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The Shaykh and the Ustadh Defined

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Guest post by Abdul Wahab Saleem (Facebook/Twitter)

I received a question on my Facebook page recently about what the difference between a Shaykh and an Ustādh is. This is a question that I remember being confused about over a decade ago. I remember growing up as a child wondering, “Who is a Shaykh? What defines an `Ālim? Why do we call some speakers ‘brother’ and others ‘Shaykh’?” I began searching for an answer at a very young age by asking people in whose knowledge I felt confident. My search led me to a brother who was studying at the Islamic University of Madīna and was back for the summer. He gave me a response which temporarily quenched my thirst for an answer. For the next couple of years I thought I had finally figured out the riddle.

Who is Shaykh?

I asked him, “Who is a Shaykh?” He replied, “A Shaykh is an `Ālim and Allāh says in the Qur’ān describing the `Ulamā’, ‘It is only the scholars among the slaves of Allah who have true fear of Him.’ And Allāh knows best.” This was truly the most profound answer I had heard yet, only to find out later that it wasn’t entirely accurate. The verse is not exactly defining who `Ulamā’ are; rather, it merely states that the quality of true fear of Allāh is particular to those who know, i.e. `Ulamā’. I would suggest that “those who know” provides both a verb and a subject but lacks an object. The object in the sentence could be the word Allāh which has been omitted because of how evident it is. The sentence would then come out to mean something like this, “Only those who know [Allāh], from among His slaves, have true fear of Him.”

A few years down the road, I found myself rethinking this question as I was in a different environment. The word Shaykh no longer had the same meanings I was used to ascribing to it in Canada. “Shaykh” was commonly thrown around for numerous different reasons such as respect, age, Islamic activism and sometimes even money. However, now I was able to do some basic research work in Arabic. The excited young Abdul Wahab Saleem started looking into the Arabic lexicons to see if he could find a true definition for the word, Shaykh. Sadly, I came to the realization that the word Shaykh has an entirely different linguistic meaning which doesn’t provide the answer for which I long searched. 

The word Shaykh linguistically means “the one who has become clearly old and grey hair has started to appear on his face.” Other lexicographers suggest that the word Shaykh refers to an individual above the age of 50. However, it seems that an uncommon usage of the verbal noun in the following verbal sentence, “shayyakhat-hu da`watu-hu shaykh-aN” (his call transformed him into a noble person) indicates meanings such as glory and reverence. Now that the word Shaykh didn’t seem very useful to me, neither in its linguistic meaning nor the way it was used by the Arabs in the Arab world, I tried to search for another term which holds the same meanings I often ascribed to the word Shaykh in Canada. I recalled the term `Ālim used in the famous `Ālim course. It seemed that the modern usage of the word `Ālim in Arabia went hand in hand with its usage in the Indian subcontinent. This usage of the word `Ālim is a popular synonym for the word Shaykh, at least in certain denominations of western Muslims.


My new endeavor became to unfold the definition and the mysterious process of preparing an `Ālim which would in turn give me a lead to defining the word Shaykh. I began to ask scholars who I expected would be able to solve the riddle. Sadly, I normally received answers which I can now bravely proclaim to either have been incomplete or inaccurate. One day, as I sat through an early morning Usūl al-Fiqh class in one of my teachers houses he spoke about the word `Ālim saying, “Al-`Ālim is the one who has `ilm (knowledge) of the Islamic sciences.” Suddenly, light bulbs started going on in my head and the puzzle started to come together. I thought to myself, “the Arabic article Al holds three primary meanings and only one of the three fits well with this word!? You should’ve known all along!”

There it was. I had finally figured out the first part of the riddle. When the article Al is used with an active particle it transforms the word into a sentence. Al-`Ālim, the knower, really means “the one knows.” As explained earlier in this article, “the one who knows” is not a complete sentence rather it requires an object. Quite clearly this object should be defined as the one who knows “the Islamic sciences.”

