Connect with us

#Society

Drawing a Line in the Sand: Student-Teacher Relationships in the Digital Age

Guests
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

A Follow-up to Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

In this article, I will endeavor to respond to some of the concerns raised about my May 27, 2015 essay,

“Blurred Lines: Women, ‘Celebrity’ Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse.”

My views are mine alone; I chose MuslimMatters as a platform because of their willingness to discuss broader issues relating to student-teacher relationships in the world of traditional Islamic Studies.[1] (See, for example, “Shaykhy Crushes: Trials in the Lives of Men of Knowledge.”) While my article was not intended as a direct response to “Shaykhy Crushes,” I have been concerned for some time about the emergence of a near culture of celebrity around those who inhabit the North American Islamic lecture circuit.

While the feedback to my piece was overwhelmingly positive, several commenters objected to my article on the following grounds:

I should have named names. By not naming names, I have cast a wide net of suspicion over every Shaykh and speaker on conference rosters.

My response: I did not and will not name names, as identifying the miscreants is not the purpose of my article. My larger concern is the behavior of individuals who use their scholarly authority for personal gain. I am not interested in launching a witch hunt, destroying people’s careers or “undermining Islamic scholarship,” as one person put it on Facebook. My article was very pointed, yes, and intentionally so. I wrote it from the “other woman’s” point of view, i.e., the vantage point of the jilted secret, second wife, because I believe her situation illustrates the extent to which the integrity of sacred knowledge and its disseminators has been compromised. I want those who are in a position of authority and those who hold sway over the Islamic (intellectual) public to consider my advice and reinstate the (moral) boundaries that I believe have fallen away to the detriment of teacher and student.

This article is also not about any one individual, although some cases have stood out as more egregious than others. For over a decade, I (and others) have heard about the misuse and abuse of the institution of polygyny. Go to any Muslim community and you will hear about the secret plural marriages, messy divorces, and other related drama that ensues when people do not follow the strictures of Islamic personal status law. I could have written an article about the lay Muslim man who engages in serial monogamy, or maintains a revolving door of second wives, in either case making a mockery of Islamic law and leaving behind a string of broken homes in his wake. The reason I did not is because these individuals—for the most part—do not lay claim to the mantle of religious authority. While they might invoke (aspects) of the Qur’an and Sunna to justify their behavior (the women are right-hand possessions, etc (!), they are not lecturing the public about morality, taqwa, modesty, spirituality, and so on. I firmly believe that those of us who inhabit the public space that is the Islamic lecture circuit—and I include myself in this—need to abide by higher standards and strive for a measure of consistency in our public and private lives.

There is no need to be suspicious of everyone on the lecture circuit. By and large, I believe our ‘ulama conduct themselves with the appropriate decorum, especially with members of the opposite sex. This article is about those who do not observe the proper boundaries, and, in doing so, are causing emotional and spiritual harm to their (erstwhile) female students. While some commenters feel my concerns are overblown, others have publicly and privately indicated that the issues I have raised are valid.

I will concede that the evidence I have gathered is largely—although not exclusively—anecdotal. Unfortunately, the evidence will remain anecdotal so long as women refuse to go public with their stories. I believe a study of (North American) Muslim marriage practices, especially relating to polygyny and its impact on women and children, would be helpful. Fortunately, there is an emerging literature on this topic. However, this article, again, is not about polygyny per se, but the intersection of religious authority, the public sphere, and gender in the rarefied atmosphere of the Islamic conference.

What is a “celebrity Shaykh”?

My response: Obviously, the article touched a nerve with my reference to the phenomenon of the “celebrity Shaykh,” and I can see how my tone seemed irreverent to some. As I explained initially, I am not trying to diminish or demean our Shuyukh. As I stated before and will state again: I do not believe anyone on the lecture circuit sets out to become a celebrity. We make them into celebrities and now everyone is paying the price. Instead of attending an event to learn, we go to programs to be entertained. Big name speakers just happen to be given the coveted Saturday afternoon speaking slot that commands maximum audience attendance. Lesser known or more substantive speakers are often placed too early in the day or too late in the evening to really reach an audience. We have all been in the lecture hall that has emptied out as soon as the really-famous-speaker was done, leaving the not-so-exciting-speaker talking to empty seats. To make matters worse, we now have speakers who roll in with entourages of adoring students half-bent in ruku’ as one (very good) speaker noted at a conference I recently attended. Although the image sounds humorous, what is the effect on the audience? It is to enthrone the speaker on a pedestal, rendering him almost superhuman. So when we hear that he (or she) is actually human and makes mistakes, we take it personally, losing our iman or dismissing the whole lot. This is an extreme reaction to what is often extreme adulation of our teachers. Let’s let them be human again. Yes, we should hold them to higher standards—after all, they are transmitters of a prophetic legacy—but they are still people.

I’m not the first person to critique this culture of celebrity. Brother Omar Usman has a great website, FiqhOfSocial.Media, that specifically addresses the fanboy/girl culture we’ve created. Also, Imam Zaid Shakir poignantly writes about being a Muslim “rock star” at New Islamic Directions, and reminds us that we woefully underestimate the impact of public service on the health, family life, and free time of our leaders.

Very few people on the lecture circuit, myself included, fit the qualifications of a Shaykh. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of those who appear on conference programs are preachers, du’at (callers), and motivational speakers. A very small subset of those who speak at conferences are actual scholars. In fact, some of the most serious scholars tend to eschew public appearances altogether.

What about the role of the women? Aren’t many of them behaving inappropriately?

