Wednesday 7 December 2022 \

 

A week in the life of…..Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

A week in the life of…..Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

Interview with Anfal Saqib for Emel Magazine, March/April 2004.

‘I cannot live without working. I would give up and die of boredom. What keeps me motivated is the feeling that something must be done, it must be done.’

1. How do I start and end each day? - This varies according to whether I have the company of my 7 year old very lively grandson that day. I have him for 4 nights of the week, and his mother has him the other three. If he is with me, I have to keep a routine that fits in with his school times. However, when I am on my own, I usually keep strange times as for many years I found it easier to do my writing and thinking work during the night when no-one was around to disturb me, and I still tend to be wide awake until around 4 am, and then sleep until about 8am, and have another sleep in the afternoon.

It has always been my habit to pray before sleeping and on waking, whatever times these happen to be. For most of the year I am up and about at first light anyway. I did not fit in very well with my Pakistani husband, who always prayed to the time-table.

2. Typical working week. Before I retired I was the Head of Religious Education in a tough Hull inner-city secondary school – those familiar with school charts will know what that implies! Since I retired with arthritis, I spend much of my time writing, lecturing, and coaching students for the GCSE in Islam. These days it is mainly desk-work, interspersed with gardening – which is little more than thinking and designing and pottering about while a friend does the donkey-work.

My daily work includes primarily my writing work, and I have now had some 40 books published and am on the last stages of my largest and hardest manuscript – a ‘Life of the Prophet’ (pbuh). This has allowed me to bring forward my key interests – the female side of life and history, and genealogy. I have always found male history – all politics and battles – rather dull. I have been fascinated by discovering how normal it was in the Prophet’s (pbuh) time for a woman to marry four or five husbands and have children by them all. Often the connection of these sahaba with each other is not realised, if one does not know who their mother was. One splendid example would be Asma bint Umays, who married the Prophet’s (pbuh) cousin Jafar, then Abu Bakr, and finally Ali, having children to them all. Abu Bakr’s son by her, Muhammad, was born during the Farewell Pilgrimage.

The research also uncovered some amazing role-models. We think it unusual these days for a woman to be having babies when she is over 50; it was pretty common in the Prophet’s (pbuh) time, and at least two of his friends were over 50 and heavily pregnant while with him on the battlefield! I think seeing things from a woman’s eye view has enabled me to understand the Prophet (pbuh) as a real man (a great and wonderful man!), and his wives, and female relatives and friends as real women, rather than produce yet another copy of all the usual platitudes.

I was also fascinated by the ages of people when they married. In these days of paedophiles (sick men who sexually abuse children), people do not understand how non-sexual marriages for girls as young as 6-8 were considered normal, although the usual age for a girl’s first marriage seems to have been about 15. It seems that Abu Bakr’s daughter Aishah, and the Prophet’s (pbuh) daughters Ruqaiyyah and Umm Kulthum were all married well before their 10th birthdays – but none of them had experienced sexual activity before the age of at least 12 – just the same as the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh). And these were honourable weddings, not the sick gropings of depraved men.

Moreover, it was taken for granted that marriages were contracts, and that it would be highly unlikely for someone to only have one partner in life. One of the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives had been married 3 times by the time she was 17. And older women frequently married much younger men – everyone knows Khadijah was 15 years older than the Prophet (pbuh) and had already been married at least twice and had at least 5 children when she married him; others had much larger age-gaps – the Prophet’s (pbuh) adopted son Zayd married the Prophet’s (pbuh) ‘nanny’ Umm Ayman when he was 32 and she was 52. She did not give birth to the ‘beloved son of the beloved’ – Usamah – until she was 54, and was on the Battlefield of Uhud at the age of 64, waving her fists at the fleeing enemy!

See how I get carried away when caught up in my favourite subjects!

My other main work is counselling on the email. I get around 50 emails each day, many of which are from people who need advice of one sort or another. It is often to do with cultural or marital problems, or it could be theological. Most emails come from people beginning a journey into Islam, or persons who wish to attack Islam whose knowledge of Islam is usually based on the behaviour of those Muslims who abuse it, and therefore I often find myself agreeing with their complaints! Then, I get many emails from people who use me as an ‘agony aunt’, although my advice can only be personal and is not professional. The saddest thing to me is the number of male Muslims who seem to be quite happy to abuse our faith and behave very badly. I am flattered to say that a Muslim paper has recently asked me to submit some of this work (keeping the people anonymous, of course) for their pages.

For example, a lot of Asian and Arab young men have overdone their ‘dawah’ activity with white girls, and left them pregnant and in distress. The outcome is often that the girls become Muslim, amazingly in the circumstances, but their babies have a tough time of it. Not a good start in Islam for these kind-hearted but foolish girls.

