A Reflection on Death

A few months ago, I went through one of the biggest trials in my life.

People say this a lot, but it really felt like the darkest of all my days. Those moments have swelled to tower over all others in my life, eclipsing the days that came before and the ones that have come since. 

I lost someone very close to me. Someone I loved dearly.

I’ve seen loss and grown up aware that we will all feel its touch at some point. After all, Allah ﷻ says in the Quran ‘Every soul shall taste death’ (3:185). I’ve seen the lives of friends, family, and strangers afflicted by death and I’ve seen what happens to the ones left behind. 

Nevertheless, death felt so far away from me. I know now that the signs were there all along and this is a fact of life that Islam prepares us for. But thinking about death & loss, and experiencing it couldn’t have been more unalike.

I guess what I’m trying to say is pondering upon death, for me anyway, was from a position where I could tune in and out, back to the comfort of everyday, worldly life. Experiencing loss, however, meant it became my relentless companion from the moment my eyes opened upon waking, to the nights where I would will myself to sleep because that was my only respite. I don’t know, perhaps if my Iman had been stronger it would have been different.

I think about death a lot now. Maybe it should have been this way all along, and this was the jolt I needed to make me realise that.

I don’t know but I don’t doubt the wisdom of Allah ﷻ. 

Between the tears and the loneliness, I managed to find refuge in Him. I’d pour my heart out to Him in sujood. When I couldn’t find the words, I know He understood anyway. On the more difficult days, between sobbing until my eyes felt raw, I’d manage to squeeze out “inna lilahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un'' and that soothed my heart a little. 

For many years when the occasion called for it, I’d utter the phrase To Allah we belong and to Him is our return, almost automatically as a gesture of condolence, but the words seemed to take on a new meaning now.

I’m always reminded of what Yasmin Mogahed says in her book ‘How to Reclaim your Heart’ –

“My body came from the ground and it will go back to the ground, as it came. It was only a shell, a container for my soul. A companion for a while. But I’ll leave it here when I arrive. Arrive—not depart. Because that’s my home. Not this. That’s why when Allah (swt) is calling back the righteous soul, He says, ‘irjiee’: return (Qur’an, 89:28).” 

As a society, we are very negligent of death. It is the elephant in the room. We all know it’s there looming in the corner, but we go about our lives trying to ignore this shadow in our peripheral vision. In the end, this does more harm than good, and we find ourselves feeling lost in the face of death. Rather than avoiding this topic, we need to face it head-on with the tools and insight Islam provides us with. 

Islam allows us to view death through a unique lens, as the afterlife is given so much importance and status over the first:

“And surely the hereafter will be better for you than the first (life).” 

(93:4)

By truly learning to appreciate that this life is temporary, we realise that every trial and tribulation we experience in it is part of a bigger plan, for which we will be recompensed and rewarded if we patiently endure (God willing). This in itself, is a blessing that has been afforded to us by Allah ﷻ.

As for me, I don’t wish any of it happened any differently. I know I had my own shortcomings and weaknesses in faith. I know I had love for this Dunya in my heart. Perhaps, if I had internalised the Islamic attitude to death, I would have been more prepared for this unavoidable eventuality.

Despite this all, Allah guided me in the most painful but beautiful way. Sometimes it takes losing something to be able to see the blessings you had all along. 

Grieving the death of a loved one is not a singular event; it is on-going, perhaps an even lifelong experience. Even within this, which may be the most difficult thing any one of us endure in our time in the Dunya, we can find countless blessings.

Even in the pain and sorrow of death, we can witness the completeness of our Deen.

I cannot enumerate the favours Allah bestowed upon me during this time, and I won't attempt to. However, for me, grief became a catalyst to reassess and realign my priorities. This separation forced me to reflect on how I was preparing for the day that I would depart from this world. What had I sent forth for my akhirah? How much time had I invested in it relative to this life? Was I doing everything I could? These questions, although difficult, were necessary for me to realise how far I was from the state I wished to die in, but also that as long as I am breathing, I still have time to act to change this. 

I don’t wish to tell anyone how to grieve. And I don’t wish to portray grief and the agony of it as a deficit of faith. After the death of his son Ibrahim, our Prophet ﷺ articulated his own pain so eloquently. Turning his face towards the mountain he ﷺ said:

“O mountain! If you had the sorrow that I have, you would be destroyed and broken into pieces. However, we say what Allah orders us to say, ‘To Allah we belong and to Him is our return’.”

During his lifetime, Allah tested his most beloved slave, حَبِيْبَُ ٱلله, with the deaths of so many of his loved ones - his wife Khadijah (R.A), his uncle Abu Talib, and all of his children but one (R.A), amongst countless others. Through his noble example, and the way in which he conducted himself in the face of unimaginable loss and sorrow, we can find guidance in how we too should cope when confronted with death. 

Further highlighting the depth of his sorrow after the passing of Ibrahim, the Prophet ﷺ was also recorded as saying:

"The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation."

From his example, we learn that not even the Prophet ﷺ was immune to the anguish of separation, despite not being attached to this worldly life at all. From him, we learn it is ok to cry and feel pain and grieve, as he did, however, we should guard our tongues and not let our grief lead us to say that which displeases Allah. Furthermore, he advised us not to wail, tear our clothes, or strike ourselves when mourning our dead but this doesn’t mean we can’t express our grief in other ways.

There is no one way to process loss or a timeline grief should adhere to. But we have been blessed beyond measure with a religion that helps it all make sense. In the end, I know where I am headed and I know, if Allah decrees it, I shall be with my loved one again.

China's Injustices Against Uighur Muslims

As part of our Islamophobia Awareness Month Campaign we wanted to raise awareness of what is happening to Uighur Muslims in China.

Who are the Uighur?

The Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group comprising around 13.5 million people. Around 11 million live in the Xinjiang region of Northwest China where they are native to. This region was traditionally known as East Turkestan and is China’s biggest region. Xinjiang is a designated “special economic zone” due to its abundance of oil and mineral supplies. It is also China’s largest producer of natural gas and is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure project whereby Chinese companies are constructing roads, pipelines and railroads globally. It is autonomous, meaning it is theoretically self-governed, however it has faced major restrictions from the Chinese government especially in recent years. There has been a cultural genocide against the Uighur people with human rights abuses, mass surveillance and no freedom of religion. 

History of the Xinjiang Conflict

The Xinjiang Conflict dates back to 1931 and the First East Turkestan Republic was established in 1933, this was then overthrown in 1934 by Sheng Shicai, a Chinese warlord, who received aid from the Soviet Union. Although already in use, it was in this period that the term "Uighur" was first used officially over the generic "Turkic", as part of an effort to "undermine potential broader bases of identity" such as Turkic or Muslim

The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region was established in 1955. In the late 1950s and early 1960s between 60,000 and 200,000 Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities fled China to the USSR primarily due to the “Great Leap Forward” - a social and economic plan by the Chinese Communist Party which had the aim of taking the country from an agricultural society to a communist one via the creation of “people’s communes”. The political relationship between China and the USSR worsened and the Soviets formed a propaganda campaign criticising China and encouraged minority groups to migrate. 

From the 1950s to the 1970s, a state sponsored mass migration into the Xinjiang province raised the number of Han Chinese people from 7% to 40% of the population. During this time there was a decreasing infant-mortality rate, better medical care and a laxity in China's one-child policy which helped the Uighur population in Xinjiang grow from four million in the 1960s to eight million in 2001.

Since the 1960s there has been increasing tension and violence in the region and in 1997, a police roundup and the execution of 30 suspected Uighur separatists during Ramadan resulted in mass demonstrations beginning on 3rd February of that year. This resulted in the Ghulja incident, a crackdown by the People’s Liberation Party who after two days of protests, dispersed protestors using clubs, water cannon and tear gas, some were killed by the Chinese Army gunfire. Official reports say 9 people died, while others estimated the number killed at more than 100 and even as many as 167. According to some reports, in the aftermath up to 1600 people were arrested on charges of intending to "split the motherland", conducting criminal activity, fundamental religious activity, and counter-revolutionary activities following the crackdown.

“Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” Campaign 2014

The Chinese government created a campaign known as the “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” campaign in 2014. They began to increase their military presence in Xinjiang under the Chinese Community Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. They also introduced perverse restrictions on the civil liberties of the Uighurs. China has legitimized it’s policies in Xinjiang by using the global “war on terror” of the 2000s to portray separatist unrest as Islamic terrorism. 

The crackdown on civil liberties includes mass digital surveillance through the regular targeting of phones, computers and other digital devices. Authorities have collected the DNA, iris scans, and voice samples of the Uighur population, they also use digitally coded ID cards to track the movements of the Uighur people, and use CCTV cameras to watch their homes, streets, and marketplaces. The Chinese government had increased surveillance through ensuring the police look out for signs of "religious extremism" that include owning books about Uighurs, growing a beard, having a prayer rug, or quitting smoking or drinking. The government had also installed cameras in the homes of private citizens.

Since this campaign the number of people officially arrested has tripled compared to the previous 5 years, according to official figures and estimates by the nongovernmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The government has held people in pretrial detention centers and prisons, both of which are formal facilities, and in political education camps, which have no basis under Chinese law. Those detained have been denied due process rights and suffered torture and other ill-treatment

Internment Camps and Restrictions

From 2014 onwards the situation in Xinjiang has worsened for the Uighurs. Since 2015, it has been estimated that over a million Uighurs have been detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps, other sources suggest there are up to 3 million people in these camps. They were established under General Secretary Xi Jinping's administration with the aim of ensuring adherence to national ideology. There are over 85 camps within Xinjiang, which the Chinese government refers to as “re-education centres”, they have justified their actions as responding to "ethnic separatism and violent terrorist criminal activities". 

In 2017, the Xinjiang government passed a series of legislation that targets elements of the Muslim identity, such as preventing men from growing beards and women from wearing veils. Giving a child a name that would "exaggerate religious fervour," such as Muhammad, is illegal. A person can be imprisoned in internment camps for the “crimes” listed and also for having WhatsApp on their phone, having family members who live abroad, or for no reason at all.

Inside the camps, Uighurs are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party, memorize rules applicable primarily to Turkic Muslims, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and criticise or renounce Islam. They are told they may not be allowed to leave the camps unless they have learned over 1,000 Chinese characters or are otherwise deemed to have become loyal Chinese subjects. 

A former detainee, Omir, said regarding the concentration camps:

"They wouldn't let me sleep, they would hang me up for hours and would beat me. They had thick wooden and rubber batons, whips made from twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, pliers for pulling out the nails. All these tools were displayed on the table in front of me, ready to use at any time. And I could hear other people screaming as well."

Outside of the camps there is no freedom of religion: there have been around 5000 masaajid demolished in the region and those that are left are heavily monitored, however there are no Imams left as they have been put into concentration camps. In one area, Kashgar, over 70% of the masaajid have been destroyed. Praying, fasting, saying salaam, celebrating Eid, halal food, having Islamic weddings at home are all forbidden and the government rewards people that have reported Uighurs with up to approximately £5600. 

The government has encouraged Uighur couples to have fewer children and incentivised marriages between Uighurs and Han Chinese people, giving around £1,085 per year for the first 5 years to intermarried couples. In January 2020, a CNN report based on an analysis of Google Maps satellite imagery said that Chinese authorities have destroyed more than 100 graveyards in Xinjiang, primarily Uighur ones. In 2018, Chinese public servants began compulsory home stays with Uighur families for assimilation aid. Human rights abuses have taken place including forced sterilization and contraception. A 37-year-old pregnant woman from the Xinjiang region said she attempted to give up her Chinese citizenship to live in Kazakhstan but was told by the Chinese government that she had to come back to China to complete the process. She received an abortion and said it was required to prevent her brother from being detained in an internment camp. There have also been allegations of organ harvesting in Xinjiang since the 1990s and in 2001 a Chinese asylum-seeking doctor testified that he had taken part in organ extraction operations

It's clear to see that the Chinese government has long propagated anti-Muslim sentiment across China and fostered a culture of fear, suspicion and hostility within the Xinjiang region, contributing to the increasing globalised Islamophobia and stigmatisation of Muslims. The Uighur people are victims of human rights atrocities and forced political indoctrination, restrictions on their movement and communication, and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law. They are facing the erasure of their Muslim and cultural identities as a result of the Chinese government’s state-sponsored genocide.

The Science of Chai☕

Yes, that’s right – I’ve just made quite a bold statement that there is a science to the perfect cup of chai, bear with me. Notice I said chai and not tea, that’s because the humble English breakfast tea cannot compare with chai - a drink of rich culture, beauty and pure happiness. 

To you, chai might be  چائے, شاي  shaah, or even chaa - but regardless of the name, it is truly something that transcends borders and sometimes even continents. With chai being a staple at most ISoc events, we want to equip you with the know-how on a fantastic, fool-proof cup of chai from the comfort of your own homes – for your parents, for those long days of zoom lectures, or even before the weekly story night 😉

For the ingredients, you will need:

-   Water

-   Tea Bags (PG TIPS are elite but we’ll let Yorkshire tea slide)

-   Sugar or any other sweetener of your choice

-   Chai Masala (because as students we can’t be dealing with the hassle of using whole spices)

-   Cardamom (Elichi) Powder

-   Milk (full fat of course, but semi skimmed is calm too – PSA: RED TOPPED MILK SHOULD BE ILLEGAL - FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY NEVER USE IT)

-   Mint/ginger (optional)

Utensils:

-   Mug

-   Saucepan

-   Tea Strainer

[This recipe serves 2]

Step 1: In your mug of choice, measure out a full mug of cold water from the tap 🚰 (or filtered water if you’re boujee like that), pour into a saucepan at medium high heat with half a teaspoon of chai masala and half a teaspoon of cardamom powder – bring to boil [just as you would water for pasta].

Step 2: Add sugar (for me it would be 1 and a half teaspoons – controversial, I know) and add the tea bag when you see bubbles in the water but a roaring boil hasn’t been reached.

Step 3: Allow the tea to infuse in the water and spices, when a roaring boil happens, put your hob on medium heat.

Step 4: Add a mug’s worth of milk 🥛 into the pan and let it simmer on low for about 3 mins.

Note: If you are Libyan 🇱🇾 and reading this, please add evaporated milk!

Note two: To my Somali 🇸🇴 people out there, don’t forget to add nido milk powder, your Hooyo will be proud insh’Allah!

Step 5: Crank up the heat to medium, it will eventually start bubbling and rising, when this happens, QUICKLY put the heat on low (spilt chai you’ll definitely cry over)

Step 6: Add mint or a small bit of peeled ginger (it’s especially nice in winter❄️), if you’re too excited you can skip this step and strain your tea into a mug - ready to drink (remember to say bismillah).

I hope all of you guys try this at least once, let me know what you think 💭in the comments below, tag your stories with @manchesterisoc so we can assemble our chai family and put these local chai shops to the test! Most importantly, do share your own chai recipes in the comments below and see if you one-up us. We’d love to hear them 🙂

Islamophobia - A problem for everyone

وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُون

And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. [Qur’an 3:104]

So, it’s Islamophobia Awareness Month, and that means it's a month to highlight the impact of Islamophobia, but also how we can respond to it. It’s important to speak about this as Islamophobia is real and affects many lives on a daily basis, even in the most subtle of ways.  It’s especially relevant in today's society due to what’s happening in the world and can manifest itself in different ways. Therefore, as a Muslim community, we have a responsibility to do something about this and to raise awareness on this issue for ourselves and for others. Even if you may think that this does not affect you personally, it does, and the problem cannot be ignored. Islamophobia has a huge impact on millions of people around the world and within our own societies and we need to be sympathetic to the suffering of all those around us.

