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Why Sex-Ed Should Be Given at Home and not in Public Schools

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Recently AltMuslimah published an article on “how to best teach American Muslim youth about sexuality”, written by Nadiah Mohajir, director of programs for the HEART Women & Girls Project. The article was in response to Part V of my Parenting series that dealt with sexual education at public schools.

Those who are familiar with my works are quite aware that I have a deep belief in communication between parents and children. I have always emphasized that parents need to empower themselves with the tools necessary to teach their children about all sorts of topics, but especially one that is so sensitive and a cause of so many adulthood problems— sex.

So, let me begin this article by explicitly stating two important points:

  1. Muslims can no longer keep their heads in the sand regarding sex. I have been consistent about this position in my articles, from discussion of sexual molestation of Muslim children, to my series on parenting. Part of not keeping heads in the sand is for Muslim parents to also understand the nature of sexual education at school.
  2. I strongly oppose exposing our children to “secular”, “religion-neutral”, “exploratory” sexual education at schools, but at the same time vehemently insist that such education be done at home by parents, or other “religion-enhanced” format.  You have to REPLACE, not simply discard the education.

This article will of course speak to point two, as Nadiah unfortunately not only flatly disregarded all the facts presented in my previous article, but also made quite a few below-the-belt jabs, like claiming that “[a]dditionally, as illustrated so effectively by Umm Reem, many Muslims fear that open discussion on sexuality inevitable leads to promiscuity”.

Nadiah should have known (with proper research) that the last thing that I am interested in is closing discussions on sexuality. For Nadiah to conclude that my objection to sex education at school implies that the discussion should be totally closed, is not only disingenuous but also unacceptable coming from a community leader in Muslim affairs. We have to hold our community leaders to a higher standard, one that respects differences of opinions without subjecting others to unsubstantiated personal attacks.

Let’s review Nadiah’s main contentions:

I [Umm Reem] contend that sex education curricula in the US are based on three organizations

What I said in fact was that, “it is primarily based on PPF, AYF and SEICUS”. And this can be confirmed with some basic research.  This is an important distinction because it leaves room open for some schools to NOT follow the curricula of these three organizations, and thus possible explaining Nadiah’s own experiences.

It is equally important that we agree that these organizations SIECUS, PPF and AYF are some of the leading and influential Sex-Education Organizations in America, not just minor players.

Some facts about the leading sex education organizations in America:

While it is true that there is no “concrete” curriculum for sex education in USA per se, and that it can vary from school to school, one cannot deny the fact there are ideologies/beliefs promoted by influential organizations that are dedicated and funded by the government funds to educate and train professionals to deliver and design sexual education. Let’s take a moment to review three of the main sex education organizations again:

Sex Information & Education Council of United States (SIECUS)

According to Janice Irvine, the author of “Talk about Sex: the Battles over Sex Education in the US” this organization has been “the pioneer of Comprehensive Sex Education”, and according to Dr. Grossmam, “it has been the nation’s flagship sex education organization for nearly 50 years”[i].

This group has “trained hundreds of thousands of educators, worked with thousands of policymakers, appeared in the leading print and broadcast media outlets, and led the effort to advance sexual and reproductive health on 6 continents.”[ii]

It receives federal funding through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.”

Planned Parenthood Federation (PPF)

Planned Parenthood is proud of its vital role in providing young people with honest sexuality and relationship information in classrooms and online to help reduce our nation’s alarmingly high rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Nearly 1.2 million youths and adults participate in Planned Parenthood educational programs every year.”

According to 2007-2008 annual report, PPF’s “operating and other funds” totaled $1.038 billion, with over a third of that sum, $349.6 million coming from government grants and contracts.[iii]

Advocates for Youth (AFY):

Designed the popular “Life Planning Education”. Advocates for Youth works to educate Members of Congress, State Legislators and local elected officials on a variety of issues that impact the sexual and reproductive health of young people.  Advocates believes that the time has come for a new approach to adolescent sexual and reproductive health that includes dismantling failed abstinence-only programs, implementing comprehensive sex education programs, addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on youth, providing confidential access to birth control and removing the unnecessary age restriction on emergency contraception.  They also support federal legislation that addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Why am I pointing out these sex education organizations?

Nadiah took great umbrage to my claim that sexual education contributes towards the increased promiscuity. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that despite Nadiah’s unfortunate generalizations, I am not referring to “education” in itself. I am referring to the certain type of education organized by leading aforementioned institutes that can lead increased promiscuity. One should not be afraid of teaching children about sex, but rather one needs to be afraid of what type sex education the children receive.

