Saturday, October 15, 2011

Making the First Move

I was teaching a review session for my chemistry students the other day when one of my students (a post-bacc in her late 30’s) approached me.

“Lisa, I don’t mean this to be offensive so please don’t take it as such. But I really wish there were more Muslims that do what you do.”

With a half-smile and some confusion, I replied, “What do you mean?”

“It’s just refreshing to see a Muslim going out of her way for me.”

She proceeded to tell me the story of how her brother was a victim of the 9/11 attacks. I cannot even begin to attempt to paraphrase the complexity and emotion of her words so I won’t.

At this point, she was almost in tears, and said

“I mean, I see a lot of Muslims every day who aren’t terrorists, but I don’t see them as anything else. It’s just nice to finally have a relationship with a Muslim.”

She then apologized for ranting, changed the subject, and proceeded to ask about the titration question we had just gone over. But I couldn’t seem to focus on that.

As a convert, I often wonder if I am, in fact, being a “good Muslim.” For so long, I took that to mean praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan, but it has grown to mean so much more. Having left the comforts of MSA-life behind, I now often find myself as the only Muslim in the room. Whether I’m doing experiments in the lab or teaching a group of first-year chemistry students, my responsibility to be an example on behalf of all Muslims has recently become more evident. I mean, it would certainly be easier if people did not directly associate my actions with my Islam, but I am well aware that this isn’t the case.

Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.

The Muslim community needs to step up its game. We want people to stop having issues with us, but we don’t want to do anything to engage them. (And no. Shoving dawah pamphlets in people’s faces does not qualify as community engagement.) We are such multi-faceted people with unique talents and skills that, theoretically, we should be able to connect with a large, diverse population of people. But instead of making the first move, we sit and wait for “the other” to come to us. And when they don’t, we hide behind this fact and blame them for their lack of willingness to learn about our religion.

As part of our respective communities, we need to do things to connect with all people, Muslims and non-Muslims. And this doesn’t even need to be done on a grand level- some of the simplest things we do can facilitate the beginning of conversations that really need to take place if we ever want to be understood. Community service and random acts of kindness are a great place to start. People notice when you do something for them because, regardless of how big or small you may think your actions are, you put their needs ahead of your own. Actions like these speak much louder than any pamphlet ever could.

We shouldn’t be content with simply being recognized for not doing something bad. We should strive to be known for the good things that we do for the benefit of others. May Allah give us all the courage to make the first moves in reaching out to those with whom we come in contact and may He allow for us to foster a sense of understanding and acceptance of all people in our respective communities. Ameen.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sweet Charity

The Islamic month of Ramadan will [insha’Allah] be back again in just a few weeks. While most people understand the blessed month to be a time during which Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse for the period of the daylight hours, Ramadan holds a much greater meaning.

This 30-day abstention from food and drink gives us an infinitesimal glimpse at the daily lives of the poor while allowing us to refocus our time and energy on other, more spiritual things, the goal being that we will maintain that focus outside of Ramadan.

One of the 5 Pillars of Islam mandates that those whose wealth amounts to more than a specified minimum must give a small percentage of this wealth to those in need [zakat]. Additionally, voluntary donations [sadaqah] are highly encouraged in Islam and are considered to be a proof of one’s faith. While charity in all forms is encouraged year-round, it is especially significant in the month of Ramadan.

Ibn Abbaas reported that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) had been more munificent than the falling rain. He was said to have been even more so in the month of Ramadan, such that his generosity in the previous 11 months would not compare to his giving in that month alone.

But a lot of us hold our money with a clenched fist when it comes to giving it to others. Many give only the required zakat each year and some of us can’t even bring ourselves to do that, let alone give voluntary donations. Recent psychological studies [published in the March 21 issue of Science in 2008] have concluded that people who spend money on others (be it gifts, donations, etc.) reported significant boosts in happiness than those who use their money solely for personal spending. The long-term, compounding effects of charitable spending far outlasted the fleeting pleasure people felt from personal consumption. So if you’re finding that you’ve become less happy or more irritable than you once were, think about how you’ve been using your money- that might just be the cause.

If you can remember all of the times you’ve donated money, you’re probably not giving often enough.

Don’t wait until the last week of Ramadan to start thinking about giving to others. Better yet, don’t even wait until Ramadan- do it now! And don’t let Ramadan be the only time you donate. Give consistently all throughout the year, even if you can only spare a few dollars every week. If your intention is pure, insha'Allah you will be rewarded each time.

You don’t need to be Muslim to give to those in need. And those to whom you give most certainly needn’t be Muslim.

May Allah allow all of us to reach and experience the blessings of this upcoming Ramadan and may He soften our hearts to those in need, allowing us to give freely from what He has so graciously given to us. Ameen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Asking the Muslims to Ask Allah

I tried really hard not to write anything regarding the Anthony Weiner nonsense (specifically with regards to his Muslim wife, Huma Abedin). I really did. But recent conversation and media have warranted a Muslim sister’s perspective on the issue and I decided to step up to the plate even though I might strike out.

So as far as I can tell, there are two general opinions that Muslims seem to be taking:

1) that Huma should work things out with Weiner
2) that Huma should leave him because she shouldn’t have married a non-Muslim in the first place or because she deserves someone better

First of all, let’s just stop.

Does what we say she should do really matter to Huma Abedin? No. She’s going to do what she wants to, regardless of what we think she should do.

Do we really think that we’re helping in some way by announcing to all our friends and co-workers that “she must stick by her man no matter what” or that “this happened to her as a punishment for marrying a non-Muslim man”? Because it’s not. [Why aren't we more concerned with prepping for Ramadan? It's only weeks away!]

If we actually want to help Huma, let’s just pray for her. Make dua that our sister finds comfort and ease again. Make dua that Allah will keep her [as well as the rest of us] on the path of Islam and that He allows her to find happiness. And may He allows us all to be as merciful towards one another as He is to us.


The Prophet (saws) was reported to have said, "Whenever you make a supplication for another believer and he is not present, an angel will say ‘and same to you.'"

"The supplication that gets the quickest answer is the one made by one Muslim for another is his absence." [Tirmidhi]