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Parenting Series | Part I: Swimming Against the Current

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Part I Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | | Part V(b) | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX

We are living in a strange time of rat races, struggling to keep up with others around us. This race is not only limited to our wealth, status, or any other type of materialism, but also includes the way we carry out many of our daily roles in life, especially as parents. The way we raise our children and the values/goals we set for them has become a matter of competition. The definition of a good parent, in our world, revolves around how comfortably our children are raised, how much money we are able to collect and spend on them, the amount of good, fresh food that is provided daily, and what “type” of secular education we are able to provide for them. The more we are able to provide of these worldly things, the better we are perceived as fulfilling parents.

As bound by our nature, we follow the herd, meaning the norm of our society. Similarly, we pass on the same goals and priorities to our children. Even if someone desires to live a different lifestyle, it is very easy to succumb to the daily grind because of our surrounding environment.

However, as Muslim parents we are entrusted with responsibilities beyond the success of this world. Hence, we cannot afford to go with the flow if we do not know where this flow will ultimately take us. Therefore, it is binding upon a Muslim parent to know:

  • What our goal is as parents
  • Who our role models should be

If our ultimate goal is strictly bound to the benefits of this world, then we can follow the trends of this world and our worries are limited; wishing only for our children a good education, a college degree, and a STDs/drug free life. On the other hand, if we have the next world in mind, then we must set ourselves additional values and goals which probably require swimming against the current, which is an extremely challenging and almost impossible task, unless stimulated by a solid motivation.

Why Set Superior Goals?

Why do we have to be the odd parent struggling to move against the current and creating more trouble for ourselves and complications for our child/ren? In a nutshell, remember we are alive not to focus on this world but rather to aim for the next world.

In my humble opinion, a loving parent is not one whose only focus is to fill his/her children’s stomachs, find them the best clothing, provide them with a comfortable place to live, and concentrate on their higher education.  I believe that TRUE love is reflected in how much attention is paid to the real purpose of their existence and to their final destination.

I was told about a young Pakistani man who had recently graduated with a Master’s degree from abroad and then returned to his motherland. He was an only child and his parents had “done it all” for their only son from the time he was born; they provided him with a luxurious upbringing and the best education of their time. However, and unfortunately, it didn’t include any religious guidance as that did not seem to be of value or importance. Disappointing to say, the young man fell sick and was diagnosed with cancer in its last stages. When he was hospitalized, he met an old man who talked to him about life after death, heaven and hell, and his last journey. That day, the young man cried like a little baby for he was not prepared for his journey, and he had nothing to take to his real destination. He questioned his parents about their negligence, looking at his degrees and achievements in dismay. How can his Master’s help salvage him? His parents realized their error but could only rue their heedlessness. Nevertheless, he was blessed during his final hours with a teacher who helped him learn salah, the Qur’an, and more of the basics of Islamic knowledge. I do not know if this young man lived or if he rests in his grave now, but I do hope and pray that Allah‘azza wa jall accepted his efforts, grants him Jannah, and forgives him and his parents.Ameen.

Let’s keep in mind that not everyone gets a last minute opportunity to make up for life-long negligence. Death comes unannounced and at the least expected moments; it is a reality that we can all be assured of. The question is, how many of us are preparing our children for that inevitable moment?

My daughter is fatally allergic to peanuts. A few years back, she had an accidental exposure to peanuts, causing an extremely dangerous reaction. On our way to the ER, she was throwing up, breathing abnormally, and her lips were turning blue. As I held her head in my arms, she whispered to me, “It’s okay mama, everyone has to die some day!” Her eyes rolled backwards (I will never forget that sight), and I thought we were going to lose her before we made it to the hospital. She was in indescribable pain, and as a mother I felt helpless because I couldn’t do anything for her.  All I wanted was for her to stop hurting, but I couldn’t take her pain away. To make a long story short, alhamdulillah no ill became of her; a short stay in the ER of the hospital and we were able to return home the same night. Still, that day I realized my limitations as a parent. When I thought I would lose her, I was willing to exchange my soul for hers, but it was a useless and absurd bargain to even think of. I realized that if those were her last moments, nothing would have benefitted her except her preparations for her final destination. My children might travel on their last journey before I do, and it is a journey they have to take alone. I will not be able to help them at this time and can only help them get ready for their meeting with the angel of death.

