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Musulmamis: Parenting while Latina and Muslim

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For new Muslims nothing can be more daunting than dealing with family members’ reactions to the decision of converting to Islam. Parents, siblings, and other relatives can either shun their newly-Muslim family member, ask very tough questions, make hurtful comments regarding their faith, or even give them ultimatums in order to pressure them to abandon their choice to embrace Islam. While some of these initial reactions and resistance may be well-intentioned, they are no less hurtful. The first Muslims during the Makkan era in the time of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), peace be upon him, dealt with similar, and oftentimes much worse, situations with their families. Some endured torture, humiliation, and loss of status and financial stability, while others lost their lives as the very first martyrs in Islam.

However, there is another more complex struggle that new Muslims face involving close family, and that is the challenge of raising their children as Muslims. Too often, there is a lack of education, aid, and established support groups within the greater Muslim community for this purpose, leaving converts to teach themselves and their children on their own. Other times, there is a wealth of resources available, but converts are not familiar with how to tap into these opportunities. Some new Muslims embrace Islam after they have already had children, and the ages of the children vary; the older the child, the more complicated the relationship between them and their Muslim parent could become. Younger children are more likely to be inclined towards the teachings of Islam and easily accept their parent’s guidance. However, some family dynamics, such as divorce or single parent households, may present greater dilemmas such as children caught between two circles, one with a Muslim parent and the other with a parent of another faith. Other converts may marry and bear children after their conversion but lack the adequate education and experience to properly teach their child the religion.

To look further into this multi-faceted issue, I interviewed two Muslim Latina converts of different backgrounds who have successfully raised children as Muslims after their own conversions, and whose children are now independent adults, to ask them how they were able to take on this tremendous endeavor. As a mother, myself, I wanted to offer a ray of hope to those new Muslim mothers out there who may be struggling with feelings of inadequacy or failure.

From Dominican Single Mother to Muslim Educator

Amada “Sahar” Quesada was born in Manhattan, New York, to Dominican parents and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She was raised as a Pentecostal Christian and embraced Islam in 2001, two months after the September 11th attacks in her hometown. She had been married for 10 years prior to accepting Islam, but by the time she converted, she was living as a single mother with three children. Sahar was introduced to Islam after trying to convert a Muslim woman to Christianity but then stopped to listen to the woman tell her about her own faith. She said, “(At the time) I was unhappy spiritually where I was with my Pentecostal church. I started to research Islam and got in contact with local Muslims in the Chicago area.” She says she fell in love with Islam after learning that it was a religion with a scripture and ethics that has not changed even centuries after its revelation. Sahar, who was born Amada (“Beloved” in Spanish) Quesada took the name “Sahar” after the woman who first taught her about Islam.

As Sahar began learning about Islam, she taught it to her young children, ages 8, 4, and 3 at the time. Once she decided to embrace Islam, she took advantage of all the resources available. “I started with Quran recitation for the kids when they were younger, I even had them enrolled in private Islamic schools, which helped with their development towards learning about Islam and understanding what it was,” Sahar explained. These classes helped to build a solid foundation for her children while she also dedicated her time to learning through reading books, listening to lectures, attending Islamic seminars and conventions, and through hearing the experience of other Muslims.

For the next years of her life, Sahar immersed herself and her children in Islam. She taught by example and through lots of practice. She became very involved in her local mosque, much as she had been with her church as a Christian. Yet this devotion was met with constant resistance. Sahar’s ex-husband, tried his best to persuade his children to remain Christians. While they were with him, he forced them to eat pork and go to church. It was their eldest child who finally stood up to her father and told him to let them practice Islam.

Coming from an already religious background, Sahar had understood the need to build a strong connection with God for the sake of her children. She became an Islamic school teacher and volunteered in different capacities within the Islamic community. Sahar has been an educator for over fifteen years in Islamic schools. This also helped her stay close to her children while they shared in her journey.

At the same time, Sahar made sure that her children kept close ties with non-Muslim relatives. Maintaining her Dominican identity was important for her, and this kept her connected to family, regardless of religious differences. She wholeheartedly declared, “I will never close the door on my Dominican pride and what comes with it. It is in my blood and even plays a role on how I handle my daily life without me even noticing.”

Still, she admits that for her, staying true to her Dominican identity while being Muslim took a lot of trial and error. “Finding a proper balance and being able to distinguish my identity with each ‘hat’ that I wear has been the hardest thing about practicing Islam as a Latina and a mother,” she said. “However, I do love the fact that I can relate to others that share being Latin-American, a mother, or a Muslim, or even all three, and finding that commonality.” She believes that a person does not have to choose one identity over another; if everything is balanced within the guidelines of Islam. Becoming a Muslim should never be a reason to abandon or be ashamed of who you are.

At first, Sahar’s family despised her decision to convert to Islam, but have since become supportive after seeing the positive impact it has had in her life and in the lives of her children. All three have married and began living on their own as independent Muslims, while keeping their Latino identity and preserving the Dominican traditions of their mother. For Sahar, her children are a source of constant pride and happiness, as they should be for any mother. The distinction is that Sahar has been able to pass on to them the gift of Islam while they were young, which she only received at a later age, and that is certainly an achievement.

Raising Boricua Born Muslims: Islam in the Inner-City and Puerto Rico

Newlyweds Karima Kayyam and her husband converted to Islam in 1973 after what she describes as “seeking knowledge and identity in the Puerto Rican community through the Young Lords Party.” Her husband, Juan Garcia, known as Yahya, was a member of the Puerto Rican civil rights organization during a time when Islam was spreading rapidly in the urban landscape. They attended the classes of a Muslim scholar by the name of Heshaam Jaaber from the Elizabeth, New Jersey, and embraced Islam through his guidance and after all the questions they had as Christians had been answered and explained logically in Islam.

