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15 Signs Your MSA is Just a Social/Cultural Club

The Muslim Student Associations (MSAs) in the United States or Islamic Societies (Isoc) in the United Kingdom at colleges, universities, and (increasingly) high schools play a significant — sometimes even pivotal — role in Islamic development of Muslim youth. The impact of the MSA can be so decisive, in fact, that Muslim adolescents and their parents should factor in a college’s Muslim community and MSA in deciding whether or not to attend that school.

Unfortunately, many MSAs around the country have a tendency to devolve into little more than social or cultural clubs. This is related to the problem of “cliquishness,” a general problem that plagues not only MSAs, but also mosques. But the problem is deeper than that.

The fact of the matter is, the very idea of a group of people getting together for the purpose of increasing and improving their worship of God is just weird. These kinds of groups don’t typically exist in the college environment or society at large, for that matter. The only two reasons young people in college typically get together in a group is to 1) socialize and network on the basis of some shared interest or ethnic background, or 2) organize for a particular social justice cause. “Worship of and devotion to God” don’t fit into either of those categories, so MSAs tend to minimize or disregard the devotional aspect — which should really be the whole purpose of the MSA — and instead implicitly, if not explicitly, make the MSA all about socializing.

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Has your MSA fallen into this trap?

Just like individuals, organizations can also have an underlying intention (niyya). And since the merits of actions are based on their intentions, as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has told us, it behooves us to uncover the true intentions behind our MSAs and to purify any defects we find.

The difficulty is that intentions are not always manifest. They can be hidden. For example, socializing is an important part of worshiping Allah. As Muslims, we should be connecting with others, and the MSA should be facilitating that in the right way. But is the intention behind that socialization sound, i.e., ultimately for the sake of Allah? Or something else?

To help you diagnose the state of your MSA’s “heart,” so to speak, here are the top 15 signs that your MSA might really be nothing more than a social/cultural club. If many of these signs apply to your MSA, then something is wrong.

15 Signs That Your MSA/Isoc is Just a Social Club

1. Your MSA does not have regular study circles dedicated to educating MSA members on the bare essentials of faith and practice (fiqh of salah, fasting, etc., basic pillars of iman and aqidah, tajweed, etc.). If your MSA doesn’t have anyone qualified on campus to teach these subjects, no effort is made or funding is dedicated to bring qualified people to campus to teach said subjects.

2. Your MSA does not organize congregational prayer (e.g., fajr, isha, etc.) other than Friday prayers.

3. Your MSA does not have a sustained dawah effort directed toward the student body at large, for both non-Muslims AND Muslims.

4. The bulk of the MSA budget revolves around funding dinner events, socials, mixers, etc.

5. Your MSA’s annual Islam Awareness Week/Month is mostly comprised of culture- and social-based programming, e.g., henna-tattoo booths, “ethnic food” tasting, ethnic garb “fashion shows”, Middle Eastern music and poetry, ice cream socials, etc.

6. Your MSA refrains from getting involved in “politics” when it comes to “controversial” issues like Palestine, #BlackLivesMatter, immigration, raising the minimum wage for university employees, etc., but has no hesitation co-sponsoring/endorsing events with LGBT groups, campus Democrats/Republicans, anything related to “denouncing Islamic extremism,” other events/causes that have mainstream support but are no less political in nature.

7. Your MSA’s number one priority is being “more welcoming” and “more inclusive,” but the desired inclusivity is clearly catering towards a very specific demographic or clique.

8. According to your MSA, being “more inclusive” invariably means being “less conservative.” No one talks about inclusivity in terms of, for example, being more welcoming to the disabled, to black students, to students of different socio-economic backgrounds, to international or foreign exchange students, to people in surrounding communities, to the homeless and the needy who may live near campus and who would love to be invited to an MSA event and would be very grateful for a free meal, etc.

