It’s encouraging to see what happens when, despite our differences, we come together for the greater good. Seeing droves of people around the nation and world stand up with us against the unjust #MuslimBan gives me hope for a better world. However, I can’t help wondering what we as a Muslim community in America are offering our refugee and immigrant brothers and sisters once the ban is lifted and they are given the right to live here. Will we invite them to our (non-existent) loving, united Muslim community, which is based on the Islamic teachings of tolerance and inclusion that the #MuslimBan seeks to obliterate? Or will we do what we’ve always done: invite them to support the bans we hold closest to our hearts, the most sacred of which seems to be the #BlackMuslimBan.
It is no secret that one of the pieces of advice many immigrants receive upon settling in America is to dissociate from African-Americans, at all costs. Thankfully, there are exceptions to this, as there are intercultural communities and organizations in which grassroots work is being done to combat racial and ethnic division in the Muslim community in America. However, the problem of anti-Black racism remains quite widespread and is manifested in the common advice passed around in communities comprised of mostly immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren. Sometimes the advice is overt, other times subtle. But the message is passed on (and understood quite clearly) nonetheless: African-Americans are violent, immoral, and intellectually inferior, they are told, and they blame racism for all their problems; meanwhile the real problem is themselves—whether due to lack of personal motivation and laziness, or to the pathological “breakdown” of their families.
This racist message is so widespread and accepted among non-Black-Americans that aspects of it were echoed at the 2016 RIS (Reviving the Islamic Spirit) Conference from one of the most celebrated American Muslim scholars in the world, Hamza Yusuf. Ironically, his racially insensitive remarks were made in a context in which he was being asked about the collective Muslim responsibility in joining efforts to combat anti-Black racism. When there was an uproar (and justifiably so) against his sharing grossly misleading information about African-Americans being killed by police, he said this during the clarification of his point: “[My point is that] the biggest crisis facing the African-American communities in the United States is not racism; it is the breakdown of the Black family.”
Wow. We can talk about his apparent sincerity, his apparent love for his Black Muslim brothers and sisters, and even his heartfelt apology and retraction (if we could be so generous as to call it that). But the fact of the matter is, what happened at that conference was not (and will never be) about Hamza Yusuf the person. I imagine that he, like so many privileged White men in America and abroad, is well-meaning and sincere as he inadvertently furthers a system that destroys Black lives as a matter of course. Like Hamza Yusuf did at RIS, far too many ostensibly sincere White men and women have for generations used savior-complex rhetoric while hiding behind podiums and scholarly titles (secular and religious) when sharing “facts” and “research” to tell Black people what our problem is. They tell us we’re suffering from anger issues, paranoia, hallucinations, and even mental illness when we recognize that, outside the normal spiritual, personal, and family struggles faced by all human beings on earth, racism is in fact the biggest crisis facing Black people, nationally and internationally.
However, it bears repeating that Hamza Yusuf isn’t the problem here. Yes, he is definitely an emotional trigger for so many Black people (myself included) suffering from the trauma of America’s generational racism passed down most insidiously through many “sincere” White people who think they’re only trying to help. And yes, what he said was egregious and needs to be refuted, unapologetically. Nevertheless, on a personal level, the weighty wrong of his words rests on his shoulders and soul alone, and only he can stand before Allah and answer for that. It is not for me to label him racist or anything else, good or bad. In fact, I find the discussions of his sincerity, his love for Black people, and his apology not only irrelevant in light of the widespread harm he caused, but also a means to (even if unintentionally) further anti-Black racism itself, hence my blog “He Apologized? We Have No Idea What an Apology Means”.
In truth, what the Hamza Yusuf tragedy brought to light was something much bigger than any single human being: His words ripped the cover off the nasty underbelly of the anti-Black racism that has divided the Muslim community in America for generations. His words forced those with sincere, vigilant hearts to take notice of a problem that they likely imagined didn’t exist, at least not on that scale. If a respected and celebrated White Muslim scholar could feel justified (even if only briefly) in making such blatantly racist remarks to a public (predominately non-Black) Muslim audience, his words were certainly only the tip of the iceberg in highlighting what is really going on in our communities in the West.
