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UnMosqued ReMosqued: Western Masajid and the Search for Community

Hena Zuberi

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This post is meant for the the Muslim communities in the West where Islamic Centers and Masajid are the hub of community activity. When referring to a masjid, we do not mean where we make the actual salah, we mean the whole institution, the center and the community that it envelopes. It is a blessing that this conversation is taking place. As the response to, “Mosques are Missing the Point” pointed out, this topic resonates with so many; there is a thirst for many to come back to the House of Allah. 

Empty structures

Amenities are great, but people matter more; I look at the churches here in the Northeast – phalerate structures with stained glass windows, cavernous sanctuaries, and shiny steeples. They were probably built by devout settlers hundreds of years ago, on large parcels of land, but they are empty, dead spaces. The people who built them must have sacrificed, much as our elders have, in making them.

Don’t get me wrong; my heart sings when I see the copper domes and the carved wooden mimbars of our mosques.  But what use are these if no one is coming to these palatial masajid? It seems that the boards of Islamic nonprofits invest in physical assets rather than human capital. Only 44% of all Imams are employed full-time and paid. Half of all mosques have no full-time staff. Program staff such as youth directors or outreach directors account for only 5% of all full-time staff. With all due respect to their knowledge and status, 66% of Imams were born abroad and many cannot relate to my generation, much less that of my children.

What is happening in our mosques?

People stop going, they stop attending. This doesn’t mean that they do not pray, it means that they are not attached to one particular masjid on a regular basis, nor is the masjid a relevant part of their lives. They do not know the people alongside whom they worship. The masjid is not a place they would reach out to if they were sick or needed help, to learn or to give.

In many communities, the very place that was meant to bring Muslims together has become an anathema for the community— associated with fighting, control, and divisions like little fiefdoms.

A recent hashtag on Twitter – #unmosqued – offers a poignant look into reasons why people have stopped attending the masjid or stopped being an active part of the community. This was spurred by a RadTalk on the topic, and has now evolved into a major documentary.

Some of the tweets and comments particularly caught my eye because they said things that many of us do not want to hear. The majority of grievances were from three major groups who have had abusive mosque experiences – new Muslims, youth, and women.

New Muslims

A sister shared an experience on how some of a particular masjid’s members asked a person to delay taking their shahadah until the next Jumu’ah, so more people could be there to see the “trophy of the day.” Boards tout how many conversions take place in the masjid but have nothing to offer the new Muslims after shahadah. This solid blogpost (and its responses) on what masajid need to do for converts, is very relevant to the discussion.

Youth

Aser Mir, a UK citizen, says the downfall of the youth as they turn to drugs, alcohol, and fornication in Muslim majority areas where there is a mosque on every corner is a troubling matter, “Many simply turn to mosques for Friday prayers or just ritual worship only. Many don’t turn to mosques at all. Others feel they can’t turn to their mosques. So, in effect, you can be attending the masjid or not and still be unmosqued.”

In a recent report by Ihsan Bagby regarding mosques in America, many mosque leaders shared the difficulties they are facing. Bagby writes, “The real challenge for them is not radicalism and extremism among the youth, but attracting them and keeping them close to the mosque.”

Women

“The brothers do not know the concept of lowering their gaze and love grouping themselves in front of the doors.”

This is a common complaint by women who feel intimidated or are made to feel less because they ‘dared’ venture into a masjid.

“When a female has been a Muslim her entire life, and still does not know who to go to for questions about the religion. #Unmosqued #Cmon.”

I personally don’t have this issue since I have access now, but there were years when my only access was online fatwas, until I met a young British scholar. But once she left the country there were years where I didn’t know who to turn to for my questions.  Many Muslim women face this issue.

Other MuslimMatters contributers have had similar experiences. Ify Okoye tweeted, “At some mosques, unwelcome mat is unfurled w/ indignities tht remind us tht ‘this isn’t the Islam women were promised’ #unmosqued.” She has written prolifically about her experience at masajid.

Like many women, MM’s Ruth Nasrullah has been unmosqued because she was tired of not being included in the decision-making process at her local Islamic Center, and when her opinion was asked it was so uncomfortable.

For all those who don’t believe that this is the role of the masjid and that it should be purely a place for salah, read this hadith related by  ‘A’isha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her):

“There was a black slave-girl who belonged to an Arab tribe. They set her free and she stayed with them. She said, ‘One of their girls once went out wearing a red leather jeweled scarf. She put it down or it fell off, and a kite flew by it as it was lying there and, thinking it was meat, made off with it. They looked for it but could not find it, and so they suspected me of taking it.’ They began to search her and even searched her private parts. The girl went on, ‘By Allah, I was standing with them when the kite flew over and dropped it and it fell among them.’ I said, ‘This is what you suspected me and accused me of and I am innocent of it. There it is.'”

‘A’isha said, “She came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and became a Muslim. She had a tent or small hut in the mosque. She used to come to me and talk with me. She never sat with me without saying:

‘The day of the scarf was one of the marvels of our Lord

Yes indeed! He surely rescued me from the land of unbelief.’

“I asked her, ‘What is it with you? Whenever you sit with me, you say this. So she told me the story.” (Sahih Bukhari)

She was a woman, a youth, a minority, a convert, oppressed, poor and lived IN the masjid of the Beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Today she may have been unmosqued.

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    April 8, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Asalaamu alaikum, Hena. Great post on a topic that’s crucial for the American Muslim community to address.

    Since you mentioned me and I live in Houston, I’d like to point out that the Clear Lake Islamic Center (themasjid.org) is a shining example in many ways of how a masjid can get it right.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 9, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      Wa alaykummas salam wa rahmatulah,
      JazakAllah khayr for your feedback. We have discussed this amongst the sisters and you have been writing about it for a long time, it just took this talk & documentary to the get the word out.

      I have heard great things about Clear Lake Islamic Center. Tell us more about what they do right please.