Since most reasonable people will agree that “wrong education” will lead to “wrong ideas” (doesn’t take a rocket science to make the logical link!), we need to first see what type of education are these major sex-ed organizations promoting and teaching.

What better way to do so than to go to the horse’s mouth! One has to simply visit the websites of sex-education organizations and the sites that these organizations endorse (endorse=agree) to appreciate that “wrong education” is putting it quite mild!  One could ask “why not check with schools”, and my response would be that it is far more accurate to review the vision of the organization providing school materials than to visit the schools. For example, if we were interested in finding out what schools following a certain methodology of teaching math were doing, we would start with the developers and disseminators of that methodology of teaching in order to fully appreciate the style.

These sex-education organizations aforementioned may not be directly teaching their materials in classrooms of course, but one has to only click on their referrals to see what they would want taught. Let’s review just ONE website recommended by our sex education organizations for our pre/teens’s health related questions and queries:

GoAskAlice: University of Columbia’s “health” QA service. It has very good information about HIV, STDs, diet, depression, drugs etc. but at the same time, at a click of a button, children can view information about phone sex, oral or anal sex, erotic techniques, trios, how to be more intimate and make it more pleasurable, how to buy vibrator, porn magazines DISCREETLY, and also information for UNDER 18 how to get contraceptives WITHOUT parents’ knowledge. I have repeatedly encouraged the parents to visit their sites (linked in my original article) themselves, because I can’t cut and paste all info!

Tell me, while these sites are recommended (GoAskAlice is one of many) to pre/teens for any questions about their “health” or “health-related issues” or “sexuality”, pre/teens will inevitably visit it (esp. those who have no communication with their parents). Once these kids get on these “highly recommended” sites by those that they trust (sex-ed educators), is it hard not to expect them to also read extremely sensual, erotic and licentious information. Consequently, will they not get aroused and will they not want to experience and experiment what they read, in other words will it not increase promiscuity?

Sometimes we let demands for empirical data get in the way of pure common sense and normal logic.

It is no doubt true that we are living in a hyper-sexualized society. TV, movies, magazines, books contribute towards the increased promiscuity but so do these sex education organizations.

Nadiah further claims that I :

carelessly proclaims that American public school sexual education programs are responsible for the high STI rate, claiming the “sex education industry is dedicated to promot[ing] radical, social ideologies that value unconditional sexual freedom above any health, science, or parental authority. The aim is to encourage promiscuity experimentation and unrestricted sexual behavior.” As a public health professional trained to appreciate the importance of empirical data, I ask Umm Reem for any evidence supporting such an outrageous claim.

First of all, I never claimed that sex education in of itself is responsible for sexually transmitted infections (STI). I hope Nadiah would care to share where I stated this cause and effect relationship.

Secondly, my “careless” (partly imagined by Nadiah) proclamations comes from a board certified, adolescent & adult psychiatrist’s intensive research on sex education in US, whose experience and education far outweighs. Dr. Grossman states, “There groups [SIECUS, PPF, AFY] claim to provide “comprehensive access” to “accurate” sex education. Take a look, though, at their curricula, their guides for teachers and parents, and-most disturbing- the websites to which they direct your kids: you’ll see how young people are infused with a grotesque exaggeration of the place of sexuality. Promiscuity, experimentation, and fringe behaviors are encouraged. For them, these are personal choices, and judgments are prohibited. At all ages, sexual freedom is a “right”, an issue of social justice. In short, they are dedicated to promoting radical social ideologies, not preventing diseases.”[iv]

To illustrate why “sexy” sexual education could lead to increased promiscuity, let’s take the example of a parent who teaches her child about eating healthy and keeps him from gaining weight, buys him the membership to the gym, and educates him about all the harms against obesity BUT at the same time she keeps cooking unhealthy food, keeps baking cakes, keeps buying junk food and leaving it around him, then will she not share the blame if her child keeps giving into his temptation of “delicious” food and keep gaining weight?

Sex education organizations are doing very well in educating our children about STDs, STIs, contraceptives, and even providing condoms. But, in the schools, they also teach about sex-acts other than copulation and promote licentious, sensual and extremely provocative information & techniques on their websites. In addition, they offer free contraceptives and teach our children HOW to get them DISCREETLY without parental knowledge!

In other words: Eat healthy, watch your diet, but we would like to show you some pictures of delicious cakes and deserts, and you can find out the recipes on our websites, and in case you need we will provide you with numbers how to order ingredients free and discreetly!