My response: Yes, women do play a role in these scenarios. I remember going to a convention with a stack of books from my library, books by well-known ‘ulama and speakers. I was determined to get these authors to sign my books and most of them did. Some were very gracious, and even remembered my name (probably from the last time I cornered them). Some seemed quite bemused as to why I would want them to autograph their books. Some employed personal assistants who ran interference, but most were surprisingly—and refreshingly, for me as a woman—accessible. When I think back, however, I have to take a more critical view of my actions. Yes, I was, in my view, just a bibliophile getting books signed by my favorite authors. But how would these men’s wives have viewed me? They wouldn’t have known that any chance I get, I go to book signings because I believe in the institution of scholarship and want to support good writing. All they would have seen was yet another (young-ish) woman, smiling and making small talk. I share this anecdote to caution sisters that we must try to look at our actions through the eyes of others, particularly the wives of the Shuyukh. These long-suffering women typically have to put up with husbands who are frequently absent and travel more than they stay home. They also have to put up with female students of knowledge approaching their husbands in ways that are, frankly, inappropriate. I have to admit that, as a wife, it can sting when I see photos of my husband with other women, as innocuous as those photos might be. How then do we think it affects the Shaykh’s wife when she has to deal with female fans taking selfies with her beloved husband, then striking up a conversation with said husband once they get to the nearest computer?

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the subject of the halal home-wrecker. This is the woman who is determined to pursue the married Shaykh at all costs, knowing the harm it will bring to his marriage and the hurt it will cause his wife. She quotes hadiths to justify her pursuit of a married man, arguing that the first wife is lacking in faith if she doesn’t wish to share her husband. This argument is spurious and dangerous. Spurious because it is not for the second woman to make pronouncements on the first woman’s faith in the first place. Dangerous because we know what the Qur’an says about those who cause discord between husband and wife, and it’s not favorable. All I will say additionally is if one’s intention is to become not just the second wife, but the only wife, then one needs to check her intention and make taubah. Also, remember the saying, “How you get him is how you lose him.” If he entertained your advances, he’ll entertain those of another.

This article will make it even harder for women to study with male teachers. And male teachers are more scholarly than females.

My response: This article is not about preventing access to qualified scholarship. Women have a right to seek sacred knowledge, so long as they (and the teachers) observe proper gender etiquette. If program organizers start barring women from events, it won’t be because of my article. My article is not calling for the policing of spaces in which men and women gather to seek sacred knowledge. I am calling for the reinstatement of common-sense policies and moral boundaries around the student-teacher relationship, especially when those relationships spill over into the relative anonymity of cyberspace, a space in which people become emboldened to do or say things they would likely not do or say in public.

If men are perceived as being more “scholarly” than women, then that perception may owe to the fact that men are far more likely to receive the sort of training, mentoring, and sponsorship that are required to produce rigorous scholarship. There are serious structural barriers impeding women from attaining parity with their male counterparts in traditional Islamic scholarly circles. Ironically, one of the main obstacles women face is the lack of a platform from which to teach and speak. It is difficult to become an effective teacher or an excellent speaker when many venues simply do not include women. We have to move beyond the politics of the female token and seriously start mentoring the next generation of women scholar and teachers.

Where are the solutions?

My response: I have several suggestions, but few are enforceable. Ultimately, the responsibility for working on these issues falls to the individuals themselves and those in their inner circle. Ideally, their peers, colleagues, and teachers would take up the matter with them; however, that has not appeared to be the case, hence the need for this essay.

Ingrid Mattson tweeted that ‘ulama should consider adopting a code of professional ethics similar to the code adhered to by Muslim chaplains, and I agree. If a teacher or Shaykh finds himself in a position of marrying one (or more) of his students, he needs to really think the matter through, including consulting with his first wife, and considering the potential benefit and harm entailed by entering into polygyny. Ideally, there would be boundaries established that would forestall these scenarios, such as avoiding courtship and marriage with current students. However, if the teacher and student feel marriage is necessary to prevent fitnah, then the process has to be conducted with the utmost integrity and transparency, with measures taken to ensure the rights of all parties are respected.

Women who are approached to be second wives need to regain common sense. Why enter into a relationship that is not legally recognized in the West, then complain when you have no rights? Marrying an already-married man while trusting in his assurances that his first wife is “okay” with the arrangement, or, worse, doesn’t even need to know about it, is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to the first wife to see what he is really like when he’s not sweet talking you? Why refrain from talking to the ex-wives? They’re out there. Are you afraid they’re going to say something to shatter the brother’s mystique?

The teachers and peers of these individuals have a moral obligation to call these brothers on the carpet, not sweep their behavior under the carpet. I believe that there is a culture of enabling this kind of behavior-or at least turning a blind eye—since it takes place behind closed doors and involves a demographic that is the least likely to speak out, namely, women.

Finally, this issue is crying out for women scholars to fill in the knowledge and mentoring gap. Instead of turning to male scholars for validation and inspiration, why not seek out women teachers? When I was in Damascus, I noted the presence of strong networks of women scholars and women students. Observing the impact of these networks years later and assessing the quality of the student-teacher bond, I can say that I have seen no women more self-assured, confident, and empowered than these women immersed in an environment of gender-specific knowledge and learning. On the contrary, I’ve noted that the women who seek out opposite-sex teachers for mentoring and validation, often to end up married to them, seriously struggle with issues of self-esteem.

And Allah knows best.

[1] Traditional as opposed to the academic study of Islam at secular universities

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. The Salafi Feminist

    The Salafi Feminist

    May 30, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    Jazaakillaahi khayran for yet another excellent article.

