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Erasing Race: Problems with our Islamic History

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Here’s a little exercise. Try naming 5 prominent Muslims of African origin from the history of Islam. Pick from any period right from the early Makkan period to the last few decades. Aside from Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who else do you have on the list? I’m going to be presumptive and say that there aren’t many of us who’ve managed to get to 5.

How is that possible? There were quite a few Sahaaba of African origin, and not just a token one. Islam had spread to the African continent properly during the lifetime of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself – in fact, even before it reached Madinah. Within a generation of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passing, a significant part of Africa was under Islamic rule and has stayed Muslim ever since. So why is so little known about prominent African Muslims?


The sad thing is that I could replace “African” with pretty much every major Muslim ethnicity or region. Whether it be the South East Asian Archipelago (with almost as many Muslims as there are in the Middle East), the Central Asian Republics, or the Turkic tribes in the Caucasus regions – the dearth of knowledge about our Islamic heritage is noticeable.

Islamic history is too often the history of the Arabs. Sure, the Ottomans get a cameo appearance, but that is partially because their history became intertwined with that of the Arab heartlands. The rest of the history of Islam beyond the Middle East seems to be relegated to the footnotes of dry academic works. Actually, they often don’t even make it to the footnotes.

Some commentators like Will Kymlicka make a case for Arab ethnic chauvinism as an explanation for the lack of a multicultural history. While there may be some truth to this, there is little evidence to show that there is a concerted campaign to suppress non-Arab Islamic history. It seems more likely that this neglect is a consequence of a variety of factors including the lingering effects of the brutal colonization of most of the non-Arab world over the last few centuries and the pathetic socio-economic situation that they have been mired in ever since.

The resulting selective Arab-centric view of history is unfortunate in a Muslim world that largely lies outside the the Middle East and has been significantly shaped by non-Arabs. It has had many unintended and profound consequences, some of which I will discuss below:

When your history is largely devoid of characters and role models that you can relate to, you will become detached from it. The average Muslim seeking to enhance their knowledge of the faith often prioritises sciences such as tafsir, hadith studies, fiqh, tajweed – anything but Islamic history. This relative indifference is reflected also at the societal level where non-Arab Muslims are rarely inspired by historical figures or incidents that would potentially be easier for them to relate to. The few times that we are able to break this trend (e.g. Malcolm X in America or Imam Shamil in the Caucuses), we are rewarded with transformative figures that capture the imaginations of generation after generation of their countrymen.

When your history is geographically and ethnically restricted, your worldview will be limited and parochial. One of the unique attributes of the spread of Islam was its ability to enhance existing cultures rather than dissolve them into a worldwide mono-culture. Knowledge of the historical perspectives of Muslims from other parts of the world helps guard against narrow-mindedness – a particularly virulent feature of the modern Muslim world. Indeed, one of the life-changing aspects of the Hajj is to witness the unity of purpose despite the lack of uniformity of views, cultures or experiences of the pilgrims from every corner of the globe.

When your history fails to acknowledge the contributions and legacies of other races, you make it easier to dehumanise them. This may sound like an extrapolation too far, but many historians including Gerda Lerner (in her seminal work “Why history matters”) have convincingly shown how glossing over the positive contribution of other races and ethnicities is a political strategy used to perpetuate injustice. This selective reading of history explains how the slave trade flourished in many Muslim lands and still does in the form of modern indentured labour in parts of the Middle East. Racism, nationalism or sectarianism rarely coexist in the same space with cultural and historical awareness.

There can be no denying that Islam was born in the Arab world, but it is telling that the most diverse and multicultural period that most people are likely to read about in Islamic history is Madinah during the lifetime of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Shining a spotlight on the contributions and legacies of non-Arab Muslims and cultures would connect many more Muslims to their history in a meaningful way, expand our horizons, and guard against oppression of one group by another. Most importantly, it would enhance the appreciation of traditional Islamic history by making it part of a larger, more intricate historical universe. That’s something – inshaAllah – that we can all look forward to.

Image credits:
Featured image: Askia Muhammad by Leo Dillon
Muslim world image: Der spiegel online


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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association



  1. Avatar

    John Howard

    January 19, 2016 at 7:04 PM

    Interesting ! Does this mean that the bias toward Arabic culture and leadership have racist leanings. It appears that as the Islamic drive to suppress other peoples beliefs to convert to Islam has demanded that the Arab people be the dominant force. Put this together with the fact that many Muslims on this site have complained of the fact that they are denied equality from other sections of their faith because of their ethnicity as well as being denied sanctuary from the conflicts currently raging in the Middle East show that the west is not as bad as often portrayed by Muslims ? It appears Racism exists in Islam even though the the “holier than thou ” attitude of Muslims looking down on non believers would say otherwise.

    • WAJiD


      January 20, 2016 at 3:06 AM

      Hi John,

      The bias towards Arabic culture is more complex than racism – although that may play a part and racism has always existed to varying levels in Islamic history… just as it has in the rest of human kind. It would be more accurate to put it down to the origins of the faith being in the Arab world, the lingua Franca of the Muslim world being Arabic and the lighter colonial footprint in that region.

      To put it simply, racism does not exist in Islam. No other faith has its founder being as explicit on this point and creating as multicultural a state in his own lifetime. But Muslims are human and wherever there are humans, you will have sins.

      In my opinion, the way Islam treats racism is a more honest appraisal than most. Racism is a disease of thinking and behaviour to be fought constantly, not a concept that can be overcome with mere legislation and consigned to history.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        January 20, 2016 at 4:40 AM

        Your comment racism does not exist in Islam is a little hard to take! Firstly it is often thrown at critics of the religion that they are “racist” when they make these criticisms. Attacks on non Muslims in Syria Iraq Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East can certainly be construed as racist as well. The fact that in a number of Islamic countries dictate death to those who leave your religion can also be construed as Racism if you apply the same criteria if you apply the same princiles. Finally as i understand the ritual is conducted in Arabic in the mosque ( I am open to be contradicted on that point) but having watched the Grand Mufti in Australia on TV while over there still talk only in Arabic to all Australians is if not racist at the very least an arrogant disdain for the majority of people of the country he has lived in for over 20 Years! Especially as he claims to represent Muslims to government and the Australian population.
        Christianity purports to be non racist either, Of course in its history it has been but today and by the way I am not a Christian, it certainly extols equality and recognition of all colours classes and creeds. My late cousin’s funeral in a Catholic Church was conducted by a black African Priest. Without black clergy there would be a great strain on the church to function. But to say that either faith is not racist because it is not in the “book” doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. What the books may say may be great in theory but in practice it isn’t necessarily fact

