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Studying Islam Overseas: Nadwatul ‘Ulama in India | The Motherland – Prelude

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(Updated)

Prelude | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

This post is a prelude to the “The Motherland” series which will go over the benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas in India, institutions of learning there in, and Nihal Khan’s journey of studying at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year. The subsequent articles in this series will detail his experiences and reflections from his travels and studies in India.

. . .

Between the Traditional Study of Islam and Academianadwa

Though I was initially planning on pursuing law school as a career path, but I can happily say I found my niche in the academic study of religion, more so of Islam. I consciously decided to pursue Islamic studies at a full-fledged level in my last year of undergrad at Montclair State University. Though generally the eastern and western traditions of studying Islam have been at odds with each other ever since the days of British colonization, I found that in today’s day and age there is a dire need to synthesize both of these philosophies to an extent in which they become workable realities.

In summary, the eastern study of Islam is focused on classical textual understanding in which the soul of Islam is understood and envisioned as absolute truth—commonly taught in madrasas and Islamic universities in the Muslim world. The western study of Islam is focused on orientalist analyses of the religion, anthropological, historical, and sociological factors that affected the adherence of Islam in those frames. This form of study is common in western universities that teach religion in a deconstructionalist form while ignoring the matter of absolute truth.

I had already been looking at Nadwatul ‘Ulama prior to pursuing Islamic studies as a research career. I was seeking spiritual gratification through the traditional Islamic sciences. After being accepted into the Hartford Seminary’s Master’s in Islamic Studies program, I decided to make this a full-time endeavor.

But why Nadwatul ‘Ulama?

Nadwatul ‘Ulama: Why Did I Chose to Study Here?

Firstly, being an overseas citizen of India (OCI) and possessing a lifetime visa to the country had made my task of studying 75% easier. The biggest issue students of the sacred Islamic sciences face with studying overseas is constantly getting a visa renewed. Though the Hartford Seminary had accepted me and allowed me to pursue extracurricular research, they were not funding my trip nor had I asked them to do so. With the OCI, I did not need to do specific field research where the contingency of my visa’s validity was dependent upon a university, nor was I really eligible to spend a large chunk of time in any other country due to the visa issue. With the OCI, I can enter and exit India as I please.

Secondly, Nadwatul ‘Ulama seemed like the easiest institution to be admitted into for a foreigner while not having to worry about an unstable political climate and tough admission guidelines. Madinah University, Umm al-Qura, Imam Muhammad, Qaseem, and the other Saudi universities are not bad places to study as a student who has an idea of Islamic thought, but admissions take a year (sometimes even more) and there is no guarantee that I would get in. Madinah also has a strong population of American students, hence that is a huge plus to keep you socially engaged (though Nadwa is lacking in this regard and can significantly negatively affect someone, I came here knowing this). Sadly Yemen, Syria, and Egypt have all fallen into a great amount of political turmoil in recent years which deterred/prevented me from studying over there, so Dar al-Mustafa, Al-Azhar, and Abu Noor were all out of the question.

The Rumi Darwaza: An entry gate into Old Lucknow built by the Mughal dynasty.Rumidarwaza

Due to my Indian ethnicity and the post-2008 politics between India and Pakistan due to the Mumbai bombings, Darul Uloom Karachi, Binoria Town, Ashrafiyyah, the International Islamic University of Islamabad, and all the other Pakistani institutions became very limited choices for me. The only places left were maybe some universities in Jordan or Qasid Institute, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, the European Institute of Islamic Sciences in France, or Darul Ulooms in England or the United States. I did not look at universities in Jordan much, Qasid seemed to be mainly focused on Arabic and did not have a complete Islamic studies program (someone can correct me if I am wrong here), Malaysia was not on my radar since I did not know anyone from there at the time, I got word from people that the EIIS in France was not at its peak that it was known for, and because I am a former student of the madrasa system within America, I wanted to get a different experience of studying Islam outside of that environment (England is included here).

