Connect with us


Muslims and The Holocaust

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

questionmark.jpg A difficult time has come to me… a time which every Muslim child in the West will reach, an event which every Muslim child in the West will experience.

Studying the Holocaust.

That terrible, terrible series of events – the rise of Hitler and his government, the proliferation of racist policies, the stirring of hateful feelings against ‘the Others’, the xenophobia rising to such a level that it resulted in Kristallnacht (Crystal Night/The Night of Broken Glass)… and finally, the concentration camps: torture and brutal death, ending in mass graves of rotting bodies, not a single honourable funeral performed.

I’d like to know how Muslim parents tell their children about the Holocaust, or if they do at all.

Mine never did… I found out about the Holocaust through independent reading of my own, and now, through school. The few times I’ve brought it up with my parents, they dismissed it… well, not dismissed it, exactly – rather, they said that the numbers were exaggerated, and while yes, it did happen, similar and perhaps even worse things are happening to Muslims around the world today and nobody pays as much attention to *them*.

(Please note that I’m not saying this to cast my parents in a negative light or anything; rather, I’m sharing my personal experience so that I may compare and contrast it to how others approach the issue.)

Now, I know that many readers here are Muslim parents, so I have a bunch of questions for you.

Depending on your children’s age, have you taught your children about the Holocaust yet? Do you consider the Holocaust a special issue deserving of special attention? Have your children asked questions about the Holocaust, or the Nazis; and if so, what were those questions and how did you answer them? When discussing the Holocaust, do you emphasize that the main targets were Jews (although the Roma, mentally and physically disabled, and homosexuals were also victims)? Do you draw parallels between the Holocaust and what is happening to Muslims around the world today?

For those of you who *aren’t* parents, what was your first knowledge/experience of the Holocaust, and how did you deal with it?

As I mentioned above, I’m now studying the Holocaust for school (grade 11). I also have to do an assignment – a project – related to this.
Three options are given: Create an original art exhibit (can be hand-drawn, two-dimensional art; collage; digital art; audio, video or Powerpoint file); Develop a tutorial or slide show that teaches students about the Holocaust; or Write a series of letters based on readings.

I’m leaning towards option #1 – creating a work of art that would be my personal response to the Holocaust. I’m just not sure what to make, though, and what to include. I was thinking of a poster, or collage… however, I don’t want to have the typical run-of-the-mill ‘the Holocaust was bad and we should remember the victims’ thing; I want something that’ll emphasize our duty to stand up and fight against the factors that resulted in the Holocaust – arrogance, fear, irrational hatred – so that no group of people would ever again suffer such a disgusting injustice. And in regards to this, I’m wondering whether or not to include Islam/Muslims in this project… after all, this is a *personal* response project, and I look at all of this through the eyes of a Muslim.

What do you think?

Comments, suggestions, answers to my questions will all be greatly appreciated; jazakAllahu khairan in advance!

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of



  1. Avatar

    Mujahideen Ryder

    March 14, 2007 at 5:38 PM

    The Jews really suffered with the Nazis. Option #2 is what I would choose. In High school (4 years ago), I use to make the crazy computer presentations with sounds and animations.

    Butt wateva floats ya boat.

  2. Avatar


    March 14, 2007 at 11:41 PM

    As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

    Hey!! You posted this at the right time, sister! We too have begun to study WW2 and its causes in our AP US History class. Our teaching was talking about Hitler and possible theories about why he hated Jews so much and a possible theory was that his beloved mother who had cancer’s doctor was a Jew and he wasn’t able to save her.

    Anyway I thought of something: Hitler primarily caused disruption in socio-political affairs of Europe, that caused WW2, that caused the Holocaust, the Holocaust and WW2 ended with the eventual creation of the state of Israel, that caused Palestinian oppression and backlash because Israel took their land, this caused and continues to cause much anti-Israel and anti-West sentiment in the Muslim world, which is causing a huge, huge divide between
    the “West” and the Muslim world.

    What will be the effects of this tension? Will it be the war of the end of times and the coming of Mahdi and ‘Eesa bin Maryam (Jesus son of Mary, peace be upon him). (Of course, Allah knows best, I’m just thinking out loud here).


  3. Avatar


    March 14, 2007 at 11:50 PM

    PS To answer some of your questions, although I am not a parent yet, I still think as a parent, it would be utmost job to tell my kids the truth. So of course, I wouldn’t at all hide the blatant fact that Hiter xenophobically slaughtered 6 million Jews. I don’t think at all that the numbers are skewed, actually, this I think is a historical fact. I would tell my kids that these kinds of injustices are filthy and genocide and brutually murdering innocent civilians, women and children based on arrogance and racism is not only immature but Islamically forbidden.

    However, I would make it a point that I believe the suffering many Jews went through does not justify at ALL the suffering many Palestinians are going through today at the hands of Jews. I find it rather ironic that they would have to face with this ordeal. Is Israel now getting revenge for the crimes committed against it with an innocent people that had nothing to do with this? I think this is a huge paradox and sad reality.

    In your project, depending on how you view the entire situation, I think it would be intriguing to add in the Muslim viewpoint and add in that just because you are Muslim you don’t intrinsically hate Jewish people so much that you don’t think history has given you the right numbers. (Again, this is my own opinion, so don’t feel forced to agree ;)). I’d emphasize the fact that although Muslims do not agree with Judaism and vice versa, it would be a shame to believe that killing any innocents was justified, and Allah is the Most Just and has never called for this horrendous act. Maybe adding a snip about the current state of affairs with Palestine is ironic.

    wow… sorry I said so much. :) take care & best wishes with the project!

