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The Apprentice

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بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

As someone who had no younger sibling; who never in her life babysat any little children for even an hour; who has more than the average penchant for personal privacy, solitude and demarcated boundaries of living space, I often find myself at the receiving end of the following question:

How can you have your children (now numbering three, masha’Allah) around at home all day without going crazy?

I was at some point along the first-time parenting journey myself such a skeptic who would have asked any other homeschooling mother exactly the same question! What’s more, I would have privately questioned her sanity or marveled at her – what was for me – an almost superhuman level of patience and forbearance.

However, this post is not about homeschooling per se, perchance I alienate those conscientious parents who are striving to bring up their children well but choose to send them to school, lest they stop reading ahead with a dismissive eye roll.

In this post I want to talk about how, as a parent, something inside me regarding my inner views about parenting changed along the way, and today I want to talk about just that (i.e. what changed).

Answer: My own mindset – the way I chose to perceive the presence of my children around me for most part of the day – tantrums, bawls, dirty diapers, runny noses, incessant interruptions, and unwelcome preemption, et al.

I was once a snap-happy, cranky, short-tempered, prone-to-scream-at-the-drop-of-a-hat mother; at least I hope that now, I am less of that, as compared to when I had just one toddler and blew a fuse as soon as she climbed up on a chair and toppled a bowl of hot milk or tea on the dining table as soon as I turned my back.

Fact is, it was analysis of the words of Allah in the Quran, and incidents in the seerah of His Prophet [صلى الله عليه و سلم] that made me change the way I thought. There are a few historic events narrated in the Quran that highlight how someone young, a child or a teenager at the most, helped an adult in his or her work, quest or journey.

Consequently, now when I look at my children and realize that they are just that – little human beings pre-programmed by Allah to act and react a certain way to environmental stimuli because of the age they are at – I cringe and seek forgiveness from Allah for my past skewed perception of them as a new parent.

The sister of Prophet Musa helping her mother get him back

A young mother-daughter duo worked as a team once to deal with the separation of a new baby boy. Yes, I find it endearing to read in the Quran, how the older sister of Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] helped her mother fend off anxiety and sorrow after the latter submitted to Allah’s command and put her infant son afloat in a river inside a chest:

إِذْ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَى أُمِّكَ مَا يُوحَى

“Recall (when) We inspired in your mother that which is inspired,” [20:38]

وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَى أُمِّ مُوسَى أَنْ أَرْضِعِيهِ فَإِذَا خِفْتِ عَلَيْهِ فَأَلْقِيهِ فِي الْيَمِّ وَلَا تَخَافِي وَلَا تَحْزَنِي إِنَّا رَادُّوهُ إِلَيْكِ وَجَاعِلُوهُ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ

“And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him and, when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto you and shall make him (one) of Our messengers.” [28:7]

Anyone who has a baby (and even those who don’t) can perhaps only imagine the pain Prophet Musa’s mother must have felt upon being separated from her infant boy; how she must have summoned up enough fortitude and trust in Allah to cast her baby into a chest along a flowing river! Yet, she did it.

After her infant vanished from her sight, and her heart became empty, her “apprentice” came to her aid:

إِذْ تَمْشِي أُخْتُكَ فَتَقُولُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَى مَن يَكْفُلُهُ فَرَجَعْنَاكَ إِلَى أُمِّكَ كَيْ تَقَرَّ عَيْنُهَا وَلَا تَحْزَنَ وَقَتَلْتَ نَفْسًا فَنَجَّيْنَاكَ مِنَ الْغَمِّ وَفَتَنَّاكَ فُتُونًا فَلَبِثْتَ سِنِينَ فِي أَهْلِ مَدْيَنَ ثُمَّ جِئْتَ عَلَى قَدَرٍ يَا مُوسَى

“Behold! Your sister went forth and said, ‘Shall I show you one who will nurse and rear the (child)?’ So We brought you back to your mother, that her eye might be cooled and she should not grieve…..” [20:40]

Why did the sister step in to help? I think that perhaps if the mother had herself followed the chest containing the infant down the river, it would have roused onlookers’ suspicion that the infant belonged to her i.e. it was her own son. Further, since the Israelites were killing the male babies that year, the baby might have gotten killed as a result.