      • Avatar

        Rayford Adams

        March 4, 2016 at 11:42 AM

        Very well said
        I agree that Islam is not racist; but many so-called Muslims are. and that racism has been preserved.
        Preserved by cultural interest and political

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      January 20, 2016 at 3:19 AM

      I do not believe so. In the Middle Ages it is common for scholars from Africa and Arabia to travel to each other and learn. The travelogue of ibn Battuta (and actually even those of Europe in earlier ages) describe skin colour of people in countries visited in largely neutral terms. There has always been an Arab chauvinism otherwise the Prophet need not have called his companions out for it. But I think it is far more likely that the broken connections as a result of colonisation of nearly all non Arab muslim lands, which came with the suppression of native history of self mastery, and the replacement of Arabic with colonial languages (meaning surviving scripts of history and academic texts became inaccesible until present day translation efforts to the new dominant languages like english) inadvertently left the Arab narrative the sole one left standing.

      To say that praying in Arabic is the problem is like saying standardising to metric means whoever uses imperial won’t ever be able to gain respectable stature in the knowledge field.

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        January 20, 2016 at 5:34 AM

        It’s clearly stated in your Koran do not come to prayer if you DONOT understand what you are saying

        When Muslims were intoxicated while praying this surah came

        So how come most Muslims who today arenon Arab keep praying in a foreign language?

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      January 20, 2016 at 10:40 AM

      Mr. John, America is the racist place. Blacks have fought for equality in America for 500 years. Yet today, the racism goes on and is even embedded into a major political party. Islam and Arabs are not synonymous. There are Christian Arabs. As your Bible says, please take the huge log out of your own eye first.

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        January 26, 2016 at 6:19 PM

        GregAbdul- Please name me any other country in the world with the ethnic, cultural, religious, racial, language and everything-else diversity of the United States where the overwhelming majority live in peace and harmony with each other.
        Until *any* islamic country can outnumber the US in diversity with such peace and harmony, your comment is silly and uninformed.

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        January 27, 2016 at 1:56 PM

        Islam allows slavery. Even today islam has slaves in some nations. How many slaves did mohammed own,many.

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        January 30, 2016 at 2:41 PM

        you want to post a clip of Kate Smith singing God Bless America? America is a racist place and the reason the racism remains after 500 years are answers like yours. No one wants to confront it. Black children literally tortured and ruined solely because they are black and your answer is start pointing fingers at others….sad really sad, that sadism built into such an answer.

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      January 28, 2016 at 3:02 PM

      John, are you hear to learn to accommodate your bigoted beliefs? Why don’t you go troll somewhere else. BTW, in the modern era one is a Arab if his/her’s mother tongue is Arab. I am an Arab from a North African country even though I have Turkish Ancestry. Arabs historically mix with all races, that’s why you find us in all shapes, color’s and sizes. Go evangelize somewhere else.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        January 28, 2016 at 5:02 PM

        Interesting you have not addressed the original article that started this debate nor any of the statements that I have made. Instead you attack me because I am not Muslim. I have a real interest for a number of very good reasons. Firstly my mother was born in Egypt and I still have family in that country. They are of European origin but there are at least 4 generations of them there and now they are leaving because of the rise of anti Christian racism by Islamists. As a Brit I am seeing the huge invasion here in the UK and Europe of people from Syria and the rest of the Muslim world- Arabs who are demanding that we accommodate them, feed them and pay them when their fellow Arabs offer them mosques! Bigot? Again an interesting comment funny how people who won’t answer the questions they are unable to start squealing about bigots and racism. Isn’t that what started the debate in the first place?

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        June 18, 2016 at 9:47 AM

        Alaa with all do respect you know that light skinned Arabs do not mix with dark skin ones. Recently there was an article circulating in Facebook about Tunisia and how back children (dark skin arabs) cannot be in the same space as light skin Arabs. Let’s not sugar code the problems the Arab culture needs a long way to address the issue.

  2. Avatar


    January 19, 2016 at 8:09 PM

    As long as non Arabs keep praying in Arabic Arabs will rule over all Muslims and Muslim heroes at their Friday sermons will be Arabs

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      January 19, 2016 at 9:14 PM

      Despite the fact that they pray in Arabic, many non Arabs do have non Arab Muslim heroes. What the writer is pointing out is that many of these heroes don’t end up making it on to the international Islamic imagination, or become well known outside their local areas.

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        January 19, 2016 at 9:33 PM

        Really? Well, then why aren’t those non arab heroes celebrated at Friday sermons all over the world?

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        January 21, 2016 at 3:29 PM

        Are we talking about local khutbas, in the languages of those actual heroes themselves, or are we talking about international recognition?

        If the former, than there most certainly are such famed figures and such sermons and local recognition. Go to any Turkish speaking, somali speaking, or Urdu speaking mosque; and I’m quite sure that you will listen to glorification and overglorification of a lot of local heroes and religious figures.
        If the latter, than I think that that is what the author is pointing at. However, the use of Arabic by non Arabs has nothing to do with it. The use of Arabic does not explain why a Turkish person (and I am Turkish) may never have heard of imam Ahmed Gurey, And why your average Albanian doesn’t know much about Babur.

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      January 20, 2016 at 2:56 AM

      Just looking at history this is already completely false.

      If with Arab you mean ‘those born into the bloodline of the Arabs from the Arabian peninsula’, then this is already not true. Many local political leaders were from their own geography and the Ottomans ruling the Muslims were primarily Turkish.

      If with Arab you mean ‘anyone who fluently speaks Arabic’, then this is true simply for the fact that the original Islamic knowledge is in Arabic. So to master it at a high level, Arabic is necessary.

      If with rule we mean political rule this can even be further dissected. For the office of the Caliph, if I am not mistaken, it is highly desired that the person should be from the tribe of the Quraish. I am not an Islamic scholar though. However it is clear that this has been historically the case.
      If with rule we mean true political power and influence, then we see that historically the Caliph did not always have absolute power, but it was in fact the provincial governors who held the true power. The Caliph being more a figurehead. These governors were not always Arabs (by bloodline). Turks and Persians have of course been highly influential in the Middle-Eastern region for centuries. Saladin had a Kurdish bloodline for example.
      If with rule we mean any form of financial, military, political, religious, social power and influence, then it is completely false to say that these fields would necessarily be dominated by Arabs (by bloodline). Many of the greatest Muslim scholars, warriors and rulers were not Arab. Imam Bukhari who wrote the Sahih Al-Bukhari hadith compilation was (a Sunni) Persian. The first warriors to beat the Mongol hordes (in the East) were the Mamluks of Egypt. Many of them were from Eastern European and Central Asian decent. Although officially classified as slaves, as a warrior caste their political status and power was above that of freeborn Muslims. They eventually also seized total control of the government.

