By Uzair Sarmast
After recently attending the Pure Paisa: Fiqh of Money & Transactions seminar at Qabeelat Durbah, I imparted some ideas about minimizing/eliminating interest in financing one’s education with the volunteers. Alḥamdulillāh, some people found it to be beneficial, so I am sharing it here on MuslimMatters, where I hope it will benefit others and serve as an impetus for further discussion.
Getting an interest-free education has always been and continues to be challenging, especially in light of increasing tuition costs. I just wanted to take a moment to share some of my thoughts that may help you (or your friends/children) get a quality education without compromising your values. And even if one feels interest is a necessity in getting an education, one can still make an effort to minimize it along with the overall costs of education.
My thoughts come from knowing a few people who have completed undergraduate studies and medical/dental school without dealing with interest, walhamdulillah.
I should also point out that I’m unable to provide a one-stop surefire solution (because currently there is none as far as I know), but rather just a few meager thoughts that might help. And by no means is anything guaranteed or easy; to the contrary I think being able to finance graduate studies without interest is the rare exception (and an immense blessing), rather than the rule. Undergraduate studies may be easier due to lower costs and greater availability of scholarships and financial aid.
PREPARE THE SOIL & PLANT THE SEEDS
Intention is emphasized in everything we do, and pursuing an education is no different. If one is absolutely committed to staying interest-free, then I think it’s paramount for the person to make an intention along the lines of: “If I can’t get this education interest-free, then I will delay it/won’t do it.” I believe such an intention (if serious & sincere; not just lip service) will bring Divine Help for the person.
Ask the only One Who Can Help You; the only One Who is Capable of all things; the only One Who Knows what is best for you.
With Allāh: A person may say “I want to enter such and such a profession so that I can earn money, and give it in charity to help others.” Put your money where your mouth is from the get go. If you are not charitable now (however little it may be), then how can you be entrusted to give in the future?
With People: People aren’t looking to lend money, especially large sums, to people who aren’t reliable: reliable enough to pay them back, as well as reliable enough to successfully complete their education and obtain quality employment.
Excel in School
Since many scholarships are based wholly or partially upon academic merit, if you don’t have the grades, then you may be severely limiting potential sources of funding. If you plan ahead, then you’ll appreciate the need to excel academically as early as high school and can hopefully lock in scholarships for your entire undergraduate education. If you’re already in college and haven’t received any scholarships thus far, then you can still do well now and apply for scholarships going forward since many scholarships are offered on a per-semester basis.
Community Service & Extracurricular Activities
In addition to academic performance, many scholarships take your contributions outside the classroom into consideration. Some organizations you can volunteer with offer their own scholarships. Furthermore, a friend or member of the community is more apt to help out someone who is a contributor to society.
Realize that staying interest-free isn’t going to be easy and you may have to sacrifice some things. For example, living in an apartment at an expensive out-of-state school might not be the most reasonable expectation (see “Living at Home” below)
Family & Friends: This is going to be a key (I’m inclined to say necessary) resource. Hopefully someone you know has been blessed with surplus wealth, and is willing to help you out. Ideally, you know someone who has wealth and holds the same beliefs as you. The limitation is that many practicing people think that interest for educational loans is not a problem. To find someone willing to help you avoid interest for school will be like finding a needle in a haystack. Don’t lose hope completely because the opportunity arises when someone who may not have an issue with interest personally, but respects you as a person and is willing to help you so that you don’t have to compromise your values. Or you might have someone who is involved with interest, but is regretful about it, and they may see it as an opportunity to attain the Mercy of Allāh
(“I have my shortcomings & regret them, so perhaps if I protect someone from interest, then hopefully Allāh will Protect me”).
For example, I know someone who was able to borrow $50,000 and another person was able to borrow $60,000 over the course of 4 years.
Organizations: There are a couple of charitable organizations that provide interest-free loans for undergraduate & graduates studies. You can search for them on the internet, and apply. Using this technique, someone I know received $50,000 over 4 years.
There are several scholarships that come in all different shapes and sizes based on field of study, financial need, ethnicity, academic merit, extracurricular involvement, etc. Most will require effort in terms of applications and essays, but remember that if you’re serious about avoiding interest, you’ll need to put in the effort. The great thing about scholarships is that you don’t need to pay them back. I know someone who got about $45,000 over 4 years for graduate studies, and several others who had 60-100% of their undergraduate tuition covered.
