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Emotional Brickmail: Sacred Trust and the Lack Thereof

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If I threw a brick through your window, could I tell you it was an Amanah and demand that you keep it? Could I tape a little note to it that says “This brick is a sacred trust and by accepting this brick into your window you are now accountable, in the sight of Allah, for delivering this brick through the window of all your friends?”

After all, an Amanah is serious business. Often translated as ‘sacred trust,’ oath, or even covenant, failing an Amanah is a terrifying enough prospect to deter you from even taking one. Breaking trust is one of four official signs of hypocrisy in a Muslim, and hypocrites are relegated to the lowest levels of hell. [Al-Nisaa 4:415]

The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There are four characteristics, whoever has all of them is a complete hypocrite, and whoever has some of them has some element of hypocrisy, unless he gives it up:
• when he speaks, he lies;
• when he makes a treaty, he betrays it;
• when he makes a promise, he breaks it;
• when he quarrels, he resorts to insults.”

[Sahih Muslim]

So if I lobbed a brick through your window in the name of Allah, and put a little note on there labeling it an Amanah, would throwing it back out mean that you betrayed my trust and that you were destined for the lowest levels of Jahannam?

Obviously no. And yet, how often have you seen this message?

A message from our sister; *name varies* from *location*

As Salaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatu Lahie Wa Barakaatoe. I make an oath with you people in front of Allah and I leave this as amanah with you until the day of judgment. If you opened this message and read it that you have to send it to all your contacts. I want you to make dua for me that Allah(SWT) gives me shifa (quick healing).

I have stage 4 form of breast cancer and it’s spread to my bone and body now. I ask you in the name of Allah(SWT) don’t close this message before you have sent it to all your contacts because one day you will need dua and breaking an oath (amanah) makes the mountains shake….Forward as Received..

This emotional brick – and a few hundred variations of it – gets tossed through a window on your computer or phone, and because it invokes the name of Allah himself, we mumble a nervous Ameen, and maybe even forward it just to be on the safe side even if we’re not entirely sure if this is how sacred trusts work.

The good news is that email forwards are not sacred trusts, even when they claim to be. Promises cannot be made on your behalf and automatically accepted by your inbox. So if an email forward is not an amanah, then what is?

The Trust of One Person in the Care of Another

An Amanah can be made with regards to one person’s life, property or honor in the care of another. Think of a business arrangement, an employer-employee contract, or a lease agreement. Even if it doesn’t seem like a religious oath per-se, an employer withholding wages is breach of trust enough to be get the employer counted among enemies of the Prophet himself.

“I am the opponent of three on the Day of Resurrection, and if I am someone’s opponent I will defeat him: A man who makes promises in my name, then proves treacherous; a man who sells a free man and consumes his price; and a man who hires a worker, makes use to him, then does not give him his wages. ” [Sunan of Ibn Majah, Sahih Vol. 3, Book 16, Hadith 2442)

The same applies to lost items, even though there’s no contract or express agreement. In general, people don’t and shouldn’t have to, obtain signed contracts from every passer-by before unintentionally dropping their phones, passports, or bag of diamond rings.

By seeing or picking that item up, you take upon yourself the property of another person as well as the responsibility to take steps –within reason – to seek its owner or deliver it to those in a position of authority or safety. Yes, we know that you didn’t ask for that person to leave their stuff with you, but a Muslim in possession of the wealth of another is obliged to do their best to return it. Why else do you think “Muslim Cab driver returns money” has so many search results?

Shhhh! It’s a secret!

Another category of sacred trusts is the keeping of confidential information. To share information obtained in privacy is considered a gross violation of trust, and it’s not limited to words spoken. Maintaining Amanah also protects juicy details and spilling the tea all over the cat that just got let out of the bag.

The Messenger of Allah said, “One of the most evil people before Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who is intimate with his wife and she is intimate with him, then he broadcasts her secrets.”

Granted, a marriage contract is not likely to have included a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but it never needs to. In fact, no one in your life should require an announcement or a signed NDA to be sure of your trustworthiness.

So then how do you know when information is an amanah? Body language. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “If a man says something, and then turns (to see if anyone could hear), then it becomes a trust.”

There are exceptions to this, of course. You cannot keep secrets – even if asked to, if they carry fitna – or harm – in three things:

Life – There is no amanah in a secret where hurting people is concerned. An attacker cannot swear their victim to secrecy, an eye-witness cannot hold back testimony in the name of keeping an amanah. The preservation of life and safety is greater amanah than confidence in this case.
Honor – there is no secret where a person’s honor would be concerned. If someone is being slandered for an act that someone else confessed to you –even in secret- then breaking the silence is not breaking a trust in this case. It could actually become an obligation instead.
Property – there can be no amanah where cheating, stealing, or forgery would be concerned. Even if someone else swore you to secrecy about where they hid the loot, or how they scammed their victim, you cannot be bound to uphold that secret. You would, in fact, actually required to break it in the pursuit or restoring rights and seeking justice for the oppressed.

Remember- the life, honor, and property of every Muslim is sacred, and you cannot make any sort of oath, covenant, or promise that would override that sanctity. Keeping that in mind, let’s go back to the emotional brick email.

Let’s assume it’s legitimate and some poor sister somewhere in the world is dying of breast cancer. She chose to spend her last days drafting impersonal emails to random people threatening their lives if they don’t pray for hers. If you receive her email and DO NOT FORWARD IT TO ANYONE, are you:

• Divulging confidential information?
• Failing to return or safeguard her property?
• Causing direct harm to her through your actions?
• Slandering her character?

Since the answer is no to all of the above, you can rest easy and delete the message, even if choosing to make dua for all people battling cancer all over the world, Ameen.

Making dua for everyone, everywhere is a good thing. Fear of Allah is a good thing too. It keeps us honest. If we find ourselves neglectful of our promises, the thought of standing exposed on Qiyama with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and the Inescapable Justice of Allah himself filling the horizon – that thought is a good thing.

It would also be a good thing if the people who wrote these emails feared Allah too, because the implied threat in the message is that “If you ignore my prayers, Allah will ignore yours too.” Speaking on Allah’s behalf without His permission is a grave offense.

Making threats on his behalf is much, much worse.

So the next time someone throws a brick through your browser window – out of fear of Allah – kindly and gently hand it back to them.

Politely inform them that they are not held to promises they never made and oaths invoked by people they never met. Mention as well that the mercy of Allah is limitless, and no one has the right to threaten or even imply that if you don’t do what they want, Allah won’t do what He promised to.

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

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The Islamic Perspectives And Rulings on Rape and Sexual Assault

Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions
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Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

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As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

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

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

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

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

One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

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

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