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Stray – A Marriage Story

Hiba Masood

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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13, The Bible

On Eid morning, a month or so ago, I spread a fresh cotton tablecloth on our kitchen table. I snipped some yellow, white and pink daisies and arranged them in my mason jars. And I put the mason jars, along with some fat tubs of candy – Hershey’s kisses, pink and white marshmallows, chocolate covered peanuts – onto a bright, yellow, wooden tray. It looked lovely.

So, so lovely.

The overall effect was very pleasing to my eye. So pleasing in fact, that I stopped and stared at it for a minute or two every single time I walked past my kitchen. And every time I stopped, I said, MashaAllah, la quwata illa billah. May Allah protect this little spot of color and beauty from my own eye and from the eye of any one who encountered it.

I’ve read the story in the Quran about the man who entered his garden, how he was instructed to say these very words. And wasn’t my home my garden? Hasn’t it become so increasingly so in the past few months of life and living in Karachi – land of very many good things, but unfortunately, so much ugliness. So much that literally hurts the eyes and the heart. So much that forces one to almost cringe and cower from. Ugliness of landscape, ugliness of character, the darker undersides of the human spirit so very present, achingly comparable to the ditches filled with refuse that litter every corner of this sprawling city.

But this story isn’t about that as much as it is about a bright, yellow, wooden tray, a marriage, what it means to stray and what it means to stay.

This is a story about my human heart and how I allowed it to drift towards resentment once and, when the same circumstances repeated themselves in my life, thanks to growing up and the accompanying wisdom, I kept it in reign. How my heart strayed 8 years ago and how 8 years later it stayed.

Eight years ago, we spent over three years without any income.

We lived through, not days or weeks or months but years of scraping by. Of counting pennies. We talk about it some nights now and we ask each other what was the worst, the very worst? For Hums the answer is expected, difficult to express, but nonetheless expected: “You came from a well-off family, growing up comfortably in the Middle East, with parents who could’ve afforded to give you whatever you wanted. It was hardest for me to feel like I wasn’t giving you or my son the same comfort.” I hear him out but, to lighten his burden, laugh it away “Oh, my parents didn’t give us much, don’t worry. They had way too many notions and rules about how to raise kids.” “What about you?”, he asks. ‘What was the hardest part for you?” My answer is less philosophical, more practical. “The hardest moment was always standing at the checkout counter after doing grocery. Of looking at my little purchases…all things I had considered quite cost-effective or necessary while I was in the aisles…all food items…nothing pretty or pointless…but in the moment of truth, when the total figure on the cash register rose higher and higher, $24.99, $32.00, $39.99, of feeling like death. Hating everything I had bought. Despairing this life. I just wanted to run away from it all,” I say.

Not to rehash the past, I say this because I need to be sure that he knows. I need him to see the darker sides of my human heart. How a lack of material comfort so quickly pushed his wife towards resentment and yes, also a desperate desire to escape. I also want him to know that I ridicule my former self. What exactly did I think was waiting for me on the other side of a marriage ended because of financial constraints? I don’t remember if I ever stopped to consider what kind of person that would make me.

I do remember the feeling of want, though. Just naked want. Of pretty things. All for my house of dreams. I was never a diamonds or designer bags kind of person. But a lovely home filled with lovely things, where every nook and cranny spoke of, yes, love and memories and togetherness and all those things that your Mastercard can’t purchase, but please, pretty please also of things of color and festivity and coziness and prettiness that did have a price tag. I wanted Stuff. That you could buy. With money.

Was a marriage not providing financial security a marriage worth keeping?

At the ripe old age of 34, the whole question and idea seems laughable, really. Surrounded that I am by friends and acquaintances who have ended marriages for a multitude of both totally understandable, completely valid and not-so-reasonable-but-ok-fine or omg-you’re-nuts-why-would-you-end-this reasons, I feel completely comfortable in expressing the idea that poverty is one of the dumbest reasons in the world to end a marriage. Right up there with “He doesn’t like the same shows or movies I do.” (I am willing to bet you, right now, somewhere out there, there’s a 21 year old wracked with despair because her fiance doesn’t like the same mindless entertainment she does and she is lying awake at night wondering if there’s a reasonable future with this man. Because that’s how you think when you’re dumb…sorry, I meant to say young. That’s how you think when you’re young.)

