This is a post I have been thinking about writing for quite some time because I have a lot of thoughts on this issue (the reasons why may be obvious from the rest of this post) and I wanted to get them down and get some feedback from other Muslims. Here is how I want to focus this topic:
- Before Marriage – Stereotypes/Obstacles
- During Marriage – Culture Clash, Confused Kids, and Bewildered in-Laws
- Societal Ramifications (focus on living in the US)
- Parting Comments
Before Marriage – Stereotypes and Obstacles
No matter your background, an interracial marriage will be met with obstacles on both sides. It is especially the case for the generation of people whose parents were immigrants, and they themselves were raised here. To even broach the idea of an interracial marriage will spring forth 100 year old stereotypes of other cultures you never even knew existed. It is particularly sad when these are directed at other Muslim groups. For example, a Pakistani trying to marry an Arab will no doubt hear many “Arabs are this…” or “Arabs are that…” type of comments.
Even those who marry within the race will often face problems in marrying outside the tribe, or people from a specific part of the same country, so much so that some people even consider these marriages to be against the norm.
Muslims who are the first generation to be born and raised in the West face a unique dilemma. They must harmonize between finding someone who is suitable religiously, and culturally. The cultural aspect can get confusing because while a person may be Indian, they have more in common with a Bengali person who grew up here also as opposed to an Indian person from ‘back home.’
It is that point though, that parents have a tough time coming to grips with. It seems some have missed the fact that their kids have a distinct culture that’s different that what they think they taught them. This is why it is frustrating to see many marriages being held up because someone’s parents are looking from a family who is from the same village back home.
It is good to see the trend of our youth overlooking the racial/ethnic lines in marriage, and trying to marry for the deen, however, the obstacles are often great. Many families are not accepting of such marriages, and many face great difficulties in pursuing them. The hardest part is breaking stereotypes that people have formed, or been brought up with. These are literally ideologies they may have held for the vast majority of their lives. The culture and environment their kids have been brought up in though, does not hald fast to these same ideals.
This is where the toughest adjustment comes, and the cultural differences must be overcome. For purposes of this article, we will go ahead and assume that alhamdulillah as far as the deen is concerned, both parties are mashallah practicing and on the same page in regards to their religion. It is what comes outside of that which can cause problems.
The first problem is, if I may term it so, latent cultural tendencies. By this I mean that once a person is married, they are now in a stage of life that they have not experienced before (assuming its the first marriage). Since this is the case, the only ‘experience’ they have to revert back to is that of their own parents. A person might not realize these things before marriage, but after a kid the husband may start acting a certain way, and due to the way he was brought up, he will have certain expectations as to what his wife should do as a mother. The wife, having been brought up differently, may have the opposite expectation. This is a situation where the culture has caused a clash despite the fact that neither one may actually be a cultural Pakistani, or a cultural Arab in the traditional sense.
In-laws are another issue that comes up. Different cultures have vastly different expectations of their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law, and an interracial marriage will bring about an abrupt adjustment period for them. Language barriers can also be an issue here. It is unfortunate that this aspect of an interracial marriage is often the most overlooked despite the heavy emphasis in Islam on preserving the family ties. Deen may very well be an extremely strong bond in preserving your marriage, but does that same bond exist with your spouse’s parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and other family members?
Kids add another dimension, and quite possibly the toughest. The husband/wife must be prepared to deal with difficulties their children may endure from being of mixed-race. There’s also issues of what languages to teach them, and how to communicate in the house. It is important for these issues to be agreed upon before getting married. Everyone has seen families where the mother and children communicate in one tongue, and the father is often left out in the cold and ends up disconnected from the family.
Obviously interracial marriages are not for everyone, not everyone desires one (most probably don’t), and not everyone is cut out for one. With that said, it is encouraging to see a rising trend in these marriages. We are after all, one ummah. Our cultures do enrichen our ummah, but they cannot come before our religion. To see more couples, and mixed-race children is a very apparent way of breaking down some barriers and stereotypes that exist within our societies. It exposes Muslims of one culture more intimately to those from another, and in the end I feel it increases the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.
It is also important in our times, to not let ourselves become segregated too much, otherwise we will end up with masjids separated out like the “black churches” or “white churches.” I know that exists to some degree now, but alhamdulillah I think most of the bigger masaajid in bigger communities are very diverse (even if the board members might all be from one country, but that’s a different story).
Tariq Nelson made a pertinent point on his blog,
I am of the controversial opinion that increased interracial/intercultural marriage is one of the ways that will lead to a meshing of a singular American Muslim identity. This would eventually lead to more of a blending in this country, culturally and genetically, of the many Muslim cultures as well as the American one. Intermarriage is one of the ways people that were once even somewhat hostile can become one group.
The most important role interracial marriages may play in this is the affect that they will have on their family and friends. At the very least it will force them to look past their cultural identity and see a first-hand example of a family that is insha’Allah putting their religion above all else – about making themselves Muslim before being anything else.
First and foremost we should ask Allah (swt) to purify our intentions and grant us the tawfeeq to make all of our actions for Him and for Him alone. Marriage in general is not a goal in and of itself, but it is a means of worshipping Allah by trying to establish a family upon the Sunnah.
If someone chooses to pursue an interracial marriage, they really need to “check yourself before you wreck yourself” and make sure they are ready to deal with the consequences of their decisions. I have outlined just a small sampling of the obstacles that one might face. People really need to do some self-introspection and see where they stand, see what their maturity level is, and know what they can handle before getting involved in anything.
