Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera
[The following is the video and transcript of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture “The Etiquette of Dealing with Parents and the Elderly” at the United for Change “Our Families: Our Foundation” conference in Montreal. The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]
Al-salāmu ‘alaykum wa raḥmatullāhi wa barakātuh
In Sūrat’l-Kāhf in the famous story of Khidr (‘alayhi’l-salām) and his encounter with Mūsa – a story that all of you have heard and read numerous times – Khidr meets three people, and each time he meets one of them, he does something very strange. One of the three people that he meets is a young man. What does Khidr do when he sees this young man walking along the beach, as the riwāyāt tell us? He kills him. Mūsa (‘alayhi’l-salām) cannot believe what he is seeing. “Have you killed an innocent soul? How could you have done this? How could you have taken the life of another human being?”
Khidr of course, as you know, is doing this as a commandment from Allāh and a waḥy from Allāh. He says to Mūsa, “I told you [that] you can’t be patient with me.” At the end of the story, what do we find out? “As for this person that I killed, their parents were good people, and Allāh knew that if we caused this young man to grow older and mature, he would have caused much grief and hardship to his parents, so Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) wanted to take this one away and substitute with another one who will be merciful to them.”
This story tells us much, but one of the things it tells us is that one of the most painful experiences of human existence and one of the most emotionally traumatic situations that any person can find himself or herself in is to find a son or daughter who is displeasing to them and to raise a child with love and mercy and tenderness and to have this child grow up and flourish in front of their eyes, and to spend one’s entire livelihood, one’s savings, one’s life and time and efforts on this young son or daughter and then to find this son or daughter turns around and goes against them. This son or daughter treats them in a harsh or rude manner. This human being, because of whom they felt motivated to live – a child motivates a parent to live – and this human being because of whom they changed their whole life plans and worked hard and struggled; someone whom they expected nothing but mercy and tenderness in response to – instead, when this child turns against the parent and treats them with contempt and arrogance, ridicule, sarcasm, the emotional trauma and distress that a parent feels is more profound than anything else. That is why, as a mercy to righteous parents, Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) actually decided to take this ghulām away because if he were allowed to live, he would have caused distress and grief.
This is something one needs to think about. Parents would be less distressed at the death of their child and at the nonexistence of this boy that they raised than they would if he were allowed to remain and allowed to flourish and yet he would cause them grief and harm. This really shows us how much a parent loves a child and how important it is that the children treat their parents with that love and respect that is due to them.
Brothers and sisters, I am sure that each one of you has heard many khuṭbahs, many durūs, many Islamic lectures about the rights that parents have and about the rights that children have to do when they treat their parents. How can you not have heard such lectures when the Qurʾān treats the rights of parents second only to Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla). I am sure that the verses and aḥadīth have been memorized by you. Wallāhi, they need to be memorized and they need to be understood. Yet, Allāh still reminds us in the Qurʾān, “Remind them even if they have heard before. Mention it again because mentioning it again and reminding them benefits the believers.”
Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) emphasizes the rights of the parents using the strongest nouns, strongest verbs, and strongest adjectives. He always emphasizes the rights of the parents after He emphasizes His own rights. “Your Lord has decreed…” This is the decree of Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) and this is the eternal decree upon which there is no other decree that will supersede it. “…that you shall worship none except Him and that you should treat your parents with iḥsān.”
What does iḥsān mean? Iḥsān comes from ḥusn, and ḥusn means perfection. The state of iḥsān as defined by Al-Rāghib Al-Asbahani and many of the famous commentators of the Arabic language means that you give everything you possibly can to the other party without expecting anything back from them. This is what the state of iḥsān is. You give everything you can – your heart and your soul, your body and your efforts – and what do you want in return? Absolutely nothing. That is the state of iḥsān (perfection). You are giving and it is a one way street. There is nothing in return that you want back. Why? Because my parents have already given me far more than I can ever pay back. My parents have already done for me much more than I can possibly do for them. Now it is my time to try to not even repay the favor because that is never going to happen, but at least do my duty as a loyal son.
In another famous verse, Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) says, “We took a covenant with the children of Israel that they worship none except God and they treat their parents with iḥsān.” In yet another verse, Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) tells us that when your parents reach an elderly age, don’t even say uff to them. Scholars of the Arabic language tell us uff is an expression or phrase that actually doesn’t have a verbal meaning. There is no noun that it is based off of. It is simply a sound that is uttered like when you are hurt and say “ouch.” It is not a noun, and it is not a verb; it is simply a sound. Uff is the slightest expression of contempt. The Arabic scholars tell us the slightest expression of irritation and anger is uff. When you are irritated, the slightest thing you can say is uff. Allāh is saying, “Don’t say uff to them.” Ibn ‘Abbās said, “Had there been a word lesser than uff, Allāh would have used it in this verse.” Had there been a word lesser than uff to describe a state of exasperation or frustration, Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) would have used it here.
The meaning here is that when your parents reach that age when you have to now take care of them, they will do things that will irritate you. They will treat you in ways that you will find troublesome. Why? Because you are not a child anymore; you are an adult, but for your parents, you are always going to be a child as we all know. No matter how old you are – 40, 50, 60 – in your their eyes, and they have every right to do this, you are always their little baby. They are going to command you and tell you this and that, and you being māshā’Allāh 30 or 40 or 50 or however old you are, think that khalās you are in charge. It is very easy to lose track of the fact that when your parents are their, you are always going to be their little baby. Allāh says, “Don’t say uff to them.”
