Only Pretty Thoughts

Dearest Three Regular Readers,

We knew I would never be able to keep this at a steady pace and alas I have gotten very neglectful. It’s the beads! The pretty, sparkly, happy, sexy beads–they distract me and keep me busy these days.

Please have a looksie at my new Etsy shop, which The Boy #1 is in on as well, and don’t take me off your blogroll yet. Insha Allah I will be yammering away soon now that I figured out most of that yucky techy time-consuming stuff over at The Ets.


The Hijrah Dialogues: Muhajir Mama’s First Flight

From discussions of identity, belonging and race to home and family – SISTERS brings you The Hijrah Dialogues chronicling a diverse body of brave adventures and trials as muhajiras seek out their own spot on the spaciousness of Allah’s earth, in discovery of that elusive greener grass.

Part One: Brooke Benoit catches up with Iman Zaineb 44, an English as a Foreign Language instructor and professor of World Religions with an MA in History of Religions-focus on religions of South Asia, to discuss her journey from the USA to Morocco, and back again.

 A Muhajir Mama’s First Flight

When American convert Iman Zaineb was seeking a second husband, her marital forum profile insisted that hijrah be included in the package, “I want to live where I can hear the adhan five times a day, and not from a clock that looks like a mosque!” Her call sent out from Atlanta, Georgia was answered from Casablanca, Morocco.

 Iman, a well-seasoned traveller, avoided the typical expat intercultural communication and intestinal discomforts as she, along with her young daughter, quickly settled into a honeymoon period – both as a newlywed and also what expat experts call those first idyllic days of living in a new-to-you country.

“When I first arrived in Morocco, I lived in a very conservative, simple neighbourhood of working families. Because of the architecture of the place, neighbours saw each other frequently, while coming and going, hanging laundry, etc. We spent a lot of time chatting, going back and forth from each other’s houses and watching our children play. This was probably my best time as a Muslimah because there was a beautiful mosque in the area and I would often go with my neighbours to pray. I learned a lot about Islam and about Moroccan culture at this time.”

 Iman felt the rawness of being a stranger, an immigrant, and a black one at that.

It all gets real

Then Stage 2 began. As was agreed upon before the purchase of airline tickets and the nikah, Iman returned to work. She found a job at an American school where her daughter enrolled. The family moved closer to her job, which meant higher rent, and in turn Iman had to take on more work during evenings and weekends. This was less than ideal as she was now “always working” and spending few waking hours with her young child. Six months later she began a better paying job teaching English as a Foreign Language full-time at a costly international English language center in an urban district of Casablanca.

New unforeseen challenges arose for her as she was now forced to make choices she hadn’t imagined to be concerns in a Muslim country. “If I wanted the best paying classes in the banks, in the offices, of the CEOs of various industries, wearing my hijab was going to be an issue. It became a choice between looking like a Muslimah, or feeding and educating my daughter.”

Between the commuting, working long hours, de-hijabing for work, and the power plays with Iman being the family’s breadwinner, her marriage began to suffer under the stress. Iman and her husband amicably agreed to separate and she was granted a talaq (divorce).

“I went [to Morocco] to marry a Muslim man, with the desire to complete half of my deen. And within two years, I was back to being a single parent – struggling and outside of my homeland and without my family.”

By Myself

Iman moved, for the third time, within walking distance of her job and her daughter’s new school. In her new neighbourhood, not only was the masjid and Islam not “at the forefront of the scene at all,” but Iman felt the rawness of being a stranger, an immigrant, and a black one at that, “There were very few Muslims interested in entertaining a friendship with an African American single mother. Issues of race and marital status began to crop up in way that I, inspired by this Qur’anic verse, had not expected:”

“O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another.” [Sura Al-Hujurat:13]

When applying for her latest apartment, this time by herself, Iman was shocked and frustrated that, “I had to show my passport and have the office manager of the company vouch for my American-ness!” The landlord was upfront about not wanting to rent to sub-Saharan Africans due to stereotypes and biases common in Morocco. Innumerable micro aggressions and overt occurrences of racism became par for the muhajir’s course. In the chic interior of her job’s offices her “blackness” had her occasionally mistaken for a cleaning lady. Outside the offices, her treatment was sometimes worse:

“I was walking close to my home, after having taken my daughter to school when I saw a beautifully dressed older Moroccan woman walking past me. Her jeleba and scarf were amazing, and so I smiled and gave my salaam, since she was looking at me right in the face. She responded, “Shnoo briti, aziya?!” This is one of the strangest responses to ‘As salaamu alaikum’ that I have ever received. It’s Moroccan Darija for, “What do you want, black girl?!” Her response was an indication of the fact that to her, despite my hijab and modest dress, my Islam wasn’t enough. She saw me only as a Black person.”