    I especially appreciate the advice you gave to those considering becoming second wives – as a second wife myself, it is precisely what I tell others who ask me about poly. I find it abhorrent that anyone would would try to go behind the first wife’s back, because it screams of a lack of Ihsaan – whether on the part of the husband, the potential second, or both.

  2. Avatar

    Ibn Masood

    May 31, 2015 at 12:43 AM

    MashaAllah. Exactly the follow-up that was needed.

    وفقك الله لما يحب و يرضى به

  3. Avatar

    Umm Sultan

    May 31, 2015 at 2:11 AM

    I found this article very interesting. Being a married woman myself, I don’t have to worry about the secret second wife issue, but when I do get the opportunity to attend a live event, I often wonder how best to conduct myself with regard to the speakers present. After lectures, especially in smaller venues you often find a gaggle of brothers surrounding the speaker, and they often happily field questions, greet folks, etc. Even when I’ve had a question after the lecture I don’t feel comfortable going over and asking when surrounded by brothers. I find it easier to ask such questions via social media where you don’t have to interact face-to-face and it’s on a public forum where others can benefit from the exchange. I understand though that this isn’t feasible for sisters who are studying w. a scholar in-depth.

    • Avatar

      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 7:58 PM

      @Sr. Umm Sultan, I’m not saying all electronic communication is problematic, just that which ends up being random and meandering, ultimately leading to emotional attachments and other entanglements. If one is legitimately pursuing distance learning with a teacher, obviously eschewing electronic communication is not feasible; however, certain boundaries should be established for the safety of both parties.

  4. Avatar

    Enosh

    May 31, 2015 at 3:10 AM

    In addition, I think another part of the problem is that we view such teachers and speakers as having a perfect life automatically because they are in front of a crowd and seem to have all the answers. We don’t really think that these people sin just like all other humans, including ourselves.

    We (some of us) think of ourselves as people dealing with so many challenges and issues, and then these speakers are walking around ready to solve everything for us – they must be so unstoppable and amazing! – the reality is that we are all human. The problem is also in our own heads: These ‘speakers’ are human; have difficulties and challenges too.

  5. Avatar

    Abu abdirrahman

    May 31, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    Men don’t want other men giving them marital advice. Even between friends, personal family issues are not to be discussed. the choices a brother (whether a shaykh or not) makes regarding whom he marries is up to him and the family of the woman seeking marriage.

    People need to mind Their own business especially when it doesn’t concern them. I know shaykhs/brothers who have/had multiple wives but u can’t just go and tell him how he should live his life.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      May 31, 2015 at 2:25 PM

      Bismillah.

      If you are familiar with a brother’s past and he has demonstrated repeatedly his failure in fulfilling his obligations towards his wives in a just manner, you have a responsibility to remind him that accepting a trust which he knows he cannot uphold is unlawful.

      The spirit of Al Asr applies to all facets of a Muslim’s life. You want to know why the Ummah is facing a multitude of trials and tribulations today? It’s because of the blatant neglect of the prophetic sunnah of mutual reminding one another in good and averting evil for Allah’s sake.

      And Allah Most High knows best.

  6. Avatar

    Ameen

    May 31, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    MashaAllah, well pointed follow-up to your blurred lines article. What I see as being a huge problem that causes these sort of issues is the conception of marriage and its process. Too often are Muslims painting this rosey unrealistic picture of what the want their marriages and spouses to be. This isn’t just the case with sisters but with brothers as well. We place all these barriers from having a good and healthy marriage by looking for someone YouTube, for brothers specifically, looking for a Lebanese sister who is a hafidh, and wears niqab, lol, when there’s already a great person down the street in our own masjid and community. Lol, it’s like the boy who asked Allah to save him from drowning, Allah has blessed us with great people in our communities, yet we look for these exotic characters. I believe this to be one of the fundamental problems to how issues like the such occurs. If we concern ourselves with realistic and straightforward expectations,most of this could probably be avoided.

  7. Avatar

    nillam

    May 31, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    Jazakiallahu khairan ..!
    I appreciate this effort of yours and agree too..Student teacher etiquette needs to be followed.Sunnat way of teaching, learning etiquette of sahabiyat are the grounds to rely upon… Teaching and Learning through social media should be brief ,short and within limits.And getting so deep to reach personal lives should be stopped at the first place..

  8. Avatar

    Inqiyaad

    May 31, 2015 at 11:23 PM

    JazakiAllahu khairan for your response and clarifications. I would like to follow up with you regarding some of your responses and clarify some of my propositions.

    1. Yes, of course, it is much more than a punchline and more than a math problem. The point I was trying to make was that none of the rights of the women who were exploited are going to be restored by making that observation or statement. Part of the reason why this math problem exists is because there is no effective deterrent to such behavior. A lot of people and I have asked you to reveal the names of the people involved to establish deterrence and help restore the rights.

    Now, of course, this is considering that we have made every attempt at giving the accused a chance to explain or that we have concrete evidence to establish their crime. Else, we are guilty of behavior which Moosa ‘alahis-salaam called ignorant.

    Even if there is some merit to these accusations, their (scohlars/speakers) peers should bring this up privately and try to resolve this. Failing effective resolution, they should bring it to the attention of the congregation to warn them of such delinquents.

    2. I completely disagree with your observation that a wali needs to be a mind reader to assure the rights of the women he is in charge of. All of the recommendations that you give to women should have been enforced by the walis. If not then your recommendations to women are moot. If they run into problems after doing due diligence, mashaAllah la quwwata illa billah. Focus should now shift to restoring rights.

