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Hijab Fixation: Deciding Our Heaven And Hell

Hijab itself is not the issue, rather it is the forceful approach that starts the damage. Sometimes a girl is not convinced of her faith yet. She may have questions that she is afraid to ask. She may have doubts that need to be addressed and discussed wisely. But, while she’s struggling with internal conflicts and confusions, she’s forced to wear something that’s not only spiritually symbolic but takes a lot of strength to put on.

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One day my 18-year-old son, messaged me:

Then the next day, he sent me screen shots of a conversation that took place between him and his friends on Twitter.

Before I share those tweets, I just want the readers to know that these young men’s ages range between 18-21. They are raised in practicing Muslim families by parents whose second home is the masjid.

They are well-mannered, polite and the kind of boys you would want your son to be friends with.

girls who dont wear hijab tweet

Girl who don't wear hijab hell

Hijab in Islamic School

A few more comments from different young men.

Boys commenting on hijab

My daughter chimed in.


The conversation continued, diving head-first into the complex connections between faith, free agency, external modesty and internal righteousness, but this is not an article about any of those things. Nor is this about the obligation of hijab. Hijab is an obligation— that is not up for discussion.

Rather, this piece is about how forcing hijab on our girls is a damaging mistake that fails to meet its end goal- a woman’s ownership of her spiritual submission to Allah. From west to east, I have seen girls suffering spiritual damage when they are forced to wear hijab.

We’ve probably all met a girl or two who was forced to wear hijab and consequently resented it. When I was in high school, there were only two students who wore hijab. One was myself, the other was a girl would take off her hijab in school and would wear shorts, mini skirts. That was my first interaction with a girl who was forced to wear hijab.

Since then I have met countless others, and most of them remove it at their first opportunity. I live in the Middle East now, and while hijab is not mandated by the government in Qatar, it is still a symbol of family honor. When enforced by family members, the result is the same. Girls I have spoken with hate covering and not only remove hijab as soon as they get their first opportunity to do so, but also dress less modestly than the girls who are not forced into it.

There are also girls who are certain about their faith and are convinced that wearing hijab is the right thing to do, but tackling inner temptations can take time. It is not easy to wear hijab, especially in this time of so much emphasis on physical beauty and appearance. Many of  us can identify with the constant social media bombardment.

In either case, when a girl resists, she is judged and looked down upon. Hijab is forced. She may wear it to school but she ends up resenting it. A girl in doubt, becomes even more doubtful as she starts to perceive the whole religion of Islam from the lens of “being forced” with no room for questions or discussions. Consequently her conflicts intensify and her confusion turns into bitterness and resentment towards the faith.

Hijab itself is not the issue, rather it is the forceful approach that starts the damage. Sometimes a girl is not convinced of her faith yet. She may have questions that she is afraid to ask. She may have doubts that need to be addressed and discussed wisely. But, while she’s struggling with internal conflicts and confusions, she’s forced to wear something that’s not only spiritually symbolic but takes a lot of strength to put on.

Islam or Islamic rulings should not and must not be shoved down someone’s throat. The ideal “sunnah way” of spreading this faith is through teachings, and patience and wisdom. The girls need to understand their religion first, build a connection with their Lord first, love their faith and their Creator, only then they will be ready to “hear and obey”.

Our youth, including preteens, are struggling to hold on to their faith, even the ones in Islamic schools. Some of them are even secretly atheist or agnostic, grappling with basic theology while we debate dress code.

Perhaps it’s because absence of hijab is obvious, but absence of faith is not.

There is so much emphasis on the ritual of hijab that we totally forget: every ritual starts with spiritual submission, and that spiritual submission stems from conviction. Conviction is the root of submission, and submission is the basis for ritual. When we have not nurtured the roots, and we instead focus on the branches, how are we expecting a healthy tree to be sustained?

Islamic Schools and Hijab

The whole point of Islamic Schools is to have a platform for our future generations to learn their religion and become proud Muslims, not “suppressed” Muslims. Islamic schools should instill proud Muslim identity in students first, and that for sure cannot be achieved by forcing them to do something they don’t fully understand or may not be ready to adhere to.

We send our children to Islamic school to gain the knowledge that they need to develop conviction. In order for hijab to be the long-term, it must be the manifestation of belief in Allah and complete conviction of His rulings, and not just “because we said so.”

Dare I say, I would rather our Islamic schools produce die-hard Muslimahs who are completely convinced of their faith – with or without hijab –  rather than girls who wear hijab but are doubtful of Allah and Islam. I have counseled both type of girls. And the ones who resent their faith are the ones who were almost always forced to wear hijab.

As a youth counselor, I’ve seen the type of spiritual crisis that fixation from others on hijab causes. Hijab in of itself may not even be the problem, if we can learn to handle this issue wisely and patiently, giving our girls room to question, to learn, to understand and then to absorb.

It doesn’t help that the Muslim culture seems to have an unhealthy fixation on hijab, making it equivalent to the foundation of Islam. Girls in hijab are automatically assumed to be pious and righteous, and girls without it are automatically assumed to be failing in their faith. There are copious amounts of memes that perpetuate this.

Hijab and Faith

The status of her hijab doesn’t make a woman fall in or out of Islam or its core beliefs. Faith is built on six principles- belief in Allah, the angels, holy revelation, the messengers, the Day of Judgment, and the Qadr of Allah. For whatever reason, a Muslim woman can believe in all of these things, and yet not be wearing a hijab. Conversely, a woman can wear hijab while believing in none of these things as well.

It’s the same for the five pillars of Islam – Declaration of Faith, Hajj, Charity, Prayer, and Fasting. A Muslim woman can be actively practicing all of these without wearing hijab on a daily basis – and while she absolutely should be wearing a hijab, her failure to do so does not cancel out her faith or her practices that stem from that faith.

Hijab is a manifestation of faith, not the sole indicator, and certainly not a replacement for it. Forcing a girl into hijab doesn’t mean she’s a “good Muslim girl” and parents can call it a day.  The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can start focusing on the inside of our girls, so their faith can shine through to the outside.

This obsession and fixation on hijab has left many of our Muslim sisters handicapped in spiritual development, as well as socially isolated from and within the Muslim community. We have all experienced it. I was once a part of it– “The Niqaabi Cult”, who felt entitled to judge any sister who wasn’t covered or wasn’t “covered enough”. We excluded them. There is a “Hijabi Cult” too, and while not every Muslim woman in hijab or niqab is guilty of discriminating against those who don’t, the cultural fixation on a woman’s dress-code being an indicator of her social worth is certainly a contributing factor in its existence.

