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

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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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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

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Fritz

    February 10, 2020 at 8:47 AM

    Great article. Men get completely fleeced in the Western divorce system – indeed its one of the prime reasons that so many are walking away form this institution.

    We need an alternative that protects the wealth of men and their rights.

    • Avatar

      Fahd Khan

      February 17, 2020 at 12:23 AM

      Any resources on what our scholars say about this? not much info is given on divorce procedures by our teachers/imams…

      It’s all very private for some reason. Like a Divorce A to Z course. Something to bridge the gap between fiqh and reality

      • Avatar

        Fritz

        February 22, 2020 at 10:16 AM

        *SOME* scholars don’t talk about this because they are afraid and have to keep their female audiences happy.

        Whether male or female its difficult to justify how anyone can just walk out of a marriage and boot out the other spouse and snatch half of their wealth. With the advent of same sex marriages this absurdity is becoming even more evident.

        Its a sad fact but our scholars sometimes are in fear of speaking the truth and giving simple advice. The knock on effect on marriages is dangerous as many men will just follow the Western ways of casual dating and avoiding commitment (as why would you want to expose yourself to financial ruin??)

        This is why this article is so important (especially as there are PLENTY of non-muslim sources that are now shedding light on these behaviours.

  2. Avatar

    Basil Mohamed Gohar

    February 19, 2020 at 8:56 PM

    I find myself at a complete loss as to how to begin. With all due respect to the author, I find myself at a loss at where to appropriately begin. I am not familiar with his record or scholarship, so I apologize if this out of line.

    We are dealing with a less-than-perfect set of circumstances in the West. I don’t think there’s a Muslim that could disagree with that sentiment. But the suggestions in this article seem to take a situation that may make sense in a very narrow case, in a very narrow location (most examples cited at in California) and applying it in the general case as if this would work in most places. I strongly disagree with this and think it’s very impractical.

    I saw so many situations in administering a masjid over six years that, flawed as it may be, sometimes the legal system is the only method by which marginalized communities, such as the non-English-speaking wives in cases of divorce, can have a hope to get their rights. The cases of women being thrown out on the street at the whim of their husbands is too numerous. Yes, I have also seen tortuously bad cases where the husband is the victim and the system eviscerates him. Both cases are, sadly, so frequent due to the distance many Muslims themselves are from both understanding and practice of our deen.

    Legal rights of spouses are difficult, sometimes, to maintain, and there are already so many factors that couples need to keep track of, but this is adding a whole layer of complexity on top of that. While legally, spouses have many rights automatically that are consider convenient and beneficial, a “no-nuptial” will introduce so many ambiguities at so many important stages in life that I am left to wonder if an convenience was saved. The author already listed several extra documents that have to be followed-up on (HIPAA, for example), but that’s just scratching the surface. While it is true that the nature of marriage in the US is definitely shifting in some ways, it is still a largely present and understood phenomenon, and will be for some time.

    To place the onus further on our poorly-managed and under-resourced institutions (i.e., the masaajid) also seems to be quite in contradiction to what is actually practicable in most cases. The masaajid struggle sometimes to keep themselves open, and in general, I don’t think they can sustain this as a rule. I am not, of course, referring to the bigs masjids with generally stable communities where the board consists of Ph.Ds or scholars or others of higher levels of achievement. But these are not, in fact, the majority. Quite the contrary. Requiring a marriage certificate avoids a whole swath of problems that masaajid are just simply not equipped to handle. The advice advocated here could only make sense if masaajid also had legal staff on hand to handle this novel-to-most legal contract. And that’s pushes the situation even further out of what’s practical.

    If I seem to be overly cynical, it is because I have seen first hand how immature the Muslim community is in the US in many places. There are definitely places where this might work, but I feel the author has greatly simplified this and I argue that there’s a mountain of unaddressed factors. I therefore feel it is irresponsible to advocate this as a step that our young or old people should seriously consider. It simply is not fully baked.