    If ‘Ali radhi Allahu ‘anh declined Umar ibn al khattab’s proposal for his daughter multiple times then a wali should not hesitate to decline any bigwig if he has reason to believe that woman’s rights will be compromised (it’s a different thing that he finally agreed). I hope you will advise women to consult and heed to their wali’s recommendations.

    3. Finally, my essay on the Celebrity Shaykh issue:
    ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab narrated that the Prophet(s.a.w) said:
    “Shall I not inform you of the best of your leaders and the worst of them: The best of them are those whom you love and they love you, you supplicate for them, and they supplicate for you. And the evilest of your leaders are those who hate you, and you hate them, and they curse you and you curse them.”

    I asked the questions under points 1 and 2 on your previous post because I sensed that you view ‘celebrity’ as an inherent problem. This is displayed by your criticism of slot allotment to popular speakers.

    I disagree with your assessment that celebrity is inherently evil or that providing popular speakers (scholars) with slots where maximum attendance is expected is a problem. People might love to listen to a speaker they love. The love might be due to positive change that the person brings to their life, connects with them at their level, is charismatic, or may be that they are entertained. Although preference based on purely entertainment value is problematic, we can’t assume that majority love is based on entertainment value.

    In addition, serious students who know the value of real scholars will find a way to attend within or beyond the conference schedules. In fact, real scholars sometimes hate to teach non-committed students, for example ‘Amash.

    A lot of contemporaries of famous historical figures were as qualified if not more than the famous ones. Yet, people connected with the famous ones because of their approachable nature.

    A lot of these famous scholars (speakers) start as fairly unknown figures but gain peoples’ love because people see value. It is the speaker’s responsibility to communicate the value of knowledge he/she has so that people appreciate and are willing to attend.
    The problem arises when people take this love to the level of servitude or fail to observe the obligation of amr bil ma’roof and nahi ‘anil munkar, or when this love for individuals is abused to exploit, and I agree with you on that.

    Yet, in my view, there is no clear definition of what contributes ‘celebrity shaykh culture’ in this context.

    • Avatar

      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 8:07 PM

      @Br. Inqiyaad,

      1. We lack the proper mechanisms to address these situations, hence my purpose for writing. Marriage and divorce are conducted in such an ad-hoc, haphazard fashion, with little accountability to spouse, family, in-laws, community–and this applies to the lay and to leaders.

      2. A wali can’t always tell if someone is deliberately misrepresenting himself. That’s my point. Although I think some of these women really lack the type of vigorous wilayah to which they’re entitled. An apathetic wali is not a true wali, in my opinion.

      3. Human nature is such that we incline toward those who are devout, compassionate, friendly, witty, smart, charismatic, etc. I know some speakers and teachers will be more popular than others. I’m saying that this popularity should not be misused, nor should the cult of personality that arises from their popularity be an obstacle to holding them to account.

      3.

  9. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    June 1, 2015 at 12:56 AM

    Excellent follow up, jzk!

    As for solutions, I think we should standardize a “no poly” clause, and we should call it the “Fatimah bint Muhammad” clause. We should standardize it into the contract so that it forces a discussion about whether it is accepted or not.

    We should call it the FbM clause so that if any ask, we can point out the Prophet (saw) blocked polygyny as part of the contract because it hurt Fatima, and her not wanting it didn’t detract from her status – she was one of the four who perfected her iman. It will make it a teachable moment and force everyone to be aware that this is not something modern or invented.

    • Avatar

      Talibul `Ilm

      June 1, 2015 at 3:06 AM

      A fair follow up to both articles would be about those brothers (Sheikhs/Talibs), 1st wives and 2nd wives who do everything for the sake of Allah and in the way Allah prescribed. All human beings will make mistakes and commit sins. But at the same time, it’s always best not to expose laymen to too much Fitnah and disputes that occur among those who are by no means considered laymen. Being exposed to such Fitnah may (and it does) corrupt the Imaan of laymen.
      So please do some research (I’m sure you already have) and write atleast one article about Sheikhs who lead by example on how to revive the Laws of Allah properly. Allah is my witness. I personally know Sheikhs with more than one wife, who are not into all this nonsense of changing wives every few months and whose first wives actually suggested their seconds.
      This Ummah is not dead yet. There are many Muslims, Sheikhs as well as sincere laymen, who implement Allah’s Laws properly to the best of their abilities. There are also women who understand their religion and have open hearts to suggest for another woman to be equally as happy as her with the same good Muslim husband that she has been blessed with.
      Lastly, let’s not forget that marital problems among Muslims is just insanely common these days. And to be honest this is far more common among laymen than it is among Sheikhs.

      • Avatar

        Amatullah

        June 1, 2015 at 9:22 AM

        Bismillah.

        Let’s not increase the fitnah amongst the laymen and then sweep the broken laywomen under the carpet while Sheikh yells “NEXT!”? Is that what you’re suggesting?

      • Avatar

        Talibul `Ilm

        June 1, 2015 at 12:39 PM

        Maybe you should read what I wrote again. I didn’t make any such suggestion. My point was that to be fair, there should be an article written on those who do things the right way so that laymen are not faced with a trial that will corrupt their Imaan. They may lose trust in all Sheikhs even though when compared to all the Sheikhs around, a small percentage of them are actually like this. They may also think since the men of religion are like this, there’s no need to become more religious and they are fine being the way they are. Or something else.
        When Sheikhs belonging to a group, find out their colleague is going around marrying and then breaking women’s hearts, they should stop their colleague the very first time they notice it. Why keep cheering their colleague on and keep inviting him to more conferences? Why let him continue so more women can be divorced and more laymen can be overcome by the Fitnah?

