SHAFAQNA- “In our Mosques, there are fewer and fewer young people interested in attending except for special dates. This is not only the fault of the young people but also our fault since we should care more about them and present Islam to them in a way that is close to them and arouses their interest and encourages their participation leading them to participate more actively”.
Maryam Martinez is a Muslim who lives in Europe and a member of the Shia community of Spain and Wales. In the second part of an exclusive interview with Shafaqna, She explains about Islam in Europe.
Shafaqna: In your opinion, what is the current situation of women in Islam and Christianity?
Maryam: The situation of women has changed a lot during the last 20 years. We could say that Western women were sold the idea of freeing themselves from the oppression exerted both by society in general and in particular by men. Thus, the western and Christian woman ceased to be just a wife and mother to become part of the labor force. I think they tormented us because the result has been that this so-called “women’s liberation” has meant that we must work more – inside and outside the home and neglect our children and family. The objective that this phenomenon has achieved will collapse the family, and the situation has been worsening, with men being opposed by women, simply because they are men.
If Christian women were distinguished by their way of behaving and maintaining certain codes, we can affirm that the feminist revolution destroyed everything with the false idea that women should become independent and have the same rights. So, in the end, it has turned out that only we seem to have rights, and currently it is very easy to end any man in Spain. You only need to report him for mistreatment, even if it is false, it does not matter. At the moment they will agree with you, just because you are a woman.
So, the situation of the Christian woman has made-up a rupture of values and to move away from the true Christianity. Today nobody remembers God, and few go to mass. The woman has lost all her value, becoming pure merchandise. But I must not and cannot generalize. Although they are few, I know that there are still Christians who continue to keep their faith and are very actively trying to improve the situation of groups of people at risk or unfavorable, whether they are the poor, refugees, women or orphans.
As for women in Islam, a little of the same has certainly happened. Women today are also more independent, access university careers and are professionals in all fields. Which we should celebrate without any doubt. But at the same time the consumerist society has impacted women. And now fashion, beauty and trends have come to flood our lives. And this can be seen in the way in which many Muslims today, with or without Hijabs, dress on the streets of our cities. They have transformed their clothing according to the fashion of the moment and their bodies are shown markedly by the thinness of their clothes.
Their faces are shown wearing complete heavy makeup, appearing as porcelain dolls. In our mosques, there are fewer and fewer young people interested in attending except for special dates. This is not only the fault of the young people but also our fault since we should care more about them and present Islam to them in a way that is close to them and arouses their interest and encourages their participation leading them to participate more actively.
Briefly, I would say that religion is in crisis; in Christianity the collapse is more certain, but in Islam, despite the fact that there are more and more converts, the truth is that the new born Muslim are generally not active to say the least. And women in general are interested more in materialistic issues rather than spiritual ones. In our mosque for example, we can see very few young people, and this is worrying.
Shafaqna: What have you learned about the great women in history?
Maryam: A woman is a wonderful creation. There are really powerful forces in her, which if used for good, can change everything. There is a hadith from our beloved Prophet (PBUH) that declares: “The paradise is at the feet of mothers.” And certainly, love in women is an extraordinary and transforming force.
Now if I want to speak of the great women in history, then I will speak of Lady Fatimah Al-Zahra (S.A), since for me, she is the best example of an extraordinary woman. Not only because she is the daughter of our beloved Prophet and is the wife of our dear, wise and the greatest man who is Imam Ali (A.S) and she is the mother of our beloved Imams, Imam Hassan (A.S) and Imam Hussain (A.S) and because she is the best of all women for her excellent virtues; whom the angel Gabriel visited, during the days when his beloved father no longer lived in this world, to narrate future events, but also it is because she is whom I have in my heart, as an example to follow in my life as mother and wife.
Because when my heart hurts as I whine and complain, and then I remember her, and my sorrows are vanished. Because she gives me strength, when things go wrong. Because she is the best example that I can find in all of history. She is my ideal woman. Well, in her are all the facets that a woman can develop. She was the best believer, loving, wise, humble, political personality, warrior, and above all human and very young, to possess all those great virtues. Her death was tragic and unfair. And the location of her grave is not known. So, we can visit her anywhere and cry anywhere. Her death was very painful, and it demands justice. And her absence for our beloved Imam Ali (A.S) must have been terribly insufferable. So, she is my example to follow because I do not know any other better woman.
