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More Baby, Less Shark: Planning For Kids In The Masjid

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Of all the challenges that your focus can face in prayer, there are few as insidious as Baby Shark.

Doo-doo-doo doo. Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo. Baby Shark.

If you are not a parent, or have the type of amnesia that parents sometimes develop once their kids grow up, then you might assume that not having kids in the masjid is actually a solution to Baby-Shark induced distraction.

The inconvenient (and often sticky) truth is that not having kids in the masjid is a serious problem, not a solution. No kids in the masjid means an entire generation of the Muslim community growing up outside of the Muslim community.

Restricting the presence of children and assigning masjid priority to fully-formed, quietly attentive, and spiritually disciplined attendees – like adults – is a bit like restricting health club membership to triathletes. You’re already fit. So can we please let someone else use the treadmill, even if they’re not using it as well as you could?

The masjid is the center of the community for all Muslims, not a sanctuary for the preservation of reverent silence.  For a more detailed discussion on this, please see this great Soundvision article, Children in the Masjid, Making Space for Our Future.

For suggestions on how to help your children enjoy the masjid without Baby-Sharking the rest of the congregation to tears, I present the following recommendations.

Come Prepared

Rather than assume your child will be entertained by nothing but the carpet and how many weird faces they can spot in the bilaterally symmetrical patterns, bring them something to play with. One way to do this is to prepare your child a special bag for the masjid.

Stock it with as many things applicable:

  • A reusable water bottle: Select a bottle that your child can drink from on their own, preferably not likely to tip or spill onto the masjid carpet. No one appreciates a soggy sujood
  • A nut-free snack: If you think it’s too much trouble to be considerate of people with life-threatening allergies, consider how much trouble it is to bury a child who dies of anaphylaxis. Children share snacks in the masjid, and that’s ok as long as no one dies.
  • A small, quiet toy: The dollar store can be tremendously helpful in keeping your inventory fresh and financially feasible. Please be aware of swallowing hazards, since your child is likely to share the toy with others. One hopes.
  • A sweater or blanket: Sitting for long periods of time in an air-conditioned building can make anyone cold.
  • Art Supplies: Pack crayons, pencils, or markers IF you feel your child can refrain from drawing on the walls, or allowing other, smaller children from doing so. Magic Erasers don’t work on the prayer rug.

Reverie in Blue – Artist Unknown

Critically- and I do mean critically- don’t let your children access the special masjid bag unless they are in the masjid. The last thing you want is for your child to be bored with its contents before they even make it to prayers. Storing this bag somewhere inaccessible to your child can help keep its contents fresh and interesting longer.

Non-parent tip: Keep allergen-free lollipops in your pocket. Reward the kids sitting nicely (with parents’ permission) and you have killed two birds with one stone.

  1. You’ve  helped a child establish a happy memory and relationship to the masjid.
  2. Kids with lollipops in their mouths make less noise.

Do not pack:

Balls: Not even small ones, not even for small children. Your child may not have the gross-motor skills to kick or throw a ball at people who are praying, but there will always be children in the masjid who do. They will take your child’s ball, and they will play ball with it, because that’s what balls are for. Consider also the potential damage to light fixtures, ceiling fans, audio/video equipment, and the goodwill of people who get hit, run down, or kicked in the shins. The masjid is just not the place to play ball, even if the floor is green and has lines on it.

Not every green thing with lines is a soccer field.

Scooters: Do not bring scooters, skateboards, heelies, or other mobility toys that would turn your child a faster-moving object than they already are. Your child’s long-term relationship with the community can be fostered by not crashing into it.

Slime: Slime and carpets do, in fact, go together. They go together so well as to be inextricable of one-another. Please, do not bring slime to the masjid.

Gum: Please, for the love of everyone’s socks, no gum.

Toy Guns, Play-weapons: It should go without saying. And yet, I have seen nerf guns, foam swords, and toy guns in masjid. Apart from the basic indoor etiquette of not sword-fighting, nor launching projectiles in a house of worship, please be sensitive. No one wants to see guns in their masjid.

Non-parent tip: If children playing near you are making “too much noise” smile and find another place to sit if possible. It is not always possible to ignore or move away from disruptions, but glaring, eye-rolling, and making tsk-tsk sounds is not likely to effect long-term change in either the child’s behavior or the parents’ strategic abilities. At best, you will embarrass the parents. At worst, you will push families away from the faith and the community while confirming the opinion that masjids are full of cranky, impatient people who wish kids didn’t exist in the masjid while criticizing Muslim youth for not being there. 

Avoid Electronics. But if you can’t…

I am prefacing this suggestion with a disclaimer. Habitually putting your child on a smartphone or tablet so that you can “enjoy” the masjid without the “hassle” of you making sure they behave properly is not good parenting. A child being physically present but mentally absent in the masjid is not a long-term strategy that any parent should get behind.

Having said that, if you do give your kids a tablet or phone in the masjid, please disable Youtube and bring over-ear headphones.

