Optimism In Islamic Essays Topic

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Praise Be to Allah - we praise Him, we seek aid from Him, we seek guidance, and we seek from Him refuge from the evils of ourselves, and our bad deeds. It is He whom Allah guides that is on true guidance; but he whom He leaves astray, for such wilts thou find no protector to lead him to the right way. And I profess that there is no god but Allah alone, & He has no partners. And I admit His lordship, compelling this truth for those who denied Him and disbelieved in Him. And I profess that our master Muhammad, May Allah's Peace & Grace be upon him, is the messenger of Allah, the master of the created and the human race, and I keep professing that for as long as sight can be seen with an eye, for as long as news can be heard with an ear.
  O Allah, our Lord, have peace and blessings upon our master Mohammed, upon his folks, his companions, his descendants, and those who allied with him and followed him until the Day of Judgment. O Allah our Lord, teach us what is useful for us, and let us make use of what Thou hast taught us. O Allah and advance us in knowledge. O Allah show us the righteousness as right as it is, and bless us with following it. O Allah our lord make us amongst those who listen to the Word and follow the best meaning of it, and admit us, by Thy Grace, to the ranks of Thy righteous Servants. O Allah our Lord, lead us out from the depths of darkness and illusion, unto the lights of erudition and knowledge, and from the muddy shallows of lusts unto the heavens of Thy Vicinity.

The diseases of the soul are very serious

Dear brothers, pessimism, melancholy, seeing only the negative sides of the matters, not expecting the good, despair, frustration…etc are some of the diseases of the soul. These diseases afflict the soul, but they become epidemic at the times of calamities and afflictions. I repeat, at times of hardship, these diseases, which may afflict man under certain circumstances, become epidemics.


1 - Optimism lifts the spirits of man

We should follow the example of the infallible Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, who used to like the good omen. Optimism- dear brothers- lifts the spirits of man, enables him to face the difficulties of life, makes him use his capacities to what is good and improves his performance. Actually, people vary in their capacities, as Allah the Almighty increases in creation what He wills, but everyone of us can be optimistic, and we are able to create a sense of optimism. On the other hand, Al-Jabriyah (fatalism) (which means to believe that man has no free will and that he has no power to influence his future nor his own actions) whether it is related to the creed or to action, is merely utter despair and slow suicide. Also, believing that man is like a feather in the wind, so that he is governed by his inborn character and by his innate disposition which he has inherited from his parents or has received from his first environment, is a destruction of man's dignity. We should make a decision of being optimists, and such decision should emerge from inside. This is the first fact about optimism which we can all make when we trust in our Lord and depend on Tawhid (believing that Allah Alone has power over everything,) and on our belief that it is He (Allah) Who is the only Ilah (God to be worshipped) in the heaven and the only Ilah on the earth. Allah the Almighty says:

"They have no Wali (Helper, Disposer of affairs, Protector, etc.) other than Him, and He makes none to share in His Decision and His Rule."

(Al-Kahf, 26)

"And to Him return all affairs (for decision). So worship Him (O Muhammad PBUH) and put your trust in Him. "

(Hud, 123)

"And (all) the Most Beautiful Names belong to Allah, so call on Him by them,"

(Al-A'raf, 180)

2 – Appearance may indicate optimism

Dear brothers, in many cases the appearance indicates that someone is optimistic. Once, our master Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, saw a man walking in a way which showed lowliness, so he said to him: "Raise your head high, there is no abjectness in our religion!" Thus, your appearance, confidence, movements, gestures, turning around, the way you stand, the way you sit down, looks, speech and participation all indicate your strength. Once, the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, saw a man walking swaggeringly shortly before a battle, so he, may Allah have peace and blessing upon him, said:

((Allah the Almighty hates this arrogant walk except in such cases. May Allah have mercy upon the servant who shows his enemy his strength.))

