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Dealing with the Disinterested

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disinterested.jpgI think I’ve just stumbled across the most difficult obstacle that teachers face… dealing with disinterested students. Okay, I’m not exactly a teacher… I’m more of a teacher’s assistant. But I still have to deal with the students!

In our little every-weekday-evening Madrasah, we have a variety of students despite the smallness of class size (around 25-39 kids in the younger level; around 10 in the older level). They range from the young and eager to the older and slightly less excited about spending two hours of every weekday in another school… overall, however, the students are pretty great, al-Hamdulillaah – they are learning more about Islam, and how to apply it to their daily lives, and subsequently strengthening their identities as Muslims.

However, to get back to my problem: Disinterested kids.
If you’ve ever had to teach a bunch of kids, you’ll know who I’m talking about… the guy (or girl!) who leans back in his/her chair, either staring at the teacher insolently or looking at nothing in particular with an expression of pure, unadulterated boredom and scorn. When told to do what the rest of the class is doing – learning a du’aa, practicing Qur’an recitation, or even just joining the group discussion – the look on the kid’s face is either of total disinterest (of the ‘whatever‘ sort), or of scornful incredulity (‘you actually expect me to listen to you?’).

At the moment, we really don’t know how to deal with these kids… there are a couple of them in the class, just sitting there and making absolutely no effort to learn. My dad’s of the opinion to just leave them be, and insha’Allah slowly but surely they’ll join the rest of the class’s progress. As for me… well, it just drives me crazy. We have a no-yelling policy, and while that’s fine for me in relation to the rest of the class, when it comes to these kids in particular I’ve had to bite my tongue more times than I can count. My tongue’s getting pretty sore now…

So: How does one deal with these children? Leave them be, and hope that they’ll become more interested and involved later on? Or is there some other alternative by which we can prod them into more speedy action?

While we’re at it, I have another issue as well – class discipline. How do you deal with rowdy kids?

Both during class and recess, there are a couple kids (guys… who else?!) who are really quite loud, and sometimes just downright misbehaved. I’ve come perilously close to breaking the no-yelling rule with these guys… and it’s not just them speaking out loud in the middle of class, or being a little rough with the other guys – it’s stuff like, a 9 year old kid being totally disrespectful to his older sister (kicking her, talking back to her, even spitting on her!), another kid being nasty to the younger children (grabbing them in headlocks, teasing them by taking their toys away and making them cry, etc.), and so on…

My father’s way of dealing with it is to rebuke them mildly (which I think is pretty ineffective, ‘cuz they just ignore him) and let them off with that; I think that we should have a stricter approach… although what that approach should be, I don’t know.

Advice would be much appreciated! :)

Your little sister in Islam,
Mouse

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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 MuslimMatters.org.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Avatar

    ExEx Blogger

    March 22, 2007 at 4:32 PM

    I think basically if you want the carrot carrot method, come to al huda.

  2. Avatar

    abu ameerah

    March 22, 2007 at 4:34 PM

    someone sounds a bit jaded…lol

    8)

  3. Avatar

    ExEx Blogger

    March 22, 2007 at 4:34 PM

    Basically no carrot stick method, more like you either eat the Gerber Baby mushed carrots or you eat the HARD baby carrot!!!

  4. Avatar

    ahmed

    March 22, 2007 at 4:57 PM

    Dealing with kids like this is one of the primary reasons I stopped teaching weekend schools.

    My take on it is: If they’re so problematic, just remove them from the class and send them home. They ruin the program for everyone else.

    I really think teachers and principals should just put their foot down and start expelling the problem children.

    We had a very similar problem with the full time hifdh program. It had a really bad reputation until the administration decided to expel the disruptive and uncooperative students. Problem solved, and now the school has a much better reputation.

  5. Avatar

    Umm Reem

    March 22, 2007 at 5:33 PM

    For the disinterested kid in the class, make a no-leaning rule (that is what I have for my children).

    To arouse interest in them, try making a point system where each child has a chart and they get points/stars for participation, listening to teacher, answering questions etc. and after a certain no. of points/star get a gift. It may work if you have not tried it already.

    As for the child hitting his older sister, I think his parents should be informed.

  6. Avatar

    Moiez

    March 22, 2007 at 6:40 PM

    Asalaamualaikum,
    My opinion is
    Take a hammer to it, make a spit ball gun or a sling shot hide somewhere and when you see them pick on somebody get em! of course make the intention that your doing this for the sake of peace and oh make sure during class you sit in the back with a crowd while the teacher is not looking inshallah the attention to what ever they are doing will be gone. If that doesnt work or something goes wrong write back we’ll concoct a better plan.