Nu'man b. Bashir reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” [Sahih Muslim 2586]

Islam is a religion which brings benefit and prosperity to society and removes harm. So, we must understand that we need to act in order to bring about a change in our society and rid it of this form of oppression. Allah (SWT) has created us all and given us specific strengths and abilities, things that can be used to help in some way, shape, or form. Even if this is just speaking out when given the opportunity to do so, we need to show a firm stance against Islamophobia to show that it’s not acceptable and will not be tolerated, be it on an individual or an organisational level. But, in order to do this we need to ensure that we all work together to ensure that Islamophobia doesn’t ever become acceptable or the norm.

On the authority of Abu Sa'eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [40 Hadith Nawawi 34]

So, as a Muslim or a student, what are some practical things that you can actually do to hold your ground against those who wish to offend you and your religion?

Ground everything you do in Qur’an and Sunnah

Firstly, everything that you do must be rooted in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, these are a guide on how to live your life so do your best to uphold these values. Our Prophet SAW experienced some of the greatest hardships by his own community and family as a result of his religion. He was subject to horrible insults and physical harm. But, he remained steadfast and persevered, he did not lose heart over this, or retaliate, or wish his oppressors harm. But, instead he had sabr (patience), prayed for their guidance, and continued to show Islam in the best light. He remained upright in character and is someone that we should strive to emulate through any hardships and trials we may face. So, treat those who may treat you poorly with kindness where you can, because they may be unaware of the truth and beauty of Islam, but you can show them insha’Allah.

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيم

وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيم

And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon, the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good] [Qur’an 41:34-35]

It’s important to emulate the qualities of a good Muslim, embody these through your words and your actions, and exhibit these in your everyday life. For example, I once heard someone say that after a kind action someone may have thanked or praised them for, they would follow this up by explaining that this principle is ingrained in them due to their religion and the Prophet (SAW). They would use it as an opportunity to attribute the good to Islam and to educate someone on the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. This just a subtle gesture, but when carried out, would help to show the benefits of Islam in a positive light on this indivudal level.

Focus on Education

Educate yourself and educate others on what Islam is really about. In order to stand up for the truth of your religion, you need to understand how to. You need to educate yourself and comprehend fundamental aspects so that you are able to respond in a way that represents the reality of Islam. You need to know how to be challenged, but still represent your religion in the best light. In addition, it’s important to educate yourself and other Muslims and non-Muslims about the reality and impact of hate crimes in general, and then specifically about Islamophobia. People need to realise that a problem does exist, that it happens more frequently than they may think, and that there are things that we can do about it. Things that need to be done for the greater good of the entire society, in order to have a cohesive society. But in order to do this, we need to engage people on all levels and educate them first.

Shift the Narrative

Constantly in society we are inundated with stereotypes and narratives which portray Muslims and Islam in a negative light. These things help to create a society of covert and overt forms of Islamophobia and facilitates the manifestation of it in different forms. Islam is either shown in a negative light, riddled with misconceptions or is portrayed in a way which is not the way of practising Islam we know, love and try to exhibit. So instead, we must do our best to create spaces for critical conversations where people are welcome to truly understand the context and implications of Islamophobia, so we can work to shift the narrative. We need to encourage people to challenge the media that they consume, and to question the lens through which they see the world. We need society as a whole, to demand responsible reporting and journalism, which will then only naturally lend itself to Islam being shown in the way that it really is.

Participate

Use your skills to show the array of strengths the Muslim Ummah has which continue to benefit the wider society. Put yourself in positions where you are involved in discussions so you can educate people. Dialogue breeds understanding and so by working and collaborating with others, barriers will be broken and it will be seen that we can work together. These opportunities can then also be used to highlight the reality and harms of Islamophobia, the urgency of which it needs to be addressed and the action that needs to be done to truly shift the narrative in the institutions that need it the most. In addition, as students, being more active in politics and elections would allow us to engage in this aspect of society and potentially lead to more representation and democracy in these important aspects of life.

Be Strong

In a society where it is frowned upon to show or practice your religion, do your best to stand tall and be proud! Be proud of your religion, cherish salah, your hijab, beard, abaya, and all the small things with which we can represent Islam. Stand up for what you believe and vocalise things such as how our Prophet (SAW) is someone to be honoured. The Qur’an says “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to mankind.” [Qur’an 21:107]. So, we should be proud and stand up to uphold our religion and all the good that it contains. Even as Islam and Muslims are being subject to increasing hatred, you practising your Islam in the best way by following the Qur’an and Sunnah will not only positively influence you as an individual, but also as a member of society. However, with this said, please also ensure that you keep yourself safe at all times and do not do anything that puts you in harm’s way. Assess your own circumstances and situation. But where you can, be strong and unapologetically Muslim.

Speak Out

Also, remember not to stand for the abuse and misrepresentation. Encourage people to speak out and defend their religion from those who wish to cause harm. Challenge peoples views or if not in a position to do so then at least report them! If you are attacked, speak out on it and don’t let it go undealt with. Islamophobia is recognised as a hate crime so please report incidences of that you, your family or friends may encounter.  Since we live in a time where people try to deny the existence of Islamophobia or try to trivialise its effects, people may not know or acknowledge how often it happens and how big of an issue it is unless we highlight the issue! Whether that is through our University Chaplain - Muhammad Ullah (mohammed.ullah@manchester.ac.uk), or through the University Report and Support Sevice (https://www.reportandsupport.manchester.ac.uk/) or perhaps speaking to organisations such as MEND (https://www.mend.org.uk/report-islamophobia/report-an-incident/). And we as an ISoc are always here for you, please reach out to us (https://www.manchesterisoc.com/contact-us/) and the person best suited to help will respond to you directly or you can email our welfare lead, Laman, and she’ll be able to support you as well (welfarelead@manchesterisoc.com). So, we need to record and speak out; whether this is online, in person, via the media or elsewhere. But, there needs to be information on the issue so that institutions and organisations know where the issues are and what steps can be taken. But, through everything, know that you are not alone and that you don’t have to keep things to yourself! There is a whole community behind you who can and will support you insha’Allah.

Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Let not one of you belittle himself.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, how does one belittle himself?” The Prophet said, “He finds a matter regarding Allah about which he should speak up but he does not. Allah the Exalted will say to him on the Day of Resurrection: What prevented you from speaking up about such a matter? He will say: It was out of fear of the people. Allah will say: Rather, it is I who deserved to be feared.” [Sunan Ibn Majah 4008]

It’s important that people's voices are heard, and we must not only complain about the poor portrayal of Muslims in the media, but we must also couple this with action. So, speak about these issues, and speak about what the resolutions could be. In a world of social media and marketing, it is important that we use our platforms to ensure that our voices are heard, and portrayed in the positive light they should be. 

Make Du’a

And finally, although this should be the first thing you do, make Du’a! Make plentiful dua to Allah (SWT) before you begin anything. Your dua should be the first action that you take on the road to changing the hearts and minds of a society which may hold Islamophobic views. Be like the Prophet SAW who made dua for the people of Quraysh and the people of Taif, despite how they abused or tortured him, he made dua not for their downfall but for their guidance. Make dua as your first step, and then engage and take a stand, and begin on your road to doing what you can - no matter how small - to create a more tolerant society.

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُون

 “And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an 2:186]

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِن تَنصُرُواْ ٱللَّهَ يَنصُرۡكُمۡ وَيُثَبِّتۡ أَقۡدَامَكُمۡ

O you who have believed, if you support Allah, He will support you and plant firmly your feet. [Qur’an 47:7]

The Dawn of Islam in West Africa

West Africa, often an overlooked part of the Muslim world, is a place with a rich, and lengthy Islamic history. Islam first appeared here during the early 8th century and has had a strong influence ever since.

But how much do we know about this history? 

How often do we even hear about the 135 million Muslims living there today?

We wish to give you an insight into how Islam went from being the religion of the passing Arab traders to becoming the major state religion of various empires in the region – now practised by 54% of those living there today.

By learning more about the history of this area, we can give our West African brothers and sisters in Islam the recognition they deserve and begin to appreciate to what extent Islam belongs to all people of all colours.

The coming of Islam

Islam first came to West Africa in the 8th century. From there it spread slowly over hundreds of years in a peaceful process involving missionaries, traders, and scholars.

