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Debt Free Muslims Podcast Episode 2 – Ethics in Finance with Imam Omar Suleiman

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Episode 002

This episode is sponsored by MuslimMatters.org – because Muslims matter.

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Imam Omar Suleiman is the kind-hearted, friendly giant from New Orleans, Louisiana. Born and raised in America, Shaykh Omar has a unique way of relating to a western audience though his character has gained the love of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Imam Omar has two Bachelors degrees in Islamic Studies and in accounting, a Masters degree in Islamic Finance, and is currently pursuing a Phd in Islamic History from the Islamic University of Malaysia.

Imam Omar also is a strong advocate of community service, interfaith dialogue, and social justice. He served as the field coordinator of ICNA Relief in Hurricane Katrina and also co founded the east Jefferson clergy interfaith council. In 2010, the Mayor and City Council of New Orleans awarded him for “Outstanding Civic Achievement”. He is a current member of the ICNA Shariah Council.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How important it is to not only eat permissible meat, but the income you use to purchase that meat should be permissible as well?
  • Our passive attitudes with regards to finances versus doing other impermissible things in our lives
  • How serious it is to be involved with interest (usury)?
  • What is the impact of usury/interest on society?
  • What does someone do if they get laid off and they need to take out credit cards to get by?
  • How to do you deal with having credit cards? Are redeeming points off of a credit card considered interest (usury)?

Links

Imam Omar Suleiman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/omarsuleiman504
Imam Omar Suleiman on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/imamomarsuleiman
ILM Flix (redirects to Islamic Learning Foundation): http://ilmflix.com
Income being impermissible: http://sunnah.com/muslim/12/83
The sin of usury (interest/Riba): http://sunnah.com/urn/1265920

Please support the podcast by sharing it with a friend who might find the information useful.

Don’t forgot to subscribe in iTunes and rate the podcast!

Visit http://debtfreemuslims.com to get your free eBook on Practical Personal Finance for Muslims.

Check out this episode!

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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.

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

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  1. Avatar

    Sadia

    March 4, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    cannot listen to it?

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#Life

Living During a Pandemic, Plan for Death in Your Lifetime

Plan for death, Islamic will

Panic over the global public health steamroller COVID-19 has many of us in the Muslim community thinking about the future: specifically a future without you, the reader, in this world, amongst the living.

There are many articles about how you should not touch your face or how to make bootleg hand sanitizer with vodka to avoid death for the time being. This article will do none of those things. Let’s just assume that no matter your big-box shopping habits or travel plans, you are going to die eventually. Panic is a reflection of our sense of mortality and the care we have for our loved ones and communities.

When you die, you leave behind people, possessions, and often real estate and businesses. You have responsibilities to deal with when you are no longer here, to your family, your customers, lenders, employees, and others. Of course, you can’t deal with these responsibilities yourself, since you will be dead. The purpose of this article is to help you sort out how your responsibilities will be carried out.

Inheritance in Islam

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Everything in the heavens and the earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah. Everything you have that you cannot take with you has been entrusted to you while you are here. Though this is rarely the topic of khutbahs on Jummah (back when we used to do that kind of thing) Islamic Inheritance is fard on all Muslims who have stuff they won’t take with them. Your property is not your own.

Everything in the heavens and the earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah. Everything you have that you cannot take with you has been entrusted to you while you are here.Click To Tweet

Allah has ordained inheritance in the Quran. That means inheritance is not distributed based on your sense of vanity and what you think is better but based on the command of Allah.  This is different from the way we usually do things in the United States. Doing inheritance right is obeying Allah. It is an essential act of worship most American Muslims seem to ignore, to the extent we are familiar with it at all. Inheritance is a bigger deal than most Muslims seem to realize. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in the Quran prescribes hellfire for those who disobey Allah’s command. If you go without obeying Allah’s command on inheritance, that is your parting shot, a legacy of injustice and disobedience to Allah.

Doing inheritance right is obeying Allah.Click To Tweet

There are a great many Muslims I have come across over the years who are offended by Islamic Inheritance; just the notion makes them sick. I don’t know what to do for them.