  7. Avatar

    Moiez

    March 22, 2007 at 6:42 PM

    oh yah sling shots use only for recess and use soft things that will pinch but not hurt too bad like a peice of foil or something

  8. Avatar

    khawla hurayrah

    March 23, 2007 at 12:13 PM

    Assalamu’alaikum

    SubhanAllah, May Allah reward you sister AnonyMouse for your effort in educating Muslim children. Ameen

    I understand how teachers must be going through with the effort of educating other people’s children. I think the problem didn’t just surface yesterday but it started from the day a child was born, most often due to bad parenting; lack of discipline and akhlaq; not fearing Allah or anybody in authorities; TV; lost of Haya; being fed with junk non halal food; or suckled by cow’s formula. They also make these excuses for having ADD or ADHD http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/adhd.cfm, some kind of mental health problems that may be worth looking into rather than expelling a child straight away.

    Allah advice in the Qur’an:
    “Wealth and children are only tests for you”

    My point being: Unless we strive to do something to overcome these tests, we are going to produce a weak Ummah in the future and we will only let the Kuffar feasting like diners set upon dinner table.

    Possible ways of help may be:

    * The parents’/teachers focus should be on looking forward and finding the best possible way to help the problematic child. Further more they are the adults incharged and not these kids. Our problem though is lack of funding because most Sunday school teachers are volunteers and parents cannot afford to pay or simply refuse to spend on Islamic education except designer clothing & the latest computer games. http://www.missionislam.com/family/index.htm

    * Identifying the problems – Studies have shown a possible correlation between the use of cigarettes and risk for ADHD in the offspring of that pregnancy. A Muslim mother AND father who heavily smokes especially during the gestation period, is a bad sign. Admit that, there are many Muslims who smoke in Al Haram during Hajj!!! Those who still think smoking is Mahrooh, must think again. Another factor may be high levels of lead in the bodies of young preschool children living in old apartments or houses.

    * Non halal food sustenance
    Some may frown upon this point but be realistic that non halal food hardened the heart and makes our du’aas not accepted.

    * Managing inappropriate behavior at school.
    I read some good points discussed here:
    http://soundvision.com/Info/education/edu.class.asp

    * Turns lemon into lemonade
    If we cannot use the tarbiyah from the Qur’an & Sunnah or Seerah of the Prophet (SAW) and the companions then we may have to try help these problematic kids through other means here: http://www.proteacher.com/030001.shtml

    * Make lots of du’aas. There are some du’aa for children that teachers can learn.

    * or it may be the case, the kid’s Arwa (Syaitan) is playing havoc!!!!

    May Allah guide our children and protect them from the accursed Syaitan. May Allah make it easy and reward the teachers (including parents) for all their efforts.

    ~Khawla

  9. Amad

    Amad

    March 24, 2007 at 12:40 AM

    Anonymouse… I have to deal with kid-adults… too old to be kids, yet still have kiddie minds… I am talking about the age group of 19-22. I have friends in that age group and getting them to do anything takes a tremendous amount of work. The enthusiasm is as much as a snail has for walking…. Guys, you know who I am talking about!!

    I haven’t figured out what to do with them either. If there was an Islamic equivalent to Playstation (in terms of enthusiasm), let me know where to buy it :)

  10. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    March 24, 2007 at 1:29 AM

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    ExEx Blogger: Where’s al-Huda?

    Ahmed: The thing is, because the community here is so small and these kids haven’t had much of an Islamic education, my dad doesn’t want to give up on them so quickly… plus, it happens to be one of our sources of income :S

    Umm Reem: Masha’Allah, I like the chart idea… I’ll suggest it to my dad… although, what we do right now is when we ask the kids questions and they get it right, they get a small candy as a reward…
    For the kid with the older sister, I’ve said the same thing, but my parents said that it’s not for us to interfere… I think it’s a disturbing issue, but they said it’s for the kid’s parents to deal with at home.

    Moiez: LOL, I love your ideas! :D Unfortunately, as the TA I’m not allowed to engage in that sort of behaviour… :(

    Khawla Hurayrah: Jazaakillaahi khairan for the detailed advice! :) Just a note, though: While my brothers and I are volunteer TA’s, the Madrasah is done on a 3-days-a-week basis, and a fee
    is paid by each student (or rather, the student’s parents).