When you’re older, you look around yourself. You see lots of good and beautiful humans but you know what you see a whole lot more of? Trash people of trash values and trash notions and trash habits and trash pasts. (Sounds harsh? Shrug. Wait till you’re 34, you’ll probably agree.) And you understand that a good and decent human being who is kind and upright is a treasure. A diamond. He is a gold nugget in a ditch filled with refuse that litters every corner of this sprawling city that is your social landscape. And should said good and decent and kind and upright person be madly in love with you, well, lady you’ve just won yourself a lottery. (attn: self)

When we finally found employment, packed up our bags and moved to Dubai, Hums spent 18 hour days at work. For weeks and months on end, I led a lonely and scared existence at home with two young babies, one of whom was on the verge of an autism diagnoses – the figuring out of which, I would have to navigate entirely alone, given Hums’ working hours. When the diagnosis came in, the bills again became sky high, and if you know Dubai, you know a beginners salary just doesn’t cut it. And so we continued our meagre ways.

Until the day, many months later, Hums got his first performance bonus. He texted me right away and I won’t lie to you, I fell down in sajdah in as dramatic a fashion as the moment called for. Later that evening, he came home with a smile so big and eyes so pleading, it sliced my heart open. Words are not his thing but I always like to imagine that his eyes contain essays for me. “Here you go, thanks for being patient,” I think they said. I think that day his eyes asked for acceptance. A permanent one. A promise that I wouldn’t look for an exit again for something as ridiculous as being poor. And even though words are my thing, the palpable magnitude of the moment did in fact render me silent, and so I like to think my eyes also did the talking and they said something back. They spoke of regret at being so rash and an understanding of my younger self and my current self and of him and of us. They said, “Here I am. Thanks for being patient with me.”

I look at my children now…especially my daughters and I wonder what they will be like when they’re older. What dreams they will have for their spouses, their marriages? What will be important for them? What should be? How will I teach them what very definitely shouldn’t be? We Muslims don’t make marriage vows so there’s none of the “for richer or poorer, for better or worse” business said out loud. But there are, or there should be, some things similar that need to be understood. We should, all of us, on and with purpose, talk to our sons and our daughters about the indefinable, utterly elegant, completely undersold, quality of goodness. Of how to live it and how to seek it out. Of how to recognize it. Of how goodness of character is more important and heavier on the scales, both worldly and divinely, than anything else. That looks, finances, verbal abilities, interests in books and movies are all temporal at worst and chameleon-like at best. They change. Everything changes. The only thing that stays is goodness. Stay with the good one. Stay with the good. Stay.

Marriages are made out of multiples of seasons. Out of accepting the long haul of life, circumstance and destiny. I want to tell my children this.

Today, 8 years on, circumstances are such that the finances are extremely tight again. Some say it is because of the hand of destiny, some say it is because of deliberate (or foolish?) choices we have made as a couple, some sigh it is simply a mix of the two. Despite the conviction with which people around us tend to speak (its a desi thing, I think, to utter opinions as divine pronouncements), a secret part of me delights in the knowledge that whether people admit it or not, there is a sense of uncertainty around all of these viewpoints. That part of me sees that most people have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to what is right or wrong, what makes or breaks a marriage, what causes challenges to present themselves repeatedly to some people and not to others. The 34-year-old me is content with what is and she doesn’t get sucked in to the drama of “why, why, why is this MY life?” so easily anymore.

All around us there is familial and societal pressure to conform, to somehow live up to the expectations of what people think our life should be like and Hums and I, to put it in layman’s terms, couldn’t give a hoot. We’re happy. We love each other and our wild life. As far as this money thing, I know we’ll figure it out. Or, maybe…we already have. Our home is filled with love and memories and togetherness and also, with color and prettiness and festive things in nooks and crannies. Things money can and cannot buy. Because money, it comes and goes. When you have it, you use it and when you don’t have it, you hang on to every tangible and intangible thing you have by the blessings of your Lord, remember that goodness of character, both yours and your spouses, is what matters, and you ride out this season of your life.

My Eid kitchen table is proof that we’re doing okay.

