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Tips for Ramadan Taraweeh (Tarawih) Prayers

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Gateway to all Ramadan related posts on MM

Here are a few things that I have learnt over the past few years of attending Taraweeh prayers, masha’Allah:

Tip number one: Do not fill your belly to bursting point at iftaar time! I’m sure you’ve heard that many times already, but it’s worth repeating; it’s that important to remember. If the masjid is too warm, you’ll get sleepy during Qiyam. If you go for all 20 rakaat, you’ll likely get a stitch! Would you eat a full meal an hour before swimming? The same logic applies here.

Tip number two: Try to avoid spicy/smelly foods at iftaar time. Instead, indulge your chilli and garlic tastebuds when you return home. Even if you brush your teeth real well before leaving for the masjid, your breath will still smell of digesting curry, and it’s simply not good manners to inflict others with that kinda hardship! Especially when they’re trying to worship Allah in peace.

Tip number three: Don’t sit or lie down after Iftaar. Get ready to leave for the mosque straight away, as otherwise you’ll just get lazier, and more tired as the seconds tick by. Also, leave the dishes and cleaning until you return home, because it’s just a waste of your precious time at that moment, and it will make you late to get that good spot in the front row!

Tip number four: Take someone with you to the mosque. Having company on your journey has many benefits: one, there is safety in numbers (especially important for sisters travelling late at night); second, if you’re car-pooling, you’ll get the reward of helping fellow Muslims in their worship (and of course, saving the environment); third, it may give you, or your companion, greater encouragement to fulfil the Sunnah of attending the Taraweeh prayers. Basically, it’s all good, insha’Allah!

Tip number five: Read an English translation of the Qur’an, bit by bit, every day. I, personally, do not know very much Arabic; just a few words that are oft-repeated in the Qur’an. Therefore, I tend to easily lose concentration during the recitation, and more importantly, I do not fully appreciate the wisdom, warnings, and lessons that are being shared with me through Allah’s words. IMO, that’s like, 70% of the value of Taraweeh lost, right there! Therefore, this year I decided to take a few minutes out in my day to read the English translation of the part of the Qur’an that I predict the imam will recite the same evening. I’ve asked around, and most imams usually get through a Juz n’ a bit per night, in their aim to complete the Qur’an by the 27th night.

So with this new plan in mind, for the first four nights of Ramadan, I simply read the translation, and went to the mosque empty-handed, and waited for random familiar words to jog my memory. Alhamdulillah, it worked around 50% of the time, and my concentration improved greatly as I intensely listened out for my ‘cues’. However, there were still chunks of recitation where my face was all screwed up in confusion, as I had little idea of what was being said. On the fifth night, I decided to take the translation with me, so I could read short passages during the breaks in between each prayer unit. Alhamdulillah, this drastically improved my rate of recall, and I felt I had a good idea of what was being recited about 90% of the time! Though, admittedly, it does depend on the speed of the reciter.

For best results, calmly read the entire portion that you think will be recited (or as much as you can) before arriving at the mosque. Then, during the rest breaks, speed-read through the few paragraphs that you predict will be recited in the following two rakat.

Of course, if you’re ‘in’ with the imam, you could simply ask him for the exact bits of the Qur’an that he will be covering each night – I don’t have that luxury, hence all the ‘predictions’. :)

If you’re already blessed with a working knowledge of Arabic, masha’Allah, then try to read the tafseer regularly instead, for a deeper appreciation of the recitation.

Tip number six: Save up some dua. Depending on how many rakat your mosque completes per night, you will have multiple opportunities to make dua during the blessed moments of sujood. Pick a few ‘faves’ and try to fit them in when you can.

Tip number seven: A special one for the laydeez. If you’re not in a state to pray Taraweeh due to menses or nifaas (post-childbirth bleeding), you can still benefit from the community spirit of worship, by sitting in a place away from the masallah (i.e., the place where people make sujood), with a copy of the English-Arabic Qur’an, and silently follow the imam as he recites. Make sure not to touch the words of Allah directly in an impure state – wear gloves, or use some other clean barrier to touch the pages.

