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The Most Amazing Masjid Complex Built in the Western Hemisphere

Hena Zuberi



By Hena Zuberi

After a 5-year wait, the Diyanet Center of America, also known as the Turkish American Community Center, is ready for worshipers and for visitors of all faiths.

A true majestic wonder- it is something made from a hundred million prayers. May Allah bless this gift to the people of the United States from the Turkish nation.



The photography is by Salam Aref of New Dream Designs, an upcoming architect, artist and designer based in Maryland.

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The center of the masjid is designated as the sacred sanctuary

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The Mihrab is made of marble and gold leaf technique which was applied by artisans from Turkey. The upper part of the side of the mihrab is decorated with tiles imported from Turkey. On the pediment of the mihrab is a figure of the tree of life which symbolizes the 99 names of God.

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The ornate, marble mimbar is used for special occasions such as the Eid salah. It was designed and made in Turkey

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The kursi, where the imam gives dars, is composed entirely of wood and was made in Turkey. The kündekari technique of woodworking (the tongue-and-groove paneling of polygons and stars set in a strap work skeleton), which is the traditional art of wood decoration, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. As the characteristic of kundekari technique, no nails, screws, glue, or fasteners were used in the panels

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Over the area of the sanctuary, there is a main dome on each side of which are five small domes. In order to provide  light inside the mosque, there are windows around the rim of the main dome. This dome is adorned with Arabic calligraphy, one of the traditional decorative arts of Islam. The large and small domes are supported by arches, in conformity with traditional architecture. Four marble columns were brought in from the Turkish provinces of Istanbul, Eskişehir, Afyonkarahisar, and Tokat, which are famous for marble.

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An intricately carved rehal holding a large Quran

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The central dome is inscribed with Surah al Ikhlas.

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A tree of life motif is centered, complete with the 99 names of Allah.

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“The Million Dollar Door”

The door of the main masjid is a brilliant piece of art made with the Kündekâri technique, This woodworking technique was developed in Anatolia during the era of the Seljuks. “Masters involved in the art of kündekâri, known as kündekârs, state that the starting point of this art is patience. They also complain about the lack of patience and interest among the younger generations concerning this traditional art form. In practice, say the masters, if you overlook a deviation even on the order of millimeters, you will lose control and fail to assemble the kündekâri. The technique produces pieces that are known to last for seven to eight centuries easily if not subjected to the negative effects of such things as earthquakes, fire, and excessive humidity.” From AnadoluJet magazine.

The mosque has six wood doors which open to three areas of the sanctuary and three areas of the courtyard.

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The central courtyard is anchored by a marble fountain. Copper taps are used keep an old world aesthetic.

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The windows in the outdoor courtyard

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This is the only masjid in America that has two minarets

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The mahfil, the area reserved for women covers about 1300 square feet. The ceiling
of the mahfil is covered with five small-scale domes. The domes are decorated with geometric designs.

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Chandeliers in the domes of the main hall of the masjid

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A 220-seat auditorium is a part of the multi-purpose cultural center. This includes a  conference room equipped with an advanced sound system and simultaneous translation rooms.

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Tiles adorning the cultural center at DCA

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Avatar


    September 10, 2015 at 2:07 AM

    I loved the magnificence!! SubhanAllah! But, what exactly is this about –

    I see deers,peacocks and horses. I guess it is a part of the auditorium.

    • Avatar


      September 10, 2015 at 4:35 PM

      Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh!

      SubhanAllah! yes sister i was thinking the same :s
      i was like..what?! did i just see those peacocks, horses and dears!
      Im happy they made the masjid and i ask AllahSWT to reward everyone involved in its building…but im concerned about these images in the House of AllahSWT.

      Dear MuslimMatters team, I kindly request you to notify people involved in this blessed project about these images and i hope they will be able to make changes without hardship.

      JazakAllahu Khair!

      • Hena Zuberi

        Hena Zuberi

        September 11, 2015 at 1:35 AM

        Wa alaykummassalam wa rahmatulah,

        I believe that wall of tiles is not a part of the actual masjid, but of one of the many other buildings in the complex.

      • Avatar

        Tahir Gündoğan

        January 2, 2017 at 4:41 PM

        This is not attached to the masjid but it is in the hall where they hold events.

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    • Avatar


      January 24, 2016 at 7:20 PM

      I believe that the masjid in Chicago on the south side in Hyde Park also have two minarets since the middle nineties.

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      February 5, 2016 at 10:39 PM

      Masallah!! What a beautiful masterpiece in the name of Allah. The architect must be commended for his amazing work. Nice to bring all exotic touches of Turkey how magnificent.

