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Mental Illness and Ramadan

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“Yahya, I can see the angels.”

Hearing that, on the fifth night of Taraweeh, by a prominent member of my community, was astonishing. The brother was a gentle soul, always helpful, studious and had taught himself to read with Tajweed and always volunteered around the Masjid. He had a wife and a couple of beautiful children, whom he loved and adored. His voice, however, that night, was a bit louder, laughter more intense and moments of quietude unsettling. By the tenth night, the brother was no longer attending the Tarweeh. It then dawned on me that something preventable, not spiritually supernatural, had occurred.

Although mental health care has improved significantly over the last decades, many Muslims still choose not to seek treatment or quit prematurely. Stigma is perhaps the most significant cause of this. Simply, a person is made to feel that they are disqualified from full social acceptance.

Public stigma, in particular within ones’ community, is the prejudice and discrimination that blocks individuals’ access to spiritual fulfillment, avenues to employment, enriching educational opportunities, health care, and secure housing. Public stigma occurs when members of the public endorse stereotypes about mental illness and act on the basis of these stereotypes.

Anas ibn Malik narrates that: A woman, who had a defect in her brain, said: Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), I want to talk to you. He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: Mother of so and so, choose on which side of the road you would like to stand and talk, so that I may fulfill your need. He stood with her on the sidewalk until she spoke to her heart’s content. Muslim 1081

To me, one of the greatest injustice is that a person living with manageable mental illness begins to have a self-induced stigma. Self-stigma occurs when individuals belonging to a stigmatized group internalize public prejudice and direct it toward themselves. Suffering in silence, many of those needing our support, isolate themselves and find little to no help from the broader community. This self-stigma occurs when they think that everyone around them knows of their condition and will not treat them, as “normal” people should.

The Challenge of Ramadan

With the arrival of Ramadan a sharp increase of public cases of imbalance within our community begin to emerge, whereby, previously manageable psychiatric symptoms become exacerbation.

During Ramadan, even persons without mental disorders have reported irritability, decreased sleep, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety.[1] In patients with bipolar disorder, one study described a high rate (45%) of breakthrough manic or depressive episodes during Ramadan, despite stable lithium levels.[2] Fasting-related changes in circadian rhythms and insomnia are thought to contribute to psychiatric symptom exacerbation.

For many, Ramadan poses the challenge of the inability to take medications during the day, dehydration and other somatic changes that necessitate dosing modification changes. Doctors must be consulted and informed of the commencement date of Ramadan and they are best placed in deciding whether one is capable of the fast or not. This is particularly important in localities where the fast will exceed twelve hours.

Making a unilateral decision to fast, without doctor approval is irresponsible and religiously unacceptable. Medicine and healing are Islamic functions. There is no shame or sin in not fasting due to medical prohibition. Allah, the Al-Mighty, Knows His creation best and it is He who said:

“Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” Al-Baqarah 2:185

Commentators explain that Allah simply refers to illness in its broadest sense. It

Many Ahadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)) encourage the Muslims to seek medical treatment and as a prevention of ailment.

Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its remedy.”

Bukhari 7.582

Usamah ibn Shuraik narrated:

“… ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Should we seek medical treatment for our illnesses?’ He replied: ‘Yes, you should seek medical treatment, because Allah, the Exalted, has let no disease exist without providing for its cure, except for one ailment, namely, old age.’” Tirmidhi, Accepted

In fact, taking proper care of one’s health is considered by the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to be the right of the body. Bukhari as-Sawm 55, an-Nikah 89, Muslim as-siyyam 183, 193, Nisai

The Prophet not only instructed sick people to take medicine, but he himself invited expert physicians for this purpose, as Imam As-Suyuti and Ibnul Qayyim both relay in their, Medicine of the Prophet.

Should I fast Ramadan, or Not?

Illness, of course, is a relative term. In the Shari’ah there are two scenarios:

(i)               The illness or the circumstances it causes, is one from which there is hope of recovery from. The fast should be suspended until a different period in time, when the illness has subside or the essential medical treatment has been altered. The individual is required to make up the missed days, or entire month, if need be when they are cleared medically to do so.

(ii)             The illness is one from which there is no prognosis of gainful recovery wherein fasting could be sustained without harm. In this case, one is not obliged to make up the fast; rather they should feed one poor person for each day of Ramadan.

The decision as to which one of the two scenarios one finds themselves in is to be made with the direct advice of the treating medical doctor and a frank discussion with a trusted Imam familiar with the patient.

I pray that Allah gives strength to all who are suffering and that their ailment is cause for their admission to Allah’s Mercy and Eternal Jannah.

