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The Missing Muslims: Living With Disability

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Everyone knows that Islam’s first Muezzin was black, Bilal Ibn Rabah, Radi’Allahu ta’ala ‘anhu. But did you know that the second was blind? I’m going to tell you more about that in a moment, but first, we’re gonna do a little tafseer.

The Prophet frowned and turned away

Surah Abasa

Because there came to him the blind man (interrupting).

how do you know that he wouldn’t have benefited?

Or that he wouldn’t be reminded and would then benefit from the reminder?  

 

And the one who thinks he doesn’t need any of this,

you address him instead

It’s not on you, whether or not he chooses to benefit from this message.

You know this story already, right? This is the beginning of Surah Abasa, Once upon a time, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was trying to talk to the leaders of the Quraysh, and a blind companion of his interrupted him.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) frowned and turned away from the blind man, returning his attention to the Quraishi leaders. Allah gently admonished the Prophet for his mistake, and then went on in the Surah to remind mankind of our humble beginnings, our careless existence, and our inevitable end.

The blind companion is relegated to a footnote in our teaching of the Qur’an, and few people know his name.

His name was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Abdullah was the first cousin of the Prophet’s wife Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), and he had been blind from birth.

He was among the earliest acceptors of the message and outlived the Prophet ﷺ. From his life we know that Awareness, Inclusion, and Accommodation of people with disabilities and special needs is not a modern addition to Islam. It is built into the Sunnah and Seerah itself.

You see Surah Abasa is nothing less than a divine message of Disability Awareness.

The one who came to you running-

Who feared Allah in his heart-

Him- you neglected him.

Kalla- No. This is a reminder.

So let whoever wishes to be reminded of it.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) frowned and turned away, and even though Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) never saw that frown, Allah did. And through Surah Abasa, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent him a message.

From there on out, the Prophet made it a point to smile whenever he saw Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, regardless of whether Abdullah would ever see that smile. He specifically sought Abdullah out and asked if there was anything he needed. Years later he still addressed Abdullah with words of humility “Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me.”

Allah rebuked the Messenger for neglecting a Muslim with a disability, and it was preserved in the Qur’an to be a perpetual reminder for anyone in danger of making the same mistake. Whoever comes to seeking knowledge of the deen is entitled to it. Everyone deserves the chance to develop a relationship with Allah. There is no excuse for sidelining anyone who comes seeking Islam.

Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum may be a footnote now, but at no point was he on the sidelines of our history. When Muslims began travelling outside of Makkah to spread the message of Islam, two men reached the city of Yathrib first. One of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

When Yathrib became Madinatul-Munawaara, and the Messenger established the first Muslim community, two men were appointed to give the call to prayer. One was black and one was blind.

One was Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and one of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). May Allah be pleased with them both.

When the Messenger of Allah travelled from Madina to the peaceful conquest of Makkah, he left one man in charge of the community. In this critical time of his absence, that man was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

How many of our masajid have anyone with a disability giving the adhaan or leading the salah? How many of our masajid have ANYONE with a disability on the board, and our Prophet left a man with a disability in charge of Madinah itself.

As an Ummah we pride ourselves on how many languages the Qur’an has been translated in to, how many of our masajid keep a copy in Braille?

We give lectures in every language- except sign language.

We post on our masajid doors- Allahumma Aftahlee abwaabe rahmatik. Oh Allah, open for us the doors of your mercy, but we hold the same doors shut when it comes to Muslims with disabilities.

 Some may say where are these disabled Muslims? I don’t see any in my community.

First of all, a disabled Muslim is not just a Muslim in a wheelchair. A disabled Muslim may be blind, hearing impaired, intellectually challenged, autistic, or having any number of conditions that make their ability to attend the masjid without accommodations a significant challenge.

Second of all, maybe the reason why no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid is because they are forced to wait beside the door – rain, shine or snow, Fajr, Asr, or Isha – until someone comes to open it for them.

That is assuming, of course, that there’s even a ramp for them to reach the door. And one on the sister’s side too. Maybe no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid because they can’t do wudu in your bathroom or fit their chair through the musalla door.

Having said that, there’s more to inclusion that just a ramp and door. If no one with a hearing impairment comes to your masjid, maybe it’s because they understand precisely ZERO of the khutbah unless you interpret it into sign.

Maybe no one with autism comes to masjid because your congregants shamed them for what they didn’t know were autistic behaviours. Maybe they don’t know what autism is. Maybe you never told them.