      If we look at the situation of the Muslims now, it is obvious that politically the non-Arabs are not ruled by Arabs.

      The greatest guidance is the Quran and the greatest role models are in the Quran. If we look at the Quran, we see that the majority of the role models are not Arab. Many are from the Children of Israel, but many even precede those tribes. We can deeply relate to them, not because of their ethnicity, but because of their purpose, struggle and identity. Which was those who only worship One God, Muslims.

      But besides that, we do also need living role models now. People we can look up to, and who can help us navigate the present. Talking with many Muslims, I see that besides the great historical Muslim heroes of the past in the Quran and from the Sahabah, their role models usually are people very close to them. Their parents, their local scholar or Imam, a close friend. And for non-Islamic issues people also have non-Muslim role models they look up to of course. Take good from where ever you find it, and leave the bad.

      Between the great universal role models in the Quran and our cherished close living role models, there is an opportunity for us to rediscover and become our own great historical local Muslim heroes.

      • WAJiD


        January 20, 2016 at 3:09 AM

        Walaikum asalaam,

        Perhaps you misunderstood the premise of my article. I am not saying that such non-Arab historical figures did not exist. I am saying that (on the whole) they are not well known and their histories are largely in the margins, which is a great shame.

    • Avatar


      January 20, 2016 at 10:43 AM

      Mr. George, please using to find a mosque near you and learn Islam. Right now you are displaying that you have not bothered to learn us or our faith. We are not impressed that you have a bias against Arabs.

      • Avatar


        January 28, 2016 at 4:19 AM

        Mr. Abdul, he is stating an opinion. You may disagree as is your right, but possibly there may have been alack of sermons which haven’t focused on non Arab heroes.

      • Avatar


        January 30, 2016 at 2:43 PM

        His opinion is a Christian apologists answer taught to him by whites. He is black, but he is taught to use racism to defend racism in America. Very convoluted, but effective trick: black racism.

  3. Avatar


    January 20, 2016 at 2:30 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum

    Well known African Muslims:
    AlJahiz – الجاحظ a poet, writer, philosopher
    Mansa Musa – wealthy African ruler
    Abu al-Misk Kafur Al-Ikhshidi – كافور الاخشيدي – ruler of Egypt, well known for being the subject of Mutanabbi’s poetry
    Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu – Islamic Scholar

    As for nonArabs, they are easy to find in Islamic history, e.g. Bukhari, Abu Hanifa, Saladin, Tariq Ibn Ziyad, Qutuz, Mehmet the conqueror.

  4. Avatar


    January 20, 2016 at 4:13 AM

    Arguably the mechanisms are similar to what led to the popular assumption today in the western Christian world, that Jesus Christ was fair and somewhat blonde.

    • Avatar


      January 20, 2016 at 7:44 AM

      Arabs are generally the most egotistical, uneducated, racist and vengeful people I have seen who use their religion over non arabs and keep nonarabs from praying in the language non arabs think and speak in.

      You can talk all day and night about nonarab heroes etc, but come Friday sermon its always Arab heroes and role models its always prayer in Arabic to be prayed 5 times a day…that is the reality today.

      Everything is about their Arabness in their religion. Which is why Islam and Muslims are in the situation they are in today.

      • WAJiD


        January 20, 2016 at 8:31 AM

        Dear George,

        I think your comment says a lot more about you than it does about Arabs.

        Do not mistake an article calling for a wider view of history as a denigration of the Arab race. Racism is unacceptable, whether it is by Arabs or against them and as such any further comments by you in a similar vein will not be posted.

        • Avatar


          January 20, 2016 at 8:43 AM

          That’s fine Wajid. Reality and the truth today is bitter that’s something you and your readers may not be able to digest

      • Avatar


        January 28, 2016 at 4:24 AM

        Your comments are quite rude and no need for it. You have an opinion do it nicely. It is for those who undertake sermons to ensure they cover a variety of issues to discuss and relate it to any Islamic historical persons Arab or not. This should also apply to modern society whereby those of today are also highlighted for our younger generation.
        If I’m correct the author’s point was suggesting how particular histories are either lost, lacking and not hugely identified. This may be due to several reasons and is for authors/publishers/scholars to highlight them more. No doubt they existed and should be more promoted on their contributions.

    • Avatar


      January 20, 2016 at 9:21 PM

      Hi, Kirana-
      No, it is not the “popular assumption today in the Christian world that Jesus Christ was fair and somewhat blonde”. Actually, Islam describes Him as “A well-built man of medium/moderate/average height and stature with a broad chest. Straight, lank, slightly curly, long hair that fell between his shoulders. A moderate, fair complexion of red or finest brown.” Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:462, 4:55:607–608, 4:55:647–650, 4:55:649–650, Sahih Muslim, 1:316, 1:321, 1:325, 1:328, 41:7023

      The only verse in the Holy Bible describing Him says “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
      If you research artists depictions of Jesus around the world, He is often portrayed as He would look were He a member of any one’s ethnicity. And so He really is in reality.

  5. Avatar

    Rosalinda Wijks

    January 20, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    A VERY good, important and needed article. In many books, articles and publications of Western scholars and Arabs alike, Islam/Muslims=Arabs.

    Which ofcourse is NOT true, since Arabs form only 15%-20% of all Muslims. The overwhelming majority of Muslims is not Arab, and there are quite some few Arabs who are not Muslim, but Jewish or Christian.

    The two biggest Muslim countries are Indonesia and Pakistan.

    Regarding your challenge: With a bit of thinking, I could come up with more then 5 important black Muslims, but to be honest, I have been reading a lot about this issue lately.

    But just for the fun of it: Amina Wadud, Nana Asma’u, Dawud Walid, Abdullah Quick, Khaled Yasin, Cheikh Amadou Bamba, Usman dan Fodio, Dhu al Nun Al Misri, Zayd b. Haritha, Umm Ayman, Ziryab, Bilal Philips, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, Al Jawzi, , Holyness Jennings, Omar B. Said, Aisha Al Adaweya, Tayyibah Taylor, Saleemah Abdul Ghafur, the Mahdi of Sudan, Waris Dirie, Maryam Abdulbasir, Gwendolynah Zoharah Simmons, Kunta Kinte, Mansa Musa. (And yes, all by heart :P )

    So yes, there are many black Muslims worldwide, but we are often overlooked because of Arabo-centrism and anti-black racism by both non-black Arabs as Western scholars.

