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Make Haram Policing Great Again: Time to Bring Back Some Good Ol’ Nahy ‘An Il-Munkar

“Watch out for the Haram Police!”

It’s only half a joke – where even just recently the term “haram policing” applied to over-zealous masjid uncles and aunties, and obnoxious wallah bros, it is now the first thing hurled at anyone who dares remind anyone else that Islam does, in fact, consist of certain rules to follow and that there are indeed such things as ‘sins.’ Whether one is talking about LGBTQ issues, hijab, music, or mixed-gender relationships, it is no longer considered acceptable to bring up the fact that Islam itself is a faith that is very much structured based on what is and is not permissible according to our Creator.

The call to enjoin the good and forbid the evil is repeated throughout the Qur’an, yet the second half of that prescription has been almost completely neglected today. 

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The consequences of not forbidding evil are clear today, most obviously amongst youth, and especially on social media. Islam itself is seen as a cultural identity marker, with even outward symbols such as hijab seen as almost entirely divorced from the concept of obedience to Allah and instead viewed as a form of identity politics, faux-rebellion, and interpreted “personally” in such a way as to make it spiritually meaningless. Salah itself has become the butt of TikTok jokes; calling out foul language, vulgar music, sexualized behaviour, and more is seen as laughable, because who cares anymore? None of that’s a big deal anymore, after all. 

An extremely concerning aspect of all of this is not that those who are engaging in these spiritually damaging behaviour are merely ignorant laypeople; rather, is it that those who exhibit signs of some religious literacy, who have the outward signs of some religiosity, who do, in fact, engage in some level of religious learning or dialogue, are actively participating in these behaviours. It’s a matter of people who should know better – who do know better – and yet have chosen not to do better. For some, it may not be a deliberate choice to disobey Allah, but that the understanding of the limits of Allah’s boundaries has been so downplayed and undermined that it barely registers at all in one’s conscious decision-making. So many sinful actions have been normalized, to the extent that even those who would identify themselves as “religious” and “practising” find it difficult to be cognizant of just how seriously wrong those actions are, and what the deeper spiritual implications of those behaviours are. 

Bad Track Record of Haram Policing

To be fair, haram policing has not had the best of track records. At its height in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was an overwhelming culture of hyper-criticism, of attacking even the most sincere and well-meaning individuals of deliberately sinning, and a complete and utter lack of empathy and compassion for fellow Muslims. There was no wisdom or tact, even in justified cases, and the result was more than one generation of spiritually crippled Muslims on one side, and burnt out, shamefaced former accusers on the other. Men were not the only perpetrators of haram policing either; women were just as harsh, and downright vicious, between themselves, being lightning-quick to judge, gossip, and slander one another in the name of “forbidding the evil.” The consequences were devastating, and resulted in a sense of betrayal and distrust towards “religious people,” who never had a kind word to say and were swift to criticize others’ perceived lack of faith. 

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The mid-2000s became a time of resentment and kneejerk reactions against anyone who spoke about prohibited actions in Islam, with more emphasis placed on removing all judgement; those who did speak up in a critical manner about concerning behaviours and trends were automatically dismissed as “haraam police.” While the masjid uncles and aunties and wallah bros continued to embody the worst of the haraam police stereotype, the label came to be applied even to those who sincerely and kindly sought to uphold the rulings and regulations of Islam. As a result, more and more public figures in the da’wah scene fell silent over issues deemed to be unpopular or controversial, and which they feared would push people away from the overall da’wah. Those who did try to talk about those topics were accused of “pushing away the youth” and “turning people away from the Deen.” All too often, we see sheer arrogance in response to warning against any sins.

And when it is said to him, “Fear Allah,” pride in the sin takes hold of him…. (2:206)

The Messenger of Allah said, “Verily among the greatest of sins in the sight of Allah is for a person to be told, ‘Fear Allah,’ to which he responds, ‘Mind your own business!’” (Sunan Nasa’i)

Today, we find ourselves in a place where it is seen as dangerous and damaging to the collective faith of the Ummah if one ever dares to speak about those issues from the perspective of Qur’an and Sunnah, rather than the perspective of the (latest version of) secular leftist values. These topics include, but are not limited to, the Islamic rulings on LGBTQ, sexuality, gender, hijab, makeup, music, and mixed-gender relationships. Additionally, issues specifically related to Muslim women’s spirituality are considered completely out-of-bounds for male scholars to discuss. Certainly, there has been too much emotional and cultural baggage taught as “Islam,” but the subsequent problem is that there has been a dearth of female scholarship to address those topics as necessary. There is an echoing silence on these issues, and the lack of strong female leadership has been just as damaging as the previous decades’ harm. 