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    September 10, 2015 at 5:44 AM

    It’s beautiful mansha allaah let us always be clean and strong heart and fear of allah what most important thing in our lives and let us thank him coz he is the only one alxmdulilaah

    • Avatar


      September 11, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      Ameen to the dua.

      I think this masjid is possibly a sign of the hour that Muslims decorate masjids and adorn their mushafs.

      It is come closer every moment.

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    September 12, 2015 at 3:24 AM

    Beautiful mosque with splendid architecture.

    As a side point (and not a critical one) it would be interesting to see Western mosques that are built with the resemblences of western architecture. Too often I think we see an IndoPak style building with the “big green dome from Hyderabad” implanted into a residential district with little thought for the surrounding area. One of the interesting aspects of mosques in the past has been how well the Islamic ideas of minbar/minaret/arches and open spaces have blended with the local style of the time and place but added their unique additional affect (witness the different appearances of Turkish/Arab/Malaysian masjids). I think the new centre in Cambridge UK was trying to specifically do this but does anyone know of any other interesting examples?

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    September 12, 2015 at 8:56 PM

    As Salaam U Alaykum, just want to clarify something, this Masjid is not the only one with 2 minarets. Darussalaam Foundation in Lombard, Illinois has 2 minarets as well.

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    September 13, 2015 at 2:41 AM

    Ma’sha’allah it’s so stunning. Congratulations to the local community there in Maryland. Should be a great asset to the entire American Muslim Experience.

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    September 18, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    Alhamdhulillah. JazakumAllahu khairan to the Turkish government and its people for financing this new masjid. But e have to understand our places of worship, masjid, should be moderate like everything else. A simple building, nice, quality and simple. Not beautufied as we see nowadays like museums. Extravegant, costs millions. This is indeed one of the signs before the Last Day….No doubt it will distruct worshippers with its beauty. The money could be better spent elsewhere.

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      February 4, 2016 at 11:05 PM

      Ameen I so agree. The prophet pbuh masjid was a simple mosque he didn’t do these extravagant things and if there was anyone to do this he surely could have. There are many people indeed in our own communities that need help and the money could be better spent. These are indeed some of the signs of the last days. I don’t see why Allah’s house of worship needs to be adorned in Gold etc. We are there to worship Allah not the building. Its all about the intention and Allah knows best.

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      February 6, 2016 at 8:34 PM

      Absolutely Correct Comments: “The money could be better spent elsewhere.” & “We are there to worship Allah not the building. Its all about the intention and Allah knows best.”

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      February 20, 2016 at 4:44 PM

      Assalaamu Alaykum;
      This is exactly what’s wrong with some Muslims!
      A lot people like talking and complaining but never doing anything to improve the conditions and image of the Muslims in the world. Turkish government poured a lot of money and efforts into this project and it shows. People, Muslim or not, appreciate the beauty and attention to details. Well designed and built aesthetic structures like these last centuries. It gives inspiration to people and communities, not just here in the US but around the globe to do more. May Allah (swt) reward those who have been instrumental in bringing this project to fruition. Ameen.

      • Avatar

        Mustafa K

        April 7, 2016 at 6:22 AM

        I agree with you , given the vast negative media coverage of Islam, we need these kind of things as well

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    Hamza al-Turki

    January 23, 2016 at 5:47 PM

    There is no extravagance in goodness, and no goodness in extravagance! If you think building a masjid is good, you will accept this beauty and aesthetic as an investment for the future of American Muslims. Valuable people of Muslim Americans deserve such a great place. One must not build a house like this though! Seems a little too much. There must be a compromising way in between.

    ps: Images are aesthetic but they are NOT in the best place to be! Diyanet should remove them.

    All in all, I can’t wait to pray there.

    Salams from Hampshire, UK.

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      February 4, 2016 at 11:14 PM

      Allah swt will be questioning everyone on the day of judgment of how they have spent their wealth. Allah knows best and knows the intentions in everyones heart

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      February 4, 2016 at 11:38 PM

      Ameen I so agree. The prophet pbuh masjid was a simple mosque he didn’t do these extravagant things and if there was anyone to do this he surely could have. There are many people indeed in our own communities that need help and the money could be better spent. These are indeed some of the signs of the last days. I don’t see why Allah’s house of worship needs to be adorned in Gold etc. We are there to worship Allah not the building. Its all about the intention and Allah knows best. The place I am eager to pray in is Masjid Al Aqsa, The prophet,s Mosque and the grand mosque in Mecca

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    January 23, 2016 at 8:22 PM

    Salam to All,

    Please give some credits to Diyanet’s knowledge and refrain from criticising of animal figures. They’re most likely in other parts as there are other halls for cultural, social activities. We never make masjeed only complex. Life revolves around masjeed in Turkish towns, so the social life, commerce and schools!