Shafaqna: What is the status of the Hijab in Christianity and why does the West react so much to the Hijab?
Maryam: The Hijab has been a common garment in Christianity and in other historical eras. And this can be seen throughout art history in countless paintings. Also, in churches throughout Europe, in all statutes of the virgin Mary, the Hijab is shown through a handkerchief. So personally, it is a garment that should not have scandalized or be a symbol of oppression for women. You can tell that both my mother and grandmother used it to show respect not only on a religious level but also as a social custom.
In addition, the nuns in Spain and in the world have been covered until 1975, when they began to promote the removal of their caps or scarves. For many, this modernization was truly very uncomfortable and embarrassing. So, we could say that currently there are no Christian women wearing the scarf anymore. Apart from some grandmother and the Orthodox Christians from Russia, Albania and other places. Here where I live, I also usually see some granny with a scarf, and here is the United Kingdom.
Now, I believe that all those reactions that occur against the Hijab are due to ignorance, and how much Islam has been maligned, and of course the woman in Islam. Which is almost always presented as a woman without rights, subjugated to the capricious of the male; submissive, incapable and ignorant. Thus, contributing to create a false image of the Muslim woman.
“Lady Fatimah Al-Zahra (S.A) is the ideal woman”
It has never been presented that the woman can make her own decisions, and that by her own decision she decides to use the scarf. The result is that ignorance does a lot of harm and creates stereotypes. Nor can we blame people for their ignorance, but we must teach them and explain why. For example, recently I was in Spain and people at the market called me Fatima. I smiled at them, because I thought that such a beautiful name, but at the same time I realized that they believed I am Moroccan. So, I answered them saying that it was not my name and that I am not Moroccan either but from Spain, but their faces showed me that it’s still incredulous for them. This is a cliché example, showing that only Moroccan women wear scarf. It does not enter any mind that she may be a Spanish.
So much remains to be done. People react badly to what they don’t know. And certainly, Islam is unknown throughout the West. It does not interest the elitist power because it would mean a revolution. So, the false Islam – terrorist, cutthroat, oppressor, who kills the cry of “Allahu Akbar”, is the one shown to the world to create fear and hatred. And this is repeated over and over again. True Islam remains greatly unknown in our western society.
Shafaqna: What can you tell us about Islam and Muslims in Spain and Wales?
Maryam: Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia has always been welcomed by the Spanish government. There we have the great Mosque of the M30. They have done a great job installing mosques and handing out pamphlets and books. All of this has contributed more to terrorism than to faith and knowledge. Thank God, in recent years Shia mosques have been opening in both Madrid and Andalusia. In Catalonia it is well known to all that the Pakistani emigration has been the one that has opened Shia mosques and they take to the streets for the Muharram processions. Even so, Islam in Spain is still seen as something alien to us and to our culture. It is rather something that belongs to other cultures in distant lands. And the Muslims who live in Spain are usually from Morocco who are pejoratively called “Moors”.
Today in Wales it is normal to meet Muslims from all over the world. A decade ago, there weren’t that many. And fewer women wearing Hijab were seen in workplaces. Today it is more normal to meet Muslim women working everywhere. Even so, we must be vigilant because you can always find brainless people anywhere. So, you must be alert because not everyone is welcome. But in general, they respect you and don’t usually offend you. We have our mosques and halal shops, although products can also be found in other supermarkets.
Shafaqna: What is currently left of the history of Islam in Spain?
Maryam: I have to say that despite the attempt to erase and make disappear everything that reflects Islamic culture, until it is forgotten, but it has not been achieved yet. And despite the fact that I am not an expert and that surely there are authors who explain it better and who expose the traces left by Islam. I am able to list different examples where this footprint is visible even today as in the followings:
In Architecture, we have mosques and monuments such as the Alhambra in Granada, the Mosque of Córdoba, Turkish baths in Mallorca and many others in numerous places throughout Spain. They later also left their influence throughout Europe. Astronomy built observatories in such important cities of the Islamic empire as they were: Córdoba and Toledo. They invented the pendulum and the sundial; they predicted the existence of sunspots.
