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The Fiqh of Forming Alliances and Building Coalitions

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by Mateen A. Khan

Islam and Muslims have a long history in America and are very much a part of the legacy of the United States. Muslims and non-Muslims have worked together, lived together, and played together. We have constructed institutions of peace and have even fought wars together. And so, we increasingly find ourselves having to form political and communal alliances. Often, this involves collaborating with groups whose values and teachings may be in direct opposition to Islamic morality. This article attempts to guide Muslim American leaders at all levels and the general Muslim public at-large in a direction which benefits the national interest and protects normative Islam.[1]

Assessing the Situation Through Jurisprudence

Muslims, in general, and their leaders, in particular, need to be thinkers by assessing and re-assessing individual situations. We cannot be swept up in the euphoria of nationalism or anti-establishment rhetoric by simply following the masses or the words of a dynamic speaker. After the Prophet’s ﷺ migration, jurisprudence and state legislation were unified under his guidance and the guidance of several khulafā’ afterward. However, since this time, the two have been separated, and Islamic scholarship has been engaged in a process of risk management and defense of normative Islam.[2] Our main priority as Muslims is to be able to believe, worship, and live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Allah. The Qur’an states rather clearly, “I only created humans and jinn so that they worship Me.”[3]The Qur’anic exegetes have explained ‘worship’ as obedience to the Divine. Every Muslim by necessity believes the All-Wise has guided us solely for our benefit. The role of Islamic scholarship and leadership has been and continues to be charting a course that defends normative Islam through a constant harm-benefit analysis.

Whenever collaboration with another group is suggested, potential harm (mafsadah) and benefit (maṣlaḥah) is assessed through principles found in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and scholarly opinions. For this, we turn to the legal maxim of ‘the prevention of harms precedes the attainment of benefits’ (درء المفاسد اولى من جلب المصالح). This particular maxim is extrapolated among other things from the prophetic ḥadith, “If I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do as much as you can of it.”[4] It is based on this maxim, for example, that Muslims are not permitted to make beneficial changes to their property that might cause harm to their neighbor.

We may find mafsadah in the form of oppression through institutional biases. Ẓulm, one of the classical Arabic terms for oppression, is defined as “to place a thing where it doesn’t belong.”[5] It will be to give one something that isn’t his or her right or to withhold the legitimate right of another. Allah says, “Indeed, shirk is a great ẓulm.”[6] In other words, giving another what is the Right of Allah (i.e. obedience and worship) when He alone has given you life, nourishment, etc. is a very great ẓulm. Oppression is not only forbidden in our relationship with Allah, but also with one another. In a ḥadīth qudsī, the Prophet ﷺ quoted Allah saying, “My servants, I have made oppression unlawful for Me and unlawful for you, so do not commit oppression against one another.”[7] Repeatedly, the Qur’an associates oppression as a character trait of disbelief and not of Believers. If a harm is identified – for example, governmental discriminatory practices – then Muslims may rally against it using permissible means. We are not permitted to assist in it nor should we sit idle when we are capable of removing it.[8]

In collaborating, we may find benefits in the form of increased security, peace, well-being, or most of all, freedom to practice our religion. Maṣlaḥah, in the Islamic terminology, refers to what provides benefit and is consistent with the objectives (maqāsid) of the Sharī`ah. These objectives are extracted from the totality of the Qur’an and Sunnah and refer to – in order of importance – protection of one’s Islam, life, intellect, progeny, and property. It is worth noting that these objectives and benefits are secondary to what is explicitly stated in the Qur’an and Sunnah,[9] since they are extractions of divine text rather than explicit commands. For wisdoms and benefits that oppose the primary texts of the Shari‘ah are what the Noble Qur’an refers to as “desires” (al-ahwā’).[10] Hence, maṣlaḥah is not determined by unlearned individuals or the masses, because “if the truth had followed their inclinations, the heavens and the earth and whoever is in them would have been ruined.”[11] All this is to say that when the sharī`ah declares something as good, we take the necessary and legal steps to encourage it. When something is not mentioned in the primary texts (nuṣūṣ), – for example, securing voting rights for minorities – learned people may endorse it as a maṣlaḥah so the rest may fall behind it.