    With regards to beauty, it’s Turks tradition to show off towards West and most humble towards East… There’s a Hiqmat behind it…same as the biggest masjeed built in Ottoman which is Selimiye masjeed in Edirne…

    In the end, US has just seen the culture of Islam!!

    • Avatar


      February 3, 2016 at 12:20 AM

      There is no hikma behind going against the Hadiths and adding images Muslim mosques, houses and buildings!!!! It’s very odd to have images in a mosque!! If you are a practicing Muslim this would never have happened. The prophet destroyed a (beautiful) mosque that was built by the hypocrites ( because the hypocrites built it for their mischievous purposes ). The prophet mosque still did not have a roof 30 years after the death of the prophet when they have already conquered all of Arabia, Persia, Egypt, Irak, Syria, parts if Europe etc (Umar Ibn Kattab ordered his army not to go further so has to focus on where they were already, they told him they can easily conquer other places).

      • Avatar


        February 3, 2016 at 9:40 AM

        I agree with your statement regarding images. We should not deviate from what is prescribed. What purpose does the animal images serve anyway?

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      February 4, 2016 at 11:31 PM

      There is nothing wrong with building a beautiful mosque but Allah talks about being extravagant in the quran. Allah loves beauty because Allah is the most Beautiful above His creation. Allah swt dislikes extravagant. Sorry this money could have been spent helping the many refugees coming to Turkey and America. What is the purpose of building this extravagant mosque when so many of our brothers and sisters are suffering in the world. When will we truly want for our brothers and sisters what we want for our selves. Again there is nothing wrong with beauty but there is everything wrong with extravagant and this is extravagant. This is not about hating and criticizing this is about speaking up when you see something that is not right. Allah is who I worship and don’t need a extravagant building to worship Allah. Are we trying to please Allah or people?

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    January 29, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    Assalam Alaykum,
    I just wanted to point out to the Muslim Matters team that some of the designs incorporate pictures of animals and one design seems to even incorporate a jewish star as part of the design. But other than that of course the mosque is beautiful mash’Allah. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is beautiful and he loves beauty; this mosque is loved by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Jazzakum Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala khayr

    • Avatar


      March 30, 2016 at 12:05 PM

      That star isn’t exclusively Jewish. It is Prophet Dawood’s symbol and it was used throughout the Muslim world in the medieval ages as decoration. Some Turkish Muslim states (Karamanids, Jandarids) even used it in their flag.

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    February 2, 2016 at 9:40 PM

    MashaALLAH , AlhamduliLLAH , JazakALLAH. very beautiful , eye soothing and Blessing from the Creator of the universe. let’s glorify THE ALLMIGHTY and say, ALLAHUMMA salle ala MUHAMMAD (PBUH) . He endured so much hardship so we ( his UMMAH ) will have all the good things in life. AlhamduliLLAH. we should do good deeds and serve ALLAH SWT and be the guiding light for the people who are still in the Darkness of Shaitan. Salam to all my Bothhers and sisters around the world.

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    February 5, 2016 at 8:55 PM

    This is one of the Masterpieces of Islamic Art. JazakALLAH to all the brothers and sister who put so much effort into it. just imagine how beautiful place JANNAH is. far beyond human imaginations.

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    February 5, 2016 at 10:57 PM

    MashaALLAH , AlhamduliLLAH , JazakALLAH. May Allah reward those participated in the building of this beautiful Mosque. Aameen.

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    Surly Curmudgen

    March 29, 2016 at 3:42 PM

    When congress finally does it’s job and removes the word religion from the description of Islam, the building can be used as a museum where people can learn of the savagery and barbarism of Islam and why it is forever banned from the US.

    If not a museum then convert it to a church or synagogue. Considering the large numbers of churches and synagogues destroyed or used as mosques it would be a tiny portion of payback.

  15. Avatar

    Cemil Birkan Aylanc

    March 30, 2016 at 11:58 AM

    As a pride muslim from Turkey, i am very happy to hear that the project is finally finished. Thank Allah!

  16. Pingback: A Tour of the USA’s largest Masjid opening this weekend – Cii Broadcasting

  17. Avatar


    April 5, 2016 at 12:29 PM

    Assalamualeykum Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    please chill out. The tiles with animal motifs on them are not located inside the masjid of the complex. They decorate the walls of the cultural center, which is one of the many units of the complex, kulliyya, that has been serving the American Muslim community for a year now. The animal motifs are based on common motifs used by the Seljuks and the Ayyubids on their civil architecture, not their places of worship. It would be very nice if the author of the article or the editor could put a caption below those pictures to indicate that they are in the cultural center and not in or on the masjid of the complex. That way our brothers and sisters could also direct their well-meaning fervor to other issues. Please come and do visit the masjid and the complex and bring friends, the center has very beneficial programming every week that attract our brothers/sisters in faith from a wide array of cultural backgrounds.

