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Baba, The Quran and Me

Hiba Masood

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

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“When we were young, every Ramadan, we had to complete one recitation of the Quran because my dad made us. There was no question of not completing it. It’s just what we did.”

Sitting together with my friend and our toddlers in a Mommy & Me art class, the words were barely out of my mouth before regret kicked in. I saw the surprised and disapproving frown forming on my friend’s face. Forcing the Quran on a child? How politically incorrect. How backward. How unenlightened. One simply did not say these things in polite, modern, company. I could practically see her censuring thoughts and I felt dismay at my inability to explain myself. Thankfully, the conversation took a turn elsewhere, both of us wise enough not to go too deep into a potentially tricky topic.

Later that evening, after my kids were asleep and the blessed cover of the night slowly drifted over the city, I lay in the quiet, thinking. Remembering. And laughing over the realization that if I were to ever retell this story, I would probably begin the exact same, inappropriate way:

When we were young, every Ramadan, we had to complete one recitation the Quran because my dad made us. There was no question of not completing it. It’s just what we did.

I think I must’ve been seven or eight when I first gained an understanding of this family tradition. My Baba, during the course of some of the most precious conversations of my life time, would often tell us, my brother, sister and I, stories from his childhood. What his life and his days spent with his eight brothers and sisters used to look like.

The Ramadan stories were particularly powerful to hear because he would speak of things that seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar – like abject poverty, splitting one bowl of food for Iftar amongst a family of eleven – that it was almost dream like.

The story we marveled over most was the amount of Quran that, as kids, he and his siblings read each Ramadan. “We would each try to be the one who finished it the most number of times. I usually reached four and gave up. One of my sisters did it seven times each year. No one could ever beat her.”, he would chuckle as he remembered. “But how did you guys find the time, Baba?!” we would gasp. And he would look equally amazed. “It was Ramadan. Once work is done, what else is there to do except read the Quran every single possible minute?” His genuine shock, that one could possibly, crazily, choose to spend their time in unessential worldly matters and how utterly unfathomable that was to him, seeped into our young, impressionable minds. We would pester him again and again for more nuances to this story and he would oblige. “Do you know every letter you recite during Ramadan has 70 times the regular reward? That means every letter, like saying Alif, gets you seven HUNDRED good deeds? Just do the math for reading the whole Quran! Go on! Now do the math for your aunt who reads it seven times!” Our minds properly boggled, we would be wide eyed trying to figure out the answer to this cosmic equation from the mathematics of the Divine.

And eventually, our amazement and interest in this particular competition led to the formation of our own internal, little family game. The rules were simple: The target was Eid, and, more specifically, Eidee, the cash gift that we received from Baba on Eid morning. Whoever finished one, just one, complete recitation of the Quran before the official declaration of Eid, would have their Eidee doubled.

When we first heard this wager, I think we each of us practically clapped in glee. Oooh, twice the amount of money! A parent-sanctioned chance to openly beat the siblings and earn bragging rights, and that too, not just in some vague, metaphorical way, but in actual, crisp, crackling, Saudi riyal note earnings! Oh Daddy, this game was on!!

And our glee was because, you see, the very first year, we operated from a place of total ignorance. We’d never actually attempted what was being asked and so we figured “Eh, how hard could it be? Those old aunts and uncles of ours, if they could do it up to seven times, what was ONE time? This should be a cakewalk.”

Well it wasn’t. It wasn’t the first year. And it still isn’t 25 years later.

There have been years of starting and staying strong. Of planning from beforehand. Of thinking, okay, roughly 30 days, 30 juz. If I read a little more than one a day, I am on track. And in that same pattern, of sailing easily and comfortably to the finish line. Of standing, grinning on Eid morning, keeping my palm extended as first one 50 riyal note was laid on it and then, nodding proudly, yes I did complete my recitation, getting another 50. Of exulting over my father’s proudly beaming face.