    Amad: Take them to the park and let them expend their energy… or give them colouring books! :P

  11. Avatar

    Diefulllah

    March 24, 2007 at 10:10 AM

    Amad: Haha…”Islamic equivalent of Playstation”?
    Uhhhh no, actually maybe if we concentrate more on bringing back big Sheikhs, it would bring more enthusiasm not just to the Youth but to the community as a whole.

    By the way, I give back to the community in a lot of ways. I sit here in my dark basement and I burn copies of Anwar Al-Awlaki lectures and different reciters of the Quran. Then I pass them out to the people who asked for them. So, in that sense, I think I have great enthusiasm and it doesn’t require video games ;)

    (All sarcasm…no offense taken)

  12. Avatar

    Diefulllah

    March 24, 2007 at 10:16 AM

    Ooops, Sorry for hijacking the thread…I didn’t read the original post! :eek:

  13. Avatar

    Didi

    March 26, 2007 at 10:22 PM

    I used to hang out with a lot of English teachers, so I would routinely hear about their punishment stories. The best one I ever heard of was telling the problematic kid that, if they didn’t quit misbehaving, they’d have to stand in front of the class while everyone else wrote lines. It’s apparently extremely effective.

    Alternatively, you could just leave them be. They’re probably the cool/smart ones that notice the lack of evidence and high improbability surrounding supernaturalness and will become atheists if you let them. :)

  14. Avatar

    anon

    March 27, 2007 at 2:51 AM

    The loud obnoxious kids reminded me of when I was in sixth grade and my spanish teacher, Senorita Millines, put duck tape over one of the kid’s mouth when he wouldn’t shuttup and he had to sit like that for the rest of the period.
    She got in major trouble for that from school personnel and parents’ complaints so I wouldn’t recommend doing that Anonymouse :)

    About the disinterested/bored kids… maybe their scorn, bordom, and disinterest comes from the fact that the class isn’t moving fast enough for them and it really is very unstimulating. I’ve known a lot of kids who can rattle of stuff at the drop of the hat, know stuff I could never even begin to comprehend, and help people who are older than them do their work (Actually they practically ended up doing it themselves). Yet in school they act like idiots, don’t do work, get lousy grades and just don’t care because it offers no intellectual challenge for them and they don’t see the point of paying attention. So, maybe the teaching method or the way your doing your curriculum is part of the problem. No offense btw. I’m not trying to say you’re a bad teacher :)

  15. Avatar

    Abdu

    March 27, 2007 at 8:22 AM

    “They’re probably the cool/smart ones that notice the lack of evidence and high improbability surrounding supernaturalness and will become atheists if you let them.”

    I think you mean the foolish/ignorant ones.

  16. Avatar

    Moiez

    March 27, 2007 at 9:23 AM

    Do you guys have detention? or a corner where kids can laugh at the kid misbehaving because emarassment is a big psychological tool you can use.

  17. Avatar

    Mihrash

    March 28, 2007 at 11:13 AM

    Please stop using the icons that shows the expressions it is the same as drawing pictures. I won’t come to this blog again if people keep using it.

  18. Avatar

    AnonyMouse

    March 28, 2007 at 12:41 PM

    Didi: “They’re probably the cool/smart ones that notice the lack of evidence and high improbability surrounding supernaturalness and will become atheists if you let them.” Ahem… I shan’t respond to that, as we’ve both had this conversation before and know where it’ll lead (nowhere!).

    Anon: LOL, I love the duct tape idea! :P But you’re right, it probably won’t be too popular with the parents :S Haha, no offence taken… that’s why I asked in the first place, ‘cuz I knew y’all would come up with good points and suggestions! :)

    Abdu: Didi’s an old classmate of mine… a staunch atheist. We had HUGE debates on the subject of religion, with neither of us changing our minds :S

    Moiez: So far, our ‘punishment policy’ has been to not let the misbehaving kids play foozball during recess.

    Mihrash: Ummm… I don’t know about that… Does anyone else think the same way? (That smileys count as drawing images?)

  19. Avatar

    anon

    March 28, 2007 at 4:44 PM

    LOL @ Mihrash. I kind of thought he was joking or being sarcastic when he wrote that. I personally really think that’s going a bit overboard for my tastes and will continue to use them because they’re cute :) :D ;)

    I thought Didi’s comment was funny before but I think it’s even funnier now that I know s/he is actually an atheist. LOL :D

  20. Amad

    Amad

    March 28, 2007 at 5:39 PM

    Anon, he is joking.

