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Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

Sharada Nizami, Guest Contributor

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Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

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Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully  

One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

The Centering Exercise 

Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

  • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
  • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
  • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
  • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
  • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

Say “Ameen!”

Divine Reminders

Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

Say “Ameen!” 

Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

Practical Strategies

When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

  • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
  • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
  • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
  • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
  • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
  • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
  • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

  • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
  • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
  • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
  • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
  • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

Divine Reminders

Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

Closing Du’a

Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

Say “Ameen!” 

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Sharada Nizami is in private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, & spiritual mentor, working with clients from the U.S. & abroad. She is also the Founder & CEO of Circling The Wagons®: Protecting Sanity & Humanity in the Digital Age® www.circlingthewagons.live

#Islam

Undisputed And Undefeated: 13 Ways Khabib Nurmagomedov Inspired Us To Win With Faith

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Many fans anxiously watched UFC 254 with bated breath as Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov went head-to-head with Justin “The human highlight reel” Gaethje. The latter had just come off a spectacular TKO win against a formidable and feared fighter in the form of Tony Ferguson, beating him over 5 nerve-wracking rounds by outstriking him with a combination damaging head shots and crippling low kicks.

We all knew what both would do – Khabib would go for the takedown, and Gaethje would try to keep the fight on the feet and opt for stand-up striking – which fighter’s strategy would prevail? Alhamdulillah, it was Khabib, in a mere 2 rounds.  We weren’t in the fight, but we are all nervous and supplicating, making du’a to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to give him another victory.

And so it was that after the win, he collapsed in the middle of the ring to cry, as this was his first fight after the loss of his father due to complications with Covid-19. He cried, and many a man cried with him, feeling his pain. Gaethje revived from his triangle choked slumber and consoled his former foe, telling Khabib his father was proud of him.

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We were all sure when “The Eagle” got on the mic, he would say he wanted to fight GSP, George St Pierre, and then retire 30-0, as he had said in previous press conferences leading up to the fight.  Instead, he surprised us all by announcing his retirement at 29-0, and I couldn’t help but marvel that not only was he turning away from a lucrative final fight, but the way in which he announced his retirement reminded us of our faith, our deen, our religion, Islam.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an

“And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers.”

Throughout his MMA career, Khabib has proudly worn his faith on his sleeve. As he has risen to become the current pound-for-pound #1 fighter in the world and arguably the GOAT, the greatest of all time, his unwavering example as a practicing Muslim transformed him into a global phenomenon and role model for many of us by reminding us to be better worshippers, to be closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Let’s look at a few of the ways he did this:

1. Beginning with Alhamdulillah

The announcer at UFC 254 began by congratulating Khabib on a job well-done yet again by praising him, stating, “The world is in awe of your greatness once again…your thoughts on an epic championship performance, congratulations.” Khabib didn’t immediately begin talking about himself. Instead, he said:

“Alhamdulillah, SubhanAllah, God give me everything…”

After stating this, he went on to announce his retirement, his reasons for retiring, and thanked everyone who supported his professional MMA journey.

The Reminder

Alhamdulillah is literally translated into “All Praise Belongs to God”. Khabib begins by thanking Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), pointing out that his talents and abilities are a gift, a blessing from the Most High. When we have any blessing from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we must remember that whatever our own effort, our abilities, our support, and our achieved outcomes ultimately tie back to support from our Rabb, our Lord, who controls all.

Khabib pointing to Allah

It’s not from me, it’s from Him

If you’ve ever seen Khabib point at himself, shake his finger back and forth as if to say, “No” and then point up to the sky, this is a nonverbal way of him saying, don’t think all these great things you see are from me – they’re from Allah above.

2. The Prostration of Thankfulness – Sajdat al-Shukr

You may have noticed at the end of Khabib’s victory, when the announcer states that he’s the winner of the bout, he falls into a prostration known as Sajdat al-Shukr – the Prostration of Thankfulness (to Allah).

Khabib and his sons prostrating

The Reminder

Performing this is recommended when someone receives something beneficial (eg good news, wealth, etc) or if they avoided something potentially harmful (e.g. job loss, healing from a disease, etc). The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would do this when he received good news. The believer should remember to be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as much as they can.