There have been years, in late tweens/early teens of total mismanagement. Of letting life take over a little too much and then realizing, aghast, that only five fasts were left and I still had eighteen juz to go. Of racing, helter skelter, through more than six juz on the very last day, squeaking past the finish line just minutes before what would be the last Maghrib prayer of Ramadan. Of encountering a slightly raised, fatherly eyebrow, “So you really did finish?” and of meekly nodding yes, deliberately neglecting to mention the particular speeds of recitation.

Later, once womanhood kicked in, there were years of getting unexpectedly overly long periods and that throwing my entire calculation off. Of feeling gnawing desperation around Day 21, 22. How will I complete it now? Of not giving up. Of, after ghusl, staying up all night and then continuing to stay awake after Fajr to complete the required reading, but now, with the sense of adulthood inside me, only reading in the most measured, dignified manner possible.

There were years when, long after the double-Eidee wager had faded away with other remnants of childhood, with all the impetuous, rebellion of youth, of spending my days in smoke-filled rooms, strategizing with socialist/activists, and my evenings protesting against the Iraq war on the frozen streets of Toronto. Of not praying at all, of not so much as glancing towards the dusty shelf where my Quran sat the entire year. But then, out of sheer habit, on the first of Ramadan, shamefaced from all the spiritual neglect of the past eleven months, taking it down, cleaning it and then getting to it. Of feeling, verse by verse, page by page, chapter by beautiful chapter, cleansed. Redeemed. Able to start over.

There was the first year of my marriage. When my brand new husband, sat back, astonished at this surprising wife of his. This wife who never even put her shoes in the right place when she got back home from somewhere. Whose phone was always misplaced. Whose closet always a disaster. “I never knew you could be so disciplined.”, he marveled as he witnessed my steady progression over the course of the month, the pages on the right of the bookmark growing and the pages on the left lessening.

There were subsequent years in which he figured if I could do it, he could too. Of motivating each other. Of gently teasing whoever was behind. Of eventually acknowledging, that his long office hours and unrelenting corporate job would get the best of him. Of consoling ,“Don’t worry. I read it for both of us. Niyyah is what counts. You got it.”, and of vowing, “I’m going to do it next time for sure!”.

There was the year of expecting my firstborn – a boy who would later go on to have developmental delays and additional needs – when Ramadan was in the month just before his birth. Of, that year, with all the nervous excitement and joyful anticipation of a first time mother-to-be, completing the Quran three times. Of growing bigger and more uncomfortable, curling up on the couch and slowly working my way through the Book again and again, and one more time, to give myself a sense of purpose and calm. A steadying feeling that I was being a responsible mother and giving my very first baby his very first gift as a Muslim child.

And there have many, many more years. Of anxiety. Of scary financial strain. Of a turbulent marriage. A difficult son. Of sickness. Of fear. And of deep, deep grief.

In all of those years, those months and weeks of uncertainty, Ramadan and the accompanying habit of completing the Quran has stood like an immovable beacon.

In the early years, the prospect of either receiving doubled earnings on Eid or facing the disappointed expression on my father’s face was the motivation. In the middling years, it was force of habit, a yearly ritual that I neither questioned nor pondered very much over. Completing the Quran was just another part of Ramadan for me, similar to fasting. I had to fast and so I had to finish the Quran. And in recent years, with the onset of maturity, the wisdom that has come in my thirties, the settling into the very bones of my life and my self, this yearly practice has become an identity and a gift. An eagerly anticipated reconnection. To Allah. To the Quran. To my childhood. To my father. To my self.

Ramadan1

The motivations behind this practice have shape shifted and blurred over the years. They have entered questionable realms and they have exited. They have wavered repeatedly, stretched unbelievably and sometimes disappeared completely. But, now, today and inshaAllah forever after, they are strong, solid and singular in focus. And so perhaps, a better way to start this story would have been:

Every year, in Ramadan, I have to complete the recitation of the Quran because this is who I am. There is no question of not completing it. It’s just what I do.

I know, in writing this, that there will be dissenters. There will be those who strongly disagree with this idea – those who will be disgusted by the linking of monetary motivation to the Holy Quran. Those who will insist everyone should give weightage to spending more time understanding the Quran rather than rote reciting it. Those who will find my descriptions of “racing” through the Quran in my earlier years the exact raison d’etre for not setting unrealistic targets.