So, dear parents, while we prepare our children for their interview at an Ivy League school or for a big job, we cannot and must not forget about their ultimate interview and meeting with the angel of death. And with this in mind, we must aim to raise our children in a way appropriate and safe for their akhirah as well as their dunyainsha’Allah.

Having said this, I am not undermining secular education by any means. I am a firm believer that a secular education is very important for our children, particularly during this era. They must know and understand the world they live in, which is for their benefit; they must also be educated to secure a good job and be self-sufficient as a Muslim should be.

Yet, we must find a balance when we raise Muslim children while aiming for the akhirah, all the while doing well in this dunya. Our children study at school for 8 hours a day and come home with tons of homework, so where do we “fit in” Islam into their lives?  This is the question posed in every Muslim parent’s mind whose kids are not homeschooled or are not attending an Islamic school.

I wish I had a step-by-step guide for every parent according to their child’s type and age. Unfortunately, I don’t. And although I am not an expert in this field, I have a few suggestions to offer parents, some based on my own experience as a parent, some from counseling teenagers and other parents, and some based on simple observations.

Let us keep in mind that Islam is not a “subject” that we teach as a second-language or like sports training for soccer or football where we train/educate for a few hours during the day and then forget all about it until the next class. Rather, it is our religion, a way of life, and should be dealt with and taught like any daily ritual of our lives. In other words, instill our religion in their everyday lives, so it is indigenous to them.  It obviously requires a lot of effort from us as parents but be assured our good effort is never wasted:

“…then Allah surely does not waste the reward of the doers of good.” (12:90)

Better yet, we will thus achieve our goal, insha’Allah, and our children will become asadaqah jaariyyah (ongoing charity) for us, not to mention that they will secure theirakhirah, by the mercy of Allah.

“When a person dies, all his deeds come to an end except three: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge (which he has left behind), or a righteous child who will pray for him.”

Let us be assured that it is, perhaps, the bare minimum requirement of being a “Muslim” parent, for the Prophet of Allah (sallAllahu alayhi wasalam) said:

“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The imaamis a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his family and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for her flock. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s wealth and is responsible for his flock…” (Bukhaari; Muslim)

Our children are entrusted to us by Allah ‘azza wa jall, so we must set proper values for them and direct their lives in the correct direction. If we neglect our responsibilities, then not only do we become partially responsible for spoiling our children’s akhirah (if they go astray), but we also subject ourselves to punishment. Remember the Day when we will flee from our children; it will not be for any other reason but out of fear that they might question us about their neglected rights:

“That Day shall a man flee from his brother, And from his mother and his father, And from his wife and his children. Every man, that Day, will have enough to make him careless of others.” (80:34-37)

After all this, how can we not have the akhirah as the ultimate goal for our children, and how can we not aim for Jannah for our children? How can we neglect their akhira and not prioritize their deen in their lives?

Dear parents, it is strange that when it comes to this world, we always have high goals for our children and our expectations know no bounds, but when it comes to their real destiny, we aim for the bare minimum. We never settle for just high school, but rather from the time of their birth we remain ever consistent with the hope of at least a Bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, when it comes to their akhirah, we are pleased with ‘as long as they pray’, ‘fast Ramadan’, or ‘fulfill the fundamental 5 pillars’ for the entirety of their existence!

The upcoming articles in this Parenting series are a brief summary of “The Parenting Workshop” I have given in the US and in Doha to a Western audience. Henceforth, let us proceed to practical steps of achieving our goal, insha’Allah.

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

Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance."Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam.She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Your sister in islam

    December 15, 2010 at 1:42 AM

    Salamualaikum Wr Wb

    JazakAllah Khair Dear Umm Reem! :)
    May AllahSWT increase you in sincerity and guidance and bring great benefit to the ummah thru ur work!

  2. Avatar

    AbuMarjaan

    December 15, 2010 at 1:49 AM

    Assalam alaikum,

    Masha Allah !
    Hope to benefit from this series .May Allah make these “sadaqa jaariya ” for you
    Eagerly waiting for the upcoming articles..