See also:

3. Establishing the 5 Daily Prayers

Khabib and me, don’t be jelly

Years ago (early 2018), Khabib visited my local masjid in Santa Clara, California (not far from where he was training in San Jose at the AKA gym). Many at the masjid didn’t know who he was, but we heard he was the #1 contender for the UFC Lightweight championship belt, at that time held by Tony Ferguson.

He did a Q & A with the community, and someone asked him a general question about what he would recommend for the youth.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing:

Take care of your prayers, if you come to Day of Judgment not take care of your prayers, on that day you will be smashed.

The Reminder

The second pillar of Islam that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded us to follow is to pray to Him 5 times daily. Khabib was no doubt referencing the following statement of the Prophet (saw):

“The first action for which a servant of Allah will be held accountable on the Day of Resurrection will be his prayers. If they are in order, he will have prospered and succeeded. If they are lacking, he will have failed and lost…”

 

 

Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda notes that when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) first began his mission of da’wah and faced devastating rejection from family and community, Allah told the Prophet to stand and pray. The reason for this is because when we are weak and suffering, the place to turn to for strength is back to Allah in prayer. There is no doubt Khabib’s strength came from his connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) which in turn came from his 5 daily prayers.

Praying multiple times daily, consistently, can be challenging; when it was legislated by Allah to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) kept telling him to go back and ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for a reduction, saying, “Your people will not be able to handle it.”

Khabib is a great reminder that no matter how high you climb in life and career, no matter how busy you think you are, worshipping Allah is the most important deed one can do, and this discipline is the most important habit to build.

4. Strong Wrestling Game

Some say Khabib is already 30-0 for wrestling a bear

In a sport that sees far more striking and kicking than it does wrestling, Khabib came to dominate the lightweight division of the UFC with a strong grappling style that is a combination of sambo (a Soviet martial art), judo, and wrestling. Famously, he outwrestled a bear when he was much younger.

During his fights, he doesn’t close out his bouts by pummeling his opponents and causing them damage as most strikers would. Most of his hits open up his opponents to being forced to tap out via submission. Even his last opponent, Justin Gaethje, noted that he was much happier to be choked out in a submission, as all he would get is a pleasant nap, as opposed to striking, which could have long-term health consequences.

The Reminder

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not only able to wrestle, he took down the strongest wrestler in Makkah. Rukanah, the famed Makkan wrestler, challenged RasulAllah because of his hatred for the da’wah. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) accepted his challenge and took him down multiple times, body slamming him again and again. It was said that after the conquest of Makkah, Rukanah accepted Islam.

5. Fighting / Training through Sickness and Injury

During the post-fight press conference with UFC President Dana White, it was revealed that Khabib had broken one of his toes 3 weeks before the fight. Prior to that, he had taken two weeks off upon arriving at Fight Island having contracted mumps, according to AKA trainer and coach Javier Mendez. Khabib is quoted as having told Mendez, “My toe may be broken, but my mind is not.” In addition to this, his father had just passed away months earlier, and this would be his first fight without his father present.

Mumps, broken toes, and the emotional turmoil of family tragedy

The Reminder

In addition, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has told us, “A strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone…” This strength includes strength of body, mind, and spirit; not just when conditions are perfect, but when trials surround you from every conceivable direction.

6. Relationship With His Father

After defeating Justin Gaethje, Khabib went to the center of the ring and cried, and everyone cried with him. We all knew his father’s death weighed heavily on his mind and his heart, and this was his first fight without him. His father was his mentor and trainer, whom everyone could obviously see he both loved and greatly respected.

In the post-fight question and answer with Dustin Poirier, Khabib was asked, “What’s your message for your young fans out there who look up to you so much?” he responded:

“Respect your parents, be close with your parents, this is very important. Parents everything, you know, your mother, your father, and that’s it, and everything in your life is going to be good, if you’re going to listen to your parents, mother, father, be very close with them, and other things come because your parents gonna teach what to do.”

The Reminder

There isn’t enough space in this article to go over how much emphasis our faith places on respecting our parents. Allah says in the Qur’an:

Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully. [17:23]

7. Relationship With His Mother

Our parents ultimately want us to succeed, but also want us to maintain our well-being. Without his father’s presence, it was clear that Khabib’s mother didn’t want him continuing in the Octagon (the UFC ring). After 3 days of discussion, Khabib gave his word to her that this would be his final fight. After beating Justin Gaethje in UFC 254, Nurmagomedov announced he was retiring because he promised his mother that he would retire and that he’s a man of his word.