Islamic School Hijab Dilemma

Some may argue that if Hijab is not mandatory in Islamic schools and some girls don’t wear it, then it could encourage the girls who do wear it, to remove it. I would say that our teachers should be trained to handle such situations wisely. They must focus on building and celebrating the strength of those girls who choose to wear hijab, and encouraging and building the strength in those who feel too weak to wear it yet.

If teachers know which girls aren’t ready yet, they have the opportunity to discover why. Is the issue with her belief and conviction? Is the issue with her understanding of this ritual? Is she convinced, but just needs some time and room for spiritual growth? Being able to identify and remedy such problems is a more sensible approach to helping girls grow into hijab, versus assuming there is no problem because they’re all mandated to wear one with the uniform anyway.

Teachers can take the an opportunity to prepare our girls to step into the real world, where many Muslim women don’t wear hijab. Our girls will be challenged from all fronts to keep their hijabs on from both Muslim and non-Muslim influence. All the more reason for an Islamic school to be the training ground for our girls to grow into, and solidify their commitment to hijab so that they’re better prepared for the real world. Compare this to a situation where hijab is worn without meaning, and taken off with the rest of the uniform once the school day is done.

Wearing hijab is not easy for many women, no matter how early one starts to wear it or how late. It doesn’t get easier with age and time either. For some it is harder than the others, and this does NOT reflect a person’s state of iman. In fact, the harder it is for one to wear hijab, the more rewarding it will be for them to do so.

I pray to Allah that we become the believers who help one another with right knowledge, patience, wisdom, sincerity; and not the ones who judge other believers and feel entitled in their religious-superiority.

Muslimmatters welcomes your opinion on these issues. Send your submissions here

 

Umm Reem (Saba Syed) has a bachelors degree in Islamic Studies from American Open University. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She was one of the founders of Daughters of Adam magazine and remained the publishing director until 2007. She had been actively involved with MSA, TDC, and other community activities. She has also been actively involved with the Muslim women of her community spiritually counseling with marital and mother-daughter issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities, including special workshops regarding parenting and issues related to women.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rida

    January 28, 2019 at 11:19 AM

    While it is very important that one should choose the hijab herself due to her own religious conviction and submission to please God alone, Islamic schools are trying to create an Islamic environment for All the students there and thus the dress code.

    Also, where do you draw the line? what if someone doesn’t have enough conviction to be wearing modest clothing? Should he/she be allowed to dress as they feel comfortable until they themselves want to dress modestly?

    From my personal experience (I went to public school), it is definitely very hard to be the only one practicing the hijab. I tried to do so in middle school initially at my parents encouragement but I wasn’t able to. My hesitation was mainly rooted in not seeing anyone of my age practicing it, so it was hard for me to take the first step.

    Eventually my parents took me to ladies halaqa circles where I saw many Muslim girls (they homeschooled) and they were practicing the hijab. Just hanging out with them once a week and reading the religious literature together gave me the encouragement I needed to start my hijab journey which I started in 9th grade.

    So, considering that, I’d think seeing many girls doing hijab in Islamic school should make it actually easier to do.

    Maybe the reason girls who don’t want to do it have more to do with the rest of their environment? Maybe they see their peers not doing it and they see their guardian figures not doing it and thus they consider it “optional”? So when they are told to do so while attending an Islamic school it feels like a burden to them?

    Needless to say, this is a very important discussion of our times. There are many instances where kids have simply lost belief and need their concerns and questions answered. I think ones’ home environment and the peers circle has the MOST influence on these types of issues. Some parents think that sending kids to Islamic school is enough to teach them everything of religion. They don’t realize they need to talk openly to their children about beliefs and doubts and clarify them. Schools can only do so much…

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:26 AM

      Dressing modestly and wearing hijab (particularly head covering) is not necessarily the same thing. Hijab is religiously sumbolic whereas dressing modestly is required on many different occasions even from people/organizations/schools without any religious reasons.

      Besides, what worked for you doesn’t work for everyone else. We need to stop taking our personal experiences and using it to draw general rules for everyone else.

      • Avatar

        Rida

        January 29, 2019 at 1:59 PM

        Sister I feel your concerns absolutely but as Parents and Teachers, we ARE supposed to enforce morals and modesty upon the Muslim children whether they fully grasp the meaning behind it or not. We are supposed to explain the why and reasoning behind it too. That is the point of Islamic schools to begin with. To provide the knowledge and the environment to actually practice the morals and teachings of Islam.

        The “modest” dressing can be interpreted in many ways. I have been a former teacher at an Islamic school and so I have also witnessed the issues quite closely. There were some students who didn’t like to be forced to wear loose fitting uniforms. They thought wearing fitted clothing as long as it covered skin was completely fine and the biggest reason for that was the role models in their life and their many peers dressed in that manner, and not because they wanted to rebel the school policies.

        The school policies didn’t drive these people away from hijab it was the rest of the environment that did that. The videos they watched on YouTube, the people they socialized with on social media and trying to impress them are the biggest factors in driving someone away from hijab, not school uniforms.

        I have seen girls leave from Islamic school and take off hijab immediately as they entered their cars where their moms or female gaurdians were also not practicing it. These girls always saw this as an “optional” headwear due to all the other environment, and thus even making it “optional” in an Islamic school will actually only serve to solidify that false belief.

        “Hijab must not be THAT mandatory that it isn’t even required in an Islamic school” will be the next argument.

        Moreover, I don’t understand why all this talking to the girls and clearing their doubts regarding beliefs and hijabs cannot be done simultaneously. They need to learn that certain things like practice of public morality and modesty aren’t up for debate, but that they may ask questions and clear any and all doubts regarding it.

        Also the argument you are making against the hijab policy can be made regarding any and all obligatory acts that the Muslim children don’t want to do. Kids don’t exactly love praying 5 times a day, are we to stop forcing them to do so by punishing them with grounding or taking away screen time etc? I am also pretty sure kids don’t like making the ritual ablution, so should we allow them to pray without it or touch Quran without it? Why is it okay to force them to pray whether with “conviction” or not, but not okay to enforce hijab as part of the Islamic uniform?

        • Avatar

          Mahmoud

          January 31, 2019 at 10:26 PM

          Sister Rida captures the issue very well. If we make Hijab optional until one grasps the spirituality behind it then by extension other acts of worship will also fall within this remit. Moreover, it is a man’s issue as much as it a woman’s for we are sons, brothers, fathers (parents) and husbands and to me the broader issue is the dress code which is applicable to both sexes

  2. Avatar

    Muhammad Hasan Khan

    January 28, 2019 at 1:22 PM

    Morality is a public issue not just a personal choice.

