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Accessibility, Acceptance, Islamic Education: Living as a Muslim with Disability

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By: Najah Zaaeed

We live in a world in which people are increasingly facing various challenges, many of which affect their well-being and lifestyles. Unfortunately, Muslims with disabilities are sometimes faced with barriers within their own Muslim communities. Recently, the Muslim Social Research Network launched a global study to understand the needs of Muslims with disabilities in the U.S., UK and Canada. The findings will be used to educate Muslim organizations about the challenges their community members with disabilities endure and provide recommendations on how to improve services, communication, and inclusion.

Imagine being limited to going outdoors or interacting with others because you have a disability or impairment. Imagine being unable to obtain general education because the school or organization does not have the resources or staff needed to teach individuals with disabilities and impairments. Imagine wanting to learn about your faith, including how to pray and how to recite words from the verses of the Qurʾān Al Kareem, yet there is no one to teach you because there is a lack of people willing to educate Muslims with disabilities and impairments. Imagine going to the masjid, only to be directed to pray in an isolated area or shoe room, not in congregation, because the facility does not provide ease of accessibility for individuals with disabilities who have medical equipment or pets to aid them. Sometimes the challenges for Muslims with disabilities and impairments are not due to structure, but due to a simple lack of awareness from other patrons and board members.  We live in a world that is filled with imagination, but we don’t realize some of those thoughts may actually take place in our own communities.  

A place of worship is generally thought of as being a safe, kind, and like welcome-home to anyone, including individuals with disabilities or impairments. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In fact, Muslims with disabilities and impairments, as well as their caregivers, tend to face challenges when attempting to participate in regular congregational prayers, Islamic educational programs, holiday/ special events, or general visitations to the masjid. Their struggles also extend to gaining access, participating with or obtaining resources from other Islamic organizations and centers. Granted, the world is not perfect, and individuals with disabilities or impairments may face barriers at even non-religious facilities; as faith-based organizations missions, however, typically connect religion with improvement of society, it has become ever more important to understand impaired or disabled Muslims’ concerns and challenges within Muslim organizations.

Like many Muslims, regardless of disability, Heather Albright would visit the masjid with the hope of learning about Islam, engaging with others, and performing her obligatory prayers in congregation. Instead, she oft times found her experience to be stressful, as she was bombarded with “off the wall” questions about her blindness and her ability to learn and be independent.  Similarly, Misty Bradly, a single mother who is also blind, found that many underestimated her abilities because of her inability to see.

“People didn’t realize that blind people were capable of doing things on their own,” Misty explains. Although masjid patrons are friendly, they often make Muslims with disabilities and their caregivers feel ignored, as though they don’t belong, or as though they cannot move without assistance. It is important to note that this is not the case in all masjids, as some actually promote inclusion and expect engagement of Muslims with disabilities in activities. Nonetheless, these experiences combined with the lack of resources to create, support, and sustain the inclusion of Muslims with disabilities are relevant and should be addressed.

According to Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, who cares for his aging mother losing her sight because of glaucoma, “going to pray at a masjid is hard particularly when they’re not user friendly. I don’t think we have the resources; not because they’re unavailable to us but because we don’t place enough value in it.”

Misty’s challenges associated with Islamic organizations and her disability affect how she is able to engage in her daughter’s education. Islamic school teachers failed to adhere to her request of alternative communication methods; her request to communicate and keep her informed through e-mail, so that she could use her JAWS for windows software which enables screen reading the information to her, was ignored.  This was troublesome as Misty was invested in her daughter’s education, but found herself missing special events due to a lack of communication.

Muslims with disabilities are not the only one to bear the stress of the barriers they endure in their Muslim communities. Caregivers of Muslims with disabilities have witnessed similar obstacles. Nicole Epps has realized her Muslims community lacks the resources needed to provide her five year old daughter Sarah, who has spastic cerebral palsy, an Islamic education. Sarah does not attend any type of Islamic school; this is not by choice, but rather because many Islamic schools, including weekend programs in North Carolina, do not accommodate students with disabilities or special needs. Nicole is not alone; Chess Conners has four children with some type of disability. Her oldest has autism while another has a physical disability affecting her legs. Like Nicole, Chess found that the Islamic schools are not equipped to educate children with special needs.

