Why is it that a large number of Muslim communities in North America are all struggling with the same issues? Board politics. Getting rid of good community leaders. Incessant focus on fundraising at all costs.
Clearly, these issues can’t be logistical. They wouldn’t be this prevalent if they were. It’s almost as if there is a shared underlying mentality that is common to many of these frustrating and annoying situations.
This mentality is the “gas station owner” mentality, and it is more prevalent than we think. It’s a metaphor for understanding a lot of the common issues that we face. In this post we will highlight 5 characteristics of this mentality.
1. Ignoring the Spiritual Side of Rizq (Sustenance) and Barakah (Blessing)
In sports, there are some teams who seem to continually be winning. They have a good run of making the playoffs and advancing for a few years. Then they lose their good players, rebuild, but then get right back to winning again.
There are other teams, no matter what they do, they hit a wall and can’t get past it. They may be able to get good players on their team, but it never translates into winning. These are the teams that haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years – they’re consistently losers. And when those good players move on to other teams, they suddenly start winning.
Both scenarios above indicate a deep organizational issue that transcends individual leaders, talents, or personalities.
We have communities like this as well. There’s the place that’s been operating out of a rented retail space for years now, but the community is active and vibrant. People enjoy going there.There are other places that have fancy, empty, structures. They have lots of money, so they keep bringing in qualified and talented individuals – but they keep leaving. No matter what they do, the community won’t get involved.
A million different reasons could possibly explain why these scenarios exist. The one reason we don’t like to talk about, though, is the spiritual one.
What is the impact on a community if a significant amount of their donations originate from haram sources (alcohol, cigarettes, lottery, interest, fraudulent billing)?
Our sins have a real impact on not just us, but those around us as well. It is naive to think these issues do not have an effect and impact on the spiritual development of our communities at large. It’s compounded by the fact that instead of potentially rectifying the situation by at least seeking forgiveness, we seek instead to justify our behavior.
There’s no way of tiptoeing around this issue. When a person chooses to openly sell liquor, and then still wants to serve in an administrative capacity at the masjid, it is a severe case of cognitive dissonance.
At the root of this is a flawed understanding of what it means that Allah is Al-Razzaq (The One Who Provides Sustenance). They assume that they cannot make (as much) money without indulging in a haram business.
That’s between a person and Allah as far as their personal life goes. Bringing that mentality into the masjid is a different story. It changes the dynamics of understanding the spiritual side of money.
This is a mentality of money scarcity. If I make $5, it means you lose $5. If our masjid raised $250k last year, and this year a new masjid opened down the road, it means we’ll only be able to raise $125k. They see wealth with a fixed mentality and operate accordingly.
The more appropriate mindset of tawakkul (or abundance) would be the understanding that if things are done for the right reasons, Allah will provide the financial means. He is fully capable of letting both masjids raise $500k apiece the following year – the same way 2 Starbucks across the street from each other both manage to stay successfully in business.
Consider this hadith about the spiritual side of wealth.
Anas b. Malik narrated that there were two brothers. One of them would come to the Prophet (s) and the other would seek his sustenance by working. So the one who used to seek his sustenance complained to the Prophet (S) about his brother. He replied, “It is possible that you are provided your rizq [sustenance] because of him!” [Tirmidhi]
In other words, providing for a student of knowledge is a way of increasing your own sustenance. This hadith should have far-reaching ramifications in our communities when it comes to discussing hiring a full-time Imam and paying a real salary.
Someone who feels that they need to engage in a forbidden business to make money will not have the same understanding and reliance in the provision that Allah provides.
The irony is that these masjids will fundraise excessively for their own (usually construction/expansion) projects. They simultaneously limit the fundraising for other causes, and refuse to invest the money they raise. People employed by the masjid are not just underpaid, but forced to take 1099 contractor status and work without any basic benefits (such as health insurance) while extra funds are invested into construction. Likewise, it is not uncommon for a masjid to have a surplus of zakat funds sitting around that end up getting sent overseas at the end of the year – funds that should have instead been providing ongoing services to the local community.
2. Commoditization of Human Capital
This is basically a fancier way of saying that once a board gives a paycheck to someone, they feel like they own them.
In a gas station, the owner’s relationship with the employees is basically nil. This is not the place where you find inspirational leaders creating a vision and rallying their employees to reach their potential. It’s a place where an abysmally-low-leadership-capacity owner hires employees at minimum wage (or often less, but that’s a different story), and then treats them like garbage.