With that first bonus, Hums and I finally, bravely, forayed in to the wonderful world of buying something simply for the pleasure of it. He bought himself a high-end beard trimmer. We bought the kids new toys – a baby doll stroller, a set of foam alphabets.And me? I went straight to Crate and Barrel. I looked for the brightest, sunniest, most festive thing I could find for my house of dreams. In one corner, tucked away on a busy display of kitchen ware, I saw a bright, yellow wooden tray. It was for 129 dirhams. Not cheap. Definitely not necessary. Completely and utterly pointless.

So, so lovely.

MashaAllah, la quwata illa billah


Hiba Masood is a writer, educator and advocate of play. She writes about her work and life daily on www.facebook.com/etdramamama

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Forreasons

    October 2, 2017 at 3:09 PM

    Huh? What exactly was the point of this article? And how did the author stray? Thoughts of leaving a marriage due to financial reasons isn’t “straying”…if she didn’t actually divorce then it is just thoughts.

    • Avatar

      Azhar

      October 5, 2017 at 12:21 AM

      This was amazing. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m thirty three and in similar situation. I found things I am struggling to admit to myself have been written down and made clear in this article. You are gifted sister.

  2. Avatar

    Aishaf

    October 2, 2017 at 4:19 PM

    I loved this article, you have spoken all the words I could have said for myself.
    In this age of rampant divorces this article is much needed.. JazakAllah khayr.

  3. Avatar

    Ammy

    October 2, 2017 at 5:32 PM

    I am so grateful for this article as it really gives a refreshing perspective to what is really important in our lives but without brushing over the fact that financial constraints are not an easy challenge to face. May Allah continue to help us all to learn from and overcome the challenges
    we face and make them a means of closeness to him and a means of growth for us. Ameen

  4. Avatar

    Ola

    October 2, 2017 at 6:40 PM

    That was beautiful. Jazaki Allahi khairan.

  5. Avatar

    Maryam

    October 2, 2017 at 7:24 PM

    I love this! THANK YOU SO MUCH! MAY ALLAH REWARD YOU FOR WRITING! PLEASE KEEP WRITING SUCH ARTICLES!!

  6. Avatar

    Amatullah

    October 3, 2017 at 1:45 AM

    With tears in my eyes, I ONLY want to tell you this – You changed my life today! Today. After 4 yrs of thoughts of straying. I go back today. To Stay.

  7. Avatar

    Umm Dujana

    October 3, 2017 at 2:07 AM

    One thing – I’m not sure what or how you ended where you were. but this line – “some say it is because of deliberate (or foolish?) choices we have made as a couple,” – somehow paints a picture of a young you choosing to marry an unemployed man in spite of being warned. I know it is weird to be deriving stuff from one sentence but you did make it sound like that. Whatever though. It was a well-balanced, completely sensible article in today’s time.

  8. Avatar

    Bryan Winters

    October 3, 2017 at 4:03 PM

    Not being a Muslim, I don’t know why I continue receiving MuslimMatters updates. This one aroused my curiousity though, simply because you began with Bible verses. That was enough to get me to read it, and appreciate your lovely story.
    I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing. For me it was a bridge away from predictability. That may sound Islamophobic. I understand that. But if I felt that way, many, many non-Muslims might too. They might be touched by your tale as well. Please don’t take anything written here as a negative.

  9. Avatar

    Amina

    October 3, 2017 at 10:53 PM

    Exquisite piece! Beautifully written.

    The mid thirties do a offer the experience to ponder and reflect on our straying. I suppose the clarity ascends with age especially when gazing back down in retrospect.

    Thank you for allowing us to journey in your stray then stay moments – may you always stay. Stay firm. Stay happy. Stay content. And stay joyful. <3

    PS: I recommend that you publish your work! Who knows your story could be the gateway to something by great!

  10. Avatar

    Nida

    October 4, 2017 at 12:51 AM

    Omg ! They mistyped the title , it was supposed to be STAY!

  11. Avatar

    Aisha

    October 4, 2017 at 8:56 AM

    Mashallah. What a beautiful story! It’s a journey many of us get to travel. Thanks for sharing. Yes, essential goodness is underrated, and hopefully not rare. I hope you will consider submitting your story to the Fountain Magazine.

  12. Avatar

    Naureen

    October 5, 2017 at 8:31 AM

    I absolutely loved your article. Very real and something I think many can relate to!

