Our dear Nabra, why do bad things happen to good people?

#Nabra

“Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

In the face of tragedy, it is this question that burns in many a heart. The youth are especially vulnerable, and find that it is all too easy for their faith to crack under the strain of the world’s heartaches.

You see, that same God gave us a precious gift of free will. It’s the same free will that led Nabra to choose to be a giver, a helper, one who fed her friends and spent her nights praying to her lord. And it’s the same free that her murderer used to make the choice to take her precious life.

These tragedies are consequences of our free will.

The angels understood this, for when they heard from Allah that He would create generations of humans on earth, they immediately questioned why He would create beings that would sow seeds of corruption and shed innocent blood. So it has been a given that we would misuse this free will.

But what did Allah say?

He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

You see, He knew that for every human that used their free will to cheat, steal, maim, and kill, there would be many more humans of beauty and faith. There would be humans like Nabra, who would use their free will to fast by day, feed her friends, and pray by night.

Without that opportunity for us to actively choose to do good, our free will would be a farce.

But Allah doesn’t just leave us here on this earth to fight it out, kill and be killed, suffer and toil, and have that be an end of it.

He’s “maaliki yawmid-deen.” The Master of the Day of Judgment. The word “deen” means that it is a day of recompense. A day where justice is served. A day where the evil ones will get only the amount of punishment that is justly due to them, not an ounce more, but where the good ones will get a reward that is infinitely beyond their deserving.

Not only does he amply recompense and care for those victims like Nabra, but his mercy is so gloriously vast that every second of pain her loved ones feel will also be recompensed. Every tear of her mother. Every ache of her father. Every fear, sorrow, and hardship of her friends and community will all be recompensed on that Day.

His Mercy is so vast. We are grieving, we are weeping as we reap the consequences of a world in which humans have been given free rein to make choices that can build or destroy.

Don’t think that He has left her, that He has left us.

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ اللّهَ غَافِلاً عَمَّا يَعْمَلُ الظَّالِمُونَ

“Do not think that Allah is unaware of what the evildoers do” (Surah Ibrahim: 42).

وَلَدَيْنَا كِتَابٌ يَنطِقُ بِالْحَقِّ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

“And with us is a record that speaks the truth; and none shall be wronged.” (Surah Muminoon: 62)

Dear Nabra, may Allah give you a reward that will erase every second of your pain. May He give your family and community ease and healing. May you be now rejoicing in peace in His Gardens of bliss. Aameen, ya rabb.

Podcast–The Ramadan Intention Multiplier Machine

Before Ramadan, we had a small halaqah where we (the adults and kids present) discussed the idea of intentions for fasting. My husband pointed out that one way to maximize rewards in Ramadan is to stack up your intentions. So a person intends to fast because Allah ordered it, and because he seeks Bab ar-Rayyan, and because she wishes to distance herself from the fire, and, and….

The next day, I asked the kids: what if we could create an Intention Multiplier Machine? You take a simple intention: “I am fasting,” and then add on any number of variations.

20170502_145914You do have to be careful not to have conflicting intentions. So for example: “I am praying for Allah,” and, “I am praying because I want others to think I’m a good Muslim.”

The discussion about rewards came up: what if you are promised a reward like some money for fasting or for completing Qur’an reading?

That led to me to discuss my concerns with the idea of rewards–I dislike them for this very reason: that they lead divided intentions and can detract from iklaas (sincerity).

The recording of our discussion can be accessed here at this link: Intention Multiplier Machine Podcast.

This is a good example of a type of discussion I will have with my kids after we have learned some material. A first session would include the discussion of the topic using the relevant verses from the Qur’an or statements of the Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam). After that, we will have a session like this one where we mind-map the concept or come up with some other graphic organizer for the content.

In an activity and discussion like this, I am looking for:

  • the ability to use what they have learned in the past and apply it to novel situations
  • the ability to synthesize their knowledge and come up with ways to organize it and relate it to other areas
  • the ability to “think outside the box” and expand their thinking on a subject

I was touched by how my son came up with the point in the bottom of the picture. He was reflecting on the fact that I could not fast due to my health, and so he said that one intention he could make was to be grateful for the ability to fast, since others could not do so. So the actual act of fasting in itself is done out of gratitude and appreciation for one’s health.

