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3 Things To Do When You Start You Mentally Start Judging People

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I used to exhibit a certain reactionary pattern that seemed to arise whenever I entered a Masjid or Muslim gathering.  It was this pesky little habit of immediately taking in my surroundings and making a mental note of everything wrong that I could perceive.  I turned from one unknowing victim to another, ticking off all of the Islamic violations they were committing according to my personal pedestal of judgment.

“She is not wearing hijab, tsk! tsk!”

“He is laughing with that woman who is most certainly not his wife or family member, shame!”

“How can she possibly show up here with her clothing so tight?! Scandalous!”

“I know she does not buy Zabiha so I am sure she is serving people non-halal food!”

“Does his mom see how he is behaving…where is the Islamic upbringing?  That’s what happens when you send your kid to public school!”

And the list went on and on.

Upon acknowledging the “sin” of others, I would begin to plan how I would correct them.

Then one day after becoming aware of the habit, I began to ask myself, “Why am I always looking for the wrong in others?”  Why did my natural inclination drift towards seeing the proverbial half-filled glass, looking for the “haram” in everything around me?  What purpose did this mental activity serve?

As I tried to understand my motives, I began my descent through several layers of mental awareness.  First, I excused myself by claiming I merely wanted to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.  Well, the argument went, I had to first recognize the evil in order to correct it, right?  So I sat smugly, glowing in my new found moral elitism.  Then why did I feel so guilty and ugly?

I probed deeper, asking again, why?  I came up with the wonderful excuse that I must merely hate what Allah hates. I would witness other’s “IstaghfirAllah” actions, causing my blood to boil, until I felt the impulse to walk over and let the perpetrator have a piece of my mind.  So why did I stop myself from attacking?

My self awareness plunged deeper.  I began to think of my reaction when I had been attacked by self-righteous “enjoiners of the good”.  At first I would become embarrassed and question the fallacy of my actions.  Then I would realize that the method in which I was advised angered me and made me want to strike back.   Finally I would conclude that it really had nothing to do with me and more to do with the ego and insecurity of the attacker.

So was I guilty of the same thing?  I tended to think of myself as self-confident and secure, yet some recent experiences had shown me otherwise.  I had attended an Islamic class in which the instructor kept asking the class questions.  Each time I would answer out loud, sure of my knowledge.  And almost every time I was wrong.  It infuriated and embarrassed me.  I was overtaken by a strong desire to prove my correctness.

Another time I was leading a weekly halaqa.  Over time, I began to enjoy the respect I received from many of the new Muslims in the class.  Then one day a couple of Arab ladies sat in.  They spent the entire time overshadowing my talk by attempting to give the lecture themselves.   Then one recited a Quranic Ayah in Arabic and looked to me to translate, of which I could not do.  It was very embarrassing, and I feared it ruined the credibility I had in front of the regular attendees.  My anger raged and my wrath turned towards the Arab women.  I felt the need to show them up as they had done to me. Alhumdulilah, I held my tongue.

From these and other experiences, I realized that my desire to put others down in order to lift myself up seemed just as strong as with those who enjoyed striking me down.

Alas, I began to understand the ugly inner nafs, the self-preserving nafs that will do just about anything to protect itself unless forcibly regulated.  The nafs that wants to justify itself and refuse change at all cost.

As my mind achieved this level of self awareness and was faced with the ugliness of my thoughts, my immediate tendency was to deny or excuse my findings, quickly crawl out of the depths of the inner pit, and continue along the same incorrect path.  But that was not my purpose, not the reason I began the exercise.  So I forced myself to face the conclusions and deal with them.

After accepting my flaws and subverting my ego, I began to derive a formula for changing my inner thinking.

I knew that I loved my brothers and sisters in Islam and truly wanted the best for all of them. I also realized from my own experiences of being corrected in a harsh, public, condescending way that this manner of “advising” is rarely accepted and pushes the person into another spiral of sin (backbiting against the attacker, mental lists of all of the sins of the attacker, and possibly a verbal backlash).

