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A Scintillating Secret To A Successful Marriage

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A study published in the journal Personal Relationships has suggested how just a little display of gratitude between spouses is the key to improving a marriage.[1] It is not just one study, rather several that have found such levels of effectiveness of gratitude in one’s marriage. According to Dr. Katia Sol in her Tedx talk on gratitude, The Gottman Institute, renowned for their  work on marital stability and divorce prediction, found that the number one predictor of success in marriage is the level of gratitude the spouses express to one another.[2]

What does gratitude, Shukr شُكْر, really mean?

  • Linguistically: It is that which is apparent (هو الظهور).
  • It is taken from when the Arabs used to say (شكرت الإبل).[3] “The camel has expressed gratitude,” meaning, the camel ate a lot of good food so it grew and it was apparent on it the effect of the food it ate.
  • Technically: It is when the blessing is apparent on the one it is bestowed upon (ظهور النعمة على العبد).

And there are three pillars to correctly be grateful and had we not fulfilled all three pillars then we would not be considered truly grateful for that blessing:

  • Internal: sense, feel and believe that you have been blessed. You simply do not take that blessing for granted.
  • Verbal: express your appreciation verbally, especially to the bestower.
  • Physical: express your appreciation physically by utilizing that blessing in a pleasing way to its bestower.

Indeed, Allah is ultimately the Bestower of all blessings but remember that He uses certain beings to facilitate for you these blessings. Hence, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “مَنْ لَمْ يَشْكُرِ النَّاسَ لَمْ يَشْكُرِ اللَّهَ” “Whoever is not grateful to the people, is not grateful to Allah.” [At-Tirmidhi].

 

Diving deeper into each of the 3 pillars of gratitude:

1) Internal: Sensing the blessing:

Do you recognize your spouse as a blessing? Do you feel and believe that your spouse has done any good to you?

Please realize that sensing and believing that we have been blessed with a specific blessing is the first step towards expressing true gratitude. Without it, our verbal and physical expressions of gratitude become very much ineffective and insincere.

But how can we sense that we’ve been blessed, that someone is a blessing in our lives?

Use the technique which Allah has taught us in the Quran to be grateful towards Him where He said:

  • “…وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ”
  • “And remember the favor of Allah upon you…” [5:7].

Start recalling the good that person, your spouse for the purpose of this article, has done for you. Recall all the blessings that have been brought to your life because of Allah and then your spouse.

Disclaimer: You know best what good your spouse has done to you and what they have sacrificed for you. However, provided below are some examples that may be applicable to some married couples and you can customize examples of your own to help you maximize the benefit of feeling and sensing the blessing of having your spouse.

Realize how Allah described the relationship between husband and wife and how it is one of Allah’s signs and miracles which you should ponder upon; Allah said:

“وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ”

“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [30:21]

Yes, my respected brother and sister, give it some thought…

Your spouse knows you inside out, the good and the bad. Allah described the spousal relationship as:

“هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ”

“They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them.” [2:187]

Remember my brother, the good your wife has done to you and perhaps to your children and family; carrying your child for so many months, multiple times! To some and perhaps to you, it is she who takes care of the house, cooks, cleans and spends more time than you with the children. Have you truly appreciated her efforts?

Brother, it is true that your wife has shortcomings but so do you and so does she have good qualities. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“لاَ يَفْرَكْ مُؤْمِنٌ مُؤْمِنَةً إِنْ كَرِهَ مِنْهَا خُلُقًا رَضِيَ مِنْهَا آخَرَ”

“A believing man should not hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.” [Muslim]

Remember, brothers and sisters, how the spouse is the purest source of having the sexual desires fulfilled in the most permissible and pleasing way to The Creator whereas others struggle and go as far as committing a major sin. May Allah guide and forgive those who do.

Remember my sister, how much of your husband’s life is spent providing a livelihood so you and the children can live with as much of your needs fulfilled as possible. or perhaps remember his contributions to the home: when he mows the lawn, or takes the trash out or wakes up at night when the baby is crying.

Sister, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“لا يَنْظُرُ الله إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ لا تَشْكَرُ لِزَوْجِهَا ، وَهِيَ لا تَسْتَغْنِي عَنْهُ”

“Allah does not look (with mercy) at a woman who is not grateful to her husband when she cannot live without him.” [As-Silsilah As-Ṣaḥīḥah].

Brothers and sisters, it is very critical that we spend some time recalling the good our spouses have done in order for us to feel and sense that we have been blessed.