Check the Collaboration

Whether removing a harm or obtaining a benefit, our primary intent as Muslims is Allah’s Pleasure. Today in America, we live with non-Muslims while fulfilling all the rights due to them as neighbors. We work and engage in business with them while refraining from impermissible jobs and transactions as dictated by our religion. We share infrastructure, drinking water, and permissible foods. Islam allows all of this. While reminiscing one day, the Prophet ﷺ spoke of the Pact of the Virtuous (Hilf al-Fuḍūl). He praised the Pact and announced that had the same situation – an agreement enjoining a common maṣlaḥah shared with non-Muslims – come up today, he would join it readily. Not only is there no issue with Muslims joining non-Muslims for shared causes such as eradicating poverty or safe havens for abused women, but it may also be recommended or a communal obligation based on the situation.[12]

The contention lies when due to our small numbers, weaknesses, and other deficiencies, Muslim Americans often find themselves in need of collaborating with other groups who may hold ideas antithetical to Islamic morality. Groups may exist primarily to further another belief or lifestyle considered sinful by Islamic standards. Can we collaborate with them? If so, what are the conditions? Before we get into this discussion further, it behooves us to first review the Islamic injunction against helping another in sin.

Near the end of the second ayah of Surah al-Mā’idah, Allah states, “Rather, help one another to virtuousness, and to the fear of Allah. And do not help one another to sin and to aggression.” From the first part of the quoted line, we may work with people to assist in virtuousness, but the latter part strongly warns against assisting in sin. Muslims not only refrain themselves from sin, but also cannot assist another in it. As the Prophet ﷺ mentioned in an authentic hadith, “The one who directs towards sin is as the one who commits it.”[13] Conversely, this statement supports a weaker narration, “The one who directs towards evil is as the one who commits it.” Even stronger words have been attributed to the Prophet ﷺ that on the day of Judgment, a caller will declare, “Where are the sinners, those who followed them, and those who assisted them?” Such that even those who assisted by bringing them pens and ink will be gathered with them in an iron box and thrown into Hell.[14]

With this in mind, we can now turn towards prophetic history, in which we find many analogous examples of Muslims collaborating with non-Muslims. I would like to highlight four of them:

  1. In the Makkan period of the Prophet’s ﷺ life, he and the early Muslims underwent extraordinary hardships including torture at the hands of Makkan polytheists. For a time, a unilateral trade embargo was instituted against the Muslims. The Muslims, when able, continued to trade with the same non-Muslims that oppressed them and made trips together to other areas to trade with other non-Muslim tribes.
  2. Upon migrating to Madinah, the Prophet ﷺ formed a constitution with the Madinan Jews. The charter outlined how they were to live in one community as neighbors. They traded with one another, fulfilled each other’s rights, and shared a common infrastructure.
  3. With the treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah, the Prophet ﷺ made an agreement with the non-Muslim Makkans including issues about trade, extradition, and visitation.

We see in these instances that the Prophet ﷺ made agreements with the Makkan polytheists and Madinan Jews despite each group adopting elements of disbelief and un-Islamic morality. Through these joint activities, they warded off a greater harm that would have occurred by total segregation and isolation.

  1. Another example occurred during the Battle of Uhud. The Muslims set out from Madinah with one thousand men. Among them were the Hypocrites who would flee later under the leadership of `Abdullah ibn `Ubayy. The Prophet ﷺ, when setting out from Madinah, knew that among his soldiers were Hypocrites. Yet, he allowed them to accompany the Believers to remove a greater harm – the attack from the Makkan polytheists.

In these situations, the Muslims and non-Muslims agreed to fulfill shared goals, and in doing so, the two groups worked more in parallel than together. The Muslims did not intend to assist them in those things that were antithetical to Muslim beliefs although that may have happened as an unintended consequence. When sufficient need arises, Muslim American scholars in conjunction with other experts may recommend collaborating with non-Muslim groups – even those advocating un-Islamic beliefs and morality – with an important condition: the safeguarding of people’s Islam.

