By Aishah Mohd. Nasarruddin, trainee lecturer in women’s health development unit, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Drifted and Forgotten
The flourishing of prostitution in Muslim countries is a paradox that we often overlook as a problem of our ummah. As prostitution is condemned and forbidden in Islam, and these women, to an extent, are marginalized and invisible in our community, many of us are not aware of the magnitude and realities of this problem. We do not consider them as a cause worth fighting for as we do for the betterment of the poor, abused, homeless, oppressed and ailing. To make matters worse, misinformation is widespread and the voices of former prostitution victims are systematically silenced.
Among the factors contributing to the widespread practice of prostitution among Muslim countries include:
- The denial of the existence of such problems in our community
- Spreading of the truth impedes men’s comfort and pleasure in using women
- Hindrance of profitability of the industry, especially for those players who are politically connected
- Prostitution is too horrible of a practice, a highly stigmatized taboo subject, that people would rather not hear details about
Majority of us may have the idea that prostitution is a choice and the women enjoy what they do. The reality is quite the contrary for many of them. On many occasions, deprivations, conflicts, and difficult circumstances often lead to desperation, and desperation forces these women into the practice of prostitution. Many are uneducated women who live in poverty and possess few marketable skills. My research finds that prostitutes are many times:
- single mothers making ends meet for their children.
- victims of incest and sexual abuse.
- manipulated homeless teenagers.
- displaced sufferers of human trafficking.
- They are distraught girls with failed early marriages.
- They are refugees who fled from their war-torn countries.
While we criminalize them for living in adultery, spreading diseases, disrupting family institutions, and giving birth to innocent, illegitimate children who suffer for having dishonorable mothers, we fail to see the other spectrum of the consequences of prostitution. The consequences are not only devastating to the society, but also to the prostitute herself as a person. It completely destroys her already shattered life, being reduced down to a depersonalized, sexual object. She develops a personality where she is unable to develop trust in relationships and slowly numbs herself, to the point where she loses the ability to feign attachments to anyone or anything. In order to survive this overwhelming, daily ordeal, she dissociates from her real self, originally as a defense mechanism; sadly, it reaches to the point of complete shut down, where she is stripped of her identity, and over time, she disappears.
In addition, where violence against women is considered, prostitution is usually exempted from this category. However, the health effects of prostitution are similar; injuries, infections, and psychological stress are suffered by women subjected to prostitution as well as other forms of violence against women. Apart from sexual violence, prostitutes experience physical violence by their pimps, brothel owners, and clients as a means to keep them under control. Homicide is a frequent cause of death for women in prostitution. They are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic inflammatory disease, and cervical cancer, not to mention their risk of unwanted pregnancies, which often lead to a lack of prenatal care or unsafe abortions. Moreover, they may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and, eventually, may resort to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. The vicious cycle then continues.
I believe that no woman in her right mind would want to be a sex slave. In prostitution, research involving nine countries revealed that when the prostitutes were asked, ‘What do you need?’, 89% responded that they desired to ‘leave prostitution’ (Farley, 2003). This was followed by ‘job training’, ‘home or safe place’, ‘health care’, ‘individual counseling’ and other supportive measures.
But what about those women who openly confess they enjoy being prostitutes? Let it be known, few prostitutes who have come to profit from advocating the legalization of prostitution, writing columns in porn magazines and websites, and scheduling appearances on talk shows should not hold water to the overwhelming number of prostitutes who silently suffer from prostitution. Some leading pro-sex work advocates of legalized prostitution have been convicted on pimping charges although they themselves claim that they are common prostitutes and are not involved in organizing crimes against prostituted women. Even sex worker rights leader, Carol Leigh, has said herself in a 2004 debate, “95% of my friends want out of prostitution.”
Recently we interviewed a prostitute new to the ‘job’, joining this year. She is a 29-year old single mother, divorced, with three children, and with no financial support. During the day she takes care of her children, and at night she leaves them with her sister and goes to ‘work’. Every night she goes to her pimp’s house which serves as a prostitution site and meets her clients there. On average she has three clients per night, majority of whom are married men. When we asked her why she chose this job, she replied that it’s the only suitable job for her that pays enough to support her children. When we asked her whether she wants to get out from it, she answered “if it’s possible I want to stop doing this right this moment. I live in constant fear and worry that I might be caught by authorities”.