  4. Avatar

    abu ameerah

    March 15, 2007 at 12:13 AM

    As’Salaamu Alaikum wa’Rahmatullah…

    In my experience, studying the Holocaust was not difficult at all. Why, as a jahil baggy-pants wearin’ youth, I even visited the Holocaust Museum right here in gooooood ol’ Washington DC. Actually, it didn’t bother me that much since I went to the museum over a decade ago…

    In the post 9/11 era of rampant faggotry that we live in today…studying the Holocaust might be awkward for some Muslims.

    However, as students — and more importantly — as Parents…we must educate our children about the crimes of the past. The Holocaust does have a real place in history — however, as a result of all of the politicization that has gone on over the last few years — the message of the Holocaust has been somewhat lost or distorted.

    Though there may be many messages and lessons to be learned from the Holocaust — the one thing that we must learn and teach our children is that the Holocaust is a real human tragedy. It is real in the sense that we can actually go to the concentration camps where people were killed…find Holocaust survivors…and read Nazi propoganda.

    The lesson that we can learn from the Holocaust — and teach our children — is that: Hate Kills (real “hate” — the kind that controls political parties and entire nations — with the ability to enrage the body politic into a giant killing machine of sorts).

    We must put the tragedy of the Holocaust into perspective and educate our children that:

    1. No Muslim ever participated in the wholesale slaugher of millions Jews. On the contrary…it was Xtians who did so. The Nazis were Christian lest we forget.

    2. Islam has never inspired the genocide of a people.

    3. Just as Hitler hated Jews…he also hated Blacks…Catholics…and other Europeans. Hitler did kill some 1.2 + million Gypsies.

    4. Hitler’s methodology of propoganda and mass killing (genocide) has been copied in some way, shape, or form in: Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia/Kosovo…

    5. Muslims have experienced genocide as well. Jews, despite what the media or politicians (beholden to special interest groups) may tell us, do not own the ideas of pain and suffering as a people.

    Simply…the Holocaust must be taught to our children — however it should not be done so without a proper contextual understanding of history or of current geopolitical realities.

    …now i’m going to sleep…

    • Avatar


      March 2, 2016 at 4:16 PM

      you say you teach your children that ‘hate kills’, yet you use the words ‘rampant faggotry’? is that not hateful and hypocritical?

  5. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    March 15, 2007 at 9:02 AM

    Asalaamu alaikum.

    Bear in mind that roughly the same number of non-Jews as Jews were killed by the Nazis, and their voices shouldn’t go unheard.

    The thing I always felt made the Nazis stand out is how diabolically meticulous and organized they were – for example, they actually took the time to tattoo people they were likely going to work to death or execute…they brought them in on trains in an orderly manner…and the death camps were also organized and purposeful. Think of how much manpower and money was spent on all that. That’s what I think sets the holocaust apart from other genocides and massacres. In Rwanda a million people were slaughtered within a couple months, but they were killed in rampages and killed where they were found. Proportionate to time and numbers, that tragedy was far worse than the holocaust, but it wasn’t accompanied by the slow purposefulness of the Nazis’.

  6. Avatar


    March 15, 2007 at 3:11 PM

    MR: I’d do #2, but I’ve done so many PowerPoints for school that it’s getting dull now… so I wanna try something new…

    IT: As always, jazaakillaahi khair for your comment(s)! They’re always appreciated, no matter how long they are! :) I think I’ve decided to make a poster that’ll identify key words of what caused the Holocaust… like arrogance, hatred, fear, oppression, injustice, etc. and place a relevant quote (a Hadith or an aayah in most cases) next to it… also, somehow show that such actions can result in similar things later on. Insha’Allah, if/when I complete it I’ll email it to you! :)

    Abu Ameerah and sis Ruth: JazakAllahu khairan for the comments! :)


  7. Avatar

    um ahmad

    March 15, 2007 at 3:38 PM

    Assallamu alikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

    As an Muslim, educator, and mother my opinion is that you should be excused from particiapting in this assignment. Why? Because it is biased and is a form of passive racism. Passive racism you might ask…yes, they are forcing you to accept and join the Christian/Jewish theory that they are superior to all others. Does you school teach about the Nakbah that happen in Palestine in 1948 in which thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes and some were killed by the Jews to create a “Jewish State?”

    No, I don’t think so. All people suffer and if on person is pricked by a thorn it hurts the same as it does for all others. All people have value, even us Muslim, despite what non-Muslims may want the world to believe.

    If you really feel you must discuss the holocaust, then do a power point presentation on the number of non-Jews killed…but then again, I doubt your school will let you since it would not entice sympathy for Jews.

    Better that we Muslims home educate our children rather than send them off to be placed into a system that has a hidden agenda and corrupts their nafs.

    um ahmad

    • Avatar


      August 15, 2015 at 6:37 PM

      Lady, you are so biased and full of animosity. I’m glad you’re not my child’s teacher! You may have posted this in 2007 but that sentiment you displayed is still rampant. I don’t know where you’re living, but in all the schools I grew up in, we learned of all of those things. It’s not racist in any way to learn of the Holocaust. There are no Muslims listed in concentration camps but Hitler hated them too. As a matter of fact, Muslims protected Jews in some situations. I don’t know why you think Americans don’t teach these things. We teach many types of wars that are not popular. Classes such as American History and World History and also several specialties in religion history.