  13. Avatar

    fatima

    October 7, 2017 at 6:54 AM

    OMG! I could soo relate to this article!!! It’s like you were writing my story.Glad I’m not the only one who’s going through this nightmare.People will never understand what we are going through.

  14. Avatar

    Fatima

    October 11, 2017 at 8:23 PM

    Beautiful. May Allah SWT bless you.

  15. Avatar

    Snowflakes

    November 30, 2017 at 11:06 PM

    This was amazing. Thank you for writing this.

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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#Life

Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr

Make sure you maximize your sadaqah

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By Ismael Abdela

My life, just like yours, is sooo busy. So naturally, as the tech nerd I am, I turn to tech to help me manage my regular routine including project management apps to manage my daily tasks. I even have a sleeping app that wakes me up at the optimum time (whatever that means!). But even though tech has changed everything in all sectors and helped make efficiencies in my daily life, it had had little impact on my religious activities.

A few years ago, whilst I was preparing for the last 10 nights of Ramadan, it hit me – why doesn’t something exist that automates my donations during these blessed nights to catch Laylatul Qadr. Rather than putting a reminder on my phone to bring out my bank card every night and inputting it into a website – why doesn’t something exist that does it for me, solving the problem of me forgetting to donate. After all we are human and it’s interesting that the Arabic word for human being is ‘insan’ which is derived from the word ‘nasiya’ which means ‘to forget.’ It is human nature to forget.

So the techie in me came out and I built the first scrappy version of MyTenNights, a platform to automate donations in the last 10 nights of Ramadan (took two weeks) because I wanted to use it myself! I thought it would be cool and my friends and family could use it too. That same year, nearly 2000 other people used it – servers crashed, tech broke and I had to get all my friends and Oreo (my cat) to respond to email complaints about our temperamental site!

I quickly realised I wasn’t alone in my need  – everyone wanted a way to never miss Laylatul Qadr! Two years down the line we’ve called it MyTenNights, and our team has grown to 10, including Oreo, senior developers, QA specialists, brand strategists, creative directors and more. It fast became a fierce operation – an operation to help people all over the world catch Laylatul Qadr!

Last year alone we raised almost $2 million in just 10 days – and that was just in the UK. We’ve now opened MyTenNights to our American, Canadian. South African and Australian brothers and sisters and we’re so excited to see how they use it! We’ve made it available through all the biggest house name charities – Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Helping Hand, Penny Appeal, you name it! All donations go directly to the charity donors choose – all 100% of it.

Looking back at the last couple of years – it feels surreal: The biggest charities in the world and tens of thousands of users who share my need to be certain they’ve caught Laylatul Qadr. Although I hear many impressed with the sheer amount MyTenNights has raised for charity (and that excites me too!), it’s not what motives me to go on. What excites me most is the growing number of people who catch Laylatul Qadr because we made it easier.

I often tell my team that the number of people that use MyTenNights is the only metric we care about, and the only metric we celebrate. It makes no difference to us whether you donate $1 or a million – we just want you to catch Laylatul Qadr and for you to transform your Akhirah, because (after Allah) we helped you do it.

To catch Laylatul Qadr with MyTenNights, visit their website MyTenNights.com

Ismael Abdela is a Law & Anthropology graduate from the London School of Economics. He spent some years studying Islamic Sciences in Qaseem, Saudi Arabia. He is now a keen social entrepreneur. Ismael likes to write about spiritual reflections, social commentary, and tafsīr. He is particularly interested in putting religion in conversation with the social sciences.

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#Life

How Do Muslims Plan for Disability

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Families with children with disability have an extraordinary set of challenges and blessings.  Disability (or special needs) is a broad term.

Many disabilities will prevent what we often think of as “normal.”  It may hinder or prevent educational opportunities, and employment. Many people with “special needs” can get educated, get married and live long and productive lives.  The problem for many parents of younger children with special needs is that they typically have no certainty about their children’s future needs. Even if the situation looks dire, it may not stay that way.  

How do parents plan for a world where they may not be around to see how things will end up for their special needs children?  What can they do to help their children in a way that does not violate Islamic Inheritance rules?

Certain types of disability, especially the loss of executive decision-making ability, could also happen well into adulthood.  This can be a threat to a family’s wealth and be the cause of internal conflicts. This is the kind of thing every adult needs to think about before it happens.  

