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The Myth of the Depression-Proof Muslim

Zeba Khan

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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.

There’s this article I haven’t written yet, the one where I confess to struggling with depression.

In that soul-baring masterpiece I finally admit to sleeping too little and breaking down too often. I talk about having a child with autism, a rare genetic disease, and the heart-breaking pain of watching my children develop the same disease too.

I cry while writing it, you cry while reading it. Its completion gives purpose to my years of private struggle but – but I haven’t written that one yet. So I’m writing this one instead.

We Muslims have some pretty ridiculous myths about depression, and the worst is that somehow there is “no depression in Islam.”

O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. – Qur’an 10:57

Allah calls the Qur’an the healer of hearts. If depression doesn’t exist, is Allah referring to coronary heart disease?

This myth’s existence is based on the idea that depression is a form of ingratitude or low faith. Therefore, a person in depression mustn’t be “in Islam” so to speak.

Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested?  Allah asks this of us in Surah Anqaboot. You think being a believer means never being stressed? Wrong.

We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. – Qur’an 29:2-3

Allah tested believers before, and He’ll test believers now. To say that depression is a sign of weak faith is to imply that those with bad lives are guilty of being bad Muslims, and this completely contradicts what we know about the most righteous people. In fact, the more righteous you are, the more likely you are to be tested.

Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas, may Allah be pleased with him, once asked, “O Messenger of Allah, which of the people are most sorely tested?”

The Prophet ﷺ said: “The prophets, then the next best and the next best. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of religious commitment. If his religious commitment is strong, he will be tested more severely, and if his religious commitment is weak, he will be tested in accordance with his religious commitment. Calamity will keep befalling a person until he walks on the earth with no sin on him.”

For as long as people have been unhappy, the human mind has struggled with understanding the difference between a test and punishment. A person can suffer and instead of seeing their suffering as temporary opportunity, they wonder what they did to deserve such punishment.

Shaitaan loves this train of thought, because it travels due south. I’ve done everything Allah asked me to. I know I’ve messed up, but I said I was sorry. Why is He is doing this to me? Either Allah’s not fair or Allah’s not really there. Either way, this sucks and I don’t wanna do this anymore.

That’s a dangerous ride to take, and if you don’t change direction before going too far, your options become limited to loss of faith or loss of life. You either give up on Allah and find other reasons to continue living, or discontinue living entirely.

No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.  – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Life is painful and unpredictable and complicated, so when it comes to knowing the difference between a punishment and a test, all you have to remember is this: How are you reacting to it?

If you find yourself faced with depression and you fight it with the help of Allah and all the means He puts at your disposal, it is a test and you have passed it even if you NEVER fully defeat depression. As long as your keep your faith and stay patient, you have shed sins the way a tree sheds its leaves in fall. You trade some pain in this life for reward in the next, that other believers will be halal jealous of.

However, if you find yourself faced with depression and you resent Allah for it, allowing your state to push you farther from Him and closer to any sinful thing you can use to distract yourself from it, then your test has become your punishment. Your response increases your pain in this life AND the next.

Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our protector.” And in Allah let the believers put their trust. – Qur’an 9:51

A dear friend of mine called me once, knowing that I was struggling. She had been taking a class on the names of Allah, and when she read up on Al-Jameel, she just had to tell me about it.

“Zeba listen!” she said excitedly, “Allah is Al Jameel, He is Beautiful! He creates beautiful things! He loves Beauty!”

I thought of flowers and fractals and fish. I didn’t see the relevance. “And?”

“Don’t you get it? Al-Jameel wrote your Qadr with beauty too. He wrote autism into your son’s Qadr. He wrote beauty in all of it, even in your pain.”

If that hit you in the heart the way it hit me, make dua for Mona. I think of that phone call often, because it was the first time I began to see pain as part Allah’s plan, rather than my own failure at the emotional invulnerability that I believed all good Muslims were supposed to have.

I wasn’t hurting because I was a bad Muslim, badly managing Allah’s punishment for my badness.  I was hurting because Allah was allowing me to experience hurt, and hurt forced me to seek Allah out for healing.