Karima was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico, but her parents migrated to New York, and later Newark, New Jersey, where she was raised and introduced to Islam. “Newark had recently gone through a civil rights uprising. The youth were tired of the racism, and Islam opened the doors to new guidance and equality for us,” Karima explained. Although her parents were Christian, they respected her decision, and Karima attributes this to her and her husband’s respect and good treatment towards their parents. In Newark, Black Muslims also opened the doors of acceptance for the Puerto Rican converts, which made their transition easier.

Once Karima had children, she was already deeply absorbed in the Islamic culture of the inner-city Muslims, but still connected to her Christian family and her Puerto Rican roots. She taught her children about Islam through reasoning and logic, explaining to them the meaning behind “La ilaha il Allah,” there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah. She reasoned that if her children were well-grounded, then their faith would not be easily shaken. “My family would want to take them (her children) to the Christian churches, and I would allow it so that there would be no (room for) doubt,” she explained, “Alhamdulillah, logic wins over doubt.” After all, it was this rationality that had brought her and her husband to Islam.

Although she would have preferred that they attend an Islamic school, Karima’s three children went through the public school system. Islamic schools were less common at the time, and her family could not afford a private education for their children, so they learned Islam at home and in the mosque. Karima’s lessons consisted of reminders about the Qur’an and the Sunnah, praying and supplicating together, and practicing patience. She and her family continued learning by being around other Muslims, frequenting Islamic lectures and conferences, reading the Qur’an and ahadith, and always asking questions to those who were more knowledgeable. The prayer was of utmost importance for Karima, who describes making the five daily prayers a priority no matter what was happening in her life.

Karima and her husband helped to establish a Latino Muslim community and mosque called Bani Saqr, in Newark. Bani Saqr is not well known now because it dissolved over the years, but during its inception, it was perceived to be a beacon of learning for Puerto Rican and Latino Muslims. Karima’s family spent their early years reaping the benefits of a motivated and unified convert community before relocating again to Puerto Rico.

With mostly Arab or South Asian immigrants, the situation for Muslims in Puerto Rico was very different. Karima’s family would attend Friday prayers and Eid gatherings at the established mosques, but their growth as Muslims at that point had to come from within the household. They also had to set an example for non-Muslim family and neighbors of how to live Islam while still being true to their Puerto Rican roots. They faced the challenges of attending family reunions where pork, a common staple in Puerto Rican cuisine, and alcohol were frequently served. Karima joined family gatherings out of respect, but when opportunities for dialogue arose, she spoke to her relatives about Islam and explained the reasons behind certain restrictions.

She believes that the lessons she was taught by her own parents helped to shape how she handled all situations as a Muslim and a mother. “I was born to beautiful God-fearing parents who allowed us to seek knowledge and stressed family unity despite our differences; some were poor, some rich, some black, brown or white, some righteous and some not,” she described. Karima passed down these lessons to her children, who in turn, exercised patience and respect with their kin. As the only Muslims in their family, they relied on each other as their Islamic support system.

Although they also faced their fair share of trials, Karima and her children have remained firm in their faith because of their reliance on Allah and each other. Even now that her children have grown up, this strong mother prays continuously for them to be kept on the straight path, as Islam teaches that the supplication of the parent for his/her child is always accepted. (At Tirmidhi).

When asked what advice Karima would give to other Muslim mothers out there in the struggle, she said, “Stay close to your families and your identity. Be the best example you can be under whatever circumstances you encounter. Islam is the best guidance for mankind, but be you, as we are constantly growing and learning. Allah makes no mistakes.”

In Latin-American culture, we often hear the phrase, Madre no hay mas que una, meaning that we only have one mother, so, in other words, take care of your mother. Likewise, in Islam, time and time again we are taught that the mother has a particularly high status, and that is because of the constant sacrifices she makes for the sake of her children. Karima’s and Sahar’s stories may have taken place at different times and locations, and under different circumstances, but what unites the two are the sacrifices they made to live their lives according to Islam while raising their children as Muslims. Aside from finding a balance between Islam and their Latina identities, these mothers fought the same battles as all other mothers. They had to persevere with their minds, bodies, and souls to steer their families in the right direction. Motherhood does not come with a manual, even if you put the word “Muslim” in front of it. While our own personal stories may be different, what we can learn from their experiences is that we should always remember our purpose and what brought us to Islam in the first place. Just as we were chosen and guided by Allah, so will our children, insha’Allah; our role is to do our best, pray for a good outcome, and put our trust in Allah’s ultimate plan.

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Karima Kayyam

    December 13, 2018 at 8:19 PM

    Masha Allah sister. I enjoyed this article. Thanks.

  2. Avatar

    Sahar Amada

    December 13, 2018 at 8:41 PM

    Mashallah, thank you Sr. Wendy
    for hearing our stories.

  3. Avatar

    Gigi

    December 16, 2018 at 9:28 PM

    Absolutely beautiful and so touching. The part about Sahar’s eldest child standing up to their father almost made me cry! So inspiring for this Latina Muslima, and hopefully one day, Musulmadre ?

  4. Avatar

    Myriam

    December 17, 2018 at 7:41 AM

    Your story remind me of my struggle with my family. Only thing at the beginning they Didn’t talk to me for a long time. I keep going to the reunion and visised them. After years they acceptedmy easy of life.
    Thank you both for the reminder.
    May Allah continueto ess you both.
    Myriam

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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.

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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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Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr

Make sure you maximize your sadaqah

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By Ismael Abdela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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