This led me to the second part of the riddle, “what exactly are the Islamic sciences?” At this point in my life I already had a general idea of what the Islamic sciences are. I had even acquired an intermediate understanding of some of the Islamic sciences by now, but I still didn’t really know what the primary and supporting sciences were. Having solved the first part of the riddle, I restructured my question to scholarly figures from, “Who is an `Ālim?” to “What does one have to study?” This question stemmed from my observation that some scholars teach books which they have never studied themselves, yet they produce extraordinary commentaries on these works. Multiple opinions were thrown at me in my quest to define what must be studied. After much consideration, consultation and experience in both learning and teaching I produced a small list of sciences which I believe are standard subjects taught globally as core sciences of Sharī`ah which must be studied at an advanced level in order for someone to be considered a Shaykh.

Islamic sciences are divided into two categories; al-Ālāt and al-Ghāyāt. Al-Ālāt, which literally means the tools, are tools which allow an individual to be able to comprehend accurately and comfortably al-Ghāyāt. Al-Ghāyāt, which literally means the goals, are subjects which a person aims to accurately understand through the assistance of the tools. With this remedy in your mind you can literally develop scholarly talents without actually going overseas for a 6-10 year study term.

What are these mysterious sciences?

Al-Ālāt, which should be studied prior to dedicating ones time to al-Ghāyāt, are 6 sciences in total:

1- Naḥw (Grammar)

2- Ṣarf (Morphology)

3- Balāghah (Arabic rhetoric) which is further divided in three sciences (Ma`āni, Bayān, Badī’).

4- Adab (Arabic literature)

5- Usūl al-Fiqh (Islamic legal thought)

6- Muṣtalaḥ al-Ḥadīth (Sciences of Ḥadīth)

Note: Some scholars add Manṭiq (Logic) to this list, others submit that there is no reason to study this science and another group deems the study of Manṭiq impermissible.

Al-Ghāyāt can be summed up into the following 5 core sciences:

1- Qur’ān: which includes recitation, tafsīr and Ulūm al-Qur’ān (sciences of the Qur’ān).

2-Hadīth (Prophetic traditions)

3-`Aqīdah (Islamic creed)

4- Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence)

5- Sīrah (Biography of the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him))

This is the ideal course of study that every student of knowledge should complete at an advanced level. But considering the reality of affairs, most Shaykhs haven’t actually completed the study of all of these sciences at an advanced level. Based on observation, I have divided those who are normally entitled Shaykhs in the western context into three categories:

1- Those who have actually completed all the studies related to the aforementioned subjects.

2- Those who have a working knowledge of all of these sciences and have mastery of at least one.

3- Those who have shown considerable involvement in Da`wah work, who are not scholars nor do they aspire to be, but have either grey in their beards or have reached a significant age, achieving the linguistic version of the title, “Shaykh.” The western Muslim usage of terms such as, Sīdī, Shaykh, and `Ālim renders them synonymous. However, each is normally affiliated with a different faction of Islamic scholarship.

The term Ustadh

In my years away from Canada, a term that I wasn’t very familiar with upon leaving Canada began to gain popularity. The term Ustādh finds it’s etymological routes in the Persian word Ostâd. The Persian term “Ostâd” originally refers to someone with profound expertise in a certain subject. Consequently, the term Ustādh in Arabic is coined for an adept scholar. A common usage for the word Ustādh in modern standard Arabic is for professors on a tenure-track appointment. An assistant professor is known as Ustādh Musā’id, an associate professor as an Ustādh Mushārik and a full professor as an Ustādh.

This etymological definition and modern arabic usage of the term is of course quite different from our usage of it in the west. The word Ustādh is normally used in the west for a budding scholar showing evident signs of an intermediate level of study. In the east, this term is used in many different ways including the one mentioned above.

