3. Internet Islam
5. Neo-traditional Islam
6. Doubts No. 1
7. Sufi Encounter
8. Doubts No. 2
9. The Murabitun
9.2. Meknes and the Desert
9.3. The Opposite Sex
9.5. Progress, philosophy, cult and conspiracy theories
10. Doubts No. 3
10.1. Doubts in Morocco
10.2. Back in Britain
11. A learning experience
I’ve always been intellectually curious. My story is a long one. A lot of my infatuation with Islam was to do with my inquisitive nature… and of course… the internet.
I was brought up in a practising but liberal Muslim household. My parents are Pakistanis, both hailing from Muhajir families in Karachi. Even the most religious among the Muhajirs are often highly progressive and secular minded when it comes to politics and global affairs. My aunt in Pakistan, for example, who started wearing niqāb after the death of her paralysed daughter, has the same zeal for Farhat Hashmi (a popular female Wahhabi preacher) as she does for the secular, ethno-centric policies of the MQM.
Islam was not an obvious, nor a quietist force in my life. It was just there…I didn’t, nor did anyone else, think too much about it. My parents were the kind of people who would be willing to drop me to a nightclub and pick me up again. Yet, they attributed the good in life to the One God, prayed five times a day, fasted during the month of Ramadan, gave charity. I saw my dad make the Hajj. The Islam that had been passed on to me was the basics: the Five Pillars.
But this approach had always seemed bland. I wanted something more.
3. Internet Islam
Hours I would spend online snooping through internet forums, websites and lectures by Islamic scholars – wondering how this religion came into existence and what it had to offer. I realised all this time I only subconsciously believed in the supremacy of Islam, not consciously. The internet was critical in making me more conscious of the colour of my skin, my beliefs and the fact that the society around me was predominantly non-Muslim.
I was completely taken in by the fatwās I had read online by Islamic scholars (all with intensive training in the Islamic traditional sciences) who argued that throughout the juristic history of Sunni Islam, the headscarf has always been an obligation, and anyone who argues the opposite is a deviant ‘modernist’. Heck, I discovered that even the covering of the face was held to be recommended or obligatory by most medieval Islamic jurists. I freaked out.
In some ways, the more Islam began to serve a multidimensional purpose in my life (from the way I dressed to the way I thought), the more I became closed off from those around me. My parents were totally against the idea of me wearing the hijāb. They just encouraged me to be modest and be reserved when it came to the opposite sex. But I had made my mind up.
At the age of 18, I remember uploading a photo of myself in a headscarf on Facebook and the outpouring of support I received. “Oh mashAllah, beta, you look so nice,” “Look at the nūr on your face,” “May Allah grant you Jannah,” “SubhanAllah, I want my daughter to start hijāb, too.”
I contemplated on whether I should cover my hair in front of my male cousins… then intuitively gasped at my absurdity. My maternal uncle – a vehement critic of the headscarf – scoffed: “The only covering for women in Islam is the burqā. Either you wear that or wear whatever you like. Not this stupid headgear where your ass is still hanging out.” This was during a trip to America, where my cousin was getting married to a handsome non-Muslim white guy. Many disproved of the wedding, including myself at the time. I decided I wouldn’t wear the headscarf properly until I’d get back to England. There was enormous pressure on me to look good during the wedding season, and I ended up performing dances with guys I didn’t even know.
Back in England, I reflected upon my time in America. It sounds so petty now, but I was literally going through this phase of ‘moral scrupulosity’. I felt bad for not only showing my hair, but more importantly, dancing with/in front of men, blasting Bollywood music, putting too much make-up on… normal stuff. I thought all of these things were forbidden. But these were very personal and intellectual thoughts: I don’t think anyone had an inkling of what I was going through. At times, I felt my family (though they prayed and fasted) were too liberal, and other Muslims I knew of (who wore the full face veil and once scolded me for cutting my hair too short) were too extreme.
Going to gatherings at my Desi-Muslim family friends’ houses with the headscarf was sometimes embarrassing. Though many modern-but-religious Pakistanis had caught onto the headscarf trend, I was still in a minority. Some couldn’t figure out how the same girl who would crack the most jokes at parties, sing and dance, suddenly became so religious.
5. Neo-traditional Islam
I made new friends online who were quite interested dā’wa and learning about the intricacies of the Islamic Tradition, and the ‘untold’ history of Islam. I learnt that there were certain schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam, that there were certain theological schools that made sure we didn’t anthropomorphise God like the Wahhabis do [unintentionally]. In essence, this was the beginning of a sectarian mind, and a mind worried about the finer details of Islam. Though I never categorised myself, I’d call myself a ‘neo-traditional’ Muslim.
Popular in the West, the neo-traditional movement of Islam is characterised by its advocacy of three main concepts:
- fiqh (jurisprudence) or maddhab (legal school)
- aqīda (creed)
- tasawwuf (Sufism/mysticism)
These are based on the Hadith of Islām—Īmān—Ihsān in Bukhari and Muslim. Its main figurehead in America is Hamza Yusuf, and in the UK: Abdal-Hakim Murad, both of whom are converts to Islam who spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle-East studying the traditional Islamic sciences. I was mesmerised by their understanding of Islam and eloquence. What was of particular interest to me was the way they gave medieval Islam a modern and Western twist: Hamza Yusuf founded Zaytuna College in California, and Abdal-Hakim Murad founded Cambridge Islamic College, both a embarking upon a quest to merge traditional learning with the liberal arts.
I remember giving a lecture to my family about what maddhabs (schools of Islamic law) are in Islam, and how the ‘ulemā (scholars) are so vital to bringing foreword a valid interpretation of Islam. My dad actually seemed impressed, but my mum and siblings just looked at me, thinking I’d gone bonkers. Now they make fun of my ‘religious scholar’ phase and we laugh about it.
One of the first signs of a nascent sectarian mind was on the day of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth (12th Rabi ul-Awwal). I shared with others the narrative that it was the Wahhabis – those who deviated from traditional Islam and orthodoxy – who didn’t commemorate the Prophet’s birthday because they viewed it as an innovation (bid’a). The ‘true scholars’ throughout the ages, however, always maintained a sense of respect for this day and did extra worship. Since the Prophet Muhammad was the most perfect man to set foot on this Earth, some scholars even encouraged celebration, giving the day the status of an Eid.
6. Doubts No.1
After a little while, I realised how hypocritical I was in searching for spirituality online. I stopped wearing the headscarf, took a break from all the ‘Internet Islam’, and just concentrated on my studies. Studying philosophy really took a toll on the way I saw religion. I became doubtful of all the claims that had been presented by devout Muslims – despite their attempts in presenting themselves as ‘nuanced’ and ‘balanced’.
