When mom life meets hawza life

When mom life meets hawza life

I apologize for not updating the blog in a long time but I’ve been literally taking exams for the past month. And I still have two more to go.

The one thing you learn pretty quickly as a hawza student is that one must always be ready for anything. Like having midterms a week before finals. (Don’t ask)

In between regular life, cram sessions, midterms, wiladat celebrations, fasting, and finals, I have realized life is really what you make of it. There have been days when I feel like just closing my books and quitting hawza. When I first started hawza with Farsi language classes, it didn’t seem so difficult to manage a home life with school. But now as I finish my first term as an official hawza student I’ve gotten just a glimpse into what it takes to learn about Islam.

Our classes are not a joke – Sarf (Arabic grammar), aqaid (beliefs), akhlaq (Islamic code of ethics), tareekh (history), ahkam (Islamic laws of practice), khanvadeh dar Islam (family in Islam), and some classes based on Shaheed Mortaza Motahhari’s books.

Attending classes this term felt like I was quenching this inner thirst. Our teachers opened our eyes to different concepts, helped us realize our true identities as Muslims, and what it means to follow the path we are on. Every time I felt like dropping out, I just told myself it’ll get better.

Our akhlaq teacher was one of the best of the bunch. She started every class with a verse from the Quran and encouraged us to read and understand at least one verse a day.

I didn’t just learn religion this term; I learned life. I learned about sisterhood, overcoming obstacles, prioritizing, keeping a schedule, and that going back to school is never a bad thing.

My kids wonder why I’m still in “school” if I’m a mom. They wonder why I get homework, and if my teachers are nice. I don’t dare do homework on my kids’ time – that’s just asking for trouble. I wait until they’re asleep to crack open the books and feel like an adult again.

Once you’re a parent you get really good at making life work and anything that comes in the way – school, work, etc – gets organized accordingly. You have no choice but to make it work, for your sanity.

It’s been a while since I’ve been back in the school grind, but I have to say I’m enjoying every moment. From getting new notebooks to eyeing the clock for the end-of-class dua, school life is truly magnificent.

The Holy Prophet told us to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” and I’m humbled with the opportunity to be here learning, and hopefully pass this valuable information to others.

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Having friends from all over the world

Having friends from all over the world

One of the greatest blessings of being in Qom is meeting people from all over the world. We get a chance to see what life is like in different countries.

In school, we are surrounded by so many languages! You can hear people conversing in English, Urdu, German, Spanish, Arabic, among others. It’s given me a chance to practice my Spanish again, which I had unfortunately forgotten when I started learning Farsi. Even now, when my Venezuelan neighbor talks to me in Spanish, I reply in Farsi, even though I want to reply in Spanish!

Besides getting a taste for different cultures, perhaps the biggest blessing is being able to learn about life and culture, and how Islam is practiced around the world. Sitting in our little bubbles in the West we hardly had any exposure from the outside. Living in America even though we are of different ethnicities, since we are raised in the same environment speaking the same language, we end up sharing the same experiences, with little exposure to our respective ethnic cultures.

But here it’s different. I actually run into people surprised to see I was born and raised in America. But then how did you get here, they ask. It’s not like all of America is what you see and hear on the news. And that, unfortunately, is the case for most parts of the Eastern world, too.

I remember kids in school asking if Pakistan had roads and cars. Uh, yes, I would reply, totally stunned. And even now, when folks ask about Iran, I stand completely baffled at what the media portrays about this country, and what I see on a daily basis. It’s not the same.

I am grateful my children have friends from different places. When we have summer break and many of us go back home to our respective countries, my children will excitedly want to point out on a map where their friends are going home.

Exposure to many cultures and countries is often lost on many of those living in the West. People think if you just travel to Europe, you’ve seen it all. You really haven’t seen anything. Travel and experience different cultures, if not yourself, at least for your children. Share the world with them, and help expand their understanding of other cultures. It is imperative, if we desire a better relationship among the youth of the next generation.

How the holy Qur’an worked a miracle in my life

How the holy Qur’an worked a miracle in my life

When I first moved to Qom a little over a year ago, I was completely ready to get my Islamic education started. I had just gotten married and really wanted to study hard before having kids (since having children does limit the amount of time mothers can spend in the classroom – for more on the life of a mother in Qom, check out some of sister Samira’s posts!). I wanted to use my time here very wisely and gain as much knowledge as I possibly could. I was motivated and driven and passionate about studying to my fullest ability.

But when I finally started classes, I hit what seemed like an insurmountable roadblock. I wanted to learn Farsi fast because I had already studied some before and felt I had the capacity to do the rest at an accelerated pace. But the school I had chosen to attend had just one class at my level of Farsi, and this was a part-time class which took place only three days a week.