Physics perfected and spread the compass, the astrolabe, the nautical chart and the Latin sail; They were also pioneering in the use of dams for the production of hydraulic energy and in the development of water clocks. Chemistry provided the first knowledge on such important products as alcohol, sulfuric acid, ammonia or mercury; We also owe them the distillation process, the art of dyeing, the tanning of leather or the tempering of steel. In addition to the application of chemistry to the pharmacy. For example, distilled water, camphor, syrups or ointments.
Mathematics which were the favorite science, along with Medicine and Astronomy. Thus, we have that many basic principles of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra due to the discoveries of their scholars. Trigonometry is the branch of mathematics they cultivated most diligently. From there, fundamental concepts such as sine, cosine and tangent were born. Today we still use the numbers and the method of counting them. For example, they spread zero (from the Arabic sifr), invented in 976 in India, although it was not used until the 13th century.
“True Islam remains greatly unknown in our western society”
Medicine we have that the first description of smallpox and measles is due to the Arab doctor Al-Razi, author of Al-Hawi (the virtuous life), an extensive work of nine volumes that constituted the entire library of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris in 1395. Pharmacology we see that its splendor stage began in Al-Andalus, in the middle of the 10th century. They named the plants in all the known languages: Romance, Berber, Greek, Latin, Classical Arabic, etc. Which later contributed to spread the knowledge of botany and pharmacology throughout the world.
Agriculture introduced tropical plants. And they also brought new crops such as: rice, cotton, asparagus, artichokes, etc., as well as novel irrigation techniques, water-lifting machines and methods for grafting plants that were previously unknown.
Universities like this, we have the madrasa or Islamic university, created in the eleventh century, was the embryo of European universities. The first to be erected in Al-Andalus (1349) was that of Malaga, followed by those of Granada and Zaragoza, the latter devoted almost exclusively to the teaching of medicine. Until the beginning of the 16th it was taught in the Arabic language. Córdoba was the world center of culture, having three universities, 80 colleges and a library with 700,000 manuscript volumes.
And more traces can be followed both in music and flamenco, games like chess, tic tac toe or backgamon. In crafts, where Arab potters had a huge influence on the art of ceramics, or glass, metal, etc. And of course, they have also left countless words in our dictionary. So, we have terms such as alembic, alcohol, coffee, orange, pillow, sofa, bathrobe, cistern, rate and a long, etc.
Shafaqna: What problems can a non-Muslim encounter in the West when embracing Islam?
Maryam: This will depend on each one and how their new situation as a Muslim is considered. But in general, you can find difficulties for your daily life such as finding halal food, abandoning friends and sometimes family due to not being able to share customs, such as sitting down to eat with family and friends, having drinks and foods that are prohibited. You can also feel rejected at first and everything will depend on how it is presented. Finding a community and mosque where you can be part of a community and thus be able to share. It is really difficult to live in an environment without a community, but it will depend on each one.
Shafaqna: In which region of Europe is Islamophobia the most, and what is the cause of it?
Maryam: I can’t say which European country is the most Islamophobic. What is certain is that Islamophobia is on the rise in all European countries. The main cause, I think, has a lot to do with government policies and with the image that the media constantly offers about Islam. Muslims turn out to be terrorists, violent, macho, and underdeveloped. That they do not adapt to the European culture therefore they pose a threat and a shock against the white European civilization.
To change this, prevention policies against Islamophobia must be implemented, but above all, information is lacking, and Muslims show us that we know and can live together in Europe. That we are also part of society and contribute positively to its advancement and progress, both socially, politically and culturally.
Shafaqna: Why did you decide to emigrate – thus acting according to the tradition of the prophet (PBUH)? And what kind of difficulties did this migration bring for you and your family?
Maryam: The main reason we decided to emigrate is because we saw it impossible to educate and raise our children, who were under 5 years old, in the Islamic faith and values of our religion. At that time in Barcelona there was no mosque or Shia community. The existing ones were Moroccan Wahhabi who we saw entering their mosques and leaving to go to the bar. In addition, we also needed to train. I had embraced Islam but had no access to train. My Iraqi husband had grown up in Kuwait under repression and was also unable to train beyond what his parents taught him. So, at that time we were unaware of any Hadith of the Prophet but we knew that Allah (SWT) says that the earth is wide and that made us migrate in search of knowledge and a community where we could all grow.
