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Shall I not be a Thankful Servant? A Brief Guide to Understanding Shukr

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Bismillah

Let’s go back in time. Back to Madinah, through the masjid and to the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) home. We see him there, in the darkeness of the night, praying to his Lord. He is crying as he reads the ayat of the Qur’an. He has been standing for so long, and you see that his blessed feet have swelled and the skin is cracking.

Many of us would think what A’ishah, his beloved wife, raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) asked him afterward. She said, “O Prophet of Allah, why do you undergo so much hardship despite the fact that Allah has pardoned for you your earlier and later sins?” He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) responded, “Afala akuna abdan shakura? Should I not prove myself to be a thankful servant?”

We learn from this hadith that gratitude is shown through deeds. Shukr is by action. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not commanded to worship to this degree but rather it was a complete act of devotion and thankfulness to Allah (azza wa jall).

When we want to thank someone, we go the extra mile to make them happy, especially when they are beloved to us. We go to great lengths to show our parents, spouse or friend that we appreciate them. We offer our help without their asking. We plan time to spend together. We give them gifts without expecting one in return. We do whatever will make them happy. We show our love and appreciate through our actions.

Yet, how can we claim that we love Allah when we do not even act this way with Him? We do not abide by His Rulings. We hardly go past the bare minimum of worship. We do not honor His Book. We swear by His Name in vain. We are not shy to sin in front of Him while we are shy when others are watching. We delay our daily conversations with Him, and when we finally do go to pray, we do it as fast as we can – rushing back to what we think is more important than Him.

Would we ever claim to love our mother, spouse, or friend if we treated them this way? Would they feel that we love them and appreciate them if we treated them this way?

Aren’t we ashamed that we treat our family and friends better than we do our own Creator? Surely for Allah is the Highest Example.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not need us or our worship at all. We are not harming Him or benefiting Him in any way by worshiping Him or disobeying Him. He does not need anyone or anything, rather He is Self-Sufficient and always deserving of praise. This parable is to show how we contradict ourselves – we say that we love Allah, that we are thankful to Him, yet our actions show the complete opposite. Our actions show that we are careless, ungrateful and that we are very good at saying what we don’t mean.

What is Shukr

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As a creation, we are wired to love those who give to us. In an authentic hadith, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us, “Give gifts and you will love one another.” Linguistically, shukr is used to describe a healthy cow – a cow that has visible signs of nourishment. Islamically, the scholars define shukr as the mentioning of Allah’s Blessings upon the slave’s tongue, the slave’s recognition of these blessings in his heart, and obedience of the limbs due to these blessings.

Being thankful to Allah does not mean to only say “alhamdulillah” or doing a quick sajdah when we feel blessed. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught A’ishah that night that you must show your thankfulness to Allah. You have to strive to prove it.

We also learn from the Qur’an that shukr is by action. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)says to the family of Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

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“Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” (34:13)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not say, “Be grateful!” rather He said to work in gratitude. We learn from the Prophet [saw] that the most beloved fasting and prayer to Allah is the fasting and prayer of Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him).

Thabit al-Binani (rahimahullah) says regarding this ayah, Dawud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) would divide the hours of the night and day between his family so that there wouldn’t be an hour of the night or day except that a person from the family of Dawud would be praying, so Allah addressed them all by saying, ‘Work, O family of David, in gratitude. [Uddat al-Saabireen]

From this ayah, Imam ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) states that there are three branches of shukr:

1. Knowledge: Knowledge is the foundation of shukr. We must be aware and knowing of the fact that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) is the One who is bestowing us with these blessings. We attribute all of our blessings to Him ta’ala. Some people attribute good to themselves, and when they are faced with difficulty or hardship, they attribute it to Allah. This is not gratitude rather it is kufr, a defiant denial of Allah’s favors.

