An Interview with Khanum Zahra as-Sistani
Contributed by Muslim Bhanji,
Khanum Zahra as-Sistani is the daughter of Ayatullah Al ‘Uzma Syed ?Al? Husayn Sistani and the granddaughter of Ayatullah Mirza Shirazi.
We had been invited over for lunch, a meal prepared by Khanum herself. After eating, during a conversation, she mentioned that when they were kids, her parents never told them that this is Halal or this is Haram; they would just say that this is not suitable for you, because they were the family of an Aalim and the grandchildren of an Aalim (Ayatullah Mirza Shirazi). Actions that were even mubah were sometimes not suitable for them.
What does the Ayatullah expect from the Shia community?
I then asked what does Ayatullah Sistani expect from the Shias and what does he advise us to do. She answered: “TAQWA. Attain taqwa, keep away from haram and perform all the wajibaat”. Then she recited this verse from the Holy Qur’an
“O you who believe! If you are careful of (your duty to) Allah, He will grant you a distinction and do away with your evils and forgive you; and Allah is the Lord of mighty grace”. (8:29)
“If you attain Taqwa, you will be able to differentiate haq from batil- good from bad, better from good and better from what is best. The more taqwa you attain, the clearer your understanding will become. The more you stay away from food that you’re not sure about the more careful you are and the more you do ihtiyat in everything (food, clothes, conversation, thoughts, your actions, your akhlaq, etc.) then the more taqwa you attain. Insha’Allah Allah will grant you the ability to perceive right from wrong”.
Hijab in a Western Country
Then I asked her about wearing hijab in a western country, and perhaps the chador may attract more attention and that we might stand out or send a negative message about Islam.
She questioned, “Why would it send a negative message about Islam?” Then she said that, “If you are steadfast and confident in your belief, the angels will descend upon you, and she quoted this Ayah:
“(As for) those who say: Our Lord is Allah, then continue in the right way, the angels descend upon them, saying: Fear not, nor be grieved, and receive good news of the garden which you were promised”. (41:30)
“Remember, you must never feel that you are better than anyone when you wear a hijab that is different from theirs. A woman’s beauty is in her Akhlaq.”
Khanum Zahra said: “My sons too, have studied Electrical Engineering and Law at an all-boys university, and were top students, because of their focus on studies and not on their clothes and other luxuries. You can teach your children by example. If you are simple, then automatically your children too will follow you. A mother is a child’s first teacher”.
I asked Khanum Zahra to tell us more. She said: “Her father always advised them to keep away from the “dunya” – worldly things and to be simple. For the world and the hereafter cannot gather in one place, so if someone’s heart is filled with thoughts of this world, he/she will not be able to think about the hereafter.
“In worldly matters one should always look at the less fortunate, he should be grateful and content with what Allah has given him and kind to those who are not as blessed as he is; and should not look at someone who has more than him, for this causes ungratefulness, discontentment, greed, jealousy and you get caught up with wanting more and more; a better car, a better mobile, better clothes, better house and the list goes on and on. Even though you have money to spend, if it’s not a necessity, don’t get it.
“But in matters of the hereafter, it’s the opposite, one should look at those who have more knowledge and taqwa, who wear their hijab better, who have good akhlaq, who are more generous, etc. and not at someone who does less than him”.
She explained us that anyone can go to Hawza and study, but for someone to remain a ‘Talibe Ilm’ is what is the most important of all! A ‘Talibe Ilm’ is supposed to be simple not only in eating but also in clothing. Their thinking is supposed to be different from the rest of the people and they must have good akhlaq.
Our time together was coming to an end, so I asked her how often she communicates with her parents. She replied, “I don’t speak to Agha very often. He didn’t even have a phone until recently and because of Marjaiyyat he had to get one.”
She said when she left Iraq after she got married she was advised by her father, “Be content with whatever your husband has to offer.”
She would call her sister to ask about her parents’ health. She just went to Iraq for 2 weeks before Mahe Mubarake Ramadhan, because her 2 younger sons (aged 13 and 7) hadn’t seen their grandfather.
Khanum Zahra is a very knowledgeable and patient woman, who does not go out of the house unless it is absolutely necessary. She spends her day taking care of her children and her house and answering people’s queries on various issues.
May Allah (s.w.t.) give us all the tawfeeq to be good and content in our lives. Ameen
P.S. This interview took place a few years ago.