20 Influential Medieval/Early Modern Muslim Women

Ballandalus

This is the second part of a previous post on the subject (https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/15-important-muslim-women-in-history/), which sought to highlight the important role of women in the influencing the political, social, intellectual and military developments in the Islamic world during the medieval and early modern era. This post, like the previous one, is an attempt to introduce readers to the names of a few women who made their mark in Islamic (and world) history while providing a few sources for those interested in learning more about each. 

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This is the Muslim tradition of sci-fi and speculative fiction

This is the Muslim tradition of sci-fi and speculative fiction

Original article by: Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

Think invisible men, time travel, flying machines and journeys to other planets are the product of the European or ‘Western’ imagination? Open One Thousand and One Nights – a collection of folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age, from the 8th to the 13th centuries CE – and you will find it stuffed full of these narratives, and more.

Western readers often overlook the Muslim world’s speculative fiction. I use the term quite broadly, to capture any story that imagines the implications of real or imagined cultural or scientific advances. Some of the first forays into the genre were the utopias dreamt up during the cultural flowering of the Golden Age. As the Islamic empire expanded from the Arabian peninsula to capture territories spanning from Spain to India, literature addressed the problem of how to integrate such a vast array of cultures and people. The Virtuous City (al-Madina al-fadila), written in the 9th century by the scholar Al-Farabi, was one of the earliest great texts produced by the nascent Muslim civilisation. It was written under the influence of Plato’s Republic, and envisioned a perfect society ruled by Muslim philosophers – a template for governance in the Islamic world.

As well as political philosophy, debates about the value of reason were a hallmark of Muslim writing at this time. The first Arabic novel, The Self-Taught Philosopher (Hayy ibn Yaqzan, literally Alive, Son of Awake), was composed by Ibn Tufail, a Muslim physician from 12th-century Spain. The plot is a kind of Arabic Robinson Crusoe, and can be read as a thought experiment in how a rational being might learn about the universe with no outside influence. It concerns a lone child, raised by a gazelle on a remote island, who has no access to human culture or religion until he meets a human castaway. Many of the themes in the book – human nature, empiricism, the meaning of life, the role of the individual in society – echo the preoccupations of later Enlightenment-era philosophers, including John Locke and Immanuel Kant.

Read the rest of this article here

The Passenger: Part 2 (Short Story)

The Passenger: Part 2 (Short Story)

Date: 3965 (10 years before the galactic war)

Location: Planet Tuva

Tuva the green, the jewel of the Sabah system was the fiefdom of the Tej family, a prominent member of the Oligarchy. Tucked away in the far-flung reaches of the galaxy, Tuva has always been a land of contradiction. Known primarily for its lush agricultural farmland, it was also—for the privileged few—the private playground of the Oligarchy. Beautiful villages peppered the deep verdant green of its hills and mountains. The distinctive Tuvan architecture gave their elaborate minarets an almost ethereal beauty. The valleys were covered with a kaleidoscope of colours during the flowering season, while its prairies—long converted into farmland—fed the greater part of the system. Tuva the green, the jewel of the Sabah system, was in the eyes of its inhabitants a miracle and as close as one could get to paradise in this universe.

According to the Tuvan tourism ministry, members of the Oligarchy flocked to their planet for its beauty and the restorative qualities of its natural springs. Tuvans would see them walking in the streets of their villages looking for trinkets to buy as souvenirs. Their colourful and opulent clothes spoke of riches, status, and power. They were in any conceivable way the very opposite of the Tuvans with their modest traditional garb and little to no power outside of their communities. Life was for the most part as idyllic and wholesome as many Tuvans believed. But there were rumours, unspeakable tales whispered in great secrecy of mysterious ongoings on the ancestral land of the Tej family perched high on Mount Ilya.

The beginning of the harvest season was always marked in Tuva by five days of celebration. It symbolized the beginning of a new cycle of life, a time to bury the past and embrace the future with hope and anticipation. The village squares would fill with people buying, selling, eating, singing, and playing games, while the clear Tuvan sky—usually unspoiled—filled with multi-colored fireworks displaying the respective colours of each village.

