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Taqwa Through Anti-Bias Education

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Margari Hill

My first taste of racism occurred in kindergarten, where my classmates barred me from drinking out of the water fountains. When I was in fourth grade, a  sixth grader in the neighborhood took her rage out on me, called me a N—- and pulled out a plug of my waist length hair. The trauma I experienced and the humiliations I endured from my classmates remain some of the most vivid memories of my childhood. These experiences left a little girl with a damaged self image.

Becoming Muslim was a significant part of my journey to recovering from the racism that I internalized. But as a Muslim, my heart was broken when I learned of racial bullying in our Islamic schools, weekend, and after-school programs. Sadly, parents and adults can contribute to racism and colorism in obvious and subtle ways. Some of the obvious ways include people I have lived and worked with. One Palestinian student told her Black teacher that her father reminded her that she was the prettiest girl in her class because she was White. Arab families criticized their children for not excelling above a mixed-race Black and Arab student in Qur’an class. Some of the comments I have heard about my light-skinned child are deeply problematic. While the obvious ways in which we reinforce racial bias and colorism can easily be addressed, the subtle ways we reinforce both include our failure to address race and racism pre-emptively.  In order to uproot racism in our communities, parents must  embrace their role as their children’s first anti-bias multicultural teachers.

Children have the right to be raised as responsible adults who can function in a complex multi-ethnic society, and it is our duty to equip our children with the knowledge and skills to live dignified and ethical lives. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Every one of your (people) is responsible, and everyone is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them.” [Bukhari and Muslim] Part of our responsibility is to teach our children to love themselves and others, something that is so important in a society that dehumanizes them just for being Muslim. Inequality in our society feeds off of people divided. We  must teach our children to not oppress their peers, and to instead begin to cultivate a sense of justice and duty to right wrongs they see before them. The Qur’an reminds us:

66:6

“O you who believe! Ward off yourselves and your families against a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded.” [Tahrim 66:6]

Although pre-pubescent children are not morally responsible for what they do, we as parents will be held accountable. and we must be aware of the seeds that are being planted in our children. Uprooting bias and teaching our children racial equity begins at an early age and we must address the root causes in age-appropriate conversations and teachable moments. When we fail to cultivate the values of racial equity in our children, we run the risk of them becoming adults with racial bias thoroughly ingrained in their psyche.

It is never too early to begin the process of teaching our children to see the beauty in all of Adam’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) children. We don’t have to worry merely about children biting and hitting each other when it has been proven that in their social lives children as early as four can socially isolate one another. One heart breaking video of a four year old girl crying because her classmates didn’t like her because she was Black went viral. Derald Sue, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, points out that children recognize racial and ethnic difference between ages three and five. Some studies have even shown that infants demonstrate a preference for members of their own race. When I was a little girl, I would only go to women who looked like my light-skinned, African-American mother.  I would even tell people my mother was white and father was Black, much to her mortification. At three years old, my own daughter asked me why was I so brown when she and  and her daddy are beige. I don’t use white because my husband is a light-skinned, African-American, as is my daughter. At four, she is too young to understand racial identities. 

From an early age, children will absorb negative messages about race and identity and that includes our own discomfort with the topic. While we may decry racist parents teaching their children to discriminate, sometimes we pass on subtle messages about race that cause them to treat others less. This is why it is important to address our own implicit bias and aversions towards some individuals. If we don’t interrupt our own patterns, our children may take subtle cues and replicate them in harmful ways.

Derald Sue explains:

Many parents talk to their children about embracing difference, but in subtle, covert ways, they communicate something very different. For example, when approaching a group of black youngsters, a mother may unconsciously pull the child nearer to her. Also, many white parents often talk to kids about the evils of prejudice and discrimination, yet in their owns lives they have few friends or neighbors of color with whom they regularly socialize. These implicit communications are more powerful than any intentional efforts on the part of parents.

When we are not conscious of the films we watch and the books we read, we may reinforce racism. Even if our children do watch something that has a racist message, we can have conversations with our children about the portrayal.

Although young children tend to not have racial conflict, elementary school aged children begin to pick up racist cues from family members, media, and their peers. Some of the oppressive behaviors I’ve seen in Muslim environments include:

  1. Stereotyping
  2. Making racist jokes
  3. Using racial slurs in speech
  4. Denying peers their rights, such as greetings or turns in line
  5. Social isolation

We have to remind our children about our tradition.  Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated: “The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: ‘A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him nor humiliates him nor looks down upon him. The piety is here,’ (and while saying so) he pointed towards his chest thrice. It is a serious evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his brother Muslim. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith; his blood, his wealth and his honor.” [Sahih Muslim; 6219]

Administrators and program organizers often deal with the situations without context of how their family life may reinforce or challenge the bias that they are learning from their peers, media, and greater society.