Disclaimer: I am aware of differences of opinion in this matter, so please consult with your imam or other local knowledgeable person if you’re not sure. If you don’t wish to attend the masjid, then you can always watch an online transmission of the Taraweeh from Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah Mukarramah.

I haven’t been attending Taraweeh for very long, but I aim to make it my own Ramadan tradition, insha’Allah. Employing such small tips helps make the experience more productive and enjoyable. I invite the more seasoned Taraweeh-goers to add your own tips below, for the benefit of all. JazakumAllah khair in advance!

Dr Mehzabeen b. Ibrahim joined MuslimMatters as a blogger in late 2007 under the handle 'iMuslim', whilst still a struggling grad student. Since then, she has attained a PhD in Molecular Biology and a subsequent Masters in Bioinformatics, and now works as a specialist in this field for a well-known British, medical charity, masha'Allah. Somewhere in between she found the time to get married, alhamdulillah. She likes to dabble in photo and videography, a sample of which can be found on her personal blog: iMuslim.tv.

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Avatar

    mcpagal

    August 29, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    Jazakallah for the advice! Sometimes you get into so much of a routine, it’s good to shake things up a bit.

  2. Pingback: Tips for Ramadan Taraweeh (Tarawih) Prayers | iMuslim.tv

  3. Avatar

    Yasir Qadhi

    August 29, 2009 at 11:52 AM

    Great, practical advice!

    My biggest source of irritation is the constant belching that is heard during tarawih – and if you’re unlucky to be next to the guilty party, Allahul musta`an

    Actually, to each his own I guess; sometimes I do lie down for half an hour after iftar, to feel more energized for tarawih. I find that it gives me that ‘boost’ that I need (but only do this if you have had a light iftar!)

    Also, when I was a kid (and didn’t understand Arabic), one of the best ways that I found to retain my concentration was to follow along with the Imam, holding a Quran in hand. There is no problem doing this in tarawih prayer, insha Allah. But holding a translation would present other problems – because then you would begin to read the English and divert your attention away from the Arabic Quran. Your solution would work best (to read in between); or you could combine and read the English before the salat begins and then follow along with the Arabic.

    But for me, the single best way to enjoy tarawih is to find an Imam who recites Quran flawlessly, with a beautiful voice. There is no substitute for that!

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      August 29, 2009 at 12:14 PM

      But for me, the single best way to enjoy tarawih is to find an Imam who recites Quran flawlessly, with a beautiful voice. There is no substitute for that!

      Agreed!

      I used to lie down, but it’s only because there is so little time here between Iftar and Isha, that I feel the need to get ready straight away; I find that I only have 30-40 minutes in between the two – and I only live a few mins away from the masjid. Plus, this year the sisters’ section of the small mosque I attend is packed – if you don’t get in early, you’ll be suffering all night. Though alhamdulillah that more and more sisters are attending the Taraweeh prayers.

      Btw, it is hard to avoid burping a little when you pray straight after eating – even a light meal – but belching?! That sounds like they’re not even trying to cover it up. Don’t they feel embarrassed? I’d be mortified! Or is this a guy thing?

    • Avatar

      SaqibSaab

      August 31, 2009 at 12:35 AM

      Perhaps the advice can be read not necessarily as don’t lie down (energy boost), but rather don’t lie around (set up for laziness).

      JAK for the article!

      • Avatar

        iMuslim

        August 31, 2009 at 8:54 AM

        Well, in the end, they’re ‘tips’ not ‘rules’, so apply whichever you find beneficial for you, insha’Allah. (I actually was originally going to label each point “Rule number 1, 2, 3 before I realized that not everything applies to everyone, hehe)

    • Avatar

      Abu Rumaisa

      August 31, 2009 at 9:55 AM

      I grew up doing this in Saudia but I realised later (in US), not to do so in a masjid where the Imam is Hanafi. He’s likely to be frustrated at u, especially if u give him luqma by reading from the Quran.