Perhaps, they are each right in their own way. But they, their reasons, their motivations, their goals are not right for me.

I cannot explain to them how I feel about my father and how the prospect of attaining his pleasure can compel me to move mountains. I cannot explain how this practice he has instilled in me has been my spiritual lifeline. I cannot explain to them the deep, intrinsic pleasure of reading that Book from cover to cover in a fixed time frame and that too, during the most blessed days of the year. I cannot explain because I am always far too busy trying to make sense of my own story.

See, I feel, to thrive in this Life, we each have to do what we can to try and make sense of the lot we’ve given. To try and comprehend our messy, marvelous stories and see them for the treasure they are.

When I look at my life, when I take the long view, I see two, exactly opposite, completely diametrical truths. I see that I have had, through the Will of Allah, so much turbulence. Such storms. Such darkness. And I also see that my father in the form of this and other traditions, gave me such stability, so many anchors. So many lifebuoys. In all the years of my life, when I was flailing and thrashing about in the uncertain seas of physically painful, fibromyalgia-filled school days, a rebellious university life, a tumultuous early marriage, a special needs child, difficult subsequent pregnancies, financial strain and unemployment, sickness, grief, this tradition was an always present marker on my horizon. A rope to grab on to every single year no matter how stormy and darkened the rest of the eleven months were. A steady, brightly shining lighthouse that by virtue of always being there, always brought me back to my center.

As another Ramadan approaches, I think of the ghosts of Ramadan past. The years flitter in my mind like a fast paced slide show and I see my recitation efforts stacked up on each other. Year after year after year of trying. Of working towards a challenging but clearly identified goal. Of honing my discipline and time management skills. Of experiencing the fear of failure and the dedication required in overcoming that fear. Of experiencing the high of personal achievement and the two-folded spiritual satisfaction of reconnecting to this glorious book of Allah and, in the process, beating down my inner demons of laziness and indiscipline, those lesser parts of me who, every year would rather give up but don’t.

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly lost as I look at my son, this boy who refuses to comply, whose anxiety levels are always so high, who doesn’t speak like other kids his age, I clutch to my heart the memory of those hours and hours my pregnant self spent with the Quran, those three complete recitations he heard while he moved inside me.

Sometimes, when things seem excruciatingly lonely, I think of my ancestors and my aunts and uncles and my cousins. All those children of all those siblings of my father. I think of the dozens and dozens of my family members, all of whom carry on this tradition proudly today. Each and every one of the kids and adults in my dad’s side of the family (and there are many!) completes the Quran every Ramadan. Because that is who they are. That is who we are. If they can do it, I can do it. I am reminded that I not alone. I am held aloft by a strong family, good values and faith-full traditions.

Sometimes, when life seems particularly overwhelming, too much work, not enough time, I think of all those years in which I took stock of the situation, ”Okay ten days left, 16 juz to go. How can I manage this?” and then slowly and diligently accomplished what initially felt to be an insurmountable task. I hold daily to my soul the knowledge that I am resilient. That I can overcome. That I have. That I will.

And sometimes, when my now sick and aging father is asleep, his gray hair glistening softly in the shadows, I lean down and press my cheek to his. I put my lips to his ear. And I whisper things. I whisper how the kids made me laugh today and cry simultaneously. I whisper that Ramadan is coming and he better get my double-Eidee ready. I whisper my love and my prayers and my hopes. I whisper how afraid I am of the future. How much I already miss him. But most of all, I whisper my gratitude. Gratitude for gifting me so freely all the things, all the lessons, all the beliefs, all the forces of habit and inspiring stories and abiding, enriching traditions that have blessed my life. For giving me an identity and an anchor. For always being my lighthouse when he was able, and whenever the time came that he wasn’t, to make sure to leave my life with enough Light to see me through.

Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera
Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera
Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera

 – – –

Hiba Masood is a writer, storyteller and speaker. You can find more of her and her work daily on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/etdramamama

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

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Avatar

    fatima

    June 17, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    hey hiba, beautiful beautiful beautiful piece of work. Seems like i was going through all the stages you wrote and my relation with Quran, throughout my life flashed as i continue to read your words.
    just out of curiosity, when you mention completing a quran, are you refering to the translations or the arabic text?
    lots of love.