Worried about Pakistan, I became sickened by interpretative Deobandi hegemony in the Subcontinent. Though they were traditional Muslims (adhering strictly to the Hanafi legal school), their regressive nature disgusted me. The ‘doors of ijtihād’ (independent reasoning), as more liberal Muslims complained, had been closed by them. They were misogynists, openly supported the Afghan Taliban (based on the obscure ‘Black Flags of Khurasan’ Hadith), prevented Pakistani public law from being secularised, and were defensive about the madrassa system. The Barelvis of the Subcontinent condemned Muslim terrorism, but were just as regressive, prolonging the same madrassa culture. The Tablighi Jamaat, a well-known proselytising offshoot of the Deobandi movement, is very popular in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle-East and the West.
The rockstar-turned-mullah Junaid Jamshed, a member of the Tabligh, once visited my house. He was asked by mother that if Muslims don’t study, how will they move ahead? Jamshed, smugly replied, “Why do Muslims need to move ahead?” I guess he shouldn’t have travelled to England by aeroplane, then.
I became tired of religious hypocrisy.
7. Sufi Encounter
One day, my dad came back from work and told me he had met a Syrian-Algerian Sufi shaykh (Shaykh Bouafia) through his Syrian-born colleague, Mahmud. My dad couldn’t get over the fact that this Syrian shaykh happened to know his [my dad’s] long-lost shaykh in Pakistan. It was God’s will, he said, not a mere coincidence.
My dad told me stories of Shaykh Abu Nasr, a very old man who had escaped sectarian tyranny in his home country, Syria. He was from Hama and travelled on foot to Turkey, elsewhere, and finally settled – insofar as nomads do – in Karachi, Pakistan. My dad, as a very young child, had a special relationship with this affectionate, sweet 90-year-old man, who emanated a deep-rooted spirituality.
I was fascinated and thought this could be a missing link between me and God. I visited Mahmud and his wife Khudriya’s house, where the Syrian Shaykh Bouafia was staying. He was in his early 50s and came to England for medical treatment, but spent a lot of time preaching about the Islamic Sufi path at Mahmud & Khudriya’s house. Separate gatherings were held for men and women.
As soon as I met the shaykh, his face lit up and said that I would become a big ‘ālima one day. Khudriya, a fat, pale, blue-eyed woman in a loose Syrian abāya, translated. In front of the other women who had come to meet the shaykh, Shaykh Bouafia told me sing a nasheed, specifically Tala al-Badru ‘Alayna. Both the shaykh and Khudriya showered me with compliments.
My dad visited the shaykh with his Indian friend, Jalil. The shaykh asked Jalil the name of his daughter and then remarked, “An angel tells him this was the name of your grandmother.” My dad and Jalil were amazed: this was truly a sign of God.
My mother and I, at the behest of my enthusiastic father, began to visit the shaykh frequently. My mum was always sceptical. Her spiritual-but-rational brother told her not to get involved with these Sufi fraudsters. She felt awkward at the Sufi gatherings. There was an obsession with dhikr (lit.: remembrance of God; in Sufi terminology: mystical session), where we would sometimes rock back and forth chanting the 99 Names of Allah. Soon, we were both (my mum was pushed by my father) initiated into the shaykh’s tariqa (mystical path). The initiation ceremony was bizarre. All the women sitting in the room held hands in a circle and had to touch the same water the shaykh had touched. He claimed this was a Sunna. Then we had to recite some verses from the Quran and the wird.
Like my mother, I also began to feel uncomfortable at these dhikr gatherings. My mum stopped going because she thought this kind of shaykh-worshipping version of Islam was completely different to the straightforward Islam of her Pakistani parents. The shaykh told us to renounce worldly pleasures, yet, ironically, he had come all the way from Syria for modern medical treatment. Plus, Khudriya – the shaykh’s disciple – had the most beautiful house.
Khudriya, once, in a gathering shouted in her broken English and thick Arabic accent when translating the shaykh, “It is Sharia with Tariqa… not one or the other. You cannot pick and choose! If there is any woman who doesn’t wear hijāb in public then they are committing KUFR! I tell you KUFR! And the shaykh will have nothing to do with her.” I felt sick to my stomach. For starters, I had stopped wearing the headscarf, and even if I did wear one, I thought to myself, how extremist is Allah that showing ones hair to an ‘unrelated man’ is akin to disbelief?
Khudriya and the shaykh peddled the Sufism vs. Wahhabism narrative (conspiracy theory):
the view that
- the biggest enemies of Islam are the Wahhabis as they call other Muslims disbelievers and demolish sites of early Muslim heritage in the name of monotheism
- the Wahhabis have taken over Mecca from the traditional ‘ulemā who accepted Sufism as a true science of Islam;
- the Wahhabis are extremists.
Truth be told, Khudriya was no less of an extremist. Once, she told my mother that she doesn’t even have time to brush her hair as she “only lives for Allah (subhanawata’ala).”
The last straw was when Khudriya and her husband Mahmud themselves had fallen out with the shaykh. They told everyone who had been initiated into the tariqa that another ‘better’ shaykh would soon replace Shaykh Bouafia. The reasons were not properly disclosed. My dad, who had become spiritually attached to the shaykh, demanded an answer. Mahmud and Khudriya explained to my father that the shaykh was a political man, and that he had connections with Shaykh Ramadan al-Bouti, a Sunni scholar who was siding with the ‘Alawi Assad regime. Khudriya, in niqāb, said to my father that she had doubts from day one, when Shaykh Bouafia told her to take her niqāb off in front a male doctor. Well, if she had ‘doubts from day one’, why was she up his arse all the time? She would begin every single sentence with, “They shaykh said…”
The result of this Sufi shenanigan, which lasted almost 3 months, was disaster.
Yet again, I became disillusioned with Islam. Its Pakistani form was too bland and involved cherry-picking, its internet form was hypocritical, its ‘Quran-and-Hadith-only’ form was obviously too extreme, its traditional form was about living in the antiquity, and its Sufi form was another kind of extreme.
8. Doubts No. 2
Not entirely sure of what I wanted to do at university, I took a gap year. I became disengaged with my friends, and spent a lot of time philosophising over what the meaning of life was. I had reached the conclusion that Islam, in its many forms, was pretty absurd, but could not come to reject Islam itself. What was Islam, then? If it is the True religion, then why is there so much ignorance?
Why doesn’t Islam, as practised by Muslims, ever make sense?
9. The Murabitun
I had stopped using the internet so much for a while now, but when I did use it, I would often read the books and articles of a man named Shaykh Abd al-Qadir as-Sufi. His works deal with the Muslim condition, Sufism and political solutions.
