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Defining Beauty when True Beauty is ‘Crazy’

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Several years back, I heard a story that deserved to be written in letters of gold. I did just that; immediately wrote down the story. Although not in gold, it was to me in meaning more glamorous than gold.

I heard the story directly from a Romanian brother, Muhammad, who was a guest on a program called Kayfa Aslamt (How did you accept Islam?) on the Quran Radio Station of a Muslim country.

Around 1992, Muhammad visited Bosnia, and seeing the state of the people there, was motivated to embark on a ‘peace tour’ on foot, as he called it.

One night his travels landed him and his wife in a small remote village in Turkey. As he searched for a motel or any roof to spend the night under, he came across a villager and asked him for information regarding a place to stay. The man responded that there was none, and through a few English words and Muhammad’s very limited Turkish, managed to invite him to spend the night in his home.

Seeing that he had no other choice, Muhammad agreed, although they were frightened of this stranger who was a large man and sported a long beard. Little did he know that the man he feared was the same one who would change his life.

As soon as he arrived at the man’s house, Muhammad and his wife were comforted by the fact that there was a family there; an elderly grandmother of about 80 yrs, a mother and five children all close in age. The family prepared a supper for them that he described as simple, yet tasty. Then they were told that they shall sleep in the same room and the family would go sleep in another.

Early the next morning, Muhammad and his wife got up to thank the family and complete their journey. (Remember, Muhammad was not a Muslim, yet).

To their complete astonishment, they discovered that the house only consisted of that one room where he and his wife had slept, while the old woman, the man, his wife, and their five children were all sleeping outside, under a tree. This was in the month of November and the cold was bitter.

Extremely shocked at the man’s behavior, Muhammad asked, “Are you crazy?

The man, who could barely communicate, replied:

No, I am Muslim.”

The words went through Muhammad like an electric shock. He could never forget that man’s action.

He began searching Islam, as he only had a distorted image of it, and even read the Quran. He visited Syria, Jordan and Egypt, were he furthered his studies about the Quran and the hadeeth.

When the host asked him when he embraced Islam, he replied that in his heart, he was a Muslim from the time the man said, “I am Muslim.” But he and his wife officially took their shahadah in Egypt, 2 months after the encounter with the Turkish man.

When he returned to his home country, Romania, he faced anger and rejection from his family. Taking heed in the conduct of the Turkish man, he decided that preaching would serve no purpose. He showed them the beauty of Islam through his actions. Later, the ones who carried the most enmity towards him, were the first to accept Islam.

Today, we look around us and witness how many have been deceived into limiting the beauty of an individual to their physical characteristics. But Islam disagrees; it is only magnificence of one’s character and conduct that make them truly attractive in the eyes of the people. Not only does it earn one an elevated status in the eyes of the people, but in the hereafter as well, where a special position is promised.

The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,

The dearest and nearest among you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the best of you in conduct.” (Bukhari)

An individual who upholds good morals and cares to possess fine character is a gift to society. People feel contented in the presence of such a person; they trust, admire, and aspire to be like him. While others around us set ‘examples’ of beauty in their own terms, it is upon us to be the ones with whom people are dazzled by their beauty in moral uprightness.  And while others undress their bodies in hope of earning titles in the race to beauty, we shall wrap ourselves in the garments of honesty, mercy, forbearance, courage, patience, humbleness and modesty.  For our race differs: it is to be among the most perfect as described in the words of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) who said,

The most perfect man in his faith among the believers is the one with the best behavior.” (Ahmad and Abu Dawud)

We wished to write the story of the Turkish man in gold due to the status the mineral holds in the eyes of the people for it’s shine. But it remains hard and solid, unable to smear those who adorn themselves with it permanently. As for the shine of good character, it blinds the beholders from all other faults, as they only see perfectness in the shining one, free from all blemishes.

The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,

“Verily, a man would attain, through his good character, the ranks of someone who stands the night (in prayer and supplication) and fasts the day.” (Classified as Sahih by Al-Albanee in As-silsila Saheeha).

Indeed, true beauty shall always leave a crown on your head. But, you do not have to wait for anyone to place it there.

Mariam is of Middle Eastern origin, raised in North America, not quite settling in one specific place. After living up in the North of North America, she has shifted continents and currently residing in a rapidly flourishing, historical city located in the desert of Arabia. She is a recent graduate of the American Open University, with a Bachelors in Islamic Studies. She believes that regardless of where a person is, writing is a tool to reach out and express that which inspires, touches and affects them. So she writes; perhaps that which inspires her will be a source of good for at least one other person.

