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5 things Muslims can learn from Christmas

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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There will usually be two types of reactions to the title of this article. The first will be along the lines of, “Finally. Someone who agrees that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas and having a tree, turkey, Christmas cards etc…” The second will be along the lines of “Astaghfirullāh. How can Muslims learn anything from a non-Muslim holiday?”

This article certainly does NOT condone the ever-increasing practice of imitating non-Muslims in the celebration of their holidays. However, I do believe that there are lessons that we can draw from the way that non-Muslims celebrate their holiday. These are lessons that we can apply to our own two historically Islamically legitimate holidays – the two ‘Īds.

So, what are these lessons?

1. Taking time off


In a capitalist society, everyone’s worth is judged by their bank balance. In such a society, taking time off is something you do so that you can recharge your energies just enough to get back into the rat race. However, it is unquestioned that almost everyone relishes getting a break for Christmas – even the most secular people. Meanwhile, many Muslims don’t bother taking time off work for ‘Īd for fear of what that would mean to their career. Many of them tell their kids not to take the day off school because somehow that one day off could mean the difference between becoming a brain surgeon or a drug-addled homeless refugee. We are instilling in ourselves, our families and our colleagues the unsaid thought that ‘Īd is not important. It is not worth any inconvenience that it may cause. Eventually, our kids will come to visit us on Christmas and bring us a Christmas present and we’ll stupidly ask, “how did this happen?”

2. Giving gifts


I remember watching a news report about how many non-Muslims set themselves back financially to buy the best presents they can for their entire family. A lot of thought and preparation goes into these gifts with many of the trendiest and most expensive items being gifted, rather than the bargain basement stuff. And it is not only the parents who give gifts. Even the young children save up their pocket money to buy their parents a gift within their limited means. Therefore it is ironic that it was our very own Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who said, “Give gifts to one another and you will love one another.” We hardly give gifts during ‘Īd time and instead save them for other “special occasions” like birthdays, anniversaries or graduations. We don’t realize the psychological impact this will have on those receiving it, i.e. associating these other events with happiness from an early age and ‘Īd with a $10 bill thrust into their hand – if they’re lucky. I am not promoting the excesses and commercialization that we see at Christmas, but the spirit of giving gifts and presents to young and old alike is something worth thinking about.

3. Emphasize the story

Who doesn’t know the story of Christmas? Every part of it, from the three wise kings to Santa Claus, is well-documented, played and replayed in hundreds of TV shows, movies, comics and even advertisements. How many Muslims can explain the significance of the ‘Īds, who were the main characters involved and what lessons are we to derive from them? Unfortunately, ‘Īd is marketed in most of the Muslim world in a way that means we hardly ever reflect on the true stories behind them, and instead just spend time with the family stuffing our faces – if we take any time off work that is. Because of the lack of understanding behind the meaning of ‘Īd we think little of adding in lots of other celebrations of our own – after all, if it’s only about having a good time, why not have more of it?

4. Celebrate well

Ever go past a house and see it decked out with lights for Christmas? It may be a terrible waste of money and electricity, but you cannot deny that they are getting into the spirit of the season. There are carolers that go around regaling their neighbors, decorations on public buildings and festive events in every office. In fact, getting into the Christmas spirit is such a ubiquitous thing that anyone who rebels against it is labeled a Scrooge or Grinch. The festive spirit on the two ‘Īds is usually so well hidden that no one outside the Muslim community would be able to tell that a Muslim household is celebrating a special occasion – a real shame and a real missed da‘wah opportunity.

5. Excite the kids

Why am I so focused on getting the kids to enjoy ‘Īd? Well, let’s face it. A large proportion of us are deep into either selfish hedonism, extreme secularism, hypocritical liberalism or some type of sectarianism. The future of the Ummah will be determined by factors such as whether our children see ‘Īd as a holiday worth celebrating, or if they relegate it to the B-list behind the “cool” holidays of Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year etc. While Christmas is (supposed to be) all about the theatre, excitement and happiness of children, ‘Īd is all about eating lots of food in slightly different locations throughout the day. ‘Īd doesn’t stand a chance. We are failing our children by not inspiring them to hold on to their faith and our traditions. Watch how many young Muslims in Manchester (UK) celebrate ‘Īd  by drinking, dancing, waving nationalistic flags and harassing any white women who happen to be unlucky enough to be in the vicinity:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MygzRFb4yzM

I remember vividly seeing an old man crying at the mosque on ‘Īd day. When asked why he was tearful he said that his children don’t visit him or even call him on ‘Īd day as they are busy at work. His grandchildren send him Christmas cards and get upset because he doesn’t buy them presents for Christmas like everyone else. He looked back and wished he had instilled the love of our own holidays in their hearts when they were young rather than going with the flow. Unfortunately, it’s too late for him now. If we don’t change our attitudes, unite as a single community and take our own holidays seriously instead of freeloading on a holiday that isn’t ours – it will soon be too late for us too.

Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Safwan

    December 24, 2012 at 12:30 AM

    Alchamdulillah, very well said brother!
    May Allah grant that your intention and faith be understood by all others who read this, ameen

  2. Avatar

    Aser Rehman Mir

    December 24, 2012 at 12:31 AM

    Excellent article! The comparisons and lessons you’ve brilliantly detailed have been lingering in my mind for many years but just couldn’t spell it out as meticulously above.

    The next stage is implementation which needs a lot of PR and support from Muslims businesses, schools and similar connections.

  3. Avatar

    Safwan

    December 24, 2012 at 12:31 AM

    Alchamdulillah, very well said brother!
    May Allah grant that your intention and faith be understood by all others who read this, ameen.

  4. Avatar

    Dan

    December 24, 2012 at 12:37 AM

    Christmas is a holiday based on pagan tradition. The whole focus of gifting during Christmas takes months to build up with the help of greedy merchants that promote their merchandise on every available media. The true meaning of gifting is lost because the social pressure of giving is incredible. The long preparation for celebrating Christmas end in unrestrained consumption. There is no fasting, very little praying except on Christmas eve service… I always thought Christians have more to learn from Muslim tradition preparing for and celebrating for Eid holidays.
    Did I miss something?