2. Recognition and Awareness: The slave remembers Allah and His favors with his tongue – by praising Allah, and remembering Him through supplication and words of remembrance, and acknowledges it in his heart. It is reported in Tafsir al-Qurtubi that Dawud (alayhi salaam) said, “O my Lord! How can I be grateful to You when gratitude is a blessing from You?!” Allah (azza wa jall) responded to him, “Now you have shown true gratitude (because you’ve recognized that all blessings are from Me).”

3. Deeds: The slave works in gratitude by being an obedient slave to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  It is reported in Tafsir al-Tabari that Abu Abdur-Rahman al-Hubaly (rahimahullah) said, “Prayer is shukr, fasting is shukr and any deed done for the sake of Allah is shukr.”

Imam ibn al-Qayyim states that the pillars of being grateful to Allah are:

1- Submission of the believer to Allah
2- Love of Allah
3- Acknowledging His favors
4- Praising Him for His favors
5- Refraining from utilizing the favors in a way displeasing to Allah

Benefits of Shukr

Allah calls mankind ‘ungrateful’ in many ayat in the Qur’an, and He says that only few of His slaves are grateful. It is easier for us to be heedless of His blessings because being a thankful slave is not easy. When we do show gratefulness to Allah, He blesses us in many ways:

1. Allah will increase you in blessings. He ta’ala says, “And (recall) when your Lord proclaimed: ‘If you thank, I shall certainly increase (My blessings on) you, and if you are ungrateful, then My torment is surely severe.'” (14:7)

2. Allah will reward you for being thankful. He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “Allah will give reward to the thankful.” (3:144)

3. Shukr saves you from punishment. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an, “The people of Lot denied the warning. Indeed, We sent upon them a storm of stones, except the family of Lot – We saved them before dawn. As a favor from Us. Thus do We reward he who is grateful.” (54:33-35)

4. Allah will be pleased with you. “And if you are grateful, He is pleased with you.” (39:7)

5. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will love you.

Practical Ways to Show Shukr

Now that we know what shukr really means, how can we be among al-shaakireen?

1- Take the first step. For many of us, extra deeds seem difficult because we are so used to the little we do. Don’t think that you cannot do more, rather remember the hadith qudsi: “When my slave walks to Me, I run to him.” If you take that first step, which is the most difficult, Allah will make everything else easy for you. It’s time we push ourselves to do more for Allah (azza wa jall). It’s time that we don’t accept the bare minimum from ourselves. It’s time that we have great goals for our Deen just as we do for our education, career and families. And for this to happen, we go to step #2:

2- Seek the help of Allah by means of du’a. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to say: “Allahumma a’inni ‘alaa dhikrika wa shukrika wa husni ebadatika. O Allah, help me to remember You, to be thankful to You and to worship You in the best way.” Say it like you mean it. Beg Allah from your heart with this duaa. Ask Him to make you from among His few slaves that are grateful.

3- Work, work and more work. Nothing comes without work. If we want to worship Allah more, we must work for it. If we want to enjoy our worship, we must put in the effort. For some, praying and fasting is easy. For others, it is extremely difficult. If it is difficult for you, don’t interpret it to mean that you do not love Allah. Rather, it means that you have to strive more and work more to see the fruits of your labor. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says,

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And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good. (29:69)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) used the word “jaahadu” here, meaning they strive and work hard for the sake of Allah (azza wa jall).

We can all do something extra in one way or another. Start slow and it will become easier, inshaAllah. You know yourself the best, so get out of your comfort zone to train yourself.

  • If you cannot fast three days every month, fast at least one day.
  • If you want to pray qiyam but already struggle with fajr, stay awake after fajr to remember Allah and read Qur’an before heading back to sleep, even for 15-30 minutes.
  • Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah by learning the du’as from the Sunnah for various actions we perform throughout the day.
  • Always do your adkhar – a collection of supplications and remembrances to make after fajr and asr prayers.
  • Keep a portion of day, even 30 mins, just to remember Allah – reading Qur’an, making du’a and reflecting.
  • Thank those around you. It is stated in a hadith, “Whoever does not thank the people has not thanked Allah.”
  • Help others in your community. You can help at a soup kitchen, or prepare a meal for a needy Muslim in your community.