  3. Avatar

    Abeer

    December 15, 2010 at 2:26 AM

    Assalam alaikum,
    Thanks for sharing the knowledge and thought. Here we are talking about huge resposibility. And I couldn’t agree more on your statement “On the other hand, when it comes to their akhirah…….”
    May Allah bless all of us!

  4. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    December 15, 2010 at 2:49 AM

    Masha’Allah! I’m so glad you’ve taken the time to do this for us :)
    Looking forward to the rest of the series…

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Parenting Series | Part I: Introduction | MuslimMatters.org -- Topsy.com

  6. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    December 15, 2010 at 4:07 AM

    Barak Allahu feeki, Umm Reem.
    Looking forward to this series!
    I loved the 2 practical examples you gave to illustrate your points viz. the fatally ill young son and your own daughter’s allergic reaction. I think each of us has seen or witnessed such moments with loved ones in our lives, which poignantly remind us of our actual destination: our Akhirah that begins with death.

    • Avatar

      Mantiki

      December 15, 2010 at 6:10 AM

      It is true that there is more to life than money and worldly success.

      Anyone who is interested in what happens when you die might like to visit http://www.nderf.org/

    • Avatar

      Nayma

      December 15, 2010 at 7:14 AM

      Jazak Allahu khairan Umm Reem, esp. for sharing those practical examples. I’ve felt those feelings too. What can we give to our precious ones which will help them as the angel of death comes. That is one journey they will have to take themselves.

  7. Avatar

    Faatimah

    December 15, 2010 at 6:15 AM

    Assalamu’alaikum Wa Rahmatullaahee Wa Barakaatuhu

    Jazaakillaah Khayran sister Umm Reem. It is a very useful reminder Alhamdulillaah.

    SubhanAllaah the plight of the Ummah today is that most Muslim parents love their children in this world only and not their aakhirah. It is important to reinforce the aqeedah of Muslim parents on aakhirah Insha Allaah.

    Looking forward for the next series Insha Allaah

    Ma’salaama

  8. Avatar

    s

    December 15, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    Alhamdulillah! I can’t wait for this series! Jazakillah Khayran Umm Reem. I hope you will discuss parenting issues from the very earliest ages onward inshallah.

  9. Avatar

    Bushra

    December 15, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    Jazakallahu khair, Umm Reem. Such valuable advice, masha’Allah.

    Just a quick correction on the ayah:

    “That Day shall a man flee from his brother, And from his mother and his father, And from his wife and his children. Every man, that Day, will have enough to make him careless of others.” (80:34-37)

    Something I learnt from Yahya Ibrahim about the translation of this ayah is that men will not flee from their children on the Day of Judgement, but from their SONS. Why? Because they will run around looking for their sisters and their daughters who will testify to the kindness of this man towards them. This is based on the following hadith:

    “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever takes care of two girls until they reach adulthood, he and I will come like this on the Day of Resurrection,” and he held his fingers together. Narrated by Muslim, 2631.”

    and also:

    Ibn Maajah (3669) narrated that ‘Uqbah ibn ‘Aamir (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “Whoever has three daughters and is patient towards them, and feeds them, gives them to drink and clothes them from his riches, they will be a shield for him from the Fire on the Day of Resurrection.” Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah.

    Otherwise, an excellent post and something to think about when raising children. Whenever my mother reprimanded me for anything, she always said to me at the end of it – “You will thank me for this one day.”
    At the time, I thought “Ummmm…really??” But now I think that those words are so true. Alhamdulillah for the upbringing my parents gave me, it is far more valuable than the education they gave me. May Allah(swt) reward them for bringing us up with Islam, forgive them for their shortcomings and grant them Jannah…Ameen.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      December 17, 2010 at 9:32 AM

      Something I learnt from Yahya Ibrahim about the translation of this ayah is that men will not flee from their children on the Day of Judgement, but from their SONS. Why?

      hmm…wAllahu ‘alam why he would say this because there are PLENTY of Muslim families that totally mistreat their daughters…
      so those who have not fulfilled the rights of their daughters, will run away from their daughters too…and those rights include giving them an Islamic upbringing, wAllahu ta’ala ‘alam…

      • Avatar

        Bushra

        December 18, 2010 at 9:16 AM

        If you look at the second hadith, that’s the basis for his reasoning. Of course, the mistreatment of girls amongst Muslims is circumstantial evidence, but the ahadith give many people a reason to treat sisters and daughters well, if not for the sake of humanity, then at least for the sake of reward and saving themselves from the Fire.

