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Child + Teacher + Parent = Quran Lessons

Hena Zuberi

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Cold, sitting on a wet rock, he would wait outside his teacher’s door for hours, waiting for him to come out so he could ask him a question. That was Imam Malik as a child, whose hunger for learning kept him there and respect for his shaykh deterred him from knocking on his door lest he disturbed him. That was a time when teachers of Quran were held in such high esteem. Unfortunately now the roles are reversed and we find teachers chasing students, calling them and waiting while they find their hijab, make wudu or drag their feet to Quran class. They get the eye roll when the students are stopped if making a mistake.  The empty stares, moms bribing kids to read one more page, mushafs are left in the car only to be hastily looked at for a few minutes before class. The same mistakes of madd, over and over again.

“The best of you are those who learn the Quran and teach it to others.”

Despite this hadith being so familiar to most of us, I can not tell you how many times I have heard a Quran teacher being referred to in derogatory terms – in some Muslim countries they are treated like servants, worse that the children’s nanny. If you don’t respect them personally than please respect the Kalam of Allah that they teach and give them honor based solely on the majesty of what they teach: the Quran.

The following is advice that Amir Al-Mu’mineen, Ali bin Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, gave: “From the rights of the learned over you is that you do not ask too many questions, you do not divulge his secrets, you do not backbite about him to anyone, you do not look for error in him, if he made a mistake you accept his excuse. It is incumbent upon you to respect and magnify him as long as he keeps Allah’s orders; you should not sit in front of him; if he has a need the people should race to serve him.”

In a hadith related by At-Tirmithi the Messenger of Allah, (saw) said, “He is not of us who does not respect our elderly, is merciful to our youth, and knows the rights of those who teach us.”

Quran lessons are a combination of effort on behalf of the children, the teachers and the parents. Many of us have played one of these roles, I have played all three. I feel many times the teacher, the child or the parent want to say the following things to each other but don’t out of humility, cultural taboos, or just can’t be bothered. Hope this will spark some very important conversations.

What a Quran teacher wishes s/he could say to the parents:

  1. We are human beings and your child’s teachers, please accord us more respect or at least the same that you would give to you child’s secular teachers.
  2. If you are paying us, please treat it like any other bill and pay us promptly – we would not charge for this noble cause unless our homes did not run on this money.
  3. Please be punctual – value our time, especially when we teach without payment as it is usually time we take away from our own families.
  4. Inform us in advance if you are canceling the class.
  5. Have the students use the bathroom and make wudu before lesson time as valuable time is wasted.
  6. Have your child dress appropriately for Quran class – the adab is head/satr covered, no faces or bad language on clothing.
  7. Please teach your children to respect us – if you call us names at home they will internalize this attitude, too.
  8. Revise the lesson at home especially if your child only comes a few times a week.
  9. If we have moved them back from one lesson to another it is usually because they haven’t completely learned the skills in that particular lesson.
  10. Don’t be offended or take it personally if your child is not performing well and we talk to you about it – we have their best interests at heart.
  11. If you are unhappy about anything please talk to us without your child present – it weakens our authority when your child knows that you do not respect us.
  12. Many parents question why the child is spending so much time on the “Qaidah” or “Yassarnal Quran.” Let the teacher spend the time required to learn the foundations, if the makharij are messed up then it takes a lot of work to fix them at a later stage.

Since I am not a hifidh teacher, I asked what one would say to parents: These are thoughts of a hifdh teacher:

  1. Please don’t tell me how to do my job…Memorizing a few surahs is not the same as memorizing the whole Quran.
  2. I am a teacher, not a miracle worker.
  3. Don’t enforce your selfish expectations on your children. Accept them for who they are and I guarantee they will perform better.
  4. Please do this for the sake of Allah and not as a status symbol. You’re affecting your child’s education in ways you do not know.
  5. Your child will not die because he has the sniffles…Don’t make him miss days unnecessarily.
  6. If you don’t make sure they learn their lesson at night…..you can’t expect them to become hafidh.
  7. Do not make long term plans, they do not work…make short term realistic plans.
  8. Please do exactly as I tell you, or else don’t blame me when things are not going well.
  9. I love my students very much and we have a very deep bond…that is why I am hard on them; not because I have a bad temper.

What a child wishes s/he could tell their Quran teacher:

  1. Please do not hit me if I do not know my lesson.
  2. Smell good it is hard to learn when the teacher doesn’t smell good.
  3. Tell me if I did a good job – it motivates me.
  4. Please do not humiliate me in front of the whole class.
  5. Urge me to read more even if I am being lazy, sometimes I just need an extra push.
  6. Please do not take me back all the way to the beginning of the Qaidah or Quran if I have already done it – it is so discouraging – maybe you can review the past lessons AND give me new lessons too.
  7. Tell me your rules upfront because every teacher is different and sometimes I may do something because my previous teachers let me.