By this point, Islam was already widespread in neighbouring North Africa after the area was conquered by the Umayyad dynasty of Syria in the mid-7th century.

The Amazigh (also known as Berbers), the native inhabitants of North Africa, played an important part  in its spread via trade routes that crossed south through the Sahara and deep into West Africa.

Islam and trade

Early Islam was limited to communities living near the trans-Saharan trade route. Visiting Arabs and Amazigh built settlements along these routes, as mentioned by the Arab-Andalusian scholar Al-Bakri.

The great empires of West Africa were famous for their trade in salt and gold; the two largest and most valuable commodities being exported. Dates, camels, horses, timber, and local foods were also traded along the network spanning from north to south of the Sahara Desert and below it.

Although the local people of Ghana did not accept Islam, they were tolerant of it and allowed Muslim traders to settle in their lands. The king of Ghana also allowed Muslims to live in Kumbi (a great market town of the Ghana Empire) where they built 12 mosques and even had their own imam.

Bilad-al-Sudan

Although modern-day Sudan is the name of a country in the northeast of Africa (all the way on the other side of the continent), historically Sudan has been used to refer to a different part of Africa.

The word Sudan comes from Bilad-al-Sudan literally ‘Land of the Blacks’ – a term used by the earliest Arabs who came into contact with the lands of the black people living below the Sahara.

In this context, West Sudan refers to a large portion of West Africa where multiple empires inhabited, the three biggest empires, and most important in the spread of Islam, were:

See the source image
Fun Fact: The Ghana Empire we mentioned is different to modern day Ghana, they’re in different locations, but modern day Ghana actually named itself in tribute to the old Empire!

The Kingdom of Ghana under The Almoravids

The Almoravids (from al-Murabit literally meaning “one who is trying”) were a Muslim Amazigh dynasty centred in Morocco. 

During the 11th century, they conquered the Ghana Empire to the south and imposed a ‘fundamentalist’ version of Islam on the local populations in an attempt to purify their beliefs.

Their conquest of the kingdom gave the conversion process new energy - under them the Islamic practices and laws of the population of Ghana became outwardly more uniform with a shift from Islam being mixed with traditional beliefs, to what the Almoravids believed to be true Islam.

However, they didn’t hold power in the region for long. Their rule over the Ghana Empire soon weakened and they eventually pushed the people of Ghana over the edge through excessive taxing and political agitation. The Ghana empire eventually collapsed into smaller tribal groups, losing its position of power by 1100.

Mansa Musa and the Rise of the Mali Empire

Towards the south, while the Ghana Empire was still thriving, the Mande (a collection of ethnic groups in the region) had also accepted Islam. During this time the religious climate was relatively open. The fact Muslims were tolerant towards the traditional spiritual beliefs of West Africans allowed Islam to spread more easily. Rulers became the first to accept Islam and blended it with the traditional beliefs of the region, and over time the local population followed in their footsteps.

After accepting Islam, the Mande went on to conquer Kumbi (the large market town of the Ghana Empire mentioned earlier) and took control of trade routes in the area. Kumbi was the last of the capitals of the Kingdom of Ghana before the Empire crumbled.

Out of the ruins of the Ghana Empire rose a new superpower in the region - the Mali Empire. 

While the founder of this empire wasn’t Muslim, by the year 1300 its rulers most definitely were. The most famous ruler of the Mali Empire was Mansa Musa, and under him, Islam took on a new status within the kingdom.

Mansa Musa made Islam the state religion of Mali – encouraging merchants, traders, and scholars from Egypt and North Africa to come to Mali to both trade and settle. Islam also introduced the skill of literacy to what had previously been a largely oral society, allowing scholars to now record traditions and history in books.

Mansa Musa gave the Mali Empire fame when he went to Hajj in 1324. 

He travelled more than 3000 miles to Makkah, with as many as 80,000 people accompanying him there. On his way, he stopped at Cairo after travelling for 8 months, along with his caravan of 200 camels carrying 30,000 pounds of gold, along with food, clothing, and supplies.

In Egypt, his donations and spending were so generous that he caused a recession from which it took the economy 10 years to recover.

When word began to spread in Makkah and Madinah that the king of Mali was coming, people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him. Mansa Musa paid in gold for every single good and service he received during his Hajj and gave lavish gifts to his hosts. Similarly to his time in Egypt, he spent so much gold that the value of it in the economies of the two holy cities plunged.

Mansa Musa (and his unlimited gold) put Mali on the map – literally; by 1375 Mansa Musa appeared on European maps holding a nugget of gold. He is believed to be the richest man to have ever lived.

When returning from Hajj, he brought the architect al-Sahili back with him and embarked on a large building program, erecting mosques and madrasas in the cities Timbuktu and Gao of Mali. 

Around the same time, several Muslim societies were developing further east, including the Hausa city-states and the Kingdom of Kanem in modern Northern Nigeria.

Songhai Empire 

One of the groups within the Mali Empire was the Songhai. The warrior Sonni Ali became their ruler in 1460. He built a powerful army allowing the Songhai to break away from the Mali empire and then eventually conquer it. 

Songhai ruled over a diverse and multi-ethnic empire.

Although Islam was the state religion, many blended it with traditional belief systems, and Sonni Ali was known to persecute Muslim scholars, especially those who criticised pagan beliefs.

Later rulers of the Songhai Empire supported Islamic institutions and sponsored mosques, libraries, and public buildings. By the 16th century, the city of Timbuktu was thriving commercially and became a world-leading centre of ‘ilm, attracting scholars from across the Muslim world. For the people of Timbuktu, literacy and books were symbols of barakah, power, and wealth. The prominence of Timbuktu as a centre of learning meant that the activity, and education of scholars in this city had wide-reaching effects which spread to reach the Ummah across the globe.

The fall of the Songhai Empire in 1591 marked the decline of the big empires in West Africa. Merchant scholars in Timbuktu and other centres of ‘ilm dispersed, sharing what they had learnt to the more rural populations.

Final words

In this post, we’ve only encompassed a drop in the ocean that is the Islamic history of West Africa. We hope by giving you a glimpse into this history, we will all be able to better value the diversity of our Ummah and be inspired to learn more about our origins. We encourage you to make the most of this Black History Month, and as always stay tuned as we try to help you achieve this, insha’Allah!

Note: one resource we're loving this Black History Month (and we're sure you'll love too) is the History Nights 'Inspiring Stories about Black Muslims in History' series by ilmfeed with Mustafa Briggs. You can find the previous week’s lectures on ilmfeed's YouTube channel and make sure to tune in live for the upcoming ones! 

The Legacy of Sumayyah Bint Khayyat

Another remarkable woman with great significance in early Islam is Sumayyyah bint Khayyat. She played an important role in early Islam by exhibiting strength in the face of persecution and being the first martyr in Islam.

Her Beginnings

Before embracing Islam, Sumayyah RA, a Black Abysinian (modern day Ethiopia) woman, was a slave in Makkah who was owned by Abu Hudhaifah ibn al-Mughirah, from the tribe of Makhzum. The tribe of Makhzum was one of the most powerful in Makkah and later became one of the most resistant tribes to both Islam and the clan of Banu Hashim (the clan of the Prophet SAW). Abu Hudhaifah ibn al-Mughirah gave Summayah in marriage to Yasir ibn Amir, a man from Yemen, and they had a son called Ammar ibn Yasir who was born in the same year as the Prophet SAW, the year of the elephant. Sumayyah RA's family lived in Makkah in service to the entire tribe of Makhzum. She was one of the first 7 people to embrace Islam as a 60-year-old woman, along with her son Ammar. Her husband Yasir RA also embraced Islam soon after, making her whole family amongst the earliest to embrace Islam.

