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Dawah and Interfaith

After the Takbir: Advice to a Muslim Convert

Congratulations, if you have made it this far in your journey and my prayers that you will remain steadfast as you progress along this path of Islam throughout your life. Long after the chants of Allahu Akbar die down if you had the opportunity to witness your faith at a masjid in front of other Muslims or silently at home with only Allah and the angels to witness like I did, it is possible that you might see some of what I’ve seen and experienced. Here are some convert survival tips drawn from my own experience:

Read Everything

I came in like most converts wide-eyed, with an open heart, and ready to learn about and accept my chosen faith. I read voraciously about Islam before and after my conversion. I read everything from different translations of the Quran, books giving an overview of Islam, books about iman (faith), aqeedah (theology), hadith to books on sale in Christian bookstores full of untruths and distortions by “ex-Muslims” to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. As for the latter, I had read Rushdie’s book while in high school trying to make sense of the furor around it and rather enjoyed his unique literary style. It was only later, upon re-reading as a Muslim with some basic understanding of the faith that the blasphemous passages became more clear. My advice to anyone, read as much as you can, not only the “approved” books but whatever piques your interest, and you might learn a lot by reading that which others try to tell you to avoid. Always look critically to what is excluded from your masjid’s library, bookstore, or curriculum, and you’ll learn a lot about what they really believe and often like to present as a universal or “more authentic” expression of Islam.

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Don’t Accept Opinions & Views Uncritically

It took me almost a year or two to cautiously begin navigating the Muslim community through my regular attendance at various mosques in the area including the ones my well-meaning friends never told me about including the smaller offshoot masajid, the Ahmadiyya and shia mosques as well. What an eye-opener to the different expressions and manifestations of Islam. Now, this is not theology class where we scrutinize our own beliefs and the beliefs of others, it’s just about being open to learning about our fellow human beings. Don’t fall into the trap of demonizing without critical thought and reflection. Learn and if you don’t know, just be quiet, don’t add fuel to the fire. I seriously doubt that anyone’s iman goes up from attacking others and it most likely will only serve to coarsen your manners and harden your heart. Although, there can be benefit in clarifying issues related to belief.

I’ve always been inquisitive by nature, I actually consider this a blessing, the same inquisitiveness that caused me to read my older siblings history textbooks while still in elementary school cover to cover led me to want to find out about the religion of Islam through reading the Quran after 9/11. And it is this same spirit of inquiry, which causes me to ask questions, sometimes even the hard questions, in reflecting upon the situation of our communities today.

To be honest, even though I didn’t entirely lose my inquisitiveness after accepting Islam through my interactions with other Muslims, I subdued that part of me along with my penchant for asking questions especially in classes (is the voice awrah or not?), and my own individuality to fit in with the prevailing mood of the community. Lower your voice sister, lower your voice, don’t laugh, brothers are walking by.

Let me offer a few examples to demonstrate as a means of clarification. At one masjid, I frequented, the doors on the sisters’ side were often locked and chained closed from the inside even during times of peak usage. Perhaps the ones in charge had forgotten that women might need to exit the building quickly, safely, and efficiently not to mention that chaining doors from the inside is an illegal and dangerous fire hazard. I attended this masjid for years, and even though from the very beginning, I and just about every sister I spoke to thought this phenomenon was outrageous, no one, including me, said or did anything about it. Had I seen this before my Islam, say at my high school or a church or any community hall, I would have been the first to say something and to keep at it, engaging my peers and those in charge until the chains came off but now within Islam, after carefully observing and adopting the ways of the community around me, like everyone else, despite the internal conflict, I silently turned the other way.

In school, I tended to always sit in the very front of the classroom, particularly if I liked the subject being taught. If I was going to be a bit of a troublemaker and depending on where my friends were, I might sit in the middle or back of the room. At most of the masajid that I have attended, lectures are often held in the musalla and the male lecturer often speaks from the men’s side usually partitioned off from the women’s section by a wall, glass, bookshelves, two-way mirror, or a curtain. At times, the speaker would ask if there were any questions from the sisters’ side and often there were questions, as sisters would whisper among themselves for clarification and sometimes write on pieces of paper and send it with a young child over the speaker. Occasionally a microphone was passed around but more often the sisters remained silent even if they had questions out of a fear of appearing immodest by raising their voices using the microphone.

I can’t tell you the number of times, a new speaker would come to visit and lecture in our community, and as soon as he opened the floor for questions, he would say that he welcomed and encouraged the invisible sisters behind the partition to participate and ask questions and then there would inevitably be some discussion on the brothers’ side about whether a women’s voice is awrah or not and thus shouldn’t be heard. And every single speaker that I can remember then engaged in a vigorous discussion with the brothers that the voice is not awrah. But by this time, most of the sisters after looking around at each other unable to really see or hear or participate fully in this discussion remained silent, including me, even if we had questions out of that communal pressure that tells women that being silent or being unseen or sitting in the back of the room is more modest. A well known saying mentions that “two types of people will never learn, the one who is too arrogant to ask or accept and the one who is to shy to ask.”

Early on after my conversion, while attending Islamic lectures, seminars, and classes I would sit in the front continuing my tradition from before my Islam. As I integrated more and more into the community and developed friendships with some sisters, I quickly moved towards the back of the room, not even the middle, the back. Why? Because, we are so often told that inside and outside of salah the best rows for women are in the back but even better yet a woman should remain in her home. And so often, ironically, it is the sisters most active outside their homes i.e. at school or in the workplace or volunteering that love to say how women should stay in their homes and that this is their optimal sphere. The question which seemingly never arises to these women is then why did and do they continue to pursue education, volunteering, and a career outside of the home? And how does one, especially a convert learn about her religion and acquire Muslim company and influences while staying at home with her non-Muslim family or even if she lives alone? How does she even get groceries? But perhaps they will say, well for necessities and for practicality,  you have to look at the context and individual situation, even though just a minute ago they were happily and joyfully trying to beat us over the head with ayat and hadith quoted in isolation.

Conversion, do you need witnesses?

No, you don’t. I’m not making fatwa here but this is a question I’ve spent more than 8 years researching, and have asked the people of knowledge that I have access to, and despite an opinion here or there, which will generally say it might be recommended for reasons x,y, or z, it is neither a condition nor precondition for the validity of one’s shahadah. I took my shahadah a second time nearly 2 years after my first because some well-meaning sisters wanted to ensure everything was okay. So we went to the masjid and I said it again in front of 5 people (2 brothers behind the curtain and 3 sisters on my side of the partition), at which point the brother said I should begin to learn al-Fatiha, which I mentioned that I had already learned. If a person is ready to take their shahadah, there is no need to delay it. I’ve heard so many stories where a person was ready to take his or her shahadah on the weekend but was “waiting” until after the following jumu’ah or some other later date to embrace Islam. None of us can be certain when we will die and in an issue as critical as faith, it’s better to hasten to enter the fold of Islam.

Muslim Name?

What is a Muslim name? How do you define, identify, and categorize it? Is it anything more than the name a Muslim carries? So that a name like Ify Okoye is by default a Muslim name once the said Ify Okoye becomes Muslim? Not so, for so many of our brethren. A Muslim name for a convert should be Arabic, preferably a name shared by a prophet in Arabic or a companion of one of the prophets. So after trying to resist the pressure of those well-meaning but insistent Muslims I encountered that I take on a “Muslim name” one Nigerian brother who rode the same bus route as me finally said I should take the name Zainab as I reminded him of his little sister and so the name stuck. Much easier to integrate into the community with a name like Zainab, which everyone recognizes and can pronounce rather than Ify much less Ifeoma. You’ll get more “I didn’t know you were a convert” rather than the “Are you Muslim?” comments and looks, which I still get even today. And just as a matter of dawah and choosing your battles wisely with your non-Muslim family, I think it would be good to see more converts retaining their given names.