I had to determine how to change my thinking and natural response system to see the good and positive in my fellow Muslims, rather than immediately seeing their so called shortcomings. I wanted to force myself to look inward rather than outward for flaws and weaknesses. I also needed to find ways to be motivational, affecting positive change in the community, rather than coming off as ill-mannered, degrading, or unapproachable.

So I committed myself to practicing the following steps each time the habit began to boil up from deep inside:

1.  Say something nice.

I would force myself to walk over to the unknowing target and immediately praise them for something good I found in them.  This challenged me to see the positives in each person and vocalize them.  It also increased the love between us.

2. Walk in their shoes.

I would recall the past times in my life, prior to committing myself to the study and application of Islam, when I was in that person’s shoes, following a culture-based Islam that I inherited from my parents rather than from the authentic sources.  I remembered the split personality I had growing up, acting one way with the Muslims, and another with my friends.  I would realize that just as my Islamic knowledge is limited, so is theirs, and that many people follow their best understanding without purposely doing the wrong.  I also recalled the many times I sought to correct someone only to find out I was the one with incorrect knowledge.  This led to a true sense of humility, and I would thank Allah for opening my eyes to the truth and giving me even a small taste of the sweetness of Iman. Then I would make duaa for the person.

3. Remember what works for me.

I would remind myself that it was the people in my life who practiced Islam in a consistent, welcoming, non-judgmental way that opened the door for me to ask questions, accept the answers, and evoke change in my life.  This challenged me to be patient and further work on myself in an effort to be that example for others.

The key to truly changing my thinking was when I finally understood that the point of correcting others was supposed to be to help them change to the good.  When this was done in an unsolicited way by someone who had not taken the time to get to know the person or their particular circumstances and to gain their trust and respect, it usually did the opposite.  It upset the person and made them think ill of me and all others who they began to consider “extreme”.  They assumed I was constantly judging them and mentally criticizing everything they did.  They avoided my company, and their heart closed to anything positive I did or said.  Rather than enjoin them to the good, I had turned them totally away.

Although I still have my “negative” days, I have committed to trying to hold my tongue from giving unwanted advice. Instead, I am deliberate in creating an environment where people ask and push to be corrected.  I realize that this is exactly how I best improve; by asking those more knowledgeable than me who never make me feel inferior for asking, and do not have expectations of me after they reply to my inquiries.

As a result, I have learned to become more oblivious and simply stop caring about what everyone else is doing or not doing.  I now see each individual as a work in progress, including myself.  Just because I happen upon a person at a singular point in their journey does not mean they have stopped progressing nor are they waiting for my unwelcome intervention.  If they ask me to join them on their path, I will do so insofar as I am able, or I simply refer them to someone who can.

The reactions from those around me prove that when I show, through beautiful manners and actions, that Allah’s Way is the way that leads to inner and outer peace, I no longer have to shove people, kicking and screaming, to that Way.  Instead, they flock to it.

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Hebah is a Muslim American with a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from UIUC. She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee to Egyptian immigrants. She currently resides in Albuquerque, NM with her husband and two children. Hebah is a social activist who works to dispel the myths about Islam and Women in Islam through community presentations and panel discussions. She also heads Daughterz of Eve, a local Muslim girls youth group.

56 Comments

56 Comments

  1. Avatar

    naureen

    July 12, 2010 at 12:32 AM

    awesome. mash’allah

  2. Avatar

    Sayf

    July 12, 2010 at 1:11 AM

    Mash’Allah, one of the best articles I have ever read. Self-critique and honesty is a beautiful thing, insh’Allah it serves as encouragement for each and every one of us to continually search our hearts and hold ourselves accountable.

  3. Avatar

    Hassan Adnan

    July 12, 2010 at 1:27 AM

    JazakAllah sister.

  4. Avatar

    Sara

    July 12, 2010 at 1:28 AM

    Assalaam Alaikum sister Hebah,

    Excellent article, MashaAllah. We need to be often reminded that we should be focusing on our own flaws before pointing out those of others, even if we may have positive intentions. Reminds me a of a post on my own blog titled, A Believer is like a Mirror for a Believer, based on the following two Ahadith by the Prophet (SAW):

    “The believer is a mirror for the believer, and the believer is the brother of the believer. He safeguards his property for him and defends him from behind.”