      My advice to a young Muslim doing a project like this is to draw parallels to the atrocities in several cultures. Being biased such as this lady is not a way to approach healing.

  8. Avatar


    March 15, 2007 at 3:50 PM

    Sis Um Ahmad, I am homeschooled… it’s done through distance education, though, which means I do the same public school curriculum. However, my teachers are actually pretty cool, which is why I’m going to mention how others – non-Jews – continue to suffer even today due to the same reasons that caused the Holocaust (arrogance, hatred, fear, etc.)…

  9. Avatar


    March 16, 2007 at 1:05 PM

    I agree, place emphasis on the “forgotten many”; all those non-Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis. I didn’t hear about them till very recently, which just shows how skewed presentation of this important piece of recent history.

    Btw, i was never taught about WWII at school, because i dropped History quite early on. I learnt about it in dribs and drabs over the years, most of it via my third parent, the TV!

  10. Avatar

    Umm Layth

    March 16, 2007 at 10:32 PM

    I just wanted to say that even though you are schooled at home, you are still considered a public school student and not a true homeschooler because you are going based on what the govt wants you to learn. So yeah you are fed what the govt wants to feed you.

    Anyways, I learned about this in school, whenever it came up and the emphasis placed on it, was of course quite high. I also learned in California and through elementary school we used books that made Muslims look pretty good (I wasn’t Muslim). So I don’t know how biased they were there or then or what.

    I suppose in our times it is a bit different. I mean I haven’t been out of school that long myself but still with all that has occured now, the agenda of these non-Muslims has obviously changed quite a bit.

    I wouldn’t teach my son about the holocaust or any other big history issue like this until it was time to teach him that and even then, as a Muslimah, I know that teaching facts and teaching conjecture are two totally different things. So I would teach him every angle and have him open his mind as he grows insha’Allaah. It isn’t a must that he even knows about it, but there is no need to hide history but at the same time he would learn what has happened to non-jews, including Muslims.

    Many non-Muslims and Muslims take offense when we doubt its validity as they have portrayed it (so validity in certain aspects), but we have learned in Islaam that proof needs to back up what we say.

    • Avatar


      March 9, 2010 at 3:39 PM

      It does not need to be taught? I must strongly disagree. From my study of history, the Holocaust was the first, state-run organized mass-murder of millions of people. Many Holocaust Museums make it known that many non-Jews died and that information is not forgotten, however, most of the propaganda in Nazi Germany targeted Jews as a national pariah, because it was easy to do so. There were rumors and racial stereotypes and religious beliefs that were wholly untrue and all used as excuses to dehumanize people just as people now say Muslims are all dangerous people that cannot be trusted or be sent back to our “desert lands”.

      What about our brothers and sisters in Bosnia? Was that not modeled on the Holocaust? Ironically, despite what people here have said that it does not need to be taught, when looking at how hard people around the world try to make this a fact of history, it happens over and over again. And the proof is there, there are the concentration camps, the museums, the shoes, the photographs and tens of thousands of papers and dozens of buildings proving it happened.

      I do not believe in conspiracy theories by anyone because they are used against our own people as well and we know they are not true. May this message of warning and peace and truth come to all inshallah.

  11. Avatar

    Umm Reem

    March 17, 2007 at 4:25 PM

    Acually, sister Umm Layth it is kind of hard to be homeschooled and still be totally ‘protected’. :) unless you make your own curriculum which i found to be very difficult since I am not qualified enough to make one and the islamic sites for homeschooling are not as organized and efficient.

    You may be surprised to know that some of the nice homeschool curriculum are totally ‘Christian’ based. You have to be church member to order them. The least govt/religion involved curriculum that I found is k-12 but I was advised not to use their history/govt. subject even for small children because it is just one-sided tainted history. Although, I was very selective in the courses I chose for my daughter, one of her literature books is just biblical stories and she is supposed to be tested over it.

    In any case, Mouse I know one convert sister from Judaism (the one and only I know) and it was interesting what she was telling me about what happens in Israel (she grew up there). Every high school teenager is supposed to go through this field trip where they take the students to ‘Holocaust sites’ and keep them there for about 7-10 days. They get the worse treatment there…similar to what the victims of Holocaust received, just to get a glimpse. She said basically when they come out of this ‘field trip’ every single teenager feels so much for all those victims that they get pretty much brainwashed in justifying every and any action they may have to take to keep a ‘secure’ homeland for themselves!

  12. Avatar

    Umm Layth

    March 17, 2007 at 10:06 PM

    Yes you are right but the difference between homeschooling and going through a charter school @ home is that you as a parent have full control to teach them what you want, how you want and when you want.

  13. Avatar


    March 18, 2007 at 5:43 AM

    You posed a lot of interesting questions Mouse:) I was exposed to this (not all of it but parts of it) from really early on in my childhood, mainly because my mom’s parents and a lot of her other relatives lived through it. So I grew up hearing stories (very sanitized albeit) from my grandparents and great-aunts/uncles about what they lived through and saw very early on. I think that if it hadn’t been for my mom’s family connection to this I probably wouldn’t have started learning about it until I was in highschool like most of you it seems and it wouldn’t have been such a big deal as it currently is in the one half of my family.