Her Persecution by the Quraysh

When the Prophet SAW began to preach Islam publicly, it resulted in the active persecution of the small Muslim community, and due to the societal disadvantage of the family of Yasir, they were left vulnerable to persecution. This family was not rich nor powerful, they had no protection, and were therefore at the mercy of the tribe. Those without protection were often targets for the cruelty of the Quraysh, and Abu Jahal (one of the leaders of the tribe) was one of the strongest opponents against Islam often gave the worst punishments and torture to harm the followers of the Prophet. He did not have any mercy on the old age of Sumayyah and Yasir, but instead used many forms of pressure, threats and torture to get them to renounce their faith. The Prophet SAW was troubled by the persecution of the Muslims, especially the family of Yasir, but he was not able to do anything to protect them. The only thing he could do was to comfort them by saying “Patience O family of Yasir! For you are destined for paradise” (Sahih al-Tirmidhi). It was this promise of paradise which strengthened them to be steadfast in their faith and to be patient with the trials they faced in this world. They were beaten and humiliated in public under the hot sun with no one to defend them, but they chose the reward of the hereafter and stayed true and never went back on ‘La ilahaillAllah Muhammad ur-rasulullah’.

Her Death

Despite their conviction and faith, Abu Jahal especially would not give up on targeting Summayah and her family, as he wished to send a message to the Muslims of Makkah that they would either need to renounce their faith or die. But, each time Sumayyah RA was tortured, she would respond with strength and conviction in Allah SWT and his messenger. This powerful man could not fathom how the faith of this old woman could not be shaken, which only enraged him further and on one occasion he took the violence to an extreme length, more than anything that had been seen before Islam. The entire family of Yasir were each tied to trees and tortured and beaten in front of one another so they would renounce their faith and curse the Prophet SAW. But, as physical torture increased, their perseverance and conviction would increase. Then, Sumayyah RA, weak from torture, used the remnants of her energy to spit at Abu Jahal from her position and humiliate him. A humiliation which would enrage him so far that that he took a spear and pierced her through her midsection, killing her and sending her to Allah SWT. Her husband Yasir RA also died soon after she did.

There is something wondrous about how this woman never saw bliss in this world and experienced only hardship, but with the first strike of Abu Jahal she was able to see the promise of the Prophet SAW, the promise of paradise. “And then that person from amongst the persons of the world be brought who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise. and he would be made to dip once in Paradise, and it would be said to him. 0, son of Adam, did you face any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot? And he would say: By Allah, no,0 my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress.” [Sahih Muslim 2807].

So as the first mayr of Islam, although she did not see the glory days of the Islam, she preceded everyone from our Ummah to experience the promise of Allah SWT.

The Legacy of Lineage

In speaking about the legacy of Sumayyah RA we also speak of her son, Ammar ibn Yasir. He was a noble companion who faced a lot of persecution like his parents. However, on the occasion that he was tied to the tree, he was tortured until he had a moment of weakness and so maligned the Prophet SAW. Because of this, his life was spared by Abu Jahal. However, he recognised that he had erred and immediately went to the Prophet SAW and confessed. But the Prophet SAW asked ‘How did you find your heart?’, and Ammar RA replied that he was still a muslim in his heart so the Prophet SAW comforted him with the verses “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief... except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith. But those who [willingly] open their breasts to disbelief, upon them is wrath from Allah, and for them is a great punishment.” (16.106). After this, Ammar RA continued as a companion of the Prophet SAW and he helped build the first mosque in Islam. He participated in many battles and many years after the death of his parents, during the Battle of Badr, the Prophet SAW came to him and revealed “Allah has killed your mother's killer”, to help alleviate Ammar's anguish of seeing his parents' killer roam Makkah for years without consequence. Ammar ibn Yasir was a strong warrior and years later, in the Battle of Siffin, he was also martyred. Thereby gaining the title of a martyr like his parents before him and making theirs a family of martyrs who gave their lives to protect and spread the message of Islam.

Her Legacy

The life of Sumayyah bint Khayyat was not one of ease before her death, again, she did not get to experience the ease in the glory days of Islam. Her life was one that was full of hardship, and as an old woman who was amongst the first to embrace Islam, she was persecuted, and her life became harder ever since. But her death is one of immense importance in Islamic history. Her death did not send the message of weakness which Abu Jahal had intended, but it sent one of strength and unshakeable faith. The significance of the fact that Sumayyah RA, an old Black Abyssinian woman, was willing to stand with her truth, and not just accept the torture but do what she could to fight back, and as a result lost her life, is the ultimate strength. She became a symbol of strength, courage, bravery and faith to all Muslims. The Prophet SAW himself assured her that her destination is paradise and she is an example that there is nothing more important than devotion to Allah SWT and standing strong in the face of adversity. She gave the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Allah SWT, and Allah honoured her sacrifice and exalted her status to being the first shaheeda of Islam. Allah SWT does not know the distinctions of this world, he just elevated her position because of her faith, and she was honoured in the best way.

THE DEPTH BEHIND THESE LEGACIES

We have only touched upon a portion of the lives of these remarkable muslims. There is a lot more to be learnt when you uncover their histories, as well as the stories of many other figures in the history of Islam. We encourage you to do your best to learn more, and also stay tuned for our next blog post which will help you on your journey!

The Legacy of Umm Ayman

The early history of Islam is marked by many remarkable black individuals who played an important role in the life of the Prophet SAW and the beginnings of Islam. We wish to give you an insight into one of these women and her legacy in the muslim ummah.

UMM AYMAN

The early history of Islam would not be done justice without honouring Umm Ayman, a woman truly like no other. The only one who can be said to have been with the Prophet SAW from the moment of his birth to the moment that he died. She is one of the few Muslims the Prophet SAW assured of paradise, and is a woman whom the Prophet honoured with the status of “mother after my own mother”.

Her Life

Barakah bint Tha'labah, later known as Umm Ayman was a young Abysinnian girl brought to Makkah and sold as a slave. She was fortunate enough to be brought into the household of a noble and gentle man, Abdullah ibn Muttalib, the father of the Prophet SAW. She took care of his affairs as well as his wife Aminah bint Wahb, the mother of the Prophet SAW. It was Barakah who comforted Amina whilst her husband left on a long journey and it was Barakah who conveyed the news of his death to her too. 

Whilst her husband was on the trip, Aminah fell ill and had a dream where she saw “lights coming from my abdomen lighting up the mountains, the hills and the valleys around Makkah” and it was Barakah who interpreted this to mean that she would “give birth to a blessed child who will bring goodness”. The young girl stood by Aminah’s side throughout her entire pregnancy and was also the only person present during the delivery of the Prophet SAW, where she was the first to hold him, bathe him, and care for him his entire life.

When Barakah RA was a young woman and the Prophet SAW was 6 years old, she accompanied him and his mother on a journey to Madinah, but on their return back to Makkah, Aminah fell seriously ill. She entrusted her son to Barakah and said "Be a mother to him, Barakah. And don't ever leave him." Aminah passed away at al-Abwa with Barakah and her son Muhammad SAW, so they buried her; Barakah then consoled the young boy and took him back to Makkah where they lived with the grandfather of the Prophet SAW, Abdul Muttalib. When the Prophet SAW was 9, his grandfather also died and Barakah was there to console him too. She stayed with the Prophet SAW throughout his life and although the Prophet inherited her from his father, he freed her. To him, she was his ‘mother after his mother’ and played a pivotal role.

The Marriages of Umm Ayman

Umm Ayman had devoted her youth to the Prophet SAW and remained unmarried, she lived to care for the young orphaned boy. However, as the Prophet SAW grew and got married to Khadijah RA at 25 years old, he encouraged her to get married too. He would say “Ya Ummah!" Now I am a married man, and you are still unmarried. What do you think if someone should come now and ask to marry you?" However, she would reply saying "I shall never leave you. Does a mother abandon her son?". To which he would then say to his wife Khadijah RA "This is Barakah. This is my mother after my own mother. She is the rest of my family." Khadijah RA said Barakah, you have sacrificed your youth for the sake of Muhammad. Now he wants to pay back some of his obligations to you. For my sake and his, agree to be married before old age overtakes you." Barakah RA agreed and married Ubayd ibn Zayd from the Khazraj tribe of Yathrib (Madinah) and moved there. She gave birth to a son whom they called Ayman, and from then onwards she was known as "Umm Ayman", the mother of Ayman. However, her marriage did not last very long as her husband passed away so she returned to Makkah as a widow with her son, and lived with Muhammad SAW in the house of the Khadijah RA.

