As you come to this chapter, you are already aware of the rights and responsibilities that Islam has given to women. This chapter describes some Islamic practices which Muslim women incorporate into daily life to fulfill those responsibilities. Some of the topics discussed are basic etiquettes, dietary laws, hygienic practices, the practice of hijab in daily life and the observance of Muslim holidays and festivals.
If you have recently come into the fold of Islam, you are probably meeting sisters from cultures and backgrounds very different from yours. A discussion on the Islamic concept of sisterhood is included, with suggestions to help you feel more comfortable in your new religious environment.
THE MOST EXCELLENT EXEMPLAR
Islam teaches that the purpose of a Muslim’s life is to worship Allah and to devote oneself to seeking His love. It is natural for a human being to love Allah and desire to win His love because that love is ingrained into a person’s soul before birth. Muslims recite the Azan (call to Prayer) in an infant’s right ear immediately after birth. Therefore, from the very beginning the child is subconsciously attracted to the Truth and Beauty of The Creator.
But how does one keep this goal in mind while going about one’s daily business? When one is involved in the mundane routine of daily life, it may appear difficult to maintain the spiritual level required to win Allah’s love. Allah himself provided mankind with the means to do this. He revealed Himself through the Holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and raised him up to be the “Perfect Leader” and teacher of the Quranic law to all people everywhere until the end of time. Hazrat Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was called on to furnish an example through following which mankind’s love for their Maker could find full expression and its highest fulfillment by enabling them to win the love of Allah.
Therefore the best example of how Muslims should live their daily lives is found in the exemplary life and perfect character of this “Perfect Man.” (See Holy Qur’an, 33:22). So the study of his life and character is an essential of a Muslim’s education. You will find no situation in daily life for which guidance from the Holy Prophet does not exist. A practicing Muslim is in constant spiritual association with the Messenger of Allah, day and night. She prays as he did, she teaches her children moral values by quoting the hadith to them, she greets fellow Muslims with his words of greeting, and she supplicates Allah to shower His blessings on the Holy Prophet and his people.
OBSERVANCE OF TAQWA
There is another tool which is provided by Islamic teaching to help keep a Muslim on the path of the righteous. This is the concept of taqwa. The word “taqwa” can best be defined as the “fear of Allah.” However, that is not to say that one should live in the dread of the Almighty, or that He is a Dreadful Being. Rather, it should be regarded as the fear of the loss of Allah’s love. Allah’s love for His creatures is boundless, but a Muslim should be aware that if she disregards His commands, she may lose His Protection and His Bounty. No one can become truly righteous until taqwa has entered every facet of their daily life.
Hazrat Ubbay bin Kab, a companion of the Holy Prophet, aptly explained taqwa by likening muttaqi (the righteous) to one who walks through thorny bushes, taking care that his clothes are not caught in and torn by their branches. In other words, a righteous person is one who is ever on his guard against sin and takes God for his shield against temptation.
Thus if you remember that Allah sees your every action, and hears your every word at all times, you would steer clear of wrongdoing. All kinds of problems can be avoided or resolved if every action taken is based on taqwa. Taqwa can be demonstrated in daily life if simple values are constantly practiced, such as sympathy, tolerance, humility, kind speech and gentleness, patience and truthfulness.
PRAYER IN DAILY LIFE
In Chapter 1, the Islamic prayer or salaat was discussed. Salaat is offered five times daily, at the appointed times of Fajr (at dawn); Zuhr (after midday); Asr (late afternoon); Maghrib (after the sun sets) and Isha (at night). Observing these prayers is the most important activity of a Muslim’s day.
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) advised his followers that offering the required prayers at their proper times is especially pleasing to Allah. He further instructed that recitation of the Holy Qur’an after Fajr prayer every morning is also pleasing to Him, even if only a few verses are read. Some sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) concerning prayer are:
- Prayer is the essence of worship.
- Prayer averts misfortune.
- Beg of Allah all that you stand in need of, even the salt you need or the shoelace that has snapped.
