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Overcoming Trials | The Message of Surah al Kahf

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By Sh. Ahsan Hanif

Allah, the Most High, informs us that the Qur’an is meant for reflection and contemplation. Allah states,

“A Book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember.” Ṣād, 38:29. 

One of the many reasons we find ourselves disconnected from the Qur’an is due to us losing this ability to ponder and reflect over the greatest of Speech. The Pagan Arabs for all their polytheistic beliefs and enmity to Islam were overwhelmed by the linguistic beauty and poetry of the Qur’an. Indeed, even the most formidable of creations such as the mountains cannot withstand its power.[2]

Since 2009, I have been researching and teaching the Tafsīr of Sūrah al-Kahf, the eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an. Yet despite years of study and having taught it a dozen times or so, the beauty of this sūrah never ceases to amaze me. It was from amongst the early portions of the Qur’an to be revealed as is mentioned in the ḥadīth of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)[3]. It is the chapter which we are encouraged to recite every Friday[4] and told that by memorising or reading its opening passage we will gain protection from the Dajjāl.[5] Yet over and above this, the four stories mentioned within this sūrah are unique to it. In this short article I want to analyse the central theme and message of this sūrah as well as why from the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, it is this one which affords us protection from the Dajjāl.

Every chapter of the Qur’an has a theme; a central subject matter which it discusses. The verses, stories and main discussion points of the chapter will then all establish that theme. It is for this reason that Allah mentions only certain parts of a story of a particular Prophet in one sūrah and other parts of the same story in another sūrah. The reason is often that only this portion of the story is relevant to the theme. This is also why we find certain similar verses repeated throughout the Qur’an, often with very slight variations; a word added or removed.

The Muslims in the early years of Islam faced various trials and difficulties. Those trials would change over time and evolve as the situation of the Muslims progressed. Therefore, it is as if Allah revealed this chapter in the early part of Prophethood so that the Muslims would be aware of the challenges they would face, and more importantly how to overcome them. Thus the theme of Sūrah al-Kahf revolves around the most common trials faced by the faithful and their solutions. Allah says in the seventh verse of this sūrah,

“Verily! We have made that which is on earth as an adornment for it, in order that We may test them as to which of them are best in deeds.” Al-Kahf, 18:7.

These trials are depicted through the four unique stories found within this surah; the people of the cave, the man with the two gardens, Mūsā’s journey with Khiḍr and Dhul-Qarnayn.

A Trial of Persecution of One’s Beliefs

The story of the people of the cave centres on a group of believing young men who lived in a society of shirk, wherein those young men were persecuted for their beliefs. Allah records how they stood firm upon their beliefs, addressing their despot ruler and their people,

“And We made their hearts firm and strong when they stood up and said: ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, never shall we call upon any god other than Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief.’” Al-Kahf, 18: 14.

In many ways this resembles the situation of the early Muslims when they were often tortured and persecuted simply for saying ‘Lā ilāha illa Allah’. Those believing young men fled their city for fear of their lives just as the Companions fled Makkah seeking the sanctuary of Madinah.

“And when you withdraw from them, and that which they worship, except Allah, then seek refuge in the Cave, your Lord will open a way for you from His Mercy and will make easy for you your affair.” Al-Kahf, 18:16. 

Allah answered this supplication and gave these young men a great miracle, showing His mercy towards the believers, and His power over the creation.

 

“And they stayed in their Cave three hundred years, and add nine.”Al-Kahf, 18: 25.

This too was the case with the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his Companions, who were often given victory despite the odds.

“And thus We made their case known to the people, that they might know that the Promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour.” Al-Kahf, 18:21.

This is one of the most common trials the believers will face; trials to do with their faith. At its most extreme, it can lead to persecution and torture, but there are many other forms it can take. Derogatory remarks, uncomfortable stares and sometimes a deficiency complex when having to openly show our religion in front of others are all forms many of us have experienced. At times, it can be our own family and friends who attempt to dissuade us when we want to increase in our attempts to practice Islam. Throughout this story we are told of the ways to overcome this trial; strong īmān, turning to Allah, depending and trusting in Him and making duʻā to Him.

“Truly! They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” Al-Kahf, 18: 13.

