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9 Steps To Re-opening Your Masjid Safely

When COVID-19 hit, Muslim communities across the world were faced with some of the most painful decisions that we’ve had to make – to close our mosques down. Worldwide, from Malaysia to Montreal, mosques closed their doors and the Muslim community felt bereft at the time when we needed spiritual solace more than ever. 
 
Having got through this difficult period and then following that with Ramadan at home and Eid under lockdown, the Muslim community across the world has a lot to be proud of.
 
However, we now face one of the most difficult tasks ahead of us. How do you reopen the masajid while the pandemic is still out there? How do you do so in a way that protects the public, prioritises safety, shields the committee from liability and is sustainable?
 
There are dozens of guides produced by many organisations and countries available for reference. Many are excellent, mashaAllah. 
 
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has been looking at all the guides and collated the best bits of them along with their partners in the Muslim Council of Wales (MCW), Muslim Council of Scotland (MCS) and the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) to develop this simple 9 step guide on how to do so in a systematic way. Although made for the UK community, it is adaptable to most other countries.
 
It is important to note that each community, each masjid and each phase of this pandemic is different, therefore each step needs to be implemented according to the local context and after consultation with local scholars and specialists.

STEP 1: Plan When and How

1.1 Appoint a COVID safety officer & team – This is absolutely crucial as clear leadership and responsibility is key to ensuring the other steps work.

1.2 Get legal advice Identify a local lawyer who will give good legal advice if and when needed.

1.3 Get medical advice Most mosques will have at least one Muslim healthcare professional as a member of the congregation who they can refer to for medical advice.

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1.4 Get insurance advice – Speaking to your insurance company beforehand is best practice and can identify steps that they want you to take to keep your insurance valid. 

1.5 Have Mosque Covid-19 policies It is best practice to draw up policies. You can use the downloadable guides.

1.6 Undertake Risk AssessmentThis is a walk through the mosque and identifying + categorising all potential risks and then identifying ways to mitigate that risk. Download an editable version here.

1.7 Make a final decision when to open After all the above steps, a formal decision needs to be taken when to open. Do not feel rushed or pushed by those who want to go faster or what other Mosques are doing. Each mosque is different. Go at the pace that the mosque committee/board and community is ready for.

1.8 Decide how and what to open – When you decide to open, decide which aspects are going to restart and which will wait till later. Will you do Jummah only or will you do only certain prayers? It is very much up to your risk assessment and your risk appetite.  

STEP 2: Plan The Space

2.1 Plan outdoors v.s. indoors – Praying outdoors is an ideal way to maximise capacity in an environment that is safer than being indoors. However, finding a suitable space that is easily available is the real challenge.

2.2 Calculate maximum safe capacity – Maintaining 2 metre (6 feet) distance between worshippers reduces risk to less than 3% compared to nearly 15% at 1 metre. What this means is that it is ideal to not just leave the space in front and either side of a worshipper empty, but also the diagonal too. You can download here.

2.3 Mark prayer spaces clearly – If you want to improve compliance with social distancing, put markings down to make it easy for the people.

2.4 Close non-essential spaces – Reduce the chance that people will hang out in meeting rooms or other communal spaces. Put up a closed sign.

2.5 Close toilets/wudhu areas – Toilets and wudhu areas are more likely to transmit infection since they involve bodily fluids in their use. A thorough clean after each use (i.e. each wudhu/ toilet use) is not practical. You can leave one toilet open for emergencies.

2.6 Ensure good ventilation – Open the windows and let the air flow as this is shown to reduce the risk of transmission in many cases.

2.7 Plan entrances & exits – Having set entrances and exits enables the smooth flow of people in and out of the building. If you assign them in advance, this will make life easier.

2.8 Plan the cleaning – There are many different types of cleaning that can be undertaken from a deep clean that may be needed after a confirmed infection in the mosque to a general surface clean between each prayer. Plan who and how this will be done to make sure the masjid is adequately cleaned.

STEP 3: Plan The Equipment 

3.1 Plan equipment for the building – Print signage (click here to download), getting marking tape and consider other equipment like closed-lid pedal trash cans.

