Month: November 2018

What is Halal Beauty?

What is Halal Beauty?

“What is halal beauty” I hear you ask, and why do we need it? The word “halal” doesn’t only apply to food and drink, but runs through every avenue of a Muslim’s life. Halal means that which is permissible under Islamic law, and when it […]

Why I Won’t Forgive the Person Who Ruined My Life

Why I Won’t Forgive the Person Who Ruined My Life

Disclaimer: This post may be triggering for some, and includes details of suicide and sexual assault. I remember watching TED talks, and reading articles about women who had forgiven their rapists. The comments seem to be quite similar, all along the lines of “She’s so […]

Value Your Local Imam Even If He Is Not “Famous” | Imam Omar Suleiman

Value Your Local Imam Even If He Is Not “Famous” | Imam Omar Suleiman


In December 2005, I formally took my first Imam position at Masjid Abu Bakr in New Orleans where I would serve for 6 years. With the recovery of the city after Hurricane Katrina underway, it was a stressful time with many other masajid not having their imams back. At that time, I was just a “local imam.” My national profile was minuscule and I used to routinely invite scholars and preachers to benefit our community.

All the while, I barely had a minute to myself. I was expected to do everything from keeping the library clean to marriages and divorces, and counseling, and funerals, and teach Quran, organize events and handle every little detail, and interfaith work, and assist in disaster relief, and still fundraise for our expansion projects, and of course save everyone’s kids from destroying themselves.

I had just gotten married in 2007 and lost my mom (may Allah have mercy on her) the same year. Living 2 houses down from the masjid, people would knock on my door regularly in the odd hours of the night when we had just put our first baby girl to sleep, block my driveway during salah times, and request drive-by marriage ceremonies at any time of the day. I felt like a doctor on call, all the time. But I definitely didn’t have a doctor’s salary.

And for some people, I still was falling short. I would be questioned for every salah I didn’t make at the masjid, usually because I was tending to someone’s needs. My khutbahs, recitations, and clothing style were constantly up for debate. And my boss would effectively change every year because of board elections.

Now, let me stop here and say that I loved my masjid and left on great terms to pursue other opportunities. I made friends that became family, and I wouldn’t trade those 6 years for anything. But the lifestyle I just mentioned certainly wasn’t unique to me. I know many imams who work tirelessly for their community only to constantly be deemed insufficient.

And in recent years, a particular critique has become common: “Why can’t you be more like (insert “celebrity shaykh” name). Suddenly, I find myself on the other side of that equation. Imams and scholars are put down in my name. And though I despise the term “celebrity shaykh” and certainly never asked for it, I fully recognize that scholars and teachers that don’t have my profile are abused by it. Hence why I’m writing this article in defense of the imams and scholars who do so much for their communities on the ground, only to be diminished because they don’t have an inflated online presence.

Most of my teachers would never be recognized by those who know of my work. My father-in-law was the imam of a masjid for over 2 decades and played a significant role in developing me not just with ijazas, but as a person (and of course, I owe both him and my mother in law for my wonderful wife who has helped develop me every day for the last 12 years).

Some of my most blessed teachers that reside right here in the United States hold regular classes that are underwhelming in attendance. This past weekend I had the blessing of sharing the stage with one of my beloved teachers and mentors, Dr. Hatem Al Haj. I would do anything for the opportunity to sit in his classes on a weekly basis even now. And when it comes to just sheer work being done for communities, the Imams in inner cities (particularly from the community of Imam WD Muhammad) have been torchbearers. I am put to shame when I compare my own work to Imam Rafiq Numan in New Orleans or Imam Khalid Shahid here in Dallas.

So a few points to consider:

  1. A person’s fame or lack thereof is not an indication of their knowledge level. That means that some scholars who enjoy a particular profile indeed do have the credentials to match that profile, while others don’t. And in more cases than not, the most knowledgeable gems are building communities away from public sight.

 

  1. Don’t belittle your Imam because he’s not someone else. Allah has given us all our own unique qualities. Build with and around your imam instead.

 

  1. An imam is not a Prophet. The expectations of an imam are usually entirely unreasonable, and they are ridiculously under-compensated. That creates bitterness on the part of both the Imam and the community. No other faith community invests less in the pieces around their clergy to build a successful community. You want your Imam to build right, let him focus on being a good imam as opposed to 7 jobs in 1. Part of that is a clear job description with clear expectations on both sides. What the imam does beyond that is part of his own personal growth in the sight of Allah, in front of whom we all must hold ourselves accountable.

 

  1. Don’t wait for someone to be discovered nationally to benefit from them locally. Many times we only recognize the blessings of a teacher after others recognize it for us.

