Important Figures: Fatima Al-Zahra

Fatima Al-Zahra in Arabic

Many Muslims choose to name their daughters Fatima after the youngest daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Fatima is revered by all Muslims because she was very close to the Prophet. Moreover, she is the only one of his children to give him descendants. Fatima is most often referred to as Fatima Al-Zahra (the Resplendent One) and is the focus of this post, the seventh in a series on important men and women in Islam’s history.

Fatima was the fourth daughter of Khadijah and the Prophet Muhammad. Most sources agree that she was born around 605 C.E. Fatima grew up at a difficult time in the Prophet’s life. He had just started to receive revelations and the Meccans were very hostile to the new faith. Fatima was known to be a very sensitive child and was deeply affected by the persecution that her father had to endure. There are several stories in which Fatima, even though a young child, would come to the defense of her father. One example occurred when the Prophet went to the Kaba to pray. While he was praying, some of the Meccans threw entrails of a slaughtered animal on him. Fatima ran to her father, wiped him off, and yelled at the Meccans. Continue reading

Important Figures: Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali in Arabic

One figure who has occupied a central role in the history of Islam almost from its beginnings is Ali. Like the 3 caliphs before him, Ali left an imprint on the faith that can be seen until the present day, which is why I am focusing on him as the fourth in our series on central figures. While Ali himself was not controversial and is held in high esteem by all Muslims, he is central to the question of succession after the Prophet’s death and the eventual Sunni/Shia division that resulted.

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Important Figures: Uthman ibn Affan

Uthman in Arabic

Like Abu Bakr and Umar, Uthman is a very common name among Muslims. The name is chosen to commemorate Uthman ibn Affan, the third of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, according to Sunnis. The focus of this post, the third in a series of important figures in Islamic history, is Uthman. His life and death left an imprint on the history of the faith.

Uthman was born to the powerful Banu Umayya clan in the Quraysh tribe. His father, Affan ibn Abi al-As, died as a young man and left a large inheritance for Uthman. Following in his father’s footsteps, Uthman was a successful buisnessman and became one of the wealthiest men in Quraysh. Continue reading

Ashura in a Kashmiri Village

Hunza Valley Shi'a Muslims commemorate Ashura near Ultar Peak and other Karakoram Range mountains. Photo: Randy Johnson

Reem recently wrote about the holiday Ashura, the day when many Sunni Muslims and Jews fast in recognition of Moses and the Israelites escaping from the bondage of the Egyptian Pharaoh. For many practicing Shi’a Muslims, Ashura is one of the most important days of the year. Most Shi’a view the sacrifices of Husayn and 71 others during the Battle of Karbala as a crucial turning point in Islam, saving the religion from the indulgence and tyrannical rule of Yazid.

Having taken a few courses related to Islam in college, I was vaguely familiar with Ashura, but was unaware of the significance it holds for many Muslims around the world. My first personal experience of Ashura was in 2007 during a trip to Pakistan, where I witnessed Ashura processions performed by local area Shi’a in a small village in the Northern Areas (Pakistani controlled Kashmir).

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Ashura: A Day of Fasting and Mourning

Ashura in Arabic

Today is Ashura, which is the tenth day of the first month (Muharram) of the Islamic calendar. While Ashura is significant for both Sunnis and Shia, they differ in what the day commemorates and what practices should be carried out.

Sunnis fast on this day to commemorate the day that Moses fasted in gratitude for the Israelites being saved from Pharoah. The recommendation to fast on this day come from the following hadith of the Prophet.

Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashura. He asked:”What is this?” They said: “This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Moses fasted on this day.” He said:”We have more right to Moses than you,” so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day. [Reported by al-Bukhari] Continue reading

Sunni? Shia? Or Just Muslim?

sunnishiaWhat is a Sunni? What is a Shia? These two labels–which many still struggle to clearly define–have been used to explain some of the most violent confrontations in recent years. Now it seems that discussions on the conflict in Iraq, for example, require framing the discourse with the colorings of sectarianism. In the mainstream media, it seems that the explanation for all intra-religious fighting is solely the result of longstanding discord between these two main divisions of Islam.

Personally, I never thought of myself as anything but Muslim. I suspect many other Muslims also share that sentiment. It was only in high school that I even became aware of the division. I would give talks with my friends about Islam and the question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” started to come up. Of course, your family and community play a big role in what you come to know and how you know it. Since my family was of Sunni background, I was raised in that tradition. However, I was never taught to hate or harbor ill will towards the Shia. They were Muslims who shared much with Sunnis but had certain religious doctrines that we just agreed to disagree about. Continue reading