Resist the urge and pressure to get married 5 minutes after your conversion

At least wait for 10 minutes. Two things about marriage, if you are still on good terms with your family (and may Allah reconcile those who are not) tell your family beforehand and try to get them involved in the process and beware of your wali especially if he’s not your dad because he may have other than your best interests at heart.

It’s okay to retain the good from your culture and manners

It’s okay to speak in English. Saying shukran is not more holy and does not make you more religious than saying thank you. There is no hadith that says eating biryani for iftar is more rewarding than eating baked chicken and macaroni and cheese. Depending on where you live, converting to Islam is also like converting to desi or Arab or insert whichever culture predominates cuisine and dress. If you are accustomed to arriving on time for events, continue to do so even after your conversion. Islam is a beautiful way of life, which does not ask us to abandon the good from our cultures in order to convert but rather part of the strength of the Islamic tradition comes from its being able to encompass a variety of cultures.

Enjoin Ties with your Family

Don’t break off ties with your family. The responses to my conversion within my family were diverse from intensely hostile to supportive to somewhat indifferent. It requires much more patience to interact with and display excellent manners to those who are hostile to you especially from your family and close friends as they know how to push all of your buttons. And it requires wisdom, something often lost in that new convert zeal and fervor to implement the religion as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to apologize to your family for past behavior even if you think you were right because in the end we seek to call them to our faith and not simply to score brownie points in arguments.

Get your Salah and other Ibadah on – learn to read Arabic and the Quran

No one can learn this religion all at once. In the early stages, I recommend that the new convert begin by learning about who Allah is and Islam through reading the Quran. Translations are good in the beginning but nothing compares to reading and understanding the Quran in the original Arabic language in which it was revealed. Learn about the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and you will come to know and love them. Focus on learning, practicing, and perfecting the fundamentals like purification, salah, and fasting before going into the finer details of more esoteric debates.

May Allah azza wa jal help us to remain sincerely steadfast upon this deen. Ameen.

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Ify Okoye is a Muslim woman, a convert, born and raised in the U.S. She is from New York and her parents are from Nigeria. Despite the petty hassles of work and school, Ify finds time to travel usually for AlMaghrib Institute seminars and to visit beautiful places. Pronunciation primer for her name, say it like this: E-fee O-coy-yeah!



  1. Avatar

    Ismail Kamdar

    June 28, 2010 at 2:10 AM

    I love this article, most of it applies to us born Muslims as well, especially the first two points. It was through those steps that I changed from a Muslim by culture to a Muslim by choice and conviction.

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 8:13 PM

      Jazak’Allah khayr, the importance of literacy, engaging one’s mind and critical thought are among the necessary tools everyone seeking to come closer to the deen needs to find their way along the straight path of submission.

    • Avatar

      AbenA ataa

      September 23, 2016 at 9:52 PM

      As salaamu alaykum family! Here is a great video with some good advice for us reverts! I hope this helps.

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    June 28, 2010 at 3:18 AM

    good article!

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      AbenA ataa

      September 23, 2016 at 9:53 PM

      As salaamu alaykum family! Here is a great video with some good advice for us reverts! I hope this helps.

  3. Avatar


    June 28, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    Walaikum salam. Jazakum Allahu kharyan for this article, comments, and forum for sharing ideas. Very important topic. I would like to reiterate that new brothers and new sisters often have very very different experiences and it is good to see a sister’s perspective represented. Also, the name thing can be a really big deal for the parents of converts. To me a parent has a right to name his or her child and when you change your name it causes pain for them. And in terms with ties with your family, if anything Islam should open up your heart to be even better to your family, especially in terms of serving your parents in every way except the deen. Even if they cut you off, you always always always keep the door open for reconciliation.

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 8:17 PM

      Yes, that’s so true, I never realized how much it hurt my mother to know that I had not only rejected the faith I was raised in but also changed my name until the day I reasserted my name by telling her that I like my name, the name she gave me and no longer intended to go by the “Muslim name”.

      There are areas where I cannot comprise in terms of religion but in those that I can, I will for the sake of Allah, because Allah and the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam has commanded that we enjoin ties and be good and dutiful to our parents and families.

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      September 23, 2016 at 9:55 PM

      As salaamu alaykum family! Here is a great video with some good advice for us reverts! I hope this helps.

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    June 28, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    Mashallah great article!
    I was guided to Islam about four years ago, and it took me a while to become religious. The whole process takes time. Getting knowledge, reading is key because in the end of the day few are making efforts towards following the Qur’an & the sunnah.
    Quick story, after speaking to two individuals (18,16) on a basketball court about Islam I decided to invite them to the mosque which is about 5 minutes away. Once we arrived, I called a brother (member of the masjid’s committee) who would serve as a translator because the imam only speaks arabic.
    After explaining to them again what Islam was all about in the presence of the imam, I asked them if they were ready to take the next step (shahada). Both were willing then all of sudden, the muslim brother says «one can’t because he’s too young». He needs permission from his parents!
    He actually convinced the boy & put some doubts (Allah knows bests!) in the other by saying things like we might get sued, etc.
    I was shocked, I’m pretty much sure the imam was too because when they were discussing about this in arabic. The imam said something (….)then Shaytan (Allah alam). After the whole incident, we all went downstairs & the imam was showing the eighteen how to perform wudu. He asked the sixteen year if he wanted to join in the little french he knows. He replied I’m too young with a smile.
    Al hamdullah, one took his shahada, but a little fear was put into their hearts because they don’t really know if we’re looking for their best interest. I only met them for the first time a couple hours ago!

    To make a long story short, let’s do less talking, more acting & be critical about certain things!

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      June 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM

      16 years old is old enough. is their a law that you need permission from parents, if there is then that law needs to be revoked.

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        June 28, 2010 at 10:11 AM

        There isn’t a law. The brother was saying the masjid received complaints in the past from the family of the convert.

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 10:38 PM

      Jazak’Allah khayr for sharing. I just took AlMaghrib’s Western Sunrise class with Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick and he touched on so many relevant points germane to this discussion but one point stood out in particular. He said, the masaid should not be like fortresses keeping people out but should be open and welcoming of everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim.

      May Allah continue to bless you and all those who seek to come closer to the deen for his sake and make it easy for us to continue upon the straight path. Ameen.

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    June 28, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    Really valuable information here on a very important topic. Jazakillah khair. Is there a website that newly converted Muslims can be referred to for issues like the ones you raised?

    What books (besides the Quran of course) would you and other readers recommend for new converts or people interested in Islam?

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 10:52 PM

      Midatlantic, I don’t know of a single website that is a really good and all-encompassing reference for new converts, there are a number of good ones that are strong in one area or another but perhaps weak in other critical areas, a combination is probably best.

      As for books, I tend not to make general advice because each convert or person seeking to learn more about Islam is so different and at different stages so after getting to know a person, I might recommend a certain book, which I think might appeal to them. But since you asked:

      Islam and the Destiny of Man by Charles Le Gai Eaton

      Islam in America by Jane I. Smith

      The Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad

      The Book of Emaan by Ibn Taymiyyah

      Even Angels Ask and Struggling to Submit by Jeffrey Lang

      Islam its Meaning and Message by Khurshid Ahmad

      Islam, the West, and the Challenges of Modernity by Tariq Ramadan

      Happy reading to all!!!

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      September 23, 2016 at 9:57 PM

      As salaamu alaykum family! Here is a great video with some good advice for us reverts! I hope this helps.

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    Ahmad AlFarsi

    June 28, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah,

    I really enjoyed reading your insights about your experience as a convert. Myself a convert as well, the issues about how to deal with family are of particular importance to me.

    My situation with my family is probably fairly more complex than that of most converts. My parents were raised as Shia Muslims… when they immigrated to the US, before I was born, they left their version of Islam and became hardcore Christians. I was raised as such… when I did embrace (Sunni) Islam almost 7 years ago, you can imagine the shock that came to my parents that the religion/culture that they tried SO HARD to distance themselves from (by leaving theocratic Shia Iran, leaving Shi’ism, and becoming Christian), now came back to “haunt” them in their converted Muslim son.