The Reminder

This hearkens back to a statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) about how much respect mothers deserve. A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “Who is most deserving of my good company?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” He (saw) said “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet again said, “Your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet finally said, “Your father.”

Khabib easily had millions more to make on a journey to hit 30-0 in his professional fighting career and decided to hang it all up to make his mother happy. This is true respect and obedience, and for that matter, the love of a mother for her son and his well-being over monetary gains.

8. Respect for Muhammad Ali

When asked about the comparisons between himself and Muhammad Ali, Khabib stated that it was an inappropriate comparison. He noted that Muhammad Ali didn’t just face challenges in the ring, but challenges outside of it due to racism, and that he was an agent of change with respect to bringing about greater civil rights for African Americans.

The Reminder

In his final sermon, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”

From the 7th century until today, our faith recognizes that people are not judged by their race, but by their actions and the intentions behind those actions. In the video above, Khabib recognized both the wrongness of racism, and the challenge it posed along the way of Muhammad Ali’s own journey, and that his contributions to social justice transcended his involvement in sport.

9. His Conduct with Other Fighters

With the exception of the fight with Conor McGregor, Khabib always dealt with his opponents with respect. He hugs them, shakes their hand, and says good things about their accomplishments and strengths both before and after fights. In a sport known for heavy trash talking and showboating to build hype, Khabib kept his cool and his manners.

Champion vs Champion, the respect is mutual

The Reminder

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“The only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners.”

Maintaining good character and conduct during press-conferences was Khabib’s calling card; even when trash talkers like Tony Ferguson tried to go after him, he would still recount Ferguson’s formidable stature as a fighter.

When reporters tried throwing him a softball opening to insult Ferguson’s mental health, Khabib responded that he didn’t want to talk about Tony Ferguson’s problems if he they were real; if Ferguson truly has a problem, then we should help him, as we all have problems.

10. Fighting Those Who Dishonor Faith and Family

As mentioned above, Khabib is known for being very respectful of his opponents during press conferences. He speaks well of their strengths, shakes their hands, hugs them; he even runs up to his opponent after a fight and hugs them, consoling them and wishing them well. After his win against Poirier, he traded shirts with him and donated $100k to Poirier’s charity.

Khabib vs Dana’s boy, the chicken

The exception was the infamous UFC 229 which Muslim fans watched holding years, maybe decades of pent up anger at the type of crass secular arrogance represented by Conor. We desperately wanted Khabib to maul the mouthy McGregor. The latter had gone after his family, his faith, his nationality, anything and everything to hype up the fight and try to get under the champ’s skin. Some people lose their calm, and others, well, they eat you alive.

Khabib made it clear he wasn’t having any of that. He took the fight to Conor and choked him out with a neck crank. We then learned why he was called “The Eagle” as he hopped the cage and jumped into the audience to go after other members of Conor’s team who had spoken ill of him, giving birth to “Air Khabib”.

The Reminder

When our faith and family is spoken of in an ill fashion, it’s not appropriate that we sit there and take it. Khabib never cared when it was criticism against him, but once it went to others around him, he took flight. We as Muslims should never give anybody who tries to attack and dehumanize us a chance to rest on their laurels. We should strive ourselves to take the fight back to them by whatever legal means necessary, as Khabib did, whether it is cartoons of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) or political pundits and satirists who monetize hatred against Muslims.

11. Shaking Hands and Training with Women

In numerous public instances, Khabib reminded us that our faith demands we don’t shake with the opposite gender. As one of my teachers taught us, the Qur’an instructs us to “lower our gaze” when dealing with women. If we shouldn’t even look at them out of respect for Allah’s command, how can we take it to the next level and touch them?

Extended to this is even more serious physical contact like training at the gym. Cynthia Calvillo, one of Khabib’s teammates at AKA gym, said the following about Khabib and his unit:

“It’s a little bit weird because of their religion and stuff…They don’t talk to women you know. I mean we say ‘hi’ to each other but we can’t train with them. They won’t train with women…I don’t think any other woman does.

The Reminder

Our faith places stricter physical and social interaction boundaries between men and women. Keeping matters professional and respectful with the opposite gender need not include physical contact. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was said to have never touched non-mahram women. It was narrated that he said,

“It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is impermissible to you.”