Shaykh Abd al-Qadir was a Scottish actor and playwright, initially called Ian Dallas, who converted to Islam in the 1960s under the tutelage of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib of Meknes (Morocco). He was appointed to become the spiritual leader (shaykh) of a worldwide community of a few thousand Sufi followers in the West. His movement is known as the Murabitun, named after one of the two historical Muslim Empires in Spain (in English: the Almoravids.)
A serene looking man with a small white beard, it became apparent to me that Shaykh Abd al-Qadir is an intellectual in his own league. He successfully combined Sufism with a vision for Muslim politics. The Murabitun’s appeal lay in many things, as they combined knowledge with action:
1) Most the members of the Murabitun are converts to Islam, predominantly (Spanish), but some also of black Caribbean origin. It attracted the intellectually curious, confused socialists and the impoverished.
2) There is a huge emphasis on community and deep criticism of individualism. Without community, there is no Islam, for the Murabitun. Wherever he goes, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir establishes a ‘traditional’ Muslim community: a mosque is founded with a learned Imām(s), and an Emir is appointed, who collects the community’s Zakāt. There are four main communities: one in Norwich (England), one in Granada (Spain), Malaysia and another in Cape Town (South Africa). France is the next stop.
3) Shaykh Abd al-Qadir’s philosophy was essentially a critique of modern man. It called upon us moderns to truly question the nature of our existence. I began to question the very nature of education itself. What is education? What is its purpose? Had I really learnt anything? What is progress? What is freedom?
4) Whilst intellectually and philosophically being opposed to modernity, the members of the Murabitun looked modern and attractive. Handsome Spanish converts with well-shaped, small beards and women who wore fashionable clothes. Sometimes they wore headscarves, sometimes they didn’t, and when they did, it was literally just a headcovering showing their entire form. Shaykh Abd al-Qadir called the niqāb an innovation, whilst other traditional scholars often praised women who covered their faces. Women were at the forefront of the Murabitun movement.
5) Shaykh Abd al-Qadir’s call to a revival of ‘human nature’ was the most appealing aspect of his idiosyncratic philosophy. Fitra is the Islamic conception of human nature: the pre-mordial state of man, or the natural disposition. Human-beings are born sinless. Everything that is good is in line with Fitra, and everything that is bad is against Fitra. Fitra did not need to be qualified by anything. If someone asked, “Why do we enjoy going outside?” anyone from the Murabitun would have replied: “Fitra”.
6) Many of the members of the Murabitun had more than one wife. They backed this up by invoking Fitra, yet again. The Murabitun argued that only modernists say that Muslim men cannot have up to four wives.
7) The Murabitun offered an in-depth critique of capitalism and their solution to capitalism was to ‘establish Islam’. Its members argued that our freedom is fake. Behind this fake freedom is the power of global corporate finance that rules the world. Like the Matrix. Real freedom is through Islamic rule. Shaykh Abd al-Qadir viewed the Enlightenment freedom as a farce.
8) The Khilāfah is obligatory according to traditional Muslims and Islamists alike, and for the Murabitun, it is no different. But how (neo-) traditional Muslims vs. Islamists understand the nature of Khilāfah is where the difference lies.
Despite Islam’s genuine call to polity, the Islamists turned Islam into an ideology, an ‘-ism’. The modern Islamists imposed mechanistic, materialistic, static structures onto traditional Islamic governance. The Sharia, therefore, became a ‘constitution.’
Essentially, the Sharia that Ibn Khaldun, Ghazzali, and other ‘Islamic greats’ spoke of was different to the post-modern Sharia of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Murabitun presented the days of the Caliphates and successive sultanates as rules of anarchy with basic law, as opposed to fascist dictatorships.
Though traditional Muslims believe in the Khilāfah being restored, their approach varies. Most say that the Mahdi (Messiah) will restore the Caliphate. However, the Murabitun have a pro-active approach. And the Caliphate means local, traditional justice for them.
9) The solution to the Muslim Ummah’s problems was to “establish Islam,” as the Quran says. Every Islamic group: from the capitalism-worshipping Wahhabis, to the Islamists, the door-knocking Tablighi Jamaat, the esoteric Sufis and the singing folk Barelvis, had deviated, according to the Murabitun. They held that modern Muslims, of all ideological leanings, have so deeply internalised the systems of the kuffār, yet on the surface they appear to be pious and God-fearing.
10) I had already noticed the Muslim obsession with headcoverings, and finally Shaykh Abd al-Qadir seemed to make sense of it all when he said that the fixation on hijāb was symptomatic of how modern Muslims had deviated. The Murabitun’s view was that hijāb was a distraction from the real issues: establishing the Zakāt, which is the ‘fallen pillar of the Dīn’ and the key to ‘establishing’ Islam.
They also berated modern Muslim women for wearing the hijāb, covering from head to toe, yet working in banks and being servitude of the global banking system.
11) The Murabitun held that Zakāt was no longer really Zakāt because paper money is inherently usurious and therefore harām. Ribā (interest) is a sin in Islam. They argued that all the pre-modern literature on Zakāt involved transactions based on gold. The only way to solve the problem of Zakāt is to revive gold currency, separate to that of the ‘currencies of the Wall Street bankers’. Islamic banking is not Islamic. They base this on a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (with an obscure chain of narrators) in the Musnad of Imām Ahmed:
“There will certainly come a time over mankind when there will be nothing of value except the value of the Dinar (gold currency) and the Dirham (silver currency).”
Of course, the appeal of the Prophetic ‘predictions’ and apocalyptic Hadith are what keeps many Muslims attached to Islam.
12) The Murabitun had a whole host of literature and availability of scholars in the West: Shaykh Ali Laraki, Shaykh Abdussamad Clarke, Shaykha Aisha Bewley, Shaykh Abd al-Haqq Bewley. The literature was well written and well referenced.
13) The Murabitun’s zealous advocacy of the Māliki legal school was probably both their ideology’s main appeal and main flaw. They argued that this school of jurisprudence was perfect for Muslims in the West because of flexibility, cultural adaptability and the fact that it was successfully practised in Islamic Spain. The concept of Amāl al-Ahl al-Madīna (The Actions of the People of Medina) as a source of law was what distinguished the Māliki school from the other established four. In Shaykh Abd al-Qadir’s controversial book, titled, Root Islamic Education, he calls for all the other four schools of jurisprudence to look back to the Amāl al-Ahl al-Madīna.