The beauty of the Qurʾān here is that Allāh does not command you with more than you can bear. Notice Allāh doesn’t say don’t get angry and Allāh doesn’t say don’t get frustrated and Allāh doesn’t say don’t get emotional because that is inside the heart. What Allāh does say is don’t express that emotion externally; control it, trap it, and make sure it is not manifest to your parents. This is the beauty of our religion. Anybody who is dealing with elderly parents knows this first hand. It is very difficult to take care of elderly parents. It is very frustrating. Allāh didn’t tell you to not get frustrated. Allāh said, “Don’t express that frustration. Don’t let it manifest. Don’t let anything come that will show your parents you are frustrated. Trap it; keep it within you.” Outwardly, show them the respect that they deserved, even if it has to be forced.
Likewise, in the beautiful story of Luqmān (‘alayhi’l-salām) when he is giving advice to his son. “When Luqmān said to his son, ‘Don’t commit shirk with Allāh. Verily shirk is the worst of all sins.” Then Allāh said, “We are the ones who told mankind to treat his parents with kindness, iḥsān, and gentleness.” The next verses: “Luqmān said,…Luqmān said,…Luqmān said…” What I am trying to emphasize here is that there is a passage one page long in Sūrah Luqmān. Every single verse begins with, “Luqmān said to his son, ‘Ya bunayy…’” There is only one verse in which Allāh speaks directly. “We are the ones who told mankind to take care of their parents.” It is not Luqmān telling his son, “O my son, take care of us.” In only one of these verses Allāh removed the voice of Luqmān and spoke in His own voice. Scholars say this is to emphasize that Luqmān when he is preaching to his son to be righteous is not doing it out of his own selfish motivation. He is not doing it based on “I am your father, treat me like this.” Rather, Allāh took this obligation from him and Allāh spoke on behalf of him, and Allāh said, “This is Our Commandment. We are the ones who commanded mankind to treat their parents with gentleness and mercy.”
The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) in numerous aḥadīth elaborated on this concept of treating parents with mercy and tenderness. We can go on and on about this fact. Once it is narrated he (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) entered Jannah and he heard somebody reciting the Qurʾān in a beautiful voice. He asked Jibrīl, “Who is this person?” He was told, “This is al-Ḥaritha b. Nu‘man [a famous companion of the anṣār].” The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “This is what birr does to a man. al-Ḥaritha used to be good and righteous to his mother.” He hears Ḥaritha reading Qurʾān in Jannah, and automatically he links it to only one action: this is what righteous does; he used to be good to his mother.
You all know the story of Uways al-Qarni, and if not, we will summarize it briefly. Uways al-Qarni was not a companion; he was a tabi‘i. He never met the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) told ‘Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb, “There will come to you a man from Yemen,” and he described him in detail. He said, “His name is Uways from the tribe of Qarn. When he comes to you, then ask him to make du‘ā’ for you.” He is asking ‘Umar to ask this man he has never seen to make du‘ā’ for him. Why? He was righteous to his mother. ‘Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb, being who he is, is told to go to this man because he was righteous to his mother. Some books of history mention a story – Allāh knows how authentic it is, but it is mentioned in our classical sources – that Uways al-Qarni was the only son, and his father had passed away. He was taking care of his mother in a very dutiful manner. He asks and begs permission to go to Madīnah and meet the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). His mother grudgingly allows him to go but says, “You know that I need you; therefore, I only give you a day or two in Madīnah. As soon as you get there, meet the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and come back.” It is said that Uways traveled from Yemen all the way to Madīnah, and when he got there, lo and behold, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was away on an expedition and wasn’t in Madīnah.
Now he was stuck between two options. The first was to wait a week or two and wait for the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to return. He has traveled from Yemen, which is already a month’s journey. If he did, he would be raised in status eternally from a tabi‘i to a ṣaḥābah. The second option was to listen to his mother. What did he choose to do? He chose to obey his mother and give up this voluntary status. Being a ṣaḥābi is a privilege but it is not wājib. Listening to your mother is wājib. According to this riwāyah, Uways al-Qarni stayed a day or two, as much as his mother had allowed him, and then he rode his mount all the way back to Yemen. He voluntarily and willingly gave up that status in order to please his mother.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said what he said to ‘Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb that “When Uways al-Qarni comes to you, ask him to make du‘ā’ to Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) because this is a man who used to treat his mother with righteousness and birr.” SubḥānAllāh, this shows us that if we really want our du‘ā’s to be accepted, then let us treat our parents with the dignity and respect that they deserve. If we want Allāh to bless us and if we want the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to know who we are – Uways al-Qarni and the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) never met, but Allāh’s waḥy came down and Jibrīl told him who Uways al-Qarni was. How magnificent of a status did this man have that Jibrīl comes down to inform our Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) about this beautiful human being whose only good that we know of was he was somebody who treated his mother with birr. That is why the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) never ceased to remind us to take care of our parents with the utmost gentleness and kindness.
In one ḥadīth, he said, “The largest door to Jannah and the middle door to Jannah that any person has are that of his parents.” His parents are the easiest way that a person can enter Jannah. If you treat your parents with the love and respect that they deserve, the easiest way to enter Jannah will be through that door.
In yet another ḥadīth, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The pleasure of Allāh is in the pleasure of the parents, and the anger of Allāh is in the anger of the parents.” If your parents are happy with you, then even if you have other sins and other major problems, inshā’Allāh ta‘āla this is a source of expiation and kaffārah for you. Once a man came to Ibn ‘Abbās and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbās, I have done this and I have done that. I have fornicated and I have drunk wine.” He basically did every sin in the book. “What can I do to make up for this?” Ibn ‘Abbās said, “Are your parents alive?” He said, “My mother is alive.” Ibn ‘Abbās said, “Go and serve her because wallāhi, I know of no good deed that cleanses a man of all of his sins than servicing his parents.”
