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The American Muslim Reaction To The Death Of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Muslims

By Dr. Osman Umarji & Sh Mohammed Faqih

A memorial was attended by thousands of fans earlier today (2/24) to remember the life of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was tragically killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on January 26th, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers (John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah and Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan). The news came as a shock to many people from all over the world, as Kobe was an international celebrity. The Muslim community in the United States was also shocked by his unexpected death. Friday sermons touched on the topic of his death, as his sudden passing weighed on the minds of congregants. Youth events were specifically held to help the youth process his death and learn the Islamic perspective on death and grieving.

One may wonder why the death of Kobe got so much attention from the Muslim community, whereas countless other deaths of non-Muslim celebrities and Muslims have typically received substantially less attention. Here are a few reasons that may explain why his death received more attention and had such an impact. First, Kobe’s death was an absolute shock to people. He died at a relatively young age of 41, at least according to our cultural standards. For the past 20+ years, his basketball career had been observed in an era where sports had become a 24/7 industry. Even when he was not playing, people were following the details of his personal life, business ventures, and much more through television, radio, podcasts, and social media. He was incredibly successful in his basketball career, having spent his entire career with the Lakers and winning five championships, which brought tremendous joy and happiness to Laker fans everywhere (and agony to fans of other teams). Thus, an entire generation had practically watched him grow up from a teenager to a world champion to a father of four girls, and the numerous memories people had about his life likely made them feel incredibly close to him. These memories of watching Kobe deliver game-winning shots and holding up trophies were often created in the presence of friends and family, making them more personal and emotional. We say all of this not to glorify anyone, but simply to explain why his persona was so grand, even amongst a broader media culture of celebrity obsession.

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This aforementioned context may have been missing to some religious educators who were neither basketball fans nor aware of the memories people had of Kobe. Many Imams, khateebs, and youth educators expressed confusion at how community members were reacting to his death and coping in ways they felt were unnecessary and inappropriate. They were further surprised that the advice they gave on the topic failed to resonate with some members of the community. 

With a desire to better understand the community reaction to Kobe’s death, we administered a 14 question online survey to measure the reactions and coping mechanisms of Muslims to the death of Kobe. Our intention was to provide information to religious educators and extract lessons based on actual beliefs and behaviors of the American Muslim community. The survey was deployed two weeks after his death and was shared via social media. The rapid response to this survey was astounding. Within two days, we received nearly 340 responses. We believe this speaks to the relevance of the topic and the strong emotions that Kobe’s death has elicited. We discuss the results of our survey data below.

Who Responded?

The participants were quite diverse in terms of age. Most participants were between the ages of 26 to 34 (n=124) and 35 to 44 (n=103). 65% were male (n=221) and 35% were female (n=119). Participants were very diverse in their attitudes towards the Lakers and Kobe. Nearly 23% considered themselves absolute Laker fans, whereas 28% were not fans of the Lakers at all. Approximately 26.5% followed Kobe’s career a lot and 22% followed his career quite a bit. In terms of religiosity, 47.5% considered themselves to be very religious, 45% somewhat religious, and 7% a little religious.

We find it important to highlight that nearly half of the sample followed his career while also self-reporting high levels of religiosity. Being a basketball and Kobe fan and being religious were not mutually exclusive. 

What were peoples’ immediate feelings and reactions upon hearing about Kobe’s death?

Participants expressed a variety of emotions and reactions upon hearing about his death. The most common reactions were shock (74%), sadness (59%), and not believing it was true (46%). Many participants also reported crying (15%), feeling nothing (13%), and feeling numb (12%). Less frequently experienced were feelings of sickness (3%) and anger (5%). Participants were also asked whether the news of Kobe’s death disrupted their day in any way. Nearly a third reported that their day was not disrupted at all (32%), another third reported that their day was a little disrupted (35%), and a third reported their day was either quite a bit or completely disrupted (33%).

How did people cope with his death?

Participants were asked about how they coped with his death. The most common methods of coping were thinking about one’s mortality (68%), watching old videos and pictures (50%), praying for his family (44%). Participants also reported communicating with friends and people on social media (36%) and communicating with friends on the phone (32%). Other coping mechanisms included making a personal tribute, such as a social media post (19%), deciding to improve oneself (22%), and attending a community event about Kobe (5%). Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, more than a quarter of participants reported making dua for Kobe himself (26%).

As coping with death is a topic that has been mentioned in sufficient detail in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we were especially interested in the ways in which participants felt religion informed their own coping. As already explained, approximately 44% made dua for his family and 26% made dua for Kobe. Therefore, we asked participants “If Kobe had followed your religion, would you grieve or cope differently?” 21% responded that they would not cope any differently had Kobe been Muslim, 52% said they would cope differently, and 27% said they might cope differently. We further asked, “Did you find comfort in your religion’s perspectives on death and coping”, and 92% said yes, 4% said no, and less than 2% said they did not know Islam’s perspective. 