How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him. -Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Being depressed feels like sitting underwater in the bottom of a well, hating the darkness but starving for the air and strength needed to swim toward the surface. It’s cold and lonely and desperately hopeless down there. Depression feels so very far away from Allah, but it forces me to fight my way closer to Him. And I feel safer and less afraid knowing that Allah put me at the bottom of the well the same way He put Yusuf down there, peace be upon him.

Allah knows I’m  down here. He knows I can make it out. I don’t have to know everything that He knows, I just have to trust Him.

In my other article- I’ll write it one day maybe – I have this totally neat, emotionally satisfying and perfectly well-rounded conclusion. I put depression in its proper context by calling it a test, not a punishment or curse for weak Muslims. I let on that I was depressed before but I’m ok now, and if I can make it out of depression then you can too.

That’s in my other article though. In this one, I’ll be frank. I get sad sometimes, I get really, really sad. And then, I feel guilty for feeling sad. Not because I’m blaming myself for not being “Muslim enough” to get happy already, but because I when I look at my first world life and my first world problems, I feel as if I am making a big stink. Like oh pity me, I’m chronically sick but happily married, well supported, and have a good healthcare plan that covers most of my deductibles and I also don’t live in a war zone. 

None of my self-deprecating objectivity seems to work. I can imagine all the children dying in Syria and Palestine and Burma and South Sudan, but when mine cries in my lap because she’s not feeling well for the 99th day out of the last hundred, I feel like my heart is broken.

I’m trying to remember that my heart is NOT broken though. It’s working perfectly well and doing the things my heart is supposed to be doing. It is aching out of sympathy for the love of my children, because they too are being tested by the will of Allah. My heart is struggling and in pain, and I will use that pain to seek healing by the will of Allah. Because that is what my heart is supposed to do. Hearts are supposed to hurt.

Because Allah has promised to heal them.

Zeba Khan is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Samir

    March 14, 2017 at 7:33 PM

    You’re not alone sister. I was seeking knowledge in the East, praying all my prayers in congregation, reading Arabic books in Islamic knowledge when I was hit with panic/anxiety and almost fell into depression as I was upset about being unable to study at the level I was before.

    Although I’m not as familiar with depression as I am with anxiety and panic, the key to remember is that these mental disorders have a biological component as well and are related to your nervous system. It’s not purely spiritual.

    A big mistake in thinking among many Muslims, even some du’āt and scholars is that depression and anxiety disorders can be cured by just fixing one’s spiritual habits.

    There is some truth in this, not being alone with your problems and keeping righteous company helps A LOT, as well as just slowing down and taking the time to have ikhlās and khushū in your daily actions, spending more time in tawakkul and sujūd and less worrying/ruminating etc.

    But the biological component of these disorder is still there, as well as the psychological. It is highly imperative to be able to speak to someone qualified to counsel you. I highly advise you to find a good therapist (preferably one with personal experience with depression and who is understanding of your need to be a faithful Muslim). If not, or if it doesn’t help much then medication is plan B.

    Do not continue on your own. Seek help, seek understanding and righteous company, and seek professional treatment. It’s been just over a year for me and I’m almost out of mine alhamdulillah.

    • Avatar

      MalikSaabSays

      March 15, 2017 at 8:20 PM

      As a healthcare Pro, the “medication” isn’t really medicinal, and proof of it is in the cure rates after accounting for other variables.
      The power of belief reigns supreme. Belief can effectively ​bring about physical and biological changes – and it does. Neurotransmitters start depleting when negative & irrational trains of thought are left unchecked. Those who check and remove them (whether by self or through help) their neurotransmitters get back up to speed again.

      Brain, mind. The One who designed it hasn’t left it without a service manual. And for sure we did not design it, nor it designed itself, and for certain it’s degree of specificity and precision is not a product of randomness …

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:45 PM

      JazakAllahuKheiran for sharing your experience Samir. You’re 100% right about there being two parts to depression, one that we can influence through our spiritual input, and one that’s plain ole biology. Having strong religious practices certainly can’t prevent depression, but it definitely helps mitigate it. :)

  2. Avatar

    dhaakirah

    March 14, 2017 at 9:17 PM

    I thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts with us. jazakillahu khairan.