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sayf

    May 25, 2010 at 1:10 AM

    Mash’Allah! JazakAllah khair for sharing this remarkable story!

  2. Avatar

    AbdulRahman

    May 25, 2010 at 3:36 AM

    An excellent reminder!

  3. Avatar

    Abu Abdayn

    May 25, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    Masha Allaah. Truly inspiring

  4. Avatar

    Amatullah

    May 25, 2010 at 4:27 AM

    Jazaaki Allahu khayran Mariam for this beautiful and inspiring reminder. May Allah beautify our character as He as beautified our creation!

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      May 25, 2010 at 9:19 AM

      Ameen!

      May Allah continue to reward the Turkish brother and his family.

    • Avatar

      shiney

      May 30, 2010 at 4:56 PM

      Ameen!

  5. Avatar

    amad

    May 25, 2010 at 4:29 AM

    On a slight tangent, I’d like to mention how the “Islamic” culture of hosting guests is slowly dying off. I remember on a trip sometime ago, I fully expected some friends to host me for a night or two. After all, 3 days is a guest’s right upon a host, who he even doesn’t know, let alone friends! While one friend pushed so much for us to stay with him, I was disappointed by others who instead gave information on nearby hotels. Not that I couldn’t afford them. But I wanted to spend time with the friends, because I could not imagine myself that they would come to my city and would stay anywhere except my house. At the same time I was happy to see people who I had never met being angry at me for not telling them I was coming to their town so that they could host me! But that seems to be the exception

    This issue has been bothering me for a while because this isn’t the first time I witnessed this sort of attitude towards out-of-town guests. So, thanks for letting me take it off my chest on this post :)

    At one time guests used to be blessings, now they are a burden. I would like to say that those that know which city I live in, if you are in my part of the world, you are always welcome to stay at my place… we still love guests :)

    I hope that people will take the beauty lesson and the hosting guests lesson in this story too!

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      May 25, 2010 at 9:17 AM

      Asalamu Alikum warahmatu Allah

      Jazakum Allah khayr for emphasizing this point. there is no doubt that when performing a certain good characteristic has become ‘strange’ to society, it has a stronger effect on the hearts.

    • Avatar

      shiney

      May 30, 2010 at 4:59 PM

      yeah that’s so true! ppl are not as hospitable as they used to be-it’s sad to see muslims like that.

      • Avatar

        sabirah

        May 31, 2010 at 12:38 AM

        mashallah, here the muslims are very hospitable, and I get invited a lot as well as other muslims and non muslims since i reverted.
        But astaghfirullah, i started hating to go, as a guest you either have to buy something that this family is selling (a hijab, or whatever the woman stitches up) or I have to listen to rather rude lectures (you are not allowed to come inside with that shirt the next time and don’t wear leather we don’t know if it’s pig, you know this abbaya looks a bit too nice), or getting pressured into marrying a friend of a friend who wants to desperately get out of his homecountry in northern africa. Been there, done that.
        I have a caller display, alhamdullillah, and I got somewhat scared to pick up the phone.
        They might mean it well, but something I need to learn how to deal with first before I go out in the wild wild islamic world… May Allah forgive me these feelings

        • Avatar

          Sayf

          May 31, 2010 at 2:20 AM

          as a guest you either have to buy something that this family is selling (a hijab, or whatever the woman stitches up) or I have to listen to rather rude lectures (you are not allowed to come inside with that shirt the next time and don’t wear leather we don’t know if it’s pig, you know this abbaya looks a bit too nice), or getting pressured into marrying a friend of a friend who wants to desperately get out of his homecountry in northern africa

          LOL!
          Anyone wanna play “guess that culture”?

  6. Avatar

    Muhammad

    May 25, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    Beautiful masha Allah!

  7. Avatar

    ibn Ahmed

    May 25, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    MashaAllah. An excellent post. May Allah help us all perfect our character as this was the goal of the Prophet – I have only been sent to perfect Noble Character.

    Posts like this are much more powerful and beneficial than some controversial posts which may be more popular. MM take note ;-)

    JazakhAllah khair author

  8. Avatar

    sister

    May 25, 2010 at 6:04 AM

    Subahanallah..Mashaallah .Jazakallahu khairaa .It`s really inspiring story.May Allah give us hidayath to follow the sunnah.Amazing to see people going out of the way to help some stranger in this time .