  4. Avatar

    ironie101

    August 29, 2009 at 1:46 PM

    If you really want to be able to understand more of the recitation, I’d suggest you go over what ever is to be recited on a particular day – not just the translation, but go over it on a word-to-word translation, whilst listening to your favorite qari reading the same verses. Since it’s just over one chapter a day, it’d take 45-50 mins max.

    This gives you a more in-depth understanding of the words themselves, and you’re struck with just how beautiful the qur’an is – in terms of depth, and yes, even just to listen to.

    Plus, it’d be a real treat. Personally for me, any reason to listen to Sh.Mishary al-Afasy!

    On a serious note, it makes a HUGE difference – whether you read the translation verse-by-verse or word-by-word.

    Check out http://www.emuslim.com/Quran/Translation_English.asp

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      August 30, 2009 at 9:48 AM

      Jazakallah khair for the link to the word-to-word translation resource. I was thinking about it just the other day, so alhamdulillah, my inner prayers have been answered! :)

  5. Avatar

    aarij

    August 29, 2009 at 2:34 PM

    A great tip for taraweeh: start learning Arabic and its application to Qur’an starting today so that by next Ramadan, so the need for a translation is not there. Alhamdulillah, this is THE best preparation for Ramadan.

    See http://www.lqtoronto.com for a great Arabic language course.

    • Avatar

      hamida

      August 30, 2009 at 9:12 AM

      JAK soo much

      i just check out the link , its a great tool for beginners. Learning Arabic for me at this point is very important

  6. Avatar

    checkdis

    August 29, 2009 at 8:05 PM

    Assalamualikum,

    Excellent suggestions. Some extremely handy tips and tools on concentrating in Taraweeh also exchanged here:

    Do you concentrate in Taraweeh?
    http://forums.alkauthar.org/showthread.php?t=6987

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      August 30, 2009 at 9:53 AM

      Jazakallah khair. :)

  7. Avatar

    Mohamed

    August 30, 2009 at 1:14 AM

    Jazakom Allah Khairan for these suggestions

  8. Avatar

    midatlantic

    August 30, 2009 at 4:31 AM

    SubhanAllah there is nothing to lift your eman like a beautiful recitation from someone who you can tell himself is feeling the verses he is reciting in taraweeh.

    My biggest external distraction BY FAR is kids gone wild during taraweeh and handling this delicate issue without offending is very challenging in many masajid I am sure. Perhaps someone can put up a post giving tips on how different masjids deal with this issue.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      August 30, 2009 at 12:30 PM

      Such a post is coming up in the next few days, insha’Allah.

  9. Avatar

    muslimah

    August 30, 2009 at 5:19 AM

    jazakAllah kheir : ) there’s also http://muslimco.com

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      August 30, 2009 at 9:41 AM

      Cool link, masha’Allah! Watching Islam Channel now. :)

  10. Avatar

    Dawud Israel

    August 30, 2009 at 8:06 AM

    Salam aleikum,

    One thing I really appreciated about tarawih at Abu Huraira masjid in Scarborough was the fact they were handing out water bottles to everyone because it was getting so hot! I know some other masajid do this but may Allah bless these brothers, to put in such ikhlas into the house of Allah. Really these small things make you really feel welcome and valued as a brother in Islam. They have daily halaqas too, and they record it and stream it online for the sisters! I also like their idea of a Parking pass to deal with Jumuah parking congestion- coordinated with the other buildings in the neighborhood. This is what I call ihsaan! A great example for other masajid! Ma sha Allah la quwatta illah billah, very impressive!! Here is there website: http://www.abuhuraira.org/

    One other tip for tarawih: SMILE LOTS! Its contagious. People get pooped out and tired in Ramadan–headaches, hunger, long worship so you need to smile and be amicable with everyone, just to keep the spirits high, even with strangers– if all they see of you is you smiling goofily from far, it will improve their tarawih experience. Otherwise, everyone seems to look like they are attending a Janaza so put your positivity on steroids! :P

    Baraka Allahu feek
    Jazaka Allahu khayran for the article and alhamdulillah, good to see this sort of discussion happening on bettering ourselves in small, but practical ways that reflect proper intentions.