    Best regards, and fi Amanillah.

  18. Avatar

    Mustafa K

    April 7, 2016 at 6:26 AM

    it’s astonishing to see this project came alive, May Subhan Allah reward those -who participated this- here and after.

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    September 11, 2016 at 5:07 AM

    I wonder about those that brought about the issue of extravagance whether they themselves live in extravagant homes, drive extravagant cars, dress extravagantly and live lavish lifestyles. The beloved Prophet,upon Him peace and blessings, lived a simple live in all and every aspect of his blessed life.

  20. Avatar


    May 15, 2017 at 3:23 PM

    Seeing that some brothers focusing on figures etc , it is painful to witness this, Is this all you see ? Is this all you care ?

    I would like to have a mosque like this built by American Muslims, not by a foreign government.

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Of Dreams and Shadows

A short story





By Saulat Pervez

Tears streaming down her face and her lips moving fervently in supplication, the lady’s terrified face spoke volumes. Watching the lady, she realized how closely this woman was viewing death. She herself always considered someone passing away as a reminder, casting a shadow on her consciousness, making her hyperaware of the transience of life, but the darkness would dissipate as the hours passed by, overtaken by the urgent demands of the mundane. For this woman, however, death was no longer an abstract concept: she stood mesmerized by the fear gripping the woman who could see herself being carried off in a coffin very soon.

That night, she wrote in her journal,

We often ask one another what we want to do with our lives, but rarely think about our own deaths. Perhaps it’s time for us to work backwards. Let death be the starting point and then find purpose in our lives – knowing that no matter how old/young we are, or whether we have a prognosis hanging over our heads or not, death is right around the corner. In our zeal to accomplish everything we want, are we cognizant of the fact that anytime our life can come to an end? Too often, there’s a disconnect and death – despite its certainty – comes as a surprise. Instead, I want to think about the person I want to be at the time of my death and then figure out everything I need to do to be that person.


“So, how were the latest test results?”

“Not good. Her kidneys are getting worse, and now the liver is affected too.”

“And, how old did you say she was?”

“She’s 80.”

“Oh, so she’s old,” she casually said, shifting her eyes to the computer screen.

He realized it was the end of that conversation and looked at his notes for the tasks to be accomplished for the day, pushing his ill aunt in a faraway country from his thoughts. Lurking in his mind, though, was the question: Can we decide when it’s okay for someone to die? To say that they have spent enough time in this world?

“Anything new today?” she asked.


He lay there, staring into space. A grandchild sat some distance away, a coffee cup next to her. From the window, he could see the hospital next door. Somehow, it looked really flimsy in his slanted gaze, as if the slightest jolt would crumble it into a miserable heap. His glance returned to the coffee cup for a fleeting second. He could taste the mocha latte in his mouth, but felt no appetite for it at that moment. His granddaughter looked up from her phone and caught his eye. “Would you like anything, Nana?” she asked, leaning forward.

He shook his head quietly and felt his son’s hand slip into his with a squeeze. He looked around the room and saw his family spread out before him, standing, sitting on the sofa handle, slouching on a couch, reading, whispering, praying. He felt a sudden burst of love. He closed his eyes and saw the words that he was thinking: Am I ready to leave all this? He winced before sleep mercifully overtook him.


Her husband had been in a coma for only two days but the doctors were already recommending that he should be taken off the ventilator. His brain had been damaged – his heart had stopped beating for a couple of minutes before the paramedics had managed to revive it. His organs had started failing soon after the heart attack.

She was horrified. How could she take such a huge decision? Wouldn’t she be ending his life if she agreed to pull the plug? What if he woke up in the next minute, day, week…? Taking his life was not a decision for her. She would refuse.

The doctors told her that she was only prolonging his pain. Let him go. But, to her, he didn’t look like he was in pain. And she wondered if they had ulterior motives – did they want to give his bed to someone else? Was he costing the insurance provider a fortune? Did they want to salvage whatever organs that remained intact? All sorts of thoughts kept plaguing her. Oh God, why are you putting me through this? She held her head in her hands.

She sat next to him. His heart was beating, he was breathing. She knew that if they removed him from the respirator, he would deteriorate very quickly. To her, the machine was keeping him alive and they wanted to take it away. But, then, a thought crept up to her: Had his soul already left his body? Was he even alive? 

