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Meeting and Greeting: Keys To Relationship Success

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Bismillah

Each Eid, families get together and have dinner, or individually go to meet relatives both close and distant. There is socializing on a communal level, especially in Muslim majority areas, as people rekindle old ties, call up those of their kin they haven’t spoken to in a while, mail greeting cards, and attend corporate Eid gala’s and banquets. Sometimes, however, not all Muslims are able to successfully obliterate old grudges from their hearts and they find it difficult to visit someone who once wronged them or who’s certain habits they find decisively off-putting. At times like this, they are faced with few options about what to do.

heart-networkFor the unmarried girl in her late twenties or early thirties (and perhaps more so for her mother), the greatest dread awaits her on Eid in the form of ladies’ incessant questions about proposals and whether she has snagged any eligible bachelor yet – and if not, why. Then ensue the endless suggestions, from threading her eyebrows right to fixing her weight and gait in order to fulfill this monumental goal as soon as possible.

For the young man who has recently changed jobs or has not been promoted yet, he must deal with questions about his career and why he is not moving abroad or pursuing a job at a larger company.

“There is nothing left in this country, young man! Get out as soon as you get the chance.”

For the young mother, it is her children’s “screen test” that must be passed at each gathering; from their hair, to their complexion, to their outfit, to their manners – everything is under observation on Eid by the onlookers.

“Why is her hair thinning? Do you give her a balanced diet?”

“She’s darker this year, for some reason. She used to be so fair.”

“Why is he not eating rice? Do you not give him any?”

Her parenting skills could be instantly judged if something is lacking; and if all is perfect i.e. her children are judged to be downright adorable, then she is asked when the next baby is on the way, and advised how necessary it is for mothers to have them all at once.

Mostly, therefore, its all about the kind of questions that are asked, and the comments that are made during small talk and casual conversations on Eid, and the way they are put forward, that cause the greatest offense or pleasure, whichever way they are presented.

I ponder a lot on what exactly it is that makes relationships with others successful, given that we all – without exception – possess weaknesses and bad habits that turn others off. How can all the parts of a motor come together despite their individual shapes and sizes to function smoothly towards a common objective?

Whatever the enormity of our desire to do so be, we can definitely never change others’ behavior towards us – at least not directly and immediately so – because that is just not possible. There is no way we can change their actions, or some of their offensive and disturbing personal habits. In fact, the more we try to change someone else, the more frustrated we get, because our tries our bound to be futile.

Maybe we do have the option to politely request a person not to act in a certain way around us, or to not say certain things to us that hurt our feelings. However, in my personal experience, if that action of theirs is a habit or an innate weakness (in particular, if they are grown adults, not younglings “passing through a phase”), it is bound to crop up again after a few weeks, months or years. Then we’ll be back to square one, will we not?! Examples? A colleague with a ‘sense of humor’ makes a loud jibe at your bald spot or paunch before everyone else twice or thrice during every gathering; a lady with a penchant for others’ family matters asks young wives outright whether they are using birth control or not; older cousins still extend their hands for a handshake and do not hesitate to jokingly slap you buddy-style on the back as they did in bygone childhood days, despite it being a few years since you started your demure hijab etc. What about that person who possesses a tendency for nameemah, and your squeaky protests of “Please, let’s talk about something else!” are ignored by a “Are you saying that I am doing gheebah?! But everyone must know what they did to that poor girl!” followed by a detailed, nitty-gritty account of the said divorce, peppered with suspicion-laced conjectures that could put a saucy soap opera script to shame!

It was narrated from Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Shall I not tell you what is falsehood? It is nameemah (gossip), transmitting what people say.” [Muslim]

Let’s not forget that sometimes it is the antics of visiting children and their manners that could easily tick off the host family. Leaving a trail of you-know-which-liquid on the floor when they go use the washroom; touching pastel cloth sofas with chocolate-cream covered hands (despite being offered plastic spoons to eat the gooey cake, they didn’t take up the offer!); entering the adults-only study or home library, turning on the host “Uncle’s” computer to play games, or rummaging through “Aunty’s” dresser without even asking, let alone feeling an iota of guilt! Children can become one of the prime reasons for some families no longer being eagerly invited to an Eid party.