I pray for those supporting those suffering with illness. I ask the Al-Mighty to strengthen them, honor them and grant them patience and wisdom.

 

 

 

[1] Toda M, Morimoto K. Ramadan fasting—effect on healthy Muslims. Soc Beh Pers 2004;32:13-18.

[2] Kadri N, Mouchtaq N, Hakkou F, Moussaoui D. Relapses in bipolar patients: changes in social rhythm? Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 2000;3:45-9.

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Ustadh Yahya Ibrahim is Canadian by birth & education, Egyptian through a rich ancestry, Turkish via the blessing of marriage to Songul and Australian by Choice of residence and migration.Since his early teens, in the 90's, Ustadh Yahya has been talking about Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. He was blessed with numerous opportunities to meet, translate, study and teach alongside some of the Islamic worlds top scholars.Ustadh Yahya is blessed now to be living in Perth, Western Australia with his wife and three wonderful children – Shireen, Omar and Adam. He is a regular lecturer to Muslim and non-Muslim audiences their and around the world. Recently, Ustadh Yahya was awarded by the West Australian State Government the "Individual Excellence in Community Service Award."Ustadh Yahya is a passionate educator with a decades experience in school leadership as an Asst. Principal & registered Teacher.He, also, serves the Muslim community at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia as the Islamic Chaplain and teaches Islamic Ethics & Theology,internationally, with al-Kauthar Institute www.alkauthar.org .

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Avatar

    OJ

    July 3, 2015 at 4:06 PM

    Where is that hadith in Sahih Muslim? I looked up 1081, but it’s not there. Could you clarify which book it is in? Just curious, I have never seen it before and would like to read the arabic

  2. Pingback: MENTAL ILLNESS AND RAMADAN

  3. Avatar

    R

    July 3, 2015 at 8:42 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Jazakallahu khair. Thank you for mentioning this. I am trying to help someone to overcome this stigma about mental health so they seek medical treatment. The family has lived in the Middle East their entire lives, and the stigma is a very strong one. Sadly, i just don’t know if he will ever see a doctor. The symptoms have only increased over time and his family is extremely unsupportive. Please make du’a for him and all of our brothers and sisters facing this.
    May Allah reward you for your article.

  4. Avatar

    Maya Salam

    July 3, 2015 at 10:37 PM

    I like to thank you for raising this issue for the Muslim community. I work with mental health patients and witnessed Muslims suffering in silence without recognition by the family or community. Some even say there are no such thing as mental illness if you a true Muslim. This kind of ignorance very unhelpful to the patients and their family. There needs to be more awareness within our community to be able to support those who are in need of support. JazackAllahu khairan.
    Psychotherapy with Islamic values.

  5. Avatar

    Salmaan

    July 3, 2015 at 10:44 PM

    Fantastic article. Stigma is alive and well. Not just the mental health stigma but also the religious stigma aka not being pious enough. Thank you for writing this article.

    Salmaan Toor
    clincial psychologist

  6. Avatar

    Sabrina Begum

    July 3, 2015 at 11:59 PM

    Aswrwb, Jzkk for writing about this Ustadh. Sadly the stigma and self stigma is a huge problem within our communities. More needs to be done at a grassroots level to educate our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, uni and school students about mental illness and how it can be easily prevented. This article is an excellent starting point. Jzkk
    Sabrina Begum
    Mental Health First Aid Instructor

  7. Avatar

    Yasser al-Hajjam

    July 4, 2015 at 12:15 AM

    As salaamu alaikum
    Jazakallah Khair akhi Yahya for shedding light on this topic.

    Wr are conducting research in our Toronto-based Hijamah clinic, to see if hijamah can assist the body in reaching homeostasis of the neurochemicals and hormones that contribute to mental illnesses.

    We alhumdulillah have seen improvements in patients who experience social anxiety, attention deficit, and mild depression.

    Dear reader: If you are in or know someone in the Toronto area suffering bipolar or related challenges, we would be humbled if you could provide our reference and assist in gatgering case studies in this area. JazakumAllah khair – info hijamahworks.com

  8. Avatar

    Shamsun

    July 5, 2015 at 6:25 AM

    Wonderful article

  9. Avatar

    Kulsoom

    July 5, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    Really good article. There is a definite need to raise awareness in the Muslim community about mental illness. Espcially appreciate the link with Ramadan. It’s something so obvious I haven’t considered.