    And also,

    “The believer conceals one’s faults and gives a person advice, and the hypocrite exposes and humiliates.”

    Insha’Allah, please keep up the great posts. =)

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 12, 2010 at 7:49 PM

      Jazak Allahu Khair…love the ahadith, so true!

      • Avatar

        Sara

        July 13, 2010 at 12:20 AM

        You are most welcome sister Hebah. =)

        Just wanted to clarify something (I also wrote this below, but think this may be a better place).

        Thank you to someone for pointing this out — the statement “the believer conceals one’s faults and gives a person advice, and the hypocrite exposes and humiliates” which I had read somewhere as being derived from Abu Dawud’s Sunan, is in actuality not a hadith of Prophet (SWT), but was said by one of the early scholars of Islam, Al-Fudayl Ibn `Iyad (may Allah be pleased with him).

        I apologize for any confusion.

  5. Avatar

    muslimah

    July 12, 2010 at 5:33 AM

    great post! jazakAllah khayr. i hope some writers here take note..pls dont judge others for their choices, you haven”t lived the life they live.

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 12, 2010 at 8:00 PM

      We Ayakum! I think one of the hardest things is to accept the different choices people make. Rather we like (me included!) to project incorrect intentions and our choices onto others. I think each writer here is writing from the experiences and choices they have had/made and that is to be expected. What other perpective can we write from? I think the key is for the writers not to be judgemental in their tone and for the readers to accept the piece for what it is…one person’s perpective and experiences. Take the good, leave what you think is incorrect, and ignore it if it is not applicable.

      Allah knows best.

      From your past comments I just want you to know I can relate to much of what you have said and what you are going through. Each new stage in life makes you rethink the stage before and it is quite humbling!

      Keep up the comments…you keep us on our toes! :)

      Your sister,
      Hebah

      • Avatar

        muslimah

        July 13, 2010 at 11:11 AM

        I am not sure exactly what past comments you are talking about..but if im right..yeah i guess. your past shapes your present and future. You can cut down the influence, but from experience, it still lingers on..it modifies the way you react to situations. you can try and forget..but something, somewhere will always remind you of the past..

  6. Avatar

    Ahmed

    July 12, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    Very nice Masha Allah may Allah reward you.

  7. Avatar

    Ahmed

    July 12, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    Very nice Masha Allah

  8. Avatar

    Another Ahmed

    July 12, 2010 at 7:51 AM

    Love it. For some time now, I’ve had similar incidents where I would mentally cast judgment on my brothers and sisters in Islam who I perceived as inferior or lacking in some manner. Stepping back, I cannot help but realize I’ve been in their shoes before and likely done worse than they have. I think it’s Shaitaan trying to pump us up, inflate our egos and sense of self-worth as compared to other people. It’s an ugly thing, this mental process of jumping to conclusions on others, and I am working to nullify it inshaAllah.

    Some things I find helpful to do:
    1. Like sis. Hebah said, make du’a for others. Try it; you’ll have a very hard time harboring negative feelings towards that person afterward!
    2. Again, like sis. Hebah said, talk to them. When you get to know them you’ll likely find common interests and be able to identify with them. This will help in stemming any ill emotions you hold regarding the person. SubhanAllah, how many people I would pre-judge, only to find such wonderful people when I began to speak to them!
    3. When the urge to judge comes, remind yourself of your own faults and sins. Doing so will stem the judging and allow you to more effectively help a brother/sister who you wish to help/aid.

  9. Avatar

    Siraaj

    July 12, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    Excellent post, can totally relate :)

    Siraaj

  10. Avatar

    quraysha

    July 12, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    excellent!

  11. Avatar

    Yasin Alam

    July 12, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    May Allah Almighty bless you and grant you increase in your Iman and understanding of Islam. This illness is a very dangerous deception of the nafs, as mentioned it can destroy lifes, may Allah Almighty grant us all the ability to look within ourselfs and purify our intentions, as every action is according to intention.
    Thank you Sister.