    Hijab is as public form of worship as it can get. A non Muslim woman not wearing hijab doesn’t mean anything but a Muslim woman not wearing it, does contribute to an environment where non compliance is an accepted norm.

    Hijab is difficult to wear because of the culture that celebrates immodesty. By us removing any environment where it is not celebrated, we contribute to the problem, not the solution.

    Islam regulates both personal and public affairs and specially those personal choices that impact societies.

    We don’t talk about conviction and iman when we obey secular laws but when it comes to religion, it becomes a danger to the faith.

    The problem is not Islamic having dress code, the problem is parents thinking sending kids to Islamic school is sufficient to give them proper identity and belief while they binge watch Netflix, listen to music and post selfies on Instagram.

    Insufficient Islamic upbringing causes doubt in faith, not just forcing hijab.

    It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We can’t reside kids glorifying their looks and tell them one day btw hijab was required and we also can’t say just putting on cloth on head and sending to Islamic school is sufficient.

    • Avatar

      Muhammad Hasan Khan

      January 28, 2019 at 1:30 PM

      * The problem is not Islamic schools having dress code
      * We can’t raise kids in non compliance and expect them to comply all of a sudden
      * We can’t just put on a piece of cloth on head and send them to islamic school thinking that should be sufficient.
      * It doesn’t have to be one or the other or one after the other.
      * Parenting is hard. Problem is in parenting, not forcing Hijab. Its lack of proper upbringing.

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:47 AM

      I would appreciate if you leave the difficulty of wearing hijab to be judged by women. You can’t speak about something you have never done.

      And yes we don’t need conviction to obey secular laws, but our conviction in matters of faith is pivotal because that decides our eternal destiny.

      • Avatar

        Arsal

        January 31, 2019 at 9:33 PM

        Very respectfully, the question & this article is revolving around is not about wearing Hijab by an independent women.
        It is about at the level of teeange and in Islamic Schools.
        So multiple parties can comes to discussion the girl, school administration & most importantly parents.

    • Avatar

      Ali

      July 10, 2019 at 6:42 PM

      I can’t believe these sick comments.
      Hijab in MANY Muslim civilizations was absent. You going to day those civilizations cebrated immodesty?

  3. Avatar

    RedCloakedGirl

    January 28, 2019 at 3:28 PM

    Wow. Jaza kaLlaah Khair Sister for this amazing article. I was genuinely scared by the boy’s way of thinking. Such colourful vocabulary. I ask Allah to open his heart to see that the world isn’t so black and white.

  4. Avatar

    Nora

    January 28, 2019 at 4:53 PM

    Whoo, here come the barrage of comments from well meaning brothers. This article hasn’t been published an hour, they’re here already. I look forward to the same amount of comments concerning genocide or even *gasp* domestic abuse, and how brothers will stop other brothers from abusing their families and catcalling women on the street.

    But nope, won’t happen.

    Let’s face folks, having an opinion on hijab is easy, that even the most moronic can produce. No man will ever understand the difficulty of hijab, and unless you’re a sheik, your opinion can only spread fitna.

    • Avatar

      Rida

      January 28, 2019 at 6:15 PM

      Did you even read the comments to their entirety? BTW I am a hijab practicing sister.

      The article is about hijab and you expect people to comment about domestic abuse and genocide? Yeh, that makes a LOT of sense ?

  5. Avatar

    Kathryn

    January 28, 2019 at 10:51 PM

    This whole argument is a strawman. Girls who are “forced to wear hijab” is defined How? Girls who vocally do not want it and clearly don’t have the moral groundwork to carry it?
    So bacisally: these same girls have clearly not been taught their deen on any deep level. And they aren’t being forced to observe hijab, they are being forced to put a scarf on their head, as true hijab requires intention.
    The reality of our deen is that as parents, and as fathers in particular, there is absolutely an obligation to enforce Islamic morals and behaviours.
    If our children refuse to pray at 10, we are to physically punish them until they do.
    We aren’t told to wait till they sort it out themselves.
    Now: the ground work should absolutely be laid long in advance. They should be taught the prayer for at least 3 years BEFORE it becomes mandatory, but it does still become mandatory regardless, as once they are baligh they must seek any information they lack themselves.
    A woman’s prayer is not in order without hijab. So how does one get a female child to pray at 10 without also “forcing” her to wear hijab? If she is attending an Islamic school in which salaat is held, how is she to participate? We know hijab is obligatory for salaat, and simply removing it after is hypocrisy, so there really is no other acceptable answer.
    The TRUTH is that Allah is the Turner of hearts, all we can do is remind.
    No amount of encouragement and educating will instill Islam into a heart Allah has hardened, but that doesn’t lift our duty to enforce the sharia where applicable, and hijab for all past puberty is one of those areas.

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:43 AM

      Wearing hijab during prayers is not the same as wearing hijab every time a girl steps outside her house/interacts with non-mahrem!

  6. Avatar

    KB

    January 29, 2019 at 2:10 AM

    This is really just….
    It’s an Islamic school. Wear it at school. Don’t wear it at home.or after school if you don’t want to. The only place Muslim girls will see other women wearing hijab, conforming to the rest of society’s standards, is making it that much harder for these girls to wear it then. This is making hijab too individualized. I also think the article overestimates young girls’ abilities to decide and have the willpower to start wearing hijab on their own with zero encouragement from a school/Muslim environment. I was 10 when I started and it was hard but at least I knew when I went to class my friends would be wearing it too. Eventually I got over it. Seriously, left to my own devices, raised here in Seattle, when would I have EVER started wearing hijab of my own will? I don’t think so!

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:33 AM

      If you read my article carefully, you would realize that I never said leave the girls on their own with “zero encouragement” from islamic school or teachers.
      I clearly stated that teachers should and must encourage girls to wear hijab, and talk about why they need to wear hijab. Teaching with wisdom and patience is what I emphasized on.

  7. Avatar

    KB

    January 29, 2019 at 2:14 AM

    By the way, I agree that kindergartens shouldn’t wear hijab . That is simply ridiculous and unfair. At my school girls began to wear it in 4th or 5th grade which I believe is a very appropriate age.

  8. Avatar

    Spirituality

    January 29, 2019 at 3:08 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran for this very thoughtful article.