Yes, with promiscuous message sex education organizations are promoting, frequency of promiscuous activity will increase, and this would suggest that they take responsibility of increased STIs.

Can health-based information mixed with promiscuous messages protect children?

  • Will the pre/teens be in their “senses” to use condoms/contraceptives when the time comes to try out all those great ideas on GoAskAlice and other recommended sites by sex-ed organizations?
  • How effective are the condoms/contraceptives?

The “neurobiology of decision-making”[v] indicates that when we make choices, we rely on at least 12 different brain regions. These areas include cognitive and affective circuits, meaning decisions are based on both thought and emotions.

PCF is the “thinking” brain, Amygdala is the “feeling” brain. These are parallel systems and evolve with time. Emotional system is present early in life where as cognitive system develops with age and time. “It has been suggested that because the emotional system is more mature than the cognitive one in teens, it sometimes contributes more to decision-making, resulting in less-than-optimal choices.”[vi]

“HOT” and “COLD” conditions: “Dr. Laurence Steinber, an expert in adolescent psychology, draws a distinction between “cool” and “hot” conditions, referring to the intensity or level of emotion at the time a decision is made. To summarize his research, under “cool” conditions a teen might appear to have excellent “executive function” in making a choice and logical thinking. In a hypothetical dilemma, he might resolve: being sexually active is a big decision, I’ll talk it all over with my “partner”, dicuss STDs and contraceptives, use condoms.

Place the same boy in an unexpected situation, an unsupervised party with a cute and willing girl, other friends making out around him; functional MRI says that under “hot” conditions he is more likely to rely on his “Amygdala”, to be shortsighted, emotion-driven, and susceptible to coercion and peer pressure.[vii]

It is not lack of information, but lack of judgment:  “In real life, his strong emotions and drives can “hijack” his ability for self-control and smart decision.”[viii]

Effectiveness of Condoms:

When a panel of 28 experts was asked in 2001, “what is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of latex male condom-use to prevent STD transmission during vaginal intercourse?” the answer was, and still is, “IT DEPENDS!”[ix] There is a lot more research available on this subject. Due to restricted space, I would encourage readers to search on their own.

Undermining Parental Authority

I posted a prime example of “unconditional sexual freedom above parental authority”, the case in California’s Elementary School, where a survey of extreme sexual nature was passed out without parental discretion. Parents were denied the right to object.

To that, Nadiah responded, “There are ethical implications to collecting data from minors, which is why respectable research with publishable data are subject to Institutional Review Boards. Unfortunately, it sounds like these researchers did not go through the IRB – had they gone through – they would have been required to have parental consent before administering the survey.”

Based on the response, Nadiah has obviously missed the main point. It is not about respectable research or data collection, it is about undermining PARENTAL authority. According to the judge in the California case, “public schools have the right to administer sex instruction to any children, at any time and in any manner, notwithstanding the objections of their parents.”

In Massachusetts, one school passing out condoms to even elementary students, “Under the policy, any student requesting a condom from a school nurse must first receive counseling, which includes information on abstinence. The policy does not require the school to contact parents.”

Another example is the Sex-Ed controversy in Helena Montana, where parents are fighting the sex-ed curriculum, “The document covers everything from nutrition to injury prevention, but the section titled “Human Sexuality” is drawing the most concern. It lays out sex education topics for each grade, K through 12. In the first grade, children would be taught that human beings can love people of the same gender; in second grade, kids are taught not to make fun of people by calling them “gay” or “queer.”

By fifth grade, they are taught there are several types of intercourse, and by the sixth grade, the draft document states that students should, “Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral, or anal penetration; using the penis, fingers, tongue or objects.”

Yet, another example from a sites endorsed by our sex education organizations, a question was asked by a young girl:

“My boyfriend and I are thinking of having sex. Can I get the pill without my mom knowing?

Answer: Generally, yes. There is no law that requires a parent’s permission for the pill…A good place to start is a place that receives money from…they can’t tell your mom if you got the pill. You can find a [clinic] near you through [website provided]…

(I am not providing the website link as some parents complained on the previous article regarding links to what most of us would consider promiscuous information, but to others is “education”)

They also teach children how to order porn magazines, masturbation tools etc. discreetly, without parental knowledge.

To conclude: I don’t believe proper sex education will be a contributing factor towards increased promiscuity but “wrong” sex education in present form, as incorporated by the major sex-ed organizations will. And that can be well seen on the official & award winning websites. I encourage the parents to please browse through them.