        Also, he mentioned that it’s due to the Arabic translation in the Qurán of that ayah. From what I recall, it may be the masculine plural of ‘children’.

  10. Avatar

    Um Aneesa

    December 15, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    um reem
    Where can I find out the meaning of the man being responsible for his family, while the woman is responsible for her husband’s house, what does the hadeeth mena by “family” and “house”
    Jazakillahu khayra!

  11. Avatar

    Sabeen

    December 15, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    “Let us keep in mind that Islam is not a “subject” that we teach as a second-language….”
    The tragedy is that sometimes the religion is not prioritized even by those parents that are themselves leading very observant lives.
    Jazakallah khair for an invaluable reminder. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  12. Avatar

    Shuaib Mansoori

    December 15, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum Umm Reem,

    JazakiAllahu Khairan for this excellent endeavor. I ask Allah to reward you and your family immensely.

    This struck a chord with me:

    My children might travel on their last journey before I do, and it is a journey they have to take alone. I will not be able to help them at this time and can only help them get ready for their meeting with the angel of death.

    My elder sister passed away in 2003 when she was 17, rahimahallah. I can never thank Allah and my parents enough for bringing us up in a practising household and inculcating a love of Islam in our hearts. The night which was going to be her last, she lay close to my mother whispering some words. When asked about what she was saying, in her last breaths she said, “I’m reciting the 3 Quls (Mu’awwadhataan)” and she slowly and peacefully departed from this world. It was a sign of a husnal khatima and we hope that Allah enveloped her in His Mercy and sent noble angels to shroud her in garments from paradise.

    I look forward to the rest of the series and I ask Allah to Bless your children to be from the A’immah of the Muttaqoon and from the Revivers of this Deen.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      December 17, 2010 at 9:34 AM

      I look forward to the rest of the series and I ask Allah to Bless your children to be from the A’immah of the Muttaqoon and from the Revivers of this Deen.

      amin ya Rabbal ‘alameen

  13. Avatar

    BrownS

    December 15, 2010 at 10:37 PM

    Jazakillahu khair for taking the initiative to start this series. I look forward to creative and practical methodologies being shared in the articles and comments. I don’t have any children yet but I think often about how I might achieve the goals you outlined above, especially when I see far more negative examples of parenting around me than positive ones.

  14. Avatar

    Asmaa

    December 16, 2010 at 6:47 AM

    Much needed topic, just published about at the right time.. JazaakumAllaahu kul khair..

  15. Avatar

    UmmAasiya

    December 16, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Bismiallah,

    Jazhakhallah for taking on this topic. You have given a great voice to my constant worry!!! As a parent of a 6 year old and a 3 year old – I have constantly worried and no wonder tired – because as you said riding against the tide is hard! I am eagerly awaiting your upcoming articles. May Allah reward you and may Allah cure your daughter completely of her allergy as He the Almighty is capable of everything. May Allah preserve her and guide her and all of our children onto the correct path and make them leaders of the mumineen iA. Greatly anticipating the upcoming articles…

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      December 17, 2010 at 9:36 AM

      amin!
      wa jazakiAllah khair :)

  16. Avatar

    Cucumberr

    December 16, 2010 at 10:52 PM

    Jazakillah Khair! Looking forward to the series inshaAllah :)

  17. Avatar

    Terry Martin

    December 17, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    I have a sincere question that I do not know the answer to. In a Muslim home, what do parents tell the children of Christians and Jews? If I were to ask your eight year old child what they think of a Christian or a Jew, what would they tell me?

    I can be reached at terrymartinor@gmail.com and I would appreciate anybody’s response.