Do not be servile or show your melancholic disposition or your despair. Do not look like a feather in the wind which has no free will. Do not listen to whoever says that Muslims are quite powerless, and that their enemies who are more powerful, smarter and richer are plotting against them, and their decision is the only one to be adopted internationally. Listening to this is the¬¬ work of Satan.
Dear brothers, everyone of us may have a defect,, but it is not necessarily that this defect has negative effects on him. It was narrated that Al-Ahnaf Ibn Qais, one of the Followers (At-Tabeen) was short, and club-footed. He had inclined chin, bulging out cheeks and sunken eyes.. There was no ugly attribute but he had a part of it, nevertheless, he was the leader of his tribe. He was so beloved by his people to the extent that when he got angry, one hundred thousand people would unsheathe their swords to fight with him without even asking about the reason behind his anger. Man's value is estimated by his knowledge, his good manners and his righteous deed.

3 – Smiling, laughing, and telling meaningful jokes

Dear brothers, the third point is that you should accustom yourself to smiling.. Never frown darkly, and try to laugh moderately instead. Abu Dharr narrated that the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said:

((Smiling in the face of your brother is charity.))


Actually, the smile has a profound effect on your heart and on your life, especially when it is a real smile which is in harmony with the facial expressions, not a fake one like that of the tyrants.

You should never feel ashamed of telling a polite, meaningful and kind joke which does not do harm to anyone personally, to a specific career, to a group of people or to anything else in life. The purpose of telling such kind of jokes is delighting the audience and refreshing them. I was taught at the Faculty of Education that telling jokes while giving lesson to your students has a great effect on students Furthermore, some medical research has proved that cheerful people are less exposed to heart diseases than others.

Dear brothers, the jokes which are made or told by respectful people who could be famous people, scholars or politicians never destroy their dignity, but rather they make them more intimate to people and people will love them more. The believer is friendly, intimate to others, likeable, optimistic, and has a smiling face. Smiling is charity as the Prophet, may Allah have pace and blessings upon him, said. Also, Al-Imam Ash-Shafi'i, may Allah have mercy upon him, said: "Showing seriousness during a picnic is not a sense of dignity." He means that when you go for a picnic, do not show high seriousness with an air of high solemnity. The Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessing upon him, used to be cheerful, and he used to have a smiley face whenever he entered his house. Moreover, he, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, used to behave normally like other members of his family and he, may Allah have peace and blessing upon him, used to put Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein, may Allah be pleased with them, on his back to make them happy.

Dear brothers, this does not mean that laughing should be the main objective of your life, but it means that the gloomy, melancholic, pessimistic and desperate situation in which man does not smile, laugh, or please people around him is absolutely unacceptable. Actually, those who please children will have a palace in Paradise. Man is the only creature who laughs. Allah the Almighty says:

"And that it is He (Allah) Who makes (whom He wills) laugh, and makes (whom He wills) weep;"

(An-Najm, 43)

So, why do not you laugh and fill the hearts of your family members with delight and happiness?
Dear brothers, many people refresh their vitality by telling a polite joke or a funny thing about themselves. This is considered one of the prerequisites for excellence.

4 -Fill your heart with good intention and never be a doubter

The forth point is that you should fill your heart with good intention, and never doubt other's intentions, expose their mistakes, or think ill of them. You should have good intentions instead, and do not envy other people for their success. Allah the Almighty says:

"Or do they envy men (Muhammad PBUH and his followers) for what Allah has given them of His Bounty?"

(An-Nisa', 54)

Actually, if your colleagues succeed, their success is achieved by Allah' Bounty and by their hard efforts and hard work. Thus, if you want to be like them, you should do exactly what they do. Allah the Almighty says:

"And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, and ask Allah of His Bounty."

(An-Nisa', 32)

You should be happy for others' success, send them congratulations cards, praise them and be delighted for their success, so that you can be one of them. On the other hand, you should not achieve your success at the expense of others, look down upon them, expose their sins and defaults or make fun of them.
Dear brothers, if you have an ambition, then ask Allah the Almighty of His Bounty. Also if you hope for more income, for a social position, or for worldly honor, then ask Allah to help you achieve your ambition and promise Him that you will fulfill your duties towards the weak, the poor and the needy.