Of course, the part-time status of this class was very convenient for mothers and others with busy schedules who found it difficult to spend so much time in class. It is wonderful that our school offers these part-time courses so that more sisters have the opportunity to study despite their busy schedules. But for me, determined as I was to use my time here to learn as much as I possibly could, it was extremely frustrating to have to go at a much slower pace than I knew I could manage.

I persevered, trying to study ahead on my own. And soon, I had progressed much beyond the level of my class, but because there were no classes studying the higher levels of Farsi, I was forced to stick with the pace of that class.

I was frustrated and feeling hopeless, and I asked God to help me make better use of my time.

And then something happened which quite literally changed my life.

Ever since I became interested in learning the Islamic sciences, I have had a deep attraction towards the Qur’an. Of course, I am not nearly learned enough to understand the true depths of the holy words of God; but I was so fascinated with just the apparent words and meanings of the Qur’an that I would spend hours listening to it and trying to recite along. The melodiousness and rhythm and unadulterated beauty of Qur’anic Arabic, the most faseeh (pure of form) and baleegh (eloquent) and truthful words in existence, absolutely enthralled me. And ever since then, I have had an unshakeable desire to memorize these words of light and truth by heart.

And so, when one of the sisters here mentioned that the haram of Sayeda Ma’suma (sa) offered Qur’an memorizing courses for adults, I knew I had to sign up.

I already had more free time on my hands than I knew what to do with, and I also had this ever-present impatience to do more and learn more and spend my time more wisely. And so, although my Farsi was still quite weak, I headed to the haram and signed up for the memorization course.

This class from day one has filled my life with more blessings than I can count.

Leaving aside the incredibleness of learning Qur’an at the haram of the Ahlulbayt (as), this class also has a translation and tafseer (exegesis) component which forced me to read a whole lot of difficult Farsi. As well, since my teacher and all my classmates knew no English or Urdu, I was forced to communicate entirely in Farsi (which is not so at madrasah, as I attend a school exclusively for foreigners which means that a lot of conversations take place in English or Urdu). This made it so that within one month of my attending the class, my Farsi teacher was astonished at how far my Farsi reading and speaking had progressed. When our first term of classes neared its end, my teacher supported me in my attempt to finish the rest of my Farsi learning at a much faster pace and be able to progress onto Islamic studies from the next term.

With the grace of God and the goodwill of my madrasah, I was allowed to take my Farsi exams within a month of the new term while simultaneously attending kaar shinaasi (bachelors) courses.

Now, I had an entirely different problem. In my first term of studies, I was constantly frustrated about the slow pace of my studies; in this second term, I was absolutely flooded with work. I had nine separate subjects totaling 20 hours of classes per week at school; on top of that, I had Qur’an memorizing class three times a week for two hours each. Each of these nine madrasah classes had their own assigned homework and readings. Some of the classes that I had joined were in their second term, and so I had a whole term’s worth of catching up to do. Other classes were really quite challenging in their topics. And I also had to memorize ten lines of the Qur’an every day (a page and a third every two days), along with their translation and tafseer for my haram class. Add on top of all of that the accelerated Farsi studying I had to do in order to give my exams early, and you can see why I barely had time to sleep. And all of this is saying nothing of the responsibilities of being a wife (I still to this day can’t remember how I found time to cook in those days).

It was way more stress than I could handle.

There were days I went home and cried. There were days I had no energy and no drive to study properly. On those days, I decided I simply had to give something up. And since giving up my hawzah studies was not an option, I knew it had to be my memorizing course.

I had almost decided to drop the course when my ever-supportive husband encouraged me to attend just one last class before making up my mind. I reluctantly agreed.

On that day which I had deemed to be my last, I sat in class hearing my classmates recite the beautiful words of God, myself reciting these heart-changing verses from memory, speaking about the meanings and implications of these words… My eyes couldn’t help but fill up with tears. I knew I simply could not abandon this miracle that God had placed in my life.

So I stuck with it.

And to my continuous amazement, Allah (swt), the Ever-Merciful, the All-Loving, made everything so much easier for me.

I found that the more I progressed in my memorization, the easier it became. Now I could spend less time memorizing and have it stay in my memory better. My Farsi reading and comprehension had progressed so far that I only occasionally had to look up words in the dictionary (compared to when I first began the class, when I would have to look up about half of each sentence). Finally, I finished all my Farsi exams at madrasah and my workload lessened considerably. Also by the never-ending grace of God, I caught up with all my classes and began really excelling at them instead of simply getting by.