Make it your habit to not belittle any good deed. If you have a chance to do a good deed, then do it. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said in the hadith about the man who gave a drink to the thirsty dog that, “Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.” (Bukhari) We learn from this that a small deed sincerely for Allah can earn Allah’s forgiveness and appreciation.

Al-Shakur: The Most Appreciative

Remember that this work of yours is not in vain. It may be difficult for you to fast those extra days. It may be hard for you to get to sleep early so you can wake up at night, but do not forget the One you are worshiping! You are worshiping Al-Shakur, The Most Appreciative. He ta’ala does not only look at your deeds, but He looks at the effort behind it. Imam al-Qurtubi (rahimahullah) explains this Name by saying, “He accepts the little from their good deeds, and repays them with a great reward.”
He is Al-Shakur:He does not waste your efforts. He does ihsan to you – utmost good by accepting your few deeds and giving you greater in return. He blesses you with something better when you leave something for His sake.

Allah, Al-Shakur, not only rewards you for your deeds but He increases them for you because He appreciates your obedience to Him. He is Al-Shakur of your shukr! While you are struggling to show your thankfulness to Him, Al-Shakur is keeping account of all that you do, of all the effort you are putting in, of how much you sincerely want to worship Him in the best way. He will reward you with what you do not even deserve. Our deeds can never earn Paradise, but this is how Al-Shakur shows His Appreciation to His righteous servants.

Always remind yourself of this Name of Allah (azza wa jall), it is the key to coming closer to Him. Remind yourself of the Day that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) shows His Gratitude by saying:

76_22

“Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.” (76:22)

We ask Allah (azza wa jall) to make us of those who hear these words. May He make us among His truly grateful servants and we ask that He blesses us to worship Him, remember Him and thank Him in the best and most beautiful way. Ameen.

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

Amatullah is a student of the Qur'an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta'leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur'an, Tajwid (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and will be completing the Masters program in 2014 inshaAllah. Her experience includes working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement and accessibility for people with disabilities.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    abu Abdullah

    July 15, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    barak Allahu feeki..

    • Avatar

      abu Abdullah

      July 16, 2011 at 7:43 PM

      Remembrance said in the morning and evening

      ‘O Allaah, what blessing I or any of Your creation have risen upon, is from You alone, without partner, so for You is all praise and unto You all thanks.’

      …whoever says this in the morning has indeed offered his day’s thanks and whoever says this in the evening has indeed offered his night’s thanks.

      Above could be a nice add for ways to Thank Allah daily.

      Does shukr include being content with Allah about what one does not has ? Isn’t it sub set of Sabr? may Allah make us content with His decree, in all situations. Ameen.

  2. Avatar

    MuslimNoise

    July 15, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    Nice advice, brilliant piece. It’s important for us to understand what it means to be thankful and how we should go about doing this properly to gain maximum reward and a boosted iman.

  3. Avatar

    MuslimAmerican

    July 15, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    When i hear or read the verse 76:22, it brings tears to my eyes.

    Rabbana taqabbal minna innaka antas sameeul aleem. Ameen.

    Jazak Allah Khair

  4. Avatar

    Fear Allah

    July 15, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Ameen! Beautiful article ukhti, Jazakillahu khairaa!

    a very comprehensive analysis of shukr… should be its own brochure/booklet.

  5. Avatar

    The Shardul of Allah

    July 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Jazakhallah Khair for this beautiful reminder.

  6. Avatar

    FloussOnline

    July 15, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    salam aleykum,

    masha’Allah, beautiful !

    “5- Refraining from utilizing the favors in a way displeasing to Allah” …this struck me, because we don’t really think of it in when thinking about Shukr…

  7. Avatar

    sara

    July 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    jazakillahu khairan ukhti al-kareema, Amatullah. <3

  8. Avatar

    Ibn Masood

    July 15, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    now THIS, is an article mashaAllah. BarakAllahu feeki.

