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Chereen’s interview with Dr. Samir Iqbal, the Pakistani-American scientist who developed a device to diagnose cancer rapidly. Iqbal worked on the project with Young-tae Kim, a UTA associate professor in the Bioengineering Department; Muhymin Islam, a STEM doctoral candidate; and engineering students Mohammad Motasim Bellah, Adeel Sajid and Mohammad Raziul Hasan.
Chereen: Please tell me a bit about yourself.
Dr. Iqbal: I was born and raised in Bahrain. My dad was an expat working in research health; he worked as a pharmacist. I was 14 when I moved to Pakistan with my family and settled into a fairly large town. That was where we I got my schooling and college done. I was fortunate to be in a very active community. In college, I was one of the founders of the Anti-pollution movement, which [went] against the mafia cutting down trees. We also went after the chemical industry people who would just throw their chemicals into the water streams without treatment.
I also would get students engaged in donating blood, because there was a major disconnect in the country with patient care and people donating blood to the hospitals. I was very active when I was in college. People used to ring our bell at two in the morning and my parents would know that it was for me. It could have been that someone needed blood, or someone was in need of help.
Chereen: What motivated you to be this active?
Dr. Iqbal: I think that I was born this way, alhamdulilah. My parents were supportive of whatever I was doing. Our family is like that. I remember seeing my dad volunteer at a Pakistani school in Bahrain that was not very well funded. He would spend his time and type up every exam on an old cyclose style machine. This inspired me to do more. I was in high school when I started teaching my uncle’s three kids. That was the beginning because they were my very first students.
Chereen: Can you explain the process? I feel like the groundwork started early on to prepare you for something that is so profound and in-depth.
Dr. Iqbal: There is a plan, Allahu khairul makirin. Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala has his plan. We don’t know sometimes and we get anxious sometimes, but there is always something larger than we can see. I was in my bachelor’s of science when I got selected for the naval service. The navy training is very competitive, with many steps you have to go through even to be selected and join the academy. I appreciated the opportunity because it made a man out of a boy.
We have to spend time at high seas to appreciate what we have on land. Allah says it in the Quran that when we are on ships, when we are on sea, we beg for Him to bring us on stable ground. When we are on stable ground, we become arrogant again. Those that have not been at sea have no idea what that means. Being on the other side taught me a lot about life.
Chereen: From speaking to you, I can tell that you really do apply a lot of effort and that is something that is very important to you. Can you tell me more about that?
Dr. Iqbal: This is also fard (obligation). It is very important to utilize what we have been given. We are given a rizq, and then we are told to use our rizq in a certain fashion. This is how we have to use it, as a source of help. When Allah says, “Wa mimma razaqnahom yunifiqun.” I give you rizq and you have to do yunfiqun out of it. Why shouldn’t we be using that rizq to do what we are supposed to do? Our goal should be to use this rizq as a source of benefit and relief.
Chereen: Can you tell me about the process of your innovative work? What started this development?
Dr. Iqbal: It has been a work of 4 to 5 years. It has been the work of many, many good hardworking students. The rate it has evolved, and I will tell you that it has evolved because we did not just hit it. It starts with living things, and in living things there are organs. There are layers of tissue that support those organs. Some of the organs that get cancer, some of the cells break apart, and pass through those membranes or supporting tissue and get into the bloodstream. This is how metastasis occurs.
There is something interesting called the basement membrane. When you imagine it, it looks like the carpet you see in your offices. If you rub your hand, you see it is rough and has smalls ups and downs in it. Take it down to nanometer scale texture. We have to be careful taking this big jump from millimeter to nanometer, because millimeter is thousandth part of a meter, centimeter is hundredth part of a meter. One micrometer is millionth part of a meter. To appreciate how small a micrometer is, over here is 50 to 100 micrometer. Nanometer is 1,000 times smaller than one micrometer. This is the kind of scale we are talking about that Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala has created in our tissues. This is the supporting network. Every organ has its own types of cells. I do not even know if I can get to this depth in my lifetime. I am focusing on the basement membrane which supports this organ. Basement membrane has nano-texture to it, and it is known to be a very strong membrane. Of course it has to support all the organs in place.
