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Between a Rock and a Hard Place- Black and Muslim

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Margari Hill

The path to autonomy can be treacherous. In the early 90s, my International Relations professor would describe leaders in newly independent Africa and Middle East nations as being “between a rock and a hard place” during the Cold War.  He used it so much, that it became a catchphrase.   However,  I always heard the phrase, “Between Iraq and a hard place.” Every time he’d say it, I’d look at my Libyan American classmate and say, “is he talking about Jordan?”  I enjoyed the class. It satisfied my curiosity about current affairs, but I was also interested in a world that existed outside of white supremacy, of colonialism, or slavery.

Similar to those newly independent nations, our American Muslim communities also navigated uncharted territory, pressured by political forces outside our control. Inspired by the thoughts of Alija Itzbegovic who wrote Between East and West, by W.D. Muhammad who told us the sun would rise in the West, I believed in the relevance of Islam to addressing the social ills in my society. Many of these I faced personally, including family instability, substance abuse, street violence, and lack of education opportunities.  I had no idea about the complexities of building  Muslim communities, but I became a firebrand within the campus bubble. National conventions  like ISNA seemed like a distant vacation place that only my affluent friends could afford to go in order to participate in the halal meat market. From my position on the periphery of community life at the Muslim Community Association and South Bay Islamic Association, I grew tired of being upheld as some example of  perseverance through obstacles. I didn’t want to be the female version of Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), to inspire nonBlack Muslims, “See how beautiful Islam is, she believes even with that boulder weighing on her chest.”   I wanted to exist free from the things that were weighing me down and feel free from being tethered to the hard place that was my past.

At the time of my conversion, I only knew one Muslim family, a Black American family, and had little clue about the social and political dynamics of community life. Shortly after converting, I found two small scarves to cover my head and soon found myself developing relationships with Muslim men and women from the Philippines, Iran, Albania, Libya, Palestine, Nigeria, and Syria. Although I had a lot of passion for my faith, I was by no means an ideal Muslim convert. I also found the community to be less than ideal.  Dreams of racial egalitarianism faded as white converts were put on pedestals, as some of my peers told racist jokes, as colorism was rampant, and as our community was divided along  ethnic lines.  Whenever I brought up issues about race, some people blamed colonialism, others said I was making things up and or that I was too sensitive. Being Black, being a hijab wearing woman, being a college dropout, being rejected by family, being abandoned and left to fend for myself, that weight started to weigh me down more than I could bear. It would take me years to reconcile with Muslim community life.

It was only when I started blogging in 2006, over a decade later, that I began to find my voice and wrap words around the pain I experienced. Islam and the Blackamerican came out while I was in graduate school in 2005. While many Black American  Muslims nod their head in agreement when Dr. Sherman Abdul Hakeem Jackson describes the power dynamic between first and second generation American Muslims and Black American Muslims (described as the Immigrant/indigenous Muslim divide), there are many nonBlack Muslims who fail to grasp how much truth that book speaks to our reality. Privilege can provide blinders to the overt and subtle experiences racism.

In my early quest to understand my place Muslim communities, I  found anti-blackness in classical Arabic literature. This drove my quest in graduate school to understand pre-colonial racial formations in Muslim majority societies. I wanted to find myself in my tradition outside of the Bilal trope. I also wanted to be equipped to have those difficult conversations about race. Back then, there were a few bloggers who came into Islam through the Black experience. They also  wrote about race and Muslims, these bloggers include Charles Catchings, Umar Lee, Tariq Nelson, Jamerican Muslimah, Marc Manley, Abdur Rahman Muhammad, and Umm Adam.  Whenever we wrote about racism our comments sections would explode with heated exchanges that included people dismissing our views or sometimes it would devolve into ad hominem attacks. In 2007, Muslim Alliance of North America tackled the issues of race in Muslim American communities head on. But they faced push back and I remember reading  some non-Black blogger who wrote that we should just get over it with vociferous agreement in the comments section. In 2012,  Hakeemah Cummings started a campaign, “We are All Slaves of Allah.” Then Dawud Walid took the mantle in 2013 by tweeting at Muslims who used racial slurs. The chorus picked up  and since its founding in 2014, MuslimARC has helped sustain the conversation about race in Muslim communities.