In order to be discreet in the pursuit of the baby, and also perhaps because a young girl child can perhaps run faster without garnering others’ attention to herself in public than a mother whose heart is torn with sorrow, the older sister of the infant not only kept the floating chest in sight but also played a key role in Allah’s plan of returning Prophet Musa to her mother without being killed that year:

According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir: “Then, his sister came and said, هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَى أَهْلِ بَيْتٍ يَكْفُلُونَهُ لَكُمْ وَهُمْ لَهُ نَـصِحُونَ – “Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and look after him in a good manner?”. She meant, “Shall I guide you to someone who can nurse him for you for a fee?” So she took him and they went with her to his real mother. When her breast was presented to him, he took it and they (Firaun’s family) were extremely happy for this. Thus, they hired her to nurse him and she achieved great happiness and comfort because of him, in this life and even more so in the Hereafter.”

By pondering on this incident in the Quran, I realized that Allah has used even young children to establish His decree on earth and used their “services” to carry out his Divine plans.

Could it be that children are smarter and more capable of handling responsibilities than we think?

The young lad traveling with Prophet Musa to seek knowledge

In Surah Al-Kahf, Allah describes how Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] firmly resolved to go on traveling until he could meet and attain knowledge from Khidr. Interestingly, he had a young lad with him throughout his journey, who was called Yusha Bin Nun, and their closeness and mutual companionship is evident from the way they talk about matters:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّى أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا

“Behold, Moses said to his attendant, “I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travel.” [18:60]

The Arabic word used for the young lad is “فَتًى”, which means a youth in the prime of life (Lane). This implies a boy who is a tween or in his early teens.

At one point in their journey in the quest for knowledge, this young boy – the apprentice – played a key role in informing Prophet Musa [عليه السلام], when the latter asked him to bring him his food, about how their fish had escaped from them and taken a route in the sea, and how Shaitan had made him forget to inform him before about this:

قَالَ أَرَأَيْتَ إِذْ أَوَيْنَا إِلَى الصَّخْرَةِ فَإِنِّي نَسِيتُ الْحُوتَ وَمَا أَنسَانِيهُ إِلَّا الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ أَذْكُرَهُ وَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ عَجَبًا

“Did you see (what happened) when we betook ourselves to the rock? I did indeed forget (about) the Fish: none but Satan made me forget to tell (you) about it: it took its course through the sea in a marvellous way!” [18:63]

The escape of the salted dead fish into the water after coming back to life, was actually meant to be a signal from Allah that they had reached the place where they would find Khidr (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). When the lad told him this, Prophet Musa replied: “This is that which we have been seeking!” and then they both retraced their steps to that point in order to finally find and meet Khidr.

This incident brings to light quite a few things about adults dealing with youths:

  1. Adults should delegate responsibility to young people (tweens, teens, or even younger) and allow them to help them in their daily tasks, especially during strenuous journeys.
  2. We should take our children along on quests for knowledge of Deen.
  3. It really is okay for children to hang out with adults, contrary to the contemporary trend of pressuring children as young as two to “socialize” mostly with same-age peers and friends.
  4. Adults should have a frank and friendly relationship with younger people, especially their own children, students or helpers. Such an open and friendly relationship can make both benefit from apprenticeship. It was this easygoing openness that allowed Prophet Musa’s attendant to openly tell him about the escape of the fish, and admit that it was Shaitan that had made him forget to tell him. Note how he doesn’t lie nor give flimsy excuses, but comes clean and speaks up honestly.
  5. Adults should forgive and overlook the mistakes and errors of youths, as did Prophet Musa.
  6. One of the biggest advantages of being old(er) is that younger ones can serve you! E.g. Bringing you your food when you are tired. ;)

Prophet Ismail helping his father build the Ka’bah

Another interesting and historically poignant event narrated in the Quran involves a father-son duo doing what many father-son pairs would love doing in any era: a construction or building project. Only, the building they were putting together was no ordinary one:

وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ

“..And We imposed a duty upon Ibrahim and Ismael, (saying): Purify My house for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves (in worship).” [2:125]

وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنَ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

“And when Ibrahim and Ismael were raising the foundations of the House, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! You, only You, are the Hearer, the Knower.” [2:127]

We already know that Prophet Ibrahim was quite old when two sons, first Ismail and then Ishaq, were born to him. This indicates the considerable age difference between Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail when they were instructed by Allah to not just construct the holy Ka’bah, but to also purify it from the filth of idols and other physical and sexual impurities (Tafsir Ibn Kathir).