    • Avatar

      Aser Rehman Mir

      December 24, 2012 at 12:45 AM

      @Dan, it still doesn’t explain the lack of enthusiasm and problems of our celebration compared to those celebrating Christmas.

      You make valid points linking to Paganism and the issue of consumption. However, we can still learn from this without going to the extreme of innovating, imitating or consumption. We can find true balance. Use the middle path. Adopt in a way that is morally acceptable and ignite the same level of excitement.

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      December 24, 2012 at 3:02 AM

      Absolutely agree with you Dan, however we can learn from every aspect – especially the negative – including how our gift giving should not become overly commercialised or excessive.

      And we can also learn from the relative absence of God from Christmas celebrations – and not let our Eid go the same way.

      • Avatar

        scarfed

        December 24, 2012 at 12:07 PM

        I grew up in India; for me the ‘celebration’ was the “gift of giving”. On the day of Eid I was taught to give money to the poor, besides the Zakah / arrange for a meal and sit down for a meal with orphans etc.
        The act of helping someone with less monetary advantage was the celebration. And that was “exciting” for me.

        • Avatar

          Ummridhwan

          January 1, 2013 at 1:10 PM

          @Scarfed, Asalaamu alaykum; If I’m not mistakened this article was towards parents and the elderly, in order to put back the spirituality and enthusiasm in Eid. Many of our young generation living in the West are not at the mental state of some of us spiritual individuals who see Ramadan and Eid as an opportunity to give to the poor, increase our good deeds and put a smile on everyone’s faces. Our environment in the West is set in a way to have our youth think of only being selfish(“the ME, ME, ME generation) self-centered and go after their desires Satan has beautified for them. In Christmas, the young careless of the many Churches who feed the poor on Christmas Eve which does not highlight the essence of what Christmas means to them. The media highlights the gift giving , the celebration of Christmas and highlights less of the charity work that is carried out, if that was the case, non-Muslims would understand more that Christmas is not about materialism or fulfilling your desires but it is the assumed Biblical revelation of Jesus birth.

      • Avatar

        Dan

        December 24, 2012 at 6:53 PM

        Jazakallah khair brother and forgive me for not mentioning the may excellent points you made in your essay. I also understand your point that there is a lack of enthusiasm the way Muslim celebrate Eid. However, there are so many things wrong with Christmas it is an example of how not to treat you religious holidays. Christmas as it is being practiced goes against the teaching of Jesus, who thought fasting, abandoning material greed, to give from the heart, and also he was strongly against using religion and God as a means to generate money or business (he overthrew the tables the merchants setup at the temple in Jerusalem). Christmas does not celebrate the teachings of Jesus, it still has strong practical resemblance to the ancient pagan practices.

        Was Salam

      • Avatar

        smorgan

        December 25, 2012 at 12:04 AM

        ASA

        To my knowledge, there is no sunnah at all for giving gifts on Eid. If so, and since Eid is definitely a “religious” event, that would make gift-giving on that particular day becoming universal and consistant a bid’a in the deen.

        So, while I agree with the intent of the article – especially regarding not even taking a day off work to celebrate the Eid – we must be even more careful about not falling into bid’a by imitating the ways of non-Muslims.

        • Avatar

          Mahmud

          December 25, 2012 at 7:48 PM

          Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

          No it is not a bidah inshaa Allah. Eid is a celebration. Check out what Islam Q&A has to say.

          http://www.islamqa.info/en/ref/130948/gifts%20on%20eid

          Is it permissible to give my family members some gifts on Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, and to do that every year, or is it an innovation (bid‘ah)?

          Praise be to Allah.

          There is nothing wrong with giving gifts on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha to family and relatives, because these are days of joy and happiness on which it is mustahabb to uphold ties, show kindness, and eat and drink plenty. This is not bid‘ah; rather it is something that is permissible and a good custom that is one of the symbols of Eid. Hence it is not allowed to give gifts and express joy and happiness on innovated occasions on which it is not prescribed to celebrate, such as New Year, the Mawlid (Prophet’s birthday) and the fifteenth of Sha‘baan (an-nusf min Sha‘baan), because this makes them like Eids.

          Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: On this Eid people also exchange gifts, i.e., they make food and invite one another to come and eat, and they get together and celebrate. There is nothing wrong with this custom because these are days of Eid. When Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) entered the house of the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) and found with him two young girls who were singing on the days of Eid, he rebuked them, but the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Let them be.” And he did not say it because they were young girls. Rather he said: “Let them be, for these are the days of Eid.”

          This indicates that Islam, with its tolerant and easy-going attitude, allows people to express joy and happiness on the days of Eid.

          End quote from Majmoo‘ Fataawa Ibn Uthaymeen, 16/276

          And he (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

          It is well known that there are no festivals in Islam except those which are proven in sharee‘ah, namely Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Ahda, and Friday which is the weekly “Eid”. As for the fifteenth of Sha‘baan (an-nusf min Sha‘baan), there is no proof in Islam is that it is an Eid. If it is taken as an occasion on which charity is distributed or gifts are given to neighbours, then this is taking it as an Eid.

          End quote from Fataawa Noor ‘ala ad-Darb

          And he said concerning Mother’s Day: Once this is understood, it is not permissible, on the occasion mentioned in your question, which is called Mother’s Day, to introduce any of the symbols of Eid on this day, such as expressing joy and happiness, giving gifts, and so on.

          End quote from Majmoo‘ Fataawa ash-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen, 2/301

          And Allah knows best.

    • Avatar

      Anne

      December 26, 2012 at 6:01 PM

      Yes you definitely have missed and have misunderstood the meaning of Christmas. Christmas is celebrated as the BIRTH OF CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD. Yes,some of the traditions were adopted from pagan rituals because they had a beautiful, spiritual meaning; but Christians usually pray to Christ every day and the faithful Christians go to Mass and church services at least once a week. You are a bigot. So if you don’t like Christmas, don’t participate in its celebration.

