Monday, November 06, 2017

Finding Female Scholars...Off Stage...


Let me start by saying that most of my teachers in faith have been men. I have an abundance of spiritual love for them. They have each shown me an immense amount of respect and dignified love because of their embodiment the Prophetic way. Today, I want to speak about female scholars.

Salik and I have had an opportunity the past few months to relocate to the middle east for a few months with our children. Before leaving, we had a beautiful ladies gathering at the zawiyah in Toronto with Anse Tamara and the Hakim Sisters. It was a blessed evening to say the least. Masha'Allah, Anse Tamara is a captivating and engaging speaker who is able to bring herself to the audience as a woman first and foremost and then inspire us to rise up spiritually. The Hakim sisters brought the gathering to life with their voices, getting everyone to join in -- as I looked around, the room was smiling, everyone was uplifted. She comes from a line of female scholars who nurture women. Ustadha Shehnaz Karim from Ottawa is from the same line and carries herself with the same loving humanity as Anse Tamara. She was the first person to speak to me about nurturing circles of sisterly love and learning many years ago. As a concept it was appealing, but as always, there is nothing like experiential knowledge.

As we came to the middle east, I was blessed to be immersed into circles of spiritual women who operate largely without men. Yes, there are sometimes gatherings of dhikr where there are men, but most often we meet without any men present at all. These women are scholars who were literally raised in the laps of scholars and taught from infancy the sciences of our faith. They are spiritually realized. They emanate the Prophetic Light and are almost angelic -- more beautiful, more illuminated each time I see them. They fill the room with a love that seems to hug you as soon as you walk in. Others are advanced students, translators who publish under their kunya because they are that sincere, and others yet are young students or wayfarers. These women are genuinely concerned for one another, care for one another and for anyone that enters their gathering. The very first time I entered a gathering, I felt their love for me. No "cattiness", no judgment, no isolating behaviours. I have found that Islam permeates their veins such that it is so graceful, so natural. They are truly happy.

Women are social beings. Much more so than men. As my teacher Hakim once said, it is in Allah's wisdom that the Friday communal prayer is obligatory for men, but not women because men need to be forced to gather in a way that women don't because they naturally incline towards getting together.

For years now I have heard many complain about the lack of female speakers at large scale conferences and seen organizers inviting various women to speak in order to not get a #allmalepanel. To be honest, I find most female speakers at these large scale conferences to not be as compelling as many of the male speakers. I know that's not a popular thing to say, but I have to be honest with myself and that is how I have always felt and when you look around the room during those sessions, that isn't when the room is full. That is not to say it is an issue of inability on the part of female scholars, but many, arguably most who have real training simply would never speak at a mixed gathering because that is not a part of the traditional culture in which they were raised. So what often ends up happening is we are grasping at straws to have women speakers just for the sake of having women speaking, but they are 'speakers' and not scholars most of the time. So you have male scholars who are also gifted orators, juxtaposed with women activists and community leaders, but not very many women scholars because the vast majority of women scholars prefer smaller gatherings or gatherings for women only.

These past few months have led it to dawn on me that when as a community we start demanding "more female speakers" at conferences, we are falling into a mode of thinking that exalts men above us. We somehow believe that having more female speakers will mean we have achieved some form of "equality". As if what men are leading in or excelling in is what is superior and to be admired and achieved. And even most men will tell you that large scale conferences aren't the highest places of learning -- they are gatherings to boost people's himmah and encourage them to go learn stage! Yes, some women are gifted speakers and they naturally are put into those roles, but often, it seems forced and that is what I'm speaking about here. The reality is that Prophets were not women. The One who created us, Knows our differences.

Perhaps this is not the correct cognitive frame. Perhaps we are looking for superificial "equality" at the cost of true spiritual fulfillment. What these past few months have shown me is that we need more communities of sisters. Intimate gatherings where we can learn, sing, share, and love one another. So that as women we feel supported and cared for by one another because that sisterly love is something that cannot be given to us by any other and these are needs that cannot be met at large scale conferences. We must be there for one another, teach one another, know one another, and love one another.

Let us strive for substance and long lasting relationships because as women we are truly the fabric that keeps families and communities together, and only we can understand that role.

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