Once again, the Quran encourages us parents, albeit indirectly, to employ the aid, help and companionship of our children, even when the latter are young (barely out of childhood) in all our endeavors, but in particular, in those of our efforts, activities, toils and quests that are aimed at seeking the pleasure of Allah and upholding or propagating the Deen of Islam (monotheism).

In the above verses, it is obvious that not only did the young son help his elderly father physically build the Ka’bah, but he also helped him purify it, then engaged along with him in earnest supplication to Allah that He accept their efforts.

Contrast that to how some modern-day parents are themselves extremely active in propagating knowledge of Deen and doing Da’wah, yet their children are always in others’ company, be it nannies when they are younger, or secular-minded (or even atheist) friends when they are older.

I have personally attended religious talks in homes where the youngsters are never in attendance as their mother or father discusses/teaches the Quran to others. They are either watching television, out socializing with friends, or shut up in their rooms studying for exams.

It is a bit alarming to witness some Muslim families in which the parents are righteous and obey the tenets of Islam, and on top of that, they have been doing active teaching of the Quran and sunnah since their children were minors, yet as these children of theirs grow up, they seem to disregard obedience to even the obligatory rules and commands of Islam, such as praying all the five daily salah‘s or observing hijab at the mandated time.

As the years pass, a clear diversion is seen in the lifestyle and religiosity of the children of some da’ee’s and religious teachers, from the path of righteousness that their parents have adopted for themselves, so much so that, as the parents go off for recurring umrah, hajj, and Islamic da’wah retreats, the young children stay back at home, going out on dates or to drinking parties with their romantic partners and other friends. Are you surprised? It is more common than we acknowledge.

The Quran should make us modern-day parents who think that religion is a personal matter and a “choice” that their little children should make on their own once they reach the age of maturity, wake up and smell the coffee: we should take our children along with ourselves on the journey towards Allah as soon as we can, since they are little (even babies), and try not to leave them with human or digital babysitters to “come towards religion on their own”, when they get older.

In answer to the question…

I have alhamdulillah come a long, long way since my perception of my children as noise-creators, troublemakers, clutter-generators and stress-inducers who need to be run after and coerced to behave properly.

Now I see them as my young “apprentices” in the path of Deen, albeit ones who need a stern eye and a reprimand here and there when they, acting upon their natural human instincts, act naughtily or behave mischievously.

I find myself enamored by their honesty (they are frank and upfront to the point of being totally blunt), intrigued by their relentless spontaneity, and in complete admiration of their positivity and lack of grudges and enmity for others.

I now love having these wonderful beings in my life 24/7, because contrary to what it appears to be like, I am learning immensely from them. For the first time in my life, I am spending days and nights in the company of human beings who have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, an incessant curiosity about the world around them; an insatiable ability to ask questions until they get satisfactory answers, and a refreshingly tireless interest in others, especially in their Lord, Allah, and in the reality about the life of this world.

As little hands help me pick up the crumbs from the carpet, fold the laundry, wipe the counter and even massage my forehead when I am tired, I sorely regret and seek forgiveness for ever considering these “apprentices” to be the cause of unwelcome interruptions and “disturbances” in my so-called hitherto peaceful and methodical life, and thank Allah with the bottom of my heart for giving me little helpers in the path of His Deen, who will hopefully always be my side as we tread along it to reach the final, coveted destination: Allah’s pleasure in the Hereafter.

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Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan.11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette.Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'.For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Zari DSilvah

    May 4, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    Jazakallahu khayran Sr. Sadaf! As a mother-to-be insha’allah, I was pondering over similar doubts myself! May Allah reward you for your efforts ameen.

  2. Avatar

    Abu Yusuf

    May 4, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Salaam Alaykum,

    Sadaf is the best female writer on MM. Keep it up. One correction if you allow – in the ayah 20:38, Sadaf translated the first word “Idh” as “When”. In fact that is a common mistake. “Idh” is not short for “idha” which is why people think it means “when”. Rather, “idh” is short for “udhkuroo” and so “idh” means “Remember” or “Recall”.