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      August 30, 2009 at 9:39 AM

      Jazakallah khair bro for the great tips!

      Parking coordination would be great in general. In my area of London, there are many mini-mosques, masha’Allah (about five in the same high street, and more scattered in side streets). So most brothers walk from home, alhamdulillah. Unless they are bringing female family members, and of course sisters drive themselves for security reasons.

  11. Avatar

    Ameera

    August 30, 2009 at 10:09 AM

    Aha! And my tip for attending Taraweeh…

    Leave your negativities at home!

    What do I mean by negativities? Scowling, rude behavior, turning people off from your “exclusive” prayer spot, arguing with people whose children are creating nuisance. The whole experience can go a bit sour when you witness people scowling and telling off others for what can be managed with a lot less negative reaction!

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      August 30, 2009 at 12:34 PM

      Tell me about it! And the way the places right in front of the pedestal fans are fought over! Astaghfirullah!

    • Avatar

      Hibo

      October 15, 2009 at 11:56 AM

      SubhanAllah, thinking about your comment makes me laugh now that I remember the times people at the masjid I attended got upset.

      I remember I accidently turned off the ceiling fan once thinking that I put it at max and boy did I getting an ear full of yelling from sisters dripping of sweat. I apologized profusely but they wouldnt even accept it.

      At the end of the day- I totally love the masjid during Ramadan even with the drama (apparently it prevalent in the sisters side). Smiling back at people who are yelling at you, or even those people who came in with just a negative mood is interesting/fun.. mostly after the fact though.

  12. Avatar

    abs

    August 30, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    i usually drink water to relief dehydrated muscles, use bathroom to answer call of nature, so that i feel much lighter. Brush my mouth 4 dat extra freshness – and go to a mosque where tajweed is sweet and rakats are not too long. Thats me. I guess ppl use their own techniques. Prepare body and spirit.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      August 30, 2009 at 12:33 PM

      Brushing teeth, flossing, miswak – any form of oral hygiene….is a very, very important tip for attending prayers in congregation.

  13. Avatar

    Everyday Muslimah

    August 30, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    Jazzak Allah for sharing this helpful article during this blessed month. I love the tip about “saving some duas for sujood” I always try to keep that in mind.

    I came across this website today and MashahAllah very impressed. Keep up the good work–May Allah bless your efforts. Ameen!

    I’m new to the blog world and would like to invite you all to visit my blog: http://everydaymuslimah-everydaymuslimah.blogspot.com

    I’m looking for followers so please do subscribe. Thank you!

  14. Avatar

    Nahyan

    August 30, 2009 at 4:19 PM

    niice, I liked the “save up du’a” part.

    It’s so much easier said than done eh? Allahumusta’an.

    ————————–
    Here’s a burp tip: (i know, it’s weird we’re discussing this but I smelt the other end of 12 biryani belches few days ago. I avoided looking the brother in the face to not know who it was)

    –> Eat IT
    ————————–

    Instead of blowing it all out and polluting the place, ‘swallow’ the air back — exhale thru nose — inhale with your mouth to ‘swallow’ it further.

    • Avatar

      Ameera

      August 31, 2009 at 1:05 AM

      Not sure how that would work… considering when this is attempted with carbonated drinks, you get mixed results. :S

    • Avatar

      TR

      August 31, 2009 at 6:26 AM

      haha, cool.

  15. Pingback: Tips for Ramadan Taraweeh « Confusingly Simple

  16. Avatar

    Abu Ayesha Al Emarati

    August 31, 2009 at 4:48 PM

    Praying behind an Imam whose recitation is melodious always helps.

    Tajweed is important, at least for me.

    Slow, measured recitation is what I prefer.

    Another Taraweeh tip I have is don’t burn yourself out if you aren’t used to long qiyaam.

    Pace yourself so that once the last 10 are here you can give it your all.

  17. Avatar

    Saleha

    August 31, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    JazakAllah khair for the tips.
    I gotta agree on getting a qari you really love to hear so it can better help you concentrate.
    One thing I’d do differently is wash the dishes before leaving. If you divide up your time accordingly, you’ll have enough inshaAllah. It’s better to go to the masjid stress free and then you can come home without dreading to do dishes when yo’re so tired.