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the greatest husband of all time, was grateful to his spouse and recalled the good she has done even after she has passed away! It was narrated in the collection of Imam Ahmad how Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would frequently remember and then praise his wife Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) after she has passed away. He would recall the good she has done to him and say: “She believed in me when the people have disbelieved. She assisted me with her wealth when the people refrained. And Allah has blessed me with children through her when He refrained me from getting children from other women.”

Do your best to make it a habit to recall the good your spouse has done to you especially when things are not going too well.

2) Express your gratitude verbally: Thank you! Merci! Gracias! May Allah reward you with goodness!

William Arthur Ward said: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”[4]

When was the last time you sent a random text to your spouse saying how much you love them and thanked them for their support and existence in your life? When was the last time you walked slowly towards your spouse without them noticing and gently wrapped your arms around them and said: “I am so blessed to have you.”

Please, do not say the following, implying there is no need to verbally express your appreciation: “Well, my spouse already knows that I love them and appreciate what they do.” Regardless, we need to verbalize these feelings. A man was with the Prophet ﷺ when another man passed in front of them, the man with the Prophet ﷺ said: “O Messenger of Allah! I love this man.” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then asked: “Have you informed him?” He replied: “No.” He said: “Inform him.” He then went to him and said: “I love you for Allah’s sake.” He replied: “May He for Whose sake you love me love you!” [Abu Dāwūd]

If that was Prophet Muhammad’s advice to two companions then isn’t our spouse even more worthy of hearing such words?

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did not just make it clear to his wife, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), that he loves her but he would not shy away to let the people know how much he loves her and how much she means to him had he been asked. Amr ibn Al-As (may Allah be pleased with him), the commander of the troops of Dhat-us-Salasil, asked Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: “Who is the most beloved person to you?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “’Aisha.” Then Amr asked: “From among the men?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Her father.”… [Al-Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“مَنْ صُنِعَ إِلَيْهِ مَعْرُوفٌ فَقَالَ لِفَاعِلِهِ جَزَاكَ اللَّهُ خَيْرًا فَقَدْ أَبْلَغَ فِي الثَّنَاءِ”

“Whoever some good was done to him, and he says: Jazaka Allahu khairun (May Allah reward you with goodness) then he has done the most that he can of praise.” [At-Tirmidhi]

Indeed it is painful when our “Thank you” and our “Jazakumullahu khairun (May Allah reward you with goodness)” is mostly said to strangers, friends and neighbors but rarely to family members.

Be sure to express your thanks with beautiful words on a consistent basis. If our spouses are shocked and start questioning our intention when seeing a text message from us with an emoji of a kiss or a flower then possibly that is a sign that we do not do it often. However, it is never too late to begin such a beautiful practice, in shaa Allah. If you are not in the habit of expressing your gratitude verbally to your spouse then try applying the following tip: add to your calendar a reminder that says something along the lines of, “Give Thanks to (Insert your spouse’s name)”. Time the reminder to appear on your phone screen at a time when you are about to get home from work or so. Upon seeing it and entering the house, you should know what to say ; be sweet and creative. Keep such reminders and continue to tweak them until it becomes a habit of yours to always verbalize your gratitude.

3) Express your gratitude in action! The Epitome of Gratitude!

A man would tell his wife: “I love you” and in return she’d say: “You are a liar.” He asks: “Why would you say that!?” She says: “Because I do not see it.” He then sarcastically asks: “Do you want me to write it on a board for you or text it so you can see it?” She finally clarifies and says: “I do not see it in your actions!”

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“مَنْ آتَى إِلَيْكُمْ مَعْرُوفًا فَكَافِئُوهُ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَجِدُوا فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ لَهُ حَتَّى تَعْلَمُوا أَنْ قَدْ كَافَأْتُمُوهُ ‏”

“Whoever does you a favor, then reciprocate”, and if you cannot, then supplicate for him until you think that you have repaid him.” [Abu Dāwūd]

Seek to give back to your spouse for the good they’ve done to you. For example, did your spouse cook you a meal? If yes, then why not cook them a meal in return? Would you destroy the kitchen if you attempted to do so? Then invite them to their favorite restaurant, not yours. Once again, seek to find examples that best fit your marriage for maximum benefit. At minimum, we need to include our spouses in our prayers!

The epitome of gratitude is when we utilize a blessing in a way that is pleasing to the bestower. Allah said about the family of Dāwūd: “اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا ۚ وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ” “Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” And few of My servants are grateful.” [34:13] Of the best ways to thank your spouse for a gift they’ve given you is to utilize it in a way that is pleasing to them.

