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Slavery: A Past and Present Tragedy | Video by Imam Omar Suleiman

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Recent headlines about Islam and slavery have shaken many. Bayyinah TV hosted a webinar exploring the past and present manifestations of slavery, and how Islam and other religions viewed it. A brutally honest program that discussed this topic in great depth. Video starts at 29:20.


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Tweets complied by Arif Kabir on Saturday, October 3, 2015

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



  1. Avatar


    October 5, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    I’m surprised at Umer Suleiman for covering up the history of how slavery was used and abused in the Muslim world. The people listening to this seminar are not fools – it’s academically dishonest to imply that Imam Shafi3i was talking about consent in your quote of him. He was specifically talking about if a foreign man forces himself on someone else’s slave woman. The traditional scholars did not conceive of a slave woman’s consent to sex from her owner, since her body was already considered owned by him, and it is arguable that the Sahaba did not do so as well – since I doubt that women whose families had just been killed would be jumping into willing sexual relationships with their captors, and since the Sahaba take for granted the idea that they have access ti women’s bodies. The concept of having to wait a mourning period to have sex with concubines is not what the Sahaba practiced, as can be seen in the various ahadith and incidents where they approached a slave woman immediately after bringing her home from capture. And finally, even the assertion that slavery in the Muslim world was not race based is untrue – there were many instances of deep racism that was justified via citing the Biblical texts (israeeliyat).

    This seminar, whilst reassuring us as to how abolition is Islamic, basically fails to address the real question, which is that of consent. Anyone with half a brain realizes that this is the real issue for any listener, since it leaves no distinction between concubinage and rape. And yet it seems that we would rather comfort ourselves than face the bald facts – which is deeply hypocritical.

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      October 8, 2015 at 12:52 PM

      Please provide textual quotes with references for everything you’ve claimed above. Currently, it all just smells of BS.

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        October 11, 2015 at 2:07 AM

        Hi Zeemar,

        Koran 4:24: “Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess…”

        Muslim 3433: “Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) sent a small army. The rest of the hadith is the same except this that he said: Except what your right hands possessout of them are lawful for you; and he did not mention” when their ‘idda period comes to an end…They took captives (women) on the day of Autas who had their husbands. They were afraid (to have sexual intercourse with them) when this verse was revealed:” And women already married except those whom you right hands possess” .

        Muslim 4345: “I drove them along until I brought them to Abu Bakr who bestowed that girl upon me as a prize. So we arrived in Medina. I had not yet disrobed her when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) met me in the street and said: “Give me that girl.”

        Much more evidence is being added on the Youtube video comments.

      • Avatar

        Rahin Omar

        July 29, 2016 at 2:46 PM

      • Avatar

        Truth has come

        August 3, 2016 at 2:50 AM

        Alsalamu alaykom.
        Moderators please remove the link comment above me as it is blatant falsehood. As for the refutation of all the comments above me:



        {And Say: “The truth has come and falsehood has perished. Falsehood is always bound to perish!”} (Quran 17:81)

    • Avatar

      Truth has come

      August 3, 2016 at 8:07 AM

      Assalamu alaykum :)

      It cannot be helped but to notice your post being indicative as to how you approached the webinar, which is too biased to say the least, sister. Moreover you have stated clear falsehood regarding the Sahaba as the Hadith(s) you are referring to have all been famously misinterpreted by Islamophobes to support perverted agendas that holds no water. There are multiple sites that address the hadiths in truth such as:

      Umar Suleiman provided many evidences from various angles that rape is Haram whether to a free person or a slave and you are stuck with his quote of Imam Shafi3i? And in addition jumping immediately to the conclusion of calling him academically dishonest? That is too biased, dear sister. Have a bit of good thann (assumption) of others.

      In any case, he replied to your Shafi3i point and more in the followup QA video he made:

      Anyways I took the time to correct you.

      How many hadiths or even possibly 1 hadith (for the clean-minded) closes the entire case yet Islamophobes go to great extents to lie just to try and prove their twisted agendas while ignoring the ocean of authentic proofs that easily refute them. Truly deeply hypocritical, yet they love to “comfort” themselves by self-delusion.

      Here’s a few and I only kindly ask to sit & ponder on each point and not simply read:

      The Islamic principle in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

      “There should be no harming or reciprocating harm.”

      one of his last words and advices:

      “The prayer, the prayer! And fear Allaah with regard to those whom your right hands possess. ”
      emphasising the importance of taking care of slaves.

      In Islam, a mere slap to the slave equals the slave to be freed.