    I’m not quite sure what one of the commenters meant about “real” hate. What other kind is there? “Fake” hate? But I agree that the biggest message/lesson that should be drawn from the Holocaust and taught to all children is that it was started because of fear, hate, ignorance, xenophobia, racism and everything we see today. There could very well be another one if we are not careful. And there is certainly no shortage of that in the muslim world as well so lets not go about placing all the blame on the west/nonmuslims.

    About the Nazis being Christian btw, I don’t think you can just go labeling everyone to be of a certain religion based on what color their skin is or where they were born. Every religion, including Islam requires a conscious choice to accept. So I don’t agree with the statement that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were “Christian”. This is exactly what nonmuslims say about “muslims” who kill. Because they are Arab or Pakistani or Bosnian or whatever that must automatically make them muslim. It does not. These kind of blanket statements always irritate me. Sorry

  14. Avatar


    April 14, 2007 at 11:15 PM


    You know I have studied the Holocaust for some years now. The only thing that I found meaning in was to learn how people function under pressure. The German resorted to killing and the jews and others resorting to learn the techniques of survival. From what I have gathered it was only those who had meaning to live that made it through ok, I mean those who had a purpose to live.

    To me that was a nice lesson and Muslims should study this well that we will overcome the struggles we face when we believe in the purpose of life as dictated to us by Allah {swt}.

    On the other hand, the Holocaust is a demonstration that life is not to be lived by reason alone nor by nationalism. Germany and Prussia at the time before the Holocaust were the most advanced states and likewise they turned into the most rationally inhuman.
    Again a lesson in life with shirk. In one case reason was idolized and in the other the nation, the race and what did it amount to?

    I am always thrown aback that after the world studied the holocaust the jews turned around and commited crimes in Jenin and Shateela. I am boggled that they forget what happened.

    Although at times I think that the Holocaust is what led to the mentality that now governed occupied Palestine.

    If we are to learn anything from the Holocaust let it be that we commit to justice and humanity when we are weak and when we have power. We must commit to the Qur’anic ethic that dictates that killing one human being is like killing a nation now that is a lesson for life and not death.


    • Avatar


      March 9, 2010 at 3:44 PM

      I would have to say that not all Jews as a whole act on everything and believe everything the same. I know there are many Jews in and outside of Israel that protest Israeli actions and know that horrible things have happened in Palestine.

      Many of my Jewish friends have always said though they don’t feel that because of the Holocaust that Israel has a right to kill people or can get revenge for what happened in the 40s or it has a right to do bad things as a result. I think Israel’s actions are due to the conflict itself and the hardening of hearts. I am not saying what happens is okay, but I am just trying to be logical about this.

  15. Avatar


    September 21, 2010 at 5:30 AM

    Hi everyone,

    I stumbled across this website and wondered if it might be helpful…

    If you scroll down about half-way it says that the holocaust did not actually cause the re-creation of Israel and the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

    “The Holocaust did not ‘create’ Israel, and its establishment was not motivated by any feelings of guilt of the world’s nations at the time, as minutes of the United Nations General Assembly discussions that led to the creation of Israel show. ”

    Does this change/add to the discussion a little?

    Sorry, I guess it’s a little late for the school project though!

  16. Avatar


    March 29, 2012 at 7:35 PM

    as a palestinian muslim i feel that, while it is bad what happened to the jews, they went and did the same thing to us.  why should i care about what happened to them when they stole land from my family and kicked us out of the country?  and the fact that the jews back then owned everything and where corrupting society as they are today.  just look at what they are doing in the US, they own everything and steal money from the US for their terrorist state, i think that they will never learn.  this is why there is 1/3 of the quran warning us about the jews.  dont get me wrong not all of them are bad, infact most of them are good people but there is the group that is deciptfull that we should be aware of.

    • Avatar


      May 22, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      My heart goes to you and all Palestinians. I think that we should care about what happened in WWII, though, because the Holocaust was unjust. What happened to the Jews then, can happen to Muslims today. In fact, it is happening: 1 million Iraqi Muslims killed, hundreds of thousands Palestinians continue to suffer, Afghanistanis too, etc. Why are there secret “prisons”? I call them concentration camps. As Muslims, we must always be just. Yes, some of the Jews have done to Palestinians what happened to them/their ancestors. It is a fact. But just because they are wrong, does not mean we should be wrong. Our religion does not teach us to support evil of any kind or to deny the truth.

  17. Avatar

    Rory Calhoun

    July 1, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    All this is bullshit and I am no Jew. Both Nazis and the likes of the Grand mufti of Jerusalem and other fascist Muslims murdered Jews and killed them. Dont believe it then you are mad…insane.
    Palestinians could have had a beautiful flourishing land if they would have accepted partition in 1948.
    The koran says that Israel is the home of the Jews.
    Hamas accepts that most Pals. came from Egypt and Stria.

  18. Avatar


    May 22, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    I am born Muslim, have been Muslim all my life. My parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers–all who were Muslims, have told me about the Holocaust. My grandfather (a Muslim) lost both his parents to Nazi supporters when he was 14. So, my family was touched by the evil of Holocaust. How can one not know about holocaust? Seriously?
    I think it is dangerous to assume, and anti-Muslim propaganda supporting, to question all Muslims whether they ever heard of Holocaust? There is one billion something of us out there. Perhaps majority of the 15% of Muslims that Arabs make do not hear about Holocaust, but all others Muslims have learned about it since they were little. And none of us deny it.