The truth is, however, Hamza Yusuf’s words were nothing new for many Black-American Muslims, though many didn’t expect such horrific sentiments to come from him. Interestingly, this is similar to the shock-and-revelation that happened to many sincere White Americans when they heard the words of Donald Trump. However, Trump’s rhetoric was blatantly pernicious, while Hamza Yusuf’s was merely the result of the ever-so-familiar “good White person” causing so much harm while he is trying to do good.
It is ironic that many Muslims will, in front of (and alongside) non-Muslim allies, cry for tolerance and acceptance when demanding their constitutional rights. But they’ll go right back home and teach their own children something that even many disbelievers have graduated beyond: anti-Black racism, or as I’ll call it in this blog: the #BlackMuslimBan.
The #BlackMuslimBan states that a respectable Muslim shouldn’t befriend, live around, trust, or intermarry with Black people. If anyone does, they become the shame of their own people. Thus, except for the few obligatory token Black people propped up when their presence (or service) is needed or desired somehow, Black people are either overtly or covertly banned from entering non-Black communities, masjids, or families in any meaningful role. And ironically, this ban is most obvious in Muslim communities comprised of immigrants and their children and grandchildren—yes, some of the same communities we are (and rightly so) shouting our support for in combatting Trump’s #MuslimBan.
Black Muslim Activism and the #MuslimBan
I remember hearing a lecture about the reason for the divisions in our ummah, and the scholar said something that few Muslims would even consider: that the root of our division lies in our refusal to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and foot-to-foot with our Muslim brothers and sisters in prayer. What he was alluding to was the hadith in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised Muslims to close the gaps in the prayer lines lest we allow the Shaytaan to come between us. He said that many Muslims would think this root cause is overly simplistic, but when you look at what’s happening in our masjids, it really isn’t, he said. In other words, if it’s so simple, why are gaps and crooked lines a continuous problem for us? The answer: Because our hearts are divided, and it’s reflected in our inability to even line up properly for prayer.
“Yes,” he said, “you as an individual might realize the necessity of closing the gaps during prayer, but you can’t do it alone. Have you ever tried?” he said challengingly, slight humor in his voice. “You can’t. Why? Because solid, straight prayer lines are something that require everyone’s participation.” You might close one gap, but a few people down, there is another one, and if you somehow miraculously achieve an entire line with no gaps, chances are, the line is obviously crooked.
I mention this lecture here because it is such a profound analogy regarding what is happening with African-American Muslims participating in political activism, social justice, and intra-religious tolerance in Muslim communities. We show up to defend the rights of our non-Black-American Muslim brothers and sisters, and will continue to inshaaAllah. However, as soon as victory is tasted, we’re stepped over, trampled, and ignored. The gross injustices we face in the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, eugenics programs, and the continuous killing of Black bodies are denied, trivialized, and even blamed on us. And when we speak up about it, we’re met with the racist rhetoric echoed by Hamza Yusuf at the RIS Conference: the problem is you and your horrible families.
In other words, like Trump’s #MuslimBan in the eyes of many Americans, the #BlackMuslimBan can be viewed as justified due to the inherent pathology of Black people and their “broken” home life. Such a degenerate reality would almost necessitate a protective wall being built to keep Black people out so that they don’t infect “good non-Black families.”
Yes, I know. Hamza Yusuf didn’t intend to strengthen the #BlackMuslimBan. But that’s highly irrelevant because his words did.
And here’s the problem: Allah will not give us victory in overcoming an external enemy until we fix the problems within ourselves. So as we all stand together and shout against Trump’s #MuslimBan, we better be prepared to stand up against the nasty underbelly of the #BlackMuslimBan that so many of us have held sacred for far too long. And as many Black Muslim activists continue to do their part in fighting for the rights of those who continuously disregard and disrespect them, we Black Muslims cannot close the gaps in this ummah alone. This solidarity of standing shoulder-to-shoulder and foot-to-foot in front of our Creator is something we all must participate in.
“But Black People Aren’t Faultless!”
If there’s one message I would love to be resonated over and over, it is the very one often used to dismiss the anti-Black racism I discuss in this blog: Black people aren’t angels! They do wrong too!