We wanted to see our children grow up in an environment more consistent with who we were and where they could be formed as believing Muslims. All this was impossible in Barcelona. The educational, social and family environment did not help and rather contributed to the fact that in the future all our hopes would be lost and by then it would be impossible to think that my daughters would be able to wear Hijab, or to train as Muslims. Here where we are we have family from my husband so they have cousins and they grow together.
The biggest difficulties are the culture here. Especially for our young people. They want to be part of the great mass and they don’t want to be apart. They do not realize that we are all different and that maintaining what we are means knowing how to say no when it contradicts our principles and values. Thus, this leads many to live a double life. One within his family environment and another very different outside. It is important to have a circle of good friends and if they are good, it does not matter if they are Muslim or not. And if not as I say to them, better be alone. Although of course at their age they need to have young people their age.
With all this, it is not easy for young people to adapt to this society. And they suffer terribly over the issue of identity. Still we believe that the seed is planted and with the help of Allah they will keep their faith and die as Muslims. We have tried to train Ahlal-Bayt in love, and whenever possible we send them to camps where they participate with other young people in talks and express their concerns. But I know it is not easy. Well, there are many temptations and they are beginning to live as adults.
Shafaqna: How does Islam affect your life as mother and wife in your social and personal life?
Maryam: Islam has personally transformed me in all areas of my life. The first and most important thing was to discard living a “dream or unreal” life for another more real and conscious. It has opened the doors of true knowledge that begins with knowing yourself so that you can know Allah (SWT). It has strengthened my heart but also made it more tender and human. It has taught me the meaning of life, and that we are passing through here, filling myself with hope for a better world here and better in the hereafter. It has educated me to overcome and be patient in the face of problems.
It has taught me to see the positive side of things to bear the negatives. But it has even given me more, the certainty of knowing that Allah (SWT) is LOVE in capital letters. Who loves us above all, and responds, so I stopped asking the people and went to trust and ask only of Him. Islam has given me the opportunity to meet the prophets, and especially the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his beloved family. And get to know them through what they did and said. Reading their sayings, Hadiths and prayers which contain immense depth and wisdom is a privilege. His words are direct arrows to hearts, which irreparably increase love for all of them and feel them as part of you.
“In churches throughout Europe, in all statutes of the virgin Mary, the Hijab is shown through a handkerchief”
Islam is the best thing that can happen to you, because it transforms you on all plans for the better. And this has a positive effect in all areas, both social and personal. As a wife, mother, it has given me greater awareness and responsibility towards everyone. The first thing I have to mention is that my husband and I formed a team. Without it there would be no impossible. I have always listened to him and his views on education have been very important to educate our children. We have managed to stay in the same direction, and he is my other necessary half. And this and faith is what moves us to continue helping them to grow and to make them responsible, good people who contribute to the creation of a fairer and better world.
Shafaqna: In your opinion, how should Islam be presented to young people in the West? And how can Islam contribute to a more complete and happy life for young people?
Maryam: This is a question that really worries me deeply and about which I think every day. Well, I’m a mother of three teenagers and an educator, and I see how young people’s lives are disoriented and lost. They flood them with innumerable “crap” and have become laboratory mice, which they try with everything. Vices are there to create action for people. And children and youth are the most vulnerable. So, what happens to them is not really their fault, but rather our responsibility to demand that they be used as laboratory rats. And it is also our responsibility to help them grow responsible and educated and offer them different things. But it is terribly complicated and difficult for young people to live in western society. They go through an adolescence with many crises from identity, loneliness, depression, and things that nobody wants to talk about. As if keeping quiet they were going to disappear!
From here, I would like to make a request to the greatest sages. So that they give guidelines to all the sheikhs in the world, with the objective set in our youth. May a movement be born in all our mosques, where they are offered an opportunity, to start a movement where they are the protagonists. Without a doubt, they are our immediate future and we cannot allow them to be lost in any way. The families that live in the West, even if not spoken, I can assure you that we suffer in silence the situation of our young people.
Finally, thank you for this opportunity to express my humble opinion, and I hope that you can contribute and help others.
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