    • Avatar

      Murah

      July 12, 2016 at 2:41 PM

      duh! seriously…translation? wow! when i think i heard them all…..what planet are you living in?

      • Avatar

        Anonymous

        July 22, 2016 at 8:44 PM

        The Arabic text suffices as a reply. Fatima’s point is coming from a peaceful place, let us be merciful with one another insha Allah.

  2. Avatar

    Anonymous

    June 17, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    i can only imagine what a task this must have been for you to put this all in writing. Job well done. It was a pleasure to read, and so relatable that it made me go down my own little memory lane! Thank you for writing this!

  3. Avatar

    Aisha

    June 17, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    Yeah, it’s a tradition in my family too. My mum instilled it in us, though we never got any monetary benefit or so. But somehow she inspired us and till today one goes through that guilty feeling if we r not reaching our target. I m glad she forced it on us eventhough i dnt feel that dhe actually forced it. N i hope i am able to inspire my kids in the same way ins Sha Allah.

  4. Avatar

    Qurratulain

    June 17, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    What a moving piece of work! Made me teary. I often follow everything you write on your page and it’s true the words that seep out of suffering are undeniably beautiful. Sending lots of love. Continue writing. You inspire many unknowingly.

  5. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 17, 2016 at 9:27 AM

    I’m crying reading this.
    My father never forced us, but everyday it was a daily question of ‘how many did you read? Which para (juz) are you on?’
    He told us stories of his older sister reading 5 every year and we were always so impressed.

    Thank you for this reminder of my own childhood.

  6. Avatar

    saaliha

    June 17, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    Wow this is beautiful mashaAllah! May Allah accept you and your family and may he grant you all shade under his throne on the day of judgment, ameen

  7. Avatar

    umme ammar

    June 17, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    Excellent piece of writing..?. got me crying! And alhumdolillah this tradition of completing one quran in ramadan is still alive in many families includin mine… if only we can successfully transfer it to our children
    the best part
    rabbir hum huma kama rabbayni sagheera?

  8. Avatar

    umm e hanzalah

    June 17, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    SubhanAllah…tears r felling from.my eyes…with few changes could easily relate to the values we got from our parents..beautiful piece of writing..pulled me back to my childhood days…May Allah s.w.t help us all to transfer these values in our children..ameen..n yes off course rabbir hamhuma kama rabbiyani sagheera..Ameen..

  9. Avatar

    Hira Danish

    June 17, 2016 at 6:24 PM

    I have been following you since a couple of years now Hiba, and find you as a person quite parallel to my own self. I admire your courage and determination to keep pouring your heart out on paper. Sending lots of Duas for you and your generations that may you all uphold this amazing tradition of yours and be beacons of light forever.

  10. Avatar

    Tabassum

    June 18, 2016 at 1:39 AM

    Beautiful writing. This all sound so familiar. I have been questioned for encouraging my kids (11 and 8) to fast and recite Quran, do other activities with eid gifts and other such things but my own experience made me felt , this will work. Now reading your article make me felt more assured. Thanks for such a hear touching piece

  11. Avatar

    Um talhah

    June 18, 2016 at 2:26 AM

    jazakumAllahu khairan.
    The account of your teenage years both surprised and encouraged me. I didn’t expect a rebellious teen who’s not praying to recite the quran. May Allah reward your father abundantly.

  12. Avatar

    Spirituality

    June 18, 2016 at 12:23 PM

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran for the beautiful piece!

    Recitation of the Quran has tremendous benefits, so we should never be ashamed :)! The past few Ramadans have been difficult, as I have been unable to fast and attend taraweeh due to health reasons. So, one of my goals is to recite the entire Quran during Ramadan.

    Thanks so much for sharing your life story with us through your writings, with its ups and downs. One day, could you write about your struggles with fibromyalgia and how you overcame this disease? I and others suffering from similar health problems could really benefit.

