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Value Your Local Imam Even If He Is Not “Famous” | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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In December 2005, I formally took my first Imam position at Masjid Abu Bakr in New Orleans where I would serve for 6 years. With the recovery of the city after Hurricane Katrina underway, it was a stressful time with many other masajid not having their imams back. At that time, I was just a “local imam.” My national profile was minuscule and I used to routinely invite scholars and preachers to benefit our community.

All the while, I barely had a minute to myself. I was expected to do everything from keeping the library clean to marriages and divorces, and counseling, and funerals, and teach Quran, organize events and handle every little detail, and interfaith work, and assist in disaster relief, and still fundraise for our expansion projects, and of course save everyone’s kids from destroying themselves.

I had just gotten married in 2007 and lost my mom (may Allah have mercy on her) the same year. Living 2 houses down from the masjid, people would knock on my door regularly in the odd hours of the night when we had just put our first baby girl to sleep, block my driveway during salah times, and request drive-by marriage ceremonies at any time of the day. I felt like a doctor on call, all the time. But I definitely didn’t have a doctor’s salary.

And for some people, I still was falling short. I would be questioned for every salah I didn’t make at the masjid, usually because I was tending to someone’s needs. My khutbahs, recitations, and clothing style were constantly up for debate. And my boss would effectively change every year because of board elections.

Now, let me stop here and say that I loved my masjid and left on great terms to pursue other opportunities. I made friends that became family, and I wouldn’t trade those 6 years for anything. But the lifestyle I just mentioned certainly wasn’t unique to me. I know many imams who work tirelessly for their community only to constantly be deemed insufficient.

And in recent years, a particular critique has become common: “Why can’t you be more like (insert “celebrity shaykh” name). Suddenly, I find myself on the other side of that equation. Imams and scholars are put down in my name. And though I despise the term “celebrity shaykh” and certainly never asked for it, I fully recognize that scholars and teachers that don’t have my profile are abused by it. Hence why I’m writing this article in defense of the imams and scholars who do so much for their communities on the ground, only to be diminished because they don’t have an inflated online presence.

Most of my teachers would never be recognized by those who know of my work. My father-in-law was the imam of a masjid for over 2 decades and played a significant role in developing me not just with ijazas, but as a person (and of course, I owe both him and my mother in law for my wonderful wife who has helped develop me every day for the last 12 years).

Some of my most blessed teachers that reside right here in the United States hold regular classes that are underwhelming in attendance. This past weekend I had the blessing of sharing the stage with one of my beloved teachers and mentors, Dr. Hatem Al Haj. I would do anything for the opportunity to sit in his classes on a weekly basis even now. And when it comes to just sheer work being done for communities, the Imams in inner cities (particularly from the community of Imam WD Muhammad) have been torchbearers. I am put to shame when I compare my own work to Imam Rafiq Numan in New Orleans or Imam Khalid Shahid here in Dallas.

So a few points to consider:

  1. A person’s fame or lack thereof is not an indication of their knowledge level. That means that some scholars who enjoy a particular profile indeed do have the credentials to match that profile, while others don’t. And in more cases than not, the most knowledgeable gems are building communities away from public sight.

 

  1. Don’t belittle your Imam because he’s not someone else. Allah has given us all our own unique qualities. Build with and around your imam instead.

 

  1. An imam is not a Prophet. The expectations of an imam are usually entirely unreasonable, and they are ridiculously under-compensated. That creates bitterness on the part of both the Imam and the community. No other faith community invests less in the pieces around their clergy to build a successful community. You want your Imam to build right, let him focus on being a good imam as opposed to 7 jobs in 1. Part of that is a clear job description with clear expectations on both sides. What the imam does beyond that is part of his own personal growth in the sight of Allah, in front of whom we all must hold ourselves accountable.

 

  1. Don’t wait for someone to be discovered nationally to benefit from them locally. Many times we only recognize the blessings of a teacher after others recognize it for us.