9. Your MSA’s dedicated prayer space or musalla on campus is always a mess and is primarily used as a storage closet (storing all the food supplies/utensils needed for the annual dinners, banquets, etc.).

10. Your school is one of the few that has a full-time Muslim chaplain, but he or she is not utilized for any recurring MSA programming other than Friday prayer or token interfaith events. His/her office hours are usually unattended.

11. Your MSA is events-based and has no long term roadmap that extends beyond the present year, let alone 4 years in the future after all current members have graduated. Social clubs, after all, are about friendships, networking, and having fun in the present and don’t need to build towards anything larger in the future.

12. You never hear from Muslim alumni and few if any Muslim alumni care to “give back” to the MSA by donating funds or getting involved in any other way. If the only value said alumni got from the MSA was socializing with Muslim friends, it’s no surprise they’re not inspired to make contributions to what they see as just another social club. After all, their Muslim friends graduated with them, so why bother?

13. Casual gender mixing is the norm for your MSA, at events, at internal organizational meetings, etc. Most of your MSA members, even board members, openly flirt, go to each others’ dorm rooms, eat meals with each other on what can only be described as “group dates,” and no one thinks twice about any of that.

14. Your MSA doesn’t even consider organizing gender-specific activities, e.g., “Sisters’ Quran Study,” “Sisters’ Bowling Night,” “Brothers’ Qiyam Night,” “Brothers’ Pizza Social,” etc. The mindset is, why split people up when everyone can have fun together?

15. Your MSA thinks that inculcating bonds and developing deep friendships are ends in themselves, rather than understanding that those things are just means towards what should be the true purpose of the MSA.


Ultimately, if you are on the executive board of your MSA or just an active member, ask yourself one question: If all the MSA provides is a social outlet, what value does that provide to Muslims (or non-Muslims) on campus? College life provides endless opportunities to socialize, so yet another social club, even if Muslim-flavored, does not provide much additional value to students on campus.

But what if there were a campus organization that offered students the opportunity to get closer to their Creator? An organization that offered the opportunity for spiritual enrichment and true peace in difficult and confusing times? That would be something truly valuable — something that can’t be provided by just another social or cultural club.

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  1. Avatar


    December 15, 2015 at 4:42 PM

    And what would be your solution aside from asking rhetorical questions and implying only that there is something wrong? Thanks for pointing out 15 possible problems and 15 possible things every MSA supposedly should be doing but what else?

    Ive been the president of an MSA and Allah knows it isnt easy to both maintain and carry an organization to the next level. My year was acceptable Alhamdulillah but there is a disconnect between those who know and those who simply criticize. Even during my year MSAs were being spat on for being social clubs and places to hookup and it smeared those who try so hard to do the right thing. Even so called scholars and shiekhs and teachers ran their mouths with nothing to back themselves. All talk and no solutions.

    I agree that the MSAs have gone downhill and have issues – I actually agree with a lot of the “signs” – but this is no better than the high minded talk of the past that I had to debunk and fight alongside the ever present fight to stay legitimate within the college system itself. Events are such a problem because the MSA is either always on the defensive or hesitant to take the offensive on issues. We are the medium between the Masjid and the home.

    MSAs dont hold the responsibilities of the Masjid but rather to provide alternatives. MSAs dont hold the responsibilities of the home to teach children and stop them from drinking and going out and hooking up and bringing them back to prayer. The MSA is an association, an organization for Muslim support and dawah, not a Christian group backed by a church hell bent on converting each and every last lost college youth in sight.

    We cant smile that sweet smile, put our arm around their trembling shoulders and slowly shove a bible down their throats like cake to a fat child.

    • Avatar

      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      December 15, 2015 at 7:22 PM

      Recommendations are embedded in the questions themselves. E.g., if the musalla is a storage closet, recommendation is to clean it up and use it and conceive of it as what it is meant for: a prayer space.