      • WAJiD

        WAJiD

        December 26, 2012 at 6:15 PM

        ^ I rest my case

      • Avatar

        harvester

        December 27, 2012 at 11:00 PM

        Anne, what percentage of people who celebrate Christmas do so in honor of the “the son of God”? What percentage of them are celebrating a cultural event? Do all Christians believe that the prophet Jesus was the son of God? I think it is fair to say that many non practicing Christian people observe Christmas as a day of family gathering. I think the author’s observations about certain aspects of how people observe Christmas could have come from anyone regardless of their faith. Do you deny that taking time off work, gift giving, understanding the history of the holiday, being openly enthusiastic about the holiday and making it special for the children are positive things? That is all the author is saying. He did not set out to attack your celebration of Christmas.

  5. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    December 24, 2012 at 3:08 AM

    Salaam all,

    Just thought I would clarify a few points before they are said:

    1. I don’t believe that the values I listed above are Christian values that Muslims should learn from. I believe that underlying them are true Islamic values (gift giving, inspiring our children, celebrating properly etc…) that we seem to have lost.

    2. There are many aspects of Christmas we would not want to emulate. Rampant consumerism, the loneliness felt by the disenfranchised, the whole making up of new traditions (Santa Claus replacing Jesus as the central figure as an example) However, this article focuses on some of the aspects we can see our own Islamic heritage reflected in.

    3. Some of you will find this a generalisation. It is. To those who none of this applies, keep up the good work and please try and get your fellow brothers and sisters to take Eid seriously.

  6. Avatar

    aliyu_adam

    December 24, 2012 at 5:01 AM

    I want to commend the author for such an insightfull writeup,though very important to the Ummah,this is one of many issues you hardly hear or read anyone talk about today.However,i think its better to encourage more worship and visits(families and loved ones) together with teaching our children the ideaology behind Id,giftings and general anticipation instead of encoraging such outrageous festivities such as carolers,lighting and partying becouse these go way out of the fundamental ideaology of islamic Id celebration which is a teaching of sacrifice,worship and love.Allah knows best.

  7. Avatar

    aliyu_adam

    December 24, 2012 at 6:20 AM

    Nice article.I must also commend the author for such an insightfull choice of topic as you hardly hear or read anything regarding such even with such obvious reflection it has on the islamic community.Though i think its better to encourage d ummah 2 dwell more on d fundamental ideaology behind Id (wch is all about worship,sacrifice n love) rather than emulating such outrageous christain practices(carlers,lighting and obsessive celebrations) with absolutely no regard to any spiritual envolvement.Imitating such will definately lead to a conception of Id perpendicular to its islamic aim.Allah knows best.

  8. Avatar

    online Quran study

    December 24, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    Jazakumullahukhairan!
    The information you provided on Christmas is informative but It is not permissible for Muslims to imitate them in any way that is unique to their festivals, whether it be food, clothes, bathing, lighting fires or refraining from usual work or worship.

  9. Avatar

    Umm Ibraheem

    December 24, 2012 at 7:31 AM

    Even though we do to celebrate or encourage any aspect of Christmas in our family, I love the spirit of Christmas and the feeling it brings. If we take it at face value, everyone is more caring, loving and charitable and family ties are revisited. However, if we were to look deeply inside everything it’s not a pleasant picture, alot of commercialism, greed and pressure. Living in the UK, even we get an opportunity to spend more time with family and friends because of the extended holidays.

    • Avatar

      Umm Ibraheem

      December 24, 2012 at 7:33 AM

      Edit to say: we do not celebrate

  10. Avatar

    N

    December 24, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    I’m so glad this issue has been mentioned. I have always wondered if Eid could ever be commercialized and what is it about it that prevents it from being so? The commercialization of Christmas has been complained about by many but the commercialization of it is what could make Muslim kids relate to it since it’s in their faces all the time after Thanksgiving.

    Eid already has the associated meaning of family time but what could be taken as a lesson from Christmas is engaging in other family activities. After being in America all these years I still don’t get what families do after opening their presents but I don’t think it’s going from house to house like most Muslims do on Eid. To tell the truth I’m tired of going to the houses of my parents’ friends especially when there is no one there for me to talk to and I know other kids in the community feel the same. This may be a desi concept though because what my Arab friends do on Eid is spend time with their friends SEPARATE from their families. The good thing about celebrating Eid in a non Muslim country is everything is still open for people to meet at a restaurant, the movies or to ice skate. I believe families especially with young kids should do these type of things instead of dragging them to other people’s houses where they just eat snacks and sit awkwardly.

    Another thing would be to set a family tradition. Like I’d think it’d be nice to hang lights on the house during the month of Ramadan (don’t know if the neighborhood homeowner’s association will approve) or maybe make certain foods together. There are certain Ramadan foods that each family has so why not also bring them before Eid al Adha?

    I definitely agree that if gifts are exchanged they should be wrapped. I can definitely see people that exchange gifts on Eid are much more excited about it. I remember one of the youth groups did a white elephant type of gift exchange one Eid which was really fun.

  11. Avatar

    Mansoor Ansari

    December 24, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Agreed with every point except #2…

    I loved getting Eidy, I could do what I want with my money. And and every dollar counts and never goes to waste. While with presents, I ended with useless gifts most of the time.

    I was talking to my Christain co-workers today about Eidy – giving money as gifts as they said they would prefer that instead of actual gifts.