Another motif of the Sunnah, which is in at least four or five aḥadīth, we learn that even struggling in the way of Allāh and even participating in a legitimate jihād. These days, the word “jihād” makes me a little scared. We call it the “J-word” and are not supposed to say the word “jihād.” The fact of the matter is, we need to overcome this trepidation and this hesitation, and we need to say very clearly that jihād is a concept of our religion and it is mentioned in the Qurʾān in hundreds of verses and in the ḥadīth dozens of times. It is mentioned in a noble manner, and there is nothing wrong with the concept of jihād. What is wrong is how certain Muslims have misunderstood it. The concept of jihād remains a noble striving for the sake of Allāh. Jihād means you strive for the sake of Allāh. It does not mean you go and kill innocent people. It doesn’t mean you go and bomb civilians. It doesn’t mean you misinterpret your religion of Islam and do that which damages your own people more than it damages others. The concept of jihād is a noble one. We should not be ashamed and we should not be shy from using this word.
We need to reclaim the word with dignity and honor as we explain to others and non-Muslims the reality of this word. What those people are doing is not jihād. There are aspects of jihād and a concept of jihād that is a part of our tradition.
I want to talk about this motif that is mentioned in more than one ḥadīth which is helping your parents is better than doing a legitimate jihād. This is really relevant, especially in our times when we are facing a little bit of a crisis of certain youngsters, undereducated and overzealous, who think that they will revive the glory of Islam by doing acts of ridiculousness, militancy and violence and they go overseas and participate in military expeditions in Somalia and Iraq and Afghanistan and bring about the days of Salahuddin Al-Ayubi. For these youngsters amongst us who have been deluded by certain clerics and are being brainwashed, I say in all sincerity to them: open up the Qurʾān and Sunnah and read some basic āyāt and aḥadīth.
A man comes to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and says, “Ya Rasūlullāh, I have come here to go and fight for the sake of Allāh and do jihād for the sake of Allāh, so what do you advise me? Where should I go?” The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Is your mother alive?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Go and stick with her because Jannah is under her feet.” He wants to go for jihād, and this is a legitimate jihād – not the illegitimate type that we find in our times of killing innocent people and bombing airplanes and doing things of utter and sheer stupidity which is unIslamic and downright evil and foolish.
This man says, “I’ve come to do jihād.” What does the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) say? “Is your mother alive? Go struggle in taking care of her and struggle in maintaining the ties of kinship and ties of loyalty that your mother deserves.”
In another tradition narrated in the Musnad of Imam Aḥmad, a man comes to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and says, “O Messenger of Allāh, I have come from a far away land [in some versions he says Yemen], and I have immigrated to Madīnah in order to be with you and do jihād behind you, and I have even left my parents crying in order to be with you.” This is the first time he is seeing the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). He is trying to boast to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) that he has done so much for the sake of jihād that he even left his mother and father crying. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Go back to them and make them laugh just like you made them cry.” You want to do jihād? What a joke! You have left your parents angry at you, what kind of Muslim are you? You want to go do jihād and your parents are crying? You want the pleasure of Allāh by angering your parents? You want to please Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) by displeasing your parents? “Go back to them right now and make them laugh as you had made them cry.”
This is the real jihād, brothers and sisters. This is what we need to tell our young, overzealous, undereducated youth. Wallāhi it is easy to log onto a few chat forums and talk some grandiose, ultra-romanticized, utopic talks about how you are going to do this and that, but it is very difficult to listen to your mother and father. It is very difficult to be a good son and daughter. Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) tells us very clearly that is the real jihād.
What can we do with our parents? In other words, what does Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) require from us? To summarize very briefly, if one’s parents are alive a number of things can be done. First and foremost, financial rights and obligations. No doubt, parents have financial rights over us.
Secondly, physically helping and serving them. Taking care of their needs, giving them food and water, making food for them. Instead of your mother going to the kitchen to get a glass of water, wallāhi this is your duty. If you see your mother stand up to do something, you should stand up and do it for her. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said to the ṣaḥābi, “Go and stick to her feet…” This is an Arabic expression and means to go and lower yourself to her and humble yourself to her. You are literally and metaphorically a servant. “Go and stick to her feet because Jannah is under her feet.”
Thirdly, respecting them, controlling your anger in front of them, and never showing your irritation. Next time you feel irritated against your parents, remind yourself of the verse of Allāh: “Don’t say uff.” Ask Allāh to help you in preventing to say that uff even if you feel it and even if you feel the anger and frustration, close it. Withdraw and withhold that sentiment from being expressed.
Lastly, showing your love to them. Going above and beyond the call of duty. This is what Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) says: “Lower unto them your wings of mercy.”
If your parents have passed away, one or both of them, then no doubt this is a great loss and a very traumatic experience. Once it is narrated that the father of the famous companion al-Ḥarith al-Aqli passed away, and he was uncontrollably crying. The ṣaḥābah around him consoled him and said, “Inshā’Allāh he is in Jannah and inshā’Allāh Allāh has forgiven him.” He said to them, “Do you think that I am crying because he has passed on? Wallāhi I am sad that he has passed on, but that is not why I am crying. I am crying because my main door to Jannah has now been taken away from me. This is how I wanted to get to Jannah.”
The father of another ṣaḥābi died and he said, “For one year after he died, every time I raised my hands I could not think of any du‘ā’ except for him. All I could think of was to make du‘ā’ for him.”