My Arab American friend, who is a mother of a mixed raced Black child, told me about her daughter’s experience at an Islamic school. Weekly, she gives her daughter a pep talk to counter the negative messages her peers give her about being too dark with fuzzy hair.  While she has a loving extended family, she has no friends at her school. Another Sudanese family pulled their child out of the same school. Whenever parents share these stories, and there have been too many, I realize the gravity of my work. It is also deeply personal. My daughter is only four and I dread the experiences she may have at school. Positive peer experiences contribute to Muslim youth developing their religious identities, but many Black Muslims in multi-racial communities are bullied or socially isolated. This continues in college, with Black American Muslim youth disassociating from the MSA. While I know a few Black American Muslim families who are  three generations strong, I also know other families whose kids cite their experiences of marginalization as a reason why they don’t practice or even identify as Muslim. I know firsthand the devastating consequences of not feeling a sense of belonging in the Muslim community.  Between Islamophobia and anti-Black racism, the cultural production of Black American Muslims is at stake.

Facing these pressures, Black American Muslims are often have divided loyalties and must make difficult choices.  Do we try to integrate into communities that seem to not want us or do we work on forming havens where we can be free of Islamophobia and anti-Black racism? The principle that drives my work is that we are one family, an Ummah. So, I hold a mirror up to my brothers and sisters as a reminder. For that reason, I will not disengage from any community or organizations that seeks to serve our collective interests. I believe that Black American Muslims are like the Ansar (Helpers) and Muhajiroon (Immigrants) and we truly need each other to thrive in this society.

Despite the model that we have from the Seerah,  I have faced criticism from Black American Muslims for wasting my time working within predominantly immigrant communities.

They stress the importance of building up institutions within the Black American Muslim community. Without institutions and wealth, Black American Muslims remain on an uneven footing from their counterparts.  Questioning the benefit of my work, several Black American Muslims have urged me to refocus my energies to support Black American  Muslim self reliance. While I support Black American Muslim self reliance, I also believe in the importance of building bridges because we need allies. Inner city community organizations rely on support from affluent donors in the suburbs. Sometimes these relationships can reify hierarchies in our community.  My work is to dismantle paternalistic attitudes and relationships by training organizers and community members about systemic oppression and our shared interest in addressing it. With this in mind, I work to build relationships with individuals and organizations. It is difficult to address problems such as lack of diversity on their boards, exclusion of Black and Latino Muslims,  and ethnocentric messaging that erases the plurality of the American Muslim experience from an adversarial relationship.

My hope is that working with organizations, we can make important shifts in policies, cultures, and practices.  For working with these organizations, I also face criticism and at times derision. This year, I have faced criticism from Black American Muslims for working with ISNA to organize  a panel addressing the Muslims and the New Jim Crow and for facilitating the ISNA Black Lives Matter Roundtable. On the day I landed in Chicago for ISNA 52, I was tagged in a thread critiquing the Black Lives Matter as a kumbaya event. I have also faced criticism for working with CAIR.  I have been reminded of the importance of “do for self,” a motto of Black self determination. Some have likened my anti-racism work as an attempt to earn the respect of non-Black Muslims. In my Counter Violent Extremism organizing, I have been warned by Black American Muslims to not be used as a token by non-Black Muslims in their battles. Others encourage me to utilize my energies in Black led initiatives, rather than work on multi-racial Muslim campaigns.

I also get criticism from non-Black Muslims for my engagement with mainstream Muslim organizations. While I issue statements and am not above a protest or drop the mic moment, I haven’t followed their calls to boycott ISNA, the White House Iftar, or other organizations. I believe in speaking my truth. I have weighed in on the marginalization of Palestinian American voices during the MLI controversy and critiqued Counter Violent Extremism programs from a racial justice lens. And because I take a stand, some people think that also requires I break off relationships.   In November someone sent me a screenshot of a conversation where I was the subject. They were discussing their concerns about  my acceptance of the MPAC  Community Change Makers Award.  They were concerned I would be co-opted and stop my critique of the Safe Spaces Initiative.  People approached me during the  months leading up to the award ceremony to express their opinions about what I should do or say. But for the most part, they expressed their support telling me the award was well deserved.  As I said in my acceptance speech, my critiques are out of love because I believe we can do better as a community. I was deeply humbled to be considered a Community Change Maker and be acknowledged  alongside the phenomenal Nahla Kayali, Founder and Executive Director of Access California Services, and Dr. Shamim Ibrahim, Founding Executive Director of Niswa Association. While they provide direct services, MuslimARC is a racial justice education organization. We have changed conversations, but these women have changed lives.  Yet that recognition helped normalize anti-racism work in Muslim communities. After I received the award, someone messaged me to express disappointment over my decision. It does hurt in many ways to think that people would take rather take a cynical view of that moment. This individual argued that my decision was an unprincipled act of hypocrisy because I had criticized MPAC. As someone who values being understood, it bothers me more that others do not want to acknowledge the reasons why my acceptance of the award is guided by my own principles. I am not sure what space some people hope for me to operate in, not at ISNA, not in multi-ethnic coalitions, not with established institutions, but maybe from the periphery in operating between a rock and a hard space.