Do not rely on YouTube Kids to take responsibility for your child’s content choices either. Long after Baby Shark has sunk to the depths of the internet, there will always be loud, inappropriate, or just plainly distracting and disturbing things that your child can access on it.

Instead of relying on Youtube at all, install child-friendly apps that you know won’t have external links embedded in their ads, and won’t lead to inadvertent, inappropriate viewing in case your child – or my child sitting next to them – click out of their app and into the great wide world. I highly recommend anything from the Toca Boca suite of apps.

Parents at Taraweeh – Making it Work

Non-parent tip: If you see a child on a tablet, do not lecture their parent. As a special needs parent, there are times when I too allow my autistic son onto a tablet to prevent a meltdown or try to get just 15 more minutes out of him so I can finish attending a class. Do not automatically assume laziness or incompetence on behalf of parents whose children you see on an electronic device. 

Reward for Success, in this life and the next

You show up in the masjid because you hope for a reward from Allah. As an adult, you have the ability to delay the gratification of this reward until well after you die. Your kids, however, don’t.

Motivate your kids with small rewards for small accomplishments as you remind them of the reward that Allah has for them too. You can choose to reward a child after every two rakah, or after every two days. How often you reward them, and what you choose to reward them for depends on their age and their capabilities.

Make dua for your kids when you reward them. If they get a small handful of gummy bears after a good evening at the masjid, pair it with a reminder of the bigger reward too.

“Here’s the ice cream I promised you for doing awesome in the masjid today. May Allah grant you mountains of ice cream in Jannah so big you can ski down them. Ameen.”

Non-parent tip: It’s not your job to discipline the children of others, but you can help praise them. Randomly compliment kids who are sitting nicely, sharing toys, playing quietly, or wearing cute headgear. Their parents will likely not mind.

Reinforce the rules – but define them first.

“Be Good In the Masjid” is a vastly different instruction depending on who you’re instructing. For a teenager, praying with the congregation is reasonable. For a two-year-old, not climbing the congregation is reasonable.

Define your rules and frame them in a positive context that your children can remember. Remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing rather than calling them out for what they are not. For example, no running in the masjid vs. please walk in the masjid.

Avoid saying this:

Try saying this instead:

Stay out of my pursePlease use the toys in your bag
Don’t draw on the wallsCrayons only on the paper
No yellingPlease use your “inside” voice
No food on the carpetPlease have your snack in the hallway
Don’t run offStay where I can see you, which is from [here] to [here.]
No peeing the carpetWe’re taking a potty break now, and we’ll go again after the 4th rakah’.
No hittingHands nicely to yourself.

While it might look like semantics, putting your energy into “To-Do’s” versus the “To-Don’ts” has long-term benefits. If your child is going to hear the same thing from you a hundred times before they get it right, you can help them by telling them what the right thing is. Think of the difference between the To-Do statement “Please use a tissue,” versus the To-Don’t statement of “Don’t pick your nose.” You can tell you kid a hundred times not to pick his or her nose, but if you never tell them to use a tissue, you’re missing the opportunity to replace bad behavior with its functional alternative.

Plan for Failure

Kids don’t walk the first time they try. They won’t sit nicely the first time you ask them to either. Decide what your exact plan is in case you have to retreat & regroup for another day.

  • How much noise is too much? Do your kids know what you expect of them?
  • Where are the physical boundaries you want your kids to remain in? Do they know what those boundaries are?
  • For kids too small to recognize boundaries, how far are you ok with a little one toddling before you decide that the potential danger may not be worth it?
  • Talk to your spouse or other children and get everyone on board. Being on the same page can look like different things according to different age groups. A plan of action can be “If we lose Junior Ibn Abu, we’re taking turns in prayer,” or “If you kick the Imam again, we’re all going home.”
  • If your child is too small, too rowdy, or too grumpy to sit quietly at the masjid, please take turns with your spouse. The masjid is a sweet spiritual experience that both parents should be able to enjoy, even if that means taking turns.

Don’t Give up

If you find yourself frustrated with being unable to enjoy the masjid the way you did before your child starting sucking on prayer rugs, remember this:

Raising your children with love and patience is an act of worship, even if it’s not the act of worship you thought you were coming to the masjid for. No matter what your expectations are of them – or how far they are from meeting them – the ultimate goal is for your child to love Allah and love the House of Allah.

When they get things right, praise them and reward them, and remind them that Allah’s reward is coming too. When they get it wrong, remind them and forgive them, and don’t give up. The only way children learn to walk is by falling down over, and over, and over again.

Avoiding the masjid because your kids don’t behave correctly is like not allowing them to walk because they keep falling down. The key is to hold their hand until they get it right, and maintain close supervision until you can trust them to manage on their own, InshaAllah.

May Allah make it easy for you and bless your children with love for the masjid in this life and love for Allah that will guide them through the next. Aaaaaaaameeeeeeeeen

Children @ Taraweeh: Storm in a Teacup

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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.

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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ayesha Sharieff

    May 23, 2019 at 10:13 AM

    Love love love this article :)

  2. Avatar

    Alaa

    May 23, 2019 at 12:29 PM

    Barak Allah fiki Sister Zeba. Beautifully written article as always MashaaAllah. I really enjoyed reading it and plan to put these tips to use inshaaAllah.