      I was part of one MSA or another for over 10 years, as a high school student, college student, then grad student, so I am very familiar with the variety challenges that MSAs face. Everything goes back to intention. Those MSAs that have a clear understanding of their purpose and mission on campus are the most successful.

    • Avatar


      December 16, 2015 at 3:47 PM

      The point of an MSA is to provide spiritual enrichment to students. However these social aspects you highlight I don’t see as problems. In fact, I argue they are what makes MSA’s special. It creates a community, a family, and a backbone at the most impressionable and pivotal time in a young adults life. These social “dates” are better then members of the muslim community going out with people who don’t have the same cultural or religious backgrounds. The inclusivity of more liberal muslims is not a hinderance at all. In fact it pushes the boundary of thought within the community, and opens discussions on a deeper level of why people do what they do or are the way they are. Religious circles, talks and so forth are important, and they exist. But the social outlet is one of the best qualities of every MSA. Within non student based muslim communities there is a surge of traditional boundedness that retracts from the exploration needed to grow as a person. Coming to college and having the MSA social outlet, with people who grew up under similar backgrounds provides a necessary element to individual growth as well as communal growth. Deen is found within ones self, and if MSA’s provide the same environment that we find at home there is no further growth, or point. We learn from one another, make mistakes with one another, and learn why islam is so important through our social interactions, and the mistakes we make. Also, the social element of MSA’s draws more people from the community. Without that large social basis, MSA’s can loose their draw. I am not saying that having very social MSA’s and loosing the religious learning aspects is good. However I’m saying that it is just as important. A personal opinion, no offense intended.

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    December 15, 2015 at 7:39 PM

    assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

    I speak as a former executive member of an ISOC and someone still regularly involved with my ISOC.

    Many of the points resonate with me and articulate many of the frustrations that I have/hold about ISOCs.

    The problem is that ISOCs/MSAs cannot be the means to raise the thinking and spirituality of others, until those taking part in the ISOCs/MSAs do so FIRST themselves.

    Therefore as it is implicit in the article; IF tomorrow the ISOCs/MSAs were to become organisations that were more than a Muslim flavoured culture club then ISOCs/MSAs would collapse overnight as there would be no one interested in them.

    This is not to say that ISOCs/MSAs do not do any good; for many this halal socialisation easies the pressure to do harm. But you could easily argue that if the spirituality of the Muslims was developing and this was the focus then the pressure to do harm would not be such a problem in the first place. As you can see we start to go around in circles.

    My conclusion on the matter is that if YOU as an individual who sees this problem and wants to do something about it, then you FIRST need to seek Allah’s help and put in effort to come closer to Allah and thus become a light for others as well. Doing this will mean the situation starts to change, we will start to take useful (even if small) steps in the right direction and people will be positively influenced even if by one person to begin with and insha Allah this will only then spread. A group is only made from its individuals, even if one individual goes in the right direction, in deed Allah is the one to put in barakah (blessings)!

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    December 15, 2015 at 11:11 PM

    See all these are problems if you consider MSA to be a masjid/Islamic school replacement. Which I don’t believe it is. To me MSA is a “Muslim flavored social club” which gives people an opportunity to hand out with people of similar values.
    In university where all your other class mates are involved in drinking, partying and clubbing having a Muslim based club is priceless (something people on the outside fail to realize).
    It is an imperfect organization run by imperfect Muslims for imperfect Muslims. But Alhmdulillah my personal university career is a lot better of because if it.

    • Avatar


      December 15, 2015 at 11:46 PM

      I think the idea he’s getting at is that these are religious organizations first and foremost and they should be treated as such. It is the responsibility of MSA members to engage in dawah, to be engaged in activism, to keep each other guided on the straight path. There is nothing wrong, if I understand the writer, with some socializing (in the bounds of Islam) as long as it’s not becoming the focus of the organization which a lot of times it is. I’ve gone to Eid banquets where they have women, non-Muslim, dressed scantily, dancing for the audience and having these cultural fashion shows and they have nothing to do with Islam or even being remotely appropriate. So yeah, socialize with each other, hang out, have fun. But remember that these are religious organizations and there’s still a responsibility to be had with that.