A trial of Wealth

The second trial mentioned within this chapter is depicted through the story of the man who possessed two gardens. The story and thus the trial revolves around wealth. Allah had blessed this man with much wealth as is described in vivid detail in the Qur’an,

“And put forward to them the example of two men; unto one of them We had given two gardens of grapes, and We had surrounded both with date-palms; and had put between them cultivated fields. Each of those two gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein, and We caused a river to gush forth in the midst of them. And he had fruit…” Al-Kahf, 18: 32-34.

Thus, the man not only possessed the best of wealth as is alluded to through the mention of grapes; historically a fruit associated with the nobility, but the upkeep of his gardens was minimal due to the naturally flowing rivers, and his harvest was full every season. Additionally, he also enjoyed the blessing of children, servants and other supporters.

Yet all of the above only led him to arrogance and haughtiness. He belittled his much poorer friend and ridiculed his advice to show gratitude to Allah.

“And he went into his garden while in a state of injustice to himself. He said: ‘I think not that this will ever perish. And I think not the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord, I surely shall find better than this when I return to Him.’” Al-Kahf, 18:35-36.

He foolishly thought that his wealth and manpower was a sign of Allah’s love and acceptance. Why else would he receive such blessings?! Therefore, even if there was to be a resurrection, surely a God who loved him and showered him with such blessings in this life, would only increase him manifold in the next.

Allah destroyed the wealth of this man to show him and us that the wealth of this world is not a sign of Allah’s pleasure or displeasure, but rather a test through which Allah examines our belief, action and character. It is not about the wealth in and of itself, but how you earn and spend it.

“So his fruits were encircled with ruin. And he remained clapping his hands with sorrow over what he had spent upon it, while it was all destroyed on its trellises, he could only say: ‘Would I had ascribed no partners to my Lord!’ And he had no group of men to help him against Allah, nor could he defend or save himself.” Al-Kahf, 18: 42-43.

A dichotomy is presented within this story in the poor sincere friend who admonished his richer companion for his beliefs and actions. In many ways, it is this humbleness, humility and gratitude for the blessings of Allah which helps one overcome this trial. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “By Allah, it is not poverty which I fear for you but that the world will be spread out before you just as it was spread out for those who came before you, and you compete in it as they did, so it destroys you as it did them.”[15]

It should not be understood from this that wealth is evil or to be wealthy is unpraiseworthy. Indeed, there were numerous wealthy and prosperous Companions such as Abū Bakr and ʻUthmān. However, the evil in wealth is when it becomes the goal in life, rather than a means to the real goal of pleasing Allah. When this happens, wealth can easily leads to arrogance, pride and belittling others.

A Trial of Knowledge

The third unique story in Sūrah al-Kahf is that of the two Prophets, Mūsā and Khiḍr. Although the story of Mūsā is oft-mentioned in the Qur’an, this particular encounter is mentioned only this once. It is a story where knowledge becomes a trial. This is perhaps a perplexing concept as we normally only associate knowledge with goodness and benefit. Yet just as with wealth, knowledge too can be used for good and evil. It can also lead to arrogance, pride and looking down upon others deemed less knowledgeable rather than the noble attributes it should nurture within us; humbleness, piety and a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others. How many times have we been guilty of possessing these ignoble traits as a result of some small measure of knowledge we acquired?

Mūsā stood one day amongst his people and delivered a sermon. He was then asked as to who was the most knowledgeable of people. To this question he replied that he was without associating his knowledge to Allah.[16] Allah then instructed him to travel to the junction of the two seas where he would find one endowed with more knowledge than him in certain affairs.

“And when Mūsā said to his boy-servant: ‘I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two seas or until I spend years and years in travelling.’” Al-Kahf, 18: 60.

The Prophet Mūsā then embarks upon a journey with Khiḍr in which they encounter three amazing situations wherein Mūsā fails to grasp the wisdom of Khiḍr’s actions. The scuttling of the ship, killing of the young boy and repair of the crumbling wall are then explained to Mūsā at the end of their time together. This story possesses so many lessons and etiquettes that it requires a separate article in order to do justice to them.[18] Suffice to say that Mūsā, one of the greatest and mightiest Messengers of Allah learns his lesson of humbleness before Allah when he first approaches Khiḍr by asking him to teach from the knowledge Allah has bestowed upon him,

“May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge which you have been taught?” Al-Kahf, 18: 66.

A Trial of Power

The fourth and final story concerns the king who conquered the East and West. The story of Dhul-Qarnayn concerns the trial of power. When Dhul-Qarnayn had conquered the West, Allah tested his immense power,

“Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy water. And he found near it a people. We said: ‘O Dhul-Qarnayn! Either you punish them, or treat them with kindness.”Al-Kahf, 18: 86.

