Reflections on the Nisa Helpline Fundraiser – Reconstructing Our Notions of Gendered Issues in a Principled Way

By Hamza Malik

Incoming semi-rant. This may or may not be controversial but I’ve been simmering on this issue for some time now. Granted, I’m no stranger to controversy so here goes…

It’s not a habit of mine to broadcast what I do in my personal life or where I happened to go on what particular day. Nor is this post in line with the type of content I typically tend to post. This time however, I wanted to share something that I felt warranted some attention and serious introspection. As a disclaimer, this is regarding the Muslim community and aimed at the Muslim community. If this doesn’t apply to you, happily ignore.

This past Sunday, I attended a fundraising dinner hosted by the NISA Helpline. For those who don’t know, the NISA Helpline is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide anonymous, free, social and faith-based counselling to self-identified Muslim women across North America, facing a myriad of struggles and hurdles in their life, ranging from emotional and sexual abuse to mental health issues to substance abuse, depression and even suicide prevention.

The event ran well. The keynote talks and appeals to donate were timely, inspiring, much-needed and most importantly, grounded within the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophetic tradition). It was a great night all around, Alhumdulillah.

But there was one glaring issue, that became immediately apparent, as soon as I entered the venue.

90% of the event comprised of women. And of those women (and men) I’d reckon that roughly 70% of the attendees were active volunteers or contributors to the NISA Helpline in some capacity or another. Moreover, a good chunk of the folks who turned up were young – somewhere between the 17-35 demographic. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But other than, say, 4-6 guys at our table, and a few male volunteers, it was just us. Other than a few aunties and a few middle-aged men, it was just us.

Now, I’ve got to be honest: I went to the event on a whim, largely because a friend of mine was also going.

To the other men, uncles, aunties and fellow community members out there who may be reading this, please pay heed to the following:

Organizations and outlets such as the NISA Helpline exist because of our collective failure to acknowledge the serious problems in communication that exist within the confines of our already fragmented and diverse Muslim community when it comes providing an open space for women to reach out and/or open up about the abuse, turmoil and hurdles they are facing.

These outlets exist because our cultures are steeped in poisonous and outdated notions and models of honour/’izzat that stifle the ability of women to speak out when they are being legitimately oppressed, when their fundamental God-given rights are being trampled upon with little objections from within the internal hierarchies of families and extended families. When ‘Liqn Loag Kya kaing gay/But what will the people say??” take precedence over *basic* moral considerations, what does that say about us?

I’ve lost count of the number of accounts I’ve been privy to firsthand of women having no recourse, no outlet, no single one person bearing wisdom or good advice to turn to when facing deep-rooted turmoil. It’s not an anomaly. It’s far more common than we’re even willing to acknowledge.

I’ve lost count of the accounts of women remaining silent so as not to undermine their familial ties and upset their family cohesion. Of being unable to connect with the often-awkward dispositions of their parents, unable to get through to them. In turn they are shunned as unjustifiably being rebellious byproducts of a hyper-individualistic culture. God-forbid that a woman has any semblance of God-given agency.

I’ve lost count of stories shared of women whose abuse is swept under the rug as a personal in-house problem – Granted, this isn’t exclusive to the Muslim community.

So it’s a damning indictment and a sad sign of us as a community when we see such little support (At least in my observations) on the ground for orgs like the Nisa Helpline.

Why is it that these venues and events attract women and strictly women? Why are ‘women’s’ issues constructed strictly as issues by women and strictly for women? Why does any semblance of introspection and serious consideration by a man get cast away as nothing more than an attempt to score brownie points, to be cast away as another ‘white knight’ liberal feminazi?

Make no bones about it. This isn’t some cheap attempt to score respectability points or Facebook cred. God alone knows my intentions. Nor am I speaking on behalf of the Nisa helpline. These thoughts are strictly my own. I’m tired of our passe attitude towards something that is so endemic, so undeniable and which the disparities are so huge as it relates to the overall culture of physical and psychological abuse towards women in Canada alone. The stats on violence against women alone are damning and the Muslim community is anything but immune to these problems.

