Conclusions of the women’s conference

Great Mosque of Granada anniversary, June 29th 2019

delivered by

Ibtisaam Ahmed

I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to talk at the anniversary of the Great Mosque of Granada on a theme that is of vital importance and interest. The women have had quite a week! Today, we invite the men to share in some of our reflections and conclusions that took place at the very first Women’s Encounters Conference.

Let me begin by providing some context. Last year at the Mawsim of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi in Cape Town, a group of women preparing breakfast in a house overlooking the sea were inspired to come together to make a space for a gathering of women from all of our various communities. Hajja Jadiya Martinez took on this task and gained the support of Rais Abu Baker Rieger, who stressed the importance of conveying and sharing the conclusions with the men. An organizing team consisting of Hajja Zulaikha Lund, Hajja Atika Jiminez, Tahira Narbona and Aisha Hernandez was created in order to assist Hajja Jadiya in the realisation of this conference which has taken months of careful preparation. We can only thank them all and ask Allah to bless them for putting together this conference.

Amir Umar del Pozo of Granada was instrumental in his support of the conference being hosted in this city and together with Amir Ibrahim Hernandez of Seville and Rais Abu Bakr, they have generously assisted in seeing that this event became a reality. We would like to thank these men and ask Allah to bless them and their families and facilitate ease with all the work they are doing.

Once the program was finalized, it was sent to Shaykh Abdalqadir. Hajja Rabea Redpath pointed out during one of the talks that Shaykh Abdalqadir has always supported the women and has stressed the importance of women in the creation of a sound, balanced and just society.

When I arrived in Granada, the first thing I saw upon getting off the bus was a massive poster advertising an exhibition of the torture instruments used during the Spanish Inquisition. I began to reflect on the significance of this conference being hosted in this city and I began to think about some of the history, so if you will permit me, I would like to dig into some of your history.

The final conquest of Al-Andalus in the late 15th century destroyed the sultanate of Granada which was the last Muslim political authority on the Iberian Peninsula. To succeed there needed to be a physical genocide, that is to say, selective torture and killings culminating in a full expulsion. There also needed to be a cultural genocide, being the destruction of Islamic knowledge and spirituality through forced conversions. The cultural genocide ensured that the descendants of moriscos would be born without any memory to trace their ancestors.

The Castilian monarchy did not simply seek to rule the territory, but in fact set up a blueprint for genocides and epistemicides which shaped modernity. Simply put, it was the idea of “one state, one identity, one religion” – an idea which is gaining more and more traction the world over in some form or another. This was in direct contrast to Al-Andalus with its multiplicities, it’s knowledge centres in which there was a free exchange of thoughts and ideas, recognition and respect for multiple identities as well as the guarantee of rights granted to Jews and Christians. This is how Muslims governed.

So it is here in Granada that we witness an early example of a transition from government to “governmentality”. Or, in the language of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir’s The Entire City, it is to move from “the governance of men to the administration of things”. The identity of the state had to be superimposed on the identity of the population.

The Castilian monarchy wanted to achieve three things:

  1. control
  2. surveillance
  3. homogeneity

While it is possible to draw striking parallels to the present day, this is the substance of another talk. But I would like to point out something relating to the third point on homogeneity or homogenous thought which is a key aspect to the functioning of the modern state.

I was once told rather aggressively “You’re from Islam. That means you’re part of an ummah and that means you all think alike!” As we know, this is not the meaning of what it means to be part of an ummah.

It is precisely the dullness of conformity and the lack of space for dissent which we are confronted with today. We are taught to think alike, act alike and reduce all our behaviour to the lowest common denominator. We must agree on the same things and disagree on the same things. There is no space for nuance. There is no space to question. Why? Because if sameness can be achieved, it means that every person’s actions and reactions can be predicted.

Thus, this gathering of women is a break with homogenous thought. It is a break with the sameness. It is an opportunity to gather the perceptions of women and the ideas of women and the thoughts of women as a group that says “No. We are not the same. We are different.”

So therefore, it should immediately be clear that we are not embarking on the kind of feminist project which says “We are the same. We want to take over your position in the world. We want to render all the men obsolete.” It is the opposite.

We are saying “We are different, we have different needs. And perhaps we see certain problems differently and therefore we come up with different solutions. Or perhaps the solutions are the same as those suggested by men. That is also entirely possible.”