    • Avatar

      Abu Yusuf

      May 5, 2012 at 1:16 AM

      Salaam Alaykum,

      Some people were confused about the usage of ‘idh’ in the ayah I referenced. To further clarify my point – “Idh” when used as the word commencing an ayah is the object of the verb “udhkuroo” and thus means remember/recall. If “idh” is found in between the sentence but not commencing, then it becomes zarf zamaan and denotes action in the past i.e. “when”. So in the ayah Sadaf referenced, the correct translation is “remember”. In another ayah, for e.g. ayah 40 of soorah Tawbah where “idh” does not commence the ayah, “idh” translates as “when”. {……faqad nasarahullaahu idh akhrajahu….} = {….for Allah did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out…}. Here, the correct translation of “idh” is when, but if “idh” commences an ayah, then it means “remember”.

      So I hope the ayah translation in the article above gets corrected as precision in Qur’anic translation is of utmost importance and sensitivity.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 AM

      وعليكم السلام
      I have made the amendment. Jazak Allah khair for the suggestion.

  3. Avatar

    Holly Garza

    May 4, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    Beautiful mashaAllah!!!!

  4. Avatar

    Madeehatariq

    May 4, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    now that is a whole new perspective!!! jazakAllah khair for sharing sister sadaf!! may Allah take the best work of deen from u and ur apprentices, as well as from us! Amen!

    • Avatar

      Sadaf

      May 7, 2012 at 5:21 AM

      Ameen!

  5. Avatar

    Amal

    May 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    Jazaakillahu khairan ukhtee

  6. Avatar

    Juliherman

    May 5, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    jazakillah khair sadaf! I always love your writings and musings and reflections especially the Quran based ones (well all that I’ve read are Quran based alhamdulillah mashaaallah!);)
    You just gave me proofs for what I’ve been advocating mashaAllah! It’s nice to see this perspective from the Quran subhanallah.
    Our world today segregates the adult from the children in what I see as artificial settings …and this has caused some problems in my opinion. Trying to look for a shadowing opportunity for my teens is challenging. I love the idea of apprenticeship. I was reading Roger Schank’s Teaching Minds, and well he has a radical idea about teaching (hey, you should read it :)) but I like what he says about training our children as young as high school rather than have them take standard subjects that they have to take because they could or might use them some day. I strongly believe in involving our youth, as young as 6/7 in our community projects, dawah work, from small to large scales. Even as young as 6, they can do simple stuff like help set the tables in community events etc. The only thing is, the adult volunteers need to let these kids help. Make them feel welcome and don’t make them feel like they’re a nuisance. Ask for their opinions and respect it. I see in our communities, unfortunately, some adults don’t even look at the younger ppl in the community, barely gives them the time of day. Where is the mercy towards the young? I believe that if we treat our children like children, they will act like chidlren. Give them responsibilities and inshaallah, through mistakes and training, they will be responsibile. Don’t underestimate their abilities. I learned this years ago :D Jazakillah khair for this Sadaf, again. One of those topics I feel so strongly about.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf

      May 7, 2012 at 4:55 AM

      Jazakillah khair for your insightful input, Juli.

      Your homeschooling blog was actually a major inspiration for me to at least try to homeschool my own children; to give it one test shot to see how it goes.

      I used to read it regularly since when my first born was just a toddler. :)

  7. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    May 6, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    SubhanAllah, your post reminded me of how my parents raised my brothers and I – from the very moment we could run from one room to another, we were involved in our local Islamic centre and expected to help in every way… whether it was summoning husbands for their wives, passing along plates and cups for events, or painstakingly acting as “cashier” during the Islamic book fairs!
    I only hope that I can provide the same kind of education and “apprenticeship” for my own daughter inshaAllah!

  8. Avatar

    Aziza

    May 6, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    Allah has truly blessed you with deep Quranic insight sister Sadaf, I never even realized this. JazakAllah Khair for this beautiful reminder!!!