That year however, on the second day of the harvest celebration, a stealth cruiser dropped out of FTL near Tuva. While it remained in orbit, a shuttlecraft left the ship and entered the planet’s atmosphere. Equipped with the same stealth technology as the cruiser, no one saw it descending toward Mount Ilya and heading directly toward the land of the Tej.

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A young man enters hastily in a greenhouse located behind Tej Manor, and clears his throat to signal his presence to the old man lovingly tending to his flowers.

“Father, our guests have arrived”

“Excellent. Make sure they are confortable”

“Yes father”

As he traversed the beautifully maintained lawn, someone barrelled into him and they both went down hard. Surprised and somewhat bewildered he looked at the young woman already scrambling to get up on her feet.

“I’m sorry I didn’t see you coming and….wait, who are you?”

He had never seen her before and she wasn’t wearing the usual uniform of the servants. In fact she seemed rather out of place and somewhat terrified. Wearing what looked like a hospital gown, barefoot, and disheveled, the young woman only uttered the word “please” before shaking her head and resuming her mad dash toward the dense forest surrounding the property. She kept glancing behind her as if she was expecting to be pursued. Before he could react, a scream of pure agony resonated through the air and he watched her drop to the ground unable to break her fall. Getting up to help the clearly injured young woman, he heard coming from behind him the sound of heavy boots stomping the ground. Three men ran past him rushing toward the unconscious woman. Not wearing any distinctive insignia on their uniform, he nonetheless deduced from their stance and alertness that they were most likely military. Taken aback by their presence, he contemplated for a second calling the manor’s guards to intercept them. Before he could do so however a hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed it lightly.

“Glad to see you are not injured son. Now, run along and return to the manor”, his father urged him gently.

Surprised by his father’s sudden appearance, he blinked slowly trying to make sense of what was happening. “Father, who are these men? Where did the girl come from? What’s going on?”

“My apologies young Master Tej. I hope she hasn’t spoiled your jacket. These creatures can be so filthy”, said the man accompanying his father. Everything about him was unsettling; from his vibrant green eyes, to his tone of voice, to the mysterious insignia on his uniform. What branch of the army is that? He was holding in his right hand what appeared to be a modified version of the stun guns he had seen carried by their own guards. Placing nonchalantly his weapon in his leg holster, he looked toward the three men standing around the young woman still sprawled on the ground. He swiftly signaled to them with a nod of the head before turning his attention once more toward the young man looking now more confused than ever.

“Come now son, go back to the house and change your attire before diner”, his father said.

He could hear fear and concern in the old man’s voice. Deciding to heed his father’s silent plea, he started walking toward the manor. Looking once more behind him, he saw the men carrying the obviously pregnant and unconscious young woman toward parts unknown. A feeling of dread coiled deep in his guts as the young man wondered what was to become of her.

“Should we go back inside Colonel Jalil now that this unfortunate situation has been handled?”

“Of course Master Tej, lead the way. And please, call me Mustafa”, said the man smiling as if nothing happened.

That was the very first time Hassan Tej—eldest son of Tej Effendi—heard the name Mustafa Jalil. A name he later came to associate with a deep sense of terror.

 

Read part 1 of this story here

RAMADAN MUBARAK

RAMADAN MUBARAK

Salamu Aleikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakat my dear friends,

Tonight is the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. To all of you who will embark on this journey, I would like to wish you all a blessed Ramadan filled with peace and tranquility. May this be an occasion for us all to strengthen our Iman (faith) and renew our covenant with Allah ‘aza wajal. May this be a time when we all (whatever our faiths might be) engage in self reflection and spread love, compassion, and understanding in a world that desperately needs it.