      • Avatar

        ruth nasrullah

        April 10, 2013 at 9:26 AM

        Physical: the CLIC is clean, well-maintained, smells nice, is organized, has comfortable lounge areas, a gym, a kids play center that is manned by volunteers, a clear glass divider between men and women’s prayer spaces, clean and fully-stocked kitchen areas. Staff: The assistant imam is a full-time administrator, they recently hired a youth coordinator, of course Sh. Waleed Basyouni is a great asset in terms of knowledge and vision. Organizational culture: There is an expectation that children will not run around screaming and behaving wildly, the facility is green, there is openness to women’s involvement, there is a dedication to interfaith and active outreach to the community. They have a well-maintained website with accurate information posted and a Constant Contact email newsletter.

        There’s probably more to it than that, since I don’t go often. It’s the only masjid I ever go to, though.

  2. Avatar

    Asif

    April 9, 2013 at 1:07 AM

    AsA – Great article and well presented. I have experienced all the issues you have presented and have held same opinions for decades. I fully concur with the question or statement Lani Azhari posed. What is the function of a masjid especially in the west?

    Our local masajids shud be the local “watering holes” for the area muslims but they are not. The greatest disservice to local Muslims is the service of an immigrant imam who is not connected to local issues and is not able to provide ANY guidance. I dont give charity to a mosque regularly, even my area masjid, for they dont publish their financials to public as they must under 501c charter.

    I tried for over a year, in my local masjid in New Tampa, FL, to bring about changes to bring the young to the “property” of the masjid via different programs and then let opportunities bring them further in but to no avail. The BOD is a bunch of self-egotistical group and no less then walking-dead.

    We talk long and tall about unity, charity, rightousness, caring, cleanliness, etc. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Anyways, you get my point and I am regurgitating all you have so aptly reported on.

  3. Avatar

    Asif

    April 9, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    To those who read and vote on comments, please dont! YOUR votes dont carry as much weight as your comments do. So, please, take part in the duscussion so MM can know more about the community and this issue can grow to ever increasing awareness. Also, please let as many people know of these article series aa possible.

    I have said, over decades, that masajids should not exist as they do in the west but be part of a Muslim Community Center. I am glad to see someone talk on the same issue and, now, feel that Islam in the West might florish with us as Allah’s representatives – this designation carries all the aspirations this article has touched upon.

    Is there hope for us and our faith? Please dont tell me there is since Allah has promised to safeguard Islam for He has but not the Muslims if we dont act as Muslims that care for concerns “besides our own selves.”

    Hena and I may very well understand that these changes will bring about a blessing not dicussed in the article and that being the prospect of an American unified ummah – with gradients, of course.

  4. Avatar

    Aqeedah Awliya

    April 9, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    If people stop going to mosque it’s their problem. The need to feel attached to a community might be the root of the problem. Before anything else, going to a mosque and pray there is gaining 20something more sawab, so why would anyone stop going there? What’s the point of praying at home when you have the chance to go to a mosque. I think the problem is some people regard mosques as community clubs, no they are not

    • Avatar

      Ruth Nasrullah

      April 9, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      ASA. You have a valid point about the purpose of a masjid. However, some masajid put obstacles in the way of prayer. As an example, if women are behind a wall or in separate room they can’t see and follow the imam. This is a potential problem if a prayer is held which a woman is not familiar with, such as a janazah prayer; a woman has to rely on following the women she can see. If no one there knows the prayer all those women are left on their own to improvise as best they can.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 9, 2013 at 10:06 PM

      JazakAllah Khayr for your perspective. Prayer is of course the most important part of attending the masjid but there are maqasid behind the congregational salah. Why are we asked to pray together, why 5 times, why are asked to pray Jumuah beyond the local community masjid and the Eidain with an even broader community. There are definite wisdoms behind these commands.
      We are supposed to worried about our brothers and sisters in Islam, inquire about their deen and dunya.

  5. Avatar

    Ghazala

    April 9, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    Salam ‘alaikum,
    Subhan Allah we love Maryam Masjid /Maryam Islamic Center (MIC), in Sugar Land, TX. It is beautiful in every sense of the word. We have a large prayer area for sisters, separate entrance, smiling faces & a Zonal Council / management that is diverse & helpful, over twenty teams (with youth taking center stage & being trained to lead), that cater to many needs of the community, weekly counselling, a vibrant, young local brother as our Imam, plenty of events that cater to both young & old alike. Of course there is always the odd trouble maker but the rest of the community & the volunteers make up for the random unpleasantness. We are not perfect but strive for perfection every single day.
    This is from the Favors of Allah swt upon us & I pray Allah continues HIS favors upon us & upon all the Muslims across the world.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 11, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      Wa alaykummasslam,
      Ameen, I loved my former masjid Unity Center too despite any struggles, it was my family’s second home. We were getting there. Baby steps.

      Random unpleasantness is human as long as it is not the culture of organization. MIC sounds like an awesome community.

      I would love to hear more about how this was achieved. What steps did the community take?

      • Avatar

        Ghazala

        April 13, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        Jazakallahu khairan Sis. Hena for giving me the opportunity to present some of the specifics that contribute to the blessed MIC community. One of our very active, young volunteers Br.Waleed Mohiuddin helped me compile this list. We will take you to the vision as an organization and try to link this to our success, Alhamdulillah.

        Exemplary Institution across North America
        Having a vision itself brings us to a key factor – professionalism (and organization). Masaajid need to be given priority just as we do, to our businesses. Tawakkul is vital – aim high (recognize that there is no limit to Allah’s blessings), work hard (passion is key here – do it heartily with Ikhlas ), succeed (be thankful if outcome is positive, thankful and patient otherwise).