3.2 Plan public health information – Print posters giving advice on the new rules of the mosque and public health information. Can be given out as flyers or social media messages.

3.3 Plan for fundraising – A contactless card machine or a sign with the online link on which to donate to the Mosque would be ideal compared to collecting cash and coins. Check out supportourmosques.com

3.4 Plan for PPE – You’ll need to get some PPE for staff, but some Mosques may want to have a store of some available in case an attendee forgets to bring their own. Hand sanitisers would also be useful.

3.5 Plan for cleaning products – Consider what you need to do a basic or surface clean. For a deep clean, you may want to consider hiring professionals.

3.6 Plan for worshippers equipment – Educate worshippers on what they need to bring in order to get into the mosque (mainly their own prayer mat and a covering for their face, but some Mosques may request a reusable bag for their shoes etc…) 

3.7 Consider medium/ long term building improvements – Some mosques may use this as an opportunity to make improvements to their building such as getting sensor taps in the toilets / Wudhu area or setting up automatic doors.

3.8 Plan for online service delivery – Many of the mosques functions will still continue online especially for those who should not be coming to the Mosque. Consider getting the equipment needed to deliver a quality online service e.g. Wi-Fi router, wireless microphone, tripod etc…

STEP 4: Plan the Space for Safety Officers and Volunteers

4.1 Train COVID safety officer & volunteers – The COVID safety officers and their teams need to know how to do their role and deal with any potential emergencies. 

4.2 Set rota for COVID safety officers – It is unreasonable for one person to be on-call all day, every day. Having a rota means that at least one safety officer is on site for each prayer.

4.3 Consider volunteers for crowd control – If possible, some volunteers should deal with the managing the crowds building up outside the mosque before and after each prayer. Even one marshal could make a big difference. 

4.4 Train on COVID screening – Each volunteer needs to know what they need to be looking out for when admitting people into the building. Please see attached document by clicking here.

4.5 Train on educating the community – Explain to volunteers and mosque staff on how to educate the community on the new systems in place. Lack of compliance is often not a result of rebellion, but miscommunication. Therefore ensure your team are on the same page and not making their own versions of justifications for actions.

4.6 Train on PPE – Putting on and taking off PPE requires a set process. Just like washing hands to prevent COVID isn’t a simple 2 second job, neither is removing PPE.

4.7 Train on queue management – Managing a queue is important and requires a combination of being firm and polite that ensures that people follow the rules but don’t feel patronised.  

4.8 Train on cleaning – For the surface and simple cleaning, it would be ideal to explain exactly what needs cleaning and how.

STEP 5: Prepare The Community

5.1 Educate on who should come to the mosque – This is absolutely vital. If the community don’t know this information and accept it, then everything else will be an uphill struggle. Download it, read it and talk about it. Yes, it will be tough for those who should be praying at home, but even if they want to take the risk – it is not their choice to make for others. Please click here to download.

5.2 Educate on bring your own prayer mat No prayer mat, no prayer. Carpets are known to be a fomite which can have a higher rate of transmission than normal surfaces.

5.3 Educate on bring your own Quran – Now that there are hundreds of Quran Apps on mobiles, this should be even easier.

5.4 Educate on bring your own tasbeeh/ misbaha – Again, most people have their own or better yet, use your own fingers.

5.5 Educate on face covering – Some will say this is not necessary, but there is growing evidence that it is protective especially at close quarters and especially in closed buildings. It is simple and easy to do so we would highly recommend it.

5.6 Educate on performing wudhu at home – Avoid using Wudhu facilities at the Mosque and that way prevent the spread of the infection.

5.7 Educate the community – All the above points need to be understood to be accepted and then followed. Have a plan for how you will do this. Click here for a template plan.

STEP 6: Plan The Pre-prayer

6.1 Consider pre-booking system – Having a pre-booking system for each prayer would be ideal. Some have thought about tech solutions to this, but most will struggle with this.

6.2 Plan the queues – Have (temporary) markings outside the mosque to enable socially distanced queues. This is being done outside most stores.

6.3 Plan entrances and exits – Clear separate entrances and exits are ideal. This would reduce the risk of choke points and hence transmission. Also, having entrances and exits kept open with a door stop is ideal to prevent the need for everyone to use the door handle.