After a parent dies and moves on to the next life, still a lot can be done. First and foremost, as the ṣaḥābi said, seek forgiveness for them and ask Allāh to forgive them and raise their ranks for them. Make du‘ā’ for them. Secondly, make sure that their wishes, requests, and wills were fulfilled. Make sure that anything they wanted done is executed on their behalf. Thirdly, give ṣadaqah. Give money and say, “O Allāh, reward my mother for this ten, twenty, thirty dollars.” Give regularly – every week, every month. Give something on their behalf and say, “O Allāh, give this reward to my mother and father.” Sacrifice an animal, mentioning Allāh’s Name and giving it to the poor and saying, “O Allāh, reward my mother for feeding the poor.”
Also, make Ḥajj and ‘Umrah for them. Making Ḥajj and ‘Umrah is one of the greatest and most noble acts that you can do as a son or a daughter as long as you have done Ḥajj and ‘Umrah. When you put on ihram, “Labbayk on behalf of my mother” or “Labbayk on behalf of my father.” Then, each and every penny, minute and toil and circumstance that you face, Allāh will reward your mother, and you will be rewarded as a righteous son for doing this for your mother.
Also, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said one of the ways we can show respect to the parents and to fulfill their rights after they have moved on is – and this is something hardly anybody does – meet the friends and relatives of our parents who we would not have met otherwise. In other words, our parents have their circle of friends, and because they were alive, we would also go to those friends and distant relatives. When they have moved on, we have no reason to communicate with them. We have nothing much in common. The only thing we have in common is our parents. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “A part of being a good son and a good daughter is that after your parents have moved on, go to those relatives and family members and acquaintances and friends for the sake of your parents.”
Some scholars have derived the wisdom behind this, and they say one of the wisdoms is that when you go to these people, and of course they will be of a different age and generation than you, you don’t have much in common except one thing: your mother, your father. What will the topic of discussion be? Your mother or your father. What do you think will happen when this person reminds you of how they interacted and what your mother did? How will you feel after that? You will feel so much love and tenderness and want to go home and give ṣadaqah on her behalf and make du‘ā’ for her. That love will be rejuvenated and revived. Therefore, by visiting the friends and relatives of our deceased parents, the love of our parents is once again rekindled within us. This is one of the wisdoms some of the scholars derived from this particular legacy of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
Let me conclude by quoting a very interesting and beautiful tradition that is reported from the famous companion Ibn ‘Abbās (raḍyAllāhu ‘anha). It is narrated that once a man was doing ṭawāf around the Ka‘bah and had his mother on his back. He saw Ibn ‘Abbās in the distance, so he came running over to him and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbās, this elderly lady on my back is my mother. She has been asking to come for Ḥajj for as long as I can remember. She has always wanted to go for Ḥajj, and I could not afford to buy an animal to bring her, so this year I decided to carry her on my back and do Ḥajj with her on my back. Have I now fulfilled the rights of a son to his mother?” Ibn ‘Abbās smiled and he said, “You have done good, but you have not even done a fraction of what you should.” In other words: “Alḥamdulillāh, you are a good son, but don’t come and tell me ‘Have I fulfilled the rights of my mother?’”
The man said, “O Ibn ‘Abbās, I have come from the city of so-and-so [me mentioned a far-away city] carrying my mother on my back, and you are telling me I haven’t done even a fraction?” Ibn ‘Abbās said one thing, and wallāhi this shows their understanding of human psychology and human nature. The ṣaḥābah are at a different level than us completely. Ibn Abbās said, “You haven’t done a fraction of what your mother did to you because when your mother took care of you and did everything that she did for you, her goal was to give you life. She did it out of love and to see you flourish. She did it genuinely for your own nourishment and flourishing. Now when you are paying her back, you are doing it as a duty and burden. You are doing it out of a sense of guilt and duty, and you are waiting for the day that she dies. You are not wanting to see her flourish and live. You are simply doing it as a dutiful son. You don’t have the same genuine, selfless love that your parents had for you when they did what they did.”
Simply one psychological statement: your parents did for you everything to see you live and flourish. When you become old and they are now the ones being taken care of, you are not doing it in the same philosophy. You are doing it as a burden and to pay back. How can you compare the two? One is selfless love and the other a sense of gratitude and duty. How can you possibly compare?
Brothers and sisters, parents are the best blessing that Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) has given us after īmān. Parents are the largest door to Jannah and the easiest way to get to Jannah. In the famous ḥadīth of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and with this ḥadīth we will conclude, as he is climbing the steps of the minbar in front of hundreds of thousands of ṣaḥābah and each time he climbs, he says, “Amīn! Amīn! Amīn!” Then he turns around and says, “I will explain to you why I said, ‘Amīn.’ Jibrīl came to me and he told me three things. Every time he told me one thing, he said, ‘Say, “Amīn,”’ so I said, ‘Amīn.’ The last one that he said was, ‘O Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), any person of your ummah who manages to catch a parent [in other words: whose parents live to old age] and they still are not capable of having their sins forgiven and entering Jannah [in other words, if Allāh blesses you with an elderly parent and you still cannot earn Allāh’s Pleasure] then may that person perish.”
In other words, if you have elderly parents and you are not able to earn Allāh’s Pleasure through them, you will not earn it through any other means. “Say ‘Amīn,’ ya Rasūlullāh.” So the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Amīn.”
Brothers and sisters, simple point. Bottom line. If your parents are alive, the only way to be a pleasing servant to Allāh and the only way to be a good Muslim is to have your parents love you. If your parents are angry with you or if your parents are not happy with you and you are not trying to change that situation, it doesn’t matter what you do in the Eyes of Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla). The parents have ultimate priority in this world.