  9. Avatar

    Lnahrawi

    May 25, 2010 at 8:22 AM

    I love it, masha’Allah! truly inspiring.

  10. Avatar

    Abdul-Qadir

    May 25, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    @ Mariam E.

    Did the story-teller indicate how long it took for his family to accept Islam? Was it his entire family?

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      May 25, 2010 at 9:13 AM

      Wa Alikum asallam warahmatu Allah

      Sorry, I don’t have those details. I have only included here what I wrote the same day I heard the story years ago.

  11. Avatar

    Just Another Ayesha

    May 25, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    Great story. Pure gold!

  12. Avatar

    MW_M

    May 25, 2010 at 10:43 AM

  13. Avatar

    hayat

    May 25, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    Machalla what a good story ….may allha reward you for posting this. i have to pick some family as a guest today and it helped me to get some moral lilahi tala. even thoug i was a little sick and so tired.
    you changed my day machalla.
    i will be in full energy to treat them well like our deen teach us. sometims we need some reminder.

  14. Avatar

    Hena

    May 25, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    Jazakillah Khair Sister Mariam,

    I really needed this. This whole week as been really frustrating- I am going to go and post this on our youth group page. These are the kind of positive uplifting stories that they need to hear and parents need to hear so they can share them with their kids. Guess what we will be reading at bedtime today :)

    wasalam

  15. Avatar

    elham

    May 25, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    This is what always proves my belief that there is still much khair(good) in the Ummah.

    The turkish family made me *almost* cry, may Allah increase them in blessing and make them and Muhammad steadfast on their Islam. Ameen

    BarakAllahu feeki ukhti, for this great reminder.

  16. Avatar

    Cali Muslimah

    May 25, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    Subhanallah! Great Read!

  17. Avatar

    Rafa

    May 25, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Masha Allah, that was a truly beautiful story. Its reminders like this that we need every single day. Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah.

    And JazakAllah for the article, sister. :)

  18. Avatar

    Subhanallah

    May 26, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    SubhanAllah!

    What a great sadaqa jariya for that turkish family. A whole family reverted to Islam because of ONE selfless and simple act. May Allah grant both families with jannatul firdous. Ameen. And may Allah allow us ALL to follow Islam in its purest form. Ameen!

  19. Avatar

    Rightstuff

    May 26, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    Assalam u alaikum,

    JazzakAllah Khyar for this wondersful story.

    May Allah bless us wih these Qualities….Ameen

  20. Avatar

    az

    May 26, 2010 at 8:02 AM

    Asalamalaikum

    I am sorry , wanted to leave a comment on the blog , not reply to user : theRightStuff , I am very sorry about that.

    Good character is something that is required of a Muslim and it is a starting point for Da’wah.

    But this story indicates it to be the only means and that is not true. Because RasulAllah (Sallallahu alahie wasalam) had the best character, he (Sallallahu alahie wasalam) practiced this good character and he (sallallahu alahie wasalam) also preached and mentioned the message. And still people did not accept him (sallallahu alahie wasalam) even though he (sallallahu alahie wasalam) had the best of character.

    And the day he (sallallahu alahie wasalam) mentioned the message , people despite his (sallallahu alahie wasalam) best character turned away.

    So Da’wah by ones character is a required starting point (to have the best of manners) and then the message of Islam needs to be mentioned and preached. For one can have the best character and be a Disbeliever and possess shirk and die upon that , going to Hell. Some people think that just by having good character and keeping quiet they will have a good impact on people and then they might inquire about a person. That is true but it doesnt work all the time. The message of Islam needs to be uttered and preached , ofcourse the basis and starting point again being with a basis of good character upon the Sunnah.

    JazakAllahu Khair

    • Avatar

      Yaqeen needed

      May 26, 2010 at 11:47 PM

      And the opposite is also true.

  21. Avatar

    y

    May 26, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    Very nice. good points made

  22. Avatar

    Zeba Khan

    May 26, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    SubhanAllah!!!

  23. Avatar

    ummmanar

    May 26, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    mashallah this is beautiful story and inspiring. May allah (swt) beautify our chracter.Jazakallahkirn I always love to read your articles they are beautiful mashallah.

  24. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    Asalamu Alikum

    Jazakum Allah khayr for your comments. May Allah guide to the best of words, deeds and purify our intentions.