 

  1. An imam having a national profile might actually be bad for your masjid due to time constraints, so be careful what you wish for. That’s not to say that there aren’t some who have done a wonderful job of maintaining commitments to both their local communities and the broader Ummah. But it does mean that you might be making a big mistake replacing your local Imam for his lack of prominence while he is fully committed to building your community.

 

  1. You want a secure imam, give him job security. That’s not to say that there aren’t reasonable grounds for the removal of an Imam, or that sometimes you just don’t have the right fit. But what type of caliber and commitment are you expecting when the position you hire for has a new boss every year or two through notorious masjid board elections. And this is not meant to demonize those boards since there are some really good ones out there, but to say there has to be a way to safeguard the imam from those cycles.

 

  1. Whoever does not thank the people, does not thank Allah. It means something to hear words of appreciation, especially when you’re so accustomed to criticism and overwhelmed by an unreasonable workload. So to the imams who teach our children, lead our prayers, represent us in our communities, bury our loved ones, perform our marriages, and do so much more…

 

May Allah reward you AND YOUR FAMILIES for all that you do for OUR FAMILIES. May you be celebrated by Allah and the inhabitants of the heavens. That is where true “fame” lies.

And to those who abuse their local Imams in the name of us “celebrity shaykhs”, please stop it. #NotInMyName

Imam Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelors in Accounting, a Bachelors in Islamic Law, a Masters in Islamic Finance, a Masters in Political History, and is currently pursuing a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Muhammad

    November 29, 2018 at 10:51 AM

    Excellent and well said. May Allah accept all your efforts for the sake of Islam.

  2. Avatar

    Omar

    November 29, 2018 at 11:33 AM

    Great article. I think it’s just the times we live in. People are more concerned about who makes them ‘feel good’ about their Iman as oppose to who is the one closer to Qur’an and Sunnah …Who is more known to the people rather than who is more known to Allah.

    So many times I’ve heard people say… You gotta hear the tafsir by such and such an “aalim” because he’s the most popular celebrity speaker in the world. While the person holds no credentials of being a scholar or an aalim. And their local Imam has more ijazahs in Hadith and tafsir and does more for their community than the celebrity Shaykh ever could.??‍♂

    The same kind of mentality is adopted by the other side of the spectrum where people with cultish attachment to their masjid and imams consider only their Iman to be rightly guided while every other people, imam or masjid whether it be across the street and the same “sect” as them but deemed to be misguided because they don’t follow “my” masjid.

    My sincere advise to all my brothers and sisters. Only Allah knows who is guided and who is misguided. The so called “celebrity Shaykh” that you follow *could* be the first to enter hell and the local Imam that spent his nights in secluded ibadah could be the closest to the Prophet in the Hereafter – and vice versa. So never show one down over the other because you could be slandering someone whose already got his place booked under the throne of Allah fifty thousand years before the creation.

    A dua I always make is for Allah to guide me to the one who is most pleasing to him. Not the one that makes me “feel good” about my faith, is well known or the one that inclines to my “cultish mentality”.

    If your ultimate goal is Jannah then stop attaching your faith to labels of speakers and seek the one that is most pleasing to Him. May Allah guide us all, ameen.

  3. Avatar

    Rafia

    November 29, 2018 at 11:59 AM

    Well written ma sha Allah – I think people particularly say this specially in our times because they need a BIG example to look towards OR they are not that much involved in the masjid to understand the situation of their scholars. In their own way of given circumstances and resources, they do their best – Alhamdulillah!
    And I totally agree, no one should abuse an imam in your name. You are a human too and might have ignored some areas that are needed by the community in many ways.
    Every Imam/Sheikh/Ustadh we learn from should be given enough benefit of doubt that in the end they are only humans like us.
    Personally I think #celebritysheikh phenomenon becomes “Iamyourfan” & “whatever they say is right” – which is wrong. We need to broaden our ilm enough to know deen ourselves.
    May Allah bless the scholars among us and make them beneficial for all, ameen

  4. Avatar

    Atif

    November 29, 2018 at 12:02 PM

    AsalamuAlaikum,

    Well written article ?. I’ve never really come across this in the UK. The imam’s here have always been looked up to by members of the community and myself (even when I don’t agree on issues like the mawlid). Although, I don’t about much about job security but given the imam has been the same for years, I’d say it’s must be okay.