Correlates of Reactions and Coping Mechanisms

While the previous results described the participants in our sample and frequencies of experiencing particular emotions and coping strategies, we wanted to better understand what factors predicted these reactions and coping mechanisms. More specifically, we were curious to understand how religiosity, age, and gender influenced these behaviors? We ran three different sets of analyses to answer these questions (see the appendix for detailed results).

In our first of regression analyses, we investigated the predictors of the immediate reactions to the death of Kobe and how disrupting his death was to one’s day. The key findings were:

  • The more people reported following Kobe’s career, the more likely they were to cry, be sad, feel numb, feel sick, could not believe he died, feel anger, and report their day as being more disrupted.
  • Being a woman substantially increased the odds of crying, being sad, feeling numb, sick, not believing that he died, and reporting their day as more disrupted. This was particularly surprising as women reported following his career far less than men.
  • Increased self-reported religiosity decreased the likelihood of crying, feeling numb, anger, and having one’s day disrupted. However, religiosity was unrelated to feeling sad, sick, and not believing he died.
  • Older people were less likely to cry and more willing to accept he had died.

For our second set of analyses, we wanted to understand what predicted six different coping behaviors (dua for Kobe, dua for his family, reflect over one’s mortality, make a personal tribute, attend a community event, and watch videos). The key findings were:

  • The more people followed his career, the more likely they were to make a personal tribute, watch videos, attend an event, and make dua for him and for his family.
  • Being a woman increased the likelihood of making dua for him and his family, but not of any other coping mechanisms.
  • Increased self-reported religiosity reduced the likelihood of making dua for him, making a personal tribute for him, or attending an event. Religiosity also increased the odds of thinking about one’s own mortality.

Discussion of the Results

There are many topics worthy of discussion based on the findings of this survey. As one participant commented, “I saw so many social media posts from Muslims saying RIP, eulogizing Kobe, speaking to him (“you’ll be missed, you were the best”), and saying his death was “too soon”, “untimely”, and “not fair.” I wish we could have more education on how to react to such news and why it matters.” Other folks felt the opposite, with one saying, “All people die. I am among the group who don’t understand why a non-Muslim celebrity entertainer’s death is so significant for the Muslim community.” We hope to answer these concerns.

First, Kobe’s death clearly affected the participants in this sample, who we believe represent more than a small segment of the American Muslim population. Men and women of all ages reported strong immediate reactions and coping in various ways. We believe this is important to highlight, as many people may have assumed that it was only the young males who were affected by Kobe’s death. Another interesting finding was that many people reported coping by watching old clips of Kobe. We suspect that the memories people had of Kobe were likely created in the presence of friends and family and that people felt nostalgic about their own lives watching his old highlights. Regardless of the exact reasons why his death was impactful, which may include difficult conversations about our culture of celebrity worship and the role of the media and marketing agencies making superstars’ personalities larger-than-life, these emotions and coping mechanisms are real and need to be understood to both educate and guide our community. Although the death of countless orphans, refugees, and innocent people all over the world warrant our empathy, the truth is that we will likely grieve more for people with whom we have some personal connection with, although people may have never met him. This sentiment was captured in the comment of one young male adult, who said, “Kobe taught me mamba mentality. He showed the whole world what true hard work looks like. That is why I was sad because I felt like a mentor had passed away.” 

With this acknowledgment that the pain people felt was real, we want to discuss the Islamic view of specific ways of coping for a non-Muslim, especially making dua for a deceased non-Muslim. We feel this is especially important, as both the data and many of the comments addressed this topic. From the data side, we found more than 1 in 4 Muslims made dua for him and more than half saying they would grieve differently had he been Muslim. As for the comments, many people, especially those who considered themselves very religious, echoed the same principle: Had he been Muslim, then we could have prayed janaza for him and made dua for him. Another convert sister, who hardly followed Kobe or the Lakers expressed, “I know my religion is the truth, but not being able to pray for a deceased non-Muslim is a hard concept, especially as a convert with all my blood family not being known Muslims.” Most people understood that Islam does not permit making dua for the forgiveness of deceased non-Muslim. In fact, there is scholarly consensus on this issue, as stated by Ibn Taymiya and Nawawi. We want to add that this was also an issue faced by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, many of whose parents and loved ones died outside the fold of Islam. Abu Huraira reported in an authentic narration that the Prophet visited his mother’s grave and wept, and everyone there wept with him. Then, the Prophet said, “I sought my Lord’s permission to seek forgiveness for her, but He did not permit me. Then, I sought permission to visit her grave and He permitted me to visit her grave.[1] We hope this clarifies the matter to those who may have been misinformed and gives strength to those who struggled with this issue. 