Whilst we have been endorsed to forgive and forget, overlook and ignore, and repel negative emotions with positive ones, we should keep in mind the instructions of the Quran regarding making one’s enemies one’s close friends. The secret to changing someone’s hurtful behavior towards us is suggested in the Quran:

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ

The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! He, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend.” [Surah Fussilat 41:34]

Therefore, the best way to succeed at relationships in general i.e. to be well-liked and respected, and to have many friends and devotees, with few or no enemies, is to always ignore or counteract anything that is negative or disliked with positive and good behavior or action. Even if we correct someone or stop them in the act when they are doing wrong, it should be done in a beautiful (ahsan) way. One way of repelling bad behavior with good, is to embody the kind of actions you wish others to emulate. If done consistently, eventually everyone takes notice of this and, human nature being inclined towards what is divinely endorsed, they try to adopt the same in their own lifestyle.

Below are a few tips to help achieve respect and acceptance when visiting people, and to avoid conflicts or offence. More importantly, these tips will, insha’Allah, help avoid those situations that facilitate major sins of the tongue, such as gheebah, nameemah, slander, gossip, rumor-mongering and fun-making.

Watch and learn:

Whenever you meet someone at their home, or get initially acquainted with them, observe their habits and personal preferences keenly. Do they place coasters for their glasses on the table? Are shoes taken off in their home at the front door? Do they dislike being visited at home without a prior phone call? Are there times during the day at which they dislike receiving phone calls and visitors? Does the lady of the house appreciate or dislike others sauntering into her kitchen, keen to help her, opening up her cabinets and fridge to comment on the contents?

Some families love to have “open house” type of social get-togethers – in which their entire house is a free-for-all for their guests, with the children running amuck and the guests thronging all indoor rooms and the backyard; others have strict boundaries in their house which they prefer their guests to respect. Usually, bedrooms, private attached baths, the study and kitchen might be strictly off limits. Find out by observation before assuming anything about your host.

Being empathetic of other’s preferences goes a long way in ensuring mutual cordiality and long-term friendship and respect. You do not want to be the irritating person/family on their contact list, do you? Empathy is the best way to ensure that that does not happen.

Keep it “short and sweet”:

Joining relationships i.e. “Silah Al Rahm” can be done over the phone too, nowadays, if visiting is not possible, or by keeping the meeting short and sweet. When the guests overstay their welcome, tension is bound to arise. It follows the cycle of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, thus:

  • The Good: Small talk before dinner or refreshments, followed by a delicious dinner or snacks, and the rounding-off dessert that everyone enjoys.
  • The Bad: Some unnecessary joking, backbiting and gossip starts over post-dinner kahva or coffee. The hosts’ bedtime approaches and they start feeling uncomfortable, glancing at the clock often. The children start yawning and asking their parents when they will go home., or to bed
  • The Ugly: The guests literally lie back on the couches, putting their feet up and their hair down, settling in for a “good”, heart-to-heart repartee. A couple of hours pass with the conversation venturing into the no-no zone: all-out ill humor, gossip, drudging up bygone embarrassing incidents, and exchanging dirty jokes amid loud guffaws that make the wives exit the room in shame. The children have dozed off on the carpet or on sofa cushions. [Note: this can happen even in the homes of practicing Muslim families, if they allow some of their not-so-practicing guests to have their way therein. I have personally experienced that after some time goes by, or after dinner is over, some guests wander into the sitting area designated for the opposite gender, on the pretext of talking to someone there, and then settle down for a tête-à-tête after the preliminary exchange of greetings. There go the host family’s carefully planned arrangements for gender segregation!]

Keeping it ‘short and sweet’ means that the meeting ends after the first [“good”] stage, with everyone praying `isha in their own homes, if possible.

Practice what you preach: “Do not do unto others what you do not like being done unto you.”

What is most important is to never stoop to someone’s level if they strike you ‘under the belt’, so to speak. This is what the Quran’s verse implies by advising us to “repel evil with that which is good”. Do not allow someone’s jokes or vile comments to affect your mood – in such situations, I usually try to remember the wise phrase: “the one who angers you, controls you”. Eventually, your tight-lipped but tenacious politeness in return for insults, probing questions and/or insensitive comments will make the oppressor (and even the others in the gathering witnessing the conversation) realize that he or she is not getting anywhere with you, and they will leave you alone.

Make excuses for others:

Last but not least, if someone does something that you do not like, try to make excuses for their behavior seventy times before jumping to any conclusion or even discussing the matter with someone else. Usually, if someone is in a bad mood, they might not be very cordial with you. Being patient will ensure that the relationship does not turn sour, and your patience will entice them to feel guilty about brushing you off and they will try to make amends.