Umm Ayman was one of the first to accept Islam as she lived in the Prophets household when he received revelation. She did not hesitate to believe in his message and Prophethood, and immediately submitted to the will of Allah SWT. She bravely endured the persecution of the Quraysh, and performed invaluable services for the cause. 

One night a few years after revelation, Umm Ayman risked her life to convey a message to the Prophet SAW by passing a blockade of disbelievers in Makkah to reach the House of Al-Arqam (where the Prophet SAW gathered his companions to teach about Islam). The Prophet SAW told her “you are blessed, Umm Ayman. Surely you have a place in Paradise.” And when she left he said to his companions: “should one of you desire to marry a woman of the people of paradise, let him marry Umm Ayman.” From them Zayd ibn al-Harithah, the Prophet SAW adopted son, said he would marry her because “By Allah, she is better than women who have grace and beauty”. From this marriage, despite her old age, she bore the child Usamah ibn Zaid, a boy whom the Prophet SAW loved like his own and people would say ‘he is the beloved son of the beloved’.

The Devotion of Umm Ayman

When the time of the Hijrah came, Umm Ayman, at the old age of about 70 years, also made the long and difficult journey on foot through the Arabian desert. She travelled through the intense heat and sandstorms and persisted in the way of Allah SWT fueled by her love for the Prophet SAW and his religion. On the journey she even found herself in a situation without any water. However, she believed in the mercy of her Lord, and Allah SWT sent down help. It was narrated that she saw a bucket tied with rope being lowered from the sky, it contained cold water for her to quench her thirst and cool her body. After this blessing she narrates that she ‘never felt thirsty after that, even when I fast on the hottest day’, what an honour. When she reached Madinah, her feet were swollen, her face covered with sand and dust, and upon seeing her the Prophet SAW wiped her face and eyes, massaged her feet and rubbed her shoulders, exclaiming: “"Yaa Umm Ayman! Ya Ummi! Indeed for you is a place in Paradise!".

Even throughout history she witnessed every battle of the Prophet SAW, and accompanied him on expeditions such as to Khaybar and Hunayn. At the Battle of Uhud she distributed water to the thirsty and tended to the wounded. And when the Prophet was rumoured to have died and many muslims were running from the battlefield, she stood her ground along with some other muslim women to defend the Prophet SAW and the muslims. She would follow him everywhere as his protecting mother with a watchful eye.

Her Relationship with the Prophet SAW

Umm Ayman had been with the Prophet SAW throughout his life and he honored this relationship into his adulthood. She comforted him in times of hardship, treated him with care and affection, and he would do the same. They also shared a jovial relationship too, the Prophet SAW would laugh and joke with her and one such instance is when she came to the Prophet SAW said "O Messenger of Allah, may you give me an animal to ride." The Prophet jokingly told her, I will give you the offspring of a she-camel to ride." She said, "O Messenger of Allah, what will I do with the offspring of a she-camel? It would not be able to carry me." The Prophet said: "Are riding-camels born except from she-camels?”. Their relationship contained light heartedness as well as full faith and conviction in the message of the Prophet SAW. On occasions he would ask how she was and she would reply “I am well, O Messenger of Allah, so long as Islaam is". She had complete dedication to his cause and never forsook him or Islam despite the difficulties or persecution she may have faced, she never complained to the Prophet SAW about her hardships, but showed continual support.

The Death of the Prophet SAW

This woman's entire purpose in life was defined by the moment she held the Prophet SAW and she had spent her entire life by his side. Therefore, after his death Abu Bakr RA and Umar RA would visit her, as they had seen the Prophet SAW do every day throughout his life, and would be there to comfort her.

Anas reported that after the death of Allah's Messenger () Abu Bakr said to 'Umar:

Let us visit Umm Aiman as Allah's Messenger () used to visit her. As we came to her, she wept. They (Abu Bakr and Umar) said to her: What makes you weep? What is in store (in the next world) for Allah's-Messenger () is better than (this worldly life). She said: I weep not because I am ignorant of the fact that what is in store for Allah's Messenger () (in the next world) is better than (this world), but I weep because the revelation which came from the Heaven has ceased to come. This moved both of them to tears and they began to weep along with her. [Sahih Muslim 2454]

The Legacy of Lineage - The legacy of Umm Ayman also lies in the greatness of her children

Ayman ibn Ubaid embraced Islam in Makkah and made the hijra to Madinah where he was a shepard and was entrusted to look after the goats of the Prophet SAW. He was a faithful companion of the Prophet and was also a participant in campaigns to defend Islam. At the battle of Hunayn when many of the muslims fled from the battleground because they were panic stricken; he was one of the 8 people who stood steadfast with the Prophet SAW. Ayman RA ended up being martyred at this battle, but the muslims were successful in their campaign. After his martyrdom, Al-Abbas RA, the uncle of the Prophet SAW composed a poem praising the steadfastness and bravery of Ayman ibn ‘Ubaid.

Usamah ibn Zaid, known as "The Beloved Son of the Beloved" having been born to parents the Prophet SAW considered as his own family, he was also loved immensely by the Prophet SAW. He cared for him and, as one of those who were born into Islam, was taught from an early age. He showed signs of great leadership in his early teens and attempted to join the muslims in the battles such as Uhud (although the Prophet SAW did not permit him) as well as the battle of the Trench where he fought bravely. He also participated in the battle of Mu’tah against the Byzantine alongside his father, Zayd ibn Harithah who was appointed head of the expedition but was later martyred in this battle. Usamah RA had the opportunity to encounter the Byzantines again as part of the last mission the Prophet SAW. The Prophet sent the muslims to face them and put the eighteen year old Usamah as their commander in chief. A young, yet intelligent, capable and accomplished fighter who was able to return to Madinah with his army and “people saw no army that was safer and richer in booty than Usamah’s army”. Usamah RA was a mighty warrior for the muslims and was greatly loved and respected.

Her Legacy

By the time Umm Ayman RA died, she had witnessed the death of both of her husbands, both of her children, and the death of the Prophet SAW. She also outlived Abu Bakr RA and saw the assassination of Umar ibn al-Khattab. She experienced hardships in her life yet lived through the lives of almost everyone who was a part of hers. She died with honour as she was devoted to the Prophet SAW and as such, he elevated her status to that of his mother. He honoured this woman despite her lack of tribe, her skin colour, gender and poverty; he held her in such high regard which made society honour her as a mother after the Prophet's mother. The life of Umm Ayman was unique as the only one who lived so closely to the Prophet SAW from birth till death, and the Prophet himself said that she is a woman of Jannah. She is an example of sincerity and piety to the entire muslim ummah because of her love for the Prophet SAW, her commitment to Islam, her sacrifice and her service - all to please Allah SWT. She embodied her statement “I am good as long as Islam is good” and lived each day caring for the message and Prophet she knew to be true.

Best Places To Eat In Manchester

If you’re familiar with eating out and experimenting then you’ll know that the price of food doesn’t always dictate it’s quality nor does it guarantee good taste. We know how easy it is to stick to ordering from that one place that you know is a safe bet, especially as a broke student, you don’t want to take a risk and pay for something that turns out to be disappointing. 

If this sounds like you, we’ve got you covered! We’ve done the hard work of trialling and reviewing food and compiled a list of the best food spots in Manchester: from cheap takeaways to fancier restaurants where you can treat yourself (without breaking the bank). 

We’ve included a variety of cuisines too (Japanese, Italian and Caribbean - just to name a few) so you can trust that there will definitely be something to suit your palate! And of course, it goes without saying that ALL these places are halal, and many have vegetarian/vegan menu options too!

Curry Mile/Oxford Road

Go Falafel - Falafel & Juice Bar (Vegan)

The perfect place to grab a warm and healthy falafel wrap for lunch whilst on campus. You can customise your wrap with sauces and other options such as hummus, pickles, salad, and seasoned potatoes. 

