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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. He is the co-author of "Estate Planning for the Muslim Client," published by the American Bar Association. His Islamic Inheritance website is www.islamicinheritance.com

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Spirituality

    June 10, 2019 at 2:27 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu Khayran for this very necessary article.

    Do you have any organizations that you recommend for zakat payment? What about Islamic Relief USA, Helping Hands for Relief and Development, Zakat Foundation of America?

    Many of these organizations have a mission of working with the poor, and also, allow one to designate their payment as ‘Zakat.’

    • Avatar

      Osman Umarji

      June 11, 2019 at 12:55 PM

      My advice is to seek to out an organization that gives 100% of zakat proceeds to the poor in your locality or greater region. Ask a respected scholar for specific recommendations in your area.

      • Avatar

        Spirituality

        June 11, 2019 at 2:20 PM

        Jazak Allahu Khayran for your response!

        Unfortunately, as you mention, ‘respected scholars’ do not seem to be trustworthy regarding this issue…

        If anyone knows of any respected institutions in the Baltimore/Washington area that gives 100% of the zakat proceeds to the poor, please let me know!

        • Avatar

          Ahmed Shaikh

          June 11, 2019 at 6:38 PM

          You are right. Even terms like “Scholars” in the US Muslim community are questionable and up for grabs. There is no uniform criteria for what is “respected” (and by whom). So it comes down to who you respect and why. Like Zakat organizations, there is no accrediting body for Shuyukh, Imams and such, no disciplinary process, no codes of conduct and no minimum level of qualifications. I point this out only because often we use scholars as a crutch, we go by endorsements of charismatics to substitute for our own judgment. It would be great if there were accredited Zakat distributors who followed uniform, strict audited standards.

          Some local communities have brothers and sisters that work hard though to distribute Zakat to the poor and needy. Shuyukh will not audit them, that is not what they do. Any endorsements they get are usually in the “he is a good brother” genre. I have seen Shuyukh endorse organizations, products, and services they know next to nothing about. You should do your own due diligence. You can of course also distribute Zakat yourself to the poor and needy that may be among your own family or friends, or of people that you know and trust to do this. You can also look to an organization with a master strategy on accomplishing something big with their Zakat distributions. There are large Muslim organizations that take their role as Zakat distributors seriously and want to do it with ehsan (though they do it using their own standards and not uniform standards, which don’t exist). You should make sure where you donate meets the criteria for the kind of impact you want. It would be too easy for me to say “donate to charity X.” I won’t do that. For your research, I would suggest looking at the following:

          1) Does the charity publish Zakat distribution policies?
          2) Does it claim everything it does is Zakat eligible? If so, stay away (though feel free to read and comment on their website (I’m looking at you, MuslimMatters).
          3) Does the charity have a policy on segregating Zakat funds?
          4) Does the charity have a policy of not using Zakat funds for overhead? This is not a deal killer, it may be part of having a sustainable operation and Allah expressly permits it in the Quran. But if there is an endowment that pays for overhead or if it is a small, well-run volunteer operation, bonus points.
          5) Are there independently-audited financial reports? If they do, read it or have it read by a trusted friend who likes reading these things.
          6) Read the organization’s 990, is something out of whack? Note Masajid almost never have 990s since they are not required to file them, but they should make their financials available if you are going to donate to them.
          7) Does the charity use Zakat funds only to benefit the poor and needy (that may include services)? Yes, there are other legitimate criteria, but so long as people are starving or have no access to water that won’t make them sick, c’mon.

          • Avatar

            Tariq al-Timimi

            June 12, 2019 at 6:41 AM

            Totally agree with you. It’s refreshing to see these issues being addressed frankly, and, with respect to your point about about “scholars” (whatever that means today–as you mention) endorsing causes and charities that they have no idea about, this displays a lack of ethical practice on their part: that endorsement is, in fact, a shahada – one that they will most certainly be asked about. It devalues the entire exercise.

          • Avatar

            Spirituality

            June 12, 2019 at 1:05 PM

            Jazak Allahu Khayran for your very comprehensive response and guidance. It will help my process of searching for an organization to give my zakat to, Insha Allah!