    • Avatar


      January 28, 2016 at 4:32 AM

      I can understand where your point comes from. Generally those of non Arab descent or region are overlooked but play and have played a hugely important part in Islamic history and to date. On a general level black Arabs are not highlighted as those of fair skin. Those not Arab have been failed by historians both Muslim and non Muslim as focus primarily was on Arabs with particular looks. Islam in itself as many religions doesn’t advocate racism but humans do be they Muslim or not. It is our own set of perceptions we need to change.

  6. Avatar


    January 20, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    as salaam alaikum,

    This is an emotional issue for me. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Islam demands we spend our lives seeking the middle path. It’s pretty easy to become engrossed with your people and look down on others and this is not limited solely to my Arab brothers and sisters. The easiest manifestation of this cultural jingoism is khutbahs or public talks and usually, the cultural Muslims I see most exposing their doctrine of cultural preference are my black American brothers.

    “We need to be in charge of Islam in America and not the immigrants,” is what they say. “You don’t let someone come to your house and take over.” It’s serious. There are Muslims today who refuse to speak to me over these ideas. Whenever any of us communicates we are simultaneously making decisions about how personal we should be and how much information and how culturally specific the information should be. How much Arabic we should use when we speak with fellow Muslms?

    Our Book is the Quran and it is written in Arabic, so a proper Muslim fights constantly to master the language of the Quran. But speaking Arabic fluently is not the same as letting the Quran into your heart. The Quran, I think, makes the heart soft. It makes us live in awe of our Creator and forces us to strive to have high compassion for all of Allah’s creation. A sheikh told me in class, “you have the nerve to hate the thing Allah has placed in front of you? You hate the puppet, instead of seeing the one pulling the strings?” Allah is over ever one of us and Allah, glory be to Him, is no bigot.

    As individuals, we have a responsibility to know how Islam got to us and that is usually going to mean you know the early converts from your culture who embraced Islam. If I think too hard about Brother Malcolm this time of year, I cry. God sent me this man and when the time was right, Allah, Mercy beyond any human comprehension, took Malcolm from the living, knowing that millions of souls would embrace Islam as a result. Allah has let me into knowledge of His presence and he did not ban me because I have dark skin or a bad temper or the low status of my family. How big a fool would I be after such mercy, to think I am now to look down on anyone else He has created?

    • Avatar


      January 21, 2016 at 11:18 AM

      my last word here on this, insha Allah is to give credit. I thought maybe not because I hate calling people out, but Shaikh Yacoubi is unbelievable his followers love him extremely and after I sat with him, I saw why. He is the one who taught me that a shallow person looks at the puppet and lacks the ability to see the strings and the One who pulls them.

  7. Avatar


    January 20, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    There is no doubt that Arabs had a fundamental role in the slave trade from early times.
    This included the invasion by Saracens pinching young blond girls from the south west of England.
    Christians are told not to judge others but to adress their own faults first.
    Today I was offered ready help by a really decent young Muslim froma local mosque schhol who was
    passing as I had problems with my car. And that has so often been the case.
    My experience of Islam has been otherwise.
    It seems to me to be a religion that spread by conquest.
    Yes people went to war misusing Jesus name. but whereas Islam grew by conquest Jesus role model was
    that of a suffering humble servant who said “People who live by teh sword will die by the sword” .
    The challenge for me as a failing Christian is to haveas kind a heart as the better among the Muslims I know.
    That is how The Almighty will judge us not by the rituals or fasts we keep to. Unless the change is within it means little.
    As for Equality we are reminded that “All have fallen short of the Glory of God” so none of us has cause to be pompous.
    Good luck in your quest to be genuinely guided by Gods Holy Spirit my Muslim friends.
    As Jesus said “Seek and You Will Find”.
    Hope I make it too.

    • Avatar


      January 20, 2016 at 2:40 PM

      Well said Cliveey

      I welcome and love muslims who have seen the error of their forefathers and accept it and are ready to move on as good humans and be good neighbors and citizens and appreciate the cultures, traditions and value of their non muslim societies who have given them as a right – protection, respect and dignity and opportunity to be equal amongst them…as they flee from their muslim homelands they have been fleeing for generations.

      I detest muslims who call their muslim arab invaders and occupiers and destroyers of non muslim societies and nations their heroes, and I pray to almighty, ungrateful, self righteous and pompous muslims mend their ways or else face a terrible reckoning from those of us in the west who now fully understand and comprehend this clear and present danger. Amen!

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      January 20, 2016 at 3:19 PM

      Mr. Clive, this is interesting. This is a Muslim website. You really think we don’t know our history? What you don’t know is, we know yours.

      The white man loaded Africans on ships, none of whom believed in Jesus, until after they were beaten raped tortured and murdered into an understanding that whatever master says goes. First believing that blacks were animals and denying them any right to pray and then later, when it suited the furthering of the white American slave trade, is when master went into the slave quarters with the Bible and most black Americans today are so devoid of historical knowledge that that same slave religion remains in the black community today. I get so tired of the black line against Arabs that displays so little knowledge.

      The short version of what I do my best to say humbly to you is, Arabs did NOT bring us to America in slave ships. The ones who did that you spend your life rushing to serve: masters’ ancestors. Our ancestors, before the whip were African Muslims…by choice.

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        January 20, 2016 at 3:52 PM

        Well said Gregabdul.

        The white man has acknowledged and accepted the errors and sins of their forefathers, and is hand in hand with you at every level determined to eradicate racism from our western society…electing a first black president of the United States of America was a big first step towards that. Lets join hands and build upon it…

        The African slave trade was first initiated and established for centuries by Arabs way before America was discovered. Please read up on history and inform yourself. The only difference from Arab slave trader/owner was that the Arab enslaved everyone regardless of race and the White man created and fiercely guarded institution of race based slavery and justified it by the Bible.

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        January 20, 2016 at 3:57 PM

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      January 21, 2016 at 2:01 AM

      Ya Allah! Guide me.

      What we have here, Friedrich Nietzsche called, the intolerance of the slave. Black people know better. The white man can hold 1,000 meetings and put 1,000 liquor stores in the black community and the same people who have all day to go and sit in front of the corner store, know to not go try to sit down with advanced white people. You know your place. But then when you don’t see the white man, then you can rush up in my face with the foolishness. You know, like “Arabs invented slavery.” And you serious too. Sad.