I will end with this story: As I was teaching a weekend class on gratitude and began talking about gratitude between spouses I noticed an older gentleman starting to cry. The more I spoke about that specific topic and mentioned reasons of why one should be grateful to their spouse, the more he cried! At the end of the class, on Friday night, that brother came up to me in tears and started to thank me for sharing the Prophetic teachings and scientific research on the importance of showing gratitude between spouses.

The next day of the class, on Saturday, I saw him again. During our break, after the first session of the class, he requested to speak to me privately. He started to explain to me his marital situation: he and his wife have abandoned each other for three months, sleeping in separate rooms, hardly communicating with one another and when they do communicate it mostly ends up in a fight in the presence of their children. As a result, he has decided to divorce his wife very soon. However, he told me that after last night’s session on gratitude he felt that he has been a very ungrateful husband and that he only focused on his wife’s shortcomings and overlooked some of her great qualities and the good she has done to him and the children. So he approached his wife that night with a sense of remorse and apologized over how ungrateful he was towards her. He shared with her what he has learned about gratitude and wished to always have an attitude of gratitude. He started expressing his gratitude by verbally recalling some of the many great things she had done in the past and is still doing for him and the children. In return, his wife was very touched by his words, accepted his apology and was regretful for her shortcomings as well. They had a blessed and emotional night after they had reunited once again since three months ago. He said that they woke up the next day feeling very happy and rejoiced. He freshened up and was very impressed at how his wife took good care of herself and how she prepared a delicious breakfast for the family. As I was hearing this great news I could not help but hug the brother tightly with tears of joy and thank him for sharing such great news as I was very happy for him, his wife and children. He too got emotional, teared up and informed me that his wife and children are going to come soon to attend the remaining talk on gratitude, God-willing. Upon their arrival, he introduced me to his family and they expressed their appreciation for learning such content and how having such attitude of gratitude makes one’s life meaningful.

My favorite part of the story is when he called me after perhaps weeks after the class ended and expressed how his family has been very united since and how blessed they all feel to have such an attribute of gratitude. I pray to Allah that He keeps him and his family steadfast and to grant you and I this attitude of gratitude towards people, especially our spouses.

 

[1] The power of thank you: UGA research links gratitude to positive marital outcomes https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-10/uog-tpo102115.php

[2] The transformative power of gratitude: Katia Sol at TEDxMission The City2.0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VcN1kgN3eI

[3] لسان العرب Lesan Al-Arab by Ibn Manthur

[4] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/189187-feeling-gratitude-and-not-expressing-it-is-like-wrapping-a

Majed completed a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Windsor, a Bachelor’s in Islamic Studies in Islamic Jurisprudence and Legal Theory from Al-Madinah International University, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Wayne State University. As he travels worldwide lecturing about different aspects of Islam, Majed works full-time as a mechanical engineer and teaches with Al-Maghrib Institute. He currently lives in Michigan with his wife and children.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hend Abuauf

    May 9, 2017 at 3:37 AM

    Very nice article, all the examples are feom our daily life, i can relate to all of them :)

  2. Avatar

    Isa

    May 9, 2017 at 11:41 AM

    I’d like to share this story, but can only share the page. I don’t want to share the toilet story or the other stories.

  3. Avatar

    Rmzy

    May 18, 2017 at 11:29 AM

    It is a well categorized text showing how we should manage one of our dying treasures,gratitude. May Allah reward you with goodness.

  4. Avatar

    Fariha

    June 8, 2017 at 6:56 AM

    Awesome piece of writing
    Jazakillah khair Brother. You may not know me but this article has surely been of great inspiration to me.May Allah accept this from you and bless all the marriages of the ummah with great empathic skills.

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#Life

Who Can We Trust?

Danish Qasim

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trust

Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. That is why you must exercise vigilance and your own judgment above that of public opinion. Never let the person’s position make you trust them more than you would without it.

Spiritual abusers work covertly, present themselves well, and use their service as a cover beneath which to operate. The way to avoid them is to recognize their tactics and avoid being caught by them.

Blurring Lines

Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.

They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.

There may be frivolous texting while the premise of engagement is ‘work only’. Boundaries may be blurred by adding flirtatious content, sending articles praising polygamy, or mentioning dreams about getting married. The recipient may struggle to pinpoint what’s wrong with any of this, but the bottom line is that they don’t have to.

While these tactics may be hard to prove, you don’t need to prove that you don’t want to be communicated with in this way and that you will not tolerate it. You can withdraw from the situation on the basis of your own boundaries.

One of the key challenges in standing up to spiritual abuse is the lack of confidence in calling out bad behavior or the need for validation for wrongs. We may be afraid to a question a teacher who is more knowledgeable than us when he is doing clear haram. However, halal and haram are defined by Allah and no human has the right to amend them. If a religious leader claims exemption to the rules for themselves or their students, that’s a big, bright, red flag.