      • Avatar

        Siraaj Muhammad

        June 1, 2015 at 3:09 PM

        Salaam alaykum,

        I like it as is because the problem is laser focused on one particular problem. This article isn’t about people who do it well, it’s about people who are abusing the system, and so it’s appropriate that this is what’s covered.

        That doesn’t mean we’re averse to good examples =) If you know some, feel free to drop in a guest submission to MM that discusses people who are doing it right. Be sure to get their permission before writing in.

        Siraaj

      • Avatar

        Zaynab Ansari

        June 1, 2015 at 8:11 PM

        @Br. Talibul ‘Ilm, thank you for reminding us that there are cases of successful, Sunna-based polygyny. This article is definitely about the opposite scenario. Sadly, anecdotal evidence suggest the latter cases preponderate.

    • Avatar

      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 8:09 PM

      @Br. Siraaj, I like the idea of the Fatimah bint Muhammad clause and think it should definitely be an element of the contract between speakers/teachers and the institutions they represent.

    • Avatar

      Inqiyaad

      June 1, 2015 at 11:26 PM

      Except that it was not a part of any written contract. Standardizing this practice without regard to context or even incorporating such a clause even in solitary cases might constitute making something that is halal into haram. Muhammad sal Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam drew our attention to this fact in this very context.

      http://islamqa.info/en/162287

      Besides, what will be the penalty for breaking this clause? Automatic divorce? If so, the marriage contract itself will be invalid. Also, experience tells us that prohibition leads to bootlegging. This could backfire and encourage even more underground activity as shaykh Yawar suggested.

      • Avatar

        Abu Milk Sheikh

        June 2, 2015 at 12:27 AM

        For every googled fatwa…

        http://islamqa.info/en/143120

        Another fatwa on Islamqa shows that in two of the four madhabs a “automatic-divorce-on-taking-cowife-or-concubine” clause is valid. The moment a husband takes a co-wife or concubine, the first wife is immediately divorced. I can’t find the link but it’s there.

        It is also the case that if the first wife is from a culture or family where monogamy is the norm, even without an explicit clause in the marriage contract she has recourse to a divorce if her husband takes a co-wife or concubine.

        Any Muslimah may do taqleed of the above rulings and none may prevent them. If they invoke these rulings because they are following their desires (which is blameworthy,) that is between them and Allah.

        While the cited rulings are in favor of the women, other rulings favor the men in a polygynous situation and make it easier for them to manage their families.

        The Law does a good job of protecting both parties’ rights. It’s Divine; how could it not?

      • Avatar

        Siraaj

        June 5, 2015 at 3:26 PM

        The clause itself is something I would suggest is reviewed at the time of the agreement of the contract. If the man wishes to marry the woman and relinquish the right to do so, then that is accepted. He’s a free thinking man and she a free thinking woman. If she doesn’t want to be part of a plural marriage, she can make that clear up front and find herself a man who is content with monogamy. Likewise, the polygynist can let go of one and find another.

        I find it strange that we want to force people to be in relationships they want know part of. Most women today will find themselves tried in many things beyond, religious commitment being the most damaged along with emotional and psychological health. There was no problem with Fatimah complaining and saying she was hurt by Ali considering another proposal, I see no problem if any woman says such and a father does not wish this for his daughter.

      • Avatar

        Inqiyaad

        June 6, 2015 at 12:13 PM

        Abu Milk Sheikh and Siraaj

        Yes, Google, the tool of choice for fatwa shoppers! Going beyond the snide ad hominems, jazakAllahu khairan for sharing the link. Although, the evidence presented is not very clear to me. I cannot see how the Prophet himself is reprimanded for giving up something as trivial as honey for his own person, and yet here we are suggesting that it is acceptable to eschew polygamy as a standard protocol across the board. All because, تَبۡتَغِى مَرۡضَاتَ أَزۡوَٲجِكَ‌ۚ

        Regardless of our disagreements, it is clear that if the husband takes another wife, and the wife finds it unduly difficult, she may ask for annulment (khula). We agree about this. So, what is the need to write this down in the contract? I agree with Siraaj, if the potential wife wishes to propose such a clause, fine. If the potential husband is convinced that such a clause is indeed turning something halal into haram, he should reject such a clause. But proposing that this should be a standard procedure for everyone or even teachers while signing their contracts with institutions (not marriage contract) that they will give up polygamy is beyond our mandate.

        Besides, how many rights are we willing to write down in the contract? Will it be acceptable (tasteful) for a husband to start the relationship by stating his intent to divorce if his list of expectations is not fulfilled?

        Finally, I totally abhor the idea of secret polygamy. If a man is not willing to acknowledge his second wife publicly he has failed in fulfilling her first right and I would not have much expectation that he will fulfill other rights.