As parents, we have to be aware that our children are being shaped by dominant narratives. Media bias, which  portrays racial, ethnic, and religious  minorities in a negative light, deeply impact the way they understand themselves and others. Our children can internalize dominant narratives and develop intense self-hatred, and other times they may project those narratives in how they treat other groups. Who are the characters of their stories? Are they watching films that portray characters of color in a negative light? Are all the characters who are considered beautiful and good, light-skinned and with blond hair? If so, we run the risk of teaching our children to only value Eurocentric physical traits.

shutterstock_148790303

There are many things that we can do to begin the important work, starting with the literature and toys we bring in to our houses, and the words we use to describe others. We can begin teaching our children by purchasing diverse books that portray people of all shades and walks of life. I first looked for dolls that looked more like my daughter, and then purchased dolls of all different backgrounds.  I notice positive things in others, describe skin tones and hair textures in ways that affirm their beauty, their uniqueness, and similarities. MuslimARC’s Executive Director wrote an article on “The Power of language.” Now I too am careful to interrupt language that is harmful, such as calling my daughter fair-skinned, because of the implications. We love our friends with coils, locks, and flowing hair. We read books that describe our hues and tones in beautiful ways. I look for books that describe how other children live around the world, focusing on the similarities. But in truth, we don’t have to go too far. American Muslim communities are microcosms of their world.

49:13

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” [Al Hujurat;13]

In “The Islamic way to Raise the Children” Imam Mohamed Baianonie encourages parents to build a strong Muslim identity. He writes: “Encouraging the child’s sense of belonging to the Muslim nation, by teaching him of the brotherhood between Muslims, teaching him to care for Muslims in any land, and that he is part of the Muslim body, to feel joy when Muslims are joyous, to feel sad for Muslims’ sadness, and to do best to achieve the Muslim nation’s goals.” Imam Mohamed Baianonie encourages parents do the following things to teach children these values:

  1. Take children to the mosque and introduce fellows muslims as brothers and sisters regardless of ethnicity or racial background
  2. Teach children the Seerah and Stories of the Prophets
  3. Teach Muslim children empathy for those who are disadvantaged
  4. Build ties between children of the same age by taking part in celebrations and festivals

Learning from each other, our children can develop empathy, which in turn teaches humility and generosity.  How we treat each is part of our character and and how we relate vis a vis the other, is also part of building taqwa (God-consciousness). Part of anti-bias work means addressing how our privileges may blind us from seeing another person’s reality. The advantages and privileges we work so hard to pass on to our children can inadvertently  contribute to arrogance. Studies have shown that privilege and power breeds lack of empathy.

It was narrated from ‘Abd-Allah Bin Mas’ood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “No one who has an atom’s-weight of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, what if a man likes his clothes and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty. Arrogance means rejecting the truth and looking down on people.”[Sahih Muslim]. In order to avoid this, we have to think about what we value most in our children. Do we build our children up by telling them they are the most beautiful or  the smartest?  We teach them that Allah only cares about their character, not where they were born, their wealth, or what they look like.

It is important that we teach our children to develop positive self conceptions and develop empathy for others.  And begin to engage in conversations about cultural pluralism in the Muslim community and the society in which they live.  Anti-bias multicultural education is necessary at all levels of learning, from pre-school, in full time programs, after-school and even in summer camps. Because of the world we live in and our society, we must teach our children to respect each other, to not bully, to not make fun of, to not look down upon Allah’s slaves.  We have to teach our children to appreciate each other so that they can be brothers and sisters and love being amongst the Muslims.  Allah made us different and this can be an important lesson in raising our children to have taqwa, to be amongst the mutaqeen.

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Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaibwebb.com), and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sr. Pam

    January 12, 2016 at 9:59 AM

    Assalamu alaikum Sr. Margari,

    Jazak Allahu Khairun for writing this piece. My prayer is that every Muslim parent, future parent or child read it and internalize the message. First, let me say to you that my heart breaks for the little girl you were. No child should ever be bullied or treated differently for any reason but children can be cruel and that’s why it’s vital that parents not only tell their children the wonder of our differences but also model real love for all our brothers and sisters (and I would argue for our non-Muslim neighbors as well). They do this by actually having friends of different races and ethnicities, and openly seeking to learn about others in front of and in concert with their children.

    As a white convert married to a dark skinned Arab man, I have raised all my kids to be aware and appreciative of our differences. And in point of fact, the verse from Al Hujurat was the one that cinched my belief in Qur’an and my conversion. Truly Allah SWA created us all with our many skin tones, likes and dislikes, cultures and languages. What a beautiful miracle! Seeing in print what I had known instinctively my whole life, made me know beyond doubt that I was meant to be a Muslim. Alhamdullilah.