However, if over a few years, their behavior does not change (and your excuses for them have long crossed well over the seventy mark), you should re-evaluate how you can stay in touch with them without jeopardizing your peace of mind and/or personal privacy. You can switch to just intermittent phone calls or virtual messaging (emails etc.) to join relations with such people.

As long as we, as Muslims, practice mutual respect for others and be empathetic enough to take well-dropped hints and wisely understand others’ gestures, our relationships can remain at the level at which we can be on each other’s “wanted for company” list of social contacts, instead of “run the other way if spotted” list.

We should ask ourselves some key questions to see where we stand: do pious people like to meet us, or not? When they see us, do they look the other way, or do they enthusiastically rush forward with their hand outstretched, their faces lighting up with glee? Do we receive more invitations than we send out? If, as an individual or as a family, you answer “yes” to these questions, then rejoice; because you are on the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم]. If not, try to follow the tips above to ensure long-term relationship success and, insha’Allah, you’ll be there in no time at all.

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Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan.11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette.Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'.For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ameera

    October 21, 2009 at 2:29 AM

    *sigh* How true!

    I think I’d like to add something to it: When you stay and chit chat for too long, whether in your own home or when you’re visiting others, your own guard can slip. Really, for people who’re talkative (like me), it’s very easy to slip and indulge in gossip under different disguises. That’a why I’ve begun to find short phone calls and short visits are what is best.

    Also, with many people, I find it hard to find things to talk about… such as when a cousin will only talk of the latest fashion scene and music videos, it’s not really possible to carry on a conversation even on “neutral” topics such as the weather, common family events, etc. Your advice about keeping it short and sweet then is very helpful… in fact, to some, this principle is a “life-saver” when it comes to Silah-Rehmi (joining ties).

    I’m going to try and implement all of these InshAllah.

  2. Avatar

    Aurora

    October 21, 2009 at 2:42 AM

    *so reading this when I have time* JazakAllah khair for the indirect motivation.

  3. Avatar

    Yousuf

    October 21, 2009 at 5:58 AM

    Very good article!!

  4. Avatar

    I Love Hadith

    October 21, 2009 at 8:46 AM

    Masha’Allah, very nice article.

  5. Avatar

    tabassum

    October 21, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    very nicely written, enjoyed reading it :)

  6. Avatar

    Sh

    October 21, 2009 at 12:52 PM

    great article. Much needed reading for me =) Jazkallahu khayir!

  7. Avatar

    Faraz Omar

    October 21, 2009 at 4:26 PM

    How about being the first to question them? Keep questioning them till they don’t have to time to question you and then after you hear their answers, make an excuse and go over to the next… ? :P

    Ask them about their jobs, families etc n make du’a for them.

    When Arabs meet the first five minutes is only greeting and du’a. Kaifa Haaluk, baarak Allahu feek, Allah usallim alayk, Allah hayyeek, ish ikhbarak, kaif baba, kaif aulad, kull tamaam? Alhamdulillah…

    (trans: How r u? May Allah bless u… may Allah send blessings on u,,, may Allah increase ur life.. what’s new… hows dad, children… every1’s ok? alhamdulillah… n so on).. n that’s just one person… the other person will be trying to say more than the first. lol.

    it’s difficult when ur in a hurry or when ur phone bill is going up…

  8. Avatar

    ursister

    October 22, 2009 at 9:15 AM

    Asalamu Alikum,
    MashaAllah, very nice article. Jazaki Allah khair.

  9. Avatar

    Muslim007

    October 23, 2009 at 8:11 AM

    jazakAllaah for your kind contribution. The problem for me is the mixing up sexes and the handshakes. Also I’ve have noticed that about 90% of our talk during the conversations is usually trash. We go nowhere with it and if you keep silent and not to talk unnecessarily, people start remarking what is wrong with you and so on. May Allaah azza wajal show us the right path and cleanse our hearts and eyes and make it pure from all the falsehoods taht it contain. Amin

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      October 24, 2009 at 12:08 AM

      Ameen.
      I agree. Its about time duration. The longer a gathering goes on, the more it moves towards the impermissible kind of talk. Another thing that happens when you stay too long is that people start asking personal questions about your family matters. So I suppose the “short and sweet” methodology is best. Find out if your hosts/guests are well, talk a bit with them, and then end the meeting to save everyone’s time.