To better understand this, contrast it with Chick-Fil-A where managers take their leadership duties seriously and you see it manifested in the service delivered from front line employees.
The gas station owner has no care or concern for the employee at the register. That employee is a commodity. If that employee quits, you just replace them with another warm body – it doesn’t matter who. They do this because in their eyes it is low level work. It doesn’t matter if the cashier is a jerk or provides stellar service – your clientele is still going to come and purchase whatever they were planning on purchasing.
When this mentality extends into the masjid, the Imam, teachers, and other servants of the community get treated the same way. They are being managed by individuals who are themselves of low leadership competency, and therefore cannot truly understand the value of spiritual leadership in the community. It’s the polar opposite of the “game recognize game” principle.
When those entrusted with being administrators over our communities lack an understanding of the depth of Islamic knowledge, they will never be able to treat its people with the proper respect. The ultimate irony is these people will complain that their teenage children are leaving Islam on one hand, and with the other they work to get rid of those very same people who were in a position to provide mentorship to those kids.
So when you actually do have amazing people working for the masjid, a board infected with this ‘gas station owner’ mentality will fail to recognize or value their work. Instead, they will treat them like that minimum-wage, easily replaceable, cashier.
That means micromanaging their hours, minimizing the payroll expense, and maximizing the hours worked. They see the person as nothing more than an expense on their balance sheet at the end of the month – “labor costs.” The cognitive dissonance continues because they convince themselves that the best thing they can do for the community is to cut costs. So they do it, without any regard or understanding of the long term impact it will have on the community.
It also means that a high rate of turnover is normal to them. It is doubtful that the same cashier has ever worked for them more than 1-2 years. At the slightest disagreement or issue with a masjid employee, their knee jerk reaction will be to cut this person loose. After all, if they’re a commodity, they’ll just as easily find someone else to replace them.
It’s worth noting that the end game for people who actually want to do community work is not financially driven. There are much easier ways to earn money. Ironically, many will even overlook the difficulties and continue to fight to serve the community. Sadly, even this has its limits as board politics and suffocating environments eventually take their toll on a person both professionally and spiritually to the point that they end up leaving.
3. Operate From a Premise of Greed
WIIFM. What’s in it for me? And therein lies the problem. The mentality here is that if we are going to pay someone, what return are we getting?
This does not mean that you ignore job duties, or KPI (Key Performance Indicators), or general performance benchmarks. It does mean, however, that you cannot measure and quantify everything financially (see also: Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should it Be).
Operating from a premise of greed means that you have a constant need to not only financially quantify every expenditure – but come out ahead. This is also rooted in a lack of being able to quantify the real impact of spiritual leadership on a community.
Think of it this way. Imagine someone came and asked the gas station owner for a job and asked for $12/hour instead of $7. This person asked for that salary because they have an excellent customer service background, and at a previous job they helped the business owner realize a small uptick in revenue due to an increase in customer loyalty and sales – resulting from providing better service on a regular basis.
A business owner with a high leadership capacity would be able to recognize the value of this skillset. The gas station owner will simply say – “only way I’m paying you $12 is if you clean the bathrooms too.”
Every decision is dictated by not just the bottom line, but the immediate bottom line. The irony is that a gas station owner will take out a business loan to buy the gas station and have the patience to wait X number of years to be profitable. Or to build a car wash and be willing to wait X number of years to break even. The only part of the business they do not have this patience for is the actual human resources.
Sounds a bit like masjid construction projects and hiring of an Imam.
We’ve lost the patience to find and develop good talent in our communities. We take up any number of roles – board member, prayer leader, mu’adhin, Sunday school teacher, khateeb, treasurer, social events coordinator, social media marketer, or even random volunteer. How many take the time to understand the skillset needed to serve these positions with ihsan (excellence) and actually make the investment of time and money to develop that skillset? What about investing in others to help them develop? This is why communities feel they can simply get by with a hodgepodge of part-time and volunteer efforts.
4. Insecurity and Paranoia
When you’re worried about getting swindled 24/7, it’s hard to turn that off.
You’re worried about customers getting gas and leaving without paying. So you make them pre-purchase. People might shoplift, so you install security cameras. Employees might cheat, so you put special cameras over the register and watch the livestream on your phone constantly.
There’s nothing wrong with taking precautions. There is, however, a problem when your default mode of behavior operates on the assumption that everyone is out to cheat you.