 

  1. An imam having a national profile might actually be bad for your masjid due to time constraints, so be careful what you wish for. That’s not to say that there aren’t some who have done a wonderful job of maintaining commitments to both their local communities and the broader Ummah. But it does mean that you might be making a big mistake replacing your local Imam for his lack of prominence while he is fully committed to building your community.

 

  1. You want a secure imam, give him job security. That’s not to say that there aren’t reasonable grounds for the removal of an Imam, or that sometimes you just don’t have the right fit. But what type of caliber and commitment are you expecting when the position you hire for has a new boss every year or two through notorious masjid board elections. And this is not meant to demonize those boards since there are some really good ones out there, but to say there has to be a way to safeguard the imam from those cycles.

 

  1. Whoever does not thank the people, does not thank Allah. It means something to hear words of appreciation, especially when you’re so accustomed to criticism and overwhelmed by an unreasonable workload. So to the imams who teach our children, lead our prayers, represent us in our communities, bury our loved ones, perform our marriages, and do so much more…

 

May Allah reward you AND YOUR FAMILIES for all that you do for OUR FAMILIES. May you be celebrated by Allah and the inhabitants of the heavens. That is where true “fame” lies.

And to those who abuse their local Imams in the name of us “celebrity shaykhs”, please stop it. #NotInMyName



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Hijab Is Not a Binary, so Why Do We Treat It as Such?

Hijab Is Not a Binary, so Why Do We Treat It as Such?

At the age of thirteen, I took one of the most profound decisions of my life: I grabbed one of my mom’s old cotton scarves, found a couple of safety pins, and went outside with my hijab. Prior to that moment, I had heard stories […]

To The Blessed Land: Crossing The Border

To The Blessed Land: Crossing The Border

By Zainab Chaudry Crossing the border into present day Palestine is a dystopian experience. As our bus leaves Amman and approaches the Jordanian side of the bridge, our guide explains what to expect. We’re warned to not take any photos. “It’s illegal. You can’t see […]

Muslim-Led Campaigns to Support This #GivingTuesday

Muslim-Led Campaigns to Support This #GivingTuesday


After a weekend filled with over-indulgence on the culinary and commercial front (we’re looking at you, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday), it would indubitably feel good to give back to our communities.

Enter #GivingTuesday. Traditionally celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving in the United States, #GivingTuesday was devised to kick-off a season of philanthropy concurrent to a time when many are focusing on end-of-year giving.

As per the official website, #GivingTuesday harnesses the power of social media and collaboration amongst communities far and wide. Along with the spate of commercial outlets who proclaim to match donations, a helpful directory on GivingTuesday.org will help you find participating organizations, charities, and events within communities in your own neighborhoods, as well as around the country.

But you know we wouldn’t leave you hanging, right? Muslim Girl has compiled a shortlist of Muslim-led campaigns to support this #GivingTuesday, so without further ado, get ready, set, GIVE:

 

The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF)

This non-profit organization has worked relentlessly, since 1995, to support the education of underprivileged children in Pakistan. It has an active network of over 30 chapters in cities across the United States, and a donation to this organization means contributing towards the operation of 1,482 purpose-built schools providing quality education to 220,000 children, with an all-female faculty of 12,000 teachers.

 

Winter Blankets

For a nominal sum of USD38, you can provide blankets for 4 people, to stave off the winter chill in Karachi, Pakistan. Predicted to experience a particularly cold winter this time around, this simple, yet noble campaign aims to alleviate the suffering of those who have nowhere to go.

 

IRUSA is #GivingTuesday to Yemen

We are well-versed in the inhumane suffering of the Yemeni people over the past few years. If there was ever a time to do something about it, this is it. Your donations would go towards providing food aid, or orphan support for what is being described as one of worst humanitarian crises in recent memory.

 

Gaza Winter Relief – Zam Zam & PaliRoots

This annual campaign provides bundles of warm clothing to the children in Gaza. Your donations would go towards a supply jackets, jeans, wool thermals, socks, and shoes to children between the ages of 4-14.

 

READ Foundation’s 100 Orphans Campaign

READ Foundation aims to provide a full education to orphans, and your sponsorship would go towards supplies needed to support an education. By donating to this campaign, you are helping orphans break free of the shackled of poverty, thus empowering impoverished youth to permanently change their lives for the better.

 

Al-Ikhlas Training Academy: Giving Tuesday Campaign

Al-Ikhlas Training Academy (ATA) is a non-profit, full-time Islamic school, established in the city of Detroit. They work towards serving low-income families in the city, as well as the broader Detroit area. If education seems to be a common thread repeated in this article, its because education truly is the greatest gift we can give to help break the seemingly insurmountable cycle of poverty. Donate to help change lives for good at the very root of the problem.

