Half-full or Half-empty?
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
[Translation in .pdf format; in Bangla; Dutch]
It is often said
that people with positive outlook generally see a glass half-full, rather than
half-empty. Is it possible that some time having positive outlook may be more
appropriately related to seeing the glass as half-empty? Let's see.
In my family here in the US, except myself, all other members are female: my beloved wife and two daughters. Our married life basically begun here as expatriates somewhat untouched by the customs and cultures of our homeland. My two daughters were born and have grown up here in the USA.
When I first came to the US in 1981, as I started attending mosques here, I had a fundamental culture shock. I hope readers would forgive my dramatization. Women's coming to the mosque is generally not what we are exposed to, not only in our own homeland, but in much of the Muslim world. That women and mosques are two mutually-exclusive entities is not an uncommon sentiment. Or, at least, we prefer the mosques to be basically a place for us, the men. If our generosity is overflowing then we might let those women attend mosques who just can't stay away, but we must make sure that nobody sees them or that they are there. A wall or screen is a must. [Note: There wasn't any such partition or screen at the time of the Prophet.] One should consider such partition bid'aat (undesirable/unacceptable innovation in religion). However, those who are constantly in tension about bid'aat, they somehow don't see one in this context.
Women may have eyes (indeed, most of those eyes probably
are beautiful to see through), but they must benefit from mosque participation
from only hearing - they usually can't even see the Imam. At the time of the
Prophet, the women could hear AND see him at the prayer.
Well, I have seen some women attending mosques, for example, in Bangladesh. I had a bigger shock after coming to the US, when I observed women coming and attending the Eid prayer as well. What a monstrosity! I came to the US before getting married. Thus, at least I did not have to struggle with the decision about dealing with my beloved, who probably happily would have sent me to the Eid prayer (the gathering of joy and festivity).
At first I thought it was because of the socially polluting environment of this American society. In our homeland, Eid activities (the religious aspects) are primarily for men. We all would wake up early in the morning (usually drowsy from going to bed late), take a bath, dress up (and Thanks to Allah, not being those - you know those wretched poor! - every Eid we had new outfits, gifts, spending money and so on), and then we the men (and boys - the to-be-men) would march in joyous and perfumed spirit toward that place called Eidgah (the open venue for Eid prayers) - our masculine domain. Some of those poor, begging women, who know nothing about our precious Deen (way of life; religion) would be there of course to give us opportunity to show our generosity, but other than that the women stayed back home. Ironically, it's not that they don't go out; so many shopping areas they are hitting regularly.
Of course, they are ONLY our beloved wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters. Young females at middle-class homes could have somewhat leisurely life the Eid day. But the adult women, basically most of the day there time is spent immersed in the joy of cooking those most delicious meals, even thought of those great items made with their personal touch makes me salivate. During the course of the day they might visit some of their friends or relatives or attend guests, but that's their happy share of the Eid (celebration). Therefore, what is this monstrous deviation here from and pollution of our custom?
Three years after I came to the U.S. I tied my knot with someone who stole my heart some time ago. The next Eid we were part of this monstrosity, and somehow it did not feel bad at all! Due to various other factors, into which I won't delve here, I readjusted the radar of my consciousness and conscience and started re-reading the Quran and the Hadith literature such as Sahih Bukhari (not the pulp literature: Maqsudul Muminin, Easy Salat Lessons, Neyamul Quran etc.). I have read the Qur'an and quite a bit of Hadith literature before coming to the US, but when we have preconceived notions, we often read and receive only what we already have impressed in our minds.
I have read Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim before. But as I now started reading somewhat conscious about gender-related narrations with readjusted antenna of my mind, I had to endure newer shocks. No, that the women were coming to mosques and, particularly, Eid prayer is not a monstrous deviation. They are doing the right thing as Islam inspires and instructs them to do. What we have in the predominant culture of our Muslim society, like in Bangladesh and elsewhere, is mostly, as in this case too, just the opposite of what Islam teaches. What does Islam teach? [emphasis mine]
Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 6, Number 321:
Hafsa said, 'We used to forbid our young women to go out for the two 'Id prayers. A woman came and stayed at the palace of Bani Khalaf and she narrated about her sister whose husband took part in twelve holy battles long with the Prophet and her sister was with her husband in six (out of these twelve). She (the woman's sister) said, "We used to treat the wounded, look after the patients and once I asked the Prophet, 'Is there any harm for any of us to stay at home if she doesn't have a veil (WRONG TRANSLATION: In the Hadith the word is Jilbab meaning outer garment, including head-covering; not veil or face covering. This is translator's unwarranted bias)?' He said, 'She should cover herself with the veil (SHOULD BE "outer garment") of her companion and should participate in the good deeds and in the religious gathering of the Muslims.' When Um 'Atiya came I asked her whether she had heard it from the Prophet. She replied, "Yes. May my father be sacrificed for him (the Prophet)! . . . I have heard the Prophet saying, 'The unmarried young virgins and the mature girl who stay often screened or the young unmarried virgins who often stay screened and the menstruating women should come out and participate in the good deeds as well as the religious gathering of the faithful believers but the menstruating women should keep away from the Musalla (praying place).' " Hafsa asked Um 'Atiya surprisingly, "Do you say the menstruating women?" She replied, "Doesn't a menstruating woman attend 'Arafat (Hajj) and such and such (other deeds)?"
Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 2, Book 15, Number 88:
Narrated Um 'Atiya:
We used to be ORDERED to come out on the Day of 'Id and even bring out the virgin girls from their houses and menstruating women so that they might stand behind the men and say Takbir along with them and invoke Allah along with them and hope for the blessings of that day and for purification from sins.
WOW! I must have read these Hadiths before, as I completed a thorough reading of Sahih al-Bukhari before coming to the U.S., but how did I still get my shock here? Do our respected religious scholars don't know about these? According to these Hadiths young or old, married or virgin, menstruating or non-menstruating, having means to cover head or not [if not, share with those who have], women are to attend the Eid prayers.
Now my daughters are part of our participation in mosques and in many community activities. I can't even imagine going to Eid prayer alone, leaving my wife and daughters at home. It just won't be Eid!
Some might say that we have not seen any among our women family members (mother, wife, sister, daughter) unhappy due to not going to the Eid prayer. Well, there is something called acculturation (the process by which a human being acquires the culture of a particular society from infancy). Isn't there? At the risk of making some of my women relatives back home upset due to the additional obligation, the fact of the matter is that in Islam we are supposed to live our lives together: in joy and sorrow, in health and sickness, in ease and adversity, as well as inside and outside home. Of course, it would be another injustice to women, if they are supposed to do all that they do now (cooking, cleaning, serving, taking care of the kids - the nobler things of life) and then on top of that they have to go the Eid prayer as well. Let alone the predicament as to what is going to happen to halwa [sweets/desserts] and all those dishes prepared during Eid - yum yum! - that we men (and to-be-men) are supposed to feast upon our return to home!
Well, it's actually simple. Going to Eidgah is not for men only, as cooking/cleaning/serving are not for women only either. We men and women share these tasks. Now that does not sound Islamic, does it? That's right! Our custom is that men (and to-be-men) are for doing better, harder things of life. I have not seen my grandfathers/father/uncles generally doing any household chore. Of course, everyone's grandparents and parents are different. How about yours? But is this what Islam teaches us? Let's see.
Narrated Al-Aswad: I asked Aisha (r): What did the Prophet use to do at home? She replied: He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer, he would get up for prayer. [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, #65]
That our women are absent from the Eid prayer, despite the fact that Islam categorically and strongly emphasizes it, is merely an indication of perversions in the name of religion: in this case, it's Islam. This perversion and deviation have started long ago. Unfortunately, in some cases, Hadith collectors/compilers sometimes have become victims of bias, I believe not due to conscious prejudice. For example, in Sahih Muslim (English; vol. 2, #1932-1934) ALL THREE Hadiths in regard to women's attending Eid prayer uses the expressions:
- The Prophet COMMANDED
- We were COMMANDED,
- The Prophet COMMANDED
But the compiler of the Hadith editorialized the Chapter heading as: "PERMISSIBILITY (in Arabic Ibaha) of going out of Id days toward the place of worship". [It's like saying "Permissibility of salat, zakat or hajj by Muslims"! Do we say that Muslims are PERMITTED to offer Salat, give Zakat or perform hajj?] What the Prophet has COMMANDED has been rendered into PERMISSIBLE and then basically what happened is banishment. [Note: A person having a bias in one context does not imply a general bias in any person, and thus, my comment about Hadith collectors should not be misconstrued as a general statement either. Their contributions based on their noble endeavor and sacrifice is of utmost value and treasure for us.)
Also, lest it is
misunderstood, it is not being suggested here that such emphasis on attending
eid prayer makes it obligatory on women; not so from the Fiqhi
perspective. However, the fact is that the Prophet has categorically
emphasized it and we all should respect and abide by his emphasis.
This absence of women from the Eid prayer is more than just from the Eid prayer. In our predominant (seemingly) Muslim culture of Bangladesh (and it may apply to other countries as well), they are not part of anything meaningful and dynamic. I hate to say but am I wrong in saying that our Eid is a MASCULINE Eid?
During some of my visits to Bangladesh, when I had the opportunity to attend Eid prayers, I could say that it was half-full or half-empty. But saying it half-full might make us too comfortable with the half-full. It MUST change. Thus, presuming that I am taking a positive approach here, I feel more appropriate to see the Eidgah as half-empty so that I never fail to miss the other half.
Facilitating women's participation in the society, within the broad guidelines of Islam as Muslims would or should, stretching from home to school to even battle-field (as well as other corridors of power, rights, status), can begin joyfully right from the Eidgah!
Actually, our overall Eid celebration, apart from the formal religious rituals/ceremonies, should be inclusive of our non-Muslim friends (of course, when they are not unwilling to partake). But that's another subject.
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