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) allow us to be righteous servants. May Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) allow us to be dutiful and loving sons and daughters. May He give us the patience and the īmān and the tawfīq to take care of our parents the way that they deserve and the way that Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta‘āla) has commanded from us. May He allow us to live as Muslims, to die as Muslims, and to be resurrected as Muslims.
When Faith Hurts: Do Good Deeds = Good Life?
Loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way- even if it hurts. It is a time to learn.
The Messenger of Allah said that the faith in our hearts wears out the way our clothes wear out. Deterioration, maintenance, and renewal are part of the cycle. That’s life with all that hurts. That’s normal.
But what happens when that’s life, but life is not your normal? What happens when it feels like life isn’t normal, hasn’t been normal, and won’t be normal for a foreseeably long time? For some of us, refreshing faith becomes secondary to just keeping it.
It’s easier to say Alhamdulillah when you are happy. It’s harder when you’re not. That’s human nature though. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with what we teach about faith that can leave us unprepared for when Allah tests it. I believe that our discussions about faith tend to be overly simplistic. They revolve around a few basic concepts, and are more or less summed up with:
Faith = Happiness
Righteousness = Ease
Prayer = Problem Solved
Good Deeds Equals Good Life?
Basically, the TLDR is Good Deeds = The Good Life. None of these statements are technically untrue. The sweetness of faith is a joy that is beyond any other gratitude, for any other thing in this world. Righteousness in the sight of Allah will put you on the path to the good life in the afterlife. Making dua can be the solution to your problems. But when we say these things to people who have true faith but not happiness, or righteous behavior yet distressing hardship, we’re kind of implying that that either Islam is broken (because their prayers seem unanswered), or they are broken (because their prayers are undeserving of answers.) And neither of those is true either.
Allow me to elaborate. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a single parent who has not begged Allah to make their sick or disabled child well again. Yet, our Ummah still has sick and disabled children. Through history, people have begged Allah for a loved one’s life, and then buried them – so is prayer not equal to problem solved?
Many righteous people stand up, and are then ostracized for their faith. Many people speak truth in the face of a tyrant only to be punished for it. Many of us live with complete conviction, with unshakeable belief in the existence and wisdom and mercy of Allah, and still find ourselves unhappy and afraid of what He has willed for us.
Are We Broken?
No, but our spiritual education is. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.
Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to anyone else?
No one ever told me. It was hard for me to learn that lesson on my own, when I pleaded with Allah to make my son’s autism go away, and it didn’t. Everyone told me –Make dua! The prayer of a mother for her child is special! Allah will never turn you down!
It was hard trying to make sense of what seemed like conflicting messages- that Allah knows best, but a mother’s prayer is always answered. It was even harder facing people who tried to reassure me of that, even when it obviously wasn’t working.
“Just make dua! Allah will respond!”
I’m sure people mean well. But it’s hard not to be offended. Either they assume I have never bothered to pray for my son, or they imply that there must be good reason why Allah’s not granting to my prayers. What they don’t consider is that allowing my test to persist – even if I don’t want it to- is also a valid response from Allah.
I have been told to think back in my life, and try to determine what sin caused my child’s disability, as if the only reason why Allah wouldn’t give me what I asked for was because I was so bad I didn’t deserve it. As if good deeds equaled the good life, and if my life wasn’t good, it’s because I hadn’t been good either.
Bad Things Happen to Good People
You can assume whatever you like about my character, but bad things do happen to good people, even when they pray. You can try your hardest and still fall short. You can pray your whole life for something that will never come to you. And strength of faith in that circumstance doesn’t mean living in a state of unfulfilled hope, it means accepting the wisdom in the test that Allah has decreed for you.
That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it. When we talk about prayer and hope, we prefer to talk about Zakariyyah – who begged Allah for a child and was gifted with one long after anyone thought it even possible. But we also need to talk about Abu Talib.
The Prophet Muhammad was raised by his uncle Abu Talib, and in his mission to preach Islam he was protected by Abu Talib. But Abu Talib died without accepting Islam, was there something wrong with the Prophet, that Allah did not give him what he asked for? Was he not good enough? Did he not pray hard enough? Astaghfirullah, no. So if Prophets of God can ask for things and still not get them, why are we assuming otherwise for ourselves?
Making a Bargain with Allah
If we can understand that faith is not a contract for which we trade prayers for services, then maybe we can cope better when fate cannot be bargained with. Maybe it won’t have to hurt so bad – on spiritual level – when Allah withholds what we ask for, even when we asked for the “right” things in the right way and at all the right times.
Life is not simple. Faith is not simple. The will of Allah is not simple, no matter how much we want it to be, and when oversimplify it, we create a Muslim version of Prosperity Gospel without meaning to.
If you’ve never heard of it, prosperity gospel is a religious belief among some Christians that health and wealth and success are the will of God, and therefore faith, good deeds and charity increase one’s wellbeing. Have faith, and God will reward you in this life and the next. That’s nice. But it’s too simple. Because the belief that Good Deeds = The Good Life doesn’t explain how Ibraheem ’s father tried to have him burnt alive.
Yusuf ’s brothers left him for dead in the bottom of a well. He grew up a slave and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Aasiya – the wife of the Pharoah – one of the four best women in the history of womankind – died from her husband’s torture.
Good people are not guaranteed good lives. Islam is what we need, not a system of practices that we use to fulfill our needs.