    My understanding is that the ruling for khimar, the headscarf, came with the revelation of Sura Nur, or in 6 AH. Noting that the Prophet (s) was in Mecca for 13 years before hijra, the ruling for the khimar came a full 19 years after the initial revelation!

    Why? Perhaps its because Allah wanted to instill the roots of the religion – faith in Allah, establishing prayer, good character and conduct, into the Sahabiyya (RA) first?

    A related issue: Aisha RA said in Sahih Bukhari: “When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.”

    • Avatar

      Rida

      January 29, 2019 at 5:40 PM

      That is a good point and this is why legal and illegal laws become binding on a Muslim person only once they reach puberty, not before that, that’s 10-12 years for girls and 14-15 for boys on average.

      During this time teachers and parents are to instill the love of Allah and teachings of Islam in them so that when they reach puberty they are able to abide by the legal and illegal matters. The best ways are to show them by example and try your best to keep them in the company of the righteous people and in a sharia-compliant environment like an Islamic School or even homeschooling. May Allah help us all in achieving this monumentous task Ameen.

  9. Avatar

    Maryam

    January 29, 2019 at 10:11 PM

    SubhanAllah! Since when did the wearing of a head scarf became a determinant of going to Jannah?

    “Our youth, including preteens, are struggling to hold on to their faith, even the ones in Islamic schools. Some of them are even secretly atheist or agnostic, grappling with basic theology while we debate dress code.”

    When I started wearing hijab (out of choice) I remember being reminded by my parents that wearing the hijab doesn’t make me a better Muslim than someone who doesn’t wear it, and I still, will have to work on my character and imaan.

    Even during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) the hijab became an obligation (for both men and women) around the 9th or 10th year of hijrah, long after Salah, fasting or brotherhood among the Muslims was introduced. Why? because there are things more important than hijab, one of them is spirituality.

    There was a saying by our mother Aisha (RA) that if the rulings for Hijab and alcohol came in the early days, no one would have followed it because at that point no one even knew who Allah was and what it meant to be a Muslim.

    Our focus should be to teach our children how to be a good Muslim and have strong faith in Allah, the rest comes along naturally.

  10. Avatar

    @nony

    January 30, 2019 at 7:55 AM

    Every word of this article is, SubhaanAllah so true.
    There is so, much hijab shaming around. I am a hijabi myself. And i get bullied for not joining the so called hijab cult. I know the struggle because this didnt come easy forvme as well. BaarikAllah feek Umm. I hope this message gets far and wide.

  11. Avatar

    Sayeeda Shireen

    January 31, 2019 at 12:38 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Growing up in India, I started wearing the hijab in 11th grade, but I dont remember ever feeling out of place or finding it difficult. I have lived and worked in the US, traveled in Europe, attended international conferences in my line of work, all with my hijab on, and never felt any sense of discomfort.This article got me thinking. Why is hijab so easy for me? Of course, the foremost reason is it’s the Mercy and Grace of Allah.

    However, I feel self belief and self confidence also play a huge part in how comfortable we are in our modest clothing. It’s easier to buck the trend when you are self confident, when you are comfortable in your own skin. Perhaps parents and educators should look at ways of instilling self confidence in their kids along with the Islamic rulings. So that we raise a generation of confident Muslims who practice their Deen unselfconsciously.

  12. Avatar

    Siraaj

    January 31, 2019 at 5:33 PM

    My personal take, discussions of misogyny and being “forced” is more indicative of inability to process the world in our own terms rather than someone else’s framework, or in believing our own apologetics.

    As my son is growing older, I do “force” him to wear pants that cover his knees and shirts that cover his back while he prays. I don’t allow my kids to wear indecent clothes, even though prevailing norms pressure for this. Am I forcing my kids to dress in a way I think appropriate? Absolutely.

    Parents of all faiths (or without them) mandate their values on their kids all the time, including dress codes. Theres nothing new about this, and the hijab isn’t exceptional in this regard either. What is exceptional is how it’s viewed in society, and how it’s wearers about that.

    I would agree that hijab doesn’t take priority over the fundamentals of Islam and iman, and in order for hijab and other more fundamental behaviors to be practiced from the heart, a lot must be invested in developing ones relationship with Allah so it’s sincere and authentic. That is a major part of a parents duty, as well as keeping them away from the less salient areas of society and likewise leading by example. That is parenting.

    But so too is telling your children how to dress. For that matter, making your kids pray at 7 and beating them about it when their 10 doesn’t contradict that there is no compulsion in religion either. Kids are made to take on religion and religious behaviors and nonreligious behaviors because the duty of parents is to teach and as well enforce practices, manners, and habits until they are adults and can then make their own decisions as adults.

  13. Avatar

    Fritz

    January 31, 2019 at 7:18 PM

    A slightly muddled set of thought processes here.

    “I would appreciate if you leave the difficulty of wearing hijab to be judged by women. You can’t speak about something you have never done.”

    Ok this is complete emotional nonsense. So nobody can empathise with anyone else eh?

    The hijab is being utilised as a school uniform and should thus be considered as an entity along these lines. There are plenty of schools that “force” girls to wear skirts and tights to school. What about that?

    And this an Islamic school no less. It would be interesting to know how you police “modest clothing”. How short is too short? How tight is too tight? You are enforcing other standards in this context.

  14. Avatar

    Arsalan

    January 31, 2019 at 9:19 PM

    Assalamualaikum,So I am single guy & this Hijab debates is pretty interesting.
    I was looking for a girl to get married few months ago & the first thing my aunt who lives in America asked me ” Do you want a Hijabi or non-Hijabi ? ” & most of the girl that I talked to put forward this question, ” Would you ask me to wear hijab later ? ”

    No doubt, girls think that its a social demarcation between two kinds & if they would adopt it, desi culture wont judge them or they may purely doing it for the sake of Almighty.

    I have a question, Can parents force them to wear Hijab ?
    If parents believe in that & if they look after that girl ( financillay ) then I think they can make such decisions for her ( as we see in medicine that parents call for treatment options ).

    No doubt, an introduction to God first would let the child adopt Hijab or Niqab easily.

  15. Avatar

    Ahmed

    February 3, 2019 at 5:08 PM

    People need to remember that our children are our flock. We are shepards and will be asked about them on the Day of Judgement.

    Everyone knows about the hadith that talks about telling our children to pray at 7, and beating them (lightly) at 10 if they dont listen. Thats before puberty and we are told to force prayer on them. At that young age they cant be expected to pray on free will. But we force Salah upon them in order to make them get used to it when they reach puberty. We also teach them about islam so they learn why they should pray etc so that they do it willingly when they reach puberty.