    I would not describe my folks as just non-Muslims, they are openly anti-Islamic… Any time I try to share anything, really anything at all, with them about Islam, their thoughts “We already know about Islam, that’s why we left it.” The tension has escalated to the point where we have agreed not to talk about religion. wa Allahu Musta’an.

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      June 28, 2010 at 12:00 PM

      SubhanAllah!, how tragic,how can anyone exchange the worship of Allah alone to the worship of His creation(‘Isa alaihysalam) ?

      Alhamdulillah who guided you to Islam.

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      June 28, 2010 at 2:33 PM

      Salam bro, fascinating story.

      For some reason I have seen this apostasy again and again with Iranian immigrants and nobody else. I have never seen it with Afghans fleeing the Taliban, Somalis fleeing their various armed groups, or Saudis fleeing their “Wahhabi” government. For some reason Iranians have a disproportionately high amount of murtads abroad. It is not just about an extreme government or a radical hardline revolution. I think a lot of it has to do with the Shiite take on Islam.

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        Hamza 21

        June 28, 2010 at 3:54 PM

        No I believe it has to do with the majority “Persians” abroad come from the upper to middle class which were traditionally secular for most for their lives.

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:05 PM

      Ahmad, that’s an amazing story, may Allah azza wa jal make it easy for you and guide our families to that which pleases Allah. Ameen.

      My family being from Nigeria knows a superficial bit about Islam, which is seen as the religion of some of the other tribes but certainly not for an Ibo. I don’t think the reaction would be so visceral and hostile if I said I was an atheist but conversion to Islam that’s rather a bridge to far outside the box for many. I still get the “reconversion” attempts but alhamdulillah after the blessings of Allah through dua and persistence, there has been a gradual increase in tolerance and decrease in hostility.

      My mother and I didn’t talk for nearly 18 months after my conversion unless it turned into an attack on Islam and we lived in the same house but alhamdulillah, now my mother is okay with telling others that her daughter is a Muslim and she now gives the dawah talking points to others when people try to attack Muslims or Islam, alhamdulillah.

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    Son of Adam

    June 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Great article, mashallah! I think more articles like this are very critical for converts. Often, when someone converts to Islam, Muslims try to shove too much (most of which is not even necessary) down the convert’s throats, which can really scare them.

    There’s this dawah agency in the UK called IERA that found that a great amount of converts apostatize; I’m guessing that most do because of these kind of reasons…

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:13 PM

      It’s good to hear of more initiatives in this area. I know I could have benefited from some down-to-earth real talk from others who have experienced these issue while finding my way within Islam and the Muslim community after my conversion. I like everyone else loves to see people entering the faith but I also feel a bit scared for them because I know what the trials and tribulations are like and I’ve seen people turn their back on Islam after coming in so excited amidst the cheers and hugs from other Muslims.

      I always just make dua and try to give them a condensed version of this article advising them to stick the pillars, which by itself is such a challenge when you come in new. I remember when praying 2 rakah of salaatul fajr used to take like half an hour just trying to remember everything and make sure I did everything right. Alhamdulillah, Islam is such a blessing and that time with the new convert zeal and emanrush is so blessed that I feel as though I continue to reap the rewards from that period even up until today.

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    June 28, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    Thank you ! or should I say Shukran :) for this article. When I converted back in 2002, I was invited to two local families for dinner. the first trashed talked the community the whole time, the other trash talked me in their native tongue after a rather lengthy interogation highlighted I had foolishly picked the wrong school of thought according to them. Awkward!

    I also felt the pressure to shut up, scurry off, and become non-existant. Yet I could never reconcile why we act this way in the Mosque but worked, went to school, attending programs, and socialized outside of the Mosque. It seem hypocritical. I tried for many years to assert my right to see and hear. When one time, a man (a prestigious fellow) decided women should come in through the basement and be downstairs – a vocal sister who rarely came because she was vocal loudly proclaimed she would not sneak in the back like a common prostitute. There was plenty of space upstairs and a decent seperate entrance – but I thank God for her – or sisters would have been in the basement. Even upstairs, they are behind 5 foot barriers with a sound system that hardly works. It is difficult for sisters. My support system is largely from my non-Muslim family because I cannot reconcile the two faced behaviors we have when it comes to Mosque functions and I can’t be hyposcritcal in my actions nor embrace the silent/invisible woman as a model for me to follow.

    Think about it brothers – do you keep your women out of school, not let them work, keep them away from any non-Mahram and do you do the same while you go to work, or school, or Starbucks? Or is it only in the Mosque we play the uber-pious card. Women in the time of the Prophet asked about menstrual blood, a sister stood up to Umar (May God be pleased with him) – they weren’t shy so why do we think behaving in such a manner (not seen, not heard) is better.

    My current local Mosque months of debate got a one way mirror (was the majority opinion from the sisters)- for a section of the sisters space – a step up from no sight at all. One woman went in the first day it was to be used, pitched a fit men might see a woman’s outline and demanded curtains. So much for group agreement. She is holding the more righteous opinion and any “good” woman should agree. My hubby said they were working on increasing the men’s space but didn’t need to do it with the women’s area because so few come. Why is that? I see a lot of convert sisters around town- where do they get support?

    I am jaded and I sound it. Having no Muslim connection kills the Iman, it really does. It is simply impossible to sustain ones faith alone. While I am passively discouraged from attenting the Mosque – my hubby is asked to give Khutbahs, lectures, lead Tarawih. He has many friends and can pray where he likes in a spacious section. He can move freely. He can hold his head high, whereas I should keep my head down and run for the dark corners of the sisters section. I have never seen Muslims behave like this in the public sphere, we only lay it on thick in the walls of the Mosque.

    I just work now and reducing my saddness and frustrations – especially as Ramadan is coming God willing

    Thank you Ifeoma!

    • Avatar

      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:30 PM

      Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah Convert,

      Aww, you’re breaking my heart and making my eyes moist indeed, because I know, we know, we know what it’s like and so many of our brothers and sisters don’t know, and don’t understand, and perhaps some don’t want to understand. Back in the days when I had lost my voice, my nerve, and even my name thinking that was the more pious and righteous thing to do, I used to be so happy and inspired by sisters who didn’t cower and feign pretentious righteousness in the presence of brothers, those who didn’t lower their voices to a whisper or affect a fake “modest” tone. It was so refreshing to see people just being real, honest, and sincere and not full of these fake modesty complexes.

      I like how you termed it the uber-pious card and it’s true such contradictions due real harm, both spiritual and emotional to us, and this is one reason why I pray-in, not only for me but for those that we know are too afraid and too scared and intimidated by our communities to express themselves in a real manner. Afraid of being labeled a feminist or progressive or rebellious or whatever term they want to use to marginalize us, the issues are real, even if some want to keep their heads in the sand. May Allah azza wa jal make it easy for you and all of us and help us to find sincere friends and communities that can serve as that vital link and support that we all need. Islam is not meant to be practiced alone and in isolation.

      lol at that shukran line so I’ll say jazaki’Allah khayr, which we know is actually a very blessed thing to say :)

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    June 28, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    Mash’Allah I really love this article, it tackles so many crucial issues at once.

    The writing style when taking on the issue of the barriers is noticeably different – and it’s a welcome change, it’s much more effective. I actually didn’t read the name of the author at first and when I got to that part I was thinking “hey Ify would like this article – err.. wait a minute..” lol!

    If you are accustomed to arriving on time for events, continue to do so even after your conversion.

    LOL! Sneaking in jabs are we?

    • Avatar

      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:44 PM

      lol, no jabs intended. You know it’s interesting that a number of people seem to think that it is strange that a person may want to protest the marginalization of women in our community through pray-in, yet also be religious and/or likeable. Pray-in didn’t come from outside of our community, it came from within, it’s an organic response against the injustice we see and experience in our communities.