6.4 Consider basic screening – It is useful having a basic screening system at the entrance to filter out those who did not know that they should not be coming to the mosque or refuse to comply with the advice. This does not need to be anything formal and should not take more than a few seconds to prevent crowding. You can download a guide to it here.

6.5 Plan a one-way system – A one way system of movement through the mosque is ideal for preventing crowding or chokepoints. 

6.6 Plan on wudhu/ toilet area – Keep these areas closed and identify only one toilet to be used in case of emergency.

STEP 7: Plan For Prayers

7.1 Limit opening times – There is evidence that increased time in a closed space = potentially more exposure to the virus. Keeping opening times short discourages lingering.

7.2 Remind about sunnah at home – After the prayer, people should not attempt to sneak in a sunnah. They should go home and pray in a more safe environment.

7.3 Ensure adequate spacing – Adequate spacing means a gap in all directions and not just next to the person praying. The attached graphic gives some ideas on how to achieve this.

7.4 Leave empty row – Ideally an empty row will allow for adequate social distancing. Yes, this reduces the number of people who can fit in the prayer hall but that risk has to be weighed against the benefit of not spreading the infection in your community.

7.5 Keep khutbas and prayer short – There is a time and place for reading long surahs and delivering even longer khutbas. The mosque during a pandemic is not it.  

7.6 Plan for multiple congregations – Some mosques will attempt to have multiple congregations in order to overcome the capacity challenge. This is understandable, but give yourself time to vacate the previous congregation and undertake a swift surface clean between each.

STEP 8: Plan The Post Prayer

8.1 No handshakes or socialising – The temptation will be real especially as we may not have seen each other in a while. Avoid it and do the Ertugrul hand on heart thing. I believe they call it the EyVallah.

8.2 Keep reminder/lectures online – After prayers is usually a chance to do a short reminder. Try keep these online please to avoid lingering in the prayer hall.

8.3 Ask for donations on supportourmosques.com Many mosques are struggling with the financial hit of COVID-19. The #SupportOurMosques campaign was developed specifically to help Mosques in Britain fundraise effectively and in a united way with others. Having raised more than £400,000 something is going right so if your mosque isn’t part of it – what in the world are you waiting for?

8.4 Lock mosque between prayers – To discourage any rogue behaviour or jamaats. 

8.5 Clear disposed PPE – These need to be collected in a bin near the exit and then disposed of in the proper manner.

8.6 Clean area after each prayer – As discussed previously, cleaning post each prayer should be a systematic and well organised affair.

STEP 9: Plan For Problems

9.1 Plan for if someone tests COVID +ve – Someone in the Mosque could still test COVID positive. Having a plan in place makes the whole thing a little less stressful. Download here.

9.2 Plan for complaints – It is guaranteed that some people will think the mosque is doing too much, too little or just plain angry that they were advised to pray at home just because they are 75 years old and have more co-morbidities than the average medical text book. Having a system for dealing with complaints that is open and transparent will save you a lot of headache.

9.3 Plan for keeping authorities in the loop – Tell the local authorities including the city, police and community associations about your plans. This way they could give advice on how to adjust and they feel in the loop. They are more likely to be helpful if any issues develop.

9.4 Plan for contact tracing – If someone who prayed at the mosque was later found to be COVID +ve, then it would be ideal if there was a way to identify who was in the congregation with them so that they could be informed. This is complicated because it involves taking down personal details when people enter the mosque which has privacy, ethical and data protection implications. But at least be transparent and inform people about the information you are privy. This can save lives.

9.5 Plan for supporting those who cannot come to the mosque – For the significant chunk of the population that ideally should not be coming to the mosque, the heartache is real. It is important that we have a good plan in place to make up for the mosque sized hole in their lives through the programmes, online lectures and quizzes that we saw in the past months. Just because the Mosques are partially open, doesn’t mean our online game should be shut down.

9.6 Plan for other services – Mosques are not just places of prayer. They are places for Janazah, for marriages, for teaching Quran, for community gatherings and so much more. Having a plan for what happens with these other services would be prudent.