- He who is desires that Allah should accept his prayers when is distressed and hard-pressed, should pray constantly when he is at ease.
Salaat is the central and principal form of Islamic worship, and must be observed with all its rituals and etiquettes including a ritual ablution (wudhu) before performing salaat. A Muslim woman must be dressed modestly, with head, arms (at least to the elbow), and legs covered. A woman is not permitted to perform salaat during their monthly period, nor enter the prayer area of a mosque, until she has taken a ritual bath (see under Hygiene).
However Islamic worship is not limited to salaat alone, for the need to communicate with one’s Creator arises constantly during the day. This need is fulfilled by reciting prayers and remembrance of Allah (Zikre Illahi) at any time. The Holy Qur’an contains many short prayers for all kinds of situations, and the prayers used by the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and the Promised Messiah (peace be on him) are well documented. You will find several Arabic expressions used for the remembrance of Allah in Chapter 5.
Therefore, as a Muslim woman, your day begins and ends with the worship of Allah and glorifying Him as the only Master of everything in the Heavens, the Earth, and the whole Universe. As you move through the day, your body clock will become aware of prayer times, and you will be able to prostrate yourself and repeat: “All praise belongs to My Lord, the Most High.”
DAILY LIVING AND ISLAMIC MANNERS
After morning prayers and devotions, you are prepared to meet the events of the day. The most important points to remember are to act with taqwa (the fear of Allah) in your heart, and to keep in mind the commandments of Allah, and the sunnah (practices) and hadith (sayings) of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him).
Whether or not you are employed outside your home, your daily activities focus first and foremost on the material, moral and spiritual needs of your family members. A Muslim woman has the power to make her home a heaven or a hell, according to her own piety and actions. So it is very necessary to have continuous religious training at home. Bliss can be achieved by constant devotion and care to fear Allah and follow the example of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him). Balance and moderation in all things are vital to all aspects of home life. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) emphasized the value of a simple life. Some of his hadith are:
- A simple way of life is part of Faith.
- Truly rich is he who has no desire for that which others have.
- Beware of luxury for the true servants of Allah love not luxury.
Courtesy and good behavior are a very important part of the Islamic way of life. The Holy Qur’an says:
“Whatever good you do, Allah will recognize its value.” (2:198)
The essence of good conduct is in moderation, balance, harmony, restraint, patience and forgiveness. There are hundreds of ways of showing ideal Islamic manners. Here are some hadith of the Holy Prophet:
- Good conduct is half of Faith.
- A deed is judged by its motives.
- Restrain your tongue and your passions and you will enter Paradise.
- Good deeds are a shield against an evil death.
- A gentle word is charity.
- Seek exaltation in the sight of Allah through courtesy towards one who behaves churlishly towards you and through bestowing favors upon him who deprives you of that which is due you.
- Honor the guest.
- He who desires to enlarge his means or to lengthen his days should strengthen his ties of kinship.
- One who eats his fill while his neighbor is hungry by his side is not a believer.
- Extend your greetings to all alike; you will have peace. It is wrong to discriminate.
- Pray for and visit the sick. Shed silent tears of grief for the deceased.
ISLAMIC DIETARY LAWS
As with all matters concerning a Muslim’s life, you will find that Islam provides guidance for a pure and healthy life. The Holy Qur’an says:
“O ye who believe, eat of the good things We have provided for you, and render thanks to Allah, if it is He Whom you worship.
He has made unlawful to you only that which dies of itself, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked. But he who is driven by necessity, being neither disobedient nor exceeding the limit, it shall be no sin for him. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.” (2:173,174)
The first three categories are prohibited because they are harmful to the body, and that which is harmful to the body is harmful to the spirit. The last prohibition relates to something which is directly harmful morally and spiritually, as it amounts to association of others with God. Allah has made the provision that a believer may use prohibited food if absolutely necessary; i.e., if it is a matter of life and death.