I live alone (apart from the grandson), so have to do my own shopping, which I now do using my wonderful mobility scooter. I used to go round on a Honda motor-bike, until I was 60, but got to the stage where I could not handle it, and was seriously ‘grounded’ until I acquired my scooter. Now I can terrorise the pavements – but I am careful really.

I am lucky in that although I live ‘alone’ (ie no husband these days), I am not lonely. I live in my big Victorian house on the ground floor, and have used the upper rooms to take in various lodgers. At present I have two Bosnians (one married to an English boy), a South Korean and a Pakistani. Many of the people I have had living here have been refugees, especially Bosnians. I visited Bosnia to teach English at the Islamija Pedagoskca in Zenica after the Dayton Accord and made many friends. Memories of some of the horrors are truly appalling, and very sad.

My weekends do not really differ from the rest of the week, except that I frequently get a visit from another grandson on a Saturday afternoon. We go out ‘in procession’ – the 7 year old on his bike at the front, and me on the scooter with the 4 year-old. Afterwards, I need to sleep!!

3. Travels etc. I used to think life would be easier once I retired (in 1996), but I do not feel I have had a ‘day off’ yet. I have been given wonderful opportunities from people and organisations who have asked me to attend conferences and lecture, travelling to many European countries (loved Finland!), the USA (loved the Dar al-Islam in the Abiqueu Desert New Mexico where I met and learned from that great preacher Hamzah Yusuf; and Chicago where I met Yusuf Islam). The furthest I’ve been was to Singapore – and all these trips at the expense of kind people who invited me. I would not have seen much of the world without their kindness and interest.

I have found my books on sale wherever I have gone – for this I have to thank Dr Saniyasnain Khan of Goodword Books (New Delhi), the son of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, who published so much for me. Moreover, it was a friend of his, Rafiq Lodhia, who discovered my working conditions on my kitchen table, and came to my house from the States and kitted me up at his expense with all my wonderful IT equipment and paid for someone to teach me how to use it.

Sadly, I have also discovered one of the most annoying things too – the fact that so many Muslim book firms are quite content to steal a person’s work. Perhaps they think that religious authors are rich people – like those who write racy novels or even pornography. It is not the case at all. It is almost impossible for most writers to make a living out of their efforts – they usually write because they are driven to do it by something within them.

4. I don’t have a work-life balance really. I am either working, or collapsed in a heap sleeping. I cannot live without working. I would give up and die or boredom.

5. Key messages. To get people to do their best. We are not saints or geniuses, we don’t know much about ‘life, the universe and everything.’ My main soapbox subjects are abuse of non-Muslim women and girls by Muslim males, and some of the culture problems such as child brides to old men, forced marriage in the Asian culture and female circumcision in the Somali/Sudanese/Egyptian section.

6. What keeps me motivated? The feeling that something must be done, it has to be done. I was first ‘inspired’ by God when I was a child of 8, and told to ‘Be ready!’ I trained myself trying to serve God in various ways for many years without knowing what I had to be ready for – when it came, I think it was to use such ability as I have as a fast writer and worker able to communicate with simple straightforward people, to write about Islam. I was asked to write one of the first school text-books on Islam, and during that job became a convert myself. I caught the tide, as it were, and now I think that task of mine is largely done. That original book with Heinemann Press, incidentally, is still my best-seller and now forms the basis of the work of many thousands of students who study for GCSE in Islam.

Very few students do GCSE in Religious Studies in school, and most who do are Christians. I decided to make the course available to any interested person to do the study outside the classroom and be entered as a private student, and produced the materials. I am now a distance-learning tutor for the Association of Muslim Researchers (AMR), and take a handful of students through each year – but there are a vast number who do the work for themselves using my materials. These are either high-fliers at school, Muslim youngsters who wish to pick up an 'extra' GCSE, or new converts. The course has also been taken up by some prisoners. I am hoping that as the word spreads that this is possible to do, we will one day see all our youngsters finish their madrassah studies with the GCSE in Islam – a subject they could do very well in. It is of exactly the same academic value as any other GCSE, and just as useful for job interviews or college-entrance qualifications.

I wish I could still be active and full of beans, but life is a bit of a struggle these days. Allah never stops testing us, it seems. And He moves in such mysterious ways. I had a pulmonary embolism last year, and had to spend time in a pretty rough mixed hospital ward. I spent one night with a young man on either side of me, both clad in nothing but their underpants and a lot of tattoos, who had both attempted suicide over a girl. Silly idiots – at that age! They both left saying I had made them laugh, and insha’Allah they might have become Muslims. Who knows?

God bless.

Ruqaiyyah.

 

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