  10. Avatar

    Sr Jenni

    July 5, 2015 at 10:12 PM

    As salaam alaikom. The link I want to share is a point in a lecture about layat’l qadr (forgive me for misspellings, I am a new muslima), when it mentions about the number of angels coming down is almost unimaginable. Yes, there is such a thing as mental illness – but also we mustn’t rule out someone else’s reality might just be a blessing we don’t understand. See link: https://youtu.be/38dgobJ_IhE?t=37m45s

    • Yahya Ibrahim

      Yahya Ibrahim

      July 5, 2015 at 10:20 PM

      Thank you for your comment Sr Jenni.

      The angels are from the world of the unseen. They do not appear to us in their angelic form.

      The Quran mentions in Chapter 19 the visit of Jibreel to Mary in the form of a man. Also to Abraham & Lot they appeared,but were NOT known to be angels by those pious souls until informed.
      So it is not correct to accept someone claiming that they see or hear angels.
      That claim is either delusion or dishonesty.

  11. Avatar

    Sister

    July 5, 2015 at 11:32 PM

    Asalamu Alaykum,

    I suffer from chronic anxiety issues, OCD, and depression, and I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to write this article in order to shed light on such a pertinent issue which impacts all humans, be they Muslim or non-Muslim. It took me years and years of suffering, denial, and failed experiences before I became open to taking medication to help treat my symptoms.

    Many Muslims attribute a lack of piety, black magic, evil eye, or jinn as the causes of our mental maladies. However, the truth is that mental ailments are just as real as physical ones, and they too, have viable treatment options like their physical counterparts.

    Articles like these and people like yourself are doing a great service to our community by shedding light on the importance of seeking medicinal treatment for our mental illnesses.

    May Allah reward you with a place in Jannah for taking the time to write this, and I pray that it reaches those who are in dire need of a proper Islamic view.

    Barak Allahu Feekum.

    • Avatar

      M

      June 9, 2018 at 6:27 PM

      I started having extreme anxiety and panic attacks fromstarting from the third day of my fasting this ramadan. Therefore, I stopped fasting afterwards. I still do gace anxiety but I control ot with diet. If I eat after ever 2 3 hours it stays controlled. However, I feel really guilty fpr not fasting. Also people say you can fast later. I fear what If im not able to fast? Please tell me what other ways can I makeup for my missed fasts?
      This is really bugging me. Please suggest me some possible solutions and remember me in your prayers.

  12. Avatar

    Nur

    July 6, 2015 at 4:22 AM

    Assalamualaikum,
    This article is timely.. i am on my 2nd week of antidepressant for my depression, obsessive disorder and anxiety disorder. It has been very trying time for me and my husband as we struggle with my illness and other issues..
    However, even when I had to take medication, I see this as Allah’s way of testing me, especially in Ramadhan.. I am much more aware of myself in terms of getting close to Him.. alhamdulillah… tho I am still afraid what my family would think of me.. I find comfort in my prayer to Him..
    I know I am not broken…

  13. Avatar

    nimra

    July 6, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    Thank you very much, there was a dire need to discuss such a thing. JazakaAllah!

  14. Avatar

    Brother

    July 9, 2015 at 11:41 AM

    Salaam, thank you for sharing and writing this. My experience is that there are many Muslims suffering from common and treatable mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. There is no need to suffer in silence; there are plenty of therapists and treatment options out there, including both cognitive therapy as well as medication. Please, if you think you may be suffering from mental illness, do not hesitate to visit a trusted psychologist or psychiatrist in your area (but do your research before deciding on one to work with – finding the right therapist is a big part of the recovery process, as this person will work with you and get to know you very intimately). You want to find someone you are comfortable with.

  15. Avatar

    aneesa

    July 13, 2015 at 3:58 PM

    I cannot express how grateful i am for this article!

  16. Avatar

    Nora

    July 17, 2015 at 2:54 AM

    As someone who’s mother had a mental illness, I find this article informative and helpful in letting others no that these people are not alone. My family comes from a culture that frowns upon mental illness and tries to keep it a secret from the world because ‘what will people say?’ It was very difficult and scary for a young child to see a mother go through such ordeals and at the same time having to keep a secret because it was shameful. I wish there was an accepting community of such illnesses and cases just like any other disease. I hated dealing with these circumstances and I always would wonder why can’t I have a normal mom? Anyhow, coming from first hand experience, it’s painful for the loved ones of the ill, I can only wonder how the ill persons themselves feel

  17. Avatar

    Sister

    July 20, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    Jazakumullahu khairun sheikh for bringing light to this very important topic that is often neglected in islamic circles. Another point that I wanted to add was that Ramadan in and of itself can also often serve as a trigger for many Muslims that have mental health issues (even in those individuals that may not be fasting). This is a commonly known occurrence for nonMuslims during nonMuslims holidays, example Christmas etc.