Fortunately, prostitution is illegal in most Muslim countries, the exceptions being Turkey and Indonesia. However, despite its illegality, there are hubs in our own soil making millions out of the industry. Inadequate law enforcement, economic instability, poor planning to improve standards of living, and the community turning a blind eye to prostitution make this problem difficult to control. Moreover the pimps and traffickers bribe authorities to sustain the illegal operations, and there are even authorities who take advantage of the prostitutes. The woman I mentioned earlier told us that there were police and even religious officers who come to them as clients.
What can we do to help?
In regions where prostitution remains legal, it may be easier to reach out to them because they are registered under the profession and therefore can be identified. For example, in Turkey, sociologists and psychologists interviewed 3,000 registered prostitutes working at brothels to determine whether they had been forced into the job and if they would prefer another line of employment.
On the other hand, where prostitution is generally illegal, it is difficult and rather unsafe to reach them. Many things can happen if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time. They fear that ‘outsiders’ would turn them in to the authorities to be penalized, especially the prostitutes who are linked to pimps, traffickers, and corrupt officials. There was a case in Iraq in 2008, where Soran Hama, a journalist of the Kurdish Lvin magazine, was shot by unidentified gunmen in front of his house weeks after he had written a detailed report on police involvement in a major Kirkuk prostitution ring.
What we can do to reach out is put them in contact with experienced volunteers from reputable organizations such as NGOs working on reproductive and health education, or NGOs that conduct programs to keep children from red-light districts in school. By slowly reaching out and engaging with them, it is hoped that mutual trust can be built and they can be convinced that a way out is possible, that there are people who would support them and give them protection, that there are people who will not judge and stigmatize them.
We should include them in income-generating programs so that they can have a regular income, which hopefully would decrease the chance of them resorting back to prostitution. Sponsorship should be raised to enable their children to attend and stay in school, as education plays a vital role to break them free from the poverty trap and further prevent them from entering prostitution.
On a larger scale, there should be a focus shift to criminalize the buying rather than the selling of sex. The burden of punishment should be on the clients who perpetuate the sex trade rather than the women who are trapped in the situation. For example, in Sweden, prostitution is officially acknowledged as a form of male sexual violence against women and children. Swedish policy addresses the issue of prostitution and trafficking by focusing on the root cause, and recognizing that without male demand and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able flourish and expand. As a result, street prostitution has diminished. Granted, critiques have been directed to the government for making prostitution go underground and sex being sold over the internet is a growing problem; at least sources of evil cannot be accessed easily.
Rather than consistently playing the blaming game and condemning them to hell, as a community we should take whatever measures necessary to assist them to escape prostitution. These desperate individuals need our help and understanding in order to believe they can lead better lives. They need to be pulled out from the pit so that they can regain their dignity, integrate back into society, and return to their senses, rest assured that Allah and their Muslim brothers and sisters have not neglected them.
Allah says in Sūrat’l-Nūr :
Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows and you do not know [24:19].
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
The lack of appropriate compensation has led to the rise of qualified scholars and imams seeking other means of financial compensation beyond the local community as paid employees – how should we actually value them as community leaders, and how should we break down their financial costs?
The past few decades have seen many bright and talented young men leave their professional careers in pursuit of religious knowledge. They studied in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many other Muslim countries, sacrificing their careers, wealth, and many years of their life with the hopes and dreams of learning Islam and teaching it when they returned. These aspiring students of religious knowledge were usually advised against studying Islam overseas by their parents, friends, respected elders, and many community members. They were warned that the path was physically and financially risky and challenging. Nonetheless, packed with their resolve and hope in Allah, they were patient with the obstacles they faced in pursuit of knowledge. As their imaan and knowledge continued to grow and their passion for conveying the beauty of Islam increased, they joyfully returned to the U.S. with dreams of providing their communities with religious guidance. Unfortunately, within a short period of time, their enthusiasm has diminished and their frustration has increased. So, what happened?