      Narrated Suwaid bin Muqarrin Al-Muzani:
      “We were seven brothers without a servant except one, and ONE OF US SLAPPED her, so THE PROPHET ORDERED US TO FREE HER.”
      (Jami` at-Tirmidhi volume 3, Book 18, Hadith 1542)

      If a mere slap was prohibited and the captive was set free, then by default rape which is a much bigger crime is Haram (forbidden in Islam).

      Let us look at how Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him dealt with the rapists:

      Narrated Wa’il ibn Hujr:

      “When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) for prayer, a man attacked her and overpowered (raped) her.  She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: That (man) did such and such to me. And when a company of the Emigrants came by, she said: That man did such and such to me. They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her.

      She said: Yes, this is he. Then they brought him to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him).  When he (the Prophet) was about to pass sentence, the man who (actually) had assaulted her stood up and said: Apostle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her.

      He (the Prophet) said to the woman: Go away, for Allah has forgiven you.  And about the man who had intercourse with her, he said: Stone him to death

      He also said: He has repented to such an extent that if the people of Medina had repented similarly, it would have been accepted from them. 
      (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, Number 4366)

      this would go on forever however I’ll end with this as it’d be an article if I continued posting the endless ocean of proofs.

      This is my favorite to be honest:

      There is a whole chapter in Saheeh Muslim called:

      “(18) Chapter: His Compassion Towards Women And His Command To Treat Them Kindly”

      In this chapter there is only 1 hadith which has different wordings.

      The Hadith is as follows:

      Anas b. Malik reported that Umm Sulaim was with the wives of Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) and a camel-driver had been driving (the camels) oil which they were riding. Thereupon Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) said:

      “Anjasha, drive slowly, for you are carrying (on the camels) vessels of glass.” Saheeh Muslim 2323

      Do you know what the Prophet (peace be upon him) meant by vessels of glass?

      He meant women, as they are delicate and must be taken care of gently. If we were to ponder on this hadith alone, it’s sufficient as evidence.

      And that’s why the chapter is named so beautifully.

      Anyone with a clean and sane mind would already come to the conclusion that rape is unacceptable in Islam to a free or a slave by just reading any one of those hadiths.

      Each and every hadith above is sufficient on its own if given proper insight and pondering.

      Moreover, any person who reads the seerah (biography) of the Prophet ( peace be upon him ) would reject such perverted accusations and see them for what they really are: baseless lies.

      No man can ever be equal in righteousness of the Prophet ( peace be upon him ) as he have reached the epitome of all praised & noble qualities, even unbiased non-Muslim historians and great thinkers affirm this.

      Lastly, Islamic morality by its very nature does not allow any immoral & wicked acts in any way shape or form.

      Hope this helps sister :)

      May Allah guide us all to see what is truth as truth and see what is case hood as falsehood.

      {And Say: “The truth has come and falsehood has perished. Falsehood is always bound to perish!”} (Quran 17:81)

  2. Avatar


    October 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    Is it just Imam Shafii who says consent is required or is there ijmaa (consensus) on this issue?

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    October 6, 2015 at 3:37 AM

    Islam introduced the concept of no slavery in such a manner that that one one was in loss.
    1- freedom of slaves in the form of fine, Quran readers know well that there is fine of freedom of slaves if someone fails to abide by his outh (Qasam), breaking Fast , Zahaar ,
    2- Quran ordered his followers to make a written agreements with their slaves to earn agreed amount and give it to his/her owner .
    3- Slave Deserves first all of the compulsory spending ( Zakat , Khums ) and optional spending.
    History lovers tell the stories of slaves while if you use your common sense you can understand that no slave can exist after the order of written agreement.
    4- Allah closed the door of future slaves by saying that prisoners should be free after receiving some compensation amount and if u like you may show generosity and free the slaves without any reward. ( Allah will reward you on Judgement day )

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    October 10, 2015 at 6:18 AM

    Islam condemns slavery. There are rules and regulations, circumstances the matter of Captives and slavery in Islam
    Here look at this video, it briefly covers the whole topic, I was surprised and very content to find this video.
    watch “The Captives and Slaves in Islam”

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      October 22, 2015 at 10:23 AM

      It does not condemn slavery, it regulates it.

      If it condemned slavery, it would say owning slaves, any slaves is evil. The old testament of the Bible does not condemn slavery either. The lack of true condemnation of something so obviously immoral, are holes in both books.

      In the matters of some basic human rights, there is no shades of grey. Slavery is one of those issues.
      Under modern laws, we do not view slavery in any form legal or moral. The ownership of one human by another is abhorrent. Slavery is one matter that unfortunately, books and values of the past were slaves to the social environments that they emerged from, and have left an immoral legacy.