    We have all been created unique & different and so our struggles & tests are also unique and tailormade for us. Our syrian bros and sis’s have their own tests, as do our Burmese, Palestinian, Sudanese and all the rest of humanity. They may see our struggles in the ‘free’ (non war-torn) world and be thankful for theirs while we see them and may feel guilty about ours. But Allah knows us all, every single one of us and so has gifted each of us with our very own personal pains that we can bear and overcome…(no soul is burdened with what he cant bear).
    (O Allah let them overcome their soon aameen).

    The Best of Planners has a plan for you and your family and maybe part of that is for you to get close to Him in this way, after feeling so far away, so that your children will emulate you and thus leave a beautiful legacy for yourselves.

    I recently learned that everyone in Jannah will each be there for a unique and different deed – maybe this is your unique path to Jannah.

    Imagine the unique depression of Yunus AS in the depth of the ocean and darkness of the whale when he made his dua of desperation, and then he is saved. I find that incident so inspiring and encouraging whenever I feel like I’m slipping into the proverbial well.

    Make dua the rest of us quickly find the direction on our paths and we meet among the Gardens.

    Sincere duas for you all from across the pond :)

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:47 PM

      This was a lovely thought and I will definitely hold on to this: “I recently learned that everyone in Jannah will each be there for a unique and different deed – maybe this is your unique path to Jannah.”

      And I love the mental image of Yunus AS in his darkness. I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind. May Allah have mercy on us all.

      • Avatar

        N

        March 11, 2018 at 5:54 AM

        I’ve tried to understand it but I can’t. How can you feel hopeless if you trust Allah, if truly internalise it its impossible. There’s a difference between sadness and depression. Depression is a hopelessness and that is why Yunus A.S made taubah a hundred thousand times for his hopelessness. If you believe your negative thoughts shaitan wins. I hate negativity. Know Allah and know happiness.

  3. Avatar

    Sofekul Allum

    March 14, 2017 at 9:40 PM

    Aa, A very interesting and beneficial article. The articles benefit me greatly in understanding mental health, depression etc.

  4. Avatar

    Alia

    March 14, 2017 at 11:09 PM

    Jazaki Allah Khair sister. I’m feeling your pain and I’m glad I read this. But Allah also asked us to take care of our health which includes our mental and emotional health. And our beloved prophet Asws “Tadawoo” use medication to heal. It’s obvious you are going through enourmous stress and sadness and it’s important that you seek professional help. It’s part of faith to care for yourself. I love you.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:47 PM

      Jazakillah sis :) I love you for the sake of Allah, and ask that Allah make you among those most beloved to Him.

  5. Avatar

    Saara

    March 14, 2017 at 11:41 PM

    insh’Allah may He give you the ease after your hardship. I relate to what you wrote so much.
    Depression among other mental illness has a biological component, so I hope you know that prayer helps us deal with going through life with illness but it’s definitely not a because of a lack of faith. We don’t say that about other illnesses I hope the Ummah comes to know this about mental illnesses too.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:49 PM

      You know Saara surprisingly sometimes we do say the same about other illnesses… and it’s not great there either. I’ve been told that if I made more dua my son wouldn’t have autism anymore. It’s important to recognize that people mean well, even if they are accidentally tearing holes in your heart without realizing it. Alhamdulillah. :)

  6. Avatar

    Shine

    March 15, 2017 at 12:46 AM

    Asalaamualaikum… Hey sister you are not alone. i have been there. And i admit i do sometimes revisit that well again and again. But as you said it should take you closer to Allah swt not away from Allah swt. It doesnt matter whether it is trail or punishment, what matters is how we deal with it.. What matters is the consolation that it was written in our Qadar. And we muslims believe in Qadr. What is apparently bad to us has many hidden dimensions that are known only to Allah swt. And we have this consolation that overall whatever Allah swt plans for us is the best. We may not always know the wisdom behind the trails, but we need to be assured that all trails have deep wisdom behind them. Sister nothing that happens in this world is futile, nothing is redundant. Everything that happens, even the leaf that falls has a deep wisdom behind it. You see Allah swt is not concerned with end results. You and i are depressed, thats perfectly okay but inspite of that even if we try to come out of it and struggle to fight it .Even if you may not come out of it but you tried and struggled with it . Thats called effort. and thats what Allah swt values. He values efforts rather than end results. I am sure sister you know all this but we need to keep reminding ourselves again and again because REMINDER BENEFITS THE BELIEVER. In the end we all need reminders sometimes even those that were written by us only.
    http://www.abezsez.com/2013/11/dear-not-a-loser/
    I pray May Allah swt ease our trails and give us best in this Life and Akhirah. Aameen