    In general, you shouldn’t be like someone else or wish others to be like someone they’re not. If you give a person a job then you have the trust to let them do it.

    The imams job is to impart knowledge but it’s up to the listener to check and verify the knowledge is correct before implementing. It shouldn’t really matter how it is delivered. If the people are interested they’ll pay attention.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Avatar

    Hemiar

    November 29, 2018 at 2:02 PM

    Jazak Allahu Khayran. May Allah reward you for all your efforts; within the muslim communities, and without.

  6. Avatar

    Rayhaneh

    November 30, 2018 at 9:59 AM

    Well said and it’s the fact that us moslem we can do more in our masjid and pay more regularly and we hope some one else does it.i always witness how much others they do and pay for their churches and yes Imam of any masjid should have regular descent salary in order to have time to put it in Allah’s way to be able to teach our next generation . May Allah(swt) give us all the wisdom to do more.?

  7. Avatar

    Sabri

    November 30, 2018 at 1:46 PM

    Jazakumullahu Khayran. So True in the (anti)-social media era we live in. May Allah reward our local imams and those who support them with Al Firdaws.

  8. Avatar

    Saffia

    November 30, 2018 at 9:04 PM

    JazakAllahKhair. I completely agree with your points in this article. Our entire community has become engrossed with popularity and entertainment. Every organization has to spend 10-20 thousand dollars on their fundraiser just to get an audience to attend. Our community is spoiled on being entertained before they will consider supporting an organization, a mosque, an event of any kind, or a speaker.

  9. Avatar

    Jerome Yakubu

    December 2, 2018 at 3:51 AM

    My dear IMAM,
    As-salam Alaikum Wa rahamatullam, Wa barakatuh.

    There’s a lot you need to know about the MUSLIM congregation that you lead in prayers and the ISLAMIC COMMUNITY in which you are the IMAM.

    Please, read this from an AFRICAN, born into Islam from generations of ISLAMIC ancestry, who have been living in the United States of America for 43 years and counting, since July 1975, in a large city in the Midwest America with a very large population of MUSLIMS.

    Alhamdulilah Rabil Alamin, All glory be to the Almighty Allah (SWT) who had blessed me with good health and stability to be a CONTINUOUS member of the same mosque since March 1981 up till today.
    I AM A LIVING WITNESS TO ALL KINDS OF PRESSURE IMAMS GO THROUGH IN THE MOSQUE AND THE COMMUNITY THEY PRACTICE IN, HERE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
    My dear brother IMAM,
    Interestingly, your post herein ask fellow Muslims to RESPECT their IMAMS, …. Are you asking that the MUSLIMS that you lead in prayer should RESPECT you and regard you as their SUPERIOR in any circumstances?

    Please allow me to ask you this SERIOUS QUESTION.

    While leading a prayer in your mosque here in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
    Have you ever asked yourself which kind of MUSLIMS are lined up behind you while you lead the prayer? …. Have you?
    Have you considered the difference in their NATIONALITY, their TRIBES, their AGES, their PROFESSIONS and their backgrounds? …. Most importantly, their STATE OF MINDS at the moment they are praying behind you leading the prayer in the mosque.

    Your post here lays more emphasis on ‘RESPECT FOR IMAMS’ by the Muslims around him.
    You only know RELIGION, you actually don’t know much about HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY.

    Please note that I keep capitalizing the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
    It is a very different world here in the USA to practice ISLAM as known in other parts of this world away from the USA. Too many MUSLIMS are in your mosque praying behind you because they are there ONLY to pray to the Almighty Allah (SWT) to relieve them of their PAIN as they suffer on that particular day.l

    As an IMAM anywhere here in the United States, You have THREE things working against you.