Accessibility Issues

While a lack of special education teachers prevent Muslims with disabilities from learning about Islam in traditional settings, it is still possible for many to participate in activities and engage in programs offered to everyone at the masjid. Unfortunately, many Islamic centers are not disability friendly due to infrastructure, a lack of resources, such as visuals for individuals that may be hard of hearing or visually impaired, or the simple lack of awareness on how to treat and accommodate people with disabilities from an Islamic perspective. Addressing this last concern would prevent misunderstandings regarding the permissibility of someone with special medical shoes, equipment, or pets entering the masjid.

Disability Counseling

Mohammad Yousef is very familiar with the treatment of Muslims with disabilities by fellow Muslims and with accessibility barriers in Islamic centers and masjids. Although Mohammad is a well-educated engineer and founder of the organization, EquallyAble, he still finds himself having to defend the use of his medical shoes and leg brace in the prayer area. Mohammed’s organization aims to create awareness and advocate on behalf of Muslims with disabilities. Similarly, Chess feels accessibility, especially in Islamic centers or masjids that have multiple levels, can create barriers for people wishing to attend yet can’t due to a physical disability

Interactions

I “never really felt accepted in the community, because of how my children are,” explains Chess, who has felt a difference in the treatment of her and her children by others in her Muslim community. Chess feels that community members can sometimes make parents feel as though their child has a disease, rather than a disability. She remembers how someone found out about her second child’s incident and quickly informed others at the masjid. Chess believes education about disability is key, because people don’t realize the emotions individuals with disabilities may experience, especially if they have negative interactions with others. Chess wants parents to understand that “your child isn’t going to catch autism by being around my daughter.” Chess is not alone; Nicole shares, “kids don’t understand,” and parents do not help their children comprehend that people with disabilities may not be that different and may want to play and participate in activities just like any other child. Children with disabilities should “feel included, that it’s a disability but not a handicap.” Other children, such as Misty’s, are taunted by their fellow peers because of the parent’s disability. Sometimes Misty’s daughter is told “your mom can’t do that,” leaving her own child to wonder what her mother is capable of doing on her own. Misty now finds herself reminding her daughter that she is independent and able to care for herself.

Adaptive Counseling

All individuals interviewed stressed the importance of breaking down the stereotypes surrounding disabilities, specifically Muslims with disabilities. In addition to ease of access, many wish for improved Islamic education and resources for individuals with disabilities.

Learning about Islam

While some caregivers, such as Nicole and Chess, opted to teach their children about Islam at home, others continue to visit the masjid because they still want to feel as though they are a part of the community and learn something about Islam. Heather wanted to learn versus of the Qurʾān, yet cannot read it; instead of doing nothing, she decided to search for the Qurʾān in braille and was eventually able to get a copy.

Learning how to read the Qurʾān in braille presents its own challenges. Although a Qurʾān in braille is available, it is important to understand that even Islamic texts in braille require one to be educated on how to read it, explains Norma Hashim of the International Union of Braille Quran Services. The IBQS is comprised of 13 organizations in thirteen countries with hopes to grow. Braille phonetic is based on sounds and most braille Qurʾāns found in places such as Saudi Arabia have words that are shortened, which non-Arab speakers would most likely not understand or even pronounce correctly. The braille Qurʾān offered by the Malaysian Braille Association, whom Norma is also associated with, offers the longer braille version of the Qurʾān, which can be understood.

As technology and research advance, the opportunity for Muslims with disabilities to address their needs increases. Many Muslims with disabilities have used their impairment as a resiliency, developing organizations to create awareness and solutions.  Although some may look for organizations to advocate on their behalf, “in general you need to be your own advocate and talk to the Imams and people and explain to them why this is different,” says Mohammad Yousef, of EquallyAble.  Rabia Khedr, executive director of CAM-D (Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities), is blind and knows all too well the stigmatism that is associated with impairments. Amazingly, Rabia and her fellow peers at CAM-D have come a long way to establish their organization, which started off as a resource and advocacy center. They will soon be launching a project called Deen. Interestingly, CAM-D faced many challenges from Islamic organizations during their initial years of establishment. According to Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, who is also a board member of a masjid in central New York, “I find the challenge is getting Muslims to be sympathetic!” The internal struggles and recognition and leadership within Islamic organizations hinder their ability to address their Muslim community’s needs. This is one of the reasons CAM-D board members decided to be a stand-alone organization. In part, doing so allowed them to serve a greater community, advocate on behalf of individuals with disabilities, and make recommendations that are built on the needs of Muslims with disabilities, regardless of an Islamic organization’s affiliation.

While many of the parents interviewed for this article stated they would like to see disability awareness programs conducted by Islamic organizations for their community members, individuals such as Misty also express the concern of basic accessibility challenges at masjids and Islamic events. Misty shares, “a lot is culture, while we have to respect, and they need to learn more about disability and capabilities of disabled.” While Yusuf Abdul-Qadar shares similar agreement he reiterates, “the Muslim community isn’t competent enough to care about these issues, unfortunately. This is from a board member!”

Refreshingly, people like Mohammad, Rabia, and Heather are contributing to the slow, but effective changes ensuring their concerns, as well as the concerns of other Muslims with disabilities are heard and their needs are being met. Rabia says the need for awareness and advocacy is “huge and the resources are small.” Rabia and Mohammad both mention the importance of pro-activeness from Muslims with disabilities, in their communities. Mohammad goes further to mention the importance for Imams and Muslims organization board and community members to take the time to “get to know someone with a disability and understand what happens in their life and with their family members.”

The current reality is that Islamic centers across the US, UK and Canada can easily become overwhelmed with a plethora of community concerns and sometimes need to rely on information and training from third party organizations or advocates on issues such as addressing the concerns of individuals with special needs. The recent study on Muslims with disabilities is not the first research to address the needs of Muslims with disabilities, and it may not be the last as social concerns and needs are steadily changing. However, findings of the study by MSRN will be greatly beneficial to Muslims with disabilities, their caregivers, and Muslim communities and organizations overall.

If you know someone who has a disability or is a caregiver of someone with a disability, please share the following link, http://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/disability, and ask them to take a few moments to complete the survey anonymously. Voicing their concerns can only improve conditions for themselves, those they care about, and those that come after them.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Hudhayfah

    March 4, 2014 at 6:35 AM

    JazakAllah Khair!

    Autism Awareness – Muslims on the Spectrum:

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Autism-Awareness-Muslims-on-the-Spectrum/607380229319051

    • Avatar

      solitaybird

      March 5, 2014 at 11:42 PM

      This isn’t the same autism awareness that treats autism as an evil disease which must be genetically eradicated and includes no one on the autism soectrum in their organization, only parents who harp on and on about how difficult and horrible autistic children are, by any chance?

  2. Avatar

    m s Khan

    March 4, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    jazAKs sr Najah for addressing a very vital issue in our communities even in the west. While the world looks to the west for guidance on matters of inclusion in the Muslim community, Islamic Centers in the west are themselves falling short to deliver such practices.
    Yet as some one who is mobility impaired after a trauma I suffered 7 years ago which left me without legs, I have come to the understanding that it is us the Muslim disabled who need to address these issues with a kindness we may not want to exude when shunned away from Islamic centers. I travel all over the United States in my accessible van and make it a point to check out masjids far from home. I communicate with the masjid staff my needs and best ways to circumvent the problems of accessibility. More often than non, the local staff will cooperate and make necessary accommodations.
    Most often I find that Islamic centers are not aware of the issues disabled people come across. If we approach folks with the intention of education and not assault, better results are achieved.

  3. Avatar

    S. N. Smith (@muslimcomments)

    March 4, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    What an excellent article. I shared it with hundreds of people.

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  5. Avatar

    David Banes

    March 5, 2014 at 1:04 AM

    Mada – Qatar Assistive Technology Center has a range of information in English and Arabic on a range of assistive technologies you can find out much more at http://www.mada.org.qa and http://madaportal.org – All of our resources are freely distributable

  6. Avatar

    Abez

    March 5, 2014 at 6:16 AM

    Sister, you are preaching to the choir on this one. I can’t get my son into any Hifz programs here because he’s on the autism spectrum, so he studies Qur’an on his own. We had him studying one on one with the Imam of our masjid for a while, but after a while the Imam said he couldn’t continue teaching Khalid.

    I don’t blame him, because he has zero experience in teaching children with specials needs, and we’re genuinely grateful that he gave it a real try before admitting he was in over his head.

    Alhamdulillah, one of Khalid’s strengths is memorisation, so he’s almost done with Juz ‘Amma on his own. The sad thing though, is that he has outgrown my ability to help him (unless I memorize the Qur’an first) and needs to be taught tajweed properly. So we’ve reached a serious lag in his progress towards HIfz. Not because he can’t learn Qur’an, but because so far no one will teach him. :(

    • Avatar

      Lily

      July 8, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      You can get audio readings of the Quran. One of my cousins is disabled and he learns by listening and repeating. Alternatively, you could look for online options.

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  9. Avatar

    Mommyof2

    March 13, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    I cannot open the survey!

    • Avatar

      Najah

      March 18, 2014 at 3:25 AM

      Asalam U Alaikum Mommyof2,
      Unfortunately the survey has closed. Please stay posted for the upcoming publication of the findings in the upcoming months. If you have any questions or comments, you can find us on Facebook @ Muslim Disability Awareness.

  10. Pingback: Living as a Muslim with Disability: Accessibility, Acceptance, Islamic Education | AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM)

  11. Pingback: Accessibility, acceptance, and education: being Muslim with disability | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

  12. Pingback: LIVING AS A MUSLIM WITH DISABILITY | Faizan-e-Mohammad

  13. Avatar

    Apple

    March 17, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    As someone who has worked in numerous full-time Islamic schools, I agree that many do not have the resources to serve the needs of children with special needs (physical or mental). I don’t think this is due to not caring, since these schools generally operate under a bare minimum budget and lack basic resources. As a teacher, I did my best to try to balance the needs of all the children in my class, but there were some cases (such as severe ADD) where the child simply was not flourishing in a traditional classroom setting. In reality, all children have special needs of one kind or another (emotional, intellectual, physical, etc.), and a teacher does their best to cater for as many as possible but at the end of the day has limited time and resources.

    So, I feel that parents of special needs children should take a solid look at what resources an Islamic school has to offer, and if it can’t provide the services that their children need, they should put them in a school that can offer those services (like a public school). I also think the administration should step in and not allow a student to join the school if they know they are not able to provide for him/her; however, that doesn’t usually happen for financial reasons.

    Also, I noticed that some parents were in denial about their children’s learning disabilities and seemed to think that shuttling them off to an Islamic school and putting them in the same class as everyone else would ‘cure’ them, while what the children really needed was for their parents to acknowledge that their children needed special attention and would best be served by visiting a health practitioner or specialist rather than just having things ignored.

    Lastly, if a teacher isn’t following up on a special request, I’d look into why rather than just seeing it as failing to comply or disinterest. Teachers in general are overworked (Islamic school teachers even more due to the lack of resources) while at the same time are bombarded by individual requests by parents who feel they have the right to demand more because they are paying for the school. Sadly, my experience is that some parents were very demanding and wanted the maximum time, attention, and services for their own child (who may not have had any special needs that required special accommodation for), at the expense of taking that time and attention away from other children (some who really needed it such as language learners). This is not limited to Islamic schools, it is human nature, but looks a lot different on the teacher’s side when he/she is trying to balance the needs of the entire group and who has a vested interest in all the children, not just one. (Sorry if parents feel I should not be qualified to teach after saying that, but just saying.) It is possible that the teacher really didn’t have time, or simply forgot, or didn’t get a sense of how important it was to that parent because of all the special requests that s/he gets on a daily basis. The parent may think that s/he is not asking much, but 50 individual requests for small amounts of time to do different things add up, and because time is a finite resources, and the teacher is already working hours overtime, the teacher will have to decide between the good of the group (such as lesson planning) versus the good of the individual (such as individual emails). At an Islamic school, where resources are tight, there may also be additional barriers such as a lack of accessible internet access at work (a computer lab is not helpful if it is locked after hours).

    In short, an individual request to a teacher to take care of a personal need is much more difficult to comply with than establishing a system or procedure which takes care of the need. Establishing a school-wide procedure to communicate important information electronically with parents (and, even better, one that is handled by the administration, not overworked teachers) would be a solution that would serve the needs of many, rather than relying on a teacher to address the needs individually. In general, something that is good procedure for serving the needs of people with disabilities is good procedure for the general population as well.

    • Avatar

      David

      March 17, 2015 at 7:41 AM

      It is an interesting issue and raises a debate as to what is meant by an Islamic School. Ultimately all schools work within the education system of the state within which they operate. A British or German Islamic school may be quite different to that of a state school in KSA or Pakistan for instance. What is it that parents of a child at an Islamic school should expect – as a non Muslim I believe they should expect that the school should deliver an Islamic centered curriculum but with the same quality of differentiation and attention to individual needs as any other school within the education system of that country, there are interesting issues to discuss as to the extent to which a Muslim school is defined by both curriculum and teaching style, and whilst certainly maintaining the ethos and values of the community should also seek to address the needs of the special needs child to equip them to function within the wider community in which they live. From my point of view, in the area of technology for special needs we recognise the importance of both language and culture of the children we serve, but those inform the approach that we take in seeking solutions rather than used as a restraint on the options available

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  15. Avatar

    AYEINA

    February 28, 2017 at 8:08 PM

    I love how you highlighted the positive aspects of it! Alhamdulillah! We recently started a series in our ‘gratitude and positivity’ section and the first collaboration was with a deaf muslimah. We’d love to collaborate with you for a post as well in shaa Allah :)

    • Avatar

      Najah Zaaeed

      July 25, 2017 at 1:18 PM

      ASA,

      I would love to collaborate. You can contact me via email tarkeyzrd@gmail.com

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#Society

The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

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Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

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#Life

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.
predator

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

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.”

Gaslighting 

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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#Life

Convert Story: To Ask Or Not to Ask, That is the Question

covery islam story
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“How did you convert to Islam” is a question that is commonly asked to those who convert to Islam. While the short answer to this question is, “I said shahada”, the long (and more detailed) answer is one that is commonly expected.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of “born Muslims” who ask this question do such out of good intentions. For this reason, I wrote this piece out of a place of love and not out of a place of judgment or hatred. While it is important for “born Muslims” to be mindful of how they ask this question, it is equally important for converts to not hold ill will towards born Muslims who ask this question. Due to the fact that Islamophobia is rampant in both the media and political discourse, many “born Muslims” are naturally shocked and emotional when they meet people who accept Islam. Some “born Muslims” have also had limited interactions with converts and therefore, to them, it is not only shocking for them to meet converts, but they are genuinely unaware of certain etiquettes when it comes to asking a convert for his or her story.

In this piece, I am going to write about a pet peeve that is shared among many Muslim converts. While I cannot speak for every single convert, I can say that based on innumerable conversations I have had with fellow converts, there is one thing most of us agree on and it is this; it is rude to ask a convert about his or her conversion story when you haven’t built a relationship with the convert. This piece will explain why many converts consider such a question to be intrusive. The purpose of this article is to better educate the “born Muslim” community on how they can do a better job in support of converts to Islam. In this piece, I will break down the reasons why this question can come off as intrusive if it isn’t asked in a proper manner. I will also include personal anecdotes to support my position.

I would like to conclude by saying that I do not discourage “born Muslims” from asking this question entirely, rather I am merely arguing that this question should be asked with the best of adab.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:  “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi) For this reason, such a question should be asked for purpose and it should be done with the best of manners. This is supported by the fact that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)

Note: For the sake of avoiding confusion, the term “born Muslim” is defined as anyone who was brought up in a Muslim household.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask about the person’s personal relationship with God

Within the context of a friendship, it is generally understood that friends will share personal details with each other. However, it is also generally understood that it is rude to ask people you just met personal questions. To ask a new acquaintance a personal question in most cases comes off as intrusive. This is especially the case in which you ask a person about his or her relationship with God.

For example, there are women who do not wear hijab. Even if we do (for a moment) ignore the Islamic ruling concerning hijab, we should all agree that a woman’s reason for wearing (or not wearing) hijab is a personal matter that is between said woman and God. If one was to ask a woman who doesn’t wear hijab why she doesn’t wear it, that would be intrusive because such a question would involve interrogating said woman about her relationship with God.

Another example concerns a married couple. If one was to meet a married person for the first time, it can be considered rude to ask said person about his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

When one asks a convert about his or her choice to convert, one is literally asking said convert about his or her relationship with God.

I am not saying that it is wrong in all cases to ask such a question. However, one should be mindful of the fact that because this is a personal question, one should have at least have built some form of a friendship with said person before asking.

convert friendship hugs

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is another way of asking, “Why do you believe in Islam?”

Many people identify to a faith tradition because it was part of their upbringing. If you were to ask a person who was born Muslim, “why are you Muslim?” you might hear said Muslim respond with, “I am Muslim because I was raised Muslim” and you wouldn’t hear a detailed answer beyond this.

In most cases, a convert to Islam (or any other religion) did such after research and critical thinking. To convert to a new religion involves not only deep thinking but a willingness to step into the unknown.

I have on many occasions told my story to people. In most cases I will ask the person “why do you believe in Islam?” I am then disappointed when I find out that the only reason the person is Muslim is due to upbringing. While I am not saying that said person’s faith is invalid or less than mine, a person who only identifies with a religion due to upbringing is a person who didn’t engage in critical thinking.

Any relationship should be built upon equality and mutual benefit. If I as a convert am able to provide a well thought out answer as to why I believe in Islam, I expect a well thought out answer to the same question from the person who initially asked me.

Again, while I am not saying it is wrong in all cases to ask, a born Muslim should ask himself or herself “why do I believe in Islam?” In my opinion, there are many who are born into Muslim families who don’t truly believe until later in their lives. Those Muslims in my opinion (and mine alone) are similar to converts.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to perform labor.

In some cases, “born Muslims” expect converts to tell their stories. I can remember a few incidents in which I have been asked to tell my story and I politely declined. In response, the person became angry. This to me is a symptom of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to know anything about anyone else (aside from people with whom one has a natural relationship with).

In addition, one should be cognizant of the fact that converts typically get asked this question repeatedly. Thus after a significant amount of time, a convert is prone to get tired of repeating the same question over again repeatedly. Naturally, it can become exhausting eventually.

While I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question in all cases, one should not ask this question to a convert from a place of entitlement. I can think of cases where I have been asked this question by “born Muslims” and when I have refused to provide an answer, they have gotten angry at me. This is entitlement.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to explain his or her personal life.

Backbiting is one of the worst sins in Islam. Another major sin is to disrespect one’s parents. Thus we can conclude that backbiting about one’s parents is a huge sin.

This is evidenced by the fact that Allah has said (ﷻ) “We have enjoined on humankind kindness to parents.” (Quran 29:8)

A typical follow-up question to “Why did you convert?” is “How did your parents react?” This in many cases puts the convert in a position where one may feel pressured to mention some negative details about his or her parents. In Islam, parents are to be respected, even if they aren’t Muslim.

Before asking a convert this question, one should be mindful of not putting unnecessary pressure on the convert to commit this injustice.

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

However, I do maintain a firm belief that in any true friendship, things will be shared. I don’t think it is wrong in itself to ask a convert about his or her story provided that there already exists a relationship where personal information can be shared. It is highly suggested to hang out with the person first and then ask the convert for his or her story.

As a personal rule of mine, unless I have hung out with the person one on one at least once (or a few times in group gatherings) I don’t tell any born Muslims my conversion story. Naturally, I only share personal details with people I consider to be a friend. If I would hang out with the person, I consider that person to be a friend.

The reason I am also hesitant to share my story with just anyone who asks me is because I can think of countless cases of when I have shared my story to people I have never seen or heard from again. I choose to exert my agency to share personal details of my life to people who I consider to be part of my life. While many Muslims are happy when people convert, many Muslims also fail to provide any form of support for said convert after conversion. I have seen too many cases of when a person recites shahadah, people pull their phones out to record it, but very few will give the convert his or her number. I genuinely believe that many “born Muslims” fail to see the big picture in this regard.

Before asking a convert for his or her story, you should ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person. If you are not comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person, there is nothing wrong with that. However, you shouldn’t expect the convert to share personal details if you aren’t comfortable sharing personal details. Even if you have built a close friendship with someone, you still aren’t expected to share every detail of your life to someone. Even if you consider a convert to be a close friend, you should still respect a convert’s wishes to not share his or her story.

Conclusion

While I have addressed concerns about the tendency of “born Muslims” to ask converts about their journeys, I want to acknowledge that most people have good intentions. In Islam, the natural state of any person is one of righteousness.

I firmly believe that a friendship that isn’t built on trust and the sharing of personal information isn’t a genuine friendship. Therefore the key term in this context is “friend”. If you wish to ask a convert his or her story, please make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. You are already friends with the convert to a point where asking a convert about his or her relationship with God isn’t an intrusive question. Ask yourself, “Are we close enough where we can share other personal details of our lives with each other?”
  2. You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
  3. You don’t feel entitled to know about the convert’s journey and that you will allow the convert to choose not to share such information if the convert doesn’t wish to.
  4. You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
  5. You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.

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