        • Avatar

          Ramy

          June 23, 2019 at 7:58 AM

          In response to the question about a local organization in the Bal-DMV area that gives strictly to the poor: see the Islamic American Zakat Foundation (IAZF) headed by Dr Imad ad-Dean Ahmad.
          https://www.iazf.org/

          IAZF sticks to the 8 categories of zakat, and can diligently provide it’s records if asked.

      • Avatar

        Imran

        June 17, 2019 at 3:03 PM

        Just an issue I’ve been grappling with re the “locality” clause. I am conflicted between giving zakat that will literally save the lives of poor Muslims in Africa or Yemen or Myanmar via digging wells, food staples, medical aid, etc. on the one hand, and say, cancelling some student debt for a local student in Laguna Beach, CA who has decided to obtain their Masters or PhD in Gender Studies or Psychology at USC for $75,000 a year on the other.
        In considering local preference, is there or shouldn’t there be some antecendent presumption that absolute living standards for those in “poverty” be roughly equal?

        • Avatar

          Osman Umarji

          June 17, 2019 at 11:28 PM

          There are numerous considerations regarding local vs global zakat giving that will inshaAllah be the subject of a future article. However, I will say that student loan debt, especially for graduate school, absolutely does not qualify for zakat. The category of people in debt is not a free for all who take loans for non-essential things like higher education, mortgages, cars, etc.

          In short, give your zakat to a local organization you trust. If you really want to give globally, give some of your zakat to a global cause through an organization that gives 100% of the proceeds to the needy.

          • Avatar

            Imran

            June 18, 2019 at 11:46 AM

            JazakAllah khair Sh. Osman, looking forward to the article. It is timely because literally last week at Jumah the khateeb advocated cancelling college student debt with Zakat instead of sending it abroad. It would be interesting to address what “local” means in our modern technology-driven times versus in the Prophet’s (saws) time.

  2. Avatar

    Abdallah Jadallah

    June 10, 2019 at 9:56 PM

    Great article!! This has been on my mind for a long time.

  3. Avatar

    Tariq al-Timimi

    June 11, 2019 at 5:46 AM

    I never comment, but here I must: thank you for this piece, that tackles several of the frustrations I have recently had with this very hazy, loose take on zakah.

    The only thing I would highlight though is that, in terms of da’wah and jihad, many jurists (eminent Hanafi ones in particular) recognised their relationships as congruent: that is to say, jihad is da’wah by other means (to take a leaf out of Von Clausewitz), and vice versa.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      June 11, 2019 at 5:54 PM

      Jazakallahu Khair. What do you think about using Zakat funds to pay for a TV series about the Sahabah? Say it is intended for dawa?

      • Avatar

        Tariq al-Timimi

        June 12, 2019 at 11:04 AM

        Thank you for your question and engagement. The question is difficult to answer, and before I do, I’d like to provide some pointers:

        – zakah is a ‘ibada and a pillar; it has vertical-horizontal dimensions (that is to say it is a haqq towards Allah, and towards the people – all people that is, including non-Muslims); it is reasonable for the most part (viz. we can understand its aims and purposes); and Allah has set out fairly explicitly the categories whom are eligible (which is contra the Qur’anic norm – an important point here in fact, but it’s one too long to go into here at length).

        The question then becomes: what exactly is the purpose of this TV series about the Sahabah? And – crucially – under which of the eight categories may it be subsumed? They’ll argue that it falls under fi sabil illah (small letters to distinguish it from Fi Sabil Illah – a little more on that in a moment).

        This would bring us back full-circle to asking: what is the ambit (the ‘bandwidth’) of this category. Here there are three positions essentially:

        [1] the historical, classical meaning, that itrefers to qital (definitely the stronger case, IMO – for numerous reasons that would take too long to go into);

        [2] a minority modern take, the linguistic meaning: anything done for Allah’s sake), but this is sorely lacking for many reasons – again going into it would warrant a lengthy essay, but I will raise two important points here:

        i) even those who adopt this expansive definition, they will limit its scope (anyone reading their works on this will pick up on it immediately): they explicitly state that the purpose of fi sabil illah is to establish God’s rule on earth or that which upkeeps the existence of the religion and the masses (which is what Rashid Rida says, although it went without mention!), or to ‘revive an Islamic life in all spheres’. I’ll leave it to your mind to determine how this can be seen as violating all sorts of terrorism legislation in the West (something that, alarmingly, many charities and ‘scholars’ seem oblivious too when discussing this issue).