Once a person does become involved in an interracial marriage, the most important thing is to have patience. A lot of things will come your way, but you must persevere through them as a Muslim should. Remember also that all your actions, and your family in the public eye, will be under much more scrutiny than most. One of the saddest things is the attitude people have towards interracial couples of “let’s see how long that will last.” People will be expecting your marriage to fail. It’s not right, but it’s a reality.
Know that it will take time for the families of both parties to integrate and become comfortable with one another. The key is for both people to be willing to put up with that and work towards their ultimate goal of insha’Allah having a good Muslim family. Even outside of family, you will deal with smaller things like trying to fit into social groups that exist in masaajid and communities, or being looked at as the ‘token interracial couple’ of an event, etc.
But insha’Allah if it is successful, there is a huge potential for making dawah and helping to make impact in society. Also, don’t forget the fringe benefit of having super-cute children masha’Allah :)
These are just some brief thoughts I had on this matter, really I think a whole book can be written on this subject, but I did want to see people’s attitudes towards it. Would you consider it for yourself? What about for your children? What about for your siblings? How do you feel when you see an interracial couple?
Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure
How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?
If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.
My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.
On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.
I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.
When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand. Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?
I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.
That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.
I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:
Host an open house
Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.
Expand your circle
Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.
You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.
Outsource Eid Fun
If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.
It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend. If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.
The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.
Get out of your comfort zone
If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.
Try, try, try again…
Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.
While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.
Broken Light: The Opacity of Muslim Led Institutions
Habib Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf (may Allah have mercy on him and benefit us by him) explains how we are affected by the spiritual state of those around us.
Every person has rays which emanate from their soul. You receive these rays when you come close to them or sit in their presence. Each person’s rays differ in strength according to the state of their soul. This explains how you become affected by sitting in the presence of great people. They are people who follow the way of the Prophets in their religious and worldly affairs. When they speak, they counsel people. Their actions guide people. When they are silent they are like signposts which guide people along the path, or like lighthouses whose rays guide ships. Many of them speak very little, but when you see them or visit them you are affected by them. You leave their gatherings having been enveloped in their tranquillity. Their silence has more effect than the eloquent speech of others. This is because the rays of their souls enter you.
The Organizational Light
As a Muslim organizational psychologist, I know that organizations and institutions are a collective of these souls too. Like a glass container, they are filled colored by whatever is within them. So often Muslim organizations have presumed clarity in their organizational light and looked on with wonder as children, families, and the community wandered. The lighthouse keepers standing in front of the beacon wondering, “Where have the ships gone?”have
Our Muslim led institutions will reflect our state, actions, and decisions. I do believe that most of our institutional origins are rooted in goodness, but those moments remain small and fade. Our challenge as a community is to have this light of origin be fixed so that it can pulsate and extend itself beyond itself.
Reference is not being made regarding any specific type of institution and this is not a pointed critique, but rather a theory on perhaps why the effect our variety of institutional work wanes and dissipates. Any type of organization or institution — whether for profit or nonprofit, whether capital focused or socially conscious — that is occupied by the heart of a Muslim(s), must reflect light.
Our organizational light is known by an ego-less assessment of intentions, actions, and results. We must move our ‘self’ or ‘selves’ out of the way and then measure our lumens. If the light increases when we move out of the way, then it is possible that we — our ego, personality, objectives, intentions, degree of sacrifice, level of commitment, and possibly even our sincerity — may be the obstructions to our organizational lights.
The Personal Imperative
What will become of our institutions and their role for posterity if we neglect to evaluate where we stand in relation to the noble courses they mean to take? We may currently be seeing the beginning what this may look and feel like.
When was the last time you walked into a Muslim led institution and felt a living space that drew you in because of the custodians, leadership, individuals, and community that made up its parts? It was probably the last time you and I looked deeply inward at our lives — our intellect, our relationships, our purpose, our spiritual state, our work, our decisions, and our intentions. If we cleanse our hearts so infrequently the dust which settles can become thick making them opaque. And perhaps this individual and collective state is what limits the reach and impact of our communal work thus, resulting in the opacity of Muslim led institutions. Note: Lighthouse keepers clean the lens of the beacon every day.
We must consistently assess the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual loci of our individual and organizational states. They are not fixed givens. Rather, they are capricious states that necessitate vigilance and wara’. Being aware of this will help in our organizational design and work.
The Collective Affect
When we are prepared to evaluate the efficacy of Muslim led institutions with the inclusion of some form of spiritual assessment, we will give ourselves a better opportunity to determine where, how, and why we may be missing the mark. The inefficiencies and inattentiveness we have on an individual level can permeate our relationships, our work, and our organizations. As organizational leaders, we must critically assess the amount of light our work emanates to illuminate the lives of the people we serve.
These inward evaluations should be in the form of active and ongoing discussions we have internally with our teams and colleagues, and ourselves. If done with prudence and sincerity it will not only strengthen our organizations but our teams and us God-willing. This collective effort can lead to a collective effect for those we serve that inspires and guides. We — and our institutions — can then return to the Prophetic example of being beacons of light that help ourselves and others arrive to a place of sanctuary.
And Allah always knows best.
Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware
“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”
[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]
Mindful or Mind-full?
Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.
A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.
For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.
Autopilot to Aware
Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?
Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.
Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.
Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.
Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”
Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.
Real Life in the Present Moment
You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.
The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.
You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.
The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.
You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.
This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.
The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.
In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims
Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.
[Imam Al Ghazali]
Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah , refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.
Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.
- Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
- Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
- “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx
To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.
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