Let us also remember to pray and make duas for ALL those who suffer in this world: the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the injured, the exiled, the oppressed, and the imprisoned. As  the nation of Rasulullah (saw), our love of humanity should be one predicated on the very idea that we are ALL the children of Adam (as) and Hawa (Eve), and not on the arbitrary kinship of nationalism, classism, tribalism, or any other ism.  So, we ask Allah ‘aza wajal to heal this world of ours, bless our beloved humanity, and keep us all on the straight path. Ameen.

RAMADAN KAREEM TO ALL ❤

Where Are All My Muslim Geeks At?

Where Are All My Muslim Geeks At?

Have you ever stood silently in a crowd and felt like the last of your kind? The last member of a special breed on the brink of extinction? Well folks, I often get that feeling. I believe I have mentioned once or twice previously that I’ve never really been a social butterfly, nor have I been known to frequent communal activities (weddings, Eid celebrations, or sisters-only events….nope I’d rather stay home, stuff my face with food, and binge watch Netflix). The truth is I’ve always felt a little odd and awkward since I usually don’t fit into any of the usual prototypes of what a Muslim women should be like.

As a teenager, I was a bit of chameleon. I use to compartmentalize the many aspects of my life into neatly organized folders (stored deep into the abyss of my psyche). My closest friends being bookworms, it was all about books for us. Exchanging them, discussing them, and even on occasions re-enacting some poignant scenes (don’t you dare judge us Cyrano de Bergerac is a masterpiece) was an integral part of our teenage experience. As an avid science fiction fan though I often felt alone. None of my friends were particularly interested in sci-fi or watched any of the series I followed so obsessively. I couldn’t find anyone within the Muslim community that seemed to share my particular fondness for science fiction. I got used to being the lone Muslim going to conventions, Renaissance Fairs, partaking in cosplaying, and LARPing.

With age though, one feels an increasing need to create a community of like minded individuals; a need to find a way of sharing oneself with others. Luckily I’ve been able to meet a few Muslimahs who share my fondness for books, science fiction, and other geeky leisures (Give us your indecipherable datas, your convoluted and confusing theories, your hidden subtexts, seriously we live for that stuff). What is undeniable however is that we all feel very much like an oddity amongst our fellow Muslims. There are no shortages of online platforms catering to Muslims interested in fashion, parenting advices, politics (from the most interesting conversations to the most dubious), or matrimonial services …..but very little else. With the sheer amount of engineers, science majors, and PhD holders we have in the Muslim community, you would think platforms discussing everything from academia to science and technology would be front and centre in the Muslim blogosphere. And yet, the silence on that front is deafening. We own very little platforms or institutions dedicated to fostering innovative scientific and technological ideas, and even less dedicated to the arts and literature.

So where in the world are all the Muslim geeks/nerds?

Surely we can’t be the only contingent who proudly assume their geekiness and actually revel in it? Are we all living happily in our own little silos? If so, I say it is time to come out into the open folks. We come from a long tradition of thinkers, scientists, inventors, and scholars who have enlightened humanity by responding to its most pressing needs. The current narrative ladened with Islamophobia tends to reduce Muslims to nothing more than the caricature of a religious fanatic. It is a narrative that either seeks to erase our complexity and diversity, or simply strip us of our humanity. There is an increasing pressure on Muslims (young Muslims especially) to modernize and reform Islam by making it more compatible with the precept of Western Liberalism. They are often being told that there is something inherently wrong with their Muslim identity and that it needs sprucing up to make it more appealing.

This is where Muslims more than ever need to be uncompromisingly and unapologetically Muslim. We neither need to modernize nor reform Islam. We neither need to dilute our identity, nor silence our voices out of fear. This is when we need to show the world that Islam far from being a hinderance to our fulfillment is in fact the very source of our potential and possibilities. Muslims must take their destiny into their own hands by shaping their own future. It is time to be brazenly innovative, creative, and dare to dream the future into reality; and who better to do that than Muslim geeks/nerds.

So come out, come out, wherever you are brothers and sisters your vision and your talents are sorely needed.