  10. Avatar

    Umme Ammaarah

    October 23, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    Assalamu-alaikum wa Rehmatullaahi wa Barakaatuhu sister …. love ur articles…each one more than the other… Jazaakallahu khair…

  11. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    October 24, 2009 at 12:09 AM

    I am very grateful to you all for your encouargment, and above, all your gracious dua’s. :)

  12. Avatar

    Olivia

    October 24, 2009 at 1:17 PM

    I really enjoyed this article! It was practical, straight-forward, and much-needed (especially with the next Eid in one month). Thank you so much for sharing! I pray it gets the attention it deserves =)

    By the way I just read your bio for the first time. “Computer Scientist gone wrong”–I love it! I’ve “gone wrong” (or shall I say gone right!) in so many ways myself! =) May Allah bless you and your family.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      October 25, 2009 at 5:29 AM

      :) Jazakillahu khairan! Alhamdulillah, that I “went wrong”. Hehe!
      Leaving my professional field paved the way for gaining knowledge of, and serving Islam; I’d do the same again if I was given the same choice.

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#Life

Convert Story: To Ask Or Not to Ask, That is the Question

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“How did you convert to Islam” is a question that is commonly asked to those who convert to Islam. While the short answer to this question is, “I said shahada”, the long (and more detailed) answer is one that is commonly expected.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of “born Muslims” who ask this question do such out of good intentions. For this reason, I wrote this piece out of a place of love and not out of a place of judgment or hatred. While it is important for “born Muslims” to be mindful of how they ask this question, it is equally important for converts to not hold ill will towards born Muslims who ask this question. Due to the fact that Islamophobia is rampant in both the media and political discourse, many “born Muslims” are naturally shocked and emotional when they meet people who accept Islam. Some “born Muslims” have also had limited interactions with converts and therefore, to them, it is not only shocking for them to meet converts, but they are genuinely unaware of certain etiquettes when it comes to asking a convert for his or her story.

In this piece, I am going to write about a pet peeve that is shared among many Muslim converts. While I cannot speak for every single convert, I can say that based on innumerable conversations I have had with fellow converts, there is one thing most of us agree on and it is this; it is rude to ask a convert about his or her conversion story when you haven’t built a relationship with the convert. This piece will explain why many converts consider such a question to be intrusive. The purpose of this article is to better educate the “born Muslim” community on how they can do a better job in support of converts to Islam. In this piece, I will break down the reasons why this question can come off as intrusive if it isn’t asked in a proper manner. I will also include personal anecdotes to support my position.

I would like to conclude by saying that I do not discourage “born Muslims” from asking this question entirely, rather I am merely arguing that this question should be asked with the best of adab.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:  “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi) For this reason, such a question should be asked for purpose and it should be done with the best of manners. This is supported by the fact that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)

Note: For the sake of avoiding confusion, the term “born Muslim” is defined as anyone who was brought up in a Muslim household.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask about the person’s personal relationship with God

Within the context of a friendship, it is generally understood that friends will share personal details with each other. However, it is also generally understood that it is rude to ask people you just met personal questions. To ask a new acquaintance a personal question in most cases comes off as intrusive. This is especially the case in which you ask a person about his or her relationship with God.

For example, there are women who do not wear hijab. Even if we do (for a moment) ignore the Islamic ruling concerning hijab, we should all agree that a woman’s reason for wearing (or not wearing) hijab is a personal matter that is between said woman and God. If one was to ask a woman who doesn’t wear hijab why she doesn’t wear it, that would be intrusive because such a question would involve interrogating said woman about her relationship with God.

Another example concerns a married couple. If one was to meet a married person for the first time, it can be considered rude to ask said person about his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

When one asks a convert about his or her choice to convert, one is literally asking said convert about his or her relationship with God.

I am not saying that it is wrong in all cases to ask such a question. However, one should be mindful of the fact that because this is a personal question, one should have at least have built some form of a friendship with said person before asking.

convert friendship hugs

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is another way of asking, “Why do you believe in Islam?”

Many people identify to a faith tradition because it was part of their upbringing. If you were to ask a person who was born Muslim, “why are you Muslim?” you might hear said Muslim respond with, “I am Muslim because I was raised Muslim” and you wouldn’t hear a detailed answer beyond this.

In most cases, a convert to Islam (or any other religion) did such after research and critical thinking. To convert to a new religion involves not only deep thinking but a willingness to step into the unknown.