 And away we go

These unexpected treatments were immensely different from Iman’s professional life as a teacher in the United States, at the prestigious all African American Morehouse College for men. She was the first woman, the first Muslim and even the first non-Minister to teach in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. Iman did not experience open discrimination based on her religion or gender, rather she was awarded for her teaching excellence.

EFL teachers in developing nations are notoriously treated as expendable. After five years of teaching, living, loving and learning in Casablanca, Iman’s stay unexpectedly came to an end when her company restructured and she was offered to renew her contract with too little work to support her small family. Not only did she not have the time and resources to quickly find another position elsewhere, but back in Atlanta her family was begging to see her and her daughter. Iman heeded her mama’s call and flew home.

On opposite shores of the Atlantic Ocean Iman has had to consider which side is greener and why? “Sometimes, while in Morocco, I wondered why I had left Atlanta?” She admits it was partially, “a bit of an Orientalist’s desire to live in the magical, mystical world of an Islamic nation, surrounded by fellow Muslims, and to raise my daughter in such an environment.”

For all the struggling of back and forth, Iman notes that her daughter has benefitted the most from their hijrah experience. Not only is the nine year old fluent in three languages, she has learned far more Qur’an than Iman has had the time to do so since her conversion over a decade ago.

Currently Iman is embarking on a new home-based career that she hopes will travel well, either back “to Morocco or some other Islamic nation – with more awareness and more mental preparation – so that my daughter can continue to study Arabic and Qur’an.” Insha Allah!

Brooke Benoit is an American artist who is home-educating her children in Casablanca, Morocco. She hopes, insha Allah, that life in The Mahgrib is the first leg of her own hijrah endeavors. Amongst her many interests and concerns are radical education reform, sustainable living practices, self-expression and discovery through art, and sisterly love.


This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine–the magazine for fabuous Muslim women!

Ramadan Resolutions

Panel of images of the moon's cycle.

Every year, save this one, just before Ramadan I do a little intensive course for reminders about the history and sunnahs of Ramadan (I can’t tell you how many years it took me to remember iftar is at Mahgrib-wishfill thinking that it’s at asr!) and I always learn lots of new stuff that I’ve been wondering about from previous years. I also do an eid course the night or so before. I think having five (free-schooled!) kids has put me into some kind of new bracket were wishful thinking has become far too regularly the norm. I mean, I need to do more advanced planning for just about everything because my time has become severally limited and this Ramadan I really felt the crunch. Last year I did have five kids, but one was abroad, so this was the first with all five.

Anyway. I also really came to understand this:

“Allah likes the deeds best which a worshipper can carry out constantly.” –Bukhari and Muslim

Immediately before Ramadan I hear people making big plans for all the ibadah they want to cram into those 720 hours of the month and I tend to use that as a marker for my own abilities. I’m not going to do that anymore. Many people, myself included, drop off by the end of the month and don’t or barely have the energy left to finish out their plans during those crucial last ten days. This year I saw many people make it out to the mosques just for what they suspected was Laylat al Qadr and some who had been going regularly up until then stopped for the last few days! So, herein is where I do some long term strategic planning…

1)    Keep Up The Fasting: Again, five kids—that’s four years of being pregnant and ten years of breastfeeding! AlhumdiAllah, so while I have done ok to continue Monday and Thursday fasting some years, others were not possible—this year looks good, so here I go! Insha Allah. Regular fasting always keeps me much more aware and active in my deen, and it is easiest for me to just keep at the habit right after Ramadan—the brilliance of Shawwal, eh.

2)    Increasing My Naafils: I often get this guilty, nagging idea that I should increase them during Ramadan-wrong! That’s when I am adding other prayers, plus fasting, plus other acts of worship. I should regularly be doing my naafils!

 3)    And During My Naafils, Learning More Duas & Surahs: I have heard alternating opinions about holding the Quran while praying in fards and naafils, and I may have used these contradictions as an excuse to just not to do it, so I finally did a little research of my own and feel good about holding the Quran or a copy of Fortress of the Believer while praying my naafils at least and here are some proofs:

Reading from the Mus-haf during an obligatory prayer

What is the ruling on an imam who reads from the Mus-haf when leading prayers in congregation?