Young minds are especially vulnerable; in addition they are surrounded by an environment (TV, magazines, books) with increased sexuality. Moreover, when they are exposed to information that is being taught by sex education organizations, we don’t need an empirical data to come to logical conclusion that when youth reads encouraging statements about “exploring their sexuality”, along with the techniques how-to, it will contribute towards increased promiscuity?

My main point, throughout the series, is to encourage parents to become the sex educators and be the primary source of information. Not only parents can offer vulgar-free, pure and beneficial information to their children, but they also live with their children and can be approached at any time (unlike a health profession), will best watch and observe, in real life, the situation and the difficulty of the child, and will offer the most sincere advice. Not to mention how much it will help open communication and strengthens the bond of parent-child relationship.

I pray that may Allah reward Sr. Nadiah for all the effort and good work she is contributing towards our youth.

Further reading/listening: Here is an excellent lecture on the subject.


[i] Grossmna, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching My Child What”, who is teaching your children, pg. 19

[ii] www.siecus.com (SIECUS Leadership & Staff)

[iii] Grossman, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching MY Child What, who is teaching your children, pg. 19

[iv] Grossman, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching MY Child What, pg. 4

[v] Monique Ernst and Martin P. Paulus, “Neurobiology of Decision Making: A Selective Review from a

[vi] Adriana Galvan et al, “Earlier Development of the Accumbens Relative to Orbitofrontal Cortex Might Underlie rist-Taking Behavior in Adolescents,” Journal of Neuroscience 26, no. 25 (2006): 6885-92

[vii] K. Kersting, “Brain research advance help elucidate teen behavior,” Monitor on Psychology (July/August 2004): 80: John Merriman, “Linking Risk-Taking Behavior and Peer Influence in Adolescents,” NeuroPsychiatry Review 9, no.1 (2008).

[viii] Ronald e. Dahl, “Adolescent Brain Development; A Period of Vulnerabilities and Opportunities,” Annals of the New Yourk Academy of Science 1021 (2004)

[ix] Miriam, Gorssman MD, “You Are Teaching My Child What, pg. 85

 

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.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Agieb Bilal

    June 7, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Es Salaamu Alaykum,
    Having been an Islamic school principal and having to deal with this issue, I have found “Sex Roles in Muslim Families” by Dr. Mahmud Abu Saud to be the most authoritative and comprehensive discourse on the subject. Each Muslim family should at least be exposed to this, as it is easily downloadable. Respectfully yours in Al Islam, Agieb Bilal

  2. Avatar

    Carlos

    June 7, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    The more knowledge a growing brain acquires, the better. Learning things that are true is never bad. The only thing anyone should ever fear is learning things that are false. Everyone only has one body, and must learn how to care for it. Not all parents communicate with their children about sex. The author said so herself. Without sex education in school, such children would be completely ignorant, or would only learn from others who are themselves ignorant. Ignorance equals vulnerability, and the propensity to have to learn things the hard way, sometimes too late. Sex is a dangerous thing about which to be ignorant. It is a school’s job to teach knowledge and skills, not morality. If a parent is concerned about how sex education might affect his/her child’s morality, the parent has the opportunity to supplement and explain (to filter) the knowledge the child learned in school.

  3. Umm Reem

    Umm Reem

    June 7, 2011 at 10:11 PM

    Carlos,

    I said all parents must start communicating with their children. Parenting is a job and it is not an easy one for sure. It comes with certain responsibilities and training one’s children is one of them. Sex-ed is part of that training. Parents don’t have to go through the pain of filtering out the immoral stuff rather they should be the first ones to instill the correct and valuable morals before anyone else does.

    A good school should teach morality too!

  4. Avatar

    Murad Abdul Hakeem

    June 8, 2011 at 12:43 AM

    I like brother shoaibs post about “Dont ask dont tell” I think this applies to me. I feel like an outsider in a majority straight masjid. I try to battle my nafs, but the best of the beef gets to me. I think we should have sex education for same sex mates. Even though its not permissible by most scholars, we should still have the tools necessary to make a judgment in a kufr duna kufr situation. Please elaborate on this subject.

  5. Avatar

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    June 8, 2011 at 6:37 AM

    The sexualisation of children by the government, Dept of Education, ‘pregnancy advice centres’, social workers, school nurses, media aimed at teen girls, contraceptive industry lobbyists, fashion industry and the welfare state to name just a few, is a crime against humanity.