    • Avatar

      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      December 16, 2015 at 3:32 PM

      I agree that “hanging out with people of similar values” is important, but what are Islamic values in the first place? What if Muslims on campus have a limited or only partial understanding of Islamic values? Shouldn’t the MSA play some role in facilitating learning such values, or practicing such values? Being consistent with prayer is an important Islamic value — is the MSA facilitating isha and fajr prayer on the regular? Helping the needy is an important Islamic value — is the MSA facilitating volunteer activity at local soup kitchens?

      If all the MSA strives to do is put in touch people with “similar values,” that is a pretty low bar to set. And, from my experience, it usually just means putting people of a certain ethnicity in touch more than anything.

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    December 16, 2015 at 2:52 PM

    By Allah’s grace I was blessed with having a “conservative” MSU. We always had some version or another of a halaqa or quran class going on, dawah efforts were on the forefront, always gender separated events, Quran competitions, but the main focus of the group was the prayer. The athan would be given three times a day (zuhr, asr, maghrib) and whether Shia or Sunni we would pray side to side. During my years, it proved amazing. It was what saved me. My MSU taught me fiqh and tajweed, it had spiritual sessions with amazing Sheikhs ( eg.Hassan El Wan ). I am not saying it was perfect, but if you want a model of an MSA to look at and emulate, look at UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union.

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    December 17, 2015 at 8:29 PM

    I am writing as a veteran of an ‘imperfect’ Islamic society of a uk university. Yes, I agree with many of the points raised in the article that we committee members should have done more to promote Islamic values, and believe me that was the intention we started out with. But I also agree with the points made in the comments that even if these societies become more like social clubs, they do serve a purpose of providing Muslim students a place to interact with like minded people away from the pressures of drinking alcohol, sex and drugs and other lifestyle choices which are all too prevalent on University campuses. I remember some Muslim students coming to me and saying that they felt excluded and judged which is why they did not come to the Islamic Student Society events. This is why I think at every campus there should be two societies: a Muslim Society which would provide more social and cultural events and support, and an Islamic Society which would follow all the Islamic norms. Thus all the Muslim students would be catered for. We have to be realistic and realise that there are Muslims who come to University and lose their way and their faith and we need to prevent that by providing support and friendship rather than excluding and judging them.

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    Immad Ansari

    February 8, 2016 at 3:42 PM

    Assalam-u-Alaikum Br. Daniel

    Jazakalah Kheir for this piece of writing. I totally agree with you, and this seems like you looked into my mind. These are the same points that I have thought about and you have put them in a organized manner. I was the president for my MSA as a senior during my Undergrad and I tried to keep the MSA on the right track as I believed it to be. Due to that I got a lot heat from people but I am happy with myself. At the end of the day, I really think it is about the intention and the what people think MSA is there for.

  7. Pingback: As an MSA Term, Inclusivity is Overrated – Think MSA

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    Bilal Ansari

    April 20, 2017 at 8:00 AM

    Dear Br. Daniel,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with MSAs. I hope your experience has inspired you to join MSA National and work to bring about a culture of change. Truth is most MSAs are institutionally constituted as either a social club, identity club, or independent affiliated organization. This framework shapes mission and vision and limits intentionality of ‘spiritual enrichment’ which leaves ‘cultural fulfillment’ options. As a chaplain, I respect both and work to provide a healthy medium between both realities.

    To have a group of self identifying Muslims gather in one space to talk to each other can be a spiritually enriching experience. If such conversations bring about deeper understanding and commitment to support each other or good causes. Believe it or not study circles are not a testimony or measure to a spiritually healthy community, especially if aqidah is taught while the communal need is other than creedal theology.