    By the way, Mihrash is actually the Jinn’s name that a local friend claims to have been visited by, and this I am not kidding… Awesome that we now have Jinns visiting our blog as well :)

  21. Avatar

    AnonyMouse

    March 28, 2007 at 5:58 PM

    Yikes… the subject of jinn seems to be coming up quite a bit around me lately! :S

    lol, the older kids at the Madrasah love hearing jinn stories… it started when we were learning the du’aat to recite before bed, to be protected from all evil, and tafseer of surah an-Naas and al-Falaq; they started asking a million questions about the jinn (including the ‘can humans marry jinn?’ one!), and then my dad told them about the time one of his teachers in Medinah exorcised someone who was possessed…

    I suck at telling if someone’s being sarcastic or not online :(

  22. Avatar

    Moiez

    March 28, 2007 at 10:13 PM

    o.k so i am getting the gist that your not a type of person who likes punishments. let me think of a nicer way do you guys give homework? pretty dumb question but in case you do if you had a reward system where every day when you think the behavior is good you flip over a day and once you get 6 full days of good behavior no homework for the next day.

    Im not sure about this but alot of kidz dont have much knowledge on the unseen and the hereafter and I believe the Prophet first put paradise and hellfire infront of the sahaba before giving them the restrictions and benefits sooo what if you give lessons on what would happen to those who misbehave and what would happen to those who behave. In the dunya and in the hereafter. its an interesting topic so the kids will listen.

  23. Avatar

    Didi

    March 28, 2007 at 10:32 PM

    “I think you mean the foolish/ignorant ones.”

    Whoops, yeah, that was a common typo. The keys are like, right next to each other. ;)

  24. Avatar

    Fur

    March 30, 2007 at 2:21 PM

    Salamalayik habiibati,

    I was over at your old blog just now, just as well i find you here,,,looks like some dedicated staff is pretty occupied at her office :)

    I was just reading your post >, tried posting but somehow i couln’t get through..

    So hows things coming along? For yourself and for your students at the madrasa?

    You know what,I share the same concern and aspirations, which is why reading your writing and the suggestions that followed, by fellow brothers and sisters was so fulfilling, and i thought of sharing a few humble thoughts on it too, if i may :)

    but what i intend to say here may not necessarily seek to resolve the problem you’re facing at the madrasa, but instead, I thought of directing this to you as an individual; as an inspiring thinking adolescent, al-hamdu lillah ;) Bravo! Bravo!

    So when we come to talk about making attempts at understanding the Qur’an, (I don’t know if you’re searching for INSTANT solutions), but if your heart is really pure in this mission, one thing comes to mind, at least to mine; have you tried befriending the Tafseer? Afterall, what are tafseer books for if not to help us understand the Qur’an, rite?

    I think there should be many versions out there available, from the concise and reader-friendly Ibnu Kathir’s, to the extensive and exhaustive, soul-awakening presentation by Syed Qutb

    SubhanALLAH if only we can hear them screaming to us from the shelves in the bookstores “Buy me! Buy me!” …and yet its always the Harry Potter series that we end up paying for,,,eh?

    Sometimes it’s not like we don’t have ‘em in our library at home, but I guess they’ve gotten a bit camouflaged with the dust that we cud hardly recognized em anymore. and they would just anticipate patiently for the day we will rescue em off those shelves…

    Personally i am of the opinion that these tafseer books are the more qualified companion to keep a Muslim teenager company…but sadly, it’s always those harry potter or LOTR series that gets the privilege to be our best buddy

    Now,with regards to the problem you’re facing at your madrasa, well, I don’t exactly have a solution to offer,, but my insight on it is this; if only there are simplified tafseer books specially written for pupils of elementary and secondary level…mmm, that may be of some help, would it not?

    I wonder if such compilation is available in the market… perhaps we can put that up in the ad, “Calling all Tafseer majors. If you don’t have much to do after graduation, please come up with tafseer books for kids.”
    Haha. Sorry. Just getting a bit carried away there…

    But yeah, when we come to look at the matter seriously, our negligence or failure in referring to the tafseer on a habitual basis would in some way defeat their purpose of existence, don’t you think? They were written with that principal cause of helping us to ‘understand’ the Qur’an better…and yet we somehow ‘abandon’ them.