    1. RACISM
    2. TRIBALISM
    3. NEPOTISM

    RACISM has to do with the country (USA) where you practice ISLAM as an IMAM.
    Wherever you may come from, be you an Arab, an African, an Indian, a Pakistani a Chinese, an American (White or Black) or others, THERE IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A MUSLIM BROTHER OR SISTER, LINING UP BEHIND YOU IN PRAYER ROOM, WHO LOOKS AT YOU DIFFERENT FROM HIM INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT YOU AS A BROTHER MUSLIM AND ACCEPT YOU 100% AS ISLAM ASKS US TO DO…. Truth told.
    Those kind of people come with different, different PERSONAL PROBLEMS, they are NOT in the mosque to RESPECT any IMAM, they are in the mosque to just pray to the Almighty Allah to EASE them off of their personal problems and just leave.

    U.S. IMMIGRATION SERVICES have messed up so many Muslims badly, here in the USA.
    Among those that line up behind you are ‘SOMEBODY’ who were ‘SOMEBODY’ from their countries of origin before they migrated to the USA to seek greater pastures.
    They are the DOCTORS, the LAWYERS, the ENGINEERS, the ACCOUNTANTS, the PhDs and others who were successful in their trades back in their home countries before migrating to the United States.

    Trust me ….. TOO MANY OF THEM ARE NOT HAPPY PEOPLE AT ALL.
    UNHAPPY PEOPLE NEVER HAVE TIME TO RESPECT ANY IMAM.
    They come to the mosque to pray to the Almighty Allah to ease them of their unhappiness, and that is all about it.

    Here in the United States of America, THINGS HAVE CHANGED FOR THE WORSE FOR MUSLIMS PRACTICING ISLAM, it gradually started since 1992 or so, when the USA went to war with Saddam Hussain in Iraq and the Arab world have not been in PEACE since then till today.

    Things TOTALLY got completely bad for Muslims after the sad event of September 11, 2001 when those two Towers in New York were destroyed, so many lives lost and it was concluded that the Arabs (MUSLIMS) were the perpetrators of such evil acts. Since then, MUSLIMS, regardless of what their professions may be, were LESS respected anywhere in the USA and the western world.

    My dear brother IMAM,
    How do you expect any unhappy Muslim Medical Doctor, an unengaged Muslim Lawyer, a not-so-happily-employed Engineer or a least-paid Muslim accountant and others who are treated with absolutely NO RESPECT at their places of employment, just because they are MUSLIMS to have time to RESPECT you when they have such PAINS in them when they come to the mosque?

    UNHAPPY MIND IS A WICKED MIND WITH NO RESPECT FOR ANYBODY.

    How do you expect a MUSLIM brother who migrated to the USA from his home country to seek a greener pasture or SECURITY for his life because of all kinds of WARS raging in his country which have destroyed almost everything he may have in his country, who then get here in the USA to find it difficult to get a well-paying job here in the USA, to be respectful of any IMAM, whose job, to him, is to lead the prayer for the 20 minutes or so and let him go back home.

    Nothing destroys a home and family in the USA more than the INABILITY of the MAN OF THE HOUSE to provide for the family. …. This happens EVERYDAY here in the USA, due to poor EMPLOYMENT that pays almost nothing or UNEMPLOYMENT itself that renders the man of the house so weak in the management of his own family…. How do you expect such a MUSLIM praying behind you to have time to RESPECT you as an IMAM?
    UNHAPPINESS IN ONE’S SELF ALWAYS BRINGS THE WORSE OF EVERYBODY EASILY.
    Not every MUSLIM that lines up behind you is a HAPPY MAN …. That is another TRUTH told.
    It is what living in America brings to the lives of immigrant Muslims.

    All the above narrations is based on RACISM,
    Now, allow me to remind you that you will also go through TRIBALISM every day.