      This site is a Muslim site. We discuss issues pertaining to Islam. Praise be to Allah, we are relatively troll free. Now if you really wish to participate in discussions here, I think, a rudimentary knowledge of Islam would be helpful. None of us is sitting at our computers waiting for you to teach us about evil Arabs. I state again: please use, to find the mosque in your community. Sit down with the Muslims and let them educate you about us and our faith. Then by all means, get back to us and tell us about your experience. Now the white man does not give you permission to do that, so maybe like the meetings held at City Hall, you will make sure you stay in your place and don’t go where master has not given you his permission for you to go. You have been taught Christianity passed down to your from your ancestors after they were forced to take Jesus as a god during their enslavement. It sounds like that is all you know and that is your right. Ignorance is a right in America.

      Clive you have got to be kidding. The white man has NOT accepted his error. There are no reparations for black America. You have shuffled your feet and accepted him not apologizing. Obama is the drop of water over the damn, while the actual Martin Luther King struggle has spent the last 50 years going backwards. You have a lot of work to do before master is fixed, if he is ever fixed.
      We welcome you to chat with Muslims, but please don’t be an internet scholar on Islam or even Arabs. Tell us about your study at your local mosque and what you learned there.

      Are you brave enough to learn something master says you should not learn? Please do not assume to teach Muslims on a Muslim website, when you have never set foot in a mosque. I am pretty sure; slavery was invented by Africans.

  8. Avatar


    January 20, 2016 at 11:22 PM

    Has Anyone read “the companion of Prophet by Abdul Wahid Hamid?There are about 13 Books on Islamic history worth reading:

  9. Avatar


    January 21, 2016 at 2:51 PM

    Assalaam Alaikum Brother Wajid,
    I appreciate your article, but I think the premise and conclusion you have drawn are skewed. Muslim chroniclers past and present have written extensively about Muslims everywhere with no restriction to geographical location. Particularly about how Islam spread to new areas, the growth of Muslim societies, and Islamic scholarship. The real issue in my opinion is the absence of the intellectual and historical heritage of Islam in the English language. Indeed much has been written in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish about Muslims and Islamic civilization in Africa. (Please note that much of the Muslim lands in sub-Saharan Africa are often referred to as Western Sudan in antiquity.)

    In fact Muslim chroniclers have viewed societies and political leadership in Africa as critical to Islamic civilization. One well known example being the movement of Al Murabitun (Almorveds). Another being the advance scholarship that existed in Timbuktu (Mali) or in Shanqit (Mauritania) historically is almost unrivaled.

    Furthermore the contribution of Muslims in Africa is even more apparent with regards to the Quran. The majority of the Muslim world recite in Qira’a of Hafs An Asim. Yet the most diversity and preservation of Qira’at exists in today in Africa. For example:

    -In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia the Qira’a of Warsh An Nafi is read almost exclusively.
    -In Libya the Qira’a of Qalun An Nafi’.
    -In Sudan and much of West Africa the Qira’a Duri An Abu ‘Amr is the traditional way of recitation.
    -In Somalia the Qira’a of Duri An Kisa’I is the traditional way of recitation.

    I offer that the Arab-centric view of Islamic history is unfortunate consequence of colonialism. After the colonial period many intellectuals of these countries, in effort to redevelop an independent identity, have decided to focus inward for historical reference and growth. This is contrary to their Islamic legacy. However this is changing. Two scholars who discuss this issue among others are Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick and Dr. Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif.

    Finally I give you my list of names below (ten total). I would conclude that all Muslims should make a greater effort to explore the entirety of our Islamic heritage. Our predecessors have left a wealth of information, much of which is not available in English yet. It is vast and quite a worthwhile legacy for us all. Wassalaam Alaikum

    Mansa Musa (Musa I, Mali)
    Askia Muhammad (Muhammad Toure, Mali)
    Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim Al Ghazi (Kingdom of Adal, modern day Somalia)
    Amadou Bamba (Senegal)
    Ahmad Baba Al Massufi (Scholar of Timbuktu, from an area then known as Western Sudan)
    Mohammed Bagayogo (Mali)
    Usman Dan Fodio (Nigeria)
    Seku Amadu (Mali)
    Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (Somalia)
    Umar Al Futi (Born in Senegal)

    • Avatar


      March 15, 2016 at 7:11 AM

      Very interesting analysis brother. The amount of Islamic scholarship that exist in Nigeria is unprecedented. The likes of Imam Dokoro, Musa Adam, late Jafar Adam etc are established scholars that really play a important role in the spread of Islam among muslims and revival of the dean

  10. Avatar


    January 21, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    Mansa Musa, Ahmed Gurey, sheikh Usman dan Fodio, Tariq ibn Ziyad, Um Ayman, Bilal ibn Rabah, Al-Najashi, Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali are some names that come to mind from Africa.
    I think people generally concentrate on famed figures from there own history. Many non Arabs who have never been in contact with Arabs are unlikely to know about figures outside of their own history out side of the Sahaba, Hasan al Basri, the four imams and a couple of others. Those of us who in the west are a little more conscious of this, but it does take a concerted effort to educate yourself.

  11. Avatar

    UM Ibraheem

    January 29, 2016 at 6:41 AM

    Great article but it would’ve been great if it went on to name more african, or non Arab prominent leaders besides the most famous ones such as Malcome, Bilal etc. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t longer.

  12. Avatar


    March 15, 2016 at 6:55 AM

    I have many non Arab hereos such as El Kanemi of Borno , Mai Idris Alooma, Sheik Usman ibn Folio, Muhammad Bello and Sheik Jafar Adam. All of these people lived between the middle ages and modern time. I read Islamic history and historiography and I like it

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Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

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I remember driving to college orientation over the summer with my father, may Allah have mercy on him. I was going to be going to school out of state, and at the age of eighteen, this was the first time that I would be living away from home. 

We talked about a lot of things, and nothing in particular but one of the stories he shared stayed with me. There was an Imam who had a close circle of students and one of them became absent for an extended period. Upon that student’s return, the Imam asked him where he had been, to which the student replied, 

“Egypt!” The imam said to him, “well how was Egypt!” 

The student replied, “Egypt is where knowledge resides.” 

The Imam responded, “You’ve spoken the truth.” 

Sometime later, the imam had another student who also was absent and upon his return, the Imam asked him where he had gone to which the student replied, “Egypt!” The imam said to him, “Well, how was Egypt?”