The term “halal” means “that which is lawful for you”; thus halal meat is that which has been slaughtered in the name of Allah, and has had the blood drained out from it. The term “haram” means that which is unlawful for you, and includes blood, pork and alcohol. Allah has further commanded that you eat only what is “tayyab,” that is, food that is good and wholesome. Something may be halal, but it may not be tayyab, and thus should be avoided. Islam teaches that the condition of the body affects the condition of the spirit, and thus great care should be taken to keep one’s body healthy and fit. Islam further teaches that all food should be taken in moderation, and nothing should be indulged into excess.
There is no good reason for not eating halal meat at all times, unless you are somewhere where it is absolutely unavailable. Halal meat can usually be obtained in Muslim stores. However, if it is totally unavailable, then it is permissible to eat meat from regular markets and invoke the name of Allah over it before cooking and eating it.
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) never ate his fill. He has said:
- Kill not your hearts with excessive eating and drinking.
- There is no vessel worse for a person to fill than his stomach. A few mouthfuls should suffice to keep him on his feet. But if he must eat more, then let him fill one-third of his stomach with food, one-third with drink and leave one-third for easy breathing.
- When you begin to eat, pronounce the name of Allah the Exalted. If you forget in the beginning, say “In the name of Allah first and last.”
- Do not drink liquor, for it is the key to every vice.
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) always used his right hand for eating, drinking and putting on his clothes, and the left for purposes other than these.
The most important aspect of good hygiene is cleanliness. In accordance with the Islamic belief that the condition of the body affects the mind, physical cleanliness is essential for spiritual well-being. Allah says:
“Allah desires not to put you in a difficulty: but desires to purify you and complete His favors unto you that you may prosper.” (Holy Qur’an, 5:7)
The concern here is for the purification of the mind and soul, and Islam emphasizes that external purity leads to internal purity, just as external impurity leads to internal impurity.
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) stressed the importance of cleanliness. He said:
- Cleanliness is half of faith.
- Purification is the key of prayer.
- When you visit your brethren tidy up your clothes and your mounts for Allah does not like dirt and untidiness.
Thus if you maintain outward cleanliness, you are preparing yourself for inner purification. A pure mind in a pure body is a Muslim’s goal. Islam teaches two ways of cleaning the body, ablution and bathing:
Cleanliness is particularly emphasized in connection with salaat (prayer), as a Muslim is expected to try to be in a prayerful state at all times. To this end, Muslims are commanded to perform the ritual washing of certain parts of the body in preparation for salaat. The Holy Qur’an says:
“O you who believe! When you rise up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows, and wipe your heads, and (wash) your feet up to the ankles.” (5:7)
The way in which the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) performed wudhu is as follows:
- The hands are washed to the wrists three times.
- The mouth is rinsed with water three times.
- The nostrils are cleaned three times by snuffing a little water into them and blowing the nose if necessary.
- The complete face is washed with water three times.
- The right arm, and then the left, is washed from wrist to elbow.
- The head is wiped over with wet hands, and the inner side of the ears wiped with the forefingers and the outer side with the thumbs.
- Finally, the feet are washed to the ankles, the right one first.
While you may perform ablution before every prayer, it becomes necessary only after using the restroom, after vomiting or bleeding occurs and after one has been asleep. Acquiring the habit of wudhu not only fulfills the religious injunction, it also helps you maintain habitual cleanliness and self discipline.
If no water is available, clean dust may be substituted. The hands are passed over the dust, and then passed over face and arms. This is called “tayyumum.”
Bathing is the complete washing of the entire body. As Islam encourages one to be in a constant state of cleanliness, it goes without saying that bathing should be part of a Muslim’s daily hygiene. Allah states in the Holy Qur’an:
“Allah loves those who keep themselves clean.” (2:223)
There are certain activities after which Muslims are instructed to take a ritual bath in order to purify themselves for salaat. These are: after sexual intercourse, at the end of the menstrual period and after stoppage of bleeding after childbirth. At these times, the bath should include the steps of wudhu, followed by washing the entire body including the hair.