    • Avatar


      June 5, 2013 at 1:04 AM

      To what you are saying, I have talked to more than a few Muslims about this topic and the deny the Holocaust,

  19. Avatar


    November 20, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    It is dispicable that anyone should deny the Holocaust happened. It is an undeniable part of the worlds history and only those who hold themselves above others would deny that this incredibly inhumane event took place. Regardless of how YOU feel about those of the Jewish faith, we need to teach our children about the holocaust (and the innocent people who lost their lives trying to stop it!) because if you don’t LEARN from history, it will repeat itself.
    It seems to me that all religions are guilty of the persecution of other race/religions at some time in history and that’s sad because until we can learn to dispose of these hateful Holy books, we will never be free of hate.
    Goodness comes from within you, you are born with it until someone teaches you otherwise.
    Teach your kids however you want but please remember to teach them to love all others, don’t teach them hate.

  20. Avatar


    July 16, 2016 at 3:50 AM

    Unfortunately muslims do not trust any written media or historical facts unless coming from allah himself of course unless it agrees with what they think favours them

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

I remember driving to college orientation over the summer with my father, may Allah have mercy on him. I was going to be going to school out of state, and at the age of eighteen, this was the first time that I would be living away from home. 

We talked about a lot of things, and nothing in particular but one of the stories he shared stayed with me. There was an Imam who had a close circle of students and one of them became absent for an extended period. Upon that student’s return, the Imam asked him where he had been, to which the student replied, 

“Egypt!” The imam said to him, “well how was Egypt!” 

The student replied, “Egypt is where knowledge resides.” 

The Imam responded, “You’ve spoken the truth.” 

Sometime later, the imam had another student who also was absent and upon his return, the Imam asked him where he had gone to which the student replied, “Egypt!” The imam said to him, “Well, how was Egypt?”

The student said, “Egypt is nothing but amusement and play!” 

The Imam responded, ‘You’ve spoken the truth!” 

There were students who had witnessed both conversations and asked the Imam later why he had borne witness to the truth of two antithetical statements to which the imam replied,

“They both found what they were looking for.” 

I got the message. University could be a place of incredible learning, engagement with ideas, and can push you and challenge you in the best of ways. It can also be a non-stop party. A blur of heedlessness and hedonism that will bring about remorse and regret for that individual in the Dunya and Akhira. 

I think back to that car ride fondly, and I appreciate the predicament of parting advice. A person who will be bidding farewell to someone so dear to them and wanting to give them something powerful that they can hold onto or wisdom that will guide them. Many students in the past weeks have been receiving similar parting advice from their families, and so in this article I wanted to share one of the advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he gave to a companion that he loved so much. 

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ جُنْدَبِ بْنِ جُنَادَةَ، وَأَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم قَالَ: “اتَّقِ اللَّهَ حَيْثُمَا كُنْت، وَأَتْبِعْ السَّيِّئَةَ الْحَسَنَةَ تَمْحُهَا، وَخَالِقْ النَّاسَ بِخُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ”

رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ [رقم:1987] وَقَالَ: حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ، وَفِي بَعْضِ النُّسَخِ: حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ. 

On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junadah, and Abu Abdur-Rahman Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said

“Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are, and follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it, and treat people with good character.” (Tirmidhi)

The advice is comprised of three components

  1. Fear Allah wherever you are 
  2. Follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it 
  3. Treat people with good character 

Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are 

Taqwa is the crown of the believer. And it is the best thing that a person can carry with them on the journey of this life, and the journey to meet their Lord. Allah says, 

“And take provision, and the best provision is Taqwa.” 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ أَكْثَرِ مَا يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَقْوَى اللَّهِ وَحُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ ‏”‏ ‏

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked as to what admits people into Paradise the most and he said, “Taqwa and good character.” (Tirmidhi) 

And so what is Taqwa?

Talq ibn Habeeb gave a beautiful definition and description of Taqwa when he said, 

“Taqwa is to act in obedience to Allah, upon a light from Allah, seeking the reward of Allah. And it is to avoid the disobedience of Allah, upon a light from Allah, fearing the punishment of Allah.” 

And so he describes taqwa as having three components; the action, the source for that action, and the motivation for that action.”

To act in the obedience of Allah..

To do the things that Allah commands you to do and to stay away from what Allah prohibits you from doing 

Upon a light from Allah..

The source for the action or inaction must come from revelation, a light from Allah. And this should stir us to seek knowledge so that our actions are onem guided by a light from Allah. You’ve made it to University, you are bright, gifted, intelligent and committed to education.  Do not let be the one thing that you remain uneducated about be your religion. 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, 

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِراً مِّنَ ٱلْحَيَاةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ ٱلآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware. (Al-Room v. 7) 

The prophet (S) said, “Allah hates every expert in the Dunya who is ignorant of the hereafter.” (Saheeh Al-Jaami’)

Make sure that you carve out time to attend halaqas on campus, seek out teachers and mentors who will guide you in learning about your religion even as you are pursuing your secular studies..

Seeking the reward of Allah..