14) Whilst the Murabitun, like most traditional Muslims, accept the Martial Jihād as an orthodox and obligatory part of Islam, they take a definitive stand against suicide bombing, unlike the obfuscated opinions of many Pakistani clerics on this very issue, and genuinely believe that terrorism is a deviance from the true Islamic tradition.
For me, these ideas, in some ways, were revolutionary. Islam was finally answering all my questions. There was purpose, spirituality, philosophy, politics, solution and community spirit. And there was scriptural basis for all these things.
I found out that the Murabitun have set up a madrassa for boys in Spain and another madrassa for girls in a small town in Morocco. Both were Quran schools, where students memorised the Quran by the traditional luhw method. This is where you write verses from the Quran to memorise on a wooden board or tablet (luhw) with natural ink and wash the board once you know the verses off by heart.
I begged my parents to send me there, not telling them completely what the Murabitun were about. I wanted to explore them for myself. My dad was wary. He researched online and found the movement to be cultish. However, after a few months of discussion (argument), I convinced him and my mum to send me. I just had to do this for myself and find out if Islam was worth it.
Before leaving for Morocco, I met up with a woman whose sister was studying at the madrassa. She was a second-generation white Anglo-Saxon Muslim: her parents were converts. I told her that I have this spiritual vacuum within me and want to experience something new… away from Britain. She told me that it would be a good idea to go there, but not to have such high expectations. She explained to me how the girls who study at the madrassa are really beautiful and all the Moroccan locals love them.
So, without notifying any of my friends, or even extended family, I arrived in Morocco in August 2012. There, I met the woman who ran the madrassa, a convert to Islam who left the corporate world in her 20s/30s and went by the name of Hājja Saleema.
I entered the madrassa, which was basically a house situated in a typical Moroccan alleyway. Altogether, there were seventeen girls studying with me. All were from the Murabitun and initiated into Shaykh Abd al-Qadir’s tariqa or mystical path (the Habibiyya-Darqawiyya). Almost all were of Spanish origin; two were Germans and five from England, including myself. The girls greeted me warmly with as-salamu ‘alaykum. The two head-girls (yes, there were head-girls) were around the same age as me: one was a Spanish girl named Habiba Cruz and the other was English girl named Khalila Millington. They were both beautiful.
I got into the daily routine quite quickly. We had to wake up at 6am, be in class at 8am until 5pm, where we’d sit on the floor and recite Quran the whole time. My Quran teacher was called Hāfidha Jamila, a very petit Moroccan lady in her mid-30s who was completing a degree in Islamic Studies at the University of Tetouan through distance learning. Hāfidha Jamila wore braces. (I had noticed that braces were a commonplace amongst people above the age of 30 in Morocco.) Her first language was Moroccan Darija, but she also spoke Fusha (Standard) Arabic, a little French and broken English. We would always try to help her improve her English. She was a sweet lady.
I recited some Quran to Hāfidha Jamila on the first day. She seemed impressed but since I only remembered very few chapters (sūra) of the Quran, I started from almost scratch. At the end of 7 months I was there, I had not memorised a lot: At the end of 7 months, I had not memorised a lot: altogether I now knew chapters Rahmān, Nabā, Tāriq and the last hizb (in total there are 60 hizb). I loved writing on my tablet. The teacher would dictate to us individually. Completing each chapter felt as if I had really achieved something. I would feel relieved. Whenever someone finished a hizb or a long chapter, we would bake a cake and celebrate. The same happened for birthdays.
After 5pm, we would go upstairs and prepare food. We all had tasks: cleaning, cooking, and shopping which would alternate between designated groups. The madrassa area downstairs would be open to local children from the neighbourhood. They were all so cute. Some were from very impoverished families; a few were bright children from well-to-do families who studied at French-medium schools.
On Wednesdays we would have Arabic classes given by a woman called Rahimu. She was not a good teacher, but a good woman.
Thursday and Friday would be our weekend. Our iPods and phones would be returned to us and we were free to listen to music (not exactly like a typical madrassa, was it). We could also go out on Thursdays, providing we were back by 7pm. Fridays were a little more hectic as everyone had to wake up early and get ready for the Jumu’ah prayer which we would pray inside the madrassa but follow the Imām of the local mosque. Hājja Saleema would live upstairs. Most of her time was spent watching TV and Hollywood films on her laptop or sorting out the legal issues of the madrassa. She would come downstairs to have lunch with us everyday. She knew little Quran herself and was the wife of the man whom the madrassa was named after.
After dinner – I once made biryani for everyone – we had to recite the wird. It was the most tedious thing, ever. The wird, or litany, was specific to the Murabitun’s tariqa. After that, one girl would be chosen by Hājja Saleema to say the dū’ā (supplication/prayer) out loud. Some of the girls would feel shy to do so, and often they would only make dū’ā for their ‘own community’.
One of the younger German girls who I became close to was a skilled street dancer. She found a lot of her time at the madrassa suffocating as she had pushed into a religious education by her parents when her real passion was for dance. She said she secretly wished to become a professional dancer and set up a dance studio.
All in all, most these girls were pretty normal. They were Westernised, sometimes looked down upon the local Moroccan people as not Westernised enough, yet at the same time not understanding why the Moroccan women did not covering up as much as the convert madrassa girls. I remember eating the skin and bone of food we had (as Moroccans do) and the English head-girl Khalila she looking at me disgusted; sometimes asking questions like, “I’m sure it’s the same in your culture, too?”
Catfights were bound to happen. I remember falling out with both of the head-girls for a few weeks. Overall, the girls were lovely. The Spanish girls made me feel beautiful, always showering me with compliments about my eyes and complexion. In England, I often felt like an outsider – those memories of being bullied at primary school for the colour of my skin had still not been resolved – I observed that the Europeans tended to treat my ethnic background as ‘exotic’, whereas living in England, there was nothing exotic about being Pakistani. The madrassa and being with the Moroccan people, was like a boost of confidence.
A woman, named Malika, used to visit the madrassa nearly every week with a friend. Sometimes, she would come in the entire week. She was around 60-years-old and would recite the Quran beautifully. She bought me gifts and would give me the warmest hug whenever she saw me. Malika insisted that I give her my number. Islam, the sisterhood, the community spirit meant everything to her and this is what the madrassa was providing for the poorer, working-class people in this small fishing town, in some ways.
9.2. Meknes and the Desert
In November, we had a small vacation where we travelled to Meknes and the desert.
In Meknes, we stayed at the Zawiya of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib. A zawiya is a Sufi lodge. Muhammad ibn al-Habib’s only living wife lived in the house conjoined with the Zawiya which also contained the shrine of the shaykh. There was a blind man who would recite Quran, chant the names of Allah and supplicate next to the shrine all day. Apparently, he could see ever-so slightly now and everyone attributed to the miraculous nature of being in Zawiya.