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        February 3, 2016 at 5:02 AM

        Quran ordered his followers to make a written agreements with their slaves to earn agreed amount and give it to his/her owner . After paying the agreed amount slaves were free

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          February 3, 2016 at 6:42 AM

          What you posted is true, and it is regulating slavery, not condemning it.

          It is like telling people a nice way to rob someone, or a nice way to murder someone.

          By today’s standards, it does not measure up.

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        February 4, 2016 at 3:25 AM

        this order was for the slaves which were already present, for new prisoners Quran ordered ” either release war prisoners by taking some money or free them in the way of God ”
        so Islam was the first religion which condemns slavery. The concept of making new slaves has no room in Islam

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    October 10, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    It is easy to find passages in the Koran which appear to promote or at least accept sexual slavery; see below: (“those whom thy right hand possesses” is an expression for slavery)

    Koran 33.50
    O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; …

    Koran 23.5 – 6
    (The believers) Who abstain from sex,
    Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess,- for (in their case) they are free from blame,

    These references should come as no surprise since slavery was a rather common institution at the time.

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    Ali ibn Abdullah

    October 22, 2015 at 5:12 PM

    My previous posts supporting Islam are removed and yet anti-Islamic posts remain. It seems this website may be disingenuous; my comments could not be disproven in an academic discussion but were simply deleted; censorship for no good reason is oppressive and differences in opinion and dialogue are healthy. In the hope that some administrators are actually pro-Islam, pro-freedom and have a conscience, I will address the disbeliever’s comments, just in case they are genuinely interested or God forbid they succeed in harming the faith of other Muslims with their posts. If the administrators wish to delete this first paragraph they are welcome but please ask yourselves why my comments were deleted and perhaps re-examine your motivation for working here; it doesn’t seem to be for the sake of Allah (Azza wa Jall) and if my guess is correct, then you are choosing a hapless journey’s end. This will be my last attempt to post here since encouraging liberty and freedom from economic slavery (usury and ribba) is not something that Shaytan, or you guys, can tolerate.

    Allah (swt) did not just free slaves immediately – this would be cruel and heartless because where could they go and how could they live? Slaves had no land or home of their own, no income and no local family because often their homelands were far away and their environment was new to them. It is unlikely they would find employment because of asabiyyah (prejudice, racism). If the slaves were suddenly set free and dumped on the streets they may either starve or resort to crime.

    The wisdom of Islam is sublime genius in every way – no human could have figured out how best to deal with this awful situation. Allah (swt) eradicated slavery by forbidding the collecting of innocent humans to be used as slaves and by forbidding the selling and purchasing of such slaves. For those who were already ‘owned’, He (swt) made the slave-owners responsible for them in every way with numerous conditions; that the master must be fair and just and honour and respect his slave. He cannot beat or rape the slave. The slave has the right to demand a salary and to build up their savings. The slave must eat the same food as his master. The master must provide everything for a comfortable and fulfilling life, including and especially an education (in America 1200 years later, if a slave even knew the letter ‘A’ their master might cut off their fingers).

    It is a little more complicated than this and I suggest further research but Islam made it so much of a burden to keep the slaves that existed prior to Islam, and eventually they could afford to free themselves gently so that they are fully independent and so no harm should come to them during their transition to liberty.

    In Islam, the only legitimate slaves now are prisoners of war; the enemy who aggresses against the Muslims because of their faith, and is then defeated, loses some of their rights (other religions or cultures might kill them or imprison them in harsh conditions). Muslims are not permitted to harm their prisoners and they must be treated with dignity (unlike what happens at Guantanamo). It is necessary to try and prevent the enemy soldiers and their families from later regrouping their army and repeating their attacks so by making them slaves and limiting their ability to gather military equipment or to pay for another army, both sides can avoid further violence and losses. The beauty of this is not only for the safety of the Muslims but also for the souls of the enemy soldiers who will be educated and introduced to the Holy Teachings of Islam and Muslim life. Often the slaves would convert or at least have a better understanding of our faith so that further hostilities would be less likely.

    The enemies who brought their women with them while invading the Muslims, and were defeated in battle, were taken as slaves for reasons I described above and so that they would be cared for properly in the event of them being widowed or destitute. The “…right hand…” translation is likely wrong in many translations and it is more likely to be “whom your oaths possess”, possibly meaning that you must marry them before conceiving children (confirmed by An-Nisaa 4:3 and 24:33). Islam gives slaves more rights than free souls and among these rights is that the female slaves may associate in the presence of their male owners without a chaperone (Islam forbids free association between genders who are not closely related / married). It would not be fair to deny these women intimacy or children so Allah (swt) also permits them to be married if they both wish – that is why they are mentioned right next to the wives in both these verses.