To be fair and since I am a parent, I realize that there are all sorts of teachers – some good, some great and some…let’s not go there. When looking for a person to teach Quran to your child check and make sure the teacher has proper tajweed. A good Quran teacher will not mind if you ask them to recite some verses to you or to someone who knows proper qiraat before choosing your child’s teacher.  This shows that you are serious about your child’s learning. Ask for references especially from parents in the locality. Ask if they teach individually or in a class format.

What a parent wishes the Quran teacher knew:

  1. Please do not hit my child to enforce a lesson – they will start hating coming to your class and in turn have horrible memories associated with learning the beautiful book of Allah.
  2. Please give my child proper attention and inculcate the love of Allah’s Book by being kind and gentle with them.
  3. Keep us in the loop – let me know if my child is being rude or not performing properly.
  4. As a parent I know my child better – please listen to our input about their learning styles or issues.
  5. Encourage my child and reward him/her with positive feedback  especially when they did well or learnt their lesson properly.
  6. Let us know in advance if you are canceling a class.
  7. Please be sincere and do not treat this like a money-making scheme.

We would like to make a resource for our brothers and sisters looking for qualified Quran teachers for thier children. So if you have had a great teacher and would like to pay homage to them or refer a wonderful Quran teacher please leave their name or their school’s name contact # ( with their permission) and location. May Allah (SWT) make it a sadaqah jahriah for you.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Zuleyka

    December 16, 2010 at 12:32 AM

    I believe there are lots of good teachers out there to teach Quran but I wish for my kids to be taught on this by their father :-)

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      December 17, 2010 at 5:51 PM

      salaams, Sister Zuleykha,
      That is wonderful that your husband can teach quran to your children. MashaAllah!

      I taught my eldest daughter and she was an easy student. But I starting having such a hard time with my second daughter- they have such different learning styles. I started losing my temper with her and felt I wasn’t following the advice I was giving so I started taking her to a teacher. MashaAllah, we have been blessed to have someone, who my children can look up to as a role model, they love going there and are enriched from the environment of a proper hifdh school.

      I think when we teach our own kids we have such high, unrealistic expectations of them.

  2. Avatar

    Arif Kabir

    December 16, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    Very pertinent article – JazākumAllahu Khayran for sharing.

    As someone who went through the Hifzh Program and later on became a Hifdh and Qur’an teacher during the summer and weekends, I can attest to many of the points that were brought up.

    Parents need to understand that it is their encouragement and diligence with the child that keeps him going more than anything else. Parents need to make sure no distractions get in the way, such as parties, excessive playing times, etc.

    Teachers need to understand that students do indeed take their subject material very seriously and that it may be easy to fail a child with a mere uttering of “Fail”, but that it psychologically hurts the child and the whole family once the news hits home.

    Students need to realize that their teachers have left their secular careers to teach them the Qur’an, and that parents are sacrificing a lot of time, energy, and wealth on their children, so they should be appreciative towards both and try to reciprocate it by doing well in school.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      December 17, 2010 at 5:55 PM

      Alhamdulillah- one of the most pressing we face in our weekend school is whether to teach the whole class one lesson or read individually with each child. How do you teach brother?

      • Avatar

        muhammad tariq

        January 12, 2011 at 10:18 PM

        “quran teacher”

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      • Avatar

        abdirahman

        January 30, 2014 at 4:45 PM

        I found this post really late but it’s written quite wonderfully! Maashaa Allaah.

        That is a great question and it would be great to get input from other teachers on how they approach this question. I’ve been teaching for two years now with the individual approach where each student reads their assigned portion of their new lesson or the review to me individually. I’ve been considering changing my method and having the class go as a group so I can focus more on pronunciation. If we read as a class, then I don’t have to rely on students reading at home because unfortunately many students simply don’t read at home. What do the other Quran teachers out there have to say about this?

  3. Avatar

    John Smith

    December 16, 2010 at 2:27 AM

    OH WOW, great article HENA!! YOU ARE AMAZING!!

  4. Avatar

    Asma

    December 16, 2010 at 4:17 AM

    Assalamu ‘alaykum:

    MashaAllah! A very thorough piece that I am sure hits home on many fronts. I appreciate the breakdown (point by point) of issues according to the roles of the various particpants that are involved in the Qur’an learning process.

    I just wanted to point out that the process of evaluating a Qur’an teacher according to your method is not always easy. You stated:

    When looking for a person to teach Quran to your child check and make sure the teacher has proper tajweed. A good Quran teacher will not mind if you ask them to recite some verses to you or to someone who knows proper qiraat before choosing your child’s teacher. This shows that you are serious about your child’s learning. Ask for references especially from parents in the locality.

    The problem is that in some parts of the world there are parents who do not know much Qur’an but want to get their children to learn it. Such parents do not have a means of evaluating the Qur’an teacher’s tajweed.

    Once again, excellent article! May Allah reward you for this clear reminder you have shared and may it’s message be a means of positive change for all Muslims.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      December 17, 2010 at 7:07 PM

      You are right- that is the sad state that the Ummah is in. But things are changing.