Islamic Inheritance is fundamental to our society and for maintaining peace in our families and communities. It is a bulwark against intra-family oppression and conflicts, protects orphans while uniformly apportioning rights. It is a remarkable system that benefits humanity. You can read this comprehensive guide on Islamic Inheritance if you want further exposure to the subject. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said: “learn fara’id (Islamic rules of inheritance) and teach it to the people.”

So if you gain anything from your current bout social isolation, learn about Islamic Inheritance.

Wasiyyah

Many people translate “wasiyyah” to “last will.”  This is fundamentally wrong, at least when it comes to the American understanding of what the last will is.  While both are written instructions, the last will and wasiyyah have unique limitations that have no relationship with each other.

You can give up to 1/3 of your estate for beneficial purposes. You could give to charity or those who do not already inherit from you. It is common for beneficiaries of the wasiyyah are poor relatives overseas or grandchildren not entitled to inheritance.  You should read this guide for how the wasiyyah works.

If you go without obeying Allah's command on inheritance, that is your parting shot, a legacy of injustice and disobedience to Allah.Click To Tweet

Guardianship for minor children

For those with minor children, guardianship is often an urgent yet often ignored concern. You should have a solid understanding of what could happen in the event your children become orphans, and there is no living parent. Will they go to child services? Would grandparents fight over them? Might that weird uncle will attempt to get custody and try to convert them to atheism? Do you have family overseas, but they cannot travel to the United States because of a global pandemic?

Of course, you don’t know what will happen. All planning is about creating a rule book for an indeterminate time in the future where you have no idea about the circumstances of the people you will leave behind. You can read an article at MuslimMatters from a few years ago called “how to raise your children when you’re dead.”  I have also prepared a more comprehensive guardianship guide for Muslims.

Guardianship is either addressed through a last will or separate writing in states that allow this. You do not name guardians in a living trust.

Incapacity Planning

This part is not technically planning for death, but it is commonly included in estate planning.  Many people end up living longer lives but are dependent on others. There is a process in every state for the government to take away a person’s liberty, not for a crime they committed, but to protect them from exploitation and financial elder abuse, leading to poverty. Scammers, both online and offline, tend to target people who fit a particular profile.

This legal protective process is called “conservatorship,” and it is costly, and the hearings and documents are public. Part of estate planning is to protect the dignity and privacy of people while their families make decisions.

It is common for people who do their estate planning to have both a living trust and power of attorney. Incapacity provisions in a living trust only cover assets that are registered the living trust. Certain kinds of property, like IRAs, are not owned by a living trust.

Healthcare Directives

States generally have their forms for making healthcare decisions. These are recognized by hospital staff for those times when a patent cannot give them consent to do things. You need to name someone you trust that can make decisions for you.

Healthcare Directives ask questions beyond naming proxies. For example, they will ask about your preference when if you have an incurable illness, in a coma, and doctors are saying you have no reasonable chance of getting out.

These directives may also ask about your organ donor preference. Do you want to be a donor at all? Are you ok donating for organ transplants? Would you mind if medical students dissected your body and posted the pictures on Instagram? Such minutiae won’t necessarily be in these forms, but that’s what they could mean, depending on the permission you give.

Healthcare decisions can be an extraordinarily complex area, with much written about the subject. Your planning documents cannot account for future medical conditions. Whatever you write, other than who has decision-making authority is going to be necessarily vague. Reading these things may leave you wondering about things like what is an “incurable illness”? What is “a reasonable period of time”?

Focus on the concrete, who you trust to make these decisions, rather than potential hypothetical scenarios around your medical care.

These are situations where loved ones face painful choices. You can make it clear who makes decisions; however, no document makes medical treatment issues less difficult for loved ones.

Will or a Trust?

A question for many is, what do you do, living trust or a will? What that question means is should the main provisions of an Estate Plan, which is the overall plan for organizing your affairs, be in a trust or a will, which are both different kinds of documents. When you have a living trust, you almost always have a last will as well. Those who have last will- based plans could have several trusts inside them.

Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and everything else you do in service of organizing your affairs are pieces of paper.  The specific documents you create are ways of fulfilling your goals, they are not the goal by themselves. A trust is a form of a contract with usually no judicial supervision. A last will is similar, but there are instructions for a judicially supervised process called “probate.” The main difference between a will or a trust is a judge’s oversight.