Maybe, just maybe, the Muslims going through the kinds of trials that you’ve never dealt with – let alone imagined- don’t come to your masjid because you’ve made it impossible for them to do so. Maybe they are cut off from the community because the community has cut them off.

Whether it’s a physical access issue, a social stigma, or that look people give when they think disability is contagious- something significant in your community may be excluding a significant part of your community.

Some may say- Ok, this disability awareness thing is very nice, MashaAllah, but we have more important things going on in the Muslim community right now. Have you turned the news on recently?

I’d like to give you some context for when Surah Abasa was revealed.

Surah Abasa was revealed in Makkah, and as we know, the Makkan period for Muslims was anything but awesome. It was terrible. The Muslims were dealing with torture, humiliation, death, and even assassination attempts on the Messenger himself.

In this dire situation the Prophet Muhammad was given the chance to speak truth to power directly. He had an audience with those responsible for the oppression and therefore, those capable of stopping it.

Getting through to those Quraish Leaders could have meant an end to the unimaginable suffering entirely. Whatever you’re doing in your masjid, it’s not more important than what the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself was trying to do at that time. And whatever the Prophet was trying to do at that time, Allah told him there was something important enough to interrupt even that.

We have this idea that awareness, inclusion, and accommodation for the Muslims with special needs is extra credit, and we’ll get to it as a community, once we’ve sorted everything else out.

Accommodation is not Nafl. It is fard. And Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a proof of this in not just one Surah of the Qur’an, but two.

In Surah Nisa 4:95 Allah revealed a verse stating that those who stayed at home were not equal to those who fought in His cause.

Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, deeply hurt by his inability to do more, came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to tell him Ya Rasulullah, I would fight for Allah if I could.

Allah then sent further revelation, completing the ayah to read:

[Nisa 4:95]

Those who stay at home- except those with a disability – are not equal to those who fight in Allah’s cause. Here Allah himself makes accommodations in the Qur’an specifically for Muslims with disabilities.

Awareness, Inclusion, Accommodation- these are part of our faith. Disability is part of our faith too. Muslim speakers all over the world open their talks with the dua of  Musa, the Prophet with the Speech Impediment.

Rabbish-rah-li sadri, wa yassirli amri

Wah lul uqdatam min lisaani. Yafqaho qawli

My Lord, open for me my heart, and make my task easy, and untie the knot in my tongue so that people will understand me.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all three Abrahamic faiths share the greatest of story of patience of who? Job- Ayyoub 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), the Prophet bedridden and disabled by chronic illness for seven years.

Our religious traditions are enriched with stories of the blind, the lame, the epileptic. Allah cites examples of people with disability as Prophets themselves – models for patience, faith, and inspiration.

Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a true inspiration. Even though he was blind and excused- By God Himself- from participating in battle, he advocated for more.

“Place me between two rows ,” he said, “and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind and cannot run away.”

And so Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum became a flag-bearer- literally- for the Muslim Ummah. He participated in every campaign that he could. He died as martyr in the Battle of Qadisiyah, and fell without losing hold of the standard he carried.

It would be nice if we could say the same. Muslims in the West- we consider ourselves to be a marginalized community, yet here we are marginalizing members our own community.

Our hearts ache when we hear of people with disabilities being neglected and abused by those responsible for their care. And yet – we the Muslim community- responsible for the care and the accommodation of all our members- we are neglecting our most vulnerable members.

If it sounds like I’m taking this personally, it’s because I am actually am. I was born into disability awareness the same day as my son. As expected when expecting, I made dua for him every single prayer, every single day. Ya Allah, please grant me a man of Jannah.

Ya Allah, He gave me a child with autism.

I prayed more.

I prayed so hard, so long, and so desperately to find out what was wrong with my son, and when I had an idea what it was- I prayed for it to not be wrong with him anymore.

I blamed myself. It wasn’t hard, society blamed me too. It must’ve been me picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been me not picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been that I spoiled him. It must’ve been that I ignored him.

It must’ve been that I fed him this or didn’t feed him that. It must’ve have been the evil eye- and this is a good one- it must have been that I didn’t pray enough.

No matter what people thought must’ve caused autism, I must’ve caused it, and I lived with debilitating grief and guilt in between therapy and prayers but…

But- Alhamdulillah, Allah saved me from breaking. Even when I knew other mothers who did.