      If parents don’t know proper tajweed, they need to find someone who does- its like if I was finding a math tutor for my kid for trig and I don’t know a hypotenuse from a tangent, I would not hire the first 15 year old on my block- I would research find a appropriate center or tutor, look at their track record- ask for references but with Quran some of us just find an aunti who wears hijab and are satisfied that our kids are learning how to read.

      I think our masajid also need to step up and do some referring especially if they do not have someone who teaches on the premises.

      And we need to develop resources= maybe a Quran teacher directory with ratings?

  5. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    December 17, 2010 at 5:13 AM

    This was an excellent, excellent article Hena!
    Barak Allahu feeki. May Allah reward you with immense good for writing up such a great article that covers a core issue from all angles and viewpoints. :)
    May Allah make your children from the اهل القرأن. Ameen.

  6. Umm Reem

    Umm Reem

    December 17, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    great post hena, mashaAllah…great post indeed!

  7. Avatar

    Holly Garza

    December 17, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    MashaAllah I love the points of view from different angles. Very well written.

  8. Avatar

    UmmNoorUddeen

    December 17, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    AsSalamualaikum waRahmatullahi wabarakatuh

    i am a quran teacher myself by the permission of Allah and i agree with all of the points you have made Alhamdulillah. jazzakaAllahu kairun

  9. Hena Zuberi

    Hena Zuberi

    December 17, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    I am going to start by referring two great Quran teachers in my locality (north of Los Angeles)- May Allah SWT grant them the highest maqaam in Jannah.

    Sister Ambereen 661-299-5810

    Mufti Ibrahim Qureishi
    Alkauthar Academy

  10. Avatar

    Saifullah786

    December 17, 2010 at 10:37 PM

    Assalaamuwalayakum

    it’s nice to have this type of incite. i’m not a quran teacher, but i used to teach sunday school but had to quit for various reasons. as a sunday school teacher, i was required to teach the very basics of islam. i would always have problems with behavior. only being in high school and not having any experience with children 10 years younger than me, i didn’t know how to handle them. some of the parents would just leave their children at the masjid like we were their babysitters and expect us to “control” them. another problem was getting in contact with some of the parents. sometimes the parents didn’t bother speaking with the teacher and sometimes teachers just gave up on contacting the parents.

    anyway, one of the biggest problems at our sunday school was the lack of proper quran teachers. there were only two brothers and one sister that would try to teach the whole school (about 100 students +). i want our sunday school to improve, but i don’t know what else we can do. it’s so hard to get teachers to volunteer. and with sunday school only being once a week, students suppose to get most of their learning and studying done at home, which doesn’t really happen.

    jazakallahu khair for the points. those are some really good ways to approach problems that students/teachers/parents may be having.

  11. Avatar

    Nihal Khan

    December 18, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    MashaAllah, great post! I agree and promote this article. As a hifdh teacher I find this process VERY beneficial. A hafidh knows that this is the EXACT relationship (Student, Teacher, and Parent) which is needed to get your hifdh done.

    There was only one point which I slightly disagree on (depending on what situation and school the child is memorizing in):

    – Sometimes a student needs to be taken back to the Noorani Qaidah because it is where one’s foundation begins. The students needs to be told to empty their cup when they want to memorize and should spent a few weeks on the Qaidah as it will solidify their makharij and tajweed (I believe it is very important for the student to have studied some tajweed and makhraj before memorizing). But then again, with systems of learning the Qur’an such as Ustadh Wisam Sharieff’s course is a very productive way of learning w/o having to put in the unnecessary strain which kids end up putting in when doing hifdh.

    EXCELLENT post. Jazakillahu khair Sr. Hena.

  12. Avatar

    Hebah Ahmed

    December 18, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    Jazak Allahu Khair Sr. Hena! Great topic written by someone obviously well aquainted with the Quranic learning triad. :)

    I think underlying all of the advice in your article is the very important point of actually pushing ourselves (in effort and money) to raise children who are memorizers of the Quran. Once we make that committment, Insha’Allah our children will mimic us in this prioritization and will thereby respect the process as well.

    I truly believe children take on the values of their parents. When they see their parents picking and choosing Islamic values and rules, expecting things of their children they do not expect of themselves, the children will also pick and choose, and usually not the same choices as their parents. On the other hand, when they see their parents consistently reading and memorizing Quran, respecting those with more knowledge and seeking that knowledge, and not compromising on the Islamic way of life no matter who they are with, then they will automatically do the same Insha Allah.

    Jazak ALlahu Khair for giving us the tools to improve the process and give us hope that our children can aspire to the same degree of Islamic knowlede as they strive for in secular knowledge.

  13. Avatar

    Kashif Naseem Dilkusha

    December 19, 2010 at 12:36 AM

    Assalamoalaikum

    Masha ALLAH, very well written article. I believe these thoughts should be posted in our quran schools and should be shared with parents and teachers.

  14. Avatar

    readquranonline

    December 19, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    To give children knowledge is one thing we can do and another is to teach them what their religion says. http://www.readquranonline.net/ is a great place to enroll your kids for all types of Quranic studies. Having a one on one Quran tutor being available 24/7 when you need them comes in handy.

