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How To Stop Being a Celebrity Shaykh Fanboy or Fangirl and Build Real Relationships With Them Instead

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Random Muslim Person sees inspirational Islamic video on YouTube. Random brother or sister now feels speaker in said YouTube video is the solution to all of their life problems.

Random Muslim Person finds the Facebook fan page of said speaker. They now feel compelled to comment on every single one of their statuses. For example:

Popular Islamic speaker Facebook update: “Alhamdulillah Allah (swt) has blessed our family with a new baby, please keep us in your duas.” Random Muslim Person commenting on this status: “OMG SHEIKH CAN YOU PLEEEEEZ VISIT ME IN ANTARCTICA ITS MY DREAM TO MEET YOUUUUUU!!!” The only way this quote could be any more accurate is if it had an Emoji after every third word.

Love it or hate it, celebrity speaker culture is here. I wrote about this topic previously from the perspective of seeking fame. Now it is time to write from the perspective of how we view and approach Islamic speakers.

Social media has created a world where people become quickly popular – but also where approaching them is easier than ever. You may hear a talk that changes your life, and you can now just fire off a tweet at that person to thank them.

I recently read a book that outlined “fanboy/fangirl traps to avoid” when meeting a mentor (specifically an entrepreneurial mentor). I have adapted these traps for our context.

Before continuing, it is important to understand what is happening beneath the surface. It is easy to sit around and make fun of people for acting like wild pre-teens at a concert around imams, but it’s missing the underlying point of why this happens. When someone influences you, particularly in helping you come closer to Allah (swt), there is a natural inclination to want to connect with them. There is an inclination to build a relationship with them, seek advice from them, and even take mentorship from them.

I experienced this myself at the past AMJA conference when I *finally* got to meet Shaykh Jamaal Zarabozo after being a student of his books and lectures for over 10 years. Yes, I got giddy when I finally got to meet him, but it is important to understand the boundaries so that we can create healthy and productive interactions – whether online or offline.

With that, there are legitimate ways to connect with someone and build a relationship with them – no matter how busy and famous they are. On the other hand, there are ways to be completely creepy and weird.

1. OMG YOU ARE THE BEST

This is not the wisest way to begin corresponding with someone. There is nothing wrong with thanking someone for how they have impacted you, but don’t keep gushing. Thank them for how they impacted you, don’t thank them for being awesome.

If you keep emailing someone, and start each email with something like “Subhanallah shaykh you are so gifted…”, it will get awkward and uncomfortable. A better approach if reaching out to someone is saying something like, “jazakallahu khayr for your video about XYZ, I never thought about the revelation of Surah Iqra’ in this manner and it has really changed the way I approach…”

2. False Humility

This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

“Mashallah shaykh I was not even sure if I should write this email, I am so sinful and lowly, I do not know how you could even spend your precious time even wasting 5 seconds on my email, I really wanted to ask you something, but if you don’t reply it is ok, I know you are busy and I am nobody, and I am meaningless, and even opening this email will probably prevent you from hundreds of hasanat of dhikr so I apologize but I wanted to ask you…”

Seriously, get a grip.

They’re humans too. Act like it. Don’t be needy. This doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant and talk down to them – just be normal. Unfortunately being normal is a challenge.

Be respectful of a person’s time, but also have some dignity. An easy way to do this is to try to anticipate their answers and be succinct with something only they can answer. For example-

“Shaykh I really enjoyed your video on Uhud. I had some questions regarding the ayah you quoted. I tried checking a couple of tafseer books and asked my local imam about what you mentioned but I was unable to locate anything. I understand you are busy, but if you have time I would really appreciate if you can let me know how scholars arrived at the conclusion that…”

3. Solve all my problems!

Just because someone gives a great talk on repentance does not mean they can give you marital counseling. Or career advice. Or tell you what to major in. Or talk to your kids for 3 minutes and turn them into angels.

A huge downside of this celebrity persona is this assumption that just because someone is famous, or is able to garner 50k hits on a YouTube video, that they’re suddenly able to solve all problems. People will come up to an imam and ask something like, “A person in our community just got arrested, can you represent him in court?”