Few weeks ago, I was invited to Algeria, and I delivered a sermon in the second largest Masjid in Africa. The one who built that Masjid welcomed me before I delivered the sermon and said, "I was in prison during the French occupation, and there I witness brutal kinds of torture. The tongues of some Islamic scholars were cut, so I promised Allah the Almighty that if He saved me, I would build a large Masjid." Although he was in prison, and he was more likely to die,, he asked Allah to make his wish come true. Allah the Almighty fulfilled his wish, and he built Abdul Qader Al-Jaza'iri Masjid, the second largest Masjid in Africa. Although the man who built that Masjid was imprisoned, and he witnessed brutal torture, he did not give up, nor did he say that he would absolutely die on the next day. Rather, he promised Allah that if He made him one of the survivals, he would build a Masjid for His Sake.

Some examples of optimism from the Prophetic biography

It was narrated in the Prophetic biography that when the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, went back from At-Taif where people accused him of being a liar, made fun of him, and ordered their children to harm him, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him (they ordered their children to throw stones at him and at Zaid to chase them out of their town), Zaid asked him, "O Messenger of Allah, how could you go back to Makkah while people there drove you out of it?" The Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said, "Allah the Almighty will help His Prophet."

Another example of the Prophet's optimism can be manifested in the way he behaved when he migrated from Makkah to Al-Madinah. Killing him was declared lawful, and a reward of 100 camels would be given to whoever brought him, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, whether dead or alive. When Suraqah could follow the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, told him, "O Suraqah, I wonder how you will feel like when you put on the bracelets of the Kisra on your wrists?" As if the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessing upon him, told Suraqah, " I am pretty sure that Allah will save me and I will reach Al-Madinah, establish a state there, establish an army, fight the two most powerful empires in the world, defeat them and then the loots of Kisra will be brought to me. O Suraqah, I will give you his bracelets." Verily, this is the real faith; to have absolute trust in Allah the Almighty and to firmly believe that He will never forsake His believing worshippers. Allah the Almighty says:

"So do not become weak (against your enemy), nor be sad, and you will be superior (in victory) if you are indeed (true) believers."

(Aal-'Imran, 139)

When you make great effort, cause hoarseness to your voice (because of delivering religious lessons and sermons), stay awake for many hours at night and forsake your bed (for worshipping, studying or preparing lectures,) your effort will crowned with success insha' Allah.

5 - Be positive

You should always be positive, and keep away from negative people who always look for faults and see only the dark side of other people. Those people tend to pessimism, withdrawal and isolation. Get used to be positive and always look at the good side; ignore the empty half of the cup and consider only the full half of it. Similarly, consider the positive side of people.
Dear brothers, your real triumph is to discover the positive sides which exist inside the negative ones. It was said, "When things become more difficult, they become easier as well." Thus, some negative things have some something positive inside them. For example, you do not feel comfortable while driving your car in a rocky and unpaved road. However, this tiring road which is full of holes and turning points will prevent you from falling asleep while you are driving, which is the positive thing about it. The paved and straight roads make it easier for you to fall asleep, and so you may a catastrophic accident. Try to find out the positive side in whatever is negative.
Dear brothers, the believer tries to be always happy, and he makes other people happy, while the disbeliever is always miserable, and he makes other people miserable. Actually, some people look at life like it is an ash-colored crystal; they see everything around them dark, which is a big mistake. You should not look down on people and consider them ignorant, fool, and backward, while you consider yourself as the only clever man who has realized the reality of life. This is a deadly mistake which you should avoid committing. Whoever thinks that all people are stupid is the stupidest one among them, because
And he, may Allah have peace and blessing upon him, also said:

((The example of my 'Ummah is like of rain. It is not known whether the initial part (of the rain) is good or the latter part.))

[Reported by Ahmad in Musnad (3/130), At-Tirmidhi (no.2873). Also reported in Ahmad (4/319).]