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      January 26, 2011 at 2:35 AM

      I don’t know if online quran reading is really the answer especially for little children who need face to face instruction. There are so many online quran schools now- maybe another post is due.

      • Avatar

        kamran mirza

        May 19, 2012 at 12:08 PM

        well sister Hena i have don research on that as well like there are negative and positive aspects of on both end like if going to a Mosq the kids read quran in groups most of the Mosqs teachers just give them one or 2 lined and ask all of them to read it like 20 times or as many as they could without seeing that the kid is even actually looking or reading it with our looking and like a kind of memorizing without knowing that what written in front of the kid and after like 1 para or so the kid stops because it becomes heard from him to memorize it and some of the kids if they do not learn there lesson they are not taken separately or said that to read again there lessons they are given the new lesson and if any body asks to them of read to me from 2 pages back they have for gotten all

        on the other hand the online institutes have one teacher per one kid so the lessons are focused and prepared differently for each kid according to there nature the lesson which is given is tough constantly by teacher by him reading and the kid repeating after him and certain question like what is on the top of ra , kaf meem and i am on which word move your mouse where we are reading or even asking about the colors and having a cam interaction on both site so they can view each other make it more effective along in the next class the listening of previous lessons and a weekly test of the lessons that the kids have read makes it more intact that what is the process of kids learning the Quran and what extra efforts can be pulled upon to improve the kids ability and with the parents having kids in front of there eyes makes it more approachable

        http://www.learningquranonline.com

  15. Avatar

    kamran

    February 24, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    This is really interesting article. I have found really great stuff over here\par:http://www.afhamulquran.co

  16. Avatar

    kamran

    February 28, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    this is interesting article .i have found really great stuff ovre here/ par;

  17. Avatar

    kamran

    March 1, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    this is interesting article .

  18. Avatar

    Quran

    May 25, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    MashaAllah your post is very effective, specially useful for those who want their children to learn Quran education from some institute or at home tutor.Our site http://www.quranreading.com gives online tutoring program which provides the clients the comfort of their home. They can learn Quran online with our experienced tutors.

  19. Avatar

    Learn Quran Online

    June 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    My Quran Lesson is an easy way for you and your kids to learn the Holy Quran. All you need is a PC, headset with a microphone and a broadband internet connection.

  20. Avatar

    Mark

    March 15, 2013 at 6:14 AM

    Online education is not a new concept. There are hundreds
    of universities, colleges and entities who are providing
    online Quran education. Hundreds of adults and children
    have successfully learned to read Quran from our qualified
    live tutors. Parents have been pleased with this service and tutors

  21. Avatar

    Hassaan Ahmad

    November 14, 2013 at 4:24 AM

    Splendid article! I really appreciate you for writing this wonderful article. I’m also a Quran teacher and I teach my students with encouragement and give them confidence. I treat them with respect and sprinkle some interesting Islamic stories once or twice a week, which develops more interest in learning and they don’t feel any sort of burden. I give respect and teach them kindly and provide them a comfortable environment which helps them to learn more effectively.

    It’s not only about teaching. It’s about character building. Teachers and parents are role model for kids. Kids imitate elders. If we treat them nicely and teach them the right way they’ll do the same and it will lead them to built a great character. Moreover, it will help you to play a vital role in society.

  22. Avatar

    mummyjaan@gmail.com

    February 26, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    This is an old post and I happened to come across it while doing a search about online Quran tuitions.

    I must say that I am *stunned* with the references to hitting; does it even happen anymore? I remember about 30 years ago hearing about cousins whose “Quran teacher” would arrive with a stick in his hand – he didn’t use it as far as I know.

    Isn’t it time the “fear factor” was permanently put in the bin with respect to religious education – or any education, for that matter?

    In this century, does a child or a parent actually need to say something like, “Please do not hit me/my child if I don’t know my lesson”? Surely we’ve moved on from these kind of attitudes?

  23. Avatar

    readyforex2013

    March 3, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    Got a brilliant platform of Quran learning for kids at http://www.schoolquran.com/Quran-Learning-For-Kids.php

  24. Avatar

    Abdulrahman Abdullahi

    February 2, 2016 at 2:02 AM

    Assalamualaikum…
    Masha-Allah very beneficial article.

  25. Avatar

    Usman Ben

    June 4, 2016 at 5:40 AM

    This is a unique article which explain everything someone need to know.
    You can also learn more from here https://www.holyquranclasses.com/

  26. Avatar

    Muhammad Masood

    July 25, 2016 at 1:09 PM

    i am teaching online Holy Quran.Holy Quran read with us

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#Life

Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

Ammar Al Shukry

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students

I remember driving to college orientation over the summer with my father, may Allah have mercy on him. I was going to be going to school out of state, and at the age of eighteen, this was the first time that I would be living away from home. 