  12. Avatar

    fatihah

    December 24, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    assalamualaikum,

    alhamdulillah living in my country Malaysia our eid-ul fitr always spent in full fun fair but sadly sometimes it also goes over board.
    let me share with you’ll how we celebrate it every year. or more how my family do it since i m young.
    we definitely wish every family member will come home and share the joy of eid as one family.
    everyone will get at least a set of new cloth.
    half way through ramadhan the women of the family will start making cookies. modern or traditional.
    during ramadhan night the whole village will take turn to feed people who came to the masjid, night after night.
    on the last day of ramadhan we’ll organize iftar in our masjid. the whole community will work together to prepare food for that night. .. some food even cooked on open fire too :)
    eid night do the takbeer.
    decorate the house.. some with twinkling light on and it is very common to light a lamp using gasoline outside the house and along the road. it make a very dramatic effect n memorable for children..
    to prepare food to be serve to guests visiting the house. a lots of traditional food to be selected upon.
    eid morning the whole family will woke up, take ghusul, eat breakfast then go to masjid for prayer.
    done solah everyone will start inviting each other for visit.
    and most of the family and neighbor will visit each other in new cloth and chat while eating from so many selection of food served.
    what we most young adult missed most is sending and receiving eid card then hang it around the house as a decoration. now only receive the FB card or text to wish you happy eid.
    gift mostly given to young children and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncle n so on and so forth.

    it really fun but sometimes it too much. wasting on food, wanting to impress guest with deco, clothing, and food. doing innovating things like going to the graves of relatives and recite quran there..with children running around the grave yards.
    shaking hand with opposite gender is extremely difficult to avoid.
    and over excited young boys imitating the Chinese firing fireworks all night long!

    i hope for more islamic eid for us in the future. ameen!

  13. Avatar

    Amy

    December 24, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    Salaams,

    I have to admit I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot -even considered writing a little article myself regarding certain aspects of this for submission.

    A lot of Muslims may not realize what Christmas is like for reverts/converts like myself. Usually we grow up indoctrinated with Christmas as non-Muslims, and it truly does leave deep grooves in the brain. Then, we all take Shahadah and there’s nothing to celebrate, nothing festive.

    Like you said, the Eid Holidays -especially here in the US- are not just celebrated “moderately”….they are virtually ignored. Every time I have attended an Eid prayer, everyone else hustles home and does their individual and private celebrations with their extended families. There is no lingering fellowship or even sense that it is a special day. If a community does some type of “celebration”, often it is not even scheduled for Eid day, costs money, or is something that no one would be interested in doing (think several “bouncy houses” with some spicy food for $5/plate).

    A lot of us converts/reverts don’t have any Muslims in our family to “go home” and celebrate with after Eid prayers. We don’t have any Eid family recipes to hand down or make that day, and we struggle to start traditions to implement with our own children. Like it or not, there is a glaring cultural divide between Muslims in the west who are immigrants and those who are coverts/reverts, and sadly not even the Eid Holidays manage to bridge this adequately.

    So converts like myself are left feeling nostalgic and disappointed during Christmas. All of the programming we’ve been raised with to celebrate goodness and joy during this time of year is left unexpressed and unsatisfied even when the time for our own religious holidays arrive.

    • Avatar

      Hamza21

      December 24, 2012 at 4:32 PM

      So true Amy I’ve been Muslim for 20 years and never celebrated EId. It’s virtually a non holiday in the US. However over the years it’s hard to remember what it was like celebrating Christmas. Usually this time of year I’m grateful I’m not wasting my money on useless things like my non-muslim relatives. For the future unless this cultural divide,more like paternalistic attitude, from immigrants is changed then I don’t see Eid becoming any more “festive” then it is now.

  14. Avatar

    Infidelicious

    December 24, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    Don’t be offended, relax and enjoy. In the Northern hemisphere we need something to get us through winter, be it solstice, christmas, eid, whatever. Enjoy the food and the time off, and let’s be friends rather than believers of this and that.

  15. Avatar

    Um Yusuf

    December 24, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    Alhamdulillah having grown up in the West but being from a Pakistani Muslim background we have kind of managed to find a balance in the way we celebrate Eid. We always take the day or days off work at Eid and we even took the day off school when we were kids. Eid is also a special time to connect with family, have traditional Eid breakfasts, lunches or dinners with family and friends and call relatives near and abroad to wish them well on those special days. We make the effort to decorate our homes, have Eid parties for the kids with games and nasheeds and make Eid cakes with candles ( becos the kids love to blow out the candles!) give them gifts or money and gifts to each other. We buy new clothes and shoes to wear on Eid and especially the Eid prayer, put on henna on our hands and we always tell our kids the stories behind these events so we remember the relevance of these celebrations and what they mean. We try and attend the local Eid activities such as fundays and fairs. We send food to our neighbors whether Muslim or non Muslim. We can make small Eid parties in our kids classrooms and talk about Eid to the non muslim and muslim kids alike with permission of the teachers so our kids feel proud of their deen and feel comfortable to share it with their friends (dawah).Most of all we try and instill in ourselves and our kids that it is all ibaadah and not get carried away by being wasteful or not making the effort to attend the Eid prayer or doing the Takbeeraat (to glorify and thank Allah )or performing the Udhiya and paying the Zakat al fitr( and remember the poor have a share)We try to make all our activities halal and acceptable to Allah.
    Its all about priorities and making the effort, planning, and being creative in fun and halal ways. we need to see our situation and needs and plan how to incorporate the points the brother made into our lives, so we feel satisfied by our Eid celebrations. By the way we do not celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or other holidays such as thanksgiving, valentines, mothers day or halloween in our family, but Alhamdulillah we and our families do not feel we are lacking in any way. We just put more effort into our 2 festive days of Eid. May Allah swt accept our efforts and help us all improve, Ameen.

    • Avatar

      Amanda

      January 8, 2013 at 2:45 AM

      Masha’Allah Tabarak’Allah (= Loved this

  16. Avatar

    Dess

    December 24, 2012 at 11:27 PM

    Assalamulaykum wa rahmatullah

    I’ve got to humbly disagree with you brother. You live in the West, but in Muslim countries or those who recognise Muslim festivals like Singapore, Eid is already a major celebration with its own festive traditions. And it is smthg that we are fighting against, because the spirit of Ramadan and Korban/Haj gets sacrificed because of these traditions. My take is that its best to follow Sunnah – any other ways will just confuse us & the next gen.