  18. Avatar

    umair

    August 1, 2015 at 6:50 AM

    I did not fast as i am recovering from anoerxia.
    not only is it a mental challenge, my body cannot, NOT eat for long
    may Allah forgive me

  19. Avatar

    Mujahidah

    May 14, 2016 at 11:48 PM

    Assalamualaikum wrh. Very helpful article for me. I just had panic attacks last two months but alhamdulillah I took no time to seek a psychiatrist for help. These attacks lead to anxiety disorder and agarophobia. Although my doctor told me it’s just a mild one, I still find it distracting especially when I am in public. I am still on medication and will only stop after 6 months. Ramadan is coming soon, please make dua that I can survive during fasting and have strong patience with this sickness. I pray that Allah will cure this sickness and I’ll pray the same duas for everyone. Stay strong and I know we will gain a lot of benefits from this test at the end of the day. Smile always and stay positive insyaAllah.

    P/s: if anyone knows any remedies for this kind of sickness, please drop a comment, I’d love to try. My Allah reward you. Jzk.

    • Avatar

      Fatimah

      December 5, 2016 at 4:12 AM

      Sister I have schizophrenia, and I am being treated with hijama. I used to hear voices both inside of my head and outside my body. I had anxiety attacks, depression, visual and auditory hallucinations. But alhamdulilah, I feel so much better now. I take my medicines and I do hijama (cupping therapy). Give hijama a chance. The prophet Muhammad peace be upon him instructed us to eat honey and to get treated with hijama. The virtues of hijama are so many, google it. May Allah heal us all and may He reward us for our patience.

      • Avatar

        Fatimah

        December 5, 2016 at 4:21 AM

        Chiquita is right. Pharmaceutical drugs have awful side effects. I started shaking, and half of my face got paralyzed. Hijama on the other hand does not have side effects. In sha Allah soon I will just use hijama and quit psychiatric drugs completely!

  20. Avatar

    Chiquita

    May 15, 2016 at 9:21 AM

    Bismillah…as someone who spent 11 years wading through the mental health industry and who has successfully made a full recovery by the grace of Allah SWT, I can tell you that mental health professionals are not equipped or trained to work with Muslims who have mental illness. Not even the Muslim therapists. They not only re-victimize and further stigmatize Muslim patients but they coerce them into taking expensive pharmaceutical products that are very harsh on the body. These products do little to reduce symptoms and are not even tested for long-term use before being approved by the FDA. I suffered reproductive and neurological damage from psychotropic drugs. I spent three years running hospital based support groups for the mentally ill and can say with confidence that the current system does not work. There is a dire need for culturally competent, community-driven solutions. Imams need to be trained to appropriately intervene in the lives of mentally ill Muslims. Every masjid should have a support group for members with mental health challenges. Families and friends need greater assistance in dealing with their loved ones and navigating complex health systems. Community members need to pool their resources to give charity to those struggling to pay for mental health treatment. And consumers need to be empowered. Contrary to popular belief, a person doesn’t have to experience a mental illness for forever. With patience, perseverance and reliance on Allah, one can recover just like I did alhamdullilah.

    • Avatar

      Repenting Muslima

      July 1, 2016 at 1:48 PM

      I agree with you Chiquita so much. I am a sufferer who has jumped from one psychiatrist to another. They either make me feel like I should be ashamed and never mention my illnesses to anyone or they give me such heavy medication for years that I forget myself sometimes and all these chemicals alter behavior and motor skills. It is very scary. I was diagnosed at 17 and now 20 years later, due to poorly educated doctors I have become worse. I even travele overseas for treatment where I did gain some insight into my illnesses but I hit a plateau and stopped improving. I can’t stay in the same job for long because I fall so sick from being stressed out at work that most jobs land me in the ER. Every day I fear God’s wrath to an obsessive extent because I take so many pills throughout the day hence I cannot fast. The medications have rendered me diabetic. And severe panic attacks leave me paralyzed for days where I miss my prayers. And to top this off, I have sinned through words as well as action and the remorse I feel directly afterwards is almost too awful to bear. All I do is feel guilty and pray for God’s forgiveness day and night. Thank you for your time in reading my comment. Salam.

      • Avatar

        Fatimah

        December 5, 2016 at 4:26 AM

        May Allah forgive us all and heal us. May Allah bless us, protect us and guide us all. May Allah provide for us and help us every second of our lives. Oh Allah, have mercy upon us. Ameen!