In the Qur’an, Allah commands us repeatedly to enjoin the good and forbid the evil – not one without the other, but always in tandem. As Ummatul Wasat, we are meant to follow the middle way, to be just and balanced, and never to veer too strongly towards one extreme or the other. Obviously, as we have seen above, the consequences of falling into either extreme are incredibly detrimental to the spiritual wellbeing of the entire Ummah.

Allah says:

Surah Imran

You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient. (3:110)

Surah Imran

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)

O my son, establish prayer, enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and be patient over what befalls you. Indeed, [all] that is of the matters [requiring] determination. (31:17)

Clearly, it is not enough to simply “enjoin the good” and leave it at that – indeed, the Qur’an also warns us of what happens to those who blatantly disregard the Divine prohibitions, and to those who passively allowed these sins to take place without making any attempt to warn against them.

Say, “O People of the Scripture, do not exceed limits in your religion beyond the truth and do not follow the inclinations of a people who had gone astray before and misled many and have strayed from the soundness of the way.” Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed. They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing. (5:77-79)

The emphasis on forbidding the evil is so great that it is mentioned in the famous story of the Sabbath-breakers:

And ask them about the town that was by the sea – when they transgressed in [the matter of] the sabbath – when their fish came to them openly on their sabbath day, and the day they had no sabbath they did not come to them. Thus did We give them trial because they were defiantly disobedient. And when a community among them said, “Why do you advise [or warn] a people whom Allah is [about] to destroy or to punish with a severe punishment?” they [the advisors] said, “To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may fear Him.”

And when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We saved those who had forbidden evil and seized those who wronged, with a wretched punishment, because they were defiantly disobeying. (7:163-165)

“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, you must certainly command the good and forbid evil, or else a punishment from Him would soon be sent upon you, after which you would call upon Him yet your supplication (dua) would not be answered.” (Tirmidhi)

Without actively maintaining the forbidding of evil in our communities, we may very well end up accountable for the sins of our people, even if we ourselves are not committing those sins directly. Without forbidding evil, we are allowing evil to spread in our communities; without enforcing any religious boundaries, we are in fact passively encouraging the transgression of Allah’s boundaries. 

Neither parents nor du’aat are ready to – or even equipped to – discuss many of the common issues today found on social media and in real life, let alone the even more serious matter of the attitudes driving all of these behaviours. The lack of forbidding evil hasn’t just normalized outward sins, but has allowed the normalization of attitudes and mentalities which poison our fitrah and shred apart our spiritual well-being. This is even worse than just normalizing outward sins – at least if it was just outward sins, while recognizing that they are sinful, there would still be a starting point of understanding Allah’s Laws and acknowledging that one is transgressing them. Instead, we are now in a place where there is complete refusal to accept that Allah’s Prohibitions and Commands have any meaning at all; everything is up to individual interpretation, and anything in the Qur’an can be interpreted away into irrelevance. Sins are, apparently, just another social construct, rather than Divinely punishable actions that have devastating, far-reaching personal and social consequences. 

It is definitely time to make haram policing great again. (Okay, yes, I said that just to rile you up, dear reader. You have to admit, it’s why you clicked on this article in the first place.) In all seriousness, what we need is to bring back nahy ‘an il-munkar – not in the tactless, harsh, and damaging manner of the 90s, but in the compassionate and firm way that our entire Ummah desperately needs today. 

Invite (mankind, O Muhammad) to the way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Revelation and the Qur’an) and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided. (al-Nahl 16:125)

The Messenger of Allah said: “Religion is sincerity.” We said, “To whom?” He said, “To Allah and His Book, and His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.” (Narrated by Muslim, 95)

Hold On To The Compassion While Forbidding Evil

The last decade or so has been spent building up compassion and empathy, which is absolutely necessary in da’wah, at every level. There must be an understanding of where people are coming from, what their history and their backgrounds are, and what personal traumas they are struggling with. There should never be a sense of glee in attacking someone personally, or making claims or accusations about someone’s private spiritual state. At the same time, however, the role of those in da’wah is to engage in both general da’wah as well as personal, individualized da’wah – meaning that there is still a requirement to inform and educate the masses about the seriousness of sins, to emphasize the Divine wisdoms behind the prohibitions made clear in Islam, and to push back against the normalization of those sins in the Ummah. It is not enough to have a “feel good” da’wah that turns a blind eye to entire sections of our Deen, nor is it appropriate to have a culture of religious condemnation to the exclusion of all else. Watering down the Deen so that people can feel good about themselves doesn’t help anyone, except Iblis. One can, in fact, be compassionate towards others without encouraging or enabling the transgression of Allah’s limits. 