  9. Avatar

    huda

    May 9, 2012 at 12:28 AM

    wow…i am pretty similar to you ..blessed with 3 children and the also the one with no younger sibling …thanks for showing me things in a new light….it is so hard to be patient when all three are cranky the same time…May Allah(swt) make us and our progeny beloved to Him.

  10. Avatar

    ML

    May 13, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    I agree with Sadaf that these days there is a major difference in how much importance the parents and children give to religion. I feel that to make the children feel the importance of religion we should teach it to them through the means that they like. As in give them a little treat for every time they pray or they fast. Giving them little incentives actually works. And these days the game culture is taking over all of the free time children have. So we should make religion practising interesting and fascinating for them. For instance install a Tasbih App

    http://itunes.apple.com/pk/app/tasbeeh/id480785283?mt=8. This is just for very young kids. Once they start finding peace in the remembrance of Allah, the process of giving incentives will end :)

  11. Avatar

    Saba

    February 14, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    As salaamalykum sister,
    I read ur post, alhamdulillah I am pursuing taleem al Qur’an as a correspondence course, I started the course so as to gain knowledge of quran and teach my kids deen and also to answer their quiries , alhamdulillah now am in Juz 14, I now realize the person who needed improvement was I myself, alhamdulillah this is an investment for my own self improvement.
    I would like to keep in touch with you inshallah.

  12. Pingback: A Mother’s Single-Handed Upbringing | Verse By Verse Qur'an Study Circle

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#Society

Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

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As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

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No-Nuptial Agreements: Maybe Next Time, Don’t Get Married

marriage
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 “Nikah is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me.”

–Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Narrated by Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her)

Many Muslims have experienced marriage, then suffered a subsequent divorce as a financial, emotional, and social meat grinder. Some critics have noted the divorce system seemingly exists primarily to benefit itself; the lawyers: mental health experts, investigators, forensic accountants.

They form an entire industry dedicated to extracting the wealth of a disintegrating family, often forcing the middle class or working class into poverty and bankruptcy. All of this happens without any noticeable benefit to society. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

For many, divorce happens multiple times. A divorced person who gets remarried is more likely to get divorced again.

While men often complain about how the “family court” system is against them, the reality is that women often bear the financial brunt of divorce. Divorce is more likely to drive women to bankruptcy than men.

After one or two divorces and a few lost years of retirement savings or a decade or more of home equity, another “marriage” starts to look downright irrational. My advice to such people: stop getting married, at least under state law. Get a nikah and a “no-nuptial agreement” instead. Allow me to explain.

Fun with Words

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about virtually anything unless we have a common understanding of the meaning of words we are using.

In law, even ordinary words have definitions that defy conventional understanding or even common sense. Basic familial terms like “son,” “daughter,” “father,” and “mother” have state law definitions that are different from what those words mean in Islam or our understanding. Under state law, “parents” can adopt adult “children” a similar age to them or even older, and have the same status as a biological child. In Islam, an adopted child is not the same as a biological child and does not have rights to inheritance in Islam.

In law, even words like “life” and “death” don’t always mean what you think they mean. A living person can go to court to dispute his death, demonstrate he is living, breathing, speaking, and everyone agrees he is the “dead person” in question, yet, he is ruled legally dead. Famously, corporations are legally people and are immortal.

Law is not the same thing as truth.

Similarly, it is folly to conflate nikah, the thing that exists in Islam, with marriage under state law. In different states, rules for who and under what circumstances people can get married can vary. One thing that all the state law definitions have in common is that they are not marriage in Islam.

What is Marriage?

For marriage, there is a state law definition, there is an Islamic definition, and there is the definition that the individual married couple has. Under state law, two men can be married to each other, but three men cannot be. In Islam, marriage (let’s call it nikah to be more precise) is a halal social and sexual relationship, and there are rules in the fiqh that are different from state law.

Under some state laws, “secret marriages” with no witnesses or publicly available registration are part of the law and commonly used. In Islam, there is a witness requirement for nikah. None of the rules in Islam require the state’s approval for nikah.

The third definition is how each couple sees their marriage. It is a flexible institution. To the extent it is an economic, social or familial partnership can vary widely. Couples may live together or apart. They may have one income or two.  They may share the same social circles or share none of them. The variations are endless.

