Peaceful Families Part 3: Safe Spaces

Based on a sermon by Imam Abu Taleb at the Islamic Association of Raleigh


My honored brothers and sisters, we begin by praising and glorifying Allah, the Exalted, the Almighty and I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah alone and I bear witness that Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him is the last of His Prophets and the seal of His Messengers.

My brothers and sisters, we continue with the third khutbah in our series examining a beautiful moment in the house of the Prophet, صلى الله عليه وسلم . It is a hadeeth narrated in the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim among others, where the Mother of the Believers, A'ishah bint Abi Bakr, رضي الله عنها, shares the story of eleven women from the time of Jahiliyyah, the Pre-Islamic times of ignorance, most likely from al-Yaman.  This Hadith narrates stories about these eleven households. As we go through this Hadith, we're learning about peaceful homes. These homes give us snapshots of the things that we experience in our homes, in our friendships, in our relationships, in our workplaces. Some of the women described in this hadith give stinging criticisms of their homes and from this, men and women learn some characteristicsto rid ourselves off and to work on purifying our hearts. Some of the women give flowing praise of their homes. From it, we, men and women, learn good characteristics from our deen that we should have.

You can go back and review previous recordings in detail. In summary, the Hadith says,

عن عائشة بنت أبي بكر رضي الله عنهما قالت: جلس إحدى عشرة امرأة، فتعاهدن وتعاقدن أن لا يكتمن من أخبار أزواجهن شيئًا.

That eleven women sat and made a firm commitment and covenant to one another that they would not hide anything from the news of their households and their husbands. We said that this gathering in and of itself, is a gathering of “nameemah” and backbiting. It should not be done. A'ishah, رضي الله عنها, is sharing it as a story of old times. So the Prophet, عليه الصلاة و السلام, is not listening to and condoning the nameemah; rather he is listening to the cultural story. We learn lessons from it even if we do not repeat the same action.

The Hadith begins as follows:

:قالت الأولى

زوجي لحم جمل غث، على رأس جبل وعر لا سهل فيرتقى ولا سمين فينتقل

The first woman stated that her husband was like camel meat that you must climb a mountain to eat. Camel meat was considered cheap and was not prized among the Arabs. It doesn't taste very good, especially when it’s old. It doesn’t have much fat, it’s tough, it smells unpleasant, and it is hard to digest. In an American sense, she's almost saying, "My husband is grade D meat." In an American sense, she's saying he's not a prized meal. In this, we learn two things. This first criticism meant that the character of this man was not very good. Secondly, the man was arrogant, as if he was on top of a mountain. So neither is the character worth dealing with, meaning the meal is not tasty, and on top of it, this meal is on top of a mountain created with arrogance and feeling above people.

Some people walk as if their noses are in the sky. But the Prophet,  عليه الصلاة و السلام says,

"Whomever humbles himself before Allah, Allah elevates him."

Look at your life and measure it in this way and you will find it to be true. Those who are arrogant, Allah ‘Azz wa Jall عزوجل debases them. Those that are humble, it is they that are elevated in this life and the hereafter.

So we learn from this first example that one of the keys to a peaceful home is humility. Yes, we expect respect from each other, but we should be humble and easy on one another. This is between spouses, between parents and children, and in our friendships and other relationships.

The hadith continues:

:قالت الثانية

زوجي لا أبث خبره، إني أخاف أن لا أذره، إن أذكره أذكر عجره وبجره

The second woman describing her home said, "I don’t spread news about my husband. If I start speaking about him, I fear I shall not stop. If I mention him, I shall mention his inner and his outer flaws."

