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Who Can We Trust?

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

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

Blurring Lines

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Bullying

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

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

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

Trust Built and Trust Destroyed

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Fall for Reputation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t judge by rhetoric

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t judge by fame

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

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

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

Look for a procedure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Danish Qasim graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 2010 with a B.A. in Religious Studies.He began a formal study of the Islamic sciences in 2006 with local teachers and served as an Arabic translator while in college. Upon graduating he dedicated himself to full time traditional Islamic studies. Most of his overseas studies were in Teumerat, Mauritania in the school of Murabit al-Hajj (رحمه الله) where he studied fiqh (jurisprudence), Arabic, tazkiya (spiritual purification), hadith, and aqida (theology). He is now working on his doctorate on the topic of spiritual abuse in Islam at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, CA.Danish has been working with victims of spiritual abuse for 9 years as well as adults facing bullying and relationships with narcissists. He teaches Arabic and Islamic studies privately and is a certified assertiveness and performance coach.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dr Sajid A H Khan

    August 22, 2019 at 6:46 AM

    Never leave your child/teenager/youngster/yourself alone with ANYONE!–Shaykh or devil!
    Common sense precautions and understanding simple Deen correctly often help prevent calamities!

  2. Avatar

    BioIslam

    September 17, 2019 at 4:21 PM

    It is sad that this had to be said – “never leave your child alone with a teacher” – but I thank you for having the courage to say it, with one qualification — you should have restricted it to a male teacher. I think female teachers are near 100% safe.

    But why are the ethics of so many in our community so weak that we can’t trust male teachers. Imho, we have an ethics problem. To remedy this we need to focus on what I call the five “Inside Pillars” of the faith, in addition to the Traditional five “Outside Pillars”. The Inside Pillars are essentially a MAQASID AL QURAN. As explained on my blog BioIslam.org, they are – Intentions, Empathy, Justice, Potentiality and Harmony. If we follow them, our ethics will improve, or we can hope.

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#Islam

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 10: The Dua’ of Umm Salama

Now that we have learnt about a good word, let’s talk about the dua’ of Umm Salama.

Today I’m going to share with you a story of a very important woman in Islamic history named Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her). She was a female companion, which means she was a sahaabiya (female companion)

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was one of the first people to embrace Islam and she was one of the few Muslims who actually performed the hijrah twice. 

Question: Who can tell me what a hijrah is?

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A hijrah is when someone leaves a place they are in for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). The first hijrah was to Ethiopia, where a just Christian ruler named Najashi took in a group of Muslims and took good care of them. 

So Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) went to Ethiopia. After some time living there, they really wanted to go back to Mecca so that they could be next to the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and learn everything about Islam. As they waited patiently, news traveled all the way to Africa saying that the Muslims were no longer getting persecuted because Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Hamza raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the uncle of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), had embraced Islam. 

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) decided to return back to Mecca, and when they did, they realized that it was only a rumor and that the Muslims were still being tortured by Quraysh. So, when the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed all of the Muslims of Mecca to leave to Madina for the second hijrah, they wasted no time getting ready. 

Question: Do you see how they were so active and didn’t take their Islam for granted?

As Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was about to mount her camel, her tribe, the Banu Makhzum, came and told Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) that they would not allow him to take Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to Madina. Then Abu Salama’s tribe, the Banu Asad, takes Salama, his child, away.  Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) could not defend himself against all of these men, so he sets off to Madina.

In just one day Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) lost her husband and her child, and she suffers so much because of it. She is in a lot of pain. After some time her cousin starts to feel sorry for her and speaks to the tribes on her behalf. He is then able to reunite her with her son. Then after a year of waiting, Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is finally able to meet her husband in Madina. 

Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was known to be a very caring husband and courageous man. He fought in the Battle of Badr as well as in the Battle of Uhud. In Uhud, he received a wound that he wasn’t able to recover from. 

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was so sad the day Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) died, but the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught her to recite a beautiful dua’:

إِنَّا لله وإنا إليه راجعون اللهم أجرني في مصيبتي وأخلف لي خيرا منها 

“We belong to Allah and to Allah is our return. Oh Allah, reward me for my calamity, and replace my loss with something better.”

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) recited this dua’, but in her mind she thought, “Who can be better than Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)?” 

After a few months passed, Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), but she said no. 

Then, Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), but again she said no. 

Then, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and she accepted. So now, she was not only the mother of Salama, but the mother of all of the believers until the end of time! 

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This Eid And Beyond Boycott Goods Made With Enslaved Labor Of Uyghurs Even If It Is Your Favorite Brand

Bidding farewell to Ramadan, celebrating Eid?

Well, the Muslims of East Turkestan under Chinese occupation had neither Ramadan nor will they have Eid…

Not only that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) run government has transferred Uyghurs and other ethnic minority citizens from East Turkestan to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Nike, Gap, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Carters and others. Read Uyghurs for Sale for more information

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CCP is also pressuring governments across the world to extradite Uyghurs back to occupied East Turkestan.

Here is what you can do to help them:

Action Items

  1. Keep making dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world.
  2. Boycott Chinese products! Do not be complicit in slave labour. Start with focusing on the companies in the graphic. Share it with #SewnWithtTears, #StopChina, #BoycottChina. Write to them and demand that they do better.
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause. Learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China.
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui; Chinese Christian; or Tibetan Buddhist.
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China.
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by granting either citizenship or refugee/asylee status. Stop the “extradition/repatriation” of Uyghurs to China!
  9. Get your universities/endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies. 

Read a greater discussion of action items in A Response to Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments on the Uyghurs, which also contains a greater discussion on East Turkistan’s history and its current situation. A condensed Arabic version of the article can be found here

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 9: A Good Word

Now that we have learnt about the life of this world, let’s talk about a good word.

I want you all to close your eyes and think of a beautiful tree. 

Question: Who can tell me what their tree looks like? Is the tree big and strong? Does it have lots of branches and leaves? Does it have fruit?

Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something really nice to you.

Question:  What are some of the nice statements you remember people telling you?

Question: How did those statements make you feel?

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Yes, they fill us up with a warm feeling. We may have felt proud of ourselves and we may have felt loved. Do you know that Allah [wt] describes a good word to a good tree? 

In Surah Ibrahim, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرَةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِي السَّمَاءِ 

تُؤْتِي أُكُلَهَا كُلَّ حِينٍ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهَا ۗ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ 

Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? [Surah Ibrahim; 24]

It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. [Surah Ibrahim; 25]

Question: Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something mean to you. How did that make you feel?

It’s not fun to remember the mean stuff right? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) continues in Surah Ibrahim and says:

وَمَثَلُ كَلِمَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ كَشَجَرَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ اجْتُثَّتْ مِن فَوْقِ الْأَرْضِ مَا لَهَا مِن قَرَارٍ

And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. [Surah Ibrahim; 26] 

Question: What do you think are good words we can use to build strong, firmly rooted trees?

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