Regarding the issue of making dua for the family of the deceased, this is considered permissible and noble action, as it shows compassion and empathy for others. However, what seems even more vital and valuable, is that we learn from the death of Kobe to make dua for non-Muslims that we care for while they are alive. This includes making dua for their health, well-being, and most importantly their guidance. This is the best expression of love that we can offer to those who do not share our faith and the best way for us to show our appreciation for whatever we have benefited from them.

Another adaptive and Islamic way of coping that was commonly practiced was to reflect over one’s own mortality. What is astounding to us about Kobe’s death was that the night before he died he was in the news because LeBron James had just passed him for third place on the NBA all-time scoring list. Kobe had called LeBron to congratulate him that same evening. The following morning Kobe’s helicopter crashed. This moment should be a gut-check to us all about the fragile nature of life and remind us that our time on this earth is unknown. Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar used to say, If you survive till the evening, do not expect to be alive in the morning, and if you survive till the morning, do not expect to be alive in the evening. Take advantage of your health before your sickness, and take advantage of your life before your death.”[2] 

Although sports superstars like Kobe almost seem invincible because of their ability to conquer the moment in the games they play, his death should be a reminder that this life is not a game. We do not know when, where, or how we will die. O Allah, let us live in a state of Islam and let us die in a state of Islam. That is the greatest success. 

Appendix:

[1] Related by Muslim, Ahmad, and Abu Dawud.

[2] Related by Bukhari

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/sports/kobe-bryant-fans.html

Author Bios:

Dr. Osman Umarji received his B.S in Electrical Engineering from UC Irvine. After working as an engineer for many years, he went to study Islam at Al-Azhar University. He has a PhD in Educational Psychology from UC Irvine and currently works at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research as the Director of Survey Research and Evaluation. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at UC Irvine. He recently published The King, the Queen, and the Hoopoe Bird, a novel on the life of Prophet Sulaiman, in order to contribute to the production of culturally relevant educational material for Muslim youth in the West. 

Shaikh Mohammed Faqih completed a B.A. in Islamic Studies from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America in Fairfax, VA, and graduated in Quran Memorization and Recitation from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Previously, he held the position of Imam at the Islamic Community Center of Laurel in Laurel, MD, the Islamic Center of San Diego in San Diego, CA, and Islamic Institute of Orange County, CA. He is currently the Imam at the Memphis Islamic Center.

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Osman Umarji was born and raised in Southern California. He obtained a B.S in Electrical Engineering from UC Irvine and worked in mobile phone development. He then studied Islam in Cairo and in Al-Azhar University, focusing on Islamic legal theory. He was previously the religious director at the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco.He is currently completing his doctorate in Educational Psychology at UC Irvine, focusing on child and adolescent motivation and identity development. He is also an adjunct professor at UC Irvine and Cal State University, Long Beach.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amir Mertaban

    February 24, 2020 at 11:49 PM

    Jazakumullahu Khairan for this. You both know that I love you very much, but this was a giant waste of your valuable time. I don’t mean to offend you or the rest of the community that cared a lot about Kobe but the amount of time and energy Muslims have spent mourning his loss is disturbing. Not to mention that most (not all) of the shuyukh who have addressed this topic failed to bring up any of the rape allegations and misconduct that he pretty much admitted to. I know it’s not your intent to purposely leave that out and maybe the purpose of this survey was specific to the community’s reaction to his death, however, anytime we glorify someone and take them as examples we need to be mindful of reminding the community about their pitfalls and their extremely devastating behavior.

    At the very least there should be a lesson about repenting for your sins before it’s too late.

    I have much love and respect for my brothers and sisters who were dealing with the loss of someone they loved but we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge that as Muslims we need to be on the side of justice even if it be against our own mother, father, brother or one of the greatest basketball players.

    Also, I still love you both very much!

    • Avatar

      Wazir Muttaqi

      February 25, 2020 at 12:56 AM

      I would only offer this observation…many of us can recount hearing one version or another of the passing bier of a jew for whom the Messenger stood.

      Did he ask to know of the descendants entire life history before responding to the companions that he (as) stood because he was a creation of Allah?

      Sometimes if you have nothing good to say, remain silent was my mother’s advice to us as children.

      I offer it to you in this instance.