The house was antique, old, and dusty, but striking. It was so cold. There was no heating or anything. The only sign of modernity I saw was the tattered stove. The women would even make the couscous from scratch. Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib’s wife and the other women at the Zawiya would tell us stories about Muhammad ibn al-Habib and how there was a lion but when he would recite the names of Allah, the lion would roar or something. They also told us that Muhammad ibn al-Habib as a child was very pious and would speak to djinns and when his grave had to be moved, it was opened it again, but his face was shining. The women also told us about their past, how they used to study at traditional Moroccan madrassas and wear the Moroccan-style niqāb. They told us stories about the Day of Judgement over coffee, mint tea and biscuits: how there would be a line sharper than a needle we had to cross. We sang qasīdas with them, too. They were such sweet, old ladies, but I never believed anything they said.
Did I feel like it was miraculous or spiritual? I don’t know. It just felt nice to be there. I didn’t believe in any of the mysticism stuff we were being told about. I failed to see the connection between saint worship and Islam scripturally. It seemed the Murabitun relied too much on the interpretation of their own scholars, intuition and continually peddled the Sufism vs. Wahhabism narrative. There was less mention of the Prophet, and more mention of shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib and, of course, their leader Shaykh Abd al-Qadir as-Sufi.
In the desert, we spent time with members of the Murabitun who were studying with the ‘shaykhs of the desert’. Life in the desert was so simple. Meknes was only simple in the Zawiya itself; otherwise it was a functioning city with hospitals, shopping centres etc. The clear blue sky, soft sand, mud houses build around palm trees… how could I ever forget? The women of the desert, wrapped in their large sheets, were so hospitable, free, and loving. They made the most delicious food. I had this instant connection with them. Some of them told me they watched Bollywood films and knew of Kareena Kapoor. As a Bollywood lover, I found that the power of Bollywood to connect people together was even greater than that of Islam. We had a dance night, too, when the women of the desert invited us to their houses for a good-bye meal. I borrowed this bright blue sequin dress and danced to their old-school Moroccan tunes played in a dusty old cassette player. The kind ladies also applied Moroccan-style henna to our hands.
We also spent time at famous shaykh’s house in the desert. He welcomed us into his house with, “Ahlan wa sahlan”, and we were whisked away to the women’s quarter. We were, yet again, served delicious food, spoiled with Moroccan mint tea and a whole host of deserts. We sang qasīdas and recited the wird the whole time. It got a little frustrating after a while. The elderly ladies, covered in white sheets, really enjoyed our company. They knew a lot of the wird and qasīdas off by heart. As soon as the eldest lady entered the room – like the matriarch of the house – everyone went over to kiss her hand and take her blessings. All the girls were mesmerised: excitedly whispering to each other about the spiritual authority of this woman. She was a big lady; olive-skinned and kept praying for everyone. I just didn’t see what the fuss was about. I secretly thought to myself: I never want to be like this in spite of the overt ‘piety’. What was so special about these ‘pious ladies’ over my own grandmother, anyway? Had my grandmother been sinful for learning a little English, not covering her hair, wearing sarees in her youth, wanting to be educated and embracing modernity?
The visit to the recently-built madrassa in the desert was a particularly interesting part of my experience. It was for both boys and girls, but obviously segregated. The students studied Quran, reading and writing Arabic, and a little bit of geography. They were of all ages. Their recitation was powerful, as they would recite Quran to us altogether in the same ‘tune’ and tone. Plus, the madrassa was really stunning from the inside.
- Madrassa in the desert
9.3. The Opposite Sex
The Murabitun openly recommended polygamy as the natural way of life. Some of the girls’ fathers had more than one wife and they told me about the problems it caused and how their family lives were disrupted in some ways.
I remember the Moroccan man in his 30s who had a basic education (he could speak English) and spent time with us in both Meknes and desert… almost like a guardian. He always smiled at me, in a perverted way. Everyone in the madrassa really looked up to him.
Whilst the Murabitun approach to gender relations was much more open-minded than other traditional Muslims, there was still this definitive stance that ‘a woman is a woman’ and ‘a man is a man’. The man was allowed to objectify the woman. I wondered why woman couldn’t do the same. There were around ten guys from the Murabitun movement studying in a traditional madrassa in Fez and they came over to stay at our madrassa. The head-girls told us to cover properly as “young men are about to come to the madrassa and would feel uneasy!” The girls were obsessed and dressed up a lot. This was contrary to the ‘normal’ gender relations within my own family. Indeed, cousin marriages were not uncommon but there was no “oh the men are coming, cover yourselves” kind of mentality. Plus, I felt objectified even more with the hijāb.
We had a big end of year dhikr ceremony where many men also attended. The event was segregated by a curtain, but everyone could basically see one another. People were doing the hadhra, which is where you stand up, rock back and forth and chant the Names of Allah. I was literally scarred for life. The entire dhikr was like a matrimonial service, anyway.
Most of the girls in the madrassa had been in relationships with guys before. Some, after coming to the madrassa, were shocked to discover that kissing before marriage is forbidden.
Despite the Murabitun’s annoyance over the fixation on hijāb, the girls at the madrassa were generally obsessed with how they wore their headscarves, what colour would match their clothes, how much they needed to cover for a specific occasion, whether or not to wear the Murabitun-style headscarf or wear it the ‘proper’ Muslim way etc. For the head-girl Khalila, the headscarf seemed like the most important thing in Islam:-
- “OMG, you can see your hair!”
- “Will you ever wear hijāb when you go back to England?”
- “Did you know: in the Maliki maddhab, covering everything – Including feet – except for the face, is obligatory? Layla, don’t use us as a blueprint for the Maliki madhhab, haha.”
- “The only thing I’ve ever done wrong in the past is not wear hijāb since the day my periods started. Other than that, I’ve always been a good girl.”
- “Student X, wear your hijāb properly! We are madrassa girls!”
- “Hāfidha Jamila, did you know that girl Zahra that came here last year from Spain? She is studying art at university she can’t even wear hijāb anymore. Every where there is kufr!”
- “Hāfidha Jamila, me, X, Y, Z are the only ones that wear hijāb. Did you know Layla doesn’t wear it, either?!”
- “Layla, does you mother wear a scarf?” – “No.” – “What? How come?!”
- “Do Pakistani women wear headscarves?”
I never knew how to respond to these hijāb comments. I’d just shake my head, inside, feeling this burden of scepticism. Often Khalila wouldn’t even take her headscarf in front of women and scolded me for doing so once.