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:56 PM

      Hey sis, of course I remember you! <> Jazakillah for the reminder, reminders are awesome.

  7. Avatar

    Ali Saeed

    March 15, 2017 at 10:06 AM

    So much truth in your powerful ending: “Hearts are supposed to hurt….Because Allah has promised to heal them.” – makes you wanna cry in sajdah

  8. Avatar

    Mariam

    March 15, 2017 at 5:06 PM

    I hope you also get to finish your other article with a good ending inshaAllah. And also an ending with a never-ending joy and contentment of the Hereafter, ameen.

  9. Avatar

    Mubashira Ajmal

    March 15, 2017 at 6:49 PM

    Assalamualaikum

    Jameel..also, as in, Sabrun Jameel.. a beautiful patience. Duas for u, ur little one, n those fighting the hard times everywhere

  10. Avatar

    Zenubia

    March 15, 2017 at 11:48 PM

    If the believers didn’t feel sad or depressed there wouldn’t be a chapter in the seerah called Aam Ul huzn – the year of sadness.

  11. Avatar

    umm ismael

    March 16, 2017 at 1:11 AM

    Asslam u alaikum
    May Allah Alleviate your burdens and May He Make ease in your affair and may He Grant you from His endless bounty. May He Heal and cure you and Provide you from where you did not even imagine ameen

  12. Avatar

    Waffles

    March 16, 2017 at 2:23 AM

    I loved that you shared this. I think as Muslim communities, we always share good things or accomplishments. I think it’s harder to share loss, grievances, or just daily struggles. But this is what Muslims are about. We are there for each other thru thick and thin. More than that, we believe Allah is there thru it all.
    Thank you for your beautiful words and pointing us all back to Allah (swt).

  13. Avatar

    Amatullah

    March 16, 2017 at 2:35 AM

    Your fear for your children reminds me of Yaqoob AlayhiSalaam. He was so much in depression after the temporary loss of his child – Yusuf AlayhiSalaam. He cried until his eyesight got weak. But Allah delivered Yusuf AS “beautifully” back to his father, SubhanAllah.
    La Ilaha Illa Anta Subhanaka Inni Kuntum Minazzallimeen.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:58 PM

      Beautiful reminder Amatullah- Yaqoob, may Allah bless him, lived for years in sadness and cried until he went blind and of course he was a proper Muslim, he was prophet of Allah!

      SubhanAllah :)

  14. Avatar

    Simeen

    March 16, 2017 at 12:30 PM

    Subhanallah, Zeba! This is so beautiful, I’m lost for words. Barakallahu feeki. May Allah ta’ala bless you and your family With His best both in this life and The Hereafter.

  15. Avatar

    Farah

    March 16, 2017 at 6:55 PM

    JazakAllah so much for sharing your thoughts and story. You are so strong. May Allah make all your hardships easier, may He give you sabr through the hard days and the ability to find little precious joys amidst the sad moments. May Allah grant your children health amd happiness and guide them to all that is right and good. Ameen.

  16. Avatar

    amtullah

    March 17, 2017 at 4:28 AM

    New Atheist Fantasyland?
    Quick question before I start exploring your blog: U an atheist?