It is also a sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) to take a bath in preparation for religious occasions, such as Friday (Juma) prayers and holiday (Eid) prayers.
Other Hygienic practices
Another hygienic practice promoted by Islam is the washing of the private parts of the body after using the toilet. Water is used to clean these areas, and only the left hand should be used for this purpose. The use of water aids in the removal of bacteria from the body and thus helps to prevent infection. Hands, of course, should be thoroughly washed after the process.
In addition, certain other hygienic practices observed by the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) have been encouraged for all Muslims. These include: oiling and combing of hair after washing, keeping fingernails and toenails trimmed and clean, and removal of superfluous body hair, including the armpits and pubic areas. He also encouraged the use of perfume after bathing. Muslims are commanded to keep their clothes clean and neat also. Clothing, whether simple or rich, should be clean and free from dirt.
When Muslims practice Islamic hygiene in the correct manner, they benefit in two ways: their outward purity helps them achieve inner purity, and the whole society benefits because many health hazards can be avoided.
PRACTICE OF HIJAB IN DAILY LIFE
In Chapter 2, Women’s Issues, you have already come across the explanation of hijab or purdah. Once again, Islam stresses the relationship between body and mind. The wearing of the outer garments and veiling of the body leads to veiling of the heart and shielding it from impure thoughts.
The Holy Qur’an tells women to wear an outer covering and to draw their head coverings over their bosoms. It also advises them to cover their faces. However, there is no one type of dress that is compulsory for all Muslim women. The form of the veil adopted varies from country to country. As you have probably seen, Pakistani women wear a long coat with a head scarf that can cover the face, known as a “burqa.” Women in the Middle East wear a head covering over long dresses.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV, Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement has set clear guidelines for observing hijab/purdah for Ahmadi women in Western countries. He advises women born and bred in Pakistan who have moved here, to maintain the form of hijab/purdah that they used there, i.e., the burqa, with the face covered. Women who work outside the home may take off their hijab/purdah at work, if necessary, but should wear it at all other times.
Hazoor has defined “minimum Islamic purdah” as wearing a loose fitting outer garment and a head scarf. The face may be uncovered, but without makeup. This is adequate for sisters new to Islam, and may be used by others who are unable to use the complete burqa. Generally, Islam requires modesty in dress, with arms and legs covered. Clothes should be loose and the curves of the body should not be discernible, especially in public. A newcomer to Islam should not feel insecure about the way she dresses as long as her dress follows the Islamic code of modesty.
The conduct of a Muslim woman is a very important part of observing hijab/purdah. Whether at work, or among family and friends, a Muslim woman must conduct herself with great propriety and decorum. It is advisable to avoid idle chitchat with the opposite sex, mixed parties and shaking hands with the opposite sex.
MUSLIM FESTIVALS AND CEREMONIES
All religions have their own special days of worship, celebrations, rituals and observances. Islamic festivals and ceremonies are also distinct ways of glorifying Allah and sharing the joy that flow from the blessings of being the “best people” who are guided to the true faith.
Some Islamic observances are as follows:
- Friday Prayer Service (Juma)Friday is the holy day for Muslim worship, with a congregational service held at the time of Zuhr prayer. The Imam delivers a sermon (khutba), and then the Zuhr prayer is offered in congregation. This is known as Juma prayer. Attendance is obligatory for Muslim men, and women should attend whenever they are able to as the blessings received for attending are very great. At a particular moment during the service, angels come near to the worshipers and they ask Allah to especially bless the faithful who are present in the congregation.
Before attending Juma prayers, a Muslim should follow the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and take a complete bath, put on clean clothes, use perfume and avoid eating odorous food. After Juma prayers, Muslims may go back to their businesses.