    The same can be said/done regarding hijab. We should, yes, force our children to cover their awrah to let them learn modesty and get used to it.

    The reality is that we have become desensitized to immodest dressing, to the point that we find the concept of covering to be strangeand odd. But the reality is that these women walking with jeans are practically naked. I can literally see your awrah, except the skin. The form is blatant. Its absolutely disgusting and filthy. Even if people refuse to say it.

    Let the people hate how we raise our children, we shouldnt care to please them. It is Allah that matters, not the pleasure of the fuel of Jahannam.

    May Allah make it easy for the muslim women.

  16. Avatar

    Siddiqui

    February 21, 2019 at 12:32 PM

    what has this ummah come to seriously

  17. Avatar

    Nayem

    February 26, 2019 at 3:43 PM

    There are muslim who have been made comfortable with the idea that Islam accommodates their every ideological commitment: liberalism, feminism, secularism, social justice identity politics, etc.

    The idea of submitting and reigning in one’s emotions and sentimentality in accordance with the Sacred is completely foreign to them. The tarbiya that is so critical to spirituality and getting closer to Allah is completely absent.But Muslims can’t remain sheltered forever.

    They slowly start realizing that things are not what they want them to be. They start resenting other Muslims and begin to lash out, calling them names: “extremist,” “wahabi,” “misogynist,” etc.

    Many of them become very bitter, burn out, and some even leave Islam.

    For example, you probably think that that hijab (covering awrah) is a personal choice. which means that wearing it is no more or less meaningful than wearing a swimsuit.If all one cares about and celebrates is choice, then choosing to wear the hijab is equivalent to choosing to ditch it. Or choosing to wear something else entirely. It’s all choice! But in reality, hijab is anything but choice. It is fard.

  18. Avatar

    Mummyjaan

    March 4, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, Umm Reem. It’s something we muslim parents need to talk about more.

    When my girls were younger, we had lots of conversations about hijab and it being fardh, and that it starts becoming obligatory after a certain age.

    My older child kept this in mind and decided on wearing the hijab when it became fardh for her, and I assumed all was going well. After wearing it for 2 years, she told me that she wore it only because she didn’t want to disappoint me and that she wanted to go for a year without it. I was shocked, both by her not opening up to me initially and by her decision to remove it. Although I had left the decision up to her and not forced her, i realized that the expectation she must have felt from me must have been strong. And here I thought I was doing the right thing by providing the information and letting her make her own choice. Didn’t really work out the way I hoped it would.

    At the moment, I treat our stage of Islam in our house as “the ‘Makkan period” in Islam. In the first 13 years, many of the surahs that were revealed to prophet Mohammed focussed on building the faith of the fledgling Muslim community. The ahkaam of hijab and many other commandments were not revealed until this faith had build into something much stronger. So we focus on reading Quran and ahadith, establishing our salah on time and making dua. Hopefully, Allah will forgive my weak tarbiyyah that failed and give us strength, ameen.

    I have been accused by my never-present husband that I “must have been too forceful in my emphasis on hijab” and that’s why the girls don’t practice it. But that’s just one more male assumption that I have to deal with, which adds to the difficulties and pressures of being a woman. As both his daughters and I know that his assumption is untrue, I don’t worry too much about it. Coping mechanism :)!

  19. Avatar

    Marahm

    March 15, 2019 at 11:51 AM

    The hijab is now synonymous with Islam. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that hijab– strictly, the covering of hair and/or face– is eliminated from Islam altogether. What is left? Indeed, that is the question. Without hijab, we either have a rich, complete religious tradition or we have a shell. You decide. Think about it. Would you have the shell, or would you still have the whole package, if your conviction for or against that hijab were to vanish?

  20. Avatar

    Amina

    March 16, 2019 at 1:08 AM

    I was brought up thinking hijab was good but optional.Before hijab our parents always emphasised modest loose clothing but just never forced the scarf. I never realised until my late twenties it was actually fard. Once I knew that I started wearing it which was a bit scary at first but have never wanted to remove it since. So when I hear about girls who know it’s fard but don’t want to wear it I don’t understand. I can only put it down to not fully realising the significance and only Allah can open your eyes to that. But I don’t think you should wait for that before wearing it. Example from home is a big factor. Its weird my mum always wore it going out but I never thought I should too it just seemed cultural. May Allah guide all our brothers and sisters, our children and parents, Ameen. But in regards to the tweets I think 5 is a bit young maybe from 7 should be uniform.

    • Avatar

      Ali

      July 10, 2019 at 6:50 PM

      Hijab is arab culture. Stop enforcing it on others.

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#Life

Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview

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islamic online high school

He squirmed in his seat as his Middle East history professor–yet again–made a subtle jab about Islam, this time about the jizyah.  This professor claimed to be pro-Arab and pro-Islam and was part of a university department that touted itself for presenting history and narratives that are typically left out of the West’s Eurocentric social studies sequence. Still, she would subjectively only present an Orientalist interpretation of Islam. Ahmad* sighed. He felt bad just thinking about what all his classmates at this esteemed university thought about Islam and Muslims. He was also worried about fellow Muslims in his class who had not grown up in a practicing household-what if they believed her? He hated how she was using her position as the “sage” in the room to present her bias as absolute truth. As for himself, he knew deep down in his bones that what his professor was alleging just could not be true. His fitrah was protesting her coy smile as she knowingly agitated the few Muslims in her class of one-hundred-fifty.  Yet, Ahmad had never studied such topics growing up and felt all his years of secondary education left him ill-equipped as a freshman in college.  He tried to search for answers to her false accusations after class and approached her later during office hours, but she just laughed him off as a backward, orthodox Muslim who had obviously been brainwashed into believing the “fairy tale version” of Islam. 

***

Asiyah* graduated as class valedictorian of her Islamic school. She loved Biology and Physics and planned to major in Engineering at a top-notch program. While both family, friends, and peers were proud of her (some maybe even wishing they were in her shoes), they had no idea of the bitter inner struggle that was eating away at her, tearing her up from the inside out. Her crisis of faith shook her to the core and her parents were at their wits’ end. While she prayed all her prayers and even properly donned her hijab, deep down she felt……..sort of….……atheist.  Physics was her life–her complete being. She loved how the numbers just added up and everything could be empirically proven. But this led to her greatest anguish: how could certain miraculous events during the time of the Blessed Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have occurred? How could she believe in events that were physically and scientifically impossible?  She felt like an empty body performing the rituals of Islam.