We talked about a lot of things, and nothing in particular but one of the stories he shared stayed with me. There was an Imam who had a close circle of students and one of them became absent for an extended period. Upon that student’s return, the Imam asked him where he had been, to which the student replied, 

“Egypt!” The imam said to him, “well how was Egypt!” 

The student replied, “Egypt is where knowledge resides.” 

The Imam responded, “You’ve spoken the truth.” 

Sometime later, the imam had another student who also was absent and upon his return, the Imam asked him where he had gone to which the student replied, “Egypt!” The imam said to him, “Well, how was Egypt?”

The student said, “Egypt is nothing but amusement and play!” 

The Imam responded, ‘You’ve spoken the truth!” 

There were students who had witnessed both conversations and asked the Imam later why he had borne witness to the truth of two antithetical statements to which the imam replied,

“They both found what they were looking for.” 

I got the message. University could be a place of incredible learning, engagement with ideas, and can push you and challenge you in the best of ways. It can also be a non-stop party. A blur of heedlessness and hedonism that will bring about remorse and regret for that individual in the Dunya and Akhira. 

I think back to that car ride fondly, and I appreciate the predicament of parting advice. A person who will be bidding farewell to someone so dear to them and wanting to give them something powerful that they can hold onto or wisdom that will guide them. Many students in the past weeks have been receiving similar parting advice from their families, and so in this article I wanted to share one of the advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he gave to a companion that he loved so much. 

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ جُنْدَبِ بْنِ جُنَادَةَ، وَأَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم قَالَ: “اتَّقِ اللَّهَ حَيْثُمَا كُنْت، وَأَتْبِعْ السَّيِّئَةَ الْحَسَنَةَ تَمْحُهَا، وَخَالِقْ النَّاسَ بِخُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ”

رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ [رقم:1987] وَقَالَ: حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ، وَفِي بَعْضِ النُّسَخِ: حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ. 

On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junadah, and Abu Abdur-Rahman Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said

“Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are, and follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it, and treat people with good character.” (Tirmidhi)

The advice is comprised of three components

  1. Fear Allah wherever you are 
  2. Follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it 
  3. Treat people with good character 

Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are 

Taqwa is the crown of the believer. And it is the best thing that a person can carry with them on the journey of this life, and the journey to meet their Lord. Allah says, 

“And take provision, and the best provision is Taqwa.” 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ أَكْثَرِ مَا يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَقْوَى اللَّهِ وَحُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ ‏”‏ ‏

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked as to what admits people into Paradise the most and he said, “Taqwa and good character.” (Tirmidhi) 

And so what is Taqwa?

Talq ibn Habeeb gave a beautiful definition and description of Taqwa when he said, 

“Taqwa is to act in obedience to Allah, upon a light from Allah, seeking the reward of Allah. And it is to avoid the disobedience of Allah, upon a light from Allah, fearing the punishment of Allah.” 

And so he describes taqwa as having three components; the action, the source for that action, and the motivation for that action.”

To act in the obedience of Allah..

To do the things that Allah commands you to do and to stay away from what Allah prohibits you from doing 

Upon a light from Allah..

The source for the action or inaction must come from revelation, a light from Allah. And this should stir us to seek knowledge so that our actions are onem guided by a light from Allah. You’ve made it to University, you are bright, gifted, intelligent and committed to education.  Do not let be the one thing that you remain uneducated about be your religion. 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, 

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِراً مِّنَ ٱلْحَيَاةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ ٱلآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware. (Al-Room v. 7) 

The prophet (S) said, “Allah hates every expert in the Dunya who is ignorant of the hereafter.” (Saheeh Al-Jaami’)

Make sure that you carve out time to attend halaqas on campus, seek out teachers and mentors who will guide you in learning about your religion even as you are pursuing your secular studies..

Seeking the reward of Allah..

The third component of Taqwa is the motivation:  that these actions that are being performed and that are sourced authentically in revelation must be performed for the sake of Allah, seeking His reward, and not for any other audience. That they not be done for shares, or likes or retweets. That a person does what they do of worship, that they abstain from what they abstain from of sin, seeking the reward of Allah and fearing His punishment. 

Fear Allah wherever you are..

Meaning in public and in private, online or offline, and when in the company of the righteous as well as when in the company of the wicked, in all circumstances a person must be mindful of the presence of Allah..

 عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّهُ قَالَ : ( لأَعْلَمَنَّ أَقْوَامًا مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَأْتُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ بِحَسَنَاتٍ أَمْثَالِ جِبَالِ تِهَامَةَ بِيضًا فَيَجْعَلُهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ هَبَاءً مَنْثُورًا ) قَالَ ثَوْبَانُ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صِفْهُمْ لَنَا ، جَلِّهِمْ لَنَا أَنْ لاَ نَكُونَ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لاَ نَعْلَمُ ، قَالَ : ( أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ إِخْوَانُكُمْ وَمِنْ جِلْدَتِكُمْ وَيَأْخُذُونَ مِنَ اللَّيْلِ كَمَا تَأْخُذُونَ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ أَقْوَامٌ إِذَا خَلَوْا بِمَحَارِمِ اللَّهِ انْتَهَكُوهَا

It was narrated from Thawban that the Prophet ﷺ said:

“I certainly know people of my nation who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawban said: “O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.” He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they are people who, when they are alone with what Allah has prohibited, they violate it.” 