    This article I think is a great conversation starter to a larger conversation about pastoral care of MSAs. Who is the shepherd responsible to God for the flock of MSAs? If the answer is the MSA student leadership than one can not blame the limited social nature of these MSAs. However, if the answer is that this kiffayah is upon trained leaders, such as chaplains, than we are responsible to build the appropriate infrastructure to build such change. MSA West I believe is actively pursuing the latter and I believe will lead the way forward to a healthy middle way between cultural and religious enrichment on our colleges and university campus, with God’s assistance.

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    April 20, 2017 at 9:46 AM

    After Salah, MSA was and still is a place to find/meet what Allah has written for you. Access to Muslim women maybe in short supply in your life. Going to MSA is part of tying your camel. When you desire something, you go where your desire is.

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    April 20, 2017 at 3:32 PM

    It was mostly a waste of time reading this self-righteous, salafi-inspired diatribe. The validity of #6 and the need to be a social justice organization is lost amongst the other 15 judgmental, proselytizing, and veiled homophobic and sexist “signs.”

    • Avatar

      Ahmad B.

      June 2, 2017 at 6:43 PM

      Get a grip. How is Daniel’s article “self-righteous” (he’s trying to offer sincere advice to Muslims about topics of ultimate importance), and how is it “salafi inspired” (everything he says accords with very mainstream positions in the deen, not just salafi ones)? As for #6, he is criticizing MSAs precisely for NOT being justice oriented enough when it comes to these lesser profile issues. As for partnering with LGBT groups, it makes no sense to partner up with a group dedicated to normalizing a lifestyle and identity fundamentally at odds with one’s faith. That’s not “homophobic,” just principled. And where do you see even the slightest hint of sexism?

  11. Avatar


    April 21, 2017 at 11:35 AM

    It’d also be appreciated if you considered people other than Wahhabis/Salafis like yourself Muslim. You talk about inclusivity and minorities, but MUSLIM minorities are severely underrepresented and not all those portions of Islam (yes they are equally Muslim as you) feel a lot of this is true. Especially about gender mixing. Just think twice before posting holier than thou messages.

  12. Avatar


    May 11, 2017 at 3:22 AM

    MSAs talk about Palestine all the time but never about kashmir

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    A Muslim

    December 27, 2017 at 3:29 AM

    This article has some great points but some of the points have nothing to do with Islam. The point of MSA should be to bring Muslims together and to inform people (Muslims AND non-Muslims) about what Islam is. It should be a place for students to ask questions that they might be uncomfortable discussing elsewhere. MSAs need to be much less clique-y especially in regards to race. All that should matter is that we are all creations of Allah. I really do not understand the merit behind having separate male and female socials/meetings/lectures. Separating men and women is not mentioned in the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) never mentioned this in any hadith. Yes, men and women need to lower their gaze and be modest but there is no rule that men and women need to be separated. If men want to talk to men they should do so and if women want to talk to women they should do so. We see men and women on a daily basis in our classes and such. It is our decision who we talk to. Men and women will separate on their own if they want to. But if a man or woman from MSA flirts, he/she will do it regardless of whether the MSA is segregated or not. We should be making decisions as Muslims regardless of our environment. I would like to point out that friendships with our fellow Muslims are ends in themselves. There are some amazing hadiths about friendships such as “Try to have as many as possible true friends, for they are the supplies in joy and the shelters in misfortunes.” (Bihar-ul-Anwar). We need friends from MSA because they can keep us closer to Islam. I would argue that one of the many true purposes of MSA is to “Associate” with other Muslims. We should try to keep in mind that at the end of the day, we are all Muslims so instead of judging our fellow Muslims and thinking that you are superior to them, create change instead of creating negative perceptions on others.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 16: The Best of You

Now that we have learnt about fruit out of season, let’s now talk about the best of you.

I want you all to think about your closest friends and how you treat them. 