Safeguarding Islam

Our Islam is our most important possession. It is the cause of revelation and the source of our connection with Allah. Its protection is the highest objective. So much so that when the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions were unable to safeguard their deen, Allah commanded them, “O My servants who have believed, indeed My earth is spacious, so worship only Me.”[15] They were given the order to leave their beloved hometown of Makkah. We find in each instance of Muslim collaboration with non-Muslims, Allah and His Messenger ﷺ made clear the distinction between a path of guidance and one that displeases Allah. For example, after the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyyah, Allah reaffirmed Islam as the truth, “It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion.”[16] Similarly, after the Battle of Uhud, He said, “And what struck you on the day the two armies met was by permission of Allah that He might make evident the Believers. And that He might make evident those who are Hypocrites.”[17] The purpose of the distinction is to safeguard our religion by pointing out our differences. Collaboration at the expense of one’s religion will be impermissible without taking steps to safeguard it. If there is a risk of altering or losing Islamic beliefs, then clarification must be made. Interestingly (and perhaps a subject of another article) this is not only true when collaborating with groups whose primary agenda is antithetical to Islamic beliefs, but also during mundane life-activities when Muslims are the dominated minority.

How do we safeguard our Islam?

  1. Gain Knowledge. One must learn the basic, necessary knowledge about Islam, its tenets, rulings, wisdoms, and guidance. A relationship with people of knowledge is key to fostering one’s religion and filling in knowledge gaps when coming across new challenges. “Ask the people of knowledge if you don’t know”[18] and, “The cure to ignorance is to ask”[19] are just a hint as to the vast amount of Islamic texts on this subject.
  2. Keep company with the pious. Just as important as knowledge is companionship with the pious since the hadiths equate our religion with the religion of our companions.[20] The Qur’an states about un-Islamic companionship, “And whoever among you takes them as an intimate friend, he is one of them.”[21] Islam has been passed from Prophet ﷺ to Companions and so on among the pious. Connect yourself to that lineage.
  3. Love Islam. Stemming from the first two is an apparent Islamic identity through the love of Islam. Muslims need to be comfortable with their identity without feeling as if they must hide. Even more, their love for Islam should surpass anything else.[22] Otherwise, indiscriminating friendship and partnership with non-Muslim organizations can garble one’s beliefs placing their very Islam at risk.[23] Whether individually or communally, identity tells others who you are and your religion, what you stand for or against.
  4. Know what is Islamic and what isn’t. A very important condition, which applies to Muslim leaders especially when working with groups with beliefs antithetical to Islam, is that those who take on the role of making decisions for and leading the Muslim public also take on the responsibility of warning them of the dangers in that decision by distinguishing what is Islamic and what is not. Foremost in this responsibility, is the danger to each Muslim American’s Islam. For example, if a need arises such that we form a coalition with LGBTQIA groups, it is imperative that everyone be aware the coalition is one of achieving a shared goal and that their morality is antithetical to our divinely-mandated morality. Yes, this might place us in the precarious position of defending their human and civil rights while simultaneously vocalizing their lifestyle as a sin that draws Allah’s displeasure. We have a duty to both. This is an essential safeguard to protect the Islam of the Muslim public and future generations.

Additionally, working with non-Muslim groups in not a permission to work un-Islamically. We may not commit the harām hoping for a benefit. At times, our leadership may leave something preferable (mustaḥabb) or allowable (mubāḥ) as the Prophet ﷺ had expressed near the end of his life. He said to his beloved wife, “O `Ā’ishah! Were your nation not close to the pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance, I would have had the Ka`bah demolished and would have included in it the portion which had been left.”[24] He ﷺ left a preferable action (to include the left-out portion) to avoid a harm (confusion among the Quraysh).[25] That being said, in general, we must still abide by the guidance and necessary dictates of the Sharī`ah. When the direction of the Qiblah was changed, the Prophet ﷺ was concerned about what the Jews would say about it. Allah counseled him saying, “So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers.”[26] Avoiding a perceived harm (the statements of the Jews) is not permission to engage in the impermissible (not fulfilling Allah’s command). The Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said, “A death in the obedience of Allah is better than life spent in the disobedience of Allah.”[27]

Final Thoughts

As a group, we must ask some hard questions as to who represents us. Beyond expertise in their field and enthusiasm for activism, our representatives must have some basic working knowledge of normative Islam. They will be actively forming relationships with fellow Americans and groups with Islamically divergent beliefs and practices. Will they lean towards ideas against well-established Islamic tenets? Will their own beliefs be affected such that they are rendered unfit to guide the Muslim public? For example, if a Muslim is not firm in his or her religion such that s/he can withstand the proselytizing efforts of evangelicals or atheists, it will not be permissible for him or her to work with them. This responsibility is not for everyone. Both Islamic scholars and activists need to be aware of the limits of their knowledge and develop a humility to acquiesce to experts in other areas.