  12. Avatar

    Noor

    July 12, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    Jazakalakheir for this article. Excellent. MashAllah.

  13. Avatar

    AbuMarjan

    July 12, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    Assalam alaikum,

    Thought of quoting a forwarded mail received on the same topic
    ———————————————————————–

    Give your brothers and sisters action the best interpretation

    Sa’eed bin Al-Musayyab was reported to have said:

    “Some of my brothers among the Companions of the Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, wrote me the following message:

    “Give your brother’s action the best interpretation you could find as long as you have not seen any proof that would make you think otherwise. Do not ever give the word uttered by a Muslim bad interpretation as long as you can find better interpretation for it.
    But he who makes himself vulnerable to suspicion should blame only himself. He who conceals his secrets has the options in his hand.
    The best reward you can give someone who disobeys Allah through you is to obey Allah through him. Be always truthful even if truth is going to kill you. Do not envy anyone except in regard to something for which the dead person is envied.
    And consult, in respect to your affairs, only those who fear Allah in their privacy

    The Leader of the Believers, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, may Allaah be pleased with him, said, “Think only well of a word that leaves your believing brother so long as you find a way of understanding it in a good way.” [Quoted by ibn Kathir in the commentary of 49:12]

    Abu Qilabah ‘Abdullah bin Zayd bin al-Jurmi said, as quoted in Abu Nu’aym’s al-Hilyah,

    “If something of your brother is conveyed to you that you dislike, expend all your efforts in finding an excuse for him’ even then, if you cannot find an excuse say to yourself: perhaps he has an excuse that I am not aware of.”

  14. Avatar

    SA

    July 12, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    I went through the same judging pattern as you Hebah.Its still an ongoing battle for me but what has proved most effective for me apart from making duas for the person I am judging is what you mentioned in your post “creating an environment where people ask and push to be corrected”.I personally hate it when people tell me what is wrong with me deen-wise.I prefer knowing people who do a certain deed and impress you so much that you want to know why/how they did it. Actions do speak louder than words!

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 12, 2010 at 8:04 PM

      Glad to hear its not just me! :) May Allah heal all of our hearts from their diseases. Ameen.

  15. Avatar

    Sara

    July 12, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    Assalaam Alaikum,

    Thank you to someone having mentioned this — I wanted to clarify a mistake I made in my previous comment where I erroneously quoted a statement, attributing it to the Prophet (SAW). Thank you to brother Omar for pointing this out in a very respectful manner.

    The statement “the believer conceals one’s faults and gives a person advice, and the hypocrite exposes and humiliates” which I had read somewhere as being derived from Abu Dawud’s Sunan, is in actuality not a hadith of Prophet (SWT), but was made by one of the early scholars of Islam, Al-Fudayl Ibn `Iyad (may Allah be pleased with him).

    I apologize for any confusion.

  16. Avatar

    Perspective

    July 12, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    mA excellent article, thank you for writing such an honest piece. We should always remember to leave the judging to Allah (swt), and instead focus on improving ourselves.

  17. Avatar

    ummmanar

    July 12, 2010 at 7:56 PM

    jazakallahu kairan sis for pointing this out and been honest. I go through the same thing then when I go to bed I bet my self up for thinking ill and judgemental.I always thought I am the only one and I donot know how to fix it I am afraid that I will abide in hell fire.may allah guid us all. this is very good advice how to solve your inner nafas.barakallahufiki.

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 12, 2010 at 8:10 PM

      We Ayakum. Masha Allah the fact that you lose sleep over your daily thoughts (this is actually what pushed me to write the post!) is a very good sign. It is truly the fear of the hellfire that is sometimes the most effective means of pushing us to change. May Allah protect us all and help us to change before it is too late! Ameen.

  18. Avatar

    Abu Zakariya

    July 12, 2010 at 9:25 PM

    As salaamu alaikum,

    What do you think of this:

    I believe this process is a tarbiya direct from Allah. It could potentially in fact be His response to the dua “ihdinas siratal mustaqeem”. The fact that sr. Heba was able to change the way she thinks did not come from her, it was a tawfique from Allah. Allahu akbar!