        ii) That even if one were to accept that fi sabil illah can be used for anything that is in the wide interests of the people, we have to seriously contend with what a widespread interest here is (maslaha ‘amma) – and, furthermore, and I always recall here something al-‘Uthaymin said regarding this: that even if one were convinced that it may be used for all purposes that serve the din, I would still refuse to give a fatwa in accordance with this (because of the huge possibilities for abuse – something you alluded to in your piece and comments).

        [3] Finally we have the centrist position (which takes some slight semantical gymnastics, but we don’t need to get into that), which is to say that it IS indeed for jihad – but jihad is not qital. Here they argue that since jihad is a means, and not an end in itself, we need to ask: for what purpose was jihad legislated (they will say: to defend the din, to spread the din, and to protect life and wealth). On that basis they say that whatever fulfils those functions may be subsumed fsa. (They have other arguments too, by no means at all is this comprehensive).There are many holes in this case, however, not least is the question of indeterminacy: who is to say that this fulfils or doesn’t fulfil the purpose of fsa? Again, I raise the point I did above about the implication here with issues to do with counter-terrorism legislation. If your intention (explicit or inferred) is that it is fi sabil illah – and you accept, as they often unwittingly do, that fsa = jihad in it’s broadest remit – then you are, essentially fundraising for terrorism (even if all you’ve done is collect money for a school or orphans).

        If we go back to our point earlier however regarding zakah: if it is ma’qul al-ma’na (reasonable), then what if someone were to argue that taxes paid to our governments are tantamount to zakah (and fulfil the purposes of zakah, not all of which have to be ‘activated’ at all times)? The concern I have here really is that this very important point seems to go totally unaddressed, even though, it was entertained and discussed in the classical sources and in more recent times.

        They will say: no, it is a ‘ibada and therefore requires a specific intention. We say, let’s accept this (there is a different take as to the type of intention required, one that is more consistent with the aforementioned point): fine, give that money with the intention of zakah (in fact, my understanding is that some mechanisms of this sort are already in place in some countries) – again this opinion is there in the sources.

        They will say: but zakah is for a particular categories and purposes! We say: but you’ve already widened those to encompass pretty much anything!

        Going back to your question then, what we require – casting aside all the points of concern I raise above (and I have many others too) – are a set of constraints and limitations (if we go with fsa centrist position). Since we have no authority to tell us (or do we? Fiqh Councils? The law of the land?): this is valid and this is an invalid cause, we are left, for our own purposes with having to devise a set of parameters enshrined in the texts. Some of these may be:

        1) (The question of alternatives):

        Do we have other good, successful series on the sahabah? Yes.

        2) (The question of needs):

        Is there a need for another one? IMO: No.

        3) (The question of proportionality):

        Is this an issue that is core/central and must be addressed? IMO: No. Even if one has disparaging opinions regarding the companions, there are still more fundamental concerns and issues to deal with. Besides, one really must ask themselves to what extent raising issues about the disputes among the companions, the battles and whatever else could serve the da’wah and religion in the current climate.

        4) (The question of public interest)

        Is this an issue effecting the masses of people, or even the masses of Muslims? Is it a harmful phenomenon for humankind? IMO: No, not at all. Most people aren’t occupied with these issues at all, I’d argue.

        Therefore in order to determine (without an authority) whether something falls within the rubric of fsa: is it needed? ii) proportionate. iii) public interest. iv) alternatives.

        Perhaps a final point worth noting/repeating: most of the fatawa and opinions permitting zakah for the purposes of the expansive fsa, appear to invariably mention the existence of legitimate authorities/a recognised collective of Muslims (a jama’ah, most often one engaged in FSA proper). There’s a huge elephant in the room, therefore, and one that I never see raised, as to what extent these charities are entitled to collect and administer zakah in the first place. In fact, upon surveying an anthology of such opinions regarding expansive fsa, one would quickly come to realise that they generally mention them in the context of ‘widespread public interests of the Muslims’ or in the context of a fatwa given to a government – in other words, not charities, and not for all these spurious causes, with all due respect to the intentions of those behind them.