    • Avatar

      UmmOsman

      September 1, 2009 at 1:04 PM

      Assalamo elikuim
      I agree with Sr.Saleha to do dishes before you leave for taraweeh .
      By the time we come back from taraweeh its a mad rush to get everybody to sleep for suhoor , school and job next day.

      Wasalam
      UmmOsman

  18. Avatar

    husham

    September 1, 2009 at 12:02 PM

    Aslamaleikum wrwb

    Personally I would suggest something that is rarely done by people which is to follow the recitation with the quran in your hand. Read the quran as it is being recited for ultimate focus, for learning tajweed (if it is being recited properly) and for memorisation (hifz). I’m not sure if there is a difference in opinion on this matter but I know some people do it and I wouldn’t see anything wrong with it because you are doing it with intentions of learning.

    The question may arise about what to do with the quran when in sujood and the solution is to simply hold the quran in one hand without having to place it on the floor. I know for a fact that when a person is learning to pray – salaah, it is permissable for the person to have the text written in transliteration or otherwise on a piece of paper which they can hold and read while praying to help them learn.

    Take a compact version of the quran for ease when holding.

    Waleikumaslam wrwb

  19. Pingback: [Ramadan Series] 11 Tips to Help You Enjoy Taraweeh This Ramadan! :: Productive Muslim

  20. Pingback: لتكون أكثر نشاط في صلاة التراويح و تصليها يوميا نصائح هامة | ثقافه و صحافة

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  22. Avatar

    Prayer Times Perth

    June 10, 2019 at 2:47 PM

    Jazak’Allah for the advice!

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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When Faith Hurts: Do Good Deeds = Good Life?

Loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way- even if it hurts. It is a time to learn.

Zeba Khan

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hurts, hardship. Allah, test, why Allah is testing me

The Messenger of Allahṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that the faith in our hearts wears out the way our clothes wear out. Deterioration, maintenance, and renewal are part of the cycle.  That’s life with all that hurts. That’s normal.

But what happens when that’s life, but life is not your normal? What happens when it feels like life isn’t normal, hasn’t been normal, and won’t be normal for a foreseeably long time?  For some of us, refreshing faith becomes secondary to just keeping it.

It’s easier to say Alhamdulillah when you are happy. It’s harder when you’re not. That’s human nature though. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with what we teach about faith that can leave us unprepared for when Allah tests it. I believe that our discussions about faith tend to be overly simplistic. They revolve around a few basic concepts, and are more or less summed up with:

Faith = Happiness

Righteousness = Ease

Prayer = Problem Solved

Good Deeds Equals Good Life?

Basically, the TLDR is Good Deeds = The Good Life. None of these statements are technically untrue. The sweetness of faith is a joy that is beyond any other gratitude, for any other thing in this world. Righteousness in the sight of Allah will put you on the path to the good life in the afterlife. Making dua can be the solution to your problems. But when we say these things to people who have true faith but not happiness, or righteous behavior yet distressing hardship, we’re kind of implying that that either Islam is broken (because their prayers seem unanswered), or they are broken (because their prayers are undeserving of answers.) And neither of those is true either.

Allow me to elaborate. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a single parent who has not begged Allah to make their sick or disabled child well again. Yet, our Ummah still has sick and disabled children. Through history, people have begged Allah for a loved one’s life, and then buried them – so is prayer not equal to problem solved?

Many righteous people stand up, and are then ostracized for their faith. Many people speak truth in the face of a tyrant only to be punished for it. Many of us live with complete conviction, with unshakeable belief in the existence and wisdom and mercy of Allah, and still find ourselves unhappy and afraid of what He has willed for us.

Are We Broken?

No, but our spiritual education is. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.

Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to anyone else?

No one ever told me. It was hard for me to learn that lesson on my own, when I pleaded with Allah to make my son’s autism go away, and it didn’t. Everyone told me –Make dua! The prayer of a mother for her child is special! Allah will never turn you down!