I can expect some of you to look at this article and say, “What is the ultimate purpose of writing an article on this subject whilst the Ummah is in need of greater issues to be discussed?” My answer to that is in two ways. Firstly, a purpose behind this article is to define who an `Ālim is so that people approach their endeavors in a directed manner. I have tried asking numerous students of knowledge what they are studying or wish to study in the near future and found that the bulk of us don’t have ample direction in our endeavor to study Islam. In a more practical sense, studying Tafsīr ibn Kathīr whilst one hasn’t sought al-Ālāt is not the best approach to Tafsīr. In addition, likely the teacher who has taken up the mantle of teaching you Tafsīr ibn Kathīr hasn’t studied it himself. What made him qualified to teach and not you? It’s the mastery of these sciences that I have listed above.

In my humble opinion, if someone adapts sincerity and approaches knowledge with dedication through the aforementioned sciences he will begin to show clear signs of scholarly thought within 5-10 years. I have shared this remedy with numerous fellow students during my days in Riyāḍ and saw profound development over a course of 2-4 years.

Secondly, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us to treat people with due respect, especially those with knowledge. Each individual should only be given the amount of respect he truly deserves. Imam Muslim writes in the beginning of his masterpiece, Saḥīḥ Muslim, “The man of high status should be given the respect to which he is entitled and the one who has a low level of knowledge should not be elevated above his status. Every person should be given his due [of respect] and should be honoured in accordance with his status. It was narrated from `Ā’ishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) that she said: The Messenger of Allāh ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us to place all people in their due stations (i.e., give people due respect).”

Lastly, it’s of paramount importance to recognize that these titles are in no way an indication of piety. In the religious circles, too often do we associate piety with popularity and titles. Those who do acquire knowledge of the Islamic sciences should make a sincere effort to recognize their inadequacy. A sincere quest for knowledge is bound to lead to the recognition of ones own ignorance. I ask Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to grant us the understanding of knowledge which guides us through the transitory life to prosperity in the hereafter.

And Allāh knows best.

For more details and answers to common questions on this subject please check out the lecture on this subject



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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.



  1. Avatar


    January 28, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    MashaAllah, something I was looking for awhile. Jak!!

    • Avatar

      Abdul Wahab Saleem

      January 29, 2014 at 3:40 PM

      Weren’t we all :)

    • Avatar


      December 29, 2016 at 2:12 PM

      I am JT. I am new to Islam and I thank you very much for this article.

  2. Avatar


    January 28, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair

  3. Avatar


    January 28, 2014 at 11:33 PM

    JazakAllahu khayr for the explanation. Very much appreciated.

    • Avatar

      Abdul Wahab Saleem

      January 29, 2014 at 3:42 PM

      Wa Iyyaak! I am glad you appreciate it and Jzk for the comment.

  4. Avatar


    January 29, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but to me a “Shaykh” is a rich Gulf Arab guy wearing a Keffiyeh.

  5. Avatar


    January 29, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    Ma sha Allah! Much needed explanation.And very enlightening on the concept of al-Ālāt and al-Ghāyāt. Taking note of it henceforth.
    BarakAllahu feek.

    • Avatar

      Abdul Wahab Saleem

      January 29, 2014 at 3:44 PM

      Wa feeki Baarak! I hope Allah gives you the Tawfeeq to practice the remedy and grants you successful results.

  6. Avatar

    Chris AbdulHaqq Caras

    January 29, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    JazaakAllahu khairan. What timing! I’m giving a lecture series in my local masjid called “the road to Islamic scholarship” discussing nearly everything you mentioned here but you saved me some research! One thing important to add as well is:

    What is the significance of ijaazah in Islamic scholarship?

    I’ve met a lot of folks who believe that if someone has an ijaazah, in ANYTHING, then they are a scholar–unaware of how EASY it is to get an ijaazah nowadays in nearly everything except the Quran. I recall a friend of mine from Medinah saying in so many words, “Now that I’ve gotten an ijaazah in nearly every book ever written, the only thing remaining is just studying the books!” And we all laughed, lol, sadly, *sigh*. For example, some shuyookh gave ijaazahs to a certain baby before the baby realized what was going on–he later became Imam adh-dhahabi, the scholar of qiraa’aat, hadeeth and history, and he used those ijaazahs quite often. I was even present when a certain huge scholar from Mauritania said “I pass my ijaazahs along to everyone in this room”. And this is how simple it is and that kind of speech isn’t too uncommon and the scholars of hadeeth have classified it as a type of ijaazah. The point is, it has a symbolic value more than anything and demonstrates that the chain of scholars passing the info along–even without the rigorous study between the teacher and the student–is still very much alive, but it shouldn’t be understood as a criterion for recognizing/dismissing scholarship by any means.

