بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Prophet (ﷺ) never saw his father, and still developed into the paragon of human excellence. How many Ṣaḥāba were orphans due to their fathers being martyred? Weren’t greats like al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri, Abu Yūsuf al-Qāḍi, Imam ash-Shāfi’i, Imam Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Imam al-Bukhāri, all orphans? None of these were hindered by the absence of their fathers. So do fathers even matter?
Obviously they do (we will revisit exceptional orphans later), but pinpointing why can be quite difficult, considering the politically charged nature of this subject and the emotion it provokes. After all, the significance of fathers extends from the “significance of men” discussion, and that is not the most popular, progressive, woke subject in today’s world. However, the bottom line is that there is no utility or relevance for men unless there is something unique about them. There must be a difference between men and women, and by extension between fathers and mothers. Otherwise, a father is essentially disposable; you might as well have a single mother, or two mothers. It would not matter.
Unfortunately, this is the fatherlessness experiment many are conducting right now, wherein many fathers are reduced to biological contributors or at best uninvolved financiers. According to the Pew Research Center, the 2-parent household is facing rapid decline in the U.S., the double-mom parenting model is demanding acceptance, and children outside of wedlock have reach 1/3rd of all births since the year 2000.
How detrimental is this? Many studies suggest that the consequences of fatherlessness have reached epidemic proportions, and that so many developmental crises in children and adolescents are directly linked with fatherlessness. To name a few:
- 80% of adolescents in psychiatric institutes stem from fatherless homes
- 90% of all runaway and homeless children were from fatherless homes
- People are 2x as likely to commit suicide (especially boys) after a fatherless childhood
- Children are 9x more likely to be sexually abused (especially girls) in a home without the biological father present
For a Muslim, these alarming numbers are telling you what you already know, because the Creator spared you of being dependent on extensive surveys, statistics, and their margin of error. A Muslim is informed that though all are equal before God in terms of salvation and human dignity, there remain differences between men and women when it comes to certain sectors of the social realm; “And the male is not like the female.” [3:36] Ignore these nuanced differences, and you will create new problems while trying to solve the current ones. The Quran also calls our attention to God’s cosmic patterns, and the dynamic interplay between opposites in His universe; “By the night as it covers, and by the day as it brightens, and by the spectacle creation of the male and the female; your strivings are immensely diverse.” [92:1-4] In other words, the complementary existence of night and day, male and female, good and evil, are all necessary components of balance in the universe. Applying this to parenting: just as fathers can never fully offer their children what mothers can, mother can never fully offer their children what fathers can.
Nowadays, however, such elemental truths are challenged under the influence of modern secular thought, where the “open mind” and “objective human intellect” are accepted by many as the ultimate authority for governing people’s ideas and lifestyles. Embracing human intellect is not wrong, so long as its limitations and biases are recognized. Consider the gender debate, for instance; it will be “thought-out” by either a man or a woman, making non-bias impossible since the disputing parties are the judges. Is it coincidence that most men are biased pro-men and most women are biased pro-women? In Muslim circles, how many women scream injustice when hearing the “your mother 3x” hadith? How many men scream injustice when hearing the “husband’s leadership” hadiths? When a contention to these texts arises, it is always from the “opponent’s corner,” whose bias generates a misperception of injustice in that flawless sacred text. Even those who nobly try to escape their biases, they usually stumble into the opposite bias. Their greater focus on their inherent bias generates a pendulum effect heading for the opposite extreme. Consider, for instance, how some valiant women while trying to escape the pro-woman bias are usually found hastily dismissive of the very legitimate grievances feminists sometimes have. Case in point: only Allah can assess fairly, with full wisdom and neutrality, and not the human intellect, for only Allah transcends all biases. “Transcendent is He who created all the pairs; of what the earth sprouts, and of your own selves, and of things you do not know.” [36:42]
Add to the bias of your predisposed sex that of cultural conditioning. Our strongest notions of acceptance and rejection were not developed in a vacuum. Take our perception of fatherhood, for instance; it was not constructed in isolation of the foolish sitcom dads we grew up watching. Homer Simpson is a certified buffoon. Family Guy is a lowlife. In Everybody Loves Raymond, he evades all duties to play golf. In Stranger Things, the Wheeler’s dad is oblivious to who lives under his roof. In the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will’s father returns only to traumatize his son one last time.
This narrative has even crafted men’s perception of themselves, for art and literature have always been prescriptive of a culture and not just descriptive of it. Some men have internalized this narrative, becoming the runaway and video-game dads. Many others have rebelled against it, deciding that if society does not appreciate them, and has already written them all off as loser husbands and deadbeats dads, then to hell with husbandry and fatherhood. “I can fulfill my hormonal needs without the commitment of marriage and family, and dinner and a motel are far less costly anyway,” he tells himself. And though women suffer far more from the delayed marriage phenomenon than men (female infertility far precedes male infertility), the vicious downward spiral ultimately spares nobody.