9.7 Plan for being fair – There are many fiqh reasons about who should be prioritised when space is limited. However, we would urge that mosques should take measures to ensure they do not reopen in a way that disadvantages women, the disabled or other segment of societies. This may create issues that are not just societal, but create divisions within society at a time that we need to avoid it like the plague. Pun intended.

9.8 Re-assess and review – Situations change quickly during a pandemic and a 2nd wave can materialise in a matter of days. Therefore, it is very important that the situation is reassessed and reviewed on a set basis to ensure that it continues to be safe.

This may seem very extensive, but hopefully it makes it easier for all those involved in reopening mosques. As mentioned earlier and throughout the document, this is generic advice and needs to be implemented according to the local context and based on advice from local authorities and medical experts. Please share any thoughts you have in the comments. May Allah help us return to the Mosques in health, happiness and unity and may He lift this pandemic from us.

To get a downloadable copy of the FULL guide, please click here:

bit.ly/MosqueReopening

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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

1 Comment

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    Umm Saleem

    June 15, 2020 at 4:11 AM

    Jazakallah Khair for this article! It is extremely detailed and contains so much beneficial information. May Allah continue to protect us all. Ameen

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#Islam

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

The Prophet helped the Arabs overcome their asabiya (tribalism) and enter a new defining bond of Islam. The criterion for right and wrong was no longer clan membership, but rooted in the religion of Islam. Muslims were instructed to defend the truth, command good, and forbid evil regardless of tribal affiliation. Asabiya does not just relate to kin-based tribes.  One of the resurging traces of jahilya affecting our discourse is ideological tribalism. In ideological tribalism, we hold double standards between our tribe and other tribes, and overlook fallacies in our group that we would not for other groups. Just as we protect an idea that represents our identity, when a personality reflects our group identity, there is a personal reason to defend the personality. It then becomes instinctual then to double-down in discussions even when wrong to show group strength, which at this point is a survival mechanism and not a true dialectic. Abandoning a quest for truth and succumbing to an in-group vs. out-group dichotomy leaves us to defend falsehood and dislike truth. Refusing to accept truth is one way the Prophet described arrogance. 

Group belonging

One of the main drivers of identity scholarship is group belonging. When we focus on defending our group rather than principles which extend beyond group delineations we prove false our claims of wanting the truth.  The burden of moral responsibility is not offset by finding someone to follow [1]. Charismatic leaders have an ability to tap into latent desires of individuals and awaken in them the desire to be part of something greater than themselves. Their own identities are often validated by following the charismatic figure, and they then work hard to preserve the group as they would to preserve their own selves.

According to Ann Ruth Willner, charismatic authority “derives from the capacity of a particular person to arouse and maintain belief in himself or herself as the source of legitimacy. Willner says that the charismatic leadership relationship has four characteristics:

  1. The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman.
  2. The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements.
  3. The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action.
  4. The followers give the leader unqualified emotional commitment.
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Charismatic leadership satisfies our desire to be part of something bigger, and paradoxically, to hand all power over to someone else can make us feel more powerful because we think that person is the best version of ourselves. We feel that we have gained ‘agency by proxy.’ We have also dumped all responsibility for decisions onto the leader- what Erich Fromm, the scholar of Nazism, called an ‘escape from freedom.’ When we are in a charismatic leadership relationship, our sense of self-worth gets (attaches) attached to the identity of the leader, so that we take personally any criticism of that leader, and have as much difficulty admitting flaws or errors on the leader’s parts as we do on our own. Because we see the leader as us, and we see us as good, we simply can’t believe that he or she might do bad things” (59) [2].

Charismatic leadership is emotional and works on desires. This type of leadership has no relation to truth. It exists and persists due to feelings, hence contradictions, double-standards, and outright hypocrisy aren’t issues for those in the relationship. Even when the leader confidently behaves irresponsibly, followers do not think less of him. What is inconsistent and irresponsible for an out-group observer is charming to members of the in-group. As Miller points out: 

Followers don’t expect charismatic leaders to be responsible for what they say, nor to behave responsibly; their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group (60).