This type of insecurity is the same kind of insecurity that drives a middle manager in the corporate world to micromanage his or her employees. They lack the requisite competence or leadership demanded of their position, so they micromanage others to assert their authority. It’s a textbook power play made by low-competency individuals.
Sadly, Zakat distribution is the ultimate illustration of this. When someone comes to the masjid seeking help, they are often treated in a disrespectful and undignified manner. They’re made to wait around for a board member in such a way that it becomes obvious to everyone that they need help. Then they have to fill out twenty different forms and justify their need for zakat funds.
The same paranoia of a cashier stealing money from the register is carried into this situation. People asking for zakat funds are implicitly deemed guilty until proven innocent. Contrast this with the Prophetic example to immediately distribute zakat funds (instead of hoarding them), and responding to requests for help.
Yes, some people cheat the system. Yes, there are cases of fraud. Our faith, however, does not teach us to be paranoid and default to the assumption that everyone asking for help is trying to swindle the masjid out of a couple of hundred bucks.
This is a spiritual issue more than anything else. Do the right thing for the right reason, and Allah will take care of the outcomes, results, and future financial needs.
The same mentality applies to paying an Imam. The supposedly well-intentioned concern is assuming that once someone goes on payroll, they’ll suddenly start trying to find ways to get paid without working, or that it is some kind of get rich quick scheme. I have personally heard people say things to the effect of – I went to school for 8 years and work 50 hours a week to make X salary, how dare this person just sit in the masjid and get a salary.
We make a default assumption to the worst possible behavior someone could do [perhaps because deep down that’s what we would do in that situation], and project our personal insecurity onto others.
5. They Live in a Bubble
We have to pick on doctors a little bit.
In a hospital, a physician simply needs to threaten to stop bringing patients to create all the leverage he or she needs to get anything they want.
A gas station owner yields authority over everyone. Do as commanded, or be fired.
In both situations, it creates an environment where a person is catered to individually on a constant basis. No one around you wants to make you mad. You get used to people [subordinate to you] acquiescing to your viewpoint on nearly everything all the time.
This is why, when challenged on something, they’re usually not able to handle it well. Islamic knowledge and community work are not their strengths. It takes a huge slice of humble pie to be able to admit that you’re weak in this area.
That’s hard to do when you’re used to being the expert on everything.
It’s easy for a physician to acknowledge the expertise of a car mechanic. They might try to fix their own car, watch YouTube videos, but realize they don’t even know how to operate a wrench. In this case they can easily go to a mechanic and follow their advice. It’s not a big deal because this is not a skillset that really has any priority or meaning in their life.
Islamic work is a different story. People assume that by being Muslim, or having volunteered to find a catering company for a fundraising dinner, they suddenly know what it takes to spiritually lead and develop a community. Moreover, there is an emotional attachment to the status that comes with holding some type of official title in the community. They often do not realize that their high competency and proficiency in one arena does not translate into another.
This has a negative impact on board dynamics as well. Due to their lack of ability to recognize or admit their own weakness, they have to put themselves at the same level (or higher) than everyone else. So if someone on the board does have actual experience with running a masjid, or organizing Islamic activities, they put themselves on equal standing. “Everyone’s opinion is equal and important.”
No, it’s not.
The car mechanic’s opinion on how to treat cancer is not on par with an oncologist. And a board member’s opinion on how to establish a moon-sighting policy is not on par with an Islamic scholar.
After reading this kind of article, everyone always makes the same snarky remark – “Well, what’s the solution then?”
The answer is that there is no real easy solution. There aren’t 3 bite size nuggets or action items that are going to fix this. Ultimately, a more significant portion of the general community is going to have to wake up and take their spirituality more seriously. When that happens, they can hold their boards to account via elections and/or social pressure within the community.
The community is the only check and balance against bad leadership – but enough of the community has to really care about it to make a difference. Part of that effort includes a deep level of self-reflection and addressing our own spiritual issues regardless of our role and position within any community.
Another alternative, and it is my personal theory that this will become more prevalent in the next few years, is to redefine what the masjid means in America. Currently, we expect the masjid to serve almost as a mini nation-state with its own prayer hall, kids area, gym, clinic, community center, school, grocery store, and Muslim only neighborhood within walking distance.