    • Avatar

      Muhammad Abdul Haqq

      December 25, 2012 at 2:02 PM

      Na`am. You said what I was thinking as I read the article. It simply sounds like we are jealous of the kuffar and because of that we want to imitate their ways..

      • WAJiD

        WAJiD

        December 25, 2012 at 3:55 PM

        Salaam all,

        Ah – the counter arguments that I was waiting for.

        @Dess – JazakAllah khairun for pointing out the extremely relevant point that we should “follow the Quran and Sunnah.”

        @Muhammad Abdul Haqq – JazakAllah khairun for pointing out that it is not a good thing to imitate the ways of the non-Muslims. Again highly relevant.

        I (and I’m sure many others) look forward to you both explaining how the following are against the Quran and Sunnah or is imitating the kuffar:

        – Celebrating Eid instead of just turning it into a normal day at work/ school
        – Giving gifts
        – Explaining the origins and islamic meaning behind the Eids
        – Celebrating it openly and proudly instead of in (virtual) secret
        – Motivating and inspiring our children to stick to the Islamic holidays instead of those outside of Islam

        Looking forward to your answers…

  17. Avatar

    VJaber

    December 27, 2012 at 3:52 AM

    Good points, I definitely agree that children do not feel the Eid holidays. I do not think we should replicate the Christmas extravagance but maybe place eid presents under a cut out of a moon and a star or hang lights around your house, try to get your neighbors involved. Invite them for iftar and let them see how you celebrate the occasions.

  18. Avatar

    Nuraini

    December 27, 2012 at 5:30 AM

    These are excellent points. Even outside the Western world, in the past people made a big deal about Eid in our own local traditions, mainly driven by the efforts of grandparents and parents (heads of households) ensuring people grouped together and preparations are made, decorations hung, and everyone had a role, and children had fun. nowadays i see that more and more of the boomer generation who are now becoming grandparents do not invest this effort, thus resulting in lukewarm celebrations devoid of organisation and hosting. in fact, for some people they seem to feel that it is somehow impious to have so much fun, taking pride in ‘only’ taking a couple days off (in the past it is not uncommon for the whole week at least, if not two, be taken off for adequate preparations) – forgetting that for children, the weightier aspects of ramadhan and the sacrifice are not yet comprehensible, and instead it is the love for the celebrations should be prioritised until they understand.

  19. Avatar

    Marcus

    December 28, 2012 at 4:49 AM

    I was looking for a good Islamic blogs and I found your blog its such a great peace of information.

  20. Avatar

    Ashraf

    December 28, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    Gift giving in Islam is not related to a particular occasion. The prophet ( may Allah peace and blessing be upon him) encouraged to give gifts all the times and said it enhance love to each other. On the other hand there is charity. Apart from mandatory ZAKAH, there is sadqah which is encouraged by so many ways, like the bad omens or problems in the life can be ward off by sadaqah. The prophet (may Allah peace and blessing be upon him) himself set the example of giving charities and it is narrated that especially in Ramadan the prophet (may Allah peace and blessing be upon him) used to give charity like breeze. In short in Islam there is not a special occasion to give gift or help others. family reunion is the problem of modern life in Muslim families they are always close to each other and Qur,an and Hadith forcefully advise Muslims to keep close ties with your kith and kin. To cut a RAHM relationship with kith and kin is a sin. There are so many good examples of the prophet(may Allah peace and blessing be upon him) and his exalted companions in this respect.
    We Muslim should learn good thing from any where we can find, but example of X Mass is not fit for this purpose.
    May Allah (subhana hoo wa taa, la ) bless you all including your family and friends.

  21. Avatar

    ArabianSpace

    December 28, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    Very interesting article to say the least. I can see a lot of positive comments that this article draw. @Dan has made a good point about the true celebrations. My hope if there is any learning curve from this, it should not alter our own holidays, because we should not deviate from the sunnah practice!.

  22. Avatar

    Lauren

    December 28, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    Assalamu alaykom wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu, I honestly didn’t plan on reading this until someone posted about the article on my facebook page. As a convert, I honestly understand the importance of making the two Eids big mashallah. Most of the muslims I speak to always say the same things about the eids- they are boring and nothing to do. And they go to school instead of celebrating. I never go to work or school on the eids because these are our two celebrations. I think parents and communities should talk about the two eids and their significance and make the eids big and memorable for their kids because our kids will be leading our traditions once we die. We want them to be able to talk about the deen, practice it and tell their kids about it. Instead of being like the kuffar( the non muslims) we should be leading the way. Its sad when muslims have to look at the nonmuslims when we are the best amongst all nations.

  23. Avatar

    myDarkPassenger

    December 28, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    Thanks for the article. I find this article missing a necessary global ingredient. Eid or any other islamic event is a global event and therefore covering how other muslims practice Eid in other countries would have made this more interesting for American muslim readers here. American muslims can learn lot more from, or adopt some practices of muslims living in other countries around the world without having to look at how “Christmas” is enjoyed. We should after all, show how to perfect our union by learning from each muslim-other. All except “Explaining the origins and islamic meaning behind the Eids” during Eid is not a common practice. This seems a novel activity but I dont’ find it important for that day. In fact, it’s probably not a good practice to isolate learning about Eid on any specific day.

    There is always something unique about muslim holidays enjoyed in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, India (Hyderabad, Uttar Pradash) etc. I am sure we can learn lot more from a Malaysian Eid experience than Christmass any day.

    —To “Fatiha”,
    Thanks for sharing how it’s done in Malaysia. I find the sense of community, and holiday you enjoy in Malaysia during Eid is quite powerful and something American muslims can learn to have one day in their circles.

  24. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    December 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    salaam,

    Unfortunately it seems a few people are mixing up the intent of the article as I explained in the first paragraphs (maybe they are just skipping ahead to the points.)

    There’s a clear difference between saying that Muslims need to copy aspect of Christmas and saying that the way that non-Muslims take Christmas so seriously – we should do the same for our own holidays.