How to find scholarships
1. There are numerous books and websites which you can look up
2. Ask your parents to find out if their employer offers scholarships because many companies do
3. Find out if your town/county/state offers scholarships for your field of study, academic merit, or volunteer work
4. Check with local organizations (ie. Rotary Clubs) for scholarships
5. And of course, check with your school for what scholarships they have that you may potentially qualify for. If you’re a double-major, check with both departments for scholarships that may be uniquely offered for each major
Mountains are made of pebbles
While a scholarship for $500 or $2,000 may not seem like a lot compared to the total tuition, realize that receiving a few of these can add up quickly. Additionally, you will probably incur other expenses such a books, and equipment, so any amount of money you can get counts.
Buy used books (unless absolutely impossible). Email your professor before the class begins and find out what books are required; then search for used copies on campus or on the internet. Also find out if an older edition of the book will suffice. There is no need to pay out the nose to have a brand-new copy of the latest edition from the school bookstore if you don’t have to. Thus far, I think overall I’ve either broken even or made a profit on textbooks.
OTHER PRACTICAL TIPS
Live at Home
Attending an in-state public institution usually offers significant savings on tuition. Combine that with a school that is within commuting distance (save on rent, utilities, food), and now you’re talking major cost reductions.
Work During School
Depending on the difficulty and quantity of your coursework, a part-time job can be a very realistic option for many. Sure it’ll reduce the amount of time you can spend hanging out in the MSA lobby, but it’ll be a worthwhile sacrifice.
Evaluate the importance of your undergraduate program
Especially if you’re planning on pursuing graduate education.
For someone planning on attending medical school, my humble personal opinion is that going to a solid state school (ie. the equivalent of Rutgers in NJ) is an excellent choice. I don’t think going to a brand-name, private school adds much to your medical career because what is most important in the long-run is the quality of your residency and fellowship training (which depend upon your performance and activities in medical school) as well as other factors not related to where you received your undergraduate education.
Furthermore, getting into medical school isn’t so much about where you went for college, as it is how well you did there. There are plenty of people who went to an expensive college ($40-50k/year), but didn’t do well enough to get into a US medical school, so ended up going to an outside medical school (which is increasingly a major limiting factor for future career options). And even if someone from an expensive undergraduate institution does stay in the US for medical school, chances are they will be in the same school as you, taking the same classes and tests. So now it’s a level playing field and your future opportunities depend on your performance in medical school. The only difference is that they already have pre-existing loans of $200,000.
I am not diminishing the prestige or intangible benefits of attending an elite undergraduate institution; I am simply offering a practical suggestion to minimize costs of education which I believe in general does not detract from your future success in the grand scheme of things for a career in medicine.
Additionally, if you apply from high school, some state institutions have combined undergraduate-MD programs with local medical schools.
For those who may be pursuing a career in another field (ie. business), then it is possible that your undergraduate education may hold more weight because that will be your highest level of training when you apply for jobs (versus medicine where you have residency and fellowship beyond medical school, let alone undergrad). Even within the business field, this may vary depending on the specific field (ie. finance, accounting).
I have a friend who went to a state undergraduate institution and now works in a highly sought after position for top-notch financial firm. He told me that while he was able to “make it,” he had to put in much greater effort (working for practically free at times) to work his way up, in contrast to someone who came from a school with a better reputation in his field.
I have other friends who went to state schools for accounting and are now working for “big four” firms. They said these firms have internships and a history of hiring graduates of these schools so they were confident they would do well.
Utilizing Subsidized Loans
A subsidized loan is one for which you are not charged interest while you are in school.
In most cases, it is highly unlikely that someone will be able to earn enough while attending school full-time to pay off a subsidized loan to avoid the interest (unless you borrow a small amounts and/or will be earning a high salary).
Strategy 1 Use the subsidized loan to give you & your interest-free lenders (ie. friend) some buffer time. For example, if you start school in the year 2000, will graduate in 2004 and expect that it will take 5 years to be able to earn enough to pay back the loan (ie. by 2009):
A) You can borrow the $ from a friend in 2000 and have them wait until 2009 to get all of their money back. In this case, your friend’s money is locked up for 9 years (2000-2009)
B) You take a subsidized loan in 2000, then in 2004 you borrow money from a friend to pay off the subsidized loan within 6 months of graduating. Then you pay back the friend by 2009. In this case, your friend’s money is locked up for 5 years (2004-2009); this strategy reduces the time your friend’s money is locked up. The caveat is that you must be absolutely certain that you have a friend who will loan you the money when you graduate so you can pay off the subsidized loan; or else you will be unable to pay off the loan and will have to pay the interest.