Dear brothers, optimistic people are sometimes accused of being naïve, simply because those who accuse them are melancholic, and they are suspicious of their surroundings. They tend to see the evil sides of things and believe that whatever they face in life should be considered a conspiracy or a hellish plan. Having such a view of life is a deadly mistake; take it easy and be simple instead of complicating things. The best attitude is that of our master Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, when he said, "I am not a malicious person, but I do not let malicious people deceive me." This means, "I am not a naïve person who people can deceive, nor am I a malicious person who deceives others." This is a very clear attitude towards people.
I would like to remind you that one of those who will be under the Shade of Allah on the Day of Resurrection when there will be no shade except His is:

((…A man who refuses the call of a charming woman of noble birth for an illegal sexual intercourse with her and says: I fear Allah; the Lord of the worlds.))


What did the Noble Prophet highlight in this story? Did he focus on that unchaste woman who called that man for illegal sexual intercourse with her or on that chaste young man? The Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, concentrated on the chastity of that young man. He, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said:

((…A man who refuses the call of a charming woman of noble birth for an illegal sexual intercourse with her and says: I fear Allah; the Lord of the worlds.))


When the delegation of An-Najashi (Negus) came to Al-Madinah, the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, served them himself. Do you think that the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, did that because An-Najashi had applied all the rulings of Islam in his country? Of course not, An-Najashi could not do that, but he had offered warm hospitality to the Companions of the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, who migrated to his country. An-Najashi was generous to them, and he made them live in peace and tranquility. The Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, wanted to thank An-Najashi for what he did to his Companions, so he, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him served An-Najashi's delegation himself.
Thinking positively and remembering Allah can avoid you from committing a sin. For instance, a man (he was one of the three people who found protection in a mountain cave then a rock fell and blocked them altogether, so they looked to their good deeds that they had performed for the Sake of Allah and then supplicated Allah, the Exalted, that He might rescue them from that trouble) wanted to have illicit affair with a woman, but she refused that until one day she became in need of money. She came to him for help, and he offered her the amount she needed provided that she give in to his desire, and she was forced to accept that. she was When he was about to commit adultery with her, she said, "Fear Allah and do not deflower me except rightfully (by marriage.)" Thus, he immediately got up and left her although he was longing for satisfying his desire. Allah the Almighty accepted his deed and answered his call (when he was in the cave with his friends) although he was about to commit a sin. He intended to commit that sin a long time ago, so he made an appointment with that woman after he blackmailed her making use of her bad need of money. He was alone with her acting like a husband to his wife, which means he was about to commit adultery. All what he intended to do was part of his deviation and extortion, but at the end he refrained from committing adultery out of fear of Allah the Almighty, so Allah the Almighty accepted his good deed and answered his supplication.
Dear brothers, whoever says that all people are distressed in misery is the most miserable one among them, because they are not. You should not approach things with a negative attitude, nor should you be naïve. When you meet someone who is a serious sinner, but you say that he is a Wali (a pious worshipper of Allah), or he might be a Wali, you are naïve. Sins, moral deviation and injustice remain bad deeds. What I am saying is that you should beware of considering the sinner, the morally deviant and the insane pious worshippers of Allah. However, this does not mean that you should give up hope that a sinner will not repent.
Our master Khalid Ibn Al-Wlid, may Allah be pleased with him, embraced Islam many years after the other Companions did, so he lived as a Muslim for seven years only. Nevertheless he was called the Unsheathed Sword of Allah. When he embraced Islam, the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said to him, "I wonder about you O Khaled; I have always been aware that you are endowed with great intelligence." Thus, do not say that someone will never repent to Allah. It was narrated that while a drunken man was being lashed for drinking wine, the Companions of the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, cursed him, but the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said:

((Why do not you say, 'May Allah have mercy upon him' instead of cursing him? He loves Allah and His Messenger.))

The Companions of the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, cursed that drunken man, but the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, saw a positive side in him; the drunken man loves Allah and His Messenger, so the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, asked his Companions to stop cursing him, and ask Allah to have mercy upon him instead.

Let me give you another example of the way you should treat people. a man entered the orchard of an Ansari (one of the Supporters), and ate from its fruits without asking for the permission of that Ansari. The Ansari took him to the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, to be imprisoned for theft, but the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said to the Ansari, "Why do not you teach him the rulings of Islam if he is ignorant? And why do not you give him food if he is hungry?"