For most everyone with property, we will typically recommend a trust-based estate plan that includes several documents. Like any contract, what a trust says and does can vary widely. To learn more about trusts, especially Islamic Living Trusts, read this article.

A lawyer or no lawyer

Lawyers are expensive. Most people would rather not spend thousands of dollars on something if they could avoid it. Lawyers just produce pieces of paper, right? Why not just do it yourself? Just go to a website that fills out blank spaces in a template and pay far less than a lawyer?

As an Islamic Estate Planning Lawyer myself, I will attempt to avoid saying anything that sounds self-interested. My advice to anyone who asks is that while inheritance is fard in Islam, nothing you do is worth it unless you have peace of mind from doing it. You may be the person that strives to pray, read the Quran, and give in charity and deal with your family with excellence because that is what gives you peace of mind. Do any of these things in a way that makes you uneasy, well, you don’t have peace of mind.

If going to a form filling website or writing a will by hand gives you peace of mind, do that. If getting advice from an experienced attorney gives you peace of mind, then do that.

Merely going to a lawyer, even an especially experienced one, should not give you peace of mind by itself. The lawyer needs your active engagement in the process to make sure you are doing right by everyone. Educate yourself about Islamic Estate Planning to make sure that elements specific to your family and business are the way you want. Estate Planning is one of the most important things you will be doing for your family, and you should attend to it with the seriousness it deserves.

You hire a lawyer because of his or her knowledge of the law, Islamic rules, and experience in developing solutions. You should never hire a lawyer in any situation to act as your substitute brain.

Selecting a lawyer

Estate Planning is a field most lawyers know little about. Many state bars will certify “specialists” in the field.  \However, it is possible for you to find an attorney well-versed in the area but not a board-certified specialist.

Your planning involves contractual, state, and federal law elements. Ideally, you will have a lawyer in your state who is a Muslim and knowledgeable about both estate planning and Islamic rules. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

Arizona Attorney Yaser Ali and I (California and Texas licensed) wrote a “Practice Guide” for lawyers called “Estate Planning for the Muslim Client” (2019, American Bar Association). The idea behind this project was to give lawyers, regardless of creed or state of residence, an understanding of Islamic Inheritance and how Islamic rules figure into various established estate planning strategies for Muslim clients.

The book also provides templates and examples. We intended the book to be useful for such lawyers to help their Muslim clients plan. Of course, it is common for lawyers also to get help or co-counsel across jurisdictions. The lack of a lawyer with expertise on Islamic Inheritance rules in your local area should not be an excuse.

For people with few assets

The biggest problem with hiring lawyers is that they usually charge for their services. Many Muslims with relatively modest assets might not think it’s worth it.  However, a woman with a few thousand dollars in assets may want to do something, like name guardians for minor children, name an executor and provide instructions on how to divide her modest estate without giving most of it to a lawyer. In such instances, a “do it yourself” approach may make sense, or at least it’s better than doing nothing.

Islamic will templates are freely available all over the internet, with varying levels of usefulness and value. Attorney Yaser Ali has created a template and form filling website where anyone can create a last will and calculate inheritance and a state-specific will for free. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should take a look at this resource. It does not replace a lawyer, however.

Burial Instructions 

One place the Muslim community excels at is burial. Most everywhere in the United States, there are volunteers and paid staff who quickly and efficiently deal with the entire process of ghusal, janazah prayer, and burial. We can often measure the time between death and burial in hours, not days. Sometimes there are reasons for a delay, however. In this kind of environment, people don’t look around for instruction documents, other than proof of ownership of a burial plot.

My advice on burial instructions, at least in the local area that I live, for most Muslim families is not to worry too much. Your family and friends will know what to do and don’t need your help in the matter. Sometimes, people want to include detailed instructions; things like women should not cry loudly. Don’t overthink these things.

There are solid reasons for detailed burial instructions, though. One that comes up regularly is for Muslims who do not have Muslim families. For such individuals, merely having burial instructions is not enough. Such a person should name a Muslim friend, or perhaps more than one, in health care documents. People from the Muslim community need to know when a Muslim is sick in the hospital and, of course, when he or she has died.