    As of today 2018,
    TRIBALISM is another problem with ISLAM and among the MUSLIMS who practice ISLAM here in the USA.
    Do you think if you are a YEMENI and an IMAM that leads prayers in any mosque in the USA, every SAUDI ARABIAN in your congregation will give you the RESPECT you think you deserve as an IMAM? …. I don’t think so.
    Somewhere in his mind will be the thought of the war currently going on between his country and yours.

    Same goes with if you are an AFRICAN, who probably studied so hard and very knowledgeable in Quranic verses than most Arabs themselves, having graduated from a university in an Arab country and excelled higher than your Arab classmates, Do you expect 100% RESPECT from those non-Arab MUSLIMS who you lead their prayers every day in the mosque? …. Please DO NOT EXPECT such respect, There is ISLAM and there is REALITY.
    Same goes for an INDIAN Imam expecting 100% respect from any PAKISTANI brother Muslim in his congregation and so on and so forth.

    Here in the USA, every MOSQUE is MULTI-NATIONAL, MULTI-TRIBAL, and MULTI-CULTURAL that houses CHARACTERS of all kinds …. A very high percentage of them are still STRUGGLING to make ENDS MEET here in the USA and they are aging faster and faster, almost making them feel hopeless in succeeding in whatever they do in the USA.

    ARE YOU GETTING PAID ANY SALARY AS AN IMAM?
    Never expect the RESPECT you think you deserve from everyone, IF YOU ARE PAID ANY SALARY WHATSOEVER AS AN IMAM, regardless of your knowledge about the religion of ISLAM.
    You are an EMPLOYEE in a take-it-or-leave-it job, replaceable at any moment.
    Have you ever asked yourself if any prayer was ever POSTPONED because you were absent?
    That should tell you how easy it is to replace you, because there’s always an equally learned Muslim that can lead the prayer flawlessly.

    Now, let’s talk about NEPOTISM.
    As described in the dictionary, NEPOTISM is …. “Favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those in power (as by giving them jobs)”.

    Unlike back home where each and every one of us migrated to the USA from, HERE in the USA, the mosque is OWNED, MANAGED AND FINANCED BY THE COMMUNITY. …. You are just an EMPLOYEE of the establishment.
    Unless you build your own mosque and manage it, you can’t dictate to anyone whatsoever.
    Any Muslim can pray five times a day WITHOUT an IMAM, an IMAM is not an IMAM if he has nobody lining up behind him in prayers.

    I am from Africa, Our mosques are run like they run the CHURCHES here in the USA, whereby the IMAM and the PASTORS are allowed to take home a certain percentage of the DONATIONS made to the MOSQUES on Fridays or the CHURCHES on Sundays.

    Here in the USA, You are EMPLOYED as an EMPLOYEE to lead the prayer and perform other duties as laid down in your letter of appointment as an IMAM and that is it! …. you get paid your SALARY and the Board of Directors determine whether to renew your contract or not. …. Here in the USA, being an IMAM is a JOB, not a ROYALTY whatsoever. …. There is nowhere in the Qur’an that all Muslims must look at their IMAM as their SUPERIORS, here in the USA, that will be too difficult, the FREEDOM and the LIBERTY is so much practiced and enjoyed by everyone …. In any country where they have no respect for their PRESIDENT, an IMAM of an Islamic mosque should be very happy he still have a job and not push it, because he leads prayers for so many UNHAPPY PEOPLE who are not as COMFORTABLE living in the USA as you may think they are …. TOO MANY PROBLEMS OF DIFFERENT KINDS FOLLOW EVERY MUSLIMS TO THE MOSQUES IN THE ISA EVERYDAY.

    Some Muslims here in the USA are OLD PEOPLE who are retired, some migrated to the USA at a very OLD AGE from Arab countries with good knowledge of the practice of ISLAM and more importantly the knowledge of the contents of the Holy Qur’an, Some can even boast that they are more knowledgeable in ISLAM and the Holy Qur’an than the IMAM himself … but they are UNEMPLOYABLE in most American JOB MARKET due to lack of educational qualification or OLD AGE. …. Those ones are ready to take your job for a FRACTION OF HOW MUCH YOUR SALARY IS TODAY.