Islam encourages Muslims to live and cooperate with non-Muslims. We are one nation, and we share a land, governance, and a future. We should extend a hand to work together on shared values and goals. In times of need, when differences exist between us and other groups that are antithetical or even directly oppositional to our morality, we may still work alongside one another as long as we safeguard our religious moralities. “Sufficient need” should be assessed jointly between properly trained Islamic scholars and various leaders of the relevant fields involved. Inter-Islamic cooperation is necessary before intra-organizational cooperation can be fruitful. In fulfilling our responsibility to Muslim and non-Muslim Americans, we can never lose sight that our accomplishment lies in obedience to the Creator.

The success of Muslims lies in Allah’s Pleasure even if they be in bondage. If we gain power and act to displease Allah, then what is the difference between our governance and that of Fir`awn’s? Rather, worry about pleasing Him and connecting with Him. Be committed to Islam and its guidance. You’ve tried following those false idols for some time. Now, bow down before Your Lord, ask about your needs, and see what happens! (paraphrased from Shaykh Ashraf `Ali Thanwi)[28]

Dr Mateen A. Khan is a Emergency Medicine Doctor and a graduate of the Aalimiyah program at the illustrious Dar ul Uloom Canada. He has ijazah to teach the Sahih Sittah as well as other subjects.

 

[1] Normative Islam refers to the tenets of belief and practice representing the majority of Islamic scholarship since the Prophet ﷺ. Many narrations attributed to the Prophet ﷺ, the salaf al-ṣāliḥīn, and scholarly consensus indicate that the path of divine guidance is the path of the majority.

[2] Mohammed, A.M. Muslims In Non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study with Applications, p. 125-128.

[3] Surah al-Dhāriyāt: 56

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: 7288, Ṣaḥīḥ li Muslim: 1337b. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[5] Lisān al-`Arab

[6] Surah Luqmān: 13

[7] Saḥīḥ al-Muslim: 2577a. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[8] `Umdah al-Qārī: 12/290, Dār al-Ihyā’ al-Turāth al-`Arabī

[9] Al-Muwāfaqāt lī al-Shāṭibī, Kitāb al-Maqāsid

[10] Usūl al-Iftā wa Ādābuhu lī Muftī Taqī Uthmānī, Chapter on Maqāsid al-Sharī`ah

[11] Surah al-Mu’minūn: 71

[12] `Umdah al-Qārī: 12/290, Dār al-Ihyā’ al-Turāth al-`Arabī

[13] Sunan al-Tirmidhī: 2670. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[14] Rūh al-Ma`ānī under Surah al-Qasas: 17

[15] Surah al-Ankabūt: 56

[16] Surah al-Fatḥ: 28

[17] Surah Aal-Imrān: 166-7

[18] Surah al-Naḥl: 43, Surah al-Anbiyā’: 7

[19] Sunan Abū Dāwūd: 337. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[20] Sunan al-Tirmidhī: 2378. Retrieved from Sunnah.com

[21] Surah al-Ma’idah: 51

[22] Rahmānī, K.S. Samāhī Baḥth wa Naẓr. Apr 2012. P. 67-68.

[23] Shafi, M. Maariful Quran. Surah al-Ma’idah: 51.

[24] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1586. Retrieved from Sunnah.com. When the Ka`bah was last rebuilt by the Quraysh, they left out a portion (ḥaṭīm) from the rest of the building. The Prophet ﷺ indicated here that he thought of rebuilding the Ka`bah and including this portion in the building.

[25] Sharḥ al-Nawawī `ala al-Sāḥīḥ li Muslim, Book of Hajj, Chapter on Demolishing the Ka`bah and Rebuilding It. Also, Ahsan al-Fatāwa of Mufti Rashīd Ahmad, Vol. 6, Pg. 38-39.

[26] Surah al-Baqarah: 145

[27] Majma` al-Zawā’id: 5/241

[28] Al-Ifādāt al-Yawmiyyah: 5/168-9

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Muhammad

    April 13, 2017 at 8:56 AM

    In Shaa’a ALLAH, informative. It provides fundamental perspective to challenges faced by the Muslim minority.