A new era of haram policing is required, and it must begin in the home. As parents, we are all shepherds of our flocks; we will be accountable on the Day of Judgment and questioned about what we allowed our children to be exposed to, what we passively and actively permitted, and the ignorance we allowed ourselves instead of putting in the effort to prioritize our childrens’ Akhirah over worldly entertainment and pursuits. Certainly, this doesn’t mean shutting everything down with one’s children and being unduly harsh on them – we parents need to have open communication with our kids, especially to help them understand why rules and regulations are in place. It does, however, mean that we cannot allow ourselves to be guilt-tripped by our kids (which is a very common tactic these days), and to remember that we are meant to be our kids’ parents – not their friends. Sometimes we do have to be the bad guy, in order to ultimately be the good guy on the Day of Judgment. 

Our Ummah is in a state of global crisis on every level, not just geopolitically, but within our own homes and in our privileged Western Muslim communities. We are in a state of poisoned spirituality, where Muslims who publicly sin for entertainment is not only acceptable, but shared and encouraged; where even mentioning the concept of sins and punishment of the Hereafter turns someone in the target of vicious attacks; where there is little acknowledgement or respect of Allah’s limits and boundaries. “Feel good” faith has severe consequences in the Akhirah, yet too many parents and du’aat have shied away from forbidding the evil alongside with enjoining the good. As a result, we have ended up with generations of adults and youth alike who do not understand the seriousness of the spiritual implications of these normalized sins.

Allah repeatedly commands us in the Qur’an to enjoin the good and forbid the evil; one cannot be utilized to the exclusion of the other. As individuals, as parents, as religious educators and as leaders in our communities, we must all uphold the obligation of amr bi’l ma’roof and nahy ‘an il-munkar, for the spiritual well-being of our community as a whole.

Make haram policing great again – to make this Ummah great again.

And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], “Do not worship except Allah ; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah.” Then you turned away, except a few of you, and you were refusing. (2:83)

Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practise, and practised whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed. (Muslim)

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Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    BintKhalil

    April 22, 2020 at 4:59 AM

    Assalamu alaikum sister Zainab,

    So glad to see you back on MM alhamdulillah! Still miss your Twitter though :(

  2. Avatar

    Tim

    April 22, 2020 at 11:54 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    This is an excellent reminder for everyone as those of us concerned about the state of our communities have been horrified at the normalization of fahisha within them, while at the same time feeling at a loss on how to deal with the situation.

    I would advise, however, that in order to do this effectively the author should provide more comprehensive advice. By this I mean educating us, the audience, on what exactly ‘Amr bil ma’roof and nahi’ an al munkar entails (i.e what matters we are responsible for according to the fuqaha) and what are the conditions for one doing this (e.g one must have knowledge of the issue at hand, one must make sure that they do not cause any harm by doing so, etc.). Otherwise the danger is that we will have well-intentioned people command good and forbid evil in a manner that is not sanctioned by the Shariah.

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      April 26, 2020 at 5:48 PM

      Wa ‘alaikumus-salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,

      Thank you for your positive feedback!

      With regards to the details of what enjoining the good and forbidding the evil entails, there are many excellent books, articles, and resources on the topic. Ibn Taymiyyah’s book “Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil” is a classical work; a quick Google search of the term will also yield many other beneficial resources.

  3. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    April 23, 2020 at 5:09 AM

    This is gold! Definitely the best article i have read in Muslimmatters in a long time subhan Allah. Nothing uplifts the heart and gives motivation like the Quran & Sunnah. Though i gotta say, i am very good at “hating evil in my heart” and very bad at “forbidding it with my tongue”, may Allah make it easy for me and all the muslims to speak out against evil.

    Barak Allahu Feeki!

  4. Avatar

    broAhmed

    April 25, 2020 at 7:35 AM

    A well-written and timely essay, especially given my wife and I were speaking to each other recently about this. I like your capturing of the history of the hyper-critical period and the result. Feels like the pendulum has swung to other end now where no one can be criticized. I pray we reach the healthy middle ground. Thank you Shaykha Zainab and jazāk Allāhu khayrā.

    Do you have any general tips on what to do when encountering sinful behavior displayed brazenly on social media from friends and family?

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      April 26, 2020 at 5:56 PM

      Thank you for your positive feedback!