      Some people like to try to continue the marginalization and quash discussion by throwing in those poor red herrings and labels, which we are supposed to fear and cower from but some of us have had enough of that. I know sisters who won’t join Pray-In and won’t speak up about these issues publicly out of fear of the backlash or being labeled this or that but as for me I’m done with that, I’m done with fearing the harm of those who wish to be harmful. I cannot control the reactions of others nor live my life fearing them. The cause is right and just and we as Muslims are supposed to stand for justice even if it is against our own selves.

      I would hazard to guess that even if I wrote about Pray-In in way that you or others might find more palatable, the hostility would still be there because the challenge to the status quo is still there. Everybody loves convert stories because they don’t present much of a challenge but rather make us feel good about ourselves that someone else has chosen to join and remain within our ranks. At least that’s my theory.

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        June 29, 2010 at 11:26 AM

        There’s always the wrong way to do the right thing.

        Believe me it has nothing to do with the convert story, the situation needs a lot more ingenuity, a lot less force and a ton of sabr – a lot like fixing a computer – or relationship with non-muslim/non-practicing parents.

        I sympathize a great deal with your cause (even if I may not agree with every desired result), and I guarantee there are a ton of brothers and sisters young and old who do as well, but since reading more I’ve unfortunately been losing a ton of sympathy for the group.

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          Ify Okoye

          June 29, 2010 at 11:49 AM

          Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me if you support the group or not, I just hope you and others will do something in your own way in whatever capacity you can for the issues you claim to care about. And if you can’t do that, at least try to refrain from attacking and tearing down the work of others just because it doesn’t entirely float your boat.

          Muhammad Alshareef: The Unknown Leader

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            June 29, 2010 at 12:38 PM

            I’ve re-read my comments several times to figure out how I came off as attacking when my whole aim was to help you and Pray-In succeed. I’m the average Ali who wants this to work out and you need to draw in people like me to keep this strife efficient.

            You’re bringing a sledge-hammer to a computer repair shop ukhti.

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            Ify Okoye

            June 29, 2010 at 9:37 PM

            The comment was largely a general one, not entirely directly at you but on more than one thread, you’ve been less than charming, one might even say “attacking” but the point is that the goal is not to bring everyone in the world into Pray-In, the goal is to resist the marginalization of women in our communities. It doesn’t matter if you do that through one group or another or even on your own. If you don’t like one method so be it, show us your work and your deeds since you claim to “sympathize”. Or if there is nothing to show, as is the case with many of our critics (general, not you in particular) then they could at least continue to refrain and resist the urge to comment in their state of do-nothingness.

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            June 29, 2010 at 11:41 PM

            the goal is not to bring everyone in the world into Pray-In, the goal is to resist the marginalization of women in our communities

            The latter isn’t a goal, it’s a tactic. The former is closer to the goal, because at the end of the day you have to convince the people who are going to implement and live by the reform that it’s the right thing to do.

            The rest of the comment is a red-herring, which is the case of all “who is ___ to advise” responses.

            Apologies if I’ve wronged you.

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    Abu Hilal

    June 28, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    This is one of the best articles I have read lately, I have link to it on my facebook wall here

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    June 28, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    EXCELLENT article. m,ashallah.

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    June 28, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    Jazaaki Allahu khayran Ify for this article! I benefited from it even though I’m not a convert.

    PS- my mom still slips in a ‘Zainab’ once in a while. :)

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:47 PM

      Amatullah, wa iyakki, we got the gifts this weekend, much love, loving ’em, hope to see you soon, insha’Allah. And I miss your mom, now that you’re away I don’t get to see her much.

      I have a aunty exclusion rule, aunties that knew me before as Zainab are the only ones still allowed to call me that from time to time without getting any flack from me.

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    June 28, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Great stuff.

    I think it is also very important to realise that all the above also applies for somebody who has gone from being “non-practicing” to “practicing.” I found that it was very difficult for me to adapt, and when I did ask questions, there was almost always a “Dont you even know that” attitude, hence, was left confused and lonely for a long time.

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:50 PM

      Yes, I agree, I thought about adding something about that because there are definite similarities between the new convert experience and the newly-practicing Muslim experience. May Allah azza wa jal grant us good companionship and make us steadfast. I know what it’s like to try to practice this religion alone and while there is good in that, the benefits of being other like-minded Muslims and the jama’ah are enormous.

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    June 28, 2010 at 9:12 PM

    Great article sister.

    I am really really tired of Muslims who mix culture and religion. I especially liked your paragraph on having a “muslim name”

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    June 28, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    Aoa wr wb
    Great article mashaALLAH! So true about where someone said that it can be related to :becoming practising from non practising”. Being open and refraining from talking trash about other muslims is something that each one of us needs too work on. We should seek to find the correct aqeedah but not keep backbiting those we think do not have one.
    May ALLAH Strengthen your emaan and Take His best work from you. ameen
    And ALLAH Knows Best
    Aoa wr wb

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:53 PM

      Wa salaam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

      Ameen. Learning about others has made me more tolerant and also more thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. Even if we think our way is better, really it is from the blessings of Allah that he guides us to the straight path or the “correct” manhaj or aqeedah or fiqhi ruling or whatever.

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    Samira ismail

    June 28, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Great article Ma Shaa Allah. Thanks for sharing

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      Ify Okoye

      June 28, 2010 at 11:54 PM

      Samira, the baby is cute, masha’Allah tabarak’Allah :)

  17. Pingback: After the Takbir: Advice to a Muslim Convert « Muslim Apple

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    Abu Azhar

    June 29, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    What an AWESOME!!! article. Not only apply for new revert but for me too that notably born muslim…
    Permission to keep it in my file, please?

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    Ify Okoye

    June 29, 2010 at 11:02 AM


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    June 29, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    Excellent advice not only for converts but for all Muslims.

    The sad reality is that most average Muslims born into Islam have not internalized the fundamentals of their faith, they are watered down with cultural practices, lacking the knowledge and manners, they themselves need sound advice and guidance as much as converts.

    I love how you emphasized critical thinking and seeking knowledge. Last week I came across an article on the concepts of “innovation” and “critical thinking” – Bid’a and Ijtihad, both ideas are highly misunderstood in Muslim community and lead to so much division. I will post the definition to Itjihad below since it reiterates your points on critical thinking and provide the link to the article here

    On Ijtihad ..
    Al-Baji, a traditional Sunni jurist, defined ijtihad as “expending one’s fullest [intellectual] capacity in
    search of the right ruling.” Ijtihad derives from the same root as jihad. Their common radical, JHD, denotes expending the fullest effort to achieve a difficult but worthy goal. Although jihad can clearly apply to armed struggle, the concept of jihad is essentially an active ethical principle for improving the world through personal and group effort. Its high point, however, is the inner struggle for discipline and self-knowledge. Ijtihad shares jihad’s ethical force but pertains to the realm of ideas and critical thought.

    On the subject of reading, I am glad that you have found this as a youngster and have not limited your reading and learning to one source. I also think reading controversial writers or ideas that may challenge what we believe is a healthy way to exercise critical thinking. Like you, I read anything that peaks my interest. I am not praising Salman Rushdie or the writing of Ayan Hirsi Ali, but I think it is important that those of us who prescribe to this faith should know the names and writings of those against this faith. What exactly are they saying and what is their line-of thinking? Recently, I have run into many non-muslims who have read Ayan Hirsi’s Infidel and they are curious to know my thoughts since I am Muslim and Somali. I personally hate speaking from hearsay so I took it upon myself to read Infidel; yes it is blasphemous, slanderous and biased. But now I believe I am more prepared to engage in discussions with anyone who is curious to know my thoughts on the book.

    Which brings me back to the next point, engaging with people outside our usual circle usual friends and outside of the community. Time and time again I have come across Muslims who consciously limit interacting with non-muslims, and converts after accepting Islam have zilch communications with nonmuslims except maybe their family. I am not saying this is you, I am glad you touched on maintaining family ties. I have had a couple of friends who converted and alhamdulilah they have been able to keep those ties. I understand converts experience a period of transition which has its own challenges and it may be difficult to engage with nonmuslims. But I don’t believe in Isolation, Islam is for everyone and we need to talk to anyone and everyone who wants to talk to us? How are we suppose to share this faith if we do not talk to non-muslims?