    @myDarkPassenger – (interesting moniker btw) – agree that it would be nice to see the Eid traditions that other Muslim countries have, but I guess the point of my article is that there’s something in our celebration of Eid that is lacking (and this is shown up very clearly when compared to Christmas celebrations) … unless we can accept that there’s a problem, no one will be interested in suggested solutions.

  25. Avatar

    Saquib Currim

    December 29, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    I totally agree and apart from the points mentioned above, atleast their celebrations happen on the same day, year after year and in every part of the world unlike us who don’t even know who to wish Eid mubarak to as no one celebrates Eid on the same day. Where is the unity?

  26. Avatar

    Ummridhwan

    January 1, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    Asalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu! Allahu Akbar!!! Amazingly put together brother, Muhammad Wajid Akhter. I would like to first say that I would probably be considered the type of Muslim that would say, “Astaghfirullāh. How can Muslims learn anything from a non-Muslim holiday?”” Only, because I am seen by others as a niqabi that takes her religion seriously. However, I came to the U.S at the age of 2. I was taught at an early age to be of a person of open mindness. To look at things in a different prospective and take the good from where ever it may be. However, the last revealed ayah in the Qur’an Surah Al-Ma’idah, 5: 3 where Allah says, (the meaning of which is) “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islâm as your religion. This is Allah telling us that our religion is perfect! However, when advise was given to rasulullah(SAW), from non-Muslims, Rasulullah would take it even though Allah was on his side, the creator of the heavens and the earth. So, it’s okay if we take the good and leave anything that is contradictory to Islam. Nevertheless, the question that I think we should ask, is not whether it’s correct or incorrect to look at the aspects we can learn from within the festivals of the non-Muslims but the qustion that should be asked is I thinkis, WHO IS ON THE STRAIGHT PATH? The non-Muslims who take seriously, ciitzenship rights, humanitarion work(missionaries), the Justice System, correct morals etc. In the city of SanDiego, where I’m from. There was a little Muslim girl who said to her Muslim father, “dad can we have a christmas tree?” And her father said, “no daughter that’s the celebration of the non-Muslims” Then the daughter said to her father, “well, can we have Santa Claus,” and the father said, “that’s also the celebration of the non-Muslims. And the 5 year old daughter said, “well then, can I become a non-Muslim.” I suggest all of the commentators that somewhat find some of the things that this author mentioned a little disagrreeable to please listen to Nouman Ali kHan’s video lecture on ‘the types of Muslim youth(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU1XFry6ixg).’ The mind of our Western Muslim youths is at the stage, in which they assume or believe, that the way of the non-Muslims must be the correct path because they practise generosity, respect, love, fairness etc. more than we find Muslims practising those same values in the West. Again, I’m speaking from expereince. There are many Muslims who do practise the same values, but we are enourmously out weighed by the non-Muslims. Islam is perfect and anything else is oppression. Shaykh Yassir Fazagi said it beautifullly, “A man said I sell vinegar with a candy face, and you sell candy with a vinegary face.” Therefore, even though the non-Muslims are astry, yet they tend to influence Muslims with their because they practise and convey their message with a sweet and respectful way. Islam did not spread with the sword, it spread through the traders who bought and sold among non-Muslims in a generous, trustworthy,and fair way and not through a grumpy face which we tend to have towards our young generation. Wallahu A3lam(And Allah knows best). Just a reminder first to myself and second to my dear brothers and sisters. May we all meet in jannah! Ameen ya Allah.

  27. Avatar

    Ummridhwan

    January 1, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    Asalaamu alaykum. If the non-Muslims are increasing their numbers and are drawing away our numbers of the young believing Muslims because of their strong influence in the way they celebrate their holidays, shouldn’t we as well put more focus on really celebrating extensively without crossing the boundaries Allah set for us and at the same time teach the spiritual aspect of these great holidays of Eid in a way that will win back our numbers?

    • Avatar

      Amanda

      January 8, 2013 at 2:57 AM

      wa alaikum salaam.

      this isn’t a game to see who has more numbers, or who can win more numbers. Allah gives guidance to whom He wills, and lets astray those whom He wills.

      the concern is more on whether we are ‘living up’ the expectations of Eid, our Islamic celebration. do we, young and old, know why we are celebrating Eid? do we look forward to Eid? when Eid comes, are we celebrating it proudly and in the best way? etc.

  28. Avatar

    Said Make

    January 11, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    I was wondering why you allowed showing non-Muslim women without hijab in this article.

    *Remainder of Comment noted by MM Team*

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      January 15, 2013 at 1:28 AM

      Dear Said Make
      JazakAllahu Khairin for pointing this out. We endaevor to limit the photos used with our articles but sometimes depending on the article we have to use pictures that do not have women in hijab. We could not get an image of non-muslim family celebrating christmas that fit the necessary hijab criteria.
      However, we have noted your comment and hope we can avoid usage in future.

      Best Regards
      -Aly

  29. Pingback: WAJiD (wajid) | Pearltrees

  30. Avatar

    salmirah

    May 15, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    Okay the title actually ticked me off, but reading your article further, I could understand how well-thought your ideas are. How much we Muslims are putting Islam in our kids, is indeed a questionable matter. Nowadays our kids are more interested in Christmas, Easter, Halloween and all the Non-Islamic festivals, and the whole liability lies on our shoulder.
    Your article can be an eye-opener for this kind of Muslims, in sha Allah.
    I definitely need to share this, JazakaAllahu khair!

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#Life

Raising a Child between Ages 7-12

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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black preteen

From a cognitive-development standpoint, this is called a concrete operational period, according to Jean Piaget.

(N.B: Some adults never progress beyond this phase, while 15% of kids may reach the following formal-operational phase at age 9!)

The child now (7-12) may factor in two dimensions of an object simultaneously. So, the longer cup may have less water because it is thinner. However, this is still hard for him/her to perform in the abstract realm, so, they are still uni-dimensional in that respect. Concepts and behaviors are still black and white. It is also hard for the kids in this stage to imagine and solve the structure of a mathematical problem. They cannot think contrary to facts. In other words, you can’t get them to use as a basis for an argument a question like what if the sky rains sugar instead of water?