I ask you again to be positive; dedicate some of your time to serve people, serve your society, ease others' concerns, try to do something for them and find excuses when they misbehave The people of At-Taif accused the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, of lying, they made fun of him and ordered their young children to throw stones at him. As a result, the Angel of the Mountains came to the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, and said, "O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I will let Al-Akh-Shabain (i.e. two mountains) fall on them." This means that Allah the Almighty enabled the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, to avenge himself against them for doing harm to him, but the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said, "O Allah, guide my people." He called Allah for them although they caused harm to him. He did not say, 'O Allah guide those people,' but he, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said, "O Allah! Guide my people, as they do not know." He, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, found excuses for them and did not let them down. He called Allah for them hoping that some of their offspring may worship Allah Alone, "No, but I hope that Allah will let them beget children who will worship Allah Alone, and will worship none besides Him." Those are some examples in which the positive attitude of the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, is manifested.
I will move to another incident when again the Prophet's positive attitude can be noticed. It was narrated that Hatib bin Abi Balta'ah committed a great treason according to all worldly laws all over the world, and which is also considered a capital crime. He sent a letter to Quraish in which he informed them that the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, is going to invade them, so they should be cautious. That letter was brought to the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him- you know that it is a long story- so he, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, sent for Hatib and asked him, " O Hatib! What is this?" Our Master Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, " O Allah's Messenger! Allow me to chop off the head of this hypocrite!" He, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said, "No, Umar! He attended Badr." The Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, was grateful to Hatib for that.

Most of the people never behave like the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him. Unlike him, when someone commits a mistake, they forget about all his good deeds and exaggerate his mistake, so the he looks like a criminal. The Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said, ", No, Umar! He attended Badr.". He, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, said, "O Hatib! Why did you do that?" Hatib replied, "O Allah's Messenger! Do not make a hasty decision about me. I was a person not belonging to Quraish, but I was an ally to them. All the Emigrants who were with you have kinsmen (in Makkah) who can protect their families. So I wanted to do them a favor, so they might protect my relatives, as I have no blood relation with them. I did not do this out of disbelief or to renegade from my religion, nor did I do it to choose disbelief after Islam." Allah's Messenger said to his Companions, "Regarding him, he has told you the truth, so believe him and do not say anything to him but good."
Dear brothers, man should always be positive, and remember that when you are stabbed in your back, this is because you are an outstanding person. The believer will definitely meet a believer who envies him, a hypocrite who hates him, a disbeliever who fights against him, his inner soul which deviates him from the Right Path or a devil which seduces him. I would like to ask you a question concerning this point, why are the false accusations which were made by the infidels against the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, mentioned in the Noble Qur'an? They are mentioned to show how the Master of all creations was envied and has enemies (the infidels.) I hope that this is a lesson for all Islamic missioners. The infidels accused the Prophet, may Allah have peace and blessings upon him, of being a sorcerer, a mad man and a poet. As I said previously these false accusations are mentioned in the Noble Qur'an. In brief, dear brothers we should be positive.
Dear brothers, call yourselves to account before you are called to account, and weigh your deeds before they are weighed against you. Know that the Angel of Death has passed over us to reach others and will pass over others to reach us, so let us be cautious. The smartest among you is he who condemns himself and works towards what is after death; and the incapable is he who follows his desires, and then expects to be rewarded by Allah.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the World.


The second sermon

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and peace and blessings upon Sayyidina Muhammad, the honest and the trustworthy.