- Eid ul Fitr (Festival at the end of Ramadhan)
The end of the Holy month of Ramadhan is marked by the festival of Eid ul Fitr. This joyous day is celebrated to give thanks for the blessings of Ramadhan. Muslims attend the congregational Eid prayer service which is held in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day exchanging greetings and gifts with family and friends. They wear new clothing, cook delicious food and invite friends and neighbors to celebrate with them. Fasting during Ramadhan inspires sympathy for the hungry and needy, and encourages Muslims to donate generously to the poor.
- Eid ul Azhia (Festival of Sacrifice)
This festival comes about ten weeks after Eid ul Fitr, and marks the completion of Hajj (Holy pilgrimage to Mecca). It is the festival of Sacrifice, commemorating the time when the Prophet Abraham (peace be on him) was ready to sacrifice his son, Ishmael (peace be on him) for the sake of Allah. As a result of Abraham’s willing obedience, Allah did not permit Ishmael to be sacrificed, and an animal was substituted instead. It is their obedience to Allah that is celebrated by Muslims the world over. On this Eid, those that can afford it sacrifice an animal and share the meat among families, neighbors and the poor.
- Other CeremoniesOther occasions celebrated by Muslims include weddings, births and religious gatherings. At weddings, the nikah and walimah are usually celebrated. The birth of a child is celebrated by sacrificing an animal and inviting relatives friends and the poor to a feast called the “Aqiqa.” When a child finishes the Holy Qur’an for the first time, his parents celebrate with an “Ameen,” where friends join in prayer for the child, and sweets are distributed.
The Ahmadiyya Movement holds many functions, on the national, regional and local scale. Not only do these gatherings, known as jalsa and ijtemah, provide great moral and spiritual uplift, they also give members the opportunity to meet old and new friends. Some days that are especially celebrated are Seeratun – Nabi Day (celebration of the exemplary character of the Holy Prophet), Masih Mauood Day (Promised Messiah Day), Musleh Mauood Day (celebration of the Promised Son) and Khilafat Day (to celebrate Allah’s mercy in providing the blessings of Khilafat). Another celebration is that of Religious Founders’ Day, where people of other faiths are invited to talk about their religion and its founder.
Muslims, especially Ahmadis, do not celebrate birthdays in the same fashion as they are celebrated in Western society. A birthday is seen as the decrease of the life span by a year, thus a cause for prayer rather than a celebration. Muslims take part in national holidays, such as Independence day and Thanksgiving, but do not celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Valentine’s day.
- Janaza Service (Funeral service)
The transitions from this world to the next and the disposal of a deceased are serious matters in all cultures and religions. In Islam death is treated with great dignity. A deceased Muslim is due utmost respect and his body is handled according to the sunnah (action) of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him). The body is given a ritual bath, and wrapped in two white sheets before being put in a coffin. Once it is prepared, the funeral service is held. The Imam leads the Janaza prayer, with the mourners standing in rows behind him. After this, the body is buried, usually in a graveyard that belongs to the Ahmadiyya Community. Cremation is not permitted in Islam.
If you are a convert to Islam, your next of kin may be Christian, or some other faith. As your body will legally belong to them after your death, you should discuss with them your wishes for funereal service and burial arrangements. It would be advisable to document your instructions for removal and disposition of your body, and provide your relatives and the Ahmadiyya Community with a copy. Also you should have funds earmarked for these purposes. Your relatives should also be made aware that your estate would be divided according to the laws of the Holy Qur’an (4:8-13). This requires a legally binding Islamic will.
THE ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF SISTERHOOD
If you are a new convert to Islam through Ahmadiyyat, you will be meeting Ahmadi women from other countries. While their customs and language may make them seem like strangers to you, they are not strangers. You are bonded to them as sisters in religion. Moreover, you are all members of the Ahmadi women’s organization, the Lajna Imaillah (see Chapter 7 for more information).