Therefore, only by agreeing on an external reference point – conceding to God’s wisdom and submitting to God’s authority (Islam) – can we escape this chaos. “Does He not know what He created, and He is al-Lateef (the Most Subtle) al-Khabeer (the Best Acquainted)?” [67:14] With Allah’s guidance, the role confusion and identity crisis which becomes a family crisis is prevented. Man and woman are different, and so it is not about who can outdo the other in the same task, but who can fulfill their God-ordained duties in a superior way. Also, since this world is a finite realm, it naturally lends itself to greed and the dog-eat-dog mentality. But when reorienting our pursuits for God’s mercy which is infinite, there becomes plenty for every seeker. Only then is there no petty bickering and power struggles between the rich and poor, strong and weak, man and woman.
So again, just as fathers can never fully offer their children what mothers can, mothers can never fully offer their children what fathers can. As for those who grew up orphans or with negligent parents, Allah may intervene in ways that compensate, like He did with our Prophet (ﷺ), for only Allah is truly irreplaceable. But destiny is what we believe in, while the Shariah is what we determine our conduct by. Those who ignore the Sacred Shariah should not expect destiny to rescue them. Obey the laws of His universe, surrender to its King, or invite so much suffering into your life and that of your children.
What Do Fathers Uniquely Offer?
What benefits does a child receive from his/her relationship with dad that are notably different from those derived from their relationship with mom?
- Paternal Authority. In a well-functioning family, the very presence of the father embodies authority and discipline, and it is conveyed simply by his daily involvement in family life.
The dominant role of fathers in preventing misconduct and even psychopathology is well-established. Over fifty years ago, this phenomenon was highlighted in the classic studies on the causes of delinquency by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of Harvard University. They described in academic terms what many children hear their mothers so often say: “Wait till your father gets home!” Fathers are needed to provide that paternal authority and discipline, or else mom will have to choose between being primarily an enforcer or primarily a loving nurturer, when the kid requires both. We must accept that each parent has a primary role, even if they will inevitably wear the other hat on lesser occasions.
A major challenge in the face of capitalizing on paternal authority is that our children are a reflection of us, and so they must first see their mother respecting dad’s authority. Otherwise, the kids will begin to use mom to undermine dad, and then dad will eventually gravitate away from family involvement due to alienation or simply to avoid conflict. Outcome: paternal authority is lost and the children suffer for a lifetime.
I know “men’s authority over women” is a trigger-word for many, so let me clarify and qualify:
- Allah designated this, not men. Allah who transcends gender and is never biased. What is the wisdom behind this? Perhaps men have a greater capacity for leadership, perhaps women have a greater capacity for humility; likely both and more. However, there is a huge difference between exploring the wisdom and objecting to God.
- Authority here does not mean a powerless sex-slave who is not allowed to have an opinion. It does not even mean a parent-child dynamic, nor that mom is a robotic arm for dad’s micromanagement at home (will address men’s abuse of authority later). In Islam, absolute authority belongs only to God, but for the sake of social order, God placed some in authority over others and demands compliance for the collective good. Thus, the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is questioned about his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is questioned about his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and is questioned about them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is questioned about them.” [Bukhārī 6719, Muslim 1829] Some may argue that shepherd only means responsibility, not leadership. It certainly does mean responsibility, but responsibility cannot be separated from authority. Where is the justice in a person being responsible for something they have no degree of control over?
- No joint-enterprise can ever work without authority, or else the arguments will never end, decisions will never be made, and there would be utter stagnation. Can you imagine presidential debates not ending with elections, but rather until one of the two parties convinces the other? For that reason, Allah placed a mechanism wherein authority / ultimate responsibility rests in someone’s hands. Allah designated that it be the husband, and that he gets interrogated for it. Also, remember that Islam teaches fleeing from leadership, and that those competing for it are least qualified for it. But when it is imposed upon you, do not dare fumble it, for your questioning is not like anyone else’s.
- Some may argue that men cannot be trusted with authority, since most are drunk with power. There is some truth to this, but you might as well say they cannot be trusted with money either, since most rich men are corrupt. In fact, one may even claim that men cannot be trusted with women, since most battery cases are men against women and not women against men. See where this is going? In reality, the problem is not in the presence of authority, but the absence of the greatest safeguard against human transgression and the abuse of authority: the fear of God and the cultivation of conscience. I must admit that this can be scarce in an age when Islam is largely a mere a cultural identity for many, and thus our mothers, sisters, and daughters are oppressed in many Muslim homes before our very eyes. However, whenever and wherever Islam is embraced holistically, we find shining examples that embodied “the best of you are those best to their wives.” [Sunan at-Tirmdihi]
Be certain that if a child does not experience a clear power structure at home that must be conformed to, it is so much harder for those children to grasp even God’s authority in their lives. Why? They were not accustomed to feeling that they must answer for things in life, and restrain themselves from things to avoid unwanted consequences. Consider that 85% of youth in prison had fatherless homes, and 71% of high school dropouts stem from fatherless homes. [See: Infographic] These kids desperately needed someone to instill in them frustration tolerance, and accustom them to hearing a non-negotiable “no” at times. This is a priceless developmental contribution, and none can effectively provide it like the father figure.