    Imagine of the hundreds of thousands of people who have similar experiences but are “stuck” in the same self-righteous spot for their entire life? Subhan ar-Rahman! What a mercy from He, who enabled us to identify this and correct it. May Allah grant us all wisdom, ameen.

    Yasser

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 14, 2010 at 11:29 AM

      Jazak Allahu Khair and I could not agree more. This brings up probably the most important aspect of change and the first step I should have mentioned, making duaa for Allah to take pride and envy from our hearts and give us the humility and ability to change. Only Allah can change our hearts and give us the strength to stick to it.

      Thanks for the reminder!

  19. Avatar

    Sally

    July 12, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    masha’Allah.. taking us all the way into the deep pit of your mind ;) Interesting, and brave of you to reveal this! I had an awakening of my own, and have compensated so much that I dont feel I have any right to judge. I struggle with the bit of judging required in religious matters for “forbidding evil and enjoining good” b/c i’ve learned that eventually things work themselves out..Only Allah knows why people do what they do, and when guidance will find them.

    I’m surprised Imam Shafie’s poem hasn’t been quoted:

    لسانك لا تذكر به عورة امرئ * فكلّـك عورات وللناس ألسـن
    وعينك إن أبدت إليك معايباً * فدعها وقل : يا عين للناس أعينُ

    Let not your tongue mention the shame of another
    For you yourself are covered in shame and all men have tongues.

    If your eye falls upon the sins of your brother
    Shield them and say: “O my eye! All men have eyes!”
    Imam Shafi’ee

    • Avatar

      abez

      July 13, 2010 at 12:38 AM

      MashaAllah- A very honest article, and loved that poem by Imam Shafiée

  20. Pingback: Abez sez Assalamualaikum! » Blog Archive » A Judgment about Judgments

  21. Avatar

    Muhammad Aiman Azlan

    July 13, 2010 at 5:29 AM

    Astaghfirullah, this is exactly how I feel and behave. I want to write about it but I can’t find the words to describe it. You’ve put it so well for me. Jazakallah.

  22. Avatar

    Middle Ground

    July 13, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    Salam

    Been there, done that, and ultimately suffered for it. I have observed a number of things about this.

    * Before judging anyone, think of a sin which you have done and no-one else knows about. Something very shameful (everyone has some secret like this). And assume that the person you are judging has not done this. Then rejudge that person. You may see things in a different light.
    * If Allah has guided you to do better than the person you are judging, you should remember that guidance, like wealth, is a gift from Allah, which He gives to people according to His wisdom. It’s NOT that Allah has favored you, in fact Allah has given you a responsibility for which you may be more accountable than the next person.
    * When we have a LITTLE knowledge, it’s so easy to start beating on someone who doesn’t. This is arrogance, and a common result of this is to turn people away from Islam. I remember when I got a little ‘religious’, along with a female cousin of mine and her friend, and how all three of us used to beat on my cousin’s brother. Fat lot of good that did…. 20 years later, he marries a Hindu girl (may Allah guide him and us).

    And Allah knows best.

  23. Avatar

    muslimah

    July 13, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    im confused. If you see a sister let’s say flirting w/ guys, should you find excuses for her? At first i was under the impression you are talking about things we personally dislike and not necessarily haram. How does enjoining good and forbidding evil fit in all this? I mean it’s true we should first look at ourselves but the one who sees good and silently disagrees with it in his heart is the one with the lowest of eman.

    • Avatar

      abez

      July 13, 2010 at 2:21 PM

      Hate the sin, not the sinner?

      • Avatar

        ehlam

        July 13, 2010 at 8:02 PM

        Salamualaikum,

        Isn’t that a christian concept (read it somewhere), but not saying we should hate the sinner. Somehow this is going into al wala’ wal baraa’, I’d still like to also know what the answer to Muslimah’s query is, because when I see a Muslim doing something un-islamic in public or infront of people like non-muslims I feel it makes Muslims look like hypocrites-not doing what they preach- and that it affects dawah negatively. I was finding it hard to relate to the article itself because often I find myself making excuses for them like: they started to practice/they grew up in a non-islamic environment/they’re having personal problems etc etc. Living in the West I just feel like we are not only harming ourselves but preventing potential converts from accepting Islam when they see us not being true to our identity.