From the earliest days of Islam, there have existed noble and blessed women who are an example for Muslim women today. They demonstrated their outstanding characteristics by excelling in good works. They learned and then taught the ideals of their Faith to others, with piety, humility, love, and self-sacrificing service. Some of these ladies were Hazrat Khadija and Hazrat Ayesha, wives of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him); Hazrat Nusrat Jehan, the wife of the Promised Messiah; Hazrat Amtul Hai Sahiba, Hazrat Umme Nasir Sahiba, Hazrat Maryam Sahiba and Hazrat Maryam Siddiqa, who were wives of the late Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II. They all held the office of President of the International Lajna Imaillah.
Lajna Imaillah, which means “maidservants of Allah,” tries to follow the example of these women, and encourages its members to do good works. By attending the meetings of your local chapter and joining in their activities, you will come to feel part of this sisterhood of Muslim women. Many Ahmadi women in the United States are from Pakistan, and many of them do not speak English well. Although they may not be able to verbally communicate with you very well, be assured that in their hearts they regard you as their Muslim sister. So greet them warmly at Lajna meetings and you will find that cultural and language barriers gradually melt away. Be aware also that some social customs you encounter are cultural and not religious. The Holy Qur’an and Hadith clearly define Islamic law, so it is not essential to slavishly follow someone else’s culture.
Another aspect of sisterhood in Islam is the spiritual relationship between you and your sisters in Faith. This is dependant on sharing duties that promote the cause of Islam. These include acquiring, practicing and teaching moral and spiritual knowledge.
Some tried and tested suggestions for enhancing sisterly relations are:
- Remembering Allah much throughout the day.
- Paying attention to the five daily prayers, memorizing them in Arabic and with translation, reading and understanding the Holy Qur’an, memorizing and practicing hadith.
- Studying about Islam with your sisters in faith.
- Attending regularly the Jamaat meetings and volunteering your services for Islam.
- Paying Jamaat dues, making donations to the needy.
- Praying with and for your sisters that misunderstandings and cultural differences be lovingly overcome.
- Dressing modestly in an Islamic manner.
- Accepting and returning sisterly social invitations that establish mutual respect and affection.
- Learning and using phrases in the language of your sisters.
PROGRESS TOWARDS PERSONAL SPIRITUAL REFORMATION
As you follow the path of truth and beauty in Islam, it may not be easy to leave old habits and ways behind. Changing and improving your way of thinking and living is a great achievement which requires a mountain of patience, especially when you encounter trials and setbacks that test your faith. At this point, the first and best answer is to seek refuge with Allah, through worship. Secondly, concentrating on doing good for others and helping spread the message of Islam are proven methods for earning spiritual growth.
When in doubt, try and keep your heart, thoughts and sight firmly focused on seeking refuge in Allah with patience and trust. Allah revealed in the Holy Qur’an that He answers the prayers of believers (see Holy Qur’an, 2:187). Even when the way is dark and dreary, and you are not making the progress you hoped for, do not even think of giving up! Concentrate your efforts on self-improvement, and beg Allah’s help.
You may encounter opposition for your new beliefs from your family and friends. (See Chapter 6 – Contemporary Issues). Try and resist their efforts to entice you back to your former habits. Suffering and trials strengthen spiritual progress. Even if you make mistakes, keep praying for help because Allah is most Forgiving, Ever Merciful and Acceptor of Repentance.
To safeguard your faith, keep company with pious sisters, remain devoted in prayer and good works. Accept your sisters loving offers of support. Fasting for purification, repentance and forgiveness helps to overcome weaknesses. If someone tries to influence you away from Islam, tell them about the truth and beauty of Islam — and influence them instead!
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Holy Qur’an with commentary. Trans. & Ed. Malik Ghulam Farid. U. K. 1994.
Holy Qur’an with commentary. 5 volumes. Trans. & ed. Malik Ghulam Farid. U. K., 1988.
Gardens of the Righteous. Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet). Trans. Muhammad Zafrulla Khan.
Ahmad, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood. Way of the Seekers. Washington, D.C.
Chaudri, Rashid Ahmad. Muslim Festivals and Ceremonies. U. K., 1988.
Khan, Muhammad Zafrulla. Wisdom of the Holy Prophet. U. K., 1988.
See the appendix for additional references.