Question: Would anyone like to share how they try to treat their closest friends?

That’s wonderful! You try to be thoughtful and considerate of their feelings. You bring snacks to share with them, you may buy or make them a gift.

Question: Now, I want you to close your eyes and think of the way you treat your family members. Is it the same?

Question: Why do you think that there is a difference between the way we treat our friends and the way we may treat our siblings or parents?

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Yes, we do spend a lot of time together. We see each other when we’re cranky or frustrated. Sometimes we want our own space to think, or we don’t want someone interfering with our things. Those are all valid reasons. But, do you know that it is more beloved to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that you treat your family members better than you even treat your friends?

It’s true! In a hadith, Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِهِ وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِي وَإِذَا مَاتَ صَاحِبُكُمْ فَدَعُوهُ

“The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family.” 

Question: What are some ways we can be the best to our family members? I’m going to share with you a hadith that may help you get some ideas: 

وعن أبى أمامه الباهلى رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ “أنا زعيم ببيت في ربض الجنة لمن ترك المراء، وإن كان محقاً، وببيت في وسط الجنة لمن ترك الكذب، وإن كان مازحاً، وببيت في أعلى الجنة لمن حسن خلقه” ‏(‏حديث صحيح رواه أبو داود بإسناد صحيح‏).‏

“I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.”

If we work on these three things: less arguing, no lying, and good manners, alongside all of your other suggestions, we will be rewarded with Jannah, inshaAllah

Question: Do you think we can all work hard to be the best to our family members?


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Raised by Converts

Note to the reader:  Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?”  In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.”  Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.  

Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married.  Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam.  Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.  

Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen

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How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?

To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.  

Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old.  When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.  

“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”

Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.  

As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”

Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med.  “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”

 She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions.  When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”

For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence.  “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains.  “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her.  I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”

Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”

Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman.  “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”

Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970.  She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.

“She was the main parental source of knowledge for us, although we also attended Sunday school.”Click To Tweet

Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says.  “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.” 

“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”

As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.  

“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah.  “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”

“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa.  “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”

I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”

While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam.  She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.” 

Wisdom to Share

These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.  

Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.” 

She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”

Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,

“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.” 

I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”

When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.”  They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it. 

Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.  

*Names have been changed

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 15: Fruit Out of Season

Now that we have learnt about making our intentions big, let’s now talk about fruit out of season.

Who can tell me who Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is

Yes, she was the mother of ‘Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), and also the best woman to ever live. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an that He chose her over all the women in the world.

Question: Do you know that she was also the niece to a Prophet? Does anyone know her uncle’s name? 

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His name is Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), good job! Do you know that Prophet Zakariya  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  was actually inspired by something he saw in Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room? It’s unusual for adults to admit that they learn from younger people, but we actually do, all the time! 

One day, Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) went inside Maryam’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) room and he saw fruit that was out of season. 

Question: Can anyone tell me what fruit would be out of season in the spring, but we love to eat it in the summertime? Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?

Well, Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) would get fruit that was supposed to only grow in the summer during the wintertime too! This was a gift that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would give her. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was so amazed by this! He asked Maryam raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) how she came upon the fruit and she replied:

 هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّـهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

“It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without measure.” [Surat Ali ‘Imran; 37] 

Now, by this time, Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was very old. And when you get to be very old, it is very unusual to have any more children. Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his wife never had any children at all. But, he was so inspired by what his niece said that he raised his hands in dua’ and asked Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a child. Even though having a child seemed  impossible because it was “out of season” for Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) he asks anyway knowing that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can grant us anything- even if it is not “in season!”

Question: Can we get that same fruit in the wintertime?Did Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) answer Prophet Zakariya’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) dua’? 

Yes! Prophet Zakariya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was blessed with Yahya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), who too became a Prophet and was the cousin of Prophet ‘Isa  'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)!

This shows us that it’s never too late or too early to ask for what our heart desires. Maybe Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will grant you something that is out of season too!


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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.

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