- Paternal Affection. These indispensable expressions of warmth enhance a father’s ability to fulfill his primary role; they offer a constant non-verbal reassurance that dad is not disciplining because he hates me. Paternal affection also has intrinsic benefit for a child, since kids thirst for different kinds of loving care; paternal and maternal. Absentee fathers create an emotional void that leaves youngsters particularly vulnerable. It should be no riddle why 2/3rd of teen pregnancies happen among girls from fatherless homes, girls who sought masculine protective love, while the wolves hunted her for other aims. In boys, their initiation into manhood is obstructed if they feel inadequate and unaccepted around their fathers. To compensate, they are found turning to sports, gangs, and gaming, seeking through them transcendence into something bigger than boyhood.
- Financial Security. Without the father’s presence, children have a 40% chance of growing up in poverty. But have the 60% who escaped poverty survived the tragedy? Far from it, for a sizable portion of financially secure fatherless homes still suffer from emotional hunger. After realizing just how consequential paternal affection is, one can only imagine how much more of a necessity a mother’s mercy and unparalleled compassion can be for a child. Now calculate what securing the finances (escaping the 40%) costed that child when mom’s presence is usually sacrificed for it (in addition to dad already being absent). Should it still then surprise us to hear that 69% of suicide deaths were from fatherless homes?
For this reason, I am just staggered by the whole role-reversal debate. Do people not see what emotional wrecks their kids would be if she worked all day while dad stayed home with the kids? As some Muslim scholars explained, God created the mother *generally* having a greater capacity for mercy, and the father *generally* having a greater capacity for justice, and hence each is tasked accordingly. Or as Dr. Jordan Peterson frequently puts it, even if from an evolutionary-survivalist paradigm, studies consistently show that women are far more agreeable (able to sacrifice self for child) while men are far more conscientious (task-oriented, industrious). The point here is not that women should never work, but that they should never feel their work at home is inferior, or that the father can substitute just as well.
Where Do Men Need to Man Up?
- Revisiting Authority. Men must own the task of trimming their own feathers and dieting their own egos. Allah entrusted you with this leadership, to invoke it for the betterment of the family, not for selfish interests. Even if your heart may be in the right place, people rebel without breathing room and under excessive constraints. Remember that the same man (ﷺ) who deemed you head of the family showed us that this is a duty to serve and protect. Would he (ﷺ) not milk for himself, and stitch for himself, whenever he could? Would he (ﷺ) not outdo everyone in forgiving infringement on his rights, and outdo everyone in restraining anger? Would he (ﷺ) not simply say “Then I’m fasting,” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim] when food was not available in the house?
Leaders complain least and get served last. Leaders lead by example. What made people accept Umar ’s strict leadership? Simply put, they were compelled by his genuineness, for they saw him tougher on himself than he was on them. Certainly, a wife may be wrong for defying you, and is defying Allah in the process, but are you so certain you did not encourage this, perhaps by missing prayers, uttering profanity, watching obscenity, or acting violently? When this is the case, then you come along and selectively cite an ayah or hadith, do not be very hopeful. You may have denied your own request, and failed your family in the process. Leaders lead by example.
- Valuing Affection. Allah made receiving His mercy contingent upon having mercy on people at large, and youngsters in particular, for obvious reasons. Withholding expressions of love and affection from the kids, or leaving this to the mother alone, is devastating and merciless. When al-Aqra‘ b. Ḥābis (rA) witnessed the Prophet (ﷺ) kissing his grandson, he boasted of never kissing any of this ten sons, to which the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What can I possibly offer you if Allah has pulled the mercy from your heart?” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri] It is sad to see that in the United States alone, 20 million kids have no physical father present, but also millions more with a father who is physically present but emotionally absent. In Muslim communities, all too often do I encounter fathers who are not only callous with their children, but even mock the mothers for being tender with them.