9.5. Progress, philosophy, cult, sectarianism and conspiracy theories
I wrote in my diary:
Promises to myself… DO NOT BE BRAINWASHED:
- Memorise at least the last hizb
- Don’t lose critical thinking
- Modernity is amazing
The Murabitun were philosophically against the Western notion of progress and scientific materialism. Despite some of the Murabitun figureheads having degrees in mathematical physics and whatnot before converting to the ‘natural way’ of Islam, for them, university education was pointless and taught kufr. But the rejection of ‘Western’ or a rational education had a detrimental effect on these girls who had been brainwashed into believing in the ‘default truth’ of their movement:
- “It’s the Jews.”
- “The Jews own EVERYTHING!!”
- “What the frig, man, why can’t we get over the Holocaust.”
- “I hate how when someone does something wrong, it’s okay, but when a Muslim does it, it’s a big deal.”
- “OMG. Who was the guy that was a really good person and was hanged?” – “Saddam Hussein?” – “Yeah, him!” – “He wasn’t a good person. He was like Osama Bin Laden.” – “Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are the same thing.”
- “India was in Pakistan.”
- Khalila once tried to subtly endorse the Murabitun’s call to gold. She said that when Churchill returned Britain to the Gold Standard (1925), it was great for the economy. I just nodded my head, imagining myself doing about a hundred ‘face-palms’.
The regressive nature of the Murabitun stood out to me when Shaykh Ali Laraki visited the madrassa. He gave a speech concluding: “Muslims went to the West for dunya, but you (students) are coming back to the Maghrib for the Dīn.” Instinctively, I found this statement reprehensible. Had I took on his worldview, it would mean my own parents who came to England for a better life were ‘materialistic’: only living for the worldly life. What was wrong with the worldly life, anyway? The truth was Shaykh Ali Laraki’s own daughters were obsessed with celebrities and he himself divided his time between UK, Paris, Cape Town (oh the West!). He remarked, “The people of Morocco are simple.” Yet they still rely on the modern basic needs of hot water, gas and electricity. Science actually works. Do neo-spiritualists condemning the worldly life have any physical solutions?
Oh, but the Murabitun did have a solution: the revival of gold currency.
The failure of neo-spiritual and anti-modernity philosophies became evident to me when we had to evacuate the madrassa twice because of fire. Smoke began to come out from the fuse box in the entrance, only to realise in a matter of seconds that the madrassa had almost lit on fire. As we evacuated, most of the girls were uncovered and some had to run to the local mosque in their leggings/t-shirt to call for help. The entire neighbourhood came out to help us. Looking for the good in the situation, the head-girls pointed out that we wouldn’t have even met any of these lovely neighbours had it not been for the electrical fault. All the girls sighed al-hamdulillah (praise be to God). I didn’t want to cry but ended up crying. Most of the girls comforted me thinking I was freaked out by the fire. They began to chant the wird (litany) and sing qasīdas. I was like what the actual f. I was crying because I realised the importance of worldly knowledge over so-called ‘sacred knowledge’. If Islam was ‘established’ politically, it wouldn’t do anything for the people. Islamic knowledge and neo-spiritualism does not save peoples’ lives: it does not fit a simple electric wire into the fuse box of a house. Science works.
But we kept being told that scientific materialism was wrong. Hājja Saleema told us that the fuqara & shaykhs of the tariqa had spoken about the dire consequences of the ‘hidden shirk’. This was when we attribute things to anything other than God. For example, if we are eating food… then it is not the food that has ‘fed’ us, but Allah. Though the concept in itself was powerful, I found it hypocritical, and very difficult to accept.
Despite the fact that we had a washing machine, we were encouraged to wash our clothes by hand. If modernity and science was just that bad, then the madrassa shouldn’t have had a washing machine, stove or fridge. Rarely do [devout] Muslims seem to invent these things, anyway, but use them all.
The worst aspect of the rejection of [modern] science was the Murabitun’s aversion to modern medicine and promotion of ‘alternative medicine’… what they believed to be Islamic medicine. I was ill for some time and visited the doctor – much to their dismay – who gave me an inhaler. One of the girls argued that inhalers gave her mother arthritis. I remember Khalila reading out loud from The Medicine of the Prophet, by the medieval scholar Imam Suyuti. The ‘Hadith of the Fly’ (disproved by science) was an interesting one. Khalila became worried about the ‘fact’ that the Prophet forbade the use of milk and fish together, complaining that Spanish food often was guilty of this.
I had already anticipated the cult mentality, but it became too much when they would begin almost every sentence with, “The shaykh [Abd al-Qadir] said…” and they would specifically talk about their own community all the time. For example, when discussing any human being, the first question would be, “Is he/she from the community?”
They were also obsessed with the Maliki maddhab and its medieval rulings. Though this was obvious in Shaykh Abd al-Qadir’s books, I thought it may not manifest itself in real life conversations so much… but it did:
- “Yes, Maliki is the best maddhab. The Hanafis aren’t bad. But Malikis are the best.”
- “I swear in parts of England, there are only Wahhabis. Malikis are the truth!”
- “Oh my God, our [Murabitun] mosque in Norwich is the best mosque. All the other mosques are rubbish.”
I quietly observed.
Furthermore, with regards to the cultist nature of the Murabitun, it was strange how Hāfidha Jamila (our Quran teacher) knew nothing about the Murabitun, or that the founders of this madrassa were trying to ‘establish Khilāfa’ in an idiosyncratic, novel way. Similarly, I found it surprising that Hājja Saleema and the girls were not aware of Hāfidha Jamila’s Salafist (but apolitical) leanings.
Salafis practice the pure and pristine Hadith-based Islam of the first four generations of Islam (the Salaf). Hāfidha Jamila expressed disapproval to me at the state of the dhikr ceremonies we had in the madrassa and the fact that we prayed behind a grave once (not with the intention of praying to it, but simply because we were standing inside the mausoleum). Her reading of our trip to the shrine of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib in Meknes echoed Salafist-style scepticism. For Hāfidha Jamila – though she did not reject Sufism completely – these were innovations. Fundamentalism was closer to rationalism, in some ways. To top it all off, Hāfidha Jamila’s favourite scholar was Yusuf al-Qaradawi – the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – who the Murabitun vehemently attacked in their literature.
In fact, let’s face it. The Islam of Hāfidha Jamila was very different to that of the Murabitun. She was not a hippy. For her, establishing more hospitals that encouraged modern medicine would have been ‘Islamic’. Hāfidha Jamila, as I had understood, was from the post-90s generation of Muslims in the Middle-East who left their more traditional Sufi roots, and turned to Quran&Hadith-based, (tel)evangelical scholars. I also noticed that Salafism, in its various strands, was growing in Morocco as both a reaction to the King’s perceived secularism, but also a reaction to indigenous mystical absurdities.
When I mentioned the name of the Murabitun, Hāfidha Jamila innocently thought I was referring to the historical Berber movement in Islamic Spain. In her mind, as she had joined the madrassa only a year or two ago, she was just stunned that flocks of Westerners were just converting to Islam. It was as simple as that for her. But after I had a few personal conversations with her over secret coffee dates, Hāfidha Jamila was completely shocked to find out the realities behind this madrassa project. Undoubtedly, this madrassa was a source of employment and blessing for her: being a local Quran teacher suited her fundamentalist but soft nature. But the Murabitun had been dishonest. And I was amazed. I felt sorry for Hāfidha Jamila.
Sectarianism, therefore, was an important aspect of all Muslim movements, was central to the Murabitun’s neo-traditionalist dogma, too. There was a major prejudice against Shia Muslims. I was not from a sectarian family. Though intermarriages were not common in my Sunni family, they weren’t looked down upon either. Once, Khalila was discussing with the girls about the Murabitun community and who is married to whom. For political reasons, someone from their community had married a Shia woman. Khalila remarked:
“He’s married a Shia. They’re not even on the Dīn. They actually believe Ali is god. They’re kuffār.”
I felt stick to my stomach. One of the girls was a gothic punk rocker back in Spain and was often mocked for being ‘different’ by the girls. One day, when she was listening to gothic music and had been roaming the streets of Morocco with her mother – both without the hijāb – she was scolded by the English head-girl Khalila:
“Remember, we are MUSLIMS! We have to LOOK like Muslim women. We have to have good ādāb (manners). Get real about Islam! Don’t be like kuffār women. We have to have pride about being Muslim! All you girls who don’t wear a scarf yet, WEAR A SCARF when you go back to your homes in Spain and elsewhere. At least dress a little modestly, but wear do wear a scarf! Look at me, it’s not that difficult! I wear one! And in England, no one says anything to me. Do Muslims buy tell the truth? YES. Do Muslims listen to bad music? NO. Do Muslim women cover themselves? YES. Do Muslims buy stuff from Israel and the Jews? NO! Do we support the banking system? NO!”
The anti-Shia, anti-Israel and unintelligent banking comments did it for me. It made no sense, anyway, since many of Khalila’s (and the other girls’) headscarves and clothes were from H&M, Top Shop… and various other labels which are all a product of capitalism.
10. Doubts No. 3
10.1. Doubts in Morocco
The more and more I learnt about the Murabitun, the more I cherished my own brain. I was able to think freely, and many of these girls weren’t. As I have said before, they had been brainwashed into the default truth of their movement by birth. They regurgitated anything and everything their shaykh(s) said.
My questions became limitless.
I didn’t understand what was so wrong with science.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t ask any questions in the madrassa.
I didn’t understand how it was possible for my Quran teacher NEVER to break her wudū.
I didn’t understand why God would care if we covered our feet during prayer or not.
I didn’t understand why [Sunni] Muslims, not only differences in their minor practices, but even in their major practices like prayer, there are differences.
I didn’t understand how our prayer would be invalidated if a bit of our hair was showing.
I didn’t understand why God would allow the Muslim obsession with hijāb to reach such unimaginable levels.
Are humans making history, or is Allah?
Is the fact that I am here at the madrassa really part of God’s plan?
I was the one who decided all this for myself. I made my own choices. I brought myself here.
My disillusionment with the Murabitun’s bizarre and non-practical philosophy was one thing. But what about my own personal relationship with God?
Did this Quranic God I was continually invoking really exist?
The Murabitun dared to ask the nature of Western education, but what was the nature or purpose behind an Islamic education?
Was this Quran I was attempting to memorise really the word of God?
If so, why does the Quran allow men to ‘beat’ women (4:34)? I saw it with my own eyes in both the Translation and traditional Tafsir. I overlooked it for a while, but always retained this feeling of discomfort. In fact, one of the madrassa girls specifically came up to and pointed out the verse in the Translation. She expressed sadness; it was as if her whole worldview had crashed, but I said nothing to avoid being accused of brainwashing the other girls.
I cried to Allah nearly every day for the last couple of months during night prayers to just send me sign. But there was no sign.
One night, I prayed and cried so much only to discover this liberating intuition that I was just praying to myself. I burst out laughing, whilst upstairs on the roof alone.
If there was an interventionist god(s), then it sent me a sign by introducing me to Hannah. This was a girl I had met outside the madrassa in the music school. I had lunch with her and she was a typical Westoxified, non-religious teenager. She had lived in Canada for 6 years with her mother, and intended to go and study there. For 6 years now she had been playing the guitar, piano and singing for longer than that. She was amazing: Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Arabic songs… you name it. Her friend, who wore a headscarf, performed an Evanescence song in front of me and then both sang Whitney Houston together. Both girls wanted to become singers. “Can you learn me English?” Hannah would insist. Wanting to know more about the political climate of Morocco, I asked her if she liked the King (whose picture was on everyone’s wall in Morocco, including the madrassa), she replied: “Everyone likes the King! Like some don’t but like most do. Like he’s okay, but sorta like fat. Hehe.” We spoke about minority rights, and she said, “You know there’s like two things like Shia and Sunni? Well, if you’re Christian or Shia, you can’t be Moroccan. You have to leave. Moroccan Jews can live here but not Christians or Shias. One boy in my class told me was Christian, but told me not to tell anyone otherwise he’d be taken away. He had to sit in Islamic studies classes.” I wondered what they taught in the mainstream Moroccan Islamic studies syllabus. “Right now we’re learning about community spirit and values.” I realised how cut off this madrassa experience and the ideology of the Murabitun was from the realities of Morocco. The conversation with Hannah only consolidated my doubts about Islam.
I needed to talk to someone. I needed to make sense of what was going on. Was I sinful? So I went to the internet café and tried to get in touch with a person named X who I had befriended a long time ago on Facebook, but later lost contact. X was a a convert to Islam familiar with the works of the Murabitun. I had no one else to share my thoughts with and, to my delight, I found out that X, after 9 years, was also questioning Islam.
10.2. Doubts in Britain
Those exchanges had a profound impact on me. Time for the anti-climax: I thought now was the time to study Islam critically for myself and find out whether it was true. I ordered a few books and began to look into the Quran and Hadith directly.
