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My Starry Night – How Van Gogh Gave Me A Glimpse of Allah’s Plan

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Drama Mama
When things that you thought were entirely unrelated to each other come together, it is a joy and a relief. A joy because you experience firsthand a flash of the divine plan: It’s all connected! Everything! Everyone! And a relief, because for that fraction of time, things make sense. Order is present and it is established and it is manifest.

This is what faith means to the faithful. The constant knowledge that there is reason and order behind everything, even, or rather especially, when we can’t see it.

But when does this faith begin in us? And how? As children, can we pinpoint any spot in our childhood in which we directly witnessed the machinations of divinity? Perhaps not. But as adults, as parents, with all the experience and wisdom that age brings us, I have come to believe, that if we are present and paying close attention, we stand good chance of catching glimpses of the divine plan in the lives of our children.

Art history is not something I would have ever thought to include in my children’s homeschool curriculum. It simply would not have occurred to me. But all of a sudden, art history has become an integral and exciting part of our educational journey. My six year old son, Beta, is enthralled and I am running, breathlessly alongside him, often behind him, trying to keep up.

It all begins with that glorious website, beloved by parents everywhere, Starfall. Beta browses through it regularly and one day he stumbles upon the extremely short biographies of six renowned artists. I hear him reading along with the chirpy web voice about Marc Chagall. Paul Gaugin. Van Gogh.

“My favorite artist is Van Gogh.” Beta announces a few weeks later, apropos of absolutely nothing. (most of his pronouncements are like that – seemingly out of left field, but usually as a result of a long, internal dialogue which suddenly comes to be verbalized.) Van Gogh, Van Gogh, Van Gogh. I hear his name dozens of times a day. I nod and smile but pay little other heed. After all, I’m not very interested in art history.

Two Saturdays on, we are in a bookstore and my three children are sitting on the floor playing the awful game of who can pull out dozens of books from the lowest shelf and makes the biggest pile. They’re dragging and yanking and a mountain of book is growing beside me when plop! a storybook about a little girl visiting an art museum falls straight (from the heavens?) into Beta’s lap. He is captive and quiet for the next half an hour. The game is forgotten and he is entranced. We obviously purchase the book and bring it home.

Three days later, we are making our Plan for the Day and the kids clamor painting. Painting! Argh, I think, I am so not in the mood. I am feeling angry and confused about the kids and what their education or lack thereof is looking like. But they beg and plead, so painting it is. I bring out the paints and lay out the paper on the ground. Fine! Paint! I am sulky, already anticipating the mess to follow.vangogh2

 

But instead of painting, Beta is crouched in front of his bookshelf. He has opened up the story book we bought last week and is intently studying the pictures inside. I see him staring at “Café at Night”. I ask him, “Hey, we have this picture in our house. Can you think where?” He looks at me amazed. This picture? In OUR HOUSE? How does he not know this?! I think the same to myself. How does he not know this? Our apartment is tiny. There are only two pieces of art on the walls. This is yet another example of what an internal life this boy of mine leads.

We walk ten steps over to the living room wall. There, in its full 1500 piece glory is the jigsaw puzzle of Van Gogh’s Café at Night. Beta is laughing and laughing. “It’s so beautiful, Mumma. It’s so beautiful. Look! It’s in my book and it’s on our wall!” Yes, yes it is.

“Today, I’m going to paint like Van Gogh,” he declares. I show him how to Google images. We type in Van Gogh and stare silently at the dozens of image tiles that pop up. He eventually points to Starry Night. We leave it open on the laptop. I begin pouring out our acrylics, white, black, blue, yellow. When the materials are ready, I leave him to it. He looks back and forth from the screen to his paper for a long while. I walk around the house, doing my chores. Every so often, I pop my head in and I talk him through it whenever he seems confused. “Try using more white.” “Mix blue and black for this part.” He keeps going and going and an interesting version of Starry Night slowly but surely begins to appear on his paper.

It takes our entire morning and most of the afternoon, this “lesson”. It is Reading and Writing and Art and Art History and Computer Skills and Speech Therapy and Fine Motor Skills and Concentration and Logic all rolled into one. For a boy with many delays, including sensory processing, who just two years ago would howl uncontrollably if a speck of paint touched his fingers, it is progress. It is dedication and focus and frustration and effort and achievement.

vangogh3

When he is finished, we spread it on the balcony to dry. He turns to the iPad, his preferred refuge when he has been outward for too long, and I am sitting on the floor, physically spent but mentally satisfied. I am looking at the Beta-Van Gogh styled splatters of paint. I am thinking.