SubhaanAllah. That’s precisely the point. Black people are human beings just like you. Therefore, of course they aren’t angels, and of course they do wrong. There’s absolutely no difference between them and you. And given how rampant anti-Black racism is in both Muslim and non-Muslim circles, I highly doubt that anyone is genuinely under the impression that Black people are faultless angels.
In fact, it is our inability to be non-angels and flawed human beings without being severely punished for it that makes anti-Black racism so destructive. The rhetoric of Hamza Yusuf makes this point chillingly clear. Meanwhile, many White American families suffer from incest, alcoholism, sexual abuse, adultery, drug abuse, and narcissistic personality disorders, problems so widespread that fields of psychology were developed (and zillions of books written) just to address them. Yet a White man feels comfortable standing before an international audience to say that there is something uniquely pathological in the “breakdown of the Black family.” It is no secret that part of the goal of America’s systematic racism (historically and presently) has been to literally tear apart the Black family. Therefore, if there is something uniquely wrong in our homes, it likely lies in that very deliberate anti-Black racism funded and furthered by White supremacy, which informs both national and international policy till today. So even if we were to discuss the “broken” families of Black people, my question is, what’s White people’s excuse?
I don’t ask this to be sarcastic, or to suggest that White people have a family pathology that non-Whites don’t. I ask because in highlighting the dysfunction present in families of White people (whom our collective inferiority complexes make us want to emulate), we can understand what should have been obvious in the first place: White people, like Black people and others, face the same human problem: They are children of Adam and thus subject to all the good, bad, and ugly that comes along with being flawed human beings.
Moreover, we’re all suffering from the effects of generational racism, as the blatant and subtle messages of generational racism affect both White and non-White psyches, hence the reality of PTSS (post traumatic slave syndrome) which is till today suffered by both Black and White Americans, as discussed by Dr. Joy DeGruy. This PTSS leads many Whites to either consciously or subconsciously believe they are superior to others. However, America and the rest of the world like to pretend that the effects of this nation’s history is a stigma carried only by Black people, allegedly because we refuse to let go of “the past,” even as our concerns regard what we are facing in the present.
Thus, when I hear someone say, “Black people aren’t faultless!” in discussions of anti-Black racism, I think to myself, “I agree.” However, I wish we as African-Americans were given the human dignity to not be stereotyped as inherently anything except human. As cliché as it sounds, I don’t believe Black people are better than Whites, or vice versa. As I discussed in the blog Judging People As Good Is Also Prejudice, I see absolutely no benefit in viewing any group of people as superior to another, even if that group is an oppressed minority.
Likewise, I certainly don’t view any people (or their families) as inherently more “broken” and dysfunctional than others. Yes, each culture and people have their unique struggles that naturally manifest themselves in different ways based on historical and cultural contexts. However, having personal fault and family dysfunction is not a Black problem, just as racism is not an “American problem.” Both are human problems; thus, they are by extension Muslim problems too.
Therefore, it would help tremendously if we as Muslims, individually and collectively, would stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses in front of Allah, in countering rhetoric that suggests anything else, regardless of whether it comes from the mouth of a U.S. president or a respected Muslim scholar, or even from our own homes, communities, and families.
Lift the #BlackMuslimBan
The fact that Muslims continue to deny the subtle and blatant anti-Black racism that is rampant in our own communities should be a cause for serious concern regarding our future in America (and abroad). Our future success does not lie with convincing Donald Trump (or any other corrupt leader) that a wall shouldn’t be built to keep Muslims out, even as our continuous opposition to the #MuslimBan is necessary. Rather, our future success lies in our being convinced in front of Allah that the wall we’ve built in our hearts against each other must come down. Now.
Want to support grassroots community work aimed at strengthening our ummah? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than fifteen books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the newly released self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You, with contributions by Haleh Banani, behavioral therapist.
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
The lack of appropriate compensation has led to the rise of qualified scholars and imams seeking other means of financial compensation beyond the local community as paid employees – how should we actually value them as community leaders, and how should we break down their financial costs?