        Primary focus on recognizing potential in Youth, retain them as productive Muslims and empower them to become leaders
        This is one fundamental and distinguished element – focusing on Youth as leaders, mentoring them & instilling the required passion. Youth has the energy, exposure and creativity required of an outstanding institution – this coupled with the wisdom of our elders is a much known but apparent recipe for success. Our 23+ teams each with youth leadership is a key element of MIC’s growth, success and ability to retain the community members.
        What the centers also need, is to provide the environment and activities that youth spend most of their time in – sorry to mention the Starbucks and pool halls – but if this is what initially brings the youth in – this is what we give, of course in a Islamically and morally legal way – transformation is the next step which is achieved through presence in the Islamic Center.

        Family Friendly Institution
        This is where the concept of ‘Islamic Centers’ vs. ‘Masaajid’ becomes apparent. The purpose in many peoples mind seems to be that of fulfilling ritual obligations (the Masjid). We have to think beyond – use the ‘Centers’ to bring the community together – people often question the spending on community events, we need to think beyond this – this is truly an investment in the community – to gather people and provide that sense of community and brotherhood – to create memories that often become habits – the youth especially is much more likely to carry the morals and rituals they learn over to the next generation – realizing this and investing in the community is key.

        Promote Creativity, Innovation and Professionalism
        This sort of ties with the vision of an organization – we often tie these elements to engineering and manufacturing firms – it is time we apply them to activities and management of the Islamic Centers. Diversity in all aspects (age, gender, race, etc.) is key in promoting these elements – this is truly where the difference is both in terms of perception and success.

        Set new standards of Outreach
        This is self explanatory – creativity in outreach and leading by example – focus on our behavior that inspires others. One factor that our Daw’ah team demonstrates is the concept of ‘no compulsion’ – we do our due diligence – guidance is from Allah. Talking of events, MIC Daw’ah & Family teams are to organize one event per month besides the ongoing Halaqaat. Again this is done in the most professional way, for example, The Daw’ah team brings in a speaker, seeks approval, then sends in the event planer that outlines the dates & responsibilities of the other teams, Media does designing, printing, distribution of material, announcements FB page, audio/visual set up etc, Parking, Food, Maintenance Teams are all ready, set for the day of the event with a clean Masjid, extra help to constantly clean bathrooms, food provided, tea/coffee service available, so on so forth. It is one smooth operation Alhamdulillah.

        Promote active participation from Members in shaping the community and its future
        This is all about creating a sense of community and the sense of ownership (of the Center) within the community. Idea should be to create the willingness to be (proudly) associated with MIC – through active participation in activities, or as a community member. Seek input from members, show that they matter.
        MIC is passionate about interfaith dialogue, whereby our community is invited to attend these events / luncheons. Our events are as varied as Marriage counselling & events with esteemed scholars to lighter fare with dessert competitions, art competition (coming up) etc, that involve a large segment of our diverse community.

        I hope this outlines some of the things that contribute to an energetic and passionate MIC community – May Allah bless MIC and guide its members. Ameen.
        May Allah bless everyone at MM & all those who work in HIS path. Ameen.

  6. Avatar

    The Eco Muslim

    April 10, 2013 at 9:06 PM

    Brilliant advice. I shall be using these ideas at our eco-mosque here in England.

  7. Avatar

    RCHOUDH

    April 11, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Mash’allah this is a great article that lays out many of the issues facing American mosques today. Here’s what I think is going on with many mosques today; I think most of them are overwhelmed with the various issues facing Muslims in America (particularly the younger generations and new Muslims). Since most mosques are run by immigrant communities, and only have enough in their budget to simply run a prayer place (and not a community center) they are often times silent and helpless about the various issues you bring up above. I believe the idea of having “safe spaces” is generally a good idea, and one that mosques that can’t provide the services given by “safe spaces”, can benefit from. So rather than having “safe spaces” operate completely independently, I believe mosques should take advantage of their services and make their services aware to to their congregations. Also mosques should sometimes allow the “safe spaces” to use the mosque as a venue towards conducting any special events that could benefit the entire community (such as lectures/workshops on various important topics).
    As for my own experience, I try to encourage family members to attend their neighborhood mosques all the time, even though I understand when they say that their mosques are not well-equipped with everything. I remember one relative saying that her mosque didn’t offer any special events for youth, to which I replied that perhaps she should try volunteering to create and run these events herself (with the mosque board’s permission of course). Sometimes I think it’s important to initiate things ourselves, just to see how far we can go towards improving our mosque’s atmosphere ourselves.

  8. Avatar

    Zahrah

    April 12, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I have to agree with Adeeqah (above). We expect the mosques to step in and fill in all the blanks of our social lives. This is not what the masjids are for. They are for us to gather and pray, send our children for Qur’an teaching, for funerals, weddings and the like. It’s above and beyond to ask of each masjid to provide unlimited services for youth (basketball games and events) and folks who have social needs. It’s great if a masjid has enough space and funds to provide but not many do. We in America are expecting the mosques to be like churches, with social events all the time. In other countries, the mosques aren’t expected to fill these other community needs, servicing each sector with games for the kids, functions where the women can cook and serve, family games and outings, etc. They go use the mosque to pray, and go home. Their neighbors and friends fill in the social functions. I always thought that was a great thing about a mosque. With the church, you are made to feel like you have to belong as a member of that church. If you leave and go to another church there is gossip and questioning about why you left. Not so with the mosques. They are open and there is no commitment to one or another. If you feel like one of the mosques is your home mosque, great! But no one is going to wonder why you decided to go to a different mosque this week.

    That being said, the new Muslims and the youth that grows up in America have these social needs, and have expectations of the mosques to fulfill them, not realizing this is not the duty of the mosque. Then, because of these feelings they themselves have created, they are left feeling unmosqued. I’m happy to be unmosqued! I can go to whichever one I please! I know folks from different ones and am happy to see them and meet new friends when I visit other mosques.