    • Amad

      Amad

      December 18, 2010 at 4:47 AM

      I asked two 10 yr olds. One:
      Some are good, some are bad. Christians believe that Allah is 3 in 1. Christians that don’t worship like this may go to paradise. Christian friends r alright as long as they wash their hands after using the bathroom! [Kids notice the strangest things]. Jews make me think of Palestine and I have to ask my dad what’s going on? Then I feel angry as they r killing Palestinians, esp the ones that r not following the Torah. If they followed the Torah, they wouldn’t kill and would tell those killing not to.

      Second:
      When I think about Jews, I think about what’s happening in palestine. I also think majority of them are nice people. Only the bad Jews are killing. When I think about Christians, i think they are kind people and sister religion of Islam, closest to Islam. Then I also think of warfare, like the president of USA are Christians most of the time, right? And they have started wars, like Iraq.

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      December 19, 2010 at 9:52 AM

      Terry,

      I think we should tell them what we believe. Jews and Christians are people of the book, those who followed the book properly will enter Jannah. However, in this world we must be nice to them as they are our neighbors, school teachers etc. Plus we represent Islam so we must be at our best behavior.

      Some parents do not encourage telling their children about the fate of Jews and Christians in akhira, but I had my children read the Qur’an with the meanings from the age of five, so by the time they turned eight they had read a lot about them in the Qur’an, which really helped them build an understanding towards them.

      hope it helps.

  18. Avatar

    africana

    December 17, 2010 at 6:47 PM

    Well, I think, generally speaking, Muslim parents will tell their children that thethe Jews and Christians, as people of scripture, follow revelations which, although originally from God have been changed through time. On account of this, there is some common ground and some difference.

    Many 8 year olds will also know that Christianity, as it stands, contains objectionable elememts like pagan customs (foremost , of course being Christmas) and ascribing partners to God.

  19. Avatar

    UmmAdam

    December 17, 2010 at 10:03 PM

    Wonderful article! Looking forward to the rest of the series, inshAllah.

    @ Terry Martin: I have an 8 year old son….if u asked him what he thought of Jews and Christians, he’d answer, “Tyler is Jewish and he’s my friend, and Christopher is Christian and he’s my friend.” Pretty plain and simple.

    On another note, in this holiday season, my children know “the truth” about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the rest of the folly that others follow. My innocent child’s reaction: “Why do their parents lie to them?”

    I think a big difference in the way Muslim children are raised vs. the way Christians and Jews are raised, is that we don’t “sugarcoat” things. It’s very important for our children to have a firm base in reality. I speak honestly with my children regarding life, death and the Hereafter. I do tell them that this world is temporary and that to God is our ultimate return.

  20. Avatar

    Hebah Ahmed

    December 18, 2010 at 2:32 PM

    Asalam ALikum we Rahmat Allah we barakatu,

    Masha Allah Umm Reem…excellent intro to your series…many personal experiences and thoughts that help bring the points home. Your story about your child’s allergic reaction broke my heart as a mother who constantly worries about my children. I realized that if anything ever did happen to my children, the thing that would cause me the most grief is if they did not seem prepared for their akirah and the thing that would give my heart the most comfort is if I believed they were well prepare and saved from any punishment after death.

    It seems to me that at this point and time, if you are not “swimming against the tide” in your parenting, you must be doing something wrong, cuz the tide is producing a sad state of affairs indeed.

    So glad tidings to the strange ones!!!!!

    Your advice is much needed and welcome with an open heart.

    Love you for the sake of Allah.

    Hebah

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      December 19, 2010 at 3:03 AM

      hebah, you need to share your parenting techniques with us, seriously. Please do help out here :)

      • Avatar

        Hebah Ahmed

        December 19, 2010 at 4:05 AM

        Masha Allah you have had more time to see the results of your methods! If you want to hash out aspects of your articles with me just let me know and I can give my thoughts. :) Just know that you have been my mentor and role model!

  21. Pingback: Swimming against the current | ninjabistyle

  22. Pingback: Parenting Series | Part I: Swimming Against The Current : MuslimMums

  23. Avatar

    Safia K R

    January 7, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    ASA

    I think this is such a to-the-point and practical article also relevant to all of us who are parents and especially of younger children. Please do keep us posted of your efforts so inshallah you can benefit from the knowledge and sharing.
    JKK

  24. Avatar

    Adil

    January 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    As Salaam Alikum Sister,

    It was indeed a good article and very true in sense.
    Understanding and following of Islam is very important to parents and parents can mould their children according to tenants of Islam.

