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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,

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“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

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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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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      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.

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    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.

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    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..

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    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.

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    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.

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      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?

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        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?

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        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.

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      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.

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      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.

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        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.

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        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.

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#Society

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks: An Obituary

This article was originally published at Al-Madinah Institute.

 

An internationally recognised Islamic scholar, who saw spirituality, justice, and knowledge as integral to an authentic religious existence.

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Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, who passed away on the 9th of July 2020 at the age of 64, was a scholar of international repute, able to communicate and engage on the level of state leaders, religious scholars and the broader public. As a scion of one of the most prominent Islamic institutions in South Africa and internationally, who also spent a decade studying at the hands of the most prominent of Makkan scholars, he not only inherited a grand bequest, but expanded that legacy’s impact worldwide. In particular, he upheld a normative understanding of Islam, embedded in a tradition stretching back more than a millennium – but deeply cognisant of the needs of the age, including the need to strive to make the world a better place.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying particularly at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa – as well as his father, Imam Hassan Hendricks.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, spending three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects, before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and usul al-fiqh in the Faculty of Shariʿa of Umm al-Qura University and graduated in 1992. Shaykh Seraj took ijazat from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qadir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf, as well as his extensive time spent with the likes of Shaykh Hasan Mashhat and others. These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

Additionally, he obtained a full ijaza in the religious sciences from his primary teacher, the muḥaddith of the Hijaz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawi al-Maliki, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamaʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars. Together with his brother, the esteemed Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, Shaykh Seraj and I wrote a book on this approach to Sufism entitled, “A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Sages of Makka”. Alongside his brother, he became the representative (khalifa) of the aforementioned muhaddith of the Hijaz.

Further to his religious education, Shaykh Seraj was also actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s, alongside the likes of figures like Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, comrade of Nelson Mandela, and the renowned journalist, Shafiq Morton. His commitments to furthering justice meant insistence on expressing constant opposition to injustice, while fiercely maintaining the independence of the institution and community he pledged himself to his entire life. At a time when different forces in Muslim communities worldwide try to instrumentalise religious figures for partisan political gain, Shaykh Seraj showed another, arguably far more Prophetic, model.

The shaykh also was keenly supportive of the rights of women, whom he saw as important to empower and cultivate as religious figures themselves. His students, of which there were many thousands over the years, included many women at various levels of expertise. I know it was his wish that they would rise to higher and higher levels, and he took a great deal of interest in trying to train them accordingly, aware that many unnecessary obstacles stood in their way.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Tasawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA), which is currently being prepared for publication as a book. He translated works of Imam al-Ghazali, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihyaʾ ʿUlum al-Din), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbdal Hakim Murad and Yahya Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was a member of the Stanlib Shariʿa Board, chief arbitrator (Hakim) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and was listed consecutively in the Muslim500 from 2009 to 2020. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj was also appointed as professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Apart from fiqh and usul al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries. Shaykh Seraj taught a variety of Islamic-related subjects at Azzawia Institute in Cape Town, where he was its resident Shaykh, together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks. His classes showed an encyclopaedic knowledge that was rooted in the tradition, while completely conversant with the modern age.

But beyond his classes, he was a pastoral figure to many – a community made of thousands – whom he gave himself completely to, in service of the religion, and counselling them as a khidma (service), with mahabba (love), in accordance with the Prophetic model. Many urged him to restrain himself in this way, fearing for his health, which suffered a great deal in his final years as a result – but he saw it as his duty.

The Shaykh was an international figure, a teacher to thousands, and an adviser to multitudes. Many today ask the question as to why ‘ulama truly matter, seeing as it seems so many of them can be compromised by different forces in pursuit of injustice, rigidness and petty partisanship. Such a question will not be asked by those who knew Shaykh Seraj, for in him they saw a concern for spirituality, not paltry political gain, and a commitment to justice and wisdom, not oppression or slogans. In him, many saw, and will continue to see hope for an Islamic commitment to scholarship that seeks to make the world a better place, rising to the challenge of maintaining their values of mercy and compassion, and exiting the world in dignity.

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#Current Affairs

Oped: The Treachery Of Spreading Bosnia Genocide Denial In The Muslim Community

The expanding train of the Srebrenica genocide deniers includes the Nobel laureate Peter Handke, an academic Noam Chomsky, the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, as well as almost all Serbian politicians in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. One name in this group weirdly stands out: “Sheikh” Imran Hosein. A traditionally trained Muslim cleric from Trinidad and Tobago, Hosein has carved his niche mostly with highly speculative interpretations of Islamic apocalyptic texts. He has a global following with more than 200 hundred thousand subscribers to his YouTube channel, and his videos are viewed by hundreds of thousands. He has written tens of books in English, some of which had been translated into major world languages. His denial of the Srebrenica genocide may seem outlandish, coming from a Muslim scholar, but a close inspection of his works reveals ideas that are as disturbing as they are misleading.