Sometimes doing anti-racism work makes me feel like Sisyphus, punished by pushing a boulder uphill. There are times when I feel the weight of that rock crushing down on me. Everyone who has done work in the Muslim community knows that heavy criticism comes with the job. I know I am not beyond reproach. Because of social media and my accessibility to volunteers and the public, hardly a day goes by without me receiving negative feedback about my work. I take it all to heart, sometimes too heavily. I understand concerns about our tactics and methods of anti-racism work: whether too confrontational or too soft.  Even in our most successful campaigns or programs, there is no time to celebrate. We have to look at it with a critical eye and think how we can do better.
When making choices, I always keep my identity, my context as an African American Muslim woman. I often seek advice from trusted friends, family, community members, and above all guidance from my Lord before making decisions. I also take into account the vision of MuslimARC and think about the long road to liberation. In truth, MuslimARC is beyond me as an individual. But people will look at my actions to affirm or delegitimize this work. And that’s also a heavy weight.  To get out from between the rock and a hard space, I have had to carve out my own space in our community. But I may also have to  begin to dig even deeper, beyond my comfort zone, to create help create inclusive spaces where we can thrive and struggle for a world that is just.

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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    February 25, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    Fascinating article! The true dilemma of the thinking black American Muslim: separate or integrate. The Fantasy of black American nationalism ended with the decline of the Nation of Islam. In one of his famous lectures, Malcolm X talked about blacks doing business with blacks alone and not relying on “outsiders.” If we properly understand the teachings of Malcolm, we see new interpretations and adapt them to our circumstances in the modern world. We seek to integrate, but as Muslims, with our identities undiluted. There is no black bubble where money goes in and never goes out. If we truly want such a setup, then we must move to Africa and even then, tell me which African country is insulted at the idea of Western aid?

    We must work to build wealth as individuals, not because we are black, but be cause the proper practice of Islam takes money. Islamic education takes money. You have to have time to go to the mosque to learn and that means you have to have enough money for leisure. It takes money to build a mosque. It takes money to go on Hajj. Having a middle class or better income is not a black struggle. It’s a Muslim thing. I am an African American Muslim. The biggest challenge we face in our double bind in America is not going backwards and debating things that were settled 50 years ago.

    The biggest obstacle to our unity that I see is us getting our due respect from the immigrants. Sometimes in this we are our own worst enemies. In the last year, I have seen over and over old black American Muslims, for reasons that totally baffle me, who want to resurrect and legitimize Elijah Muhammad. This guy called himself a messenger, who spoke directly with God after Prophet Muhammad. He impregnated six teenage girls outside of marriage in the 60s and sat silently while his people gunned down Malcolm X.

    As individuals, we must strive to create success in the dunya as we build for our Akhira. But we must never lose sight of the fact that our goal is not to please men or be seen as good by other people. Our goal is Allah (swt). When black American Muslims use the term “the honorable Elijah Muhammad,” we are telling the greater Ummah that we don’t mind shirk and fornication, because a black man did it. Elijah was NOT honorable and using this term demeans us as people and demarks us as a people who do not understand basic Islam. Allah determines our risk. But we as individuals determine if we will stand with the good and against the bad, even if the bad happens to have dark skin or champions pseudo black nationalism. May Allah guide us.

  2. Avatar

    Anees

    February 27, 2016 at 2:15 AM

    Loved this very much. The work you are doing is absolutely necessary – building bridges within the Muslim community among the different groups is key.

    Though we have a great Black Muslim community here in Portland (the masjid/community center that our Black brothers and sisters attend to on the East side of the city, was recently lost to fire), it is clear that much of the community don’t value their place as much as their own. We recently had a fundraising event at our Islamic school (itself which has moved into a new building), but it was noticeable that the crowd was not as large as for other events, though still a good crowd by Allah’s Grace. Being a South Asian Muslim, I notice more of the outside picture, but as far as those allies that subgroups, such as the Black Muslim community need, I’m glad that those who did attend the fundraising event or those who help behind the scenes, in secret, are doing their part. It is encouraging, but as you’ve surely seen, there is still plenty of work to be done.

    Once again, so proud that the Muslim community at large has someone like you Sr. Margari. May Allah (swt) continue bless you with success, strength and patience as you move forward.

  3. Avatar

    Aafia

    February 29, 2016 at 1:10 AM

    Feel sorry that you recieve negative feedback . But does that feedback really matter If the Purpose is the Pleasure of Allah(swt)You are doing great work , Sis.

  4. Avatar

    junaid

    March 9, 2016 at 4:23 AM

    Loved this very much. The work you are doing is absolutely necessary – building bridges within the Muslim community among the different groups is key. The true dilemma of the thinking black American Muslim : separate or integrate.

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#Life

7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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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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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 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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#Life

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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