    As the author mentioned, teaching a text *should* necessitate that the teacher has the qualifications to do so, or at least, they limit their commentary to those realms that they have been properly trained in. BaarakAllahu feek.

    • Avatar

      Abdul Wahab Saleem

      January 29, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      W Iyyaak and Wa Feeka Baarak. Feel free to use the content and to refer the audience to the article :).

      In terms of the Ijaazah system, there seems to be different approaches on how the Ijaazahs are granted. What you have witnessed, as have I at numerous occasions, is known within the circles as Ijaazat tabarruk. Such Ijaazahs have no value in gauging the knowledge of the student rather for all we know that recipient may not even be a student of knowledge. Another sort of Ijaazah is known as Ijaazah `ilmiyyah. These are the Ijaazahs that hold some value within the circles and are often good indications that the student may have a level of understanding in the respective science/text. Unfortunately, seldom as it maybe, these Ijaazahs may also be found with unwarranted candidates.

      However, depending on the Shaykh/Institute that one earned his Ijaazah `Ilmiyyah from it may prove to be a strong indication of academic merit. Moreover, these types of Ijaazahs may actually be equivalent to or surpass the modern-day degree system.

      And Allah knows best!

  7. Avatar

    Mohammad Irfan Khan

    January 31, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Assalaamu alaikum Shaykh Abdul Wahab Saleem,

    This was an excellent article! I have greatly benefited from this, Jazaak Allahu khairen! I would like to request you to write further on this topic of division of knowledge and how to grasp them. :)

    • Avatar

      Abdul Wahab Saleem

      February 1, 2014 at 6:39 PM

      Wa Alykum Assalam,

      I am glad you benefitted from the article and hope that Allah grants you success in your endeavours. Did you get around to listen to the lecture. The lecture has more information on the topic.

  8. Avatar

    Umm hadi

    February 1, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    Masha Allah the passion of Deen is flowing from your article. May Allah keep you steadfast on his Deen. Ameen.

    • Avatar


      February 26, 2014 at 12:37 AM

      I totally agree with umm hadi. It looks like you really take the ‘journey’ on the path to knowledge as a serious travel.

      May Allaah make more of us like you, br. saleem.


  9. Avatar

    O H

    February 2, 2014 at 2:40 AM

    Jazak Allaahu Khair. Always had this question! Heard vague replies to this question before and also heard something along the lines of recognition by fellow scholars, etc of who can be considered a shaykh/scholar etc or I maybe mixing up another concept.

  10. Avatar


    February 10, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    If you are studying usool al-fiqh shouldn’t you have found your answer of who is an Alim or a sheikh? I remember Abdur-Rahman Hassan (a tulab al-ilm) saying the sheikh is the one who can do ijtihad.

    • Avatar

      Sunny Salman Jamil

      February 15, 2014 at 12:47 AM

      See, your answer is similar to the dissatisfying answer the author first came across regarding `aalim: “the one who knows”. These explanations are useful, but they do not explain what a person must do in order to attain the level of ‘ustaadh, `aalim, and shaykh.

  11. Avatar


    February 12, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Barak Allahu Feeka for an eye opening article.
    I have been quite surprised by every speaker at Masajids or conventions being referred to as a Shaikh. The exception is Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan who does not like being called a Shaikh, infact he makes it a point to correct the presenter or moderator, saying he is not a shaikh. May Allah reward him for his humility, Ameen

    • Avatar

      Sunny Salman Jamil

      February 15, 2014 at 12:42 AM

      Indeed, there are only a few self-identified ‘ustaadhs out there. ‘Ustaadh Nouman Ali Khan being one and ‘Ustaadhah Yasmin Mogahed being another. But then there are a lot of non-shaykhs who are referred to as ‘imaam. Then again, ‘Imaams ‘Aboo Haneefah, Maalik, Ash-Shaafi`, and Ahmad must have been shaykhs, right?