    It is also gross hypocrisy for the police to prosecute paedophiles when the government is overseeing boy scouts being given condoms from the age 11 and girls of the same age being told it is OK to have sex if they use ‘protection’. Boys and girls at age 11 are not allowed to marry but they can have sex and produce children. Every parent is worried about his child being indoctrinated into the idea that gay and sexual promiscuity is “normal” modes of behaviour. At the same time, all parents have the right to control their children and it is their Duty to control them.

    It is an eye opening for the Muslim parents who keep on sending their children to state schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers a s role models during their developmental periods. Muslim teachers are in a better position to teach sex education to teenagers according to Islamic perspectives. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. State funded Muslim schools are crucial for social cohesion, religious and cultural harmony. They are preparing children and young people to face the challenges of life in modern Britain and to also contribute in a positive way to wider society. Muslim children will develop self-confidence and self-esteem. According to TES, pupils make more progress at Muslim secondary schools than anyother type of schools. They are promoting tolerance and support the spiritual, moral, social, linguistic and cultural development of pupils.
    IA
    http://www.lonjdonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  6. Avatar

    umm Salih

    June 8, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    salam alaikum ,

    i agree with umm Reem . Sex- education isnt something to be discussed with children in public.
    frequent use of the word sex itself takes away a portion of the ‘haya”and innocence from our children…imagine what a detailed knowledge on it can do.

    parents would know how and when to educate their kids about it / whether they even needed to be educated about it.
    when a child is taught how not to approach the path of lewdness and immorality , the need for explicit sex education for young children does not arise.

  7. Avatar

    ksek

    June 8, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    As-Salamu Aleykum and thank you for the articles.

    I agree that parents should be primary educators when it comes to sex education. However, I fear that Umm Reem’s articles outlining the “horrors of public sex education” may in fact have the opposite intended effect. It might have been better if Umm Reem had focused more on the Islamic importance of parents giving their children comprehensive sex education rather than what seemed to be grossly overblown caricatures of what is presented in schools. I am from a community that has no such kind of scandalous public sex education as you described and fear these articles might influence otherwise responsible Muslim parents to keep their children hidden from the “birds and the bees” rather than confront these questions head-on. I feel as though many will come away from these articles with a stronger urge to keep their children out of public sex ed classes than to teach them about sexuality themselves. It’s always easier to make a reactive move than a proactive one, after all, especially with such salacious caricatures involved.

  8. Avatar

    Mustafa

    June 8, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    Assalaamu alaykum,

    I think Nadia will think trice before initiating another pro-liberal faux-shock melodrama (on any given topic) after reading this article. JazakAllah khair.

    Wassalaam.

    • Avatar

      N Kal

      June 10, 2011 at 2:51 PM

      Salaam,

      There was nothing melodramatic about Nadiah’s article. She was totally within her right to critique Ms. Reem’s original article, which basically relied on the theory that sex-education in public schools is detrimental to a Muslim child’s development. Ms. Reem also made broad generalizations, like “Far from the Islamic perspective as possible, children are told that it is perfectly fine if they want to “experience” sexual enjoyment, which is after all a natural human instinct, as long as they are “protected”.” Furthermore, there are numerous studies that link abstinence-only sex-education with higher rates of STIs and teen pregnancies. Although I support the contention that parents should take a front seat in educating their children about a topic as touchy as human sexuality, the snarky tone of this article does not sit well.

      • Avatar

        Mustafa

        June 10, 2011 at 4:52 PM

        Walaykumussalaam,

        Of course she was melodramatic; melodramatic in that hideous how-dare-you-oppose-the-liberal-consesus-you-backward-retard way. If this article was snarky, it had every bit right to be so. Umm Reem didn’t offer any “broad generalizations”; she offered concrete examples for what she was warning everyone against. And she wasn’t promoting abstinence-only sex-education; from an Islamic point of view, the best prevention against illicit sex is marriage, and a rather early one; hardly an abstinence-based approach. If Muslims did have an abstinence-based approach, the research you cite could not be applied to it since those approaches weren’t being studied there. Also, Islamic rules regarding abstinence have some unique characteristics not found among other religious groups that favor it (such as orders pertaining to avoiding contact, lowering the gaze, fasting, etc.) that should guarantee better results if any type of abstinence-based program would be implemented among Muslims.

  9. Avatar

    Dean

    June 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Does anyone have any info on how the sahaabah ( may Allaah be pleased with them all) dealt with such issues?