Instead of going to either extreme of treating all his subjects harshly or with kindness, Dhul-Qarnayn established justice,

“He said: ‘As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him; and then he will be brought back unto his Lord; Who will punish him with a terrible torment. But as for him who believes and works righteousness, he shall have the best reward, and we shall speak unto him mild words.’” Al-Kahf, 18: 87-88.

This then was the constitution of Dhul-Qarnayn as he went to conquer the East and the lands between the East and West. His justice, compassion and goodness is further highlighted in the way he dealt with those people who requested his assistance against the oppression of Gog and Magog.

“They said: ‘O Dhul-Qarnayn! Verily! Gog and Magog are doing great mischief in the land. Shall we then pay you a tribute in order that you might erect a barrier between us and them?’ He said: ‘That in which my Lord had established me is better. So help me with strength, I will erect between you and them a barrier.’”Al-Kahf, 18: 94-95.

Although this story speaks about power at the highest level, it is the same concept of justice and compassion which helps us deal with power at any level and in any form. Parents hold a measure of power over their children, a husband likewise over his wife, an employer similarly over his or her employees and so on. It was this that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was emphasising in the famous statement, “Indeed all of you shepherds and each one of you is responsible for their flock.”[23]

The Connection to the Dajjāl

The Dajjāl is the greatest of trials as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There is not a trial from the time of Adam until the Hour greater than the Dajjāl.”[24] But why is this chapter of the Qur’an so closely connected with the Dajjāl? The answer is because the Dajjāl will bring these same four trials mentioned within this sūrah. Thus by reading, memorising and understanding the theme of this chapter as well as the solutions contained therein, one can inshā Allah overcome the trials of the Dajjāl.

The call of the Dajjāl will be that he is God. He will then persecute and oppress those who oppose him and disbelieve in Him. The people of that time will have experienced drought and famine. He will pass by a group of people ordering them to believe in him, and when they refuse he will leave, but as soon as he does all their crops and rations will be destroyed.[25] As such, he will use the first trial of persecuting people for their beliefs.

The second trial of wealth will also be used by him. Those who believe in him will be given plentiful crops and food, and he will order the sky above them to bring forth its rain and the earth around them to bring forth its vegetation. He will pass by barren lands and order it to bring forth its treasures.[26]

This ability to apparently bring forth rain, vegetation and earthly treasures is all as a result of the knowledge and power Allah has bestowed upon him. He will use this to misguide humankind and take them away from the worship of Allah; thus exemplifying the third and fourth trials mentioned in Sūrah al-Kahf. Therefore, by knowing these trials one protects themselves from not only their singular emergence but their collective occurrence at the hands of the Dajjāl.

The Solution

The solution to these four trials is to increase in īmān, hold onto the Qur’an and follow the example of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). This solution is summarised within the chapter twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. Allah says at the beginning of this sūrah highlighting the three step solution,

“All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has sent down to His slave the Book, and has not placed therein any crookedness. Straight to give warning of a severe punishment from Him, and to give glad tidings to the believers, who work righteous deeds, that they shall have a fair reward.” Al-Kahf, 18:1-2.

Within the first verse Allah praises Himself, an act which increases the believer in faith, and then mentions the Messenger and the Book.

Likewise, Allah concludes the chapter by saying,

“Say, ’If the sea were ink for writing the Words of my Lord, surely, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord would be finished, even if we brought another sea like it for its aid. Say: ‘I am only a man like you. It has been inspired to me that your God is One God. So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.” Al-Kahf, 18: 109-110.

Once again, Allah mentions His Words, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and worshipping Him alone which is the essence of faith.

This is the very essence of the understanding of the Companions who were informed by the Prophet () of the Dajjāl and all the terrors he would bring, including his reign on Earth; forty days in total, a day the length of a year, a day the length of a month, a day the length of a week and then all the other days being normal in length. The Companions upon hearing all of this only thought to ask a single question, ‘How do we pray on those lengthy days?’[29] This question gives us an insight into the thinking of the Companions and how they understand the solution to the trials of this life as the prayer is the lifeline of the believer.

 

[2] Al-Ḥashr, 59:21.

[3] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 4739 from the narration of ʻAbdur-Raḥmān ibn Yazīd who narrates from Ibn Masʻūd.