  12. Avatar


    February 13, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    In Islam, the dichotomy of the secular and the religious does not exist. Furthermore, if Islam is not a religion, then the Arabic word “deen” would mean “way of life”, not “religion”. Similarly, the word “Aalim” would mean “scholar” and not a “priest”. In the same way, if we took the word “ibbadat”, it would mean “serve” and not “worship” God, because men who recognize God according to reason, not religion, serve Him as caliphs (vicegerents) and khalil (friends). In addition to this, we are also inspired by the Qur’an to believe that in the Islamic way of life, where the dichotomy of the secular and religious does not exist, the scholars and caliphs do not function according to the religious methodology of taqlid, aqidah, silsila, khanqah, sainthood, sects and madhabs. They function only according to the secular and scientific methodology of ilm-ul-yaqin, ayn-ul-yaqin and haqq-ul-yaqin under the guidance of Allah (SWT). These are more or less some of the differences between religion and way of life in Islam. Therefore, in Islam, it is wrong to establish “deeni talim” according to the religious methodology of taqlid, aqidah, silsila, khanqah, sainthood, etc, using Fiqh of Hadith. It makes Islam a religion just like any other religion which has deviated from “the straight path” which is inspired by the Qur’an. Therefore, the correct way to establish “deeni talim” in Islam is by using the secular and scientific methodology of ilm-ul-yaqin, ayn-ul-yaqin and haqq-ul-yaqin with the Fiqh of the Qur’an just like any other subject that is taught in secular schools.

    *This comment was edited by the MM Comments Team in order to comply with our Comments Policy*

  13. Avatar

    Sunny Salman Jamil

    February 15, 2014 at 12:36 AM

    In your lecture, you explain that the scholars and students of knowledge for centuries have unanimously adopted a madh-hab and that the madh-hab of the layman is the one who he or she asks. Subhaana llaah! You hear this reality very less nowadays. May Allaah bless you for your efforts. An outline of the method to acquire Islamic knowledge, like the one you have produced, has been in my mind for quite a while!

  14. Avatar


    February 18, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    Dear Sunny, since there are no objections forthcoming to what I have said about “the path” we should follow in our deen, I think it is important that we place no doubt whatsoever in what we follow, because in Islam, it is not only important to eliminate religion and the dichotomy of the secular and religious but it is also important to eliminate all ambiguities that exist within our deen and imaan. For example, in future you might be asked, “If Islam is not a religion then how come you believe in God, His Books and Prophets and what then is salaah, masjid, etc?” In addition to this you might also be asked to define Sunnah and Shariah without the Fiqh of Hadith. Therefore, in order to meet these challenges, I have prepared a four page document which I have titled, “Apart from the Truth what remains but Error”. You will find it in my WordPress blog at

  15. Avatar

    Ikhlas Rahim

    March 12, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    Jazakallu Khairan Katheeran

  16. Avatar


    June 8, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Please clarify a little what Arabic Literature means here:

    4- Adab (Arabic literature)

  17. Avatar

    Sunny Salman Jamil

    September 16, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    I came to this article to refresh my memory, but I realize that it doesn’t answer its posed question as clearly as hoped.

  18. Pingback: Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse -

  19. Pingback: Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse | Souqhub | Blog

  20. Avatar

    Ustadh Nuno, Mohamed Abdikarim

    May 8, 2016 at 9:39 AM

    Maashaallaah, I am an ustadh and imam myself, and a few years ago I used to squirm whenever I was addressed as Sheikh, but owing to your last defenition for Sheikh as ” a person who has been immersed for years in daawa activity and that some strands of grey hair have started showing in his hair or beard/ a leader of a Muslim community…”, Owing to this: I won’t shy away from the being referred to as Sheikh again. Thank you.