Despite serving their communities day and night by leading prayers, giving khutbas, teaching weekly classes, giving dawah to non-Muslims, mentoring the youth, and counseling people in need, community members have continuously complained. Board members, often times ignorant about the day to day work of an imam, attempt to control their schedules, activities and speak down to them. Community members complain that the scholar follows a different madhab than their own, his beard was too short, his pants were too long, or that his voice wasn’t melodious enough. Nonetheless, they were able to deal with these issues. They knew that the prophets had faced tremendous obstacles and that they too had to exercise beautiful patience with their communities. However, there was another issue that although it existed from day one, it was becoming more of a concern as these scholars got married and had children; they were not being paid a respectable wage . The one-bedroom apartment was not big enough, their children could not participate in high-quality community programs, and saving for retirement was impossible.
What are the natural consequences of the financial situation that these young men were put in? By looking at many of our communities, the answer is rather obvious. These young scholars often left their positions in the masjid, painstakingly leaving their passion to serve their communities behind in pursuit of a decent wage. Some had degrees to fall back on and went back to careers in engineering or business. Others decided to learn new marketable skills such as data science and accounting. Others went back to graduate school in search of new careers. Another group decided to become independent contractors, offering their services to any community willing to compensate them for their services of teaching or even fundraising. They would travel long distances to speak, hoping to help others and make an income.
In this new Islamic gig economy, the youth and their families are the casualties, who have been left without guidance and mentorship. After their local scholar left the masjid seeking greener pastures, their masjid may have completely stopped having regular programs, resorted to finding underqualified community members to speak, or hired other popular scholars to guest lecture once in while and run back home. All of these stopgap measures have left the community without religious leadership.
Another group of scholars decided to start their own traveling institutes, join existing ones, or become Islamic tour guides. They had to build their brands, market their institutes online and on social media, and typically had to cater to the wealthy and educated segments of the Muslim community. They would travel the country and provide their knowledge to those with the wealth to afford these private events. Sadly, this has inadvertently led to a dawah focused on the elite, where only the haves are targeted for spiritual growth, and the have nots are of less concern since they provide little financial value. Additionally, the need to build up a scholar’s brand has the potential to compromise one’s dignity and values if one has to keep finding ways to stay popular and promote himself. Rather than blame the scholars who have taken these roads, it is more important to think about the conditions in our community that have led to the rise of this culture. In fact, due to a lack of qualified scholars nationally, traveling scholars and institutes have provided significant value. However, we also need to think deeply about the social implications and consequences of these recent trends. In this exchange between local residents and traveling scholars, communities have nothing to build on after the program. They do not have access to study circles, weekly classes, or spiritual mentoring. Furthermore, the youth are largely neglected, as traveling educational programs do not typically cater to their needs. Is this the future of community building? Is this our legacy and history?
The issue at the heart of this piece (and many other great articles ) is the value of a scholar to a community. It is well known that Muslim scholars are paid significantly less than Rabbis and other qualified faith leaders. Basic economics will tell us the result of this, regardless of good intentions. Why would intelligent young minds ever fathom careers in religious work if they know that they will not be paid a decent wage? Are we surprised when scholars with other career options quickly abandon their positions? Only those with significant financial assistance from their family or access to private donors are typically able to stay in such positions, although they may harbor much resentment within them. Even more problematic is the frustration that their wives and children feel when they see their husbands and fathers giving so much to the community, yet they have little to show for it in terms of financial stability or quality time together. What makes the scholar’s predicament more complicated is that due to the atypical work hours of the position, which may include early mornings, evenings, and weekends, the wife of the scholar is required to stay home full time with the children and unable to work. This makes the scholar’s family dependent on his salary alone. Which brings us to the core of the matter; what should scholars be paid?