She remembered reading somewhere that a baby’s heart starts beating within the first few weeks in the womb. But her faith taught her that the soul isn’t breathed into the baby until the 12th week. So, technically, the heart could be beating without any soul. She let this sink in. The conflicting thoughts in her mind gradually grew quiet.

She looked at her husband and decided to listen to the doctors. I will let his life take its course. If he is meant to live, then he will survive, somehow.


Their house had an eerie silence, casting long shadows on everything it touched. Unless they were fighting, which happened quite a lot lately. It always began with whispered fury, as if their son was still living in the next room, but would escalate inevitably into a crescendo that would topple the silence into smithereens. Followed by a lot of sobbing and slammed doors. It was their way of mourning their only child, who had left them as suddenly as he had entered their lives.

She didn’t think she had any maternal skills, but she knew how much he wanted a baby, and she had eventually given in. She would always remember the day she birthed him as the day a mother was born. He soon became their sun, their world revolving around his every need and want, years passing by. Of course, in her eyes, her husband was never as careful as he should be around him. And, to him, she was too overprotective and needed to lighten up. As he became a young man, though, the three had formed an endearing friendship and life seemed perfect.

It would’ve been an ordinary day in their mundane lives had tragedy not struck and snatched their grown child away senselessly. In the aftermath, they both found themselves standing on the edge of a precipice, their bodies weighed down by grief and blame. And then the letter arrived, yanking them back onto safe space.

It began with, “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; who created death and life to test you [people] and reveal which of you does best––He is the Mighty, the Forgiving; who created the seven heavens, one above the other. You will not see any flaw in what the Lord of Mercy creates. Look again! Can you see any flaw? Look again! And again! Your sight will turn back to you, weak and defeated” (Qur’an, 67:1-4).

Written by a mutual friend who was thousands of miles away, it amazingly acknowledged their pain and anger while reminding them that neither could’ve changed the fate of their son. It exposed their raw feelings towards each other and demanded that they not let this tragedy cause further damage by pulling away from each other. That, in this time of unspeakable loss, they need each other the most. It spoke of life and death as something far larger than them, and nothing they could’ve done would’ve saved their son. At the same time, it encouraged them to invest their energies into causes that would prevent others from suffering like they were. And, it ended with, “Say, ‘Only what God has decreed will happen to us. He is our Master: let the believers put their trust in God’” (9:51).

They didn’t know how many times they read the letter and when they curled their arms around each other, tears flowing. And that’s when their long, torturous journey toward healing finally began. Together.


Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon, to God we belong and to Him we return. She couldn’t believe the news: Was he really gone? As much as she wanted to deny it, she had to accept the reality. A sudden gloom settled in her. The distance killed her. She knew she wouldn’t be able to go for the funeral. Worse, she felt guilty for not visiting. She should’ve known, she should’ve gone.

She went about her day like a zombie. She was physically present, but mentally and emotionally, she felt completely numb. Flashes from her childhood kept distracting her. He had always loved her like his daughter. As she began imagining family and friends gathering to console the immediate family and prepare for the funeral, she felt lonely – tinged with poignant nostalgia, the detachment made the loss more pronounced, compounding her sorrow. She lost her appetite and everything around her became dull. Instead, she hungrily sought every detail around his death. She messaged ten people at once and waited anxiously for the responses. As they began pouring in, she began to cry, utterly desolate.

Through the layers of grief and loss, a voice managed to speak: Is this about him or you? She was caught off guard. She realized that she was so self-absorbed that she hadn’t even prayed for him. She started murmuring supplications, asking for his forgiveness and peace. She reached for the Qur’an and opened it to Surah Ya-Sin and began reciting. The lyrical verses gradually soothed her. Her mind began to fill with his smiling face and the happy moments they had spent together. She suddenly understood that what mattered most was the time they had shared when he was alive – the ways in which she was there for him, the things he had done for her.

It isn’t about him or me. It’s about us.


“What is the procedure for inducing here? How long after the due date do you wait?”

“We don’t wait. If you aren’t in labor by your due date, we schedule you.”

“Oh. My other two babies arrived late—”


“Why can’t we find the baby’s heartbeat?” The doctor said to herself as she walked over and took the device from the nurse, pressing and moving it firmly on her swollen belly.

She woke up in a sweat. This is how the dream always ended. Except each time the setting was different. Tonight, they were in a massive kitchen with the doctor and the nurse in crisp, white aprons; the device was a shiny spatula and she was lying flat on a counter.

Instinctively, her hand stroked her stomach, now flattened. In the bleak light, she looked at the empty corner where the crib had stood not too long ago and she wept, consumed with longing. For the umpteenth time, she asked herself, When was the last time I felt the baby kick? She could honestly not remember. The night before, she had been up late, worrying and waiting for her husband to come home from work. During the day, her toddler kids had kept her occupied until it was time to rush for the doctor’s appointment. She had just started her ninth month.