  25. Avatar

    Yaqeen needed

    May 26, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    Mashallah for the story

    After all said and done, the thrust of this message is change and call to action. Change. Sacrifice. Sadly if we are surrounding ourselves by means that do not help us change …all me might end up doing is praising articles like this without the desired change

    The turkish man in the story cleary shows that it is not the academic knowledge of islam a large no of us lust for and venerate these days that counts: its acting upon that we know. In our times, islamic knowledge has been academised and made for sale. Perhaps that’s why the iman that should couple the knowledge seems to have vaporised and the sacrifices to make the required actions just not there. As for the turkish I know some of my ‘on the manhaj’ crew brothers will be saying may be was a sufi or deviant and all that stuff. But there you have it- pure sacrifice and done sincerely without any publicity available then. And we would not have known if not for the radio station talk to the beneficiary of this turkish brother’s sacrifice. As capitalists leaving in a capitalist sociiety with enough academic islam to synthesize fiqh material to support some of our inaction and unwillingness to sacrifice, are we ready to make changes and jettison our desires?

  26. Pingback: Defining Beauty when True Beauty is ‘Crazy’ | MuslimMatters.org « From the Pulpit …

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  28. Avatar

    africana

    May 27, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    mashAllah!

  29. Avatar

    Mombeam

    May 27, 2010 at 10:24 PM

    as-salaamu `alaykum

    This post reminds me of another post a while back about “missed da`wah opportunities”. I and others tried to point out in the comments that sometimes (or even more often than not) it is not direct “preaching” that will turn people’s hearts torwards Islam, but just the presence and good feelings that arise from a Muslim person’s good actions in the world. I think this story illustrates that idea so wonderfully.

  30. Avatar

    The Me.

    May 28, 2010 at 3:22 AM

    This inspired me. Thankyou! =]]]

  31. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    May 29, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    Asalamu Alikum warahmatu Allah

    It was brought to my attention that the last hadeeth quoted in the article was in fact a weak hadeeth:

    Verily, the worshipper will ascend the higher ranks and superior grades of the hereafter through his good character, even though he is weak in acts of worship.” (Al-Tabarani). (classified by Sheikh Al-Albani rahimahullah as being munkar/weak in his book Assilsila Da\’ifa # 3030)

    Therefore, It has been removed and replaced with a saheeh hadeeth:

    “Verily, a man would attain, through his good character, the ranks of someone who stands the night (in prayer and supplication) and fasts the day.”

    May Allah reward the person who pointed this out to us.

  32. Avatar

    Nayyab

    June 1, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    Amzazing! Mashallah! Subhanullah!

  33. Avatar

    Gurabah

    June 2, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    Salamu Alaykum,

    Baraka Allahu Feeki ya Uhkti!! great article, mahsAllah!! what a great reminder and beneficial knowledge.
    May Allah the Forgiver, grant you many blessings for posting the story. May Allah the Doer of All make us like the turkish family in their character, Ameen!!!
    It did brought tears to my eyes, truly!!!
    Never lose HOPE in Allah and in the Ummah!!
    p.s. Sister SABIRAH, i am sorry for what happened to you with the local muslim community you face. Just know that they don’t have the adab of dealing with reverts and guest. So make Dua for them, inshALLAH. May Allah give you sabr and tolerence, ameen

  34. Avatar

    Syed Nasiruddin

    May 24, 2011 at 4:27 AM

    SubhanAllah!!! Identified a family who will be adjacent to our great prophet on the day of resurrection!!!.

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#Society

Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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#Current Affairs

Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?

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Muslim organizations, Muslim groups

Recently several Muslim groups sent an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court to support LGBTQ rights in employment.  These groups argued“sex” as used in the Civil Rights Act should be defined broadly to include more types of discrimination than Congress wrote into the statue.

A little background. Clayton County, Georgia fired Gerald Lynn Bostock. The County alleged Bostock embezzled money, so he was fired. Bostock argues the real reason is that he is gay. Clayton County denied they would fire someone for that reason. Clayton County successfully had the case dismissed saying that even if Bostock is right about everything, the law Bostock filed the lawsuit under does not vindicate his claim. The case is now at the Supreme Court with other similar cases.

The “Muslim” brief argued the word “sex” should mean lots of things, and under the law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal.  American law has developed to provide some support for this argument, but there have been divisions in the appellate courts. So this is the exact sort of thing the US Supreme Court exists to decide.

The Involvement Of Muslim Groups

In Supreme Court litigation, parties on both sides marshal amicus briefs (written arguments) and coordinate their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their advocacy, there are over 40 such briefs in the Bostock case. Groups represent constituencies with no direct stake in the immediate dispute but care about the precedent the case would set.