Domestic Partnerships

For most of the history of legal marriage in the United States, marriage can only be between one man and one woman. States started allowing for “domestic partnerships” to give some “benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples, like employer health benefits and hospital visitation.

In many instances, these were available almost exclusively to same-sex couples, even after same-sex marriage became part of the law in all states. However, as of January 2020, California opened up domestic partnerships to everyone, including different-sex couples.

As a practical matter, domestic partnerships are simply state-sanctioned marriage by another name. It is notable though some jurisdictions may have limited domestic partnerships that are something less than marriage. In most states that have it, the same family law system, for good or ill, that comes with marriage under state law is also true of domestic partnerships.

While domestic partnership combined with a nikah is available to Muslims in states where it exists, there is no real advantage to using it.

No-Nuptial Agreements

For decades now, in the United States, there has been no taboo against men and women openly having sexual relationships with each other, living and raising families together outside marriage. Courts have long recognized these people should have contractual rights with each other.

When a man and women live together, those involved may be gaining something and giving something up. So if a man promises a woman something, and the agreement is not founded merely on sexual services, the state should enforce those promises, not in family court but civil court.

Marvin started it all

The principle case that established this is the California case of Marvin v. Marvin in 1976. A couple broke up, but the woman wanted to enforce promises made to her by the man. The man felt such a commitment should not be enforceable because, among other reasons, he was legally married to a completely different woman when this non-marital relationship started. Under California law, at the time (abolished by the time the case got to the court), this was criminal adultery.

No-nuptial agreements (sometimes called cohabitation agreements or Marvin agreements) can be used by couples when they want to have enforceable contracts but do not want to subject themselves to the family court system or the family code. They can include provisions of mahar, sharing expenses, equity as well as dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation.

The couple can also document limits on what they agreed to to what is in writing. For example, during a breakup, one party may be able to claim an oral promise the other party never made and potentially have it enforced in court. A written agreement protects both parties and the understanding they had when they entered into the relationship.

These agreements have a broad utility for many different kinds of couples. However, for some couples, the main benefit would be documentation that nobody is under the illusion that this is a marriage under state law. It is a private contract between two individuals.

Example of a No-Nuptial Agreement

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren. Both want to put their adult children at ease that this relationship does not exist for predatory financial reasons – a common fear when parents marry later in life.

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren.Click To Tweet

Salma and Sheher Ali do not plan to live together, which is common for couples their age. They mostly pay for their expenses themselves. They may spend the night at each other’s homes whenever they want but will split time with their separate children, grandchildren and social circles. Sheher Ali pays for joint vacations and outings. He agreed to a mahar. Both agree in writing they did not marry under state law.

Sheher Ali and Salma can still call each other husband and wife, since that is true for them and everyone they know. Both keep all of their finances separate, and each does their independent estate planning where they name each other as partial beneficiaries of their estates as required in Islam. The two also complete HIPAA forms allowing each to see the other’s private medical information and name each other in Advance Healthcare Directives so they can make healthcare decisions for each other.

Legal Strangers

Unmarried couples are “legal strangers.” Doctors won’t share healthcare information. Islamic spouses don’t get an inheritance from a no-nuptial agreement spouse by default. They don’t get things like tenancy by the entirety, community property, or elective shares in places where such things exist. As I described above, though, this can be remedied. However, as I described in the example above, the “legal stranger” aspect of the relationship may be more of a benefit than a downside in some cases.

Some “benefits” of marriage under state law are against Islamic principles.  For example, some state laws that provide for “elective shares” are diametrically opposed to the Quran’s share of inheritance.  Muslims must follow Islamic rules of inheritance anyway, which are different from default state rules, so being under state law is no special advantage. Even with proper planning, the downsides of the “legal stranger” problem still may come up in extraordinary contexts, however, such as lawsuits.

Immigration and Taxes

Another concern is that employee benefits to spouses and dependents don’t generally extend to those with no-nuptial agreements. Immigration law does not allow a path to the United States through the “family unification ” process for those with a no-nuptial contract. Marriage under state law (or the law of a foreign country recognized in the United States) may be the most practical solution in such cases.