If we can’t reform this model because bad leaders simply won’t let go, or can’t be forced out (probably because they keep redoing the constitution to keep themselves in power), then we have to create a new model. That model might be to change the role of the masjid to being one of a prayer space only (daily prayers and Juma). Schools would become private entities in their own buildings. Smaller, independent, third spaces would then fill the gap of relevant community programming and development. This is not necessarily a solution, but it appears some communities are now trending in that direction as a workaround to the existing system.
Lastly, just do the opposite of the 5 characteristics above.
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
The lack of appropriate compensation has led to the rise of qualified scholars and imams seeking other means of financial compensation beyond the local community as paid employees – how should we actually value them as community leaders, and how should we break down their financial costs?
The past few decades have seen many bright and talented young men leave their professional careers in pursuit of religious knowledge. They studied in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many other Muslim countries, sacrificing their careers, wealth, and many years of their life with the hopes and dreams of learning Islam and teaching it when they returned. These aspiring students of religious knowledge were usually advised against studying Islam overseas by their parents, friends, respected elders, and many community members. They were warned that the path was physically and financially risky and challenging. Nonetheless, packed with their resolve and hope in Allah, they were patient with the obstacles they faced in pursuit of knowledge. As their imaan and knowledge continued to grow and their passion for conveying the beauty of Islam increased, they joyfully returned to the U.S. with dreams of providing their communities with religious guidance. Unfortunately, within a short period of time, their enthusiasm has diminished and their frustration has increased. So, what happened?
Despite serving their communities day and night by leading prayers, giving khutbas, teaching weekly classes, giving dawah to non-Muslims, mentoring the youth, and counseling people in need, community members have continuously complained. Board members, often times ignorant about the day to day work of an imam, attempt to control their schedules, activities and speak down to them. Community members complain that the scholar follows a different madhab than their own, his beard was too short, his pants were too long, or that his voice wasn’t melodious enough. Nonetheless, they were able to deal with these issues. They knew that the prophets had faced tremendous obstacles and that they too had to exercise beautiful patience with their communities. However, there was another issue that although it existed from day one, it was becoming more of a concern as these scholars got married and had children; they were not being paid a respectable wage . The one-bedroom apartment was not big enough, their children could not participate in high-quality community programs, and saving for retirement was impossible.
What are the natural consequences of the financial situation that these young men were put in? By looking at many of our communities, the answer is rather obvious. These young scholars often left their positions in the masjid, painstakingly leaving their passion to serve their communities behind in pursuit of a decent wage. Some had degrees to fall back on and went back to careers in engineering or business. Others decided to learn new marketable skills such as data science and accounting. Others went back to graduate school in search of new careers. Another group decided to become independent contractors, offering their services to any community willing to compensate them for their services of teaching or even fundraising. They would travel long distances to speak, hoping to help others and make an income.
In this new Islamic gig economy, the youth and their families are the casualties, who have been left without guidance and mentorship. After their local scholar left the masjid seeking greener pastures, their masjid may have completely stopped having regular programs, resorted to finding underqualified community members to speak, or hired other popular scholars to guest lecture once in while and run back home. All of these stopgap measures have left the community without religious leadership.
Another group of scholars decided to start their own traveling institutes, join existing ones, or become Islamic tour guides. They had to build their brands, market their institutes online and on social media, and typically had to cater to the wealthy and educated segments of the Muslim community. They would travel the country and provide their knowledge to those with the wealth to afford these private events. Sadly, this has inadvertently led to a dawah focused on the elite, where only the haves are targeted for spiritual growth, and the have nots are of less concern since they provide little financial value. Additionally, the need to build up a scholar’s brand has the potential to compromise one’s dignity and values if one has to keep finding ways to stay popular and promote himself. Rather than blame the scholars who have taken these roads, it is more important to think about the conditions in our community that have led to the rise of this culture. In fact, due to a lack of qualified scholars nationally, traveling scholars and institutes have provided significant value. However, we also need to think deeply about the social implications and consequences of these recent trends. In this exchange between local residents and traveling scholars, communities have nothing to build on after the program. They do not have access to study circles, weekly classes, or spiritual mentoring. Furthermore, the youth are largely neglected, as traveling educational programs do not typically cater to their needs. Is this the future of community building? Is this our legacy and history?
