South Asian Culture and Islam

Uzma Hussain tackles the difficulties of truly practising Islam in contemporary South Asian culture by guiding her readers on a joyful discovery of Allah-given rights from a woman’s perspective.

Through looking at the figure of the South Asian Muslim woman and her relationships, namely as a daughter-in-law, as a wife and as a mother, author Uzma Hussain examples scenarios and trends that are prevalent in South Asian culture today which deny Muslim women their Islamic rights. She contrasts these un-Islamic cultural trends with numerous references from the Qur’an and examples from the Sunnah to guide the reader to various options [means] to overcome oppressive traditions and replace them with correct Islamic conduct. For all Muslim readers, the book is packed with useful reminders of Islamic teachings, and warnings, against condoning or perpetrating oppression due to acting out of ignorance, neglect, or in deliberate conflict with the rights and responsibilities due to one another in Islam.

South Asian Culture and Islam coverRegarding how she hopes the book will be useful, Hussain said that, “Ideally I think it is better to read this book when first thinking about marriage. However, it can be read at any time during a person’s life as it covers many different issues including those where there is blurring between the lines such as the South Asian joint family culture, inheritance, mahr, and others. I think this book helps to clear up some of these confused areas.” Other important issues discussed in the book include our Islamic responsibilities to our parents and our spouse’s parents, the sunnah etiquettes of respecting and protecting each other’s privacy, and a woman’s rights to education and maintaining her own identity.

Since it discusses South Asian cultural problems and explores Islamic solutions, the book is, of course, particularly valuable to South Asian Muslim families. Unstopped, oppressive practices may continue to hurt and frustrate South Asian Muslim women, and women married into South Asian families, and therefore entire families, communities and societies. Reading Hussain’s book, I learned a lot about oppressive practices in South Asian culture.

I couldn’t put the book down. As I read, I was frustrated by the current realities Hussain lays bear, but I was also encouraged by the tactical solutions she offers. Thanks to Hussain’s references to the reliable sources of the Qur’an and sunnah, and her clear, contextual judgements of how we can choose to behave in relationships in accordance with Islam, I was overwhelmingly inspired to hope that Muslims who are currently allowing these oppressions to occur may be stimulated, equipped and guided to change their actions and attitudes.

Hussain identifies three main messages of the book:

• To understand your rights

• Speak up against oppression, if possible, as this will help to eliminate it, insha’Allah

• To love Islam

Unstopped, oppressive practices may continue to hurt and frustrate South Asian Muslim women, and women married into South Asian families, and therefore entire families, communities and societies.

The whole book is written in a matter-of-fact and easy-to-read manner, and its chapters can be read in any order. Those with little or no connection to South Asian culture may like to begin their reading with a chapter towards the end of the book, “The Value of Time.” Here, Hussain references many Qur’anic ayat and ahadith that encourage and remind us, as Muslims, to focus on journeying to the Day of Judgement with a sound heart. Masha’Allah, Hussain’s compassion and Muslim fellowship for women and all Muslims on this journey seems clear. Her earnestness, for me, is a trusty invitation to use her book to derive insights for effecting positive change in any and all cultures and circumstances.

As I read, I was frustrated by the current realities Hussain lays bare, but I was also encouraged by the tactical solutions she offers.

I often benefit from companionship on my problem-solving journeys, and through her book Hussain has become a good companion. Her solution-finding method is like the supportive problem-sharing conversations I like to engage in with friends, in which I feel I am party to counselling, learning and guidance, helping me to deal with my emotions, and in which I guard against backbiting and corruptions of the heart. Hussain focuses her attention on examples of oppression without judgement or condemnation of anyone. With compassion, she uses these examples of oppression to encourage readers to understand cultural problems. She finds contextual Islamic knowledge through research of the Qur’an and Hadith, and through guidance from scholars, in particular the editor, Sheikh Ismail Mahgoub. Finally, she reflects upon this knowledge to build informed insights as to how to facilitate and effect positive change for the sake of Allah.

The book is a much needed source of knowledge and inspiration for overcoming the oppression of South Asian women and a valuable guide to the sunnah of maintaining good relations for all Muslim women and men. Alhamdulillah, I have already benefited from engaging with Hussain’s quotations from Qur’anic ayah and hadith and her insightful suggestions of putting them into practice.

The book is available to buy at greenbirdbooks.com and amazon.co.uk.

South Asian Culture & Islam in Urdu translation is also available from Amazon UK.

{O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.}

The Qur’an, Surah An-Nisa’ (the women) 4:19

Elizabeth Lymer is the children’s author of Islamic Nursery Rhymes by Greenbird Books, and Religious Rhyme Time by Mindworks Publishing. She is Editor for Young Muslimah Magazine and is on Twitter @elizabethlymer. This review was first published in SISTERS MagazineMasha’Allah Uzma Hussain has donated copies of her book to writers for Young Muslimah Magazine. An interview with Uzma Hussain will be published by Young Muslimah Magazine soon insha’Allah.

South Asian Culture and Islam cover

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