The past few decades have seen many bright and talented young men leave their professional careers in pursuit of religious knowledge. They studied in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many other Muslim countries, sacrificing their careers, wealth, and many years of their life with the hopes and dreams of learning Islam and teaching it when they returned. These aspiring students of religious knowledge were usually advised against studying Islam overseas by their parents, friends, respected elders, and many community members. They were warned that the path was physically and financially risky and challenging. Nonetheless, packed with their resolve and hope in Allah, they were patient with the obstacles they faced in pursuit of knowledge. As their imaan and knowledge continued to grow and their passion for conveying the beauty of Islam increased, they joyfully returned to the U.S. with dreams of providing their communities with religious guidance. Unfortunately, within a short period of time, their enthusiasm has diminished and their frustration has increased. So, what happened?
Despite serving their communities day and night by leading prayers, giving khutbas, teaching weekly classes, giving dawah to non-Muslims, mentoring the youth, and counseling people in need, community members have continuously complained. Board members, often times ignorant about the day to day work of an imam, attempt to control their schedules, activities and speak down to them. Community members complain that the scholar follows a different madhab than their own, his beard was too short, his pants were too long, or that his voice wasn’t melodious enough. Nonetheless, they were able to deal with these issues. They knew that the prophets had faced tremendous obstacles and that they too had to exercise beautiful patience with their communities. However, there was another issue that although it existed from day one, it was becoming more of a concern as these scholars got married and had children; they were not being paid a respectable wage . The one-bedroom apartment was not big enough, their children could not participate in high-quality community programs, and saving for retirement was impossible.
What are the natural consequences of the financial situation that these young men were put in? By looking at many of our communities, the answer is rather obvious. These young scholars often left their positions in the masjid, painstakingly leaving their passion to serve their communities behind in pursuit of a decent wage. Some had degrees to fall back on and went back to careers in engineering or business. Others decided to learn new marketable skills such as data science and accounting. Others went back to graduate school in search of new careers. Another group decided to become independent contractors, offering their services to any community willing to compensate them for their services of teaching or even fundraising. They would travel long distances to speak, hoping to help others and make an income.
In this new Islamic gig economy, the youth and their families are the casualties, who have been left without guidance and mentorship. After their local scholar left the masjid seeking greener pastures, their masjid may have completely stopped having regular programs, resorted to finding underqualified community members to speak, or hired other popular scholars to guest lecture once in while and run back home. All of these stopgap measures have left the community without religious leadership.
Another group of scholars decided to start their own traveling institutes, join existing ones, or become Islamic tour guides. They had to build their brands, market their institutes online and on social media, and typically had to cater to the wealthy and educated segments of the Muslim community. They would travel the country and provide their knowledge to those with the wealth to afford these private events. Sadly, this has inadvertently led to a dawah focused on the elite, where only the haves are targeted for spiritual growth, and the have nots are of less concern since they provide little financial value. Additionally, the need to build up a scholar’s brand has the potential to compromise one’s dignity and values if one has to keep finding ways to stay popular and promote himself. Rather than blame the scholars who have taken these roads, it is more important to think about the conditions in our community that have led to the rise of this culture. In fact, due to a lack of qualified scholars nationally, traveling scholars and institutes have provided significant value. However, we also need to think deeply about the social implications and consequences of these recent trends. In this exchange between local residents and traveling scholars, communities have nothing to build on after the program. They do not have access to study circles, weekly classes, or spiritual mentoring. Furthermore, the youth are largely neglected, as traveling educational programs do not typically cater to their needs. Is this the future of community building? Is this our legacy and history?
The issue at the heart of this piece (and many other great articles ) is the value of a scholar to a community. It is well known that Muslim scholars are paid significantly less than Rabbis and other qualified faith leaders. Basic economics will tell us the result of this, regardless of good intentions. Why would intelligent young minds ever fathom careers in religious work if they know that they will not be paid a decent wage? Are we surprised when scholars with other career options quickly abandon their positions? Only those with significant financial assistance from their family or access to private donors are typically able to stay in such positions, although they may harbor much resentment within them. Even more problematic is the frustration that their wives and children feel when they see their husbands and fathers giving so much to the community, yet they have little to show for it in terms of financial stability or quality time together. What makes the scholar’s predicament more complicated is that due to the atypical work hours of the position, which may include early mornings, evenings, and weekends, the wife of the scholar is required to stay home full time with the children and unable to work. This makes the scholar’s family dependent on his salary alone. Which brings us to the core of the matter; what should scholars be paid?