They say that memorizing the Qur’an strengthens your memory, and I certainly found this to be true. This stronger memory of mine helped me remember my hawzah class materials better too. I also found that knowing even the small amount of Qur’an that I had learned by heart really complemented the knowledge I was gaining in my hawzah subjects. For example, in subjects such as sarf and nahw (Arabic grammar courses), I was able to practically apply the rules I was learning onto the Qur’anic verses I had memorized – resulting in both my Arabic grammar skills and my understanding of the Qur’an becoming stronger. My other main course was an aqaid (beliefs) class, which was probably my most challenging subject of the term, partly because of how difficult the Farsi of our textbook was. But because I had had practice reading the very tough Farsi of my Qur’an translation and tafseer book for my memorization class, the hardship was somewhat eased for me. Several of my other courses were directly related to the Qur’an – for example, tafseer, uloom-e-Qur’ani (Qur’anic sciences), and hifz mozoo’i (topical memorization). And learning all of these hawzah subjects was all the more pleasurable for me because of the verses of the Qur’an I had in my heart and on my tongue.

Now, after almost 10 months of attending these memorization classes, I can honestly say that my experience in Qom was enriched a hundred-fold when God opened my heart towards memorizing His holy book. He deserves more thanks than I am capable of extending for giving me the ability to continue memorizing despite all the challenges. When I look back, I am absolutely certain that I would not have gotten through that time with the success I did if it were not for His constant help and guidance.

I still have a (very) long way to go before I finish knowing the entire book by heart. I can’t say for sure that I will never leave the class, because I know there are situations where leaving it to focus on something else – for instance, children – would be better-liked by God. But insha’Allah, if God gives me the time and ability and opportunity (tawfiq), I do sincerely plan to carry out this task to completion. It is not an endeavor I can ever abandon lightly.

Because I have learnt that if you sincerely try to become closer to the Qur’an, this holy book of God will transform your life completely.

-This guest post was written by hawzah student Sumaira Fatima. To contact her, you may e-mail sfahmed313@gmail.com.

Be Imam Hussain in the face of Yazeed today

Be Imam Hussain in the face of Yazeed today

Where to begin?

One of our own respected scholars has come under fire for simply stating laws from Islamic sharia.

Shaykh Hamza Sodagar was recently invited to the UK to deliver lectures for the holy month of Moharram, when an old clip of him speaking about homosexuality and its punishment under Islamic law, was unearthed.

How old is this clip? SIX YEARS OLD.

Was he encouraging this punishment? No.

But yet he has been forced to step down from giving speeches, and is being branded as a hate monger, and having “unacceptable views.”

More interesting is the fact that fellow Muslims are the ones also raising the pitchforks. Dare I ask why Shaykh’s views are unacceptable when he is simply stating what is written in our Islamic sharia code?

One Muslim had the audacity to claim on social media that “[Shaykh’s] views are unacceptable and have no place in any faith.”

Are you really that thick? What faith then do you claim to follow? Do you not know that every major monotheistic religion has something in their texts (at least in their original texts) against homosexuality? Now it’s one thing to say that Christianity and Judaism has changed to allow for it. Islam, however, cannot be changed with a Sharpie. The Holy Qur’an cannot be revised nor tampered with. It is what it is.

Does that mean we should go around following edicts without context? No, of course not. In fact, if the entire clip is viewed in its entirety, which I doubt many of those attacking Shaykh Hamza actually did, you can see that Shaykh mentions in what circumstances that punishment is even deliverable. In layman’s terms – it’s near impossible today.

Bottom line: No one is advocating violence towards homosexuals. But you can’t candy coat it. Homosexuality is not allowed in Islam.

So in this culture of social media how does one go back to understanding? Investigation? Research? Is it all dead?

What do you call it when someone digs up something you said SIX YEARS AGO, or THREE YEARS AGO, in Shaykh Farrokh Sekaleshfar’s case, and while taking it out of context, uses it against them? What do you call that?

Where are the standards on how to act like a civilized people?

It is a plan, everyone. A heinous, evil plan, that is trying to warp our image of Islam. Like I have said before, many secularists are quite insecure with Islam and it’s power and popularity among the masses. It is the fastest growing religion in the world, and we should be proud of that.

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X

Islam is the only major religion in the world where a majority of the adherents still continue to practice it as a complete way of life. Muslim women wear hijab at work, while fencing at the Olympics, and as flight attendants. When it is time for prayer, you can see Muslims praying in the airport, in the park, at school, etc. During the month of Ramadan, you can find us fasting while sitting in class, shopping, or playing professional basketball. It means adultery, gambling, drinking, premarital sex, etc. – all common practices in societies around the world – are looked down upon.

