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25 Things Latino Muslims Want You To Know

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You may have heard that Latinos are not only the fastest growing minority in the United States, but they are also the fastest growing minority within Islam. However, the history of Latinos is just as rich with Islamic roots and influences as their future promises to be. Not all Latino Muslims are converts; many have been practicing Islam for generations and some are even descendants of Muslims from faraway lands. Because Latinos have been involved in Islamic and civil rights movements in the United States as far back as the 60’s and 70’s, and may have been here for even longer, one would think that Muslims would do their best to familiarize themselves with the culture, traditions, and geography of Latin America to better understand their brothers and sisters. However, the non-Latino Muslim community still knows very little about Latin America, what it really means to be Latino or Hispanic in America, and what it means to be Latino and Muslim.

That is why we have compiled this list of things that Latino Muslim leaders all over the US want you to know:

 

1. We want to be treated as equals.

Muslim Latinos want to be seen on equal footing of respect, admiration, brotherhood, and affection. This requires work on our parts, as well as that of our communities… We want others to know that many of us feel hurt and that we are being treated as we have been treated by non-Muslim society: like second class citizens, but that we stand with our brothers in religion even though our social and political agendas may look and sound different.

Hajj Yahya Figueroa, Alianza Islámica (formerly New York), Pennsylvania

2. We come from good families.

Many, if not most of us, came from very moral families. The idea that we converted from some horrible background simply because we’re Latino is not our narrative.

Shinoa Matos, Journalist, New York

3. We can be Muslim and keep our Latino identity.

I would like others to be able to understand and identify the difference between the true practices of our religion Islam vs the diverse cultures that Muslims who practice Islam belong to. For example, someone can be Mexican and Muslim and nowhere in the religion are we encouraged or obligated to choose between the two. We can be just as proud of our faith and culture. We do not need to compromise.

Nahela Morales, ICNA Dallas, Texas

4. Latinos helped to establish Islam in the US.

Latino Muslims were instrumental in establishing Islam in the US; they possess a role in Muslim American history not known to many. Unfortunately, despite these facts, not enough has been done to assist the growth and continuity of the Latino Muslim community by the larger body of Muslims. So, the community is forced to struggle to address its needs with very little support.

Imam Yusuf Rios, 3 Puerto Rican Imams Project, Ohio

5. Our community can relate to both the indigenous and immigrant experience.

Latino Muslims offer a unique experience within the narrative of what is American Islam. We can be a bridge between the African-American Muslim community and immigrant Arab and South Asian Muslim communities. For many of us, we understand and are affected by many of the issues that affect the African-American community due to our proximity and long history within the U.S. yet at the same time, we understand the immigrant experience and the notion of what “back home” means. Latino Muslims are at a crossroads and we are still defining who we are.

Hazel Gómez de Crain, Organizing Fellow at Dream of Detroit, Michigan

6. We are a collage of cultures and customs.

The ethnic mix of the Latino Muslims reflects people of a broad spectrum including: Africans, Native Peoples, and Europeans etc. This has increased because of the diaspora, the Triangular Slave Trade, and the Pre and Post-Colombian Exchange. We should consider the possibilities (and find common ground in): Why we look like we do, eat what we do, speak like we do, and all those other traits that make Latino Muslims a unique group of individuals.

Jamal Abdul-Karim, MEd., Teacher, Maryland

7. All of us deserve to learn about Islam.

We have the right to know and learn about Islam just like everyone else. Not all of us are blue-collar immigrant workers, nevertheless, a Latino or Hispanic person should never be regarded as inferior because of where they are from or their occupation. It kills me to see a Latino person cleaning the mosque or working on landscaping outside a mosque, who doesn’t even know anything about Islam or Muslims because no one bothers to talk to them. There is no excuse.

Wendy Díaz, Co-Founder, Hablamos Islam, Maryland

8. We are just like you.

We came to Islam because it appeals to our very Latinoness (Latinidad). We are converts just like born Muslims are nothing more than the descendants of converts.

Shinoa Matos, Journalist, New York

9. We have been inspired by our predecessors.

As Latino Muslims, our inspirations are the great scholars who learned the Deen and became prominent while being Non-Arabs: Imam Bukhari (Uzbekistan), Imam Muslim (Nishapur), Imam Qurtubi ( Spain ).