      • Avatar

        Inqiyaad

        June 7, 2015 at 3:35 PM

        Abu Milk Sheikh and Siraaj

        Yes, Google, the tool of choice for fatwa shoppers! Going beyond the snide ad hominems, jazakAllahu khairan for sharing the link. Although, the evidence presented is not very clear to me. I cannot see how the Prophet himself is reprimanded for giving up something as trivial as honey for his own person, and yet here we are suggesting that it is acceptable to eschew polygamy as a standard protocol across the board. All because تَبۡتَغِى مَرۡضَاتَ أَزۡوَٲجِكَ‌ۚ

        Regardless of our disagreements, it is clear that if the husband takes another wife, and the wife finds it unduly difficult, she may ask for annulment (khula). We agree about this. So, what is the need to write this down in the contract? I agree with Siraaj, if the potential wife wishes to propose such a clause, fine. If the potential husband is convinced that such a clause is indeed turning something halal into haram, he should reject such a clause. But proposing that this should be a standard procedure for everyone or even teachers while signing their contracts with institutions (not marriage contract) that they will give up polygamy is beyond our mandate.

        Besides, how many rights are we willing to write down in the contract? Will it be acceptable (tasteful) for a husband to start the relationship by stating his intent to divorce if his list of expectations is not fulfilled?

        Finally, I totally abhor the idea of secret polygamy. If a man is not willing to acknowledge his second wife publicly he has failed in fulfilling her first right and I would not have much expectation that he will fulfill other rights.

    • Avatar

      Naziyah Nur

      June 2, 2015 at 3:55 AM

      Are we exclusively concerned with the issue
      as it pertains to married men?
      Or does Sheikha Zaynab seek to prohibit all men and all women
      from courting more than one person at a time?

  10. Avatar

    Amatullah

    June 1, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    What most of us fail to realize is how much the crisis of trust is already affecting laypeople even before the article was even published. A fitna brewed precisely due to the lack of response by the good scholars in keeping in check the few bad apples whose actions they decide to turn a blind eye on under the guise of giving them 70 excuses and having a good opinion or even cheer on as multiple concurrent marriages are deemed successful “conquests”.

    Notice how little traction the article has within the traditional Muslim crowd. Less than a handful of scholars or callers to Allah have circulated the piece, even when it touches on pertinent broader issues in the Ummah like the relaxing of gender relations between Muslims and the role of technology in this, which is relevant to laypeople and scholars alike. We forget that being silent on the matter helps foster a dangerous enabling culture for the few individuals who have been exploiting the circumstances to their benefit.

    • Avatar

      Zaynab Ansari

      June 1, 2015 at 8:14 PM

      @Sr. Amatullah, I can’t comment extensively, but I think your perception is correct, despite my disclaimer that I’m not singling out any particular school or methodology, as I believe the problem likely transcends methodological affiliation.

  11. Avatar

    khalid

    June 2, 2015 at 3:47 AM

    There could be many causes for these problems, it could even be the fact that there is a distinction between lay people and scholars, never mind “celebrity” ones. In my opinion, such a distinction should not even exist. Everyone should be considered equal and it’s only taqwa which ultimately distinguishes us with Allah.

    Some blame “free-mixing” but maybe that’s not the real problem. I feel that sometimes we like to place the blame on everyone and everything but ourselves. We blame the west, parents, teachers, men, women, our environment, the jews, anything but our own stupidity and misguided choices.

    How are we going to preach to others about the superiority of Islam, when we are behaving no differently from the rest? We criticize the Catholics, the Jews, the Marxists, the Shi’ites (for Sunnis/Salafis), yet it looks as though somewhere down the line, we became the thing we hate most.

    • Avatar

      Abu Milk Sheikh

      June 4, 2015 at 7:31 AM

      Allah and His Messenger ﷺ both clearly differentiate between scholar and layman in numerous ayahs and hadith.

  12. Avatar

    Naziyah Nur

    June 2, 2015 at 4:01 AM

    Shaykha Zaynab writes: “As a direct consequence of these individuals’ actions, women have become disillusioned, embittered, and depressed. “

    Perhaps it would be best if married men who are unhappy in their marriages and intend to seek additional wives informed their wives of their desire to court other women so that the wives are not surprised.

    On the other hand, women who are disappointed in love and marriage need to realize that other people are not responsible for their emotional states and unfulfilled expectations if those expectations fall outside Islamic prescription or explicit agreement between husband and wife.

  13. Avatar

    Naziyah Nur

    June 2, 2015 at 4:06 AM

    COMMENT :

    Salam Shahykah Zaynab,

    You write: “To add insult to injury, the Shaykh, who will not even deign to acknowledge the woman publicly, still retains conjugal access, enjoying all the pleasures of marriage without the responsibility, for, in many cases, he has not provided a marital home nor financial support to the secret second wife. To cap it all off, when he is done with the second wife, the marriage is ended without much ceremony, unless one deems talaq by text message ceremonious.”

    Good grief! What are the mothers and female elders teaching young women
    so that they allow themselves to be thus abused!
    And what is this “conjugal access” all about? Women whose husbands
    aren’t providing should JUST SAY NO to conjugal access!

    Wa salam!

    • Avatar

      Orbala

      March 16, 2016 at 4:39 PM

      Note, Sister Naziyah, that in both of your comments, you’re putting the blame and responsibility on the women, none on the men (e.g., what are the “mothers” teaching their daughters; “women” whose husbands aren’t providing “should just say NO to conjugal access” – that’s actually so much more simpler put in words like that). The way we express your condemnation of the act matters.

  14. Avatar

    Azim Abdul Majeed

    June 3, 2015 at 9:46 PM

    I think this excellent speech could shed some light and also guidance to this discussion topic.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_rethinking_infidelity_a_talk_for_anyone_who_has_ever_loved

    I would appreciate some good thoughtful comments on this speech with an Islamic perspective.

    @ustadhah zaynab and @dr. yasir qadhi.