  21. Avatar

    Ali Saeed

    February 17, 2017 at 6:01 PM

    Love it. BarakAllahuFeekum

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7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health.  Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks. Here are 7 powerful techniques to make sure you’re not one of them.

New Year's Resolutions
Who uses sticky notes on a cork board #stockimagefail
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking – after wondering if New Year’s is halal to celebrate, you probably want to lose some weight, make more money, talk to family more, or be a better Muslim in some way.  The New Year for many of us is a moment to turn a fresh page and re-imagine a better self. We make resolutions and hope despite the statistics we’ll be the outliers that don’t fail at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health. Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks.

Given such a high failure rate, let’s talk about how you can be among the few who set and achieve your goals successfully.

1. Be Thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful

You’ve been successful this past year in a number of areas. Think of your worship, career, relationships, personality, education, health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual), and finances. Take a moment to reflect on where you’ve succeeded, no matter how trivial, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo, and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for those successes.

When you’re thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), He increases you in blessings.  Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily, My punishment is indeed severe’” [14:7] 

In recent years, there’s been more discussion on the benefits of practicing gratitude, though oftentimes it’s not clear to whom or what you’re to be grateful towards. We, of course, know that we’re not grateful simply to the great unconscious cosmos, but to our Creator.

Despite this difference, there exist interesting studies on how the practice of gratitude affect us. Some of the benefits include:

  • Better relationships with those thanked
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved psychological health
  • Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
  • Better sleep
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved mental strength

Building on Your Successes

In addition to being thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), reflect on why you were successful in those areas.  What was it you did day in and day out to succeed? Analyze it carefully and think of how you can either build on top of those present successes, or how you can transport the lessons from those successes to new areas of your life to succeed there as well.

In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they note that we have a tendency to try to solve big problems with big solutions, but a better technique that has actual real-world success in solving complex problems is to instead focus on bright spots and build on those bright spots instead. You have bright spots in how you’ve worked and operated, so reflect on your successes and try to build on top of them.

2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal

Oftentimes when we want to change, we try to change too many areas.  This can lead to failure quickly because change in one area is not easy, and attempting to do it in multiple areas simultaneously will simply accelerate failure.

Instead, pick one goal – a goal that you are strongly motivated to fulfill, and one that you know if you were to make that goal, it would have a profoundly positive impact on your life as well as on others whom you are responsible to.

In making the case based on scientific studies, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Further down, he states:

“However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.”

When setting your goal, be sure to set a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.  “I want to lose weight” is not a SMART goal.  “I want to achieve 10% bodyfat at 200 lbs in 9 months” is specific (you know the metrics to achieve), measurable (you can check if you hit those metrics), achievable (according to health experts, it can be done, realistic (it’s something you can do), and time-bound (9 months).

3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity

Once you lock onto your goal, you should ask for success in your goal every day, multiple times a day.  Increasing in your du’a and asking Allah for success not only brings you the help of the Most High in getting to your goal, it also ensures it remains top of mind consistently.

A few of the best ways to increase the chances of a supplication being accepted:

  • Increase the frequency of raising your hands after salah and asking for your intended outcome.
  • Asking while you are in sujood during prayers.
  • Praying and supplicating in the last 3rd of the night during qiyam ul-layl.

When you make your du’a, be specific in what you ask for, and in turn, you will have a specific rather than a vague goal at the forefront of your mind which is important because one of the major causes of failure for resolutions themselves is lacking specificity.

4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency

The most powerful impact on the accomplishment of any goal isn’t in having the optimal technique to achieve the goal – it is rather how consistent you are in trying to achieve it.  The time and frequency given to achievement regularly establishes habits that move from struggle to lifestyle. As mentioned in the previous section, day, time, and place were all important to getting the goal, habit, or task accomplished.