    But still, the racism and bias pervades our communities. Some of our Ummah are more mired in their culture than their deen, and come from countries which have endured centuries of colonial rule where to be lighter was to be closer to the ruling classes. My prayer is that their children, being raised here will learn better.

    I make a point for telling all my Sunday school students that when the first sin was committed by Shaitan, it was disobedience to Allah, for sure, but the nature of the disobedience was racism, pure and simple. Shaitan, in his infinite hubris, believed himself to be above Adam AS because he was made of fire and Adam AS was only made of clay. How is this any different from the nonsense of someone believing in his superiority due to skin color or nationality?

    We can only hope that the current climate of Islamophobia will help our Ummah realize that we need to appreciate each other and stop “otherizing” each other. It’s more vital now than ever that we band together as one Ummah and that we make connections with our non-Muslim neighbors. This is my hope, at any rate. It should be pretty obvious to even the most ignorant among us that we should not be tearing each other down if the moment we walk out the door, the media and people in power are waiting to do it for us.

    I thank you so much for writing this piece and sharing your experiences. May Allah Azza wa Jaal magnify your message and make it resonate through our communities and families, ameen.

    • Margari Hill

      Margari Hill

      January 13, 2016 at 2:21 AM

      Jazak Allah kheir Pam for your thoughtful reply. It really means so much for the woman that I am, but also in looking back at that little girl that I was. Yes, I hope our community wakes up to these realities. I hope that my words can be beneficial. I’d love to know more about how you address prejudice in your weekend school. If you have lesson plans, please do contact MuslimARC at info@muslimarc.org. We’re also working on piloting curriculum this year and I’d love to get feedback.

  2. Avatar

    christine dorothy

    January 12, 2016 at 5:47 PM

    Don’t you see that your very message to children is undermined by your religion? The quote from the Koran, from ‘Allah’, states clearly that these non judgemental attitudes and acceptance of others applies ONLY TO MUSLIMS!! That is the problem.

    • Margari Hill

      Margari Hill

      January 13, 2016 at 2:15 AM

      Thanks for commenting Christine. Actually the concept of Taqwa is not something we can measure. So, we should treat everyone the same regardless. In no way does it call for seeing others as subhuman, unlike the racist discourse that shaped our modern world. I could write an article about the ways in which the Jews of Medina were also considered part of the ummah and look to inspiration in the Qur’an that speaks to how non-Muslims are to be afforded dignity. These concepts of acceptance and shared humanity are extended to all humanity.

  3. Avatar

    Jason Hammer

    January 12, 2016 at 8:15 PM

    The current state of affairs generally in our Muslim community has me avoiding most Muslim schools. I would prefer a really good Islamic school where this was not an issue and my children could benefit from Islamic education as well as the social settings. Unfortunately theres been too many horror stories about a lack of adab and respect toward black Muslims. I know of one school (which I will not name and shame) with a good reputation among our community (though I do acknowledge that our standards are low and we often celebrate mediocrity in our institutions) where several children from the same (black) family receive different treatment based on their color. The problem is real and its preventing unity and strength. Great article. Time to reflect and check ourselves.

    • Avatar

      Salim

      January 12, 2016 at 9:02 PM

      Notice how silent and smug many Muslims are on this issue.Methinks the vitriolic hatred shown to black skinnedMuslims show how really people are not practicing the deen.Most merely go through the motions and believe that to be exclusive is to reserve racial purity.Except were it concerns white Muslims.We young Muslims are leaving Islam in record numbers.Is it better to marry non believers who are more tolerant than the iconoclastic small minded people we meet in the masjid.Also the children are encouraged to discriminate based on color and social class . Numerous fights and conflicts result due to racist practices in most Islamic schools.Now each ethnic group must form their own masjid.Just as the prophet predicted.The Ummah is very ill indeed.

    • Margari Hill

      Margari Hill

      January 13, 2016 at 2:17 AM

      I have a pre-schooler and every day I dread the thought of my daughter being discriminated against in school because of the psychological and spiritual impact. This is one of the reasons why I founded Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. I am hoping that as we build capacity, we can work on training more parents, teachers, and administrators throughout the country. I’m presenting this week at ISNA Education West Zone, so I’m hoping that with more support and feedback, we can make a difference.

  4. Avatar

    Anees

    January 13, 2016 at 1:55 AM

    Thank you for addressing this important topic especially given your personal experience. Insha’allah, discussions on this and related issues should take place within our communities and lets hope those of us yet to have children as well those raising young ones put into practice the actions you’ve suggested.

    • Margari Hill

      Margari Hill

      January 13, 2016 at 2:23 AM

      Thank you for commenting Anees. Yes, I hope we can begin discussion and begin working to make our schools and masajid safe spaces where Muslim children of all backgrounds can feel welcome.

  5. Avatar

    Quran Classes

    January 18, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    very important topic thank you for posting . May Allah reward you Ameen

  6. Avatar

    Rene

    January 21, 2016 at 6:49 PM

    Loved this story!