    Salaam

  10. Avatar

    Muslimah

    June 8, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    Umm Reem I completely agree that children should be taught sexual education at home, not at school. The example you gave about what 5th graders are taught is just too much information for a child that young to comprehend. There are different stages of knowledge, and children should not be given information unless they are mentally ready to accept it. Otherwise, it just causes confusion and more questions. During my time working in a public high school, I was SHOCKED to see the type of sexual education that is given to children. The school that I worked in outsourced their sexual education classes to an organization that promotes safe sex. In my opinion, they not only promote it, but encourage it. The one class I observed had the teachers demonstrate how to properly put on protection on live replicas of male and female genitalia. They also recommended and advocated products that increase sexual pleasure. Personally, I thought it was way too much information for the class of 9th grade students. Most of the boys constantly made jokes and laughed throughout the presentation (showing their immaturity and discomfort with the subject), and most of the girls kept their heads down and refused to look up for some of the more vulgar demonstrations. This proves that children (even non-Muslim children) have an innate sense of haya and modesty that does not need to be corrupted by organizations that have other agendas. I completely support PARENTS giving sexual education instruction. This way, they can control what information and how much information their children are given, based on their age and maturity level.

  11. Avatar

    deb

    June 8, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    but if your child is going to have sex, despite all the teachings you have given him/her at home about not having sex, would you prefer that he/she is ignorant or knowledgeable about STDs, pregnancy, etc.? And are you the parent sure that you are knowledgeable enough on this subject to instruct your child, and confident enough to teach that which the child will be embarrassed to hear?

    • Avatar

      Yusuf Patel

      June 9, 2011 at 4:53 AM

      The only way to be safe from STIs is be intimite with one person who has also followed the same philosophy, thereby proving marriage is the safest option in terms of health. Condoms do not protect against all STIs and are not even fully effective to protect against pregnancy. As young girls have an immature cervix they are more susceptible to STIs. I do not buy the claims that it is inevitable for young people to engage in early sexual experimentation, research suggests that strong family, a values based upbringing and religious adherence are powerful factors in warding off early sexual experimentation. We do not believe young people are bound to take drugs so we should facilitate this for them, why should we be fatalistic when it comes to discussing sexual experimentation in the young.

      The point Umm Reem makes is important, parents raise children, not schools. If we believe parents are no longer parenting should we drive home their responsibility to do so or do we expect schools to take over this responsibility?

  12. Avatar

    Yusuf Patel

    June 9, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    By the way I forgot to say JazakAllahu khairan to Umm Reem for her article and her efforts to challenge dangerous ideas about comprehensive sex education and also to change the thinking of Muslim parents about their role in dissemintaing value-laden sex education to their children.

    Wassalam

    Yusuf

    • Umm Reem

      Umm Reem

      June 15, 2011 at 11:57 PM

      wa alaikum assalam, wa iyyaka br. yusuf. Looking forward to your feedback at the conclusion of the series inshaAllah.

      • Avatar

        saysay

        November 29, 2012 at 5:41 PM

        Jazakalah khayr from me too sister. I love you for the sake of Allah. There are a lot of people who benefit from your efforts. All your hard work in compling this series has truly paid off because you are teaching people like me (mother of 4year old child) how to deal with this issue in the future inshalah.you are are my teacher and I hope to meet you 1 day inshalah, to thank you personally.

  13. Avatar

    Cartoon M

    June 10, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    This is definitely a touchy subject. But I think the main point is to have parents speak with their children about sex and explain the wisdom behind the Islamic guidelines on it, before they hear it from their friends and sex ed classes. And although this article is about sex ed in schools, that’s really not the main problem. Kids will probably learn about it from their friends before they even take a sex ed class.

  14. Avatar

    melaika

    June 15, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    Sister Umm Reem is doing a great job with boldly going out there and discussing this all important issue in our rapidly globalized society. However I really feel like this article and a few previous ones continue to preach a utopia that we all wished was true–that parents need to have a good communicative relationship with their children.

    I agree with a couple of the respondants in that instead of talking about how we believe parents should have a close relationship with their kids (which again i will repeat is extremely important and believe myself is something all parents and kids desire) sister umm reem should stress heavily on the islamic important of sex education between parents and kids instead of demonizing public schools and their sex ed programs.

    The cases represented about those programs within the sex education sphere is something that is something very rare because its highly unheard of to be incorporated in within the american public education system. Being someone raised solely in public schooling and all my family and friends as well (and i get around!) that we all turned out quite alright.

    The reason I say that is because our parents obviously were and continue to be very insecure and shy over the topic of sex and growing up in that environment it was awkward for us as kids to even discuss a crush with them let alone sex! so when we got that sex education from our schools it was easier for us to learn and ask questions and actually helped the relationship with our parents.