        Sister Hebah,Jazakillahu khairan for your thought-provoking article and this approach of teaching by action is great method thats effective.

        • Avatar

          Hebah Ahmed

          July 14, 2010 at 11:54 AM

          We Alikum Asalam,

          I did actually mean seeing things that are haram. Yes, we are suppose to forbid the evil but I guess the easiest (and sometimes more harmful route) is to simply go up to the person and tell them what they are doing is wrong. I believe this is harmful if you do not already have a personal relationship with the person and the person is not open to hearing about their sin.

          I think it takes a lot of wisdom and patience to correct others. The point of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with someone is to do it in a way that the person will accept it and not resent you for it (the example of the young boys who taught the older man how to make wudu without directly confronting him or telling him he is wrong).

          Rarely do people appreciate being corrected by someone who has not earned their respect and developed a personal relationship with them. This shows them that you care to speak to them all the time, not just when you see them doing something wrong. I also think personal behavior goes very far in correcting people without ever having to say a word to them. If non-Muslims question the actions of others that contradict Islam, we should explain the right way and say that everyone is at different stages and different levels of their practice. Islam is perfect but the followers are not.

          Additionally, you will find in many instances (including the example of a girl flirting with the guys) that people already know the right from wrong…you will not be telling them anything new and probably will turn them even more away from being around other Muslims. Usually this stems from low Iman. So I think we should prioritize the advice we give people. I mean if someone does not even pray or has never been exposed to the beauty of Islam in a way that has strengthened their iman or does not know how to get knowledge from authentic source, then advice is pointless and perhaps harmful as one should be focusing on the bigger issue of Iman and Tawheed and pursuing knowledge.

          That’s why I said I strive to create an environment where people ask and push to be corrected. When they see you acting in a way that is different from them AND they see you as a well mannered, easily approachable person AND they have a personal relationship with them, then they will ask you to explain the behavior or avoidance of certain behaviors. In this context the person is most likely to accept the advice and evoke change in thier life, which is the entire purpose of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. Of course this process takes a lot of time (patience) and effort (to create a personal relationship with the person).

          Allah knows best!

          (Sorry for alot of “I think”s…someone please correct me if I am misunderstanding this issue or if there is evidence in contradication)

          • Avatar

            muslimah

            July 14, 2010 at 12:10 PM

            but what about this hadith?

            “Whoever among you witnesses a bad thing, it is necessary for him to bring that to a halt with his hands, and if he does not have the potential for that; then he should stop him through his tongue, And if he does not have the ability to stop that with his tongue, then by his heart; he should think bad of this sin and that is the lowest level of Iman.”

            so you mean we should first develop a personal relationship with the person (of course of the same gender lol) and gain their respect before giving them out any advice? I guess that is hikmah but somehow from the abv hadith i get the message a muslim should hasten to correct any evil they come across.
            but ‘i think’ you are right. after all we are asked to use hikmah and be gentle. and it is hikmah to gain the person’s trust and respect. wallahu’alam

          • Avatar

            elham

            July 14, 2010 at 7:16 PM

            Sister this was exactly what I would tell my friend, that if a person does not do salah then telling them to wear hijab should come after they have increased Iman.
            I can agree on developing a somewhat personal relationship with a person by striking up a conversation before subtly correcting or informing them in way that is respectful and humble, such that the person would not feel that you are undermining them or the intelligence that Allah has given them. You start by greeting them and then praising their good qualities and then adding that it would be better if they had done ‘xyz’ . I think it is a Prophetic method of giving advice wallahu’Alam.

            SubhanAllah I am reminded by the beauitful manner in which Shekih Al Arefe would give da’wah and advice even on a plane!