When we limit our understanding of faith to a simplistic, almost contractual relationship with Allah, then we can’t even explain the things that Allah Tested His own prophets with.
Nor can we understand, or even begin to cope with- what He Tests the rest of us with either. We have to be real in our talk about faith, because otherwise we set each other up for unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation for when we face hardship. Faith is not protection from hardship. Faith is part of hardship. And hardship is part of faith.
Allah asks us in the opening of Surah ‘Ankabut,
Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.
Allah says in Surah Baqarah, ayah 155: “And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of the fruits of your labor. But give glad tidings to those who are patient in adversity.
Allah Tests Everyone Differently
Allah tests each of us differently, but in every single case – every single time – a test is an invitation to success. Hardship is the process through which we prove ourselves. Experiencing it– and then drawing closer to Allah through it –is how faith is tested as well as strengthened.
If we can change how we perceive hardship, then we can also change how we perceive each other. On our cultural subconscious, we still see worldly failure as being equivalent to spiritual failure. So when we see people who are homeless, we assume fault. When we see people facing depression or divorce, we assume fault. We even look at refugees and victims and special needs children and we look for fault. Because if it’s that bad then it’s has to be someone’s fault, right?
Fault is how we place blame. Blame is how we know whose mistake it is. But the will of Allah is never a mistake, it’s a test. Instead of faulting each other for what Allah tests us with, we could respect each other for the struggles we all endure. We could see each other with more compassion for our challenges, and less aversion when Allah tests us with dealing each other.
So when you’ve done things the right way, but the right things aren’t happening. Or you’ve been charitable to others, and they’re being evil towards you. Or you’ve earned only halal, but haram- it’s been taken away from you, remember this- your faith is being tested. Allah tests those that He loves. When He raises the difficulty level, Allah is extending a direct invitation for you to climb higher.
So How Do We Succeed When Faced With Failure?
The first thing to do is redefine failure. There is only one true failure in this life, and that is dying on the wrong side of Siraat ul Mustaqeem, because if close your eyes and wake up in Jahannam, no success in this life can compensate for that.
I find that helpful to remember, when I fail to stay fit because I can’t exercise without hurting myself, when I fail to fast in Ramadan because it’s dangerous for me to do so- when I fail to discover a cure for my family’s personal assortment of medical issues through rigorous internet “research,” none of that is my failure either. And I can feel a lot of different ways about these situations, but I do not feel guilty- because it’s not my fault. And I do not feel bitter, because my test is my honor. Even when I do feel scared.
Being scared in not a failure either. Neither is being unemployed. Being unmarried is not a failure. Being childless is not a failure. Being divorced is not a failure. Nothing unpleasant or miserable or unexpected is a failure. It’s all just a test, and seeing it as a test means you have the state of mind to look for the correct answers.
Not even sin is failure, because as long as you are alive, your sin stands as an invitation to forgiveness. The bigger the sin, the greater the blessings of repenting from it. Everything that goes bad is the opening of the door for good. A major sin can be the first step on a journey that starts with repentance and moves you closer to Allah every day thereafter. Sin only becomes failure when it takes you farther away from Allah, rather than closer to him.
Jahannam is the Only Failure
Addiction is not a failure. Depression is not a failure. Poverty is not a failure. Jahannam is the only failure. Everything else is a gap in expectations.
You assumed you would have something, but it’s not written for you. You assumed you’d ask Allah for something and He’d give it to you, but what is that assumption based on again? That good deeds are the guarantee to the good life, and that prayer equals problem solved?
Allah has all the knowledge, Allah has the wisdom, Allah is the best of Planners – how are you assuming that your wishes supersede His will? Even when you put your wishes in the form of a prayer?
They don’t. It is absolutely true that Allah may choose to rewrite Qadr itself based on your prayers – but that’s still His choice. Allah has always, and will always be in control of this world. And that means your world too. If you still think you’re in control, you will find it really, really hard to cope the first time you realize you’re not.
When we understand that we don’t get to control what happens and what doesn’t, we can then release ourselves from the misplaced guilt of things going wrong. Lots of special needs parents struggle with guilt. I meet them often – and every single parent has asked the question- directly or indirectly-
What did I do for my child to deserve this?
Can you hear the presumption in there? That the parents were good, so why did something bad happen? They were expecting for good deeds to equal the good life.
There’s a second presumption in there too, that their life choices were a determining factor of what happened to their child. That is a presumption of control. And as long as you try to hold on to that presumption of control, there is the constant feeling of failure when it just doesn’t work the way you think it will.
I am not proposing that we lose hope in Allah and despair of His Mercy. I am in no way insinuating that Allah doesn’t hear every prayer, hasn’t counted every tear, and isn’t intimately aware of your pain and your challenges. Allah hears your prayers, and in His wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we want. In His Wisdom, sometimes he grants us exactly what we need.
Even if we don’t see it.
Even if it scares us.
Even if it hurts us – because Allah has promised that He will never, ever break us.
Allah Tests Us in His Mercy
I am proposing that we put trust in the wisdom of Allah, and understand that when He tests us, that is part of his mercy, not a deviation from it. When He grants something to us, that is part of His mercy, and when he withholds something from us, that too is part of His Mercy, even if we don’t like it. Even when we ask Him to take it away.
The third thing I would like to propose, is that we correct our understanding of – Fa Inna Ma’Al usri yusraa, Inna Ma’al usri yusra.
So verily, definitely, for sure- with hardship there is ease. Again, Inna – for sure, with hardship there is ease.
I’m sure lots of you have said this to people you loved, or to yourself when you’re struggling with something and you’re just trying to get through it. But did you mean that this hardship will end, and then things will be good again? Like as soon as things have been hard for a while, Allah will make them easy again?