    If only we got the same amount of comments on these articles as political ones, wAllahu musta’aan.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 18, 2011 at 3:40 AM

      So true – we should have a LOVE button-
      Share, digg, retweet
      It really encourages our writers when people leave generous comments :)
      Please do start a blogversation here on how you (our readers) exhibit shukr to Allah Subhanwa Ta’ala

  9. Avatar

    farhen ahmad

    July 15, 2011 at 9:45 PM

    feeling closer to Allah by reading this
    jazakAllah for printing such a wonderful article

  10. Avatar

    shiney

    July 16, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    May Allah Reward you and Bless you for writing this sister! I had almost forgotten that hadith where the Prophet (SAW) said, “Shall I Not Be a Thankful Servant?”
    JZK for the beautiful reminder=)

    May Allah (SWT) make us all among those who Thank Him the He way He deserves to be thanked. AMEEN

  11. Avatar

    birkah

    July 16, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    JKhair for the comprehensive article. I gained a basic understanding of shukur last summer, and it changed my relationship with Allah SWT. I briefly wrote about the ayah that was the catalyst:
    http://birkah.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/give-thanks-get-more/

  12. Avatar

    Jamilah Iman

    July 16, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Ameen!!

  13. Avatar

    ummmanar

    July 16, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    jazakallahu kirn sister this is good reminder may allah guid us all to the right path and make us of the shakirun,

  14. Avatar

    Amal

    July 17, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    jazaki Allahu khairan

  15. Avatar

    Abu Ubayday

    July 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    Jazakhallah Khair!

  16. Avatar

    Nasteha

    July 17, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    May the Almighty God bless you tremendously for this amazing article.jazakallahu kheiran kathiran

  17. Avatar

    birkah

    July 18, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    Can you please explain why a health cow is called Shukur? Im guessing due to the sign of nourishment, which will bring the indidivudal profit, hence they should be thankful. JKhair.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      July 21, 2011 at 6:20 PM

      That can be one explanation. From what I’ve learned and heard, it means that the blessings are apparent..Just like you are able to see the healthiness of the cow, you can see the blessings of Allah in your life as well. Allah knows best.

  18. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    Asalamu alikum warahmatu Allah

    mashaAllah, beautiful! May Allah reward you and increase you in good.

  19. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    July 19, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    Beautiful article. It brought tears to my eyes, especially this part:

    “While you are struggling to show your thankfulness to Him, Al-Shakur is keeping account of all that you do, of all the effort you are putting in, of how much you sincerely want to worship Him in the best way. He will reward you with what you do not even deserve.”

    Barak Allahu feeki, Amatullah.

  20. Avatar

    Amatullah

    July 21, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Jazakum Allahu khayran for the comments everyone :) may Allah accept our deeds.

  21. Avatar

    Reehab

    July 24, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    Beautiful :) Tabarak Allah.

  22. Avatar

    Tariq Nisar Ahmed

    July 24, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    Allah make it a cause of Jannat al Firdaus for you.

  23. Avatar

    Sanusie

    January 8, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    We thank you a lot for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.

  24. Avatar

    Musodiq Bello

    August 23, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Very beneficial article!!

  25. Pingback: Gratitude challenge: day 3 | Aysha la Rosa

  26. Pingback: Gratitude | Stories for Muslim Kids

  27. Avatar

    Muhammad Majeed

    November 25, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    Please explain who used the meaning of Shukr a healthy cow, when and where it was used, Thanks

  28. Avatar

    Mohammed Bilal

    June 26, 2016 at 12:38 AM

    Subhanallah, very nice article indeed..

  29. Avatar

    AYEINA

    March 27, 2017 at 2:34 AM

    gratitude was the reason we started #AlhamdulillahForSeries and then the #gratitudeCAPTIONcontest to spread positivity <3

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#Life

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

covery islam story
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship hugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

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

1. My bubble burst

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

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

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

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

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

3. Made me thankful

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

dardir

4. People want to do Good

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

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

5. Smiles

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

6. It’s ok to cry

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

7. Learning to say no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Dawah through action

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

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

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

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

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

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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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