The third component of Taqwa is the motivation:  that these actions that are being performed and that are sourced authentically in revelation must be performed for the sake of Allah, seeking His reward, and not for any other audience. That they not be done for shares, or likes or retweets. That a person does what they do of worship, that they abstain from what they abstain from of sin, seeking the reward of Allah and fearing His punishment. 

Fear Allah wherever you are..

Meaning in public and in private, online or offline, and when in the company of the righteous as well as when in the company of the wicked, in all circumstances a person must be mindful of the presence of Allah..

 عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّهُ قَالَ : ( لأَعْلَمَنَّ أَقْوَامًا مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَأْتُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ بِحَسَنَاتٍ أَمْثَالِ جِبَالِ تِهَامَةَ بِيضًا فَيَجْعَلُهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ هَبَاءً مَنْثُورًا ) قَالَ ثَوْبَانُ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صِفْهُمْ لَنَا ، جَلِّهِمْ لَنَا أَنْ لاَ نَكُونَ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لاَ نَعْلَمُ ، قَالَ : ( أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ إِخْوَانُكُمْ وَمِنْ جِلْدَتِكُمْ وَيَأْخُذُونَ مِنَ اللَّيْلِ كَمَا تَأْخُذُونَ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ أَقْوَامٌ إِذَا خَلَوْا بِمَحَارِمِ اللَّهِ انْتَهَكُوهَا

It was narrated from Thawban that the Prophet ﷺ said:

“I certainly know people of my nation who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawban said: “O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.” He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they are people who, when they are alone with what Allah has prohibited, they violate it.” 

This hadeeth is a warning for the person who is quick, eager and ready to violate the limits of Allah as soon as the door is locked, or the curtains or drawn, or as soon as they have arrived in a new place where no one knows them. We will sin, but let our sins be sins of weakness or lapses of taqwa and not sins of predetermination and design. There is a big difference between someone who sins in a moment’s temptation and the one who is planning to sin for hours, days or weeks! 

And follow a good deed with a bad deed it will erase it..

When we fall, as we must inevitably due to our being human, the prophet (S) instructed us to follow a sin with a good deed to erase it. 

Commit a sin, give charity. 

Commit a sin, perform wudhu as beautifully as you can and pray two rak’ahs. 

Commit a sin, seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent…

Our sins should not suffocate us from doing good deeds, they should fuel us to doing good deeds. 

Allah says,

وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلاَةَ طَرَفَيِ ٱلنَّهَارِ وَزُلَفاً مِّنَ ٱلَّيْلِ إِنَّ ٱلْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ ٱلسَّـيِّئَاتِ ذٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember. (Surat Hood v. 114) 

A man from the Ansar was alone with a woman and he did everything with her short of fornication. In remorse, he went to the prophet (S) and confessed to him. Umar said to the man, “Allah had concealed your sins, why didn’t you conceal it yourself!” The prophet (S) however was silent.

The man eventually left and the prophet (S) had a messenger go to him to recite the aforementioned verse.  A man said, “Oh Messenger of Allah is it for him alone?”

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “No for all people.” 

And so for all people, sin plus good deed equals the sin is erased. That is a formula to be inscribed in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Al-Hassan Al-Basri, the master preacher of the Tabi’een was asked,

“Should one of us not be ashamed of our Lord, we seek forgiveness from our Lord and then return to sin, and then seek forgiveness and then return!” 

He said,

“Shaytan would love to conquer you with that (notion), do not grow tired of seeking forgiveness”

But know that these sins that are erased by good deeds are the minor sins, as for the major sins they require repentance for the many verses in which Allah threatens punishment for those who commit major sins if they do not repent, and so repentance is a condition for the erasing of the effect of major sins. 

And treat people with good character 

And if Taqwa is the crown of the believer, then good character is the crown of Taqwa, for many people think that taqwa is to fulfill the rights of Allah without fulfilling the rights of His creation! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in many hadith highlights the lofty stations that a believer attains with good character, for example: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، رَحِمَهَا اللَّهُ قَالَتْ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لَيُدْرِكُ بِحُسْنِ خُلُقِهِ دَرَجَةَ الصَّائِمِ الْقَائِمِ

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Tirmidhi)

عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَا مِنْ شَيْءٍ يُوضَعُ فِي الْمِيزَانِ أَثْقَلُ مِنْ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ وَإِنَّ صَاحِبَ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ لَيَبْلُغُ بِهِ دَرَجَةَ صَاحِبِ الصَّوْمِ وَالصَّلاَةِ 

Abu Ad-Darda narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said:

“Nothing is placed on the Scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.” (Tirmidhi)

Let no one beat you to the taqwa of Allah and let no one beat you to beautiful character. 

You’ve come of age at a time in which the majority of our interactions are online, and in that world harshness and cruelty are low hanging fruit seemingly devoid of consequences. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Whoever lives in the deserts becomes harsh.” (Abu Dawood) 

And social media is a desert, it is an experience where we are all alone, together. 

So choose gentleness over harshness, choose forgiveness over vindictiveness, choose truth over falsehood and protect people from your harm. 

For the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “I am a guarantor of a house in the highest part of Jannah for whoever makes their character good.” 

May Allah make us from them. 