Would you believe that’s not really what that means? Ma’a means with, not after. With this hardship, there is ease. And maybe you’re like aww man, but I wanted the ease! I want the hardship to go away and Allah I’m ready for my ease now!
But that hardship, will bring you ease. Allah does not tell us what the ease will be, or when it will be- but He says it’s there, so trust Him. Even if you can’t see it right away, or in this life –it will become apparent.
I can tell you some of the ease I found with mine.
Learning When It Hurts
When my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I had to drop everything. We dropped our plans to save, to travel, and to live the charmed life of neurotypical parents whose only fears are that their children may grow up and NOT become Muslim doctors. We spent our earnings and our savings and our time and our nights and our tears and Alhamdulillah, we learned patience. We learned perspective. We learned compassion.
We really learned what we thought we already knew – about unconditional love and acceptance. We learned to be bigger than our fears, and smaller than our own egos. We learned to give and take help. We learn to accept what wisdom our cultures could offer us, and respectfully decline what did not. We learn to set boundaries and make rules that did justice by our children and our family, regardless of whether they were popular. With hardship comes ease.
When we couldn’t afford therapy for my son, my husband and I founded a not for profit organization in the UAE that provided it for my son and dozens of other people’s sons and daughters. Three and a half years ago I left that organization to seek better educational opportunities for my son here in the US, but it’s still running. The seed that our challenges planted has grown into something beyond us. With our hardship came ease for ourselves and others as well.
When I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my health issues were upgraded from challenging to permanent. I had to rethink how I lived, how I planned, how I dressed, and even – my relationship with Allah. But if I had never been sick, I would never have started writing. When it hurt, I wrote. When I was scared, I wrote. When I was lonely, I wrote. And by and by the grindstone of fear and sickness and frustration sharpened my skills. Where I am today both spiritually and professionally – is actually a direct result of both autism and chronic illness. With hardship comes ease.
I don’t like my hardships, but I don’t have to. You don’t have to either. Being a good Muslim doesn’t always mean being a happy Muslim. It just means being Muslim, no matter the circumstances.
That means loving Allah and trusting the Wisdom and Purpose in everything He throws your way – even if not loving everything He throws your way. You may hate your circumstances, and you may not be able to do anything about them, but as long as you trust Allah and use your hardships to come closer to him, you cannot fail, even if this life, you feel as if you never really succeeded.
Faith Wears Out In Our hearts, The Way Our Cothes Wear Out on Our Bodies
The hardship that damages and stains us is Allah’s invitation to repair, renew, and refresh ourselves. Our test are an invitation, an opportunity, an obstacle – but not a punishment or divine cruelty. And when we know that those tests will come, and some may even stay, then we can be better prepared for it.
Trust Allah when He says that He does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. He told us so in Surah Baqarah Ayah 286. Remember that when you are afraid, and Allah will never cause your fear to destroy you. Take your fear to Allah, and He will strengthen you, and reward you for your bravery.
Remember that when you are in pain. Allah will never cause your pain to destroy you. Take your pain to Him, and He will soothe you and reward you for your patience. Take it all to Allah – the loneliness, the anxiety, the confusion. Do not assume that the only emotions a “good Muslim” takes to Allah are gratitude and happiness and awe. Take them all to Allah, uncertainty, disappointment, anger — and He will bless you in all of those states, and guide you to what is better for you in this life, and the next, even if it’s not what you expected.
The struggles in your life are a test, and whether you pass or fail is not determined on whether you conquer them, only on whether you endure them. Expect that they will come, because having faith is not protection from struggle. Faith is protection from being broken by the struggle.
I ask Allah to protect us all from hardship, but protect us in our hardships as well. I ask Allah to grant us peace from His peace, and strength from His strength, to patiently endure and grow through our endurance.
This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible
Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam
Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji
As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations. We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.
Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion. Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone. There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.
No, it’s not ikhtilaf
The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat. The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.
It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined, free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically, the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.
The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds. We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?
Show Your Work
We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules. In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.
Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.
You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2
Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them? Why or why not?
Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts? What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.
In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor. There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.
The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.
As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent. Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.
People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble. Fisabilillah.
Dawa is the new Jihad
Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past. Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.
Indeed dawah is a broad category. For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah. Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.
No Standards or Accountability
Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.
The Shift to Meaninglessness
Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.
Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it. It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.
- The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
- In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.
Do You Know These Heroes of Eid?
Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, and the Eid honors and celebrates the fulfillment of that sacrifice. But for many the hardships do not end.
Ramadan is a time of sacrifice, and the Eid honors and celebrates the fulfillment of that sacrifice. But for many the hardships do not end.
Between one million and three million Muslims are being detained in concentration camps in China, while masjids are being demolished and imams executed.
The Rohingya Muslims of Burma continue to suffer from terrible persecution. In one Rohingya refugee camp on the Burma / Bangladesh border there are half a million children. These children are banned by the Burmese authorities from attending school and are at risk of early marriage, child labor or being trafficked.
In the Central African Republic, the Muslim minority lives in daily fear of being killed, especially in the south.
The Palestinians continue to suffer after seventy years of occupation, with no end in sight.
Russian and Assad regime attacks on civilians continue in Syria, with the real possibility of an upcoming genocide in Idlib province.
In the midst of this all suffering, heroes abound. There’s Serikzhan Bilash of Kazakhstan, who has labored feverishly to document China’s internment of Muslims across the border. He urges those in his organization to continue their work, even as he himself has been arrested.
