house where I wasn’t welcomed yet was (legally) in my name. Exhausted, disillusioned, half broken … yet faithful. Only God knows how I made it through that period.

Alhamdulillah, on the weekends I brought my children to my brother's house.

But that night of March 23, 2014, I left the man who was charged with being my provider, my qawwam (in Arabic), and was graciously placed in the hands of another man who’d been my qawwam all along, my oldest brother Khalil. The same older brother who told my mom that I looked like an Africanese (African mixed with Chinese) when she first brought me home from the hospital as a newborn – very keen observation for a 5 year old.

The ayat (verse) in our holy book, Qur’an, that speaks to this role of men (mostly ascribed to the husband) comes from the chapter "The Women":

 “Men are the upholders and maintainers of women by virtue of that in which God has favored some of them above others and by virtue of their spending from their wealth" (The Study Quran Translation) 

(In Arabic: Ar-Rijaalu Qawwaamuna 'ala Nisaa’i bimaa Faddalallahu ba’dahum 'ala ba’din wa bimaa anfaquu min amwaalihim)  

5 Years Later, Today, 2019   

Fast-forward to today, through days in family court, moving out of my brother’s home and securing my own cozy spot – enough for me and my two kids - co-parenting plans, child support payments, and my ex remarrying a year ago. I contemplate what I desire most in my future husband.

Yes! I’m still very hopeful. I alternate back and forth between 1) the moderately devout Muslim (like myself), who stimulates me intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, who I can ultimately trust to be loyal, consistent, and kind, 2) the man who I’m attracted to and drawn to physically, who creates chemical sparks that I’ve missed over these five long years, whom I love and who loves me (a sister deserves that, right?! Absolutely), and 3) the solid brother who will pay the bills, take the trash out, handle car mechanical issues, and play catch & soccer with my son and appropriately discipline him when I can’t get through to him.

For some reason, these three versions of my future husband don’t smoothly or seamlessly coexist. Perhaps, it’s because of my limited close-up/real world experiences with such men. Perhaps, it’s a lack of faith in the miracles that God can bring into my life. Perhaps, my inability to imagine and search for all three of these in one man stems from my own fears and insecurities in being compatible with such a well-rounded, phenomenal mate. Will I be as solid, desirable, loyal, and phenomenal as a wife?

Wait! Let’s dissect that last part a bit more. This insecurity. I’ll be honest: I’m triggered every time a marriage prospect, or just a man for that matter, questions me about how I want to be provided for, i.e., “Do you want to keep working or do you want to stay home?”

God forbid the phrase “gold digger” pops up. I’m like an atomic bomb waiting to go off. Simply put, I’m very sensitive about finding a spouse who DESIRES and plans to be my qawwam (provider) along with doing so out of a religious duty. I usually respond, “Although financial support is not the main trait or benefit I seek in a future mate, I would love for a brother to WANT to provide for me and hold it down! [Geez]” Let’s just say, I’ve spilled many a tear over this topic.

Along with occasionally feeling inadequate in my state of not having a qawwam in (the role of) a husband, I confide in God as to whether I should look ultimately for a man to carry out this role or be content with the ways in which God reveals that He, alone, is the Provider, the Qawwam. Of course, God usually reminds me of the latter – that I should only depend on Him – and that He uses His devout servants, humans, to carry out His Will, and oftentimes in ways that astonish, tickle, and humble me. Let me share with you one of those moments. In my Biggie (Notorious B.I.G.) voice, I gotta story to tell!    

The Long Journey to Houston, Texas  

On May 30th, the father of one of my dearest childhood friends passed, Imam Qasim Ahmed, one of the most prominent, well-respected Islamic leaders under the tutelage of our beloved Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (may God be pleased with them both). I secured a flight out of Atlanta to Houston – one layover in Dallas – determined to be there for my dear friend Huraiyah and her family.

Soon after arriving in Dallas, my connecting flight was delayed. Moments earlier, I spotted a group of African-American brothers, who seemed familiar and whom I suspected were headed to the same funeral. But I intentionally walked quickly pass them so as not to engage in any small talk, not wanting any undue attention as a single Muslimah with a reputation to uphold, lol. Later, I’d have to depend on these brothers to get to my final destination.