Such loyalty is not specific for charismatic leaders, The Minimal Group Paradigm shows that we have more empathy for our in-group even if that in-group is arbitrarily assigned, and we will act biased in their favor against an arbitrarily assigned out-group. This is a tendency against which we must actively fight to maintain clarity in thinking and fair standards in discussions. When group loyalty is prized there is a fear of opposing the group, which obliterates any chance of scholarly discourse. Questioning a position becomes akin to questioning authority and leaves the questioner ostracized and out-casted. When the out-group is pejoratively labeled, there is an additional fear of thinking like or ending up in that group. 

Identity scholarship

Rather than looking at the argument constructed and judging whether or not it is sound, identity scholarship approves or dismisses arguments based on the person making them. Arguments are then validated by personalities and not standards of scholarship.  This is a dangerous shift from reasoning and evidence to personalities. 

Identity scholarship leverages the need to belong and centers the personality over the argument. However, focusing on the strength of arguments and not the personality is especially important given that the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is applied to vocationally trained Muslims, seminal graduates, preachers, or to those who display a scholarly caliber in Islam alike. This is a sufficient crisis. The term is heavily equivocated, and should never serve to stand in place of standards of scholarship in discourse. 

Ambiguity in the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is exploited by groups to strengthen their influence. Not always pernicious, this is the natural progression of proselytizing via group identity. An in-group who will dismiss dissenting voices for not having studied long enough, not obtaining ijazas, will promote voices of similar or less educated Muslims when those voices are in their ‘in-group.’ Titles like ‘ustadh’ and ‘ustadha’ are quickly conferred upon those who are volunteers or proponents of the ‘in-group’ even with minimal study. Advocating for the correct paradigm is rewarded more than a knowledge based approach to issues. Giving titles to those with social capital in your in-group is also an effective way for brand expansion. For example, loosely affiliated students with avenues into the growing Muslim mental health field are often referred to as ‘ustadha.’  Also, traditionalists will often promote in-group religious figures engaging in no-risk activism like condemning already popularly condemned figures as exemplary ‘scholars and activists’ who should be followed by other activists.  

If a person has been doing this long enough they become ‘shaykh,’ and then eventually a ‘senior scholar’ with assumed wisdom and spiritual insight, worthy of deference. I am well acquainted with the unfortunate irony in traditional circles where those who push a manhaj of studying at the feet of scholars have by and large not done so beyond attending general lectures by visiting scholars.  Many do not even know Arabic, but their zeal and tenure of feel good lectures in a community primarily interested in nasheeds and tea coupled with their promoting the right figures secure for them a scholarly status by generations who venerate the theory of studying at the feet of scholars. 

Thus authority and titles are conferred by virtue of in-group allegiance. 

Slip into demagoguery

When we accept an in-group and out-group dichotomy and don’t argue fairly, we lay the foundation for demagogic discourse. As Patricia Mill-Roberts writes “If people decide to see things as a zero-sum game- the more they succeed, the more we lose, and we should rage about any call made against us, and cheer any call made against them- then democracy loses” (13). The best way to avoid this is by maintaining fair discussions and letting go of double standards. Arguments appealing to in-group or out-group positions rather than being based in fact should not be accepted regardless of which group they are coming from. Several tactics used in these types of arguments are described below. 

Creating a strawman

Falsely representing the out-group is a common tactic in demagogic discourse. One example is portraying out-group critics as only critics. The critic is frozen in time as someone who has accomplished nothing, helped no one, and as only one who sees the faults in others. The in-group then goes on to list what they have accomplished -‘albeit with some faults’- to not seem as braggarts, but insists that those faults are magnified by the arm-chair critics. 

Another example is labeling Muslims more concerned with academic preservation and development as Muslims in ivory towers. This suggests knowledge is only relevant if immediately actionable and discounts the role of theoretical knowledge in both present and future action as well as an intrinsic end.  

Even when it comes to the epitome of practical action, Allah tells the Muslims to not all go out in battle, but to have groups remain behind to study.

Condescending discrediting

One way demagoguery characterizes the out-group is by a “dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness…”(66).  Just as Rudy Giuliani dismissed those protesting Trump’s 2016 win as “professional protestors” with nothing else to do in life, so do we dismiss dissenting voices. 