There is far more to preparing for death, but a whole lot of that involves life itself.

For more on that, attend Jummah khutba when they start offering it again, InshaAllah.

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#Life

Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

students

I remember driving to college orientation over the summer with my father, may Allah have mercy on him. I was going to be going to school out of state, and at the age of eighteen, this was the first time that I would be living away from home. 

We talked about a lot of things, and nothing in particular but one of the stories he shared stayed with me. There was an Imam who had a close circle of students and one of them became absent for an extended period. Upon that student’s return, the Imam asked him where he had been, to which the student replied, 

“Egypt!” The imam said to him, “well how was Egypt!” 

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The student replied, “Egypt is where knowledge resides.” 

The Imam responded, “You’ve spoken the truth.” 

Sometime later, the imam had another student who also was absent and upon his return, the Imam asked him where he had gone to which the student replied, “Egypt!” The imam said to him, “Well, how was Egypt?”

The student said, “Egypt is nothing but amusement and play!” 

The Imam responded, ‘You’ve spoken the truth!” 

There were students who had witnessed both conversations and asked the Imam later why he had borne witness to the truth of two antithetical statements to which the imam replied,

“They both found what they were looking for.” 

I got the message. University could be a place of incredible learning, engagement with ideas, and can push you and challenge you in the best of ways. It can also be a non-stop party. A blur of heedlessness and hedonism that will bring about remorse and regret for that individual in the Dunya and Akhira. 

I think back to that car ride fondly, and I appreciate the predicament of parting advice. A person who will be bidding farewell to someone so dear to them and wanting to give them something powerful that they can hold onto or wisdom that will guide them. Many students in the past weeks have been receiving similar parting advice from their families, and so in this article I wanted to share one of the advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he gave to a companion that he loved so much. 

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ جُنْدَبِ بْنِ جُنَادَةَ، وَأَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم قَالَ: “اتَّقِ اللَّهَ حَيْثُمَا كُنْت، وَأَتْبِعْ السَّيِّئَةَ الْحَسَنَةَ تَمْحُهَا، وَخَالِقْ النَّاسَ بِخُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ”

رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ [رقم:1987] وَقَالَ: حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ، وَفِي بَعْضِ النُّسَخِ: حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ. 

On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junadah, and Abu Abdur-Rahman Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said

“Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are, and follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it, and treat people with good character.” (Tirmidhi)

The advice is comprised of three components

  1. Fear Allah wherever you are 
  2. Follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it 
  3. Treat people with good character 

Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are 

Taqwa is the crown of the believer. And it is the best thing that a person can carry with them on the journey of this life, and the journey to meet their Lord. Allah says, 

“And take provision, and the best provision is Taqwa.” 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ أَكْثَرِ مَا يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَقْوَى اللَّهِ وَحُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ ‏”‏ ‏

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked as to what admits people into Paradise the most and he said, “Taqwa and good character.” (Tirmidhi) 

And so what is Taqwa?

Talq ibn Habeeb gave a beautiful definition and description of Taqwa when he said, 

“Taqwa is to act in obedience to Allah, upon a light from Allah, seeking the reward of Allah. And it is to avoid the disobedience of Allah, upon a light from Allah, fearing the punishment of Allah.” 

And so he describes taqwa as having three components; the action, the source for that action, and the motivation for that action.”

To act in the obedience of Allah..

To do the things that Allah commands you to do and to stay away from what Allah prohibits you from doing 

Upon a light from Allah..

The source for the action or inaction must come from revelation, a light from Allah. And this should stir us to seek knowledge so that our actions are onem guided by a light from Allah. You’ve made it to University, you are bright, gifted, intelligent and committed to education.  Do not let be the one thing that you remain uneducated about be your religion. 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, 

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِراً مِّنَ ٱلْحَيَاةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ ٱلآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware. (Al-Room v. 7)  

The prophet (S) said, “Allah hates every expert in the Dunya who is ignorant of the hereafter.” (Saheeh Al-Jaami’)

Make sure that you carve out time to attend halaqas on campus, seek out teachers and mentors who will guide you in learning about your religion even as you are pursuing your secular studies..

Seeking the reward of Allah..