  2. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    April 14, 2017 at 4:34 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Br. Mateen,

    Jazakumullahu khayran for a well-though out, informative piece that departs from the spirit and specifics of normative Islam. As usual, the devil is in the details, so I’m wondering if you could clarify what you mean when you say, with respect to LGBT groups: “Yes, this might place us in the precarious position of defending their human and civil rights while simultaneously vocalizing their lifestyle as a sin that draws Allah’s displeasure. We have a duty to [do] both.”

    Which “human and civil rights” do you mean specifically, and under whose normative paradigm are these to be determined when deciding as a community which specific claims we support and which we don’t? LGBT groups *claim*, for example, the right to marriage on “discrimination” grounds. Five Supreme Court justices agreed with this, while four strongly disagreed. Hilary Clinton, a liberal Democrat, did not recognize such a right either as recently as five years ago. Our Shari’a certainly does not recognize, on its own terms, anything like the “right” of a man to marry another man and, in fact, criminalizes the behavior upon which such an arrangement serves to confer legal and cultural–and hence, moral–legitimacy. [Given the definition you quote of zulm, “to place a thing where it doesn’t belong,” sodomy is, by definition, a flagship example of zulm.]

    So working *with* LGBT and other groups against, say, racism, poverty, or the excesses of runaway capitalism is one thing. But what does it mean, exactly, to support the “human and civil rights” of the LGBT community as a discrete identity group when, in our religion, we don’t even accept the notion of an essentialized, social identity based on sexual desire? From our perspective, people are men and women, Muslim and non, etc., some of whom choose to engage in same-sex behaviors and relationships. Almost every right they demand *as a class of people* has the direct effect of normalizing their behavior in society, which seems like it’s something we should oppose, given the first part of your essay which provides strong statements against assisting people in sin.

    This is particularly the case when the rights claimed–like that to marriage–directly serve to enshrine the legitimacy of homosexual practice, even at the expense of normative social institutions like (male-female) marriage and natural family bonds, which the Shari’a values very highly and which we, it would seem, should recognize a strong social and state interest in preserving. Gay marriage is currently a moot point, but if another conservative justice is appointed to the Supreme Court under Trump and the court were, say, to overturn the Obergefell decision, what would our stance then be? “Alhamdulillah, that’s wonderful news. Some of the craziness is being rolled back, the oppression of an unjust law (since it enshrines and enables zulm) has been removed, and we are happy to see things moving more in a direction of what Allah approves” or “Let’s get out and march against this encroachment upon the ‘human and civil rights of a minority,’ which we are duty bound to fight for and uphold, even while proclaiming their lifestyle and behavior sinful and unpleasing to God”?

    Jazakumullahu khayran,
    Ahmad B.

  3. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    April 14, 2017 at 4:46 PM

    By the way, by “departs from the spirit and specifics of normative Islam,” I meant “takes these as its point of departure” (a compliment), not “departs from these” in the sense of “abandons them” (which would have been a critique). I apologize if there was any confusion.

    Ahmad B.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    June 9, 2019 at 1:43 PM

    Dr. Khan,

    A good attempt. But you really didn’t get into any ‘fiqh’ of the matter per se. There are also instances of Muslims having protection of non-Muslims in Mecca.

    I used to think we need alliances with LGBT but now I changed my mind. They are not a good ally when it comes to success. More of a liability really. Here is why:

    1) The LGBT community does not need an alliance with Muslims. They are doing fine on their own. They are smart and know how to use marketing to their benefit.

    2) We are not capable of making an alliance with LGBT or even benefiting from it – Sunnis can barely make alliances with Shi’a’s, Ismailis and Qadianis.

    3) LGBT will very quickly challenge us because they know Muslims who are gay. How do we respond?

    4) The whole “Hate the sin and not the sinner” line does not make any sense. This sin is a part of that person. Ulema who teach tarbiya and tazkiya, make the point some people have built their whole lives around certain sins so it is hard to make a change from that. Similarly, LGBT have built their whole identity and lives around LGBT lifestyles.

    The reality: Muslims are on their own and only have Allah. We have no reliable allies. It is better for us to build up our own strength. Make the marketplace want to market to Muslims. Become an economic force independent of oil-money. That is more likely to benefit us.

