MRS. KHADIJAH ABU-RAHMA was born and raised in the United States in a non-practising, Christian family. She got an opportunity to study Islam and eventually came to the fold of Islam, relocated in the UAE, and is now teaching at Abu Dhabi University. She presented a paper on “Corporatism: The Islamic Model” at the International conference held at the School of Management Sciences, Varanasi recently. MRS. SHARNAS MUTHU TT, who was also there in Varanasi to present her paper, conducted an interview with her. Excerpts:
What is your motivation of participating in this conference?
This conference focuses on the “Spiritual Paradigm for Surmounting Global Management Crisis”; as such participants, here, discussed the issues of contemporary global management crises. We discussed possible causes of the problem and have explored solutions from various schools of thought, including ancient and divine sources of knowledge. It is my opinion that Islam is often disregarded as a potential source of wisdom, reflection, and problem solving among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I believe this disregard comes from a lack of education. There are many Muslims who do not fully understand their religion. There are far greater numbers of non-Muslims who have little or no understanding of Islam. My motivation for participating in this conference was educational: my husband and I wanted to demonstrate how Islam could play a productive role in solving modern-day crises.
What proposal do you suggest for management of this crisis?
The fundamental reason of many global economic adversities is, in my opinion, a severe lack of ethics, values, and morality in the corporate sector. There may not be only one solution. Indeed, there may be several different methods, all of which achieve the same end result. Islam, notably, contains guidelines for business, which, if implemented, would contribute to positive change within the business world. The proposed Islamic Corporate Model, if implemented, could be a contribution toward a solution. At the heart of the model is one’s relationship with God. The organisation is founded upon principles from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. So naturally, Shari’ah affects all aspects and operations of the organisation. In “Corporatism: the Islamic Model” we explain how Islam serves as a practical model, in all aspects of business life and how such a model would benefit the global society.
The model is based on Islamic principles; so why do economic difficulties remain in the Middle East?
The proposed model and many of the principles we refer to are not followed strictly anywhere in the world. Leadership across the world has failed to provide sustainable leadership and direction due to profitable self-interests and myopic thinking. The Middle East is not an exception in this regard. Simply stating principles will not change a community until the community changes themselves. Moreover, globalisation and western influence (via movies, music, television, fashion, etc.) continue to play a major role in influencing youth in the Middle East, often resulting in imitation of western culture and values.
Will the “Arab Spring” help awaken modern world?
Perhaps it already is. The global “occupy” protests occurring in the United States and around the world began after the Arab Spring. The important aspect of all this is recognising the massive, global voice demanding change. People around the world are now realising the time has come to make positive change in our respective societies. What we need is innovative and sustainable models for business with strong ethical leadership practices. This is the challenge for our modern time. If we work hard and straighten out our priorities, certainly this is a challenge we can overcome.
What is the role of women in social change?
Women play a key role in social change. As I stated earlier, principle alone will not change a community. The members of that community must change first. Women are traditionally the first teachers, instilling values in their children. Women are not limited. Women, in fact, traditionally have the most difficult job in the world: motherhood. We all know what an important role women play in the family as a loving wife and caring mother. As such, women are leaders within their families. With recent political movements, I think the very active participation by women was simply a greater manifestation of that leadership. Women are certainly leaders in their families; so it shouldn’t be surprising that they can become leaders within their communities. I think minimising the importance and significance of women’s contributions in the home does a grave disservice to the empowerment of women. We ought to recognise and appreciate the importance of motherhood, along with the sacrifice that often comes with it. Women have a significant role in society as well as the world as a whole. Today, women around the world are realising their strength and social responsibilities. Throughout the protests across the Arab world, women were a visible force. Their participation in demanding positive change in their countries and communities demonstrated to the world the strength of Muslim women. All people, including women, are entitled to fight against injustice and demand dignity from their leaders. Nobel Prize winner Tawakkul Karman demonstrated how Muslim women could play an important role in social change through leadership and action.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in the United States in a non-practising, Christian family. Throughout University and Graduate School, I was involved in several student organisations, such as Student Government and the University chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success, of which I served as President. I also highly enjoyed writing and actively wrote for my University newspaper, where I eventually served as Editor-in-Chief. Upon completion of my Master’s Degree, I was offered a position of teaching for the International School of Choueifat in the UAE, where I relocated in 2010. I am now teaching at Abu Dhabi University and planning on beginning a PhD programme in Education very soon.
What was the motivation behind your reversion to Islam?
I was in high school on 9/11. I can clearly recall the subsequent questions and accusations across the nation. I was a young person asking questions and discovered Islam was not part of the problem. Rather, I found political answers to why a group of individuals would attack my country. While I was completing my Master’s Degree, I had an opportunity to travel to the Middle East, where I was first exposed to the practice of Islam. I was astonished at the dedication Muslims had to their faith. Any time the call to prayer echoed from a mosque, Muslims would pray. At any time of day, even in the middle of the day, regardless of whether or not they were working, talking with friends, or doing something else, they would pray. I was astonished. Upon my return to the US, I started researching Islam and what it meant to Muslims. A year later, by the grace of and with the guidance from Allah, I embraced Islam. Since that day, just like a fairy tale, I have lived happily ever after.