Imam Daniel Hernandéz, Pearland Islamic Center ISGH, Houston, TX

10. We want you to acknowledge that we are valuable.

We are not 2nd class citizens, rather we are servants of the Most High and that makes us brothers/sisters under His Mercy and Grace. Affirm our specialties and acknowledge that we are no less than you in our professions. Do not use us to gain wealth or move your organizations the way the slaves were sold in the markets.

Imam Wesley Abu Sumayyah Lebron, Misericordia Para La Humanidad (Mercy for Humanity), 3 Puerto Rican Imams Project, New Jersey

11. We want you to get to know who we are.

Latino Muslims coming to Islam just add feathers to our beautiful Peacock. We are many nations who are diverse in culture and customs. Please take the time to personally understand the Latino Muslims you come across and not only their conversion stories.

Imam Daniel Hernandez, Pearland Islamic Center ISGH, Houston, TX

12. Latinos are diverse.

We are not all Puerto Rican or Mexican. Latin America is very diverse.

Nivia Martinez, Grassroots Dawah, New York

13. We do not want to confuse culture with Islam.

Don’t bring us your cultural baggage and confuse it with Islam. Islam is just as much a part of our heritage as it is of yours. We are equal because we share this Deen with you, and we follow the footsteps of the best generations because we accepted Islam based on knowledge and not culture.

Hernán Guadalupe, MEng., Doctoral student, Business Administration, Maryland

14. We do not want you to believe the stereotypes.

I would want non-Latino or “native” Muslims to know that we are no less than them (some would argue our higher standing due to our choice of Islam vs being “born” into it – but I reject those divisive thoughts).  Secondly, not being “born” into it then gives us a certain push in the Islamic direction. The last point – is sad because I have to say it – we are not all bad or criminals or the sort, as all Muslims are not terrorists or murderers or the sort. There are just a few bad apples in every culture!

Alex Robayo, ME, Physics Instructor, New York

15. We are not just learning about Islam in the prison system.

Some people believe that we have come to (learn) Islam in prison. Not all of us have come to know about Islam because of prison, alhamdulillah.

Juan Alvarado, Caseworker, Pennsylvania

16. Our conversion stories are just as diverse as we are.

Many of us did not become Muslim for marriage. Not to shame those who did, but some of us made this choice on our own.

Nivia Martinez, Grassroots Dawah, New York

17. We demand respect.

Just as every Latino is not Mexican, every Latino is not a drunkard. Almost all immigrant Muslims who contact me are trying to marry a Latina. Many of them see us as no more than a Tinder (dating app). Maybe they could ask to help in the dawah, instead.

Juan Galvan, Co-founder, LADO, Illinois

18. Our women are not for sale.

Unfortunately, we Muslim Latina sisters are fetishized and sexualized amongst the men in our Ummah; considered cheaper alternative brides and punked (many times out of ignorance) from having a legitimate wali, then offered less in dowry, dignity, and honor, and discarded. It’s not right and these conversations need to be had.

Paulina Rivera, MSW candidate, USC, California

19. Rather than criticize, lend a hand.

Do not criticize the Latino once he is learning about Islam; instead, you should help him, get to know him, befriend him and learn with him all the things you do not know about our culture.

Sonia García, The Latina Muslim Foundation, California

20. If you want to know more about us, just ask.

Do not assume to know who we are, what we have been through, or how we got here. If you want to know our story, just ask. We will be happy to tell you. And when we do, don’t judge us; just listen.

Melissa Barreto, Homeschooling Educator, New Jersey

21. We are proud of who we are.

After coming to Islam, Latino Muslims truly appreciate their home countries and who they are because they get to have Islam and be Latino at the same time.

Dr. Julio Ortiz-Luquis, Professor of International Relations, New York 

22. We want you to learn about our rich history and contributions to society.

There is much to celebrate in our Latino customs, from our past indigenous contributions in the pre-colonial American landscape to the more recent contributions throughout Latin America. Islam is as transformative to Latino Muslims as it is to non-convert Muslims. Find out more on how to make a more meaningful impact in our communities by getting to know our histories, our people, our values.

Nylka Vargas, P.I.E.D.A.D National Coordinator, NHIEC Dawah Committee, New Jersey

23. Just as we have a shared past, we have the same goals.

We aspire to belong to the Ummah of Muhammad, the mercy for mankind. I would like for the Muslim community to accept us as Muslims with an Andalusia flair.