This hadeeth is a warning for the person who is quick, eager and ready to violate the limits of Allah as soon as the door is locked, or the curtains or drawn, or as soon as they have arrived in a new place where no one knows them. We will sin, but let our sins be sins of weakness or lapses of taqwa and not sins of predetermination and design. There is a big difference between someone who sins in a moment’s temptation and the one who is planning to sin for hours, days or weeks! 

And follow a good deed with a bad deed it will erase it..

When we fall, as we must inevitably due to our being human, the prophet (S) instructed us to follow a sin with a good deed to erase it. 

Commit a sin, give charity. 

Commit a sin, perform wudhu as beautifully as you can and pray two rak’ahs. 

Commit a sin, seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent…

Our sins should not suffocate us from doing good deeds, they should fuel us to doing good deeds. 

Allah says,

وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلاَةَ طَرَفَيِ ٱلنَّهَارِ وَزُلَفاً مِّنَ ٱلَّيْلِ إِنَّ ٱلْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ ٱلسَّـيِّئَاتِ ذٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember. (Surat Hood v. 114) 

A man from the Ansar was alone with a woman and he did everything with her short of fornication. In remorse, he went to the prophet (S) and confessed to him. Umar said to the man, “Allah had concealed your sins, why didn’t you conceal it yourself!” The prophet (S) however was silent.

The man eventually left and the prophet (S) had a messenger go to him to recite the aforementioned verse.  A man said, “Oh Messenger of Allah is it for him alone?”

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “No for all people.” 

And so for all people, sin plus good deed equals the sin is erased. That is a formula to be inscribed in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Al-Hassan Al-Basri, the master preacher of the Tabi’een was asked,

“Should one of us not be ashamed of our Lord, we seek forgiveness from our Lord and then return to sin, and then seek forgiveness and then return!” 

He said,

“Shaytan would love to conquer you with that (notion), do not grow tired of seeking forgiveness”

But know that these sins that are erased by good deeds are the minor sins, as for the major sins they require repentance for the many verses in which Allah threatens punishment for those who commit major sins if they do not repent, and so repentance is a condition for the erasing of the effect of major sins. 

And treat people with good character 

And if Taqwa is the crown of the believer, then good character is the crown of Taqwa, for many people think that taqwa is to fulfill the rights of Allah without fulfilling the rights of His creation! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in many hadith highlights the lofty stations that a believer attains with good character, for example: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، رَحِمَهَا اللَّهُ قَالَتْ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لَيُدْرِكُ بِحُسْنِ خُلُقِهِ دَرَجَةَ الصَّائِمِ الْقَائِمِ

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Tirmidhi)

عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَا مِنْ شَيْءٍ يُوضَعُ فِي الْمِيزَانِ أَثْقَلُ مِنْ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ وَإِنَّ صَاحِبَ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ لَيَبْلُغُ بِهِ دَرَجَةَ صَاحِبِ الصَّوْمِ وَالصَّلاَةِ 

Abu Ad-Darda narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said:

“Nothing is placed on the Scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.” (Tirmidhi)

Let no one beat you to the taqwa of Allah and let no one beat you to beautiful character. 

You’ve come of age at a time in which the majority of our interactions are online, and in that world harshness and cruelty are low hanging fruit seemingly devoid of consequences. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Whoever lives in the deserts becomes harsh.” (Abu Dawood) 

And social media is a desert, it is an experience where we are all alone, together. 

So choose gentleness over harshness, choose forgiveness over vindictiveness, choose truth over falsehood and protect people from your harm. 

For the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “I am a guarantor of a house in the highest part of Jannah for whoever makes their character good.” 

May Allah make us from them. 

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Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview

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islamic online high school

He squirmed in his seat as his Middle East history professor–yet again–made a subtle jab about Islam, this time about the jizyah.  This professor claimed to be pro-Arab and pro-Islam and was part of a university department that touted itself for presenting history and narratives that are typically left out of the West’s Eurocentric social studies sequence. Still, she would subjectively only present an Orientalist interpretation of Islam. Ahmad* sighed. He felt bad just thinking about what all his classmates at this esteemed university thought about Islam and Muslims. He was also worried about fellow Muslims in his class who had not grown up in a practicing household-what if they believed her? He hated how she was using her position as the “sage” in the room to present her bias as absolute truth. As for himself, he knew deep down in his bones that what his professor was alleging just could not be true. His fitrah was protesting her coy smile as she knowingly agitated the few Muslims in her class of one-hundred-fifty. Yet, Ahmad had never studied such topics growing up and felt all his years of secondary education left him ill-equipped as a freshman in college. He tried to search for answers to her false accusations after class and approached her later during office hours, but she just laughed him off as a backward, orthodox Muslim who had obviously been brainwashed into believing the “fairy tale version” of Islam. 