      May Allah guide us, show us Mercy in this life and the next…Ameen

  2. Avatar

    Spirituality

    February 25, 2020 at 10:34 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum:

    “Narrated `Aisha:

    The Prophet (ﷺ) (p.b.u.h) said, “Don’t speak ill of the dead, because they have reached the result of what they forwarded.” (Sahih Bukhari).

    As Wazir says, we should say what is good, or be silent.

    However, in this case, I really do feel that we as Muslims should be silent…

  3. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    February 27, 2020 at 2:40 PM

    Salam

    There are enough cases of death among us muslims for us to take lessons from.

    Though the death of Kobe is a good time to take lessons concerning the part of our creed (which has become very neglected in the west) that is “Allegiances and disassociation” (al-walaa wal baraa). This should be a good time to teach our youth to never pray for a dead disbeliever etc.

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I Once Spent Ramadan Semi-Quarantined, Here’s How It Went

Even though it was over 10 years ago, the memory of that Ramadan is seared into my mind.

I’d just taken my first consulting job – the kind in the movies. Hop on a plane every Monday morning and come home late every Thursday night. Except, unlike in the movies, I wasn’t off to big cities every week – I went to Louisville, Kentucky. Every week.

And because I was the junior member on the team, I didn’t get the same perks as everyone else – like a rental car. I was stuck in a hotel walking distance from our client in downtown, limited to eat at whatever restaurants were within nearby like TGI Friday’s or Panera. This was a pre-Lyft and Uber world.

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A couple of months into this routine and it was time for Ramadan. It was going to be weird, and no matter how much I prepared myself mentally, I wasn’t ready for it — Iftar alone in a hotel room. Maghrib and Isha also alone in a hotel room. Suhur was whatever I could save from dinner to eat in the morning that didn’t require refrigeration.

Most people think that with the isolation and extra time you would pass the time praying extra and reading tons of Quran. I wish that was the case. The isolation, lack of masjid, and lack of community put me into a deep funk that was hard to shake.

Flying home on the weekends would give me an energizing boost. I was able to see friends, go to the masjid, see my family. Then all of a sudden back to the other extreme for the majority of the week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that Ramadan with the prospect of a quarantined Ramadan upon us. I wish I could say that I made the most of the situation, and toughed it out. The truth is, the reason the memory of that particular Ramadan is so vivid in my mind is because of how sad it was. It was the only time I remember not getting a huge iman boost while fasting.

We’re now facing the prospect of a “socially distanced” Ramadan. We most likely won’t experience hearing the recitation of the verses of fasting from Surah Baqarah in the days leading up to Ramadan. We’re going to miss out on seeing extended family or having iftars with our friends. Heck, some of us might even start feeling nostalgia for those Ramadan fundraisers.

All of this is on top of the general stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ramadan traditionally offers us a spiritual reprieve from the rigors and hustle of our day to day lives. That may not be easy as many are facing the uncertainty of loss of income, business, or even loved ones.

So this isn’t going to be one of those Quran-time or “How to have an amazing Ramadan in quarantine!” posts. Instead, I’m going to offer some advice that might rub a few folks the wrong way.

Make this the Ramadan of good enough

How you define good enough is relative. Aim to make Ramadan better than your average day.

Stick to the basics and have your obligatory act of worship on lockdown.

Pray at least a little bit extra over what you normally do during a day. For some, that means having full-blown Taraweeh at home, especially if someone in the house is a hafiz. For others, it will mean 2 or 4 rakat extra over your normal routine.

Fill your free time with Quran and dua. Do whatever you can. I try to finish one recitation of the Quran every Ramadan, but my Ramadan in semi-quarantine was the hardest to do it in. Make sure your Quran in Ramadan is better during the month than on a normal day, but don’t set hard goals that will stress you out. We’re under enormous stress being in a crisis situation as it is. If you need a way to jump-start your relationship with the Quran, I wrote an article on 3 steps to reconnect with the Qur’an after a year of disconnect.

Your dua list during this Ramadan should follow you everywhere you go. Write it down on an index card and fold it around your phone. Take it out whenever you get a chance and pour your heart out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Share your stresses, anxieties, worries, fears, and hopes with Him.

He is the Most-Merciful and Ramadan is a month of mercy. Approach the month with that in mind, and do your best.

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12 Tips For Suddenly-At-Home-Schoolers

As each and every one of us grapple with the various changes that have been imposed by the global Coronavirus pandemic, families with school-aged children have their own set of new challenges. A top priority after working hard to keep everyone safe is to keep up with each child’s education needs while also trying to work from home yourself.