I am thinking of a day long time ago.

Six years ago to be precise: After two years of wanting and trying and praying, I am finally pregnant. We are happy but nervous. At the end of the doctor’s appointment that marks the end of the first trimester, we are cautiously jubilant. We are wandering around a toy store. We want to buy something but superstitiously don’t want to buy anything for the baby. I find myself gravitating towards the jigsaw puzzles. My husband, Hums, laughs. “You’ve never done a puzzle before and you’re going straight for a 1500 piece one?” Yep, I nod. I don’t know why I pick the one I do. It’s a Ravensburger edition of a Van Gogh. They don’t come cheap. For an unemployed couple who feels like throwing up when it’s time to pay for groceries, this is a splurge. But I am driven by something. I must get this puzzle. I must.

I come home with my Café at Night. I spend the rest of my pregnancy working on it. It is a very slow and painstaking, often frustrating, process. But as the days slip by like beads on a tasbeeh and I get bigger and bigger, so does the puzzle. I finish just a couple of weeks before Beta is born. It is beautiful. It is the only beautiful thing in our bare apartment and it makes us happy to look at it. The rich colors and the relaxed mood of the café diners under the twinkling stars help us forget, if only for a few minutes, the burden of our financial strain. A few months later, when we realize we are moving from Canada, bone broke, I make Hums promise that one day we will come back to that same shop and get me Starry Night. That’s the one I really wanted. But they were out of stock. Hums promises and we move across the world.

Six years later, it appears that I got my starry night. That I got it from this child, this child that I carried inside me while I searched the shelves of the toy shop for the puzzle; this child with all of his struggles, this child who has taught me patience, gratitude, and what hopeful happiness tied only to unshakeable belief in the promises of Allah looks like, this child who is the shining light, the shimmering star of my life, is the cherry on top of a very sweet cake.

For the adult, this is the lucky break. It is a front row seat to the grandest show of all. It is how parenting becomes the blessed opportunity to look both backward and forward so that we may witness the way flashes of light, His Light and His plan, are scattered throughout our lives starting from when we are not even born.

For the six year old, when things, seemingly unrelated – what you saw on a website, what’s hanging on your living room wall, the new book you bought last week, a painting lesson – come together in one exquisite whole, it is the picture of learning. But not just academic learning, no. It is the beginning of his education of what it means to be human, of what it means to be a trusting servant of his Lord, of what it means to have faith. He doesn’t know it yet but he is taking the tiniest starting steps towards understanding a little of what his mother and his mother’s mother and all his ancestors from time immemorial have been trying to learn and remember about life itself:

Nothing is random. Everything is connected. Every person you meet, every decision you take, every mistake you make, every purchase, every encounter, every success, every failure, everything has a purpose.

And all that this life, this starry, starry life asks of you is that even though you often don’t see that purpose for years and years or maybe even ever, you trust.

Always.

You trust that you are part of a bigger puzzle. You trust that the pieces of this puzzle are slowly but surely coming together. You trust that the puzzle may be frustrating, confusing or time consuming, but ultimately it is beautiful because the Maker is beautiful and He is Wise.

You trust.

And you keep the faith.

Always.

Hiba Masood is a writer, a motivational speaker and an entrepreneur. You can find more of her thoughts on life, faith and parenting on her page www.facebook.com/etdramamama

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Hiba Masood is a writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of Drummer Girl, the founder of Ramadan Moon and is known online as Drama Mama. To read more of her work daily, follow her on Instagram @hibamasood.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kirana

    January 14, 2016 at 3:11 AM

    When Allah gives something you wanted such that you *know* it’s from Him ‘personally’ it’s infinitely better than if you got it when you wanted it.

  2. Avatar

    uzma gora

    January 14, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    *sigh* you make me cry….every single time you write something, you make me cry. Stay blessed, you beautiful soul. <3

  3. Avatar

    Shahnoor

    January 14, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    MashaAllah I am tears eyed You are a beautiful soul Hiba and May Allah swt continue to bestow his choicest blessings and Rahmah on you and uour beautiful family!

  4. Avatar

    Sadaf

    January 14, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    Love every word!! Yes nothing is random.. Even me reading this at this point in time..

  5. Avatar

    Falak

    January 14, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    Starry night :)
    For someone not really into art , this is my absolute favorite painting. It speaks to me.