Terms like ‘keyboard warrior’ should be dropped from the vernacular of anyone who uses the internet for Islamic education. If the internet is good enough for theatrical Ramadan reminders and choreographed Islamic reflections, it should also be good enough for dissent and valid critiques.[3] We have to embrace the fact that the internet is not a pretend medium; social media posts are used in newsfeeds, are reacted to on the mimbar, and even prompt live events. If we dismiss valid criticisms made online as the act of ‘keyboard warriors’ we should also call those giving dawah online ‘studio daa’is.’  

Discrediting due to inexperience

Experience is an important element in answering questions and dealing with different scenarios, and, should rightly be considered when one is looking for a teacher, etc. However, frequently, the standards for what constitutes experience are used inconsistently. The same individuals who refer to young teachers as ‘shaykh’ or ‘mufti’ while in their in-group, dismiss ‘shaykhs’ and ‘muftis’ in the out-group of similar age and experience, arguing that a person can’t be a ‘real’ mufti because studying 7 years doesn’t make anyone a scholar. Graduating from a seminary or Islamic university will be the standard for members of an in-group to be called scholars, but the out-group will be ‘immature graduates’ who have not learned wisdom.  Wisdom itself will be defined as the avoidance of actions which challenge the in-group. Likewise an activist saying the right thing and echoing in-group talking points will be called ‘ustadh,’ but if from the ‘out-group’ dismissed as a Godless- activist’ that just hates hierarchy. 

Victimization and Victimology

Demagoguery thrives on the in-group being victimized by the out-group. It is common for religious figures to dismiss valid criticism as nothing but hate, envy, or ignorance [4]. When criticized by activists, it is common to label them as ‘anti-clerical’ activists who only have an issue with Islamic leaders because they are neo-Marxists. 

‘Neo-Marxist’ is used as a catch-all term to discredit those who disagree with the positions of some religious leaders to insinuate the disagreements are rooted in hate for hierarchy or authority thus being illegitimate. Even conservative and practicing Muslims are labeled as ‘leftists’ and ‘Godless activists’ for simple critiques. In Sufi groups, disagreeing with leadership is often said to be the result of being spiritually veiled, or the work of ‘dark forces’ and ‘shayateen’ dividing us. If we can agree that black-magic and evil-eye are real but should not be the first culprit in a failing marriage, let’s also look for practical failures when religious organizations break down before we start blaming the ‘shayateen.’  

On one hand the in-group claims they are victims, on the other they blame the out-group for having a victim mentality.  This may seem like an obvious contradiction, but as Miller explains,  

If condemnation of out-group behavior is performed by a very likeable persona, then onlookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior she or he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values he or she claims to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that ‘good people- that is, people who say the right things- don’t do ‘bad’ things) (56) 

Another tactic is using terms like ‘victomology’ to belittle legitimate grievances of being wronged and falsely representing those grievances as an attitude of being a victim in life.

Being oppressed (mazlum) does not require living a tough life, being a victim in life, or being part of an oppressed group. We are told by the Prophet that delaying a payment owed while being capable of paying is oppression (Muslim). When our God given rights are transgressed upon, we are mazlum in that situation. It is not uncommon however to see Muslims want to claim their rights and express they have been wronged to be dismissed as those who love to be victims. Ironically, this is even done by organizations that describe themselves with the leftist concept of ‘safe spaces.’  

Disregarding Nuance

“Demagoguery is comfortable because it says the world is very simple, and made up of good people (us) and bad people (them)” (24). 