This woman referred to some flaws that are open and that everybody knows. If a person has a sharp tongue or a short temper, it's not just the household that knows this but friends and people outside notice it as well. Then there are flaws and defects within us that are known only to the closest people to us. That's why our homes are a trust from Allah سبحانه و تعالى

Regarding this home, we talked about the danger of “gheebah” and “nameemah” and “buhtan” – the dangers of backbiting and slandering. This is a great sin before Allah, سبحانه وتعالى. We said how much our families deserve that we protect the secrets of the home. It is among the greatest praises of the Prophet, صلى الله عليه و سلم, that those closest to him – his wives, the Mothers of the Believers – were most flowing in praise about himصلى الله عليه و سل .. Most of us have only one spouse, but the Prophet married several women, and the Mothers of the Believers had access to him that other companions did not get. When they saw him in private and close up, in these intimate moments in the home, he's even more special and more pure, عليه الصلاة و السلام, than a person might know from the outside.  This is the character of the believer; they are congruent and consistent in their private lives and their public lives and our homes give us a glimpse into who we are in private.

Then we move to the third home:

: قالت الثالثة

زوجي العشنق، إن أنطق أطلق وإن أسكت أعلق

It's a short phrase but with some heavy words.

The third woman said,

"زوجي العشنق"

“Zawji ‘ashnaq.” And this word “ ‘ashnaq” has no translation in the English language so we have to define it. The Arabic language has an incredibly rich vocabulary and Allah honored it with His speech in the Holy Quran that is incomparable to the speech of human beings. The scholars mention that the Arabic language has tens of millions of words. In Arabic, there are more than 60 different words describing the lion.

“ ‘Ashnaq” العشنق describes being tall, but not simply someone who is tall. In English, there are not words to describe degrees of height – you’re tall or you’re very tall. In Arabic, there are several words that describe stages of being tall. The most common one that most Arabic speakers will know is طويل (taweel). Then there are other levels, طوار (tiwaar) is even taller; and then there are other words and words like عشنط  (‘ashnaT). ‘Ashnaqعشنق in this hadeeth is like the fifth or sixth level up in degrees of height. So this wife is describing her husband as a very tall person.

Some scholars mentioned that this wife is criticizing her husband by stating that - fine he's tall, but everything else is negative. They suggested that it's a very encompassing criticism. Other scholars brought out a very subtle point. If you pick up this point, you'll get the spirit of this house. They said that in language, العشنق is a special type of tall person that is described by being very tall with an elongated but thin neck, and on top of this neck is a head that is disproportionately small. So, imagine a very, very long neck and the small head on this neck of this very tall person. It's kind of close to being “scrawny” in English. So, they said she's not describing him just physically; it's a metaphorical description that is a stinging criticism. They said it is as if she's saying he's very small minded and the head is so far up away from the heart. Imagine that the connection between his head and his heart is so long the message might not make it. She's saying that he becomes like a mind without a heart or a heart without a mind. This is the description of small-minded people.

She finishes the description by saying – “If I speak, he'll divorce me because he's very hasty, he doesn't think before he acts, he makes quick decisions. And if I'm silent, أعلق, - meaning I'll be suspended. Neither do I have the rights of a wife nor am I divorced to go on with my life."

So, she is describing a position of despair because, my brothers and sisters, you either speak or you're silent, there's no other choice.

She's saying,

"If I speak, I lose and if I'm silent, I lose."  

She's saying,

"I'm in great despair because of the small mindedness of this person."

Remember we said that these are not male characteristics or female characteristics and these are not really just between spouses. These can be in our dealings with our children, friends, community members. Some of us are tested with something of this character and إن شاء الله, we are not like this man, but maybe it is something in our heart that we can work to be better.

You know, my brothers and sisters, people that are quick to criticize are very unforgiving people.

But Allah عزوجل says in Surah ---, Verse ---,

الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاء وَالضَّرَّاء وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ

Allah describes the opposite of true believers.

"Those that give in ease and in hardship and who restrains their anger and who pardons people."

So, you see the characteristic of the believer is they don't act hastily or in anger and they let things go. They forgive people.

وَاللّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

“and Allah loves those that do good.”

My brothers and sisters, Allah is my witness that these khutab require us to have big hearts and open minds. I have not prepared sermons this difficult and heavy on my heart in a long time. As you or I review this hadeeth, we must necessarily find defects in our character that one has to work on. We should be searching for these defects and addressing them.

Many Muslims are very quick to judge and hold on to grudges for a long time and so people are afraid to speak to them. There's a beautiful poem from Imam as-Shafi, رحمه الله, and he says,

"ليس بحبيب من احتجت إلى مداراته"

That a true friend is not the one who when you're speaking to him, you're constantly watching to avoid pressing his buttons. مداراته “Madaratu” is like the things that will cause him to explode or react.

He's saying,

"This is not a true friend who when you speak to him, you have to watch every word, you don't know what will set him or her off."

لكن الحبيب من تلقي نفسك بين يديه ولا تبالي

He said, "The true friend is the one that receives you before him and you have no worries. You know that if you speak poorly or if you say something wrong, he'll help you become better. She'll help cover your faults. He'll help you have space to repent and become better. If you say something good, then they will encourage it and praise it.”

My brothers and sisters, many of us fall into this problem with our children. When we see a behavior that is not befitting, we have an unrealistic expectation that they will flip 180 degrees in a day and a night. This is not how human psychology works and this is not the sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم or of the Prophets before him. They delivered the Message for so many years among their people, and then they continued to follow up and help people step by step implement the change. Many of us, when it comes to our children, our friends, our Muslim communities, we have the most unrealistic of expectations. We think that we have the answer and we’ll see the change in a day and a night. If it was meant to be a day and a night then the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم would have been more of worthy of that speed than you and I. Allah did not give overnight victory and change to the Prophets, so why should we expect that our path is any different?

Look at Imam as-Shafi himself in a beautiful story putting this teaching into action. He had a star student by the name of ar-Rabi' ibn Sulayman al-Muradi; This student narrated many of his books and teachings and he had a very close relationship with Imam as-Shafi, رحمه الله. One time, Imam as-Shafi became very sick and ar-Rabi' went to visit him, consoling him and giving him caring words.

So ar-Rabi’ said to the Imam,

قال: قوى الله ضعفك يا إمام

When you literally translate it, it sounds unusual. He literally said, "May Allah strengthen your weakness, oh Imam."

Some phrases in language are ambiguous. In Arabic, when you ask someone how they are feeling, you say, "بعافية" (“bil ‘aafiya”) he has "عافية" which means literally "health." But if he already had health, why would he be sick? So phrases like this are a kind of hope or dua’a for what is to come. “Bil ‘aafiya” means, أن شاء الله, you will regain health. We also say this in English, "أن شاء الله, you'll feel better." So Imam as-Shafi understands this and jokes with his student.

قال: لو قوّى الله ضعفي قتلني

He said, "If Allah strengthens my weakness, He'll kill me, I'll die." If he strengthens my weakness, I'll die.

So ar-Rabi' felt embarrassed. He realized that the word could be misinterpreted.


قال: لم أقصد

He said, "I didn't mean it."

So listen to the words of Imam as-Shafi that we should bring to life in our lives.

قال: يا ربيع لو شتمتني صراحة علمت أنك لم تقصد

He said, "Oh Rabi', even if you cursed me outright, I would know that you didn’t mean it" …

In Arabic, the phrase meant, even if you said something that had no possible interpretation but the negative, I would know you did not mean to insult me. So Imam as-Shafi made it easy for his friend and assumed the best of him.

This is the character of a peaceful home and of a person who's building a peaceful home and peaceful relationships. They build safe spaces for their family and when there are good words and good actions, they encourage and praise every step to that good. As Allah عزوجل is الشكور, "As-Shakoor, The Appreciative," so we appreciate our children and encourage them. We give our loved ones good words and we keep helping people. In difficult situations, we give people space and help to be better and encouragement and hope that there can be tawbah and better behavior in the future, أن شاء الله.

End of first part.

قال تعالى:

وَالَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ وَإِذَا مَا غَضِبُوا هُمْ يَغْفِرُونَ

Allah says about the believers in the Quran that they avoid major sin and immorality and when something angers them, they forgive and let go.

Today, we're talking about the third home in the hadeeth of A'ishah called “The hadeeth of Umm Zar'a.” We learned from this hadeeth to make safe spaces in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, and in our friendships. We should choose to act with ---[kindness? Humility? Giving benefit of the doubt? Please pick a word or two here that summarizes the “take home” point you want]  and not to be quick to react.

An over sensitive person will usually take a negative interpretation of whatever comes to them.  They have سوء الظن,  (“soo’ adh-dhan”) - thinking ill of people and their words. It is closer to iman to have حسن الظن (“husn adh-dhan”) - to think well of people and give them space and implement the teachings of this hadeeth.

There's a beautiful narration of the scholar, Sa'eed ibn Jubayr, رحمه الله, with the great companion and scholar, Ibn 'Abbas. Ibn 'Abbas, رضي الله عنه, after the Prophet's, عليه الصلاة و السلام,

death, told Sa'eed ibn Jubayr, his student, to stand up and teach people.

So ibn Jubayr says,

قال: يا أبا العباس أخطب في حضرتك؟

He said, "Oh, father of al-'Abbas, will I speak in your presence?"

Meaning that how could he, a student, speak in the presence of his Shaykh and this great companion and this great scholar? Ibn 'Abbas gives us a statement that implements the teachings of this hadeeth.

قال: نعم تخطئ فأسددك

He said, "Yes if you make a mistake, I will help you become better."

This is the spirit we need in our homes. When young people make mistakes, they will not find someone more loving and more caring and more eager to see them succeed than their parents. We need the relationships and the safe spaces so that our children and our spouses trust us and trust their homes. Sadly, it is a symptom of so many Muslim homes today that our children trust 500 random Facebook friends more than they trust their fathers and their mothers. So many spouses have found this trust outside their homes more than inside. That's why we review this, إن شاء الله, seeking from Allah, سبحانه و تعالى, to repair our households.

We close, my brothers and sisters, with a story from a home from the best of the homes, the house of RasulAllah رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم with our Mother, A'ishah. In a narration in al-Bukhari, the hadeeth narrated by A'ishah, رضي الله عنها.

She says that,

قالت:  قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم إني لأعرف غضبك ورضاك

"Oh, A'ishah, I know when you are upset with me and when you are pleased."

قالت: قلت وكيف تعرف ذاك يا رسول الله

She said, "And how do you know this, oh Messenger of Allah?"

قال: إنك إذا كنت راضية قلت بلى ورب محمد وإذا كنت ساخطة قلت لا ورب إبراهيم

He said, "When you are pleased, you say, "Yes, by the Lord of Muhammad" and when you are upset you say, "No, by the Lord of Ibraheem." 

So she replied,

قلت: أجل لست أهاجر إلا اسمك

She said, "Yes, but Oh Messenger of Allah, I leave nothing but your name."

This story, my brothers and sisters, leaves us with a tool that we need to repair our homes and our friendships. So many of us that have become oversensitive and we overreact in times of anger. Look at how this great house deals with the moments of a being a little bit upset or angry.

On one hand, if the Prophet, عليه الصلاة و السلام, is angry at anyone, it is they that are losing because of his displeasure. Yet, because of because of her age, the Prophet, عليه الصلاة و السلام, gives her space and respects when she is displeased with him, even in his blessed house. Unfortunately, there are homes where our children and our wives cannot show any displeasure with their spouse or parent, and that has to change.

On the other hand, look at A'ishah, the Mother of the Believers. When she's angry, she does not drop everything in the house and stop doing her role. She doesn’t stop parenting,or use the kids or other things as means of vengeance. All she does is stop using the Prophet Muhammad’s (S) name and says Ibraheem instead.

So we ask Allah, عزوجل, and we are earnestly in need of His mercy. We ask Allah to shower mercy upon our homes. We ask Allah, عزوجل, to grant us open hearts and open minds, to grant us patience in our relationships. We ask Allah, عزوجل, to grant us حسن الظن and to think well of others in their words. We ask Allah, عزوجل, to make us from those that restrain our anger and those who forgive quickly and often. We ask Allah, عزوجل, to save our tongues from backbiting and evil speech. We ask Allah to have mercy on our parents as they raised us when we were young and to have mercy on those suffering across the world.

Ending dua'a.