The knee-jerk response that we often hear from board and community members in affluent communities when discussing salaries is “brother, we would love to pay our scholar more, but we don’t have the funding.” This would be a reasonable response until you look at the multi-million-dollar renovations to make the masjid aesthetically pleasing and the tens of thousands of dollars spent on catering lavish iftars and interfaith dinners. Ultimately, the use of masjid funds is a value judgment. It is a value judgment that board members have to make on how to use funds that the community has provided, and a value judgment for community members on how much to invest in their masjid. For board members primarily concerned with building megacenters, what value is a beautiful building if it is devoid of congregants and someone to provide guidance to the community? For community members, what is a reasonable amount to regularly contribute and invest? Is the masjid worth as much as your monthly gym pass? Is the masjid worth as much as your children’s Kumon or martial arts expenses? I am not suggesting families abandon any of their existing financial investments in themselves or their children. What I am suggesting is that we completely rethink the value of a religious scholar in our community as an investment, not a charity cause. In the business world, wealthy investors invest in people, not a business. They invest in people who they believe can create value for society. Does the Muslim community think about hiring a scholar as a fixed business asset (e.g., a shiny piece of furniture) or as an investment in a person who produces value by helping a community grow? If the scholar in your community saves and supports your child’s Islamic identity and imaan, how much is that worth to you? If the scholar delivers inspiring lectures that help you spiritually grow as a person, how much is that worth to you? These are some of the questions we need to reflect upon as we try to determine how much to invest in scholar.
Financial Reality Check:
Let’s discuss specifics. How much should a scholar be compensated? The answer is that it depends. It depends on such factors as the city that the community is in, the qualifications and experience of the scholar, and the job expectations. For example, hiring a scholar in Los Angeles (median home price of $690,000) will cost significantly more than hiring a scholar in Albuquerque (median home price of $200,700). It is unreasonable to expect a scholar to squeeze his family into a studio or one bedroom apartment. It is also unreasonable to expect the scholar to live far away from the masjid and commute long distances multiple times a day if the masjid is in a more affluent neighborhood (if this happens, don’t be surprised if the scholar doesn’t show up as often). The salary should take into consideration the income required to rent in the city and what is considered a livable wage. For example, in Los Angeles, a family requires an income over $118,000 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, assuming a 28% rent-to-income ratio. To demonstrate the variance in the cost of living, San Francisco and New York residents require over $165,000 in annual income to afford renting a two-bedroom apartment, whereas Denver requires an income around $78,000.
A religious scholar should be treated as a professional who brings substantial skills into the position. A religious scholar is expected to be a competent public speaker, community educator, counsel community members, provide Islamic legal and spiritual guidance, research contemporary topics, and many other tasks. A religious scholar typically has secular and religious bachelor’s degrees, although many hold master’s and doctorates. Compensation should take into account the level of education and experience of the scholar.
A community needs to factor in whether they need a full-time or part-time scholar. The IRS defines a full-time employee as someone who works 30 or more hours in a week. Therefore, any scholar working 30 hours or more should be treated as full-time, and less than 30 hours as part-time. In some cases, part-time positions are desired by both the masjid and scholar, especially if the community has financial constraints or if the scholar prefers the flexibility to pursue other interests simultaneously. In addition to base salaries, comprehensive medical insurance (health, dental, and vision) and retirement plans should be standard for the full-time scholar and his family. Retirement plans are important for both the scholar and the community. In the absence of a retirement plan, the scholar is unable to leave his position financially and is forced to cling to his role. For the community, allowing a scholar to retire and be financially stable is important in and of itself, but also ensuring younger scholars can transition into the role and continue building the community. There should also be a built-in structure for annual raises, due to factors such as increased experience and inflation-induced increases in the cost of living. While an entry level salary may not afford a young scholar the income to rent or purchase a home, annual raises and merit-based promotions should create a salary trajectory that allows the scholar to raise his growing family in the community he works in. Professional development opportunities, continuing education funds, and sabbaticals should also be considered part of the compensation package to ensure the scholar grows in his skillset and ability to guide the community. Sabbaticals allow scholars to write and produce beneficial material or travel and spend time learning from senior scholars.
