It was something I learned very young: Never say the word kaafir. I didn’t know Arabic at the time, but I knew it was worse than a curse word. It was the most evil word you could possibly utter. Call a person anything you want, but never this.
A kaafir was evil.
A kaafir was a monster.
A kaafir was doomed to Hell forever.
These ideas floated around in my mind whenever I heard the word, and the sensation I felt upon even thinking of it was like the repulsion one would feel upon having a jinn-like beast sharing a single cover with you at night.
So naturally, in my world, a kaafir didn’t exist. People who believed a kaafir did exist—and who had the audacity to use the term in connection to an actual human being—were shunned, whispered about, and referred to as “misguided” and their thinking reprehensible.
As for how my friends and I dealt with Muslims who used the word, we didn’t associate with “those” Muslims. We didn’t go to the masjid with “those” Muslims. We were better than “those” Muslims…
Because we didn’t use profanity.
We didn’t say horrible words like kaafir.
As I grew older and eventually befriended some of “those” Muslims, I was surprised that they weren’t revolting or evil, as I’d once thought. And I was even more surprised that they didn’t seem angry or spiteful when they used the word kaafir. In fact, if anything, my friends and I were more obviously spiteful when we talked about “those” Muslims for using the word at all.
Nevertheless, like my jolt upon hearing for the first time a dog groomer use the word bitch in its appropriate context, I was a bit taken aback when I first heard the word kaafir used in the Islamic context by some of my new friends. And as was the case with my understanding bitch as simply meaning “a female dog”, I began to understand that—at least to these Muslims—the word kaafir simply meant non-Muslim.
The Qur’an as the Judge
Allah doesn’t use profanity. That was probably my first epiphany that the word kaafir couldn’t possibly be the unutterable, monstrous curse word that I’d thought it to be. Moreover, if the word did in fact occur in the Qur’an, then certainly it applied to someone. And Allah obviously wanted us to know who. Otherwise, why mention it at all?
“Verily, those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers and wish to make a distinction between Allah and His Messengers, saying, ‘We believe in some but reject others’ and wish to adopt a way in between. They are in truth disbelievers…” [Al-Nisaa; 150-151]
“Surely, disbelievers are those who say ‘Allah is the third of three [in a Trinity]…’” [Al-Maa’idah; 73]
“Those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] and among the pagans were not going to leave [their disbelief] until their came to them clear evidence, a Messenger from Allah…” [Al-Bayyinah; 1-2]
Of the believers and Islam itself, Allah says:
“Only those are the believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and afterward doubt not…” [Al-Hujuraat; 15]
“Anyone who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter, he will be one of the losers.” [Ali’Imraan; 85]
Hadith As Further Clarification
In the famous “hadith of Jibreel” recorded by Imam Muslim, the Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) came to Prophet Muhammad in the form of a man and said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Messenger of Allah said, “Islam is to testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish the prayers, to pay the Zakat, to fast [the month of] Ramadan, and to make pilgrimage to the House if you have the means to do so.”
The Angel Jibreel said further, “Tell me about emaan (belief or faith).” He [the Messenger of Allah] responded, “It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day and to believe in the divine decree, [both] the good and the evil thereof.”
In another hadith recorded by Imam Muslim, the Messenger of Allah said: “By Him in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, any person of this Community, any Jew, or any Christian who hears of me and dies without believing in what I have been sent with will be an inhabitant of hell.”
Are Non-Muslims Going to Paradise?
It is well-known that all who believe in Allah while joining no partners with Him and while not disbelieving in any of His prophets or revelations—and while believing in every aspect of religious truth that comes to them during their lifetime—are Muslims and will thus enter Paradise. It is also well-known that the believers of previous generations who believed in and followed their respective messengers are Muslims and will thus enter Paradise.
“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabians, those who believed in Allah and the Last Day and worked righteousness, will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” [Al-Baqarah; 62]
There has been much discussion by religious scholars and laypeople surrounding who these believers are specifically, some Muslims going as far as to openly claim that many non-Muslims of today are of these groups such that many open non-Muslims are over-praised and given the rights that belong only to believers, such as our praying for their forgiveness and openly hoping for their entry into Paradise.
However, regardless of who these believers are as individuals, whether in the past or present (or both), one undeniable fact remains: not a single one of us knows who they are by name, as this knowledge rests with Allah alone; thus it is impossible to speak of these people specifically.