  15. Avatar

    brother

    June 4, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    May Allah make this article beneficial for all those who read it

  16. Avatar

    Iqra

    June 5, 2015 at 10:19 PM

    I think the most relevant point raised in this article is the need for female Islamic teachers. I find it easy to learn from my online female teachers on the platform Wiziq. And yes, they are all qualified scholars! Alhamdulillah.

  17. Avatar

    Ahmad

    June 6, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    I had no idea this was such an issue. May Allah protect our leaders from this fitnah!

  18. Avatar

    Momin

    June 8, 2015 at 10:25 PM

    assalamualaikum

    in the prequel to this piece the author said she will address issues with the women’s side but this piece fails to do that. is there a 3rd one coming out? or did author change her mind? i hope the feminist groups did not pressure our respected sister to change her mind in coming full circle to address the issues on the other side of the coin.

    may Allah bless u ya ustadha.

    Momin S.

  19. Pingback: » Mass Marketing Islam and “Edu-tainment”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

#Life

Lessons And Reflections On The Death Of Kobe Bryant | Mufti Abdullah Nana

Kobe lessons
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant tragically passed away from this world after his helicopter crashed. The news of his death sent shockwaves around the world and millions expressed their grief and shared their condolences. His death and his legacy struck a chord with countless people who shared interesting personal stories about Kobe, what he meant to them, how much he inspired them, and the positive change that he generated. 

Kobe’s death saddened me. Despite knowing and preaching about the fleeting nature of life, his death shocked me. I have followed his career and am a fan. Not only that, Kobe was the same age as me, born only 40 days before me. We were both from the graduating high school class of 1996. 

I grew up playing recreational basketball from a young age. I ended up going in a different direction in my own life, but have been an avid sports fan for much of my life.

Many prominent people also shared their thoughts on how much Kobe meant to them and how he inspired them. My objective in writing this article is not to pass a legal ruling on the permissibility of following sports, mourning the death of non-Muslims, taking non-Muslims as role models, or advising Muslims to stop loving Kobe and cut off their connection with sports and Kobe Bryant completely. Instead, I wish to share some reflections and lessons from Kobe’s legacy that we can positively apply to our own lives. A believer is always looking to learn from others, from current events, and past events, and then derive wisdom and lessons from them.

Mamba Mentality And Muslims

There is much that we can learn from Kobe Bryant and his quest to be the best version of himself. He called this the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ 

Mamba Mentality: Honesty, Detachment, Optimism, Passion and Fearlessness. The Mamba Mentality is a mindset for constant self-improvement in the pursuit of your highest potential in life.

Kobe wished to inspire others to adopt his ‘mamba mentality’ in all aspects of life and to be great in whatever they do in life. “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great [at] whatever they want to do.” 

He explains, “The Mamba Mentality is a mindset that extends way beyond basketball or sports. It’s simple, if you have a goal or a dream, you need to apply the mamba mentality to achieve it. Everything worth achieving needs total focus and dedication.” Click To Tweet

As Muslims, sports fans, and especially fans of Kobe Bryant, we can derive many positive lessons from Kobe’s legacy and apply them in our lives to become better Muslims and better human beings. In this article, I will be discussing four specific lessons: 

  1. Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them
  2. Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives 
  3. Adopting role models and mentors in our religion
  4. Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them

You all know the jingle: “Sometimes I dream that he is me. Can’t you see that’s how I dream to be?”

Kobe not only dreamt to be like Mike, he consistently challenged himself to change his game to achieve this dream. 

He explains, “…we all have dreams. But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. And I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities.. you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line, you lose that imagination. I think it’s important that you never lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing, I never gave up my dream.” Holding on to your dream and not giving up is extremely difficult to do and requires perseverance and great dedication. 

Every young person has dreams and plans for what they want to do when they grow up and what they want to become. Although some of these dreams are not realistic or productive (my daughter is not going to become a unicorn), many dreams are positive and serve an important function in helping others, serving Islam, or providing a means of livelihood. Our country is based on the American dream, and we hear countless inspirational stories of those who followed their dreams and achieved the impossible. 

At the same time, it is essential that we channel those dreams in the right direction and in light of the Islamic teachings, pursue a dream that will either positively benefit someone’s life in this world or in the hereafter. It is helpful to talk to a mentor, imam, career guidance center, or parent about our dreams and identify that dream that we wish to follow and pursue that will be most beneficial for us. It should not be doctor or bust, as is the case for many of us! 

Once we have identified that dream, profession, career, and direction in life that we wish to pursue, it will take hard work, dedication, and most importantly sacrifice to achieve that dream.

I dreamed of playing professional sports like many American youth, but unfortunately for me, my ‘NBA career’ ended before it could get started because I wasn’t that good! As plan B, around the time Kobe was already playing for the NBA, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and was inspired to pursue another dream; going overseas to study Islam and become an Islamic scholar. 

Those years were brutal. I became sick during those seven years, was homesick and often thought of quitting and heading back home, but by the grace of Allah,  I finished my studies. Sacrifice to pursue this dream meant giving up a career in management, friends, time with family, watching my younger brothers and relatives growing up, and much more during these years. Fortunately, my family supported me through this and in 2005, I graduated as a Mufti, qualified to give fatwas in Islamic law.

Kobe further expands on the need to sacrifice in order to attain one’s dream and that this is the price of achieving one’s dream. He wrote in his book, Mamba Mentality, “If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.” 

Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives

Kobe describes the need for hard work and a strong work ethic in order to attain one’s dreams and greatness. “Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”

“Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”Click To Tweet

Kobe was a model for his work ethic and passion for basketball. Shaykh Suhaib Webb says, “Kobe’s drive and focus were edifying and motivating. I would watch him and think, I wish I was as passionate in my work and studies as he was towards his craft.” 