I have on many occasions told my story to people. In most cases I will ask the person “why do you believe in Islam?” I am then disappointed when I find out that the only reason the person is Muslim is due to upbringing. While I am not saying that said person’s faith is invalid or less than mine, a person who only identifies with a religion due to upbringing is a person who didn’t engage in critical thinking.

Any relationship should be built upon equality and mutual benefit. If I as a convert am able to provide a well thought out answer as to why I believe in Islam, I expect a well thought out answer to the same question from the person who initially asked me.

Again, while I am not saying it is wrong in all cases to ask, a born Muslim should ask himself or herself “why do I believe in Islam?” In my opinion, there are many who are born into Muslim families who don’t truly believe until later in their lives. Those Muslims in my opinion (and mine alone) are similar to converts.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to perform labor.

In some cases, “born Muslims” expect converts to tell their stories. I can remember a few incidents in which I have been asked to tell my story and I politely declined. In response, the person became angry. This to me is a symptom of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to know anything about anyone else (aside from people with whom one has a natural relationship with).

In addition, one should be cognizant of the fact that converts typically get asked this question repeatedly. Thus after a significant amount of time, a convert is prone to get tired of repeating the same question over again repeatedly. Naturally, it can become exhausting eventually.

While I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question in all cases, one should not ask this question to a convert from a place of entitlement. I can think of cases where I have been asked this question by “born Muslims” and when I have refused to provide an answer, they have gotten angry at me. This is entitlement.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to explain his or her personal life.

Backbiting is one of the worst sins in Islam. Another major sin is to disrespect one’s parents. Thus we can conclude that backbiting about one’s parents is a huge sin.

This is evidenced by the fact that Allah has said (ﷻ) “We have enjoined on humankind kindness to parents.” (Quran 29:8)

A typical follow-up question to “Why did you convert?” is “How did your parents react?” This in many cases puts the convert in a position where one may feel pressured to mention some negative details about his or her parents. In Islam, parents are to be respected, even if they aren’t Muslim.

Before asking a convert this question, one should be mindful of not putting unnecessary pressure on the convert to commit this injustice.

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

However, I do maintain a firm belief that in any true friendship, things will be shared. I don’t think it is wrong in itself to ask a convert about his or her story provided that there already exists a relationship where personal information can be shared. It is highly suggested to hang out with the person first and then ask the convert for his or her story.

As a personal rule of mine, unless I have hung out with the person one on one at least once (or a few times in group gatherings) I don’t tell any born Muslims my conversion story. Naturally, I only share personal details with people I consider to be a friend. If I would hang out with the person, I consider that person to be a friend.

The reason I am also hesitant to share my story with just anyone who asks me is because I can think of countless cases of when I have shared my story to people I have never seen or heard from again. I choose to exert my agency to share personal details of my life to people who I consider to be part of my life. While many Muslims are happy when people convert, many Muslims also fail to provide any form of support for said convert after conversion. I have seen too many cases of when a person recites shahadah, people pull their phones out to record it, but very few will give the convert his or her number. I genuinely believe that many “born Muslims” fail to see the big picture in this regard.

Before asking a convert for his or her story, you should ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person. If you are not comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person, there is nothing wrong with that. However, you shouldn’t expect the convert to share personal details if you aren’t comfortable sharing personal details. Even if you have built a close friendship with someone, you still aren’t expected to share every detail of your life to someone. Even if you consider a convert to be a close friend, you should still respect a convert’s wishes to not share his or her story.

Conclusion

While I have addressed concerns about the tendency of “born Muslims” to ask converts about their journeys, I want to acknowledge that most people have good intentions. In Islam, the natural state of any person is one of righteousness.

I firmly believe that a friendship that isn’t built on trust and the sharing of personal information isn’t a genuine friendship. Therefore the key term in this context is “friend”. If you wish to ask a convert his or her story, please make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. You are already friends with the convert to a point where asking a convert about his or her relationship with God isn’t an intrusive question. Ask yourself, “Are we close enough where we can share other personal details of our lives with each other?”
  2. You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
  3. You don’t feel entitled to know about the convert’s journey and that you will allow the convert to choose not to share such information if the convert doesn’t wish to.
  4. You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
  5. You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.
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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

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I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

dardir

4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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Looking To Get Married? Here Are A Few Tips

will you marry me?
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that single young Muslims, despite not being in possession of any fortune, are always in search of a spouse.