**If you are aware of any Muslim blogs/websites with a particular penchant toward science, technology, science fiction, literature etc… feel free to share them in the comment section. Jazak’Allah Khair.  

Class, Social Justice, And Islam

Class, Social Justice, And Islam

Talking about class today has been relegated in many ways to a form of antiquated analysis relevant only in Socialist circles clinging to Marxist Theory. In fact, concepts such as class struggle, class divide, or the working class, have been steadily expunged from our social narrative and our academic discourses. The great geopolitical shift of 1989/91 which led to the downfall of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR ended officially the partition of the world along Capitalist and Communist lines. For many, this was proof that Liberal Capitalism had unequivocally defeated Marxism both as an ideology and a socio economic system. This brave new Post-Cold War World heralded for the likes of Francis Fukuyama a world free from the yoke of the past and where history itself came to “an end”[1]. Specialists from both the right and the left were quick to declare that the advent of globalization had ended class struggle, thus making the debate around class obsolete.

It is often argued that the working class as defined in traditional Marxist theory no longer exists in Western societies. The manual workers of yesterdays represent a minority in a workforce dominated entirely by white-collar workers “enjoying middle-class living standards and lifestyles, while, contrary to Marx’s expectations, real wages have steadily risen in the past century ”[2]. The improvement of working conditions and the expansion of labor unions to all sectors of industry helped diffuse the confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat with the emergence of an “amorphous middle-class”[3]. Consequently, class as an underlying factor in shaping history has been gradually eclipsed in academia by a variety of other concepts tackling the very structural inequities addressed traditionally in class analysis.

What emerged from the ashes of the Cold War is an overtly simplistic understanding of the world. The onslaught of mass media served as a catalyst for the propagation of a superficial view of history emphasizing the works of politicians, artists, celebrities and a few intellectuals at the detriment of the “more fundamental patterns at work beneath the play of events”[4]. We have become mass consumers of a world history chronicled through the latest feats of celebrities and their scandals served up daily by glossy tabloids and reality shows, all the while denying the very idea that history has any pattern at all. Yet, underneath the veneer of change and the illusion of transformation lie the same old dichotomies.

The drastic change in the structure of our modern workforce and the shift in the conventional configuration of the working class hasn’t abolished class divide. Actually, low income and the working poor are terminologies used today to categorize those who (like the old working class) find themselves at the lower echelons in the relations of production. In-depth analysis of prevailing social, economic, and political concerns are obscured by shallow and misleading discourses that rely on a simplistic understanding of the structural and institutional nature of contemporary social inequities. Hence, rather than talking about class divide and class struggle in the current context, the conversation about economic disparity is now centered on the topic of poverty.

What is simply a symptom of a greater malady takes the spotlight and inspires a deluge of equally superficial efforts aimed at tackling the problem without ever questioning the system that leads to its existence. Despite the popularity of the notion of “social justice” and the string of activism it inspires, class divide and the struggle animating the dynamics of our class hierarchy are never encroached on. Politicians and activists alike promote the necessity of alleviating child poverty, elderly poverty, income poverty, or urban poverty as if these mere manifestations of poverty are not in fact the outcome of the same system of oppression. How can one eradicate poverty without ever changing the elements at the heart of our political, social and economic institutions that ascertain these economic disparities?

In Islam, the concept of justice is at the core of the values that define a Muslim nation. The rise of Islam helped establish a spiritually oriented worldview promoting socio-economic justice as a goal. In fact, one can notice upon an in-depth reading of the Qur’an how “the underlying tendency of the Qur’anic legislation was to favour the underprivileged”[5]. Ibn khaldun defined Muslim societies as goal-oriented, and with a keen interest in establishing social cohesion[6]. This was only possible according to him through a concerted effort by individuals and social institutions alike in promoting social solidarity. Thus, addressing the issue of economic disparity and poverty was not limited to individual acts of charity alone, but also encompassed moral and institutional reforms.