For this reason, the majority of scholars prohibited physical contact between men and women with some exceptions (e.g. old age). Watching Khabib maintain this practice, even in public where it could potentially embarrass him and cause undue negative attention, gives us all inspiration to deal with this issue in the workplace better. He encourages us to strive for better tolerance and awareness of our faith rather than forcing us to conform.

12. Not Making a Display of The “Trophy” Wife

If you follow Khabib’s Instagram, you won’t find lewd pics of him and a significant other. In fact, you won’t find any pictures at all of him and his wife. Who she is is a mystery to all. In an age and a sport where many post photos with their romantic partners, Khabib again is a standout with his gheerah, his honorable protectiveness for his significant other.

Khabib and his wife

The Reminder

We are again reminded that a part of manhood is to have protective ghayrah, jealousy over one’s spouse. Ibn al-Qayyim also said, bringing in the concept of chivalry,

“The dayyuth / cuckold is the vilest of Allah’s creation, and Paradise is forbidden for him [because of his lack of ghayrah]. A man should be ‘jealous’ with regards to his wife’s honor and standing. He should defend her whenever she is slandered or spoken ill of behind her back. Actually, this is a right of every Muslim in general, but a right of the spouse specifically. He should also be jealous in not allowing other men to look at his wife or speak with her in a manner which is not appropriate.”

13. Owning His Mistakes, Looking to Be Forgiven

Finally, it should be noted there is no real scholarly disagreement on prohibiting striking the face. Recognizing this, Khabib stated when asked if “he thinks the AlMighty will be satisfied with him for taking part in haram fights for money,” he replied, “I don’t think so.”

In an interview with the LA Times, he said:

“You go to mosque because nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes, and we have to ask Allah to forgive us. This is very important mentally, to be clear with Allah. This is not about the UFC. There is nothing else more important to me than being clear with Allah. And being clear with Allah is the No. 1 most hard thing in life.”

The Reminder

We as human beings aren’t perfect – perfection is only for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). We all make mistakes, sometimes small, sometimes large, but in the end, He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is ready to forgive us if we’re willing to recognize our failings and ask to be forgiven.  Allah says in the Qur’an in 2:222:

“Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”

There are no sins so great that redemption is beyond any of us. Whatever Khabib’s flaws, his value as a positive change maker and faith-based role model globally outweighs his negatives.

Part of seeking forgiveness is the process, and the first part of that process is acknowledging the mistake. This means not being in denial about it or not justifying it, just owning it. As Khabib has owned his mistake publicly, there is no need for us to try and justify it either.

We can own that there are problems with MMA and the industry, in participating as well as watching and supporting. At the same time, we can do as Dr Hatem al-Hajj said about Muhammad Ali:

Concluding Thoughts

While UFC pundits will forever debate over the greatest of all time, there is in doubt that Khabib Nurmogomedov, the first Muslim UFC champion, will always be our GOAT.

I ask that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accepts the good from what Khabib has done, rewards him tremendously for the inspiration he’s given us all to better focused on the akhirah, the next life, and continues to make him a powerful sports icon who uses his platform as Muhammad Ali did to teach Islam and exemplify it in the best way for all of us to benefit and follow.

Ameen.

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The Khabib Halal/Haraam Ratio: Good Character, Bad Sports, And The Conundrum of Muslim Representation 

Zainab (AnonyMouse)

Published

Note: This article was reviewed and approved by Shaykh Younus Kathrada for religious content

The Muslim Ummah has spent the last several years celebrating the rise and success of MMA fighter Khabib Normagomedov, a Muslim Daghestanti fighter who emerged to become an undisputed victor. On the day of his 29th victory, he also announced his retirement from MMA, referencing a promise that he made to his mother.

Muslims went wild in their praises, showering him with adoration, expressing their admiration of his obedience to his mother, his public demonstrations of sajdah ash-shukr after every match, his humility and remembrance of Allah, and his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at public events. Undoubtedly, these are all praiseworthy behaviours and characteristics that should be encouraged in all Muslims, especially Muslim men. 