The knee-jerk response that we often hear from board and community members in affluent communities when discussing salaries is “brother, we would love to pay our scholar more, but we don’t have the funding.” This would be a reasonable response until you look at the multi-million-dollar renovations to make the masjid aesthetically pleasing and the tens of thousands of dollars spent on catering lavish iftars and interfaith dinners. Ultimately, the use of masjid funds is a value judgment. It is a value judgment that board members have to make on how to use funds that the community has provided, and a value judgment for community members on how much to invest in their masjid. For board members primarily concerned with building megacenters, what value is a beautiful building if it is devoid of congregants and someone to provide guidance to the community? For community members, what is a reasonable amount to regularly contribute and invest? Is the masjid worth as much as your monthly gym pass? Is the masjid worth as much as your children’s Kumon or martial arts expenses? I am not suggesting families abandon any of their existing financial investments in themselves or their children. What I am suggesting is that we completely rethink the value of a religious scholar in our community as an investment, not a charity cause. In the business world, wealthy investors invest in people, not a business. They invest in people who they believe can create value for society. Does the Muslim community think about hiring a scholar as a fixed business asset (e.g., a shiny piece of furniture) or as an investment in a person who produces value by helping a community grow? If the scholar in your community saves and supports your child’s Islamic identity and imaan, how much is that worth to you? If the scholar delivers inspiring lectures that help you spiritually grow as a person, how much is that worth to you? These are some of the questions we need to reflect upon as we try to determine how much to invest in scholar.
Financial Reality Check:
Let’s discuss specifics. How much should a scholar be compensated? The answer is that it depends. It depends on such factors as the city that the community is in, the qualifications and experience of the scholar, and the job expectations. For example, hiring a scholar in Los Angeles (median home price of $690,000) will cost significantly more than hiring a scholar in Albuquerque (median home price of $200,700). It is unreasonable to expect a scholar to squeeze his family into a studio or one bedroom apartment. It is also unreasonable to expect the scholar to live far away from the masjid and commute long distances multiple times a day if the masjid is in a more affluent neighborhood (if this happens, don’t be surprised if the scholar doesn’t show up as often). The salary should take into consideration the income required to rent in the city and what is considered a livable wage. For example, in Los Angeles, a family requires an income over $118,000 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, assuming a 28% rent-to-income ratio. To demonstrate the variance in the cost of living, San Francisco and New York residents require over $165,000 in annual income to afford renting a two-bedroom apartment, whereas Denver requires an income around $78,000.
A religious scholar should be treated as a professional who brings substantial skills into the position. A religious scholar is expected to be a competent public speaker, community educator, counsel community members, provide Islamic legal and spiritual guidance, research contemporary topics, and many other tasks. A religious scholar typically has secular and religious bachelor’s degrees, although many hold master’s and doctorates. Compensation should take into account the level of education and experience of the scholar.
A community needs to factor in whether they need a full-time or part-time scholar. The IRS defines a full-time employee as someone who works 30 or more hours in a week. Therefore, any scholar working 30 hours or more should be treated as full-time, and less than 30 hours as part-time. In some cases, part-time positions are desired by both the masjid and scholar, especially if the community has financial constraints or if the scholar prefers the flexibility to pursue other interests simultaneously. In addition to base salaries, comprehensive medical insurance (health, dental, and vision) and retirement plans should be standard for the full-time scholar and his family. Retirement plans are important for both the scholar and the community. In the absence of a retirement plan, the scholar is unable to leave his position financially and is forced to cling to his role. For the community, allowing a scholar to retire and be financially stable is important in and of itself, but also ensuring younger scholars can transition into the role and continue building the community. There should also be a built-in structure for annual raises, due to factors such as increased experience and inflation-induced increases in the cost of living. While an entry level salary may not afford a young scholar the income to rent or purchase a home, annual raises and merit-based promotions should create a salary trajectory that allows the scholar to raise his growing family in the community he works in. Professional development opportunities, continuing education funds, and sabbaticals should also be considered part of the compensation package to ensure the scholar grows in his skillset and ability to guide the community. Sabbaticals allow scholars to write and produce beneficial material or travel and spend time learning from senior scholars.