    However, because of the expectations and feeling that mosques are letting them down by not providing programs they need, we need to make these other services (like Make Space) to help service the needs of the Muslim communities. We all really do need to step in and help provide support and social services to one another (especially with new Muslims, women and youth) outside of the masjid. And mosques need to be connected to these groups and promote Make Space to help fill in the blanks of the needs of our community.

  9. Avatar

    Sandra Amen-Bryan

    April 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    Salaam Aliekum,
    Yes, it is a “blessing” that this conversation is taking place in the light of day, in a honest manner, vs the venting process many of us have engaged in when discussing the issues detailed in this article.

    As a female worshipper, I have gone through all of the disgraces of having being eyed by a pack of men at the doors, too tiny of a space for the women, and hostile remarks/behavior that indicate my presence on Friday or another day was not welcome. Rather than shed tears anymore over the hurts I have incurred in masjids, in different states, I actually expect a certain level of rude behavior at any new mosque, I might attend. If i don’t get it, then I am happy. If I do, I chalk it up to their record and not mine. I take the best of what I get and leave the rest.

    I think anyone, man or woman, who attends any masjid regularly, has to develop their own Survival Strategy in order to protect one’s iman, while putting forth a desire to serve, as well as worship.

    And if the above solution is not acceptable, then I think the outcome is as the author documented: there are many other “Spaces” that are being formed to accommodate specific needs of the community(s). People who want to worship do not have to depend on the mosque establishment. They can and are developing ummahs of their own. They are leaving the domes and doing their own thing; and taking their financial resources with them.

    I think this is a positive trend. We don’t have a hierarchy for good reason: it naturally breeds competition for power, control and creates corruption. The development of additional spaces is good competition. For we all should all be competition for ‘good deeds’.

    • Avatar

      Gibran

      April 12, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Mashaa Allah sister, you reminded me of those who “turn of evil with good”

      http://quran.com/13/22

  10. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    April 14, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    I think there is a pattern here: it’s the women. The women’s section at my masjid is kind of crazy. My wife hates it and we used to get into heated arguments because she hated going there so much and I would insist she go. The problems are still there. Some scholars say it is our separation that is causing the problems. In the Indo/Pak masjids, they are big on the curtain or a separate room. The severe degree of separation causes the women to be more likely to talk during khutbahs and lectures because they are not directly in earshot of the speaker. So my wife goes to Jummah and struggles to listen to the Imam over a bunch of chatting sisters. It is an old guy’s club. May Allah reward you brothers for bringing this up. It’s a serious issue and you are right, it threatens our future as a Western Ummah. Some of us are obviously having a hard time being inclusive. I am black American, so I always blame prejudice. We come from these pure places where no one was different, and in America, everyone is different. We have to adjust our thinking and prioritize reaching out to those who are different and who we are used to seeing as less. Often, if you get to know that lesser person, you will find that he or SHE has strengths and good qualities that make them your equal or maybe your better!

  11. Avatar

    Tamirah-Amani Euphrates Jehan

    August 7, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    August 6, 2013, I traveled from Columbus, Ohio to Toledo, Ohio on a business assignment and saw the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. It was an extremely ornate-huge building sitting boldly and magnificently wear everyone driving Interstate 75 can see it. I’ve seen this huge structure years ago but I was not Muslim and had no idea what it was. Now, as a Muslim, I know that it is a masjid and Alhamduallahi, I had the opportunity to go visit. My sister, who is non-Muslim, accompanied me and was very excited to visit this majestic place of worship. So after my business was conducted in Toledo, we drove to Perrysburg, Ohio to visit the masjid. After spending about an hour trying to locate the masjid, Subhanallahi, we found it. It was around 4:30pm and we walked inside. From a distance, to the right of us, we saw a woman sitting at a desk. She was not wearing hijab (as I thought was customary to do when inside a masjid), but I am a newer Muslim convert and do not know all the proper etiquette, sunnah, etc., so I am still learning, as was my reason and excitement for visiting the masjid in the first place.

    At any rate, the phone rang and the woman answered the phone. I didn’t know if we should just start walking around so I waited to ask permission if it was okay first. While the woman was on the phone we saw a few shelved Islamic books and Al Qur’ans and various pieces of literature placed on a table. We heard some one say as-salaamu alaikum, and we turned around (I wasn’t sure if the woman was speaking to us or someone on the phone). We turned towards her and she briefly looked at us then put her head back down. I noticed she was off the phone so I said, wa laiku as-salam. She looked up again (saying nothing). So I said hello, we have traveled from Columbus, Ohio and saw this beautiful masjid and wanted to visit. She said, in an abrupt and rude manner, I will be leaving soon. I said, okay, isn’t the masjid open for Salat-al Dhuhr and Salat-al Asr in about an hour? She said yes but no one will probably come. I wanted to be clear if she meant that the masjid would be closing or if she meant it wasn’t really an “active” mosque so I asked her and she said yes it is an active mosque but that no one is normally present during these prayer times. So I said okay. Is it okay to look around, she said, again, in an abrupt and agitated manner, I guess. I have to say, I was taken-aback by her mannerism and behavior. She was so very impolite. It almost came off as being prejudice or something.

    As a hijab-wearing African-American Muslim, I know what it feels like when someone acts ugly towards a person of a different race, ethnicity, nationality, etc., and unfortunately, I experience these negative behaviors from Muslims (my so-called brothers and sisters in Islam) more than with non-Muslims (Allah (SWT) is my witness). It is extremely discouraging to give salams to a Muslimah and not get any in return. It is extremely disconcerting to see women not want to stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet with me during prayer and watch them “scoot” over -although I understand that it’s sunnah to connect the rows, etc. However, I just try to keep it moving and realize that it is “people” not Islam that acts undignified, but I cannot lie, it keeps me away from the masjid. I’ve gone to a few in my hometown but have entered and exited feeling like some type of “out-cast” or something. I also sense that the people are saying with their eyes, what are you doing here? This is our mosque. Like being a Black American is some type of disease. It is horrible because if you ever experienced this you know what I’m talking about and I know it is not a figment of my imagination or some type of insecurity issue I have.