            Sheikh al-Arifi Advises a Woman on a Plane
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wODzqkpyuNE&feature=channel

          • Avatar

            BrownS

            July 15, 2010 at 8:34 PM

            Jazakillahu khair Sr. Hebah for explaining this so well. Imam ibn Taymiyyah makes a similar argument in his book “Public Duties in Islam” (Arabic – Risalat amr bil maruf wa nahi an al-munkar) where if my memory serves me right he says that one needs to perform the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil in a manner that can lead to the actual fulfilment of enjoinment of good or forbidding of evil, rather than in a simplistic and kneejerk way. One needs to actually think it through.

            I’ll refrain from saying any more because it’s been a while, but actual students of knowledge familiar with the text can jump in inshaAllah.

    • Avatar

      muslimah

      July 14, 2010 at 2:47 AM

      * i mean the one who sees evil and speaks against it silently in his heart.

  24. Avatar

    Faiez

    July 13, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    I would like to disagree.

    Thank you,

    Faiez

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 14, 2010 at 11:58 AM

      Can you please explain what it is that you disagree with?

      Jazak Allahu Khair.

  25. Avatar

    ibraheem

    July 13, 2010 at 11:53 PM

    I think it’s messed up that an article had to be written about this so people can learn how to be decent human beings. Stop backbiting and running your mouths. Simple.

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      July 14, 2010 at 12:05 PM

      Unfortunately it is not that simple. We all need to be constantly reminder and re-reminded of habits that are easy to slide back into. We need to be reminded in many different ways from many different angles. Many times we are not even aware of what we are doing or that we are backbiting or committing haram…we can justify our thoughts and actions in many ways. Perhaps hearing (or reading) the way someone else is makes us realize how we actually are. Then we can begin to change.

    • Avatar

      elham

      July 14, 2010 at 6:58 PM

      ”The reminder benefits the believers”

  26. Avatar

    Yasser Bafakyh

    July 14, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Masha Allah!! Excellent article. May Allah(swt) reward you for sharing this with us .. Ameen.

  27. Avatar

    Umm Umaama

    July 14, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    JazakAllah Khair for this insightful piece, and for your sincerity in sharing this with others. I personally have been struggling with this for some time, and was shocked at myself when I realized recently that I was actually (subconsciously) wishing for bad things to happen to people, so that they could see the error of their ways. Astaghfirullah. I think the issues you’ve highlighted are a serious disease amongst practising Muslims. I’m striving to rectify my character in this regard, so far I’ve found that it helps to:

    (1) Focus on your own sins, leave other people to deal with theirs. This is much harder said than done. We have made it our mission to save the world, and saving ourselves has become a holiday hobby….something to do when you’re bored….
    (2) Tell people (and yourself) that you may not be the best person to advise…yes, you think you “know the right answer”, but are you really the best person to convey it? Didn’t the companions refer everything back to the Prophet SAW, even though they knew the “right” answer? Since when did we become such “know-it-alls”?
    (3) Realize that even with Halaal and Haraam, it doesn’t have to be – “my way or the highway”….I think that’s the biggest problem, we think everything is black and white, and once we get it “right”, we become obsessed with telling everyone else. But, we should realize that we don’t know another person’s situation, we might not know all the conditions of a legal ruling…we might not even know the ruling (although, we think we do)…think, are you sure the issue is as black and white as you first imagined? There are many routes to the same outcome, even if they do it “their way” could they not (with a little guidance, and the Tawfeeq of Allaah) soon find their way back to Allaah?
    (4) The biggest eye-opener for me was to realize that I am not answerable for the outcome of Da’wah….only that I must continue to give Da’wah in the best way possible. We become so wrapped watching for the effects of our Da’wah that we lose all the sincerity of the act itself. Why is it so important to us to see that someone followed our advise? Could it ever be sufficient that they may change one day, a long time from now? Would you be content if they were more beloved to Allaah than anyone could imagine? Or that they would die with their sins forgiven? OR, do you NEED them to change?

    Don’t be afraid to share what knowledge you have, or correct something wrong when you see it, but be humble, and realize….as we’re often told (but rarely heed)…that you’re not always right…

  28. Avatar

    Naved Zia

    July 14, 2010 at 11:18 PM

    MashaAllah.. gem of an article… truly.. we often are not aware of our ego at play!!