The Quran had so many contradictions. One minute Allah was merciful, the next minute He was cursing the disbelievers. I found that Muslims tended to quote Hadith that suited them, but never mentioned any Hadith that were completely absurd, even when their ‘chains’ were ‘authentic’. And the fact that Hadith were formulated a good 200 years after the Prophet. Take this stupidity for example:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Were it not for Bani Israel, meat would not decay; and were it not for Eve, no woman would ever betray her husband.” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 3083)
If the Islam of today’s Muslims – in its medieval form or the form of the Quran and the Hadith – was formulated, or even just formed, a long time after the Prophet, then what was the Islam of those who had no access to Hadith?
What was Islam of those who Muslims who lived between the period of Muhammad’s death and the Hadith scholars like Bukhari?
The neo-traditional Islam movement was ever so wrong in presenting to the Muslim youth this one and only ‘orthodox’ view of Islamic history: that everyone followed a madhhab and accepted, Hadith, accepted Sufism etc. It was parochial and obscure.
I read Ziauddin Sardar’s book Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim, and could relate to his description of the Murabitun movement, who coated Islam in anti-modern, anti-capitalist philosophy, but never looked at the philosophical roots of Islam itself. In other words, its rise, fall, historical events were never studied critically. The traditional Muslims argued that Islam must been seen through an ‘Islamic worldview’ to make sense, but this was not good enough for me.
Where Islam was lacking, they told us ‘context’. Where context was lacking, they told us just to believe in Islam.
I looked at the society around and Islam seemed superfluous. I noticed that the Islam I had grown up with was not interested in proselytism or anything of that sort. My parents were pro-progress; they weren’t overly philosophical and lived with the times. Granted, it was a cherry-picking approach, but this how religion naturally evolved.
In fact, the only reason the Murabitun were able to successfully establish a madrassa in Morocco was for that very reason. Moroccans were not terribly religious, and were, for the most part, secular-minded. Though there are human rights abuses and Shias & Christians face discrimination, the King has done a great job of controlling Islam within Morocco, empowering women, which makes it one of the most stable Muslim-majority states today.
Islam is always superior to culture, no matter how much Muslims argue that Islam enriches culture. Islam acted as a deterrent to me immersing myself in my Indian roots. I always admired the Eastern traditions and their rich culture of dance and the arts. In Islam, at a textual level, enjoyment becomes limited. A woman dancing in front of men is forbidden, how can I accept this when I like to be the centre of attention at Asian weddings?!
Maybe I just don’t want to submit, they say.
No, I don’t want to submit to a religion that regards human culture as a shameful.
When someone does try to bring about a liberal interpretation, they are often accused of blasphemy and apostasy. This is not a new thing, and has manifested itself throughout the history of the Islamicate. The punishments for blasphemy, apostasy, fornication are worrying. The fact that many modern Muslims feel that denouncing these Quranic punishments is akin to apostasy itself and would make them look less ‘orthodox’, is even more worrying.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that Islam was just like any other religion, in the sense that it could be explained naturally.
All these interpretations were man-made.
Though science has been one of the main reasons why Muslims tend to leave the religion, my reasons for leaving were based more on a personal exploration of the way Islam is practiced. Indeed, I later learned that the so-called verses on embryology in the Quran and its verses on the ‘seven heavens’ are taken from Galenic and Ptolemaic natural philosophy. Islam’s textual incompatibility with modern science only strengthened my decent (or ascent?) from the religion.
11. A learning experience
Through my experience, I learnt that Islam’s mystical traditions, which are often romanticised, can be as problematic as more literalist interpretations.
Is Islam as dangerous as it is presented in our world today? It can be. Sometimes Muslims are the biggest victims of a religion which can be so easily manipulated to further violent or political agendas.
But the reality is that, Muslims can’t even come together and settle on which day to celebrate Eid/Ramadan without bickering, let alone bring about some global caliphate. I’m not trying to play down anything, here. I can differentiate everyday Muslims, from Islamists.
In some ways, the greatest flaw of conservative (modern?) Islam – which is takfir and sectarianism – is its greatest strength for those of us who wish to sustain a liberal and rational society. It keeps the so-called Ummah separated into various groups: some interpretations having more hold than others.
Now that I think back, it seems surreal that I went this far to discover the veracity of my faith. I’m in a better position, intellectually, than I ever was before. We all search for clarity, and even though I still believe we may never know everything, I know something, and it feels good.
abāya – long, loose clock covering body
ādāb – manners, conduct
‘ālima – female scholar
al-hamdulillah – praise be to God
Amāl al-Ahl al-Madīna – The Actions of the People of Medina
aqīda – creed/ theological school
as-salamu ‘alaykum – greeting: peace by on you
bid’a – innovation
burqā – Afghan cloak covering entire body, including eyes
dā’wa – proselytism
dhikr – lit.: remembrance of God; in Sufi terminology: mystical session
Dīn – Islamic way of life; religion
dū’ā – supplication/prayer
dunya – worldly life
fatwā– ruling; edict
Fitra – natural disposition (human nature)
fiqh – jurisprudence
fuqara – literally: poor people, those who give everything in way God (Sufi terminology)
hadhra – spiritual dance standing up
Hāfidh(a) – title given to one who knows the entire Quran off by heart.
Hājj(a) – title given to a Muslim who has performed the Hajj.
harām – forbidden
hijāb – headcovering
hizb – one of the 60 sections of the Quran
Ihsān – spiritual excellence: “To worship God as if you see him. And if you cannot see him, he sees you.”
ijtihād – independent reasoning
Imām – one who leads the prayer
Īmān – faith
Islām – in the Hadith of ‘Islam—Īmān—Ihsān’ this refers to the outward law, Sharia or Five Pillars
Jihād – struggle or fighting in the way of God
Khilāfah – Caliphate; Muslim political rule
kuffār – disbelievers
kufr – disbelief
luhw – wooden board, tablet
madrassa – [Islamic] school
maddhab – legal school
Maghrib – literally means West, but historically-speaking: the Western lands that were ruled by Islam: Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria
MashAllah – God has willed it
niqāb – face veil
nūr – light
qasīda – Islamic song/poetry
ribā – interest / usury
shaykh – teacher; religious guide
Sharia – Islamic law
shirk – associating partners with God
SubhanAllah – praise be to God
Sunna – teaching or gesture of the Prophet (usually found in Hadith)
sūra – chapter of the Quran
tariqa – mystical path / school / Sufi order
Tafsir – exegesis
takfīr – declaring another Muslim an apostate/disbelievr
tasawwuf – Sufism (mysticism)
‘ulemā – authoritative scholars or clergymen
Ummah – Muslim community (global and/or local)
wird – litany specific to a particular tariqa
wudū – ablution
Zakāt – 2.5% of one’s yearly savings given in charity
zawiya – Sufi lodge