***

Asiyah* graduated as class valedictorian of her Islamic school. She loved Biology and Physics and planned to major in Engineering at a top-notch program. While both family, friends, and peers were proud of her (some maybe even wishing they were in her shoes), they had no idea of the bitter inner struggle that was eating away at her, tearing her up from the inside out. Her crisis of faith shook her to the core and her parents were at their wits’ end. While she prayed all her prayers and even properly donned her hijab, deep down she felt……..sort of….……atheist.  Physics was her life–her complete being. She loved how the numbers just added up and everything could be empirically proven. But this led to her greatest anguish: how could certain miraculous events during the time of the Blessed Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have occurred? How could she believe in events that were physically and scientifically impossible?  She felt like an empty body performing the rituals of Islam.

*names changed

***

An Unwelcome Surprise

Islam is a way of life. Its principles operate in every avenue of one’s life. However, English, History, Science and Mathematics are often taught as if they are beyond the scope of Islam. It is commonly assumed that moral teaching happens, or should happen, only in the Islamic Studies class. Yet, if we compare what is being taught in the Islamic Studies class with what is being taught consciously or unconsciously in other classes, an unwelcome surprise awaits us. Examining typical reading material in English classes, for example, reveals that too much of the material is actually going against Islamic norms and principles. Some of the most prominent problems with traditional English literature (which directly clash with Islamic moral and ethical principles) include: the mockery of God and religion, the promotion of rebellion against parents and traditional family values, the normalization of immoral conduct such as lying and rude behavior, and the condoning of inappropriate cross-gender interactions. Additionally, positive references about Islamic culture are either nonexistent or rare. Toxic themes of secularism, atheism, materialism, liberalism, and agnosticism are constantly bombarding our young Muslim students, thus shaping the way in which they view and interact with the world.

Corrective Lens: The Worldview of Islam

We need our children to develop an Islamic worldview, one that provides a framework for Muslims to understand their world from the perspective of the Qur’an.  It is impossible for the Islamic Studies classes alone to successfully teach Islamic behavior and nurture moral commitment unless the other classes also reflect the Islamic worldview- an outlook that emphasizes the idea that all our actions should be focused on pleasing Allah and doing good for ourselves and others. Therefore, the majority of what is taught in all academic disciplines should be based on Islamic values, aiming to improve the life of the student by promoting sublime ethical conduct. The unfortunate reality is quite the opposite: a typical child in a school in the West spends a minimum of 576 periods (16 periods of core classes/week * 4 weeks/month * 9 months) of classroom instruction annually on academic subjects that are devoid of Islam and contain minimal teaching of morality that aligns with Islamic principles. How much Islam a child learns depends on whether their parents choose Sunday school, Islamic schools, and/or other forms of supplementation to provide religious knowledge. However, rarely does that supplemental instruction undo the thousands of hours of the atheistic worldview that children soak in by the time they finish high school through the study of secular subjects. By not having an Islamic worldview and not having Muslims’ heritage and contributions to humanity infused into the teaching of academic subjects, we witness the problems experienced by the likes of Ahmad* and Asiyah*–problems that plague modern Muslim youth.

Identifying the Unlikely Suspect

This realization is perhaps the missing piece in the puzzle when it comes to our bewilderment: how are large swaths of youth from some of the kindest, sweetest, practicing Muslim families going astray and getting confused? When we shepherd our flock and find one or more of our “sheep” lost and off the beaten path, we think of the likely suspects, which include negative influences from peers, family, movies, social media, etc. We may even blame the lack of inspiring role models. We are less likely to suspect that the very literature that our children are consuming day in and day out through our well-intentioned efforts to make them “educated” and “sophisticated” could cause them to question Islam or fall into moral abyss.

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”

Islamic Infusion in Academic Study as a Solution

There have been efforts across the globe to infuse Islam into academic study of worldly subjects. Universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia(IIUM), which has a dedicated “Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS),” is an example. At the secondary school level, most brick and mortar Islamic schools do offer Arabic, Qur’an, and Islamic studies; however, few Muslim teachers are trained in how to teach core academic subjects using principles of Islamic pedagogy.

How exactly can educators infuse an Islamic perspective into their teaching? And how can Muslim children have access to high quality education from the worldview of Islam, taught by talented and dynamic educators?