A separate consideration from salaried scholars is how to compensate contracted/freelance work, which is defined here as an agreement for a scholar to provide a specific guest lecture, program, or service to a community. Compensation needs to take into consideration distance of travel, local traffic, and other factors that affect the time investment of the scholar. Contracted work is not as consistent as full-time salaried work and should be treated as a form of consulting, where higher rates per program are expected. One suggestion is to pay the local contracted scholar 0.5% of the average local scholar’s salary in your region for a program. For example, if the average salary is $100,000, a local guest scholar should be offered approximately $100,000 x .5% = $500 for a lecture. Additionally, if the speaker is coming from out of town and travels from far away, travel time should be considered in the honorarium. Some obvious guidelines include paying for food, travel, and accomodations. Of course, level of expertise and experience must be factored in, as this is only meant to be a starting point.
Unfortunately, as it stands now, a local contracted scholar would be fortunate to receive $100-200 for a lecture, which may take many hours to prepare. Just to demonstrate how low this rate is, let’s do a little exercise. Imagine a scholar made an agreement to do 30 lectures in a month (which is unheard of), spread out at different local Islamic centers. Assuming a rate of $150 per lecture, the scholar would earn 30 x $150 = $4,500 for a month x 12 = $54,000 for a year. This does not include health benefits, retirement, sick time, taxes, or anything else. Is this a fair and equitable way to treat a scholar? To add insult to injury, scholars are often expected to work for free, spiritually bullied by boards and community members that religious work should be done fi sabillah (or free sabillah?). Scholars despise negotiating and arguing over money, which leads to them typically accepting whatever low offer they have been given, while deep down they feel abused and taken advantage of. Somehow, this problem needs to be remedied. Scholars could hire agents to negotiate a reasonable package on their behalf. This might help individual scholars, but not the profession at large. A better solution might be the formation of a scholars union that sets standards and guidelines for compensation (to be discussed in a future article, inshaAllah).
The American Muslim community is in a spiritual and intellectual crisis. With the prevalence of secular, liberal, progressive, and other unIslamic worldviews creeping into our communities and children’s lives, the need for capable religious scholars to guide our communities is critically important. However, acquiring talented scholars to address the needs of our communities requires giving proper respect, which in its most basic form is providing reasonable wages. If we decide otherwise, we should not be surprised when communities fail, youth and families become lost, and capable scholars end up far away from their communities.
May Allah protect us all.
 Abuelezz, M. (2011). A Survey of American Imams: Duties, Qualifications and Challenges: a Quantitative and Religious Analysis (Thesis, University of Georgia).
 In a study (Higher Education in the 21st Century ) conducted by Harvard about college experiences that included 2,000 interviews across 10 college campuses, one of the biggest takeaways was that colleges need to invest in people, not buildings. Students wanted access to more people to help guide them with their personal struggles rather than investments in technology and infrastructure.
 While this may seem obvious, there are many cases where traveling guest speakers spend their own money for travel, food, and lodging and are not compensated at all for speaking.
Our Plastic Planet
We travel through time and see the different times as a race that we have advanced through. A few of those times were identified by the materials used or that were life-changing. The stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. If our time was to be identified, it is undeniable the plastic age.
Chemically, plastic is made up from organic compounds like such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. When plastics were first introduced, it was a life-changing compound that littered homes (then the world). Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. It makes visiting beautiful sites created by Allah, disappointing. What does pollution, specifically plastic, has to do with our role as Muslims? and to what capacity?
Before understanding that, we have to see how plastics impact life on Earth.
Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
These are just a few examples, the list is much longer. Before I go any further, I want to express my opinion first, as an environmental activist. Your individual actions in dealing with pollution are your duty as a Muslim, but the change we need for our survival needs to happen on an international level.
Abu Zarr Al-Ghafari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).”