Strategy 2 One brother mentioned that he went to school part-time and worked at the same time. Therefore, although he took 1.5 years longer to finish school, he was able to: A) Earn and save up money while going to school B) Delay his graduation so that he had more time until his subsidized loans became due. So when he did graduate, he had enough money to pay off the subsidized loan and avoid interest.
Unfortunately beginning July 2012, the government is no longer offering the $8,500/year in subsidized loans to graduate students, but I believe undergraduate will still be eligible. Confirm with FAFSA at the time you apply because policies are often changing.
Loan Repayment for Working on Under-served Areas
There are programs in medicine/dentistry/nursing where if you commit to doing primary care and working in under-served areas, the government will pay all or part of your loans. (http://www.hrsa.gov/
Job or Internship Tuition-Reimbursement
When considering potential job or internship opportunities, check if the company offers a tuition-reimbursement program. Many companies will wholly or partially reimburse you for further education, often with the stipulation that you commit to work for them for a certain number of years. I know a few people who have taken advantage of such programs for graduate business school. I also know two brothers who work for a college full-time (one in business, another as a police officer), and their graduate tuition (MPH, MBA) is free of charge. (Any full-time employee at this school is entitled to free education for their entire family; that is a pretty sweet deal!)
Take a Year “Off”, Save Up Money
“Off” doesn’t mean sitting at home watching TV or perpetually vacationing; rather what I’m referring to is taking time away from full-time school so that you can work in a setting that will improve your financial situation while simultaneously maintaining or even enhancing your qualifications for your ultimate career plans.
The part in italics is important because in the future you will be asked about what you did in your time away from school. You want to be able to provide an answer that demonstrates that the time away was an asset for you and your career. Hence the reason why spending a year watching TV probably isn’t a good idea (aside from the fact that you’re probably not saving up any money watching TV).
If you’re planning on a career in medicine, consider taking a year or two “off” in between undergrad and medical school so you can work and save up a decent chunk of change. $30,000 in savings will give you a nice cushion to help pay for tuition or other expenses when your other sources of funding (ie. friends) fall short. Don’t worry about “getting too old,” especially if you haven’t had any gaps in your education thus far. When you start medical school you’ll find that a good portion of people in your class are older than you because they’re coming from another career, took time to do research or for personal reasons. If you’re planning for a career in business, many graduate programs might actually prefer that you have work experience before getting further education because you will be better prepared to appreciate the real-world applicability of what you learn in the classroom. You can utilize this opportunity take advantage of tuition-reimbursement programs your employer may offer.
This was just a brief outline of some of my thoughts; by no means was this intended to be a comprehensive guide to financing your education or choosing your career. I hope that this article will encourage others to share their thoughts and experiences in the comments, so that we can learn different ideas from each other. You may have already known some of what was said, but I hope that hearing about people who have utilized these resources to earn significant sums in scholarships and interest-free loans, and go as far as completing medical school without paying interest will inspire you to put in the effort and seek out similar fruits (despite the tediousness of filling out application forms, writing essays, and the discomfort of having to ask people to borrow money). Perhaps you can use this outline as a checklist to go through and see if you’ve exhausted all possible resources. And I recognize that with increasing tuition rates, avoiding interest for even basic education has become very challenging, and unfortunately there isn’t any one, great solution that I’m aware of. So we put forth our best effort, and leave the rest to the Mercy of Allāh, as He [SWT] is Aware of our individual needs and situations.
Disclaimer: Please consult a religious scholar, career counselor, and financial expert before considering any of the above ideas. I am not liable in this world or in the Hereafter for any actions you do or do not take based upon the above thoughts.
When Faith Hurts Inside Out, You Don’t Have To Like It
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 Zakraiyyah – 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. Cuz if it’s that bad then it’s gotta 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.
What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.
The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.
In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.
It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.
Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.
With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:
“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”
The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.
The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.
While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.
First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.
The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:
One Hundred and Twenty Days:
The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.
This view is shaped by the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..
“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”
The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.
This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…
“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”
Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.
Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.
No Excuse Required:
The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.
Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.
Only Under Extreme Risks:
The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.
As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.
Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.
For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.
The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.
This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.
Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.
Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:
Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:
((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))
“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)
Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.
Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.
As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.
It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.
Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.
In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.
Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.
Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.
Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.
Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead
Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.
Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.
However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.
Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.
#MyFastMySriLanka Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.
Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.
It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.
I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.
I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.
I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.
Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah
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