    Back to the masjid in Perrysburg, Ohio. Like I said, I was taken aback by the reception we received (or really didn’t receive) from the woman. I don’t know if she was a Muslim or not and although I have met with cold receptions before from Muslims I still try not to let it discourage me from having a positive outlook and not to categorize all Muslims as being rude, impolite, racist, prejudice, or ignorant. So, again, I was just shocked by the cold treatment we received. We traveled about 2.5 hours away and took an additional hour trying to get to the masjid and only to be met by a cold/rude acting person who was, by all intensive-purposes, the representative of that masjid (just like if a person would call their local utility company, as a customer, you would expect to be treated with respect and dignity and if you are met with a rude customer service representative, your experience will impact your view/perception of the company (although it was the rep who was rude)). It’s just how it is. We reflect that which we say we represent (expressed or implied).

    I felt so disappointed and embarrassed by the woman’s behavior. I did not want my sister (non-Muslim) to have experienced this. What if I was bring someone there to take the Shahada? What if I was returning to the faith and wanted to make an appointment to meet with the Imam? What about the fact that I was a traveler (wayfayer) wanting to make my prayers? It was just a horrible experience, such so, that me and my sister said thank you and walked out the door. The spirit and attitude in that place was so negative, cold and unwelcoming, I would rather not waste my time there.

    Later that day, when I returned home, I looked at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo’s website again (like I did the day before I traveled there), to see if I missed anything. Was this a true Islamic place of worship? It said “Greater Toledo” as if it was the masjid serving all of the city and surrounding area. So why in the world would it have a woman in the office who is so rude?
    Then I Googled the masjid’s name and saw that it had met with disaster. From what I understand, about a year a go, a man entered the masjid with a gun with the intentions on shooting Muslims and when he found no one, he set fire to the prayer rug causing over 1.4 million dollars in damage. What a horrible thing! The man was charged for a hate crime, arson, and various other charged and sentenced. Me and my sister discussed how tragic this was and how we were glad that no one got hurt or died (Subhanallahi!).

    The fire set by that man caused a lot of physical damage.

    Then my sister made a statement that will stick with me forever.

    She said, that woman’s actions (and if she behaves that way on an ongoing basis) will cause more damage than that fire could ever cause.

    Respectfully submitted by

    Tamirah-Amani Euphrates Jehan
    Columbus, OH, USA

  12. Avatar

    Jennifer aboufadle

    June 1, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    I think it is important to bring our Mosqes back to being the center of our communities. I think I have a good idea for how to help make this happen. I think first and foremost there has to be a huge community of woman at the Masjids all the time(fajr to Isha) especially those who speak the language of the area and have knowledge of Quran, we need to give other Muslim women somewhere to come for new converts and women in need of community support(with loss, tragedy, and other stressors). Also, I think the best thing is to offer free high school education at the Masjid to highschool girls(only). We need to cement their faith and islamic education before they become wives and mothers. Fathers should love this because it will bring them to the Mosque and away from boys. The priority in making this free will be to have the mothers involved with the classes. In Florida we have free homeschooling online program called flvs, witch offers local teachers you can call for support. Also, with this I think it would be simple to add daycare the student could help the younger kids and that will also help them with basic parenting skills and teaching the girls to help the kids will hopefully show them the joys and troubles of motherhood that will help them appreciate their parents inshallah. I think with minimal start up money and space and a few mothers this could transform the Islamic communities for eons to come. Allah knows best.

  13. Pingback: Unmosqued Series: Role of the Masaajid - East vs. West | MuslimMatters.org

  14. Pingback: Reviving the Role of the Masjid | Part 1 - MuslimMatters.org

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#Life

How Do Muslims Plan for Disability

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Families with children with disability have an extraordinary set of challenges and blessings.  Disability (or special needs) is a broad term.

Many disabilities will prevent what we often think of as “normal.”  It may hinder or prevent educational opportunities, and employment. Many people with “special needs” can get educated, get married and live long and productive lives.  The problem for many parents of younger children with special needs is that they typically have no certainty about their children’s future needs. Even if the situation looks dire, it may not stay that way.  

How do parents plan for a world where they may not be around to see how things will end up for their special needs children?  What can they do to help their children in a way that does not violate Islamic Inheritance rules?

Certain types of disability, especially the loss of executive decision-making ability, could also happen well into adulthood.  This can be a threat to a family’s wealth and be the cause of internal conflicts. This is the kind of thing every adult needs to think about before it happens.  

The Problem

The issues are not just that parents believe their special needs child will need more inheritance than other children. Muslim parents usually don’t think that. Some parents don’t want their special needs child to get any inheritance at all.  Not because of any ill-will against their special needs child; just the opposite, but because they are afraid inheritance will result in sabotaging their child’s needs-based government benefits.    

Many, perhaps most special needs children do not have any use for needs-based benefits (benefits for the poor).  But many do, or many parents might figure that it is a distinct possibility. This article is a brief explanation of some of the options available for parents of special needs children.  It won’t go over every option, but rather those that are usually incorporated as part of any Islamic Estate Planning.

Please Stand By

Example:  Salma has three daughters and two sons.  One of her children, Khalida, 3, has Down Syndrome.  At this point, Salma knows that raising Khalida is going to be an immense challenge for herself, her husband Rashid and all the older siblings.  What she does not know, however, is what specific care Khalida is going to need through her life or how her disability will continue to be relevant. She does not know a lot about Khalida’s future marriage prospects, ability to be employed and be independent, though obviously like any parent she has nothing but positive hopes for her child’s life.   

In the event of her death, Salma wants to make sure her daughter gets her Islamic right to inheritance.  However, if Khalida needs public benefits, Salma does not want her daughter disqualified because she has her own money.