    Just my thoughts,


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      Ify Okoye

      June 29, 2010 at 9:47 PM

      Excellent thoughts S, thank you for sharing, and I’m with you. It’s important for us to engage our minds and to think critically. Since I was a kid, among the fastest ways to get me to read a book is to tell me it’s been banned somewhere by someone. Br. Nouman Ali Khan gave an excellent lecture last year at Ilm Summit called Contradicting Community in which he reminds us that Allah has chosen us and put us among the people for a reason, if we shy away calling them or from enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, who else do we think will do it, each one of has this responsibility not just within our Muslim communities but for the society as a while.

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    Matthew Moes

    June 29, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    As-Salaamu Alaikum. Thanks for sharing your experience. Many have gone through (and continue to go through) similar experiences. Sharing and discussing helps. I especially appreciate your strong advice to converts to read EVERYTHING, and not just the “right” books. I think it is so poignant and ironic that many of the good traits that lead people to Islam get routed after bearing witness. What could be more liberating than “There is no god but God!” ? And yet, we see the chains of conformity shackle the innocent open hearts of the new Muslims ready to learn.

    Speaking of this liberty, does anyone need permission to bear witness to God? If the mosque is worried about liability, then they should clarify that this is an individual act that has no bearing on formal membership in any legal “organization”.

    Your points about family relations regarding shahada and later, marriage, suggest perhaps a larger initiative is needed to reach out to families of converts, to invite them in a comfortable setting, maybe even a visit to their home if possible, to help set them at ease and without proselytizing, build a relationship. How inconsiderate it is to appoint a stranger as “wali” to marry off a man’s daughter after relegating him to “kafir’ status – usually without even meeting him! Or worse, to break up a family because a woman converts before her husband. In blindly adhering to technicalities, wisdom is too often lost. The family holds such sacred value in Islam; we must do a better job to help new Muslims with their non-Muslim family members.

    This brings us to the treatment of Muslim women in the masajid. What would happen if we invited the mothers of new Muslims to the masjid? Would we set them at ease or reinforce every negative stereotype on this issue?

    I am glad you brought this up within the larger context of activism. Islam is a religion that appeals to innate beliefs and manifests in outward action. Again, the irony being that activists would accept Islam and then become timidly inactive or inundated with tricky justifications for accepting what would never have been acceptable before. It is hypocritical to claim that the substance of what a woman can offer is valued more by guarding modesty with the hijab, while extending the hijab beyond modesty to keep her silent and invisible through side/back doors and hidden rooms in the mosques! Funny that just this past Friday at the mosque I attended, the guest khutib was speaking about this very problem, and the women heard nothing because they were isolated in a separate room and the sound system was not working in their section!

    Another example of lost activism in my experience is how the universal appeal and applicability of Islam to so many social, economic, and spiritual problems here in America becomes strangely morphed into a holier than thou disdain for “disbelievers”! How can the love and compassion for humanity that leads us to the Creator turn into such exclusive self-absorption to the extent that all we come to care about is the plight of Muslims abroad and the supposed rights of Muslims here. Could we really have a serious reservation about giving charity only to Muslims to the exclusion of others? What about our responsibilities to extend the teachings of our religion through wisdom and fair preaching? Actions speak loudest, and our actions must be the consummate combination of wisdom and talk.

    The moral then, I think, is to keep your head and expand your heart. Let us not lose ourselves in this “conversion” but remember that in accepting Islam we are affirming what we already are, striving to be a better servant of God. I am encouraged to see the comments here and assured by the author that in raising awareness and acting with conscience, we can do a better job of helping new Muslims and we can improve our community centers to better reflect a vibrant universal Islam in America. Allah reward you. MM

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      Ify Okoye

      June 29, 2010 at 10:05 PM

      Wa salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah Matthew,

      Phenomenal thoughts! It is very ironic, indeed. I am reminded of the hadith, “the best of you before Islam, are the best of you within Islam” even though entering Islam can change us and alter our behavior, thoughts, and focus, there are those innate parts of us, which make us who we are that always remain. It’s true that an initiative and focus on maintaing family ties amongst converts is very much needed and I wrote a post some years back about the wali issue, maybe I’ll refresh it and republish, insha’Allah. It’s always hurt me to hear people dismissively refer to people as kafir or yehud or whatever because not only is my family included in that disdain but I, too was there not so long ago and but for the grace of Allah, I and all of us would be in those categories as well.

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    June 29, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    what a nice article.i hope insha Allah that we will have more converts like ify in our world of today where islam is seen as a religion of WAR not knowing that the religion is the most peaceful religion and will forever be.insha Allah(ameen)

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      Ify Okoye

      June 29, 2010 at 10:10 PM

      Jazak’Allah khayr, I don’t know if that would be a good thing, as you can see some people think I’m a bit of a rebel. I’m the only one from my siblings that was not baptized, I once (long before I became Muslim) of my own accord took down our Christmas tree before Christmas day, refused to attend my own graduation or that of my siblings, I converted to Islam, and I choose to pray-in among other things :)

      May Allah azza wa jal make us better than they say and forgive us for that which they do not know about us. Ameen.

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    June 29, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    Wow.. I’m a stalker of this website, and this is one of the best articles I’ve read here in a long time. I frequently read muslimah’s forums, originally because I was like you, curious and I wanted to be continually prepared to answer religious questions for myself (and others) regarding Islam and Islam vs. Christianity vs. Judaism…

    On those other forums, which I only stalk and no longer participate I’ve notice so much of what you are speaking about; women being terrified to speak because a brother may find her voice attractive or because she may draw attention, a woman terrified to wear a color other than black because it may make her look attractive, women feeling the need (and pressure) to immediately marry as soon as they convert and take on an ‘Islamic’ name.

    For me, while reading those posts, I always sit back and think…wow, if this is what is necessary of someone who converts, I could never, ever. I could never tell my father that the name he picked for me isn’t religious hurtful to him, and then, what kind of witness would I be (this is the equivalent of da’wah)? I would try to imagine myself never speaking in front of a man, and for those who know me, this might be impossible. I have quite a strong personality. Those who say you must wear salwar kameez or a thobe to the mosque, when in reality, are we sure that was the actual dress of the Sahaba? I mean, you are not allowed to draw pictures, so do you know for sure? Maybe it was just a long skirt and a buttoned shirt? I am obviously over generalizing, but I hope you see my point; many muslims’ culture and religion are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate the myth from reality, which is what makes this article such a breath of fresh air.


    PS.. I’m in a hurry so I apologize in advance for the grammatical errors…

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      Ify Okoye

      June 29, 2010 at 10:17 PM

      No need to apologize Brandi, before I converted and in the early period after my conversion my only connection to Muslims other than the Muslim cabbies I met and random Muslims out and about was through internet forums. It forced me to learn a lot and allowed me to retain much of my independence and critical faculties, which I would then later subdue upon entering the Muslim community in person. It’s been a process over years to cast off some baggage that I acquired in interacting with other Muslims, perhaps just a natural part of the growth process. Rebellious women of the world unite!!! :)

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    June 29, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    Whoo, ooh, MM rocks sometimes & this is 1 of those occcasions. I feel like we are having a cyber-coom-by-ya* moment.

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    June 29, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    Slm Wlkm Ify,

    This article is spot on. Excellent! I really enjoyed reading it. It is so relevant to so many.

    Beautifully written as well. Mashallah.

    PS. It’s been a long time. We must reconnect. Inshallah sooner than later.

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      Ify Okoye

      June 29, 2010 at 10:18 PM

      Wa salaam alaykum,

      Naimah, drop me a line, I’m down, insha’Allah.

  26. Avatar

    The Q

    June 30, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    As a convert of ten years, I am SO pleased to read this. I agree 100% with every single thing you’ve said.

    Alhamdolillah. Thanks for this, sister.