Those Rohingya children I mentioned in the refugee camp, banned from attending school? One 14-year-old Rohingya girl mentioned in the article has managed to enroll in school in Bangladesh. Her mother sold her food rations and borrowed money to create a fake Bangladeshi birth certificate, then paid a smuggler to take her daughter out of the camp. The girl herself says, “People hate the Rohingya here. I don’t tell people I am one… I have to lie about my identity to survive. Even though it’s a big struggle… I am able to study. There are hundreds of thousands of kids like me inside of the camps who are forced to marry off early…They have no opportunities.”
Also in that camp is 13-year-old Halim, who runs his own tutoring service, where he teaches more than 20 children. He says, “I am teaching them so they can do something for our nation. If they don’t learn anything, they can’t prosper in their life, as well as they can’t fight for the nation.”
In Palestine, let us not forget Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old volunteer paramedic from Gaza who was shot by an Israeli sniper on June 1, 2018, while tending to a tear gas victim. In her last Facebook post, the day before she was killed, she wrote, “Your conscience will be comforted as much as possible since God always knows your intention. #sleep_well Be good.”
In Syria, we have Dr. Omar Ibrahim, an Egyptian neurosurgeon who could probably be earning a hefty salary anywhere in the world, but instead labors under constant bombardment in the war-torn and half crushed city of Idlib. He’s been in Syria for five years and says, “I have no regrets about doing this work. Because I have passion for my work, and this work inspires me.”
A Religion of Heroes
Such stories are amazing, but they are not unique. There are countless heroes, and should that surprise us? Islam is a religion of heroes, and has always been so, going all the way back to its inception in Makkah, when the Prophet Muhammad (sws) drew around himself the weak and powerless, the slaves and foreigners. They were tortured, but did not surrender their new faith. Heroes.
Or, several years later, when the disbelievers of Arabia came in great numbers to wipe the Muslims off the face of the earth. The Muslims dug a great trench around Madinah, and held off the attackers under conditions of hunger and terrible cold, until – with Allah’s help – the siege was broken. Heroes.
So if you thought such heroes were a thing of the past, remember Serikzhan Bilash, the Rohingya girl, Halim, Razan al-Najjar, Dr. Omar Ibrahim and the untold, uncounted heroes like them. You may even know a few heroes personally. I do.
There’s my friend Karim, who works for an organization that sponsors Muslim orphans. He’s overworked and underpaid, and struggles to support his family and two children. He’s highly experienced and could earn more somewhere else. But he sticks with it because he believes in Islamic work.
I think also of my daughter’s homeroom teacher, sister Sharmeen. She’s an enthusiastic teacher who pushes the children to read, write and understand the roots of language. She does more than is required and is not appreciated as she should be. But once again, her passion drives her.
Persistence of Dua’
Our local Imam recently gave a khutbah about the importance of dua’. He said that Allah loves the dua’ that is persistent. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Daa’ wa’l-Dawa’: “One of the most beneficial of remedies is persisting in dua’.”
So be persistent. Pray for our suffering Ummah, and pray for our heroes. And donate whatever you can spare to the organizations that work on their behalf.
My Ordinary Life
As for me, my life is ordinary. On the morning of Eid, I, my mother and my daughter Salma – who is twelve years old now – wake up early and put on our best clothes, inshaAllah. We get in the car and stop at Krispy Kreme donuts. I buy a box of a dozen to share with others after Salat al-Eid, and a few extras in a bag for our family, so we don’t have to wait in a long line and elbow people to snatch a cruller.
I pick up my cousin’s son, who does not have a car. We go downtown to the Fresno convention center and sit among a thousand other Muslims. We recite the Takbeerat al-Eid, praising Allah’s greatness. The Eid salat begins, then I strain to hear the khutbah as so many people begin chattering right away. Especially, the sisters. Sorry ladies, but it’s true :-)
I know, it all sounds a bit silly, but I’m excited. It’s a wonderful day. I see brothers that I haven’t seen since last year. Everyone is wearing their best outfits.
But it’s not about the donuts or the nice clothes. It is this feeling of sharing a connection with every Muslim around the world; a feeling of being part of something great.
When we return home, my mother makes cookies, and we put some decorations on the walls. Salma opens her presents, which this year are a new Switch game, a dartboard and a pearl necklace. It’s the first piece of real jewelry I’ve ever bought her. Buying it left me with $18 in my bank account, which means I predict a lot of Uber driving (my side job) in my near future. So I hope she likes it.
On such days, I thank Allah that I am alive to see another sunrise. Another day to strive to be a better Muslim and a better human being.
The Spirit of the Prophets
I also talk to Salma, as I do every year, about our Muslim brothers and sisters who are struggling all over the world, fighting for their freedom and their very survival. They don’t have pizza and donuts on Eid or pearl necklaces. Some are starving. Most have lost someone: a parent, a child, a sibling or a friend. Some have been utterly devastated.
Yet they are resolute. They have a deep strength that, like the well of Zamzam, never runs dry, SubhanAllah. They will not give up their hopes, their dreams or their faith, Allah willing.
These are the real heroes of Eid. I feel small next to them. They are the ones living the spirit of the Prophets and the Sahabah. They have made the greatest sacrifices, and are still striving, undaunted. They are living the words of Allah:
“Say: ‘Verily, my ṣalāh, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are all for Allāh, the Lord of the ‘Alameen’” (6:162).
May Allah ease the hearts of all who are suffering, replace pain with comfort and joy, sickness with health, oppression with liberation, and tyranny with freedom. May Allah give them security, safety, comfort, victory, and Jannah.
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