The truth of the matter was that she had never thought anything would go wrong. After all, her other pregnancies had been entirely normal and natural. She had stayed active and agile until it was time to go to the hospital. So, what happened? No one knew. There was a heartbeat, and then there wasn’t. If only I had sensed that something was wrong. What kind of mother am I?

Flashbacks, flashbacks, and yet more flashbacks. She was riddled with flashbacks lately. It’s incredible how suddenly the entire stage can be reset. One moment you have something and the next, it’s gone – and you’re left looking at your emptiness shocked with wonder: how did it happen? Just like that, life ends or a catastrophe strikes, and colors everything a different shade.

As she wallowed in her sorrow, she was yanked out yet again by the same verse: Not a leaf moves without His knowledge. She shook her head, amazed by the simple phrase that sprinkled her conversations so casually: insha’Allah, if God wills. She would say it and yet expect certain outcomes. This time, when He had other plans, it hit her with such force that she felt completely dwarfed.

She sighed. She whispered quietly, inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon.

She got up and went to check on her kids. As she kissed them and sat by them, she reminded herself: You are an amanah, a trust, from God. I do not own you. And I am ever so grateful that He has given you to me. I promise to take care of you. But, ultimately, we all return to Him, for every soul must taste death.

She returned to bed, taking refuge in this moment of comfort, knowing full well how elusive it was. But it’s what kept her afloat and she held on to it dearly.


Saulat Pervez has come of age, both as a child and an adult, between Pakistan and the United States. She has taught English Literature in Karachi, worked remotely for Why Islam, a project of the Islamic Circle of North America, and is currently an Associate Researcher at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, Virginia.

As a result of her diverse encounters here and abroad, and grounded in her experiences in teaching, writing, and research, she is committed to investigating ways to cultivate reading, writing, and thinking cultures both locally and globally, especially in multilingual contexts.

Saulat has been writing stories since she was a newly arrived immigrant and middle schooler in Central Jersey. Most of her adult life, however, was spent writing journalistic pieces and website content, with a few children’s books published in Pakistan. She has also mentored six teenagers in the writing of a collaborative murder mystery, Shades of Prey, which is available on

This particular short story — made up of discrete yet connected pieces — has been a labor of love which she hopes the reader will find intriguing and thought-provoking. Much like her life, it has been written between places, with snatches of time both at home and during travel. 

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To Decorate Or Not To Decorate – Is That The Ramadan Question?

As Ramadan approaches and we prepare our hearts and homes, decor brings meaningful reflection.




As a Muslim born and raised in America, I strongly believe in making my religious holidays feel as special and magical as non-Islamic mainstream American holidays. The broader American culture and society that I grew up in definitely informs this conviction as well as my love of crafting and decorating.

However, I have noticed a troubling trend on my social media that reminds me of some of my favorite scenes from the year 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas (when Martha May’s light-affixing gun and Cindy Lou Hoo’s mom causing a traffic accident after stealing a traffic light for her home’s Christmas decorating).  All the Facebook groups with a bunch of strangers posting about their decorating and activities has really led me to ask–to decorate or not to decorate for Ramadan and Eid?

Well, that’s not really the question! It’s a lot more nuanced than that, which leads me to the real questions I want to ask myself and all of us–why to decorate or not, how to decorate or not, and what are the ramifications of decorating or not.

Why Decorate or not to Decorate

There is a complex cultural issue here for Muslims living in America. What are the many cultures we identify with and how do they interact with each other? I identify as a Pakistani-American Muslim and I also feel a strong pull towards the other hyphenated-American and international Muslim communities and the histories of the Ummah around the world. Which cultures do we identify with and how and why do they signify and mark upcoming festivities and holidays? These two questions are essential for us to ask ourselves when we consider why we choose to decorate, or not, during a special time like Ramadan or a holiday like Eid.

But one reason a person should never decorate is that they feel pressured into it because of those around them or other social or cultural factors. Just because our social media feeds are blowing up with cute and amazing Ramadan decor or the local halal meat store has some Eid decor for sale does NOT mean that we should feel like we need to decorate ourselves. It is so easy for us to feel pressured into doing things because we “see” (or think we see from others’ projections of their lives on social media) all of these people we know doing them. Truthfully it sounds so simple when we talk about teenagers feeling peer pressure at school or with friends, but do we actually consider the types of peer pressure we experience as adults in our cyber-lives? (And we have not even talked about advertising posts from different companies or small business owners, and these can sometimes be from friends who are affiliated with certain companies or products.)