    The depth in your writing takes readers to a different wavelength. In the mundane days of caring for children, talking, connecting, then cleaning and more cleaning after them there is meaning . Your post reminds me that it is up to me to be mindful of that meaning.
    SubhanAllah, every mothers journey is unique and so beautiful. It’s a struggle as we advocate for what’s best for our kids.
    I have a 6 yr old boy with some speech and fine motor delays too – figuring out his puzzle has taken out the warrior in me.

    Keep writing sis – so that we can keep reading and getting inspired :)

    • Avatar

      Thomas

      January 28, 2016 at 9:42 AM

      And may I add our better understanding of whom we are in this confusing but beautiful world He has created for us all. We thank that eternal Love daily with our humble service to all. : ) Thomas

  6. Avatar

    nadya

    January 14, 2016 at 9:09 AM

    Beautifully written.. HE surely is the best PLANNER!
    You wanted that painting and it was out of stock and then you got it from where you least expected, thats how HE gives, just at the ‘right’ time!
    And I think beta’s painting is so full of hope, faith and light- definitely a master piece!
    hats off to the super mom- keep spreading faith and happiness through your blogs, posts and HAPPY PLACE, all the best.
    love & prayers!

  7. Avatar

    Rabah Masood

    January 14, 2016 at 9:58 AM

    I love this piece. Everything comes to a full circle in life. Subhanallah!

  8. Avatar

    Zujaja

    January 14, 2016 at 10:02 AM

    Beautiful thoughts all woven together to appreciate and thank for lords blessings..a connection we often forget to make, a much needed reminder..Alhamdullilah for everything indeed.

  9. Avatar

    Rabia

    January 14, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    This is what I believe in beautifully written

  10. Avatar

    Anas

    January 14, 2016 at 10:45 AM

    This is one of the best pieces you’ve ever written!

  11. Avatar

    Masooma

    January 14, 2016 at 1:45 PM

    ‘To trust that you are part of a bigger puzzle’ ; Thank you for the reminder Hiba!

  12. Avatar

    Fouzia

    January 14, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    Absolutely loved it.. Beautifully written.

  13. Avatar

    Maria

    January 14, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    This is beautiful.

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  15. Avatar

    Faiza

    January 14, 2016 at 3:12 PM

    Absolutely loved this piece of writing!! ❤❤❤
    And beta’s painting is simply awesome mashaAllah!!
    God bless u and ur family hiba?

  16. Avatar

    Mona

    January 14, 2016 at 6:26 PM

    Masha Allah. ….what an article!!! Love ur posts always. Keep going lady!!!!!

  17. Avatar

    M4

    January 14, 2016 at 6:42 PM

    Beautiful and so motivational.I was thinking just exactly this.That whatever plans we make,surely they benefit us,but what about Him,The Divine,He also planned for us,and ofcourse what He plans is Absolutely the Best of best,but for us humans it takes time to register,to absorb it,and because we are always so short of time,running after it,we almost miss it that what is coming towards us is actually the best piece.
    Wonderfully written,keep it coming and all the best for your new ventures.

  18. Avatar

    Sarah

    January 14, 2016 at 9:59 PM

    Gave me goosebumps. ….this is jus so beautiful

  19. Avatar

    Fawzia Salahuddin

    January 15, 2016 at 12:40 AM

    After reading your article, I had tears in my eyes… of happiness, of how well things got connected and out of sheer appreciation of the feeling of achievement and connectivity. You write beautifully and wonderful is the experience of being on the journey with you when reading your article. I can only aspire to be the mom you are for your kids… patient, cajoling, sullen yet understanding, rolling with the flow. Keep writing for you fill a void in me with your energy and your positivity . Jazak Allah Khair!
    PS: Beta’s painting is simply wonderful.. he’s so talented and bright Masha Allah!! His journey will be different and the “path less travelled”. Keep us on the path with you.

  20. Avatar

    Mahwish saud

    January 15, 2016 at 1:17 AM

    beautiful… no words to express my feelings…
    you writing this column without knowing that in how many ways this piece of writing can effect a person is also a part of the plan.
    I truly trust buddy…
    would love to meet you in person..
    In sha Allah will visit your happy place in coming days
    Allah khush rakhey…ameen

  21. Pingback: How To Know Pregnancy Week

  22. Avatar

    Jawairia

    January 15, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    I didn’t know that I’d be crying by the end of this..
    Thanks..:)

  23. Avatar

    Zee

    January 16, 2016 at 12:47 AM

    Marvellously written! Touched my faithful ? and artsy soul!!! Can’t what to read it again.