      Regarding your question – it depends on how strong one’s own relationship with those individuals is (and what that sinful behaviour is). The closer the family (e.g. siblings), the more likely one will be able to positively influence them (hopefully). Connecting with them, reminding them that certain behaviours are displeasing to Allah, subtly/ unsubtly providing links or resources to lectures or articles or even just simple ahadith that encourage growing closer to Allah and repentance… there are a lot of different tactics, and it depends on how well you know the person, and how receptive they are to your approach. Don’t be a jerk, but be firm as well – don’t give up, make du’a for them, and keep reaching out to them, inshaAllah. (Every once in a while, a passive aggressive Facebook post can be surprisingly effective… j/k, this probably isn’t the best advice, even if I’m personally fond of this tactic.)

      P.S. I’m definitely not a shaykha! Just another rando on the Internet.

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    Waseem Iqnaibi

    April 29, 2020 at 3:17 PM

    An absolutely well-written article, lifted by the noblest references, wrapped together to deliver a single, unambiguous message clear message. I haven’t read an essay like this in a while. Jazakellah Khairan and please do write more articles like this.

  7. Avatar

    Greg Carr

    May 13, 2020 at 10:28 AM

    I think it is noteworthy as well that when you see a flaw in someone else, that flaw may very well be present in yourself. How does someone who is dealing with their own flaws going to approach “forbidding the evil?” Most folks still don’t even know basics of their din or its history, to be honest, not even basic personal fiqh. I rarely, *rarely* meet a Muslim who has read a basic fiqh primer on any madhhab for their own personal fiqh. They just ask questions as they come up. Most of us really need to turn inwards and enjoin good and forbid evil in our own lives, and study our din. Research shows one of the fastest ways to bleed out a religion is hypocrisy in the parents’ generation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgGjnHmvaVM).

    Another note, is forbidding evil effective in our current American stage of Islam? Has it actually–well–forbade evil and reduced sin? Is the next generation more religious? I agree with you that it needs to begin in the household, with the parents. Research shows that the parents’ level of religiosity is typically the ceiling of the childrens’ level of religiosity over 90% of the time (I recall that only 2% of the time do children become more pious than their parents).

    I think there are different stages in community development, and we may not be at the stage of forbidding evil yet. You have to develop people and build them up. Cue the hadith of Aisha (radi Allahu anha):

    When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’

    https://sunnah.com/bukhari/66/15

    These things take time, and we’re still learning our din and figuring out what Orthodoxy is. In those time periods you mentioned – the 2000s etc – most American Muslims were not aware of what Orthodox aqida and fiqh was, though it is now finally coming to the forefront. The average Muslim still doesn’t know what تفويض is, for example, though this knowledge is slowly disseminating. Most Muslims haven’t studied Aqida Tahawiyah (check out Sheikh Hamza Maqbul and Dr. Shadee el-Masry), or at least not properly, yet.

    There’s stages of development and hikma to these things. Though Dr. Shadee is known for being quite outspoken among many other ulema who do plenty of نهي المنكر.

    Barak Allahu feekum! Ramadan mubarak. :)

  8. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    May 13, 2020 at 4:52 PM

    Thank you, this is an important reminder and a comprehensive overview on the subject. Though I have no idea what a “wallah bro” is.

    I also appreciate Greg’s reminder above that in forbidding the evil, we must start with ourselves. Otherwise we become those who the Quran has chastised: “O you who believe, why do you say what you do not do?”

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Coronavirus

Alternative Eid Celebrations In The Midst Of A Pandemic

“Eid-al-Quarantine” is what my sister has so fondly dubbed our upcoming Eid al Fitr this year. I find myself asking, “How are we going to make Eid a fun and special celebration this year in the midst of a dangerous pandemic?” With a little bit of creativity and resourcefulness, this Eid can be fun–no matter the current circumstances. This post will provide you with some inspiration to get your alternative Eid preparations underway! 

Special note: Shelter-in-place restrictions are lessening in many places in the United States, but this does not give us the green light to go back to life as normal and celebrate Eid in the ways we usually would have in the past. I am no health expert, but my sincerest wish for all Muslims throughout the world is that we all err on the side of caution and maintain rigorous precautions.

In-person gatherings are going to be much riskier in light of public health safety concerns. I do not recommend that people get together this Eid. Keep in mind, as well, that this is a big weekend for all Americans, as it is Memorial Day Weekend and crowds may be expected in places like parks and beaches. 

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Eid Day Must’s

Just because you are staying in, doesn’t mean that all of the Eid traditions have to go. Some may be exactly the same, some may be slightly adjusted this year. 

