Saturday, March 31, 2012

Important question

Q: How can you be traveling alone, isn't that not allowed in your religion or something?

I can't tell you how many times Ive gotten this question from Muslims and non-Muslims. And to be honest, Im quite tired of answering it again and again, so Im writing it down for reference.

Short answer: It is permissible for Muslim woman of any responsible age to travel alone.

Long answer: (warning: this is a technical answer)
Point 1:
Islam is based on your intentions as well as your actions. You can not have sound intentions, but knowingly do wrong actions, and you always have to have pure intentions for anything that you might do. If you have good and pure intentions for something, but the act leads to a negative consequence, even though you tried your best, then you learn from it and try not to repeat it. If you have good intentions and your action turns out good, then you are rewarded. If you have bad intentions and go about doing a bad action, then you are negatively rewarded for it. If you have bad intentions, but something good comes out of it, even though you tried to do bad, then you will be rewarded for the action and not the intention. Therefore, it is important to always have sincere intentions in everything we do, not only religious acts of worship, but every movement. It is a way to remind ourselves of the fact that we are here to worship.
If you are Muslim, you will most probably already know this. This was related as Imam Al Nawawi's first hadeeth of the 40 most important hadeeths (sayings) by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Please see Hadeeth 1 on this website:
Are you still with me?
Ok cool.

Point 2:
A human being is created to worship God. (Quran 51:56 "And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.") There is absolutely no other reason to be here. A woman was not created to give birth to children. A woman was not created to complete a man. There is only one purpose for every human being and that is to worship God. Worship comes in many different forms. In every act we do, there should be an element of worship. If a woman chooses to educate herself by going to university, there is worship in that. If a woman chooses to raise children, there is worship in that. We were created to worship. And we were given a brain to make choices.

Point 3:
Men and women are equal in front of God. (Quran 3:195 "I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other"). There is no difference between a man and a woman in front of God in terms of actions and deeds and worship. If there is a physiological difference, then that is only intended for the reasons of potential procreation here in this life (in this dunya). In reasoning, spiritual, religious, responsibility, accountability, and all aspects of life, there is no difference. The fact that purely cultural traditions have inflicted horrendous breaches of inequality - (dis)honour killings, forced marriages, prescribed dress codes - does not mean that these things have anything to do with Islam. Please get to know the difference between embedded cultural traditions which differ (in good and bad) from each region to region, and the true definitions of Islam.

Point 4:
The Prophet, peace be upon him, gave the good news that women will one day be able to travel alone:

Adeey b. Hâtim narrated:
I was beside to the Messenger of Allah. A man came and complained for his poverty. Later, another one came and complained for the bandits that waylaid people in order to rub them. The Messenger of Allah said:
- “Adeey, have you seen Heerah?”
- No. I have not seen, but I heard about it.
- “If you would live long enoungh, you will see a woman, inside her strongbox over the camel, traveling from Heerah at Ka’ba for pilgrimage, without fearing from anything, except Allah.” He said.
I was surprised and I said to myself: “What with the bandits of Tai tribe, those who fired the sedition and mischief all over the towns?…
Adeey continued his words: I saw the woman traveling from Heereh and walking around Ka’ba, without fearing from anyone, except Allah. (Bukhari, Stories, 25)

(Heereh: İt is a town established over a meadow near Euphrate, in the South-East of Kinidre, which is 5 km in South of Kufe, between Kufe and Havernak, today related to the province of Nejaf in İraq.)

In this hadeeth, the Prophet was claiming that there will come a time when women will be able to travel alone and safely without fear of anything or anyone but God.

Point 5:
There is a concept in Islam called Ijtihad. It is when Islamic rulings, those that are neither in the realm of halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden), and those that are not prescribed rituals, are studied in their current context by knowledgeable scholars. The issue of Muslim women traveling alone has been regarded by many knowledgeable and modern day scholars who have permitted the traveling of women alone, given that her safety will be taken into consideration. These new rulings were given in many fatwas which can be found online. For example: Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a prominent Islamic scholar, said the following:
"If security is guaranteed and fear is no more present, a woman may travel, particularly nowadays when travel has become easy, whether by air, train or coach. In all these means of transportation, company is available and security is realized for the Muslim woman."
This is from the European Council of Fatwa and Research (
This website also has a comprehensive view on the matter: (read to the end)

All this being said, there are numerous hadith that did primarily state it as being unpermissible for women to travel alone, due to the lack of security and due to the context that the Prophet lived in: in the Arabian desert fifteen hundred years ago. However, many prominent and very learned scholars have stated that should the woman take her safety precautions, it is permissible to travel alone.

I believe that we can put these five previous points together:
If we add having pure intentions in all that we do (point 1), the purpose of worship in all that we do (point 2), the equality of men and women in the eyes of God (point 3), with the good news that the Prophet gave about women being able to travel alone in the future (point 4), as well as the contextualized ijtihad of current learned scholars (point 5), then I think we can conclude that women are indeed permitted to travel alone.