There were also some institutions in the gulf countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, but I was not too interested as the curricula were not my cup of tea for what I needed. Not to mention I wanted a feel of what it was like to live outside of the United States–which I would not have achieved by living in a gulf country that looks, feels, and operates very much like America. But some places like the Qatar Institute of Islamic Sciences seemed to show a very nice advanced curriculum with famed Muslim philosophers as visiting professors such as Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Dr. Jasser Auda.

Thirdly, Nadwatul ‘Ulama has quite a jubilant history within the subcontinent in the areas of unity within the Muslim community, academia, comparative studies, all while rooted in the traditional textual understanding of Islam. In the late 1800s, some forty to fifty years after the great mutiny where thousands of Indians–regardless of religion, were massacred at the hands of British imperialists, Muslims were figuring out what direction they wanted to take their educational institutions. In a nutshell, India’s largest and most influential Muslim thinkers at the time—who would later found the erudite institutions known as Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Darul Uloom Deoband, presented two approaches to preserving Islam which each side disagreed with. The AMU approach was more concerned about teaching the secular sciences within a Muslim shell (I will be writing more about AMU in a future MM article), while Deoband’s (also in an upcoming article) was entrenched in understanding, teaching, and preaching the textual tradition of Islam.

The tomb of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, a former ruler of Awadh. A not-so-common tourist attraction with a beautiful view in Lucknow.

oldlucknow

In the midst of these two schools, a conference of scholars representing each approach (and from outside these two groups) formed a think tank of sorts called the Nadwatul ‘Ulama (the conference of scholars). They had a conference which eventually blossomed into the institution which we have today in Lucknow. The premise was to be open and inviting to Muslims of all backgrounds, schools of thought, associations–be it Deobandi, Ahle Hadith (Salafi), Sufi, Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali, political activists (which would lead to the later formation of the Jamaat-e-Islami), and others–as well as recognize the academic needs of the time and provide solutions for them. This sense of unity and functionality within the subcontinent really struck me in a positive light, as this institution preserved the Muslim community at a time of great strife and turmoil while not limiting their intellectual abilities of growth. I have studied in various traditions throughout my short life and learned to be critical of whatever religiously-political reactionary establishment of Islam that I had taken from. Hence, Nadwa just seemed like the right fit for me. I felt these similar values are what American Muslims are in need of, hence after visiting in 2014, I applied and got into Nadwatul ‘Ulama.

Academics

There are various streams at Nadwa to study from according to the student’s liking. All of these streams fall under the traditional Dars al-Nizami curriculum with some tweaks from the institution. Though foreign students are usually not turned away, officially you need to have a valid visa to stay in India to be given admission, A student should be able to converse either in Urdu or Arabic (you can learn either during your stay) so that you are not placed in the first year of the program. (Though my personal recommendation, it is better to get a good grounding in your basics back home before coming to large institutions where you are not given individual attention due to the large volume of students). Though a “section” is the English rendering, the following are all technically traditional ‘alimiyyah programs with respect to the curriculum. Here is the break down:

The ‘Aaliyah Section (BA Equivalent)

This section is four years long and is Nadwa’s main stream. Many students that study here usually come from another madrasa branch of Nadwa in India, have studied before the beginning of the first year of this program, and are given the most attention from the BA equivalent streams. The strong points of this section and the khusoosi are Arabic, Fiqh, and Hadith. This section is taught fully in Urdu

The Khusoosi Section (BA Equivalent)

Though similar to the ‘aaliyah section, the khusoosi is mainly for students that are coming from a high school (10+2) or BA program. Basically, the students here have not studied in a madrasa for a majority of their lives (do not forget that India has very clean-cut delineations for students studying specific majors. What you study is what you will be working in for the rest of your life). I have a lot of respect for many students in this section as they went from studying commerce, finance, or engineering to Islamic studies. This section also has a large amount of students who may be in between certain milestones in their life, so many may not stick around for next year. Some are studying in this program because they failed other majors in college and are trying to establish themselves in a completely different field. Students spend three years here and then automatically transfer into the ‘aaliyah section in the last two years. This section is also taught fully in Urdu.