        Anyway, these are really little more than a few of the issues that have been on my mind lately, and I am very tempted to raise a bundle of others, but this is way too long as it is. Bottom line my respected brother Ahmed is: if I were asked, my answer would be a firm no, but they’re welcome to other sources of revenue (again with a string of conditions attached). Wallahu a’lam.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    June 11, 2019 at 10:55 AM

    THANK YOU!

    Yet another example of Frankenstein Islam of the West that is totally out of touch with Islam of the ummah. Our community is better at creating thieves and greed than it is genuine concern for the fuqara. Islam is becoming much like affluent Christianity and affluent Judaism in the West.

    Our ulema are to blame too for creating the ‘its okay to be rich’ attitude and encouraging a prosperity gospel Islam. Endless fundraising without accountability has become a sect in itself.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad

    June 12, 2019 at 12:27 PM

    Mashallah excellent article. There is an organisation in the UK which campaigns for local distribution and as of last year has started to donate funds to community and leadership development type funds.
    From the looks of it a lot charities do not adequately differentiate between zakat and sadaqah, and those that do sometimes take lax opinions.
    This is in particular to fee sabeel illah and paying people from zakat money.

    I have no problem with a charity saying ‘ to administrate your donation of £x we will place a charge of y%’ and that y% to be spent as sadaqah.

    For those in the uk i contacted UWT and was satisfied with their criteria of transferring wealth to the poor (please can brothers/sisters verify this statement is accurate at the time of donating)

    • Avatar

      Spirituality

      June 12, 2019 at 1:03 PM

      “I have no problem with a charity saying ‘ to administrate your donation of £x we will place a charge of y%’ and that y% to be spent as sadaqah.”

      As Salamu Alaikum, I completely agree. This seems to be a win-win situation…

  6. Avatar

    Imran

    June 17, 2019 at 2:49 PM

    Shukran for an essential article. Agree with you 100%.

  7. Avatar

    muslims life

    July 12, 2019 at 5:43 AM

    My advice is to seek to out an organization that gives 100% of zakat proceeds to the poor in your locality or greater region. Ask a respected scholar for specific recommendations in your area.

  8. Avatar

    Donate Your Zakat

    July 23, 2019 at 6:41 AM

    Mashallah amazing article. There is an association in the UK which battles for nearby conveyance and starting a year ago has begun to give assets to network and initiative improvement type reserves.

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Dawah and Interfaith

10 Lessons I Learned While Serving Those in Need

Abu Ryan Dardir

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

I have spent about a decade serving the impoverished domestically and recently, abroad. I don’t work for a major charity organization, I work for my community, through grassroots efforts. It was something embedded in me while learning Islam. Before starting a charity organization, I started studying Islam with Dr. Hatem Alhaj (my mentor) and various other scholars. The more I studied, the more I wanted to implement what I was learning. What my community needed at the time was intensive charity work, as it was neglected entirely by our community. From that, I collected 10 lessons from servicing those in need. 

My bubble burst

One of the first things I experienced was the bursting of my bubble, a sense of realization. I, like many others, was unaware of the hardship in my own community. Yes, we know the hadith and see the events unfold on the news and social media, but when a father of three cried before me because a bag of groceries was made available for him to take home, that moment changed me. We tend to forget how little it takes, to make a huge difference in someone’s life. This experience, made me understand the following hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people then asked: “(But what) if someone has nothing to give, what should he do?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked: “If he cannot find even that?” He replied: “He should help the needy, who appeal for help.” Then the people asked: “If he cannot do (even) that?” The Prophet said finally: “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and that will be regarded as charitable deeds.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 524. I

t is simply an obligation, due to the amount of good it generates after you do this one action. I then realized even more how beautiful Islam is for commanding this deed. 