The student said, “Egypt is nothing but amusement and play!” 

The Imam responded, ‘You’ve spoken the truth!” 

There were students who had witnessed both conversations and asked the Imam later why he had borne witness to the truth of two antithetical statements to which the imam replied,

“They both found what they were looking for.” 

I got the message. University could be a place of incredible learning, engagement with ideas, and can push you and challenge you in the best of ways. It can also be a non-stop party. A blur of heedlessness and hedonism that will bring about remorse and regret for that individual in the Dunya and Akhira. 

I think back to that car ride fondly, and I appreciate the predicament of parting advice. A person who will be bidding farewell to someone so dear to them and wanting to give them something powerful that they can hold onto or wisdom that will guide them. Many students in the past weeks have been receiving similar parting advice from their families, and so in this article I wanted to share one of the advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that he gave to a companion that he loved so much. 

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ جُنْدَبِ بْنِ جُنَادَةَ، وَأَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم قَالَ: “اتَّقِ اللَّهَ حَيْثُمَا كُنْت، وَأَتْبِعْ السَّيِّئَةَ الْحَسَنَةَ تَمْحُهَا، وَخَالِقْ النَّاسَ بِخُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ”

رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيُّ [رقم:1987] وَقَالَ: حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ، وَفِي بَعْضِ النُّسَخِ: حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ. 

On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junadah, and Abu Abdur-Rahman Muadh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said

“Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are, and follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it, and treat people with good character.” (Tirmidhi)

The advice is comprised of three components

  1. Fear Allah wherever you are 
  2. Follow a bad deed with a good deed it will erase it 
  3. Treat people with good character 

Have Taqwa of Allah wherever you are 

Taqwa is the crown of the believer. And it is the best thing that a person can carry with them on the journey of this life, and the journey to meet their Lord. Allah says, 

“And take provision, and the best provision is Taqwa.” 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ أَكْثَرِ مَا يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَقْوَى اللَّهِ وَحُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ ‏”‏ ‏

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked as to what admits people into Paradise the most and he said, “Taqwa and good character.” (Tirmidhi) 

And so what is Taqwa?

Talq ibn Habeeb gave a beautiful definition and description of Taqwa when he said, 

“Taqwa is to act in obedience to Allah, upon a light from Allah, seeking the reward of Allah. And it is to avoid the disobedience of Allah, upon a light from Allah, fearing the punishment of Allah.” 

And so he describes taqwa as having three components; the action, the source for that action, and the motivation for that action.”

To act in the obedience of Allah..

To do the things that Allah commands you to do and to stay away from what Allah prohibits you from doing 

Upon a light from Allah..

The source for the action or inaction must come from revelation, a light from Allah. And this should stir us to seek knowledge so that our actions are onem guided by a light from Allah. You’ve made it to University, you are bright, gifted, intelligent and committed to education.  Do not let be the one thing that you remain uneducated about be your religion. 

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, 

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِراً مِّنَ ٱلْحَيَاةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ ٱلآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware. (Al-Room v. 7) 

The prophet (S) said, “Allah hates every expert in the Dunya who is ignorant of the hereafter.” (Saheeh Al-Jaami’)

Make sure that you carve out time to attend halaqas on campus, seek out teachers and mentors who will guide you in learning about your religion even as you are pursuing your secular studies..

Seeking the reward of Allah..

The third component of Taqwa is the motivation:  that these actions that are being performed and that are sourced authentically in revelation must be performed for the sake of Allah, seeking His reward, and not for any other audience. That they not be done for shares, or likes or retweets. That a person does what they do of worship, that they abstain from what they abstain from of sin, seeking the reward of Allah and fearing His punishment. 

Fear Allah wherever you are..

Meaning in public and in private, online or offline, and when in the company of the righteous as well as when in the company of the wicked, in all circumstances a person must be mindful of the presence of Allah..

 عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّهُ قَالَ : ( لأَعْلَمَنَّ أَقْوَامًا مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَأْتُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ بِحَسَنَاتٍ أَمْثَالِ جِبَالِ تِهَامَةَ بِيضًا فَيَجْعَلُهَا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ هَبَاءً مَنْثُورًا ) قَالَ ثَوْبَانُ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صِفْهُمْ لَنَا ، جَلِّهِمْ لَنَا أَنْ لاَ نَكُونَ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لاَ نَعْلَمُ ، قَالَ : ( أَمَا إِنَّهُمْ إِخْوَانُكُمْ وَمِنْ جِلْدَتِكُمْ وَيَأْخُذُونَ مِنَ اللَّيْلِ كَمَا تَأْخُذُونَ وَلَكِنَّهُمْ أَقْوَامٌ إِذَا خَلَوْا بِمَحَارِمِ اللَّهِ انْتَهَكُوهَا

It was narrated from Thawban that the Prophet ﷺ said:

“I certainly know people of my nation who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawban said: “O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.” He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they are people who, when they are alone with what Allah has prohibited, they violate it.” 

This hadeeth is a warning for the person who is quick, eager and ready to violate the limits of Allah as soon as the door is locked, or the curtains or drawn, or as soon as they have arrived in a new place where no one knows them. We will sin, but let our sins be sins of weakness or lapses of taqwa and not sins of predetermination and design. There is a big difference between someone who sins in a moment’s temptation and the one who is planning to sin for hours, days or weeks! 

And follow a good deed with a bad deed it will erase it..

When we fall, as we must inevitably due to our being human, the prophet (S) instructed us to follow a sin with a good deed to erase it. 

Commit a sin, give charity. 

Commit a sin, perform wudhu as beautifully as you can and pray two rak’ahs. 

Commit a sin, seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent…

Our sins should not suffocate us from doing good deeds, they should fuel us to doing good deeds. 

Allah says,

وَأَقِمِ ٱلصَّلاَةَ طَرَفَيِ ٱلنَّهَارِ وَزُلَفاً مِّنَ ٱلَّيْلِ إِنَّ ٱلْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ ٱلسَّـيِّئَاتِ ذٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember. (Surat Hood v. 114) 

A man from the Ansar was alone with a woman and he did everything with her short of fornication. In remorse, he went to the prophet (S) and confessed to him. Umar said to the man, “Allah had concealed your sins, why didn’t you conceal it yourself!” The prophet (S) however was silent.

The man eventually left and the prophet (S) had a messenger go to him to recite the aforementioned verse.  A man said, “Oh Messenger of Allah is it for him alone?”

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “No for all people.” 