The Problem

The issues are not just that parents believe their special needs child will need more inheritance than other children. Muslim parents usually don’t think that. Some parents don’t want their special needs child to get any inheritance at all.  Not because of any ill-will against their special needs child; just the opposite, but because they are afraid inheritance will result in sabotaging their child’s needs-based government benefits.    

Many, perhaps most special needs children do not have any use for needs-based benefits (benefits for the poor).  But many do, or many parents might figure that it is a distinct possibility. This article is a brief explanation of some of the options available for parents of special needs children.  It won’t go over every option, but rather those that are usually incorporated as part of any Islamic Estate Planning.

Please Stand By

Example:  Salma has three daughters and two sons.  One of her children, Khalida, 3, has Down Syndrome.  At this point, Salma knows that raising Khalida is going to be an immense challenge for herself, her husband Rashid and all the older siblings.  What she does not know, however, is what specific care Khalida is going to need through her life or how her disability will continue to be relevant. She does not know a lot about Khalida’s future marriage prospects, ability to be employed and be independent, though obviously like any parent she has nothing but positive hopes for her child’s life.   

In the event of her death, Salma wants to make sure her daughter gets her Islamic right to inheritance.  However, if Khalida needs public benefits, Salma does not want her daughter disqualified because she has her own money.

Her solution is something called a “stand-by special needs trust.” This type of trust is done in conjunction with an Islamic Inheritance Plan and is typically part of a living trust, though it could also be a trust drafted into the last will.  I will describe more about what a special needs trust is below. For Salma, she is the Trustee of her trust. After she dies, she names her husband (or someone else) the successor Trustee. The trust is drafted to prevent it from becoming an “available resource” used to determine eligibility for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and other benefits that go with that.

If it turns out that Salma passes away when Khalida is 5, and her assets are held in trust for her until she is 18 and her Trustee determines she does not need a special needs trust, she will get her inheritance precisely like everyone else based on their Islamic right.  If she does need benefits, the Trustee will only make distributions to Khalida that would not harm her eligibility.

This way, there is no need to deny Khalida her inheritance because of her disability, and she is also making sure giving her daughter inheritance would not harm her daughter’s healthcare or other necessary support.  

Munir Vohra is a special needs advocate and an athlete

The Shape of Special Needs Trusts

A stand-alone Special needs trusts, which is sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust” the kind without the “stand-by” variation I described above, are a standard device for families that have children with special needs. A trust is a property ownership device. A Grantor gives the property to a Trustee, who manages the property for the benefit of a beneficiary. In a revocable living trust, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are typically the same person.  

When the trust is irrevocable, the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiary may all be different people. In a special needs trust, the person with a disability is the beneficiary. Sometimes, the person with a disability is also the Grantor, the person who created the trust.  This might happen if there is a settlement from a lawsuit for example and the person with special needs wants it to be paid to the trust.  

In many if not most cases, the goal may not be to protect the beneficiary’s ability to get public benefits at all. Many people with a disability don’t get special government benefits.  But they do want to protect the beneficiaries from having to manage the assets. Some people are just more susceptible to abuse.

The structure of the arrangement typically reflects the complexity of the family, the desire of siblings and extended family to continue to be involved in the care and attending to the needs of the person with a disability, even if they are not the person directly writing checks.   

Example: Care for Zayna

Example: Zayna is a 24-year-old woman with limited ability to communicate, take care of her needs and requires 24-hour care.  Zayna has three healthy siblings, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her father, Elias, earns about $70,000 per year and is divorced. Zayna’s mother Sameena cannot contribute, as she is on social security disability. However, Zayna’s adult brother and sisters, brother in laws, sister in law and several aunts, uncles want to help Zayna meet her needs E.lyas creates a third party special needs trust that would ensure Zayna has what she needs in the years to come.

Zayna receives need-based public benefits that are vital to her in living with her various disabilities and her struggle to gain increasing independence, knowledge and dignity.  So the trust needs to be set up and professionally administered to make sure that when Zayna gets any benefit from her trust, it does not end up disqualifying her ability to get any needs-based benefit.  

Contributions to the special needs trust will not go against Islamic Inheritance rules unless made after the death of the donor.

