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Parents at Taraweeh – Making it Work

Hena Zuberi

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Ramadan 2013 Posts

The usual scene at taraweeh is children running around in the prayer area, tweens in the hallways, and teens in the parking lot. At the masjid I’m attending, the imam said some very wise things: Taraweeh is sunnah, while looking after and protecting your children is fard. He urged the fathers to watch the children while the mothers prayed and then switch so that fathers could pray while the moms watched their kids, emphasizing that both genders’ ibadah is just as important. The issue wasn’t to not bring the kids to the masjid but to make it a positive experience for them.

“Why did you bring your children here?” he asked rhetorically, his voice shaking with emotion, “To give them an Islamic foundation and experience this blessed environment. Help us give that to them.”

Well, they weren’t getting much of that wrestling outside the facility or stuffing toilet paper into the bathroom stalls, or hooking up in the parking lot. I love seeing kids in the masjid – I really think for the future of the deen, our masajid need to be extremely family friendly.

All of this was happening even though the community put together two separate, free, age-appropriate child care stations with activities (wo)manned by the young women of the community and not just the usual ‘a ton of children running around babysitting,’ which leads me to say this: we often complain that the masjid doesn’t do enough for the community, but sometimes the community doesn’t do enough for the masjid.

All it takes is for one child to get hurt or injured and the whole place could be shut down. (Although I have to say there is a special rahmah during Ramadan when so many kids are doing the most crazy stuff I have ever witnessed and none of them get hurt – it must be the angels!)

Some parents make it work – they have the well-behaved kids in the masjid who make you smile and say MashaAllah. Here are some things that they do which may help. Most of the following suggestions aren’t for babies – babies cry, it’s normal, and we need to learn to deal with it.

  • Most importantly, Ramadan and taraweeh should be planned for ahead of time so we actively participate in Ramadan instead of Ramadan falling upon us. It should be the culmination of our year as a family.
  • Plan your stays at the iftars and tareweehs. Talk to your kids ahead of time about what will happen and what the timeline will be. Give them a “social hour” to meet and greet their friends before salah starts. Make a rule that after salah they need to be in the musallah. Bring some quiet activities like coloring books and books for older kids.
  • If you are going to take your children, make sure that they are fed. You are fasting, but your younger kids are not fasting. Kids start becoming very anxious/cranky if they haven’t been fed properly. Make sure that they are satiated so they are not bugging you while you are opening your iftar or praying. Take small, non-messy snacks with you.
  • Let your children know what you expect from them. Sometimes they don’t know what is expected and follow the crowd. Also, if the kids haven’t been inside a masjid all year long they may have forgotten what happens during taraweeh. It is even harder for kids whose parents have never been to the masjid. My husband says just because you went on Hajj last year and now you have starting coming to taraweeh doesn’t mean that your 9 year old who has never been to a masjid knows how to behave at a masjid. You will have to be patient and teach them. Going to the masjid is important for their identity, but don’t expect them to learn immediately proper behavior there.
  • Ask your friends to kid-pool during taraweeh:  you watch their kids while they pray and they watch yours. If there are enough of you, everyone can get a good chunk of taraweeh during the month.
  • Your tweens/teens need you to step up. Make their Eid presents dependent on their behavior during taraweeh. Have them leave their gadgets at home or in the car. Use all your best parenting tricks that you use for good grades in school NOW.
  • Get them excited about worship. Talk about the themes/meanings that will be read at taraweeh before heading out. Tell them about the reward of taraweeh. Make up a game for the younger ones. We talk about how many “zombies” we “kicked” by praying – it’s a bit unconventional but boys like games.
  • Show some respect. If you know that your children will need to use the bathroom multiple times or will roll around in front of the musallis, pray in the back or sides. The elders who have already raised their children deserve some quality time. It’s easy to take children to the bathroom from the back rows and to check on the older ones.
  • Be a role model. Don’t be chit-chatting during the salah, in the halls, in the bathrooms and then expect the kids not to follow suit.
  • Turn to them after each set and give them a smile, a pat on the back, a look of love, telling them immediately that you appreciate their patience and stillness. Tell them that they are surrounded by angels and that you love them for the sake of Allah. Other adults should do this too. In my opinion, this goes further than anything else.
  • Stay home if you cannot control them or if the experience is so bad that it would make them run away from the religion (yes some masjid experiences can do that), especially if it smells really bad, is extremely hot and crammed.
  • Take their sleeping bags or a favorite blanket with you so if they are sleepy they can lie down next to you.
  • Reward them with a small treat if they behaved or read (stayed by your side) salah. Positive reinforcement makes for positive memories.
  • There are so many huffadh in our communities that maybe you can host taraweeh in your own homes with smaller gatherings.  This can complete your ibadah and also give your small children the convenience of being in their own homes.
  • Don’t give up!  If you are in charge or know someone in charge, try to announce the names of the kids who were really well behaved after each taraweeh. There is nothing like good ‘ol competition and recognition. It gets people’s attention more than the “parents please control your kids” announcements.