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    July 1, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    Assalamu alaykum ify im really glad i read your article. Im born into a muslim family but i always feel like a convert. I knew zero about the religion. I still know zero about it but not the same kind of zero LOL. Your article really comforted me the part about u not speakin to ur mom for 8 years. Alhamdoulilah you are in good trrms now. It conforted me bcos im in a similar situation with mine altho we r still speakin but things are gonna get aggravated soon the beating shouting and so on. I wont get Any support from my socalled friends or family. They all want the old wild me hijab off and errthing i only seek help from Allah only strenghth from him. Ive never been into this kind of situation with my mom. Never said no to anythin she commanded me to so i kno its new for her too to see me say no about islam.

  28. Avatar

    Umm Saara

    July 2, 2010 at 7:28 AM


    All praise and thanks is to Allah the most High, peace and blessings be upon our beloved final prophet.

    Jazak’Allah khair for this article, mash’Allah.

    Many of us ‘born muslims’ need to be taught about ‘muslims’ being from different places of the world and can therefore be from different ethnic groups.
    At the age of 18 (a long time ago) i was speaking to a turkish friend ( who i just thought was white and english) and she said to me that she recites the Qur’an every sunday. i was so gobsmacked and actually pointed this out to her – but you’re ‘white’, your English – how can you read the Qur’an. She was quite upset at this – and never spoke to me again!!! (didn’t blame her). it was only then did i realise that Islam and being muslim was not just for pakistani people. This is when i started reading the Qur’an and trying to find out about the deen by myself. At one stage – i was in our local masjid an praying salah and suddenly i thought – what am i doing lifting my hands, bowing, prostrating – what am i reciting. From then i stopped doing alot of things with my family and started ‘learning’ about islam – what is it that i am reciting when i’m doing a salah. When i’m told to read the qur’an i’d read it in arabic – didn’t understand but could say to others – yes i’ve read it 10 times!!!! SO WHAT?? what was i doing? only then did i pick up the english translation. Alhamdullilah, Allah subhanawata’Allah is the best of planners and only He paved the way for me to strengthen my eman. Everytime i read the qur’an in English – the next time i read it – it was like a different book, and still, each time i read it its like a different book. subhan’Allah.

    Now i’m alot older mash’Allah – i see alot of things in my nephew – that i had in me. he thinks only pakistani = urdu speaking people are muslims – no one else can be. he is slowly coming round though mash’Allah – he’s only 10 – recently my husbands niece came over – Her dad is English and mum is pakistani – she clearly looks English. He said to her dad – When did Ayesha come to Islam? when did she convert?
    My Nephews mum is pakistani from back home – so she is still teaching in the ‘cultural way. This is why its taking her son so long to cotton on to the wider world. May Allah guide us all and keep us in his protection. ameen.

    Its unfortunate that we are all so enclosed in our little groups of how we approach Islam. The key is to be good muslims by inviting everyone with open arms into the deen and helping each other with the basics. i pray that i can be of use to others who are coming into the deen and that i don’t put them off.

    My advice to anyone be they born muslims, converts etc… is make sincere DUA – as Allah swt is the one who opens up the hearts and guides. Keep making dua for correct guidance and Allah swt will pave the way for you.


  29. Avatar


    September 9, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    Salam sister,
    I want to personally give you a warm welcome into this deen of ours ‘Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullah Wa Barakatuh’. Initially when I first came across your name, I was shocked. I am a Nigerian (born and bred), and have been in the U.S for about 5 yrs now. Your name told me 2 things off the bat: 1) Your family is Igbo and 2) If you are a muslim convert, I wonder how difficult it must be for you, because Igbos are predominantly christians and tend to be generally intolerant of changes. I pray and hope that your family does not stress and discomfort you about this Insha Allah.
    I am so happy to see this. Once again, welcome sister. May Allah who showed you this right path continue to guide you on it, Insha Allah. Salam

  30. Pingback: Tips for the Convert Muslim

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    October 14, 2014 at 1:07 AM

    ” There is no hadith that says eating biryani for iftar is more rewarding than eating baked chicken and macaroni and cheese.” Hahahaha. Good one.

    Other than that, I liked the scope of the article. Good job.

  32. Avatar


    October 31, 2016 at 7:02 AM

    Everybody should also read this article about Takbeer-e-Tashreeq

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Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

The Prophet helped the Arabs overcome their asabiya (tribalism) and enter a new defining bond of Islam. The criterion for right and wrong was no longer clan membership, but rooted in the religion of Islam. Muslims were instructed to defend the truth, command good, and forbid evil regardless of tribal affiliation. Asabiya does not just relate to kin-based tribes.  One of the resurging traces of jahilya affecting our discourse is ideological tribalism. In ideological tribalism, we hold double standards between our tribe and other tribes, and overlook fallacies in our group that we would not for other groups. Just as we protect an idea that represents our identity, when a personality reflects our group identity, there is a personal reason to defend the personality. It then becomes instinctual then to double-down in discussions even when wrong to show group strength, which at this point is a survival mechanism and not a true dialectic. Abandoning a quest for truth and succumbing to an in-group vs. out-group dichotomy leaves us to defend falsehood and dislike truth. Refusing to accept truth is one way the Prophet described arrogance. 

Group belonging

One of the main drivers of identity scholarship is group belonging. When we focus on defending our group rather than principles which extend beyond group delineations we prove false our claims of wanting the truth.  The burden of moral responsibility is not offset by finding someone to follow [1]. Charismatic leaders have an ability to tap into latent desires of individuals and awaken in them the desire to be part of something greater than themselves. Their own identities are often validated by following the charismatic figure, and they then work hard to preserve the group as they would to preserve their own selves.

According to Ann Ruth Willner, charismatic authority “derives from the capacity of a particular person to arouse and maintain belief in himself or herself as the source of legitimacy. Willner says that the charismatic leadership relationship has four characteristics:

  1. The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman.
  2. The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements.
  3. The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action.
  4. The followers give the leader unqualified emotional commitment.
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Charismatic leadership satisfies our desire to be part of something bigger, and paradoxically, to hand all power over to someone else can make us feel more powerful because we think that person is the best version of ourselves. We feel that we have gained ‘agency by proxy.’ We have also dumped all responsibility for decisions onto the leader- what Erich Fromm, the scholar of Nazism, called an ‘escape from freedom.’ When we are in a charismatic leadership relationship, our sense of self-worth gets (attaches) attached to the identity of the leader, so that we take personally any criticism of that leader, and have as much difficulty admitting flaws or errors on the leader’s parts as we do on our own. Because we see the leader as us, and we see us as good, we simply can’t believe that he or she might do bad things” (59) [2].

Charismatic leadership is emotional and works on desires. This type of leadership has no relation to truth. It exists and persists due to feelings, hence contradictions, double-standards, and outright hypocrisy aren’t issues for those in the relationship. Even when the leader confidently behaves irresponsibly, followers do not think less of him. What is inconsistent and irresponsible for an out-group observer is charming to members of the in-group. As Miller points out: 

Followers don’t expect charismatic leaders to be responsible for what they say, nor to behave responsibly; their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group (60).

Such loyalty is not specific for charismatic leaders, The Minimal Group Paradigm shows that we have more empathy for our in-group even if that in-group is arbitrarily assigned, and we will act biased in their favor against an arbitrarily assigned out-group. This is a tendency against which we must actively fight to maintain clarity in thinking and fair standards in discussions. When group loyalty is prized there is a fear of opposing the group, which obliterates any chance of scholarly discourse. Questioning a position becomes akin to questioning authority and leaves the questioner ostracized and out-casted. When the out-group is pejoratively labeled, there is an additional fear of thinking like or ending up in that group. 

Identity scholarship

Rather than looking at the argument constructed and judging whether or not it is sound, identity scholarship approves or dismisses arguments based on the person making them. Arguments are then validated by personalities and not standards of scholarship.  This is a dangerous shift from reasoning and evidence to personalities. 