We must understand that if someone does not see an issue as black or white, it’s not because they are obviously corrupt, willfully ignorant, or stupid.  The word nuance itself triggers cynicism and is treated as an excuse to employ mental gymnastics to deny what is ‘obvious.’  The fact of the matter is when it comes to khilafi issues there is generally a vast scope of acceptable actions, and when it comes personal ijtihaadi matters for policy there is often no clear-cut best answer. Thus in such matters the objective is to come to a best resolution or course of action. In short, we should all take appropriate measures in our decisions to ensure the benefit outweighs the harm. Certain positions are cautioned against due to the likelihood of harm to one’s religion, but that likelihood may not serve as evidence that one has harmed his religion. As the great scholar Muhammad Awama relates in Ma’laam Irshadiya, the way of the scholars is to leave people in what they are following as long as it is correct and has a valid legal perspective [5]

Scholarly discourse

Advice from recognized experts in a field carries weight, but it should not be conflated with a scholarly argument. A common mistake is to confer authority upon an opinion outside the area of one’s authority. Scholarly works must prove themselves to be scholarly as stand-alone works. Even if a great scholar has published many scholarly works, his advice should be taken as advice. For example, Imam al-Ghazali was a great scholar, but Dear Beloved Son is not a scholarly work.  We have a malfoozaat (wisdom-sharing) tradition that is precious, but we must know where to place it in the hierarchy of Islamic knowledge. 

Islamic scholarly discourse should be evidence based, demonstrative of legal proficiency, and cater to Islamic concerns. Those engaging should share the evidence for what they say, the sources of the rulings they share, the difference between the reason for a ruling and the wisdom of a ruling [6], understand contextual fatwas,[7] and understand which rulings are based on urf and which rulings are intrinsic obligations or prohibitions. These are just some elements of Islamic scholarly discourse, and it cannot exist alongside identity scholarship. 

There should be private forums with prerequisites where scholarly discourse can take place. When these discussions move outside of their proper place other issues such as discussing weak or aberrant (shadh) fiqh opinions arise, which to an undiscriminating audience all will seem co-valid on the spectrum of differing opinions in sharia. Promoting aberrant positions caters to our cultural preferences of thinking outside the box and carries the façade of an intellectual approach to Islam. In Maharam al-Lisaan (Prohibitions of the Tongue) Muhammad Mawlud lists both mentioning the conflict between the Sahabah, and mentioning aberrant opinions as prohibitions.  This is not due to the utterance being sinful, but rather to the misconceptions it can lead to for the average Muslim if not properly addressed.  

There may be a need to dismiss open innovators and those spreading misguidance, because there is no end to the possibilities of innovation and it obfuscates what should be self-evident, and can be very difficult for even scholars to refute in ways that resonate with those affected by innovation. The double standard as previously mentioned is when lack of formal credentials is only a problem for out-groups. 

How to have productive discourse

Islamic historical discourse has its share of polemics. There are commentaries, fatwas and treatises which insult valid ijtihad and even refer to the entirety of a madhab with epithets. Some scholars were harsh and had a penchant for polemics. Transgressions into mockery and slander were not condoned, and belligerent attitudes were something scholars sought to check with reminders of adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquettes of disagreement). While the previously mentioned certainly existed and such an approach may serve to strengthen positions of the in-group to the in-group, it does not make for productive dialogue with the out-group.

Outside of scholarly discourse, when we debate policy and Islamic positions, we need to have sincere, fact based arguments with the goal of arriving at truth. Our ability to accept truth no matter who says it shows we have transcended in-group vs. out-group tribalism and have entered the realm of sincere discourse.  Overcoming in-group tribalism and following the truth, rather than blindly following our ‘fathers’ is a central message in the Quran. 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?  2:170 

Arguments on points should never be personal. We should train ourselves to evaluate arguments and understand that people we like can make mistakes, and people we dislike and generally disagree with may be right on certain matters. 

Don’t take cheap shots if you disagree with someone, such as pointing out a typo to insinuate incompetence. 

It’s important to leave double-standards, and to point them out when someone is employing them.  When one side is unfair or uses double standards, it encourages the opposition to act in kind, and the discussion devolves into a fight. When disagreeing with someone, never insult that person.  When a personality is attacked, the response will be defending the personality, and the entire discussion is derailed. 

Sharing a post, or article should not be seen as endorsing an individual or a post. Sometimes it’s a means of opening a discussion, other times to share beneficial points even if the entirety of what is shared is not beneficial. Furthermore, endorsing an individual in one area is not a blanket endorsement, and should never be taken as such.  The Hanafi tradition was able to benefit from legal fatwas while not accepting theology of Mu’tazilite scholars. Likewise, many of our best tafseers are from Mu’tazilite scholars. The widely studied and highly regarded Tafseer al-Baydawi is basically a reworked Mu’tazilite tafseer without the Mu’tazilite aqidah. Scholars have been able to ‘take the good and leave the harm.’ 