Personally, I did my best to dedicate myself entirely to my Islamic studies while overseas. I burnt the midnight oil literally and did not go to sleep in my first year of studies before midnight and never slept after fajr, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of study. In fact, while Kobe was winning three straight NBA championships from 2000-2002, I didn’t even know because I didn’t have a computer, didn’t have a cellphone, didn’t have access to the internet, and was simply too busy. 

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.Click To Tweet

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.

Kobe has this to say about lazy people, “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language!..” Kobe was willing to sacrifice everything dear to him to achieve greatness in basketball and to win championships. 

How would our lives be different if we were to apply Kobe’s untiring work ethic, waking up early, dedication, and relentless pursuit of perfection to our jobs, responsibilities, families, religion, and desire to learn? 

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah.Click To Tweet

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah. We must be ready to make similar sacrifices to become good Muslims, to enter Paradise, and to learn about our religion. 

The need for role models and mentors

Kobe Bryant used to fondly remember his mentors such as Bill Russel and how their advice inspired him. “That’s why I think it is so important to have those mentors, those north stars, who you learn from and look up to.” (Mamba Mentality) Just as we need role models and mentors in sports, we also need role models in all other aspects of life, including our religion of Islam. 

It is up to us to determine to what extent we develop a relationship with our role models, listen to their advice, follow them, and are inspired by them. The stronger our relationship, the greater the impact will be. Many of us were inspired by Kobe and took him as our role model. We had a special connection with him and felt it in our hearts when he passed away. How many of us have similar Islamic role models and mentors that we love as much, have a special bond, who we follow and remember? We need more positive Islamic role models and mentors in our lives to inspire us in our religion as Kobe inspired us in sports. 

There are many great living Muslim leaders, scholars, sports players, and heroes in the world today who are excellent role models and inspirational mentors. By the grace of Allah, I have had the opportunity to meet many of them and benefit from them. I could write a separate article on these amazing personalities

There are also many great heroes, scholars, and leaders from the past who we can follow and take as our role models. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is the greatest role model and mentor in history, and we should do our best to learn about his life, his example, and his way and incorporating it into our own lives. Imagine if we had such a strong bond and love for him as we did for our favorite sports players! The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “Among the people from my nation who love me the most is a group who will come after me and will be ready to sacrifice their family and wealth just to be able to see me.” (Sahih Muslim) May Allah make us from among such people. Amin

The Prophet’s Companions رضي الله عنهم are also the best of role models and examples. Abdullah bin Masu’d (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If a person is going to follow someone else and take them as their role model, then he/she should do so with those who have already deceased because indeed the living are not safe from falling prey to temptations and evil. [The deceased who are worthy of being taken as role models] are the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم. They were the best people of this Muslim Nation; they had the purest hearts, deepest knowledge, and had the least formalities. Allah selected them for the companionship of his Prophet and to establish his religion, so recognize their virtue, follow in their footsteps, and hold fast to as much of their good character and ways as you can, because they were definitely upon clear guidance.” 

Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Kobe’s legacy not only includes changing our own lives while striving towards greatness in all that we do but also working on inspiring others to do the same. He says, “I think the definition of greatness is to inspire the people next to you.… Our challenge as people is to figure out how our story can impact others and motivate them in a way to create their own greatness.” 

He was a leader who built a team that worked towards greatness. And this did not just happen haphazardly. He applied the same techniques to leadership that he did to his game. He writes about his leadership style: “What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.” Excerpt from Mamba Mentality. We too need to use wisdom and insight when calling others to Allah and to goodness, and to customize our approach to the individual for maximum benefit. 

We will receive the reward for all the good deeds done by those who we inspire, motivate, encourage, and teach. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “The person who calls towards guidance will receive the reward of all those people who acted upon his calling, without decreasing the reward of the original doer himself/herself.”

As Muslims, we too need to work on leaving behind a good legacy when we leave this world which will continue to benefit us from our graves. When we die, all our good deeds will come to an end besides perpetual charity, pious children who will pray for us, or knowledge that we left behind. 

Kobe has left this world and is unable to further work towards building his legacy, while we are still very much alive and have that opportunity. Shaikh Suhaib Webb has shared a very positive lesson from Kobe’s life and death:

“As we sit saddened and frozen by the loss of Gianna and her father, let’s remember that we are, by God’s grace, alive. Let’s translate this moment into a passion and dedication to live, be better and use some of the drive Kobe modeled for us in his career, towards our faith and healing a fractured world.”

Redirecting our energies and channeling them to Islamic works

Sports play a significant role in many of our lives. Many of us are passionate about the sport we play or follow. We are attached to our favorite sports champ like Kobe Bryant and our favorite teams. Taking sports entirely out of our lives might not be a very realistic proposal. 

Scholars have written that what is required in such circumstances is not to eliminate that energy and connection from our lives completely, but to redirect it and channel it to more productive and more spiritually rewarding Islamic projects and activities: seeking knowledge, performing Salat, waking up in the middle of the night for prayer, staying fit and looking after our long-term health, and adopting Islamic role models. 

I will end with Kobe’s quote on what legacy we leave for others; “It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you – or don’t. So don’t take it lightly. If you do it right, your game will live on in others.”

#Mambaout

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

Continue Reading

#Society

The Islamic Perspectives And Rulings on Rape and Sexual Assault

Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

Continue Reading

#Society

Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

Continue Reading

Trending