How have your family and friends reacted toward your decision?
Generally, I think, within the western culture there seems to be less family attachment. There is a lot more focus on the individual. As such, as long as no one is being hurt or abused, one’s family tends to support the personal decisions one makes for oneself. I have always loved and respected my family a great deal. My decision to become a Muslim has not impacted my relationship with them whatsoever. They love me, respect me, and treat me just as they always have. As a Muslim, though, I now better understand their importance and have a greater appreciation for my family.
I have some good friends who have remained close since my reversion to Islam. There are also friends who used to be close but with whom I am no longer in contact. This is mostly on my part, however, for choosing to only have around me those individuals who are good for me in my religion.
What is the attitude of American society toward Islam after sensational issues like September 11?
Allah (swt) said with suffering there is ease. I think there has been a blessing amidst all this controversy. The blessing is that people are now asking questions they might have otherwise asked. This is true for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims struggle with understanding how their brothers in Islam could go astray, asking questions and finding answers, thus learning more about their religion so that they better understand Islam. Non-Muslims wonder what kind of religion could foster such disdain and hatred of others, asking question about what Islam means, thus learning about a religion greatly misunderstood in many parts of the world. Any time Allah presents an opportunity for the people of Earth to learn about his religion and his creation, we should. The controversy surrounding Islam has done just that.
Do you feel that western and modern culture have influenced Arab women?
Certainly, modern western culture has influenced and will continue to influence Muslim women (and Muslims in general) throughout the world. This can easily be seen in the way some Muslim women dress, the lifestyle and family setup some Muslim women pursue, and also their religious practices and attitude. The influence of the west has both positive and negative consequences. Positive consequences with regard to technological advances, educational opportunities, etc… There are negative consequences, also, however. The most noticeable negative consequences include: indecent ways of dressing, inappropriate interactions with men, and a misunderstanding of female empowerment. The challenge for Muslims, especially Muslim women (as leaders within families and communities) is to embrace the positive aspects and disregard the negative. The ability to achieve this requires solid knowledge of Islam and strong Eeman.
How do you feel in Islam?
As I said earlier, I have lived with a sense of inner peace, personal fulfilment, and professional direction I never experienced before. Islam has freed me from previous misconceptions of success and happiness. As a Muslim woman, I feel satisfied with what Allah gives me be it great or small. At the same time, I do my best to pursue each opportunity He presents me. I am motivated to learn, study, and share information and knowledge. I feel strong, empowered, and capable of making decisions that I know are right for me in my religion. Islam has given me strength, discipline, and confidence. Allah is truly generous and merciful. I feel so blessed to be a Muslim.
What is your opinion about the status of women in Islam?
Islam raises the standards for women. Within the framework of Islam, women are empowered, protected, and encouraged to be the best of individuals. Islam maintains that our daughters have a right to live, be cared for with love with fairness, be properly educated, marry a man of her choice, obtain and own her own property, and engage in economical activities. On top of this, women are entitled to maintenance throughout her life through either her father or husband. Islam provides freedom from tyranny, freedom to value privacy, and respect for human feelings. The rules and provisions of Islam protect Muslim women from all types of atrocities faced in contemporary society and teach society to respect women.
What is your opinion about modest dress in Islam?
Modesty is an important display of faith, piety, and sincere belief in Allah. It is a commitment to following His laws. When men and women cover their bodies, they know they are doing it for the right reason: out of love for Allah. Muslims cover because He told us to.
Accordingly, Islamic modesty ensures physical modesty for both men and women. Considering that a woman’s body is not a source of sensual pleasure for man, Islam does not allow for sexy and explosive dress code for women. This moderate dress code of an educated and cultured society protects both men and women, while empowering women within the Muslim community.
How does Parda (Hijab) affect the empowerment of Muslim women?
Hijab provides safety and comfort for women. Positive change and progress for Muslim women does not depend on Hijab but on the facilities made available to women. In Islam, women have obtained the highest position, not only in knowledge and learning but also in the social and political sector.
Hijab is a woman’s modesty, a reflection of the respect she feels for herself. It is her way of showing the world that her body and hair are not commodities to be traded with glances and stares. Muslim women cover their bodies because they are worth covering. It is mechanism of humility. Hijab helps Muslim women remain humble and protect themselves from a world of conceit, where other women are obsessed with clothes, shoes, and makeup. It helps protect them from a society that dictates a woman’s success is (at least partially) determined by the shape and look of her body.
Hijab is freedom. Freedom for a woman to be herself. Freedom to be judged by her contributions, character, and values. Freedom to be modest and decent. Freedom to love and worship God.
What is your advice to Muslim women in India?
Muslim women in India, and all around the world, should remember some important rights Allah has granted us. We ought to remind ourselves and those around us that:
I am not oppressed.
I am not property.
I am free.
I am strong.
I am capable.
I am worthy.
I am important.
I am loved.
I am blessed because
I am a Muslim.