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading


Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview

islamic online high school
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

He squirmed in his seat as his Middle East history professor–yet again–made a subtle jab about Islam, this time about the jizyah.  This professor claimed to be pro-Arab and pro-Islam and was part of a university department that touted itself for presenting history and narratives that are typically left out of the West’s Eurocentric social studies sequence. Still, she would subjectively only present an Orientalist interpretation of Islam. Ahmad* sighed. He felt bad just thinking about what all his classmates at this esteemed university thought about Islam and Muslims. He was also worried about fellow Muslims in his class who had not grown up in a practicing household-what if they believed her? He hated how she was using her position as the “sage” in the room to present her bias as absolute truth. As for himself, he knew deep down in his bones that what his professor was alleging just could not be true. His fitrah was protesting her coy smile as she knowingly agitated the few Muslims in her class of one-hundred-fifty. Yet, Ahmad had never studied such topics growing up and felt all his years of secondary education left him ill-equipped as a freshman in college. He tried to search for answers to her false accusations after class and approached her later during office hours, but she just laughed him off as a backward, orthodox Muslim who had obviously been brainwashed into believing the “fairy tale version” of Islam. 


Asiyah* graduated as class valedictorian of her Islamic school. She loved Biology and Physics and planned to major in Engineering at a top-notch program. While both family, friends, and peers were proud of her (some maybe even wishing they were in her shoes), they had no idea of the bitter inner struggle that was eating away at her, tearing her up from the inside out. Her crisis of faith shook her to the core and her parents were at their wits’ end. While she prayed all her prayers and even properly donned her hijab, deep down she felt……..sort of….……atheist.  Physics was her life–her complete being. She loved how the numbers just added up and everything could be empirically proven. But this led to her greatest anguish: how could certain miraculous events during the time of the Blessed Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have occurred? How could she believe in events that were physically and scientifically impossible?  She felt like an empty body performing the rituals of Islam.

*names changed


An Unwelcome Surprise

Islam is a way of life. Its principles operate in every avenue of one’s life. However, English, History, Science and Mathematics are often taught as if they are beyond the scope of Islam. It is commonly assumed that moral teaching happens, or should happen, only in the Islamic Studies class. Yet, if we compare what is being taught in the Islamic Studies class with what is being taught consciously or unconsciously in other classes, an unwelcome surprise awaits us. Examining typical reading material in English classes, for example, reveals that too much of the material is actually going against Islamic norms and principles. Some of the most prominent problems with traditional English literature (which directly clash with Islamic moral and ethical principles) include: the mockery of God and religion, the promotion of rebellion against parents and traditional family values, the normalization of immoral conduct such as lying and rude behavior, and the condoning of inappropriate cross-gender interactions. Additionally, positive references about Islamic culture are either nonexistent or rare. Toxic themes of secularism, atheism, materialism, liberalism, and agnosticism are constantly bombarding our young Muslim students, thus shaping the way in which they view and interact with the world.

Corrective Lens: The Worldview of Islam

We need our children to develop an Islamic worldview, one that provides a framework for Muslims to understand their world from the perspective of the Qur’an.  It is impossible for the Islamic Studies classes alone to successfully teach Islamic behavior and nurture moral commitment unless the other classes also reflect the Islamic worldview- an outlook that emphasizes the idea that all our actions should be focused on pleasing Allah and doing good for ourselves and others. Therefore, the majority of what is taught in all academic disciplines should be based on Islamic values, aiming to improve the life of the student by promoting sublime ethical conduct. The unfortunate reality is quite the opposite: a typical child in a school in the West spends a minimum of 576 periods (16 periods of core classes/week * 4 weeks/month * 9 months) of classroom instruction annually on academic subjects that are devoid of Islam and contain minimal teaching of morality that aligns with Islamic principles. How much Islam a child learns depends on whether their parents choose Sunday school, Islamic schools, and/or other forms of supplementation to provide religious knowledge. However, rarely does that supplemental instruction undo the thousands of hours of the atheistic worldview that children soak in by the time they finish high school through the study of secular subjects. By not having an Islamic worldview and not having Muslims’ heritage and contributions to humanity infused into the teaching of academic subjects, we witness the problems experienced by the likes of Ahmad* and Asiyah*–problems that plague modern Muslim youth.

Identifying the Unlikely Suspect

This realization is perhaps the missing piece in the puzzle when it comes to our bewilderment: how are large swaths of youth from some of the kindest, sweetest, practicing Muslim families going astray and getting confused? When we shepherd our flock and find one or more of our “sheep” lost and off the beaten path, we think of the likely suspects, which include negative influences from peers, family, movies, social media, etc. We may even blame the lack of inspiring role models. We are less likely to suspect that the very literature that our children are consuming day in and day out through our well-intentioned efforts to make them “educated” and “sophisticated” could cause them to question Islam or fall into moral abyss.

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”

Islamic Infusion in Academic Study as a Solution

There have been efforts across the globe to infuse Islam into academic study of worldly subjects. Universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia(IIUM), which has a dedicated “Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS),” is an example. At the secondary school level, most brick and mortar Islamic schools do offer Arabic, Qur’an, and Islamic studies; however, few Muslim teachers are trained in how to teach core academic subjects using principles of Islamic pedagogy.

How exactly can educators infuse an Islamic perspective into their teaching? And how can Muslim children have access to high quality education from the worldview of Islam, taught by talented and dynamic educators?