The third component of Taqwa is the motivation:  that these actions that are being performed and that are sourced authentically in revelation must be performed for the sake of Allah, seeking His reward, and not for any other audience. That they not be done for shares, or likes or retweets. That a person does what they do of worship, that they abstain from what they abstain from of sin, seeking the reward of Allah and fearing His punishment. 

Fear Allah wherever you are..

Meaning in public and in private, online or offline, and when in the company of the righteous as well as when in the company of the wicked, in all circumstances a person must be mindful of the presence of Allah..

 عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّهُ قَالَ : ( لأَعْلَمَنَّ أَقْوَامًا مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَأْتُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ بِحَسَنَاتٍ أَمْثَالِ جِبَالِ تِهَامَةَ بِيضًا فَيَجْعَلُهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ هَبَاءً مَنْثُورًا ) قَالَ ثَوْبَانُ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صِفْهُمْ لَنَا ، جَلِّهِمْ لَنَا أَنْ لاَ نَكُونَ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لاَ نَعْلَمُ ، قَالَ : ( أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ إِخْوَانُكُمْ وَمِنْ جِلْدَتِكُمْ وَيَأْخُذُونَ مِنَ اللَّيْلِ كَمَا تَأْخُذُونَ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ أَقْوَامٌ إِذَا خَلَوْا بِمَحَارِمِ اللَّهِ انْتَهَكُوهَا

It was narrated from Thawban that the Prophet ﷺ said:

“I certainly know people of my nation who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawban said: “O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.” He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they are people who, when they are alone with what Allah has prohibited, they violate it.” 

This hadeeth is a warning for the person who is quick, eager and ready to violate the limits of Allah as soon as the door is locked, or the curtains or drawn, or as soon as they have arrived in a new place where no one knows them. We will sin, but let our sins be sins of weakness or lapses of taqwa and not sins of predetermination and design. There is a big difference between someone who sins in a moment’s temptation and the one who is planning to sin for hours, days or weeks! 

And follow a good deed with a bad deed it will erase it..

When we fall, as we must inevitably due to our being human, the prophet (S) instructed us to follow a sin with a good deed to erase it. 

Commit a sin, give charity. 

Commit a sin, perform wudhu as beautifully as you can and pray two rak’ahs. 

Commit a sin, seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent…

Our sins should not suffocate us from doing good deeds, they should fuel us to doing good deeds. 

Allah says,

وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلاَةَ طَرَفَيِ ٱلنَّهَارِ وَزُلَفاً مِّنَ ٱلَّيْلِ إِنَّ ٱلْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ ٱلسَّـيِّئَاتِ ذٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember. (Surat Hood v. 114) 

A man from the Ansar was alone with a woman and he did everything with her short of fornication. In remorse, he went to the prophet (S) and confessed to him. Umar said to the man, “Allah had concealed your sins, why didn’t you conceal it yourself!” The prophet (S) however was silent.

The man eventually left and the prophet (S) had a messenger go to him to recite the aforementioned verse.  A man said, “Oh Messenger of Allah is it for him alone?”

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “No for all people.” 

And so for all people, sin plus good deed equals the sin is erased. That is a formula to be inscribed in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Al-Hassan Al-Basri, the master preacher of the Tabi’een was asked,

“Should one of us not be ashamed of our Lord, we seek forgiveness from our Lord and then return to sin, and then seek forgiveness and then return!” 

He said,

“Shaytan would love to conquer you with that (notion), do not grow tired of seeking forgiveness”

But know that these sins that are erased by good deeds are the minor sins, as for the major sins they require repentance for the many verses in which Allah threatens punishment for those who commit major sins if they do not repent, and so repentance is a condition for the erasing of the effect of major sins. 