    I fully agree with the sentiment that the most important factor to take into account is the actual choice in spouse and the methodology in how to arrive at that choice, and I think that this is where the efforts need to be focused. A fringe legal nuance is not the solution to marriage and divorce problems in the US in my humble opinion. The doors of problems that are closed open the way to far more.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      February 20, 2020 at 12:56 AM

      Thank you for engaging with the article and providing your thoughts. A few general responses:

      1) I am a California lawyer, and Marvin is a California case. However, it is influential throughout the United States, and virtually every lawyer who has a nodding familiarity with family law or estate planning knows it. Cohabitation agreements can work nearly everywhere in the United States. I don’t discuss “the West” since I don’t know that the systems in the United States (and states can be quite different from each other in many respects) is not mutually intelligible with much of Western Europe. So, readers, there may not be very interested in this article. It is part of a trend in the United States going back 50 years where couples are choosing not to be married under state law, yet maintain secure contractual legal rights. For many demographic groups, it is more common than marriage.

      It’s perhaps naive to believe state-sanctioned marriage has special protective powers for the marginalized. A spouse with more money is often getting the better deal. A lot of litigation has nothing to do with truth or justice; it is like a war in that it is about attrition. You destroy your opponent because you can afford to bleed more than the other person.

      As I pointed out in my article, marriage recognized in the law is the only way to get family unification in the immigration process. However, for most of the working poor in the United States, marriage is becoming far less common and achievable.

      Here in the Los Angeles area, most of the well-established Masajid require marriage certificates. Masajid that serve the poor don’t often have such policies, and I have seen some that will officiate nikahs for all comers. My suggestion is that Masajid be more open to nikah with an alternative agreement rather than merely a marriage certificate. I don’t think the Masajid need to hire lawyers to draft contracts. That would be silly, and you seriously misread my article if you think I am suggesting Masajid equip themselves with teams of lawyers. The parties can negotiate their contracts. Don’t overcomplicate it. My push concerning the Masajid is not to dogmatically focus on marriage certificates when alternatives exist. You may not like the other options, but it may work for others.

      You do speak of “a whole swath of problems” that a marriage certificate solves, but you do not name them. You also don’t address the “mountain of unaddressed factors” in a no-nuptial agreement but don’t seem to explain why someone cannot draft an agreement to address those factors.

      Even with marriage certificates, you may need side agreements anyway. For example, many eastern states with common law traditions have forced share provisions that contradict Islamic inheritance rules. So if you want to do marriage right, you need to come up with legally enforceable agreements to get out of state default rules.

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#Life

Lessons And Reflections On The Death Of Kobe Bryant | Mufti Abdullah Nana

Kobe lessons
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On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant tragically passed away from this world after his helicopter crashed. The news of his death sent shockwaves around the world and millions expressed their grief and shared their condolences. His death and his legacy struck a chord with countless people who shared interesting personal stories about Kobe, what he meant to them, how much he inspired them, and the positive change that he generated. 

Kobe’s death saddened me. Despite knowing and preaching about the fleeting nature of life, his death shocked me. I have followed his career and am a fan. Not only that, Kobe was the same age as me, born only 40 days before me. We were both from the graduating high school class of 1996. 

I grew up playing recreational basketball from a young age. I ended up going in a different direction in my own life, but have been an avid sports fan for much of my life.

Many prominent people also shared their thoughts on how much Kobe meant to them and how he inspired them. My objective in writing this article is not to pass a legal ruling on the permissibility of following sports, mourning the death of non-Muslims, taking non-Muslims as role models, or advising Muslims to stop loving Kobe and cut off their connection with sports and Kobe Bryant completely. Instead, I wish to share some reflections and lessons from Kobe’s legacy that we can positively apply to our own lives. A believer is always looking to learn from others, from current events, and past events, and then derive wisdom and lessons from them.

Mamba Mentality And Muslims

There is much that we can learn from Kobe Bryant and his quest to be the best version of himself. He called this the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ 

Mamba Mentality: Honesty, Detachment, Optimism, Passion and Fearlessness. The Mamba Mentality is a mindset for constant self-improvement in the pursuit of your highest potential in life.

Kobe wished to inspire others to adopt his ‘mamba mentality’ in all aspects of life and to be great in whatever they do in life. “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great [at] whatever they want to do.” 