Friendships were developed on good deeds

Serving the poor is a great reward in itself. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Save yourself from hellfire by giving even half a date-fruit in charity.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Hadith 498. But it is better done with a team, I began building a team of people with similar objectives in serving the needy. These people later became some of my closest friends, who better to keep close to you than one that serves Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by helping the neediest in the same community you reside in. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” [reported by Abu Dawood & Tirmidhee] This is turn kept me on the right path of pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Working with a team removes a lot of the burden as well and the depression that might occur seeing the saddest stories on a daily basis. Allah says in the Qur’ān, “Indeed the believers are brothers.” (49:10). Sometimes there is a misconception that you have to have a huge office or a large masjid in order to get work done. But honestly, all you need is a dedicated group of people with the right intention and things take off from there. 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.' - Al-Tirmidhi,Click To Tweet

Made me thankful

This made me thankful for whatever I had, serving the less fortunate reminded me daily to turn to Allah and ask for forgiveness and so be thankful. This kind of service also puts things into perspective. What is truly important in life? I stepped further and further away from a materialistic lifestyle and allowed me to value things that can’t be valued by money. I learned this from the poorest of people in my community, who strived daily for their family regardless of their situation — parents who did what they can to shield their children from their harsh reality. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If you love the poor and bring them near you. . .God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376. They had a quality about them, despite their poverty status. They were always some of the kindest people I have known. 

People want to do Good

I learned that people want to do good; they want to improve their community and society. I began to see the impact on a communal level, people were being more engaged. We were the only Muslim group helping indiscriminately in our county. Even the people we helped, gave back by volunteering at our food pantry. We have schools where small kids (under adult supervision) partake in preparing meals for the needy, local masajids, churches, and temples, high school kids from public schools, and college organizations (Muslim and nonMuslim) visit frequently from several cities in neighboring counties, cities, and states. The good spreads a lot easier and faster than evil. People want to do good, we just need more opportunities for them to join in. United we can rock this world.

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X. Click To Tweet

Smiles

Smiles, I have seen the wealthiest smiles on the poorest people. Despite being on the brink of homelessness, when I saw them they had the best smile on their faces. This wasn’t all of them, but then I would smile back and that changed the environment we were in. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” – Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98. Smiles are truly universal.

It’s ok to cry

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah said: “A man who weeps for fear of Allah will not enter Hell until the milk goes back into the udder, and dust produced (when fighting) for the sake of Allah and the smoke of Hell will never coexist.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasaa’i. There are situations you see that hit you hard; they fill your heart with emotions, but that never swayed my concrete belief in Allah’s wisdom. Crying before Allah, not just out of fear, but to be thankful for His Mercy upon you is a relief.

Learning to say no

It was one of the hardest things I had to do, a lot (if not all) of the requests I received for help were extremely reasonable. I do not think anyone asked for anything outrageous. Our organization started becoming the go-to organization in our area for help, but we are one organization, with limited resources, and a few times we were restricted on when or how we could help. This is where learning to say no became a learned skill. Wedid do our best to follow up with a plan or an alternative resource.

It is part of raising a family and finding yourself

How so? Being involved in your community doesn’t take away from raising your family, it is part of it. I can’t watch and do nothing and expect my children to be heroes. I have to lead by example. Helping others is good for my family’s health. Many people living in our country are consumed with their busy lives. Running out the door, getting to work, driving the kids to their after school activities, spending weekends taking care of their families, etc. So people have a fear of investing hours in doing this type of work. But in reality, this work puts more blessings in your time.

One may feel they are taking time away from their family, but in reality, when one comes back home, they find more peace in their home then they left it with. By helping others, I improve the health and culture of my community, this in turn positively impacts my family.

I enjoy being a softie with my family and friends. I am a tall bearded man, and that image suited me better. I am not sure what made me softer, having kids or serving the poor. Either way, it was rewarding and defined my role and purpose in my community.

I learned that you make your own situation. You can be a spectator, or you can get in there and do the best you can to help. It gave me an opportunity to be a role model for my own children, to show them the benefit of doing good and helping when you can.

It came with a lot of humility. Soon after starting I realized that all I am is a facilitator, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is giving an opportunity of a lifetime to do this work, a line of work very little people get to engage in regularly. My advice to my readers, if you can serve the poor do so immediately before you get occupied or busy with life.