Infusing Islam & Muslim Heritage in Core Academic Subjects, According to the Experts:

  • Dr. Nadeem Memon, professor of Islamic pedagogy, states that for a pedagogy to be Islamic, it should not contradict the aims, objectives and ethics contained in revelation (Qur’an) and should closely reflect an Islamic ethos that is based on revelation, the sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh), and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. It should also effectively develop the student’s intelligence (`aql), faith (iman), morality and character (khuluq), knowledge and practice of personal religious obligations (fard ain) and knowledge, skills and physical abilities warranted by worldly responsibilities and duties (Ajem, Ramzy and Nadeem Memon, “Prophetic Pedagogy: Teaching ‘Islamically’ in our Classrooms”)
  • Dr. Susan Douglass, expert in Social Studies, promotes a panoramic study of the world by global eras–emphasizing the interdependence of nations–rather than an isolationist civilizations approach (which in Western societies focuses only on Western civilization). Such study includes Islamic history and Muslims’ contributions to humanity throughout the ages.
  • Dr. Freda Shamma, pioneer in promoting culturally inclusive and ethical literature, emphasizes that English classes should carefully select literature aligned with Islamic moral values and include works by both Western authors and those from other cultures, i.e. literature that 1-features Muslim main characters and 2- is authored by Muslims.
  • Dr. Nur Jannah Hassan at CENTRIS, stresses that Science classes should be designed to awaken the student’s mind, to inspire a complete awe of and servitude towards the Creator and Sustainer, to instill the purpose of creation, vicegerency and stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants, to enable students to decipher God’s Signs in nature and in the self, to infuse responsibility in sustaining balance and accountability, and should include Muslims’ legacy in the field.
  • Dr. Reema alNizami, specialist in Math Education, advocates that Math classes should instill creative thinking, systematic problem solving and an appreciation of balance; include a survey of Muslims’ contributions to the field; and utilize word problems that encourage charitable and ethical financial practices.

Technology Enables Access to Islamically Infused Schooling for grades 6-12

Technology has now enabled this Islamic infusion for middle schools and secondary schools to become a reality on a global scale, alhamdulillah. Legacy International Online High School, a college preparatory, online Islamic school serving grades 6-12, whose mission is “Cultivating Compassionate Global Leaders”, offers all academic subjects from the Islamic worldview. Pioneered by leading Muslim educators from around the globe with background in Islamic pedagogy and digital learning, Legacy is the first of its kind online platform that is accessible to:

  • homeschooling families seeking full-time, rigorous, Islamically infused classes
  • Public school families looking for a part-time Islamic studies or Arabic sequence
  • Islamic schools, evening programs, and Sunday schools that are short-staffed and would like to outsource certain courses from the Islamic worldview
  • Schools and entities needing training/workshops to empower Muslim educators on how to teach from the Islamic worldview

Alhamdulillah, Legacy IOHS is an accessible resource for families with children in grades 6-8 who are seeking curriculum and instruction that is Islamically infused.

Strengthening Faith & Identity in College and Beyond

For those seeking supplementary resources to address the most prevalent hot topic issues plaguing young Muslims of our times, Yaqeen Institute, whose initial publications were more targeted towards a university audience, is now working to make its research more accessible to the general public through both its Conviction Circles initiative and its short videos featuring infographics.

Another online platform, California Islamic University, offers a comprehensive course sequence which allows college students to graduate with a second degree in Islamic studies while simultaneously completing their undergraduate studies at any accredited community college or university in the United States. Qalam and AlMaghrib Institute also offer online coursework in Islamic studies.

What We Hope to Avoid

While volunteering at his son Sulayman’s* public school with ten student participants, Ibrahim* was saddened when he met a young boy named Chris*. When Chris met Ibrahim, he piped up and eagerly told Ibrahim, “my grandparents are Muslim!” Through the course of the conversation, Ibrahim realized that he knew Chris’ grandparents, a very sweet elderly couple (and currently very practicing) who had not made the Islamic worldview a priority early on in their children’s lives. A mere two generations later, Islam is completely eliminated from their family. *names changed

Our Resolve

Legacy IOHS recommends the following to Muslim families/educators and Islamic schools:

  1. Instill in our children a strong grasp of the foundational sciences of Islam, while preparing them with the necessary contemporary knowledge and skills
  2. Teach our children in their formative years to view the world (including their “secular” academic study) through the lens of Islam
  3. Follow this up with relevant motivational programs that assist them in understanding challenging issues of today and coach them on how to respond to the issues in their teenage years.

We pray that with the above, we will have fulfilled our duty in shepherding our flock in a comprehensive way, with utmost care. It is Allah’s help we seek in these challenging times:

رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

‘Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us. Grant us Your mercy: You are the Ever Giving. [Qur’an 3:8]

 رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. [Qur’an 25:74]

يَا مُقَلِّبَ القُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِيْ عَلَى دِيْنِكْ

“O turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm on your religion.”

Freda Shamma has a M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.D. from the University of Cincinnati in the area of Curriculum Development. A veteran educator, she has worked with educators from the United States, South Africa and all over the Muslim world to develop integrated curricula based on an Islamic worldview that meets the needs of modern Muslim youth. She serves as Curriculum Advisor for Legacy International Online High School.

An avid student of the Islamic sciences, Zaheer Arastu earned his M.Ed from The George Washington University and completed his training in Educational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. his experience in Islamic education spans over 15 years serving as both teacher, administrator, and dean of innovation and technology. He currently serves as the Head of School for Legacy International Online High School.

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Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Omar Usman

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I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

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