In order to be consistent, schedule it in your calendar of choice. When you schedule it, make sure you:

  • Pick the time you’re most energetic and likely to do it.
  • Work out with family, friends, and work that that time is blocked out and shouldn’t be interrupted.
  • Show up even if you’re tired and unmotivated – do something tiny, just to make sure you maintain the habit.

A Word on Automation

Much continues to be written about jobs lost to automation, but there are jobs we should love losing to automation, namely, work that we do that can be done freely or very cheaply by a program.  For example, I use Mint to capture all my accounts (bank, credit card, investments, etc) and rather than the old method of gathering receipts and tracking transactions, all of it is captured online and easily accessible from any device.

Let’s say you wanted to give to charity, and you wanted to give a recurring donation of $5 a month to keep MuslimMatters free – all you have to do is set up an automated recurring donation at the link and you’re done.

Likewise, if you’re saving money for a goal, you can easily do so by automating a specific amount of money coming out of your bank account into another account via the online banking tools your bank provides.  You can automate bill payments and other tasks to clear your schedule, achieve your goals, and keep you focused on working the most important items.

5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

We’re often told we should set up SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.  However, one way to quickly fail a goal is by defining success according to outcomes, which aren’t necessarily in your hand.  For example, you might say as above:

“I want to be at 10% body fat in 9 months at 200 lbs.”

This is a SMART goal, and it’s what you should aim for, but when you assess success, you shouldn’t focus on the result as it’s somewhat outside the scope of your control. What you can do is focus on behaviors that help you achieve that goal, or get close to it, and then reset success around whether you’re completing your behaviors.  As an example:

“I want to complete the P90X workout and diet in 90 days.”

Here, you’re focused on generally accepted notions on behaviors that will get you close to your goal.  Why? Because you control your behaviors, but you can’t really control the outcomes. Reward yourself when you follow through on your behavior goals, and the day-to-day commitments you make.  If you find that compliance is good, and you’re getting closer to your goal, keep at it.

Read the following if you want to really understand the difference in depth.

6. Set Realistic Expectations – Plan to Fail, and Strategize Recovery

After too many failures, most people give up and fall off the wagon.  You will fail – we all do. Think of a time you’ve failed – what should you have done to get back on your goal and complete it?  Now reflect on the upcoming goal – reflect on the obstacles that will come your way and cause you to fail, and how when you do fail, you’ll get right back on it.

Once you fail, ask yourself, was it because of internal motivation, an external circumstance, a relationship where expectations weren’t made clear, poor estimation of effort – be honest, own what you can do better, and set about attempting to circumvent the obstacle and try again.

7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals

Once you’re tracking behaviors, simply mark down in an app or tracker that you completed the behavior.  Once you see you’re consistent in your behaviors over the long-term, you’ll have the ability to meaingfully review your plan and assess goal progress.

This is important because as you attempt to perform the work necessary to accomplish the goal, you’ll find that your initial assessments for completion could be wrong. Maybe you need more time, maybe you need a different time. Maybe you need a different process for accomplishing your goals. Assess your success at both weekly and monthly intervals, and ask yourself:

  • How often was I able to fulfill accomplish my required behaviors?  How often did I miss?
  • What was the reason for those misses?
  • Can I improve what I’m doing incrementally and change those failures to successes?  Or is the whole thing wrong and not working?

Don’t make changes when motivation dies after a few days.  Don’t make big changes on a weekly basis. Set an appointment on a weekly basis simply to review successes and challenges, making small tweaks while maintaining the overall plan. Set a monthly appointment with yourself to review and decide what you’ll change, if anything, in how you operate.

Be something of a Tiger mom about it – aim for 90% completion of behaviors, or an A grade, when assessing whether you’ve done well or not.  Anything below 90% is a failing grade.

(ok, so Tiger Moms want 100% or more, but let’s assume this is a somewhat forgiving Tiger Mom)

Putting it All Together

Set ‘Em Up

  • First, take a moment to reflect and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
  • Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
  • Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.

Knock ‘Em Down

  • Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
  • On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
  • Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
  • Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.

What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?

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I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.

I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam


The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.

The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.

As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.

This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.


Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”


Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age

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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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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