At times, fathers employ roughness with their sons to avoid them becoming “softies”. Ironically, this very behavior is actually conducive to becoming a “softy” for belligerence breeds a lack of self-respect (succumbs to force). And at times, it purges from the child all traces of empathy, numbing him/her into a rebellious menace, and thus 70% of adolescents in juvenile correctional facilities come from fatherless homes. Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford University, observed as early as 1959 that delinquents suffer from an absence of the father’s affection. (See: Albert Bandura and R.H. Walters, Adolescent Aggression (1959))
- Sacred Financial Duty. We have already established that in 40% of US homes, the mother is the primary breadwinner, and why that is dangerous, but why does it exist? We must recognize that no sensible woman wants to make her child choose between their emotional and financial needs, and that many only assumed the breadwinner role after the man neglected it. Here are two major reasons why men fall into this:
First, many men stipulate appreciation for service, so ingratitude yielded interruption of service. Certainly, the Prophet (ﷺ) severely cautioned women against being ungrateful to their husbands, but from the perspective of male duties, this is where the consistency of working for Allah comes into play. You are not earning money for them because they are thankful, but rather because you are bankrupt for Allah’s pleasure. Never forget that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Out of the dinar (gold-currency) that you spend in Allah’s path, that which you free a slave with, that which you donate to the needy, and that which you spend on your family, the one yielding the greatest reward is that which you spend on your family.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim] A person may wonder why spending on one’s own family is a highly rewarded act of devotion in Islam. This is only fully understood by those who lived firsthand the fatigue of worrying about the family’s finances as they lay to sleep and once they open their eyes, whether healthy or sick, whether thanked or spited. For the stability of the home, Allah is telling the providers that I know your work behind closed doors may not be appreciated, but I appreciate you.
Second, many men simply exploit their wives, emotionally guilting them for staying home all day and “not helping the family with anything”. Such men have unwittingly bought into the “only worth is financial contribution” hype, in addition to the “all women sit at home idle all day watching soap operas” stereotype. This is particularly sad, especially coming from a Muslim, and even more so after his wife has undertaken the jihad of motherhood. “Working mother” is a redundant statement; a full time job and then some. Also, the mother is the child’s first teacher, who educates through her mundane yet profound daily interactions with the child, and through the earliest conversations with that child when they are discovering under mom’s wings what it really means to be human. Expecting mothers to earn wages outside for many hours, as the norm, is unfair to them and to the children, just as expecting fathers to be stay-at-home dads, as the norm, is unfair to them and to the children. And from a biological angle, we cannot ask mothers to work because we are not asking fathers to bear children. Again, this is not arguing that a mother should never contribute outside the home, but rather that men should never expect her to, just as she should not choose to at the expense of her children.
A Final Plea
Nothing can save our children from the storms they face and will face after us, not even two fully-functional parents. Only Allah can do this, and our appeal to Him starts with appreciating and embracing without resistance the definitive guidance He privileged us with.
The biggest threat to your children is not poverty, nor homelessness, nor drugs, nor prison, nor suicide. These tragedies are all dwarfed by the fact that 23% of US Muslims no longer identify with their childhood religion. It was for that very reason that Nūḥ , pleaded with son before the waves separated them by calling out, “O my dear son! Ride with us, and be not among the disbelievers.” [11:42] Notice that he did not say, “and do not be among those who drown”, because even the loss of life can be compensated for, while meeting Allah a disbeliever is the ultimate doom. This is what is at stake, and yet we are still trying to experiment and run away from our duties, selfishly pursuing our self-defined individuality at the expense of our family and community. Each of us needs a moment of pause; to swallow our pride a bit, and renew our confidence in Allah a bit. Allah will never disappoint us. We must look up to the heavens for guidance, not around to those equally in darkness.
It is quite possible that I failed at articulating my thoughts here. Forgive me if that be the case, and kindly extend your feedback on how this can be better explained, because the next batch of children are not waiting for us to get our act together. And all praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.
After Allah, special thanks must be extended to Dr. Hussam al-Harash and Dr. Zara Khan for their guidance on this paper. I pray Allah repays you in ways that I never could for your time.
My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.
“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”
In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.
It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.
Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.
When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.
Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone
In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.
The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah as well.
The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.
We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.
مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا
“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15
On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.
Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.
وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22
But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?
The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.
It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.
You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.
There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.
Being Alone Has Its Own Perks
It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.
Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.
Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.
When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.
Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.
We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone
The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.
You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.
Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.
Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?
This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:
1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens
When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.
Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.
This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.
2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower
The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.
While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.
3) Military aid and complicity of tax-payers
US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.
4) The Israeli lobby
The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.
5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history
This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.
Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.
The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.
Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji
As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations. We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.
Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion. Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone. There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.
No, it’s not ikhtilaf
The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat. The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.
It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined, free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically, the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.
The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds. We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?
Show Your Work
We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules. In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.
Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.
You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2
Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them? Why or why not?
Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts? What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.
In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor. There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.
The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.
As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent. Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.
People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble. Fisabilillah.
Dawa is the new Jihad
Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past. Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.
Indeed dawah is a broad category. For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah. Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.
No Standards or Accountability
Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.
The Shift to Meaninglessness
Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.
Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it. It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.
- The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
- In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.
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