  • Get dressed up, even if it’s just for an hour or two. This might be a good chance to do hair and make up for sisters who normally don’t on Eid because of hijab or other modesty concerns. 
  • Take your family pictures, as usual. 
  • Decorate your house, even if it’s just with some fresh flowers in a vase or hanging up some string lights. (This time, I think sharing pictures of your setup may  have some more wiggle room.)
  • Find a way to pray Eid salah at home, if your local imam mentions a way to adapt for the current situation or check out this MM article
  • Eat some good food, and make sure to feast. 
  • Take that infamous Eid nap. 
  • Greet loved ones (phone calls, video calls, text messages, voice/video messages, make and send Eid cards).
  • Give and receive gifts. (Electronic ways to transfer money/checks in the mail, dropping off gifts to homes/sending gifts in the mail/having an online order pick-up in-store. You may also choose to do a gift exchange, if not this weekend, next). 

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Virtual Parties

Virtual celebrations are a great, safe, option. The best thing about virtual hangouts is that people from all over the world can “come together” to celebrate Eid. This can be as simple as talking and catching up, or can be as orchestrated as a full-out party including games. Keep in mind, the games and virtual parties aren’t only for the kids–everyone should have fun this Eid! We recently threw a virtual birthday party for our one-year-old and it was quite the experience. 

  • Split guests into different calls (kids’ call, adults’ call; men’s call, women’s call)
  • Party agenda for a rigorously planned party so everyone knows what to expect
  • Party games, either with certain items that everyone has (or can easily and quickly purchase) or games that do not require much else besides an internet connection 
    • Games requiring physical items (think of items that everyone is likely to have and think of carnival-type games):
      • Soccer ball juggling or basketball shooting competition
      • Water balloon toss
      • Timed races (three-legged, holding an egg in a spoon, etc.)
    • Games with little to no special equipment
      • Online Pictionary https://skribbl.io/
      • Online Scrabble
      • Video games
      • Charades
      • Taboo (we do this for our cousin game nights with pictures of cards that one person sends to people from the opposite team)
      • Scattergories
      • Bingo
      • Mad libs
      • Speaking games that take turns going around a circle (going through the alphabet saying names of animals or colors or foods, rhyming words [we played the last two lines of “Down by the Bay” for our son’s birthday party])
      • Movement game (Simon says, dancing if you’re into that [“Cha Cha Slide,” dance-off, passing along dance moves as was a TikTok trend I heard of, simply dancing…])
      • Games like in Whose Line is it Anyway? or like the “Olympics” (specifically the “middle games”) that I wrote about way back
  • Performances
    • Skits prepared by one family or even across households
    • Reciting a poem or surah or singing
    • Other showcases of talent, by individuals or not
  • Gift Exchanges (I’ve been doing this virtually since 2013 with friends/distant family members.)

Alternative Virtual/Group Celebrations

Being “together” isn’t always gathering for a party, and that’s what I think most people miss during the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. There are many things you can do to get ready for or celebrate Eid with loved ones even if you’re not together. 

  • Share special recipes with each other or plan to serve the same meals.
  • Coordinate Eid outfits or attempt to do matching henna designs.
  • Send Eid pictures to family and friends.
  • Prepare and cook meals or clean or decorate while on a video call (you don’t have to be talking the entire time).
  • Watch the same movie or show (whether that’s something everyone does as separate households or you do concurrently/even with a video or phone call running. This might be a good time to watch Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” and do the 10 things it invites us to do.)
  • Go through family pictures or old videos together. Maybe even create a short slideshow/video of your favorites. 
  • Story time full of family legends and epic moments (the best Eid, a difficult time of sickness, immigration or moving story, new baby in the family, etc.). Someone build the fire and get the s’mores going.

Alternative “Outings”

In the same breath, it’s so refreshing to go out and do something fun, not just stay cooped up in your house, right? Seriously. 