Praise be to Allaah. There is nothing wrong with reading Qur’aan from the Mus-haf during a naafil prayer, such as qiyaam al-layl. But in the case of obligatory prayers, it is makrooh to do that, because in most cases there is no need for it. But if there is a need, then there is nothing wrong with reading from the Mus-haf in that case. 

Ibn Qudaamah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Mughni, 1/335: 

Ahmad said: There is nothing wrong will leading the people in praying qiyaam whilst looking at the Mus-haf. It was said to him: What about obligatory prayers? He said: I have not heard anything concerning that. Al-Qaadi said: It is makrooh in obligatory prayers, but there is nothing wrong with it in voluntary prayers if one has not memorized (Qur’aan), but if one has memorized Qur’aan then it is also makrooh. He said: Ahmad was asked about leading the prayers whilst reading from the Mus-haf in Ramadaan. He said: If that is necessary (it may be done)… and it was narrated from Ibn Haamid that it is equally permissible in both naafil and obligatory prayers. 

The evidence for it being permissible is the report narrated by Abu Bakr al-Athram and Ibn Abi Dawood with their isnaads from ‘Aa’ishah, according to which she would be led in prayer by a slave of hers who read from the Mus-haf. 

Al-Zuhri was asked about a man who read from the Mus-haf in Ramadaan. He said: The best ones among us used to read from the Mus-hafs… 

Reading from the Mus-haf has been permitted because of the need to listen to the Qur’aan and recite it in night prayers (qiyaam). 

The ruling on it being makrooh applies only to those who have memorized Qur’aan, because they will be needlessly distracted from proper focus in prayer (khushoo’) by that, and from looking at the place of prostration. And it is makrooh in obligatory prayers in general, because usually there is no need for it. 

Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Majmoo’ (4/27): 

If a person reads Qur’aan from the Mus-haf, this does not invalidate his prayer, whether he has memorized the Qur’aan or not; in fact that is obligatory if he has not memorized al-Faatihah. 

What we have mentioned, that reading from the Mus-haf does not invalidate the prayer, is our view and the view of Maalik, Abu Yoosuf, Muhammad and Ahmad. 

Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked: Is it permissible for the imam to read from the Mus-haf during the five daily prayers, especially Fajr when lengthy reading is required and there is the fear of making mistakes or forgetting? 

He replied: 

That is permissible if there is a need for it, just as it is permissible to read from the Mus-haf in Taraweeh for one who has not memorized the Qur’aan. Dhakwaan, the freed slave of ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) used to lead her in prayer in Ramadaan, reading from the Mus-haf, as was narrated by al-Bukhaari in his Saheeh in a mu’allaq majzoom report. It is Sunnah to recite at length in Fajr prayer, so if the imam has not memorized al-Mufassal or anything else from the rest of the Qur’aan, it is permissible for him to recite from the Mus-haf. But it is prescribed for him to strive to memorize the Qur’aan, or at least to memorize al-Mufassal, so that he will not need to read from the Mus-haf. Al-Mufassal refers to the portion of the Qur’aan that starts with Soorat Qaf, up to the end of the Qur’aan. Whoever strives to memorize, Allaah will make it easy for him, as He says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“And whosoever fears Allaah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty)”

[al-Talaaq 65:2] 

“And We have indeed made the Qur’aan easy to understand and remember; then is there any one who will remember (or receive admonition)?”

[al-Qamar 54:17] And Allaah is the Source of strength. Majmoo’ Fataawa Ibn Baaz, 11/117 

And Allaah knows best…

4)      Tahajudd: I have really neglected my tahajudd the last couple Ramadans. Bebeh #5 is an especially light sleeper and would usually wake if I get up, which means a couple hours of hanging out trying to get her back to sleep. Well, she’s two now and a little more agreeable to hang out with during unreasonable hours, so I feel it is a good time to start doing at least some tahajudds. Currently planning to at least do them before having suhoor on Mondays and Thursdays and possibly on nights when I randomly wake up, which is pretty frequent.

This is a thorough enough list for me to tackle over the coming year, and then next year I shouldn’t even have to make any Ramadan Ibadah Resolutions—so as to avoid a biddah 😉