    Not only that,
    Those OLD, UNEMPLOYABLE and JOBLESS ones are RELATIVES of some prominent members of the BOARD OF DIRECTORS of your mosque …. That is when and where NEPOTISM comes in.
    So many of them want your job as an IMAM for their OLD, UNEMPLOYABLE and jobless relatives for HALF THE AMOUNT PAID YOU AS YOUR SALARY. … Be very, very careful how you demand RESPECT from those who are JEALOUS of you as IMAM of the mosque.

    Personally, I have witnessed IMAMS come and GO, they all lost their jobs as IMAMS because of those reasons I listed above…… This is AMERICA, a CAPITALIST country, believe it or not, DOLLARS come first before RELIGION. Some will intentionally commit un-Islamic sins and go to the mosque and beg the Almighty Allah (SWT) for forgiveness.

    CONCLUSION.
    Try as much as possible and practice INCLUSION.
    A mosque is NOT a good mosque if anyone feels NOT included.
    A mosque, here in the USA is supposed to be a place where everyone is TOTALLY welcomed, regardless of race, ethnicity or age. …. That is what ISLAM should mean.
    Make everybody feel welcomed around you.
    Although, they are seeing you different, preach ISLAM, preach BROTHERHOOD and SISTERHOOD and you will receive the RESPECT you deserve.

    Ma a salam.

  10. Avatar

    Youshay Siddiqui

    December 18, 2018 at 2:47 PM

    Its as usual graceful to listen to you and learn from you my beloved Sheikh Omar Sulaiman. I remember you in my prayers. I have benefited a lot from you, by the will of Allah.

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

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

Reem Shaikh

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

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

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

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

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

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

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

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

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

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

Web MD

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

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

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

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

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

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

Forty Days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Excuse Required:

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

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

Only Under Extreme Risks:

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

Other Views:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Do Muslims Plan for Disability

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

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

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

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

The Problem

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

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

Please Stand By

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

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

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

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

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

Munir Vohra is a special needs advocate and an athlete

The Shape of Special Needs Trusts

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

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

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

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

Example: Care for Zayna

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

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

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

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

When disability planning is not about Public Benefits

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

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

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

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

Considering your own needs

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

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

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

Example: Haris Investing in Cambodian Rice Farms

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

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

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

How living trusts helps

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

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

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

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

Planning for everyone

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

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Should Spiritual Leaders Who Violate Our Trust Be Forgiven?

Some people want to move past the indiscretions of community leaders quickly as though they never occurred while others wish to permanently blacklist them. This article examines a third option between the two that can be a win-win for the fallen leader, the victims, and the community.

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In the past couple of years, a number of simmering scandals among spiritual leaders became public knowledge and the subject of vigorous and often painful public debate.  As someone who has worked in the community dawah space the past 15 years, often acting as a bridge between past and present microcelebrity as well as non-celeb teachers to the community at large, one question I’ve been asked repeatedly – should community leaders who violate our trust be forgiven?  I’m often asked by people who aren’t fanboys / fangirls taken by microcelebrity dawah culture or wearing spiritual blinders for non-celebs, and often don’t even understand what has occurred.  Below I share answers I have heard as well as what I believe is fair and pragmatic in many (not all) situations.

Answer #1:  Yes, We Must Forgive Them

One group of people argue we should completely forgive them. No one is perfect, everyone is human and makes mistakes.  If we assume the mistake was truly made, then we should also forgive them and move on. Our faith is replete with statements about Allah’s Mercy, and if we want His Mercy, surely we should also give it to others. Oftentimes, members who fall into this group don’t actually believe the person in question is at fault and are trying to convince others either on the fence or against the individual to let it go. Of course, there are some who believe the violation occurred and not think it a big deal, while others may think the violation indeed was a big deal, and should still be forgiven. I can agree with some aspects of this, but not completely.