Imam Yusef Maisonet, Masjid As-Salaam, Alabama

24. We want to feel accepted.

As a Muslim Latina, I would like to let non-Latinos know that we are very open and accepting individuals. I would like to share my Dominican recipes and put a spunk to their dishes! Most importantly, I want them to know that we just want to be accepted, not rejected from the (Muslim) community.

Sahar Amada Quesada, Teacher, New York

25. We are here to stay.

We exist, and we are here to stay. Islam is for everybody; it is universal and not confined to one place or time.

Imam Danny Khalil Salgado-Miralla, Masjid the Abrar, New York

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Historically, Latino Muslims have sought refuge in Islam because it resonated with our spirituality, morals, family values, and traditions. There is so much to learn from our “Latinidad,” what makes us innately Latino*. We are a people from various countries and backgrounds bound together by a shared language and principles and a history of colonization, oppression, and injustice. Now, we have been united with you under the banner of Islam. We have so much to offer the greater Islamic community, but this begins with acceptance. Make a conscious effort to get to know your Latino brothers and sisters today.

 

*Note: The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Latino as: “a person who was born or lives in South America, Central America, or Mexico or a person in the US whose family is originally from South America, Central America, or Mexico,” whereas Hispanic means: “coming originally from an area where Spanish is spoken and especially from Latin America.” Latino origin is based on ancestry, lineage, heritage, nationality and/or country of birth, therefore Latino people come from a variety of countries, backgrounds and social statuses.

Mexico is the only Spanish-speaking country that shares a border with the US. However, there are a total of 21 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language. The bulk of those are in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. All Spanish-speaking countries are represented throughout the US.

 

 

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Imam Daniel

    October 1, 2018 at 3:38 PM

    Asalamu Alaykum Susan may Allah bless you for your sincere concerns.
    Most of us by the favor of Allah are involved in many causes pertaining to Muslims from all over the world. We make dua, donate, and join efforts for the sake of Allah.
    Regarding Culture:
    It has to be understood that Allah chose for us our unique cultures while we share the same Deen many of us even Latinos/ Hispanic dont share same food, dialect and customs. Our beloved prophet (pbuh) said:
    “Speak to the people according to their mental capacity”
    As human beings we should know our culture and embrace it so long as it doesn’t contradict with our Deen. We should learn our history in order to learn from the past. And we should use wisdom when dealing with diversity making sure we dont impose our cultural practices in the name of Islam while new muslims are unaware of it.
    The objective of this article is to create awareness and help the community better understand how to deal with the Latino Muslim Community and their needs since they too are part of the community as a whole.

  2. Avatar

    farah naaz

    October 9, 2018 at 10:59 AM

    Yes amazing article about Latinos
    in Quraan Allah says Allah human-beings are equal and every child deserve to be TREATED EQUALLY.
    And then Allah azwajal says those who are righteous are most valuable then why not Latinos be treated equally? they indeed deserve respect, liberty and equality.

  3. Avatar

    mohamed qayum

    August 21, 2019 at 4:20 PM

    “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

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#Life

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

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“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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Rebuilding Self-Love  in the Face of Trauma

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“…there is beauty in breaking” – Amir Sulaiman

Words fell softly from her lips as tears streamed down her face. A young woman, newly married, had reached out to me via social media to ask a question about how to reconnect with her body after trauma. Receiving intimacy and sex-related questions from Muslim women all over the world is a large part of my work.  But there was something about this particular questioner that struck me in a very deep place. I intimately knew her pain as a survivor. Not long after taking my shahada, I was the victim of sexual assault. The amount of trauma I suffered is indescribable. But rather than pulling me away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life.

After trauma, rather than pulling away from the faith, I relied heavily on the deen to pull me through one of the darkest periods of my life. Click To Tweet

Healing after trauma took action, not only faith. For years, I struggled with the ability to connect with my body and to understand how to properly process emotions.  Intimacy, of all kinds, was a challenge for me. Reclaiming agency over my own body and establishing my right to pleasure led me down a life-changing path that has led to me now assisting other women in understanding and owning sexuality from a sacred perspective. My trauma broke me but it also showed me new ways to heal.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken. @TheVillageAuntieClick To Tweet

Re-engaging with sexual pleasure after trauma can be very difficult, especially for Muslim women who have been taught their whole lives to vigorously guard their bodies and not discuss sex. Talk of intimacy is still seen as taboo and, worse yet, the ability to report sexual assault and abuse remains a very difficult task for many women, regardless of faith.