Beware of Bullying

When you witness or experience bullying, understand that a Muslim’s dignity is sacred and don’t accept justifications of ‘tarbiyah’ (spiritual edification/character reformation) or breaking someone’s nafs (ego). If you didn’t sign up for spiritual edification, don’t accept any volunteer spiritual guides.

If you did sign up, pay attention as to whether these harsh rebukes are having a positive or negative effect. If they are having a negative emotional, mental, or physical effect on you, then this is clearly not tarbiyah, which is meant to build you up.

When abuse in the name of tarbiyah happens, it is the shaykh himself or the shaykha herself who needs character reformation. When such behavior goes unchecked, students become outlets of unchecked anger and are left with trauma and PTSD. This type of bullying is very common in women’s groups.

Trust Built and Trust Destroyed

There are different levels of trust, and as it relates to religious leaders, one does not need to investigate individuals or build trust for a perfunctory relationship. You do not need a high degree of trust if you are just attending someone’s general lectures and not establishing any personal relationship.

If you want to study something with an Islamic teacher, do so as you would with a school-teacher, understanding that their position does not make that person either exceptionally safe nor exceptionally harmful. Treat religious figures as religious consultants who are there to answer questions based on their knowledge. Give every teacher a clean slate, don’t have baseless suspicions, but if behavior becomes manipulative, exploitative, cultish, or otherwise abusive, don’t justify it either.

Personal accountability is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith and we have to take responsibility for our own faith and actions. There is no need to be suspicious without reason, but nor is there a justification for blind trust in someone you don’t know, just because they lead prayers or have a degree of religious education.

It is natural to ask ourselves whether people can be trusted after experiencing or learning about spiritual abuse. The answer is yes – you can trust yourself. You can also trust others in ways that are appropriate for the relationship. If you know someone well and they have proven over a long period of time to be trustworthy, keep secrets, and do not use you or take advantage of you, then it makes sense to trust that person more than a stranger or someone who has outward uprightness that you do not know well. That level of trust is earned through long-time demonstration of its characteristics.

Seeing someone on stage for years or relying on testimony of people impressed by someone should not convince you to lower your guard. Even if you do believe someone is pious, you still never drop your better judgment, because even saints are fallible.

Don’t Fall for Reputation

Never take other respected leaders praising or working alongside an individual as proof of his or her trustworthiness. It is possible that the teachers you trust are unaware of any wrongdoing. It’s not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a responsibility for them to boycott or disassociate themselves from another religious figure even if they are aware of them being abusive.

Furthermore, skilled manipulators often gain favor from respected teachers both overseas and domestically to gain credibility.

If one shaykh praises another shaykh, but you witness abusive behavior, don’t doubt yourself based on this praise. The praise may have been true at one time or may have been true in the experience of the one giving the praise, but no one knows another person’s current spiritual state as spiritual states can change.

Even if the abusive individual was previously recognized to be a great wali (saint), understand that there are saints who have lost their sainthood as they do not have isma (divine protection from sin or leaving Islam) like the prophets (upon them be peace) do. What was true yesterday, may not be true today.

Often praises of integrity, courage, and inclusiveness are heaped on men who support influential female figures. However, men who are praised as ‘allies,’ and thanked for ‘using their privilege’ to support female scholarship and the participation of women in religious organizations and events are no more trustworthy than those who don’t.

Abusers are often very image-conscious and may be acting to improve their own image and brand strength. Influential male and female religious figures also help one another with mutual praising and social-proofing. That is how the misdoings of men who are supportive of women are ignored, as long as they support the right politicized causes such as inclusive spaces and diverse panels.

Don’t be tricked into trust through a person’s credentials. An ijazah (license) to be a shaykh of a tariqa is purportedly the highest credential. It’s a credential that allegedly has a chain that goes all the way back to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), but that does not impart any of the Prophet’s character or trustworthiness in and of itself. A shaykh has to continuously live up to the ijaza and position. The position does not justify behavior outside of the sharia or any form of abuse. Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) only to the degree to which they embody his character.

When a teacher who hasn’t spent adequate time with righteous shayukh abuses, they are said to lack suhba (companionship of the pious), and that is why they are abusive.

The truth is many of the worst abusers in traditional circles are highly certified, have spent adequate time with shayukh, are valid representatives of them, and are able to abuse because the previously mentioned credentials lead to blind trust.