*names changed

***

An Unwelcome Surprise

Islam is a way of life. Its principles operate in every avenue of one’s life. However, English, History, Science and Mathematics are often taught as if they are beyond the scope of Islam. It is commonly assumed that moral teaching happens, or should happen, only in the Islamic Studies class. Yet, if we compare what is being taught in the Islamic Studies class with what is being taught consciously or unconsciously in other classes, an unwelcome surprise awaits us. Examining typical reading material in English classes, for example, reveals that too much of the material is actually going against Islamic norms and principles. Some of the most prominent problems with traditional English literature (which directly clash with Islamic moral and ethical principles) include: the mockery of God and religion, the promotion of rebellion against parents and traditional family values, the normalization of immoral conduct such as lying and rude behavior, and the condoning of inappropriate cross-gender interactions. Additionally, positive references about Islamic culture are either nonexistent or rare. Toxic themes of secularism, atheism, materialism, liberalism, and agnosticism are constantly bombarding our young Muslim students, thus shaping the way in which they view and interact with the world.

Corrective Lens: The Worldview of Islam

We need our children to develop an Islamic worldview, one that provides a framework for Muslims to understand their world from the perspective of the Qur’an.  It is impossible for the Islamic Studies classes alone to successfully teach Islamic behavior and nurture moral commitment unless the other classes also reflect the Islamic worldview- an outlook that emphasizes the idea that all our actions should be focused on pleasing Allah and doing good for ourselves and others. Therefore, the majority of what is taught in all academic disciplines should be based on Islamic values, aiming to improve the life of the student by promoting sublime ethical conduct. The unfortunate reality is quite the opposite: a typical child in a school in the West spends a minimum of 576 periods (16 periods of core classes/week * 4 weeks/month * 9 months) of classroom instruction annually on academic subjects that are devoid of Islam and contain minimal teaching of morality that aligns with Islamic principles. How much Islam a child learns depends on whether their parents choose Sunday school, Islamic schools, and/or other forms of supplementation to provide religious knowledge. However, rarely does that supplemental instruction undo the thousands of hours of the atheistic worldview that children soak in by the time they finish high school through the study of secular subjects. By not having an Islamic worldview and not having Muslims’ heritage and contributions to humanity infused into the teaching of academic subjects, we witness the problems experienced by the likes of Ahmad* and Asiyah*–problems that plague modern Muslim youth.

Identifying the Unlikely Suspect

This realization is perhaps the missing piece in the puzzle when it comes to our bewilderment: how are large swaths of youth from some of the kindest, sweetest, practicing Muslim families going astray and getting confused? When we shepherd our flock and find one or more of our “sheep” lost and off the beaten path, we think of the likely suspects, which include negative influences from peers, family, movies, social media, etc. We may even blame the lack of inspiring role models. We are less likely to suspect that the very literature that our children are consuming day in and day out through our well-intentioned efforts to make them “educated” and “sophisticated” could cause them to question Islam or fall into moral abyss.

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”

Islamic Infusion in Academic Study as a Solution

There have been efforts across the globe to infuse Islam into academic study of worldly subjects. Universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia(IIUM), which has a dedicated “Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS),” is an example. At the secondary school level, most brick and mortar Islamic schools do offer Arabic, Qur’an, and Islamic studies; however, few Muslim teachers are trained in how to teach core academic subjects using principles of Islamic pedagogy.

How exactly can educators infuse an Islamic perspective into their teaching? And how can Muslim children have access to high quality education from the worldview of Islam, taught by talented and dynamic educators?

Infusing Islam & Muslim Heritage in Core Academic Subjects, According to the Experts:

  • Dr. Nadeem Memon, professor of Islamic pedagogy, states that for a pedagogy to be Islamic, it should not contradict the aims, objectives and ethics contained in revelation (Qur’an) and should closely reflect an Islamic ethos that is based on revelation, the sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh), and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. It should also effectively develop the student’s intelligence (`aql), faith (iman), morality and character (khuluq), knowledge and practice of personal religious obligations (fard ain) and knowledge, skills and physical abilities warranted by worldly responsibilities and duties (Ajem, Ramzy and Nadeem Memon, “Prophetic Pedagogy: Teaching ‘Islamically’ in our Classrooms”)
  • Dr. Susan Douglass, expert in Social Studies, promotes a panoramic study of the world by global eras–emphasizing the interdependence of nations–rather than an isolationist civilizations approach (which in Western societies focuses only on Western civilization). Such study includes Islamic history and Muslims’ contributions to humanity throughout the ages.
  • Dr. Freda Shamma, pioneer in promoting culturally inclusive and ethical literature, emphasizes that English classes should carefully select literature aligned with Islamic moral values and include works by both Western authors and those from other cultures, i.e. literature that 1-features Muslim main characters and 2- is authored by Muslims.
  • Dr. Nur Jannah Hassan at CENTRIS, stresses that Science classes should be designed to awaken the student’s mind, to inspire a complete awe of and servitude towards the Creator and Sustainer, to instill the purpose of creation, vicegerency and stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants, to enable students to decipher God’s Signs in nature and in the self, to infuse responsibility in sustaining balance and accountability, and should include Muslims’ legacy in the field.
  • Dr. Reema alNizami, specialist in Math Education, advocates that Math classes should instill creative thinking, systematic problem solving and an appreciation of balance; include a survey of Muslims’ contributions to the field; and utilize word problems that encourage charitable and ethical financial practices.

Technology Enables Access to Islamically Infused Schooling for grades 6-12

Technology has now enabled this Islamic infusion for middle schools and secondary schools to become a reality on a global scale, alhamdulillah. Legacy International Online High School, a college preparatory, online Islamic school serving grades 6-12, whose mission is “Cultivating Compassionate Global Leaders”, offers all academic subjects from the Islamic worldview. Pioneered by leading Muslim educators from around the globe with background in Islamic pedagogy and digital learning, Legacy is the first of its kind online platform that is accessible to:

  • homeschooling families seeking full-time, rigorous, Islamically infused classes
  • Public school families looking for a part-time Islamic studies or Arabic sequence
  • Islamic schools, evening programs, and Sunday schools that are short-staffed and would like to outsource certain courses from the Islamic worldview
  • Schools and entities needing training/workshops to empower Muslim educators on how to teach from the Islamic worldview

Alhamdulillah, Legacy IOHS is an accessible resource for families with children in grades 6-8 who are seeking curriculum and instruction that is Islamically infused.