The issue at the heart of this piece (and many other great articles ) is the value of a scholar to a community. It is well known that Muslim scholars are paid significantly less than Rabbis and other qualified faith leaders. Basic economics will tell us the result of this, regardless of good intentions. Why would intelligent young minds ever fathom careers in religious work if they know that they will not be paid a decent wage? Are we surprised when scholars with other career options quickly abandon their positions? Only those with significant financial assistance from their family or access to private donors are typically able to stay in such positions, although they may harbor much resentment within them. Even more problematic is the frustration that their wives and children feel when they see their husbands and fathers giving so much to the community, yet they have little to show for it in terms of financial stability or quality time together. What makes the scholar’s predicament more complicated is that due to the atypical work hours of the position, which may include early mornings, evenings, and weekends, the wife of the scholar is required to stay home full time with the children and unable to work. This makes the scholar’s family dependent on his salary alone. Which brings us to the core of the matter; what should scholars be paid?
The knee-jerk response that we often hear from board and community members in affluent communities when discussing salaries is “brother, we would love to pay our scholar more, but we don’t have the funding.” This would be a reasonable response until you look at the multi-million-dollar renovations to make the masjid aesthetically pleasing and the tens of thousands of dollars spent on catering lavish iftars and interfaith dinners. Ultimately, the use of masjid funds is a value judgment. It is a value judgment that board members have to make on how to use funds that the community has provided, and a value judgment for community members on how much to invest in their masjid. For board members primarily concerned with building megacenters, what value is a beautiful building if it is devoid of congregants and someone to provide guidance to the community? For community members, what is a reasonable amount to regularly contribute and invest? Is the masjid worth as much as your monthly gym pass? Is the masjid worth as much as your children’s Kumon or martial arts expenses? I am not suggesting families abandon any of their existing financial investments in themselves or their children. What I am suggesting is that we completely rethink the value of a religious scholar in our community as an investment, not a charity cause. In the business world, wealthy investors invest in people, not a business. They invest in people who they believe can create value for society. Does the Muslim community think about hiring a scholar as a fixed business asset (e.g., a shiny piece of furniture) or as an investment in a person who produces value by helping a community grow? If the scholar in your community saves and supports your child’s Islamic identity and imaan, how much is that worth to you? If the scholar delivers inspiring lectures that help you spiritually grow as a person, how much is that worth to you? These are some of the questions we need to reflect upon as we try to determine how much to invest in scholar.
Financial Reality Check:
Let’s discuss specifics. How much should a scholar be compensated? The answer is that it depends. It depends on such factors as the city that the community is in, the qualifications and experience of the scholar, and the job expectations. For example, hiring a scholar in Los Angeles (median home price of $690,000) will cost significantly more than hiring a scholar in Albuquerque (median home price of $200,700). It is unreasonable to expect a scholar to squeeze his family into a studio or one bedroom apartment. It is also unreasonable to expect the scholar to live far away from the masjid and commute long distances multiple times a day if the masjid is in a more affluent neighborhood (if this happens, don’t be surprised if the scholar doesn’t show up as often). The salary should take into consideration the income required to rent in the city and what is considered a livable wage. For example, in Los Angeles, a family requires an income over $118,000 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, assuming a 28% rent-to-income ratio. To demonstrate the variance in the cost of living, San Francisco and New York residents require over $165,000 in annual income to afford renting a two-bedroom apartment, whereas Denver requires an income around $78,000.
A religious scholar should be treated as a professional who brings substantial skills into the position. A religious scholar is expected to be a competent public speaker, community educator, counsel community members, provide Islamic legal and spiritual guidance, research contemporary topics, and many other tasks. A religious scholar typically has secular and religious bachelor’s degrees, although many hold master’s and doctorates. Compensation should take into account the level of education and experience of the scholar.
A community needs to factor in whether they need a full-time or part-time scholar. The IRS defines a full-time employee as someone who works 30 or more hours in a week. Therefore, any scholar working 30 hours or more should be treated as full-time, and less than 30 hours as part-time. In some cases, part-time positions are desired by both the masjid and scholar, especially if the community has financial constraints or if the scholar prefers the flexibility to pursue other interests simultaneously. In addition to base salaries, comprehensive medical insurance (health, dental, and vision) and retirement plans should be standard for the full-time scholar and his family. Retirement plans are important for both the scholar and the community. In the absence of a retirement plan, the scholar is unable to leave his position financially and is forced to cling to his role. For the community, allowing a scholar to retire and be financially stable is important in and of itself, but also ensuring younger scholars can transition into the role and continue building the community. There should also be a built-in structure for annual raises, due to factors such as increased experience and inflation-induced increases in the cost of living. While an entry level salary may not afford a young scholar the income to rent or purchase a home, annual raises and merit-based promotions should create a salary trajectory that allows the scholar to raise his growing family in the community he works in. Professional development opportunities, continuing education funds, and sabbaticals should also be considered part of the compensation package to ensure the scholar grows in his skillset and ability to guide the community. Sabbaticals allow scholars to write and produce beneficial material or travel and spend time learning from senior scholars.