You may find your suddenly-at-home-schoolers status unproductive and taking you to new levels of frustration and exhaustion.  As a long-time homeschooler, I have a great deal of experience in this area and learned these ropes from intense amounts of reading and lots of trials and tribulations. Five of our children have been homeschooled and four of them exclusively from KG through high school. If you are working from home, I can also feel that pain. My husband and I have worked from home for more than 25 years and it is a balancing act of tremendous proportion. We are here to share the benefit of our individual and collective experiences.

Here are 12 tips and tricks from the field to help you maneuver into these uncharted waters

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1. Remember that parent as teacher is NOT a new role.  You have always been your child’s primary teacher.  This cannot be overstated.  While you may recognize this role when your children are very young and fully dependent upon you, it actually continues as they grow.  We teach by our words but also, most poignantly, by our actions.  And actions sometimes speak louder than words. Our children watch and listen at every age. They make note of the consistency or lack of it.  They figure out if parents are on the same page or have different sets of rules and expectations (a fact accentuated if there are two separate households as a result of divorce).And they also pay close attention to our moods and are sensitive to our stress.

Keep in mind that your parenting – the source of a full range of emotion from incredible joy to incredible frustration – is a special gift from Allah, the One who knows best!

2. Expect that it will take time to transition. We are already a couple of weeks into this new paradigm and it still may feel strange for everyone. The needs are further compounded by the fact that both parents and children have been thrust into these new waters at the same time.  It takes time for all of us to settle into new surroundings, routines, and strategies for success. We may need new skills and resources. We may need a different level of cooperation and collaboration. We may all need to just take a deep breath, quite literally!

homeschooling

3. Home does not need to become a traditional classroom to accomplish learning.  You didn’t treat your child’s school like your home so don’t treat your home like a school.  Each traditional classroom has a particular set of rules and parameters that sets the stage for group instruction – static schedules move large numbers of children into place at the same time, rules and norms are established for behavior (crowd) control, written assignments are necessary to ensure understanding en mass, desks are lined up to fit a maximum number of kids into a set space, etc.These same kinds of constructs are not necessary and do not work at home.

Be flexible. There doesn’t have to be a particular time to do math work each day. There doesn’t need to be a row of desks to work on an assignment (a kitchen table is fine). Reading a book might be most comfortable at bedtime. Children can actually work and learn together rather than be separated by ages.  Downtime (and I mean screen-free time here!) can be where some of the best creative thoughts and learning germinate.

4. Maximize the resources that are available online. You have likely been provided with enrichment packages or online learning materials from your child’s school.  But without the regimen necessary to instruct large groups, your children are likely to work through this material in far less time than their regular school hours.  Consider looking beyond these materials to stimulate them. There are a wide variety of educational materials that are available online.  In fact, there is so much that it may seem overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged. It will be worth the energy if you can find educational materials and electronic games that making learning fun and that your children are eager to use.

5. Invite your children into the process of planning and organizing the tasks at hand.  Identify what needs to be accomplished when and by whom.  Call a family meeting to set the stage for the week ahead. Our family used a whiteboard, putting things into writing so that tasks and assignments would be visible, remembered accurately, and could be revisited as necessary. Ask for input from your children (no matter how old they are) and listen to their insights. It is best for them to have some ownership and it is much easier to hold them accountable that way. A morning huddle might also be in order, particularly if there are different needs on different days. Be sure to include areas such as food preparation and eating times, what is off-limits in terms of entertainment, and how to resolve conflicts if they arise.

6. Bring the best properties of home to learning.  Now is the time to think outside of the box and be open to learning in new ways.  There are creative ways to get to the same learning objectives as traditional assignments.Cheerios or jelly beans can but used as tools in a math problem as easy as working with items on a printed page (and they are an instant reward for a correct answer!).Think about ways to maximize teachable moments.We may all recognize that learning about the Coronavirus is a relevant science lesson, but so too is baking cupcakes (and that fraction and chemistry lesson also produces delicious results)!

On the literature front, if your child is tasked with reading a book that has also been made into a film, plan to watch the movie together when the book is finished, and then compare and contrast the two. Julie Bogart, the founder of a wonderful online homeschooling resource called Braver Writer, reminds us that “kids learn the best when they can express what they understand verbally to an interested adult.”  Every word in this piece of advice is important. Isn’t this what we expect them to do in a traditional school setting? It certainly applies at home as well.   

homeschooling

7. Make efforts to give your children your undivided attention. Children of all ages need it. How many times had you previously complained that you didn’t have enough time at home? Maybe being sheltered in place wasn’t what you had in mind, but it, without a doubt, provides the quantity of time to make parent-child bonding possible. The trick is to make the time also quality time. Have a tea party with your children complete with fancy desserts and flowers. Play a board game or complete a jigsaw puzzle. Take a phone-free walk around the neighborhood when weather permits. Listen to an audiobook together. You will be amazed by what you learn about your children when you do. They may also learn something new about you in the process.