    If we do want to build alliances – we need to start first with building alliances with journalists and news publications.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Ali

    June 17, 2019 at 8:28 PM

    I really, really am enjoying this conversation. Thank you for a wonderfully written article. I also liked the comments by Ahmad B. Ahmad B. do you have any suggestions as to how to address LGBT “REALITY” in our society? Any practical ideas as to what can/should be done as far as Muslims are concerned? Being an imam myself, I need to know how other Muslim scholars are addressing this topic. When I am invited to a high school to speak about Islam, I occasionally get questions about Islam’s position with regards to LGBT. The Quran is very clear about it while the laws in USA are something else. So, how does one reconcile between the two? Thank you.

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#Life

Convert Story: To Ask Or Not to Ask, That is the Question

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Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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“How did you convert to Islam” is a question that is commonly asked to those who convert to Islam. While the short answer to this question is, “I said shahada”, the long (and more detailed) answer is one that is commonly expected.

It is important to acknowledge that the majority of “born Muslims” who ask this question do such out of good intentions. For this reason, I wrote this piece out of a place of love and not out of a place of judgment or hatred. While it is important for “born Muslims” to be mindful of how they ask this question, it is equally important for converts to not hold ill will towards born Muslims who ask this question. Due to the fact that Islamophobia is rampant in both the media and political discourse, many “born Muslims” are naturally shocked and emotional when they meet people who accept Islam. Some “born Muslims” have also had limited interactions with converts and therefore, to them, it is not only shocking for them to meet converts, but they are genuinely unaware of certain etiquettes when it comes to asking a convert for his or her story.

In this piece, I am going to write about a pet peeve that is shared among many Muslim converts. While I cannot speak for every single convert, I can say that based on innumerable conversations I have had with fellow converts, there is one thing most of us agree on and it is this; it is rude to ask a convert about his or her conversion story when you haven’t built a relationship with the convert. This piece will explain why many converts consider such a question to be intrusive. The purpose of this article is to better educate the “born Muslim” community on how they can do a better job in support of converts to Islam. In this piece, I will break down the reasons why this question can come off as intrusive if it isn’t asked in a proper manner. I will also include personal anecdotes to support my position.

I would like to conclude by saying that I do not discourage “born Muslims” from asking this question entirely, rather I am merely arguing that this question should be asked with the best of adab.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:  “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi) For this reason, such a question should be asked for purpose and it should be done with the best of manners. This is supported by the fact that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al Muwatta)

Note: For the sake of avoiding confusion, the term “born Muslim” is defined as anyone who was brought up in a Muslim household.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask about the person’s personal relationship with God

Within the context of a friendship, it is generally understood that friends will share personal details with each other. However, it is also generally understood that it is rude to ask people you just met personal questions. To ask a new acquaintance a personal question in most cases comes off as intrusive. This is especially the case in which you ask a person about his or her relationship with God.

For example, there are women who do not wear hijab. Even if we do (for a moment) ignore the Islamic ruling concerning hijab, we should all agree that a woman’s reason for wearing (or not wearing) hijab is a personal matter that is between said woman and God. If one was to ask a woman who doesn’t wear hijab why she doesn’t wear it, that would be intrusive because such a question would involve interrogating said woman about her relationship with God.

Another example concerns a married couple. If one was to meet a married person for the first time, it can be considered rude to ask said person about his or her relationship with his or her spouse.

When one asks a convert about his or her choice to convert, one is literally asking said convert about his or her relationship with God.

I am not saying that it is wrong in all cases to ask such a question. However, one should be mindful of the fact that because this is a personal question, one should have at least have built some form of a friendship with said person before asking.

convert friendship hugs

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is another way of asking, “Why do you believe in Islam?”

Many people identify to a faith tradition because it was part of their upbringing. If you were to ask a person who was born Muslim, “why are you Muslim?” you might hear said Muslim respond with, “I am Muslim because I was raised Muslim” and you wouldn’t hear a detailed answer beyond this.

In most cases, a convert to Islam (or any other religion) did such after research and critical thinking. To convert to a new religion involves not only deep thinking but a willingness to step into the unknown.

I have on many occasions told my story to people. In most cases I will ask the person “why do you believe in Islam?” I am then disappointed when I find out that the only reason the person is Muslim is due to upbringing. While I am not saying that said person’s faith is invalid or less than mine, a person who only identifies with a religion due to upbringing is a person who didn’t engage in critical thinking.