  3. Avatar

    anonymous

    May 23, 2019 at 12:56 PM

    May Allah reward you sister Zena Khan. May Allah grant you and your son complete shifa from all ailments and forgive your sins and raise your status in the hereafter ameen

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      May 23, 2019 at 2:39 PM

      Ameen!

    • Avatar

      Anum Aziz

      May 25, 2019 at 2:36 AM

      Mashallah love this. Thank you for being mindful of children with food allergies. My 2 year old has life threatening food allergies and i literally caught him with a bag of peanut m&ms. My heart almost stopped. I don’t know what could’ve happened if we had eaten one while I was in prayer. Great suggestions overall. Really really appreciated and well written

      • Zeba Khan

        Zeba Khan

        May 25, 2019 at 5:11 AM

        Girl my heart stopped just reading your comment! May Allah protect your little one. Please be sure to talk to as many of the other moms in your community as possible. The more eyes keeping your little one safe, the better!

  4. Avatar

    Huma

    May 23, 2019 at 4:14 PM

    As usual…AMAZING. Thank you Zeba for a balanced article!

  5. Avatar

    Spirituality

    May 23, 2019 at 4:49 PM

    Alhamdhulillah, I really enjoyed this article!

    I must say I smiled at this sentence…

    “Restricting the presence of children and assigning masjid priority to fully-formed, quietly attentive, and spiritually disciplined attendees – like adults – is a bit like restricting health club membership to triathletes”…

    How many of us adults really behave ourselves like ‘spiritually disciplined attendees’ in the masjid? We may not kick the Imam, run around, or throw balls, but…visualize the typical scene during an Eid Khutbah…or even a Juma Khutbah…(especially in the ladies section, I’m embarrassed to say…) you can’t even hear what the Imam is saying over the noise and commotion…

    As you say, this is precisely why children should be brought to the Mosque, so the next generation can learn Mosque etiquette…because unfortunately, many of us who are adults today have not…

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      May 24, 2019 at 1:49 AM

      Yeah, I work in a masjid and I have lots of thoughts about how the parents of the children conduct themselves too. But it’s kinda hard to write an entire article of what you would assume is common sense – and yet isn’t. May Allah make it easy for us all. :)

  6. Avatar

    JessiF

    May 24, 2019 at 12:55 AM

    Hilarious, light, fun to read. I lost it at “if you kick the Imam again…l!! Thank you dear sister Zeba.

  7. Avatar

    PB & J

    May 24, 2019 at 1:05 PM

    You are so good at this! inshaallah, you’ll make more great articles!

  8. Avatar

    Simeen

    May 26, 2019 at 7:56 AM

    Love reading your articles. You truly have a gift. Allahumma baarik laki.

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#Current Affairs

Coronavirus And The Impetus To Close The Chinese-Run Concentration Camps

My Appeal to the International Community to Save the Lives of 3+ Million Uyghurs in China’s Concentration Camps

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According to Dr. Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher based in Germany who has testified on several occasions on Capitol Hill, the concentration camps in East Turkestan number up to 1,400 (8 Nov 2019, [1]). It has been estimated that the number of the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic minorities being held in those concentration camps can add up to more than 3 million.

On February 5th, 2020, when the official Chinese government’s media were reporting that coronavirus death toll on mainland China was 600 – 700 [2], Tencent briefly listed 154,023 infections and 24,589 deaths from Wuhan coronavirus [3]. That is, the actual death toll is about 40 times higher than what the Chinese government reported. East Turkestan (known as Xinjiang) is far from the epicenter of the outbreak and just 55 cases have been reported in the region so far [4]. We can easily believe that the actual number of the people who fell victim to coronavirus in East Turkestan is tens of times more than the above figure.

Among those who died in Wuhan, 61% died in their homes. Currently, almost all the Uyghur population in East Turkestan is locked up in their homes. 

The situation of the 3+ million Uyghur concentration camp detainees is worse by several degrees. Keeping 3+ million Uyghur alive detainees is a complex, expensive and extremely difficult project. Are the 3+ million detainees still alive? Are they still being fed? How and from where? 

There is a real reason to fear a rapid spread of coronavirus in the controversial Chinese camps. “The virus spreads from person to person through droplets disseminated by sneezing or coughing, and confining large groups of people together, possibly without adequate access to germ-killing soap and water, will increase the likelihood of an outbreak.” [4] 

I have started to panic. Most Uyghurs in the United States have families there, and they are dealing with the camps and the virus, and we do not know if they have enough to eat, have masks and enough heat to survive.