Identity scholarship leverages the need to belong and centers the personality over the argument. However, focusing on the strength of arguments and not the personality is especially important given that the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is applied to vocationally trained Muslims, seminal graduates, preachers, or to those who display a scholarly caliber in Islam alike. This is a sufficient crisis. The term is heavily equivocated, and should never serve to stand in place of standards of scholarship in discourse. 

Ambiguity in the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is exploited by groups to strengthen their influence. Not always pernicious, this is the natural progression of proselytizing via group identity. An in-group who will dismiss dissenting voices for not having studied long enough, not obtaining ijazas, will promote voices of similar or less educated Muslims when those voices are in their ‘in-group.’ Titles like ‘ustadh’ and ‘ustadha’ are quickly conferred upon those who are volunteers or proponents of the ‘in-group’ even with minimal study. Advocating for the correct paradigm is rewarded more than a knowledge based approach to issues. Giving titles to those with social capital in your in-group is also an effective way for brand expansion. For example, loosely affiliated students with avenues into the growing Muslim mental health field are often referred to as ‘ustadha.’  Also, traditionalists will often promote in-group religious figures engaging in no-risk activism like condemning already popularly condemned figures as exemplary ‘scholars and activists’ who should be followed by other activists.  

If a person has been doing this long enough they become ‘shaykh,’ and then eventually a ‘senior scholar’ with assumed wisdom and spiritual insight, worthy of deference. I am well acquainted with the unfortunate irony in traditional circles where those who push a manhaj of studying at the feet of scholars have by and large not done so beyond attending general lectures by visiting scholars.  Many do not even know Arabic, but their zeal and tenure of feel good lectures in a community primarily interested in nasheeds and tea coupled with their promoting the right figures secure for them a scholarly status by generations who venerate the theory of studying at the feet of scholars. 

Thus authority and titles are conferred by virtue of in-group allegiance. 

Slip into demagoguery

When we accept an in-group and out-group dichotomy and don’t argue fairly, we lay the foundation for demagogic discourse. As Patricia Mill-Roberts writes “If people decide to see things as a zero-sum game- the more they succeed, the more we lose, and we should rage about any call made against us, and cheer any call made against them- then democracy loses” (13). The best way to avoid this is by maintaining fair discussions and letting go of double standards. Arguments appealing to in-group or out-group positions rather than being based in fact should not be accepted regardless of which group they are coming from. Several tactics used in these types of arguments are described below. 

Creating a strawman

Falsely representing the out-group is a common tactic in demagogic discourse. One example is portraying out-group critics as only critics. The critic is frozen in time as someone who has accomplished nothing, helped no one, and as only one who sees the faults in others. The in-group then goes on to list what they have accomplished -‘albeit with some faults’- to not seem as braggarts, but insists that those faults are magnified by the arm-chair critics. 

Another example is labeling Muslims more concerned with academic preservation and development as Muslims in ivory towers. This suggests knowledge is only relevant if immediately actionable and discounts the role of theoretical knowledge in both present and future action as well as an intrinsic end.  

Even when it comes to the epitome of practical action, Allah tells the Muslims to not all go out in battle, but to have groups remain behind to study.

Condescending discrediting

One way demagoguery characterizes the out-group is by a “dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness…”(66).  Just as Rudy Giuliani dismissed those protesting Trump’s 2016 win as “professional protestors” with nothing else to do in life, so do we dismiss dissenting voices. 

Terms like ‘keyboard warrior’ should be dropped from the vernacular of anyone who uses the internet for Islamic education. If the internet is good enough for theatrical Ramadan reminders and choreographed Islamic reflections, it should also be good enough for dissent and valid critiques.[3] We have to embrace the fact that the internet is not a pretend medium; social media posts are used in newsfeeds, are reacted to on the mimbar, and even prompt live events. If we dismiss valid criticisms made online as the act of ‘keyboard warriors’ we should also call those giving dawah online ‘studio daa’is.’  

Discrediting due to inexperience

Experience is an important element in answering questions and dealing with different scenarios, and, should rightly be considered when one is looking for a teacher, etc. However, frequently, the standards for what constitutes experience are used inconsistently. The same individuals who refer to young teachers as ‘shaykh’ or ‘mufti’ while in their in-group, dismiss ‘shaykhs’ and ‘muftis’ in the out-group of similar age and experience, arguing that a person can’t be a ‘real’ mufti because studying 7 years doesn’t make anyone a scholar. Graduating from a seminary or Islamic university will be the standard for members of an in-group to be called scholars, but the out-group will be ‘immature graduates’ who have not learned wisdom.  Wisdom itself will be defined as the avoidance of actions which challenge the in-group. Likewise an activist saying the right thing and echoing in-group talking points will be called ‘ustadh,’ but if from the ‘out-group’ dismissed as a Godless- activist’ that just hates hierarchy. 

Victimization and Victimology

Demagoguery thrives on the in-group being victimized by the out-group. It is common for religious figures to dismiss valid criticism as nothing but hate, envy, or ignorance [4]. When criticized by activists, it is common to label them as ‘anti-clerical’ activists who only have an issue with Islamic leaders because they are neo-Marxists. 

‘Neo-Marxist’ is used as a catch-all term to discredit those who disagree with the positions of some religious leaders to insinuate the disagreements are rooted in hate for hierarchy or authority thus being illegitimate. Even conservative and practicing Muslims are labeled as ‘leftists’ and ‘Godless activists’ for simple critiques. In Sufi groups, disagreeing with leadership is often said to be the result of being spiritually veiled, or the work of ‘dark forces’ and ‘shayateen’ dividing us. If we can agree that black-magic and evil-eye are real but should not be the first culprit in a failing marriage, let’s also look for practical failures when religious organizations break down before we start blaming the ‘shayateen.’  

On one hand the in-group claims they are victims, on the other they blame the out-group for having a victim mentality.  This may seem like an obvious contradiction, but as Miller explains,  

If condemnation of out-group behavior is performed by a very likeable persona, then onlookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior she or he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values he or she claims to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that ‘good people- that is, people who say the right things- don’t do ‘bad’ things) (56) 

Another tactic is using terms like ‘victomology’ to belittle legitimate grievances of being wronged and falsely representing those grievances as an attitude of being a victim in life.

Being oppressed (mazlum) does not require living a tough life, being a victim in life, or being part of an oppressed group. We are told by the Prophet that delaying a payment owed while being capable of paying is oppression (Muslim). When our God given rights are transgressed upon, we are mazlum in that situation. It is not uncommon however to see Muslims want to claim their rights and express they have been wronged to be dismissed as those who love to be victims. Ironically, this is even done by organizations that describe themselves with the leftist concept of ‘safe spaces.’  

Disregarding Nuance

“Demagoguery is comfortable because it says the world is very simple, and made up of good people (us) and bad people (them)” (24). 

We must understand that if someone does not see an issue as black or white, it’s not because they are obviously corrupt, willfully ignorant, or stupid.  The word nuance itself triggers cynicism and is treated as an excuse to employ mental gymnastics to deny what is ‘obvious.’  The fact of the matter is when it comes to khilafi issues there is generally a vast scope of acceptable actions, and when it comes personal ijtihaadi matters for policy there is often no clear-cut best answer. Thus in such matters the objective is to come to a best resolution or course of action. In short, we should all take appropriate measures in our decisions to ensure the benefit outweighs the harm. Certain positions are cautioned against due to the likelihood of harm to one’s religion, but that likelihood may not serve as evidence that one has harmed his religion. As the great scholar Muhammad Awama relates in Ma’laam Irshadiya, the way of the scholars is to leave people in what they are following as long as it is correct and has a valid legal perspective [5]

Scholarly discourse

Advice from recognized experts in a field carries weight, but it should not be conflated with a scholarly argument. A common mistake is to confer authority upon an opinion outside the area of one’s authority. Scholarly works must prove themselves to be scholarly as stand-alone works. Even if a great scholar has published many scholarly works, his advice should be taken as advice. For example, Imam al-Ghazali was a great scholar, but Dear Beloved Son is not a scholarly work.  We have a malfoozaat (wisdom-sharing) tradition that is precious, but we must know where to place it in the hierarchy of Islamic knowledge. 