  • Check out a virtual museum tour
  • Go on a nice drive to some place you love or miss going to, like drive by the masjid or school or a beautiful area (but stay in your car if there are other people around)
  • Watch an Eid Khutbah (or a regular one) on Eid day (make it special by listening outside in your yard or as a family where you pray).
  • Create a movie theater experience inside the home (that might just mean some popcorn and homemade slushies).
  • Get carry out from a favorite restaurant (if it’s open), and finally have the motivation to take a longer drive if needed
  • Make fruit or gift baskets for friends and family and drop them off at their homes
  • A “paint night,” or some other craft, that everyone in the family participates in
  • Decorate your car and drive around to show it off to friends (I’ve heard there’s an actual Eid car parade at various masaajid in Chicago

Interesting Alternative Community Celebrations I’ve Heard About

Some communities are getting super creative. As I mentioned above, a handful of masaajid in Chicago (Orland Park Prayer Center, Mosque Foundation, and Islamic Center of Wheaton as well as Dar Al Taqwa in Maryland) are putting together Eid drive-thru car parades. I’ve heard of different communities, whether officially sponsored by the masjid or just put together by groups of individuals, having a drive-in Eid salah, in which families pray in their cars in a rented drive-in theater or parking lot (Champaign, Illinois and a community in Maryland). I’m  definitely impressed with that last option, and I’m waiting to hear about more creative ways to get together and worship and celebrate.

So, what am I doing for Eid (weekend) this year? All the must’s, inshaAllah, including getting extra dolled up and making donuts from biscuit dough. A “game night” (virtual party) with alumni from my MSA. A gift exchange party with my cousins as well as another gift exchange party with classmates from my Arabic program (we’ll send unboxing videos out instead of meeting at the same time.) Check out a local college campus we’ve been dying to drive around. Binge a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender newly released on Netflix and do some online Memorial Day sale shopping. Le’s put a tentative on all of those, haha.

At the end of the day, Eid al Fitr is about acknowledging the month of worship we engaged in during Ramadan and spending quality time with loved ones. It doesn’t really matter what that quality time looks like–as long as it is intentional, this Eid will be special no matter what, inshaAllah. Who knows, this might be one of the best, most memorable holidays ever!

Eid Mubarak!

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#Society

COVID-19: A Muslim Perspective on Incarceration and Emancipation During A Public Health Crisis

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The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought new challenges to society that demand solutions.  One such dilemma that has emerged is the spread of the novel coronavirus amongst prison populations and staff.

In Maryland, for example, there are over 200 coronavirus cases reported in the Maryland Prison system.  In New York, according to the Wall Street Journal, more than 800 city correction employees have tested positive for Covid-19, and eight have died.  Also, 1,200 inmates have tested positive and there have been at least 10 deaths from COVID-19.

Alarming reports such as these across the nation have sparked a response by the government to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the prison population and among correctional employees.

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In Washington, for example, the governor has commuted approximately 300 sentences, and over 40 prisoners have received work release furloughs.  Around the country, many low-level and non-violent offenders have been released.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, around 300 prisoners have been released in Orange County, Florida. Over 100 inmates have been released from prisons in Nevada and Alabama; 531 people have been released in Philadelphia, PA, and 1,000 prisoners are slated to be released from New Jersey prisons. Similar efforts underway in most states across the country.

In Maryland, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has been at the forefront of the effort to reduce the prison population at-risk for coronavirus, and on Sunday, April 19th, 2020, Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order granting early release to hundreds of inmates to reduce the spread of the disease.

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The ripple effect of such efforts are having an impact globally. According to reports, Poland has announced plans to release up to 12,000 convicts, and Iran has already released close to 80,000 prisoners.

UN experts have urged action, including Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stated,

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so.  The consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic.”

What should inform the Muslim community’s position?

This Ramadan, as we seek to uphold these principles in our daily activities, Muslims cannot neglect prisoners’ rights.Click To Tweet

Following in the example of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the noble qualities of justice, mercy and compassion must be factored into the equation.

He said: “The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.” (Tirmidhi 1924).

According to a different hadith, or recorded narration of Prophetic sayings, he said: “Allah does not show mercy to those who do not show mercy to people.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

As Imam Omar Suleiman, founder of Yaqeen Institute, stated in part on the Poor People’s Campaign Appeal on Twitter on April 20, 2020:

“Ramadan is a time of fasting and sacrifice to clarify what is necessary and just. It is right and just that protections are enacted for people in mental health facilities, prisons and juvenile detention centers, especially supplies, personnel, testing and treatment. This includes the release of all at risk populations and non-violent offenders and detainees. There are 2.3 million incarcerated people and over 52,000 people in detention centers.”

Conditions in most prisons today clearly create an unsafe environment with regards to the elevated risk of infection with the novel coronavirus.  Releasing low-level, non-violent offenders who are most at risk is an act of Prophetic mercy.

As stated in the Holy Quran: if anyone saves one life, it’s as if they had saved all of mankind. (Surah Ma’idah 5:32).  Saving one non-violent offender from the contagion of Covid-19 in prison may not seem significant in the grand scheme of things, but that act of mercy and compassion reverberates and impacts on greater society.   