    Also, I would love to hear anyone’s experiences of how they use Ramadan as a platform to boost not only recitation, but comprehension and deeper understanding of the Quran – for themselves as well as their children. Imagine, we get 700 rewards for reciting just one letter of the Quran. But how much more benefit would we get for really understanding the book (which is after all, a guide for those with taqwa), and trying to live accordingly?

    In addition to daily recitation, I’m trying to study the tafseer of an ayat or two everyday. I watch Nouman Ali Khan’s Quran Cover to Cover Series and take notes. Other ideas, and ideas on how to make such a process fun for families most welcome :)!

    Jazakum Allahu Khayran and I hope everyone is having a blessed Ramadan.

  13. Avatar

    Waheeda Sadik

    June 18, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    An absolute pleasure to read.I get you.jzk for your precious memories.

  14. Avatar

    Uzma

    June 18, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    Beautiful writing…totally relates to it.

  15. Avatar

    Umm Ayesha

    June 19, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    MashaAllah a beautiful piece of writing. I remember the time when we were young,the womwn in our family would challenge each other on how many Qursns they would read in Ramadhan. Five , six, seven was nothing to them. Some would even read ten Qurans. Then came duas, at tshajjud they would do the lenghthiest of duas, an hour or more, would anyone do this these days?

  16. Avatar

    Omer Riaz

    June 21, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    Excellent Article Hiba. .Very Well Written. One of the noblest things to do in Ramadan is to extensively recite The Holy Quran, contemplate on one’s own existence and spend as much time as possible in the remembrance of Allah (SWT). Ramadan is a very special and spiritually rich month. In it Muslims find within them cultivated a deep and sincere love because fasting is done only for the sake of Allah (SWT) and it is no doubt that those people who worship Allah (SWT) sincerely and love Him also love all those around them and are good people.

  17. Avatar

    Badr

    June 22, 2016 at 8:04 AM

    Beautiful and touching story Ukhti….Jazzaki Allah Kheir.
    InshAllah, I can finish reading the Quran this Ramadan. At least once !

  18. Avatar

    shah

    June 28, 2016 at 1:57 AM

    Quran Focus is the best place for online Quran Reading. We have excellent programs that enable kids, older children, grown ups and new Muslims to learn Quran at Home.

    Please join Quran Focus Academy (http://www.quranfocus.com) to learn Quran Reading, Hifz, Translation, Tafseer and Essentials of Islam. One to one lessons via internet, qualified English speaking teachers, one week free trial classes, no advance fee, pay fee via PayPal, low monthly fee & family discount available.

  19. Avatar

    KB

    June 28, 2016 at 8:50 PM

    What a wonderful article. It moved me to tears. I will go read Quran now- the month is almost over

  20. Avatar

    sfk

    June 28, 2016 at 10:00 PM

    You made me cry…this was such a moving and relatable piece. My father too is the person who brought me closer to the Holy Qur’an. For the past couple of years I have been slacking off and I promised myself that wouldn’t happen this year. I still have 16 juz to go and I was getting depressed but your article has motivated me to reach the finish line!

  21. Avatar

    Alia

    July 1, 2016 at 5:33 AM

    Mashallah thanks for sharing with us! Your story reminded me of my friend’s family teaching the kids how to pray. All the things our parents “made” us do which appeared to be chores as we were kids are now good habits which benefit our lives tremendously! This Ramadan hasn’t been the same for me, I’m so behind on reading the Quran. This article just inspired me to try! With a few days left, I’ll still do what I can to make the most of it. You’re amazing!

  22. Avatar

    Zeba

    July 3, 2016 at 6:16 AM

    Oh Hibz, you never fail to amaze and inspire. I miss you friend. <<>>

  23. Avatar

    francis Ayala

    July 3, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Lovely article. You inadvertently demonstrate how humanity shares much in common. We all are profoundly influenced by parents and relatives, and maintain those attachments. We are lifted through spiritual disciplines –reading the holy scripture of our traditions, prayer, meditation, chanting. We suffer and rejoice throughout our lives. We see events, and form opinion through our own prism of experience. We are all one humanity, but imagine ourselves separate. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Avatar

    Farida

    July 11, 2016 at 5:40 AM

    MashaAllah beautiful Tradition the last paragraph about your father and already missing him touched me to tears. Our Parents did whatever they could in the best way they knew how . I hope we will be able to parent our children with such beautiful memorable Traditions. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your article.