Islamic scholarly discourse should be evidence based, demonstrative of legal proficiency, and cater to Islamic concerns. Those engaging should share the evidence for what they say, the sources of the rulings they share, the difference between the reason for a ruling and the wisdom of a ruling [6], understand contextual fatwas,[7] and understand which rulings are based on urf and which rulings are intrinsic obligations or prohibitions. These are just some elements of Islamic scholarly discourse, and it cannot exist alongside identity scholarship. 

There should be private forums with prerequisites where scholarly discourse can take place. When these discussions move outside of their proper place other issues such as discussing weak or aberrant (shadh) fiqh opinions arise, which to an undiscriminating audience all will seem co-valid on the spectrum of differing opinions in sharia. Promoting aberrant positions caters to our cultural preferences of thinking outside the box and carries the façade of an intellectual approach to Islam. In Maharam al-Lisaan (Prohibitions of the Tongue) Muhammad Mawlud lists both mentioning the conflict between the Sahabah, and mentioning aberrant opinions as prohibitions.  This is not due to the utterance being sinful, but rather to the misconceptions it can lead to for the average Muslim if not properly addressed.  

There may be a need to dismiss open innovators and those spreading misguidance, because there is no end to the possibilities of innovation and it obfuscates what should be self-evident, and can be very difficult for even scholars to refute in ways that resonate with those affected by innovation. The double standard as previously mentioned is when lack of formal credentials is only a problem for out-groups. 

How to have productive discourse

Islamic historical discourse has its share of polemics. There are commentaries, fatwas and treatises which insult valid ijtihad and even refer to the entirety of a madhab with epithets. Some scholars were harsh and had a penchant for polemics. Transgressions into mockery and slander were not condoned, and belligerent attitudes were something scholars sought to check with reminders of adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquettes of disagreement). While the previously mentioned certainly existed and such an approach may serve to strengthen positions of the in-group to the in-group, it does not make for productive dialogue with the out-group.

Outside of scholarly discourse, when we debate policy and Islamic positions, we need to have sincere, fact based arguments with the goal of arriving at truth. Our ability to accept truth no matter who says it shows we have transcended in-group vs. out-group tribalism and have entered the realm of sincere discourse.  Overcoming in-group tribalism and following the truth, rather than blindly following our ‘fathers’ is a central message in the Quran. 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?  2:170 

Arguments on points should never be personal. We should train ourselves to evaluate arguments and understand that people we like can make mistakes, and people we dislike and generally disagree with may be right on certain matters. 

Don’t take cheap shots if you disagree with someone, such as pointing out a typo to insinuate incompetence. 

It’s important to leave double-standards, and to point them out when someone is employing them.  When one side is unfair or uses double standards, it encourages the opposition to act in kind, and the discussion devolves into a fight. When disagreeing with someone, never insult that person.  When a personality is attacked, the response will be defending the personality, and the entire discussion is derailed. 

Sharing a post, or article should not be seen as endorsing an individual or a post. Sometimes it’s a means of opening a discussion, other times to share beneficial points even if the entirety of what is shared is not beneficial. Furthermore, endorsing an individual in one area is not a blanket endorsement, and should never be taken as such.  The Hanafi tradition was able to benefit from legal fatwas while not accepting theology of Mu’tazilite scholars. Likewise, many of our best tafseers are from Mu’tazilite scholars. The widely studied and highly regarded Tafseer al-Baydawi is basically a reworked Mu’tazilite tafseer without the Mu’tazilite aqidah. Scholars have been able to ‘take the good and leave the harm.’ 

“I don’t think you could search America, sir, and find two men who agree on everything.” – Malcolm X

We need to uplift our intellectual level and drop disclaimers like “I don’t agree with everything in this article” or “I don’t agree with everything he said.”  It is only worth stating when you do agree with everything someone says or does.  The common disclaimers should be taken as givens and we shouldn’t capitulate to a cultural push of walking on egg-shells so no one accuses us of supporting the wrong person or idea. 

It is critical we operate under the assumption that sharing a panel with or working with an individual is not an endorsement of that individual. Likewise, working with an organization is not an endorsement of that organization. Such associations are attacked as potentially confusing to the average Muslim, but we must work towards establishing that such actions are not support. 

Here we see an ambivalent conceptualization of the ‘average Muslim’ as someone who both deserves transparency from religious scholars for their actions as well as one who is easily confused or misled by the actions of Muslim scholars. If we can accept both propositions, that a scholar’s actions are not proof, and that working with someone and sharing posts and platforms do not equate support for every particular view or stance of a person, we may set the foundation for being issue focused rather than personality focused. 

In conclusion, it is important we all hold ourselves to high standards of discourse and not support behavior or fallacies from our in-group that we would deride from an out-group. The groups themselves are inevitable and not a problem, but we have to work to overcome the natural ideological tribalism that accompanies group membership.  If we personally transcend in-group bias and reflect it in our discourse, we can overcome the pettiness and hypocrisy that stifles productive discussions. 

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need


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

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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. 


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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Swallowing Your Pride For A Moment Is Harder Than Praying All Night | Imam Omar Suleiman

Iblees was no ordinary worshipper. He worshipped Allah for thousands of years with thousands of prayers. He ascended the ranks until he accompanied the angels with his noteworthy worship. Performing good deeds was no issue for him. He thanked Allah with his prayers, and Allah rewarded him with a lofty station in Paradise. But when Adam was created and given the station that he was, suddenly Iblees was overcome by pride. He couldn’t bear to see this new creation occupy the place that he did. And as he was commanded to prostrate to him, his pride would overcome him and doom him for eternity. Alas, swallowing his pride for one prostration of respect to Adam was more difficult to him than thousands of prostrations of worship to Allah.

In that is a cautionary lesson for us especially in moments of intense worship. When we exert ourselves in worship, we eventually start to enjoy it and seek peace in it. But sometimes we become deluded by that worship. We may define our religiosity exclusively in accordance with it, become self-righteous as a result of it, and abuse people we deem lesser in the name of it. The worst case scenario of this is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said about one who comes on the day of judgment with all of their prayers, fasting, and charity only to have it all taken away because of an abusive tongue.

But what makes Iblees’s struggle so relevant to ours? The point of worship is to humble you to your Creator and set your affairs right with His creation in accordance with that humility. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever has an atom’s worth of pride in their heart would not enter paradise. The most obvious manifestation of that pride is rejecting the truth and belittling someone else. But other subtle manifestations of that pride include the refusal to leave off argumentation, abandon grudges, and humble yourself to the creation in pursuit of the pleasure of the Creator.

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Hence a person would rather spend several Ramadan’s observing the last 10 nights in intense prayer seeking forgiveness for their sins from Allah, rather then humble themselves for a moment to one of Allah’s servants by seeking forgiveness for their transgressions against him, even if they too have a claim.

Jumah is our weekly Eid, and Monday’s and Thursday’s are our weekly semblances of Ramadan as the Prophet (s) used to fast them since our deeds are presented to Allah on those days. He said about them, “The doors of Heaven are opened every Monday and Thursday, and Allah pardons in these days every individual servant who is not a polytheist, except those who have enmity between them; Allah Says: ‘Delay them until they reconcile with each other”

In Ramadan, the doors of Heaven are opened throughout the month and the deeds ascend to Allah. But imagine if every day as your fasting, Quran recitation, etc. is presented to Allah this month, He responds to the angels to delay your pardon until you reconcile with your brother. Ramadan is the best opportunity to write that email or text message to that lost family member or friend and say “it’s not worth it to lose Allah’s forgiveness over this” and “IM SORRY.”

Compare these two statements:

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “He who boycotts his brother for more than three days and dies during this period will be from the people of hellfire.”

He also said:

“I guarantee a house in the suburbs of Paradise for one who leaves arguments even if he is right.”

Swallowing your pride is bitter, while prayer is sweet. Your ego is more precious to you than your sleep. But above all, Allah’s pleasure is more precious than it all.

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