The Arabic Section (BA Equivalent)

This section mainly caters to foreigners who do not have a stronghold in Urdu. All subjects mirror the khusoosi section, except that all classes are taught in Arabic, Shafi’i fiqh is learned by the students instead of Hanafi fiqh, and there is much more emphasis on Hadith over Fiqh. I initially took admission here but transferred into the Urdu section later as I felt the studies were stronger in terms of academic rigor in the latter. At the same time the students in the Urdu section were much more inclined towards in-depth study as their environments and teachers sought to do that much better.

A view of the Nadwa Masjid from the Athar hostel. hostel

Do not think you will not learn Arabic in the other sections, rather I have seen better Arabic speakers come from the Urdu section compared to the Arabic section. As mentioned before, the only plus advantage is that all classes are taught in the Arabic language.

For those wondering, there is no dedicated one year for dawrah al-hadith (a complete reading of all six books of hadith) at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the BA Equivalent (‘alimiyyah) sections. Though you begin studying the six books of hadith, Nadwa wants you to finish the Fadeelah program if you would like to finish Bukhari and Muslim, the two main canonical works of Prophetic traditions in Sunni Islam.

The Fadeelah Section (MA Equivalent/Takhassus/Specialization)

This is probably the crux of Nadwa’s academic offerings. After completing one of the above sections and having a grasp in Urdu and Arabic, students are given the choice of specializing in a science —Prophetic traditions (hadith), Quranic exegesis (tafsir), Islamic law (fiqh), Islamic evangelism (da’wah), completing the remaining portions of the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and learning to research texts, write articles, and the like. This is a two year program and comes highly recommended by many people such as Shaykh Akram Nadwi of the United Kingdom.

Nadwa definitely has the environment needed for a student of Islamic sciences to progress in whatever they are studying.  These are the base programs. Students are expected to read books outside of class, engage in short research projects, as that is the actual point of coming to Nadwa in the view of all the teachers. Though it takes time to break in to the culture, food, and people, once you get into the swing of things you will be able to drink from the wells of knowledge therein. My own personal out-of-class educational endeavors took me to Mazahir al-Uloom in Saharanpur where I sat with Shaykh Yunus Jaunpuri (India’s most senior scholar of hadith) for two days, Darul Uloom Deoband, and various madrasas in Gujarat. Just to show how big of a deal Shaykh Yunus is, Shaykh Akram Nadwi is also currently in the midst of authoring a book on him and his accomplishments in the sciences of hadith.

This series will be continued every week and will cover the various experiences and lessons I learned throughout this endevour to study Islam in India. I hope to convey to readers how life is in India for an American through speaking about my interactions with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions and places I have and will continue to visit within India.

. . .

Check out Part I of this series: Experiences of Islam, Politics and Culture in India.

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Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Avatar

    hafsa

    August 26, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Salam alaykum brother. Great article! For women who have less opportunities to study in a traditional Islamic Institution like this one, I found Islamic Online University to be a very good forum though you miss out on the tarbiyya and training you receive as a part of studying on campus.

  2. Avatar

    Zara

    August 26, 2015 at 2:28 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this, it’s a fascinating read.

    Do you have suggestions for women who wish to study Islam formally to such an extent but aren’t able to do so at traditional institutions?

    • Avatar

      Faisal

      August 26, 2015 at 8:26 PM

      Yes you can consider Cambridge Islamic College [www.cambridgeislamiccollege.org]

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      Ws Zara,

      Though I’m currently in the middle of publishing the rest of my experience through a series of posts on MM, it’s important to remember a few points which I personally recommend:

      1. Consider heading overseas ONLY after you’ve exhausted the study of basic subjects. Larger institutions are not able to individually cater to each student as much as a personal teacher or smaller classrooms are able to do. Before even considering it, one ought to have studied Nahw, sarf, basic tafsir, usool al din, basic fiqh, usool, etc before. And if you think opportunity is limited in America for women to study Islam, then overseas will only be worse. You need to pinpoint local resources and juice them to the best of your ability in helping you study.