  25. Avatar

    shadia

    July 16, 2016 at 11:46 PM

    Beautiful Masha’Allah

  26. Avatar

    Narayan Murthy

    August 5, 2016 at 8:45 AM

  27. Avatar

    Narayan Murthy

    August 5, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    WATCH – Mr. Deep Trivedi’s fitting reply to Mr. Zakir Naik on https://youtu.be/VRZI_TGAalc

  28. Avatar

    Madiha Khan

    August 10, 2016 at 1:50 AM

    Masha Allah very good article , yes we all should learn quran atleast one time in a year and Ramadan days are best to finish Quran, but I will also say that we also should learn quran except Ramadan days …

  29. Avatar

    Mohammad

    August 24, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    Subhanallah! Excellent piece of writing! and not just writing but the piece also reminds one of their past and their identity.

  30. Avatar

    Umm Hadi

    October 9, 2016 at 2:13 PM

    Asak Sr Hiba,
    May Allah bless your dad with the best in duniya and Akhira.
    May I ask how is doing?

  31. Pingback: Quran and Children | Wifaqul Ulama (Britain)

  32. Avatar

    Hina Shoeb

    June 10, 2017 at 5:06 AM

    Beautifully written! Lots of love your way

  33. Avatar

    Rizwan

    January 29, 2018 at 1:13 PM

    The ending made me cry. Thank you for a beautiful article.

  34. Avatar

    Maryam Ijaz

    April 15, 2019 at 8:23 AM

    Hi Hiba,
    Reading your essay reminds me of the days when my mom used to tell me and my sisters to complete Quran every Ramadan by 27th Roza because my mom used to do Niaz and make special dua for the departed family members. Reading your essay took me back to my childhood and made me realize how much I want my son to adopt the same habit our mom entailed on us which I am ashamed I didn’t carry on. Every year I wait for Ramadan there is something about this month that always excites me beside the fact we get an early off and all the family member sit on the table to break the fast together. This year INSHALLAH I will make sure I completed the Quran and will continue even after Ramadan.

    Thank you for reminding us the wordly affairs no matter how good or bad doesn’t matter because in the end what matters is how much successful are we as a Muslim.

  35. Avatar

    ruqyah syariah

    July 11, 2019 at 3:13 AM

    I had to complete also one recitation of the Quran for every Ramadan because my teacher was made us.

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

Abu Ryan Dardir

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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Looking To Get Married? Here Are A Few Tips

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will you marry me?
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that single young Muslims, despite not being in possession of any fortune, are always in search of a spouse.

However little prepared these people may be to undertake this ordeal is given little thought, and they are thrust out into the world of modern Muslim matchmaking. The generational divide in the community has meant that young people have received little training at home to navigate the process of finding a spouse. These individuals are seeking high-quality relationships, but few have the skills and emotional intelligence needed to find one. They are left to learn on their own through trial-and-error, and often a lot of pain.

With hopes of making this journey a little easier, we’ve compiled a few principles to keep in mind as you tread these cold uncharted waters.

You won’t attract what you want, you’ll attract what you are. Do you find in yourself the qualities that you seek in another?Click To Tweet

1. Work on yourself

You won’t attract what you want, you’ll attract what you are. Do you find in yourself the qualities that you seek in another?

Aspire to be self-fulfilled and complete on your own, rather than hoping for someone else to do that for you. Operationally, this entails refining both your inner and outer self. On the outside this could include basic things like being well-groomed (especially for men), knowing how to cook a healthy diet, exercising regularly and supporting yourself financially. You should also ensure you have good relationships with loved ones – do the people you care about love you back? Admit any wrongs you may have done to them and make amends to improve ties if they are strained. The state of your current relationships can be a good indicator of future ones.