The imam will say something like “umm.. you need a lawyer” and they will say, “but no, we want you to do it, you are so amazing – we saw you on YouTube you know so much about Islam!”

The status of celebrity makes people infatuated with seeking solace only in that. It’s like your kid asks you to play catch with the football in the yard, and you say you refuse to learn how to throw a football unless Payton Manning comes and teaches you himself.

Don’t let your love of someone more well-known cause you to undervalue those near you. I contend that the greatest casualty in the YouTube age is the local imam.

 4. Can I study with you?? Please?? I’ll be your best student ever!

This quote from Pamela Slim sums it up:

Think about the current mentors in your life. Did you like and trust them immediately? Or did your relationship grow with time and work and mutual support? Sometimes in your desire to learn as much as you can from people you admire, you ask them for specific support and guidance without having any consideration for their time . A favorite is “You are an expert in my field, would you mind reviewing my twenty-page business plan?”

Alternative: Respect your own time and that of busy people. Mentors grow naturally, they are not manufactured.

Social networking enables us to connect quickly, but that can easily fool us into thinking we are building a relationship. Can you imagine someone going up to Qari Abdul Basit after he does a recitation and saying, “I loved your recitation! Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to recite the entire Qur’an to you so you can correct my tajweed and beautify my voice.”

Ridiculous, but people do exactly this via email, Twitter, and Facebook comments to Islamic speakers on a daily basis.

5. Can I get a retweet?

This is a bad case of entitlement. “Shaykh you have 50,000 Twitter followers, can you retweet us?”

This is extremely annoying and puts Islamic speakers in an awkward position. They want to be helpful, but the reason that they have huge followings is because they add value to their audiences. If they retweeted everyone who wanted a shout out (because they’re too lazy to build their own followings, or worse – too lazy to do work meaningful enough to attract a following) then their timeline would turn into the never ending Juma announcements from hell and they would lose all their followers.

It’s like going to someone’s house, knocking on their door, interrupting dinner with their family and saying – “Assalamu Alaikum! You don’t know me, we’ve never met, I looked up your address on Google. My name is IslAm4LyfeMuslimmDude75 and I’m currently crowd funding $100,000 to help create Ebola proof prayer beads. I’d really appreciate it, since I don’t know anyone and no one will support my project, if you could take out your phone, call all your friends, and ask them to donate. JAZAKS!”

A better way to do this is simply share a project without expecting anything in return. You can tweet at someone and say “Salam shaykh, wanted to share our new Ebola proof prayer beads – check it out” and leave it at that. The best communication is one that doesn’t require a response.

6. The Dark Side

Watch out for the day that the celebrity imam does or says something that Random Muslim Person doesn’t agree with. They will become the most hated pariah faster than you can break your wudu. People swing wildly from loving someone to hating them, and then loving them again, and then hating them again. This is easiest way to be perceived as unstable and crazy.

If someone does something you don’t agree with, you don’t need to crucify them online. Let them know with a little bit of manners why you’re upset and how what they said may have affected you. Everyone makes mistakes.

How to Build Real Relationships

Change your mindset from thinking someone is awesome, and therefore wanting to be affiliated with them. You’ll never find a mentor by tweeting at someone and saying “mentor me please! please by my shaykh!”

The way to truly connect with people is by adding value to them. If you notice someone is teaching a course on a particular topic – be the person who sends them helpful research. Send them the cool quote or anecdote that they might find useful.

Focus on the impact of their work, not them. You won’t connect with someone by flattering them. Show them how their work impacted you. Show how you took something they taught and implemented it, and what the outcome of it was.

Find a way to help them accomplish something, or solve a problem for them without them asking.

The more you’re able to do this, the more that you put yourself in a position of becoming a trusted advisor, or a valuable contributor – not a weirdo on the internet. The beauty of social media is that it’s easier than ever before to be in a position of adding value to others and building relationships with them. Once you do this, they will naturally become mentors, teachers, and people you can go to for advice.