Socially, Erikson felt that in this period kids develop industry or inferiority. According to his theory, from age six to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. If encouraged, they feel industrious and confident in their ability to achieve goals.

Based on these observations, we may recommend:

1- Using a lot of hands-on teaching, since they still have limited ability with conceptualization and abstract reasoning.

2- Continue the focus on memorization. If you want them to finish the Quran in 1-2 years, 12 and/or 13 seem to be the prime years for that. This suits some children and some families, not all. If you like a more gradual approach, you should have them start serious memorization at 7, accelerate at 10, and finish by 15-17. Not all kids are meant to memorize the whole Quran though; they can still be educated and pious. Invest in their strengths, not your dreams.

3- Use concrete props and visual aids, especially when dealing with sophisticated material. Use story problems in mathematics.

4- Use open-ended questions that will stimulate thinking and help the child reach the following stage faster. Example: “What do you think about the relationship between the brain and the mind?”; “What do you think about the relationship between prayful-ness and piety?” Make sure you know the right answers!

5- More explanations will be needed, but keep them simple, and even though they should be more detailed than the last stage, they still need to be uni-dimensional. Examples: we obey God because he created us; if we disobey Him, we get punished, and if we obey Him, we get rewarded in this life and in the hereafter. Too early to teach him that “the brokenness of the disobedient is better than the haughtiness of the obedient.” Break it down. Humbleness and obedience are good, while haughtiness and disobedience are bad.

6- Encourage and praise their accomplishments, while making them aware that there is always room for improvement. Continue to encourage initiative-taking and leadership qualities, yet you may also set limits, and make them aware that they will have to always report to someone. Even if there are no people above them, Allah always is. They have to adapt to being leaders and followers at the same time, because that is the reality of all people.

7- This is still a stage of belonging and affiliation to the group, and the child will develop more or less attachment to Islam through his or her experience at the masjid and with the community.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

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Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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children drawing crayons

This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.

Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.

Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.

In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.

Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.

Based on the above, here are some recommendations:

In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.

Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.

Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”

Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.

This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)

In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.

Use illustrated books and field trips.

Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.

Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.

Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

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Who Can We Trust?

Danish Qasim

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Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. That is why you must exercise vigilance and your own judgment above that of public opinion. Never let the person’s position make you trust them more than you would without it.

Spiritual abusers work covertly, present themselves well, and use their service as a cover beneath which to operate. The way to avoid them is to recognize their tactics and avoid being caught by them.

Blurring Lines

Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.

They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.

There may be frivolous texting while the premise of engagement is ‘work only’. Boundaries may be blurred by adding flirtatious content, sending articles praising polygamy, or mentioning dreams about getting married. The recipient may struggle to pinpoint what’s wrong with any of this, but the bottom line is that they don’t have to.

While these tactics may be hard to prove, you don’t need to prove that you don’t want to be communicated with in this way and that you will not tolerate it. You can withdraw from the situation on the basis of your own boundaries.

One of the key challenges in standing up to spiritual abuse is the lack of confidence in calling out bad behavior or the need for validation for wrongs. We may be afraid to a question a teacher who is more knowledgeable than us when he is doing clear haram. However, halal and haram are defined by Allah and no human has the right to amend them. If a religious leader claims exemption to the rules for themselves or their students, that’s a big, bright, red flag.

Beware of Bullying

When you witness or experience bullying, understand that a Muslim’s dignity is sacred and don’t accept justifications of ‘tarbiyah’ (spiritual edification/character reformation) or breaking someone’s nafs (ego). If you didn’t sign up for spiritual edification, don’t accept any volunteer spiritual guides.

If you did sign up, pay attention as to whether these harsh rebukes are having a positive or negative effect. If they are having a negative emotional, mental, or physical effect on you, then this is clearly not tarbiyah, which is meant to build you up.

When abuse in the name of tarbiyah happens, it is the shaykh himself or the shaykha herself who needs character reformation. When such behavior goes unchecked, students become outlets of unchecked anger and are left with trauma and PTSD. This type of bullying is very common in women’s groups.

Trust Built and Trust Destroyed

There are different levels of trust, and as it relates to religious leaders, one does not need to investigate individuals or build trust for a perfunctory relationship. You do not need a high degree of trust if you are just attending someone’s general lectures and not establishing any personal relationship.

If you want to study something with an Islamic teacher, do so as you would with a school-teacher, understanding that their position does not make that person either exceptionally safe nor exceptionally harmful. Treat religious figures as religious consultants who are there to answer questions based on their knowledge. Give every teacher a clean slate, don’t have baseless suspicions, but if behavior becomes manipulative, exploitative, cultish, or otherwise abusive, don’t justify it either.

Personal accountability is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith and we have to take responsibility for our own faith and actions. There is no need to be suspicious without reason, but nor is there a justification for blind trust in someone you don’t know, just because they lead prayers or have a degree of religious education.

It is natural to ask ourselves whether people can be trusted after experiencing or learning about spiritual abuse. The answer is yes – you can trust yourself. You can also trust others in ways that are appropriate for the relationship. If you know someone well and they have proven over a long period of time to be trustworthy, keep secrets, and do not use you or take advantage of you, then it makes sense to trust that person more than a stranger or someone who has outward uprightness that you do not know well. That level of trust is earned through long-time demonstration of its characteristics.

Seeing someone on stage for years or relying on testimony of people impressed by someone should not convince you to lower your guard. Even if you do believe someone is pious, you still never drop your better judgment, because even saints are fallible.

Don’t Fall for Reputation

Never take other respected leaders praising or working alongside an individual as proof of his or her trustworthiness. It is possible that the teachers you trust are unaware of any wrongdoing. It’s not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a responsibility for them to boycott or disassociate themselves from another religious figure even if they are aware of them being abusive.

Furthermore, skilled manipulators often gain favor from respected teachers both overseas and domestically to gain credibility.