Furthermore, given that Allah’s Book contains no contradictions and that our entire faith is based on complete belief in Allah’s revelations, without exception, there are only two possibilities concerning this group discussed in the Qur’an:
- They are the Muslims of earlier times who believed in their respective prophets and messengers while making no exceptions regarding their belief in what Allah revealed. (It is a fundamental part of the Islamic faith that the message of Islamic monotheism began with our father Adam, and that Prophet Muhammad did not bring a new faith; he was merely the seal of a long line of prophets and messengers before him.)
- They are people of both the past and present who believed in Allah and all they knew of His prophets and revelations, but the knowledge of certain aspects of faith (such as the specific teachings of Prophet Muhammad) never reached them during their lifetime.
In other words, these people are not an exception to the requirement of being Muslim; they are merely further proof of it.
Thus, it is inconceivable for any Muslim to claim that any descendent of Adam, whether in the past or present, can hear of any of Allah’s Books or prophets and reject a single one of them and still retain the label as “believer” in front of Allah, as rejecting any divine book or prophet is tantamount to disbelief and is the very essence of kufr itself—regardless of which time period a person lived.
You Can Be Muslim, Too…If We Like You
One of the most amazing things that is occurring today is many Muslims proclaiming, at leisure, that some non-Muslims are “Muslims in their heart” or that they embody “the spirit of Islam” while openly praying for Allah’s mercy, blessings, and forgiveness for people who did not accept Islam.
Though we can use conjecture and dabble in the possibility that the non-Muslims we happen to like or admire—whether because they are our family or friends, or because they are worldly renowned for their stances on justice and freedom—could be of the group of believers referred to in the above ayah, the fact remains that it is not our place or right to make such a claim, let alone act upon it through speaking of a non-Muslim’s “Muslim heart” or praying for their blessings or forgiveness. And if we proceed to do so, we will be called to account for openly violating the guidelines of our religion.
In Islam, it is forbidden to pray for Allah’s mercy or forgiveness for disbelievers, and this is well-known, so much so that the Prophet himself was not allowed to pray for his own parents—and they died before He received revelation. Moreover, logically-speaking, if there are any non-Muslims who deserve our praise and admiration such that we could pray for their souls, the ones foremost in this right would be the ones who lived alongside the Prophet himself and sacrificed their personal safety and risked their very lives in protecting Allah’s Messenger from harm while ensuring that the message of Islam was spread unobstructed throughout the world. How can we claim any act of goodness by a non-Muslim that is greater than this? Yet the one foremost in this very act of goodness, namely the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib, the believers are not allowed to pray for. In fact, Abu Talib, despite this undeniably great act, will never enter Paradise, as Prophet Muhammad informed us.
Who then are we to raise a non-Muslim—based on our own whims and desires—to a status that even Abu Talib did not deserve?
Be Careful with the New F-word
The Qur’an is quite unambiguous regarding who is a mu’min (believer) and who is a kaafir (disbeliever), and this is clear to anyone who has read Allah’s Book in full. Nevertheless, it is not our job to carelessly toss around the label kaafir. Just as it is against Islam to label non-Muslims believers and give them the rights reserved only for Muslims, it is also against Islam to claim knowledge of the Unseen and carelessly label people kaafir, especially in reference to someone’s soul after death.
A person can live his or her life as a disbeliever then accept Islam in private before death. A person can also live his or her life as a believer then reject Islam in private before death. Thus, ultimately, we don’t know the state of anyone’s soul—even that of professed Muslims.
Therefore, it is possible to act upon only one thing in this life: that which is apparent. So if a person professes belief in Islam, we treat them as a believer; and we pray for their soul and hope Allah grants them Paradise after death (as the Prophet showed us during his lifetime). But if a person does not profess belief in Islam, we treat them as a disbeliever; and we do not pray for their souls or openly hope Allah grants them Paradise after death (as the Prophet clearly showed us with his parents and his uncle Abu Talib). As for whether or not certain people lived secretly as Muslims or whether or not they heard the message of Islam before death, these are matters of the Unseen, and we should not delve into them.
As for the word kaafir itself, it is not an unspeakable, evil curse word; and if we think of it as such, we are accusing our Lord of profanity and of His asking us to recite profanity, as Allah’s Book is replete with ayaat discussing disbelievers.
Rather, what is required of us regarding the meaning of the word kaafir is the same that is required of us regarding everything mentioned in the Qur’an, and that is this:
“We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” [Ali’Imraan; 7]
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.
Copyright © 2013 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age
I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.
While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.
Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!
- Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.