Allah [ swt] has put all of these things in us with very fine delicacy and it is under pressure, but it is maintained and ordered in its place. The basement membrane shows that all these things stay in their place. The cancer cells want to go to another place and they want to make another colony, while killing that organism. Some of these cells break apart and get into blood streams. Most of them get cleared up by our immune system. When there are too many of them, some of them survive and find another distant organ. Again, they do their process by going through the tissue across the basement organ and get back to the support organ, what we call metastasis. Finding metastasis before it occurs saves lives. 90% of breast cancer deaths are actually through metastatic tumor.
This basement membrane and narrow texture, we recreated these conditions on a chip using nanotextured walls. We then saw that the metastatic tumor cells were showing distinctly different behavior than non-metastatic tumor cells. So if I get a biopsy sample from a patient and I don’t know how much metastatic potential is there in that sample, this system can tell me that as well. Just looking at that sample, an oncologist can look at that tumor and tell if it has spread, or if there might be a secondary tumor growing separately. This changes the whole approach of what therapy is to be given. It is early detection, it is precise. Hopefully, the way we are doing it and the way we have done it will make it very affordable. The goal is to deploy it as an annual physical tool and a screening tool is the goal.
Chereen: What was the leading factor that motivated you to work on something so groundbreaking and profound?
Dr. Iqbal: We all have seen our loved ones suffer with this disease. We all have seen our loved ones struggling and scared for the rest of their lives, because they went through something like this. My sister-in-law was a very humble lady, and she died from blood cancer. It happens by the will of Allah. We did not have tools to see it. Allahu khairul Makireen. I used to wish if I could do something for biochemistry, for the chemistry of diseases. I did not know how to go about it, but alhamdulilah we end up guided. I ended up having a doctoral advisor who was doing beautiful work in bio-detection, who gave me the opportunity to audit a course in Bio-MEMS. I sat and saw if this was something I wanted to do, and it changed my life. I was able to work on genes and detection of genes, and then I began to collaborate with people as an Assistant Professor. I worked with people that did remarkable work, which motivated me to want to do more.
Chereen: What kept you motivated throughout this journey?
Dr. Iqbal: The support is very important; you have to be in the company of the right people. My first doctoral advisor, Dr. Rashid Bashir has always been there to push me. My parents, my wife, my kids have always been there for me and to make dua’a for me. They have given me the freedom to spend my time on this. My wife did a major role in giving me my piece of mind and full support. This is the blessing of Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala, He puts you in the right company and gives you the correct support where you are reminded of how you can spend of your time and opportunities wisely. Going into the right company has helped me, I have learned from them and that has kept me inspired. Being friends with people that have been good to you and people that want to do well is what will keep you motivated.
Chereen: How has this accomplishment made you feel?
Dr. Iqbal: I went to the same school that Neil Armstrong went to, Purdue. He said, “It is one small step.” I don’t think we are there yet; I think it is a small step there. I am not saying we have achieved everything we can, but we have achieved a lot. However, there is much more that needs to be done. I say alhamdulilah, because we are one step closer.
Chereen: What advice would you give to anyone that wants to make a change in the world?
Dr. Iqbal: Gain experience! Pick right role models, your role models have to be good people. The beauty of America is that in every city there is a major university, where you can find the type of people who think about doing good for others. Where they are from does not matter, but it is the common goal that matters. It is their desire to good that should teach you how to become a better person. You have to learn how to be patient, to not live in a cocoon, and to learn how to be inspired from other people’s differences. This helps you get into the right environment, and then Allah will open ways for you. From there, you will gain experiences, and you will learn from your experiences. This world is full of many different people. The Prophet was sent for all of humanity, and it is on you to want to help all of the world and everyone in it. You should want to be a mercy for all of mankind. This is how you will begin to change the world for the better. This is how you will make a difference.
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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.
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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
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 for those successes.
When you’re thankful to Allah , 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 , 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 for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
- Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
- Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.
Knock ‘Em Down
- Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
- On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
- Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
- Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.
What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?
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I Encountered A Predator On Instagram
A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me.
I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility.
I was gravely mistaken.
I opened the direct message.
She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet
I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make.
I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,
“this sounds like a scam to me…”.
I decided to play along with it and test her.
I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
* 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.”
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.
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.
1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.
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Convert Story: To Ask Or Not to Ask, That is the Question
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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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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?”
- You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
- 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.
- You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
- You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.