“If the international community fails to pressure China to take adequate actions to prevent outbreaks in the region, the nature of its mass network of concentration and forced labor camps will add an entirely new dimension to China’s ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs.” [5]

“Uyghurs in the diaspora fear if the virus isn’t already in the camps, when it does reach them, the consequences will be catastrophic, leading to mass outbreaks and high mortalities very quickly given reports of overcrowding, starvation, forced labor, sexual abuse and torture in the camps. As China has largely ignored the issue of the virus spreading in the region and its crimes against humanity in the region are ongoing, it’s unlikely the Chinese government will allocate resources to address the issue.” [5]

I call for:

  1. UN to send a delegation to the region to find out if the concentration camp detainees are being provided with enough food and heat to survive.
  2. WHO to send a delegation to the region to evaluate the spread of the virus, assess the risks in the camps and take all measures necessary to prevent mass outbreaks and deaths. 
  3. WHO, the UN, international human rights groups, national governments and the rest of the international community to pressure China to close the camps and release the millions detained immediately as part of the global response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  4. Global health and humanitarian organizations to send medical supplies and teams to screen, diagnose and treat affected individuals in the Uyghur region including those in China’s concentration camps. (Items 2 – 4 are almost identical to those in [5])

[1] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/detainees-11232019223242.html

[2]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/cloneofcloneofchina-coronavirus-outbreak-latest–200207231158175.html

[3]https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3871594?fbclid=IwAR1k3x27tW2jNmmQzbaNOWtciIwlP3z70GWvj2XcRhestwB6T6l16pSqL18

[4] https://www.france24.com/en/20200212-exiled-uighurs-fear-spread-of-coronavirus-in-china-camps

[5]https://www.change.org/p/demand-china-release-3-million-uyghurs-before-coronavirus-outbreaks-in-concentration-camps?utm_content=cl_sharecopy_20183581_en-CA%3Av2&recruiter=53261213&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

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Continue Reading

#Society

No-Nuptial Agreements: Maybe Next Time, Don’t Get Married

marriage
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 “Nikah is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me.”

–Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Narrated by Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her)

Many Muslims have experienced marriage, then suffered a subsequent divorce as a financial, emotional, and social meat grinder. Some critics have noted the divorce system seemingly exists primarily to benefit itself; the lawyers: mental health experts, investigators, forensic accountants.

They form an entire industry dedicated to extracting the wealth of a disintegrating family, often forcing the middle class or working class into poverty and bankruptcy. All of this happens without any noticeable benefit to society. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

For many, divorce happens multiple times. A divorced person who gets remarried is more likely to get divorced again.

While men often complain about how the “family court” system is against them, the reality is that women often bear the financial brunt of divorce. Divorce is more likely to drive women to bankruptcy than men.

After one or two divorces and a few lost years of retirement savings or a decade or more of home equity, another “marriage” starts to look downright irrational. My advice to such people: stop getting married, at least under state law. Get a nikah and a “no-nuptial agreement” instead. Allow me to explain.

Fun with Words

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about virtually anything unless we have a common understanding of the meaning of words we are using.

In law, even ordinary words have definitions that defy conventional understanding or even common sense. Basic familial terms like “son,” “daughter,” “father,” and “mother” have state law definitions that are different from what those words mean in Islam or our understanding. Under state law, “parents” can adopt adult “children” a similar age to them or even older, and have the same status as a biological child. In Islam, an adopted child is not the same as a biological child and does not have rights to inheritance in Islam.

In law, even words like “life” and “death” don’t always mean what you think they mean. A living person can go to court to dispute his death, demonstrate he is living, breathing, speaking, and everyone agrees he is the “dead person” in question, yet, he is ruled legally dead. Famously, corporations are legally people and are immortal.

Law is not the same thing as truth.

Similarly, it is folly to conflate nikah, the thing that exists in Islam, with marriage under state law. In different states, rules for who and under what circumstances people can get married can vary. One thing that all the state law definitions have in common is that they are not marriage in Islam.

What is Marriage?

For marriage, there is a state law definition, there is an Islamic definition, and there is the definition that the individual married couple has. Under state law, two men can be married to each other, but three men cannot be. In Islam, marriage (let’s call it nikah to be more precise) is a halal social and sexual relationship, and there are rules in the fiqh that are different from state law.

Under some state laws, “secret marriages” with no witnesses or publicly available registration are part of the law and commonly used. In Islam, there is a witness requirement for nikah. None of the rules in Islam require the state’s approval for nikah.

The third definition is how each couple sees their marriage. It is a flexible institution. To the extent it is an economic, social or familial partnership can vary widely. Couples may live together or apart. They may have one income or two.  They may share the same social circles or share none of them. The variations are endless.

Domestic Partnerships

For most of the history of legal marriage in the United States, marriage can only be between one man and one woman. States started allowing for “domestic partnerships” to give some “benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples, like employer health benefits and hospital visitation.

In many instances, these were available almost exclusively to same-sex couples, even after same-sex marriage became part of the law in all states. However, as of January 2020, California opened up domestic partnerships to everyone, including different-sex couples.

As a practical matter, domestic partnerships are simply state-sanctioned marriage by another name. It is notable though some jurisdictions may have limited domestic partnerships that are something less than marriage. In most states that have it, the same family law system, for good or ill, that comes with marriage under state law is also true of domestic partnerships.