He explains, “The Mamba Mentality is a mindset that extends way beyond basketball or sports. It’s simple, if you have a goal or a dream, you need to apply the mamba mentality to achieve it. Everything worth achieving needs total focus and dedication.” Click To Tweet

As Muslims, sports fans, and especially fans of Kobe Bryant, we can derive many positive lessons from Kobe’s legacy and apply them in our lives to become better Muslims and better human beings. In this article, I will be discussing four specific lessons: 

  1. Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them
  2. Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives 
  3. Adopting role models and mentors in our religion
  4. Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them

You all know the jingle: “Sometimes I dream that he is me. Can’t you see that’s how I dream to be?”

Kobe not only dreamt to be like Mike, he consistently challenged himself to change his game to achieve this dream. 

He explains, “…we all have dreams. But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. And I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities.. you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line, you lose that imagination. I think it’s important that you never lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing, I never gave up my dream.” Holding on to your dream and not giving up is extremely difficult to do and requires perseverance and great dedication. 

Every young person has dreams and plans for what they want to do when they grow up and what they want to become. Although some of these dreams are not realistic or productive (my daughter is not going to become a unicorn), many dreams are positive and serve an important function in helping others, serving Islam, or providing a means of livelihood. Our country is based on the American dream, and we hear countless inspirational stories of those who followed their dreams and achieved the impossible. 

At the same time, it is essential that we channel those dreams in the right direction and in light of the Islamic teachings, pursue a dream that will either positively benefit someone’s life in this world or in the hereafter. It is helpful to talk to a mentor, imam, career guidance center, or parent about our dreams and identify that dream that we wish to follow and pursue that will be most beneficial for us. It should not be doctor or bust, as is the case for many of us! 

Once we have identified that dream, profession, career, and direction in life that we wish to pursue, it will take hard work, dedication, and most importantly sacrifice to achieve that dream.

I dreamed of playing professional sports like many American youth, but unfortunately for me, my ‘NBA career’ ended before it could get started because I wasn’t that good! As plan B, around the time Kobe was already playing for the NBA, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and was inspired to pursue another dream; going overseas to study Islam and become an Islamic scholar. 

Those years were brutal. I became sick during those seven years, was homesick and often thought of quitting and heading back home, but by the grace of Allah,  I finished my studies. Sacrifice to pursue this dream meant giving up a career in management, friends, time with family, watching my younger brothers and relatives growing up, and much more during these years. Fortunately, my family supported me through this and in 2005, I graduated as a Mufti, qualified to give fatwas in Islamic law.

Kobe further expands on the need to sacrifice in order to attain one’s dream and that this is the price of achieving one’s dream. He wrote in his book, Mamba Mentality, “If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.” 

Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives

Kobe describes the need for hard work and a strong work ethic in order to attain one’s dreams and greatness. “Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”

“Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”Click To Tweet

Kobe was a model for his work ethic and passion for basketball. Shaykh Suhaib Webb says, “Kobe’s drive and focus were edifying and motivating. I would watch him and think, I wish I was as passionate in my work and studies as he was towards his craft.” 

Personally, I did my best to dedicate myself entirely to my Islamic studies while overseas. I burnt the midnight oil literally and did not go to sleep in my first year of studies before midnight and never slept after fajr, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of study. In fact, while Kobe was winning three straight NBA championships from 2000-2002, I didn’t even know because I didn’t have a computer, didn’t have a cellphone, didn’t have access to the internet, and was simply too busy. 

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.Click To Tweet

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.

Kobe has this to say about lazy people, “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language!..” Kobe was willing to sacrifice everything dear to him to achieve greatness in basketball and to win championships. 

How would our lives be different if we were to apply Kobe’s untiring work ethic, waking up early, dedication, and relentless pursuit of perfection to our jobs, responsibilities, families, religion, and desire to learn? 

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah.Click To Tweet

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah. We must be ready to make similar sacrifices to become good Muslims, to enter Paradise, and to learn about our religion. 

The need for role models and mentors

Kobe Bryant used to fondly remember his mentors such as Bill Russel and how their advice inspired him. “That’s why I think it is so important to have those mentors, those north stars, who you learn from and look up to.” (Mamba Mentality) Just as we need role models and mentors in sports, we also need role models in all other aspects of life, including our religion of Islam. 