Her solution is something called a “stand-by special needs trust.” This type of trust is done in conjunction with an Islamic Inheritance Plan and is typically part of a living trust, though it could also be a trust drafted into the last will.  I will describe more about what a special needs trust is below. For Salma, she is the Trustee of her trust. After she dies, she names her husband (or someone else) the successor Trustee. The trust is drafted to prevent it from becoming an “available resource” used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and other benefits that go with that.

If it turns out that Salma passes away when Khalida is 5, and her assets are held in trust for her until she is 18 and her Trustee determines she does not need a special needs trust, she will get her inheritance precisely like everyone else based on their Islamic right.  If she does need benefits, the Trustee will only make distributions to Khalida that would not harm her eligibility.

This way, there is no need to deny Khalida her inheritance because of her disability, and she is also making sure giving her daughter inheritance would not harm her daughter’s healthcare or other necessary support.  

Munir Vohra is a special needs advocate and an athlete

The Shape of Special Needs Trusts

A stand-alone Special needs trusts, which is sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust” the kind without the “stand-by” variation I described above, are a standard device for families that have children with special needs. A trust is a property ownership device. A Grantor gives the property to a Trustee, who manages the property for the benefit of a beneficiary. In a revocable living trust, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are typically the same person.  

When the trust is irrevocable, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary may all be different people. In a special needs trust, the person with a disability is the beneficiary. Sometimes, the person with a disability is also the Grantor, the person who created the trust.  This might happen if there is a settlement from a lawsuit for example and the person with special needs wants it to be paid to the trust.  

In many if not most cases, the goal may not be to protect the beneficiary’s ability to get public benefits at all. Many people with a disability don’t get special government benefits.  But they do want to protect the beneficiaries from having to manage the assets. Some people are just more susceptible to abuse.

The structure of the arrangement typically reflects the complexity of the family, the desire of siblings and extended family to continue to be involved in the care and attending to the needs of the person with a disability, even if they are not the person directly writing checks.   

Example: Care for Zayna

Example: Zayna is a 24-year-old woman with limited ability to communicate, take care of her needs and requires 24-hour care.  Zayna has three healthy siblings, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her father, Elias, earns about $70,000 per year and is divorced. Zayna’s mother Sameena cannot contribute, as she is on social security disability. However, Zayna’s adult brother and sisters, brother in laws, sister in law and several aunts, uncles want to help Zayna meet her needs E.lyas creates a third party special needs trust that would ensure Zayna has what she needs in the years to come.

Zayna receives need-based public benefits that are vital to her in living with her various disabilities and her struggle to gain increasing independence, knowledge and dignity.  So the trust needs to be set up and professionally administered to make sure that when Zayna gets any benefit from her trust, it does not end up disqualifying her ability to get any needs-based benefit.  

Contributions to the special needs trust will not go against Islamic Inheritance rules unless made after the death of the donor.

If Zayna dies, her assets from the special needs trust will be distributed based on the Islamic rules of inheritance as it applies to her.

When disability planning is not about Public Benefits

Perhaps most families with special needs children do not use any needs-based public assistance.  They are still concerned about special needs and planning for it.

Example:  Khadija, 16, is on the autism spectrum. For those familiar with the autism spectrum, that could mean a lot of things.  For her parents, Sarah and Yacoob, other than certain habits that are harmless and easy to get used to, it means Khadija is very trusting of people. Otherwise, she does well in school, and her parents don’t think she needs way more help than her siblings and she has just as good a chance of leading a healthy and productive life as any 16-year-old girl.  

The downside of being too trusting is that the outside world can exploit her.  If she ends up getting inheritance or gifts, she may lose it. The parents decide that when she gets her inheritance, it will be in a trust that would continue through her life.  There will be a trustee who will make sure she has what she needs from her trust, but that nobody can exploit her.

In some ways, what Khadija’s parents Sarah and Yacoob are doing is not so different from what parents might do if they have a child with a substance abuse problem.  They want to give their child her rights, but they don’t want to allow for exploitation and abuse.

Considering your own needs

There are many people who are easy marks for scammers, yet you would be unlikely to know this unless you are either a close friend or family member, or a scammer yourself.  While this often happens to the elderly, it can happen at just about any age. Everyone should consider developing an “incapacity plan” to preserve their wealth even if they lose their executive decision-making ability.   

There is this process in state courts known as “conservatorship.” Indeed, entire courtrooms dedicate themselves to conservatorships and other mental health-related issues.  It is a legal process that causes an individual to lose their financial or personal freedom because a court has essentially declared them not competent to handle their affairs. Conservatorships are a public process.  They can cause a lot of pain embarrassment and internal family strife.

One of the benefits of a well-drafted living trust is to protect privacy and dignity during difficult times.

Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms

Haris, 63, was eating lunch at a diner.  In the waiting area, he became fast friends with Mellissa; a thirty-something woman who was interested in talking about Haris’s grandchildren.  The conversation then turned Melissa and her desire to start a business selling long distance calling cards. Haris was fascinated by this and thought it made good business sense. Haris gave Mellissa $20,000.00. The two exchanged numbers. The next day, Mellissa’s number was disconnected.

Haris’s wife, Julie became alarmed by this.  It was out of character for her husband to just fork over $20,000 to anyone on the spur of the moment.  What was worse is that the business failed immediately.  

Three months later,  Haris meets Mellissa at the diner again.  She then convinces Haris to invest $50,000 in a Cambodian rice farm, which he does right away.   His wife Julie was pretty upset.

How living trusts helps

As it happened though, Haris, a few years before, created a living trust.  It has a provision that includes incapacity planning. There are two essential parts to this:  The first is a system to decide if someone has lost their executive decision-making ability. The second is to have a successor Trustee to look over the estate when the individual has lost this capacity.  This question is about Haris’s fundamental freedom: his ability to spend his own money.

If you asked Haris, he would say nothing is wrong with him.  He looks and sounds excellent. Tells the best dad jokes. He goes to the gym five times a week and can probably beat you at arm wrestling. Haris made some financial mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.