While domestic partnership combined with a nikah is available to Muslims in states where it exists, there is no real advantage to using it.

No-Nuptial Agreements

For decades now, in the United States, there has been no taboo against men and women openly having sexual relationships with each other, living and raising families together outside marriage. Courts have long recognized these people should have contractual rights with each other.

When a man and women live together, those involved may be gaining something and giving something up. So if a man promises a woman something, and the agreement is not founded merely on sexual services, the state should enforce those promises, not in family court but civil court.

Marvin started it all

The principle case that established this is the California case of Marvin v. Marvin in 1976. A couple broke up, but the woman wanted to enforce promises made to her by the man. The man felt such a commitment should not be enforceable because, among other reasons, he was legally married to a completely different woman when this non-marital relationship started. Under California law, at the time (abolished by the time the case got to the court), this was criminal adultery.

No-nuptial agreements (sometimes called cohabitation agreements or Marvin agreements) can be used by couples when they want to have enforceable contracts but do not want to subject themselves to the family court system or the family code. They can include provisions of mahar, sharing expenses, equity as well as dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation.

The couple can also document limits on what they agreed to to what is in writing. For example, during a breakup, one party may be able to claim an oral promise the other party never made and potentially have it enforced in court. A written agreement protects both parties and the understanding they had when they entered into the relationship.

These agreements have a broad utility for many different kinds of couples. However, for some couples, the main benefit would be documentation that nobody is under the illusion that this is a marriage under state law. It is a private contract between two individuals.

Example of a No-Nuptial Agreement

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren. Both want to put their adult children at ease that this relationship does not exist for predatory financial reasons – a common fear when parents marry later in life.

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren.Click To Tweet

Salma and Sheher Ali do not plan to live together, which is common for couples their age. They mostly pay for their expenses themselves. They may spend the night at each other’s homes whenever they want but will split time with their separate children, grandchildren and social circles. Sheher Ali pays for joint vacations and outings. He agreed to a mahar. Both agree in writing they did not marry under state law.

Sheher Ali and Salma can still call each other husband and wife, since that is true for them and everyone they know. Both keep all of their finances separate, and each does their independent estate planning where they name each other as partial beneficiaries of their estates as required in Islam. The two also complete HIPAA forms allowing each to see the other’s private medical information and name each other in Advance Healthcare Directives so they can make healthcare decisions for each other.

Legal Strangers

Unmarried couples are “legal strangers.” Doctors won’t share healthcare information. Islamic spouses don’t get an inheritance from a no-nuptial agreement spouse by default. They don’t get things like tenancy by the entirety, community property, or elective shares in places where such things exist. As I described above, though, this can be remedied. However, as I described in the example above, the “legal stranger” aspect of the relationship may be more of a benefit than a downside in some cases.

Some “benefits” of marriage under state law are against Islamic principles.  For example, some state laws that provide for “elective shares” are diametrically opposed to the Quran’s share of inheritance.  Muslims must follow Islamic rules of inheritance anyway, which are different from default state rules, so being under state law is no special advantage. Even with proper planning, the downsides of the “legal stranger” problem still may come up in extraordinary contexts, however, such as lawsuits.

Immigration and Taxes

Another concern is that employee benefits to spouses and dependents don’t generally extend to those with no-nuptial agreements. Immigration law does not allow a path to the United States through the “family unification ” process for those with a no-nuptial contract. Marriage under state law (or the law of a foreign country recognized in the United States) may be the most practical solution in such cases.

In some cases, state-sanctioned marriage may lead to lower taxes. Other legally married couples may experience the so-called “marriage penalty” and pay higher taxes than couples with a no-nuptial agreement. Couples may often find they will pay less in taxes with a no-nuptial agreement than they would if they were married under state law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

One may wonder, to avoid the “meat grinder” of the family court system, why not just get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement? It’s accurate that in general, having such arrangements are superior to not having them. These agreements offer greater certainty, though by no means total confidence, on how a divorce would end. There are disadvantages to such an agreement over no-nuptial agreements, however. A big one is that divorce is still in the family court system.

Many Muslim men, especially immigrants, may perceive cultural biases cause a stacked deck against them in family court. The nature of these agreements may make this perception worse. Sometimes, courts treat prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with a presumption of coercion. It is different from an ordinary contract. The family court system is often free to be more paternalistic and make a husband prove he did not force his wife to sign a document.

The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which will be worded differently in the different states that adopted it, provides for a process to make these marital agreements harder to defeat. However, the process is perhaps arguably more expensive, cumbersome, and awkward for a couple than a no-nuptial contract. Talking about a prenuptial agreement with a fiancé may be more uncomfortable than bringing up a no-nuptial arrangement and nikah. Without a state-sanctioned marriage, a written agreement is essential. Many people perceive the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as both optional and, perhaps unfairly, as a sign of mistrust.

Custody and Child Support

Unfortunately, there is no agreement you can come up with that will pre-settle child support and custody. A judge will decide those things.