Within an hour of learning that our flight was delayed, the American Airlines monitor flashed the update that our flight had actually been cancelled. A group of us immediately picked up our belongings and headed to the customer service desk as if this was a regular part of the passenger experience with this particular airline. I noticed the same group of brothers in the customer service line. At that point, both parties were more comfortable to engage in dialogue certain that we had the same end goal in mind – Imam Qasim’s janazah (funeral).

It was 8/9 pm Saturday night at that point, and the funeral service was the following morning at 10 am. We had decisions to make and had to make them soon. At that very moment, the highlight of my trip began, and mind you it had already been quite eventful.

I must have possessed an air of confidence, diplomacy, and compassion as I stood there in that line because out of nowhere a Korean woman in her fifties or sixties approached me, handed me her cell phone, and gestured that I speak to the person on the other end. It was her adult daughter on the other end, asking that I share the status of the flight changes.

This went on for at least another hour or two until it was approaching midnight and our flight to Houston was being pushed back every hour. The five Muslim brothers also traveling to the janazah were busy making backup plans, which they shared with me: “Sis, we’re probably going to rent a van and drive to Houston three hours away. You’re welcome to come with us.”

Do I take the risk of a flight that never makes it out of Dallas in time or jump in the van with these seemingly trustworthy brothers, no matter how awkward it may prove to be?!

By that point, one of the five brothers had noticed the Korean woman’s dilemma and jumped right on in to assist by downloading the language translator app on his phone, and proceeded to communicate with her. A group of us had bonded over this airline chaos, and a young Native American woman among us also stepped in to help the Korean elder and found herself on the phone with not just her daughter but now her son as well. Next thing I know, the Native woman informed me that the Korean woman’s children wished for her to join the caravan to Houston with me and the five brothers.

WAIT, HOLD UP! This had gone too far, and I for one couldn’t be more tickled! Reacting from a place of stereotypes of Asian people’s opinions of Black people, I thought to myself, surely there’s a breakdown in communication! As all seven us, Korean woman included, said our goodbyes to the group at the gate, jumped on the train to the ground transportation area, I continued to speak to the stranger’s son. He texted: “First of all thank you so much for taking care of my mom. She doesn’t speak English. Could you tell me what is going on now.”

And just when the brothers had secured the keys to the rental van, her son responded as I suspected her children would have all along. After my giving him the final, comprehensive status update and travel plans, the Korean woman’s son made the executive decision, “I think it’s best that she wait for the flight … Did she go back to the gate? … Have a safe trip.” The American flight was then scheduled to leave at 12:13 am, but in reality, the flight didn’t leave until the next morning at 7 am.

One of the brothers, the same one who translated Korean on his phone app, insisted that I sit in the front seat. This was really happening, but there was an unexpected calmness that overcame me. I’d told my family what I’d decided to do and spoke to my mom who secured the names and cities of all five brothers I’d be traveling with. To say that I was amused by the current situation is an understatement.

The five brothers ranged in age, between their 50s and 70s, and the closer up I got, I recognized a couple of faces from my childhood, from Islamic conventions coming up, brothers who were mostly imams, i.e., religious leaders of their Muslim communities, and sincere students of our beloved Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (may God be pleased with him). I smiled and giggled as they poked jabs at each other, cracked jokes, and scouted out the closest Whataburger restaurant.

I fell off to sleep and awoke to quiet, with only the driver awake. It was 3-something in the morning and where I would be dropped off in Houston hadn’t been decided upon; not to mention that I had no luggage or change of clothes. At that point, the brother behind the wheel instructed me to put my cousin’s home address into the GPS regardless of the fact that it was an hour out of the way from the hotel they were staying at. He insisted at this point, that taking me there at that hour was the most responsible, sensible move. Soon we were driving up to the gate of her subdivision; my cousin greeted me warmly and directed me to her guest bedroom with the most comfortable bed on earth after the night I’d had.

The next morning, I arrived at the masjid where the funeral was taking place, a bit early and wearing the same outfit I traveled in the previous day. I was thrilled to be present among other believers, family members, friends, and admirers of the beloved Imam Qasim Ahmed, may Allah have mercy on him.

And in the sea of familiar faces, while standing for the ceremonial prayer, I spotted one of the brothers from the unforgettable journey to Houston. We acknowledged one another and later I recognized the whole group at the cemetery, the culmination of this sacred event. There, the physical body of our beloved was returned to the earth, his soul on its journey back to his Maker.  Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un [To God we belong, and to Him is our return.]   

#Hagar Lives