And treat people with good character 

And if Taqwa is the crown of the believer, then good character is the crown of Taqwa, for many people think that taqwa is to fulfill the rights of Allah without fulfilling the rights of His creation! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in many hadith highlights the lofty stations that a believer attains with good character, for example: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، رَحِمَهَا اللَّهُ قَالَتْ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لَيُدْرِكُ بِحُسْنِ خُلُقِهِ دَرَجَةَ الصَّائِمِ الْقَائِمِ

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Tirmidhi)

عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَا مِنْ شَيْءٍ يُوضَعُ فِي الْمِيزَانِ أَثْقَلُ مِنْ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ وَإِنَّ صَاحِبَ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ لَيَبْلُغُ بِهِ دَرَجَةَ صَاحِبِ الصَّوْمِ وَالصَّلاَةِ 

Abu Ad-Darda narrated that the Messenger of Allah  ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said:

“Nothing is placed on the Scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.” (Tirmidhi)

Let no one beat you to the taqwa of Allah and let no one beat you to beautiful character. 

You’ve come of age at a time in which the majority of our interactions are online, and in that world harshness and cruelty are low hanging fruit seemingly devoid of consequences. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Whoever lives in the deserts becomes harsh.” (Abu Dawood) 

And social media is a desert, it is an experience where we are all alone, together. 

So choose gentleness over harshness, choose forgiveness over vindictiveness, choose truth over falsehood and protect people from your harm. 

For the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “I am a guarantor of a house in the highest part of Jannah for whoever makes their character good.” 

May Allah make us from them. 

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#Life

Highly Educated, Willingly Domesticated

Doctor.  Engineer.  Certified Nurse-Midwife. Writer and Literary Critic.  Lab Technician. Parliamentary Assistant. These highly-trained, respected careers are the culmination of years of intense study, training, and self-discipline.  Most people, upon achieving these esteemed positions, would happily dedicate the rest of their working years to putting their knowledge and expertise to use. They would gradually gain more experience, earn greater pay, and amass professional perks.  Most likely they would also, over time, assume leadership roles, earn awards, or become sought-after experts in their field.

What kind of person has all this at her fingertips, but decides to give it up?  Who would trade in years of grueling study and professional striving for an undervalued position that requires no degree whatsoever What type of professional would be willing to forgo a significant salary to instead work for free, indefinitely, with no chance whatsoever of a paycheck, recognition, benefits, or promotion?  

Who else, but a mother?  

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While certainly not all mothers choose to give up their careers in order to raise their children, there is a subset of women who do. Stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) may spend the majority of their days performing unglamorous tasks like washing dishes, changing diapers, and reading storybooks to squirming toddlers, but behind the humble job title are dynamic, educated, and capable women. They may currently have a burp cloth in one hand and a sippy cup in the other, but chances are, SAHMs have a mind and capabilities that reach far beyond the apparent scope of their household duties.  

What motivates a capable and ambitious woman to give up her career and stay home to raise children? Is she coerced into it, or does she choose it willingly? What is her driving force, if not money, status, or respect?  I had many questions for these women -my sisters in Islam and my stay-at-home “colleagues”- and some of their answers surprised me.  

For this article I interviewed seven highly-educated Muslim moms who chose to put successful careers on hold, at least temporarily, to raise their children. Between them, they hold PhDs, MDs, and Masters degrees. While the pervasive stereotype about Muslim women is that they are oppressed and backward, these high-achieving females are no anomaly. In fact, according to her article in USA Today, Dalia Mogahed points out that, “Muslim American women are among the most educated faith group in the country and outpace their male counterparts in higher education.”  Across the pond, The Guardian reports that more young Muslim women have been gaining degrees at British universities than Muslim men, even though they have been underrepresented for decades.”    

 

Ambitions and dreams

Every single one of the women I interviewed grew up in a household with parents who highly emphasized their daughters’ education. In fact, all of them were encouraged -either gently or more insistently- to pursue “top” careers in medicine, engineering, or science. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the women I interviewed were at the head of their classes at university.

In their school years, before marriage, all of the women I spoke with considered their career to be their main priority; motherhood seemed far-off and undefined. “When in uni,” explains Neveen, an endodontist who eventually put her career on hold to be a SAHM and homeschooler, “I never, ever thought I’d homeschool (nor did I believe in it), nor did I ever think I’d be a SAHM. I was very career-oriented. I was top of my class in dental school and in residency.”

“I absolutely thought I would be a career woman,” agrees Nicole, a mom of three in California who holds a Masters degree in Middle East Studies. “I never considered staying at home with the kids, because they were totally out of my mind frame at the time.”