Yes, it’s great to share ideas and get inspired from many different sources, but when it crosses the line from inspiration to feelings of guilt or compulsion or from fun to serious jealous competition it is dangerous and compromises our happiness, mental and emotional health, and spirituality. These decor posts are so decontextualized because we really don’t know the details of everyone’s lives, but we still get intimate glimpses into their personal spaces. It doesn’t matter that every Muslim mom is making an advent calendar for their kids or that the one Instagram posting-enthusiast built a miniature masjid in their living room. Similarly, it doesn’t matter that people generally engage in hanging up wreaths or sprinkling confetti on the dinner table as a cultural norm if we don’t understand the use of it, are uninterested in doing so, or have some sort of convictions against it.

The other issue I have with feeling compelled to decorate is when it seems like a piece of Ramadan or Eid worship that is mandatory or given a higher priority than other mandatory acts of worship.  What other people do in their spiritual lives or their worship regiment is none of our business and nothing we should be concerned about generally speaking. There could be a friend or two we have a close mentoring relationship with, and in that special case, we might share details of our spiritual lives with them. But now let’s think about something as trivial as decorating the home for Ramadan–is it really something any of us should take so seriously in a comparative way?  If the whole point of decorating for Ramadan is getting ourselves and our families in the “Ramadan spirit” or to be excited about celebrating Eid, then isn’t it an act of worship with the right intentionality? So if we go around comparing our acts of worship to others,’ is that something our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) or scholars have advised us to do in any way?

Sure, it is very easy to compare my decor with someone else’s because it is something with an obvious outward manifestation (just like I can compare my modest clothing practices to another woman’s.) But is it healthy or good in any way? And just as a final note–if our decorating is causing us to commit sins, like missing prayers or being rude or unkind to family members, or overshadows other Ramadan preparations for mandatory worship, like getting in some practice fasts or seeking medical attention for health issues related to fasting, we really have our priorities wrong.    

How to Decorate or not to Decorate

It’s common sense that we should have a set of considerations for anything we do, and I want to bring a high level of intentionality to this issue, even though it may seem trivial. Now is a great time to air these considerations out as the American Muslim community (and generally Muslims living in the West) is embracing the practice of decorating for Ramadan and Eid at the moment.

The crux of this issue is simple to me: if we are treating decorating for Ramadan as a voluntary act of worship, what are the conditions that should be met for God to accept this deed? Basic religious principles such as prioritizing obligatory acts of worship over voluntary or simply permissible ones, not violating anyone’s rights or hurting others, etc. should be part of the considerations, as well as practical logistical issues.   

The reason why I think it’s important to be mindful about decorating is because I fear this phenomenon will become shallow and meaningless very quickly in our lives, and if we want decorating to be part of our Ramadan/Eid worship we should be as thoughtful about it as other acts of worship.

  • Budget. How much money do I have to put aside for a non-essential expense? Am I justified in spending money on a non-essential expense if I have debts, loans, or other financial obligations? Should I use the money for another cause, like donating to a charity? Am I going into debt to fund this project or engaging in a questionable activity religiously to finance any purchases? For my means and lifestyle, would any of these expenses be considered israf or unnecessary/over-the-top?
  • Effort and Ability. How much effort and time do I want to spend myself or expect my family to invest in order to achieve the end result? Do I or others in my family enjoy doing stuff like this, or is it going to be a miserable task which will actually make me and others feel stressed out or have negative feelings about Eid or Ramadan? Am I taking too much time from obligations (mandatory prayer, mandatory fasting, spending time at work looking up decorating ideas instead of working, etc.) or from other good opportunities (taking care of family members, visiting the sick, exercising or getting healthy amounts of sleep, reading Quran, etc.)?
  • Ethical Concerns. What types of items will I purchase to decorate with and what is the background of how they were manufactured (environmental impact, sweatshop factory, funding oppression, one-time use or going to be kept for decorating for multiple years, etc.)? Would God be happy with the purchase I made based on how it was created?

The Ramifications of Decorating or not Decorating

So, a family has decided to decorate! The next question is–how do we interact with our decorating after it’s been completed? There are two relevant areas here: inside the home/for the direct intended audience and outside the home/for a broader audience.

It is important to remember that these efforts were undertaken for the people inside the home who are in fact the ones meant to benefit from these decorations and festive atmosphere. I’m not sure how others interact with their decorating efforts, but limiting the engagement to simply passive or highly useful actions seems to make the most sense to me. For example,

  • Useful: an item with the supplication for breaking the fast written on it and having one family member read the supplication out-loud before everyone breaks their fasts
  • Not useful and cumbersome: setting an elaborate tablescape with decorations every night which make eating difficult
  • Neutral: spending a minute turning on decorative lights near nightfall for a festive feel
  • Passive: spending half an hour hanging up a sign and a few paper lanterns somewhere visible and just leaving them for the remainder or Ramadan and/or Eid.