Much of Hosain’s output centers around interpreting the apocalyptic texts from the Qur’an and Sunnah on the “end of times” (akhir al-zaman). As in other major religious traditions, these texts are highly allegorical in nature and nobody can claim with certainty their true meaning – nobody, except Imran Hosein. He habitually dismisses those who disagree with his unwarranted conclusions by accusing them of not thinking properly. A Scottish Muslim scholar, Dr. Sohaib Saeed, also wrote about this tendency.

In his interpretations, the Dajjal (“anti-Christ”) is American-Zionist alliance (the West or the NATO), the Ottomans were oppressors of the Orthodox Christians who are, in turn, rightfully hating Islam and Muslims, Sultan Mehmed Fatih was acting on “satanic design” when he conquered Constantinople, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a false flag operation carried out by the Mossad and its allies, and – yes! – the genocide did not take place in Srebrenica. Such conspiratorial thinking is clearly wrong but is particularly dangerous when dressed in the garb of religious certainty. 

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Hosain frequently presents his opinions as the “Islamic” view of things. His methodology consists of mixing widely accepted Muslim beliefs with his own stretched interpretations. The wider audience may not be as well versed in Islamic logic of interpretation so they may not be able to distinguish between legitimate Muslim beliefs and Hosain’s own warped imagination. In one of his fantastic interpretations, which has much in common with the Christian apocalypticism, the Great War that is nuclear in nature is coming and the Muslims need to align with Russia against the American-Zionist alliance. He sees the struggle in Syria as part of a wider apocalyptic unfolding in which Assad and Putin are playing a positive role. He stretches the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings to read into them fanciful and extravagant interpretations that are not supported by any established Islamic authority.

Hosain does not deny that a terrible massacre happened in Srebrenica. He, however, denies it was a genocide, contradicting thus numerous legal verdicts by international courts and tribunals. Established by the United Nations’ Security Council, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered a verdict of genocide in 2001 in the case of the Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstić. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague confirmed, in 2007, that genocide took place in Srebrenica. In 2010, two more Bosnian Serb officers were found guilty of committing genocide in Bosnia. The butcher of Srebrenica, Ratko Mladić, was found guilty of genocide in 2017.

In spite of this, and displaying his ignorance on nature and definition of genocide, Hosain stated in an interview with the Serbian media, “Srebrenica was not a genocide. That would mean the whole Serbian people wanted to destroy the whole Muslim people. That never happened.” In a meandering and offensive video “message to Bosnian Muslims” in which he frequently digressed to talking about the end of times, Hosain explained that Srebrenica was not a genocide and that Muslims of Bosnia needed to form an alliance with the Orthodox Serbs. He is oblivious to the fact that the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the former Yugoslavia stem not from the Bosniaks’ purported unwillingness to form an alliance with the Serbs, but from the aggressive Greater Serbia ideology which had caused misery and destruction in Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Kosovo. 

Hosein’s views are, of course, welcome in Serbia and in Republika Srpska (Serb-dominated entity within Bosnia), where almost all politicians habitually deny that genocide took place in Srebrenica. He had been interviewed multiple times on Serbian television, where he spewed his views of the Ottoman occupation and crimes against the Serbs, the need to form an alliance between Muslims and Russia, and that Srebrenica was not a genocide. His website contains only one entry on Srebrenica: a long “exposé” that claims no genocide took place in Srebrenica. Authored by two Serbs, Stefan Karganović and Aleksandar Pavić, the special report is a hodge-podge of conspiracy theories, anti-globalization and anti-West views. Karganović, who received more than a million dollars over a six year period from the government of the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska for lobbying efforts in Washington, was recently convicted by the Basic Court in Banja Luka on tax evasion and defamation. The Court issued a warrant for Karganović’s arrest but he is still on the loose. 

True conspirators of the Srebrenica killings, according to Hosain, are not the Serbian political and military leaders, and soldiers who executed Srebrenica’s Muslims. The conspirators are unnamed but it does not take much to understand that he believes that the massacres were ultimately orchestrated by the West, CIA, and NATO. Hosain even stated on the Serbian TV that if people who knew the truth were to come forward they would be executed to hide what really happened. Such opinions are bound to add to an already unbearable pain that many survivors of the Srebrenica genocide are experiencing. It is even more painful when Bosniak victims – who were killed because they were Muslims – are being belittled by an “Islamic” scholar who seems to be more interested in giving comfort to those who actually perpetrated the heinous crime of genocide than in recognizing the victims’ pain. These views are, of course, welcome in Serbia, Russia, and Greece.