  25. Avatar

    Umm

    March 21, 2013 at 12:26 AM

    Where’s the article? I only see the comments and a picture but no article. Please advise.

    Jzk,

  26. Avatar

    Ammena Tarannum

    December 12, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Another beneficial and important writing from you dear Umm Reem. I just love reading your posts. MashaAllah! JazakAllah! I am really worried about my son’s future who is 4 now. I fear his akhirah being spoiled by dunya’s perversion and corruption so much. May Allah guide our children and accept our efforts. Ameen. Ma-assalam.

  27. Avatar

    Umm Haneefah

    December 17, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    Assalamu alaykum Umm Reem,

    Jazakillahu khayran for this series of articles….it is what I have been waiting for! SubhanAllah. Can I have your email, I would like to discuss somethings with you or can you contact me.

    Jazakillahu khayran

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#Society

Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

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As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

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No-Nuptial Agreements: Maybe Next Time, Don’t Get Married

marriage
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 “Nikah is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me.”

–Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Narrated by Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her)

Many Muslims have experienced marriage, then suffered a subsequent divorce as a financial, emotional, and social meat grinder. Some critics have noted the divorce system seemingly exists primarily to benefit itself; the lawyers: mental health experts, investigators, forensic accountants.

They form an entire industry dedicated to extracting the wealth of a disintegrating family, often forcing the middle class or working class into poverty and bankruptcy. All of this happens without any noticeable benefit to society. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

For many, divorce happens multiple times. A divorced person who gets remarried is more likely to get divorced again.

While men often complain about how the “family court” system is against them, the reality is that women often bear the financial brunt of divorce. Divorce is more likely to drive women to bankruptcy than men.

After one or two divorces and a few lost years of retirement savings or a decade or more of home equity, another “marriage” starts to look downright irrational. My advice to such people: stop getting married, at least under state law. Get a nikah and a “no-nuptial agreement” instead. Allow me to explain.

Fun with Words

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about virtually anything unless we have a common understanding of the meaning of words we are using.

In law, even ordinary words have definitions that defy conventional understanding or even common sense. Basic familial terms like “son,” “daughter,” “father,” and “mother” have state law definitions that are different from what those words mean in Islam or our understanding. Under state law, “parents” can adopt adult “children” a similar age to them or even older, and have the same status as a biological child. In Islam, an adopted child is not the same as a biological child and does not have rights to inheritance in Islam.

In law, even words like “life” and “death” don’t always mean what you think they mean. A living person can go to court to dispute his death, demonstrate he is living, breathing, speaking, and everyone agrees he is the “dead person” in question, yet, he is ruled legally dead. Famously, corporations are legally people and are immortal.

Law is not the same thing as truth.

Similarly, it is folly to conflate nikah, the thing that exists in Islam, with marriage under state law. In different states, rules for who and under what circumstances people can get married can vary. One thing that all the state law definitions have in common is that they are not marriage in Islam.

What is Marriage?

For marriage, there is a state law definition, there is an Islamic definition, and there is the definition that the individual married couple has. Under state law, two men can be married to each other, but three men cannot be. In Islam, marriage (let’s call it nikah to be more precise) is a halal social and sexual relationship, and there are rules in the fiqh that are different from state law.

Under some state laws, “secret marriages” with no witnesses or publicly available registration are part of the law and commonly used. In Islam, there is a witness requirement for nikah. None of the rules in Islam require the state’s approval for nikah.

The third definition is how each couple sees their marriage. It is a flexible institution. To the extent it is an economic, social or familial partnership can vary widely. Couples may live together or apart. They may have one income or two.  They may share the same social circles or share none of them. The variations are endless.

Domestic Partnerships

For most of the history of legal marriage in the United States, marriage can only be between one man and one woman. States started allowing for “domestic partnerships” to give some “benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples, like employer health benefits and hospital visitation.