One of the most important things that Islam helped accomplish through its spiritually-oriented worldview was the realization of socio-economic justice. The status as well as the well-being of the weak and the downtrodden improved  drastically when the old social hierarchy based on tribal kinship was dismantled. This was primarily accomplished through moral and institutional reforms that reiterated the distributive nature of justice under Islamic law. It made every individual conscious of his obligations towards his fellow human beings, while the community was commanded to enjoy the good and forbid the bad. The government also played a crucial role in these reforms. It did everything it could to ensure the prevalence of law and order as well as justice. It established a judicial system in which the law applied equally to the rich and the poor.

The Islamic economic system is primarily based upon the notion of justice.  Justice in Islam is a multifaceted concept, and there are several words that exist to define it.  “The most common word in usage which refers to the overall concept of justice is the Arabic word “adl”.  This word and its many synonyms imply the concepts of “right”, as equivalent to fairness, “putting things in their proper place”, “equality”, “equalizing”, “balance”, “temperance” and “moderation.”[6]. An Islamic economic system is not necessarily concerned with economic statistics pertaining to income and expenditure, but rather with the spirit of the system itself.  Islam as a complete way of life brings all aspects of human activity (social, economic, political) under the dominion of a specific set of rules and regulations shaped by the Islamic ethos.

While such matters as financial performance are no doubt important, a society shaped by an Islamic ethos gives preeminence to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. The protection of an individual’s rights, needs, and dignity, irregardless of their race, gender, wealth, or religion, takes precedent over any economic considerations.  “Islam teaches that God has created provision for every person who He has brought to life.  Therefore, the competition for natural resources that is presumed to exist among the nations of the world is an illusion.  While the earth has sufficient bounty to satisfy the needs of mankind, the challenge for humans lies in discovering, extracting, processing, and distributing these resources to those who need them.”[7]

[1] Cohen, Claude. 1970. “Economy, Society, Institutions.” The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2.Edited by P. M. Holt, Ann Lambton and Bernard Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Ibn, khaldun (1377). Muqaddimah

[1] Fukuyam, Francis. (1982). The End of History and The Last Man

[2] Callinicos, Alex. (2010). The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx.

[3] Ibid. p.249

[4] Ibid. p.106

[5]  Cohen, Claude. 1970. “Economy, Society, Institutions.” The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2.Edited by P. M. Holt, Ann Lambton and Bernard Lewis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Ibn khaldun (1377). Al Muqaddimah

[7]  http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/277/economic-system-of-islam-part-1/

 

LOVE LETTER

LOVE LETTER

Let me be frankly honest with you folks. I am completely and utterly in love with us: our hijabs, our niqabs, and our khimars. I love our unmistakably Muslim identity, and how we proudly assume it. I love my sisters in all their diversity, and I’m left forever in awe of their resilience, their courage, and their inner strength.  I look at the quiet beauty that is ours, and I can’t help but feel sorry for those who are too blind—or too bitter—to understand it. I love how we assume our womanhood without compromise, neither subservient nor rebellious. Yes, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

My sisters stand strong in the eye of the storm, forever imbued with dignity and wisdom. Like a million stars shining brightly in the firmament, they illuminate the world with their modesty. No rocks, no bullets, no words uttered in hatred can dim the light that is theirs. They hurl ugliness at them, try to soil their pride, and rob them of their humanity; but my sisters remind them instead of what nobility, and self-respect look like. Yes, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

A million lies shouted from the greatest heights fall down on them like a torrential rain, and yet my sisters remain unmoved and unchanged. Every lie hits them with the force of a thousand razors, and yet my sisters—although injured—remain firm on their path. I look at them, glistening in the morning light, and I am reminded of how privileged I am to call myself a Muslimah. Yes sisters, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

What is a moment in this world for those who dream of eternity? Whirlwinds come and go, but Muslimahs remain forever a reminder that without a convenant with God, life is but an exercice in futility. The past, the present, and the future converge to find their axis in the unflinching commitment of my sisters. Yes my beloved Muslimahs, I am completely and utterly in love with us.

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