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A week in the life of.. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

A week in the life of.. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

Issue 4 Mar / Apr 2004

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, well-known for her writing, has made a huge contribution to the Muslim community in Britain. Although now retired from teaching, she continues to write and lecture. Talking in her home troutine to Anfal Saqib.


It has always been my habit to pray before sleeping and after waking, whatever times these happen to be. For most of the year I am up and about at first light anyway. How I start and end each day varies according to whether I have the company of my seven year old very lively grandson. I have him four nights of the week, and his mother has him the other three. If he is with me, I 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 4am, and then sleep until about 8am, and have another sleep in the afternoon.

Before I retired I was the Head of Religious Education in a tough inner-city secondary school in Hull. 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.

My daily work is primarily writing. I have now had some 40 books published and am on the last stages of my largest and most challenging manuscript – a ‘Life of the Prophet’. This has allowed me to bring forward my key interests – the female side of life, and history and genealogy. I have been fascinated to discover how normal it was in the Prophet’s time for a woman to marry four or five husbands and have children by them all. One splendid example is Asma bint Umays, who married the Prophet’s cousin Jafar, then Abu Bakr, and finally Ali, having children to them all. My research also uncovered some amazing role-models. We think it unusual these days for a woman to be giving birth when she is over 50; it was pretty common in the Prophet’s time.

My other work is counselling via 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 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 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 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 seven year old on his bike at the front, and me on the scooter with the four yearold. Afterwards, I need to sleep!

I used to think life would be easier once I retired, which I did in 1996, but I do not feel I have had a ‘day off’ yet. I have been given wonderful opportunities from people and organisations to attend conferences and lecture, travelling to many European countries. I recently visited Finland which I loved and the highlight of my trip to the USA was visiting the Dar al-Islam in the Abiqueu Desert, New Mexico where I met and learned from that great speaker Hamza Yusuf. The furthest I’ve been was to Singapore – I would not have seen much of the world if it hadn’t been for the kindness, hospitality and interest people have had in my work. I have found my books on sale wherever I have gone.

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 of boredom. What keeps me motivated is 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 felt that I had 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 the ability I have as a fast writer and worker, 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 is still my best-seller and now forms the basis of the work of thousands of students studying GCSE 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 who wished to do the study outside the classroom and be entered as a private student. I ended up producing the materials and am now a distance-learning tutor for the Association of Muslim Researchers (AMR). We supervise a handful of students through each year – but there are a vast number who do the work for themselves using my materials. The course has also been taken up by some prisoners. I am hoping that as the word spreads 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.

I wish I could still be active and full of beans, but life is 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 rather un-luxurious mixed hospital ward. I spent one night with two young men 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?

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