On the inside, you should make a moral inventory and work to address your shortcomings in character. You must work on your selfishness, your anger, your dishonesty, your lust, your pride, your stinginess, your harshness, your resentments, your stubbornness, your fears, your jealousy, your self-righteousness, your vanity. This list is never ending and it’s a lifelong process; the sooner you get started the better off you’ll be.

You must also get help for any serious problems that you fear might affect a relationship – instead of hoping these problems will go away with the ‘right partner’. If you have a pornography problem, seek out help and don’t be deluded into thinking marriage will solve that for you. If you have no control over your desires before marriage, you won’t magically gain control afterward. If you have a substance abuse problem, join a 12-step program. If you feel you are emotionally unhealthy, get help from a professional. Bottom line is, have your house in order before you decide to build a new one.

2. Maintain good mental health throughout the process

Be purposeful in your search but don’t make it the purpose of your life. The process of finding a spouse can become emotionally draining and overwhelming if you don’t do it in a healthy fashion. Understand that this process entails too many factors that are completely out of your control; things won’t always go your way, so don’t be too attached to the outcome.  The only things you control are your responses and actions, so just focus on putting your best foot forward.

A common mistake people make is they give themselves a timeline e.g. ‘I want to be married by X age, or by X year’. This only results in unnecessary pressure that can lead to anxiety and poor mental health; it can also force one to make imprudent choices. Everyone has a different timeline; have trust in God’s plan for you.

Anytime mental health is disturbed, stop and revaluate. Some signs of poor mental health include: obsessive thinking, inability to focus on your everyday affairs, compulsive attachment and clinginess, disturbed sleep, anxiety, difficulty making decisions, inability to multitask, feeling overwhelmed, panic attacks, depression, irritability, changes in eating habits, and a loss of inner serenity. It is best to get help from counselors, such as those at Naseeha, if you feel stuck in this situation.

3. Adopt a mindset of giving

The measure you give is the measure you get back. Instead of worrying so much about what you want, focus on what you have to offer.

While you should certainly express your interest in someone you like, don’t taint it with desperation and neediness. If you’ve implemented the first point mentioned, you are already a confident and self-sufficient person. You will be fine no matter what. Focus on giving without expectation and building a healthy companionship. Be a giver and you’ll be surprised how easily you will attract the right people towards you. The ‘mindset of want’ is a self-defeating mindset: you might not find all the things you want in someone, and even if you did, there is no guarantee they’ll want you back!

4. Don’t overthink it

Living in a capitalist society, we’ve developed the bad habit of picking out people the same way we go shopping for a new product. We like to explore the market, do a cost-benefit analysis of various options, try to make sure the product isn’t damaged and hope to pick out the best possible item. We are careful about how we ‘invest our time’ and we try to ensure we can get an appropriate return on our investment. If we could, we’d ask for a money-back guarantee on people too!

Human hearts, unfortunately, cannot be picked out the way we choose commercial products. Each has its flaws and its strengths, you have to accept both the good and the bad; the pro-con list approach won’t work here. When we start taking this reductionist approach to relationships, we naturally get into overthinking, feel anxious and overwhelmed. With the widespread use of online dating, the choices seem limitless and it can seem impossible to try to figure out how to find the right person.

Marriage is a decision that’s to be taken with the heart; you have to rely on your guts and your instincts to steer you towards the person most suitable for you. This doesn’t mean throwing rational thought out the door, it means looking to your inner-self as the source of motivation for your decision making. It takes emotional intelligence and self-awareness to be able to determine what kind of a person you’ll be able to build a future with; it’s not always someone that looks best on paper. There are very few people with whom you’ll find compatibility and reciprocity, so don’t obsess over exploring as many possible ‘options’ with hopes of marking off all the items on your checklist.

We ultimately find the most fulfillment in caring for and taking responsibility for someone we sincerely love. So, look instead for the ingredients that will act as the foundations of love in your marriage. These could include the fact that you: enjoy someone’s company, find them beautiful, admire their character and kindness, respect them, find reciprocity in your interactions, have shared values and compatible temperaments. You are looking for that certitude, that good feeling in your heart; focusing on these factors will hopefully give you that and will get you out of the common mistake of overthinking and worrying.