        • Avatar

          Ahmed

          June 18, 2017 at 10:08 AM

          Dearest Sisters Fatimah and Muslima – I pray for you both to find peace and comfort in the knowledge and belief that Allah, Ta’alah, is Oft Returning, Oft Forgiving – that He is truly most compassionate, most merciful and truly full of love for His servants. May Allah, Ta’alah, bless you both with ever stronger iman in His strength, His patience, His great love for His servants and His abundant mercy. May you – and all Muslims suffering through any and all afflictions – be blessed with shifah – complete cure and goodness from our Creator. Know that He watches over you at every moment and, please, dear Sisters, trust Him to guide and help you through all your difficulties. Our holy Prophet, sa’allahu alehei wa salaam, tells us that Allah will never turn away from those who turn to Him. Blessings and warmest wishes to you both — and the entire ummah — of Ramadhan Mubarak. Ameen!

  21. Avatar

    Muhammad Siddique

    August 5, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    JazakAllah Khair for this article. I pray it reaches many and may Allah (swt) help them and guide them. I was most eagerly looking for something written on this topic that made sense and this article sure does.

  22. Avatar

    Hoda

    May 30, 2017 at 11:46 AM

    ASA, Thank you so much for posting this. As a muslim all my life I have struggled with Anxiety and PTSD for the last 5 years to a horrible degree. I have taken many meds and have found some help but the harm outweighed the good. I have stopped my meds and have found an older and natural form of medicine. I am talking about medical marijuana. I am a muslim mother of 2, married to a wonderful muslim man who supports me 100% after seeing me suffer for years and being my rock. I was very hesitant to try this of course with all stigma surrounding it but I felt it was truly my last and only option. You know the saying “Allah will find for you a solution in the most unexpected ways” well I truly believe he led me to this. This is a plant that he created for us, and I truly believe it’s a cure that is being hidden and held back from us. Regardless of that, the point of this is not to say I don’t fast and smoke all day. In fact I don’t smoke at all, I eat it! The effects are longer and much healthier for my body. The point of this is that I wanted to say every year I try fasting, every year I make it through a couple days then my anxiety gets so bad, and the guilt comes in and I just feel like an awful muslim. But enough! I can’t do that anymore, Allah has given us so much ease in religion. Only he knows the degree of ones pain though it may not be visible to the rest of the world. Only Allah knows what are are going through and what’s in our heart. I truly hope my reward will be as great as that who has fasted. I wanted to say badly fast but it really does hurt me more then anything. I hope someone reads and finds help in it! Allah loves us all, and wants only ease for us. May Allah bless us all and May you find easy in your suffering and inshallah we reunite together in a place where no pain no harm can ever affect us. Ameen.

  23. Avatar

    Muneeb

    May 7, 2018 at 8:12 AM

    As salam u alikum everyone. Ramdan is upon us. I have found a tiny app to help me keep track of Namaz timings and to listen to recitation of Holy Quran whenever I want to. I want to share it with everyone. I hope you all shall find it useful.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.teespire.islam

  24. Avatar

    Celia

    June 1, 2018 at 2:26 PM

    BarakAllahufik thank you for that.

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#Life

7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health.  Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks. Here are 7 powerful techniques to make sure you’re not one of them.

New Year's Resolutions
Who uses sticky notes on a cork board #stockimagefail
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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

It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking – after wondering if New Year’s is halal to celebrate, you probably want to lose some weight, make more money, talk to family more, or be a better Muslim in some way.  The New Year for many of us is a moment to turn a fresh page and re-imagine a better self. We make resolutions and hope despite the statistics we’ll be the outliers that don’t fail at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health. Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks.

Given such a high failure rate, let’s talk about how you can be among the few who set and achieve your goals successfully.

1. Be Thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful

You’ve been successful this past year in a number of areas. Think of your worship, career, relationships, personality, education, health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual), and finances. Take a moment to reflect on where you’ve succeeded, no matter how trivial, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo, and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for those successes.

When you’re thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), He increases you in blessings.  Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily, My punishment is indeed severe’” [14:7] 

In recent years, there’s been more discussion on the benefits of practicing gratitude, though oftentimes it’s not clear to whom or what you’re to be grateful towards. We, of course, know that we’re not grateful simply to the great unconscious cosmos, but to our Creator.

Despite this difference, there exist interesting studies on how the practice of gratitude affect us. Some of the benefits include:

  • Better relationships with those thanked
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved psychological health
  • Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
  • Better sleep
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved mental strength

Building on Your Successes

In addition to being thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), reflect on why you were successful in those areas.  What was it you did day in and day out to succeed? Analyze it carefully and think of how you can either build on top of those present successes, or how you can transport the lessons from those successes to new areas of your life to succeed there as well.