In this way, what we are doing is not only about the women gathering, it is about various groups of people gathering. And perhaps this can serve as a blueprint and as an inspiration for other groups to gather, not necessarily in the structure of a conference, but to gather in order to interrupt homogeneity. Groups of young people, groups of artists, groups of people involved in business and trade, groups of intellectuals. It is clear that there is a need for alternatives and we will only arrive at them through creative thinking -that is to say thinking outside of the boxes that we have been offered. It is about revival and being dynamic and seeing things with fresh eyes -we need this as human beings and as a community.

Perhaps this is why I am presenting this to you today -a woman, a millennial, in my 20s from Cape Town, who has encountered the teaching of Shaykh Abdalqadir for only 10 years. I was raised in a family and in a place where Islam is in no way traumatizing. It is a thing of liberation -especially for women. And it was not theoretical, the deen was what brought people an inner freedom and provided a protection. A reminder that I am of the first generation of South African Muslims who did not grow up under either slavery, colonialism or apartheid. So it is something that is real.

We have to remember that the conquest of Granada has a direct link with the conquest of the Americas and these methods of domination were extrapolated to the New World. It now became possible to colonize.

Thus, this is a good point to introduce the first talk delivered by Hajja Aisha Bewley entitled “Colonisation of the Deen” in which Hajja Aisha posited that today’s colonization is the shaping of peoples’ behaviours through the internet and education. The age of digital capitalism has morphed into surveillance capitalism and our on-going relationship with the internet is controlling our behavior and thought processes. To quote Hajja Aisha, “all this makes old-style colonialism look amateur”.

In the discussions that followed, it was clear that there was something of a split between the ‘digital natives’ who see the internet as a place to find community and the ‘digital immigrants’ who want the amount of online activity to be as limited as possible. These two perspectives speak truth to Hajja Aisha’s description of the internet as being merely a tool and not something to be feared. But the answer to the challenges presented is not outside but inside. The answer lies in a deep sense of tawhid as indicated to us in Surat al-Kahf. Hajja Aisha concluded that the individual must find their relationship to the Divine in a profound, transformative way. After the individual does this, he or she moves to a smaller group and from a smaller group to a larger group.

Now back to some history -this conquest of Granada and colonisation of various parts of the world was clearly made possible through destruction of knowledge. Thousands of books were taken from the libraries of Al-Andalus as well as from the homes of people, who had all their books confiscated. This method was repeated in the Americas. But then, it was discovered that some knowledge was not contained in books at all. Knowledge of healing and health, particularly related to pregnancy and childbirth was contained within the women themselves -transmitted from generation to generation. The ‘books’ were in fact the bodies of these knowledgeable women, and like the Andalusian and Indigenous books, the bodies of women were burned alive. It was not “Muslim” knowledge or “indigenous” knowledge, it was knowledge from women. This is part of the reason why in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, we saw an escalation in witch hunts and persecution of women with knowledge. While witch hunts are officially over, much of this knowledge remains compromised.

In her talk Feminine well-being in the different stages of life: The importance of the tribe, Tahira Narbona engaged in reclaiming this knowledge and the link between wellness and fitra. It must also be emphasized that understanding physiology and biology is of vital importance in a world where even biological differences between men and women is being obstructed and denied even in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary.

In the discussion that followed it was made clear that key to assisting mothers is the role of the community and the trust between women to help each other with the raising of children. The pressure on young mothers was also recognized and we acknowledged the need to be merciful with each other and invoke the mercy of Allah always -particularly when raising children. The theme of this anniversary is about the relationship between men and women and on the subject of child rearing, it was pointed out that we must create the conditions for women to be mothers and for the men to assume and take the role of the father. In order for this to happen, we must make the importance of child-rearing known to the whole community, especially the young men and the young women.

As mentioned, a vital part of motherhood is based on horizontal relationships with other women. And this is a good place to mention the talk given by Hajja Rahima Brandt on the establishment of the awqaf which revives other kinds of horizontal relationships and moves us away from reliance on the state. Hajja Rahima provided an overview of a waqf as a legal and financial instrument, covering details on how to establish one. Instead of postponing creating an awqaf because of the magnitude of a big project such as a mosque, Hajja Rahima encouraged us to assume a genuine feminine power which is more grassroots and practical. In other words, start small.