“I expected that after graduation I would follow a research-based career,” adds Layla*, another SAHM in California who holds a PhD in Computer Engineering. “I never thought I’d stay at home because I believed it was fine for kids to be in daycare. I also thought SAHMs were losing their potential and missing out on so much they could otherwise accomplish in their lives.”

As young women, many assumed that if they ever chose to start a family, they would have assistants, nannies, or domestic helpers to lighten their load. Several of them believed they would put their future children, if any, in daycare. However, the reality of motherhood made each of these women change her mind.  

“My child was highly attached to me,” explains Sazida, an Assistant to a Member of Parliament in England, “and I could not envision him being looked after by anyone else despite generous offers from relatives.”  

“After I had my first child all I wanted to do was be able to care for her myself,” concurs Melissa, a Certified Nurse Midwife from New York.  

 

Other Motivations

It turns out that maternal instincts were not the only factor that made women choose to drop out of the workforce. Dedication to Islam played an enormous part in their decision-making.

“After having my first child,” explains Layla, “I decided that he was far more precious than working. He is a gift that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave me to protect and care for.”

“After I became Muslim,” shares Nicole, “My goals changed, and I hoped to marry and have children. I do think it was beneficial for my children to have a parent always there to depend on,” she adds. “I feel like I was the anchor in the family for them, and I hope to continue that role.”

“What’s important to me,” asserts Neveen, “Is to raise my kids as good Muslims who love -and are proud of- their life and deen.”

Another reason many highly educated women choose to stay at home is because they have the opportunity to homeschool some or all of their children.  Remarkably, out of the seven women who answered questions for this article, five reported that they chose to homeschool at least one child for a few or more years.  

“I really enjoy my homeschooling journey with my kids and I get to know them better, alhamdullilah,” states Layla.

The opportunity to nurture, educate, and raise their children with love and Islamic values is the primary reason why these talented women were willing to put their successful careers on hold. “Hopefully Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will reward us in Jannah,” muses Layla.

 

Challenges

Although none of the women I interviewed regrets her choice to be a SAHM, they all agree that it is a challenging job that is actually harder than their former career.  

One obstacle they must overcome is the negative perception others have about successful women who make the choice to put their career on hold.  “I soon learnt that casual clothes, a toddler, and a buggy don’t give you the same respect as suits and heels,” says Sazida.

One would expect, given their faith’s emphasis on the dignity of mothers, that Muslim SAHMs would enjoy the support of their family and friends.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

One mom explains, “My in-laws offered to look after my child, and my father-in-law couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay at home when there was perfectly good childcare that they were offering. After two and three years passed, he got more and more disheartened that I was not earning and complained about the lost potential income.”

“My non-Muslim mother told me that I wasting my education,” confides Nicole. “She did not support me staying home, though I think she appreciated that I was there for my children and have a good relationship with them.  She was a SAHM as well, so I am not sure where that was coming from, actually.”

Melissa’s mom was similarly skeptical of her daughter’s decision. “My mother didn’t love me being fully dependent on my husband,” she admits.  

“I was not at all supported by my family or friends,” laments Radhia, a Lab Technician with a BS in Microbiology with a Chemistry minor.

Other than being doubted and blamed for their choice, there are other challenges that SAHMs face. Accustomed to mental stimulation, exciting challenges, professional accomplishments, and adult interaction, many former career women find staying at home to raise youngsters to be monotonous and lonely. The nannies, assistants, cleaners, and other workers they had envisioned often never materialized, since hiring these helpers was usually too expensive. Husbands who spent the day working as the family’s sole breadwinner, were usually too tired to help with household duties.  A few women admitted that they felt guilty asking for help in the home when their husband was already exhausted from work. To exacerbate the problem, most of the women I interviewed lived far from family, so they could not rely on the help one normally gets from parents and siblings. That means the bulk of the childcare and housework fell onto their laps alone.  

“The main challenges for me,” states Nicole, “were boredom, and finding good friends to spend time with who had similar interests. I was also very stressed because the raising of the children, the housework, the food, and overall upkeep of our lives were my responsibility, and I found that to be a heavy burden.”

“I think the feelings of vulnerability and insecurity about whether I was a good enough mother and housewife was difficult,” shares Melissa. “All my sense of worth was wrapped up in the kids and home, and if something went wrong I felt like a failure.”