I would love to hear from tweens and teens on how taraweeh can become a more positive experience for them as well. Please feel free to add your suggestions in comments!

 

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.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hyde

    July 19, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    Hooking up in the parking lot…what sort of “hooking up” are we talking about, if I may be so blunt to ask ?

  2. Avatar

    Fathima

    July 19, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Helpful tips really a good article !

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 21, 2013 at 11:38 PM

      Jazakillah khayra for reading – please do share with friends and fellow masjid goers.

      • Avatar

        mar

        May 27, 2019 at 4:14 PM

        Salam aleikum. Our masjid ICGC has invested in an amazing way by having a program specifically designed for children ages 4 to 12 during the first 8 rakat of taraweh. The Institute of Youth Development and Excellence delivers this program all but one night a week. Children are registered and when they arrived they participate in fun lessons that focus on Ramadan and on implementing these lessons. This year’s theme is “building your garden in janah’ the lessons include the imams lead Isha prayer and special projecta for the last 10 nights of Ramadan. Children are safe, learning and positively engaged with their Masjid and with this blessed month while parents are able to take and extend the benefit of the 8 rakat of taraweh.

  3. Avatar

    iMuslim

    July 19, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Perhaps combine with “taraweeh tips” that have been offered in other MM articles: e.g., read the translation of the Quran to be recited that night together as a family. For young children who won’t understand as well, tell stories of the prophets, Jannah, Jahannum, manners, etiquette, etc., that will be mentioned. Then after the completion of the prayer unit, remind them of what you discussed earlier, “Did you hear the imam recite the story of Musa?”. Reinforcement through positive attention insha’Allah. :)

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 21, 2013 at 11:40 PM

      Great point Zee, esp if you are reading the tafseer and meaning anyways why not share a condensed version with the children.

  4. Avatar

    Jessi Frenzel

    July 19, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    This is really great, mashaAllah. Thanks.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 21, 2013 at 11:44 PM

      Jazakiilah Khayra for reading Jessi. May Allah help us raise righteous Muslimeen. The day this posted was the day my own daughter started chit chating. She had asked for a break so I said sure, as it was really late; so we can never be too relaxed :) It is easier when my husband has the boys and I have the girls but if he is ever at work during a Taraweeh it gets hard taking care of all four.

  5. Avatar

    ahmed

    July 19, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Idk that any of these work for teens. Im a youth grp person and I think kids don’t respect the masjid.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 21, 2013 at 11:48 PM

      Teens are a category on their own- so much can be said about it. How were they raised? What are their parents expectation of them. For some parents its just enough that their kids are at the masjid and not at the mall. While others have inculcated the practice of taraweeh since they were young. How do you think teens who haven’t been taught about the hurma of the masjid can learn to respect the masjid?