However little prepared these people may be to undertake this ordeal is given little thought, and they are thrust out into the world of modern Muslim matchmaking. The generational divide in the community has meant that young people have received little training at home to navigate the process of finding a spouse. These individuals are seeking high-quality relationships, but few have the skills and emotional intelligence needed to find one. They are left to learn on their own through trial-and-error, and often a lot of pain.

With hopes of making this journey a little easier, we’ve compiled a few principles to keep in mind as you tread these cold uncharted waters.

You won’t attract what you want, you’ll attract what you are. Do you find in yourself the qualities that you seek in another?Click To Tweet

1. Work on yourself

You won’t attract what you want, you’ll attract what you are. Do you find in yourself the qualities that you seek in another?

Aspire to be self-fulfilled and complete on your own, rather than hoping for someone else to do that for you. Operationally, this entails refining both your inner and outer self. On the outside this could include basic things like being well-groomed (especially for men), knowing how to cook a healthy diet, exercising regularly and supporting yourself financially. You should also ensure you have good relationships with loved ones – do the people you care about love you back? Admit any wrongs you may have done to them and make amends to improve ties if they are strained. The state of your current relationships can be a good indicator of future ones.

On the inside, you should make a moral inventory and work to address your shortcomings in character. You must work on your selfishness, your anger, your dishonesty, your lust, your pride, your stinginess, your harshness, your resentments, your stubbornness, your fears, your jealousy, your self-righteousness, your vanity. This list is never ending and it’s a lifelong process; the sooner you get started the better off you’ll be.

You must also get help for any serious problems that you fear might affect a relationship – instead of hoping these problems will go away with the ‘right partner’. If you have a pornography problem, seek out help and don’t be deluded into thinking marriage will solve that for you. If you have no control over your desires before marriage, you won’t magically gain control afterward. If you have a substance abuse problem, join a 12-step program. If you feel you are emotionally unhealthy, get help from a professional. Bottom line is, have your house in order before you decide to build a new one.

2. Maintain good mental health throughout the process

Be purposeful in your search but don’t make it the purpose of your life. The process of finding a spouse can become emotionally draining and overwhelming if you don’t do it in a healthy fashion. Understand that this process entails too many factors that are completely out of your control; things won’t always go your way, so don’t be too attached to the outcome.  The only things you control are your responses and actions, so just focus on putting your best foot forward.

A common mistake people make is they give themselves a timeline e.g. ‘I want to be married by X age, or by X year’. This only results in unnecessary pressure that can lead to anxiety and poor mental health; it can also force one to make imprudent choices. Everyone has a different timeline; have trust in God’s plan for you.

Anytime mental health is disturbed, stop and revaluate. Some signs of poor mental health include: obsessive thinking, inability to focus on your everyday affairs, compulsive attachment and clinginess, disturbed sleep, anxiety, difficulty making decisions, inability to multitask, feeling overwhelmed, panic attacks, depression, irritability, changes in eating habits, and a loss of inner serenity. It is best to get help from counselors, such as those at Naseeha, if you feel stuck in this situation.

3. Adopt a mindset of giving

The measure you give is the measure you get back. Instead of worrying so much about what you want, focus on what you have to offer.

While you should certainly express your interest in someone you like, don’t taint it with desperation and neediness. If you’ve implemented the first point mentioned, you are already a confident and self-sufficient person. You will be fine no matter what. Focus on giving without expectation and building a healthy companionship. Be a giver and you’ll be surprised how easily you will attract the right people towards you. The ‘mindset of want’ is a self-defeating mindset: you might not find all the things you want in someone, and even if you did, there is no guarantee they’ll want you back!

4. Don’t overthink it

Living in a capitalist society, we’ve developed the bad habit of picking out people the same way we go shopping for a new product. We like to explore the market, do a cost-benefit analysis of various options, try to make sure the product isn’t damaged and hope to pick out the best possible item. We are careful about how we ‘invest our time’ and we try to ensure we can get an appropriate return on our investment. If we could, we’d ask for a money-back guarantee on people too!

Human hearts, unfortunately, cannot be picked out the way we choose commercial products. Each has its flaws and its strengths, you have to accept both the good and the bad; the pro-con list approach won’t work here. When we start taking this reductionist approach to relationships, we naturally get into overthinking, feel anxious and overwhelmed. With the widespread use of online dating, the choices seem limitless and it can seem impossible to try to figure out how to find the right person.