In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they note that we have a tendency to try to solve big problems with big solutions, but a better technique that has actual real-world success in solving complex problems is to instead focus on bright spots and build on those bright spots instead. You have bright spots in how you’ve worked and operated, so reflect on your successes and try to build on top of them.

2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal

Oftentimes when we want to change, we try to change too many areas.  This can lead to failure quickly because change in one area is not easy, and attempting to do it in multiple areas simultaneously will simply accelerate failure.

Instead, pick one goal – a goal that you are strongly motivated to fulfill, and one that you know if you were to make that goal, it would have a profoundly positive impact on your life as well as on others whom you are responsible to.

In making the case based on scientific studies, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Further down, he states:

“However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.”

When setting your goal, be sure to set a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.  “I want to lose weight” is not a SMART goal.  “I want to achieve 10% bodyfat at 200 lbs in 9 months” is specific (you know the metrics to achieve), measurable (you can check if you hit those metrics), achievable (according to health experts, it can be done, realistic (it’s something you can do), and time-bound (9 months).

3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity

Once you lock onto your goal, you should ask for success in your goal every day, multiple times a day.  Increasing in your du’a and asking Allah for success not only brings you the help of the Most High in getting to your goal, it also ensures it remains top of mind consistently.

A few of the best ways to increase the chances of a supplication being accepted:

  • Increase the frequency of raising your hands after salah and asking for your intended outcome.
  • Asking while you are in sujood during prayers.
  • Praying and supplicating in the last 3rd of the night during qiyam ul-layl.

When you make your du’a, be specific in what you ask for, and in turn, you will have a specific rather than a vague goal at the forefront of your mind which is important because one of the major causes of failure for resolutions themselves is lacking specificity.

4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency

The most powerful impact on the accomplishment of any goal isn’t in having the optimal technique to achieve the goal – it is rather how consistent you are in trying to achieve it.  The time and frequency given to achievement regularly establishes habits that move from struggle to lifestyle. As mentioned in the previous section, day, time, and place were all important to getting the goal, habit, or task accomplished.

In order to be consistent, schedule it in your calendar of choice. When you schedule it, make sure you:

  • Pick the time you’re most energetic and likely to do it.
  • Work out with family, friends, and work that that time is blocked out and shouldn’t be interrupted.
  • Show up even if you’re tired and unmotivated – do something tiny, just to make sure you maintain the habit.

A Word on Automation

Much continues to be written about jobs lost to automation, but there are jobs we should love losing to automation, namely, work that we do that can be done freely or very cheaply by a program.  For example, I use Mint to capture all my accounts (bank, credit card, investments, etc) and rather than the old method of gathering receipts and tracking transactions, all of it is captured online and easily accessible from any device.

Let’s say you wanted to give to charity, and you wanted to give a recurring donation of $5 a month to keep MuslimMatters free – all you have to do is set up an automated recurring donation at the link and you’re done.

Likewise, if you’re saving money for a goal, you can easily do so by automating a specific amount of money coming out of your bank account into another account via the online banking tools your bank provides.  You can automate bill payments and other tasks to clear your schedule, achieve your goals, and keep you focused on working the most important items.

5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

We’re often told we should set up SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.  However, one way to quickly fail a goal is by defining success according to outcomes, which aren’t necessarily in your hand.  For example, you might say as above:

“I want to be at 10% body fat in 9 months at 200 lbs.”

This is a SMART goal, and it’s what you should aim for, but when you assess success, you shouldn’t focus on the result as it’s somewhat outside the scope of your control. What you can do is focus on behaviors that help you achieve that goal, or get close to it, and then reset success around whether you’re completing your behaviors.  As an example:

“I want to complete the P90X workout and diet in 90 days.”

Here, you’re focused on generally accepted notions on behaviors that will get you close to your goal.  Why? Because you control your behaviors, but you can’t really control the outcomes. Reward yourself when you follow through on your behavior goals, and the day-to-day commitments you make.  If you find that compliance is good, and you’re getting closer to your goal, keep at it.

Read the following if you want to really understand the difference in depth.

6. Set Realistic Expectations – Plan to Fail, and Strategize Recovery

After too many failures, most people give up and fall off the wagon.  You will fail – we all do. Think of a time you’ve failed – what should you have done to get back on your goal and complete it?  Now reflect on the upcoming goal – reflect on the obstacles that will come your way and cause you to fail, and how when you do fail, you’ll get right back on it.