Don’t let certifications about spiritual abuse, ethical leadership, or the like mean anything to you. Skilled narcissists will be the first to get such certifications and take courses because they know this will make people trust them more. You will see courses on ‘healthy leadership’ and ‘spiritual abuse prevention’ being taught and designed by them. There is a false premise behind such certifications that if religious leaders knew how abuse occurs and the damage it causes victims they wouldn’t do it. The fact is they know how abuse works, know how damaging it is, and don’t care. In a way, it’s good to have lessons on spiritual abuse from purveyors of abuse, just as learning theft prevention from a thief might be the most beneficial.

Don’t judge by rhetoric

Don’t look at the rhetoric of groups or individuals to see how seriously they take abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in all groups. It is common for members of one group to call out abuse that they see in another group while ignoring abuse occurring within their own group.

Sufis who will talk about the importance of sharia, label others as ‘goofy-Sufis,’ and insist that real Sufis follow sharia, will very often abuse in private and use the same justifications as the other Sufi groups they publicly deride.

Many imams and religious leaders will talk publicly about the importance of justice, having zero-tolerance for abuse, and the importance of building safe spaces, while they themselves are participating in the abuse.

Furthermore, female religious leaders will often cover up secret marriages, and other abuses for such men and help them to ostracize and destroy the credibility of their victims as long as their political views align. Muslim mental health providers often incorporate religious figures when they do programs, and in some cases they involve known abusers if it helps their cause.

In some cases, the organization does not know of any abuse. Abusive individuals use partnerships with Muslim mental health organizations to enhance their image as a “safe person.” This is especially dangerous due to the vulnerability of those struggling with mental illness and spiritual issues, who may then be exploited by the abuser. It is a community responsibility to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals and to ensure that they do have access to resources that can actually help them.

Don’t judge by fame

One false assumption is that the local-unknown teacher is sincere while the famous preacher is insincere and just wants to amass followers. This contrast is baseless although rhetorically catchy.

The fact is, many unknown teachers desire fame and work towards it more than those who are famous. Other times the unknown and famous teacher may have the same love of leadership, but one is more skilled than the other. They both may also be incredibly sincere.

Ultimately, we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart but must look at their actions, and if their actions are abusive, they are a danger to the community. Both famous and non-famous teachers are equally capable of spiritual abuse.

Look for a procedure

Before being involved in an organization, look for a code of conduct. There is no accountability without one in non-criminal matters. Never depend on people, look at the procedures and ensure that the procedure calls for transparency, such as the one we at In Shaykh’s Clothing published and made free for the public to use.

Procedure also applies to an organizations’ financials. Do not donate money to organizations based on personalities, instead demand financial transparency and accountability for the money spent. There is great incentive for spiritual abusers to win the trust of crowds when it means they can raise money without any financial accountability.

But what about Husne-Zann? Thinking well of others?

Allah tells us يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ

O You who believe, leave much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sinful” (Quran 49:12).

From this verse, we see that some – not all negative opinions are sinful. The prohibition is partitive, meaning some bad opinions are permissible.

If someone punches you, it is not hunse-zann to assume that person just happened to stretch with a closed fist and did not see your face was in the way. This kind of delusion will lead to you getting punched more. To be wary of their fist isn’t a sinful level of suspicion.

Part of why spiritual abuse is difficult to detect is that its purveyors have a reputation for outright uprightness. They are thought well of in the community, and in many cases they are its pillars and have decades of positive service to their defense. Assuming that someone cannot be abusive simply because they have been a teacher or leader for a long time is not husne-zann. When facts are brought to light- like a fist to the face – it is delusional to assume they didn’t mean it that way.

If someone does something that warrants suspicion, then put your guard up and don’t make excuses for those actions. Start with a general guard and be procedural about things which require a procedure.  For example, if you are going to loan someone money, don’t just take their word that they will pay you back but insist on a written record. If they say they are offended, just say “it’s my standard procedure to avoid any confusion later on.” A reasonable person won’t have an issue with that. If someone mentions on the phone they will pay you $100 for your work, write an email to confirm what was said on the phone so there’s a record for it.

Lastly, and most importantly, never leave your child alone with a teacher where you or others cannot see them. Many cases of child sexual assault can be prevented if we never allow children to study alone with adults. There should never be an exception to this, and parents much uphold this as a matter of policy. Precaution is not an accusation, and this is a professional and standard no one should reject.

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OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting

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Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.

This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.

As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.

With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.

Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!

Solving a 50-year old problem

This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.

The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:

1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.

2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.

3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.

It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.

A valid methodology from the Shariah

While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.

The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history [1]. While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated,  “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.

Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”

Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.

Only one way forward

According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.

These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.

The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.

In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.

While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.

The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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