Answer #2:  No, They Should Never Be Forgiven

Another group believes that once a person commits a violation of trust, they are no longer to be trusted again. They should leave their positions and be ostracized from the community permanently. They are to be tarred and feathered and made an example of for life.  Members within this group oftentimes don’t need to wait for evidence to arrive at any conclusion – they were judge, jury, and executioner well before there was a trial.  Not all members are like this, of course – some waited for evidence and then reached their conclusions that the gravity of the charges was too much and therefore the person should never be forgiven.

Answer #3:  It Depends – Forgive Them If They Take Ownership and Make Amends

In my view, the problem with the first group is they don’t often see that the person did anything wrong, or if they did, it’s trivial relative to the khayr, the good and benefit they bring to the community. They keep citing that Allah is forgiving, so we should forgive automatically, but in their haste, they forget that part of the process of making restitution is first sincerely regretting what one has done.

To sincerely regret, one must also move out of denial and into acceptance that they made a mistake. Once one admits failure, they can then ask to be forgiven, and then the aggrieved party is in a position to grant it. The community forgiving and re-integrating a person who refuses to take responsibility for their wrongdoing does neither them, their victims, nor the community any good. We continue to distrust the person and they continue to believe they can get away with whatever they wish because they are “special”. Victims fear community integration, everyone becomes cynical about religion, and the cause of calling people to become better worshippers of Allah is harmed.

On the flip side, the second group is far too extreme in their view of justice. To ostracize that person and leave them no path of return means they have no means to redeem themselves, and de facto their families are casualties who must deal with the fallout of being pushed out of the community. I agree that none of us are perfect, and we all often make egregious mistakes. In my own experience, there are many instances where activists who advocate publicly for better are often involved privately in worse than those they go after.

That being the case, there is no person that can’t be forgiven, and I would say we shouldn’t leave aside this possibility in our dealings with those who fail us just as we expect it when we ourselves fall short, sometimes seriously so. I would add that we would lose the skills and talent of that person – if we believe in allowing people with criminal histories back into the general population and providing them with opportunities to become productive, reformed citizens, I don’t see why we wouldn’t offer the same to our community and religious leaders.

The key I believe is in following a process which includes the following for the individual:

  1. Taking ResponsibilityThey own responsibility for the mistake and acknowledge it was made.  No amount of denial, minimization, and spin will suffice.
  2. Make Restitution:  First and foremost, they apologize and make amends as best they can with the victims.  If the issue went public, then they should apologize to those they were serving as a leader for their mistake as well. This includes handling financial compensation.
  3. Remediating Oneself:  Enroll in counseling, therapy, mentorship, and / or group support programs to help them overcome their issues.
  4. Being Held Accountable:  Work with others on concrete milestones of both behavior and programs that demonstrate their commitment to change.  Be able to show the community that they take reformation seriously and are committed to coming out of their mistake a better person, one who can even advise others of the mistake and how not to repeat it.

As someone who has worked in dawah and supported the ascension of numerous modern-day microcelebrity spiritual scholars and teachers, I and others like me act as a bridge between them and the community.  I do not speak for all of them, certainly, but I know that any leader who tries to re-integrate into the community without taking responsibility will continue to find that many will not support them. Most, in this case, feel a sacred duty to oppose their elephant-in-the-room integration to protect the community at large.

Likewise, I know that many like myself would be willing to overlook and forgive such individuals if they took responsibility for their behavior and demonstrated they were taking concrete steps to make amends for their mistakes.  The month of Ramadan is upon us, and sometimes one just has to rip the band-aid off, go through the process of feeling the pain of scrutiny for owning up, and then moving forward to forgiveness.  I won’t promise it’s easy or that everyone will change, but I can at least say many of us would have an easier time accepting individuals back into the community.

What’s your view on these situations?

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