Julie, and his adult children Haroon, Kulsum, Abdullah, and Rasheeda are not so sure it’s just a mistake.  The living trust created a “disability panel.” This panel gets to vote, privately, in if Haris should continue to act as Trustee of his own money.  If they vote that he should not manage his own money, his wife does it for him.

The family has a way to decide an important and sensitive issue while maintaining Haris’ dignity, privacy and wealth.   Haris’s friends don’t know anything about long distance calling cards or a Cambodian rice farm; they don’t know he lost his ability to act as Trustee of his trust.  Indeed the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this.

Planning for everyone

Islamic inheritance is fard and every Muslim should endeavor to incorporate it into their lives.  As it happens it is an obligation Muslims, at least those in the United States, routinely ignore or deal with inadequately.  However, there is more to planning than just what shares go to whom after death. Every family needs to create a system. There may or may not be problems with children or even with yourself (other than death, which will happen), but you should do whatever you can to protect your family’s wealth and dignity while also fulfilling your obligations to both yourself and your family.

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#Society

Cleaning Out Our Own Closets This Ramadan: Bigotry

Why Eliminating Hate Begins with Us

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Before Muslims take a stand against xenophobia in the U.S., we really need to eradicate it from our own community.

There. I said it.

There is no nice way to put it. Muslims can be very intolerant of those outside their circles, particularly our Latino neighbors. How do I know? I am a Latina who came into Islam almost two decades ago, and I have experienced my fair share of stereotypes, prejudice, and just outright ignorance coming from my very own Muslim brethren.

And I am not alone.

My own family and Latino Muslim friends have also dealt with their daily doses of bigotry. Most of the time, it is not ill-intentioned, however, the fact that our community is so out of touch with Latin Americans says a lot about why we are often at the receiving end of discrimination and hate.

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” (The Qur’an, 13:11)

Recently, Fox News came under fire for airing a graphic that stated, “Trump cuts aid to 3 Mexican countries,” on their show, “Fox and Friends Weekend.” The network apologized for the embarrassing error, but not before criticism of their geographical mishap went viral on social media. The reactions were of disbelief, humor, and repugnance for the controversial news channel that has become the archenemy of everything Islamic. People flooded the internet with memes, tweets, and comments regarding the ridiculous headline, Muslims included. American Muslim leaders quickly released statements condemning the lack of knowledge about the difference between Mexico and the nations of Central and South America.

Ironically, however, just about two months ago, my eldest son wrote an essay about the bullying he experienced in an Islamic school, which included insults about him being Mexican and “eating tacos” even though he is half Ecuadorian (South America) and Puerto Rican (Caribbean), not Mexican. I include the regions in parentheses because, in fact, many Muslims are just as geographically-challenged as the staff at Fox News. When a group of Hispanic workers came to replace the windows at his former school, my son approached them and spoke to them in Spanish as a means of dawah – teaching them that there are Latin American and Spanish-speaking Muslims. His classmates immediately taunted him saying that the laborers were “his cousins.” Although my son tried countless times to explain to his peers the difference between his origins and Mexico and defended both, they continued to mock Latinos.

On another occasion, a local masjid invited a famous Imam from the Midwest to speak about a topic. My family and I attended the event because we were fans of the shaykh and admired his work. A few minutes into his talk, he made a derogatory remark about Mexicans, and then added with a smile, “I hope there aren’t any Mexicans in the room!” A gentleman from the community stood up behind my husband, who is Ecuadorian, and pointed at him saying, “We have one right here!” Some people chuckled as his face turned red. The shaykh apologized for his comment and quickly moved on. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. This was nothing new.

Imam Mohamed Alhayek (Jordanian Palestinian) and Imam Yusuf Rios (Puerto Rican) share an intimate moment during the 16th Annual Hispanic Muslim Day. Photo/Caption by Melissa Barreto — at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC).

Once, I visited a Pakistani sister, and as I enjoyed a cup of warm chai on her patio, she turned to me earnestly and said, “You and (another Latina Muslim) are the only educated Hispanics I know.” She then asked me why Latinos did not have “goals and ambitions” because supposedly, all the Hispanic students in her daughters’ school only aspired to work in their parents’ businesses as laborers. She went on to tell me about her Hispanic maid’s broken family and how unfortunate it was that they had no guidance or moral values. I was shocked by her assumptions, but I realized that this was the sentiment of a lot of Muslims who simply do not know a thing about our culture or have not taken the time to really get to know us.

When I accepted Islam back in 2000, I never expected to hear some of the narrow-minded comments and questions I received from those people who had become my brothers and sisters in faith. After all, I came to Islam through the help of an Egyptian family, I declared the Shahada for the first time in the presence of people from Pakistan, and I was embraced in the masjid by worshippers from places like Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, India, Turkey, and Afghanistan. A white American convert gifted me with my first Ramadan guide and an Indian sister supported me during my first fast. I expected to be treated equally by everyone because Islam was for everyone and Muslims have been hearing this their whole lives and they preach it incessantly. I do the same now. As a Muslim Latina, I tell my people that Islam is open to all and that racism, colorism, classism, and xenophobia have no place in Islam.

Nevertheless, it did not take long for me to hear some very ugly things from my new multi-cultural community. I was questioned about whether I was a virgin or not by well-meaning sisters who wanted to find me a Muslim husband. My faith was scrutinized when my friend’s family introduced me to an imam who doubted I had converted on my own, without the persuasion of a Muslim boyfriend or husband. I was pressured about changing my name because it was not “Islamic” enough. I was lectured about things that I had already learned because foreign-born Muslims assumed I had no knowledge. I was even told I could not be a Muslim because I was Puerto Rican; that I was too “out there,” too loud, or that my people were not morally upright.