  17. Avatar

    Abu Aaliyah

    March 22, 2017 at 8:10 PM

    I am a Psychiatric Social Worker and can confidently state that there is no such thing as a depression-proof Muslim. Anxiety and Depression are very common in the Muslim community. Thank you for taking the courage to write about your experience and raising self-awareness on this issue. Thank you for being vulnerable and using it as a tool to let others connect with your experience(s). I want to share with you an article on vulnerability that you may find useful.

    http://www.thismuslimreads.com/read/daretobevulnerable

  18. Avatar

    Mahmoud

    April 19, 2017 at 1:30 AM

    Dear Zeba,
    As said by others, your will not walk alone. Once in a while i do get down for no reason. But possibly worth sharing is that i have been struggling with an anxiety disorder for over 30 years. My outsider demeanor is that of a calm and composed Muslim but inside there is periodic storm! Though i am aware, Alhamdulillah, about my excellent articulation of of issues, speaking publicly coherently is a arduous task, not withstasding the pounding heart. It may sound ridicuous even after self positive talk about the absurdity of that current emotional being.To flavour the challenge, there is this ringing ear (tinitus) which occassionally roars.
    This is part of the tests we will all be subjected. In sha Allah, as one sister mentioned it may be the ‘dog’ that will propel you to Jannah.

  19. Avatar

    Maria

    September 25, 2017 at 7:15 AM

    Thank you sister for this article.
    I thought I was the only one who thought that being depressed is unislamic and proof of my weak eeman, being ungrateful for what I have and that my anxiety issues are a result of little tawakkul. It turns out I was wrong.
    May Allah bless you and give you lots of strength.
    P.S.
    What I found hugely helpful was a self help book “Manage your mood” by David Veale & Rób Willosn. It’s about using Behavioral Activation techniques.

  20. Avatar

    craig turton

    December 7, 2017 at 9:26 PM

    You are right, I too have experienced what you have. But what has lead us back, our-believe in the God of Abraham, brings us back and stronger!

  21. Avatar

    anne

    March 21, 2019 at 5:53 PM

    This has helped me so much. I am feeling so lonely at the moment.
    I am married, have good healthy kids Alhamdolillah, not going through what you are with your child, and not living in abject poverty or in a war zone, but I am so terribly in a bad place, that there are times where I will sit alone and stare into space, not wanting to do anything.
    Maybe I have depression, but why? What have I got to be depressed or sad about?
    Yet here I am, day after day, wondering why am I sleeping so much, always feeling tired and lethargic, and I don’t even know what am I feeling sad about.
    I have this feeling of my own personal black cloud filled with gloom hovering over my head. Everyone seems to be getting on with things, but I am feeling useless. I get invited to places, but the mere thought of attending fills me with anxiety and stress. I feel I have to act happy and the effort to do small talk with others fills me with dread.
    I have such low esteem, and I don’t know how I can get my confidence back.
    I feel I am no good at anything. I miss my parents and siblings who live quite far from me, but yet I have a husband and children, so nothing to really be complaining about.
    I listen to Islamic talks whilst I am alone at home, am chirpy and smiley when I do meet people, but it is just a mask.
    I feel all alone. Your article has given me hope that maybe this is only a test, and I should be optimistic that it will be my turn to shine one day. I don’t feel I am of any real use to anyone anymore. If I cry I chastise myself for feeling sorry for myself when I should not have any real reason to cry. I can’t talk to anyone because they too will think it strange, when I have nothing to feel depressed about. I am grateful for everything I have but am stuck, like you described, on the cold floor at the bottom of a well, peering through the blurry water, but not making any progress to rise above it.
    Everyone tells me to get a job or a hobby or do something, I wish I could.
    The first step seems to be the hardest hurdle, I feel I need to do something, but cannot motivate myself to do anything.
    So I will carry on, being the stay at home mum that so many will envy. You are so lucky they say, and I am, so why am I still feeling sad and unfulfilled? Am I so ungrateful? I don’t want to be.
    I hope this feeling passes, and until then, I will just put on my happy mask for my kids sake, and hope for the true healing of my heart, and all of yours too.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 27, 2019 at 4:46 PM

      Anne habibti, I feel you. Depression doesn’t make sense and it’s not the same as being sad because you lost something or you’re missing someone. It’s something your brain does regardless of whether there’s a reason to or not, and maybe that’s your jihad. Allah reward you for the struggle and the patience, Ameen! <<>>

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

Abu Ryan Dardir

Published

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charity
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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