Allah destroys the tyrant, and for every nation there is a term appointed

Dear brothers, the contemporary historical events have many proofs we can refer to concerning the subject of our sermon. For instance, the Eastern bloc, which adopts the doctrine of atheism, has nuclear weapons that could destroy the world's five continents five times, but it collapsed like the spider web. Consider the following words of common people which are really significant, "What is in the Hand of Allah can never be obtained by mankind." So, do not despair and do not be a pessimist. Allah the Almighty says:

"For every Ummah (a community or a nation), there is a term appointed;"

(Yunus, 49)

The tyrants have appointed terms which will definitely come to an end. They have fallen in the mud although and they are still powerful, so what will happen to them when they lose their power ? Allah the Almighty says:

"Verily, Fir'aun (Pharaoh) exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (i.e. Children of Israel) among them, killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of the Mufsidun (i.e. those who commit great sins and crimes, oppressors, tyrants, etc.).* And We wished to do a favour to those who were weak (and oppressed) in the land, and to make them rulers and to make them the inheritors* And to establish them in the land, and We let Fir'aun (Pharaoh) and Haman and their hosts receive from them that which they feared."

(Al-Qasas, 4-6)

The noble Companions were tested by Allah the Almighty, He says:

"When they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when the eyes grew wild and the hearts reached to the throats, and you were harbouring doubts about Allah. * There, the believers were tried and shaken with a mighty shaking."

(Al-Ahzab, 10-11)

We have the most difficult test; our disbelieving enemy is extremely powerful, so he does whatever he wants, plunders the Ummah's wealth in too many ways and humiliates and kills innocent people. However, Allah the Almighty is Ever Watchful over him.

When we are afflicted with such a test, some people who have weak faith doubt the existence of Allah the Almighty (they wonder why He does not help them,) and as Allah shows us some of His Signs, even the disbelievers will believe that there is no One to be worshipped but Allah the Almighty (that Allah Alone has the ultimate power.)


O Allah! We beseech You to show us the way of righteousness together with those to whom You showed it; and to give us good health together with those whom You have healed; and to be our Protector, as You are of those whom You protect; and to bless what You have bestowed on us; and to save us from the affliction that You have decreed –for You rule with justice and You are never judged; and he whom You protect shall never be humiliated, and he whom You make Your enemy shall never be elevated, blessed and dignified are You. We thank You for what You have decreed, we ask You for Forgiveness for our sins, and we repent to You.

O Allah! Please lead us to the good deeds, for no one leads to them but You; please lead us to the good conduct, for no one leads to it but You; please make us do well in the Deen, which is our dignity, make us do well in our worldly life, in which we dwell and grant us safety on the Day of Judgment for it is our Final Destination. O Allah! Please supply our life with all good things and make our death a rest from every evil.
O our Master, the Lord of all Worlds! Please make me desire what You have made lawful and reject what You have made unlawful, make me by Your benevolence independent of all others and make my obedience to You turn me away from my disobedience.

O Allah! by Your Mercy raise high the word of truth and this Deen, grant triumph to Islam, dignify Muslims, humiliate polytheism and polytheists and lead the rulers of Muslims to what pleases You, O Lord of the Worlds, as You are the only One Who is capable over His decreed.

O Allah! send us rain and do not make us hopeless, do not afflict us with drought, nor do You punish us because of the bad deeds of the wrongdoers, O Lord of the Worlds. O Allah! send us rain and do not make us hopeless… send us rain and do not make us hopeless… send us rain and do not make us hopeless.

O Allah! raise high the word of truth and this Deen, grant triumph to Islam, dignify Muslims, humiliate polytheism and polytheists, destroy Your enemies; the enemies of Islam and afflict them, O Lord of the Worlds.

O Allah! grant triumph to Your believing servants all around the world, as You are the only One Who is capable over His decreed, and Who responds to our supplication.

Anyone learning about Islam from the headlines alone might think it was a faith powered by violence, inflexible laws, and sexism. In Nigeria, the extremists of Boko Haram kidnap schoolgirls to use as sex slaves and suicide bombers. A manifesto distributed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) allows girls to marry at age nine and states that women should work outside the house only in “exceptional circumstances.” It’s not only extremist movements that treat women as second-class citizens, but also Western allies in the fight against them. Whether it’s Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving, or Egypt, where a husband can divorce his spouse without grounds or going to court, options denied to his wife, most Muslim countries run on the premise that men have a God-given authority over women.