Do you have any other ideas for intentions to add to the list? If your kids listen to the discussion, please share their feedback!

our faith, our feelings, our hearts

When you think of eemaan (faith), think of “heart-sense.” The foundation of our emaan begins in the heart–with the speech of the heart, and the actions of the heart. The speech of the heart is it’s acknowledgement and affirmation that there is none worthy of worship but Allah. The action of the heart is the next step–it is when the heart overflows with submission, love, hope, and fear of Allah. From this starting point, when our tongue speaks or our body acts, they do so with this “heart sense” already in place.


So many times we live our lives on the surface level only. Our tongues speak, our limbs act, and yet the heart is silent and still. We do this with our friends and family, when we interact with them absent-minded and distracted. We do this with our lord, when we stand and bow like empty shells, lacking any sense of heart during our worship. We weren’t created this way. On the contrary, we were created with hearts that were pure and full of instinctive connection with Allah and with others around us. We came into this world truly feeling and embodying every moment from the depths of our heart. We quickly learn to shut down that heart-sense and create a shell of insincerity around us.

Here’s the amazing thing about kids, though: they are still pure and so their heart-sense radiates forth in everything they do. When they gaze with wonder at the heavens, their heart knows that this is the mark of their Creator. When they put their arms around you, those are not only arms holding you; it is a clasp that starts out from the depths of their hearts.

I realize this when my kids settle in for bed every night. I’m worn down and wanting to shut the light, offer a half-hearted “Love you!” and be done with it. I’m old and jaded, and my body is used to acting on auto-pilot without the heart-sense to guide it. Not for the kids.

When Abdullah hugs me, it’s with a hug so deep and an “I love you mama, sooooo much” that is so earnest it can’t be faked. And on cue, Zaynab calls out from her bed and there is always a catch in her voice, a crack. “I love you, Mama.” It’s a feeling so big she doesn’t know what to do with it, so her body shows her heart on it’s sleeve with that tremble in the voice as she speaks it.

I think about this now. How often do I ask my kids to betray their heart-sense and live inauthentically? It might be the time they are upset at something seemingly trivial and my response is to distract and deny: “Oh, come on, that’s not something to worry about; let’s do this instead.”

What if instead, I responded by going deep down to the heart-sense? “That really upset you. You are shaking. You must have been really hurt by what your friends did.”

If we abandon engaging the heart-sense with our children, it becomes harder for us to engage them in issues of faith. Over time, as we push away real feelings and anything that seems uncomfortable or awkward, our kids become jaded just like us. You see this when they start to not show the same enthusiasm that they did when they were younger, preferring instead to give a shrug and nod of the head. When you try to talk about virtues like courage and love, empathy and eeman, they are often hesitant and out of touch with these feelings. Often times, children don’t have the words to describe how they feel, because they haven’t been given ample opportunity to name and identify feelings in a non-judgmental way.

Eemaan is deeply tied in with emotion and feeling–in fact, true eemaan is rooted in a deep love for Allah, a fear of his punishment, and a hope for his reward. You can’t choose to ignore the heart-sense in some areas of life and then expect it to blossom in others. We need to encourage a heart-sense in both areas of life: in our dealings with our Lord, and in our dealings with our fellow humans.

Questions to ask ourselves would be:

“Am I focusing on outward appearances here, or on the khushoo’ (humility) of the heart?”

“Is my tongue the only thing moving, or is my heart being moved?”

“Am I comfortable talking about my inner life?” This includes eemaan, love, hope, and fear of Allah, as well as the myriad human emotions that we experience regularly.

You see, when you shut down any discussion on internal feelings with your children due to your discomfort, it becomes hard to discuss eemaan and taqwa. These things are deeply personal aspects of us that require great trust and courage to be vulnerable enough to share this inner life with others. If you are consistently brushing off, invalidating, and shutting down the conversation regarding feelings in your home, you simply can’t expect to have an open discussion regarding faith.

Tarbiyah vs. Ta’leem

Sh. Salman al-Odah was asked, “How do you get your kids to love the salah?”

The first thing he said was, “Have them love you.”

Learn this life lesson: tarbiyah is founded upon relationship.

Tarbiyah is the raising up and education of a child such that she can reach her full potential as a human and a Muslim. It is different than ta’leem, which refers to fact-based education.

baby hand

We often confuse the two, giving our children ta’leem when they need tarbiyah.