If Zayna dies, her assets from the special needs trust will be distributed based on the Islamic rules of inheritance as it applies to her.

When disability planning is not about Public Benefits

Perhaps most families with special needs children do not use any needs-based public assistance.  They are still concerned about special needs and planning for it.

Example:  Khadija, 16, is on the autism spectrum. For those familiar with the autism spectrum, that could mean a lot of things.  For her parents, Sarah and Yacoob, other than certain habits that are harmless and easy to get used to, it means Khadija is very trusting of people. Otherwise, she does well in school, and her parents don’t think she needs way more help than her siblings and she has just as good a chance of leading a healthy and productive life as any 16-year-old girl.  

The downside of being too trusting is that the outside world can exploit her.  If she ends up getting inheritance or gifts, she may lose it. The parents decide that when she gets her inheritance, it will be in a trust that would continue through her life.  There will be a trustee who will make sure she has what she needs from her trust, but that nobody can exploit her.

In some ways, what Khadija’s parents Sarah and Yacoob are doing is not so different from what parents might do if they have a child with a substance abuse problem.  They want to give their child her rights, but they don’t want to allow for exploitation and abuse.

Considering your own needs

There are many people who are easy marks for scammers, yet you would be unlikely to know this unless you are either a close friend or family member, or a scammer yourself.  While this often happens to the elderly, it can happen at just about any age. Everyone should consider developing an “incapacity plan” to preserve their wealth even if they lose their executive decision-making ability.   

There is this process in state courts known as “conservatorship.” Indeed, entire courtrooms dedicate themselves to conservatorships and other mental health-related issues.  It is a legal process that causes an individual to lose their financial or personal freedom because a court has essentially declared them not competent to handle their affairs. Conservatorships are a public process.  They can cause a lot of pain embarrassment and internal family strife.

One of the benefits of a well-drafted living trust is to protect privacy and dignity during difficult times.

Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms

Haris, 63, was eating lunch at a diner.  In the waiting area, he became fast friends with Mellissa; a thirty-something woman who was interested in talking about Haris’s grandchildren.  The conversation then turned Melissa and her desire to start a business selling long distance calling cards. Haris was fascinated by this and thought it made good business sense. Haris gave Mellissa $20,000.00. The two exchanged numbers. The next day, Mellissa’s number was disconnected.

Haris’s wife, Julie became alarmed by this.  It was out of character for her husband to just fork over $20,000 to anyone on the spur of the moment.  What was worse is that the business failed immediately.  

Three months later,  Haris meets Mellissa at the diner again.  She then convinces Haris to invest $50,000 in a Cambodian rice farm, which he does right away.   His wife Julie was pretty upset.

How living trusts helps

As it happened though, Haris, a few years before, created a living trust.  It has a provision that includes incapacity planning. There are two essential parts to this:  The first is a system to decide if someone has lost their executive decision-making ability. The second is to have a successor Trustee to look over the estate when the individual has lost this capacity.  This question is about Haris’s fundamental freedom: his ability to spend his own money.

If you asked Haris, he would say nothing is wrong with him.  He looks and sounds excellent. Tells the best dad jokes. He goes to the gym five times a week and can probably beat you at arm wrestling. Haris made some financial mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.

Julie, and his adult children Haroon, Kulsum, Abdullah, and Rasheeda are not so sure it’s just a mistake.  The living trust created a “disability panel.” This panel gets to vote, privately, in if Haris should continue to act as Trustee of his own money.  If they vote that he should not manage his own money, his wife does it for him.

The family has a way to decide an important and sensitive issue while maintaining Haris’ dignity, privacy and wealth.   Haris’s friends don’t know anything about long distance calling cards or a Cambodian rice farm; they don’t know he lost his ability to act as Trustee of his trust.  Indeed the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this.

Planning for everyone

Islamic inheritance is fard and every Muslim should endeavor to incorporate it into their lives.  As it happens it is an obligation Muslims, at least those in the United States, routinely ignore or deal with inadequately.  However, there is more to planning than just what shares go to whom after death. Every family needs to create a system. There may or may not be problems with children or even with yourself (other than death, which will happen), but you should do whatever you can to protect your family’s wealth and dignity while also fulfilling your obligations to both yourself and your family.

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