    This is not sexual slavery; rape is always a mortal sin with severe punishments for those who don’t repent and these verses in no way condone such horrible violence. The verse I mentioned above (Al-Noor:33) is perfectly specific;
    “… As for those who seek an emancipation deal from among your slaves, make such a deal with them if you know any good in them, and give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has given you. Do not compel your female slaves to prostitution when they desire to be chaste, seeking the transitory wares of the life of this world.”

    If you are Christians then you are aware that the second wife of the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was a slave called Hagar [Hajar in Arabic] (see Genesis 16:1). She is greatly revered in Islam and was the mother of prophet Ishmael (pbuh).

    The most awesome nail in the coffin of slavery is the system of Islamic penalties; for example, if I break my fast even once during the days of Ramadan, one penalty for this transgression is that I must free a slave. There were many good reasons and rewards for conscientiously freeing slaves and in this way, it wasn’t long before slavery was almost unknown among sincere Muslims, without them ending up on the streets or in jails. If only the west employed this same wisdom, the plight of the freed slaves would not have been so awful. Even now we are still suffering for those transgressions.

    Islam certainly provides the most elegant way of dealing with the abomination of traditional slavery.

    • Avatar


      October 22, 2015 at 7:56 PM

      Sorry, you claims have no basis in fact.

      To say that to release slaves is cruel defies belief. The USA released its slaves, they passed laws that slavery is illegal, Europe stopped slavery by saying you cannot own another humans, that stopped slavery in Europe.

      So you claim is illogical.

      Your claim Islam forbade slavery is equally has no basis in fact, as the last countries to outlaw slavery, we all Muslim majority countries. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states all only made slavery Illegal in 1963. That only happened because the USA forced them to make slavery illegal.

      So again your claims are not only completely wrong, but total fabrications.

      Your obvious lies and dishonesty, are a far great threat to the faith of Muslims, than anything I, or any other non Muslim here could post.

      The reason is, you draw attention to the negative actions of the followers of Islam, a side that the followers of all other religions hold too, and try and justify them. That is very wrong.

      • Avatar

        Ali ibn Abdullah

        October 24, 2015 at 10:02 AM

        Dear Peter, It is rather bad form not to include proof when making allegations of dishonesty and lies. In a civilised academic debate, such claims are redundant because the evidence itself supplants any need for disparaging statements.

        Do you expect anyone to believe that you inadvertently failed to understand the rest of the sentence and two further paragraphs where I clearly described why it is cruel to abandon a freed slave to die of starvation? Surely you are making mischief with your straw-man. A goal of Islam is to free slaves but practicality requires some vital preparations so that they survive to enjoy their freedom and live harmoniously with dignity.

        The west eventually began addressing slavery some twelve-hundred years after Islam but unfortunately, their method; that of ‘legislation’ which violently enforced the notion that all slaves must be freed immediately, was proven to be jejune and disastrous. The recent book “Sick From Freedom” by historian Jim Downs is an examination of the tragic reality of emancipation in America. His research reveals that about a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. He states that this shameful episode was; “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century”.

        Divine guidance from Allah (swt) is always superior to human impulsiveness; in-spite of the haste to do good immediately, you and the oligarchy of the time did not foresee even the short-term grim results of this sophomoric [non]strategy. Many had to turn to crime or live as scavengers just to survive; this caused wider acceptance of racist lies such as the ‘incivility’ of freed slaves. The shadow of slavery continued with a vengeance because the essence of it still existed, and even increased, in the hearts and minds of their oppressors. The repeal of the Jim Crow laws is well documented but the oppression didn’t end in 1965; it didn’t end at all.

        Modern demographics show a disproportionally high percentage of African-Americans in jail; in 2009, U.S. Department of Justice revealed that they account for approximately 12-13% of the American population but they make up 60% of the male inmates. It is obvious to me that this is a direct result of slavery followed by decades of oppression and racist attitudes that persist until today. When all of humanity voluntarily ensures oppressed minorities have sufficient opportunity to live and thrive as equals, only then will the deep festering wound of slavery have a chance to finally heal.