8. When you have to work undisturbed make it also a special time for your children.  There will be times that you have to focus your own attention on work, whether it is home chores or attending to your paid work from home.  Don’t expect your children to just do their schoolwork while you are working. Educational tasks that are done alone can be lonely, especially when children are used to learning with other children their ages. Have a special group of toys, books, play dough, video games, or movies that can be utilized during these periods. If the time is seen as an opportunity for a special treat, your children will look forward to it rather than resent your divided attention. Be sure to also acknowledge their efforts and show appreciation for their cooperation. Positive reinforcement can go a long way here!

homeschooling

9. Plan to do your work when your children are asleep if possible. It is easier to concentrate without background noise or competing demands.  This may look different in each family.  For some, early morning works best; for others, after bedtime is more productive.  You may have to figure out what works for your family by trial and error.  And if two parents are trying to work from home, you will likely have to toggle shifts.  This may not be easy.

10. Use your bodies.  Without PE classes, a walk to the school bus, or a trip to the playground, our children are not likely to get regular exercise.  And it may be the same for you. You probably are already challenged by the pent-up energy.  It is often stated that exercise influences the mind, body, and soul.  It stimulates blood flow, improves your mental health and moods, sharpens thinking skills, and more.  Did you know that movement can also impact learning?  Kinesthetic or tactile learning is a learning style that takes place by the students carrying out physical activities, rather than more statically listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations.  If your kids are learning their multiplication tables, for example, have them jump on a mini-tramp or jump rope at the same time.  Or sit in a circle and throw a soccer ball or football while they match up states with their state capitals.  There is a great deal of science that suggests this type of learning is productive in the short- and long-term.

11. Remember, children will always children.  They cannot give you more than they are developmentally capable of giving. We can look at depictions of children living in unimaginable poverty, amidst war, amongst the homeless, and struggling in homes with domestic violence. These children grow up without the pleasure of a normal childhood.  May Allah SWT watch over and protect them from harm.  In contrast and by the mercy of Allah, for many of our children, their biggest trials are with luxury and entitlement.  They are not used to thinking about details because they usually don’t have to.  Remember, children largely do not have executive organization functions (and that doesn’t change because you want or need them to!). They lack the poise, emotional control, common sense, and maturity to understand the full dimensions of the changes that have recently taken place.  They usually have no sensitivity to family financial matters, i.e. how much money comes in and how much it actually costs to maintain a stable family life.  This doesn’t just apply to young children. Teenagers can be oblivious and self-absorbed.  They require a ton of sleep during these times of physical growth, too, when hormonal changes are ravaging their bodies.  If you are not getting the results you are seeking, step back and ask this question – is my child even developmentally capable of meeting these new demands?

12. Lean in with your whole self.  There is no coincidence.  Alhamdulillah, we are in this place and time and we must work to make the most of the opportunities in front of us. Patience and perseverance are your best friends. And gratitude is paramount to keeping perspective and making the most of the many blessings that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) so mercifully provides. Parents, you need to put these principles into practice. Your children need to see these lessons manifested in your words and your actions.  And you need to believe with all of your heart and soul, that we will all – you, your children, your family, our community, and ummah – will be better for it, inshaAllah.

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#Life

Living During a Pandemic, Plan for Death in Your Lifetime

Plan for death, Islamic will

Panic over the global public health steamroller COVID-19 has many of us in the Muslim community thinking about the future: specifically a future without you, the reader, in this world, amongst the living.

There are many articles about how you should not touch your face or how to make bootleg hand sanitizer with vodka to avoid death for the time being. This article will do none of those things. Let’s just assume that no matter your big-box shopping habits or travel plans, you are going to die eventually. Panic is a reflection of our sense of mortality and the care we have for our loved ones and communities.

When you die, you leave behind people, possessions, and often real estate and businesses. You have responsibilities to deal with when you are no longer here, to your family, your customers, lenders, employees, and others. Of course, you can’t deal with these responsibilities yourself, since you will be dead. The purpose of this article is to help you sort out how your responsibilities will be carried out.

Inheritance in Islam

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Everything in the heavens and the earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah. Everything you have that you cannot take with you has been entrusted to you while you are here. Though this is rarely the topic of khutbahs on Jummah (back when we used to do that kind of thing) Islamic Inheritance is fard on all Muslims who have stuff they won’t take with them. Your property is not your own.