But Muslim women are fighting back. While despotic governments and extremists battle for power, Islamic scholars, community activists, and ordinary Muslims are waging a peaceful jihad on male authority, demanding what they say are God- given rights to gender equality and justice.

From Cambridge to Cairo to Jakarta, women are going back to Islam’s classical texts and questioning the way men have read them for centuries. In the Middle East, activists are contesting outdated family laws based on Islamic jurisprudence, which give men the power in marriages, divorces, and custody issues. In Europe and the United States, women are chipping away at the customs that have had a chilling effect on women praying in mosques or holding leadership positions. This winter, the first women-only mosque opened in Los Angeles.

These efforts are localized and diverse. But all are part of the multi-faceted struggle in today’s Islamic world between fundamentalist rigidity and a pluralist, inclusive faith. “We represent hope, hope for the future, and for what it means to be Muslim today,” said Zainah Anwar, director of the global Muslim women’s organization Musawah—Arabic for ‘equality’—at a recent conference in London. “Do we want to choose ISIS? Or do we want to choose musawah?”

Anwar was addressing a packed auditorium at the University of London’s School of Oriental and Asiatic Studies for the release of a powerful new weapon for Islamic gender warriors: a book examining how a single verse in the Quran became the basis for laws across the Islamic world asserting Muslim men’s authority—and even superiority—over women. In Men in Charge?, scholars tackle what Musawah has dubbed “the DNA of patriarchy” in Islamic law and custom: the thirty-fourth verse in the fourth chapter of the Quran, among the most hotly debated in the Islamic scripture. The English translations of the verse vary, but one popular one conveys the mainstream takeaway: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend their property [for the support of women.]”

For centuries, male jurists have cited 4:34 as the reason men have control over their wives and the female members of their family. When a wife doesn’t want to have sex, but feels she should submit to her husband, this sense of duty derives from the concept of qiwamah—male authority—derived from Verse 4:34. When a Nigerian wife reluctantly has to agree to her husband taking a second or third wife, this is qiwamah in action, notes the book. The concept of qiwamah “is one of the most flagrant misconceptions to have shaped the Muslim mind over the centuries,” Moroccan Islamic scholar Asma Lamrabet writes. “It assumes that the Quran has definitively decreed the absolute authority of the husband over his wife, and for some, the authority of men over all women.”

While the overall message of the Quran is unchanging, say Muslim reformers, new generations must find their own readings of the sacred texts. As it stands, Islamic fiqh, or jurisprudence, was largely forged during the medieval period, when women’s roles and the concept of marriage and male authority were very different. Why, they ask, should the way that 10th-century Baghdadi men read the Quran dictate the rights of a 21st-century woman? To the reactionaries who charge that these reformers are deviating from Islam, Islamic feminists point out that there is a difference between Islamic jurisprudence—a man-made legal scaffolding developed for the specific conditions of medieval Muslim life—and the divine law itself, which is eternal, unchanging and calls for justice. It’s not the Quran they question, but how particular interpretations of it have hardened into truth. “The problem has never been with the text, but with the context,” legal anthropologist Ziba Mir-Hosseini told the Musawah seminar.

For activists battling for reform of discriminatory laws, there’s hope—at least on paper. In 2004, Morocco redrafted its family law code to state that husbands are no longer the heads of the household and marriage is a matter of “mutual consent” between husband and wife. But even ten years on, “the results are very weak, because of the mentality here,” Lamrabet conceeded. She once addressed a group of male religious scholars about equality in the Quran. “It was like an inquisition,” she recalled wryly. “Everybody was standing up, and saying, Qiwamah [male authority] is here to demonstrate that there is no musawah [equality] in our religion!”

Not as it’s practiced in most places now. But the mood at Musawah is optimistic. At the United Nations, Musawah’s Anwar reminded the Commission on the Status of Women that Muslim women don’t need to choose between Islam and equal rights; while 4:34 is invoked by sexists, there are many more passages calling for justice, and a sound Quranic tradition saying that all humans are equal as God’s creations. In London, Anwar asked the crowd of Muslim women a fundamental question: “If we are equal before the eyes of God, why not before the eyes of men?”

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