In many instances, these were available almost exclusively to same-sex couples, even after same-sex marriage became part of the law in all states. However, as of January 2020, California opened up domestic partnerships to everyone, including different-sex couples.

As a practical matter, domestic partnerships are simply state-sanctioned marriage by another name. It is notable though some jurisdictions may have limited domestic partnerships that are something less than marriage. In most states that have it, the same family law system, for good or ill, that comes with marriage under state law is also true of domestic partnerships.

While domestic partnership combined with a nikah is available to Muslims in states where it exists, there is no real advantage to using it.

No-Nuptial Agreements

For decades now, in the United States, there has been no taboo against men and women openly having sexual relationships with each other, living and raising families together outside marriage. Courts have long recognized these people should have contractual rights with each other.

When a man and women live together, those involved may be gaining something and giving something up. So if a man promises a woman something, and the agreement is not founded merely on sexual services, the state should enforce those promises, not in family court but civil court.

Marvin started it all

The principle case that established this is the California case of Marvin v. Marvin in 1976. A couple broke up, but the woman wanted to enforce promises made to her by the man. The man felt such a commitment should not be enforceable because, among other reasons, he was legally married to a completely different woman when this non-marital relationship started. Under California law, at the time (abolished by the time the case got to the court), this was criminal adultery.

No-nuptial agreements (sometimes called cohabitation agreements or Marvin agreements) can be used by couples when they want to have enforceable contracts but do not want to subject themselves to the family court system or the family code. They can include provisions of mahar, sharing expenses, equity as well as dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation.

The couple can also document limits on what they agreed to to what is in writing. For example, during a breakup, one party may be able to claim an oral promise the other party never made and potentially have it enforced in court. A written agreement protects both parties and the understanding they had when they entered into the relationship.

These agreements have a broad utility for many different kinds of couples. However, for some couples, the main benefit would be documentation that nobody is under the illusion that this is a marriage under state law. It is a private contract between two individuals.

Example of a No-Nuptial Agreement

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren. Both want to put their adult children at ease that this relationship does not exist for predatory financial reasons – a common fear when parents marry later in life.

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren.Click To Tweet

Salma and Sheher Ali do not plan to live together, which is common for couples their age. They mostly pay for their expenses themselves. They may spend the night at each other’s homes whenever they want but will split time with their separate children, grandchildren and social circles. Sheher Ali pays for joint vacations and outings. He agreed to a mahar. Both agree in writing they did not marry under state law.

Sheher Ali and Salma can still call each other husband and wife, since that is true for them and everyone they know. Both keep all of their finances separate, and each does their independent estate planning where they name each other as partial beneficiaries of their estates as required in Islam. The two also complete HIPAA forms allowing each to see the other’s private medical information and name each other in Advance Healthcare Directives so they can make healthcare decisions for each other.

Legal Strangers

Unmarried couples are “legal strangers.” Doctors won’t share healthcare information. Islamic spouses don’t get an inheritance from a no-nuptial agreement spouse by default. They don’t get things like tenancy by the entirety, community property, or elective shares in places where such things exist. As I described above, though, this can be remedied. However, as I described in the example above, the “legal stranger” aspect of the relationship may be more of a benefit than a downside in some cases.

Some “benefits” of marriage under state law are against Islamic principles.  For example, some state laws that provide for “elective shares” are diametrically opposed to the Quran’s share of inheritance.  Muslims must follow Islamic rules of inheritance anyway, which are different from default state rules, so being under state law is no special advantage. Even with proper planning, the downsides of the “legal stranger” problem still may come up in extraordinary contexts, however, such as lawsuits.

Immigration and Taxes

Another concern is that employee benefits to spouses and dependents don’t generally extend to those with no-nuptial agreements. Immigration law does not allow a path to the United States through the “family unification ” process for those with a no-nuptial contract. Marriage under state law (or the law of a foreign country recognized in the United States) may be the most practical solution in such cases.