One of the unique challenges Western Muslims face when looking for a spouse is finding religious compatibility. The diversity of our community, coupled with the individualized nature of faith in the West, has given rise to a plethora of ‘brands’ of Islam. Click To Tweet

5. Work to bridge religious differences

One of the unique challenges Western Muslims face when looking for a spouse is finding religious compatibility. The diversity of our community, coupled with the individualized nature of faith in the West, has given rise to a plethora of ‘brands’ of Islam. Personal levels of observance can vary vastly, even within members of the same family, so it can be challenging to find the right fit.

You will always find differences in religious observance and views between spouses. It is impossible, and foolish, to try to seek out someone at the exact same level. Some people might be more conservative than you, some might be more liberal. Do you really have to turn someone down because they don’t agree with your views on conventional mortgages? What if you like dressing up for Halloween and going trick-or-treating, and they’re opposed to it? What if they don’t eat zabiha halal like you do? What if they don’t pray all the five prayers on time like you were raised to do so?

Given the unique circumstances we live in, we must be flexible and open-minded about resolving such differences. We ought to be careful when making a judgment about someone’s beliefs; we don’t know what’s in someone’s heart. Some of us were taught to honour God through worship and observing His law, some of us were raised with an emphasis on serving His creation with good character. People have their strengths and their weaknesses in faith; sometimes these are apparent, sometimes hidden. Your relationship with God is not perfect and neither will be your partner’s; we are all a work in progress.

If approached with kindness, mutual respect and a willingness to compromise, these differing religious views could be resolved in many cases. While sometimes people really are on extreme ends, most of us fall somewhere in between and can find a comfortable middle ground. It is often our stubbornness, self-righteousness and a parochial understanding of religion that gets in the way. Good people are hard to find, so don’t let suitable matches go because they don’t follow your exact flavor of religious observance. This is certainly a sensitive topic and needs to be dealt with tact and wisdom; it is advisable to seek counsel of more experienced people.

6. Don’t expose your past and don’t pry about someone else’s

If you have a past you are not proud of and it doesn’t concern your future relationships, you should not feel obliged to expose yourself. In fact, if this relates to sins of the past, it is actually prohibited to reveal your sins to someone else – even in the context of marriage. Shaykh Nuh Keller summarizes this pitfall well, “In Islam, to mention a sin is itself a sin. How many a person has been unable to resist telling a friend or a spouse of the wickedness they did in their previous life, and Allah punished them with disgust and contempt in the other’s heart that could never quite be forgotten! There is no barakah in the haram”.

Similarly, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be prying about someone else’s past and trying to dig up details on their misadventures. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us to have a good opinion of people; he warned against the destructive nature of suspicion and spying. He told us, “Beware of suspicion for it is the most deceitful of thought. Do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; Rather, be servants of God as brothers”

7. Istikhara is not a solution for indecisiveness

The prayer of seeking guidance, or Istikhara, is oft cited by those considering marriage. The mistake many make, however, is that we are really wishing for someone else to make the decision for us. We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we find it difficult to make any. We hope for a divine sign or a miracle to happen that tells us that the other person is right for us and that we will live happily ever after with them.

Making big life decisions, emotionally prudent ones, is an important life skill that must be learned. These decisions come with inherent risks, uncertainties, and unknowns; there are no guarantees. If you habitually find yourself having a hard time deciding, it is likely due to external factors. It might have something to do with you, it might have something to do with the person you are considering. It is advisable to seek counsel if you are in this situation.

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Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #6: Is it Taboo to Talk About Sex?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Is talking about sex a taboo in Islam? Religiously, not at all. Culturally though, that's a different story.Click To Tweet
On one hand we are completely stone-walling sex or anything related to sex any issues that people can have with sex, and on the other hand we still live in this country, we still have TV, we still have books, we still have the internet, I don’t understand how these two, almost diametrically opposed philosophies on sex can co-exist in one person’s mind. Click To Tweet
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Photo by Adrien Ledoux on Unsplash

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