This simple hadith resonates with us due to the magnitude of its influence. Moving an obstacle is charity, we associate money with charity and tend to forget that other actions that can count as charity. What does removing an obstacle has to do with plastics? As I mentioned earlier 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic. That is a disturbance to other living creatures. As we remove the obstacles from the path of many creatures, we can work on ourselves to avoid putting it there, to begin with. This also relates to point number three of how many living creatures are impacted by our negligence. Not just plants and animals, but people as well. You can take a moment to google images of plastic in our world and see that they aren’t just neatly packed in garbage bags or recycling bins.
Imaams al-Bukhari and Muslim reported from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said: “There is a reward for service to every living creature.”
These are violations we commit and deeds we are prevented from by participating in this plastic culture. More importantly, we are harming ourselves and contaminating useable drinking water. Earlier I wrote an article about water its right upon us.
God’s Messenger expressed this in the following way:
“It is a fact that in the next life you will render their rights to those to whom they are due. The hornless sheep even will receive its right by way of retaliation from a horned sheep that butted it.” Muslim, Birr, 60.
Our actions in this modern era echo around the world. My polluting habits may cause harm elsewhere. My spending habits may entice more harm than good. It may seem extreme, but science proves that we are all connected in a delicate chain or balance, a balance set by the wisdom of Allah . More importantly, it is documented from the words of the Prophet. An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace, and blessings be upon him, said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5665, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2586
When water gets contaminated it is then rendered useless, depriving millions of basic survival. There are plenty of freshwater reserves completely useless due to toxic pollution from plastic manufacturing.
حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ عَمْرٍو، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ السَّمَّانِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ” ثَلاَثَةٌ لاَ يُكَلِّمُهُمُ اللَّهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، وَلاَ يَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهِمْ رَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى سِلْعَةٍ لَقَدْ أَعْطَى بِهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا أَعْطَى وَهْوَ كَاذِبٌ، وَرَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى يَمِينٍ كَاذِبَةٍ بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ لِيَقْتَطِعَ بِهَا مَالَ رَجُلٍ مُسْلِمٍ، وَرَجُلٌ مَنَعَ فَضْلَ مَاءٍ، فَيَقُولُ اللَّهُ الْيَوْمَ أَمْنَعُكَ فَضْلِي، كَمَا مَنَعْتَ فَضْلَ مَا لَمْ تَعْمَلْ يَدَاكَ ”. قَالَ عَلِيٌّ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ غَيْرَ مَرَّةٍ عَنْ عَمْرٍو سَمِعَ أَبَا صَالِحٍ يَبْلُغُ بِهِ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم.
As narrated by Abu Huraira:
“The Prophet said, ‘There are three types of people whom Allah will neither talk to nor look at, on the Day of Resurrection. (They are): 1. A man who takes an oath falsely that he has been offered for his goods so much more than what he is given. 2. A man who takes a false oath after the ‘Asr prayer in order to grab a Muslim’s property, and 3. A man who withholds his superfluous water. Allah will say to him, Today I will withhold My Grace from you as you withheld the superfluity of what you had not created.” [Bukhari: 2370]
We do not want to be guilty of withholding water from other directly or indirectly. With the advanced technology and the thousands of websites providing information, there are plenty of ways to determine if your daily habits have an impact on others well being.
We only manage to recycle 5% of the plastic wasted, and 90% of the pollution in the ocean is plastic. Are we asked to recycle? Is it just good practice or a practice is preferred?
Asked about what the Prophet used to do in his house, the Prophet’s wife, `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), said that he used to repair his shoes, sow his clothes and used to do all such household works done by an average person.
Recycling and reusing is a critical part of conserving and protecting what we have. You can start with yourself, but your goal is to expand these actions to other families, communities, countries. If the action is sincere this would bring us closer to Allah . “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Saheeh Muslim)
How to Teach Your Kids About Easter
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.
My mother put up her Christmas tree every year. We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.
I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.
As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.
That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:
- The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
- Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
- We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
- The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.
So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.
There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.
There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:
Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.
Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.
Allah Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.
Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.
Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.
If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.
Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.
We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.
So what do we believe?
Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.
- Allah is One.
- Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
- He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
- There is nothing like Allah in the universe
Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.
- Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
- We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
- We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.
When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.
You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.
If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:
- Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
- Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
- Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
- Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
- You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.
We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.
It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.
Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah. We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.
The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.
Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast. Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.
You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them. No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.