“I don’t think you could search America, sir, and find two men who agree on everything.” – Malcolm X

We need to uplift our intellectual level and drop disclaimers like “I don’t agree with everything in this article” or “I don’t agree with everything he said.”  It is only worth stating when you do agree with everything someone says or does.  The common disclaimers should be taken as givens and we shouldn’t capitulate to a cultural push of walking on egg-shells so no one accuses us of supporting the wrong person or idea. 

It is critical we operate under the assumption that sharing a panel with or working with an individual is not an endorsement of that individual. Likewise, working with an organization is not an endorsement of that organization. Such associations are attacked as potentially confusing to the average Muslim, but we must work towards establishing that such actions are not support. 

Here we see an ambivalent conceptualization of the ‘average Muslim’ as someone who both deserves transparency from religious scholars for their actions as well as one who is easily confused or misled by the actions of Muslim scholars. If we can accept both propositions, that a scholar’s actions are not proof, and that working with someone and sharing posts and platforms do not equate support for every particular view or stance of a person, we may set the foundation for being issue focused rather than personality focused. 

In conclusion, it is important we all hold ourselves to high standards of discourse and not support behavior or fallacies from our in-group that we would deride from an out-group. The groups themselves are inevitable and not a problem, but we have to work to overcome the natural ideological tribalism that accompanies group membership.  If we personally transcend in-group bias and reflect it in our discourse, we can overcome the pettiness and hypocrisy that stifles productive discussions. 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 16: The Best of You

Now that we have learnt about fruit out of season, let’s now talk about the best of you.

I want you all to think about your closest friends and how you treat them. 

Question: Would anyone like to share how they try to treat their closest friends?

That’s wonderful! You try to be thoughtful and considerate of their feelings. You bring snacks to share with them, you may buy or make them a gift.

Question: Now, I want you to close your eyes and think of the way you treat your family members. Is it the same?

Question: Why do you think that there is a difference between the way we treat our friends and the way we may treat our siblings or parents?

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Yes, we do spend a lot of time together. We see each other when we’re cranky or frustrated. Sometimes we want our own space to think, or we don’t want someone interfering with our things. Those are all valid reasons. But, do you know that it is more beloved to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that you treat your family members better than you even treat your friends?

It’s true! In a hadith, Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِهِ وَأَنَا خَيْرُكُمْ لِأَهْلِي وَإِذَا مَاتَ صَاحِبُكُمْ فَدَعُوهُ

“The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family.” 

Question: What are some ways we can be the best to our family members? I’m going to share with you a hadith that may help you get some ideas: 

وعن أبى أمامه الباهلى رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ “أنا زعيم ببيت في ربض الجنة لمن ترك المراء، وإن كان محقاً، وببيت في وسط الجنة لمن ترك الكذب، وإن كان مازحاً، وببيت في أعلى الجنة لمن حسن خلقه” ‏(‏حديث صحيح رواه أبو داود بإسناد صحيح‏).‏

“I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.”

If we work on these three things: less arguing, no lying, and good manners, alongside all of your other suggestions, we will be rewarded with Jannah, inshaAllah

Question: Do you think we can all work hard to be the best to our family members?

 

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Raised by Converts

Note to the reader:  Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?”  In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.”  Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.  

Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married.  Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam.  Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.  

Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen

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How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?

To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.  

Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old.  When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.  

“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”

Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.  

As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”

Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med.  “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”

 She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions.  When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”

For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence.  “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains.  “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her.  I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”

Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”

Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman.  “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”

Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970.  She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.

“She was the main parental source of knowledge for us, although we also attended Sunday school.”Click To Tweet

Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says.  “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.” 

“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”

As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.  

“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah.  “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”

“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa.  “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”

I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”

While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam.  She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.” 

Wisdom to Share

These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.  

Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.” 

She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”

Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,

“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.” 

I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”

When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.”  They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it. 

Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.  

*Names have been changed

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