A separate consideration from salaried scholars is how to compensate contracted/freelance work, which is defined here as an agreement for a scholar to provide a specific guest lecture, program, or service to a community. Compensation needs to take into consideration distance of travel, local traffic, and other factors that affect the time investment of the scholar. Contracted work is not as consistent as full-time salaried work and should be treated as a form of consulting, where higher rates per program are expected. One suggestion is to pay the local contracted scholar 0.5% of the average local scholar’s salary in your region for a program. For example, if the average salary is $100,000, a local guest scholar should be offered approximately $100,000 x .5% = $500 for a lecture. Additionally, if the speaker is coming from out of town and travels from far away, travel time should be considered in the honorarium. Some obvious guidelines include paying for food, travel, and accomodations. Of course, level of expertise and experience must be factored in, as this is only meant to be a starting point.
Unfortunately, as it stands now, a local contracted scholar would be fortunate to receive $100-200 for a lecture, which may take many hours to prepare. Just to demonstrate how low this rate is, let’s do a little exercise. Imagine a scholar made an agreement to do 30 lectures in a month (which is unheard of), spread out at different local Islamic centers. Assuming a rate of $150 per lecture, the scholar would earn 30 x $150 = $4,500 for a month x 12 = $54,000 for a year. This does not include health benefits, retirement, sick time, taxes, or anything else. Is this a fair and equitable way to treat a scholar? To add insult to injury, scholars are often expected to work for free, spiritually bullied by boards and community members that religious work should be done fi sabillah (or free sabillah?). Scholars despise negotiating and arguing over money, which leads to them typically accepting whatever low offer they have been given, while deep down they feel abused and taken advantage of. Somehow, this problem needs to be remedied. Scholars could hire agents to negotiate a reasonable package on their behalf. This might help individual scholars, but not the profession at large. A better solution might be the formation of a scholars union that sets standards and guidelines for compensation (to be discussed in a future article, inshaAllah).
The American Muslim community is in a spiritual and intellectual crisis. With the prevalence of secular, liberal, progressive, and other unIslamic worldviews creeping into our communities and children’s lives, the need for capable religious scholars to guide our communities is critically important. However, acquiring talented scholars to address the needs of our communities requires giving proper respect, which in its most basic form is providing reasonable wages. If we decide otherwise, we should not be surprised when communities fail, youth and families become lost, and capable scholars end up far away from their communities.
May Allah protect us all.
 Abuelezz, M. (2011). A Survey of American Imams: Duties, Qualifications and Challenges: a Quantitative and Religious Analysis (Thesis, University of Georgia).
 In a study (Higher Education in the 21st Century ) conducted by Harvard about college experiences that included 2,000 interviews across 10 college campuses, one of the biggest takeaways was that colleges need to invest in people, not buildings. Students wanted access to more people to help guide them with their personal struggles rather than investments in technology and infrastructure.
 While this may seem obvious, there are many cases where traveling guest speakers spend their own money for travel, food, and lodging and are not compensated at all for speaking.
Our Plastic Planet
We travel through time and see the different times as a race that we have advanced through. A few of those times were identified by the materials used or that were life-changing. The stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. If our time was to be identified, it is undeniable the plastic age.
Chemically, plastic is made up from organic compounds like such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. When plastics were first introduced, it was a life-changing compound that littered homes (then the world). Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. It makes visiting beautiful sites created by Allah, disappointing. What does pollution, specifically plastic, has to do with our role as Muslims? and to what capacity?
Before understanding that, we have to see how plastics impact life on Earth.
Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
These are just a few examples, the list is much longer. Before I go any further, I want to express my opinion first, as an environmental activist. Your individual actions in dealing with pollution are your duty as a Muslim, but the change we need for our survival needs to happen on an international level.
Abu Zarr Al-Ghafari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).”
This simple hadith resonates with us due to the magnitude of its influence. Moving an obstacle is charity, we associate money with charity and tend to forget that other actions that can count as charity. What does removing an obstacle has to do with plastics? As I mentioned earlier 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic. That is a disturbance to other living creatures. As we remove the obstacles from the path of many creatures, we can work on ourselves to avoid putting it there, to begin with. This also relates to point number three of how many living creatures are impacted by our negligence. Not just plants and animals, but people as well. You can take a moment to google images of plastic in our world and see that they aren’t just neatly packed in garbage bags or recycling bins.