In Islamic law, or shariah, maqasid (aims or purposes) and maslaha (welfare or public interest) are two doctrines that inform rulings by jurists.

Maslahah “consist of the five essential values (al-daruriyyat al-khamsah) namely religion, life, intellect, lineage and property.  In this case, it serves the public interest to attempt to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus, thereby furthering preservation of life.

Our country’s broken criminal justice system is in desperate need of restorative measures. Prison is not a place where a civilized society can stow away prisoners, discard the key, and forget about them. Click To Tweet

Prisoners are entitled to basic human rights. To this effect, it is documented that as Caliph, the beloved cousin of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Ali ibn Abi Talib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), used to inspect the prisons, meet the prisoners in them and inquire about their circumstances.

The urgency of the principles of mercy and preservation of life need to be a priority for those entrusted with the authority to make a difference in the lives of the many low-level, non-violent offenders that find themselves caught in the sinuous vice grip of the penal system.

This Ramadan, as we seek to uphold these principles in our daily activities, Muslims cannot neglect prisoners’ rights.

We must make a difference where we can.

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#Islam

Cultivating Spirituality in a COVID-19 Ramadan

“One of the seven given shade on the Day of Judgment is the man who remembered Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in private and so his eyes shed tears” [Sahih Bukhari]

Ramadan has arrived, and this year, along with a lot of uncertainty for many of us. The Family & Youth Institute (FYI) conducted a survey to better understand the spiritual and community needs of Muslim Americans during this Ramadan. Based on these findings, the primary concerns of American Muslims were found to center around the spiritual growth and connection we associate so much with the community/masjid.

Many of us will miss the social gatherings at iftar time. Men and women who regularly pray at the masjid in congregation will now pray in their homes, alone, or with their families. Youth who find their spiritual high at youth iftars and qiyams with their mentors must find another way to meet this need. Revert Muslims who may not have Muslim families to celebrate with, and as a result rely on the greater Muslim community to experience Ramadan, will need another way to fulfill the feeling of togetherness and seeking knowledge.

We need to recognize that we can take steps to reduce our anxiety and take control of this new Ramadan so that we can enjoy and benefit from it! The tips we’ve outlined below can be found in much greater detail in The Family and Youth Institute’s (The FYI) Covid-19 Ramadan Toolkit!

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The central place of spiritual connection and growth has shifted from the masjid back to the home. So how can we motivate ourselves to feel the spiritual high of Ramadan from our homes? Here are some ways to make the best of our Ramadan that we can benefit from:

 

Know that the masjid misses us as much as we miss it.

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It is missing Quranic recitation, people giving sadaqah, the barakah of people worshipping Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and more. For more on this topic, check out this webinar by The FYI’s Community Educator, Duaa Haggag, about how to keep the masjid alive in our hearts during this month.

Bring the Ramadan feel to your home. 

Now, more than ever, is a time to create a Ramadan home environment that appeals to all of our senses. Many of us do this already if we have children, but now is the time to also do this for ourselves, as adults. This can be done by putting up Islamic visuals (books, decorations), light traditional fragrances you associate with Ramadan, playing your favorite nasheeds, eating traditional foods for Iftar, and so on. These smells, sounds, tastes, and sights will reactivate the feeling you associate with Ramadan, even when you can’t be connected with your community.

Create a spiritual or masjid atmosphere within your home by trying some of the following: 

  • Make a space in your home for yourself where you will pray, read Quran, make du’a, and/or reflect. Have a Quran, dhikr beads, du’a journal/book, and prayer rug easily available for use. Take pictures of your spaces and share them with your friends to encourage each other
  • Mimic the masjid feel by ensuring that the adhan can be heard aloud in the house at all five times of the day
  • If you typically go to the masjid to pray the obligatory prayers, continue to pray at the time of congregation according to your local masjid’s congregation schedule. Lead your family in prayer at these specific times. This encourages you and your family to pray on time while feeling connected to your masjid. If you long to hear the Quran being recited, set that up in your space
  • If you have children, family togetherness will be even more important during this time. Check out the Family Bonding section of The FYI’s Covid-19 Ramadan Toolkit for many more practical tips and strategies

Create a special routine for Jumu’ah within the home.

Take the time to research the sunnah practices of Rasulullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and find creative ways to do them. Here are some other things to try:

  • Use this as an opportunity to learn the etiquettes of and practice giving khutbahs
  • Have a post-Jumu’ah halaqa or listen to one of the many online lectures being shared to maintain the connection
  • While you may not be able to physically go to the masjid for Jumu’ah, you CAN complete the other sunnahs that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) practiced
  • After Jumu’ah is a time when many of us would meet up and catch up with our family and friends. Host a post-Jumu’ah virtual session and share with your family and friends so you can still catch up and meet with them after Jumu’ah
  • Remind yourselves of the blessings and rewards Jumu’ah brings, even if it can’t be done as a community

Revive the Sunnah of praying Taraweeh in the home.