[4] Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ, no. 2116 from the narration of Abū Saʻīd al-Khudrī.

[5] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 809 from the narration of Abu al-Dardā’.

[15] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 6425 from the narration of ʻAmr ibn ʻAwf.

[16] Ibid, no. 4727 from the narration of Ubayy ibn Kaʻb.

[18] Inshā’ Allah this will be the topic of discussion in a forthcoming article.

[23]Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 2409 from the narration of ʻAbdullāh ibn ʻUmar.

[24] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2946 from the narration of ʻImrān ibn Ḥuṣayn.

[25] Ibid, no. 2937 from the narration of Al-Nawwās ibn Samʻān.

[26] Ibid.

[29] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2937 from the narration of Al-Nawwās ibn Samʻān.

 

Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD, was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age and at the age of 17 received a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. As well as attaining an ijazah in the Qur’an and a diploma in Arabic, Shaykh Ahsan graduated from the Faculty of Shari’ah Studies in 2006. Upon his return to the UK he attained his PhD from the University of Birmingham.

He is currently an imam at Green Lane Masjid, Birmingham as well as the head of the Qur’an & Hadith Studies Department for AlMaghrib Institute. He has spoken at Islamic conferences in various countries, published translations of Arabic works and is a presenter of IslamQA for Islam Channel.

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

Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD, was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age and at the age of 17 received a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. As well as attaining an ijazah in the Qur’an and a diploma in Arabic, Shaykh Ahsan graduated from the Faculty of Shari’ah Studies in 2006. Upon his return to the UK he attained his PhD from the University of Birmingham.He is currently an imam at Green Lane Masjid, Birmingham as well as the head of the Qur’an & Hadith Studies Department for AlMaghrib Institute. He has spoken at Islamic conferences in various countries, published translations of Arabic works and is a presenter of IslamQA for Islam Channel.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Manna

    July 11, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    JazakAllahu khyr shakyh for this reminder.

  2. Avatar

    Manahil

    July 12, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    SubhanAllah I never understood why this particular Surah has been emphasized to read every friday! Alhamdullilah now I got my answer.

  3. Avatar

    G

    July 12, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    MashaAllah..
    This has enlightened me a lot…
    Thank you for this very informative article…

  4. Avatar

    The_Observer

    July 14, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    SubhanAllah. Beautiful article. May Allah SWT grant us all such deep insights into the Quran. Ameen

  5. Pingback: OVERCOMING TRIALS – THE MESSAGE OF SURAH AL KAHF | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

  6. Avatar

    Abdul Malik

    September 4, 2015 at 3:36 AM

    Understanding how Dajjal will operate thru Surah Al Kahf.
    Surah Al-Kahf tells 4 stories.
    1. People of the cave.
    2. Story of the garden with two neighbor.
    3. Story of 2 prophets with two different knowledge.
    4. Story of the Just Ruler.

    Dajjal will therefore works in the opposite.
    The Just Ruler will be tyrant rulers.
    Religious scholars will be corrupts scholars and will then corrupts the religions.
    Businessmen will be corrupted and so too with business dealings.
    The people will be oppress and misguided.

    May Allah guides us through these trials.

  7. Avatar

    Fatima

    November 6, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    JazakAllahu khayran.
    Until now, I never really understood the reason behind reading the surah every Friday.

  8. Avatar

    aadil

    February 27, 2016 at 7:01 AM

    azakAllahu khayran.

  9. Avatar

    Abdul Aziz Adams

    November 25, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    Alhamdulillah, the summary of the lessons in this surah is very much appreciated. May Allah bless you abundantly.

  10. Avatar

    Lilah

    August 20, 2017 at 5:42 AM

    Jazkallah khair very much may allah give you jannah. This is much better than the lengthy explanations by scholars on youtube. You’ve explained it so clearly alhamdulillah

  11. Avatar

    MQ

    October 24, 2018 at 9:07 PM

    JZK – I always had this question and hope to get a solid answer. Why the boy killed and not made dua instead so Allah WAT so the boys affairs and faith gets fixed (after all its prophet who makes dua and acceptable).
    is this an indication there are times dua will not work? or if Allah WAT destined something (kufr) to someone He will not change his mind?
    why their son had to die and get a new son instead, why not make dua for him so his affairs gets fixed and parents don’t have to go through trials of death of a son?
    thank you

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#Life

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

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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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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

charity
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I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

dardir

4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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