      2. There are institutions where women can study overseas in many places–it just won’t be like a western college classroom with comfy tables, chairs, air conditioning, etc. It will require struggle. Many times western students think that the first class educations experience we get back home are what we should expect when we go overseas. It would prepare a student–be it male or female–for them to be ready to sacrifice the comforts which they are extremely accustomed to in the pursuit of knowledge. Don’t put yourself through hardship on purpose, instead–be ready to endure it when you are tested with it.

  3. Avatar

    Faisal

    August 26, 2015 at 8:07 PM

    Please check out the video titled from Nadwatul Ulama to Cambridge Islamic College by Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Cambridge Islamic College is for both men and women.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swNAWtAtUE8

  4. Avatar

    Bakhtawar

    August 26, 2015 at 11:01 PM

    Jazakallah khair for such an article. Maybe this will motivate others to share their experiences studying Islam abroad. I’m looking into studying islamic studies at International Islamic University Islamabad myself, but haven’t been able to find anyone who has graduated from that program.

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      Ws Bakhtawar,

      Thank you for your kind words! I know a few graduates from the university in Islamabad. If you’re serious about heading there, then feel free to e-mail me at nihalk1 at gmail.

  5. Avatar

    Zuhaib

    August 26, 2015 at 11:14 PM

    In the US.
    Darul Qasim in Chicago IL offers a comprehensive curriculum.
    DarulQasim.org

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      Salam Zuhaib,

      Yes! Darul Qasim is a great place to consider within the United States. It’s a privilege to sit and benefit from Shaykh Amin Kholwadia.

  6. Avatar

    dr ikram

    August 27, 2015 at 4:22 AM

    Jazakallah khair for such a good article.did you have any prior islamic education which helped you in gaining admission in nadwa.im a doctor by profession and i dont know arabic or urdu.though i can read simple urdu i cannot write it.how to go about gaining admission in places like nadwa.i have a keen desire to learn islam from a place like nadwa.currently im pursuing a diploma from iou.

  7. Avatar

    Abu Milk Sheikh

    August 27, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Are there any foreign family-men in the program? I.e. Men who have brought their families and are attending Nadwa. If so, how do they manage?

  8. Avatar

    Ed

    September 14, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    Studying abroad has its advantages in that you can be among Muslims that live with Sharia law. You don’t have people giving you a degrading look because you wear a Burka or Headscarf. You study among Muslims. On the other hand you are subjected to a lower class status as a human being because women are not see as equals to men. Sharia law rules to whatever the Ayatollah says.

    The advantage of studying in the west is that you have exposure to better schools and a respected education. You are treated as an equal to everyone and don’t have to wear any restrictive clothing. You can be like a man, drive a car like a man and participate in just about any activity you are capable of performing, just like a man. Such freedom allows for the full expression of yourself as a human being. There is no fear of men or their backward social (sharia) views. Women are encouraged to be equals in western society and frowned upon when they choose a lesser role for themselves. That is why there is no Taylor Swift, celebrity in Muslim society. Its your life, you came into this world alone and you will leave it alone. You choose for yourself.

  9. Pingback: » The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India

  10. Avatar

    Faraz

    September 15, 2015 at 10:47 PM

    Good read, my only comment is that it seems like you “settled” for Nadwatul-Ulama when all your preferred choices in KSA, Pakistan, Middle East, etc… were not possible. In practice though, Nadwatul-Ulama is a tremendous institution that should be regarded as among the leading places to study Islam throughout the world, it shouldn’t be considered as the option you consider only when you exhaust all your other options. I’ve only visited the campus on a few occasions, but subhanAllah it was enlightening and peaceful just being there. I find that the graduates I’ve met from there have had a broader world-view than ‘ulema from other institutes, and have particularly adept at translating their studies to a Western context. The graduates do a great job carrying the legacy of Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi.