Note: their ‘healthy juices’ are a bit of a misleading name because they’re just smoothies i.e blended fruit, they don’t actually juice anything! Also, be aware that there’s no space to eat in.

Our recommendation is the standard medium falafel wrap - £3.50

Keep an eye out for their freshers student BARGAIN of £1 wraps around September/October!

Today Fresh Shawarama

By far one of the most popular takeaways on the curry mile. Like the name says - fresh, beautifully spiced shawarma at a competitively cheap price is their main selling point and we admit it’s hard to beat these prices and quality (shawarma + naan from £2.50). In particular, we have to give a special mention to our personal favourite: shawarma in their fresh samoon bread. This tasty choice has earned itself quite the reputation - once you’ve tasted it no other shawarma will make the cut (ask for the number 1 meal option). They also do some addictive pizzas and fatayer from just £2.00! The bottom line is that this is the best shout for a tasty meal at the cheapest price. 

The one downside to Today restaurant is that it can get quite hectic during peak hours and the chaotic queuing system means you might be in for a long wait. 

Afghans Cuisine

If you’re starving and in need of mighty portion sizes then look no further.

The service here is fast and your food is usually accompanied by dips and salad. The staff are friendly and helpful and there’s plenty of room to eat-in with nicer seating upstairs.

We recommend their kobeda wrap (£3.85) or their mixed kebab (£6.75). Pay an extra £1 to get it on Qabili rice - trust us, it’s worth it!

Pizza Co

Reasonable prices, decently spaced seating on both floors, and a very smiley owner - Pizza co is where to go for a solid pizza with a vast range of topping options. The sheer range of their menu and selection choices is the trump card here.

Located just a few steps down Oxford Road from campus, this is the place to go if you’re craving a bite of pizza in between lectures!

Al Jazeera

Famous for one dish and one dish only: Qabili Pilau - succulent carrot and sultana rice mixed with gorgeous tender lamb. We declare with full, unwavering confidence that this is the best place for rice in Manchester, bar none. It is no exaggeration to say they’ve got the basics down to a fine art. 

New York Krispy

Fried chicken is an unsurpassable takeaway item that always hits the spot. Get a taste of the timeless crispy breading and tender, succulent chicken which New York Krispy does best by simply getting some wings (£2.20) or their Megabox Meal (£6.99) if you want to go all in with a burger, chicken strip, wings, fries and a drink.

Toro’s Steakhouse

Alright, we might’ve lied when we said you wouldn’t break the bank in any of these places because the first thing you’ll see on the menu in Toro’s SteakHouse is £££. But for a steak?  We can’t really argue on the price. 

With hearty portions of tender, sizzling steak, and a respectable selection of sides (the mash is a different level of creamy) Toro’s is worth every penny spent.

Manchester City Centre

Tampopo (vegan menu options included)

Hands down the champion franchise for southeast Asian food (beats Wagamama by a mile). If you want your east Asian food authentic and done justice then rest assured you’re in safe hands with Tampopo. Our favourites are the katsu curry (£11.25) and pad thai (£11.95). They also do 20% student discount on weekdays so make sure to bring your student card too! We recommend the branch in Exchange Quay for the warm lantern lighting, pleasant atmosphere, and great interior decor. 

Vapiano (vegan menu options included)

The home of fresh handmade pasta, pizza, and Mediterranean salads - distinctly italiano. At Vapiano, flexibility is their unofficial forte so it’s quite easy to ask for specific menu changes and even speak to the chef. If you’re craving Italian, think Vapiano.

Jerk Shak (vegan menu options included)

Not many people know that this place is halal so it’s about time we shared the secret. Fried chicken, jerk chicken, mutton curry, oxtail, as well as peas and rice are Caribbean classics that you’ll find are made at an elite level here at Jerk Shak, all served rustically on enamel plates and with big boy portions. It’s hard to miss with its bright Caribbean themed colour scheme and shack-like exterior right next to Market Street tram stop! 

Habesha (vegan menu options included)

This little gem is one of the best-kept secrets on the food scene in Manchester. Hidden away on busy Sackville street, it may be hard to notice at first but get past the fact it’s above a takeaway and you’re in for food so authentic you’ll feel transported to Ethiopia itself. With its homely atmosphere yet professional service, Habesha has a loyal crowd of customers and overwhelming popularity that makes it packed on weekend evenings. 

Although the menu is small, they’ve certainly perfected the dishes on offer. All food is served alongside a traditional, freshly-made sour flatbread called injera. We recommend the Yebeg Wot (fragrant, tender lamb cubes slow-cooked with onions, garlic, and ginger) but the meat-free dishes on offer taste just as good if not better. The Yetsom Beyaynetu is a mouthwatering, lentil-based stew that packs a punch and will leave you seeing vegan food in a new light!

That’s it for our top picks of places to eat in Manchester,  now it’s over to you to get some mates together and head out to try these food spots for yourself! 

Bon appetit!

Living At Home During University

Starting university can be a daunting experience. For many it’s their first time living away from home, taking care of their own finances, and being completely independent.

But what about if you decide to live at home? 

You may have made this decision for various reasons: financially it might make sense, living close to uni makes commuting a realistic option, or perhaps you don’t feel ready to move out just yet.

Whatever the reason, living at home raises its own questions and concerns among freshers so we’ll be giving you 10 tips today to address the most common ones!

Commuting

The commute is often an aspect of living at home that people dread. Synonymous with images of crowded buses, delayed trains, and early morning starts it can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ways to change that:

Disclaimer: since most students commute via some form of public transport these tips are aimed at them.

  1. Use the morning commute as a time to study

Having a tablet, laptop or even your phone makes studying on your commute only a few clicks away and cuts out the faff of having to haul around heavy books and messy pages of notes. 

If you’re one of the many who like to pre-read slides for their lectures, the commute is the perfect time to do that! If you’re a medic you could review some anatomy with your Anki flashcards or read up on the week's case and answer a few quick questions from the agenda.

Or if studying on the train sounds like a nightmare, how about listening to that Mufti Menk lecture you’ve been meaning to, or some peaceful Quran to start your day off with an Iman boost? 

  1. Use the commute back as a chance to rest

A common challenge for commuting students is feeling too tired to study by the time you get home. Combat this by considering the commute back home as an opportunity to rest in itself rather than a means to an end. As long as you don’t miss your stop, why not have a quick power nap or just take the time to sit back and relax? If you find that this still doesn’t help - maybe because your journey involves a long walk, then recognise this early on and be realistic. Don’t expect yourself to get straight to work when you come home, make it a priority to set aside some time to rest and get your energy back first.

Reminder: Be sure to say your adhkar while commuting to stay safe especially when travelling home alone at night! 

  1. Get to know fellow commuters

Manchester is a big university and an even bigger city, which means there’s almost always someone commuting by the same route as you! Don’t be afraid to ask people how they’re getting home, what bus they’re taking, or which way they’re headed. Often even people living in accommodation such as Fallowfield or Victoria take public transport or have a bit of a walk to get down Oxford road so it’s really easy to find people to share your journey with, even if it’s just for part of the way.

Having a commuting buddy will make the journey less tedious and can help you avoid FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to commute

Commuting comes hand-in-hand with delays and cancellations. So, make it a habit to always give yourself room for the unexpected in your morning journey. 

The “uni experience”

A common concern we hear is: ‘Will I miss out on the uni experience by commuting?'

It’s time to bust this long-standing myth. The truth is it's completely up to you! Living at home is almost never the obstacle it seems to be when it comes to making close friends, going out for a meal, and attending the events and socials that you want to. 

  1. Get to know your course mates

Getting to know people on your course is always a good place to start. They may be the first people you meet at uni, so be open to chatting and spending extra time with them! Grabbing lunch, going to the library together on a study date, or even heading to a nearby park (if the Manchester weather lets you) is an easy way to become familiar with some new faces. This is also a great opportunity to incorporate socialising into your day since staying late for society events might not be an option for some commuters.