But getting back to pleasure really requires coming back to a sense of oneness and power within one’s self. It means owning your narrative and rebuilding the parts which have been broken.

I have developed a five-step plan for helping women to navigate the heartbreaking process of reclaiming the body and opening one’s self to pleasure.

[*This plan is not to be used in place of mental health care (cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, trauma-informed somatic practice, etc.) but is meant to supplement intervention from a trusted licensed mental health provider.]

  1. Practice mindful forgiveness. This is not meant to be directed toward the abuser. Mindful forgiveness after trauma focuses on a need to forgive one’s self for the range of self-directed emotions that can be detrimental in the aftermath of sexual trauma. Sometimes women blame themselves when abuse takes place. This internalized oppression requires forgiveness because a victim should never assume blame for the heinous acts of others. Forgiving ourselves for any negative self-talk and asking Allah to grant His indelible mercy is a key foundation for the development of a healing path. It took years after my assault for me to understand the ways in which I had wounded myself with disparaging internal scripts. When I increased my level of istighfar and asked Allah to excuse all the instances where I doubted myself and harmed my spirit in the process, I was able to finally uncover long-hidden emotions and set about the work of true healing and reconciliation with my body.

    rights of women in Islam

  2. Seek knowledge about one’s own body and its rights. When I became a Muslim 21 years ago, I had no idea that Islam was such a sex-positive religion. The Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is full of instances where he demonstrated the beauty and importance of sex as a form of marital bonding as well as an act of worship. Scouring books of fiqh, I learned the rights of women in Islam which affirmed that we are not human possessions meant to be tilled; women have undeniable rights to pleasure and protection of our most sacred human parts. Understanding that Islam is a guide for all areas of life can give a sense of comfort and provide a pathway to explore the sacredness of sexuality. This is key, especially for women who have been abused by men of faith or who have been victims of spiritual manipulation for carnal gain. Also, learning about the female anatomy, how the brain is an integral part of harnessing pleasure, and ways to use the mind to develop an internal sense of pleasure can also be extremely helpful in re-igniting one’s love of self.

  3. Activate the sensuality of everyday life.  There is a misunderstanding of the role of sensuality in pleasure. Sex is the physical joining of bodies. Sensuality, however, is a conscious internal awareness of pleasurable stimuli. It does not involve engaging with another person. This is key because many trauma sufferers may find physical human touch triggering.  Recognizing the sensual aspects of daily life requires the mindful perception of things that titillate or arouse. It can be as simple as the feel of a particular fabric against the skin, the smell of the air after a heavy rain, a sound that evokes sensual memories, a scent that conjures an arousing mood. Why is this important? Sex is not the sole route to pleasure. For women, pleasure is largely dependent upon a spiritual or mental connection within the body. By engaging in self-motivated pleasurable sensations, this can assist women in realizing the power and control that we have over our physical vessels. Muslim couple healing reciting Quran

  4. Be easy with yourself. In the Qur’an, Allah reminds us “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (2:153)  During the process of reclaiming one’s power, there will undoubtedly be times of anger, grief, sorrow, and resentment. These are human emotions and are quite reasonable given the magnitude of trauma’s effect on the heart. Be patient with yourself. Channel love and support during times of difficulty. Do not neglect your healing journey because of a setback. It is important to practice patience with one’s self and utilize prayer as a stabilizing force. Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance. Trauma is not a fundamental characteristic of who you have become. Reclaiming your narrative means understanding that you have the power to create a different story with a powerful ending. Give yourself the time and space to rewrite your script.

    Allah is Al Wali, our greatest Protector, and Supporter. During times of emotional despair, rather than directing our energy inward, we can learn to release these emotions through dua and remembrance.Click To Tweethealing from trauma

  5. Find your circle. Healing is not a solitary act. Sometimes it requires the love and support of others. Do you have a circle of support? Who are the people in your circle? And if you don’t have one, how can you create one? When I was at my lowest, my circle was there to remind me of who I was and how far I had come. They were the ones with whom I could be my most authentic self. One of the ways in which we can heal trauma is by seeking human connection. Select your circle carefully and lean on them during times of need. The healing power of your personally curated community can be transformative and life-changing.

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

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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. 

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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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