And so for all people, sin plus good deed equals the sin is erased. That is a formula to be inscribed in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Al-Hassan Al-Basri, the master preacher of the Tabi’een was asked,

“Should one of us not be ashamed of our Lord, we seek forgiveness from our Lord and then return to sin, and then seek forgiveness and then return!” 

He said,

“Shaytan would love to conquer you with that (notion), do not grow tired of seeking forgiveness”

But know that these sins that are erased by good deeds are the minor sins, as for the major sins they require repentance for the many verses in which Allah threatens punishment for those who commit major sins if they do not repent, and so repentance is a condition for the erasing of the effect of major sins. 

And treat people with good character 

And if Taqwa is the crown of the believer, then good character is the crown of Taqwa, for many people think that taqwa is to fulfill the rights of Allah without fulfilling the rights of His creation! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in many hadith highlights the lofty stations that a believer attains with good character, for example: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، رَحِمَهَا اللَّهُ قَالَتْ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لَيُدْرِكُ بِحُسْنِ خُلُقِهِ دَرَجَةَ الصَّائِمِ الْقَائِمِ

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Tirmidhi)

عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَا مِنْ شَيْءٍ يُوضَعُ فِي الْمِيزَانِ أَثْقَلُ مِنْ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ وَإِنَّ صَاحِبَ حُسْنِ الْخُلُقِ لَيَبْلُغُ بِهِ دَرَجَةَ صَاحِبِ الصَّوْمِ وَالصَّلاَةِ 

Abu Ad-Darda narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said:

“Nothing is placed on the Scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.” (Tirmidhi)

Let no one beat you to the taqwa of Allah and let no one beat you to beautiful character. 

You’ve come of age at a time in which the majority of our interactions are online, and in that world harshness and cruelty are low hanging fruit seemingly devoid of consequences. 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Whoever lives in the deserts becomes harsh.” (Abu Dawood) 

And social media is a desert, it is an experience where we are all alone, together. 

So choose gentleness over harshness, choose forgiveness over vindictiveness, choose truth over falsehood and protect people from your harm. 

For the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “I am a guarantor of a house in the highest part of Jannah for whoever makes their character good.” 

May Allah make us from them. 

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Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview

islamic online high school
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He squirmed in his seat as his Middle East history professor–yet again–made a subtle jab about Islam, this time about the jizyah.  This professor claimed to be pro-Arab and pro-Islam and was part of a university department that touted itself for presenting history and narratives that are typically left out of the West’s Eurocentric social studies sequence. Still, she would subjectively only present an Orientalist interpretation of Islam. Ahmad* sighed. He felt bad just thinking about what all his classmates at this esteemed university thought about Islam and Muslims. He was also worried about fellow Muslims in his class who had not grown up in a practicing household-what if they believed her? He hated how she was using her position as the “sage” in the room to present her bias as absolute truth. As for himself, he knew deep down in his bones that what his professor was alleging just could not be true. His fitrah was protesting her coy smile as she knowingly agitated the few Muslims in her class of one-hundred-fifty. Yet, Ahmad had never studied such topics growing up and felt all his years of secondary education left him ill-equipped as a freshman in college. He tried to search for answers to her false accusations after class and approached her later during office hours, but she just laughed him off as a backward, orthodox Muslim who had obviously been brainwashed into believing the “fairy tale version” of Islam. 


Asiyah* graduated as class valedictorian of her Islamic school. She loved Biology and Physics and planned to major in Engineering at a top-notch program. While both family, friends, and peers were proud of her (some maybe even wishing they were in her shoes), they had no idea of the bitter inner struggle that was eating away at her, tearing her up from the inside out. Her crisis of faith shook her to the core and her parents were at their wits’ end. While she prayed all her prayers and even properly donned her hijab, deep down she felt……..sort of….……atheist.  Physics was her life–her complete being. She loved how the numbers just added up and everything could be empirically proven. But this led to her greatest anguish: how could certain miraculous events during the time of the Blessed Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have occurred? How could she believe in events that were physically and scientifically impossible?  She felt like an empty body performing the rituals of Islam.

*names changed


An Unwelcome Surprise

Islam is a way of life. Its principles operate in every avenue of one’s life. However, English, History, Science and Mathematics are often taught as if they are beyond the scope of Islam. It is commonly assumed that moral teaching happens, or should happen, only in the Islamic Studies class. Yet, if we compare what is being taught in the Islamic Studies class with what is being taught consciously or unconsciously in other classes, an unwelcome surprise awaits us. Examining typical reading material in English classes, for example, reveals that too much of the material is actually going against Islamic norms and principles. Some of the most prominent problems with traditional English literature (which directly clash with Islamic moral and ethical principles) include: the mockery of God and religion, the promotion of rebellion against parents and traditional family values, the normalization of immoral conduct such as lying and rude behavior, and the condoning of inappropriate cross-gender interactions. Additionally, positive references about Islamic culture are either nonexistent or rare. Toxic themes of secularism, atheism, materialism, liberalism, and agnosticism are constantly bombarding our young Muslim students, thus shaping the way in which they view and interact with the world.

Corrective Lens: The Worldview of Islam

We need our children to develop an Islamic worldview, one that provides a framework for Muslims to understand their world from the perspective of the Qur’an.  It is impossible for the Islamic Studies classes alone to successfully teach Islamic behavior and nurture moral commitment unless the other classes also reflect the Islamic worldview- an outlook that emphasizes the idea that all our actions should be focused on pleasing Allah and doing good for ourselves and others. Therefore, the majority of what is taught in all academic disciplines should be based on Islamic values, aiming to improve the life of the student by promoting sublime ethical conduct. The unfortunate reality is quite the opposite: a typical child in a school in the West spends a minimum of 576 periods (16 periods of core classes/week * 4 weeks/month * 9 months) of classroom instruction annually on academic subjects that are devoid of Islam and contain minimal teaching of morality that aligns with Islamic principles. How much Islam a child learns depends on whether their parents choose Sunday school, Islamic schools, and/or other forms of supplementation to provide religious knowledge. However, rarely does that supplemental instruction undo the thousands of hours of the atheistic worldview that children soak in by the time they finish high school through the study of secular subjects. By not having an Islamic worldview and not having Muslims’ heritage and contributions to humanity infused into the teaching of academic subjects, we witness the problems experienced by the likes of Ahmad* and Asiyah*–problems that plague modern Muslim youth.