  29. Avatar

    BrownS

    July 15, 2010 at 8:29 PM

    Salaam

    Jazakillahu khair for the reminder. It is truly something I lose sight of too often.

    I’m reminded of a quote by one of the giants of the past (I believe it was Imam Ghazali), the gist of which is that when you give reminder or admonishment to someone, act as if that person is the most beloved to Allah. It works :)

  30. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    July 16, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    Very well-written and sincerely introspective reminder for us all – the MM writers and the commentators. We all need to be reminded of thinking before speaking or typing away on our keyboards in criticism of others. :)

    May Allah reward you for sharing your honest self-evaluation with us for our betterment, Hebah!

  31. Avatar

    Cucumberr

    July 16, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    This was beautiful. Jazakilllah Khair. :)

  32. Avatar

    Rafa

    July 16, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    This is exactly what I needed today. I have guests coming over tonight whom I do tend to judge without realizing it (may Allah forgive us all), but this article has been a great reminder for me to do otherwise. Insha Allah I can put the advise into practise! JazakAllah and may Allah reward you! :)

  33. Avatar

    Bilal

    July 16, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    Jazakallah Khair,

    I can seriously relate to this, having grown up among friends at a young age, who took a different path as we got older… and I did go through the phase as you mentioned “making a mental note of everything wrong that I could perceive.” However, listening to talks by various ulema and students of knowledge definitely helped a lot in subverting the evil that can be caused by this ego.

    The attitude one has with others who may not be at the same level in deen as oneself is definitely a critical factor. In one of Br. Nouman’s talks (Improving Our Relationships @ ICNA 2010), he relates how one’s attitude with his/her child can close off the doors of communication. For example, the child would come relating something that happened in the day that was ‘taboo,’ and the parent would immediately respond, “We don’t talk about these things! Astaghfirullah! Say Astaghirullah!”

    That can close off the door of communication with the parents, and the child will just talk about these matters with their friends…

    Nonetheless, this statement hit me immediately while reading the post:

    “Keep yourself busy in remembering your faults, so that you have no time left to remember the faults of others.”

    – Sufyaan ath-Thawri

  34. Avatar

    YMR

    July 30, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    Assalamalaikum,

    Ma’sha’allah ! Amazing article ! Stumbled upon this post from the web and liked it so much, I have immediately subscribed to the blog’s feeds.

  35. Pingback: The Deep Pit of My Inner Mind « Words of love.. words for love…

  36. Avatar

    Dalia

    September 27, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    I really wanted you to know that I saw your debate on CNN between you and Mona on the “Burka Ban” in France.

    I also wanted you to know that those last fifteen seconds in the argument changed my life.

    To put it simply, when I heard what you said, something inside woke up and the following day I put on the Hijab and haven’t taken it off since. I’ve been wearing it for half a year now and I don’t know how I could’ve lived without it before.

    So, thank you, Shukran, and Allhamdullilah. You helped me see that the largest things only need to be accomplished by the smallest of actions.

    So…Thank you. By the way, I’m fifteen and a princess of Islam who’s proud to wear her crown now. :]

    With love,

    Dalia

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      September 28, 2012 at 1:00 AM

      AllahuAkbar! May Allah (SWT) keep you steadfast on your decision and grant you barakah in your life and increase your level in Jannat-ul-Firdaus.

    • Avatar

      Hebah Ahmed

      September 29, 2012 at 5:22 PM

      Masha Allah Dalia!!!!! Your comment made my day. May Allah increase your taqwa and make you an ambassador of Islam Insha Allah. I wish I had such conviction and courage to wear the hijab when I was 15…you are an inspiration!!!! :)

      Love,
      Hebah

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#Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship hugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

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

1. My bubble burst

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

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

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

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

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

3. Made me thankful

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

dardir

4. People want to do Good

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

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

5. Smiles

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

6. It’s ok to cry

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

7. Learning to say no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Dawah through action

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

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

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

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

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

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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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