Once you fail, ask yourself, was it because of internal motivation, an external circumstance, a relationship where expectations weren’t made clear, poor estimation of effort – be honest, own what you can do better, and set about attempting to circumvent the obstacle and try again.

7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals

Once you’re tracking behaviors, simply mark down in an app or tracker that you completed the behavior.  Once you see you’re consistent in your behaviors over the long-term, you’ll have the ability to meaingfully review your plan and assess goal progress.

This is important because as you attempt to perform the work necessary to accomplish the goal, you’ll find that your initial assessments for completion could be wrong. Maybe you need more time, maybe you need a different time. Maybe you need a different process for accomplishing your goals. Assess your success at both weekly and monthly intervals, and ask yourself:

  • How often was I able to fulfill accomplish my required behaviors?  How often did I miss?
  • What was the reason for those misses?
  • Can I improve what I’m doing incrementally and change those failures to successes?  Or is the whole thing wrong and not working?

Don’t make changes when motivation dies after a few days.  Don’t make big changes on a weekly basis. Set an appointment on a weekly basis simply to review successes and challenges, making small tweaks while maintaining the overall plan. Set a monthly appointment with yourself to review and decide what you’ll change, if anything, in how you operate.

Be something of a Tiger mom about it – aim for 90% completion of behaviors, or an A grade, when assessing whether you’ve done well or not.  Anything below 90% is a failing grade.

(ok, so Tiger Moms want 100% or more, but let’s assume this is a somewhat forgiving Tiger Mom)

Putting it All Together

Set ‘Em Up

  • First, take a moment to reflect and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
  • Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
  • Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.

Knock ‘Em Down

  • Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
  • On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
  • Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
  • Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.

What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?

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I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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

covery islam story
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“How did you convert to Islam” is a question that is commonly asked to those who convert to Islam. While the short answer to this question is, “I said shahada”, the long (and more detailed) answer is one that is commonly expected.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of “born Muslims” who ask this question do such out of good intentions. For this reason, I wrote this piece out of a place of love and not out of a place of judgment or hatred. While it is important for “born Muslims” to be mindful of how they ask this question, it is equally important for converts to not hold ill will towards born Muslims who ask this question. Due to the fact that Islamophobia is rampant in both the media and political discourse, many “born Muslims” are naturally shocked and emotional when they meet people who accept Islam. Some “born Muslims” have also had limited interactions with converts and therefore, to them, it is not only shocking for them to meet converts, but they are genuinely unaware of certain etiquettes when it comes to asking a convert for his or her story.

In this piece, I am going to write about a pet peeve that is shared among many Muslim converts. While I cannot speak for every single convert, I can say that based on innumerable conversations I have had with fellow converts, there is one thing most of us agree on and it is this; it is rude to ask a convert about his or her conversion story when you haven’t built a relationship with the convert. This piece will explain why many converts consider such a question to be intrusive. The purpose of this article is to better educate the “born Muslim” community on how they can do a better job in support of converts to Islam. In this piece, I will break down the reasons why this question can come off as intrusive if it isn’t asked in a proper manner. I will also include personal anecdotes to support my position.

I would like to conclude by saying that I do not discourage “born Muslims” from asking this question entirely, rather I am merely arguing that this question should be asked with the best of adab.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:  “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi) For this reason, such a question should be asked for purpose and it should be done with the best of manners. This is supported by the fact that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)

Note: For the sake of avoiding confusion, the term “born Muslim” is defined as anyone who was brought up in a Muslim household.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask about the person’s personal relationship with God

Within the context of a friendship, it is generally understood that friends will share personal details with each other. However, it is also generally understood that it is rude to ask people you just met personal questions. To ask a new acquaintance a personal question in most cases comes off as intrusive. This is especially the case in which you ask a person about his or her relationship with God.

For example, there are women who do not wear hijab. Even if we do (for a moment) ignore the Islamic ruling concerning hijab, we should all agree that a woman’s reason for wearing (or not wearing) hijab is a personal matter that is between said woman and God. If one was to ask a woman who doesn’t wear hijab why she doesn’t wear it, that would be intrusive because such a question would involve interrogating said woman about her relationship with God.

Another example concerns a married couple. If one was to meet a married person for the first time, it can be considered rude to ask said person about his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

When one asks a convert about his or her choice to convert, one is literally asking said convert about his or her relationship with God.

I am not saying that it is wrong in all cases to ask such a question. However, one should be mindful of the fact that because this is a personal question, one should have at least have built some form of a friendship with said person before asking.

convert friendship hugs

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is another way of asking, “Why do you believe in Islam?”