It does not matter if you have a “plain vanilla” marriage governed entirely by your state’s family code, a prenuptial agreement, or a no-nuptial agreement. Children are not parties to such a contract. No court anywhere will subject a child’s care and welfare to such things.

For custody and child support, courts in family court will use the sometimes hard to define standard of “best interests of the child.” One Massachusetts family law attorney in a popular divorce documentary cryptically joked that she called children in the system  “little bags of money.” They are often a significant reason family law cases are so profitable for lawyers, mental health professionals, investigators, and everyone else.

No Protection for Poor Life Choices

A good rule to follow is never to do nikah with a person capable of having children unless you are sure she or he can be trusted to raise your future children, and you have made peace with making child support payments to this individual if your relationship ends. If you have a child, you may be suck with a child support order. There is no getting out of this one.

As an Islamic estate planning lawyer, the most important advice I can ever give anyone is not to get a proper estate plan. It is not to get a good lawyer. Of course those things are good, indeed no-brainers, but they have limits. The most important advice is to choose a spouse wisely. If you fail here, there is no law, no lawyer or document in existence that can turn back the clock. A no-nuptial agreement may make a future breakup easier than a family court divorce. There is still no guarantee it won’t be a complete mess anyway. Good documents are never a substitute for poor life choices.

“The Law of the Land”

Islamic institutions like masajid are conservative don’t like taking needless risks, as they should be. Many will not officiate a nikah unless there is a marriage license. They usually will not officiate bigamous marriages, on account of it being illegal.  Of course bigamy, like marriage, has a specific legal definition under state law. One almost universal refrain is that as Muslims we need to follow “the law of the land.”

No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the 'law of the land.' It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is. Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam.Click To Tweet

But what if that term did not mean what you think it means? No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the “law of the land.” It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is.  Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam. Recently, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, a large masjid in the Los Angeles area, changed its nikah officiating policy. Instead of always requiring marriage certificates, they will also recognize no-nuptial agreements.

Masajid Should Welcome No-Nuptial Agreements

Masajid should have standardized policies and procedures in place. Every masjid should have carefully considered policies to protect the vulnerable and the institution. No masjid wants to open themselves up to a “drive-by nikah” or other nonsense. One policy may well include mandating a no-nuptial agreement when there is no marriage certificate. There is no reason to believe one protects people and institutions better than the other.

Nikah is a vital sunnah for us. It is not something that should be in the shadows, secret, or something shameful. It is fundamental to how we organize our families and communities. When it’s done right, it helps us strengthen our iman, bring us closer to our communities and our loved ones. State definitions of words should not always be your guide to right and wrong.

It is appropriate that Muslims want to do the sunnah of nikah at the masjid, publicly and with friends and family watching.  We should recognize and celebrate every new couple that has done a nikah in our communities. Never mind the state has not sanctioned it.

The state statute book has its definition, we have ours.

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“Rather Turkish Than Pope”, European Islam Already Exists For Centuries

European Islam
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Changing the factual past in an attempt to gain political authority is one of the paradoxes of modern populism, where the target audience is presented a twisted and fake past as a nostalgic idealistic image. Populist politicians reminisce publicly about the benefits and pleasures of the days of yore, where facts often have to make room for emotions. 

This false representations of a national past on a micro-level is internationally recognizable, but it nonetheless becomes increasingly apparent on a macro-level. The modern European continent is such an example, where right-wing populism is rapidly gaining ground and threatens to achieve political successes.

The populist branch within the Flemish Nationalist thought lends itself particularly to such interpretations of the past, and makes severe historical mistakes in an attempt to uphold and protect that history.

Historically speaking, there’s no truth in an independent Flanders based on the territory of the current Flemish Region. The historical and geographical Flanders is the areas designated as Zealand, East- and West-Flanders and French-Flanders all the way up to Dunkirk. The provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant belonged historically to the duchy of Brabant, and the modern-day province of Limburg was a patchwork of small governments under influence of the Holy Roman Empire, the largest of which was the County of Loon, part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.

And yet, nostalgic references are made to the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the County of Flanders and the Flemish Lion by right-wingers. These are mere emotional ideals for a people desperately in search of its own identity amidst a rapidly changing world.

That all of this “past” needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The average Limburgian shares less history with his West-Flemish countryman than with someone from Liège, often doesn’t matter any more.

It’s emotional support, and a form of political opportunism.

Das Abendland

In an almost romanticized narrative, Europe is presented as the so-called Abendland, the Evening Land, a common territory inhabited by people and societies that share a homogeneous cultural unity and a common history. It’s from this populist utopia that the resistance grows against the so-called illusion that Europe was partly formed by external influences and ideas from other continents around the world. It’s from this outset that an isolationist and supremacist historical thinking is pursued. It doesn’t come as a surprise that such theories aren’t only wrong on a historical level, but form an acute danger that threatens to separate people, based on ghosts from the past and vague ideals.