I know about good practicing Muslim men who have been turned down for marriage because they are Hispanic. On the other hand, I have seen sisters taken for marriage by immigrant Muslims to achieve citizenship status and later abandoned, despite having children. I have been approached by Muslim men searching for their “J-Lo,” who want to marry a “hot” Latina because of the disgusting exploitation of Latina women they have been exposed to from television, movies, and music videos. I have made the mistake of introducing this type of person to one of my sisters and witnessed their disappointment because she did not fit the image of the fantasy girl they expected. I have felt the heartbreak of my sister who was turned down for not living up to those unrealistic expectations, and who continues to wait for a Muslim man who will honor her as she deserves. An older “aunty” once said to my face that she would never let her children marry a Latino/a.

I met a brother named José who was told that he had to change his un-Islamic Spanish name so that he would be better received in the Muslim community, even though his name, when translated to Arabic, is Yusuf! I have been asked if I know any Hispanic who could work at a Muslim’s store for less than minimum wage 12 hours a day or a “Spanish lady” who can clean a Muslim’s house for cheap. I have spoken to Latino men and women who work at masajid doing landscaping or janitorial services who have never heard anything about Islam. When I approached the Muslim groundskeeper at one of these mosques with Spanish literature to give them, he looked at me bewildered and said, “Oh, they are just contractors,” as if they did not deserve to learn about our faith! I have heard that the child of a Latina convert was expelled and banned from returning to an Islamic school for making a mistake, once. I have been told about fellow Hispanics who dislike going to the masjid because they feel rejected and, worse of all, some of them have even left Islam altogether.

Latina Muslims share a laugh during the 16th Annual Hispanic Muslim Day.
Photo/Caption by Melissa Barreto — at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC).

A few weeks ago, news was released about the sentencing of Darwin Martinez Torres, who viciously raped and murdered Northern Virginia teen, Nabra Hassanen during Ramadan in June 2017. The story made national headlines and left her family and the entire Muslim community devastated. Although the sentence of eight life terms in prison for the killer provided some closure to the public, the senseless and heinous act still leaves sentiments of anger and frustration in the hearts of those who loved Nabra Hassanen. Muslims began sharing the news on social media and soon, remarks about the murderer’s Central American origin flooded the comments sections. One said, “An illegal immigrant from El Salvador will now spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison where all his needs will be met, and his rights will be protected… When we attack efforts to stop illegal immigration and to deal with the criminals coming across the border every day, remember Sr. Nabra… we should all be united in supporting common-sense measures to ensure that our sisters do not walk in fear of attacks. (And no, this is not an ‘isolated case’…).”

Although I was just as relieved about receiving the news that there was finally justice for our young martyred sister, I was saddened to see that the anti-Hispanic immigrant sentiment within our own community was exposed: To assume that Latino immigrants are “criminals coming across the border every day” is to echo the very words that came from current US President Donald Trump’s mouth about immigrants prior to his election to the presidency. To blame all Latinos for a crime committed against one and claim it is not an “isolated case” is to do the same thing that Fox News and anti-Muslim bigots do when they blame all Muslims for a terror attack.

Why are we guilty of the same behavior that we loathe?

I do not like to air out our dirty laundry. I have always felt that it is counterproductive for our collective dawah efforts. It is embarrassing and shameful that we, who claim to be so tolerant and peaceful, still suffer from the very attitudes for which we blame others. As I write this piece, I have been sharing my thoughts with my close friend, a Pakistani-American, who agreed with me and said, “Just like a recovering alcoholic, our first step is to admit there is a problem.” We cannot demand our civil rights and expect to be treated with dignity while we mistreat another minority group, and this includes Latinos and also other indigenous Muslims like Black Americans and Native Americans. I say this, not just for converts, but for my loud and proud, half Puerto Rican and half Ecuadorian children and nephews and others like them who were born Muslims: we need a community that welcomes all of us.

Latinos and Muslims share countless cultural similarities. Our paths are the same. Our history is intertwined, whether we know it or not; and if you don’t know it, then it is time you do your research. How can we visit Islamic Spain and North Africa and marvel at its magnificence, and travel to the Caribbean for vacation and notice the Andalusian architecture present in the colonial era structures, yet choose to ignore our shared past? How can you be proud of Mansa Musa, and not know that it is said his brother sailed with other Malians to the Americas prior to Columbus, making contact with the indigenous people of South America (even before it was “America”)? How can you turn your back on people from the countries which sheltered thousands of Muslim immigrants from places like Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey after the collapse of the Uthmani Empire, many of which carry that blood in their veins?

Latino Muslim panelists during “Hispanic Muslim Day” at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, Union City, NJ Photo/Caption by Melissa Barreto — at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC).

We need to do a better job of reaching out and getting to know our neighbors. In recent years, the Muslim ban has brought Latinos and Muslims together in solidarity to oppose discriminatory immigration laws. The time is now to establish lasting partnerships.

Use this Ramadan to reach out to the Latino community; host a Spanish open house or an interfaith/intercultural community iftar. Reach out to Latino Muslims in your area for support, or to organizations like ICNA’s WhyIslam (Por qué Islam) for Spanish materials. A language barrier is not an issue when there are plenty of resources available in the Spanish language, and we have the universal language that has been declared a charity by our Prophet, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and that is a welcoming smile.

There is no excuse.

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#Culture

How to Teach Your Kids About Easter

Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.

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Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.

My mother put up her Christmas tree every year.  We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.

I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.

As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.

That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:

  1. The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
  2. Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
  3. We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
  4. The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.

So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.

There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.

There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:

Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.

Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.

Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.

Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.

If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.

Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.

We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.

So what do we believe?

Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.

  1. Allah is One.
  2. Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
  3. He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
  4. There is nothing like Allah in the universe

Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.

  1. Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
  2. We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
  3. We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.

When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.

You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.

If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:

  • Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
  • Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
  • Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
  • Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
  • Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
  • Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
  • You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.

We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.

It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.

Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah.  We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.

The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.

Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast.   Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.

You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them.  No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.

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