A separate consideration from salaried scholars is how to compensate contracted/freelance work, which is defined here as an agreement for a scholar to provide a specific guest lecture, program, or service to a community. Compensation needs to take into consideration distance of travel, local traffic, and other factors that affect the time investment of the scholar. Contracted work is not as consistent as full-time salaried work and should be treated as a form of consulting, where higher rates per program are expected. One suggestion is to pay the local contracted scholar 0.5% of the average local scholar’s salary in your region for a program. For example, if the average salary is $100,000, a local guest scholar should be offered approximately $100,000 x .5% = $500 for a lecture. Additionally, if the speaker is coming from out of town and travels from far away, travel time should be considered in the honorarium. Some obvious guidelines include paying for food, travel, and accomodations. Of course, level of expertise and experience must be factored in, as this is only meant to be a starting point.
Unfortunately, as it stands now, a local contracted scholar would be fortunate to receive $100-200 for a lecture, which may take many hours to prepare. Just to demonstrate how low this rate is, let’s do a little exercise. Imagine a scholar made an agreement to do 30 lectures in a month (which is unheard of), spread out at different local Islamic centers. Assuming a rate of $150 per lecture, the scholar would earn 30 x $150 = $4,500 for a month x 12 = $54,000 for a year. This does not include health benefits, retirement, sick time, taxes, or anything else. Is this a fair and equitable way to treat a scholar? To add insult to injury, scholars are often expected to work for free, spiritually bullied by boards and community members that religious work should be done fi sabillah (or free sabillah?). Scholars despise negotiating and arguing over money, which leads to them typically accepting whatever low offer they have been given, while deep down they feel abused and taken advantage of. Somehow, this problem needs to be remedied. Scholars could hire agents to negotiate a reasonable package on their behalf. This might help individual scholars, but not the profession at large. A better solution might be the formation of a scholars union that sets standards and guidelines for compensation (to be discussed in a future article, inshaAllah).
The American Muslim community is in a spiritual and intellectual crisis. With the prevalence of secular, liberal, progressive, and other unIslamic worldviews creeping into our communities and children’s lives, the need for capable religious scholars to guide our communities is critically important. However, acquiring talented scholars to address the needs of our communities requires giving proper respect, which in its most basic form is providing reasonable wages. If we decide otherwise, we should not be surprised when communities fail, youth and families become lost, and capable scholars end up far away from their communities.
May Allah protect us all.
 Abuelezz, M. (2011). A Survey of American Imams: Duties, Qualifications and Challenges: a Quantitative and Religious Analysis (Thesis, University of Georgia).
 In a study (Higher Education in the 21st Century ) conducted by Harvard about college experiences that included 2,000 interviews across 10 college campuses, one of the biggest takeaways was that colleges need to invest in people, not buildings. Students wanted access to more people to help guide them with their personal struggles rather than investments in technology and infrastructure.
 While this may seem obvious, there are many cases where traveling guest speakers spend their own money for travel, food, and lodging and are not compensated at all for speaking.
Our Plastic Planet
We travel through time and see the different times as a race that we have advanced through. A few of those times were identified by the materials used or that were life-changing. The stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. If our time was to be identified, it is undeniable the plastic age.
Chemically, plastic is made up from organic compounds like such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. When plastics were first introduced, it was a life-changing compound that littered homes (then the world). Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. It makes visiting beautiful sites created by Allah, disappointing. What does pollution, specifically plastic, has to do with our role as Muslims? and to what capacity?
Before understanding that, we have to see how plastics impact life on Earth.
Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
These are just a few examples, the list is much longer. Before I go any further, I want to express my opinion first, as an environmental activist. Your individual actions in dealing with pollution are your duty as a Muslim, but the change we need for our survival needs to happen on an international level.
Abu Zarr Al-Ghafari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (sadaqah).”