The Muslim groups came in purportedly because they know what it’s like to be victims of discrimination (more on that below). The brief answered an objection to the consequences that could come with an expansive definition of the term “sex” to include gay, lesbian, and transgender persons (in lieu of its conventional use as synonymous with gender, i.e., male/female). In particular, the brief responded to the concern that “sex” being defined as any subjective experience may open up more litigation than was intended by making the argument that religion is a personal experience that courts have no trouble sorting out and that, like faith, courts can define “sex” the same way.

While this may be interesting to some, boring to others, it begs the question:  why are Muslim groups involved with this stuff? Muslims are a faith community. If we speak *as Muslims* is it not pertinent to consult with the traditions of the faith tradition known as Islam, like Quran, Hadith and the deep well of scholarly tradition?  Is our mere presence in a pluralistic society enough reason to ignore all this and focus on building allies in our mutual desire to create a world free of discrimination?

Spreading Ignorance

In July of 2017, the main party to the “Muslim” brief, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), was expelled from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention bazaar.  I was on the Executive Council of the organization at the time but had no role in the decision. The reason: MPV was dedicated to promoting ignorance of Islam among Muslims at the event. The booth had literature claiming haram was good and virtuous. Propaganda distributed at the table either implied haram was not haram or alternately celebrated haram.

For any Muslim organization dedicated to Islam, it is not a difficult decision to expel an organization explicitly dedicated to spreading haram. No Muslim organization, composed of Muslims who fear Allah and dedicate their time to Islam can give space to organizations opposed the faith community’s values and advocates against them in their conferences and events.  Allah, in the Quran, tells us:

immorality

Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows, and you do not know.

It would be charitable to the point of fraud to characterize MPV as a Muslim organization. That MPV has dedicated itself to promoting ignorance of the religion within the Muslim community is not in serious dispute.  The organization’s leader has been all over the anti-Sharia movement.

Discrimination against Muslims is bad, except when it’s good 

The brief framed the various organizations’ participation by claiming as Muslims, we know what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. This implies the parties that signed on to the Amicus petition believe discrimination against Muslims is a bad thing. For at least two of the organizations, this is not entirely true.

MPV is an ally of another co-signer of the Amicus petition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).  Both have records that show an eagerness to discriminate against Muslims in the national security space. They both applied for CVE grants. Both have supported the claim that Muslims are a national security threat they are somehow equipped to deal with. I have written more extensively about MPAC in the past; mainly, it’s work in Countering Violent Extremism and questionable Zakat practices.

MPAC’s CVE  program, called “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as terrorist threats. It purported to address this Muslim threat. In June of 2019, MPAC’s academic partner released an evaluation Safe Spaces and judged it as “not successful” citing the singling out of Muslims, as well as a lack of trust within the Muslim community because of a lack of transparency as reasons why the program was a failure. Despite its legacy of embarrassment and failure, MPAC continues to promote Safe Spaces on its website.

MPV was a vigorous defender of MPAC’s CVE program, Safe Spaces.  MPV’s leader has claimed the problem of “radicalism” is because of CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA’s “brand of Islam.”

Law Enforcement Approved Islam

In 2011, former LAPD head of Counter-Terrorism, Michael P. Downing testified during a congressional hearing on “Islamist Radicalization” Downing testified in favor of MPV, stating:

I would just offer that, on the other side of the coin, we should create opportunities for the pure, good part of this, to be in the religion, such as the NGOs. There is an NGO by the name of Ani Zonneveld who does the Muslims for Progressive Values. This is what they say, “Values are guided by 10 principles of Islam, rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.” She and her organization have been trying to get into the prison system to give this literature as written by Islamic academic scholars. So I think there can be more efforts on this front as well.

Downing was central to the LAPD’s “Muslim Mapping” program, defending the “undertaking as a way to help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would radicalize Islamic residents and advocate ‘violent, ideologically-based extremism.” MPAC was a supporter of the mapping program, which was later rejected by the city because it was an explicit ethnic profiling program mainstream Muslim and secular civil rights groups opposed.  MPAC later claimed it did not support the program, though somehow saw fit to give Downing an award. Downing, since retired, currently serves on MPAC’s Advisory Council.

Ani Zonnevold, the President and Founder of MPV, currently sits on the International Board of Directors for the Raif Badawi Foundation alongside Maajid Nawaz and Zuhdi Jasser.

MPV has also been open about both working for CVE and funding from a non-Muslim source, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups with agendas to reform the religion of Islam. It’s hard not to see it as an astroturf organization.

Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride

Unfortunately, Muslim nonprofit organizations are often unsophisticated when it comes to signing documents other groups write. Some are not even capable of piecing together the fact that an astroturf organization opposed to Islam, the religious tradition, was recruiting them to sign something.

There are many Muslims sympathetic to the LGBTQ community while understanding the limits of halal and haram. Not everyone who signed the brief came to this with the same bad faith as an MPV, which is hostile to the religion of Islam itself. Muslims generally don’t organize out of hostility to Islam. This only appears to be happening because of astroturfing in the Muslim community. Unfortunately, it was way too easy to bamboozle well-meaning Muslim groups.

Muslims are a faith community. MPV told the groups Islam did not matter in their argument when the precise reason they were recruited to weigh in on the case was that they are Muslim. Sadly, it was a successful con. Issues like the definition of sex are not divorced from Islamic concerns. We have Islamic inheritance and rules for family relations where definitions of words are relevant. Indeed, our religious freedoms in ample part rest on our ability to define the meaning of words, like Muslim, fahisha, zakat, daughter, and Sharia. Separate, open-ended definitions with the force of law may have implications for religious freedom for Muslims and others because it goes to defining a word across different statutes, bey0nd the civil rights act. There would be fewer concerns if LGBT rights were simply added as a distinct category under the Civil Rights Act while respecting religious freedom under the constitution.

Do Your Homework

Muslim organizations should do an analysis of religious freedom implications for Muslims and people of other faiths before signing on to statements and briefs. A board member of MPV drafted the “Muslim” Brief, and his law firm recruited Muslim nonprofit organizations to sign on. CAIR Oklahoma, which signed up for this brief, made a mistake (hey, it happens). CAIR Oklahoma’s inclusion is notable. This chapter successfully challenged the anti-Sharia “Save our State” law that would have banned Muslims from drafting Islamic Wills. Ironically, CAIR Oklahoma’s unwitting advocacy at the Supreme Court could work against that critical result. For an anti-Sharia group like MPV, this is fine. It is not fine for a group like CAIR.

CAIR Oklahoma is beefing up their process for signing on to Amicus Briefs in the future. No other CAIR chapter signed on to the brief, which was prudent. CAIR chapters are mostly independent organizations seemingly free to do whatever they want. CAIR, as a national organization needs to make sure all its affiliates are sailing in the same direction. They have been unsuccessful with this in the past several years. CAIR should make sure their local chapters know about astroturf outfits and charlatans trying to get them to sign things. They should protect their “America’s largest Islamic Civil Liberties Group” brand.

Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong 

American Muslims all have friends, business associates and coworkers, and family members who do things that violate Islamic norms all the time. We live in an inclusive society where we respect each other’s differences. Everyone is entitled to dignity and fair treatment. No national Muslim groups are calling for employment discrimination against anyone, nor should they.

However, part of being Muslim is understanding limits that Allah placed on us. That means we cannot promote haram or help anyone do something haram. Muslim groups do not need to support causes that may be detrimental to our interests.  Our spaces do not need to be areas where we have our religion mocked and derided. Other people have the freedom to do this in their own spaces in their own time.

Some Muslim leaders are afraid of being called names unless they recite certain words or invite particular speakers.  You will never please people who hate Islam unless you believe as they do.  Muslims only matter if Islam matters.

If you are a leader of Muslims, you must know the limits Allah has placed on you. Understand the trust people have placed in you. Don’t allow anyone to bully or con you into violating those limits.

Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.

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A New Eid Tradition: Secret Gift Exchange

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Eid Al Adha, Eid Gift Exchange

Gift exchanges–they’re common traditions for many gift-giving holidays in America. I’ve participated in gift exchanges in religious and secular contexts and I’ve loved being a member and even a host of them in the past! This past Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr, I organized a secret gift exchange (we called it “Secret Bakra” from the Urdu “bakra” which means goat) with my siblings, cousins, and their respective spouses who live all over the US and it was one of the most memorable and fun things I have ever done for Eid in my life! The best part of a gift exchange like this is that I don’t have to feel the pressure of gifting 13 people gifts every Eid, but I feel as if I have!

Here’s a quick guide and some tips to help you and your family or friends organize an Eid gift exchange!