It is not difficult to see why Hosain’s views would be popular in today’s day and age where misinformation and fake news are propagated even by the world leaders who should know better. A conspiratorial mindset, mistrust of established facts, undermining of international institutions – these are all hallmarks of the post-truth age. In another time, Imran Hosain would be easily exposed for what he truly is: a charlatan who claims religious expertise. Today, however, his opinions are amplified by social media and by the people who already question science and established facts. For these reasons, he needs to be unmasked to safeguard the very religious foundations which he claims to uphold but ultimately undermines. 

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#Life

A Festival Amidst a Pandemic: How to Give Your Kids an Eid ul-Adha to Remember

Eid ul-Adha is less than 3 weeks away!  This year, more than ever, we want to welcome Eid ul-Adha with a full heart and spirit, insha’Allah, despite the circumstances we are in with the global pandemic.

If you follow me on social media, you probably know that my husband and I host an open house brunch for Eid ul-Adha, welcoming over 125 guests into our home. It’s a party our Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors, friends, and family look forward to being invited to each year. It’s a time to come together as a community, share heart-felt conversations, have laughs, chow down lots of delicious food, and exchange gifts. Kids participate in fun crafts, decorate cookies, and receive eidi. The reality is that we cannot keep up with the tradition this year.

Despite social distancing, we have decided that we will continue to lift our spirits and switch our summer décor to Eid décor, and make it the best Eid for our family and our child. We want to instill the love of Islam in my daughter and make the Islamic festivals a real part of her life. We want to create warm Eid memories, and COVID-19 isn’t going to stop us from doing that. I really hope you plan to do the same.

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Here are 4 ideas to inspire you to bring that festive spirit alive for your family this Eid ul-Adha:

Hajj and Eid ul-Adha themed activities and crafts

There are so many activities to keep the little ones engaged, but having a plan for Eid-ul-Adha with some key activities that your child will enjoy, makes the task so much easier.

Kids love stories, and for us parents this is a great way to get a point across. Read to them about hajj in an age appropriate way. If you don’t have Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha related books, you can get started with this Hajj book list. Read together about the significance and the Islamic traditions of hajj, and the story of how zamzam was discovered. While you teach them the story of the divine sacrifice of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), ask relatable questions. As a lesson from the story, give your child examples of how they can sacrifice their anger, bad behavior, etc. during this season of sacrifice for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Ask your children how they would feel if they had to give away their favorite toys, so that they can comprehend the feeling.

Counting down the 10 days of Dhul Hijjah to Eid ul-Adha is another fun activity to encourage kids to do a good deed every day. Have different fun and education activities planned for these 10 days.

Family memories are made through baking together. In our household, Eid cannot pass without baking cookies together and sharing with friends and family. Bake and decorate Eid ul-Adha themed cookies in the shape of a masjid, camel, or even lamb, and share with the neighbors one day, and color in Islamic wooden crafts the next. This DIY Ka’bah craft is a must for us to make every year while learning about the Ka’bah, and it’s an easy craft you can try with your family. Have the kids save their change in this cute masjid money box that they can donate on the day of Eid.

Decorate the main family areas

We are all going to be missing visiting friends and relatives for Eid breakfast, lunch, and dinner this year, so why not jazz things up a bit more at home than usual?

Start decorating the areas of your home that you frequently occupy.  Brighten up the living area, and/or main hallway with a variety of star and masjid-shaped lights, festive lanterns, and Eid garlands, to emphasize that Eid has indeed arrived. Perhaps, decorate a tent while you tell your children about the tent city of Mina.

Prep the dining room as if you are having Guests Over

Set up the breakfast table as if you are having family and friends over for Eid breakfast.

These times will be the special moments you spend together eating as a family. Now, with all hands on deck, plan to get everyone involved to make it a full-on affair. What specific tasks can the little ones take on to feel included as part of the Eid prep and get excited?

While the Eid table set-up itself can be simple, the moments spent around the table sharing in new traditions and engaging in prayer will insha’Allah be even more meaningful and memorable.

 An afternoon picnic

Family picnics are a perfect way for family members to relax and connect. If Texas weather permits, we may take advantage of a cool sunny day with a picnic at a nearby, shady park. With the heat wave we are experiencing, it may either not happen or will be an impromptu one.

Out of all the picnics, it’s the impromptu family meals on the lawn or at a park that I love the most. The ones where we grab an old quilt, basket, light meals, fresh fruits and venture out into the backyard or a nearby park. It’ll be a perfect socially distanced Eid picnic.

Eid ul-Adha comes around just once a year, so let’s strive to make the best of it for our children, even amidst this global pandemic.

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