I knew one mother who left. She disappeared, leaving her disabled four-year-old with his father. The father messaged me, looking for help. She had messaged him after leaving, “He’s your son. You deal with it.”

I knew one mother who shattered- losing her faith entirely. She did not believe in God anymore, she said, but she still prayed to him. She prayed that she and her son would both die in a car accident at the same time.

In Texas, the community knew a mother who had two children with autism- Zain and Faryal, but you probably never heard of her until she turned herself in for killing them both.

I’m not going to imply that their deaths could have been prevented with a really inclusive Sunday School program. Allah knows how long we get to spend on this earth and the circumstances we leave it in. I will say this though: Shaytan preys on us especially in times of fear and solitude. In the absence of a supportive community, what protection do Muslims with disabilities have from him?

When I learned that my son had autism, I was told he may never speak. Forty percent of children with autism never really do. When he finally did speak, his first word was OKAY! And to both him and us, it meant everything.

Juice was Okay. Toys were Okay. The car was Okay. We had beautiful conversations – conversations that I waited years to have – that were comprised of only one word, Okay.

I had for the first time, some hope that my son would one day learn his own name and maybe even functional speech. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, but it was because of OKAY that we were first kicked out of a masjid.

It had been an Isha Salah, the imam said AllahuAkbar and my son answered Okay.

The Imam said Fatihah and my son answered Okay.

AllahuAkbar?

Okay!

Sami’Allahu Liman Hamida?

Okay!

Rabbana Wa lakal Hamd

OKAY

No sooner did the imam say the salam did someone begin pounding – literally with two fists and outright fury-  on the wall of the ladies section. Someone was yelling. Someone was angry.

(My son answered, Okay!)

I ran back to the car with my children and cried. My husband stood in the parking lot and attempted to defuse the situation with the imam and the angry guy.

I was unmosqued for nearly six years.

Between the fear of being humiliated again and the fear of my son wandering out of the masjid during prayers, I missed hundreds of jummahs, dozens of Eids, and the immeasurable amount sisterhood and support I so desperately needed.

Our journey back to the Muslim community is too long a story for this article, but I do want to share this update. The kid who once got us kicked out of the masjid is now a regular fixture at our local masjid. He even got to call the adhan once, and remembering our relationship with other masajid before this one, it was a moment of indescribable sweetness.

The gratitude that I have for the members of our masjid is something that I’ve never fully expressed, but I often make dua for them and pray that Allah befriend them the way they have befriended my children. That Allah show Gentleness to them for the gentleness they have shown my children. That Allah love them, and increase the love they have in their hearts for my families and other families like them.

Our Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent as a Mercy to all of mankind. In following his example we too can be a mercy. Our communities can be so much more. We can do so much more.

Someone in your community has a disability and they don’t come to the masjid anymore. Whether they can’t get in, whether it’s impossible to stay in, or whether they’ve been told they’re not welcome in- they stay at home, day after day, kuhtbah after khubah, Eid after Eid, growing more isolated, more inward, and more likely to fall than if they had been surrounded by helping hands instead.

Someone in your community is afraid, because living with chronic illness is scary and uncertain. They really need someone to talk to, except they don’t know how, or who, or when. Because your masjid doesn’t have a support group for those Muslims who need support most.

If you’re looking around and thinking well, I don’t know any of these people then thank you for proving my point. Someone in your community is close to breaking and you don’t even know who they are.

Muslims with disabilities exist. That they don’t seem to exist in your community is the problem. Now, let’s talk solutions.

Start by finding one person– one single person – in your community with a disability. Ask them what you can do for them. Ask your imam to meet with them. Ask your imam to talk to the community about their disability in a Khutbah, and make sure your masjid actually has the facilities they need to attend and understand that khutbah too.

Go and visit them. And don’t do it because you pity them, do it because you need them. Do it because Allah expects you to, and if you don’t help them, then what answer will you give Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) when he says on the Day of Judgment, “Oh My Servant, I was ill and you didn’t attend to me.”

And you’ll be like Ya Allah, how could you be ill? How could I attend to you?

And Allah will answer back, You knew my Servant was ill, and you didn’t attend to them. If you had, you would have found Me with them.

You want to be with Allah in the next life? Go seek Him out in this one. Seek out the disabled in your community the same way the Companions of the Prophet did, competing with each other to travel farther and work harder in the service of those who needed help.

You want Allah to love you? Then love those that He loves. Allah tests those that He loves. Find those most tested by Him, and maybe – just maybe- if one day they don’t find you in Jannah, they’ll ask about you there.