Important note:
I am not a scholar. Please do your own research on this topic and follow what you believe to be correct using your reason and your heart. I have simply provided the reasons that I have come to my own conclusion, which also happens to be an opinion shared by many. If there are parents who believe that their girls should not travel alone, then there might be other issues, such as a lack of trust or not identifying the girl as being responsible or independent enough. However, I believe that a woman of age, should be able to make her own reasonable decisions, given the advice of loved ones and of trusted mentors/scholars. Once again, this is a blog post, not a fatwa.

Honestly, I will defend this right to freedom and independence until the day I die because it is so central to who I am and what I believe in. So there it is. I have said it. And Allah knows best :)

On Balance

(The view from the train window, somewhere between Fez and Marrakesh, Morocco, October 2010)

Let me tell you a story, in three parts.

Scene: Two weeks in Morocco, end of the fall, 2010. No, this is not a story about love. Well, not that kind of love anyways.

Part 1
Often, when people ask me what my favorite country or city is, I say (after mentioning that all places are beautiful): Fez or Singapore. Singapore because it’s basically incredible. Fez, in Morocco, because it feels like I left a part of me there. I only spent three days in Fez, lovely magical Fez. I would wake up early in the new downtown area, in a shabby little hostel run by a creepy middle aged man. I would make my way over to the old medina souq, often walking the whole hour there. The medinal ateeqa (“ancient city”) is the oldest, largest, still in tact and fully operating souq in the world. It’s absolutely huge and loud, colourful and smelly, with the narrowest streets, and the tiniest shops and stalls. I would spend the day ambling and getting lost in the souq, getting heckled to buy something, messing up the still-wet henna on my hands, taking a calligraphy class, having tea in an old minaret that’s now a cafe. And then, I would find myself at the centre of this incredible mess: praying in the oldest established and longest running university in the world: Masjid al Karawiyyin. Listening to the birds chirruping, the water flowing, the people reciting Quran. And then, I would see my friend. Someone I met in Turkey, a long time ago, we barely spoke the same language, we came from opposite ends of every world imaginable. And yet, exploring another person’s mind never felt so good.

Part two:
I remember feeling such sadness and isolation. I left Fez and took an eight hour train ride to Marrakech. It was one of the strangest eight hours of my life. So many thoughts and conflicting ideas going round and round, and nothing to keep me company except the most beautiful countryside scenery outside. That train ride is embedded in my mind. I will never forget those three skinny cows grazing on the grass in a farm on a rolling hill as the train ambled past.

Part three:
I spent three days in Marrakech. Bustling, insane, absolutely bonkers yet beautiful Marrakech. I went to the Jam al Fena, the huge open courtyard, that gathers thousands upon thousands of people every night of the year, in a mish mash of street food, story tellers, magicians, cobra charmers, belly dancers, souq. I rode behind a girlfriend on her vespa all over town. I experienced a real and very steamy women’s hammam, the local traditional bathing house. The Yves St Laurent garden, planted, designed and inspired by the man himself, in all it’s glory. I played with the kitten on the street. And then, a friend took me home and introduced me to his family. Harmless harmless introduction. Accompanied with homemade Moroccan bread and couscous and probably the kindest and most genuine host family I’ve met in a while. Needless to say, I feel in love with Moroccan food in Marrakech. And after it all, I took a train back to Rabat to say goodbye to some friends, have a last cup of my favorite tea in the world, and to go on to Mauritania. Before I left, I got an email from my friend in Marrakech. It was an honest and beautiful message. Full of potentialities and courageousness.

This is not a love story. This is a story about love. Not the mushy lovey stuff that turns your brain into baby food. It is Love for another person’s spirit. Unwarranted, on any side. Unasked for, on both sides. Undeniably inevitable. Love for all the potential possibilities. Love for the Love.

Yet, it still amazes me, that in all the time I spent in Morocco, in Rabat, Casablanca, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakech, and all the soul-defying experiences I had and beautiful souls I met - it is those three skinny grass-eating cows in the countryside that continue to stick with me wherever I go. Every time I think of Morocco, I remember that train ride. That in-between day, filled with neither heres nor theres. And when I look back at it now, I realize that it was that train ride which was the mid-point of the see-saw. There is balance in everything we do, but why do we often enjoy letting ourselves teeter and totter here and there? That train ride was the ability to give love and receive love, it was the ability to not pursue either and yet find the balance in between.

And to just keep appreciating that balance.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

On writers

"It’s quite bizarre. Most writers are solitary beings who wrote because they were sent to sit in the margins for too long and now suddenly they’re thrown into the light where their straggly hair and obscure ideas are celebrated."

I came across this interesting article called The glamourisation of the writer. Enjoy:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pitter patter rain

Pirate gypsy wayfaring soul.

There is something about gentle morning rain that makes me think about life and choices and life's choices.

The more I try to define You, the less I know.
The pieces are starting to come back together again, but they still like to tumble around, bouncing on the walls, doing somersaults. Like a child who can't get enough, can't even stop. Coeur d'enfant. Coeur de pirate. Take what you can, rummage around, find what's lost, and bring it back again. But above all else, just keep going.

Now bring me that horizon.
Bring me my horizon.