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However, there has been a near-deafening silence on the underlying problematic foundations of the entire phenomenon of Khabib Nurmagomedov and his popularity amongst Muslim men. To begin with, his entire career as an MMA fighter is considered sinful and prohibited according to the Shari’ah. It is well-known that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

وَعَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اَللَّهِ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏-{ إِذَا قَاتَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ, فَلْيَتَجَنَّبِ اَلْوَجْهَ } مُتَّفَقٌ عَلَيْهِ.‏ 1‏ .‏

‏1 ‏- صحيح.‏ رواه البخاري (2559)‏، ومسلم (2612)‏ واللفظ لمسلم، ولتمام تخريج 

“When any one of you fights, let him avoid (striking) the face.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, al-Fath, 5/215).

Scholars have agreed that any sports which involve striking of the face, and in addition, those which involve several physical harm and injury to its participants, are haraam. As per the hadith, and established legal maxim, “laa darar wa laa diraar” (There is no harming of others nor reciprocation of harm), this prohibition extends to sports such as boxing, MMA, American football, and any other sport where the athletes deliberately and regularly inflict and receive physical injury. 

On The Ropes

This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Indeed, it is disturbing and unfortunate that this fact has been minimized to such an extent that many Muslims – including and especially the Muslim men who are such avid fans of these sports – are not even aware of this prohibition. Perhaps most alarming is that many of those who are considered scholars, imams, shuyookh, and leaders in the Muslim community, who are aware of this prohibition, have neglected to mention these rulings even as they publicly praise those such as Muhammad Ali or Khabib Nurmagomedov for their prowess in these arenas, and hold them to be role models to follow. When even religious authorities are publicly cheering on such athletes and celebrating their victories, how can the average layman be expected to know that these sports are detested by the Shari’ah? It is a grave shortcoming that so many religious teachers and leaders have failed their fellow Muslims on a matter that has been extremely public and popularized. 

It is also necessary for Muslims to consider that the way that professional boxing, wrestling, MMA, and similar prohibited sports are conducted is a far cry from the casual (and permissible) fighting-for-sport that existed at the time of RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Today, the sports industry boasts billions upon billions of dollars spent in promotional material and events that involve no small amount of music, alcohol, vulgarity, and nearly-naked women being used solely to titillate the male gaze; sponsors of teams and athletes include beer companies. 

Glutton For Punishment

Male and female ‘awrah alike is revealed, openly and blatantly, normalized as part of the sports environment. Concern over the male ‘awrah being revealed cannot be overstated when we have an Islamic tradition that emphasizes modesty for believers, male and female. The greatest of all human beings, the Messenger of Allah, was described as “… more modest than a virgin in seclusion”

(Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5751, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2320). The Prophet Musa (‘alayhissalaam) was known to be so modest that he kept his body covered at all times (Sahih Tirmidhi); the Companion ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) was described as having such modesty that the Messenger of Allah himself said, “Should I not be shy of the one whom the angels are shy of?” (Sahih Muslim 2401)

Related to modesty is the reminder to Muslim women who have been watching his matches (or any other entertainment) to lower their gazes. Bluntly speaking, it does not behoove a believing woman to be enjoying the sight of half-naked men (especially the very fit, athletic, and often attractive type) to be grappling away at each other. Muslim women are certainly not immune to the fitnah caused by the flaunting of undressed men all over social media feeds and through other entertainment.

The warnings regarding zina of the eyes apply to Muslim women just as they do to men; the Qur’an has already said:

{And tell the believing women to lower their gazes and guard their private parts…} (Qur’an 24:31) 

It is unfortunate that this has been forgotten about to such an extent that even scholars have neglected to address this particular issue.

Rolling With The Representation Punches

While Khabib himself has been praised for his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at events that he is present at, we should be cognizant of the fact that neither he nor any other Muslim man (or woman) should be putting themselves in the position of being at such events to begin with. The truth of the matter is that his presence at these events was a necessary part of his career; his income, derived from this haraam sport and this haraam environment, can bluntly be considered haraam rizq, and no different in legal ruling than those who make money from liquor stores or running brothels. That Muslims have been blithely ignoring the serious spiritual ramifications of this raises the question of just how seriously we take the issue of blessed rizq in the first place. 

It is clear that many Muslim men, and in particular the religiously observant, find in Khabib a type of Muslim representation that they crave: someone who is publicly and unapologetically Muslim, who has demonstrated impressive physical skills and capability (perhaps they’re living through him vicariously?), who has displayed exemplary conduct outside the ring, who has constantly held fast to publicly and unashamedly remembering Allah and speaking of Islam. 