        Next in your comment you condemn the Holy Teachings of Islam based upon the abysmal standards of a tyrannical self-appointed monarchy (the despotic Saud family). The Quran rejects humans fabricating their own ‘authority’ (no ‘divine right of politicians’); these insane ideas have no basis in religion or logic. Nimrod was the first pompous narcissist to crown himself ‘king’ and Allah (swt) protected Abraham (as) against his tyranny until He (swt) ended the life of Nimrod via a humble mosquito. Following a leader should be a voluntary arrangement; no one has the right to violently raise themselves, as kings, presidents or prime ministers (Al-Hujurat 49:13). This coercive rule that we are conditioned to accept is bogus. Only the prophets (as) and divinely appointed Imams (as) have been given authority and even they never transgress the natural law of Allah (swt) by claiming immunity to morality (as every coercive ‘ruler’ and ‘government’ does). Islam is a way of life that forbids violent domination by parasitic ‘ruling classes’. The allegiance of a Muslim is only to Allah (swt), His Messenger (saawa) and those he appoints. Presently in the dunya, only the Imam Mahdi (as) is qualified to lead because his purity cannot be corrupted by his position of authority.

        Your theory that all Muslims must be infallible or else their shortfalls indicate flaws in the Holy Teachings is bizarre. Christianity is never subjected to this absurd non-sequitur. It is a complement to the Noble Quran that in order to fault Islam, you can only resort to crude fallacies.

        Here is just a brief modicum of the extensive proof that slavery is forbidden in Islam: 2:256; “There shall be no compulsion in religion…” The Arabic word used for religion is ‘Deen’ which means the entire lifestyle described for Muslims. In An-Nisaa (4:29), mutually consenting trade is insisted upon (voluntaryism / mutualism in a free market – no slave-trade). 2:190 and 42:42 forbids any acts of aggression and there are countless teachings regarding standing for justice (4:135) and forbidding oppression (5:2). Islam is a clearly a ‘voluntaryist’ deen; our ‘golden rule’ is “love for your brother what you love for yourself” (Hadith 13 Bukhari & Muslim).

        Allah (swt) addressed the entrenched sin of enslaving innocents by changing hearts and that is key for effective and permanent change; this was absent in the American ’emancipation’. The first ever Muezzin (a great honour) was a freed slave of African ethnicity; all Muslims know the name Bilal and love and respect him deeply. Even a mustard seed of asabiyyah (prejudice or tribalism) will prevent the afflicted from reaching paradise. It was not accidental that the Farewell Sermon emphasised those teachings which outlaw the enslavement of innocents, oppression and inequality and I wish you would at least read this short sermon before commenting again; it beautifully précis Islam in a nutshell. It also obliterates your claims.

    • Avatar


      October 23, 2015 at 4:41 AM

      Jazaak Allahu Gayran for your contribution to this discussion! I absolutely agree with your arguments.

      Slavery wasn’t prohibited immediately because of the consequences during that time.

      • Avatar

        Ali ibn Abdullah

        October 24, 2015 at 10:04 AM

        May Allah bless you dear sister. I only repeated what was gifted to us through our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). All thanks and praises belong to Allah (Azza wa Jall).

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      October 23, 2015 at 7:31 AM

      Dear Brother

      Your comments were removed due to being excessively long. Please comment short and to the point. We can’t have entire articles in the comments section.

      JazakAllahu Khairin for your understanding.

      Comments Team

      • Avatar

        Ali ibn Abdullah

        October 23, 2015 at 10:36 AM

        Dear Brother Aly, thank you for your reply. I withdraw my speculation and apologise to you. I hope Allah (swt) will forgive me for any injustice. Sadly, the other communities I have posted articles and comments upon have often deleted posts or banned my account. This happens when I counter anti-Islamic rhetoric or discuss modern methods of subjugation such as usury, haram fiat currency, the Federal Reserve private banking cartel and the myth of human ‘authority’ (government). The cartel ruling America have legalised propaganda recently and several years prior to that they admitted buying a $2.4 million ‘Sock Puppet’ software package from the corporate arms-dealer Ntrepid. This facilitates the spreading of pro-government opinion all over the internet. So please excuse my scepticism; I guess I got too used to dealing with cowardly collaborators. Freedom from subjugation and exploitation is not a popular topic among the media controlled by the ‘ruling classes’, for obvious reasons.

        I will keep it brief in future insha’Allah. May I suggest limiting the size of the comment box or having some note or written policy limiting the length or frequency of comments? I spent a couple of hours that I couldn’t really spare on this discussion and was disappointed to see the conversation vanish without explanation. Had I not bothered to complain, I would have abandoned this community, while feeling rather forlorn and without ever knowing the reason my comments were rejected.

    • Avatar


      August 29, 2016 at 11:53 AM

      Brother Ali, I think your comments should be compiled in a separate article. They are very informative. I thank you for standing up.

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

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Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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

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

“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.


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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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

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I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 


4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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