This Eurocentric thinking, in which Europe is considered the initiator and not the receiver, persists throughout colonial and post-colonial European thought. Besides, this trend is also observable in our modern Western high school system, where education tends to look at human history through a purely European lens, as if it was the exclusive result of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, Christianity, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Years of history classes are being taught within this framework, offering students just a limited amount of tools to effectively look beyond their own geographical and historical area. This is disastrous for the 21st century’s educational system. Such outdated curriculum only serves the interests of populists and idealists.

The history of the several African civilizations, more focus on the earliest states of the Fertile Crescent and some time on the rise and development of the United States were severely lacking during my high school experience, and I had to wait until university to be taught these subjects. What I found most lacking, however, was any in-depth attention for the complex relationship between Europe and the Islamic World.

The Absent Crescent

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Albanian Muslims in traditional clothing – 1873

The narrative that Europe is the sole result of a Judeo-Christian tradition with roots in ancient Greek and Roman antiquity needs to be swept aside, once and for all. By no means was there in Europe at any point up until the Second World War an example of cultural, religious or social unity. On the contrary! The continent has always been a patchwork of warring tribes, feudal kingdoms and modern nation states that had in most cases little more in common than their shared geographical position on the European land mass.

More than one third of Europe was under strong Islamic influence for several centuries; in the west, the Iberian Peninsula known as al-Andalus and in the east, Greece and the Balkan all the way up to Vienna. Important Islamic cities like Cordoba, Granada, Sarajevo and Istanbul are still standing in all their glory as we speak, effectively forming visual and tangible landmarks of the Islamic presence on the European continent. This part of history and its influence on modern Europe, however, is predominantly kept silent in the rich historical corpus this continent possesses so abundantly, just as much as in the average high schools so paramount in the formation of our youngest generations.

It is mere randomness that determined that Judaism and Christianity, both religions arisen from Semitic societies, are considered to be European and Islam, which equally emerged from a Semitic society, to be non-European. The fact that European Muslim scientists and philosophers like Ibn Zuhr, al-Zahrāwī, Ibn Rushd or Ibn-Ẓafar al-Ṣiqillī were often much more relevant to modern European science and philosophy than the ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, is long forgotten.

True European Islam

This Islam, that was equally and simultaneously influenced and touched by the proximity and contact with other European people, constitutes true European Islam, i.e. the Islam that grew on the European continent and which left its mark on the future development of states influenced by its presence.

That abhorrent mixture of Islam and liberal, secular and humanist ideals that people nowadays wish to propagate as ‘European Islam’ by presenting it as an acceptable alternative of the Islamic religion within Europe is in my opinion nothing more than a product of the European superiority thinking and undoubtedly also the inferiority complex lots of immigrants suffer from. European Islam predates all of this politicized circus for several centuries, and doesn’t need any dilution or mixing in order to be accepted as European.Click To Tweet

That abhorrent mixture of Islam and liberal, secular and humanist ideals that people wish to propagate as ‘European Islam’ by presenting it as an acceptable alternative of the Islamic religion within Europe is nothing more than a product of a European superiority complex and undoubtedly also the inferiority complex lots of immigrants suffer from. European Islam predates all of this politicized circus for several centuries, and doesn’t need any dilution or mixing in order to be accepted as European.

People like Ivan de Veenboer and Jan Janszoon probably don’t immediately ring a bell, and yet they were among the first Dutch Muslims who actively served as seafarers under the Ottoman Empire.

Ivan de Veenboer was an infamous Dutch corsair who sailed the Mediterranean Sea and converted to Islam somewhere at the start of the 17th century. He received the honorary title of ‘Sulaymān-Reis’  from the Dey of Algiers and was promoted to captain and commander of the Algiers corsair fleet, a promotion that heralded a highly successful career. His chief mate was another Dutch corsair, Jan Janszoon. He converted to Islam as well, and assumed command as Murād-Reis over the Fleet of Salé, a powerful squadron of seventeen privateers under Ottoman command. The word Reis is a derivative of the Arabic word for commander, raʾīs, and was given as an honorary title.

In 1566, the Ottoman Empire — under Sulaymān the Magnificent — as the sole foreign power offer its aid to the Dutch rebels of William of Orange. The Protestant Dutch were involved in a violent rebellion against Catholic Spain, and found an ally in the Ottomans. In 1574, Selīm II took Tunisia from the Spanish Empire in a successful attempt to lower the Spanish pressure on the Low Lands.

The History of  the Geuzen

The Geuzen, the Dutch guerrilla and privateering forces who opposed the Spanish Catholics during the Eighty Years’ War, wore a badge with the inscription: “Rather Turkish than Pope.” When the village of Sluis fell under control of the Dutch rebels in 1604, they found several Muslims among the Spanish galley slaves. The Dutch immediately chose to grant them their freedom and to transport them to the shores of North Africa as a sign of gratitude towards the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Caliph Aḥmed I asked the Dutch revolutionaries to send him an ambassador, effectively becoming one of the first world leaders to recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic.Click To Tweet
HUIK_-_rouwkleding_-_Bernard_Picart,_1733
Two Dutch women wearing a so-called huik – 1733

The Ottoman Caliph Aḥmed I asked the Dutch revolutionaries to send him an ambassador, effectively becoming one of the first world leaders to recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic. That ambassador’s name was Cornelius Haga, who arrived with a delegation in Istanbul in 1611. In 1612, he agreed on a very advantageous trade agreement with the Turks, exempting the Dutch from several taxes. Haga remained at the caliph’s court until 1639.