If one shaykh praises another shaykh, but you witness abusive behavior, don’t doubt yourself based on this praise. The praise may have been true at one time or may have been true in the experience of the one giving the praise, but no one knows another person’s current spiritual state as spiritual states can change.

Even if the abusive individual was previously recognized to be a great wali (saint), understand that there are saints who have lost their sainthood as they do not have isma (divine protection from sin or leaving Islam) like the prophets (upon them be peace) do. What was true yesterday, may not be true today.

Often praises of integrity, courage, and inclusiveness are heaped on men who support influential female figures. However, men who are praised as ‘allies,’ and thanked for ‘using their privilege’ to support female scholarship and the participation of women in religious organizations and events are no more trustworthy than those who don’t.

Abusers are often very image-conscious and may be acting to improve their own image and brand strength. Influential male and female religious figures also help one another with mutual praising and social-proofing. That is how the misdoings of men who are supportive of women are ignored, as long as they support the right politicized causes such as inclusive spaces and diverse panels.

Don’t be tricked into trust through a person’s credentials. An ijazah (license) to be a shaykh of a tariqa is purportedly the highest credential. It’s a credential that allegedly has a chain that goes all the way back to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), but that does not impart any of the Prophet’s character or trustworthiness in and of itself. A shaykh has to continuously live up to the ijaza and position. The position does not justify behavior outside of the sharia or any form of abuse. Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) only to the degree to which they embody his character.

When a teacher who hasn’t spent adequate time with righteous shayukh abuses, they are said to lack suhba (companionship of the pious), and that is why they are abusive.

The truth is many of the worst abusers in traditional circles are highly certified, have spent adequate time with shayukh, are valid representatives of them, and are able to abuse because the previously mentioned credentials lead to blind trust.

Don’t let certifications about spiritual abuse, ethical leadership, or the like mean anything to you. Skilled narcissists will be the first to get such certifications and take courses because they know this will make people trust them more. You will see courses on ‘healthy leadership’ and ‘spiritual abuse prevention’ being taught and designed by them. There is a false premise behind such certifications that if religious leaders knew how abuse occurs and the damage it causes victims they wouldn’t do it. The fact is they know how abuse works, know how damaging it is, and don’t care. In a way, it’s good to have lessons on spiritual abuse from purveyors of abuse, just as learning theft prevention from a thief might be the most beneficial.

Don’t judge by rhetoric

Don’t look at the rhetoric of groups or individuals to see how seriously they take abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in all groups. It is common for members of one group to call out abuse that they see in another group while ignoring abuse occurring within their own group.

Sufis who will talk about the importance of sharia, label others as ‘goofy-Sufis,’ and insist that real Sufis follow sharia, will very often abuse in private and use the same justifications as the other Sufi groups they publicly deride.

Many imams and religious leaders will talk publicly about the importance of justice, having zero-tolerance for abuse, and the importance of building safe spaces, while they themselves are participating in the abuse.

Furthermore, female religious leaders will often cover up secret marriages, and other abuses for such men and help them to ostracize and destroy the credibility of their victims as long as their political views align. Muslim mental health providers often incorporate religious figures when they do programs, and in some cases they involve known abusers if it helps their cause.

In some cases, the organization does not know of any abuse. Abusive individuals use partnerships with Muslim mental health organizations to enhance their image as a “safe person.” This is especially dangerous due to the vulnerability of those struggling with mental illness and spiritual issues, who may then be exploited by the abuser. It is a community responsibility to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals and to ensure that they do have access to resources that can actually help them.

Don’t judge by fame

One false assumption is that the local-unknown teacher is sincere while the famous preacher is insincere and just wants to amass followers. This contrast is baseless although rhetorically catchy.

The fact is, many unknown teachers desire fame and work towards it more than those who are famous. Other times the unknown and famous teacher may have the same love of leadership, but one is more skilled than the other. They both may also be incredibly sincere.

Ultimately, we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart but must look at their actions, and if their actions are abusive, they are a danger to the community. Both famous and non-famous teachers are equally capable of spiritual abuse.

Look for a procedure

Before being involved in an organization, look for a code of conduct. There is no accountability without one in non-criminal matters. Never depend on people, look at the procedures and ensure that the procedure calls for transparency, such as the one we at In Shaykh’s Clothing published and made free for the public to use.

Procedure also applies to an organizations’ financials. Do not donate money to organizations based on personalities, instead demand financial transparency and accountability for the money spent. There is great incentive for spiritual abusers to win the trust of crowds when it means they can raise money without any financial accountability.

But what about Husne-Zann? Thinking well of others?

Allah tells us يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ

O You who believe, leave much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sinful” (Quran 49:12).

From this verse, we see that some – not all negative opinions are sinful. The prohibition is partitive, meaning some bad opinions are permissible.

If someone punches you, it is not hunse-zann to assume that person just happened to stretch with a closed fist and did not see your face was in the way. This kind of delusion will lead to you getting punched more. To be wary of their fist isn’t a sinful level of suspicion.

Part of why spiritual abuse is difficult to detect is that its purveyors have a reputation for outward uprightness. They are thought well of in the community, and in many cases they are its pillars and have decades of positive service to their defense. Assuming that someone cannot be abusive simply because they have been a teacher or leader for a long time is not husne-zann. When facts are brought to light- like a fist to the face – it is delusional to assume they didn’t mean it that way.

If someone does something that warrants suspicion, then put your guard up and don’t make excuses for those actions. Start with a general guard and be procedural about things which require a procedure.  For example, if you are going to loan someone money, don’t just take their word that they will pay you back but insist on a written record. If they say they are offended, just say “it’s my standard procedure to avoid any confusion later on.” A reasonable person won’t have an issue with that. If someone mentions on the phone they will pay you $100 for your work, write an email to confirm what was said on the phone so there’s a record for it.

Lastly, and most importantly, never leave your child alone with a teacher where you or others cannot see them. Many cases of child sexual assault can be prevented if we never allow children to study alone with adults. There should never be an exception to this, and parents much uphold this as a matter of policy. Precaution is not an accusation, and this is a professional and standard no one should reject.

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