In the discussion that followed, we discovered something. It seems that many women had the right idea all along, but lacked the proper intention and framework. Examples of this have included passing down items needed for a new baby, like a rocking chair or crib that has been passed around the community. The political aspect of this cannot be ignored as these kinds of practices are anti-consumerist and re-instates the social aspect of mutual help outside the apparatus of the state.

My own talk was entitled Resilience in a Changing Landscape and in it I stressed the need for women to be resilient in light of the failure of the Women’s Movement to secure true liberation for women and the need for women to be resilient in anticipation of an oncoming crisis. The danger of rhetoric was also discussed as interpreted through the following sentence from Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir’s book, The Time of the Bedouin, “Rhetoric, that terrible male weapon was to silence once and for all, that unlicensed gaiety and delight and pleasure that was womanhood.”

I highlighted the need for free men and free women who are not enslaved to ideology and who are discerning and who make use of discrimination or furqan. Further, I explored the need of the individual to break free of self-imposed constraints subscribing to rhetoric and slogans on who they should be. This is not peculiar to women but must take place for both men and women if we are to move forward.

In our discussion we had to face some hard questions on gender and sexuality and what our response should be. I responded by quoting a dear friend of mine who says, “Come as you are, to Islam as it is.” The door is open to anyone in search of the truth, but we uphold the balance set by Allah and do not trespass beyond the well-established boundaries of the deen.

We also had two workshops, the first was convened by Hajja Aisha Bewley who discussed her book Democratic Tyranny and the Islamic Paradigm which dismantles the notion that democracy is true rule by the people as even in a referendum, the questions of who decides and who decides who decides are not put to the general population. Hajja Aisha then asked us how we can actually implement alternative ideas in order to create a positive contribution to society and humanity.

Our answers included the following:

  • councils of shura
  • appealing to people of influence to see certain action being taken
  • feeding people
  • more openness between the women and our amirs -we were reminded that Shaykh Abdalqadir has, in The Muslim Prince, written that the prince is to take counsel from older women of the family
  • to not be afraid of having wealth, especially as women
  • finally: to dream big and to have a high opinion of Allah

Part of dreaming big is realizing one’s passions and part of having gratitude to Allah is sharing skills with others who desire to learn. Hajja Rahima Brandt created a workshop around this leaving many women feeling renewed, affirmed and inspired.

As you can tell, we talked a lot. But we also had time for music, movement, time in nature and dance. Most importantly, we made a time to do dhikr together. Shaykh Abdalqadir has always made a space for women in our gatherings of dhikr and has gone further in creating a space for us to gather on our own to do so.

Hajja Rabea Redpath led a dhikr for the women and reminded us of the need to gather together for dhikr and especially the importance of the recitation of the wird. In her dars, Hajja Rabea reminded us of the need for a sound heart which is the guarantee against any challenge, no matter how big or small. When faced with difficulties we must respond with kindness and return to La ila ha illAllah. And it doesn’t matter if those difficulties are with the community, our families or indeed within ourselves. We respond and return to la ila ha illAllah.

Hajja Rabea also reminded us that while we have been discussing differences between men and women, at the level of the inward we are all slaves of Allah, striving to have taqwa and all on the journey to meet our Lord.

So all of this to say to the men: we need you. And you need us. And we must trust each other and we must work together. And I am not saying this because it’s sounds poetic or makes us feel special. It is the truth of the way we have been created and we have to honour this.

A true collaboration between men and women fulfilling our duty to set society right has not yet been tried, much less realized in our lifetime. So it is within this intention that we find tremendous hope. And even though we find ourselves in an age of civil strife and in a world whose future seems very fragile –we cannot lose hope.

I think of all those people right here in Granada in 1492, who were subject to such violence and cruelty. For them it must have appeared to be the end. How could it not? Perhaps they could not have imagined that 500 years later there would be the celebration of a mosque attended by people from all over the world, gathering to remember Allah and proclaim love for His Messenger salla Allah alayhi wa salam. But perhaps among them, were those who even in such darkness used the light of dua, with a firm intention and a high opinion of Allah to pray for the deen to return – and perhaps you all are the answer of those prayers.

I thank you once again for your kindness and hospitality and ask Allah to reunite us all in Cape Town for the upcoming mawsim in October of Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi inshaAllah.

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