It was hard trying to make sense of what seemed like conflicting messages- that Allah knows best, but a mother’s prayer is always answered. It was even harder facing people who tried to reassure me of that, even when it obviously wasn’t working.

“Just make dua! Allah will respond!”

I’m sure people mean well. But it’s hard not to be offended. Either they assume I have never bothered to pray for my son, or they imply that there must be good reason why Allah’s not granting to my prayers. What they don’t consider is that allowing my test to persist – even if I don’t want it to- is also a valid response from Allah.

I have been told to think back in my life, and try to determine what sin caused my child’s disability, as if the only reason why Allah wouldn’t give me what I asked for was because I was so bad I didn’t deserve it. As if good deeds equaled the good life, and if my life wasn’t good, it’s because I hadn’t been good either.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

You can assume whatever you like about my character, but bad things do happen to good people, even when they pray. You can try your hardest and still fall short. You can pray your whole life for something that will never come to you. And strength of faith in that circumstance doesn’t mean living in a state of unfulfilled hope, it means accepting the wisdom in the test that Allah has decreed for you.

That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it.  When we talk about prayer and hope, we prefer to talk about Zakariyyah 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – who begged Allah for a child and was gifted with one long after anyone thought it even possible. But we also need to talk about Abu Talib.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, and in his mission to preach Islam he was protected by Abu Talib.  But Abu Talib died without accepting Islam, was there something wrong with the Prophet, that Allah did not give him what he asked for? Was he not good enough? Did he not pray hard enough? Astaghfirullah, no. So if Prophets of God can ask for things and still not get them, why are we assuming otherwise for ourselves?

Making a Bargain with Allah

If we can understand that faith is not a contract for which we trade prayers for services, then maybe we can cope better when fate cannot be bargained with. Maybe it won’t have to hurt so bad – on spiritual level – when Allah withholds what we ask for, even when we asked for the “right” things in the right way and at all the right times.

Life is not simple. Faith is not simple. The will of Allah is not simple, no matter how much we want it to be, and when oversimplify it, we create a Muslim version of Prosperity Gospel without meaning to.

If you’ve never heard of it, prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that health and wealth and success are the will of God, and therefore faith, good deeds and charity increase one’s wellbeing. Have faith, and God will reward you in this life and the next. That’s nice. But it’s too simple. Because the belief that Good Deeds = The Good Life doesn’t explain how Ibraheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s father tried to have him burnt alive.

Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)’s brothers left him for dead in the bottom of a well. He grew up a slave and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aasiya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) – the wife of the Pharoah – one of the four best women in the history of womankind – died from her husband’s torture.

Good people are not guaranteed good lives. Islam is what we need, not a system of practices that we use to fulfill our needs.

When we limit our understanding of faith to a simplistic, almost contractual relationship with Allah, then we can’t even explain the things that Allah Tested His own prophets with.

Nor can we understand, or even begin to cope with- what He Tests the rest of us with either. We have to be real in our talk about faith, because otherwise we set each other up for unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation for when we face hardship. Faith is not protection from hardship. Faith is part of hardship. And hardship is part of faith.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asks us in the opening of Surah ‘Ankabut,

Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.

Allah says in Surah Baqarah, ayah 155: “And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of the fruits of your labor. But give glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity.

tests, hurts, faith , hardship

Allah Tests Everyone Differently

Allah tests each of us differently, but in every single case – every single time – a test is an invitation to success. Hardship is the process through which we prove ourselves. Experiencing it– and then drawing closer to Allah through it –is how faith is tested as well as strengthened.

If we can change how we perceive hardship, then we can also change how we perceive each other. On our cultural subconscious, we still see worldly failure as being equivalent to spiritual failure. So when we see people who are homeless, we assume fault. When we see people facing depression or divorce, we assume fault. We even look at refugees and victims and special needs children and we look for fault. Because if it’s that bad then it’s has to be someone’s fault, right?

Fault is how we place blame. Blame is how we know whose mistake it is. But the will of Allah is never a mistake, it’s a test.  Instead of faulting each other for what Allah tests us with, we could respect each other for the struggles we all endure. We could see each other with more compassion for our challenges, and less aversion when Allah tests us with dealing each other.