 

TAYBA: Help 1000s of Muslim Converts in US Prisons

Tayba Foundation is one of the few Muslim organizations in the United States serving Muslim brothers & sisters behind bars. Their work is divided into three areas: Islamic education, life skills, and seamless reintegration into society through support in finding housing and jobs. With Muslims making up 10% of the prison population, and almost all of these inmates being converts, they can go years without access to proper resources through which they can expand their knowledge of Islam. Tayba works tirelessly to address these needs.



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How Do You Make Peace With Death?

How Do You Make Peace With Death?

I have found myself contemplating death ever since I returned from Hajj in the summer of 2018. People perform Hajj to fulfill a religious obligation to God, to renew their faith in God, and to experience a sense of community with Muslims around the world. In this […]

Visiting the Comatose – A Handy Guide

Visiting the Comatose – A Handy Guide

Over the last eight months, after painful illnesses which affected them physically and neurologically, both my parents have passed away. While there is so much to process and reflect over when it comes to their lives and their deaths, there is something specific I feel […]

What I Learned about Life, Love, and Family While Living a Nomadic Life

What I Learned about Life, Love, and Family While Living a Nomadic Life


I come from a traditional, Pakistani-Muslim family. I was raised to speak fluent Urdu, made a few trips to my parents’ homeland, wore traditional clothing, etc. Culturally, I wasn’t allowed to go to too many places. No sleepovers, no frequent mall trips with friends, things of that sort. I attended a college that was in my hometown so I could continue living at home, picking a major that didn’t require me to travel. Life was a bit…boring.

When I got married eight years ago, I was suddenly thrust into a world of freedom. A freedom I didn’t quite know what to do with. I got to know my new family, and settled into a routine with my husband. It was strange that we could really just go anywhere we wanted, when we wanted. Married life, and the new dynamic of a family takes a little while to get used to, and by the time I was enjoying the freedom I had (about a year and a half later), my husband acquired a new job in North Carolina. More change for me! So we packed up our stuff in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and headed to New Bern, North Carolina.

In New Bern, we bought our first house, and a little more then a year later, had our baby girl Maliha. When she was a year old, my husband was transferred to Germany for two years. Again, we packed up our lives, and flew to Deutschland for our European adventure. After two years of traveling to different countries as much as we could with a toddler, we went back to New Bern, but with the intention of going back to Pennsylvania once we got there. And lo and behold, here we are, back to where we started our marriage, with not one, but two beautiful children.

My family has thrived more by moving around, being challenged, seeing the world, and experiencing it.

Growing up watching Bollywood films, I believed that people would die for love. Throw themselves in front of a bullet, a train, even a punch, for the person they loved. But reality taught me to CHANGE for love. I was never good with change, even as a child, more so as an adult. But as a married woman who loves her husband, and tries to puts him first, I love him enough to know that I would follow him wherever it would lead me. And this change that I dealt with for the sake of love, changed my life. There were times when I thought, “NO. I can’t handle this change. I’m not equipped to deal with it.” But I fought through the negative feelings, sometimes fighting with my husband, sometimes fighting with myself. But all that battling was not in vain. I know more of what I want now. I saw more of the world, some of it so beautiful, I barely dared to blink. And some of it so heartbreaking, that it still consumes me to this day.

I’ve taught my daughter the value of lifelong friendships, to be okay with change, to know that stability can be achieved in more ways than just settling down in one place.

My family has thrived more by moving around, being challenged, seeing the world, and experiencing it. We have all had the opportunity to make friends everywhere we have gone. I’ve taught my daughter the value of lifelong friendships, to be okay with change, to know that stability can be achieved in more ways than just settling down in one place. My son Issah is still a baby, but I look forward to traveling more with him, and teaching him the same lessons as well.

Love, life and family. They all intertwine together in this journey. The things we are willing to do out of love will effectively change our lives, and will also change our family as we all experience personal growth. Living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle has taught me to handle change with grace, and along with my husband, teach our children to also accept change with an open heart. And that with no matter where we go, wherever we are together, is truly home.



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Isn’t It Time You Paid Attention to the Vast World Outside Your Walls?

Isn’t It Time You Paid Attention to the Vast World Outside Your Walls?

I was thinking of a personal topic for this month that we can all experience together on this platform. The last quarter of 2018 was full of hate in relation to religion, man. Saudi banned Palestinians from Hajj, and we had a shooting at the Tree of […]