Gift Exchange Basics

A gift exchange requires: 

  • a group of 3 to 40 people
  • a budget range for the gift
  • deadlines for sending/receiving gifts
  • an organizational system to assign members who they will be giving gifts to

Optional parts of a gift exchange can be:

  •  some sort of exchange party (in-person or virtual)
  • gift recommendations/interests for each person to help nudge the gift-giver in the right direction)
  • an anonymous/secret exchange system with a reveal during the party/after everyone has gotten their gifts

Why a (Secret) Eid Gift Exchange? 

Following the Sunnah and Bringing People Together

The most important motivation anyone can have to organize or participate in a gift exchange is taken from a hadith of the Prophet (S) in which he says, “Mutual gift-giving increases the love between people.” This hadith can be taken as advice for a way to bring people closer together and with the intention of following the teachings of the Prophet (S). 

Celebrating Eid and Creating Meaningful Traditions

Another important motivation is to celebrate Eid, as the Prophet (S) has mentioned is a main annual holiday for Muslims, and to also make Eid special for you, your family, a group of friends coworkers, masjid volunteers, etc. Not only is it important for individuals and families to establish Eid traditions that everyone can look forward to (Eid shouldn’t just be fun for kids!), but it is particularly important in communities in which Muslims are a minority. I’ve always been a firm advocate for making fun, memorable Eids with exciting, wholesome Eid traditions and festivities. 

Manageable Way to Give Gifts within a Large Group of People

A gift exchange is a great way to give gifts in a large group of people without breaking the bank and without exhausting yourself trying to think of gifts for a bunch of people and then buying or making them. My cousins and I have gotten closer more recently due to an upswing in family weddings, and I really felt like giving all of them gifts last Eid.  But realistically, I didn’t have $200 to get all 9 people in this group a decent gift, or the time to make 9 gifts that were meaningful and special for each person, or the energy to come up with different gifts for all 9 individuals. A couple of years ago, my husband and I sent ice cream gift cards and personalized Eid cards to each one of our cousins (allocating $5 per cousin per family). It felt great to extend an “Eid ice cream on us” gesture, but for $45, it didn’t seem like we really got much of a bang for our buck. By doing a Secret Bakra Gift Exchange, we both spent under $30 total for our gifts, but it felt like more of a meaningful gift.  It also felt like each one of my siblings/cousins gave a gift to everyone in the group–and that’s the magic of gift exchanges! Although we didn’t give and receive 9 gifts on Eid, we all came together to celebrate our family ties and Eid in a special way and everyone felt like they scored on Eid. Lastly, if there’s a dedicated group of people that you always do a gift exchange with, such as extended family in my case, theoretically everyone will end up giving everyone else a gift when you consider probabilities if you do a gift exchange every Eid for enough years, right?  

Bridging the Gap: Togetherness Despite Age, Distance, Financial Means, etc.

One thing that was super magical for my cousins and I this past Eid was having the feeling that we celebrated Eid together. We’re always lamenting the fact that we seldom get together and rarely with all of us or talking about how if we were closer to each other then we’d do xyz awesome, fun things together all the time. This gift exchange wasn’t just about giving each other gifts–it was also about making time for a video call in which we all made it despite being strung across three different time zones and having work/school the next day to unwrap our gifts and wish each other a blessed and joyous Eid. It was also about creating a more tight-knit group and welcoming the newcomers to our extended family (we’ve had two weddings in one year and we’re all still getting to know the new spouses and vice versa). We’re all different in many ways–age, gender, religiosity, personality, etc.–and we may interact with each other (and even be fond of each other) at varying levels. Doing an anonymous gift exchange is a great way to force a person’s hand into making a greater effort to connect with another person in a wholesome, beautiful manner. Lastly, we considered our budget range to accommodate our financially-dependent younger cousins in high school, our unemployed bunch, our students, etc. No one felt burdened by the price tag for the gifts and everyone felt like they made a meaningful contribution no matter what their lifestyle or financial means allow. 

eid gift exchange

Tips on Making Your Secret Gift Exchange Easy, Fun, and…Did I Mention Easy?

With the business of worshipping in Ramadan and Dhul Hijjah on top of daily life struggles, who has the time to monkey around with extra nonsense like a gift exchange for Eid? Following these tips will help YOU pull off a great gift exchange with minimal time, effort, stress, and hiccups! (These tips will be particularly useful for people conducting a long-distance gift exchange.) 