In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.
- Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
- Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.
A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.
Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!
In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.
Our Struggles – Mental Health And Muslim Communities | The Family and Youth Institute
By Elham Saif, Sarrah AbuLughod and Wahida Abaza
Fariha just started her freshman year at university. Overnight, she was separated from her support system of family and friends and thrust into a foreign environment. She was facing many new challenges, including a heavier workload, new friends, student clubs and organizational responsibilities. She was drowning in endless assignments, exams, and meetings.
Fariha never thought much about mental health issues beyond the few “mindfulness” posts that she’d scroll through on her Instagram feed, but recently she was starting to feel out of sorts. She started to feel anxious as a hijab-wearing woman on campus especially after hearing about anti-Muslim incidents on the news. All of the possibilities of what could go wrong played over and over again in her head–and kept her up at night. Everything was beginning to feel overwhelming. She started having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and was losing motivation to complete her assignments. She felt confused and at times, even afraid.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 50 million Americans suffered from mental health issues in 2017. One in 5 adults in America is living with a mental health illness at this very moment. American Muslims are not an exception to these statistics. According to different studies, like Fariha, 15-25% of American Muslims report suffering from anxiety disorders and 9-30% report mood disorders. Many of these mental health issues in the Muslim population go unaddressed and unresolved because of lack of knowledge, stigma and shame experienced in many Muslim households and communities.
When these issues go unaddressed, people report that the pain and suffering they experience rises and that overall their problems tend to get worse. Sadly, their struggles can snowball into additional illnesses that were not present before, such as self-harm or addiction. According to the research, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are sometimes not considered to be “real” illnesses. Community members often see mental illness as a sign of weakness, a mark of poor faith, or something that doesn’t affect Muslims. They may also see it either as a “test from God” or sometimes as possession by evil spirits. Even when there is an awareness, many of these illnesses and issues are culturally stigmatized as shameful and kept hidden within the person or family. People may be concerned about the reputation of their family or their marital prospects should a psychiatric diagnosis be disclosed.
The irony is that Islam ought to be more of a protective factor given how intertwined Islamic history is with the fields of psychiatry and psychology. The contribution of Islamic scholarship to the field of psychology is documented in our history and legacy from health promotion in the Quran and Sunnah, to early scholarly diagnosis, treatment, and intervention. Alaa Mohammad, FYI researcher and co-author of the chapter “Mental Health in the Islamic Golden Era: The Historical Roots of Modern Psychiatry” in Islamophobia and Psychiatry points out that,
“there was a lot of focus on concepts like ‘sanity’ and the significance of mental capacity as well as the general mental/emotional state in many of the early Islamic texts especially in regards to Islamic rules and law.”
Early Islamic scholars described the “cognitive components of depression and sadness, anxiety and fear, obsessions, and anger in detail and suggested a variety of therapies and treatments.” Learning more about this rich history and pulling from these stories in the Prophet’s (SAW) seerah is a key step towards opening the way for people to get the help they need and learning how to support one another.
Fariha knows that she needs help. She was considering seeing one of the mental health workers on campus, but she’s afraid of what her parents would say if they found out she shared so much with a stranger, especially one that is not a Muslim.
What can parents do?
Research has found that in the face of rising Islamophobia, supportive parenting serves as a protective factor and helps strengthen young Muslims’ sense of identity while unsupportive parents who don’t help their children navigate their experiences end up weakening their identity, which then increases their chances of participating in more risky behavior.
When Fariha finally shared her fears and anxieties with her parents, she was surprised and relieved to hear that they took her seriously. They listened to her and she didn’t feel like they were ashamed of her, only concerned for her well being. They were eager to find her the help she needed to feel like herself again.
As Muslims, we need to shift our mindset around mental illness and the effects of Islamophobia. Like Fariha’s parents, it is imperative that we listen carefully and look more deeply at the issues facing our youth. It is through this openness that we can reduce the stigma and encourage more people to seek help.
The Family and Youth Institute recently released an infographic that talks about some of the struggles facing our American Muslim communities. They teamed up with Islamic Relief USA to get this infographic printed as a poster and will be sending them to over 500 masajid/community centers around the United States in the coming months.
What can you do to help?
- Reduce the stigma by sharing this article and infographic and starting a conversation with your friends and family members. The more we talk about it, the more we normalize and destigmatize mental illness and move towards mental health.
- Organize a community conversation around the issue of mental health. Invite a mental health specialist to come speak to your mosque youth group or parent group.