  6. Avatar

    maliurjmalikha

    July 19, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    Don’t ever blame the kids…they emulate the behavior of their parents. If you raise your children by educating them about proper adab(behavior) there is no way on this earth they are going to behave unruly when they are out. Let’s be real…Telling them to behave when they go to masjid and at home they act like renegades and rebels…just ain’t gonna get the outcome we all seek. So parents fulfill your obligation as parents…control your kids everyday …365 days a year so when Ramadan comes it’s like ,,,everything is normal. the children know their roles!

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 21, 2013 at 11:50 PM

      I agree that we cannot blame the young children. we have to be be proactive parents. Sometimes the best of parents may have children who are having an off day. I think empathy goes a long way.

  7. Avatar

    muslimah24

    July 20, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    Asalamu Alaikum, Let me start off by saying I’m not against kids in the masjid (unless your child is wild). However, one thing I never hear Muslims mention is babysitting! (the kind that’s done at home) Why is our community so allergic to that word. Taraweeh is very late this year, a 5 year old should be at home, in bed, sleeping. Period. All the babysitter has to do is make sure things are okay in case he/she wakes up. Kids need routine and structure and muslim families are just not providing that.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 22, 2013 at 12:03 AM

      wa ‘alay kummassalam wa rahmatulah,
      You are right. Many in our community are allergic to this word. Some can’t afford it or think that they cant afford it. Others like myself do not feel comfortable leaving the kids with a babysitter. Let me re-frame that; the only people I felt comfortable leaving my children with ever were my very close (after years of friendship) friends, close family, and young sisters from my community who I knew since they were kids themselves.

      That is why I suggested kidpooling, which can be done at home.

      I am not an intense routine oriented person; I couldn’t be as a stay at home mom with the schedule my husband has ( he doesn’t have a 9-5 job and keeping a strict schedule would mean kids not seeing Baba for days) and now when I am working as a reporter, my timings are also not set in stone.

      Personally I think children should be raised to be adjustable to circumstances and surroundings. However, I recognize that there are parents whose parenting styles may differ from mine and who are comfortable with hired babysitters so your recommendation is a great one for them. Jazakillah khayra for reading and leaving a comment.

  8. Pingback: Parents at Taraweeh – Making it Work « Islam in Australia .com

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    Yasmin

    July 20, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    Jazakallah khiar for these much needed post!

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 21, 2013 at 11:51 PM

      Wa alaykummassalam Sr. Yasmin
      Thanks for reading and leaving encouragement :)

  10. Avatar

    aeelq

    July 20, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    trawee is a spiritual and an astonishing event that we all should participate

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 22, 2013 at 12:05 AM

      I agree. I didn’t grow up going to Taraweeh but alhamdulillah my kids are growing up with this ni’mah. My own father now recognizes what a blessing they are and realizes that it should be shared with the whole family. He arranges for a hafidh to come to the house and my parents, brother’s family and several neighbors all get to pray together.

  11. Avatar

    Azleena

    July 21, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    Assalamualaikum, I always bring special books or toys that I keep specially for going to the masjid, so that if your masjid doesn’t have a babysitting option, when your child gets bored, instead of starting to sing or run around, you can take out the ‘ammunition’. At least it should keep them engaged for another 15-0 minutes, which is really all you need if you’re doing 8 raka’ah. I like the idea of announcing the names of well-behaved children. One point I think is important: When all else fails, LEAVE! Don’t ruin terawih for everyone else!

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      July 22, 2013 at 12:07 AM

      Wa alaykumasalam wa rahmatulah, May Allah keep your children on the path that brings them closest to Allah.
      Excellent point. Even a few minutes outside in fresh air can calm a child down.

  12. Avatar

    Azleena

    July 21, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    I meant “…when your child gets bored, so (s)he doesn’t start singing/whining/running around, you can take out the ‘ammunition’.” :-)

  13. Pingback: 80-20 Principle: 3 Ways Masjids Cater to a Small Minority At The Expense of the Congregation » MuslimMatters.org

  14. Avatar

    Afreen

    June 5, 2015 at 5:04 PM

    Thats really a wonderful and important article.
    We really need this kind of information time to time.

    Jaza kallah Khair

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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