A big theme for this entire social media project is understanding that social media is a tool, a magnifying lens. You can use it to drive people away, or you can use it to create invaluable connections. The latter just takes a little more work and thought, but the end result is incredible.

To get more articles like this about the Fiqh of Social Media, please enter your email address below – you’ll also get a free copy of the 40 Hadith on Social Media:



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

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    zee aba

    December 3, 2014 at 12:34 AM

    Please don’t use Ebola in a joking manner – thanks

  2. Abez

    Abez

    December 3, 2014 at 2:15 AM

    Dear Respected Eminent Shaykhul-Internet

    SubhanAllah, this article has been instantly life-changing for me. As a lowly bipedal homosapien reader, I don’t know if I am even worthy of commenting on it, but I just had to say that you are the best writer on Muslim Matters, possibly even the entire internet.

    I have written some articles on the internet too, and I would be grateful, Ya Shaykh, if you could maybe read, like, share, tweet, and cite some of them in your future works.

    Best and humblest regards,

    Zeba Khan

    (PS: Since someone was going to violate the rules in the comments section anyway, I took the liberty to violate them all upfront so there’s no pressure going forward. Excellent article, JazakallhuKheiran)

  3. Pingback: HOW TO STOP BEING A CELEBRITY SHAYKH FANBOY OR FANGIRL AND BUILD REAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEM INSTEAD | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

    • Avatar

      Muna Bushra

      December 3, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      Really enjoyed reading this, many good and funny points as well.

      Think one can’t really imagine how difficult it is unless one is a shaykh oneself. People are at different levels, so what may be normal behaviour for someone may seem extreme or going too far for another.

      Nowadays one is afraid of asking a shaykh anything in case it gets misunderstood and end up looking for answers in “google shaykh” to be on the safe side.

  4. Avatar

    Katiba

    December 3, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    you forgot about entertaining hopes of flirting with or marrying the guy.

  5. Avatar

    Abeer

    December 3, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    Great article MW..so on point. Jazak Allah khair

  6. Avatar

    Kalimatil

    December 3, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    Salaam, just briefly skimmed through this, and already cracked up laughing. Definitely coming back to read the rest lol iA

  7. Avatar

    Aeesha S.

    December 3, 2014 at 9:21 PM

    I think you went a little too over the edge with your post. Nicely written but the sarcasm is downright bogus. Thumbs down.

  8. Avatar

    White stripes

    December 4, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    Bismillaah

    Assalaamu alaykum warahmatullaahi wabarakaatu

    Thank you brother Omar for this post, may Allah accept and reward you according to the best of your intentions.

    There were many points that you mentioned herein that resonated with me and I am sure with others who are familiar with this culture. Allaahumma baarik alayhi.

    Having said that, I also found the post to have a denigrating tone and didn’t appreciate this. I hope you’ll consider this comment and try to understand why it would be received in such a manner.

    As a suggestion, lets look at the psychology behind the behavior of people who ‘show intense interest ‘ in our Islamic scholars shall we, and try to offer an alternative to such behavior. I’d also like to suggest that we put forward diplomatic ways of response for people who find themselves in the situation of being put on a pedestal.

    In my experience, people often don’t like to take responsibly for their experiences and feelings so they’re aren’t upfront about being weirded out by another person. Our society is one that encourages us to say things that are not true and to behave in ways that do not intrinsically honor the human being, all for the ‘benefit’ of worldly recognition and social acceptance.

    The most respectful act I feel, that someone in that position could do to counteract the fanatical or excessive behavior of another is to be honest and kind in communicating the truth of what they are experiencing and seek Allah’s assistance for the message to be received in good faith.

    To Katiba: Kindly elaborate as to why you feel entertaining hopes of marrying a ‘ celebrity shaykh’ who is desirable from a particular woman’s perspective is part of the ‘celebrity shaykh fanboy or fangirl’ culture.

  9. Avatar

    Mohammad

    December 4, 2014 at 9:56 PM

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    It can also lead to shaytan working extra hard on the shaykh. Some of the most knowledgeable scholars dont speak english, dont have twitter, fb and yet they have almost no following..

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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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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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