Strengthening Faith & Identity in College and Beyond

For those seeking supplementary resources to address the most prevalent hot topic issues plaguing young Muslims of our times, Yaqeen Institute, whose initial publications were more targeted towards a university audience, is now working to make its research more accessible to the general public through both its Conviction Circles initiative and its short videos featuring infographics.

Another online platform, California Islamic University, offers a comprehensive course sequence which allows college students to graduate with a second degree in Islamic studies while simultaneously completing their undergraduate studies at any accredited community college or university in the United States. Qalam and AlMaghrib Institute also offer online coursework in Islamic studies.

What We Hope to Avoid

While volunteering at his son Sulayman’s* public school with ten student participants, Ibrahim* was saddened when he met a young boy named Chris*. When Chris met Ibrahim, he piped up and eagerly told Ibrahim, “my grandparents are Muslim!” Through the course of the conversation, Ibrahim realized that he knew Chris’ grandparents, a very sweet elderly couple (and currently very practicing) who had not made the Islamic worldview a priority early on in their children’s lives. A mere two generations later, Islam is completely eliminated from their family.  *names changed

Our Resolve

Legacy IOHS recommends the following to Muslim families/educators and Islamic schools:

  1. Instill in our children a strong grasp of the foundational sciences of Islam, while preparing them with the necessary contemporary knowledge and skills
  2. Teach our children in their formative years to view the world (including their “secular” academic study) through the lens of Islam
  3. Follow this up with relevant motivational programs that assist them in understanding challenging issues of today and coach them on how to respond to the issues in their teenage years.

We pray that with the above, we will have fulfilled our duty in shepherding our flock in a comprehensive way, with utmost care. It is Allah’s help we seek in these challenging times:

رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

‘Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us. Grant us Your mercy: You are the Ever Giving. [Qur’an 3:8]

 رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. [Qur’an 25:74]

يَا مُقَلِّبَ القُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِيْ عَلَى دِيْنِكْ

“O turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm on your religion.”

Freda Shamma has a M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.D. from the University of Cincinnati in the area of Curriculum Development. A veteran educator, she has worked with educators from the United States, South Africa and all over the Muslim world to develop integrated curricula based on an Islamic worldview that meets the needs of modern Muslim youth. She serves as Curriculum Advisor for Legacy International Online High School.

An avid student of the Islamic sciences, Zaheer Arastu earned his M.Ed from The George Washington University and completed his training in Educational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. his experience in Islamic education spans over 15 years serving as both teacher, administrator, and dean of innovation and technology. He currently serves as the Head of School for Legacy International Online High School.

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Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Omar Usman

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grit

I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

To stay up to date with more articles from Omar, sign up for his email list at http://ibnabeeomar.com/newsletter

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Who Can We Trust?

Danish Qasim

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trust

Spiritual abusers are con-artists, and if they were easy to spot then they would be far less successful. That is why you must exercise vigilance and your own judgment above that of public opinion. Never let the person’s position make you trust them more than you would without it.

Spiritual abusers work covertly, present themselves well, and use their service as a cover beneath which to operate. The way to avoid them is to recognize their tactics and avoid being caught by them.

Blurring Lines

Spiritual abuse often begins with hard-to-spot precursors, with manipulators exploiting grey areas and blurring boundaries to confuse targets. For example, when setting someone up for illicit relations or secret marriage, teachers may begin with inappropriate jokes that lower boundaries.

They may touch others in ways that confuse the person touched as to permissibility, for example, men touching women on their hijabs rather than direct skin. They may inappropriately touch someone in ways that leave him/her wondering whether or not it was intentional.

There may be frivolous texting while the premise of engagement is ‘work only’. Boundaries may be blurred by adding flirtatious content, sending articles praising polygamy, or mentioning dreams about getting married. The recipient may struggle to pinpoint what’s wrong with any of this, but the bottom line is that they don’t have to.

While these tactics may be hard to prove, you don’t need to prove that you don’t want to be communicated with in this way and that you will not tolerate it. You can withdraw from the situation on the basis of your own boundaries.

One of the key challenges in standing up to spiritual abuse is the lack of confidence in calling out bad behavior or the need for validation for wrongs. We may be afraid to a question a teacher who is more knowledgeable than us when he is doing clear haram. However, halal and haram are defined by Allah and no human has the right to amend them. If a religious leader claims exemption to the rules for themselves or their students, that’s a big, bright, red flag.

Beware of Bullying

When you witness or experience bullying, understand that a Muslim’s dignity is sacred and don’t accept justifications of ‘tarbiyah’ (spiritual edification/character reformation) or breaking someone’s nafs (ego). If you didn’t sign up for spiritual edification, don’t accept any volunteer spiritual guides.

If you did sign up, pay attention as to whether these harsh rebukes are having a positive or negative effect. If they are having a negative emotional, mental, or physical effect on you, then this is clearly not tarbiyah, which is meant to build you up.

When abuse in the name of tarbiyah happens, it is the shaykh himself or the shaykha herself who needs character reformation. When such behavior goes unchecked, students become outlets of unchecked anger and are left with trauma and PTSD. This type of bullying is very common in women’s groups.

Trust Built and Trust Destroyed

There are different levels of trust, and as it relates to religious leaders, one does not need to investigate individuals or build trust for a perfunctory relationship. You do not need a high degree of trust if you are just attending someone’s general lectures and not establishing any personal relationship.

If you want to study something with an Islamic teacher, do so as you would with a school-teacher, understanding that their position does not make that person either exceptionally safe nor exceptionally harmful. Treat religious figures as religious consultants who are there to answer questions based on their knowledge. Give every teacher a clean slate, don’t have baseless suspicions, but if behavior becomes manipulative, exploitative, cultish, or otherwise abusive, don’t justify it either.

Personal accountability is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith and we have to take responsibility for our own faith and actions. There is no need to be suspicious without reason, but nor is there a justification for blind trust in someone you don’t know, just because they lead prayers or have a degree of religious education.

It is natural to ask ourselves whether people can be trusted after experiencing or learning about spiritual abuse. The answer is yes – you can trust yourself. You can also trust others in ways that are appropriate for the relationship. If you know someone well and they have proven over a long period of time to be trustworthy, keep secrets, and do not use you or take advantage of you, then it makes sense to trust that person more than a stranger or someone who has outward uprightness that you do not know well. That level of trust is earned through long-time demonstration of its characteristics.

Seeing someone on stage for years or relying on testimony of people impressed by someone should not convince you to lower your guard. Even if you do believe someone is pious, you still never drop your better judgment, because even saints are fallible.