Learn about how praying taraweeh at home was how our beloved Rasulullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and Sahabis prayed it. Remind yourself that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is still waiting to reward you and listen to your supplications; that hasn’t changed. Set up virtual connections with friends or family during taraweeh time. You may not be able to pray together but this will help you connect to the same feeling you had in past Ramadans. Re-frame how we feel about a taraweeh at home. Consider our situation as an invitation to spend alone time (khalwa) with Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Structure your Day

Now that we are in quarantine, it’s the perfect opportunity to slow down and focus on making the best of the month of Ramadan. Making a schedule allows you to keep a consistent routine while ensuring that your spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and social needs are all being met each day. There will be days when it is hard to follow the schedule, so be gentle with yourself and allow those days to happen.

  • Start your day with a morning virtual group that recites morning du’a and surahs
  • Designate times to recite your favorite dhikr, du’a, and recitation of the Quran
  • Start a gratitude journal writing at least 3 things you are grateful for each day.  Then when supplicating to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), thank Him for these blessings
  • Plan to listen to a weekly lecture/talk that is live, either with organizations or with your local mosque. Set it up on your TV for the whole family to watch together
  • Celebrate iftar preparation; make it a family affair! Challenge the children to set the table based on different themes and take pictures of it
  • Pick the days you will call a family member, neighbor, or elderly person during the week.
  • Make sure to set time for physical activity: Take a walk outside with the family or let your kids pick a sport to play with you after work hours are over
  • If you have children, refer to the Family Bonding section of The FYI’s Covid-19 Ramadan Toolkit to create a schedule with them

Minimize technology

Disengage with technology in order to engage with Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

  • Be intentional with how you are using technology and how much you are using it; use it to connect with others, not just to scroll through feeds
  • Set and enforce a Ramadan Family Media contract
  • Monitoring how much we use technology is just as important as monitoring our children’s usage. Refer to The FYI’s Digital Parenting Toolkit for much more resources on properly engaging with media

Quran

We know the month of Ramadan is the month of Quran; though how can we live this during the times we are facing now? Prophethood began when the first revelation came to our beloved Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) when he was in a state of khalwa, or isolation. While we will miss listening to the Quran being recited by the qari every night in taraweeh, we can still keep the Quran wet on our tongues and ears. Try these strategies:

  • Make time for reading and reflecting on the meaning of the Quran– set SMART goals
  • If you have young children and find it challenging to find the time to sit and read the Quran, consider playing it while preparing iftar or taking care of the kids
  • Have a Quran competition within your family or with friends to see who can read the most pages by the end of the month
  • Engage children with the Quran by teaching them stories of the Prophets, reading Surat ul-Qadr, or Al-Alaq
  • Join or start a Quran recitation group where the Quran is being recited
  • Gather some friends that keep you accountable for your Quran goal.  Do a daily check in on a group text when you meet your goal

Du’a

During this unpredictable time, the power of du’a can bring hope by supplicating to our Creator.  It is also a chance for healing and developing good habits. This Ramadan, be intentional about the du’a you choose to recite considering your current circumstances.

  • Make a du’a journal with a list of important du’as to recite during Ramadan. Choose from the common du’as recited by the previous prophets, including Prophet Muhammed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and your personalized du’a
  • Choose specific times of the day that you will read these du’a such as during tahajjud, right before iftar, or after a salah
  • Involve your children by asking them to make a list of the important people in their lives they want to pray for and share the list with each other. This not only encourages you to be reflective of your physical and emotional needs, but also reminds us of the One who can meet those needs.
  • Start a text group where each person types in one du’a per day on the group and everyone makes the same du’a for each other

It is an understatement that this Ramadan will be an entirely new experience for the Ummah.  While we will miss the spiritual traditions we enjoy every Ramadan, this year is an opportunity to cultivate new traditions.  The opportunities to catch the blessings of Ramadan are not lost; it just looks different this year. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is so Merciful that he will accept our worship for Him wherever we are.  Ask yourself what spiritual acts draw you closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and structure it in your day whether you are working inside or outside of the home.

For much more information on other ways to take advantage of a Covid-19 Ramadan, be sure to explore The FYI’s COVID-19 Ramadan Toolkit

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