So when you’ve done things the right way, but the right things aren’t happening. Or you’ve been charitable to others, and they’re being evil towards you. Or you’ve earned only halal, but haram- it’s been taken away from you, remember this- your faith is being tested. Allah tests those that He loves. When He raises the difficulty level, Allah is extending a direct invitation for you to climb higher.

So How Do We Succeed When Faced With Failure?

The first thing to do is redefine failure. There is only one true failure in this life, and that is dying on the wrong side of Siraat ul Mustaqeem, because if close your eyes and wake up in Jahannam, no success in this life can compensate for that.

I find that helpful to remember, when I fail to stay fit because I can’t exercise without hurting myself, when I fail to fast in Ramadan because it’s dangerous for me to do so- when I fail to discover a cure for my family’s personal assortment of medical issues through rigorous internet “research,” none of that is my failure either. And I can feel a lot of different ways about these situations, but I do not feel guilty- because it’s not my fault. And I do not feel bitter, because my test is my honor. Even when I do feel scared.

Being scared in not a failure either. Neither is being unemployed. Being unmarried is not a failure. Being childless is not a failure. Being divorced is not a failure. Nothing unpleasant or miserable or unexpected is a failure. It’s all just a test, and seeing it as a test means you have the state of mind to look for the correct answers.

Not even sin is failure, because as long as you are alive, your sin stands as an invitation to forgiveness. The bigger the sin, the greater the blessings of repenting from it.  Everything that goes bad is the opening of the door for good. A major sin can be the first step on a journey that starts with repentance and moves you closer to Allah every day thereafter. Sin only becomes failure when it takes you farther away from Allah, rather than closer to him.

Jahannam is the Only Failure

Addiction is not a failure. Depression is not a failure. Poverty is not a failure. Jahannam is the only failure. Everything else is a gap in expectations.

You assumed you would have something, but it’s not written for you. You assumed you’d ask Allah for something and He’d give it to you, but what is that assumption based on again? That good deeds are the guarantee to the good life, and that prayer equals problem solved?

Allah has all the knowledge, Allah has the wisdom, Allah is the best of Planners – how are you assuming that your wishes supersede His will? Even when you put your wishes in the form of a prayer?

They don’t. It is absolutely true that Allah may choose to rewrite Qadr itself based on your prayers – but that’s still His choice. Allah has always, and will always be in control of this world. And that means your world too. If you still think you’re in control, you will find it really, really hard to cope the first time you realize you’re not.

When we understand that we don’t get to control what happens and what doesn’t, we can then release ourselves from the misplaced guilt of things going wrong.  Lots of special needs parents struggle with guilt. I meet them often – and every single parent has asked the question- directly or indirectly-

What did I do for my child to deserve this?

Can you hear the presumption in there? That the parents were good, so why did something bad happen? They were expecting for good deeds to equal the good life.

There’s a second presumption in there too, that their life choices were a determining factor of what happened to their child. That is a presumption of control. And as long as you try to hold on to that presumption of control, there is the constant feeling of failure when it just doesn’t work the way you think it will.

I am not proposing that we lose hope in Allah and despair of His Mercy. I am in no way insinuating that Allah doesn’t hear every prayer, hasn’t counted every tear, and isn’t intimately aware of your pain and your challenges. Allah hears your prayers, and in His wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we want. In His Wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we need.

Even if we don’t see it.

Even if it scares us.

Even if it hurts us – because Allah has promised that He will never, ever break us.

hurts, hardship, special needs

Allah Tests Us in His Mercy

I am proposing that we put trust in the wisdom of Allah, and understand that when He tests us, that is part of his mercy, not a deviation from it. When He grants something to us, that is part of His mercy, and when he withholds something from us, that too is part of His Mercy, even if we don’t like it. Even when we ask Him to take it away.

The third thing I would like to propose, is that we correct our understanding of – Fa Inna Ma’Al usri yusraa, Inna Ma’al usri yusra.