Don’t Fall for Reputation

Never take other respected leaders praising or working alongside an individual as proof of his or her trustworthiness. It is possible that the teachers you trust are unaware of any wrongdoing. It’s not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a responsibility for them to boycott or disassociate themselves from another religious figure even if they are aware of them being abusive.

Furthermore, skilled manipulators often gain favor from respected teachers both overseas and domestically to gain credibility.

If one shaykh praises another shaykh, but you witness abusive behavior, don’t doubt yourself based on this praise. The praise may have been true at one time or may have been true in the experience of the one giving the praise, but no one knows another person’s current spiritual state as spiritual states can change.

Even if the abusive individual was previously recognized to be a great wali (saint), understand that there are saints who have lost their sainthood as they do not have isma (divine protection from sin or leaving Islam) like the prophets (upon them be peace) do. What was true yesterday, may not be true today.

Often praises of integrity, courage, and inclusiveness are heaped on men who support influential female figures. However, men who are praised as ‘allies,’ and thanked for ‘using their privilege’ to support female scholarship and the participation of women in religious organizations and events are no more trustworthy than those who don’t.

Abusers are often very image-conscious and may be acting to improve their own image and brand strength. Influential male and female religious figures also help one another with mutual praising and social-proofing. That is how the misdoings of men who are supportive of women are ignored, as long as they support the right politicized causes such as inclusive spaces and diverse panels.

Don’t be tricked into trust through a person’s credentials. An ijazah (license) to be a shaykh of a tariqa is purportedly the highest credential. It’s a credential that allegedly has a chain that goes all the way back to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), but that does not impart any of the Prophet’s character or trustworthiness in and of itself. A shaykh has to continuously live up to the ijaza and position. The position does not justify behavior outside of the sharia or any form of abuse. Scholars are inheritors of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) only to the degree to which they embody his character.

When a teacher who hasn’t spent adequate time with righteous shayukh abuses, they are said to lack suhba (companionship of the pious), and that is why they are abusive.

The truth is many of the worst abusers in traditional circles are highly certified, have spent adequate time with shayukh, are valid representatives of them, and are able to abuse because the previously mentioned credentials lead to blind trust.

Don’t let certifications about spiritual abuse, ethical leadership, or the like mean anything to you. Skilled narcissists will be the first to get such certifications and take courses because they know this will make people trust them more. You will see courses on ‘healthy leadership’ and ‘spiritual abuse prevention’ being taught and designed by them. There is a false premise behind such certifications that if religious leaders knew how abuse occurs and the damage it causes victims they wouldn’t do it. The fact is they know how abuse works, know how damaging it is, and don’t care. In a way, it’s good to have lessons on spiritual abuse from purveyors of abuse, just as learning theft prevention from a thief might be the most beneficial.

Don’t judge by rhetoric

Don’t look at the rhetoric of groups or individuals to see how seriously they take abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in all groups. It is common for members of one group to call out abuse that they see in another group while ignoring abuse occurring within their own group.

Sufis who will talk about the importance of sharia, label others as ‘goofy-Sufis,’ and insist that real Sufis follow sharia, will very often abuse in private and use the same justifications as the other Sufi groups they publicly deride.

Many imams and religious leaders will talk publicly about the importance of justice, having zero-tolerance for abuse, and the importance of building safe spaces, while they themselves are participating in the abuse.

Furthermore, female religious leaders will often cover up secret marriages, and other abuses for such men and help them to ostracize and destroy the credibility of their victims as long as their political views align. Muslim mental health providers often incorporate religious figures when they do programs, and in some cases they involve known abusers if it helps their cause.

In some cases, the organization does not know of any abuse. Abusive individuals use partnerships with Muslim mental health organizations to enhance their image as a “safe person.” This is especially dangerous due to the vulnerability of those struggling with mental illness and spiritual issues, who may then be exploited by the abuser. It is a community responsibility to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals and to ensure that they do have access to resources that can actually help them.

Don’t judge by fame

One false assumption is that the local-unknown teacher is sincere while the famous preacher is insincere and just wants to amass followers. This contrast is baseless although rhetorically catchy.

The fact is, many unknown teachers desire fame and work towards it more than those who are famous. Other times the unknown and famous teacher may have the same love of leadership, but one is more skilled than the other. They both may also be incredibly sincere.

Ultimately, we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart but must look at their actions, and if their actions are abusive, they are a danger to the community. Both famous and non-famous teachers are equally capable of spiritual abuse.

Look for a procedure

Before being involved in an organization, look for a code of conduct. There is no accountability without one in non-criminal matters. Never depend on people, look at the procedures and ensure that the procedure calls for transparency, such as the one we at In Shaykh’s Clothing published and made free for the public to use.

Procedure also applies to an organizations’ financials. Do not donate money to organizations based on personalities, instead demand financial transparency and accountability for the money spent. There is great incentive for spiritual abusers to win the trust of crowds when it means they can raise money without any financial accountability.

But what about Husne-Zann? Thinking well of others?

Allah tells us يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ

O You who believe, leave much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sinful” (Quran 49:12).

From this verse, we see that some – not all negative opinions are sinful. The prohibition is partitive, meaning some bad opinions are permissible.

If someone punches you, it is not hunse-zann to assume that person just happened to stretch with a closed fist and did not see your face was in the way. This kind of delusion will lead to you getting punched more. To be wary of their fist isn’t a sinful level of suspicion.

Part of why spiritual abuse is difficult to detect is that its purveyors have a reputation for outright uprightness. They are thought well of in the community, and in many cases they are its pillars and have decades of positive service to their defense. Assuming that someone cannot be abusive simply because they have been a teacher or leader for a long time is not husne-zann. When facts are brought to light- like a fist to the face – it is delusional to assume they didn’t mean it that way.

If someone does something that warrants suspicion, then put your guard up and don’t make excuses for those actions. Start with a general guard and be procedural about things which require a procedure.  For example, if you are going to loan someone money, don’t just take their word that they will pay you back but insist on a written record. If they say they are offended, just say “it’s my standard procedure to avoid any confusion later on.” A reasonable person won’t have an issue with that. If someone mentions on the phone they will pay you $100 for your work, write an email to confirm what was said on the phone so there’s a record for it.

Lastly, and most importantly, never leave your child alone with a teacher where you or others cannot see them. Many cases of child sexual assault can be prevented if we never allow children to study alone with adults. There should never be an exception to this, and parents much uphold this as a matter of policy. Precaution is not an accusation, and this is a professional and standard no one should reject.

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