But that’s just it. It hits many secular countries right in the gut. In reference to the recent burkini ban in France, it seemed like a chance to just stir up trouble. Cue French lawmakers: “How can a woman go fully dressed in the water and actually enjoy herself? Why, it’s unheard of! And if not, we should make it that way.”

Don’t forget the degrading cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), which were touted as ‘freedom of speech.’ This is what the Western secular powers want us to believe. Because Prophet Jesus is always the laughingstock of comedy shows, Prophet Mohammad should also be fair game. Bottom line: Degrading a revered figure of any religion should be discouraged.

During that whole debacle, moderate Muslims didn’t know where to turn – if you showed anger, you were an extremist, forcing many to quietly succumb to the notion, that yes, it is actually freedom of speech. Right? But as many in the West have noticed, Muslims don’t sit quietly when any prophet, especially Prophet Mohammad, is insulted. We care about our religion, our tenets, and our prophets and leaders. We have pride in our faith, even if secular society wants us to have no values.

So as many Muslims living in the West, we fully support ‘Western’ notions of “innocent until proven guilty” and “freedom of speech,” unless, of course, we anger the Western gods. Meaning if a scholar is stating something regarding homosexuality mentioned in Islamic law in an academic setting – THAT is called “inciting hatred.”

So wait. It’s freedom of speech when we badmouth the Prophet of Islam. But it’s not freedom of speech when you mention a part of Islamic law that is not in favor of homosexuality? What about when those cartoons were meant to incite hatred? Where were these Muslims to defend these “unacceptable views”?

Not to mention Shaykh Hamza was mentioning law punishing homosexuality that cannot even be implemented UNLESS in a specific parameter. It is like the popularly misunderstood law (see the cartoon movie, Aladdin) of cutting off someone’s hand if they are caught stealing. There are actually a number of sub-rules before actually cutting off any limb. Does anyone bother to explain this? Thanks Disney, by the way, for increasing the ignorance.

But this is what any decent, respectable scholar tries to do. Explain the laws that need explaining, so that people don’t go around doing the wrong thing. This is not meant to throw out there in the social media universe without context. And worse, use it to give him a bad reputation.

The now-infamous clip was recorded SIX YEARS AGO. Why do I keep capitalizing on the fact that it was SIX YEARS AGO? To prove that we are all falling into the trap of caring about things when others make it so. Did you know that the clip actually surfaced sometime this summer, but not surprisingly, wasn’t important enough to those Western powers to utilize until now. Until Moharram.

So when many Muslims are remembering Imam Hussain’s stand against the oppressive rule of Yazeed ibne Muawiya, secular powers and sadly even some Muslims are out dividing communities and trying to pull away from the beautiful message of Imam Hussain, his family and his comrades. The life lessons we pull from Karbala are game changing. The concepts of love of God, living with dignity, never standing silent in the face of injustice, loyalty and sacrifice – this is what we learn from Imam Hussain.

But thanks to the Yazeed of today, communities in the UK are being deprived of a scholar who does not have a history of inciting hate, or spewing ill-informed opinions. Instead his words spoken SIX YEARS AGO in a purely educational setting are being used against him. And not just by non-Muslims. By our own Muslims.

Shame on those Muslims who have fallen in this trap of secularism. How cheap is your religion that you sell it out to the first viral tweet? Have some courage to ask questions and demand explanations.

This is not the first scholar fallen victim to this charade. Another respected scholar, Shaykh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, was also attacked earlier this year for talking about homosexuality in an academic setting THREE YEARS AGO, and it was used against him to connect him somehow the media will find a way if you wait long enough in the unfortunate Orlando gay club massacre.

You want questions? Ask. You need clarity? Ask. Why are we going back to the age of ignorance? These Muslim scholars are humble, well-respected, intelligent – not of the likes of those “religious people” who advocate division among sects, burn Qur’ans, or those who attend funerals with hateful placards.

I speak mostly to my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. Please be aware of these tactics meant to divide communities. And especially during these holy days of Moharram. Don’t fall prey to this game. In this age of 140 character defamation, there is little room for understanding. Islam advocates asking questions and trying to understand. Don’t let secularists attack those scholars who actually try to embody this principle.

During this holy month of Moharram I ask all of those who follow Imam Hussain (as) – what do you think he was trying to do in Karbala? He was standing against a ruler who had manipulated Islam for his own gain and pleasure. He refused to accept this. Please don’t stand idly by and let them do it today.