Any relationship should be built upon equality and mutual benefit. If I as a convert am able to provide a well thought out answer as to why I believe in Islam, I expect a well thought out answer to the same question from the person who initially asked me.

Again, while I am not saying it is wrong in all cases to ask, a born Muslim should ask himself or herself “why do I believe in Islam?” In my opinion, there are many who are born into Muslim families who don’t truly believe until later in their lives. Those Muslims in my opinion (and mine alone) are similar to converts.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to perform labor.

In some cases, “born Muslims” expect converts to tell their stories. I can remember a few incidents in which I have been asked to tell my story and I politely declined. In response, the person became angry. This to me is a symptom of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to know anything about anyone else (aside from people with whom one has a natural relationship with).

In addition, one should be cognizant of the fact that converts typically get asked this question repeatedly. Thus after a significant amount of time, a convert is prone to get tired of repeating the same question over again repeatedly. Naturally, it can become exhausting eventually.

While I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question in all cases, one should not ask this question to a convert from a place of entitlement. I can think of cases where I have been asked this question by “born Muslims” and when I have refused to provide an answer, they have gotten angry at me. This is entitlement.

To ask a convert “Why did you convert?” is to ask the convert to explain his or her personal life.

Backbiting is one of the worst sins in Islam. Another major sin is to disrespect one’s parents. Thus we can conclude that backbiting about one’s parents is a huge sin.

This is evidenced by the fact that Allah has said (ﷻ) “We have enjoined on humankind kindness to parents.” (Quran 29:8)

A typical follow-up question to “Why did you convert?” is “How did your parents react?” This in many cases puts the convert in a position where one may feel pressured to mention some negative details about his or her parents. In Islam, parents are to be respected, even if they aren’t Muslim.

Before asking a convert this question, one should be mindful of not putting unnecessary pressure on the convert to commit this injustice.

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

However, I do maintain a firm belief that in any true friendship, things will be shared. I don’t think it is wrong in itself to ask a convert about his or her story provided that there already exists a relationship where personal information can be shared. It is highly suggested to hang out with the person first and then ask the convert for his or her story.

As a personal rule of mine, unless I have hung out with the person one on one at least once (or a few times in group gatherings) I don’t tell any born Muslims my conversion story. Naturally, I only share personal details with people I consider to be a friend. If I would hang out with the person, I consider that person to be a friend.

The reason I am also hesitant to share my story with just anyone who asks me is because I can think of countless cases of when I have shared my story to people I have never seen or heard from again. I choose to exert my agency to share personal details of my life to people who I consider to be part of my life. While many Muslims are happy when people convert, many Muslims also fail to provide any form of support for said convert after conversion. I have seen too many cases of when a person recites shahadah, people pull their phones out to record it, but very few will give the convert his or her number. I genuinely believe that many “born Muslims” fail to see the big picture in this regard.

Before asking a convert for his or her story, you should ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person. If you are not comfortable sharing personal details of your life to that person, there is nothing wrong with that. However, you shouldn’t expect the convert to share personal details if you aren’t comfortable sharing personal details. Even if you have built a close friendship with someone, you still aren’t expected to share every detail of your life to someone. Even if you consider a convert to be a close friend, you should still respect a convert’s wishes to not share his or her story.

Conclusion

While I have addressed concerns about the tendency of “born Muslims” to ask converts about their journeys, I want to acknowledge that most people have good intentions. In Islam, the natural state of any person is one of righteousness.

I firmly believe that a friendship that isn’t built on trust and the sharing of personal information isn’t a genuine friendship. Therefore the key term in this context is “friend”. If you wish to ask a convert his or her story, please make sure the following conditions are met:

  1. You are already friends with the convert to a point where asking a convert about his or her relationship with God isn’t an intrusive question. Ask yourself, “Are we close enough where we can share other personal details of our lives with each other?”
  2. You have a well thought out reason as to why you believe in Islam.
  3. You don’t feel entitled to know about the convert’s journey and that you will allow the convert to choose not to share such information if the convert doesn’t wish to.
  4. You don’t probe into the convert’s relationships with other people.
  5. You aren’t just asking the question to somehow feel validated about your belief in Islam.

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

charity
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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. 

1. 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. 

2. 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

3. 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. 

dardir

4. 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

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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

9. 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.

10. 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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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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