Infusing Islam & Muslim Heritage in Core Academic Subjects, According to the Experts:

  • Dr. Nadeem Memon, professor of Islamic pedagogy, states that for a pedagogy to be Islamic, it should not contradict the aims, objectives and ethics contained in revelation (Qur’an) and should closely reflect an Islamic ethos that is based on revelation, the sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh), and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. It should also effectively develop the student’s intelligence (`aql), faith (iman), morality and character (khuluq), knowledge and practice of personal religious obligations (fard ain) and knowledge, skills and physical abilities warranted by worldly responsibilities and duties (Ajem, Ramzy and Nadeem Memon, “Prophetic Pedagogy: Teaching ‘Islamically’ in our Classrooms”)
  • Dr. Susan Douglass, expert in Social Studies, promotes a panoramic study of the world by global eras–emphasizing the interdependence of nations–rather than an isolationist civilizations approach (which in Western societies focuses only on Western civilization). Such study includes Islamic history and Muslims’ contributions to humanity throughout the ages.
  • Dr. Freda Shamma, pioneer in promoting culturally inclusive and ethical literature, emphasizes that English classes should carefully select literature aligned with Islamic moral values and include works by both Western authors and those from other cultures, i.e. literature that 1-features Muslim main characters and 2- is authored by Muslims.
  • Dr. Nur Jannah Hassan at CENTRIS, stresses that Science classes should be designed to awaken the student’s mind, to inspire a complete awe of and servitude towards the Creator and Sustainer, to instill the purpose of creation, vicegerency and stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants, to enable students to decipher God’s Signs in nature and in the self, to infuse responsibility in sustaining balance and accountability, and should include Muslims’ legacy in the field.
  • Dr. Reema alNizami, specialist in Math Education, advocates that Math classes should instill creative thinking, systematic problem solving and an appreciation of balance; include a survey of Muslims’ contributions to the field; and utilize word problems that encourage charitable and ethical financial practices.

Technology Enables Access to Islamically Infused Schooling for grades 6-12

Technology has now enabled this Islamic infusion for middle schools and secondary schools to become a reality on a global scale, alhamdulillah. Legacy International Online High School, a college preparatory, online Islamic school serving grades 6-12, whose mission is “Cultivating Compassionate Global Leaders”, offers all academic subjects from the Islamic worldview. Pioneered by leading Muslim educators from around the globe with background in Islamic pedagogy and digital learning, Legacy is the first of its kind online platform that is accessible to:

  • homeschooling families seeking full-time, rigorous, Islamically infused classes
  • Public school families looking for a part-time Islamic studies or Arabic sequence
  • Islamic schools, evening programs, and Sunday schools that are short-staffed and would like to outsource certain courses from the Islamic worldview
  • Schools and entities needing training/workshops to empower Muslim educators on how to teach from the Islamic worldview

Alhamdulillah, Legacy IOHS is an accessible resource for families with children in grades 6-8 who are seeking curriculum and instruction that is Islamically infused.

Strengthening Faith & Identity in College and Beyond

For those seeking supplementary resources to address the most prevalent hot topic issues plaguing young Muslims of our times, Yaqeen Institute, whose initial publications were more targeted towards a university audience, is now working to make its research more accessible to the general public through both its Conviction Circles initiative and its short videos featuring infographics.

Another online platform, California Islamic University, offers a comprehensive course sequence which allows college students to graduate with a second degree in Islamic studies while simultaneously completing their undergraduate studies at any accredited community college or university in the United States. Qalam and AlMaghrib Institute also offer online coursework in Islamic studies.

What We Hope to Avoid

While volunteering at his son Sulayman’s* public school with ten student participants, Ibrahim* was saddened when he met a young boy named Chris*. When Chris met Ibrahim, he piped up and eagerly told Ibrahim, “my grandparents are Muslim!” Through the course of the conversation, Ibrahim realized that he knew Chris’ grandparents, a very sweet elderly couple (and currently very practicing) who had not made the Islamic worldview a priority early on in their children’s lives. A mere two generations later, Islam is completely eliminated from their family. *names changed

Our Resolve

Legacy IOHS recommends the following to Muslim families/educators and Islamic schools:

  1. Instill in our children a strong grasp of the foundational sciences of Islam, while preparing them with the necessary contemporary knowledge and skills
  2. Teach our children in their formative years to view the world (including their “secular” academic study) through the lens of Islam
  3. Follow this up with relevant motivational programs that assist them in understanding challenging issues of today and coach them on how to respond to the issues in their teenage years.

We pray that with the above, we will have fulfilled our duty in shepherding our flock in a comprehensive way, with utmost care. It is Allah’s help we seek in these challenging times:

رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

‘Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us. Grant us Your mercy: You are the Ever Giving. [Qur’an 3:8]

 رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. [Qur’an 25:74]

يَا مُقَلِّبَ القُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِيْ عَلَى دِيْنِكْ

“O turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm on your religion.”

Freda Shamma has a M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.D. from the University of Cincinnati in the area of Curriculum Development. A veteran educator, she has worked with educators from the United States, South Africa and all over the Muslim world to develop integrated curricula based on an Islamic worldview that meets the needs of modern Muslim youth. She serves as Curriculum Advisor for Legacy International Online High School.

An avid student of the Islamic sciences, Zaheer Arastu earned his M.Ed from The George Washington University and completed his training in Educational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. his experience in Islamic education spans over 15 years serving as both teacher, administrator, and dean of innovation and technology. He currently serves as the Head of School for Legacy International Online High School.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading


Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

To stay up to date with more articles from Omar, sign up for his email list at

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading