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Ready, Set, Go! Food & Nutrition for a Healthy Ramadan

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

By Karimah Bint Dawoud- Muslim Chaplain & Clinical Nutritionist

Welcome Ramadan

Alḥamdulillāh, all praise is due to Allah the Creator of the heaven and earth and everything in between. As the month of Ramadan is moving backwards through the solar calendar once again, Ramaḍān begins in the heat of summer with long days and short nights in some places of the world. And next year, inshā’Allāh, God willing, the days are going to be even longer. It’s the perfect time to take our deen, our Islamic lifestyle, to another level that includes nutrition.

Farewell to Fried Foods

fried food

It’s time to say good-bye to junk foods, toxins, and bad habits. Fried foods are essentially junk food in comparison to an Islamic “halal and tayyib” diet. Food studies reveal that fried foods damage your body and brain in many ways. They clog arteries and lead to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, inflamed joints, heart attacks, aneurysms, and elevated blood pressure. This is no surprise when most corn oil and rape seed oil (canola) is genetically modified, contains pesticides, and more toxic than soy oil. For more information on these oils see,  “So, You Think Canola Oil is Healthy?”

Purify the Body, Illuminate the Soul

Islam is a complete religion for the mind, body, and soul. We have been gifted with an amazing body, Alḥamdulillāh, praise God. Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Al-As:

Allah’s Apostle ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “O `Abdullah! Have I not been formed that you fast all the day and stand in prayer all night?”

I said, “Yes, O Allah’s Apostle!”

He said, “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them (the fast) at other times; stand up for the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

It is clear from the above hadith, that our body has rights over us. The body needs the right fuel to run at optimum performance. This means eating food that provides long, slow release of energy as well as vital vitamins and minerals.

Sacred Foods in a Six Hour Window

quranic foodAll the foods mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah are beneficial for our health. They are “halal and tayyib” meaning they are lawful AND pure. They are whole meal, quality foods that complement the body.

They are fresh foods, full of sun-fired vitality. However, the wrong combinations of healthy foods can be unhealthy. There is a difference of opinion about “Food Combining theory” between qualified nutritionists, vegan raw foodies whose business often depends on them justifying mixing certain fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and scientists who are usually paid by Big Pharma and the processed food industry.

Islamically, we are allowed to eat meat. Meat is part of the food combining equation. With a little skill and know-how we can eat from all the food groups. This year we are going to try something that seems radical. This is going to take a real shift for some of us. I know many Muslims eat through the night until Fajr, that’s not new, however  I am going to introduce good nutrition and food combining into this 6 hour window in which we can eat. This 6 hour, healthy banquet is a long meal. Starting with fluid and more fluid, soups, starters, and salad and then the main course at suhur. What, no dessert? No dessert! Let’s save that for Eid, inshā’Allāh.

Breaking Fast: Dates and Water

10-hydrating-fruits-ramadan

First and most important is hydration. Hydration is going to be the key factor in this year’s Ramaḍān nutrition. We are going to have to monitor, regulate, and force ourselves to drink water. It is essential during this 6 hour window that we drink at least 2 liters or 3 ½  pints of water. It can be broken down like this:

  • Iftar: 500 ml water and dates. Personally, I will be adding a spoon of honey to my iftar water, not only for the energy but also for the healing, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties, as well as much more.
  • Every hour after that 300 ml or 10 oz of water including at suḥūr.

There is a wisdom to why we eat dates. They are sun-fired packages of high energy multivitamins and minerals. If you don’t already, train yourself to love them, they are a superfood.

Caffeinated drinks such as tea or coffee so not count towards this fluid intake, as these will deplete your body of essential vitamins and minerals like magnesium, and also dehydrate you. If you must drink these, then have an additional mug of water and make sure you take a vegan multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.

Maghrib with a Side of Fruits

fruit salad summer12 095

Fruits are so special they will be in paradise. The Holy Quran mentions fruits as a generic term فاكهة  fourteen times.

1. And for them there is fruit, and for them there is what they ask for. [36:57]

2. Therein they will recline; therein they will call for fruit in abundance and drinks. [38:51]

3. Therein for you will be fruit in plenty, of which you will eat (as you desire). [43:73].

Bananas, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranate are individually mentioned in other chapters.

Fruits are sun-fired foods that have a high water content as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

Eat some sort of fruit salad, fruit juice, or smoothie after breaking fast with water and dates. If time is not on your side, buy pressed fruit juice with bits, not smooth and not concentrate. If you are making it at home, smoothies are better than juices because they contain soluble and insoluble fibers. Fiber is good to combat constipation, encouraging elimination of toxins. It’s good for the digestive and circulatory systems of the body.

R 27,29,30,31,32

Fruits digest more quickly than vegetables, opening the digestive canal and providing energy, vitamins, and minerals to the organs. To combat your thirst at iftar, have a watermelon smoothie, agua fresca, with honey and lemon, then have another type of fruit smoothie. Melons are the quickest of fruits to digest, taking only 20 minutes. Watermelon can be blended or juiced, including the skin and seeds, which contain the important minerals magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, Zinc, Iron, potassium and copper. All essential!

Keep the smoothies just fruits, no nuts, no dairy, no veggies, then pray Maghrib. This will give your digestive tract time to open up, absorb these essential sugars, vitamins, and minerals and give you energy for the rest of the evening Insha’Allah.

Veggie-Licious

hydrating-veg-ramadan

Remember to drink more water while you are preparing this next part of the meal.

Herbage is mentioned a few times in the Quran. Herbage can mean “the succulent part of herbaceous vegetation,” 1 All edible plants are considered to be herbage.2

Seest thou not that Allah sends down water from the clouds, then makes it go down into the earth in springs, then brings forth therewith herbage of various hues; then it withers so that thou seest it turn yellow, then He makes it chaff? Surely there is a reminder in this for men of understanding. (39:21)

After Maghrib eat something vegetarian, healthy, and tasty. Have high fiber salads with an amazing dressing or soup. Raw vegetables also have high water, mineral, and vitamin content. This is where you can also eat your starchy carbs. We can have vegetable curry and rice, whole meal pasta with zucchini and tomato sauce, rice flour pancakes (substitute soaked flax seeds for egg to bind), or Mediterranean rice salad with scrumptious asparagus and artichokes. Check out some vegan recipes. There is so much choice BUT no protein at this point. Look at this list of amazing veggies from Allah’s Bounty Store:

Starches and Oils

rice-variety

This is where you get to eat your starchy carbs; black, brown, or red rice, whole-meal bread, whole-meal barley, oats, and pasta. White flour, white sugar, and white rice are all refined, processed foods and should be avoided for optimum nutrition.

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) never ate white flour even though it was available.

Narrated Abu Hazim: I asked Sahl bin Sad, “Did Allah’s Apostle ever eat white flour?” Sahl said, “Allah’s Apostle never saw white flour since Allah sent him as an Apostle till He took him unto Him.” I asked, “Did the people have (use) sieves during the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle?” Sahl said, “Allah’s Apostle never saw (used) a sieve since Allah sent him as an Apostle until He took him unto Him,” I said, “How could you eat barley unsifted?” he said, “We used to grind it and then blow off its husk, and after the husk flew away, we used to prepare the dough (bake) and eat it.”  (Sahih Bukhari and Tirmidhi)

This is the best time for your healthy oils.  Olive oil is sacred oil, once again mentioned in the Quran. Use olive oil for cooking or salad dressings. Healthy oils are essential for good mental health, helping the brain make the right connections, joint mobility, and lubrication of internal mucous membranes. Everything internal, even the cell walls, need oil.

It should be about 11 pm by the time you finish this meal, time for ‘Ishā’ and  Tarāwīḥ prayers. Keep drinking water, maybe with a little honey, during breaks in Tarāwīḥ.

If you are going to sleep a few hours, please drink water beforehand. Allow the previous food consumption at least 2-3 hours to digest before eating again, but still drink water.

Suḥūr: Protein Time

This meal needs to be animal protein and vegetables, but not starchy carbs like rice, pasta, or bread for optimum nutrition.

Tests show for the same caloric value, protein gives the most sustained energy. Meat takes 16 hours to digest. Animal protein is best at this time. In accordance with the Quran and Sunnah it is best if the meat is halal and free range, free from growth hormones and antibiotics.

Animal protein contains a special iron called heme iron which is 15% more absorbent than non-heme (plant) iron. Heme iron actually helps the absorption of non-heme iron; therefore, it is a good idea to combine foods from the plant and animal kingdoms for the best balance and benefit.3 Iron is essential for the blood and for transportation of oxygen around the body.

Suggested meals are vegetable omelet and salad, Thai fish veggie soup, kofta in sauce and cooked spinach, grilled chicken and garlic beans, mince lamb and okra salad or lamb tagine with loads of cooked veg. These can be prepared earlier. I know it’s really tempting to eat starchy carbs like bread or rice with these meals, it’s a habit, a tradition, and it’s a pattern we need to break. Starchy carbs need an alkaline stomach environment to enable the enzyme “amylase” to work.  The gastric enzyme “pepsin” is used to break down proteins; it cannot do so in an alkaline environment. The conflicting chemicals needed to breakdown these different food groups are disabled by the presence of the other, causing fermentation of the foods in the digestive tracts.4 The knock on effect of this is bloating, heart burn, indigestion, and wind. Worst of all, the optimum absorption of all the nutrients from the consumed food is inferior.

Please use this food combining chart, this illustrates food group combinations for optimum nutrition and digestion. Optimum nutrition means optimum ‘ibādah. And remember, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Food-Combining-Chart-2

May Allah make this Ramaḍān easy for us and a benefit to us all in this life and in Jannah, Ameen.

Karimah’s Blog

www.karimahscuisina.wordpress.com

www.themuslimvegetarian.com

Further reading:

http://www.cleanse-yourself-lose-weight.com/digestion-time.html

http://www.rawfoodexplained.com/digestive-physiology-and-food-combining/protein-starch-combinations.html

http://www.puristat.com/bloating/digesting-proteins-and-starches.aspx

[divider]

BACK TO POST

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/herbage

[2] http://www.faculty.ucr.edu

[3] http://www.islamawareness.net/Nature/existence.html

[4] http://www.naturalnews.com/025651_food_protein_foods.html

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Avatar

    M

    June 23, 2014 at 2:09 AM

    Salam. There is a typo. It says ‘rape seed oil’, it should be ‘grape seed oil’. Please fix it.

    • Avatar

      Zaheer

      June 23, 2014 at 6:28 AM

      Wa alaykum salaam.

      Rapeseed is indeed the legitimate name of a type of seed – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapeseed

      • Avatar

        mg

        June 23, 2014 at 10:02 AM

        Rapeseed is Canola oil. It is a GMO. You olive oil, grapeseed or sunflower oil.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      June 24, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      Dear M
      WaAlaikum Assalam:

      It is Rape Seed Oil and not Grape Seed. I can vouch for it as I am involved in the oilseeds trade. :)

      Regards
      Aly
      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

      • Avatar

        M

        June 24, 2014 at 3:14 PM

        Ok, I just checked, it is rape seed oil, my bad. But shouldn’t they should write it together as ‘rapeseed’?

  2. Avatar

    M.S.

    June 23, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    MashaAllah, great article about maintaining a good diet and eating the right types of foods. This is helpful knowledge to everyone who cares of their health.

    (On a tangent….a relative of mine was recently diagnosed with Coronary Heart Disease. He was a heavy smoker for many years in his youth, but quit and kept a clean lifestyle for many years afterwards. But he ignored his diet. The doctors think his recent health struggle is from high cholesterol mostly from indulgence on fried foods, carbohydrates like pasta & rice and heavy meat based entrees. This lack of awareness of his diet, has him on constant medications now. May Allah give him his health back and protect us all.)

    The Prophet, salal Allahu aleyhi wa salim advised the companions on keeping their eating to a minimum, and if they couldn’t, to use the formula of 1/3 Food, 1/3 Drink and 1/3 Air. It is very hard to do this in a country like the US, with the abundance of everything food-related.

    Anyways, the hadith goes as follows: Miqdam ibn Ma’dikarib radiyal Allahu anhu, reported that he heard Allah’s Messenger salal Allahu aleyhi wa salim say, “A man does not fill a vessel worse than his belly. Enough for the son of Aad are a few morsels to keep his back straight. But, if it is unavoidable then let him apportion one-third for his food, one-third for his drink and one-third for his breath.” Reported Musnad Imam Ahmad.

    —————————————-

    Also on a side note, I wish the author (or someone familiar with health & fitness, or Kinesiology) could share some insight on what is the best way for those people who exercise daily, to remain active even during fasting. Personally I won’t have time to be at the gym, so I am interested in knowing, (1) what exercises work well and what I should incorporate into my evenings, say like after Taraweeh prayers (even though I go to Taraweeh for the Ibaadah & Quran recitation, I do break a good sweat during prayers); (2) how long does it take before one could start losing muscle tone and/or form; and (3) to not lose the few gains I made exercising for the last few months, could stretching exercises, for example yoga, take the place of cardio or weight lifting for a temporary time period?

    Please share any thoughts or ideas or even your exercise routine in Ramadan, if you are familiar with the topic.

    Jazaakal Allahu khayr

    • Avatar

      karimahscuisina

      June 23, 2014 at 5:29 PM

      AS SALAM ALAIKUM, I AM THE AUTHOUR, EMAIL ME TIBBSCHOLAR@GMAIL.COM

    • Avatar

      Syed J

      June 28, 2014 at 3:02 AM

      Assalam alaikum M.S.,

      Please check the hadith text i.e. “Enough for the son of Aad..”

      I think it should be “Enough for the son of Aadam..”

      WAllahu A’lam.

      JazakAllah Khair,
      SJ

  3. Avatar

    Belal Khan

    June 23, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Very nice posts… thanks

  4. Avatar

    Imran Immii Iqbal

    June 23, 2014 at 8:04 PM

    As a Muslim of Pakistani descent its almost impossible to avoid friend foods. Every Iftar ‘somosas, pakoras, kebabs, shish kebabs you get the general idea however these are some brilliant tips and will make a effort to stick to them as much as possible

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  8. Avatar

    Heba Sh.

    June 24, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    I wish we could have more articles such as this

    One area where muslims are really misinformed is the area of food and diet

    Most muslims are food addicts…and we dont even know it!!!!!!!

    • Avatar

      karimahscuisina

      June 25, 2014 at 2:47 AM

      Barakallahfeekum,insha’allah Muslims Matters and other organisation will invite me to write and give lectures, workshops on this subject, it is my passion and my specialty alhmdulilah

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  11. Avatar

    Safa

    June 26, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Jazaky Allahu khairan sister. Kareemah

    Thanks for the wonderful and practical article! Our dietary intake is always sidelined in Ramadan preparation but its cognate to our ibadah & spirituality. Take the notorious ‘food coma’ after an iftaar that makes taraweeh a languorous task or a poor suhoor that doesn’t sustain you for the long day.

    Hydration is also key. Our bodies are composed of ~70% of water, if we don’t replenish then we lose focus and function. Almost every system in our body depends on it. For example: (GI) stomach secretions it helps to digest food, (Circulatory) in blood it helps transport nutrients and oxygen to all the cells of the body, (Musculoskeletal) lubricates joints & cushions tissues/organs, (Urinary) removes waste & flushes toxins, (Neuro) production of neurotransmitters & hormones, etc.

    Aside from the pangs of fasting you don’t want to add more stress of thirst, headaches, dizziness, constipation, muscle cramps, impaired memory & concentration, fatigue, etc.

    Drink water, water, and more water!!! For those praying taraweeh in the masjids, take a water bottle with you; use that time to gradually re-hydrate. (And because your body will be in need, most likely you won’t need to take a dreaded bathroom break in between)

    • Avatar

      karimahscuisina

      June 27, 2014 at 5:03 AM

      wa iyaka, well said mashallah, however i would go one step further, honey in the water, ginger in the water or date nabeez

  12. Avatar

    wandpen

    June 27, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    Jazakumullah khairan kaseera. Especially nice to see a Muslim Matters article that actually gives the reference for hadith.

    • Avatar

      karimahscuisina

      June 27, 2014 at 6:01 PM

      barak allahfeeki, i have to as i am writing essays for masters degree islamic studies, this is the way we are taught and its useful to spread the knowledge

  13. Avatar

    Adnan Khan

    June 27, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    I dont understand two things: Why are milk and dairy products discouraged for human consumption? and Why cant I eat cereal with milk? I have always had cereal with milk ever since I can remember. Is that truly bad?

    • Avatar

      karimahscuisina

      June 28, 2014 at 3:45 AM

      if you had a cow outisde your house that lived ina field and ate grass and hay, they milk would be fine however because the quality of the milk we get is from cows that are artificially inseminated, injected with over 22 anti-biotics and are full of growth hormones, in the same way eating chilli drifts in a mothers milk who is breast feeding , the same way all that junk drifts into cows milk

      • Avatar

        Adnan Khan

        June 28, 2014 at 5:16 PM

        So basically what you are saying is that there is no nutritional problems with milk as long as its organic.

  14. Avatar

    nadia

    June 28, 2014 at 12:42 AM

    As dentist I advise eating the honey as a spoonful in one go then drinking water on stop, its better for your teeth and isA you will still benefit.

  15. Avatar

    AbuUmar

    June 28, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    JazakAllah Khair. Br, the information on the booklet, http://www.scribd.com/doc/18551942/Ramadan-Health-Guide
    seems to be different from this article. they suggest having protien after Iftar and complex carbohydrates at suhoor…
    confused

    • Avatar

      karimahscuisina

      June 30, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      abu umar as salam alaikum, the other one is a NHS piece of info not written by myself, i wish they would commision to do their stuff and give people current up to date info, wholemeal carbs are great if the day is short and some of their dietitians do not know or agree with food combining theory, their training is paid for by process food industry

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  21. Avatar

    Faraz

    July 6, 2015 at 7:44 PM

    You can try halal vitamins like halvit.com

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#Life

Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #4: Are Men Sexual And Women Emotional?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

We often hear that men think about sex way more than women, but is that true? And if it’s not true, then what effect does this belief have on Muslim couples? In this episode, we talk to Usman Mughni, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

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

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.

While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.

Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!

  1. Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.

In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.

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A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.

Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!

In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

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By Laura El Alam

When Grace* started posting inspirational videos and articles on her public Facebook page, her intention was to reach a non-Muslim audience and show them the beauty of Islam.  After all, as a former agnostic who had considered organized religions “distasteful,” she could understand the mindset of many fellow Americans who were suspicious of – or misinformed about- Islam.  In her posts, Grace shared the story of her conversion to Islam, highlighted lessons from the Qur’an, talked about the pillars of faith, and generally tried to make Islam more accessible and comprehensible to non-Muslims.  While potentially thousands of non-Muslims benefited from her educational material, her noble efforts were derailed by an unlikely source: Muslim men. 

In public comments and private messages, Grace found herself receiving a surprising amount of unsolicited flirting, sexual comments and images, and even threats.  “All of this made me realize I couldn’t reach my target audience on social media,” explains Grace. “Nearly all the followers I was getting were Muslim men! I have 3,000 likes, and most are Muslim men. My target audience was non-Muslims, but Muslim men sabotaged my efforts and embarrassed me publicly through comments. It was frustrating and disheartening.” 

Perhaps she might have ignored and blocked the annoying messages and persevered in her mission, but one man took his online assault to another level.  He began stalking Grace (who blocked him), then her husband (who also blocked him), and finally her parents (who were shocked and terrified). Through online messages to all of those people, he called Grace vile names, sent explicit photos, and unleashed words that were both angry and sexual. It caused Grace and her entire family an enormous amount of stress and anger.  “My parents were so shaken up that once they found mysterious cigarette butts behind their house and they truly thought the guy had come to their house and was outside it at night smoking cigarettes.”

After the ordeal, Grace’s husband stopped supporting her online dawah efforts. “My husband didn’t like me being a public presence,” she said. “He asked me to stop making videos because he felt it was soliciting unwanted attention. He clearly put the onus on me. He didn’t shame me or anything overt, but in his mind, my face being in the public was the obvious reason I was receiving unwanted and inappropriate attention and contact.”

Some people might think that Grace’s example is an extreme one. Surely not every Muslimah who has a social media presence experiences such offensive treatment from Muslim men or people pretending to be Muslim men?

Unfortunately, the phenomenon is extremely common. Umm Ibrahim of the United Kingdom is another example of a Muslimah who found online sexual harassment in an unlikely place:  an Islamic website.  “I’ve seen messages of a highly sexual nature sent to an Islamic page which I help admin,” she reports.  “A few times I have encountered men posing as women in order to have chats of a sensitive nature with other women. They will pose as a woman having marital problems and will ask to have a chat via Messenger. Usually, this chat will ask for advice regarding intimacy.”

In addition to being an administrator of a website, Umm Ibrahim is also a writer. “If I have been involved in an online discussion or if I have had an article published, I can anticipate an increase in messages,” she says.   “Discovering the spam folder on Facebook Messenger was somewhat of a revelation. I had dozens of messages from Muslim men asking to chat, asking if I was married, and asking if I was interested in getting married. I also get a lot of friend requests from men. They are always Muslim men, based on name and location.”

Professional writer Ameera* shares a similar story.  “I never used to receive unsolicited messages from Muslim men until I started having articles published on Islamic websites,” she says.  “Suddenly, shortly after my first article was published, my inbox was full of men wanting to ‘discuss Islam with me,’ ‘ask me a few questions,’ or compliment me on my hijab.  Unfortunately, it didn’t stop at flirtation. Once I opened a pending message that I thought was from a local Facebook buy and sell group, but this one particular message turned out to be a pornographic video sent by a man in Egypt, whose FB profile picture had words from the Qur’an! I closed and deleted the message immediately and blocked the man, but the disgusting image is seared in my brain.  I felt — and still, feel — violated.”

“I have received unwanted flirting and a lot of sexual innuendo from men I don’t even know,” confides Salama,* a 20-year-old graduate student in the United States. “I received messages from one person, specifically talking about how he wanted to have sex with me. Granted I didn’t even have any [profile] pics. He was a complete stranger. It was completely unwarranted. I cannot think of a particular reason for why I was targeted,” she adds. “I do know that he asked a simple question on a Muslim forum, and I answered it. I guess that’s when he decided it was okay to privately message me.” 

These anecdotes might seem like an indictment of Muslim men in general; however, I believe that those individuals who harass women online constitute a tiny minority of Muslim men. The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Online sexual harassment is certainly not unique to the Muslim community. It is a global problem with women, universally, experiencing sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. According to a 2017 Online Harassment study by the Pew Research Center, “Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.”

Muslims, whose religion’s main characteristic is modesty, should be completely disassociated with any form of depravity, online or in face-to-face interactions.  Such behavior is antithetical to our core beliefs, so it was with confusion and disappointment that I embarked upon this necessary but unpleasant exposé. 

Unfortunately, there are many brothers who, while condemning online harassment per se, still manage to place the blame anywhere but on their fellow men.  They are quick to assume that the woman in question has provoked the harassment in some way. When Muslim women speak up about being abused online, the primary response they receive is, “If you don’t want comments and messages from men, then don’t show your face online.”

This thinking is unfair for several reasons. First of all, even women who do not show their faces on social media still sometimes experience unsolicited and unwanted contact. As Salama points out, “It has been proven many times, that regardless of what a woman does, some men are just predatory and will use whatever opportunity they have to try to prey on her. Covered women get harassed. Women who haven’t posted profile pics have been harassed. Uncovered women get harassed. Women from all over the world have been harassed.”

Many Muslima women — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street. 

Finally, there are many women who choose to show their faces online simply because they believe they should have as much of a right to feel safe and respected in the virtual world as they do in the real world. 

Of course, as Muslims, the responsibility is on each of us to obey our Creator’s guidelines.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded women to be modest, but He has commanded the same of men. A man who is tempted by a woman’s photograph — whether or not she is dressed according to Islamic mandates — should lower his gaze. If he purposely keeps looking — and more so if he takes inappropriate action — the sin is upon him. 

In one hadith from Al-Bukhari, we learn that the Prophet was traveling with a Companion named Al-Fadl, who was a handsome youth.  A young woman from the tribe of Khath’am approached, and Al-Fadl started looking at her because her beauty attracted him. The Prophet caught al-Fadl’s chin and turned his face so that he would stop gazing at her.

It is noteworthy that the Prophet did not scold the woman for showing her face in public, nor for being too attractive. With his impeccable manners, he wordlessly and gently instructed Al-Fadl on the correct action to take when tempted by a woman’s beauty. The onus for modesty was on Al-Fadl, not the woman from Khath’am, who had approached to ask the Prophet a question.  

As Grace explains, “Men should be held responsible for their actions and be recognized as creatures capable of self-control and morality. Women have a right to exist online as they do in the real world.  What’s shameful is that Muslim men still don’t follow the advice of the Prophet Muhammad when it comes to how they view and treat women. Women never deserve to be treated [as] objects or be blamed for the actions, feelings, or frailty of men’s character.” 

She concludes, “The idea that a woman speaking about Islam is an invitation for flirting, sexual innuendos, or stalking is so wrong I don’t even know how to describe it.”

This article, I am sure, will not solve the problem of online sexual harassment of Muslim women.  It will likely not be read by the men who engage in such behaviors, and I do realize that if they have the audacity to defy their Creator, they are certainly not going to listen to me.  However, I do hope that readers will take away a few key points:

  1.  If you are tempted to blame a woman for being harassed online, think deeply about who is really at fault.  Is there any justification for sending porn, threats, or inappropriate messages to a woman?  If you truly care about the safety and morality of Muslim women, you will call out the men who are behind the harassment and do whatever you can to educate yourself and others and/or oppose the behavior when you see it.
  2. If you have young Muslim women in your life, do not assume that they will not encounter inappropriate material or receive unsolicited communications just because they primarily visit Islamic websites.  In fact, these sites seem to be a breeding ground for Muslim perverts. Teach youngsters not to open filtered or suspicious messages and not to trust strangers online, even if they appear to be their brothers in faith.
  3. If you are a convert to Islam, be especially wary of any messages you receive from unknown Muslim men. It is best to delete and block without opening them. Know that some men prey on converts in particular. Be aware that a sincere Muslim would never send sexually suggestive images or messages to a stranger, and one who does will not be a suitable husband for you. 
  4. If you are a Muslim woman who is considering having an online presence for the purpose of dawah,  be aware that online sexual harassment is a likely occupational hazard. Set strict privacy filters whenever possible, avoid opening messages from unknown people, and be prepared to block, delete, and unfriend, unapologetically.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

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