Marriage is a decision that’s to be taken with the heart; you have to rely on your guts and your instincts to steer you towards the person most suitable for you. This doesn’t mean throwing rational thought out the door, it means looking to your inner-self as the source of motivation for your decision making. It takes emotional intelligence and self-awareness to be able to determine what kind of a person you’ll be able to build a future with; it’s not always someone that looks best on paper. There are very few people with whom you’ll find compatibility and reciprocity, so don’t obsess over exploring as many possible ‘options’ with hopes of marking off all the items on your checklist.

We ultimately find the most fulfillment in caring for and taking responsibility for someone we sincerely love. So, look instead for the ingredients that will act as the foundations of love in your marriage. These could include the fact that you: enjoy someone’s company, find them beautiful, admire their character and kindness, respect them, find reciprocity in your interactions, have shared values and compatible temperaments. You are looking for that certitude, that good feeling in your heart; focusing on these factors will hopefully give you that and will get you out of the common mistake of overthinking and worrying.

One of the unique challenges Western Muslims face when looking for a spouse is finding religious compatibility. The diversity of our community, coupled with the individualized nature of faith in the West, has given rise to a plethora of ‘brands’ of Islam. Click To Tweet

5. Work to bridge religious differences

One of the unique challenges Western Muslims face when looking for a spouse is finding religious compatibility. The diversity of our community, coupled with the individualized nature of faith in the West, has given rise to a plethora of ‘brands’ of Islam. Personal levels of observance can vary vastly, even within members of the same family, so it can be challenging to find the right fit.

You will always find differences in religious observance and views between spouses. It is impossible, and foolish, to try to seek out someone at the exact same level. Some people might be more conservative than you, some might be more liberal. Do you really have to turn someone down because they don’t agree with your views on conventional mortgages? What if you like dressing up for Halloween and going trick-or-treating, and they’re opposed to it? What if they don’t eat zabiha halal like you do? What if they don’t pray all the five prayers on time like you were raised to do so?

Given the unique circumstances we live in, we must be flexible and open-minded about resolving such differences. We ought to be careful when making a judgment about someone’s beliefs; we don’t know what’s in someone’s heart. Some of us were taught to honour God through worship and observing His law, some of us were raised with an emphasis on serving His creation with good character. People have their strengths and their weaknesses in faith; sometimes these are apparent, sometimes hidden. Your relationship with God is not perfect and neither will be your partner’s; we are all a work in progress.

If approached with kindness, mutual respect and a willingness to compromise, these differing religious views could be resolved in many cases. While sometimes people really are on extreme ends, most of us fall somewhere in between and can find a comfortable middle ground. It is often our stubbornness, self-righteousness and a parochial understanding of religion that gets in the way. Good people are hard to find, so don’t let suitable matches go because they don’t follow your exact flavor of religious observance. This is certainly a sensitive topic and needs to be dealt with tact and wisdom; it is advisable to seek counsel of more experienced people.

6. Don’t expose your past and don’t pry about someone else’s

If you have a past you are not proud of and it doesn’t concern your future relationships, you should not feel obliged to expose yourself. In fact, if this relates to sins of the past, it is actually prohibited to reveal your sins to someone else – even in the context of marriage. Shaykh Nuh Keller summarizes this pitfall well, “In Islam, to mention a sin is itself a sin. How many a person has been unable to resist telling a friend or a spouse of the wickedness they did in their previous life, and Allah punished them with disgust and contempt in the other’s heart that could never quite be forgotten! There is no barakah in the haram”.

Similarly, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be prying about someone else’s past and trying to dig up details on their misadventures. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us to have a good opinion of people; he warned against the destructive nature of suspicion and spying. He told us, “Beware of suspicion for it is the most deceitful of thought. Do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; Rather, be servants of God as brothers”

7. Istikhara is not a solution for indecisiveness

The prayer of seeking guidance, or Istikhara, is oft cited by those considering marriage. The mistake many make, however, is that we are really wishing for someone else to make the decision for us. We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we find it difficult to make any. We hope for a divine sign or a miracle to happen that tells us that the other person is right for us and that we will live happily ever after with them.

Making big life decisions, emotionally prudent ones, is an important life skill that must be learned. These decisions come with inherent risks, uncertainties, and unknowns; there are no guarantees. If you habitually find yourself having a hard time deciding, it is likely due to external factors. It might have something to do with you, it might have something to do with the person you are considering. It is advisable to seek counsel if you are in this situation.

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

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