I think knowing what will be useful or neutral or annoying falls into common sense and knowing which type of person you are–someone who needs to restrain themselves or someone who could push themselves a bit more to be more enthusiastic–will help us easily decide what to do.

Another thing to keep in mind is evaluating the effectiveness of your decor once or twice during Ramadan (or Eid). Is what we’ve done in our home distracting from or counterproductive to mandatory or highly recommended acts of worship? (Such as only turning on decorative lights and candles so that a family member who wants to read from the Quran does not have enough light to read.)

Are the efforts we’ve put together so demanding that they are squeezing us in detrimental ways? (Such as setting the table in a specific way causes us to delay our fast-breaking or a family member’s lack of willingness to participate is causing tension in the household.) We often evaluate how our diets or hydrating plans are working for our energy levels in Ramadan and how our commitment to prayers and other acts of worship are influencing our spirituality or sleep schedules, and I think extending an evaluation (maybe just a quick one) to our decorating set-up is worthwhile. Is what I’ve done to my home actually of any benefit to me and my loved ones at this sacred time? That’s a question we need to ask ourselves.

Divine Decor: Worshipping Through Decorating

The other area–the indirect audience outside of the home–is one that I think mostly has to do with the idea of publicizing our good deeds to each other and/or showing off. If we have all agreed to the underlying premise that decorating for Ramadan or Eid is an act of worship that we’d love to be rewarded for from God, then we can compare this action with other similar actions (such as praying or helping an injured animal). If I find a large stone in the middle of a walkway and decide to remove it, should I go around and tell people what I did for the rest of the day? If I generally am regular in my prayers and visit a mosque to perform one, should I make my prayer longer than normal to seem more pious or connected to God because I’m no longer alone? If I am feeling charitable, should I broadcast a live video on a social media platform and show those I know how much I am donating to a certain cause? No, of course not. We know that publicizing our good deeds can ruin our good intentions and compromise any act’s validity in the eyes of God. We also know that this can go a little further and compromise the integrity of our spiritual state by encouraging us to develop spiritual diseases, such as becoming arrogant or unnecessarily competitive for material things.

And this is exactly where I find a conundrum in showing off our decor for broader audiences outside of the home–is our act of worship still sincere, will our good deed still be accepted, and is our spiritual state still pure? I’m not even beginning to broach the topic of social media usage in general and what are healthy ways to interact with it–I’m simply concerned with keeping any good deed we might be engaging in a “good” deed after all.  

The Prophet ﷺ said, “He who lets the people hear of his good deeds intentionally, to win their praise, Allah will let the people know his real intention (on the Day of Resurrection), and he who does good things in public to show off and win the praise of the people, Allah will disclose his real intention (and humiliate him).

حَدَّثَنَا مُسَدَّدٌ، حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى، عَنْ سُفْيَانَ، حَدَّثَنِي سَلَمَةُ بْنُ كُهَيْلٍ،‏.‏ وَحَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ سَلَمَةَ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ جُنْدَبًا، يَقُولُ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَلَمْ أَسْمَعْ أَحَدًا يَقُولُ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم غَيْرَهُ فَدَنَوْتُ مِنْهُ فَسَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ مَنْ سَمَّعَ سَمَّعَ اللَّهُ بِهِ، وَمَنْ يُرَائِي يُرَائِي اللَّهُ بِهِ ‏”‏‏.‏

We’re generally encouraged to keep our good deeds secret and private and inviting a non-intended audience into our homes with pictures and videos seems to go directly against that principle. There is a fine line between sharing how we’ve decorated our homes with others in an encouraging way to them that does not push us towards a culture of unhealthy peer pressure or competition, just like there is a fine line between sharing how we’ve decorated in a way that does not compromise the validity of our potentially good and rewardable deed. (We’ll leave decorating for Ramadan or Eid parties for another day.)     

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How to Teach Your Kids About Easter

Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.

Zeba Khan



Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.

My mother put up her Christmas tree every year.  We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.

I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.

As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.

That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:

  1. The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
  2. Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
  3. We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
  4. The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.

So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.

There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.

There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:

Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.

Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.

Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.

Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.

If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.

Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.

We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.

So what do we believe?

Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.

  1. Allah is One.
  2. Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
  3. He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
  4. There is nothing like Allah in the universe

Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.

  1. Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
  2. We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
  3. We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.

When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.

You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.

If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:

  • Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
  • Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
  • Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
  • Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
  • Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
  • Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
  • You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.

We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.

It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.

Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah.  We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.

The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.

Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast.   Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.

You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them.  No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.

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