    Again sister Umm Reem is taking initiative on this topic mashaAllah and I commend her on that but I am getting strong tones of talking down on public schooling and repeating this utopian society of all parents teaching kids about sexual education. We need to realize thats not happening any time soon–even ever. That being said educating parents on how its important islamically to have sex discussions to help avoid endangering our children into falling into risky behaviors and living an unislamic way of life. Not only should parents have open discussion about sex ed i think its good for those children to also be educated in the public schools sex ed so that their faith and sense of wisdom since their parents have taught them about sex and are open to questions and clarifications as well.

    Just my two cents :)

    • Avatar

      Carlos

      June 16, 2011 at 5:13 PM

      Melaika, your insight, reason, open-mindedness, fairness, honesty, practicality and wisdom are a breath of fresh air and a beacon of hope. Thank you for your contribution and enlightenment.

      • Avatar

        melaika

        June 17, 2011 at 12:03 PM

        such praises are meant for people like sis umm reem and those of muslimmatters :) but jazakAllah khair, it means a lot !

  15. Umm Reem

    Umm Reem

    June 16, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Sr Melaika,
    I agree with you and if you read Part 6-8 of my articles (9 will be published next week inshaAllah) I have discussed exactly what you mentioned in your comment: Islamic version of sex-ed, specifically how and what to say to the kids! :)

    • Avatar

      melaika

      June 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM

      I realized that after reading all your articles and mashaAllah they’re great. My only objection is the continuous bashing if you will on public schoolings approach to sex ed. Morality, as you said, needs to be taught by parents from the cradle. and when parents instill that morality throughout the child’s life, the ‘fear’ so to speak of whats being taught in public schools on a secular basis isn’t something to be worried about if that moral ground is properly established using the islamic methods you’ve listed and will list in future articles.

      I’m 20 years old and so my public education on everything including sex ed was in the past decade or less. So my defense of what I’ve learned and benefitted from is fresh and recent :) I went through middle school with many girls who were pregnant in grade 7 and 8 who had NOT taken the sex ed courses. My classmates whom I am still friendly with continue to be abstinent and haven’t gotten pregnant. That in and of itself speaks volumes to me.

      Keep up the good work sis :)

  16. Avatar

    Ali

    July 5, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    Oh my God. What is the need for sex ed. Children learn as they grow up. Did your parents give you sex ed?

    • Avatar

      rookey2

      July 8, 2011 at 10:32 PM

      no they didnt and i think it is a big irresponsibility on their path… we are now in an age where everything is outsourced including child upbringing…. we have a saying in western Nigeria, if you don’t teach your child at home, (s)he will be thought outside… so who thought you about sex? your peers (who are as/more confused as you are), the media, the school… whoever it was i’m very sure the last thing they said was the islamic perspective and morality… little wonder pornography and zina is eating out at the fabric of our ummah…

      by the way can you teach what you dont know? many parents are even more ignorant than their kids in the matters of faith…

  17. Avatar

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    July 5, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    Salaam

    The introduction of sex education in British schools does not seem to have had a dramatic impacxt on teenage pregnancies.

    This is sickening. It’s no wonder Great Britain is in such a bad shape. Ten years old British girls are haveing babies out of wedlock. They are not allowed to get married but are allowed to have babies.

    Teenage pregnancy rate in Great Britain is the highest in western Europe. It is a civilised country and Yemen is a backward country because it allowes young girls to get married.

    Indiscipline, incivility, binge drinking, drug addiction, gun and knife crimes, teenage pregnancies and abortion are part and parcel of British schooling. These are the reasons why Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be opted out as Muslim Academies.
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

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#Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship hugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Rebuilding Self-Love  in the Face of Trauma

touch trauma
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“…there is beauty in breaking” – Amir Sulaiman

Words fell softly from her lips as tears streamed down her face. A young woman, newly married, had reached out to me via social media to ask a question about how to reconnect with her body after trauma. Receiving intimacy and sex-related questions from Muslim women all over the world is a large part of my work.  But there was something about this particular questioner that struck me in a very deep place. I intimately knew her pain as a survivor. Not long after taking my shahada, I was the victim of sexual assault. The amount of trauma I suffered is indescribable. But rather than pulling me away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life.