It is up to us to determine to what extent we develop a relationship with our role models, listen to their advice, follow them, and are inspired by them. The stronger our relationship, the greater the impact will be. Many of us were inspired by Kobe and took him as our role model. We had a special connection with him and felt it in our hearts when he passed away. How many of us have similar Islamic role models and mentors that we love as much, have a special bond, who we follow and remember? We need more positive Islamic role models and mentors in our lives to inspire us in our religion as Kobe inspired us in sports. 

There are many great living Muslim leaders, scholars, sports players, and heroes in the world today who are excellent role models and inspirational mentors. By the grace of Allah, I have had the opportunity to meet many of them and benefit from them. I could write a separate article on these amazing personalities

There are also many great heroes, scholars, and leaders from the past who we can follow and take as our role models. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is the greatest role model and mentor in history, and we should do our best to learn about his life, his example, and his way and incorporating it into our own lives. Imagine if we had such a strong bond and love for him as we did for our favorite sports players! The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “Among the people from my nation who love me the most is a group who will come after me and will be ready to sacrifice their family and wealth just to be able to see me.” (Sahih Muslim) May Allah make us from among such people. Amin

The Prophet’s Companions رضي الله عنهم are also the best of role models and examples. Abdullah bin Masu’d (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If a person is going to follow someone else and take them as their role model, then he/she should do so with those who have already deceased because indeed the living are not safe from falling prey to temptations and evil. [The deceased who are worthy of being taken as role models] are the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم. They were the best people of this Muslim Nation; they had the purest hearts, deepest knowledge, and had the least formalities. Allah selected them for the companionship of his Prophet and to establish his religion, so recognize their virtue, follow in their footsteps, and hold fast to as much of their good character and ways as you can, because they were definitely upon clear guidance.” 

Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Kobe’s legacy not only includes changing our own lives while striving towards greatness in all that we do but also working on inspiring others to do the same. He says, “I think the definition of greatness is to inspire the people next to you.… Our challenge as people is to figure out how our story can impact others and motivate them in a way to create their own greatness.” 

He was a leader who built a team that worked towards greatness. And this did not just happen haphazardly. He applied the same techniques to leadership that he did to his game. He writes about his leadership style: “What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.” Excerpt from Mamba Mentality. We too need to use wisdom and insight when calling others to Allah and to goodness, and to customize our approach to the individual for maximum benefit. 

We will receive the reward for all the good deeds done by those who we inspire, motivate, encourage, and teach. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “The person who calls towards guidance will receive the reward of all those people who acted upon his calling, without decreasing the reward of the original doer himself/herself.”

As Muslims, we too need to work on leaving behind a good legacy when we leave this world which will continue to benefit us from our graves. When we die, all our good deeds will come to an end besides perpetual charity, pious children who will pray for us, or knowledge that we left behind. 

Kobe has left this world and is unable to further work towards building his legacy, while we are still very much alive and have that opportunity. Shaikh Suhaib Webb has shared a very positive lesson from Kobe’s life and death:

“As we sit saddened and frozen by the loss of Gianna and her father, let’s remember that we are, by God’s grace, alive. Let’s translate this moment into a passion and dedication to live, be better and use some of the drive Kobe modeled for us in his career, towards our faith and healing a fractured world.”

Redirecting our energies and channeling them to Islamic works

Sports play a significant role in many of our lives. Many of us are passionate about the sport we play or follow. We are attached to our favorite sports champ like Kobe Bryant and our favorite teams. Taking sports entirely out of our lives might not be a very realistic proposal. 

Scholars have written that what is required in such circumstances is not to eliminate that energy and connection from our lives completely, but to redirect it and channel it to more productive and more spiritually rewarding Islamic projects and activities: seeking knowledge, performing Salat, waking up in the middle of the night for prayer, staying fit and looking after our long-term health, and adopting Islamic role models. 

I will end with Kobe’s quote on what legacy we leave for others; “It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you – or don’t. So don’t take it lightly. If you do it right, your game will live on in others.”

#Mambaout

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The Islamic Perspectives And Rulings on Rape and Sexual Assault

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

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

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

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

Then, we leave. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, these were just kids.

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

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

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

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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