Identifying the Unlikely Suspect

This realization is perhaps the missing piece in the puzzle when it comes to our bewilderment: how are large swaths of youth from some of the kindest, sweetest, practicing Muslim families going astray and getting confused? When we shepherd our flock and find one or more of our “sheep” lost and off the beaten path, we think of the likely suspects, which include negative influences from peers, family, movies, social media, etc. We may even blame the lack of inspiring role models. We are less likely to suspect that the very literature that our children are consuming day in and day out through our well-intentioned efforts to make them “educated” and “sophisticated” could cause them to question Islam or fall into moral abyss.

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”

Islamic Infusion in Academic Study as a Solution

There have been efforts across the globe to infuse Islam into academic study of worldly subjects. Universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia(IIUM), which has a dedicated “Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS),” is an example. At the secondary school level, most brick and mortar Islamic schools do offer Arabic, Qur’an, and Islamic studies; however, few Muslim teachers are trained in how to teach core academic subjects using principles of Islamic pedagogy.

How exactly can educators infuse an Islamic perspective into their teaching? And how can Muslim children have access to high quality education from the worldview of Islam, taught by talented and dynamic educators?

Infusing Islam & Muslim Heritage in Core Academic Subjects, According to the Experts:

  • Dr. Nadeem Memon, professor of Islamic pedagogy, states that for a pedagogy to be Islamic, it should not contradict the aims, objectives and ethics contained in revelation (Qur’an) and should closely reflect an Islamic ethos that is based on revelation, the sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh), and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. It should also effectively develop the student’s intelligence (`aql), faith (iman), morality and character (khuluq), knowledge and practice of personal religious obligations (fard ain) and knowledge, skills and physical abilities warranted by worldly responsibilities and duties (Ajem, Ramzy and Nadeem Memon, “Prophetic Pedagogy: Teaching ‘Islamically’ in our Classrooms”)
  • Dr. Susan Douglass, expert in Social Studies, promotes a panoramic study of the world by global eras–emphasizing the interdependence of nations–rather than an isolationist civilizations approach (which in Western societies focuses only on Western civilization). Such study includes Islamic history and Muslims’ contributions to humanity throughout the ages.
  • Dr. Freda Shamma, pioneer in promoting culturally inclusive and ethical literature, emphasizes that English classes should carefully select literature aligned with Islamic moral values and include works by both Western authors and those from other cultures, i.e. literature that 1-features Muslim main characters and 2- is authored by Muslims.
  • Dr. Nur Jannah Hassan at CENTRIS, stresses that Science classes should be designed to awaken the student’s mind, to inspire a complete awe of and servitude towards the Creator and Sustainer, to instill the purpose of creation, vicegerency and stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants, to enable students to decipher God’s Signs in nature and in the self, to infuse responsibility in sustaining balance and accountability, and should include Muslims’ legacy in the field.
  • Dr. Reema alNizami, specialist in Math Education, advocates that Math classes should instill creative thinking, systematic problem solving and an appreciation of balance; include a survey of Muslims’ contributions to the field; and utilize word problems that encourage charitable and ethical financial practices.

Technology Enables Access to Islamically Infused Schooling for grades 6-12

Technology has now enabled this Islamic infusion for middle schools and secondary schools to become a reality on a global scale, alhamdulillah. Legacy International Online High School, a college preparatory, online Islamic school serving grades 6-12, whose mission is “Cultivating Compassionate Global Leaders”, offers all academic subjects from the Islamic worldview. Pioneered by leading Muslim educators from around the globe with background in Islamic pedagogy and digital learning, Legacy is the first of its kind online platform that is accessible to:

  • homeschooling families seeking full-time, rigorous, Islamically infused classes
  • Public school families looking for a part-time Islamic studies or Arabic sequence
  • Islamic schools, evening programs, and Sunday schools that are short-staffed and would like to outsource certain courses from the Islamic worldview
  • Schools and entities needing training/workshops to empower Muslim educators on how to teach from the Islamic worldview

Alhamdulillah, Legacy IOHS is an accessible resource for families with children in grades 6-8 who are seeking curriculum and instruction that is Islamically infused.

Strengthening Faith & Identity in College and Beyond

For those seeking supplementary resources to address the most prevalent hot topic issues plaguing young Muslims of our times, Yaqeen Institute, whose initial publications were more targeted towards a university audience, is now working to make its research more accessible to the general public through both its Conviction Circles initiative and its short videos featuring infographics.

Another online platform, California Islamic University, offers a comprehensive course sequence which allows college students to graduate with a second degree in Islamic studies while simultaneously completing their undergraduate studies at any accredited community college or university in the United States. Qalam and AlMaghrib Institute also offer online coursework in Islamic studies.

What We Hope to Avoid

While volunteering at his son Sulayman’s* public school with ten student participants, Ibrahim* was saddened when he met a young boy named Chris*. When Chris met Ibrahim, he piped up and eagerly told Ibrahim, “my grandparents are Muslim!” Through the course of the conversation, Ibrahim realized that he knew Chris’ grandparents, a very sweet elderly couple (and currently very practicing) who had not made the Islamic worldview a priority early on in their children’s lives. A mere two generations later, Islam is completely eliminated from their family. *names changed

Our Resolve

Legacy IOHS recommends the following to Muslim families/educators and Islamic schools:

  1. Instill in our children a strong grasp of the foundational sciences of Islam, while preparing them with the necessary contemporary knowledge and skills
  2. Teach our children in their formative years to view the world (including their “secular” academic study) through the lens of Islam
  3. Follow this up with relevant motivational programs that assist them in understanding challenging issues of today and coach them on how to respond to the issues in their teenage years.

We pray that with the above, we will have fulfilled our duty in shepherding our flock in a comprehensive way, with utmost care. It is Allah’s help we seek in these challenging times:

رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

‘Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us. Grant us Your mercy: You are the Ever Giving. [Qur’an 3:8]

 رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. [Qur’an 25:74]

يَا مُقَلِّبَ القُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِيْ عَلَى دِيْنِكْ

“O turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm on your religion.”

Freda Shamma has a M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.D. from the University of Cincinnati in the area of Curriculum Development. A veteran educator, she has worked with educators from the United States, South Africa and all over the Muslim world to develop integrated curricula based on an Islamic worldview that meets the needs of modern Muslim youth. She serves as Curriculum Advisor for Legacy International Online High School.

An avid student of the Islamic sciences, Zaheer Arastu earned his M.Ed from The George Washington University and completed his training in Educational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. his experience in Islamic education spans over 15 years serving as both teacher, administrator, and dean of innovation and technology. He currently serves as the Head of School for Legacy International Online High School.

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Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

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I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

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