It’s regrettable that such examples are barely covered when speaking about the history of Europe, even in high school. This point of view can build a much broader insight among students with regard to the role of Islam and the Muslims in Europe.

Missed Opportunities and Right-Wing Historians

The fact that the average history lesson doesn’t speak a word about the complex relationships between European nations and Muslim empires, like the Umayyads and Abbasids, is a missed opportunity. In particular because the global history of the European nations can’t be detached from these Muslim empires and vice versa.

The fact that the average history lesson doesn’t speak a word about the complex relationships between European nations and Muslim empires, like the Umayyads and Abbasids, is a missed opportunityClick To Tweet

From Islamic Andalusia and Sicily through the Crusades all the way up to the Ottoman support for Ireland during the Great Famine, European states constantly existed in interaction with neighboring Muslim countries. Keeping silent about all of this benefits only the far-right populist establishment. Right-wing historians, like the Belgian Wim Van Rooy, go as far as denying the entire Islamic civilization and all of its achievements throughout the centuries, calling it an invention of 20th century Arab Gulf states.

The fact that the historical role played by Islam in Europe is reduced to an absolute minimum in popular modern historiography only contributes to a wrong understanding of the current question of Islam in the West. Islam existence on the continent has a long history, and didn’t just slip through the net as a result of mass immigration after the Second World War, as claimed by several populists.

54337_95564_bqHhsM
Marmaduke Pikthall

Many prominent Muslims lived on the continent in the early 90’s. Let’s take the example of Evelyn (Zainab) Cobbold was a Scottish noblewoman who converted to Islam after having spent several years in Algiers and Cairo. The 65 year old was, as a matter of fact, by 1933 the first British Muslim woman that ever performed the pilgrimage (Ḥajj) to Mecca.

British writer and journalist Marmaduke (Muḥammad) Pikthall, praised by great writers like H.G. Wells and D.H. Lawrence, converted to Islam publicly in 1917. In 1930, he published an English translation of the Quran, and in 1936 he was buried in the Muslim section of the famous Brookwood cemetery in London.

Sir Archibald (ʿAbdullāh) Hamilton, Etienne Dinet, Claude Alexandre de Bonnevalle, the Hungarian Jozef Bem and even the younger brother of Vlad Dracul, Radu, were all early European converts to Islam, and the list is much longer.

Can’t all of this be considered a common part of European history?

Mahomets Gesang

Goethe known for his love and fascination for the poetry of Saʿdī al-Shīrāzī, dedicated a poem of his to the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) Mahomets Gesang, Song of Muhammad.

The Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw didn’t make his admiration for the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) much of a secret as well. His famous quote still emits a serene respect: “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality.” In the January 1933 issue of the Lahore The Light magazine in which he made this comment, Shaw added that “he forecast that within a century, Islam would be the religion of Europe.”

According to him, Islam was dismissed for centuries by Europeans as pagan heresy and nonsense, depicted as the embodiment of evil, but 18th and 19th century thinkers like Goethe, Gibbon and Carlyle brought a positive change in how Islam is viewed. All four of these thinkers, including Shaw, deviated from the contemporary traditional European historiography and observed instead the Middle-East, the Greek-Orthodox Church and the development of Islam. Not only did they get to know the Prophet Muḥammad as a religious symbol, but as an efficient political leader and a genius strategist.

Connection Instead Of Polarization

This entire message, however, won’t ring a bell to most, including Muslims themselves. It’s a message that gets lost amidst the deafening sound of disinformation, political opportunism and populist interests. If this information would be made into a new standard of European historiography and common knowledge, both in school as in public, more connections and mutual understanding will grow as opposed to the rising polarization of today.

Teach students to make connections. Teach them to look at the bigger picture, to understand the historical reality that nations simply need to interact with each other in order to survive, apart from culture or religion.Click To Tweet

Teach students to make connections.

Teach them to look at the bigger picture, to understand the historical reality that nations simply need to interact with each other in order to survive, apart from culture or religion. No one fell from Mars and left his mark on earth. Everything we can observe today arose as the result of a long historical process. When our newest generations then learn to think and reason inclusively and see the shared collectiveness of our world history, they’ll walk the Earth with an open-mind and they’ll be less inclined to think in terms like “supremacy” or “exclusivity”.

The last thing I want to do with this long read is to preach and to sum up lists of “how good Islam is”. No, but I do wish historical justice in the ugly face of the contemporary mass-populism. I want to demonstrate that the Islamic religion forms an integral part of European history, and that this religion can just be European as well, without the need to substitute its norms and values.

I want to demonstrate that the Islamic religion forms an integral part of European history, and that this religion can just be European as well, without the need to substitute its norms and values.Click To Tweet

We don’t need to search for a European Islam, because it already exists for centuries.

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