Imaams al-Bukhari and Muslim reported from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said: “There is a reward for service to every living creature.”
These are violations we commit and deeds we are prevented from by participating in this plastic culture. More importantly, we are harming ourselves and contaminating useable drinking water. Earlier I wrote an article about water its right upon us.
God’s Messenger expressed this in the following way:
“It is a fact that in the next life you will render their rights to those to whom they are due. The hornless sheep even will receive its right by way of retaliation from a horned sheep that butted it.” Muslim, Birr, 60.
Our actions in this modern era echo around the world. My polluting habits may cause harm elsewhere. My spending habits may entice more harm than good. It may seem extreme, but science proves that we are all connected in a delicate chain or balance, a balance set by the wisdom of Allah . More importantly, it is documented from the words of the Prophet. An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace, and blessings be upon him, said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5665, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2586
When water gets contaminated it is then rendered useless, depriving millions of basic survival. There are plenty of freshwater reserves completely useless due to toxic pollution from plastic manufacturing.
حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ عَمْرٍو، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ السَّمَّانِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ” ثَلاَثَةٌ لاَ يُكَلِّمُهُمُ اللَّهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، وَلاَ يَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهِمْ رَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى سِلْعَةٍ لَقَدْ أَعْطَى بِهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا أَعْطَى وَهْوَ كَاذِبٌ، وَرَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى يَمِينٍ كَاذِبَةٍ بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ لِيَقْتَطِعَ بِهَا مَالَ رَجُلٍ مُسْلِمٍ، وَرَجُلٌ مَنَعَ فَضْلَ مَاءٍ، فَيَقُولُ اللَّهُ الْيَوْمَ أَمْنَعُكَ فَضْلِي، كَمَا مَنَعْتَ فَضْلَ مَا لَمْ تَعْمَلْ يَدَاكَ ”. قَالَ عَلِيٌّ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ غَيْرَ مَرَّةٍ عَنْ عَمْرٍو سَمِعَ أَبَا صَالِحٍ يَبْلُغُ بِهِ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم.
As narrated by Abu Huraira:
“The Prophet said, ‘There are three types of people whom Allah will neither talk to nor look at, on the Day of Resurrection. (They are): 1. A man who takes an oath falsely that he has been offered for his goods so much more than what he is given. 2. A man who takes a false oath after the ‘Asr prayer in order to grab a Muslim’s property, and 3. A man who withholds his superfluous water. Allah will say to him, Today I will withhold My Grace from you as you withheld the superfluity of what you had not created.” [Bukhari: 2370]
We do not want to be guilty of withholding water from other directly or indirectly. With the advanced technology and the thousands of websites providing information, there are plenty of ways to determine if your daily habits have an impact on others well being.
We only manage to recycle 5% of the plastic wasted, and 90% of the pollution in the ocean is plastic. Are we asked to recycle? Is it just good practice or a practice is preferred?
Asked about what the Prophet used to do in his house, the Prophet’s wife, `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), said that he used to repair his shoes, sow his clothes and used to do all such household works done by an average person.
Recycling and reusing is a critical part of conserving and protecting what we have. You can start with yourself, but your goal is to expand these actions to other families, communities, countries. If the action is sincere this would bring us closer to Allah . “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Saheeh Muslim)
How to Teach Your Kids About Easter
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.
My mother put up her Christmas tree every year. We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.
I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.
As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.
That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:
- The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
- Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
- We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
- The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.
So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.
There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.
There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:
Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.
Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.
Allah Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.
Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.
Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.
If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.
Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.
We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.
So what do we believe?
Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.
- Allah is One.
- Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
- He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
- There is nothing like Allah in the universe
Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.
- Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
- We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
- We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.
When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.
You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.
If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:
- Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
- Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
- Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
- Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
- You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.
We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.
It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.
Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah. We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.
The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.
Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast. Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.
You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them. No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.