Many people identify to a faith tradition because it was part of their upbringing. If you were to ask a person who was born Muslim, “why are you Muslim?” you might hear said Muslim respond with, “I am Muslim because I was raised Muslim” and you wouldn’t hear a detailed answer beyond this.

In most cases, a convert to Islam (or any other religion) did such after research and critical thinking. To convert to a new religion involves not only deep thinking but a willingness to step into the unknown.

I have on many occasions told my story to people. In most cases I will ask the person “why do you believe in Islam?” I am then disappointed when I find out that the only reason the person is Muslim is due to upbringing. While I am not saying that said person’s faith is invalid or less than mine, a person who only identifies with a religion due to upbringing is a person who didn’t engage in critical thinking.

Any relationship should be built upon equality and mutual benefit. If I as a convert am able to provide a well thought out answer as to why I believe in Islam, I expect a well thought out answer to the same question from the person who initially asked me.

Again, while I am not saying it is wrong in all cases to ask, a born Muslim should ask himself or herself “why do I believe in Islam?” In my opinion, there are many who are born into Muslim families who don’t truly believe until later in their lives. Those Muslims in my opinion (and mine alone) are similar to converts.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to perform labor.

In some cases, “born Muslims” expect converts to tell their stories. I can remember a few incidents in which I have been asked to tell my story and I politely declined. In response, the person became angry. This to me is a symptom of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to know anything about anyone else (aside from people with whom one has a natural relationship with).

In addition, one should be cognizant of the fact that converts typically get asked this question repeatedly. Thus after a significant amount of time, a convert is prone to get tired of repeating the same question over again repeatedly. Naturally, it can become exhausting eventually.

While I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question in all cases, one should not ask this question to a convert from a place of entitlement. I can think of cases where I have been asked this question by “born Muslims” and when I have refused to provide an answer, they have gotten angry at me. This is entitlement.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to explain his or her personal life.

Backbiting is one of the worst sins in Islam. Another major sin is to disrespect one’s parents. Thus we can conclude that backbiting about one’s parents is a huge sin.

This is evidenced by the fact that Allah has said (ﷻ) “We have enjoined on humankind kindness to parents.” (Quran 29:8)

A typical follow-up question to “Why did you convert?” is “How did your parents react?” This in many cases puts the convert in a position where one may feel pressured to mention some negative details about his or her parents. In Islam, parents are to be respected, even if they aren’t Muslim.

Before asking a convert this question, one should be mindful of not putting unnecessary pressure on the convert to commit this injustice.

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

However, I do maintain a firm belief that in any true friendship, things will be shared. I don’t think it is wrong in itself to ask a convert about his or her story provided that there already exists a relationship where personal information can be shared. It is highly suggested to hang out with the person first and then ask the convert for his or her story.

As a personal rule of mine, unless I have hung out with the person one on one at least once (or a few times in group gatherings) I don’t tell any born Muslims my conversion story. Naturally, I only share personal details with people I consider to be a friend. If I would hang out with the person, I consider that person to be a friend.

The reason I am also hesitant to share my story with just anyone who asks me is because I can think of countless cases of when I have shared my story to people I have never seen or heard from again. I choose to exert my agency to share personal details of my life to people who I consider to be part of my life. While many Muslims are happy when people convert, many Muslims also fail to provide any form of support for said convert after conversion. I have seen too many cases of when a person recites shahadah, people pull their phones out to record it, but very few will give the convert his or her number. I genuinely believe that many “born Muslims” fail to see the big picture in this regard.

Before asking a convert for his or her story, you should ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person. If you are not comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person, there is nothing wrong with that. However, you shouldn’t expect the convert to share personal details if you aren’t comfortable sharing personal details. Even if you have built a close friendship with someone, you still aren’t expected to share every detail of your life to someone. Even if you consider a convert to be a close friend, you should still respect a convert’s wishes to not share his or her story.

Conclusion

While I have addressed concerns about the tendency of “born Muslims” to ask converts about their journeys, I want to acknowledge that most people have good intentions. In Islam, the natural state of any person is one of righteousness.

I firmly believe that a friendship that isn’t built on trust and the sharing of personal information isn’t a genuine friendship. Therefore the key term in this context is “friend”. If you wish to ask a convert his or her story, please make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. You are already friends with the convert to a point where asking a convert about his or her relationship with God isn’t an intrusive question. Ask yourself, “Are we close enough where we can share other personal details of our lives with each other?”
  2. You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
  3. You don’t feel entitled to know about the convert’s journey and that you will allow the convert to choose not to share such information if the convert doesn’t wish to.
  4. You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
  5. You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.

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