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:46 PM

      Salam Faraz,

      The main reason I considered the other schools is due to the larger number of American students present at those institutions. You have a support system to rely on in case things go south. I didn’t chose Nadwa because “well, getting in everywhere else is too hard”.

      When choosing where to study overseas, I highly recommend students research whether 1) One can easily attain and hold onto a visa wherever they are going to study, 2) See if there are other foreign students of your background with who you can connect with. If not friends, then family.

      These are the MOST important things to consider when headed overseas. Honestly, when it comes to studies while you’re a foreigner in another institution, the only really important factor is whether there is a general culture of studying. If so, then you’re fine. After speaking to dozens of students studying overseas at various Islamic institutions, we all concluded that your academic rigor and capabilities are somewhere around 50% dependent on your own ability to study, 25% on the teacher, and 25% on the class lecture. Basically, whether you go to Madinah, Azhar, Nadwa, etc–it doesn’t make too much of a difference at the end of the day if you have good study habits.

      But for myself, the visa was the main aspect–not to mention I studied briefly with a Nadwi before coming to India. After analyzing the best place for me in the circumstances I am in, I concluded Nadwa was the best common denominator. That’s how I came here :).

  11. Pingback: » Self-Revelations: Discovering Your Limits in India | The Motherland: Part II

  12. Pingback: » Health Care in India: Scooters, Breaking Bones, and Surgery | The Motherland – Part III

  13. Avatar

    Rahat

    October 22, 2015 at 9:49 PM

    Really helpful.

  14. Avatar

    sam

    November 6, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    Salam

    If one is able to read traditional texts in Arabic (and has completed the Hidayatun Nahw or Ajrumiyyah)

    And has studied basic fiqh aqeedah and usool hadith and tafseer all basic,

    What programme could one be admitted into in Islamabad in order to further one’s studies?

    Preferably Drs e Nizami

  15. Avatar

    Sued Adnan Murtaza

    December 15, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    MA SHA ALLAH..Beneficial Article,
    It will be helpful for those who wish to study in traiditional institute like this one..
    and should be translated in to Arabic language and others one.

  16. Avatar

    Amir Ahmad khan

    July 6, 2016 at 7:49 PM

    jazakalla kumula hu ahsan al jaza for a great turning and motivating leccture… it is an humble request to all of my brothers and sisters that help your brother… ‘How i can sdmission in the one of the growing and advancing darul uloom nadwa…
    asalamh alukum wa rwhmutulahi wa barakata ho

  17. Avatar

    amer

    August 23, 2016 at 3:17 AM

    I call many time ,nadwatul ulama and deobond univercity,but no answer until now,pease answer me..

  18. Avatar

    Muhammad Ayaz

    September 21, 2016 at 12:52 AM

    As-salamu alaykum,

    I am an engineering drop out from Mumbai and currently seeking a course in Islamic studies. Reading about the Khusoosi course has got me intrigued. Only issue is that I’m 26 years old and might have to at least find a part-time job, would that be feasible?

  19. Avatar

    Mohammad Sarwar

    September 16, 2017 at 5:11 AM

    As-salaamu ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullaahi Wa Barakaatuh!

    Brother,

    I pray this message finds you good health and Imaan.

    Quick question, how did you enroll to Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama?

    I live in the UK and I would like to apply. I have checked their website but some of their pages are appearing as 404.

  20. Avatar

    Bilal

    October 5, 2018 at 9:35 AM

    Masha allah brother nice article i am from makkah studied in madrash al sawlatiyah and planning to move nadwa tul ulama but i am very weak in studies please help me

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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
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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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