In some cases, state-sanctioned marriage may lead to lower taxes. Other legally married couples may experience the so-called “marriage penalty” and pay higher taxes than couples with a no-nuptial agreement. Couples may often find they will pay less in taxes with a no-nuptial agreement than they would if they were married under state law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

One may wonder, to avoid the “meat grinder” of the family court system, why not just get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement? It’s accurate that in general, having such arrangements are superior to not having them. These agreements offer greater certainty, though by no means total confidence, on how a divorce would end. There are disadvantages to such an agreement over no-nuptial agreements, however. A big one is that divorce is still in the family court system.

Many Muslim men, especially immigrants, may perceive cultural biases cause a stacked deck against them in family court. The nature of these agreements may make this perception worse. Sometimes, courts treat prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with a presumption of coercion. It is different from an ordinary contract. The family court system is often free to be more paternalistic and make a husband prove he did not force his wife to sign a document.

The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which will be worded differently in the different states that adopted it, provides for a process to make these marital agreements harder to defeat. However, the process is perhaps arguably more expensive, cumbersome, and awkward for a couple than a no-nuptial contract. Talking about a prenuptial agreement with a fiancé may be more uncomfortable than bringing up a no-nuptial arrangement and nikah. Without a state-sanctioned marriage, a written agreement is essential. Many people perceive the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as both optional and, perhaps unfairly, as a sign of mistrust.

Custody and Child Support

Unfortunately, there is no agreement you can come up with that will pre-settle child support and custody. A judge will decide those things.

It does not matter if you have a “plain vanilla” marriage governed entirely by your state’s family code, a prenuptial agreement, or a no-nuptial agreement. Children are not parties to such a contract. No court anywhere will subject a child’s care and welfare to such things.

For custody and child support, courts in family court will use the sometimes hard to define standard of “best interests of the child.” One Massachusetts family law attorney in a popular divorce documentary cryptically joked that she called children in the system  “little bags of money.” They are often a significant reason family law cases are so profitable for lawyers, mental health professionals, investigators, and everyone else.

No Protection for Poor Life Choices

A good rule to follow is never to do nikah with a person capable of having children unless you are sure she or he can be trusted to raise your future children, and you have made peace with making child support payments to this individual if your relationship ends. If you have a child, you may be suck with a child support order. There is no getting out of this one.

As an Islamic estate planning lawyer, the most important advice I can ever give anyone is not to get a proper estate plan. It is not to get a good lawyer. Of course those things are good, indeed no-brainers, but they have limits. The most important advice is to choose a spouse wisely. If you fail here, there is no law, no lawyer or document in existence that can turn back the clock. A no-nuptial agreement may make a future breakup easier than a family court divorce. There is still no guarantee it won’t be a complete mess anyway. Good documents are never a substitute for poor life choices.

“The Law of the Land”

Islamic institutions like masajid are conservative don’t like taking needless risks, as they should be. Many will not officiate a nikah unless there is a marriage license. They usually will not officiate bigamous marriages, on account of it being illegal.  Of course bigamy, like marriage, has a specific legal definition under state law. One almost universal refrain is that as Muslims we need to follow “the law of the land.”

No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the 'law of the land.' It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is. Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam.Click To Tweet

But what if that term did not mean what you think it means? No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the “law of the land.” It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is.  Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam. Recently, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, a large masjid in the Los Angeles area, changed its nikah officiating policy. Instead of always requiring marriage certificates, they will also recognize no-nuptial agreements.

Masajid Should Welcome No-Nuptial Agreements

Masajid should have standardized policies and procedures in place. Every masjid should have carefully considered policies to protect the vulnerable and the institution. No masjid wants to open themselves up to a “drive-by nikah” or other nonsense. One policy may well include mandating a no-nuptial agreement when there is no marriage certificate. There is no reason to believe one protects people and institutions better than the other.

Nikah is a vital sunnah for us. It is not something that should be in the shadows, secret, or something shameful. It is fundamental to how we organize our families and communities. When it’s done right, it helps us strengthen our iman, bring us closer to our communities and our loved ones. State definitions of words should not always be your guide to right and wrong.

It is appropriate that Muslims want to do the sunnah of nikah at the masjid, publicly and with friends and family watching.  We should recognize and celebrate every new couple that has done a nikah in our communities. Never mind the state has not sanctioned it.

The state statute book has its definition, we have ours.

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The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

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Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

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