This simple hadith resonates with us due to the magnitude of its influence. Moving an obstacle is charity, we associate money with charity and tend to forget that other actions that can count as charity. What does removing an obstacle has to do with plastics? As I mentioned earlier 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic. That is a disturbance to other living creatures. As we remove the obstacles from the path of many creatures, we can work on ourselves to avoid putting it there, to begin with. This also relates to point number three of how many living creatures are impacted by our negligence. Not just plants and animals, but people as well. You can take a moment to google images of plastic in our world and see that they aren’t just neatly packed in garbage bags or recycling bins.
Imaams al-Bukhari and Muslim reported from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said: “There is a reward for service to every living creature.”
These are violations we commit and deeds we are prevented from by participating in this plastic culture. More importantly, we are harming ourselves and contaminating useable drinking water. Earlier I wrote an article about water its right upon us.
God’s Messenger expressed this in the following way:
“It is a fact that in the next life you will render their rights to those to whom they are due. The hornless sheep even will receive its right by way of retaliation from a horned sheep that butted it.” Muslim, Birr, 60.
Our actions in this modern era echo around the world. My polluting habits may cause harm elsewhere. My spending habits may entice more harm than good. It may seem extreme, but science proves that we are all connected in a delicate chain or balance, a balance set by the wisdom of Allah . More importantly, it is documented from the words of the Prophet. An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace, and blessings be upon him, said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5665, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2586
When water gets contaminated it is then rendered useless, depriving millions of basic survival. There are plenty of freshwater reserves completely useless due to toxic pollution from plastic manufacturing.
حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، عَنْ عَمْرٍو، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ السَّمَّانِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ” ثَلاَثَةٌ لاَ يُكَلِّمُهُمُ اللَّهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، وَلاَ يَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهِمْ رَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى سِلْعَةٍ لَقَدْ أَعْطَى بِهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا أَعْطَى وَهْوَ كَاذِبٌ، وَرَجُلٌ حَلَفَ عَلَى يَمِينٍ كَاذِبَةٍ بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ لِيَقْتَطِعَ بِهَا مَالَ رَجُلٍ مُسْلِمٍ، وَرَجُلٌ مَنَعَ فَضْلَ مَاءٍ، فَيَقُولُ اللَّهُ الْيَوْمَ أَمْنَعُكَ فَضْلِي، كَمَا مَنَعْتَ فَضْلَ مَا لَمْ تَعْمَلْ يَدَاكَ ”. قَالَ عَلِيٌّ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ غَيْرَ مَرَّةٍ عَنْ عَمْرٍو سَمِعَ أَبَا صَالِحٍ يَبْلُغُ بِهِ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم.
As narrated by Abu Huraira:
“The Prophet said, ‘There are three types of people whom Allah will neither talk to nor look at, on the Day of Resurrection. (They are): 1. A man who takes an oath falsely that he has been offered for his goods so much more than what he is given. 2. A man who takes a false oath after the ‘Asr prayer in order to grab a Muslim’s property, and 3. A man who withholds his superfluous water. Allah will say to him, Today I will withhold My Grace from you as you withheld the superfluity of what you had not created.” [Bukhari: 2370]
We do not want to be guilty of withholding water from other directly or indirectly. With the advanced technology and the thousands of websites providing information, there are plenty of ways to determine if your daily habits have an impact on others well being.
We only manage to recycle 5% of the plastic wasted, and 90% of the pollution in the ocean is plastic. Are we asked to recycle? Is it just good practice or a practice is preferred?
Asked about what the Prophet used to do in his house, the Prophet’s wife, `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), said that he used to repair his shoes, sow his clothes and used to do all such household works done by an average person.
Recycling and reusing is a critical part of conserving and protecting what we have. You can start with yourself, but your goal is to expand these actions to other families, communities, countries. If the action is sincere this would bring us closer to Allah . “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, be He exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Saheeh Muslim)
How to Teach Your Kids About Easter
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.
My mother put up her Christmas tree every year. We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.
I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.
As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.
That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:
- The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
- Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
- We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
- The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.
So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.
There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.
There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:
Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.
Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.
Allah Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.
Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.
Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.
If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.
Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.
We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.
So what do we believe?
Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.
- Allah is One.
- Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
- He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
- There is nothing like Allah in the universe
Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.
- Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
- We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
- We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.
When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.
You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.
If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:
- Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
- Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
- Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
- Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
- You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.
We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.
It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.
Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah. We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.
The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.
Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast. Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.
You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them. No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.