    As a child,my parents would play Santa and give us toys each year until the age of 12 but on one of the times but one X-mas year, they did something different. My little sister and I, woke up to seeing 4 dolls.The both of us received a White Barbie and a Black Barbie doll. Living in a White/White Jewish community ..Other than my parents, I didn’t know what race meant . I just thought that the Black doll was unique looking, I guess because we didn’t see a whole lot of Black people where I lived. Sometimes I think that my folks was also doing a Brown Paper Bag test on us. I could just picture it on their minds ..” Which doll they’re going to get?” I could see them cringing ..hoping for a positive result instead a negative one. Well..my parents didn’t have to worry about a thing…The both of us picked the Black Barbie doll. Why did we picked the Black ones?I don’t know..for one ,I thought that she was soo pretty: the big brown eyes, silky black/brown hair, beaming smile and mostly, she looked closer to us..as then-Black girls. My parents didn’t teach us about beauty being a color. Other reasons that they did it was because they wanted to know what race we belonged to and to be proud of it. Don’t get me wrong, we thought that the White Barbie was pretty and we played with her, but Black Barbie was a stunner. Along with getting us Black Barbie dolls, my parents also would show is beautiful Black actresses and models ( Black male/actors for my Brother) of all colors like Iman, Beverly Johnson, Pam Grier or Judy Pace or Lena Horne. They just didn’t limit beauty to one race or color.

    Far as racism, I was surprised and fortunate. I had good White friends who didn’t down us because of who we are and vice versa. The only time that race/color came up was when when my oldest brother went through his identity crisis and couldn’t understand why our White friends said that he was a Black kid in spite of him having the same light skin as they. Unless it was in private, I’ve never heard anybody bring up the ” N” word, showed any for of discrimination( At least until I was 16 but that’s another story and it happened in another state.), we played together, ate together and even seen a mixed couple in my community . That was what I knew back in the the day.

    As you’ve mentioned in your article, parents and other adults can poison vulnerable minds with their racism/colorism. Recently in Thailand ,there was a controversial commercial about a skin tone product. In it, the woman is initially portrayed as a charcoal colored woman( like all Black people are just one color) but once she use the skin tone cream, she becomes a peachy light color. At the end of the commercial, she says ” Be White To Win”. I was like arrghhh! when I seen that crap. Even Thai’s and non-Thai’s understandably complained about the it. I liken it to Nazism because Hilter thought that only blond haired blue eyed people could be real Germans. Unfortunately, Thailand isn’t the only country to practice racism/colorism. I think about the Black and/or darker skinned child that have to live in these societies..When you turn your TV you only see light/White figures on the shows, in politics, the president, governors and mayors are the same , in the magazines you find a woman looking more like Scarlett Johannsen than Kerry Washington and worse..a parent thinking that they hit the jackpot with their children’s potential spouse because ” White is right” to some of them. That can take a toll on the person making them feel bad about themselves.

    Even in a supposed ” melting pot ” like the United States, acknowledging darker skin is still a big problem.Sure, I walk out the streets of the ATL and see all sorts of people, pick up a Black/POC oriented magazine and even look at some people of color on TV but at the end of the day, it’s still majority White. I was celebrating Viola Davis’s Emmy win for her role on How To Get Away With Murder. As a lighter skinned Black woman, I was celebrating her because she’s a great actress and because it’s a rarity..especially a woman of her skin tone..to break through Hollywood like that. For Blacks..if you make it through you’re good because it’s a struggle for potential actors/actresses of color to get their big break there. Unless it’s a Sci-Fi flick, TV should physically reflect reality. The reality is that there is more than just White/light skinned people out there and beauty shouldn’t just mean having light skin.

    When it comes to racism, it’s a universal problem. Education starts in the home..with the parents, then schools. I cannot blame you for wanting intervention for your schools and your daughter.Though I’m not a Muslim, I would feel the same as a Christian. To some parents , teaching a young child about racism/colorism makes them feel uncomfortable,but I was grateful for my parents doing it to me. Otherwise , I would have been shafted from meeting some potentially great people, to appreciate them and to learn how to deal with a hostile racist society. Racism begins when a parent accepts bias as the truth.

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#Life

7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building on Your Successes

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

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

2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal

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

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

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

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

Further down, he states:

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

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

3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity

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

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

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

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

4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency

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

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

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

A Word on Automation

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

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

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

5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting it All Together

Set ‘Em Up

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

Knock ‘Em Down

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

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

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I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

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

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

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

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

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

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

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

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

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

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

hijab modeling scam

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

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

Hijab House model scam

 

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


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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

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

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

Grooming

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

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

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

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

Predators will:

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

Gaslighting 

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

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

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

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

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

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

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

Three takeaways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship hugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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