  • Use a self-generating exchange system like “Elfster.” Have one person do it (it only takes 5 minutes to set it up) and send out the sign up link. You can even take turns every time you do a gift exchange. This way, nobody has to sit out the game because the website takes care of matching people in the group and can also let an administrator get in behind the scenes in case a problem arises (like someone doesn’t send their match a gift.) For the rest of the participants, signing up takes less than 5 minutes if you’re a first-time user and less than 2 minutes if you already have an account. The site draws names, notifies everyone of who they received, provides your match’s address, etc. It basically takes out all of the headache stuff that would discourage someone from wanting to organize one of these exchanges.  It can also allow for anonymous messaging, which can be handy for contacting your match to inquire about clothing sizes, color preferences, delivery options/issues, etc.
  • Set a budget range that’s friendly for the people of less financial means in mind. Think of the spread of your participating group members and make the exchange accessible to those who have the least means. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful and you don’t want to set a $80 budget if someone in the group is struggling to make ends meet every month. My recommendation is to choose a budget range so that each person isn’t busting their brains to try to get a gift as close to $15.00 as possible, for example. Determine whether or not you’d like to include shipping costs inside this budget. If someone is making a gift, then estimate how much you’d buy whatever is made if you got it from the store (this is probably a bit harder than just buying something that has a price tag associated with it.) Give a $3-7 range around a price point everyone seems comfortable with. Our budget for the last exchange we did was $12-17. Most participants bought gifts at the $14-17 range (which I think is better.) Some good budget range recommendations I have are the following: $14-17, $15-18, $18-22, $20-24, $25-29. For a higher budget: $28-33, $38-42, $48-53. 
  • Set a strict deadline for receiving the gifts before Eid and keep in mind your gift exchange party date/time. Make sure everyone knows that they need to have the gift delivered on or by a certain a date. Don’t have a “send by” date, that doesn’t really make any sense, and don’t have a deadline that spreads across a couple of days because it’s too confusing. My personal recommendation for the deadline is to have the deadline at least one or two days before the earliest day anyone in your group might be celebrating Eid (#MoonWars). This way, everyone can take care of their gift before the Eid madness sets in which can make Eid more enjoyable because no one is stressed out about their gift being delivered on time, and it gives a little bit of a buffer if there are any complications with delivery or fulfilling an order/shipment. 
  • Virtual exchange party: set it before Eid prayer. Eid day is just too crazy because people have a lot of things going on. Now take into consideration the fact that people celebrate Eid on different days…exactly. If you set your virtual exchange party for the night before the earliest Eid’s prayer, you’re nearly guaranteed to be able to catch everyone because no one will have an Eid dinner invitation for that night. Additionally, it will feed into the excitement for Eid which will be on the next day or two. 
  • Alternative virtual exchange party. You can have everyone send a video recording of themselves opening their gift on whatever day the gift deadline is or whatever day you want to have your “party.” This way, everyone can participate despite schedule conflicts. If there are a handful of individuals who can’t make the actual party, you can also have them send videos beforehand instead of joining into the party on the video call. This might also be helpful if you’re doing an exchange party in-person if you can have the one or two people who can’t make it video-call in or send video recordings beforehand (if it’s before, then that person would need their gift before the party.)
  • Anonymous gift-sending and guessing who the gift-giver is. Make sure that the person giving the gift does not reveal their identity in any way, whether that’s putting gifts in a dark room before the party starts or making sure that their name is not on the package being sent at all. What we like to do is to have the person guess who they think gave them the gift after they’ve opened it. Our rule is that if the person guessed correctly, then the gift-giver should confirm it was indeed them that gave the gift. This is one of the most fun parts of the exchange party in my opinion.
  • Have a code word in your package to signify that it’s a gift from the Eid exchange.  Let’s face it–online shopping is convenient and becoming increasingly so. It’s more likely than not that you will order something from online during the gift exchange, so in order to prevent confusion, include a code word in the name of the person you’re sending the Eid gift to. We chose to write “Bakra” as the middle name, so it’d look like “Muhammad Bakra Ahmad” on whatever package was intended to be their gift for the Eid gift exchange.

I hope all of these tips were useful! If you end up doing this Eid gift exchange in your family, let us know what the best gifts were this time around! 

Here are the gifts that we had in our Eid al Fitr gift exchange this past June!

  • Juvia’s Masquerade Eyeshadow Palette
  • NASA Worm Logo Shirt + The Great Wave off Kanagawa Tapestry
  • Jade Roller for Face
  • Music Record
  • Nose Frida
  • Campfire Mug
  • DSLR Camera Remote
  • Llama String Art Kit
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** + Knife Sharpening Stone
  • Philadelphia Eagles Sun Hat
  • Golden State Warriors Mug

May Your Eid Be Blessed!

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