“It was not as easy as I thought it would be,” confesses Radhia. “It was overwhelming at times, and I did miss working. Emotionally and physically, it was very draining.”

“Staying home has been harder than I expected,” adds Summer*, a Writer and Literary Critic from Boston. “I didn’t realize how willful children could be. I thought they’d just do what I said. I’m still trying to get used to the individuality! It’s harder than my job was, only because of the emotional load, and the fact that the effort you put in doesn’t guarantee the results you hope for.”

 

Money Matters

Giving up their salary also put women in a state of financial dependency, which can be a bitter pill to swallow for women who are used to having their own resources.  

“I felt very dependent on my husband, financially,” says Radhia.

“Alhamdulillah, my husband does not refuse if I ask him to buy anything,” explains Layla. “However, I felt like I was losing my power of deciding to buy something for someone else. For example, if I want to buy a gift for my mother or my sister, he never refuses when I ask him, but still I feel internally it is harder for me.”

“Alhamdulillah my husband’s personality is not one that would control my financial decisions/spending,” shares Neveen. “Otherwise I would never have chosen to be a SAHM.”

“Giving up my career limited my power to make financial decisions,” asserts Summer. “I could still spend what I wanted, but I had to ask permission, because my husband knew when ‘we’ were getting paid, and how much. He paid the bills, which I didn’t even look at.”

“Asking permission,” Summer adds, “is very annoying.”

Re-entering the workforce was difficult for some women, while not for others.  The total time spent at home generally affected whether women could easily jump back into their profession, or not.  Some of the moms felt their skills had not gotten rusty at all during their hiatus at home, while others felt it was nearly impossible to make up, professionally, for missed time.  

 

Words of Wisdom

Although all of the women I interviewed firmly believe that their time at home with their children is well-spent, they do have advice for their sisters who are currently SAHMs, or considering the position.  

“If I could go back and speak to myself as a new mum, I would tell myself to chill the heck out and just enjoy being a new mum,” says Sazida.

Melissa offers, “I wish people understood how talented you have to be to run a home successfully. It’s a ton of work and it requires you to be able to do everything from snuggle and nurture, to manage the money, budget, plan precisely, be a good hostess, handle problems around the home, manage time, and meet goals all while trying to look cute.

“I would always recommend that women have their own bank account and money on the side,” advises Nicole. “You never know when you are going to need it.”

“Once their kids are in school,” adds Radhia, “I would suggest SAHMs start something from home, or take on part time work, or courses, if necessary.”

“For moms choosing to stay at home,” Layla suggests, “I would say try to work part-time if your time permits, and if you have a passion for working. Trust that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will protect you, no matter what. Remember, you are investing in your kids, and that is far more important than thinking ‘I need to keep money in my pocket.’”

 

Support, don’t judge

As a Muslim ummah, our job is to support one another as brothers and sisters.  It seems people forget this oftentimes, and erroneously believe that we are entitled to gossip, speculate, and sit in judgement of each other, instead.  In our lives we will all undoubtedly encounter women who choose to continue their careers, and those who put them on hold, and those who decide to give them up completely. Before we dare draw conclusions about anyone, we must keep in mind that only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows a person’s entire story, her motivations, and her intentions. Only He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is allowed to judge.  

We must also remember that some women, for a variety of reasons, do not have the luxury of choosing to stay at home. They must work to the pay the bills. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their intentions and will reward their sacrifices as well.

 

It is my hope that this article will not cause more division amongst us, but rather raise awareness of the beautiful sacrifices that many talented and intelligent women willingly make for the sake of their children, and even more so, for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  They are the unsung heroes of our ummah, performing an undervalued job that is actually of utmost importance to the future of the world.

 

*Name has been changed

 

 

For the past decade, writer Laura El Alam has been a regular contributor to SISTERS Magazine, Al Jumuah, and About Islam. Her articles frequently tackle issues like Muslim American identity, women’s rights in Islam, support of converts/reverts, and racism. A graduate of Grinnell College, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband and five children. Laura recently started a Facebook page, The Common Sense Convert, to support Muslim women, particularly those who are new to the deen.

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