In and of itself, this is admirable. The Muslim Ummah has had a dearth of heroic contemporary role models, and no one can be faulted for feeling love for someone who seems to embody such laudable character and conduct. However, we cannot simply stop there. It is necessary for us to ask ourselves the question of what kind of Muslim representation is the kind of Muslim representation worth having – and how, and where, that representation takes place. 

When Muslim women have entered the public space, providing “representation” in the form of a muhajjabah in Playboy magazine, a hijab wearing model in a beauty pageant and the modeling industry, a hijabi in Olympic sports, and plenty of non-hijabis in many other areas, there has been a great deal of valid, legitimate criticism regarding the concept of “Muslim representation” and what it entails. Amongst conservative Muslims, there is a shared belief that “representation” at the cost of upholding the halal and turning away from the haraam is not representation worth having. Indeed, such “representation” comes with a significant amount of damage to the collective social and spiritual health of the Ummah: there is normalization of platforms that are antithetical to Islamic values, of dressing and conduct that go against our Shari’ah, and encouraging younger generations to engage in those behaviours and to pursue those types of careers. 

Why, then, are we not holding our Muslim brothers to the same standard? No matter how inspiring Khabib’s conduct is, no matter how admirable his public representation of his Muslim identity, his career and all that comes with it cannot be considered permissible, acceptable, or encouraged in Islam. Unfortunately, we have had many Muslim men encouraging one another to watch his matches, to the extent of arranging watch parties in the masjid! (Someone, please, answer me truly: how would RasulAllah consider the enthusiastic watching of a haraam sport in the House of Allah?)

Blow-By Blow: Izzah of the Ummah?

Furthermore, the excuses made for Khabib’s career choice are, frankly, flimsy – he has not brought ‘izzah to this Ummah in any tangible way other than making Muslim men feel good about themselves (I mean, hey, I get it, but sorry, this ain’t it); he is not “intimidating the kuffaar” (let’s be real: the kuffaar at the UFC are making more money off of him than you could ever dream of having in a lifetime); his victories in the ring are not a victory for this Ummah (please, go ask the oppressed Muslims in Burma, Somalia, Yemen, East Turkestan, Palestine, Kashmir, and elsewhere how much of a victory his matches have been for their well-being). Indeed, questions have risen regarding his public appearances with Vladimir Putin and his possible political allegiances with Russia, which has a long history of brutalizing Muslims in their surrounding regions. 

At the end of the day, Khabib Nurmagomedov is a paid athlete, whose millions of dollars come from a prohibited sport, in an industry that reeks of filth from beginning to end. He is our Muslim brother, and what should be celebrated is that he has finally chosen to leave the industry. What we should not have done, nor continue to do, is to hold his career as an MMA fighter to be exemplary for Muslims in any way, shape or form. We should pray for his guidance as a Muslim, his forgiveness for his previous sins, and remind our Muslim brothers – no matter how emotionally swayed they may be – that true ‘izzah comes not from participating in prohibited sports or careers (despite how successful one may be at it!), but from obeying the Law of Allah and His Messenger and abstaining from transgressing the boundaries laid by the Shari’ah.

Further resources on rulings:

https://islamqa.info/en/answers/10427/ruling-on-boxing

https://www.islamweb.net/en/fatwa/429082/boxing-is-forbidden-even-without-striking-the-face

https://www.islamweb.net/en/fatwa/329518/going-to-gym-that-has-yoga-lessons-boxing-and-sauna

Is Watching Boxing Allowed in Islam?

Punching or Striking the Face

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Pursuing Public Policy as a Field of Study: A Few Principles, Tips, and Advice

Ahmad Raza, Guest Contributor

Published

Witnessing people rise up, speak out against injustices, and protest, is a life-changing experience. It definitely was one for me. A decade ago, barely a few months into college, watching the unravelling of the Arab Spring inspired me to change my career goals and embark on a journey to better understand the world of government and public policy. While my journey is still young, I’ve learned a few lessons and principles along the way that may be of benefit to anyone starting theirs.

Consider your options

The first principle in pursuing a path in public policy is to take steps to keep your options open for your source of income. Why? There are a few factors at play. The first is the reality of the job market. Government jobs pay the best in the space, but they can be scarce (and unlike the private sector, there’s no startup ready to disrupt the space).