So verily, definitely, for sure- with hardship there is ease. Again, Inna – for sure, with hardship there is ease.

I’m sure lots of you have said this to people you loved, or to yourself when you’re struggling with something and you’re just trying to get through it. But did you mean that this hardship will end, and then things will be good again? Like as soon as things have been hard for a while, Allah will make them easy again?

Would you believe that’s not really what that means? Ma’a means with, not after. With this hardship, there is ease. And maybe you’re like aww man, but I wanted the ease! I want the hardship to go away and Allah I’m ready for my ease now!

But that hardship, will bring you ease. Allah does not tell us what the ease will be, or when it will be- but He says it’s there, so trust Him. Even if you can’t see it right away, or in this life –it will become apparent.

I can tell you some of the ease I found with mine.

Learning When It Hurts

When my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I had to drop everything. We dropped our plans to save, to travel, and to live the charmed life of neurotypical parents whose only fears are that their children may grow up and NOT become Muslim doctors. We spent our earnings and our savings and our time and our nights and our tears and Alhamdulillah, we learned patience. We learned perspective. We learned compassion.

We really learned what we thought we already knew – about unconditional love and acceptance. We learned to be bigger than our fears, and smaller than our own egos. We learned to give and take help. We learn to accept what wisdom our cultures could offer us, and respectfully decline what did not. We learn to set boundaries and make rules that did justice by our children and our family, regardless of whether they were popular. With hardship comes ease.

When we couldn’t afford therapy for my son, my husband and I founded a not for profit organization in the UAE that provided it for my son and dozens of other people’s sons and daughters. Three and a half years ago I left that organization to seek better educational opportunities for my son here in the US, but it’s still running. The seed that our challenges planted has grown into something beyond us. With our hardship came ease for ourselves and others as well.

When I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my health issues were upgraded from challenging to permanent. I had to rethink how I lived, how I planned, how I dressed, and even – my relationship with Allah. But if I had never been sick, I would never have started writing. When it hurt, I wrote. When I was scared, I wrote. When I was lonely, I wrote. And by and by the grindstone of fear and sickness and frustration sharpened my skills. Where I am today both spiritually and professionally – is actually a direct result of both autism and chronic illness. With hardship comes ease.

I don’t like my hardships, but I don’t have to. You don’t have to either. Being a good Muslim doesn’t always mean being a happy Muslim. It just means being Muslim, no matter the circumstances.

That means loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way – even if not loving everything He throws your way. You may hate your circumstances, and you may not be able to do anything about them, but as long as you trust Allah and use your hardships to come closer to him, you cannot fail, even if this life, you feel as if you never really succeeded.

hurts, depression, faith , hardship

Faith Wears Out In Our hearts, The Way Our Cothes Wear Out on Our Bodies

The hardship that damages and stains us is Allah’s invitation to repair, renew, and refresh ourselves. Our test are an invitation, an opportunity, an obstacle – but not a punishment or divine cruelty. And when we know that those tests will come, and some may even stay, then we can be better prepared for it.

Trust Allah when He says that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. He told us so in Surah Baqarah Ayah 286. Remember that when you are afraid, and Allah will never cause your fear to destroy you. Take your fear to Allah, and He will strengthen you, and reward you for your bravery.

Remember that when you are in pain. Allah will never cause your pain to destroy you. Take your pain to Him, and He will soothe you and reward you for your patience. Take it all to Allah – the loneliness, the anxiety, the confusion. Do not assume that the only emotions a “good Muslim” takes to Allah are gratitude and happiness and awe. Take them all to Allah, uncertainty, disappointment, anger — and He will bless you in all of those states, and guide you to what is better for you in this life, and the next, even if it’s not what you expected.

The struggles in your life are a test, and whether you pass or fail is not determined on whether you conquer them, only on whether you endure them. Expect that they will come, because having faith is not protection from struggle. Faith is protection from being broken by the struggle.

I ask Allah to protect us all from hardship, but protect us in our hardships as well. I ask Allah to grant us peace from His peace, and strength from His strength, to patiently endure and grow through our endurance.

Ameen.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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