- Seek therapy when needed. Connect with SEEMA and the Institute of Muslim Mental Health for a list of Muslim therapists. If you are seeing a clinician who is not Muslim, share this book Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions with them to give them a better sense of the specific religious and cultural needs of their Muslim clients.
- Educate yourself – There is a plethora of information out there about mental wellness and wellbeing. For help navigating through it all, sign up for The FYI’s daily article share to receive vetted infographics, articles and videos on this topic. Mental health affects our whole life. Whether you are struggling with bullying, helping a loved one with depression, living with and caring for an elder or wanting to build the best environment for your new baby, we have a resource for you!
These steps are just small ways we can begin to shift the conversation away from shame and stigma and towards help and healing. Mental illness and mental health issues can be scary, but they do not need to be faced alone and in isolation. As the Prophet Muhammad said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” Together, we can fight the existing stigma and misconceptions, provide support, educate the community and advocate for our brothers and sisters suffering with mental illness and their families.
Aftab A., & Khandai, C. (2018). Mental Health Facts for Muslim Americans. APA Division of Diversity and Health Equity, Washington, DC.
Basit A, & Hamid M. (2006). Mental health issues of Muslim Americans. The Journal of Islamic Medical Association of North America, 42(3), 106-110.
Ciftci A., Jones N., & Corrigan, P.W. (2013) Mental health stigma in the Muslim community. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 7(1), 17-32.
Hodge, D.R., Zidan, T. & Husain, A. (2016). Depression among Muslims in the United States: Examining the role of discrimination and spirituality as risk and protective factors. Social Work, 61(1), 45-52.
Zong, X., Balkaya, M., Tahseen, M., & Cheah, C.S.L. (2018). Muslim-American Adolescents’ Identities Mediate the Association between Islamophobia and Adjustment: The Moderating Role of Religious Socialization. Poster session presented at the biennial meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development, Queensland, Australia.
Raising a Child between Ages 7-12
From a cognitive-development standpoint, this is called a concrete operational period, according to Jean Piaget.
(N.B: Some adults never progress beyond this phase, while 15% of kids may reach the following formal-operational phase at age 9!)
The child now (7-12) may factor in two dimensions of an object simultaneously. So, the longer cup may have less water because it is thinner. However, this is still hard for him/her to perform in the abstract realm, so, they are still uni-dimensional in that respect. Concepts and behaviors are still black and white. It is also hard for the kids in this stage to imagine and solve the structure of a mathematical problem. They cannot think contrary to facts. In other words, you can’t get them to use as a basis for an argument a question like what if the sky rains sugar instead of water?
Socially, Erikson felt that in this period kids develop industry or inferiority. According to his theory, from age six to puberty, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments. If encouraged, they feel industrious and confident in their ability to achieve goals.
Based on these observations, we may recommend:
1- Using a lot of hands-on teaching, since they still have limited ability with conceptualization and abstract reasoning.
2- Continue the focus on memorization. If you want them to finish the Quran in 1-2 years, 12 and/or 13 seem to be the prime years for that. This suits some children and some families, not all. If you like a more gradual approach, you should have them start serious memorization at 7, accelerate at 10, and finish by 15-17. Not all kids are meant to memorize the whole Quran though; they can still be educated and pious. Invest in their strengths, not your dreams.
3- Use concrete props and visual aids, especially when dealing with sophisticated material. Use story problems in mathematics.
4- Use open-ended questions that will stimulate thinking and help the child reach the following stage faster. Example: “What do you think about the relationship between the brain and the mind?”; “What do you think about the relationship between prayful-ness and piety?” Make sure you know the right answers!
5- More explanations will be needed, but keep them simple, and even though they should be more detailed than the last stage, they still need to be uni-dimensional. Examples: we obey God because he created us; if we disobey Him, we get punished, and if we obey Him, we get rewarded in this life and in the hereafter. Too early to teach him that “the brokenness of the disobedient is better than the haughtiness of the obedient.” Break it down. Humbleness and obedience are good, while haughtiness and disobedience are bad.
6- Encourage and praise their accomplishments, while making them aware that there is always room for improvement. Continue to encourage initiative-taking and leadership qualities, yet you may also set limits, and make them aware that they will have to always report to someone. Even if there are no people above them, Allah always is. They have to adapt to being leaders and followers at the same time, because that is the reality of all people.
7- This is still a stage of belonging and affiliation to the group, and the child will develop more or less attachment to Islam through his or her experience at the masjid and with the community.