Government jobs, of course, aren’t the only option (and for many people, it’s not what they want to do). Another route is to work at non-profits, or think tanks. Pay in these areas will greatly vary, depending on the prestige (and donor base) of the organization. As with the public sector, here too jobs can be scarce.

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How do you keep your options open? Investing in skills that can translate (or even aren’t relevant to public policy) is a good place to start. Software programming, communications, or data analytics are some examples of skills that will provide you with options to fall back on. Learning an in-demand language is another option.

While thinking of your income isn’t, and honestly shouldn’t, be the motivation for entering public policy (I always dodged the ‘how will you make a living?’ questions in college), it is a practical consideration that will eventually catch up with you. This can come in various ways, and is unique to each individual’s circumstances. The worst-case scenario is if one starts to consider bending their ethical framework when they find themselves in a financial squeeze. The freedom to be able to walk away from something in order to maintain your ethical code is extremely powerful, and skills that keep your job options open help greatly.

Maintaining your ethical code is of the upmost importance in this space (and remember that you can still influence policy discussions regardless of your job title).

Take on a non-career mindset

Another principle to keep in mind is to avoid thinking of what you’re doing primarily as a career. The idea that you’ll just work your way up and increase your income, job title, or employer benefits has to be dropped before setting out on this journey.

Why is this important? Many major life decisions are made with the idea of a linear career trajectory in mind. People take out mortgages and car loans with the expectation of an increase in purchasing power as their careers progress. This can’t be the expectation in the public realm. While this advice is arguably applicable in other sectors, I believe it is absolutely critical for anyone considering working in public policy before beginning the journey.

Political winds constantly shift, and will be faced with difficult choices. It is important to fit your work to your ethics, and not the other way around. Dropping the mindset of a linear career, combined with investing in skills that give you the option to walk away if needed, are two ways to make that happen.

Avoid insiderness

The world of public policy is complex, and it requires effort, study, and a keen eye to understand the social role that public agencies play. At times, the ideas and concepts become overly technical and inaccessible to a general audience. This can bring with it a sense of ‘insiderness’, and a general feeling of ‘being in the know.’ Knowing the lingo and talking points is important, but it can disconnect you from the people that you have set out to serve (at worst, it can be a way to intimidate those who aren’t ‘in the know’).

Having a sense of humility, of course, is necessary for any aspect of a Muslim’s life. A field in which you’re expected to provide solutions to society’s problems, and to convince others of your solutions, arguably has an inherit conflict with that sense of humility. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The key is to finding a way to engender a countervailing experience against the highs of insiderness. The one that I believe in, and ties in to the point earlier on building skills for optionality, is to learn a language.

Why learn a language? There are several reasons. The most relevant one here has to do with the process of learning a language itself. This brings with it the experience of having to learn to ‘speak’ again. You put yourself in a context where your words, and in some ways your ability to be heard, are taken away from you. This alone can engender a different sense of humility.

Learning a language also grounds you with the experience of not having your voice understood by others. It builds an appreciation for people whose voice might not be heard in the policy process. Simultaneously, your new language will open the door to learning from new voices and perspectives.

Learn from tradition

Public policy is a secularized space, but that doesn’t mean that our tradition can’t inform our mindset stepping into it. One particularly salient area is keeping in mind how to view success. Stepping in with a commitment to your ethics naturally means discarding the idea that success means a specific title or position associated with your name.

How then should you view success? It begins with accepting that you may not live to see the fruits of your labor. Your name may never be known in this world. Success in a worldly sense isn’t why you’ve stepped on this path.

This doesn’t mean not being ambitious. It’s important to have ambition. Just don’t let your ambition override your values in deciding what to do. Learning the stories of historical figures from our tradition who’ve faced similar struggles helps with this. Examples include, just to name a few, Imam Shamil of Dagestan who resisted Russian imperialism, Imam Malik Ibn Anas who refused to change his beliefs when pressured by political authorities, and Nizam al-Din Awliya whose family were made refugees due to the Mongol invasions and had to subsequently build a new life in India.

Another area to learn, as Imam Dawud Walid suggests in Towards Sacred Activism, is studying usul-ul-fiqh and aqeedah, which will help complement your policy studies and further ground your knowledge of the world.

 

Aim high in whatever good you seek to do. Just keep in mind who truly provides success. And then, get ready for the journey you’re about to take.

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