  24. Avatar

    Bright Light

    January 17, 2016 at 9:58 AM

  25. Avatar

    Nadine

    January 17, 2016 at 12:02 PM

    What an incredible piece of writing, and what a piece of art your 6 year old son created! He is really gifted. Just read this quote yesterday: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein.
    Only the faithful can see miracles. Thank you and God bless.

    • Avatar

      Waheeda

      December 24, 2019 at 1:00 PM

      Beautifully expressed.Starry night is one of my fav paintings.
      I have experienced this slow leading up to a blessing in my life, Alhamdulillah.

  26. Avatar

    Mariam mustafa

    January 17, 2016 at 4:05 PM

    Mashallah very beneficial!
    Baarakallahu feekum.

  27. Avatar

    Quran Classes

    January 18, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    o so sweet very nice article thank you for sharing ..

  28. Avatar

    Muslima

    January 18, 2016 at 6:16 PM

    LOVED IT!! Jazakillah khair!

  29. Avatar

    Maryam

    January 19, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    Few years back, My family and I had a really bad time but with Allah’s help we went through. Now, when i explained to my friends
    I always say it was like a puzzle and little by little the pieces came together so yes i agree with you, life is like a puzzle and sometimes you don’t see it but when the tribulations calmed down and you reflect on it you realised it. That made me more thankful for everything I have and made me realised Allah is so important and He is there for anyone who want to believe. Everything happen because of HIM and if you are greatful to Him your puzzle’s pieces will come together and bring you happiness InshAllah.

  30. Avatar

    Larry A. Singleton

    January 24, 2016 at 7:09 PM

    You’re to be congratulated. you sound like a great mom.

    My mom related a story to me. I guess I repressed it. Where I ran downstairs from my room in the attic. (A really cool room by the way) I wanted to show some neighbors who were visiting my parents a picture I drew. I was about your son’s age. According to mom dad said, “They don’t want to see that s**t”.

    I don’t know how true that is. My parents had a nasty divorce and mom was continuously badmouthing dad.

    Speaking as a frustrated artist. That Starry Night picture the kid painted looks great. I hope you bankrupt yourself buying paints, pencils and brushes for this kid. Really, that is a very nice painting.

    I haven’t read this article yet but I’m looking forward to it.

    On a religious note I wonder where “forbidden images” enters into this? What would be the parents reaction if he decided to “draw Muhammad”. Or if he and his friends decided to have a “Draw Muhammad Sleepover” in the ole’ tree house.

  31. Avatar

    M

    January 27, 2016 at 7:24 PM

    Made me cry! “We have the pixel; God has the picture” (Hamza Tortiz) i.e. We may not understand everything that has happened and continues to happen in our lives, but God is The Most Wise and Most knowledge, so He knows the wisdom behind it. If we choose to see good in something even if it appears otherwise, we’ll benefit in developing ourselves to better.

    • Avatar

      M

      January 27, 2016 at 7:25 PM

      Most Knowledgeable*

  32. Avatar

    Thomas

    January 28, 2016 at 10:01 AM

    Love it & will share this Love with many! God certainly blesses us daily, we only need to appreciate it — keep it up, and many blessings to you!

  33. Avatar

    Khoya Pyar Ko Pane Ka Strong Amal

    April 23, 2016 at 1:56 AM

    Khoya Pyar Ko Pane Ka Strong Amal , “Amal is the very powerful way which is most preferable by the Muslim people to solve the problem and for completing their desires. Khoya Pyar ko pane ka strong Amal is a strong tactic by our astrologer for the people who are the Break up a problem. Love is a very fragile feeling and emotion which needs extra care and extra support and when couples fail to give that support then they fail to make their love story successful.

  34. Avatar

    Surah Waqiah For Marriage

    April 23, 2016 at 1:58 AM

    Surah Waqiah For Marriage, “Marriage in a dream is excessively translated in kinship with an arrangement. On the off chance that one get hitched a lady who bites the dust not long after her wedding in the vision, it means,his determination perform work to be paid him not anything other than rather hard work, drudging, and push. On the off chance that one weds a two-timing in a fantasy, it assets to he is a miscreant. In the event that one get married an awful, bellicose or a represent wife in a fantasy,

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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
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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

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

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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#Life

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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