    Well, anyways, those are just my personal humble thoughts; and I do stand to be corrected, esp with all these syeikhs around :)

    Oh yes, to brother Amad as the initiator of this “coffee house”; I’d just like to say Mabrouk for gathering everybody under one roof. It is indeed a meritorious effort. May the whole team reap many, many merits from Allah, InshaALLAH

    Nonnie habiibati, i’d like to say a thing a two about the topic of discussion here, inshaAllah I’ll be coming again; this is already taking too long. Haha.

    Heres to a new friendship :D
    Was-salaamu ‘alaiKUM wa rahamtullahi wa barakatuh

    At the end of the day, it’s all about Muslim Unity
    For Islam is universal
    yours humbly
    future ummu rumaisa’

  25. Avatar

    Fur

    March 30, 2007 at 2:24 PM

    *the post mentioned was: Qur’an: Reading & Recitation Without Knowledge or Understanding.

  26. Avatar

    H

    April 30, 2007 at 12:01 AM

    since we are on this topic, my arabic language is expriencing the same problem. we started off @ 30 students 4 months ago, and now we are 5. these are adults, with families, school, and all. everyone has responsiblities, but learning is yet another resposibility.

  27. Amad

    Amad

    April 30, 2007 at 9:10 AM

    ASA H : What you are going through is quite typical of most halaqat and study groups. Lots of enthusiasm and hype at first, and then you are left with those who are really interested in learning.

    That is why I like what AlMaghrib did to revolutionize learning. The aspect I am referring to, besides the tons of other good ideas they brought, is charging $$. Unfortunately in the West, Ilm is just not as highly regarded as it should. People rarely fill masajids in serious halaqats… inspirational talks yes, but not where real learning is going on. So, in this regard, getting a financial commitment may help.

    If I may suggest, set a monthly fee, even if a small one, but still somewhat significant, like $50/mth. And have people sign a commitment to attend for 6 mths, i.e. they are committing to coming to class for at least that much time, and even if they don’t/can’t, they are committed to paying for it. Let the money go to the masjid or some other dawah activity if you don’t personally need it (though its fine for the $$ to go to you). Even if you lose 10 out of 20 with this plan, you’ll at least have 10 committed students…

    wallahualam.

  28. Avatar

    AnonyMouse

    April 30, 2007 at 5:00 PM

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    Jazakillaahi khairan, sis Fur! :)

    Al-Hamdulillaah, the ‘problem’ we had with not understanding the Qur’aan cleared up somewhat… with the older class, at least.
    My dad’s been doing the Tafseer of some of the shorter surahs with them – Surah al-Faatiha and the 3 ‘Quls’ – and I think it’s really awesome ‘cuz we’re learning a lot more than just the literal meanings of the ayaat…

    Tafseer of Surah al-Faatiha was the best so far (for me, anyway) ‘cuz knowing that we’re literally having a ‘conversation’ with Allah when we’re reciting it in salaah is an amazing way of focusing our concentration and increasing khushoo’.

    Subhan’Allah, it’s really amazing how quickly the problem was solved (or at least, how quickly a solution appeared) so soon after I wrote that post! Al-Hamdulillaah! There’s lots of work to be done yet, but I feel that we’re making some real progres… :)

    H: In my old city, we had the SAME problem! Arabic AND kickboxing classes started with loads of students, but people ended up drifting away or showing up only irregularly… for the kickboxing, we got them to pay, but the Arabic classes were free. However, it was actually sorta better when just the really interested learners kept coming, because it meant that even though we were a small group we could at least make progress, whereas when the others showed up once in a while we had to keep going back and do the same old things.

    -Mouse

  29. Avatar

    H

    May 4, 2007 at 9:19 PM

    walaykum salam Amad, and AnonyMouse, Jazak Allah for the suggestions. We have a fee set up, but its not really helping.

    Dua’ is a powerful weapon, i s’pose :)

  30. Avatar

    Saif

    June 20, 2007 at 9:53 AM

    Salam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.

    At our Madrassah, we used to have soccer tournaments and other sports competitions, as well as picnics and outings every few months. Our Ustadh used to give us points for our Hifz lessons, Cleanliness, Siwak, Akhlaq, and behavior with our parents and elders. The kids who didn’t get the minimum points required were excluded from all extra-curricular events. They actually used to come and pack the stuff for the rest of the kids, and load it on the bus and go back home.

    The games and outings (especially to amusement parks etc.) were MashaAllah quite enjoyable, and I think its one of the main reasons why our Ustadh was successful in making many of us Huffaz.

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#Life

Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

students
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. 

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#Life

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

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islamic online high school
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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.

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Books

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

grit
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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 http://ibnabeeomar.com/newsletter

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