This post has barely scratched the surface but the point is this: Our Deen demands that we become purveyors of good and the removers of evil and harm. It requires us to be outspoken, active and vocal opponents of oppression and injustice. My personal appeal is to support these local organizations which are doing an immense service for the community.

May God open our eyes and keep us firm upon the Truth.

Disclaimer: Please do not conflate this appeal with the toxic and Godless culture of social activism pervading our mainstream discourses.


Hamza is a 4th year political science student who possesses a keen interest in philosophy, religion and politics as a whole. When he’s not working or at school, he enjoys spending his free time reading, gaming and partaking in a variety of grassroots projects in his community.

On Marriage

By Amal Abdullah

**Note: This article is both a summary and a reflection on the event Marriage: A Discussion for Parents and Young Adults held on September 22, 2018 at SFU Surrey by Bridging Gaps Foundation in collaboration with SFU MSA. The event was taught jointly by Sh. Moutasem and Sr. Hafsa.

Part I: To Marry or Not to Marry? by Sh. Moutasem Al Hameedy

To marry or not to marry, that is the question. According to Sh. Moutasem, the answer is an unequivocal yes. But that’s not where it ends. There are a number of factors to consider before you get married.

To begin, you need to take full responsibility for whom you marry. You have to make the choice and the decision to do it yourself. Once you do, you are fully responsible. If things go wrong, you can’t go back and blame your parents or the imam or the friends who introduced you to the person.

You also need to consider the application of the texts. People hear the hadith about marrying your daughter to a man whose character and deen please you, or the one about the four criteria for which a woman is sought in marriage, and they completely stick to the literal words, often marrying off two completely incompatible people. Islam is made for real people with real lives, and it’s supposed to be applied within context. Take these as rules of thumb, and if you feel that there isn’t any compatibility, don’t feel like you have to say yes because they match up on the ahadith.

As well, you need to learn to be flexible. Research has shown that it takes, on average, seven years to get to know your spouse well. The first few years are just testing the waters. You have to be ready for surprise, and that requires that you become emotionally flexible.

With these foundational pieces of advice aside, there is a fundamental aspect we need to consider when looking for a spouse, and this is the spark. You need to feel a spark with a person in order to get a feel for whether or not the two of you are compatible. There might be qualities we look for in a potential spouse: looks, education, money, family, etc. — which is okay — but we can’t marry by the manual. A person might be a great human being and have checkmarks next to everything on your list, but if you don’t feel the spark with them, then they’re not right for you.

Anas ibn Malik narrates that Mughirah bin Shubah wanted to marry a woman. The Prophet (ﷺ) said to him: “Go and look at her, for that is more likely to create love between you.” So he did that, and married her, and mentioned how well he got along with her.

Islam treats us like human beings. Our community holds some very extreme notions about segregation, with some arguing that the religiosity of a person is linked to how little they  interact with their potential spouse before marriage. But because we are humans, we need to form a spark, and the spark only comes when the two people meet in person. It is possible for a marriage to work without a spark, but it isn’t optimal.

This is the where the criticism against online proposal-seeking comes into play: when a person seeks a spouse through an online platform, the first impression the two people have about each other is through a resume-esque profile, where they are only able to see resume-esque qualities. They are matched together only based on resume-esque criteria, such as education and work experience.

From there, they begin to chat. They get comfortable with each other, which leads to the two of them becoming emotionally hooked. When they meet in real life, the Halo Effect might even come in, where, even if they see traits in each other that are less than ideal, their brains might subconsciously overlook them because they think they know each other so well. They might even willfully overlook them, thinking it’s not that it isn’t an issue, that they’re sure they can live with it.

Social media is the worst way to get to know a person because one isn’t able to see another’s non-verbal communication. A person could write “haha” but be frowning and unhappy. A person might mean something, but write another thing. Things can be misread, or under-read, or over-read over online message. You can’t really get to know a person for who they really are though messaging or texting.

Shaykh narrated a story of a couple he knew who met online and “fell in love”. The girl was in Chicago, the guy in Toronto. Within 40 days, the girl demanded for divorce. When she had finally met him in real life, she did see mashkook traits in him, but she thought, I must be wrong, I know him so well. Turns out, the dude had absolutely no sense of hygiene. He got married and divorced a second time too.

Author’s Note: This is where I, personally, have a point to interject: anyone who knows me knows how much I absolutely detest communication via social media, for very much the same reasons as the shaykh. Despite this, my views on social media become a little bit lenient when one is using online chatting mediums for getting to know a potential spouse. The reason, from what I have observed from others’ cases, is that online, there is a physical barrier that acts as a hijab between the two people, and they can both talk in a relatively free manner and get to know each other without betraying that sense of physical modesty.

At the same time, I know and clearly see what the reservations might be about getting to know another person through online message. It’s an extremely poor method in getting to know anyone well, for a plethora of reasons.

Also, I don’t understand where a person should draw a line between getting to know a person for marriage to see whether or not they are compatible, and where they should just accept them and their flaws for who they are. There are many levels on which one could be compatible with another, and so, at what point should a person think, alright, I feel like we’re sufficiently compatible, and when should a person say, no, this person isn’t compatible enough, there’s a possibility I might find a stronger spark with another person.

Furthermore, I find myself disagreeing with this idea of a spark, just because of how subjective it is. You could feel the spark with lots of people, and you could feel the spark with nobody. You could feel the spark just because you like a person’s appearance, and you could like it because you see them doing one isolated thing you like. You could feel the spark as “love at first sight” that could later die down, but you could also feel the spark later in life, once you’ve lived with the person and gotten to know them better (Humsafar, anyone?). It’s such a subjective measure — there’s no way to quantify it, and the means to qualify it are very vague.

I understand that a huge part of this process is just trusting in emotions, and not everything can be as black and white as we’d like it to be, but the shaykh really emphasized this spark throughout the two hour lecture. While I do like the idea of the spark because of how unconventional and non-traditional it is, and how different it is from what I have heard and seen from arranged rishtas, I don’t know if it’s wise to put so much emphasis on it.

Another point of contention is how little family was mentioned in the lecture, though I would argue that is the absolutely core of how rishta work progresses. If the family isn’t interested, it doesn’t matter if the spark is as strong as a nuclear bomb, it can’t move forward at all.

On top of this, how much should a person’s family’s input count towards this matter? One could get to know a person, think that they’re compatible with them, only to introduce them to their parents who will give them a very resolute NO. What should a person do in this regard? It is unfeasible to have one’s parents run a background check on every potential, eligible single person before one starts to interact with them. What’s the line between finding the “spark”, and lining them up with what one’s parents want?

While I really did enjoy the lecture and found it to be very beneficial, I feel that it was very individualistic in its message, which seems a little bit idealistic. It presumes that young people have the freedom to find someone they are compatible with, and say yes/no out of their own accord. However, the majority of Muslim cultures don’t match with this presumption at all; in our first or second generation immigrant cultures, we’re very family-oriented people where every core decision is brought to a mutual conclusion between the family unit.

I read a book a while ago about a social work project that was done in Pakistan for poor women, and which was unsuccessful after they put it into launch. When they went back and talked to the women they were targeting, they understood that it was because women in that community don’t move forward in doing anything at all without their entire family being on board.

This is, more or less, a description of what happens in Muslim families across the board. This is what our cultures are like, and this is how our families are shaped. Young women do not do much without, at minimum, the consent of their parents. Their decisions and actions are highly shaped by the wishes of their families.

In Muslim cultures, despite the fact that we’re isolated from our home countries and we operate in these cultures millions of miles away from they originate, it is not the norm to challenge a parent’s authority. We don’t, at all, live in individualistic cultures where it is the norm to find out whether or not there is a “spark”, and young Muslims often have to settle for who their parents have decided for them, and try to create the spark on their own. And if there’s no spark, there isn’t much that can be done about it. For Muslim girls especially, marriage is the point where individualism is realized and actualized (i.e. which can easily be observed in the memes you’ll find online “Muslim girls don’t love you, they want to move out of their parents’ house and travel” etc.).

***End of Author’s Note

Before you start searching, work on yourself. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses; where you can make compromises and where you can’t; your emotional stability, where you get upset and where you get angry. We think of self development as a Western concept, but we forget how deep its Islamic roots are. When are taught to do tazkiyah, we forget that it encompasses both purification and growth.

More importantly, figure out your core values, because you’ll need to find someone with matching one. A person might be enormously kind and generous, but because you might have different core values, then might not be a good match for you. As well, work on yourself. When you know yourself, the right person will appear. If you don’t, every next person will be a candidate, and this ties back into knowing your core values.

We also need a decent, respectful medium for young people to meet. In our home countries, we’d have third parties set people up, but that’s not always possible here in the West. There need to be open channels where people meet, interact and get to know each other. It needs to happen in an organic way, too. Young people sometimes use their time at university as a way to find a spouse, because they can consider another person in a non-structured way, and observe them in unofficial settings that don’t put the pressure of “rishta work” on them. This does come with problems, because no matter how righteous a person might be, we are still human and have desires– but we have to live with the risks.

To summarize:

  1. You need to take responsibility for whomever you choose to marry. Once you make a decision to agree to the marriage, you can’t come back and blame whoever set you up in the first place, because you choose to accept them. Too often, people come back and blame the imam or the matchmaker, which turns external parties (i.e. imams and matchmakers) away from doing the job and helping other people.
  2. Apply the texts properly. Use them as a rule of thumb, don’t rigidly constrain yourself to the word. Islam is made for real people in real life situations.
  3. Prepare yourself for surprises. Marriage will test you in ways you hadn’t imagined, so you need emotional stability and flexibility.  
  4. Look out for someone with whom you can feel the spark.
  5. We need a medium for young people to minimally interact in an honest, organic way. It needs to be in person rather than online, so that they’re able to spot a spark. We can be okay in a little bit of a doubtful matter in order to avoid a major sin. This is how the maratibul ahkam, the order of precedence of rulings take place. In fact, if you know that you might commit a major sin, it is wajib to commit the smaller sin to commit the major one.



PART II: Post-Marriage: 10 Habits to Keep a Couple Compatible + Happy in Their Union in the Longterm by Sr. Hafsa Dean Thompson  

1.Love each other For the Sake of Allah (FSA). When you love someone FSA, you vow to do your utmost to honor and respect them, and fulfill all the rights that Allah gave them as a spouse.

2. Always be grateful to each other. Always look at the cup as half full, not half empty. As Muslims, we say alhamdulillah, mashaAllah, subhanAllah, etc. regularly. These phrases that are constantly on our tongue are meant to remind us of Who we need to always need to be grateful to.

  • Spouses need to compliment each other on how they look (which also demands that they should look good for each other).
  • Always remember your honeymoon period.

3. Your iman will increase and decrease during your marriage, and you might need to take from whoever is stronger at that time.

4. Communicate like best friends, and always keep the line of communication open. Learn what your spouse likes to do, what their interests are, etc., because this is how we are with our friends. When we look to the marriage of Aisha (ra) and the Prophet (saw), we see that they had such a friendly, playful relationship. They used to tease each other and play games together while he was still managing an entire community of Muslims. The Prophet (saw) used to be aware of when she was happy or upset just by how she’d talk (i.e. referencing the God of Muhammad vs God of Ibrahim).

5. Be mindful of what you’re dealing with in the society you’re living in.

6. Make room for each other to grow and blossom throughout the marriage. Sr. Hafsa knew of a couple who opened six businesses together. Whether it be traveling, studying, or anything else, ask each other what you want to do and what goals you’d like to accomplish in 5 years. If not, you’ll just be spending your time watching TV. You need to help push each other forward, because this promotes happiness in the marriage.

7. Make time for each other, no matter what. Make each other feel like they’re #1 priority

8. Fight the ego, the evil eye, and shaitan. Don’t post every moment of your relationship on social media, and be careful who you air your laundry to, both clean and dirty. The evil eye is real.

9. “Sense” the other when they’re feeling stressed or anxious or sad. But also, express your feelings, don’t expect the other person to be a mind reader.

10. Always put Allah (swt) first.

Amal is a second-year SFU student who enjoys writing in all genres, save for the the autobiographical. She occasionally blogs at

How to Use Salah to Improve Your Mental Health

By Mishaa Khan

Prayer, or salat, the third pillar of Islam, is an obligation prescribed by Allah (SWT) upon every Muslim to seek Allah’s pleasure. However, it may be from among Allah’s blessings and signs that he has put other benefits in prayer besides spiritual salvation. Evidence from numerous studies suggests that prayer has multifaceted effects on mental wellbeing by increasing relaxation, improving coping strategies, helping with depression and anxiety, and as a preventive health care measure amongst the elderly population.

Whenever we take time out of our day for prayer, we are focusing on the relationship between us and our Creator. By doing this, we are able to temporarily change our perspective from this world to the hereafter. Modern technology has made it possible to measure and more clearly observe what effects this engagement elicits in our brains. Doufesh, Faisal, Lim & Ibrahim (2011) used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain waves of individuals using the four prayer postures: standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting.  They measured alpha waves, which are waves which indicate cortical inactivation and relaxation, and they appeared to be present in a greater magnitude. The greatest magnitude of alpha waves was during prostration. This study shows that prayer — and particularly prostration, which is said to be the point at which one is closest to Allah spiritually — has a significantly relaxing effect on people.

A second study by Doufesh, Ibrahim, Ismail, & Ahmed (2014) also used EEG and ECG when Muslim men were praying and they came to the conclusion that the alpha waves detected indicate relaxation, decrease in tension, increased focus and stability between the mind and body. Additionally, the parasympathetic (part of the nervous system used when a person is relaxed) system’s activity increased while the sympathetic (psychological fight or flight switch) system’s activity decreased. In the fast-paced turmoil of the modern era, prayer gives us the opportunity to rise above the worldly chaos and turn our attention upon our Creator, regaining a sense of perspective and peace. Relaxing can improve mental health because it allows a person to step back from their worries and be present in the moment.

Hardships and trials are a fact of life and are often difficult to deal with. By using prayer to rely on Allah, it can ease the difficulty one is facing. For example, one study found the act of prayer as having a notably positive effect on Bosnian war veterans (Pajević, Sinanović, & Hasanović, 2017). The participants were 100 Sunni Muslim front line soldiers who were between the ages of 24 and 45, were mentally healthy and had completed secondary school. They were divided into two groups: those who prayed five times a day and those who did not pray at all.  After using the Minnesota Multiphase Personal Inventory (MMPI), Profile Index of Emotions (PIE), and Life Style Questionnaire (LSQ) to evaluate personality profile, emotional profile and defense orientation, they discovered that those who prayed had lower levels of depression, histrionic, psychopathic and paranoia compared to those who did not. The results also indicated that those who prayed were significantly more incorporating and self-protecting. Their counterparts, on the other hand, performed greater in levels of uncontrollability, opposition, and aggressiveness. The researchers concluded that “those who prayed were more sociable, affectionate, obedient, cautious and shy.” Religious principles are believed to provide a coping mechanism when dealing with painful emotions because they forbid actions which can bring harm. This indicates that prayer can be helpful to deal with mental trauma as can be indicated by the Quranic verse “O you who believe! Seek help with patience and prayer; indeed Allah is with the patient.” [Al Baqarah, 2:153]. Another reason the Bosnian soldiers who prayed regularly were more likely to be resilient is because they were most probably more religious than their counterparts. In Islam, patience and reliance on Allah are qualities that are encouraged and thus, those who practice these ideas are more likely to be God-conscious. Eliminating negative stimuli and increasing dependence on Allah during hardships can lead to a better ability to stave off issues such as depression and anxiety. Further studies support the conjecture that praying helps create overall better mental health.

It’s worth exploring whether or not the benefits of salat to mental health hold true on a more regular, everyday basis. Ijaz, Khalily, & Ahmad (2017) found that 13% of the variance in mental health was due to mindfulness and perception of salat education. Their results indicated that those who offered salat regularly had better mental health than those who did not. This shows that regardless of whether an individual has suffered from a traumatic incidence, like the Bosnian war veterans, salat can still improve mental health. The reason behind this may be that salat can be used as a coping strategy to deal with anxiety and depressed moods. Because of the positive effects it has, Henry (2013) believes that prayer can be used during psychotherapy (curing of psychological diseases without medication) because it provides intimacy with Allah, inspiration, solution for problems, subjective well being, humility, interpersonal sensitivity, forgiveness from Allah, and decrease in stress. This is because it provides a connection with Allah and with the influence of faith, the benefits are augmented and diverse. Mental and physical health are tied to each other, so it is not altogether surprising that the health benefits of salah extend even beyond the aforementioned conclusions.

A study (Bai, Ye, Zhu, Zhao, & Zhang, 2012) conducted on Hui Muslims aged 60 and over who did not have any serious health conditions (including a history of neurological and psychiatric conditions) showed that praying had a similar effect on cognition as exercise. It is well established in the scientific community that exercise has been shown to improve both mental and physical wellbeing. The same holds true for prayer, according to this study. The researchers reached this conclusion after providing the participants with a physical activity questionnaire to assess the duration of physical activity and salat followed by a commonly used metric for cognitive function in older people (SCFOP) to evaluate the effects on cognition. The results indicated that there was a significant association between regular prayer and/or exercise and good cognitive functioning. Reza et al. (as cited in Pajević, Sinanović, & Hasanović, 2017) studied the musculoskeletal benefits of salat and concluded that salat provides muscle tone, improved circulation, and acts as a preventive measure for developing osteoarthritis. It also appears to improve cerebral circulation. Since salat and physical exercise have a similar effect on the body, they may also have a similar effect in the brain. Pajević, Sinanović, & Hasanović(2017) suggested that salat can increase a growth factor in the brain, which protects it by enhancing brain plasticity and the formation of new neurons, similar to one of the roles antidepressants play.

It is important to note that while scientific investigation has shown many benefits to salah, this is not the primary reason for our prayer, and nor are these benefits necessarily the reason Allah has prescribed prayer for us. We pray as submission to Allah and to seek his pleasure. We should take this information as encouragement and to feel a sense of wonder and appreciation for His wisdom and mercy, to be inspired with hope against adversity. We ask Allah to make us steadfast upon our prayers and grant us understanding of the miracles He has wrought in His creation.

And Allah knows best.

Misha’a Khan is a Behavioural Neuroscience student at SFU. She is an international student who who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, but is originally from Pakistan. Her academic interests include public policy, mental health, criminal rehabilitation, neuroplasticity and health care. In her free time, she likes to read, work out, hang out with friends and family, and explore nature.

You can read more of Mishaa’s writing here.



Bai, R., Ye, P., Zhu, C., Zhao, W., & Zhang, J. (2012). Effect of Salat Prayer and Exercise on Cognitive Functioning of Hui Muslims Aged Sixty and Over. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal,40(10), 1739-1747. doi:10.2224/sbp.2012.40.10.1739

Doufesh, H., Faisal, T., Lim, K., & Ibrahim, F. (2011). EEG Spectral Analysis on Muslim Prayers. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback,37(1), 11-18. doi:10.1007/s10484-011-9170-1

Doufesh, H., Ibrahim, F., Ismail, N. A., & Ahmad, W. A. (2014). Effect of Muslim Prayer (Salat) on α Electroencephalography and Its Relationship with Autonomic Nervous System Activity. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,20(7), 558-562. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0426

Henry, Hani M. “Spiritual Energy of Islamic Prayers as a Catalyst for Psychotherapy.” Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 54, no. 2, June 2013, pp. 387–398., doi:10.1007/s10943-013-9780-4.

Ijaz, S., Khalily, M. T., & Ahmad, I. (2017). Mindfulness in Salah Prayer and its Association with Mental Health. Journal of Religion and Health,56(6), 2297-2307. doi:10.1007/s10943-017-0413-1

Pajević, I., Sinanović, O., & Hasanović, M. (2017). Association of Islamic Prayer with Psychological Stability in Bosnian War Veterans. Journal of Religion and Health,56(6), 2317-2329. doi:10.1007/s10943-017-0431-z