In some cases, state-sanctioned marriage may lead to lower taxes. Other legally married couples may experience the so-called “marriage penalty” and pay higher taxes than couples with a no-nuptial agreement. Couples may often find they will pay less in taxes with a no-nuptial agreement than they would if they were married under state law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

One may wonder, to avoid the “meat grinder” of the family court system, why not just get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement? It’s accurate that in general, having such arrangements are superior to not having them. These agreements offer greater certainty, though by no means total confidence, on how a divorce would end. There are disadvantages to such an agreement over no-nuptial agreements, however. A big one is that divorce is still in the family court system.

Many Muslim men, especially immigrants, may perceive cultural biases cause a stacked deck against them in family court. The nature of these agreements may make this perception worse. Sometimes, courts treat prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with a presumption of coercion. It is different from an ordinary contract. The family court system is often free to be more paternalistic and make a husband prove he did not force his wife to sign a document.

The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which will be worded differently in the different states that adopted it, provides for a process to make these marital agreements harder to defeat. However, the process is perhaps arguably more expensive, cumbersome, and awkward for a couple than a no-nuptial contract. Talking about a prenuptial agreement with a fiancé may be more uncomfortable than bringing up a no-nuptial arrangement and nikah. Without a state-sanctioned marriage, a written agreement is essential. Many people perceive the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as both optional and, perhaps unfairly, as a sign of mistrust.

Custody and Child Support

Unfortunately, there is no agreement you can come up with that will pre-settle child support and custody. A judge will decide those things.

It does not matter if you have a “plain vanilla” marriage governed entirely by your state’s family code, a prenuptial agreement, or a no-nuptial agreement. Children are not parties to such a contract. No court anywhere will subject a child’s care and welfare to such things.

For custody and child support, courts in family court will use the sometimes hard to define standard of “best interests of the child.” One Massachusetts family law attorney in a popular divorce documentary cryptically joked that she called children in the system  “little bags of money.” They are often a significant reason family law cases are so profitable for lawyers, mental health professionals, investigators, and everyone else.

No Protection for Poor Life Choices

A good rule to follow is never to do nikah with a person capable of having children unless you are sure she or he can be trusted to raise your future children, and you have made peace with making child support payments to this individual if your relationship ends. If you have a child, you may be suck with a child support order. There is no getting out of this one.

As an Islamic estate planning lawyer, the most important advice I can ever give anyone is not to get a proper estate plan. It is not to get a good lawyer. Of course those things are good, indeed no-brainers, but they have limits. The most important advice is to choose a spouse wisely. If you fail here, there is no law, no lawyer or document in existence that can turn back the clock. A no-nuptial agreement may make a future breakup easier than a family court divorce. There is still no guarantee it won’t be a complete mess anyway. Good documents are never a substitute for poor life choices.

“The Law of the Land”

Islamic institutions like masajid are conservative don’t like taking needless risks, as they should be. Many will not officiate a nikah unless there is a marriage license. They usually will not officiate bigamous marriages, on account of it being illegal.  Of course bigamy, like marriage, has a specific legal definition under state law. One almost universal refrain is that as Muslims we need to follow “the law of the land.”

No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the 'law of the land.' It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is. Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam.Click To Tweet

But what if that term did not mean what you think it means? No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the “law of the land.” It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is.  Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam. Recently, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, a large masjid in the Los Angeles area, changed its nikah officiating policy. Instead of always requiring marriage certificates, they will also recognize no-nuptial agreements.

Masajid Should Welcome No-Nuptial Agreements

Masajid should have standardized policies and procedures in place. Every masjid should have carefully considered policies to protect the vulnerable and the institution. No masjid wants to open themselves up to a “drive-by nikah” or other nonsense. One policy may well include mandating a no-nuptial agreement when there is no marriage certificate. There is no reason to believe one protects people and institutions better than the other.

Nikah is a vital sunnah for us. It is not something that should be in the shadows, secret, or something shameful. It is fundamental to how we organize our families and communities. When it’s done right, it helps us strengthen our iman, bring us closer to our communities and our loved ones. State definitions of words should not always be your guide to right and wrong.

It is appropriate that Muslims want to do the sunnah of nikah at the masjid, publicly and with friends and family watching.  We should recognize and celebrate every new couple that has done a nikah in our communities. Never mind the state has not sanctioned it.

The state statute book has its definition, we have ours.

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The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

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Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

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