Zeba Khan is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Anissa

    March 30, 2018 at 2:56 PM

    Amazing article – yes it’s time for the Muslim community to take a lead – autism affects nearly 1 in 70 people and of course there are other disabilities like Down syndrome etc. ALL our masjids and centres should have day cares for kids with special needs so that families can be part of the community. Further it is the RESPONSIBILITY of all Muslims to take especial care of these families – help them out as they are so busy !!!! I think our Islamic centres also need to think about adults with disabilities – eg building Muslim care centres for such adults – parents are always scared what will happen to their kids when they pass on – what a noble task if the Muslim community makes a plan!

  2. Avatar

    Anissa

    March 30, 2018 at 3:23 PM

    Sister Zeba – how do you manage your other kids and teach them about their brother and how to look after him ?

    • Avatar

      Maymoona

      April 1, 2018 at 1:14 PM

      Slm my dear Jazakallah for sharing. This is a much needed discussion. May Allah grant aafiyah to you and all those struggling in any way

  3. Avatar

    Mahenoor

    April 3, 2018 at 2:27 PM

    Salam Sister!!! I felt like you are telling my story. I have two boys with ASD. They are blessing from Allah SWT. Through them we are guided to the straight path. Even though some people blamed me for my sons being Autistic …… they say it’s a punishment. Some say Jinn posses them . But Me and my husband think that
    Our boys make us better Muslim and better human everyday .
    We also trying for few years to have a Sunday program in the masajid so that special need kids can have the opportunity to learn about the Deen but we couldn’t do it yet. Our point is if they can learn about Halloween or Christmas at school they will definitely will be able to learn about Eid or Ramadan . There is lack of awareness in the community and also within the family.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 14, 2018 at 2:00 PM

      Salaams sister Mahenoor – to be raising two special boys surely means Allah loves you and your husband – he does not burden a soul more than the soul can bear and tests people based on their Iman! As for the people who said things like you are being punished – then they do not know who Allah is – Allah SWT is Rahman and Rahim and loves us more than our mothers. May Allah bless you and your family abundantly in this dunya and akhirah – sending special love to your boys – they are blessed to have amazing parents like you.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 14, 2018 at 4:14 PM

      Sister – please listen to this khutbah – people who say things like Allah is punishing you do not understand our Deen – Allah loves you and know you can pass his tests with flying colours inshAllah- and when you inshAllah get to Jannah you will rejoice for the opportunity Allah gave you in this dunya https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DiWUOM6VJm4

  4. Avatar

    Taoheedah

    April 9, 2018 at 6:15 PM

    What a post! May Almighty Allah reward Sis. Zeba for this. I had the good fortune of listening to her talk on disability at TDC 2017 and it was brilliant. I pray all who read this take it to heart and act upon it in our various masajids. She’s so right, we as a community hardly think of the hardships those with disabilities face in our communities. Her tafsir of Surat ul Abasa really makes it hit home. Sadly, I am yet to see any sign language interpreter in any of the khutbahs I have attended so far in North America. This piece should be a wake-up call. I hope we all are able to commit to making our communities more inclusive going forward.

  5. Avatar

    Allen

    April 14, 2018 at 11:55 PM

    Or sufism, not sure why author left Sufism as a form of misguidence ?

  6. Avatar

    Latifa

    April 22, 2018 at 10:11 PM

    Subhannallah. Feels like yesterday I was listening to your talk at TDC 2017 about the missing muslims and how you met a little boy that had ASD while you were pregnant. My little boy under the age of 2 has just been recently diagnosed and all I keep mumbling is Habiyya Allah wa nimal wakeel. I pray Allah strengthens our backs so that we may bear the load he tests us with.

  7. Avatar

    Aeesha

    January 7, 2019 at 1:16 AM

    Ya Allah! Sis! I cried reading this article! You’re far too eloquent. May Allah SWt grant you ease and bless you with more beautiful moments with your son and family. May Allah SWt give you abundant good for writing this article and spreading awareness and may the teachings you sort to spread with this article stay with all those who have read it and prompt them to take action.

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#Life

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

covery islam story
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship hugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

convert friendship

Cases when it is appropriate to ask

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

charity
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I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

1. My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

2. Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

3. Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

dardir

4. People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

5. Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

6. It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

7. Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

8. It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

9. Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

10. Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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#Islam

He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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