Helping others is good for my family’s health.Click To Tweet

Dawah through action

As I mentioned before I did spend time studying, and at one point developed one of the top dawah initiatives in the country (according to IERA). But the reality is, helping the less fortunate is my type of dawah, people started to associate our food pantry and helping others with Islam. As an organization with one of the most diverse groups of volunteers, people from various religious backgrounds found the environment comfortable and hospitable. I began working with people I never would have worked before if I had stuck to traditional dawah, studying, or masjid involvement, all of which are critical. This became a symbol of Islam in our community, and while serving, we became those that embodied the Quran and Sunnah. For a lot of those we served, we were the first Muslims they encountered, and Alhamdulilah for the team we have. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also says in the Quran: “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (3:159). It is our actions that can turn people away or towards Islam.

Once you serve the needy, you do this for life

I wasn’t volunteering on occasion,— this was an unpaid job that was done regularly. I got requests and calls for emergencies daily at times. It took up hours upon hours every week. As a charity worker, I developed experience and insight in this field. I learned that this was one of the best ways I could serve Allah [swt. “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.'” – The Holy Quran, 2:215

I believe the work I do with the countless people that do the same is the best work that can be done in our current political climate and globalization. My views and thoughts have evolved over the years seeing situations develop to what they are today. This gave me a comprehensive outlook on our needs as a society and allowed me to venture off and meet people top in their fields like in social activism, environmentalism, labor, etc.

I want to end with three sectors in society that Muslims prosper in and three that Muslims can improve on. We strive on individual education (noncommunal), distributing and organizing charity, and more recently being politically engaged. What we need to improve on is our environmental awareness, working with and understanding unions and labor rights, and organizing anti-war movements. 

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He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Merium Khan, Guest Contributor

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Tawakkul- a leaf falling
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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So You Are The Wali, Now What?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

The way most Muslims (as well as conservative Christians and Jews) live, a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage from the father.

The father is not just a turnstile who has to say yes. He is a “wali” or protector and guardian of his daughter’s rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them.

Furthermore, in the Muslim community today esp. in the West, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines aimed at the wali in his new role and stories that are useful.

Being a wali is not an honorary role. You’re not just throwing out the first pitch. You’re actually trying to throw curveballs to see whether the proposal checks out or has issues.

Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:

Background check: Call and meet at least four people that were close to the man who has proposed and interview them. There’s no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. These days, most people’s background can be found on their social media, so the wali has to spend time scrolling down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on who’s tagged in those pictures. Get a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after. 

Check financials:  You need to see the financials to make sure they are not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that they can’t even rent an apartment or cover basic needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.

Check the educational background or skill set: This is a given. If it’s solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.

Check medical records: If this is a stranger, the wali needs medical records. There was once a wealthy, handsome young man that was suave and a seemingly amazing prospect who proposed for a girl who was comparatively of average looks and from a family of very modest means. The mother and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up.

“Why would he come knocking on our door?,” he asked.

So the father demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that’s why he couldn’t find anyone else to marry him.

Now note, there are legitimate cases where people have a past when they have made mistakes. This happens to the best of us, and the door for tawbah (repentance) is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STDs. People should act in a responsible manner and not damage the lives of other humans beings.

Lifestyle: It is your job to check if the two parties have agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?

In-laws: Have you at least met the family of the suitor and spent some time with them to make sure there’s nothing alarming?

Engagement: Contrary to popular understanding, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It’s an announcement of a future commitment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiancees, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it’s easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it’s hard to fake it over an eight or nine-month period. I remember a story where a young woman was engaged, and four months into the engagement they discovered the young man was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say, he was dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.

Legal/Civil:  The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Shariah marriage but not a civil one, know that you’re asking for legal complications, especially if a child enters the picture. (Ed. Note- we realize that some countries do not allow legal registration of more than one marriage- if that is a consideration please look at all options to protect your ward. There are ways to get insurance that can be set up.)

Mahr: Get 50% of the dowry upfront (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I’ve seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is “promised” but never produced.

The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man’s job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.

In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali’s job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it’s worth the cost.

It’s preventative medicine.

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