  1. Check out societies 

Come freshers week, everyone will be in a similar position and likely feeling a bit nervous. Approaching people out in public can be very daunting, so by attending society events meeting new people becomes a bit easier.

You may find it difficult to stay late for evening events so make the most of freshers when there will be more events running during the day. Some societies may be holding events online this year, which is perfect for commuters! And as a last port of call if there’s not much on and you're bored or not sure where to find people, definitely head over to McDougall’s prayer hall at any time! This is the hub for Muslims on campus and you’ll meet plenty of welcoming brothers/sisters to chill and spend time with.

Side note: when it comes to societies, a special mention has to be given to ISoc; for Muslim students on campus, it opens the doors to a community from which you can benefit spiritually (insha'Allah) as well as a place to socialise and meet new people. Make sure to check our events out!

  1. Utilise social media

Facebook makes it really easy to connect with fellow freshers. There’s plenty of group chats out there. The fresher’s ones are a good place to start, however, we’d recommend checking out some society group chats too. That way, you can meet people with shared interests, which is more likely to lead to friendship. 

You can also message the @manchesterisoc insta page to be added to the ISoc Freshers 2020 (Sisters/Brothers) Whatsapp group chats too!

By joining these group chats, you can get to know people and can perhaps arrange some meet-ups, all before you even step foot on campus. 

How do I balance it all?

  1. The importance of seeking knowledge

Realise that seeking knowledge is a fardh. This applies to any kind of knowledge; be it worldly, academic, or Islamic. Most importantly, strive to seek Islam amongst your books. Even the animals and fish will seek forgiveness for this individual who studies. The significance of this is that the one who seeks knowledge learns about the rights of the Creator, the creation, and the world he resides in. He isn't thrown by whatever he encounters but has self-assurance.

 Make the intention to study at least, you have to start somewhere.

  1. Work smarter not harder 

The key to being a successful student while commuting is learning to work efficiently. Everybody is different so there is no one way to go about this but experiment with different methods and routines to figure out what works best for you. For example, do you prefer to go home straight away and get all your work done in the comfort of your room? Or do you work more efficiently going to the library after class and being in that study environment? 

Consider your energy levels and what time of day you work best during. You’ll do yourself a huge favour figuring out early on in your degree how to get your work done in a few hours instead of it taking the whole day. 

Learn to prioritise important or urgent tasks over others – write a checklist or make a mental note of what you plan to get done before you set out to do it.

Above all, be flexible. Some days you’ll be on top of everything and others you’ll feel like you’re swamped. That’s fine! As students, we all have our good days and bad days, and this is part of the learning experience.

  1. Make time for life outside of university

Sometimes it might seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want. To help fix this, we recommend setting time aside for your hobbies and interests, just as you set time aside for study. 

Allocate a specific portion of your time for life outside of studying. Dedicate this time to working on yourself spiritually, getting a workout in, or spending time with your family.

Final Words

You've heard it before but we'll say it again - university is what you make of it. These short few years are an opportunity to do so much more than earn just a diploma. Besides excelling academically, it's an opportunity to move closer to Allah in these defining years, develop ourselves, and of course make life-long memories. We pray Allah makes this a journey of barakah for you and that our advice goes some way in helping you achieve what you set out to do. 

We start this journey, and end this piece with the best of words:
bismillah.

A Muslim's Guide to Living on Campus

From our own experience, we know moving away from home for the first time to an unfamiliar city can be intimidating, especially as a Muslim student, so we’ve put together some of our top tips and advice to help you overcome any challenges and ease this transition!

It’s Okay to Feel Homesick

We understand moving to a new city can leave you feeling lonely at times but you’ll quickly find your place in Manchester and build a support network to help you get through it. The University of Manchester is the largest single-site university in the UK with students from a diverse range of backgrounds so have no doubt that you will eventually find your people! We recommend keeping yourself as busy as you can outside and around others in the first few weeks to minimise the amount of time you spend alone in your room. Freshers makes this super easy because there’s plenty of events being hosted daily! And as a last port of call when bored or not sure where to find people, definitely head over to McDougall’s prayer hall and you’ll meet plenty of welcoming muslims to chill and spend time or even go out with. Decorate and personalise your room by adding fairy/led lights, plants, posters and a throw for a homely touch so that any time you do spend there is a lot more comfortable. Especially with the covid situation, you might be spending more time in your room than you’d like. Make sure to call home frequently and make an effort to visit regularly on weekends to ease homesickness too. 

Check Up On Your Family

Expanding on the last point, we just want to reiterate the importance of checking up on your family to not only ease homesickness but to fulfil the obligation Allah has enjoined upon you. Silat ur-Rahm (maintaining family ties) is compulsory in Islam, particularly to your parents whose favours to you are innumerable. You may not live in the same city anymore but you should still uphold your duty to maintain contact with them by calling regularly and showing compassion.

“And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, "My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small."

[17:24]

Join Societies

We highly recommend joining a couple of societies during freshers as this is perhaps one of the easiest ways to make friends and meet like minded people at university. From faith societies like ISoc to cultural, sports, recreation and volunteering societies there’s something for everyone. Joining these societies will allow you to pursue hobbies outside of your course, and maybe even push you out of your comfort zone at times. ISoc offers a vast array of socials and events from Friday linkups to weekly classes, sunrise snowdon hikes and weekend retreats so do get involved! You can also join societies related to your course, this will help you meet more people on your course and pursue a niche area of your degree which could come in handy after graduating.

Befriend Your Flatmates

You might not be sharing your room with them but more often than not, you’ll be bumping into them in your communal kitchen. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to be best buds with each other but being on friendly terms with your flatmates will make those daily kitchen encounters a lot less awkward and living in halls much more enjoyable!

Plan Your Meals Ahead

It’s time to put those blissful days of coming home to a freshly cooked dinner by your parents behind you. Unless you're someone who genuinely looks forward to cooking dinner after a long day at uni, meal planning is your best bet. Take some time out of your weekend to do some grocery shopping and schedule an hour or two each Sunday to batch cook meals for the next week. Youtube is the go-to place for simple, affordable and tasty meal plans geared towards students! Even if your cooking skills aren’t the finest, making a pasta mix takes little effort and it’s so easy to switch up the dishes with basics like cheese, tomato, sweetcorn, tuna or chicken. Whether you want to prep lunch or dinner for the week, grab yourself a few reusable, air-tight containers (to avoid saucy leakages in your bag) from Tesco or Poundland and put them in the fridge with your meals for the next few days. Lidl is best for cheap staples like pasta and rice but for spices and halal meat, Worldwide is the place to go.

Budgeting, Budgeting, Budgeting!

With the curry mile being within a walking distance, the temptation to go on a daily food crawl is real. However, this is not economical for the average student and expenses from eating out snowball rapidly. You don’t want to find yourself making that dreaded call to mama and baba in the middle of the semester to tell them you’ve run out of money, and speaking from experience, that hour-long lecture over the phone is not worth it! Give yourself a weekly budget and do not exceed it. Limit yourself to eating out at a restaurant once or twice a week. Hold yourself accountable by tracking your expenditure via a spreadsheet.

Find a Good Work-Life Balance

Your body has been entrusted to you by Allah (SWT) so it’s imperative you take care of it. Sleep early, wake up early and front load your work to maximise your productivity so you can have your evenings off to destress and focus on other things.  Avoid leaving your assignments to the last minute, we’re warning you now that an all-nighter in Ali G (Alan Gilbert learning commons) is never worth it, so don’t put your mind and body through that!

Cherish Your Time at University

At university, you’re blessed with an unprecedented amount of free time, make use of this to better yourself beyond academia. Also pursue a hobby, take up a sport, learn a language, explore the city, and just say yes to different opportunities, new experiences and everything in between. And perhaps most importantly, seek knowledge about your deen and develop yourself spiritually. The Prophet ﷺ advised us to:

“Take benefit of five before five: 

Your youth before your old age, 

your health before your sickness, 

your wealth before your poverty, 

your free time before you are preoccupied, 

and your life before your death”

Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim

Your years at university will fly by, so make sure to completely immerse yourself and you’ll never regret looking back!