Ta’leem is teaching our children the how-to of the prayer. Memorizing the duas, learning

the positions.

Tarbiyah is the cuddling after the prayer when we ask each other, “What did you ask for in sajdah?”

Ta’leem is memorizing ahadeeth and verses.

Tarbiyah is the dinner-table banter where we talk current events and other issues on our mind.

Ta’leem is studying fiqh.

Tarbiyah is the loving conversation we have about an incident that happened at school.

Ta’leem is studying seerah by memorizing dates and events or preparing for a quiz bowl.

Tarbiyah is snuggling in bed and telling stories of brave heroes of the past.

When we were at Umrah, Ustadh Abu Eesa stressed this point a great deal and it has caused a seismic shift in my own approach to teaching my children. I had asked him if he had a suggested program of study for school-aged children. He responded by saying that he was no expert on education and he would leave that to the experienced teachers to develop such a program. He directed us instead to focus our efforts on building relationships with our children as our tarbiyah.

“Tarbiyah,” he explained, “is an emotional, not a physical exercise.”

He went on to explain that in the Qur’an, we are taught the dua for the parents as follows: “O Allah, have mercy on them, as they rabbayaani when I was young.” In other words, have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me when I was young. It doesn’t continue the theme of mercy and say “have mercy on them as they had mercy on me,” rather, it says “have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me.” It is this tarbiyah that a parent does for their child that brings the mercy of Allah upon them.

Long after facts have come and gone, what a child will remember are the memories she has cuddling on the couch, laughing at stories, and warmly basking in the glow of a parent’s attention and love. This relationship is what builds the person up, not the facts and pieces of knowledge imparted.

This does not mean we do not teach facts and knowledge! Those who follow my work know that I do indeed spend time on this ta’leem. You need to discern the difference between the two themes of ta’leem and tarbiyah though, so that you give adequate time to each.
Most importantly, you must understand that you, dear parents, are indispensable. You CANNOT outsource tarbiyah. You can send your child to classes and masjid programs for ta’leem but this can never replace tarbiyah. The cuddling on the couch, the lively discussions around the table, the one-on-one chats before bed….these are the things that only a parent can do. And these are the things that build the foundation of the Islamic akhlaq and adab (morals and manners).

Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly explained the dua of mercy for the parents. The post has been updated with the correct explanation.

Qur’anic Literacy

Our Arabic teacher in Jordan used to say about our class that we had a good “thaqaafah Qur’aaniyyah,” or “Qur’anic Literacy.” In other words, when discussing an issue, we were able to pull a Qur’anic verse as reference for the subject at hand. He said that he found that this was a rare skill for Muslims from Western countries.
 
20170522_133430.jpgI’m working on this with the kids right now, and I’ll share this as an example of some of the verses we go through. I am going through notes from a class I took many years ago with a teacher where we went through basic Islamic principles with their proofs. As I go through it with the kids, I go over the Qur’anic verses associated with each concept and they copy them in their class notes.
 
Then, they copy them separately in their Arabic notebooks as copywork for several days to allow the verses to sink in.
 
So in this example, the first verse was discussed in the context of subtle forms of shirk. The second verse was when we discussed major shirk, and the third verse was in the context of love of Allah as a condition of the shahadah.
 
Children need to learn these “anchor points” for their Islamic knowledge so that they are practicing their faith based on a reference point from Allah or his Messenger (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam). It’s no longer just “this stuff my parents said,” but a living, breathing relationship with the Divine speech.
 
I cannot stress this Qur’anic literacy enough. I see so many children who have memorized pages and pages of Qur’an but you see in their eyes the complete lack of understanding when it comes to basic points of the deen. We cannot afford to have them treat the Qur’an as a mystical song with no meaning or value for their every day life.
 
If they can memorize Juz Amma, they can memorize a handful of verses that will give them a grounding in their deen. It will also serve to help them learn Arabic.
 
Adults can do this as well! I have a Qur’an commonplace book as well as a note system. I’ll be doing some videos on this soon so stay tuned. This was how I built up my own Qur’anic literacy over the years. Ramadan is a perfect time to start this. Start interacting with the text and marking important verses, and see if you too can improve your own thaqaafah Qur’aaniyyah.