After trauma, rather than pulling away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life. Click To Tweet

Healing after trauma took action, not only faith. For years, I struggled with the ability to connect with my body and to understand how to properly process emotions.  Intimacy, of all kinds, was a challenge for me. Reclaiming agency over my own body and establishing my right to pleasure led me down a life-changing path that has led to me now assisting other women in understanding and owning sexuality from a sacred perspective. My trauma broke me but it also showed me new ways to heal.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken. @TheVillageAuntieClick To Tweet

Re-engaging with sexual pleasure after trauma can be very difficult, especially for Muslim women who have been taught their whole lives to vigorously guard their bodies and not discuss sex. Talk of intimacy is still seen as taboo and, worse yet, the ability to report sexual assault and abuse remains a very difficult task for many women, regardless of faith.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken.

I have developed a five-step plan for helping women to navigate the heartbreaking process of reclaiming the body and opening one’s self to pleasure.

[*This plan is not to be used in place of mental health care (cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, trauma-informed somatic practice, etc.) but is meant to supplement intervention from a trusted licensed mental health provider.]

  1. Practice mindful forgiveness. This is not meant to be directed toward the abuser. Mindful forgiveness after trauma focuses on a need to forgive one’s self for the range of self-directed emotions that can be detrimental in the aftermath of sexual trauma. Sometimes women blame themselves when abuse takes place. This internalized oppression requires forgiveness because a victim should never assume blame for the heinous acts of others. Forgiving ourselves for any negative self-talk and asking Allah to grant His indelible mercy is a key foundation for the development of a healing path. It took years after my assault for me to understand the ways in which I had wounded myself with disparaging internal scripts. When I increased my level of istighfar and asked Allah to excuse all the instances where I doubted myself and harmed my spirit in the process, I was able to finally uncover long-hidden emotions and set about the work of true healing and reconciliation with my body.

    rights of women in Islam

  2. Seek knowledge about one’s own body and its rights. When I became a Muslim 21 years ago, I had no idea that Islam was such a sex-positive religion. The Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is full of instances where he demonstrated the beauty and importance of sex as a form of marital bonding as well as an act of worship. Scouring books of fiqh, I learned the rights of women in Islam which affirmed that we are not human possessions meant to be tilled; women have undeniable rights to pleasure and protection of our most sacred human parts. Understanding that Islam is a guide for all areas of life can give a sense of comfort and provide a pathway to explore the sacredness of sexuality. This is key, especially for women who have been abused by men of faith or who have been victims of spiritual manipulation for carnal gain. Also, learning about the female anatomy, how the brain is an integral part of harnessing pleasure, and ways to use the mind to develop an internal sense of pleasure can also be extremely helpful in re-igniting one’s love of self.

  3. Activate the sensuality of everyday life.  There is a misunderstanding of the role of sensuality in pleasure. Sex is the physical joining of bodies. Sensuality, however, is a conscious internal awareness of pleasurable stimuli. It does not involve engaging with another person. This is key because many trauma sufferers may find physical human touch triggering.  Recognizing the sensual aspects of daily life requires the mindful perception of things that titillate or arouse. It can be as simple as the feel of a particular fabric against the skin, the smell of the air after a heavy rain, a sound that evokes sensual memories, a scent that conjures an arousing mood. Why is this important? Sex is not the sole route to pleasure. For women, pleasure is largely dependent upon a spiritual or mental connection within the body. By engaging in self-motivated pleasurable sensations, this can assist women in realizing the power and control that we have over our physical vessels. Muslim couple healing reciting Quran

  4. Be easy with yourself. In the Qur’an, Allah reminds us “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (2:153)  During the process of reclaiming one’s power, there will undoubtedly be times of anger, grief, sorrow, and resentment. These are human emotions and are quite reasonable given the magnitude of trauma’s effect on the heart. Be patient with yourself. Channel love and support during times of difficulty. Do not neglect your healing journey because of a setback. It is important to practice patience with one’s self and utilize prayer as a stabilizing force. Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance. Trauma is not a fundamental characteristic of who you have become. Reclaiming your narrative means understanding that you have the power to create a different story with a powerful ending. Give yourself the time and space to rewrite your script.

    Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance.Click To Tweethealing from trauma

  5. Find your circle. Healing is not a solitary act. Sometimes it requires the love and support of others. Do you have a circle of support? Who are the people in your circle? And if you don’t have one, how can you create one? When I was at my lowest, my circle was there to remind me of who I was and how far I had come. They were the ones with whom I could be my most authentic self. One of the ways in which we can heal trauma is by seeking human connection. Select your circle carefully and lean on them during times of need. The healing power of your personally curated community can be transformative and life-changing.

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

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

1. My bubble burst

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

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

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

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

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

3. Made me thankful

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

dardir

4. People want to do Good

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

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

5. Smiles

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

6. It’s ok to cry

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

7. Learning to say no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Dawah through action

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

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

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

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

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

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