Everything in the heavens and the earth and all that it contains belongs to Allah. Everything you have that you cannot take with you has been entrusted to you while you are here.Click To Tweet

Allah has ordained inheritance in the Quran. That means inheritance is not distributed based on your sense of vanity and what you think is better but based on the command of Allah.  This is different from the way we usually do things in the United States. Doing inheritance right is obeying Allah. It is an essential act of worship most American Muslims seem to ignore, to the extent we are familiar with it at all. Inheritance is a bigger deal than most Muslims seem to realize. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in the Quran prescribes hellfire for those who disobey Allah’s command. If you go without obeying Allah’s command on inheritance, that is your parting shot, a legacy of injustice and disobedience to Allah.

Doing inheritance right is obeying Allah.Click To Tweet

There are a great many Muslims I have come across over the years who are offended by Islamic Inheritance; just the notion makes them sick. I don’t know what to do for them.

Islamic Inheritance is fundamental to our society and for maintaining peace in our families and communities. It is a bulwark against intra-family oppression and conflicts, protects orphans while uniformly apportioning rights. It is a remarkable system that benefits humanity. You can read this comprehensive guide on Islamic Inheritance if you want further exposure to the subject. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said: “learn fara’id (Islamic rules of inheritance) and teach it to the people.”

So if you gain anything from your current bout social isolation, learn about Islamic Inheritance.

Wasiyyah

Many people translate “wasiyyah” to “last will.”  This is fundamentally wrong, at least when it comes to the American understanding of what the last will is.  While both are written instructions, the last will and wasiyyah have unique limitations that have no relationship with each other.

You can give up to 1/3 of your estate for beneficial purposes. You could give to charity or those who do not already inherit from you. It is common for beneficiaries of the wasiyyah are poor relatives overseas or grandchildren not entitled to inheritance.  You should read this guide for how the wasiyyah works.

If you go without obeying Allah's command on inheritance, that is your parting shot, a legacy of injustice and disobedience to Allah.Click To Tweet

Guardianship for minor children

For those with minor children, guardianship is often an urgent yet often ignored concern. You should have a solid understanding of what could happen in the event your children become orphans, and there is no living parent. Will they go to child services? Would grandparents fight over them? Might that weird uncle will attempt to get custody and try to convert them to atheism? Do you have family overseas, but they cannot travel to the United States because of a global pandemic?

Of course, you don’t know what will happen. All planning is about creating a rule book for an indeterminate time in the future where you have no idea about the circumstances of the people you will leave behind. You can read an article at MuslimMatters from a few years ago called “how to raise your children when you’re dead.”  I have also prepared a more comprehensive guardianship guide for Muslims.

Guardianship is either addressed through a last will or separate writing in states that allow this. You do not name guardians in a living trust.

Incapacity Planning

This part is not technically planning for death, but it is commonly included in estate planning.  Many people end up living longer lives but are dependent on others. There is a process in every state for the government to take away a person’s liberty, not for a crime they committed, but to protect them from exploitation and financial elder abuse, leading to poverty. Scammers, both online and offline, tend to target people who fit a particular profile.

This legal protective process is called “conservatorship,” and it is costly, and the hearings and documents are public. Part of estate planning is to protect the dignity and privacy of people while their families make decisions.

It is common for people who do their estate planning to have both a living trust and power of attorney. Incapacity provisions in a living trust only cover assets that are registered the living trust. Certain kinds of property, like IRAs, are not owned by a living trust.

Healthcare Directives

States generally have their forms for making healthcare decisions. These are recognized by hospital staff for those times when a patent cannot give them consent to do things. You need to name someone you trust that can make decisions for you.

Healthcare Directives ask questions beyond naming proxies. For example, they will ask about your preference when if you have an incurable illness, in a coma, and doctors are saying you have no reasonable chance of getting out.

These directives may also ask about your organ donor preference. Do you want to be a donor at all? Are you ok donating for organ transplants? Would you mind if medical students dissected your body and posted the pictures on Instagram? Such minutiae won’t necessarily be in these forms, but that’s what they could mean, depending on the permission you give.

Healthcare decisions can be an extraordinarily complex area, with much written about the subject. Your planning documents cannot account for future medical conditions. Whatever you write, other than who has decision-making authority is going to be necessarily vague. Reading these things may leave you wondering about things like what is an “incurable illness”? What is “a reasonable period of time”?

Focus on the concrete, who you trust to make these decisions, rather than potential hypothetical scenarios around your medical care.

These are situations where loved ones face painful choices. You can make it clear who makes decisions; however, no document makes medical treatment issues less difficult for loved ones.

Will or a Trust?

A question for many is, what do you do, living trust or a will? What that question means is should the main provisions of an Estate Plan, which is the overall plan for organizing your affairs, be in a trust or a will, which are both different kinds of documents. When you have a living trust, you almost always have a last will as well. Those who have last will- based plans could have several trusts inside them.

Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and everything else you do in service of organizing your affairs are pieces of paper.  The specific documents you create are ways of fulfilling your goals, they are not the goal by themselves. A trust is a form of a contract with usually no judicial supervision. A last will is similar, but there are instructions for a judicially supervised process called “probate.” The main difference between a will or a trust is a judge’s oversight.

For most everyone with property, we will typically recommend a trust-based estate plan that includes several documents. Like any contract, what a trust says and does can vary widely. To learn more about trusts, especially Islamic Living Trusts, read this article.

A lawyer or no lawyer

Lawyers are expensive. Most people would rather not spend thousands of dollars on something if they could avoid it. Lawyers just produce pieces of paper, right? Why not just do it yourself? Just go to a website that fills out blank spaces in a template and pay far less than a lawyer?

As an Islamic Estate Planning Lawyer myself, I will attempt to avoid saying anything that sounds self-interested. My advice to anyone who asks is that while inheritance is fard in Islam, nothing you do is worth it unless you have peace of mind from doing it. You may be the person that strives to pray, read the Quran, and give in charity and deal with your family with excellence because that is what gives you peace of mind. Do any of these things in a way that makes you uneasy, well, you don’t have peace of mind.

If going to a form filling website or writing a will by hand gives you peace of mind, do that. If getting advice from an experienced attorney gives you peace of mind, then do that.

Merely going to a lawyer, even an especially experienced one, should not give you peace of mind by itself. The lawyer needs your active engagement in the process to make sure you are doing right by everyone. Educate yourself about Islamic Estate Planning to make sure that elements specific to your family and business are the way you want. Estate Planning is one of the most important things you will be doing for your family, and you should attend to it with the seriousness it deserves.

You hire a lawyer because of his or her knowledge of the law, Islamic rules, and experience in developing solutions. You should never hire a lawyer in any situation to act as your substitute brain.

Selecting a lawyer

Estate Planning is a field most lawyers know little about. Many state bars will certify “specialists” in the field.  \However, it is possible for you to find an attorney well-versed in the area but not a board-certified specialist.

Your planning involves contractual, state, and federal law elements. Ideally, you will have a lawyer in your state who is a Muslim and knowledgeable about both estate planning and Islamic rules. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

Arizona Attorney Yaser Ali and I (California and Texas licensed) wrote a “Practice Guide” for lawyers called “Estate Planning for the Muslim Client” (2019, American Bar Association). The idea behind this project was to give lawyers, regardless of creed or state of residence, an understanding of Islamic Inheritance and how Islamic rules figure into various established estate planning strategies for Muslim clients.

The book also provides templates and examples. We intended the book to be useful for such lawyers to help their Muslim clients plan. Of course, it is common for lawyers also to get help or co-counsel across jurisdictions. The lack of a lawyer with expertise on Islamic Inheritance rules in your local area should not be an excuse.

For people with few assets

The biggest problem with hiring lawyers is that they usually charge for their services. Many Muslims with relatively modest assets might not think it’s worth it.  However, a woman with a few thousand dollars in assets may want to do something, like name guardians for minor children, name an executor and provide instructions on how to divide her modest estate without giving most of it to a lawyer. In such instances, a “do it yourself” approach may make sense, or at least it’s better than doing nothing.

Islamic will templates are freely available all over the internet, with varying levels of usefulness and value. Attorney Yaser Ali has created a template and form filling website where anyone can create a last will and calculate inheritance and a state-specific will for free. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should take a look at this resource. It does not replace a lawyer, however.

Burial Instructions 

One place the Muslim community excels at is burial. Most everywhere in the United States, there are volunteers and paid staff who quickly and efficiently deal with the entire process of ghusal, janazah prayer, and burial. We can often measure the time between death and burial in hours, not days. Sometimes there are reasons for a delay, however. In this kind of environment, people don’t look around for instruction documents, other than proof of ownership of a burial plot.

My advice on burial instructions, at least in the local area that I live, for most Muslim families is not to worry too much. Your family and friends will know what to do and don’t need your help in the matter. Sometimes, people want to include detailed instructions; things like women should not cry loudly. Don’t overthink these things.

There are solid reasons for detailed burial instructions, though. One that comes up regularly is for Muslims who do not have Muslim families. For such individuals, merely having burial instructions is not enough. Such a person should name a Muslim friend, or perhaps more than one, in health care documents. People from the Muslim community need to know when a Muslim is sick in the hospital and, of course, when he or she has died.

There is far more to preparing for death, but a whole lot of that involves life itself.

For more on that, attend Jummah khutba when they start offering it again, InshaAllah.

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

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

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